Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Carnival 2014: Alexandria and Environs

This is the fifth installment of an 8-part series on Carnival, the Fifth Season--and the biggest party on the planet!

Dateline: ALEXANDRIA, March 4, 2014

I make my home in the northern Virginia city of Alexandria, and I know better than to wear my favorite tie to work on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. And so do you, if you have been reading along. Welcome to the latest in a series of posts on Mardi Gras, past, present, and future--from Nebraska to New Orleans to Rome to Mainz and now here at home.

On the morning of Fat Tuesday, the Pat O'Brien's
hurricane glass is empty, the Cafe du Monde
coffee cup is full, and there's nary a bead in sight.

Last year, I found the baby in the King Cake at the Alexandria Brew Crew's Mardi Gras party, so that means I must provide this year's treats.

New Orleans-style King Cake

Speaking of Fat Tuesday treats, my Harley-riding girlfriend is Pennsylvania Dutch, and she recently educated me about Fasnachts and Fasnacht Day. A Fasnacht is a fried doughnut served traditionally in the days of Carnival / Fastnacht or on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent starts. Fasnachts are made as a way to empty the pantry of lardsugarfat, and butter, which are traditionally fasted from during Lent.

The Pennsylvania Dutch in the area surrounding Lancaster, Pennsylvania, celebrate Fastnacht (the holiday) with fasnachts (the donuts). The central Pennsylvania church featured in this PennLive article makes tens of thousands donuts each Fasnacht Day. Most chain supermarkets in eastern Pennsylvania offer fasnachts, although a few offer Polish Pączki  (Pooch-key) instead. Commonly, pączki are round, rather than having straight sides, and they are filled with jelly, or sometimes creme filling. In parts of Maryland, the treats are called Kinklings, and are only sold in bakeries on Shrove Tuesday. The German version is made from a yeast dough, deep fried, and coated or dusted in sugar or cinnamon sugar; they may be plain or filled with fruit jam. In contrast, Pennsylvania Dutch fasnachts can often be potato doughnuts, and may be uncoated, dusted with table sugar, or powdered with confectioner's sugar.

Doughnut? Or Donut? Kinkling, Pączki, or Fasnacht? It seems there are as many ways to get fat as there are fat pills. Fasnacht (the donut) is sometimes spelled Fastnacht (the German holiday), Faschnacht (similar to Fasching), Fosnot, Fosnaught, Fausnaught, Fasnacht, Fassenacht, Fasnet, etc. You get the picture: fun comes in many forms.

Naturally our Donut Day party included a variety of locally made treats based on Old World traditions. We started late, after 8, because eating, drinking, and merry making is especially sinful late at night. And we went after it pretty hard, because passion fuels greatness.

By nightfall, the hurricane glasses were full, the coffee
was gone, beads were plentiful, and the infant King appeared

Our Fasnacht Day / Mardi Gras / Fat Tuesday menu:

  • Del Ray Pizzeria Butcher Block pizza (5 meats), 
  • hot Krispy Kreme donuts, 
  • Pączki (one with a hidden baby Jesus and guess what? I was the lucky finder again this year!), 
  • ice cream sandwiches with homemade chocolate chip cookies and homemade chocolate ice cream,
  • hurricane punch, and 
  • beads. Lots and lots of purple, green, and gold beads. 

Music? Think, "Big Easy": jazz, brass, zydeco, Cajun, Creole, and a bit of blues
  • Roy "Professor Longhair" Byrd 
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band
  • Tom Waits
  • Jelly Roll Morton
  • The inimitable Dr. John
  • Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five
  • Fats Domino
  • The White Stripes
  • Tab Benoit
  • Sidney Bechet
  • Wynton Marsalis and
  • The Animals, singing House of the Rising Sun

Participating in the biggest party on the planet

Now that we have gotten all of that partying out of our systems and cleaned our pantries of such guilty pleasures as sugar, butter, and lard, we can turn our solemn attention to our mortality, to the dust from which we came and to which we shall return, and to the hope we have in our risen Savior.

The baby King symbolically rising
from a miniature Hurricane glass


PS--The Carnival season is called Fastnacht in southern Germany, Switzerland, Alsace and Austria. The word Fastnacht originates from the German words "fast", which is the shortened version of the verb "fasten", which means "to fast", and "Nacht", meaning night, indicating the eve of the traditional Lenten fasting period observed by many Christian denominations.

PSS--there are three more installments planned in this series on Carnival. Watch this space for posts about Carnivals of the Future!