Category Archives: holidays

Easter is a wonderful occasion

There is so much about Easter that is beautiful. It is truly a turning point. Spring has sprung and there is new life bounding in the fields with baby animals and new plants. Lent has ended and Easter Sunday is a day of feasting, with chocolate and sweet breads and a groaning table of delicacies, shared with family and friends.

Here at Rabbit Hollow, family is over the mountains and most of our friends are across many miles (some are even on the other side of an ocean). As such, we give thanks for their love and toast their good health and happiness. We always have a feast of our own – this year our homemade “Lamb Jam” and garden beets pickled with star anise were well suited for the succulent lamb chops my hubbie prepared

Cheers to Cedar Creek Winery – their Platinum Malbec was delicious with the tangy plum chutney and beets that accompanied the lamb.

with roasted asparagus and market potato wedges. And then there are the extras…

  • I wanted to do some baking, so bunny cookies were the order of the day. I used Anna Olsen’s cardamom sugar cookies as an inspiration. My tweaked version of her recipe will be added to the archives this week, under Easter Bunny Cookies.

  • we were spoiled by a certain motherly figure who used modern technology to contact our favourite pastry chef, Sandrine. Dessert was the perfect end to the holiday weekend.

The background doesn’t do it justice but the Paris-Brest was divine, and the chocolate mousse cake was perfectly decadent


I have to admit, it was a bit lonely visiting the market by myself this weekend and baking cookies alone in the kitchen; not to mention hunting for chocolate eggs all by my lonesome self (well, except for Ella’s help). However, I am truly grateful to know I have such wonderful friends across the world. Thanks to technology I was able to chat online with many of them, and I hope to see them soon.

I hope you shared love as well as chocolate this weekend. Here’s to a new season, full of sunshine and good feelings.

Even Ella and her new stuffie were popped after a hard day of hunting and baking. There was nothing left to do but bask in the sun…

One a Penny, Two a Penny…

Did you have hot cross buns for breakfast today? I did. Do you know why we have them at Easter? I remember the rhyme from childhood, but I must admit that not having a religious upbringing I didn’t know the history of this seasonal sweet bun. As I sat munching and sipping my tea this morning I did some research, and I figured I can’t be the only one who didn’t know all the tidbits I found. So, here you go – new knowledge for your brain.

Let’s start at the beginning: Easter Sunday is the celebration at the end of Lent, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is the period before Easter, starting on or about Ash Wednesday  (depending on your religion),  and ending just before Easter. It signifies the 40 days that Jesus wandered in the desert, and those observing Lent solemnly honour his sacrifice by many activities that seek to bring them closer to God. Fasting as Jesus did, or giving up luxuries in life is usual for the faithful during Lent; prayer, penance and repentance are also common. Hence the common expression, “giving up (something) for Lent”.

The Lenten fast of ancient times was much more broad and strict than it is today, in some places allowing only bread in one’s diet, but for most removing all animal products and allowing no meals until later in the day or the evening. Nowadays, a fast usually involves a full meal and up to two “collations” – sustenance to keep one going, but not so much as to count for a full meal. Some people do not fast but do remove meat from their diets, either for all of Lent or at least on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays and Saturdays in Lent. Lent ends either on Good Friday, or at midday on Easter Saturday, depending on your faith.

Since no animal products were allowed during Lent, sweet breads (containing milk, eggs and/or butter) would not be on the menu. Therefore, hot cross buns would be eaten at the end of Lent. They are not just a random treat, either – the cross on the top signifies the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices represent those used to embalm him for his funeral. The first hot cross bun was apparently baked by a monk in medieval times.

The solemn nature of hot cross buns is not to be taken lightly – in 1592, Queen Elizabeth I actually forbid their sale on any day but holy days (Good Friday, Christmas, or for funerals). The punishment for selling them was to have all your product donated to the poor. James I of England did the same thing in the 1600’s; for many years you could not find a hot cross bun recipe, as the buns were only made in secret by home bakers. The first modern record of them is a written account of street sellers hawking them in the 1700’s, the source of the nursery rhyme I remember:

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny.
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons!
One a penny, two a penny.
Hot cross buns!

Of course, as with most things that carry such significance there are many bits of folklore attached to hot cross buns. Did you know…

  • hot cross buns are said to have healing powers? If you give one to someone who is sick, it can help make them better (perhaps this comes from sharing them with those less fortunate?)
  • hot cross buns don’t go bad? If you hang one in your kitchen on Good Friday, it will bode for good breads all year long, and keep your house safe from fire and bad spirits. (the preserved fruit would help keep the bun fresher, but I’m not sure I would keep it up for a full year.)
  • hot cross buns are full of luck? Taking one on a sea voyage will prevent a shipwreck, and it is said that friends sharing a bun will have a strong bond of friendship in the coming year. (Any hope against shipwreck was probably worth trying; as for friendships, well who wouldn’t want a pal that shared their treat?)

Although I don’t observe any traditional religion, I do certainly believe that sharing oneself with loved ones and in the community is important. I also believe that to be a good person requires thoughtfulness and focus. As such, I can understand the importance of Easter and appreciate its solemn history.

So, in honour of Easter, may you enjoy every moment. Whether you celebrate a feast day that is at the centre of your faith, or your family, or both, I wish you well this Easter weekend.

Peace be with you.

Food for Foolish Times

April Fool’s Day is coming up this week, and so I thought I would use that as inspiration to be a bit goofy. It could be cabin fever – the delayed arrival of spring has made me a bit stir-crazy. I don’t know about you, but I just feel that a little bit of whimsy is the best way to weather the storm.

Hopefully you will forgive the lack of nutritional value in this week’s recipes and take pleasure in knowing this topic give you water cooler fodder for the week to come!

Did you know that a real seasonal spring food is Peeps? They are a traditional sweet made by a company called Just Born, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; they come most commonly in the form of baby chicks. If you have never seen or heard of Peeps, check the Easter section of the larger grocery stores. If you’d like to see how Peeps are made, you can check out this factory video:

Peeps have a very loyal following, with some people taking their appreciation to quite imaginative heights! There are even such Peep pastimes as Peep Jousts (arm your Peep with a toothpick under his wing for a lance, then put him in the microwave with another combatant and after placing your wagers on the winner, push the ON button. The winner is the one that expands enough to engulf his unwitting enemy.) I could have posted a video on this, but I prefer that you imagine the fun…

There is Peep art – patterns of the charming little fellows glued on canvas that sell for hundreds of dollars. (Peeps do come in an array of colours, allowing for numerous permutations in design, so it’s not as silly as you might think.)

 

Simple indulgence in Peeps is ample goofiness, and you needn’t feel guilty eating them. They are only 32 calories each, and there are 350 million of them made each year, so they are certainly not endangered.

I suppose if you prefer natural foods, you could just stick to regular marshmallows. Did you know they have been around for 200 years and that originally the root of the marshmallow plant was what made them sticky and gooey? This plant was also used to soothe sore throats. I don’t know if you could attest to a marshmallow doing that but it arguably does make you feel better when you eat one.

Whether you like them pre-stuck to Rice Krispies in a square or roasted over an open flame will not diminish the smile that seems to get stuck on your face after eating them.

I have a few final notes for you if you choose to let whimsy strike and indulge in the spongy confection…

  1. Beware anyone brandishing a roasted marshmallow – flaming and sticky is not a very safe combination in the air.
  2. If you do get melted (or manhandled) marshmallow stuck somewhere it shouldn’t be, remember to remove it as soon as possible or it will become like Super Glue.
  3. The best remedy for unsticking marshmallow bits seems to be licking them off, so try to aim for something or someone you like. (If you use peanut butter, be sure to ask about nut allergies first.)

If you like your marshmallow inside something else, here’s a recipe that includes the other seasonal sweet – chocolate.

Chocolate-Marshmallow Brownies

3/4 cup Callebaut chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups white sugar
5 large eggs

Zest of 1 full orange, grated on a “microplane” (fine grater)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups small Callebaut chocolate chunks (or chocolate chips)
2 cups miniature marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Heat chocolate and butter in a pan slowly while stirring, until melted. Stir in sugar until melted and well blended. Cool the mixture 10 to 15 minutes.

Add eggs, orange zest and vanilla and stir until blended. Add flour, salt, and mix again. Add chocolate chunks and marshmallows, and pour into your pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until brownies spring back when touched in the centre of the pan. Let cool on a wire rack. Cut and serve at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar if you want to dress them up.

Happy April Fools’ Day 🙂 And if you’re saving yourself, Happy Easter!

No green beer here, but soda bread is tasty stuff

I love special days, holidays. At their root, all of them involve food in some way. It’s fun to explore special foods and traditional dishes, especially in the ambience that surrounds such a day. The other part of these days is the social celebration. Gathering together to share the food and the spirit of the day is essential to the fun. What’s not to love about all that?

I am not so much a fan of commercial efforts to popularize a holiday; green beer, for example, is not my thing. It’s not an Irish tradition to have green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, but rather a Guinness or other Irish brew. I like the opportunity to try the local specialty. Even as a kid I was not a fan of the then-trendy Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s.

Some say that it’s a travesty to bastardize tradition by commercializing the essence of a holiday, but sometimes there are benefits. In the mid-70’s McDonalds used some of the proceeds from Shamrock Shake sales to fundraise with the Philadelphia Eagles. This not only benefited the child of one of their players but also helped to create the Ronald McDonald Houses.

St. Patrick’s Day food is all about the meat and potatoes. Corned beef and cabbage is a popular dinner, as is colcannon (a combination of mashed potatoes and cabbage) usually served with lamb or even sausages. There is traditional bread too – brown bread and soda bread. I find it a bit filling to have potatoes and bread at one meal, so I like to have soda bread for breakfast. It would be delicious with Beef & Guinness Stew as well, though. The stew takes a bit of time to make, but it’s worth the wait.

Ultimately the best part of St Patrick’s Day is to share one’s good blessings with a friend. Even if you only get down to the local pub for a green beer, you can at least enjoy that fraternal sentiment. In case you’re not familiar with an Irish toast, here is an easy one to use: “Sláinte”. (That’s “cheers!” in Gaelic, pronounced “slancha”.)

One last bit of advice before you head out, from the Irish themselves:

Saint Patrick was a gentleman,
Who through strategy and stealth,
Drove all the snakes from Ireland,
Here’s a toasting to his health.
But not too many toastings
Lest you lose yourself and then
Forget the good Saint Patrick
And see all those snakes again.

 

Meant to be 

I am one of the lucky ones. This week we had the day for lovers. It is the worst if you’re single and wishing you weren’t. You are reminded everywhere that you should be with someone. But I believe togetherness comes in many forms, and love takes many shapes. I am happy having my soulmate by my side but that is my life, and not what everyone wants. Happiness does not come from another, it comes from within. Sharing it is just part of the fun. 

That said, I will admit I am  a sucker for romance.i love rose petals on the bed and kisses and dinner by candlelight. I even consider it a sign that expressions of like-minded people are linked to food: “two peas in a pod”, “like bread and butter, salt & pepper”, etc. And I love spontaneous moments that make me feel connected. 

We had one of those moments on a touring day during our  vacation. We spent the day traveling the island of Cozumel in a rented jeep. My man upgraded to the jeep, intending it to be reminiscent of a movie scene from “The Thomas Crown Affair”, with Pierce Brianna and Renée Rousseau. It’s a very romantic and sexy movie, full of elegant scenes with the couple.  After only a few kilometres on the road it became more like “Romancing the Stone”, with Kurt Douglas and Kathleen Turner. More adventure than elegance, requiring more humour than grace. But we laughed and took pictures to document the story, and headed to a secluded beach anyway, despite the clunks and bangs in the vehicle. 

We were repaid for our perseverance on the beach while admiring the treasures washed ashore (and not focusing on the garbage – that topic is for another post). Each of us picked up a piece of a conch shell, still retaining some of its satiny pink lustre. As we stopped to show each other our finds, we realized a certain symmetry… sure enough, they fit together!


 I don’t want to refer to that other romantic movie about completing each other, but well you know, if the shoe fits…

Now that we are home, the memories of this day will be added to our collection of stories we tell others, and each other, over the years. We will laugh at the humour in the jeep “upgrade”, and wistfully remember all the spectacular photos forever lost when his phone went in the waves as he took a shot of me in the water. It wasn’t a perfect day, but it will be a very special memory. 

Our deal as soulmates is we focus on us as a team. When one is down, the other one pulls us back up. The phone went in the water and I didn’t say anything, I just handed mine over and said, “let’s just take more pictures”.  If I ever feel not quite up to par, he is there to cheer me on and remind me how special I am. (If I get really down he might even scold me about beating myself up.) That’s what special people do. 

Your person might be a friend, or relative, or mentor… if you don’t have one, it doesn’t hurt to ask people you know if they will give more. I have discovered that most of us want to, but we are afraid to offend. 

As we move past Valentine’s Day and look towards the coming spring, how about we all try to be someone’s cherry on their sundae – even just for a moment? The world could use a bit more love. There is no such thing as too many smiling people, too many happy hearts. 

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