When I was little, I had absolutely no idea what Easter represented. All I knew was it had something to do with Jesus and you got chocolate bunnies for it. My neighbor, Rory McManus told me Jesus was always by your side. I loved that idea. Here was a magical being who could witness all my acts of kindness and maybe I’d get a reward of some kind. I don’t know, maybe all the candy I wanted, or maybe I’d be the kind of “pretty” boys fought over.
There was so much about Easter to love. Spring for one thing. I loved that time of year because of the colors. Spring is beautiful in Los Angeles. Our street was endowed with bougainvillea in every imaginable variations of pink, yellow, orange, red and purple. The ritual of dying boiled eggs along with the smell of vinegar was intoxicating, and another thing that involved color. Pleasing ones. Pastel ones. The candy around Easter time was the best.
When it comes to holidays, I do not discriminate. Any excuse to bake massive amounts of new treats, purchase unnecessary packaging, ribbons, and lovely little boxes, then gift them to the those that I love gives me great joy. Easter creates endless possibilities. We don’t celebrate Easter, but why should my kids miss out on all the creativity that the holiday has to offer?
I had been reading about naturally dyeing eggs and I was trying to find an excuse to do this intensely laborious project. When I was asked by Levi’s kindergarten teacher for some cooking project ideas related to both Passover and Easter, it took me about 2 seconds to know exactly what I wanted to do with 25 kinders. Upon doing a little more research, I turned my kitchen into an Easter egg lab. Utilizing all my pots, pans, and bowls the mad scientist in me came alive and I could not have been in a more happy place.
Simple garden vegetables; beets, spinach, carrots, carrot tops, parsley, and cabbage make wonderful, rich colors. Storing the dyes in ball jars made transporting the materials to Levi’s class effortless. I waited to add the vinegar until right before the kids placed their eggs in the dyes of their choices. If you have the time, let the eggs rest in the dye for at least 30 minutes to an hour. The longer they sit, the richer the color.
We always eat lamb at our house for Easter. As a child we ate lamb twice on Easter, breakfast and dinner. Walking or rather hiking through snow for half a mile to our camp on the lake for our breakfast lamb feast. Yes, it took a while as we helped our father navigate with foot braces on both legs. It was my father’s happiest place on Earth, so he pushed himself to walk that long half-mile. My mother was happy to put together a ‘lovely’ breakfast in the middle of nowhere. In recycled grocery bags, we each ‘carried in’ marinated 2 inch thick chops, 2 per person, cherry tomatoes seasoned with garlic and oregano - ready for a quick skillet sauté and the cutest ‘breakfast’ size baking potatoes. The paper grocery bags had a duel purpose, they created a fire long enough to char 2 marshmallows each before they flamed out.
The first thing once the door was unlocked at camp was to take the fuse breaker out of its hiding place and electrify the place. My sister and I ran from room to room turning on heaters to high while my mother turned on one of the ovens to bake the little potatoes as my dad set the long harvest table he constructed. My sister and I played outside on the ice-covered lake and slid on beer trays down the hill as the scent of garlic and oregano grew stronger. We knew when breakfast was close as the smell of garlic went from sharp and pungent to mellow and sweet. We were always hungry - we ate non-stop because we played non-stop.
Perennial bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, and lilies bring about some of springtime’s best qualities - all making for exceptional cut flowers as well. Even wintertime’s brisk and chilly climate can provide glimpses of floral beauty with Hellebores heralding the coming spring and giving the gardener a glimpse of what is to come. When all things become new again, unthawing from winter’s chill, consider lilies for an accent and spark of year to year blooms for the home and garden.
Bulbaceous and herbaceous lilies alike make fantastic additions to the garden. Planting lily bulbs in the spring ensures sprays of flowers to perfume your garden and interiors as well. Asiatic or Oriental lilies found in florists and flower markets can easily be grown in your own garden. Just think how wonderful it can be to cut ‘Casa Blanca’ lilies direct from your own garden! Hundreds of varieties in numerous sizes, colors, bloom times, and aromas can fill the garden and then vases inside.
Start with a collection of a few of your favorite colors and scents or add to a successful assortment already growing in the garden. Lasting for nearly a week as a cut flower and dousing the garden with intoxicating perfumes, lilies spice up the air and atmosphere of the gardening lifestyle.
It's not that Easter is really about excess, because it isn't. But we always think it's a lot of fun to have a lot of sides at Sunday dinner even if you just eat a little bit of each one...and since it's a 3-day weekend (or a 5-day weekend for some of us), we figured it was time to get cooking.
"Hi, Mom. Can I have your recipe for rice pie?"
"You mean Nan's recipe? I've always made Nan's recipe."
"OK, then can I have Nan's recipe for rice pie?"
"What for, your ba - log?"
"Yeah, I want to do a post on Italian Easter pies."
"Ooh, isn't that nice, honey."
"So, do you still have the recipe?"
"Yeah, first you start with -- "
"What, you found the recipe already?"
"Aaaa-y I've been makin' rice pies for so many years, I know it by heart. First, you start with 2 dozen eggs, then you add --"
I have to admit I'm a little miffed that the Greeks seem to get all the attention for their Easter traditions. Armenians roast lamb and even dye their eggs red. My mother never baked those eggs into a loaf of bread but we did play a game with them called egg tapping, another one of those Pagan rites taken over by the early Christians. The point of the game is to break your opponent's egg without cracking your own.
One of my favorite dishes always served at Easter is Cheese Beorag, the Armenian version of Spanakopita. Our family even came up with their own version of this cheese and filo ecstasy that makes a perfect addition to an Easter Brunch. It's easy, can be made ahead of time and baked just before you are ready to serve it and I've yet to come across anyone who didn't love it and come back for more.
I always associate deviled eggs with the holidays. I guess many people do. They are kind of the perfect passed appetizer. However, I find myself making the spread version more than the common halved lengthwise and stuffed adaptation. I like this way better and more of the egg taste we all love.
When I told my husband I was adding hummus to my deviled eggs, he told me not to. It sounded weird to him, even though he has no issue with hummus. I disagreed and felt it would be the perfect melding of flavors.
Let's face it, trendy deviled eggs are in and these were awesome. My goal was to allow the taste of the egg and the hummus to shine through. I didn't want competing flavors.
We loved them...even the husband who told me not to make them in the first place. Win for me.
I made hot cross buns last week. I used a recipe from a class I took years ago that focused on breads and rolls made with yeast dough. The sweet, egg- and butter-rich buns have mashed potatoes worked into the dough. I’ve got to believe it’s the potatoes that produce a soft, moist dough. Hot cross buns are an Easter tradition in many homes.
When I was doing some research on hot cross buns, Google directed me to JustHungry, a food blog I’d never visited. There I found some cute Hot Cross Easter Bunny Buns. Made of the same dough that the author used for her hot cross buns, they were shaped with chubby little faces and long bunny ears. Best of all, the author included step-by-step photo instructions, from rolling the dough, to creating the ears and faces.
I knew I had to try making the little bunny buns myself. With one batch of dough, I was able to create 12 Breakfast Bunny Buns. Each one came out of the oven with its own charm. The ears were long and funny, some pointing straight up, some a little bent and some a bit uneven. Their little currant eyes made them simply irresistible.
This is what spring looks like. Truly. So why not make a dish that takes the best of those green, grassy, sweet flavors, adds garlic, great olive oil and a hit of salt and serve it up in one dish? The subtle beauty of all these colors of green tangled together help us understand the idea of renewal inherent in the spring holiday celebrations of Easter or Passover.
In Italy it’s called cianfotta, the all purpose dish that changes with the seasons as new vegetables appear and leave the markets. This saute is one of my master recipes. Serve it as a side dish. Or to make it a bit more substantial for vegetarians add a handful of toasted pine nuts or almonds. For a one course dinner add nuts and a bit of soft or aged goat cheese.
This recipe is a template. You can add sliced and trimmed baby artichokes or fava beans. You may omit the mint or use onions instead of leeks. Some folks leave out the lettuce. It’s up to you.
It's almost hard to believe that winter is gone and spring is actually here. The weather has been so unpredictable lately that if it wasn't for the blooming flowers and trees, we'd still think it were fall or winter. But it's the time to celebrate renewal and nothing says it more than the Easter holidays, which are just days away.
Easter celebrations vary from culture to culture and religion to religion. And then of course there's Passover. But what ties all these religions together is the presence of food and interestingly it's common to find lamb served at both a Seder and at an Easter dinner. It has symbolic ties to both Judaism and Christianity. So this year I'm making braised lamb shanks for the holiday, which is synonymous with Passover.
My Spanish-style recipe is both suitable for Passover and Easter. The lamb is braised in sherry vinegar and white wine, both of which add an acidic tang to balance the richness of the meat. Also included are garlic and onions and the spices cumin and paprika. The braising liquid is partially puréed to create a creamy gravy without the use of cream. I pair the lamb with creamed white beans and sautéed kale for a hearty holiday meal. Your family will love this meal whether you celebrate Passover or Easter.
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