Spring & Easter

emirates.jpg I love soccer so I get really excited when I go to visit my dad in London where it’s soccer season all year long.  England as you probably know has an undying passion for the sport, they treat it less as a game and more as a way of life.  For example, on a sold out night at Emirates Stadium after Arsenal scores the crowd collectively expenses 100 times the world’s energy output for a day in the 30 seconds after the goal.  Like baseball or basketball in the US, football in the UK permeates the culture – it’s everywhere.  It has both a light and dark side, and can go from having fun with your mates to total warfare very quickly. 

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peepstreeMy 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.”

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mango-curd-filled-coconut-shortbread-cups-015b-1024x682There’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.

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easter-bunny.jpgIt’s April 1993, and I have just woken up on the living room couch. My eyes feel a bit sore from trying to stay awake in order to catch a certain creature hopping through my home.

Gosh, how I would have loved to have caught that white-haired—or brown-haired animal, red (dye) handed—with a now-naked hardboiled egg on the floor beneath him or her and a half eaten carrot in the opposite paw.

But I didn't catch what I had imagined to be a five-foot, eight-inch bunny, that night. In fact, all I caught was the back of my eye lids, and whatever I dreamt that night (probably sweet succulent dreams of chocolate eggs filled with caramel...

I couldn’t say if it was the year after that—or five years later that I discovered the truth behind the Easter Bunny, but each year I still debate sleeping on that couch, straining my eyes until they can’t take it to catch my five- foot, eight-inch tall mother in the act of hiding an egg behind a picture frame and another behind the pillow of the opposing couch. Was it a coincidence that the bunny I had imagined and my mother were the same height?

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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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