Thursday, March 6, 2014

Fastnachts & Ash Wednesday

Well, lent has officially started. And for me this is a great thing, because I definitely need a chance to reset! The craziness of grant applications and job interviews crowded out a place for prioritizing my New Year's Resolutions in January and February. Fortunately for Christians (and really anyone who wants 40 days of reflection), lent rolls around just after the holiday buzz slows down so it's an excellent time for a second chance.

This year for lent, I'm planning to go to church every week (check for getting ashes on my head on Wednesday!) and I'm also giving up a lent classic: sweets. Specifically, I'm giving up sugar & chocolate. So be prepared for a dearth of recipes based on those ingredients for the next 40 days! Don't worry, I already have some date-sweetened cookies in mind. I decided that fruit sugars (and molasses with it's high iron content) don't count; basically I am just looking for a chance to tone down my sugar addiction. My coffee addiction, however, will remain in full swing until the hours on the bike start to come down! I am also planning to keep the recipes strictly plant-based for lent.

Anyways, the day before lent is the day we call Fastnacht's Tag in the Pennsylvania dutch part of the country I come from. This roughly translates to "donut day" or "fast night's day" and aligns with my family's Polish Catholic celebrations. Fastnachts are a bit different than normal donuts, in that they are made with a potato dough on the night before the lenten fast. The idea with these confections is the same as that behind the Polish paczki: traditionally you were trying to use up all of the delicious butter, eggs, and lard in the house before the austere season of lent. While most days of the year, donuts are not my thing there is an old Polish proverb that roughly translates to "If you don't eat at least one doughnut on Shrove Tuesday, you will no longer be successful in life." Since I want to keep up my luck, my friends and I have made homemade fastnachts on Shrove Tuesday for the past several years. This year I was lazy and only made up a gluten free version, (and used baking powder and soda instead of yeast) but the verdict was that these are a success! I hope you enjoy them.

Gluten Free Fastnachts

cooked flesh of 3 medium potatoes
2.5c oats, processed into a fine powder
2T cornstarch
1T baking powder
1t baking soda
1T cinnamon
1/2c brown sugar
2/3c vanilla almond milk
1/2 bottle canola oil, for frying pot
powdered sugar for coating (optional)

1. Potatoes can be cooked in the microwave by poking some holes in the skin with a fork and microwaving for 5-10 minutes (based on the strength of your microwave), until soft. Then, the flesh can be scooped out with a fork. Alternatively, you could peel, cube, and boil the potatoes.
2.. Pour a good volume oil into a pot (depth of at least ~3 inches). Heat on medium heat. If you have a thermometer, the temperature should be 350F, but I always just wing it.
3. Food process oats into fine powder. Set aside in a bowl. Add cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar. Mix.
4. Food process potatoes and add to the bowl. Mix thoroughly to get a thick, sticky dough.
5. By now, your oil should be ready to go. Shape a handful of dough into a flat patty and carefully place it in the hot oil. Flip when it starts to look brown, ~2 minutes. Cook an additional ~1 minute on the other side.
6. Wrap in paper towel to blot off excess oil. Then roll in powdered sugar, if you desire. Enjoy warm with a cup of coffee.

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