Fröehliche Weihnachten, Martha!- Pfeffernüssen! -271 eggs, 202 cups of sugar, 203 sticks of Butter, and 253 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 15 recipes to go!

February 18, 2012

Martha's Pfeffernüssen

André's Pfeffernüssen

Apparently, Fröehliche Weihnachten is a traditional German Christmas greeting, and nothing says German Christmas cookie like Pfeffernüssen. Literally translated as Pepper Cookie, Pfeffernüssen is a spicy treat for those who love gingery holiday sweets.  I think it’s odd that a country, like Germany, with such a troubled past takes the altruistic nature of Christmas so seriously. That said, they make some damn good desserts. I baked up a batch of these to be served at a Holiday party for my partner’s co-workers. They were thoroughly enjoyed.

Pfeffernüssen consists of a simple batter with a lot of spice. Cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ground cloves, brown sugar, black-strap molasses, and a healthy dose of black pepper go into these German confections. They are combined with flour, baking soda, salt, butter, powdered sugar and egg to make a thick and goopy dark brown batter. The batter is then chilled until stiff. The pliable batter is then scooped out in heaping tablespoons and rolled into balls and placed on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and baked until crisp on the edges and cake-like in the center. The still-warm cookies are rolled in powdered sugar and left to cool on a wire rack. The cookies are good for about three days. The flavors really meld on the second day and the flavor is unbelievable. The sweetness is complemented by the gingery, peppery burn. I will definitely be baking these as part of my holiday repertoire in the future.

It’s been awhile since I posted last. For those of you just joining the blog, I am living in a hotel room in Bloomington, Indiana during a six-month rotation with my work. It’s proving to have its challenges. One of which is my inability to bake anything due to my lack of access to an oven. Another challenge is dealing with the amount of alone time, much of it spent with my thoughts, meditating on my goals, my desires, my innermost plans for the future.  It’s funny that this disconnection from everyone else has afforded me the opportunity to reconnect to myself.

Bloomington is a strange town mostly filled with people in transition. It’s a college town and the students outnumber the actual populace significantly. With 60,000 undergrads at the university, the town springs to life while school is in session and then slumps into hibernation while the students are away. Located less than an hour away from the metropolis of Indianapolis, Bloomington suffers a bit of the neglected child syndrome in comparison. That said, Indianapolis itself suffers the same inferiority complex in comparison to it’s much bigger sister, Chicago. I’ve met a number of locals here and, for the most part, they are nice enough for all practical purposes. I’ve never seen so many bumper stickers that reference the apparently impending rapture. My favorite was, “I BRAKE FOR THE RAPTURE”. This made me giggle because logically  it stands to reason that we all will. But why the bumper sticker? Will God be pulling folks over to check license and registration? Perhaps proof of insurance?  Many of the folks here can’t wait until the rapture comes. I’ve been in Indiana for almost two months now, and I have to say, I see their point.

Here at the hotel, I recently discovered that the night shift is run by a team of mennonites, most of which are in the same family.  This entire time, I thought they just had bad fashion sense, what with the floor-length denim skirts and all, but now I know it’s a mennonite squad watching over me while I sleep. It’s strange, but this actually makes me feel a bit safer.

I’ve never really spent much time with mennonites or amish folk. I did, however, hang out with the Radical Faeries back in 2000. I’d recently broken up with my partner of three-and-a-half years followed by a whirlwind romance with a fiercely attractive slack-rope walker and juggler named David. He and I had worked on a production of Waiting for Godot for Swine Palace in Baton Rouge. Our exciting and aggressive romance ended just as the curtain came down on our final performance and he scooted off back to his partner in New Orleans. During our time together David spoke fondly of the Radical Faerie retreat on Short Mountain in Tennessee just outside of Mufreesboro. The Radical Faeries were an international troupe of gay hippies in the sixties who decided to drop out of society and dedicate themselves to communal, rural living. They’re a bit like the gay amish and are scattered all across the globe.

Feeling rejected and sad with two free weeks before I had to start production on the company’s next show, I packed up my truck and headed off to Tennessee to spend a week with the Faeries.  The map was hand-drawn and the road, once on the mountain, was treacherous. Dirt paths carved into the side of the mountain with no guard rails and only one lane winded over steep, foggy cliffs. I white-knuckled it up the imposing inclines and bumpy terrain until a small, eroding, pink sign offered a simple arrow pointing to the right. This was the landmark I was looking for.  I pulled onto an even bumpier dirt road and followed it up the mountain until I came to a small enclave of parked vehicles. I parked, grabbed my backpack and began the hike down the side of the mountain through the overgrown trail, down to the small, strange village of the Radical Faeries. A circle of tin-roofed shacks around a larger “lodge” was nestled on a patch of flat and verdant land on the side of this smokey mountain. It was late May and warm. Between my car and the campground, I had been bitten by at least thirty mosquitos.

I was greeted by an impish man in his late forties in a white tank top and a colorful orange-tinted sarong who introduced himself as Gonzo, a resident and the chief cook of the merry band of Faeries. One of the rules of the Radical Faeries is that no one can use their real name. If you were to really drop out of society then you had to shed your name for one of your choosing. I, having just finished Godot, so I introduced myself as Estragon, Go-Go for short.  I told Gonzo that Dido (David) had sent me and then presented him with five pounds of coffee as a contribution to the tribe. Gonzo then directed me to where I could pitch my tent and told me to come to the lodge when I was ready to meet the rest of the gang.  The popular Faerie May-Day festival had concluded the previous weekend and so there were only a handful of Faeries currently in the compound.

I set up my tent, unpacked and then headed back to lodge where a group of men, most of which were completely naked (clothing is optional among Radical Faeries) sat in a circle around an enormous Hookah taking long drags on the hoses followed by violent coughing spurts. The air was putrid with the unmistakeable aroma of burning hemp. Each glassy-eyed member of the group looked up with crooked smiles. I sat and joined them, feeling a bit self-conscious for being clothed in simple jeans and a t-shirt. I felt I should at least be wearing mardi gras beads or perhaps a turban. One gent in the circle reached over with a red pen and marked my forehead with a Hindu bindi of sorts.  Not sure why, but he seemed pleased with his work. As the hose made its way to me, I inhaled deeply and fell into a gelatinous, giggly mass. That’s when he appeared in the doorway. Silhouetted by the dimming light of the late afternoon, his slender build gleamed like a bronze and abstract object d’art. He joined the circle and squatted next to me, barefoot and smelling of sandalwood. He introduced himself as Antler, a fitting name since he, in fact, had two large deer antlers affixed to his head into screws surgically implanted onto either side of his long and white-blonde mohawk.  Every inch of his body from his ankles to his neck was covered in large, raised spiral scars burned into his skin by, what I imagine, was a long and painful series of brands with a glowing hot wire.  His earlobes and nipples were pierced with twigs still sporting green leaves and he wore a tiny loincloth fashioned from a possum hide. He was truly a living work of strange and fascinating art.

He looked at me with his sparkling, deep blue eyes and smiled with perfect white teeth that spoke of his youth as the son of a pastor in rural Alabama. He took a long toke on the hose as it was passed his way and began to share his story with me. I listened mesmerized by the wafts of smoke encircling above his horned brow. He told of the time when his father caught him at age nine, playing with his mother’s makeup. He was dragged to the church where this embarrassing moment was shared with the entire congregation who then held a three-day exorcism to rid him of the effeminate demon who’d possessed his soul. He smiled but there was a deep sadness behind the grinning façade. At the age of sixteen he ran away from home and worked the streets and bars of Memphis as a young hustler where just before his eighteenth birthday he’d been beaten within an inch of his life. He noticed that the scar on his arm from where he’d been stabbed and stitched had formed a pattern. After finding a new home among the Faeries, he began to extend that pattern by branding his skin with fire until every inch of his body transformed that painful reminder into a compelling and eerily beautiful work of art in flesh.

He, in fact, was very much like that scar. He had used all the ugliness of his life to recreate himself as a modern day satyr, thumbing his nose at the rest of the world and becoming something remarkable. He spoke of all of this in a slow and sad Southern drawl and I, unaware that most of the circle had disbanded having heard these stories before, hung on his every word. I took his scarred hand and kissed it gently, thanking him for sharing his story with me. He then leaned over and kissed me passionately wrapping himself around me.

Much of my time with the Radical Faeries is a bit of a blur for obvious reasons, but I will never forget the young man who called himself Antler. I’d like to think that there are still reports among Appalachians every now and then of the crazy satyr man who lives on the side of the mountain. Scarred and sad, antlers at his defense, a demon not to be exorcised but left to roam free to become something unique.

8 Responses to “Fröehliche Weihnachten, Martha!- Pfeffernüssen! -271 eggs, 202 cups of sugar, 203 sticks of Butter, and 253 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 15 recipes to go!”

  1. Chelsea Says:

    Only in America!!!

  2. Kim McGuire Says:

    As always…a strangely beautiful story in what is your extraordinary life! Hope you are well. xo Kim

  3. Dennis Says:

    I loved your Antler story. I just randomly stumbled upon this, looking for cookie recipes and now I can’t stop reading your blog! Wow. What a great surprise. Thanks

  4. Kim McGuire Says:

    Hi Andre, it’s been ages since you’ve written. Hope all is well!

    • Kim- I am on a work assignment since January in Bloomington, Indiana. Unfortunately there is no oven here, so I am on hiatus until my return to Kansas City at the end of July. I miss writing my blog and I promise to be back soon.

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