In honor of chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, matzo brei, fancy pants, Oma, Mom and the joy of it all, some seasonal musings I first posted few years ago. 🙂
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t follow any specific religious dogma, unless you count no white before memorial day. Rather, my dogma tends to be an amalgam of all of them, paying particular attention to the ones with food-related traditions. So at this time of Passover, Easter and the Vernal Equinox (lest we forget the Druids), I’m quite happy. I get to sample all sorts of wonderful fare, from matzo brei and gefilte fish (the former being a perfect vehicle for butter, the latter for horseradish), to wonderful Easter breads, eggs in every form, and fresh ingredients sprouting from the newly thawed ground. It’s a veritable new life and renewed hope buffet.
Food aside (for the moment), I do appreciate all the traditions celebrated this time of year. As a little girl up we did Easter, but the Sunday School litany held less interest for me than ceremonies involving jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, and playing hide and seek for eggs colored with PAAS dye. And my favorite holiday tradition involved getting a new dress from my grandmother and matching accessories (bag, gloves, hat and especially fancy shoes) from mom. No frills were spared, and it was not unusual to have ruffles on my dress, gloves, socks, and, of course, fancy pants. What exactly are ‘fancy pants’? Dressy bloomers for little girls. Think underwear with rhumba-sleeve-sized ruffles. Fancy pants were worn under your dress but over your underwear, and, in my opinion, definitely meant to be admired by all. I loved my fancy pants, I mean really loved them, and found countless ways to show them off. Cartwheels worked pretty well, a subtle but effective option, but it wasn’t beyond me to hike up my pretty dress and say in a loud voice “look at my fancy pants”. Fashion is fashion after all.
My fancy pant obsession aside, of all the traditions of day the most beloved by my family was the knitted chicken. For us, it just wouldn’t be Easter without a flock of them. Let me explain. As part of our Easter baskets, my grandmother would give us plastic eggs filled with jelly beans, chocolate eggs and the like. However, decorum being what it was, these eggs could never be presented naked. They required dressing, and their vestments took the form of a knitted chicken sitting on top. Usually white or yellow with a red comb, googly eyes and a jaunty pink ribbon around wooly neck, knitted chickens lined up down the middle of the table, smugly guarding their plastic eggs filled with sugary bounty. As we grew older and into obnoxious adolescence, we’d make fun of these poultry egg-cozies, but they had better be on that Easter table.
The flock has scattered in the subsequent years, but I’m betting if you visited my brother or mother on Sunday, pieces of the knitted chicken nativity would be on display, regardless of whether the grown kids were around. After all, that chocolate bunny needs guarding. 😉
Eggs play a part in all of the holidays this time of year, which seems logical since life, hope and rebirth are central themes. Since they are one of my favorite foods, eggs feature in my recipe too. When I was a kid one of the best treats my mom made for dessert was my grandmother’s baked custard. Similar to flan or crème brulee but far less fussy, there are few desserts more comforting. I’ve decided to take Oma’s basic recipe and liven it up a bit with a little orange in the form of zest and a splash of Cointreau. My Baked Orange Custard would make a great dessert (or breakfast) on any holiday table this season. Baked Orange Custard
Makes eight 1/2-cup servings
- 3 cups milk (whole is best, 2% works too)
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tsps Cointreau or Grand Marnier
- ½ tsp orange zest
Preheat oven to 500°F. Put eight ½ cup ramekins or glass custard cups into a roasting pan or large lasagna pan. Fill the pan up with warm water to about ½ way up the cups, creating a water bath. Whisk together eggs, sugar, salt, liqueur and zest and set aside. Heat the milk in a saucepan to scalding (just before it boils and there are little bubbles around the sides of the pan.) Take the milk off heat. While whisking egg mixture, add in about 1/3 cup of the hot milk and whisk well. You are bringing the temperature of the eggs up or tempering the eggs (so that you have a smooth mixture and not sweet scrambled eggs.) Now add the rest of the milk and whisk thoroughly. Skim off about a tablespoon of the foam and put into each cup, then carefully fill the cups with ½ cup of the custard mixture. Bake the custards in the oven for 10 minutes or until just set and the tops have browned a little. If they are browning too quickly, just loosely cover pan with foil. If they are not set by 10 minutes, turn oven off and leave the custard in a few minutes more until they set. Carefully remove the custards from the water and let cool a little. These are wonderful warm, but are also swell at room temperature. If you are not serving right away, let cool to room temp then cover with cling film and store in the fridge. Let them come to room temperature before serving. Calories: approximately 220 per ½ cup serving.