Photo: A row of kinklings on their third and final rise, waiting to be fried in oil. Thank God for the long countertop on my kitchen island. I knew I’d need all the counter space I could get.
When I was a little girl, spring came with a frilly Talbots dress, tights, patent leather shoes and a pretty little purse with a pink embroidered rose on it. It meant hair pulled tightly into glistening braids with plastic barrettes that stuck at your scalp while you were trying to “sleep pretty” before the Easter Bunny came with a basket full of candy, a jump rope, sidewalk chalk, and eggs dyed the night before. Seeing as Easter always seemed to be the first “good” day of the season to go outside and play, it is always synonymous with “real” and “actual” Spring in my mind.
But a few weeks before Easter, before “spring” and all its fun, there was Kinkling weekend. Me, Mom and my little sister would pile into our car and drive to my grandmother’s house in Frederick. Opening the front door, the entire world filled with the smell of sweetness and hot oil. Beyond the threshold, there was a house full of all my relatives ready to squeeze, huge, kiss and fuss over me and my sister. Beyond the relatives, it seemed like every Black person in the city of Frederick found a way to cross my grandmother’s doorstep, each full of kisses and hugs, each asking the question “do you remember me?” (of course not) or stating “that last time I saw you, you were. [any measure of smallness here]…” before proceeding to the kitchen to pick up the golden goodness. Little girls who weren’t playing could quietly sit among the adults and soak in the gossip, listening to the hush hush of juicy information, the groans of disappointment at bad news, the cackle of pleasure at a comeuppance well deserved, the “umphs” of annoyance at some other person’s folly. Of course, all of these sights and sounds were nothing as compared to the taste of the your first pretty braided screaming-hot kinkling, dressed in pretty powdered sugar, passing your lips and hitting your tongue.
There is nothing like eating your first kinkling of the year. They aren’t too sweet, they have a light and buttery texture, yet they are rich and dense and satisfying. They are doughnuts, yes, but not the kind that you go get at your corner franchise establishment. These are pure things, with a slight crunch on the outside before that chewy bread center, the notes of spice and potato dancing with the butter and yeast. The first kinkling wakes you up from a winter of root vegetables and oven-roasted meats. It reminds you of the light and fresh air. Your first kinkling snaps you back to your senses after the dull endless grey of winter has taken deep, unrelenting grip upon your soul. I write “first” because in my 29 years of living, I’ve only ever seen one person only eat one kinkling, and I think I’m still astonished by it. It takes great power of will to be able to walk away and not eat more. 🙂
My grandmother would get up in the small hours of the morning to begin the process of making kinklings for her community. People would trickle in and out throughout the day and she’d greet them, every one. The recipe skipped a generation–my mother never baked to begin with, let alone this recipe, which requires three rises among other things. It’s not a little bit of work to produce these things. When I moved to Boston, there were two things I missed in the world more than anything: The Cherry Blossoms and my grandmother’s kinklings. So when I asked her for the recipe, she was over the moon.
But what I learned, as I reflected on what the kinklings have meant to me and looked at how many one batch of kinklings can yield, is that kinklings are just meant to be shared. They are beautiful, they are portable, they make the house smell amazing and warm it up on a late-winter day, and they just invite people to pop in and stay a while. Long before we moved into this house, I knew that I was going to just spend a weekend making kinklings for as many people as I could.
Today, I made batches four and five. My last batches of the year! I’ll deliver the majority to preschool tomorrow. People have been in and out of my house all weekend, and I feel like I’ve been on my feet for three days! But how satisfying it is to sit here in this chair, feeling warmed by all of the wonderful company, feeling my arms ache from all of the kneading, feeling my face hurt from all the smiling I’ve done and feeling abuzz with all of things I’d like to write and reflect on for this coming Lent. I’ve learned things, I’ve shared things, I know things. I feel refreshed. The tradition of an open home filled with people and good smells and lots of laughter will continue, even if it is far from the place I call home. As long as I have arms strong enough to knead dough, I will always have a kinkling weekend before Lent.
And more importantly, where I’d felt disconnected and wayward before, I now feel re-tethered and reaffirmed. I may not fully know my direction, but I remember that I have the competence to go wherever I see fit. I’m so lucky to have people to remind me of that. It’s funny what a little bread can do for the heart, mind and soul.
I’ve got to find a recipe for gumbo for tomorrow. If anyone out there has a good one, please share! For Lent I can confirm my fast: no sweets, no cursing (?… I know I’m gonna fail this), read the Bible every night, fish on Fridays. 40 Days of thinking and reflecting, considering my faith in the context of my intellectual pursuits and passions. I’m really excited about shaping and considering my spiritual identity over the next 40 days.
For those who are following my nonsensical pursuit of writing, I should tell you that I received my rejection from Lightspeed on Saturday. I was not surprised to get it, and I wasn’t upset at all. I worked for six weeks on a short story that I was proud of, but more importantly, I was proud enough of it that I felt brave enough to submit it. I learned a lot in the process, and I really cherish that. It was six weeks of hard work that I think will pay dividends later. I’m already chasing my next story… maybe two, actually. And I might, on the advice of ever (old and) wise counsel, seek a collaboration in the very near future.