Spring & Easter

EGGS coloredWhen 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.

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ricottawholepie.jpgWhen I think of Easter, I think of pies. Not chocolate bunnies, marshmallow peeps, or colorful Easter eggs, but delicious Italian pies, especially ricotta.

Growing up, my mom always prepared a traditional and labor intensive Easter dinner. In truth, she could have skipped the whole thing and just served her pies. In the week before Easter Sunday, our house became a dairy. The shelves in the second refrigerator in our basement sagged from countless dozens of eggs, pints of cream, pounds of butter, and tubs of ricotta cheese needed for our pie production.

Although it can be made year-round, ricotta pie (torta di ricotta) is an Italian cheesecake that is especially associated with Easter. There are many regional recipes for ricotta pie, some savory and some sweet. Savory versions usually include meats and additional cheeses, while sweet pies are typically flavored with citrus, nuts, and chocolate.

When I called my mom for her recipe last week, I learned that it was Nan's and that it had a storied past. "Nan was the first person in the family to use pineapple instead of citron in her ricotta pie. And boy were her sisters jealous!” I had no idea Nan was a baking maverick.

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easter-bunny.jpgMy 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. 

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missonion.jpg From tomatoes to tiaras, Southerners are notorious for celebrating a crop with a beauty queen. There's Miss Vidalia Onion, Miss Georgia Peach, Miss Georgia Peanut, Miss Sweet Potato and my personal favorite Miss Jiggy Piggy.

Ok, I know there is no such thing as a crop called 'jiggy piggy' but these pageants are are always followed by a festival of fine food. Miss Jiggy Piggy represents the Pig Jig in Vienna, the biggest barbeque festival in Georgia.

I read a lot of newspapers from all over, even a lot of local newspapers and whenever I see a picture of a girl with a tiara on her head holding long stem red roses my eyes get big and my mouth starts watering.

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bunny buns 016I 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.

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