Easter Paté à la Viande, Star Croissants, and celebrating the Hippity-Hop

Welcome to spring season!  I know much of the country is still wrapped up in blankets of snow and trying to stay warm.  Seeing so much wintry whiteness around the country prompted me to gravitate toward choosing something a bit heartier for our Easter table this year.

I made a classic Easter Paté à la Viande.  This is the elegant french way of saying a "meat pie" wrapped up in a thick delicious crust and baked in the oven until all of the hearty rich ingredients meld together deliciously.  The aroma that fills the house is sensational as the thick and hearty meal slides out of the oven to cool on the stove top.

Our morning sunrise...

Lately, the morning sunrises have been stunning.  I have found that in my homeschooling world, it is essential to have quiet time early in the morning - all to myself.  I patter gently around the kitchen, going through my morning coffee ritual and then sit quietly and listen to the earth stretch and wake up while sipping on either a Cafe du Monde french roast or a Community Coffee brew of dark roast, filled with hot steamed milk and a little spoon of sugar all stirred into my favorite mug. 

The birds hop and skip from one tree to another, beginning their tweets and morning chirps. Often they hop right up to the door peering in at me as I sit with only the light from the morning sunrise.  In the distance, I can hear the hum of Houston commuters winding their way into the big city and I hope they, too, are sipping a hot drink in their cars and enjoying these glorious sunrises.

This is my most precious time of day.

Easter is upon us.  Everyone around the country here is feeling restless, hopeful, and anxious about needing this seasonal shift.  Attention to the sounds, smells, and language of the earth is heightened as we welcome and anticipate  the renewal of all things green, floral, and lush.

Ducks are making their way in that elegant "V" formation across the south.  Everywhere I turn, the lakes and ponds are hosting a small flock one day and then they have moved on and disappeared the next.  

This is the best time in Texas to get out on the back roads and drive to your heart's content.  Everything is bursting, blooming, budding, and boy, oh boy, is it a wonderful spring.

Because we all know down here what scorching temperatures are just around the corner, calendars are filled with Easter Egg hunts, biking events,nature hikes and outdoor markets.  People are feverish to get outdoors and revel in the coolness before the windows get pulled in, the curtains drawn, and the dreaded air conditioner begins its seasonal hum.

Nowhere is spring more evident around here than on the sweeping drives past the many country farms that are sprawled between here and Austin.

Farm animals munch on the fields covered with hay while tucked between their legs peek out gangly little calves, tiny little lambs, and frisky little starry-eyed goats.

An Easter Pie is a delicious hearty fare that celebrates the bountiful richness of beef, game, and pork, nestled in mounds of chopped carrots and cabbage, scented with cognac and thyme.

I combined several different recipes that I found and was fond of one that soaked the meats in cognac first and also tucked in a few slices of rich foie gras inbetween the layers.  A divine feast worthy of this Easter celebration.

Every state seems to have their signature wildflowers that sweep the fields at this time of year.  Here in the south, the perky pink Indian paintbrush, richly hued bluebonnets, and sassy yellow sunflowers pop out of seemingly nowhere all along the highways.

I discovered a new passion this year as our family unit has shifted into the college years for our daughter.  The long drive to her college offers me the chance to stretch my cramped wings a bit and expand out into the countryside...feeling as free as the birds that fly overhead.

Because I am very much a morning person, I love nothing more than waking before the sun, brewing a nice hot cup of coffee, and slipping out into the silent morning country roads.

I often feel like I am the only person heading out of Houston during that time.  How wrong I am though.  I soon notice all of the quiet hustle and bustle of farm life that is quietly stirring about me as I roll down one country road after another.

Tractors are already lazily churning up and down their fields, plowing the dry earth and making it ready for the seeds they will soon plant.  Big plumes of dirt unfurl behind the tractors and the small figure of the driver can just barely be made out in the distance.

What would it be like being surrounded by so much solitude on that tractor, shrouded in the alluring morning mist?  With only yourself, the earth, the hum of the tractor, and the natural beauty of the outdoors for company.

This year for the Easter holidays, we dyed eggs in ruby red onion skins stenciled with wild flowers.  This is a creative way to achieve all sorts of unexpected patterns on Easter eggs.

I peeled a mound of red onions, piling up the beautiful red papery skins.  I heated up some water, poured in a dash of vinegar, wrapped my floral decorated eggs tightly in cheesecloth, and slowly dipped them into the warm solution.

Easter egg onion skin dye with fresh flower stencils

I find that with big 'ol teens they still (secretly) want to participate in all of the traditional trappings of the season but if I pull out the neon sparkly egg decorating kits, they cringe and wrinkle their noses.  I would too if I were their age.  

So, a bit more sophisticated Easter egg is called for at this stage of the game and I prefer this look much more than the  typical brightly colored egg dying kits from the market.

The windy twisty Colorado River running through Texas

It has amused me how many times I pass over the Colorado River way down here in Texas.  I am always intrigued by bridges and often I just have to look over the side to see what I am crossing.  

The Colorado River flows all through Texas and twists and turns its way until it reaches the Gulf of Mexico so I end up crossing it 3 or 4 times on my way into Central Texas.  

wild lilies growing on the side of country roads

So these country drives have become my new adventure lately as I visit with M.  They are my time of quiet, meditation, observation, and relaxation.  I haven't taken the same road twice.  Just when I think the drive might become boring, the season shifts and new sights, sounds, colors, and smells reveal themselves.

I am often driving parallel to the trains trundling their goods from one place to another.  Tucked way back along country roads, I marvel at the quaint and pretty little churches.  To me, they seem so much more significant and spiritual than today's huge mall-like structures.  In my mind's eye, I imagine families bringing homemade pies to share after services as children run and play in the grassy fields as opposed to the rubber infused indoor playgrounds of today.

So, I gathered all of ingredients for my Easter pie, as well as Easter eggs.  I was at 3 different markets this past week and I picked up sugar snap peas at one and some tiny little new potatoes at another.

Retreating into my kitchen, pouring myself a little glass of sherry (Glayva ...was so last week), I set to work.  No sooner  had I started to sauté the shallots and onions did I hear comments coming from different parts of the house..."Mmmm, smells wonderful in there!"

Chopping up cabbage and carrots reminds me of the kitchen scenes in "Downton Abbey" and the crunching of the vegetables against the knife is a satisfying chore to me.

Pouring in the cognac onto the meat mixture sends up rich scents of what is to be enjoyed at the end of this culinary effort.

But it is the rolling out of the Meat Pie dough that is most satisfying.  It is always enjoyable to make dishes pretty when they make their entrance to the table.  Fitting the pastry on top of the pie and forming little spring flowers for the top, while, of course, taking little sips of cognac here and there, is indeed satisfying.

One discovery on my country drives to see M. at college were these wild lilies (below) growing on the side of the road.  I pulled over and peered down at their fleeting loveliness.

These wild lilies growing alongside  the bushes will probably be gone the next time I meander this way, but it was a treat to see them in a natural state instead of only lined up in pots as in many of the markets right now.

Wild Easter Lilies growing by the side of the road

Sugar Snap Peas

Adding in the choice slices of foie gras and soaking the meats in cognac was a recipe idea that I read on a beautiful food blog that I have recently discovered, called "Manger".  

I knew these additions would bring this pie to a new level and Mimi sure knew what she was doing here.  

I have also noticed that, though I never tire of assembling traditional Easter baskets, the rather bemused expressions on my kids' faces when they see their crinkly paper-wrapped baskets sitting at the breakfast table, isn't quite as amusing to them as it is to me. I think I might need a different teen "approach" to the childhood traditional one.

So, instead of disbanding the Easter goodies treat, I thought of a new idea.  I have these large glass candle holders.  I tend to change them out according to the seasons.  For example, for fall, I fill them with acorns and nestle a fat spice scented candle in the middle.  Or, I might have pinecones or pecans at other times of the year.

What I'll do, for my now older teens, is nestle a gorgeous chocolate easter bunny in the middle and build up mounds of jelly beans and chocolate eggs all around it.  There might be a few hollow eggs in there too, where they  just may find a few monetary surprises as an Easter gift to "renew" what I know are some pretty bare wallets.

This way, I get a pretty table presentation for myself and they get to dig in and keep the goodies once the dishes are cleared away without any crimson faces of embarrassment about holding a frilly Easter basket. Win-win do you think?

So, I tried my hand at making little pinwheel croissants this year for dessert.  I hope the video on making croissants was enjoyed.  When I was visiting the stunning blog, At Down Under, my eyes were transfixed on her beautiful plum pinwheel croissants.  Viviane is so immensely talented. She is such an artist in the kitchen and with her camera.

I do have a few more trys to endure before I get that crunchy layered croissant texture just right. Mine did taste delicious even if they were a bit more on the brioche, rather than croissant, side.  I found another video that walks me through the baby steps of making croissant dough and it is helpful as well.

If one does not succeed, try, try again!  And I will.

So, please do share, all of your plans for this Easter and spring time of year.  What lands on your table at this time of year?  A delicious ham studded with sweet pineapples?Roasted lamb with a special sauce, perhaps mint or rosemary?  Are you celebrating Easter, Passover, or something that might be similar?

What are your traditions?  Do you have teens whose faces turn crimson when their loo-loo mother hands them crinkly Easter Baskets tied up in big plaid Easter bows?

My inquiring mind loves to know all these things.  What dessert is in your traditional lineup?  Any Easter candy gets top priority in your home?  I have a ceramic Easter bunny that I fill with Dove chocolate eggs every year.

But most importantly, when that snow melts away in the north, and for all of us down here in the South, get out there on those country roads.  Drive slowly and take in all of the spring sights.  

Pick some wildflowers or just roll down the windows and  enjoy the shift of seasons once again.

Find those country chapels and dusty back roads with bustling little farms. Revel in the peace and quiet of a serene country drive while the Earth breathes a relieved sigh of renewal and rebirth.

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