Spring & Easter

sunflowerscake.jpgMy youngest son has taken it upon himself to write to the office of the governor of different states.  While he has sent out many letters, the first returned was from Governor Mark Parkinson of Kansas.

He felt quite proud receiving his letter as well as some other materials teaching him about life in that state.  He couldn't wait to take it to school and share it with his class.

To celebrate, what could be better than a cake replicated as a sunflower, which happens to be the state flower of Kansas.  Coincidently, it just so happens to be the time of year when Peeps are available everywhere, easily making the petals on this cake.

Overall, the cake is very striking and would look beautiful on your Easter table.  I also think it would make an adorable birthday cake for a little girl's "Sunflower and Ladybug's" party.

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easterpound.jpg Along with the first calls of the loons, the chirping of birds, the bright sunshine and the earthy fragrance of the woods, comes my desire for pound cake. Most years, these signs of spring in northern Minnesota coincide with Easter.

This year, though, snow still covers the grass around my house and it's cold enough outside to warrant a warm jacket. But even an Easter with no sign of spring in sight does not prevent my thoughts from turning to the tantalizing aroma of a baking pound cake wafting through my kitchen.

Every year, during the week before Easter, the pound cake season begins. Using the best butter I can buy, lots of eggs, flour and sugar along with my favorite flavorings, I bake at least one cake in an old cast-iron lamb mold that has been handed down to me through generations of use in my dad’s family. I nibble my way through pound-cake season as I bake that same batter in a bundt pan and serve it with clusters of fresh grapes or topped with fresh strawberries. I cut generous chunks from the cakes and wrap them up tightly in clear plastic wrap to share with friends.

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chenafinalThis week, Italian women everywhere will be knee deep in eggs, butter, sugar, and ricotta cheese -- it's time for making Easter pies. Easter, as with most holidays for Italians, is a time for culinary celebration.

Both sweet and savory pies are a hallmark of an Italian Easter.  Every year my grandmother made countless delicious Easter pies. And every year starting several weeks before Easter, anyone who even remotely knew her would start visiting or calling her. Their motive: to butter her up enough to get a piece of her Pizza Chena.

Nan, as my mother would say, "was dumb as a fox;" she knew when people were only after her Pizza Chena, and she wasn't going to give it to just anybody. That's because it was time-intensive and expensive to make. Of course, her mailman always got a piece because he would tell Nan that of all the Italian women in the neighborhood her Pizza Chena was the best. (Not too subtle, but it worked every time.)

Since Nan moved into an Alzheimer's unit several years ago, we haven't had Pizza Chena. It's one of a few dishes that my mom lost the desire to make after Nan wasn't able to cook anymore. So my mom was both delighted and nostalgic when I called her for the recipe.

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eggsaladitalianplateWith Easter just passed, who isn't thinking about eggs? When I was a kid I loved dyeing and decorating eggs. But instead of using hard boiled eggs, I thought it was infinitely cooler to de-egg my Easter eggs.

I remember using one of my mother's sewing needles to punch holes on either end of the uncooked egg. Putting my mouth against the egg, I'd huff-and-puff and blow until the raw egg dropped into a bowl.

Admittedly that was a lot of extra work and there were risks. Making the holes and blowing into the egg could crack the shell. Worse, all that huffing-and-puffing sometimes led to hyper-ventilating, so my mother kept an eye on me, just in case I got dizzy and fell off the chair.

In my child's mind, that extra effort was worth it because the feather-weight shells, brightly dyed and covered with decals, were so much more artful than the heavy hard boiled eggs.

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eastercupcakes.jpgDear SOS: Whenever I get out to L.A., I have to stop at Auntie Em's Kitchen in Eagle Rock for a cupcake fix -- specifically, for a coconut cupcake with coconut cream cheese frosting. It's a miracle of a baked good. Do you think you could get the recipe for a Bostonite who's stuck on the East Coast dreaming of this confection?
-- Jenny Sawyer, Boston

Dear Jenny: This billowy coconut cupcake is pretty irresistible. The cake has a hint of almond and a light buttermilk tang. There's tender, shredded coconut baked into the cake too. And the frosting -- it's a cream cheese frosting with butter mixed in, airy and creamy both, finished with a sprinkling of more shredded coconut on top. This one's for you, Bostonites.

Get the recipe at L.A. Times...