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Thursday, April 17, 2014 12:01 am

Easters past

PHOTO BY METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION

 

What a difference a couple of years make!

In 2012 Easter fell on the seventh of April. It was a glorious weekend, undoubtedly our best Easter ever. The most wonderful thing about it was the marriage of our daughter, Ashley. It was a joyous celebration, a gathering of friends and family at our home that lasted all weekend, from the rehearsal dinner weiner roast Friday night, the wedding and reception on Saturday, and the Easter brunch and massive egg hunt for the many children Sunday morning.

The planning and preparations and sheer hard work had certainly paid off. But there was another factor over which we had no control that made the weekend even more special: Mother Nature had been an awesome assistant. The preceding winter had been unusually warm, and many of our flowering shrubs that always died back to the ground in winter were in full flower. A late hard freeze, which sadly often happens around that time and can turn many mid-spring blooms to brown, hadn’t happened.

 In fact, it was so warm that many of the flowers I’d thought would be blooming were already gone; later-spring blossoms had taken their place. The fern bed that had been here when we moved in, had never, ever been so lusciously green so early. Our many maples’ pale green flower fronds and infant leaves overhead had just begun to unfurl, creating a lace-like canopy dappling the sunlight that shone through them.

This year, almost three calendar weeks later, our wooded lawn is still mostly brown. A few brave crocus and daffodils have courageously emerged. But there are no ferns or flowering shrubs; in fact some of the newer shrubs and perennial flowers didn’t even survive the harsh winter. Oh well, at least we have our memories.

When our kids were young, Easter was a big deal, regardless of the weather. On Saturday afternoon and evening, we – both adults and children – would decorate hundreds of eggs. Once dry, we’d polish them with a bit of shortening, then set them out in a giant bowl for the Easter bunny to hide overnight. Then we’d light a big bonfire and have a wiener roast.

 After church the next morning (oddly at least one of the adults somehow never made it to Easter service), we’d return home to see dots of bright color sprinkled throughout the lawn, along with multiple baskets with colored ribbons to designate which of the three kids it was for. There was some candy – including Pease’s personalized chocolate eggs. But there were more small toys, games, stuffed animals, dolls – even Star Wars action figures.

 When the children were small, the adults would sneak around and rehide the eggs throughout the afternoon. Later on, the kids invented the Egg Ball Game, which consists of throwing the colorful eggs into the air and hitting them with a baseball bat. It’s a tradition still, though it’s much more limited. (Store-bought white eggs were for dyeing, never eating. Eggs for eating came from our own chickens or farmer friends.)

Naturally, as our kids grew older, our Easter Bunny routine faded away, though we still usually dye a few eggs for table decorations and the like. During the day, we always reminisce about previous Easters. Though Wedding Easter Weekend now tops the list, there’s another Easter that’s sure to come up: Peter’s Surprise Easter.

Peter had to let me in on his surprise a bit, because I’d been planning brunch. But all I knew was that it was to take place in the woods across the road. Whenever we take a walk across the road we’re reminded that people travel to get to such places. In minutes we can be away from the sights and sounds of civilization. On Easter eve, the kids spent the night at my folks, and Peter asked me to stay inside and read. I didn’t peek, but I was aware that he was making trip after trip with our garden cart.

Easter morning, he disappeared at dawn. I busied myself hiding dyed eggs and baskets until my folks and children came from church. The older kids had gotten a bit too mature for the Easter Bunny thing, so it wasn’t quite the marathon it had been in earlier years.

Soon Peter called to us from the woods’ edge. Ten minutes later, we were there. As would again happen in 2012, Mother Nature had been an awesome assistant. The woods are spectacular in their fall glory, coolly green in summer, and starkly beautiful in winter, but on certain spring days they’re magical. The ground was carpeted in white wildflowers and May apples. Here and there dark-red trilliums and purple-blue wild delphiniums reared their heads, and tiny yellow violets hid shyly under their more assertive neighbors. A soft, warm breeze carried the sounds of birdcalls, the rat-a-tat-tat of a faraway woodpecker and the rushing water of the nearby creek. Peter had found a perfect spot in a small glade with gentle slopes. A long table, covered with a cloth, held vases of wildflowers. There was fresh orange juice for the kids, mimosas for the adults. The smoke from a small campfire curled upward, carrying with it the scent of the fresh coffee steaming on the grate and bacon frying in an iron skillet. The menu was classic camping fare: scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes fried with peppers and onions, and bread toasted over the fire on sticks. No one wanted to leave after we’d eaten. The kids picked more wildflowers, splashed in the creek, and made occasional forays back to the house for Easter candy. Hours later, things began to break up when my grandmother glanced at her watch and realized that she’d better get home if we were to have dinner.

We vowed to repeat the experience each Easter, but the next year it rained and the year after it was too cold. Three years later my grandparents were unable to manage the hike. Perhaps it was for the best: Seems as if perfect experiences can never be reproduced. Still, every Easter, someone inevitably says: “Remember when we did that thing in the woods? We have to do that again sometime.”
It’s certain that Mother Nature won’t be delivering perfect weather and glorious flowers for Easter 2014. But this year, our 19-month-old granddaughter will begin the revival of our Easter Bunny routine.

Egg Ball, anyone?

Ham is traditional for many families’ Easter dinner. Our tradition is roast lamb, but when I do bake a ham, this is the glaze I use.

Bourbon, mustard, and brown sugar glaze for ham

• 2 c. chopped onions, NOT supersweet
• 1/2 c. Dijon mustard
• 3/4 c. dark brown sugar
• 1/3 c. bourbon
• 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Remove the ham from the refrigerator 2-3 hours before baking to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 300 F. Mix all the above ingredients. On a large sheet of heavy-duty foil, spread a couple spoonfuls of the glaze in a rough circle or oval and set the ham on top of it. Spoon the rest of the glaze over the ham, bring up the edges and crimp the foil to seal completely. Place the ham in a heavy baking dish, preferably nonstick and place in the oven. Alternatively, place the ham in a nonstick pan with a tight fitting lid. Bake about 2 hours or until the ham is completely heated through – it should register 100-115 F. Remove the ham from the foil and scrape as much of the glaze as possible off the foil and onto the ham. Continue to bake until the glaze has thickened and caramelized – another 30-45 minutes. Let stand for about 15 minutes, then carve and serve.

Makes enough glaze for an 8-10 lb. ham.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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