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“Take Eclairs.”

In fact, of course, the insane distinction of fattening/dietetic cannot be squared with the rational one of festal/ferial. The first fastens its attention, not on food, but on little invisible spooks called calories; only the second honestly addresses the real matter at hand. Consequently, the dieter has no way of distinguishing good food from bad. Take eclairs, for example. The world is full of them, mostly awful. Any true eater, ferial or festal, will be able to give you an accurate judgment as to which of them are worth eating and which should be avoided. The dieter, however, has lost all criteria for judgment. That eclairs are fattening is his sole piece of information. If he is in a mood to diet, he will pass up the best eclair in the world without even a backward look; and if he is in a mood to eat, he will devour a corner-bakery, cardboard-and-cornstarch monstrosity as if it were something out of Brillat-Savarin. He is a man who, for all practical purposes, has lost his taste.

Robert Farrar Capon

For the real Fat Tuesday this year — not the Lewis Fat Tuesday a week ago — I decided to do the genuine article. Not can-whomped. Not store-bought. Not even jelly-filled. I made real, honest-to-Łomża pączki.

That day Mom and Dad and I made some routine doctor trip, and I picked their memories about their moms’ pączki. Usually no jelly, just powdered sugar, fried in lard. “We didn’t use oil back then, honey.” And “Oh no, we didn’t have a biscuit cutter. We just used a glass.”

So when the boys begged me to stop for a plastic Burger King chocolate shake on the way home that afternoon, I taunted them instead with pączki. “I’ve got to make the dough and let it rise. It will take awhile, but we’ll have it after dinner.”

It did take a few hours — an eternity to my resident fried-dough connoisseurs. The recipe is more batter than dough with yeast not soda. And it’s almost too sticky for rolling and cutting. The rum makes it perfect, however. And the butter and the egg yokes, of course.

While the expectation of the product makes school-age boys cavort, the process is not at all child-friendly. The oil is too hot and the mommy too unfamiliar with slinging fried dough to mediate. I turn primal. “Stay away!” “Not now!!” “Danger!!” A few donuts turned out nice and dome-shaped. A few. But in the frenzy, I started just throwing dough into the oil as quickly as I could. These looked like funnel cakes — still not a bad thing, no matter how inauthentic.

It was nearly bedtime when we sat down to our festal Fat Tuesday fried dough feast. The adults had coffee and the kids milk. Pączki will not keep, so they must be eaten immediately. We relished our share,  and the remaining half were delivered to the Kaminski residence up the road. I never look more Polka-like then in those festal evening pastry runs — hair akimbo, clothes smelling of hot oil, Christmas house shoes and flour-y apron, feet slightly swollen from the kitchen work.

And so the feast is done. It’s time-consuming and delicious. Traditional and fattening. It’s what festal tastes like. It’s what good tastes like. Not an ordinary, daily good, but a special one.

The pączki explain Capon’s point to me. Our culture’s food dysfunction has taught us the fullness of festal without learning its timing. We want calories without kairos. So we settle for cardboard eclairs and lose our taste. We judge by quantity alone — either in excess or absence — and quality isn’t even an option. We’ve become mere scientistic consumers of food (“Which one has the lowest fat?”) and have forgotten we’re all created gourmands (“Which one tastes good?”).