Forty Days and Forty Nights

Tuesday seems like weeks ago.  Some call it “Fat Tuesday” (esp. those pancake-bingers partying hard at Mardi Gras) but to me, it’s just the last day of my food free-for-all.  My wife and I decided to give up “flour” for Lent (more on that in a minute) so Tuesday night we overate at our favorite Mexican restaurant.  Chips and salsa (the chips a hybrid of corn and flour).  Enchiladas and tacos wrapped in big, fluffy flour tortillas.  Sopapillas fried from puffy flour tortillas, drenched in honey.  Big, frosty margaritas to wash it all down.  It was kind of a fiesta final before Lent.

Now it’s Ash Wednesday as I type and I’m already obsessing about my forbidden flour.  This morning’s breakfast was hardly a fiesta – coffee and a protein shake.  Not a tablespoon of flour to be found anywhere.  My upcoming fever dreams will be liberally dusted with flour.  I’ll have fantasies of consuming an entire bakery case (shelves and all), eating my way out of a gigantic loaf of bread, or parking my mouth below the pasta-maker while endlessly turning the crank.  I’m looking at all the snow outside my office window right now.  It looks exactly like white flour.  It probably IS white flour.  Hang on, I’ll be right back…

As of today, we’ve officially started the season of Lent again. The next forty-odd days and nights are gonna be the usual challenge. Did you know the Old English translation of “Lent” is “spring season”?  How that computes with all the flour I’m seeing outside my windows right now is beyond me.  More to today’s point, Ash Wednesday is the deadline to answer the question, “What am I giving up for the next seven weeks?”

Lent = “no mas”

Lent, as even non-Christians know, is the religious season of preparation leading up to Easter.  It’s the time to reflect inward, with more attention to prayer and the Good Book, less attention to “shortcomings” (sins, people), more charitable service to others, and finally, a cruel little something called “self-denial”.  Self-denial is anything you want it to be, but the idea is to subtract from your daily equation: something you don’t need but you’ll struggle to be without.  Consider seven popular choices for 2021:

  1. Chocolate.  Maybe this one’s popular because it’s the easy way out.  Chocolate’s often in my desserts, occasionally in my protein shakes, and every-now-and-then in my mid-afternoon pick-me-ups.  But I can certainly do without the sweet stuff for forty days.  C’mon, people used to give up food for Lent!  A little chocolate’s not really what the Big Guy had in mind.
  2. Meat.  Christians forego meat on Lenten Fridays anyway but some choose to give it up the whole way.  Not me.  If I’m giving up flour, I’ve got to have meat-and-potatoes to soften the blow of all my bread, pasta, and baked goods currently on hiatus.  For Pete’s sake, I can’t even have chicken noodle soup!  What was I thinking?
  3. Smoking or Drinking.  Maybe these are your vices but they’re not mine, so either would be a Lenten cop-out.  I enjoy the occasional glass of wine or a beer, sure, but putting them on the shelf for the next month or so? Hardly a stretch.
  4. Coffee.  Okay, we just shifted from first to fourth gear.  There is nothing – NOTHING – to fill the vast and infinite void left behind by my morning cup of joe.  I understand self-denial but don’t turn me into a raging lunatic.  Force me to give up coffee for Lent and I’ll have a newfound respect for the next option, which is…
  5. Sleeping In.  Normally this would be another cop-out for me because I’m one of those annoying morning people.  But deny me my coffee and I’ll gladly hibernate until early afternoon – every day until Easter.
  6. Social Media.  I dropped Facebook late last year.  I’m only on Instagram a couple of times a week.  I have no Twitter feed.  I get it – it’s 2021 – but this one’s a no-brainer for me.  I mean seriously, just give me a call.
  7. Speaking Poorly about Others.  I asked my sister-in-law what she was giving up for Lent and she said, “I’m going to be nice to others”.  That gave me a good laugh until I found this item on the list.  My sister-in-law has plenty of company.  So, consider: could YOU give up airing dirty laundry for forty days?

One more thing about Lent. Each of the liturgical seasons has a color, and Lent’s is purple.  You’ll see a lot of it in churches, cathedrals, and flower arrangements this month and next.  I like purple enough, but ask me to name purple items and all I come up with is eggplant (the nightmare vegetable of my youth), figs (the nightmare fruit of my youth), grapes (I prefer the green ones), cauliflower (yep, it comes in colors), and lavender and amethysts, both of which I have little use for.  Purple is about as smart a choice for Lent as giving up flour.

In conclusion, I could use your prayers as I endure my forty-day flour fast.  By late March my car tires will look like doughnuts and my paperback novel a nice, thick Pop-Tart.  Toss me a Frisbee and I’ll slather it in syrup and devour it like a pancake.  Put your pasta under lock and key.  Guard your pizza with your life.  I’m coming for your cupcakes.

Some content sourced from the Delish.com article, “7 Things To Give Up For Lent That Go Beyond Food”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Disc Chalky

Woodstock Candy (“Let Sweet Flashbacks Sprinkle Down”) assembles collections of vintage candy and sells them on Amazon.  The “nostalgic retro mixes” tailor to the buyer’s age, as in “30th Birthday Box” or “65th Birthday Box”.  For those in my decade, Woodstock tosses in classics like Chuckles, Red Hots, Sugar Daddy’s and Smarties. Also, a few Pixy Stix, a Candy Necklace, and a long strip of those colorful Candy Buttons. Finally, buried quietly in the back of the box: one small roll of Necco wafers.

Four months ago, the Wall Street Journal alerted those of us with nostalgic sweet teeth of the fate of Necco wafers.  More correctly, NECCO – the New England Confectionery Company – would shutter if it didn’t secure a buyer.  Apparently, no one came to the candy counter, because the factory closed its doors late last month.  The consumer reaction was immediate – on the order of the Hostess Twinkies frenzy.  Rolls of Necco wafers flew off the shelves.  Frantic calls to candy stores demanded entire boxes be placed on hold.  One Necco devotee offered his 2003 Honda Accord in exchange for the company’s remaining product.  You might call it “disc(o) fever”.

The Necco wafer/disc is an underappreciated candy of years gone by, though admittedly my affection for the confection is not what it used to be.  Necco’s are packaged in rolls of about thirty, in an assortment of eight flavors, including clove.  Clove.  Even the flavors sound dated.  A Necco wafer looks and tastes like a disc of chalk (drywall?), with a hint of flavoring to make it seem like food.  Eat a dozen wafers and your hands and clothes are covered with edible dust.  Eat a dozen more and the flavors all start to taste the same.  What used to be a satisfying crunch now feels like a threat to my dental work.

Why was I drawn to Necco wafers, when my back-in-the-day 7-Eleven store included an entire aisle of more appealing candy?  Maybe I just like little discs.  My father used to drive my brothers and I to some of his building sites, and I quickly discovered the concrete littered with dozens of metal coins.  These were “slugs” – today called KO’s or “knockouts”; the quarter-sized remains of partially-stamped openings in electrical junction boxes.  I collected hundreds of them – God knows why (but I was a kid, so I didn’t need a reason).

I also collected coins – more specifically quarters, because quarters were big money in my day, and translated into just about everything in that 7-Eleven aisle.  Quarters could also be stacked into paper wrappers; perhaps my precursor to a roll of Necco wafers.

At the same time in life, I had what was probably the coolest toy around.  It was called a “Rapid-Fire Tracer Gun” (if you were really cool you had the Star Trek version).  The Tracer fired little round plastic discs, spinning them out of the barrel so fast they hurt when they hit skin.  They even made a Tracer Rifle for more accurate shots.  The Tracer had a spring-driven magazine, so you could queue up a whole pile of plastic discs.  Or Necco wafers.

Necco wafers aren’t nearly as appealing as some of the stories behind them.  A hundred years ago Necco’s were carried by Arctic explorers and handed out to Eskimo children.  Their “suspiciously long” shelf life (Necco’s are sugar, corn syrup, and not much else) allowed them to be stored for months; then consumed by Union soldiers during America’s Civil War.  And therein lies the significance of the NECCO factory closing: the wafers have been around since 1847.

If I still don’t have your attention, consider this: NECCO also manufactures Sweethearts, the heart-shaped romantic-message-stamped equivalent of the Necco wafer, distributed by the billions on Valentine’s Day.  Think about that: no more candy hearts bearing “Kiss Me” or “Love You” or “Be Mine”.  Instead, just inedible greeting cards and meh grocery-store chocolates.  But don’t despair – I think the factory closing is just a hiatus.  The Hostess Twinkie came back and so will the Necco wafer.  It’s already underway, so join the movement: #SaveNecco.