Spring & Easter
My mother thought organized religion was one of the problems with the world, this extended to the Girl Scouts and the PTA (a somewhat convenient belief for a mother of 4, since you can’t ask someone to go against their beliefs). She also believed that children shouldn’t be allowed to act.
I have never quite understood how I talked her into letting me enter the Beverly Hills’ Miss Easter Bunny pageant when I was 8 – one of the prizes was a screen-test – but I did.
I don’t know what I was thinking. I think I thought it would be fun to ride down Beverly Drive in an old white cadillac with the top down sitting next to the Mayor of Beverly Hills and wave at the throngs of people I imagined would be lining the streets. I think I thought I was going to win.
Little did I know, the fix was in.
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.
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.
Is there such a thing as a ham of your dreams? I didn't think so until I had this one. BAKED HAM with RUM and COKE GLAZE is not your ordinary, dried out, gross, nasty, ham-holiday-dinner that you are used to. It is one of the best ham's I have ever had in my life.
It's so juicy, and puts Honeybaked Ham to shame. Trust me. Even after refrigerating and reheating the next day, it is still perfectly, PERFECT. (The ham sandwiches are to die for.)
If Easter for you means ham, this is the one for you. Let's have a little HAM 101 before we get started.
First of all, never ever buy a spiral-sliced ham. That is one of the first precursors to having a dried out piece of meat. The extra-processing ruins any chance of a juicy ham. All the pieces are exposed to air which leaves you with dried, processed meat. Yuck.
You need to pick the right cut and the BUTT half is the only way to go. A whole ham is way too hard to carve. A shank has all the connective tissue. But a BUTT is easy to slice with easy to see muscle groups, making carving a cinch.
There are many stories regarding the history of Hot Cross Buns. One interesting one comes from Alan Davidson's "The Oxford Companion to Food". He says that the Saxon invaders in Britain chomped on buns adorned with impressions of crosses in honor of the pagan goddess of light, Eostre, from whom the name Easter is derived.
Today they are traditionally served at Easter and there is a superstition that Hot Cross Buns baked on Good Friday never became moldy and in the past one Hot Cross Bun would be saved as a good luck charm until the next year's buns were made. Whatever the history, these sweet tender buttery buns are a delicious treat and should be enjoyed all year long.
This is adapted from a Cook’s Country recipe for Sweet Dough.
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.
My mother was a 30-year-old new mom when she made her first batch of Italian lemon egg biscuits. She wrapped a few in cellophane and gave them to my older brother to give to his kindergarten teacher. The story goes that the teacher called up my mom begging for the recipe, claiming they were the best cookies she had ever tasted.
Since that day, my mom has baked thousands of lemon egg biscuits. Infused with lemon extract and coated with a sweet, crunchy lemon icing, these cookies are light, cakey and refreshingly citrusy. They're a perennial favorite in her Christmas cookie trays; they appear at every family birthday party; and they grace the dessert table every Easter Sunday.
The kids in our family have always adored lemon egg biscuits. I grew up making them with my mom, and now she is passing on the tradition to her granddaughters. The dough is soft, springy, and easy to roll, making it ideal for children's little hands. The best part is icing and decorating the cookies. Kids love to watch the confectioners' sugar and milk transform into a smooth, creamy white, sweet icing as they stir and stir. Of course, nothing pleases them more than dipping the cookies in the icing and decorating them with loads of colored candy sprinkles.
My adopted home town, Bethlehem, PA calls itself the Christmas City, a title that, in fact, it shares with a number of other cities named not only Bethlehem but Santa Claus (Arizona) and Jolly (Kentucky). But there is another title that belongs to this city alone: Bethlehem, PA is the home of the Peep.
Living in Bethlehem means that just about all of your holidays will be celebrated in the shadow of the Peep. Want to see a movie at the city’s only indie theater during Christmas week? First you’ll have to wend your way around a fifteen-foot- tall tree made entirely of green Peep chicks. As for New Year’s Eve, you can celebrate by watching a giant (85 pound) yellow Peep drop, as fireworks go off in the background. Of course, Easter is the academy-award season of the Peep, and who will ever forget the local paper’s front-page coverage of the Passion-Week diorama in which all roles were played by Peeps?
Bethlehem, PA is the site of JustBorn, where the iconic Easter candy came into its own. Sam Born, the company’s founder, moved his candy manufacturing and retail business from Brooklyn, NY to Bethlehem in 1932. In 1953, JustBorn acquired the Rodda Candy Company, “known for its jelly bean technology.” Even more important, Rodda also produced, “a small line of marshmallow products that interested the JustBorn family.”
I noticed a pattern developing midway through my wonder years. It was spring, and the world was once again filled with chocolate Easter bunnies. Some were solid chocolate, others were hollow. I always got the hollow bunny. And still do. Not by choice, and not because of bad luck. It goes beyond bad luck – like walking into a great bakery, getting the ticket with the number “1” on it, and finding out there are a hundred people ahead of you.
At six years old, I began to realize that, in some weird way, my life was being defined by the hollow bunny. It was affecting my world view. Not that I had suddenly figured out how to deal with disappointment, I hadn’t. But I did learn to embrace irony.
Simply put, the world is divided into two kinds of people – those who get the hollow bunny and those who get the solid one. It has nothing to do with fame, fortune, looks, brains, talent, or even likeability. It’s just a difference in mindset.
There’s something about Spring, with all of its celebrations that pull friends and family together, beginning with Easter, then Mother’s Day, followed by graduations and wedding showers, that just seem to demand tiny sweet desserts. Desserts that can be picked up and popped into the mouth and disappear as fast as a bag of M&M’s.
Shortbread is one of my favorite spring desserts. So rich and buttery and short on sugar, the cookie-like sweet pairs well with berries and citrus curds. This spring, I’ve added coconut to my shortbread recipe. Pressed into mini-muffin cups, the dough bakes up nicely, turning a golden brown. I’ve discovered lovely mango curd (recipe is in my last post) is absolutely luscious as a filling for these bite-sized coconut shortbread cups.
For many across the United States, Easter Brunch is a family tradition. Two or three – and sometimes more – generations gather, the cooks of the family outdo themselves and everyone enjoys the feast. Whether plain or fancy, Easter Brunch deserves to be served with a wine worthy of the food and company, and – with a little know-how – picking the perfect Easter Brunch wine can be a snap.
Two aspects of Easter Brunch make selecting the perfect wine different – though not more difficult – than most meals. First, the Easter Brunch menu can be primarily breakfast foods, primarily lunch foods, or a mixture of both. Even dinner dishes may sneak into the mix. Second, Easter Brunch may have two or three main courses rather than one. The diversity of Easter Brunch puts the focus on versatile wines that complement a range of dishes and those wines are where perfect matches will be found.
An Easter Brunch featuring breakfast foods like fruit salad, eggs Benedict, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, waffles, pancakes, hash browns, bacon, sausages, and hot cross buns or scones takes wine pairing to a place it rarely goes, but one where wine can really showcase the foods. While a few white wines and even a couple of reds can pair well with this style of Easter Brunch, the best match is the most elegant – champagne!