It's Easter weekend and it has been absolutely beautiful in my corner of the world. This is the time of the year when Houston is breathing fresh air scented with flowers galore...bluebells, ruby-red Indian paintbrush, ivory colored camelia, and bright red poppies (new this year) are flowering everywhere.
I carefully unwrapped my hand blown Easter eggs that I somehow manage to keep intact from year to year. This year, 3 new hand-painted Easter eggs, carried back from our recent trip to Alsace, France were added to the Easter tree.
Madeleine is coming home for the Easter holiday. She is in sore need of a break having been sick for the past week. I can't wait to get her home, know she's sleeping in her beautiful bed, and resting and eating well.
|Bottom Left: The new additions...|
Hand-painted Easter Eggs from the Alsace region of France
Patrick has just returned from working in England. Chester reacts as if it is the most joyous occasion on the planet when he returns from a trip. Riley and I have been toiling nonstop at his curriculum. Deadlines for all classes must be met and they are looming on the calendar. Why?...because we will soon have a plane to catch...
I'm also excited because we finally get to indulge in the treats that we brought back from our recent trip to Alsace , France that I had put away, wanting to savor them on a special occasion. I haven't finished posting the photos of the trip yet. I've collected a handful of photos from Strasbourg and prepared a delicious meal inspired by that handsome and genteel city.
|Bottom: Left: Chester...truly the happiest of our bunch|
But, more on that later...this week, I whisked and stirred and baked and roasted a grand Easter feast for our family that I could not wait to enjoy and share.
Two things I am most looking forward to enjoying that came back from the trip that were tucked deep in our suitcases. We brought back a beautiful bottle of sweet Gewursztraminer wine from Alsace. I've paired it with an Italian Easter ricotta pie called Pastiera. This dessert is a cross between a cheesecake and rice pudding. It is less sweet than most desserts with a cozy cinnamon/cream mixture so the Gewursztraminer can be the highlight.
Just the aroma alone of the arborio rice simmering slowly on the stovetop with the cinnamon, vanilla, and cream filled the house for the day. This dessert is pillowy soft and has flavors that seem simple but yet are complex.
We have a collection of Easter memories that I hold dear. So many of the memories happened in different states and even in different countries. On our very first trip to England, Patrick and I were newlyweds. We stayed at a charming, creaky, rambling family home in Bath. The trip fell over the Easter holiday and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how the English celebrate Easter. I didn't grow up eating lamb at all in my southern state of Louisiana. But, on Easter day, the entire house in England was filled with the scent of rosemary and lamb roasting in the kitchen. This was my introduction to roast lamb and I thought I had never smelled anything lovelier.
The family of the inn was in the kitchen preparing an Easter feast. It smelled divine. I could not forget that enticing aroma that wafted throughout the entire inn. Since that lovely experience, lamb has now become a traditional Easter dish for our family...all due to those aromatic memories!
|Bottom Right: Springerle Cookies need a good 24 hours to dry out |
so they only rise from the bottom and the cutout stays sharp
On this recent trip to Alsace, we walked into a cute-as-a-button German gift shop in the village of Riquewihr called Witt Claude Poterie. The shop had a wall filled with lovely Springerle molds.
|Top Right: Easter in Alsace, France...|
shop windows were adorned with signs of Spring and Easter
I immediately thought of my mother-in-law and the adorable imprinted Springerle cookies she makes each year for Christmas. They are usually flavored with anise, a liquorice-like flavor. I've only ever eaten these crunchy cookies at Christmas. Springerle are hard cookies that are wonderful for dipping into a cup of hot coffee. In addition to many Christmas molds, there were also many molds for the Easter holiday and spring season at this little shop.
I picked out a few molds and thought I would make Springerle cookies for the Easter weekend. I've been waiting and excited to try out my new molds. One of the molds is of a bunny and the other is of a girl standing in front of a beehive. She is collecting the honey and tiny little bees can be seen buzzing around the beehive.
The Easter table this year is turning out to be rather representative of an international collaboration. No Easter seems to be complete without my Greek Tsoureki Easter bread with dyed red eggs baked into the loaf. Since I've discovered the enticing spice, cardamom, it has become almost as lovely of a smell to me as cinnamon. And cinnamon is certainly a favorite American spice.
|Dye-ing the "Blood" eggs for the Greek Tsoureki breakfast bread|
The bluebells are carpeting the countryside en masse. I wanted to get much of my cooking prep work done during the week so that I can thoroughly enjoy the drive through the countryside from Houston to Austin.
|Bottom Left: the bluebells that sweep across the Texas landscape in spring|
Picking up Madeleine offers the perfect opportunity to drive the back roads and soak in this seasonal highlight. We can catch up on all of the happenings of her college life while enjoying the passing scenery. The sun will get hot and dry up all of this fresh beauty soon so we need to take advantage of it now.
Tsoureki Easter bread is an easy to make loaf that has characteristics of both Challah bread and Brioche but with the addition of the spice cardamom.
Traditionally, the Greeks dye the eggs red and tuck them into the bread while baking. The eggs have two symbolic meanings. One, eggs represent the renewal of the earth that comes with springtime. Also, the eggs are dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ and mark this religious observance in the Christian world.
So, to market to market I went this week...gathering the list of wonderful ingredients to mark our own Easter occasion. I checked beforehand to be sure I could get a fresh leg of lamb. My rosemary made it through the winter so I snipped handfuls of this lovely musky scented herb.
|Top Right: Etched white wine glasses from the quirkiest man...we met in Kaysersberg, France|
Seasonally, asparagus, fava beans, and spring peas are making their showing in the markets so they were bundled into my basket. I thought a nice creamy hollandaise sauce to spoon on top would be delicious. There certainly were lots of eggs to buy during the week!
|Greek Tsoureki Bread Loaf with "blood" eggs|
Another enchanting little shop we found along the Alsace "Route des Vins" was Feerie de Noel in Riquewhir. Since Easter was around the corner, they had baskets filled with hand-painted blown Easter eggs. My little Easter tree keeps growing with eggs found in different corners of the world and a memory is attached to each painted egg.
|Bottom Right: Hand painted Easter Eggs from Faerie de Noel shop in Riquewihr, France|
I carefully, VERY carefully carried these beautiful eggs back from France and managed to return across the Atlantic Ocean with them all in one piece.
Greek Tsoureki Easter bread is our indulgence for the morning with cups of strong french roast coffee, thick jam and softened whole butter.
|Tsoureki Greek Easter Bread with Cardamom spice|
Then, for our dessert this year, I moved further south to the rolling hills of the Italian landscape. This is a new recipe to me. Pastiera is an Italian dessert often made during spring in Italy. It is made from softened and cinnamon spiced arborio rice simmered slowly in whole milk. Then this creamy deliciousness is gently folded into fresh ricotta cheese and eggs. The plump little rice kernels throughout the pie represent little seeds of spring renewal.
One of the highlights of the recent trip through Alsace was being able to see the migrating storks (les cigoynes) nesting on the tops of homes and church steeples. It was indeed a wonderful sighting to see so many of them elegantly sweeping along the sky. Their "clucking" noises filled the air in the small villages as they flew from the vineyards with long wispy scraps of vines dangling from their long pointed beaks to be woven into their enormous scraggily nests.
|German Springerle Cookies|
For my Italian Pastiera dessert, I couldn't resist the idea of toasting little "nests" of coconut to be reminiscent of the storks' nests. In many of the chocolate shops in the Alsace region where the storks can be seen, there are packages of white speckled chocolate-filled eggs that are meant to resemble the eggs of the storks.
|Draining the ricotta overnight for the Pastiera|
I brought back a small package of these eggs and placed one in each of my little coconut nests in order to adorn the top of each slice of Pastiera...the way the storks' nests dominated the skyline of the rooftops of the villages.
The photo of the kids at the very top was taken of the children while spending Easter in Italy. I look at that photo now and chuckle. Look at those faces. Quite cheeky, I'd say! One of them, in particular (perhaps to the left), was a little rascal at that age. The laid back gentle teen I have now barely resembles that little guy who was into anything and everything with a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes and chunky little legs that could scurry everywhere they shouldn't be.
Many of the Italians families booked reservations at village restaurants. We booked one for our family too on the advice of our innkeeper. The restaurant was packed with multi-generational families all laughing, eating, and drinking with merriment. We were 6 at our table and were dwarfed by the numbers at most of the other tables.
Our kids ran outside to play with the other children. They couldn't understand a word anyone was saying but had a fantastic time playing, doing a little miming and just running around outside, as children love to do.
|To market. To market. To market I go!|
For me, it was such a wonderful opportunity to just stand back and watch Italian family life play out in front of me.
This year for my lamb roast, I mixed a Dijon mustard with minced garlic and chopped rosemary and a glug of olive oil. My hands smelled so divine! For the rest of the afternoon while working on various school subjects, I had these heady scents dancing around my hands.
Speaking of scents, apparently Easter time in Houston means that the markets are all set up with huge vats of steaming crawfish. Forget sweet ham and savory roasted lamb, it can appear that boiled crawfish might take over the Easter menu around here. The aroma of traditional Cajun spices linger in the air and one can see people literally being lured right to this enticing seasonal scent.
|Gratin "Stacked" Potatoes with Shallots, Thyme, and Cream|
My cajun roots start wiggling and I think to myself that probably only in the deep south can Easter time become synonymous with crawfish boils! After our Easter weekend lamb roast, I'll probably be next in line soon to get my large sac of spicy boiled crawfish, typically sold with roasted potatoes and seasoned cobs of corn.
|Fresh Asparagus, Fava Beans, Spring Peas, Caramelized Shallots with a Hollandaise Sauce|
But...I digress with the Crawfish diversion. I'm already meal planning for the near future. I don't want to miss out on the seasonal crawfish.
Back to Easter dinner. Goodness, one meal at a time!
We had our Easter luncheon a day early in our home. College students have to be ready bright and early for Monday morning classes. Madeleine and I will be enjoying rolling along the back country roads and taking in the bluebell fields as we make our way back north to Austin, Texas.
We enjoyed sharing the cool white Gerwursztraminer wine as well as the liqueur filled chocolates with the kids. One of the wonderful things about having teen/young adult children is introducing to them some new adult tastes. Yes, there were some wrinkled noses of dislike but there were other moments of pleasurable discovery at the Easter table this year!
For Easter dessert I made a quick strawberry compote to go with my Italian Pastiera Easter pie. As I was researching the many variations of this dessert, I found several recipes that add chopped candied fruit to the pie.
Perhaps I'll try that next time but I think I prefer the fruit compote on the side so it doesn't interfere too much with the tapioca-like consistency of the soft pie with its subtle flavors.
So a good long snooze is in order over here at our home. Chester had his fair sampling of lamb and he is straddled on on the top of the couch. Long afternoon naps are definitely what wonderful holiday weekends should include in the lineup of non-activities.
From our table to all of the Easter tables across the world, our family wishes everyone many blessings, happiness, and most importantly...peace on this Earth.
Labels: Alsace, asparagus with hollandaise sauce, cigoynes, Easter desserts, gratin potatoes with shallots and thyme, pastiera italian pie, ricotta pie, rosemary lamb roast, springerle cookies, tsoureki greek bread