Looking toward warm days

Welcome to April. Finally we can look forward to warmer days and more sunny skies. Knowing how we humans are though, we will probably be complaining about the heat by July or August. The spring flowers are starting to bloom in our valley and the dandelions are shooting up out of the ground, just ready for us to consume them.

April is a special month for me. Easter comes with beautiful springtime glory and it is the month of my first son’s birth. I lived in Charlotte, N.C., then and the trip home from the hospital along Queen’s Drive with all the flowering shrubs and spring bulbs in flower was beyond beautiful. If you are traveling through Charlotte this time of year, get a city map and drive through that section of large, beautiful homes and gardens. It is as pretty as any of the famous gardens you might visit anywhere and you will never forget the beauty of it. April is also the birth month of my oldest great-grandson, Seth. He is really special, too.

Of course, the spring rains will bring on spring mud (the fifth season of the year) but no one will mind as long as the weather warms. Except me, of course. I hate mud. The house varmints – three dogs and three cats and a husband and grandkids – will guarantee that a goodly measure of exercise will be done with daily mopping. A new mop has just been added to the household, but it isn’t trained yet; it just sits in the corner and doesn’t realize it is supposed to jump up and mop by itself. It must not speak English. It is the time for spring cleaning, anyway, so it also is the time to quit complaining and get busy.

There was a story of a woman who was extremely depressed and prayed for help. She heard a voice inside her say, “Do the dishes”. So she did, then had an inspiration to clean the house, and then cook supper for her family, and worked her way out of her depressed thinking. I have found that I do better when I “Do the dishes.” Now I need to keep saying that to myself and get that spring cleaning done, or at least started. Guess age is making me lazy. Either that or a vicious unconscious thought to let everything go for a few years so someone else has to clean up my mess. One way to get even with everyone. This happens every year: I put off starting that spring cleaning and then it gets nice outside and I don’t want to stay inside. That mop isn’t the only slow learner around here.

I get several magazines, husband Norm says way too many, and they show so many neat ideas for springtime renewing and freshening up rooms. The more I read about what can be done, the more I think it would be easier to just start out with a new house. Since that isn’t likely to happen in this century, I guess I had better get to work with training that new mop.

Easter is just two weeks away. If you are making any candy eggs, now is the time to get the recipes and ingredients together. Several groups sell large Peanut Butter Easter eggs. So many folks seem to be allergic to peanut butter that you should check to see if a person can eat it before you make or buy them one of those eggs. If you are going to dye the brown onion eggs, go to your grocer now to get some onion skins. Even though we are all “big kids” around here now, I will probably dye some, just for the fun of it. The easy method will included with the recipes today.

Both lamb and ham are traditional meats for that Easter feast, but cook whatever your family likes. Any special family meal should be special just for your family. You could make some Ruby Eggs to nestle in kale or endive to put around your meat entre to fancy it up. If you canned some spiced peaches and/or red crabapples last year, this is a good time to use them for garnish, too. If you fancy-up any dish, it seems to taste better. We eat with our eyes first.

In our house, the dessert for Easter used to be a white cake with lemon curd filling and white icing with coconut or the cake of choice when Easter fell on my son’s birthday. Then it would be decorated with green coconut nests and jellybeans for eggs and other Easter candy or a regular birthday cake in the theme he wanted. Easter dinner has gotten simpler as everyone got older. In fact, we have gone to buffets at local State parks. That means less work for me and everyone can get whatever choices one wants to eat. If you do decide to try that out, call and make reservations. It is dangerous to just show up as they may have all the tables full of those who have made reservations. The local hotels all have great Easter buffets, too.

At the first chance of warm weather, the urge to get out into the garden and plant like crazy is very strong. However, it is important not to plant some things too soon or you will be replanting them. Norm insists he isn’t going to plant anything until the first of June as a very successful gardener told him that was the way he planted as the soil was warm then and the young plants didn’t get a cold shock if a cool spell came. I am not able to wait that long with some of what I want to plant and too often Norm is right. We aren’t planting much this year, though, so it won’t be as much of a discussion. This old farm girl has to plant some things, though.

Enjoy this spring as it finally comes into our valley and make some memories with your little ones. Fix the swing, plant some onions and lettuce, sweep off the patio and get ready for a wonderful season. If it gets warm enough, you might even get that old grill going. Help someone today and smile at everyone, even those who might not like you – it will drive them crazy. God Bless.

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ONION PEEL EASTER EGGS

Use an enamel, glass or stainless steel large pot. Fill the container with dry brown onion peels. Nestle the raw eggs in the peels, making certain the peels are around all of each egg and no eggs are cracked. Pour some vinegar over this – 1/4th to 1/2 cup, depending on the size of your container and the number of eggs. Add cool water to cover the eggs. Heat over low to medium heat until it is just simmering. Do not boil. Let the eggs simmer at least 30 minutes. The longer they simmer, the darker they will be. Carefully lift the eggs from the peel water and place on wire racks (placed over newspapers) to cool. Remove any peel that is sticking to the eggs as it is impossible to get off after the eggs cool. It is best to wear vinyl gloves as the onion water will stain your hands. If you scratch the eggs at this point, the color will come off. When they are cool, rub gently with a soft cloth that has a little vegetable shortening on it to make them shine. You can use a light colored crayon to write or draw designs on the eggs before you put them into the onion peels and it will not be colored where the crayon is.

If, in spite of being gentle, an egg comes out cracked, don’t throw it away as the onion flavor will be in it and it is extra good, especially in Dandelion Salad or Deviled Eggs.

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“ROSY” EGGS

Place whole, peeled hard-boiled eggs in beet juice to cover – either plain or pickled beet juice. Leave them in the beet juice until they turn red. Remove from the juice and blot so the juice doesn’t get inside the eggs. Cut in half. You will have a red outside, but the inside will be white, then the yellow yolk. You can leave them like this or you can remove the yolk and make a deviled egg mixture that you put back into the shell. A shake of paprika on either way you leave the yolk adds a touch of color, too. Use fresh parsley sprigs, or endive or kale, around the eggs. I use them for garnish around a roast or ham on Easter.

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EASTER EGG

FONDANT

4 cups sugar

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Flavoring

Food coloring

Candy coating compound, color of your choice

Combine sugar, cream and cream of tartar in a heavy 3-quart saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, just until sugar dissolves. Cook to softball stage (236 degrees). Watch carefully to avoid boiling over. If sugar crystals form on the side of the pan, wipe them off with a damp cloth wrapped around the tines of a fork. Don’t let it touch the boiling candy. When temperature is reached, pour candy onto buttered baking sheets or platters. Do not scrape pan. Let stand until lukewarm, then work (cream) like fondant until creamy and light in color. Divide into quarters and work in flavoring and food coloring in each separately (for four different flavors of eggs). Shape into egg shaped ovals and dip into melted coating compound.

Fruit and nut egg – 1/8 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon chopped nuts and 1 to 2 tablespoons minced candied fruit

Maple nut egg – 2 tablespoons finely chopped pecans and 2 to 3 drops maple flavoring

Lemon egg – Three drops lemon extract and 2 to 3 drops yellow coloring

Mint egg – 2 to 3 drops mint extract and 3 drops green food coloring

Cherry nut egg – 2 tablespoons finely minced, well-drained maraschino cherries, 1 tablespoon finely chopped nuts and 2 to 3 drops red food coloring

Pick some of the suggestions above to make the eggs or use your own ideas for flavoring and color. Any fondant will make the eggs. Eggs can be decorated with any decorating icing.

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SCALLOPED OYSTERS

24 ounces frozen oysters and liquid, thawed

3 1/2 cups coarsely crushed saltine crackers

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 eggs beaten

2 tablespoons dry sherry

1/2 cup butter, melted

Break up or cut oysters into small pieces. Combine all ingredients, reserving 2 tablespoons of the melted butter. Mix well. Pour into lightly greased Crockpot. Drizzle reserved butter over top. Cover and slip a wooden pick between the lid and pot to vent. Cook on low setting for 5 to 7 hours or on high setting for 2 to 3 hours.

This makes about 1-1/2 quarts or four servings. You can double the recipe for a 5-quart Crockpot and for more servings.

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Patty Christopher is a longtime columnist for The Parkersburg News & Sentinel.