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Welcome, spring

Easter dinner. (Provided by Yvona Fast)

The days are longer. The temps are warmer. The ice is out. The snow has (mostly) disappeared. We welcome spring to the north woods.

This year, spring has come early. It has also come with unforeseen challenges. Life has changed radically. Our world is in chaos. Uncertainty reigns. The weather has become insignificant.

Fear has filled the atmosphere. We’re afraid of a silent enemy that we can’t see. We fear illness, death, losing loved ones.

Instead of rejoicing in the spring weather and preparing for the holidays, we’re sheltering in place and social distancing from friends and family members — really, anyone outside our household. Instead of celebrating the resurrection and freedom from slavery, we’ve become slaves to our fears.

Passover, which commemorates the sorrow of the Jews’ slavery in Egypt and the joy of freedom and deliverance, began with the traditional Seder meal after sundown on April 8 and will end on April 16. Easter, which memorializes Christ’s suffering on the Cross followed by his glorious resurrection and victory over sin and death, will be celebrated Sunday, April 12.

These annual festivals commemorate the victory of love over fear, of life over death. We remember bitter sadness and celebrate the joys of renewal and rebirth. We have the power of God. His perfect love casts out fear.

At both holidays, the special meal is much more than food; it is ritual, story, family, joy, life. The Passover Seder, with its array of symbolic foods and matzoh instead of bread, is the most special meal of the year. Easter comes with an assortment of traditional dishes that reflect the fresh green color of springtime. The focal point of the Jewish celebration was the sacrifice and ceremonial eating of the paschal lamb, while most Christians eat ham for Easter.

At Passover, Jewish families all over the world gather together to celebrate their historic roots, and at Easter, Christian families gather together to commemorate the resurrection of Christ. But this is a time of changing routines and traditions. This year, we won’t gather together in houses of worship. We won’t have large holiday gatherings. Our whole world has shrunk to our homes. We can still have a special meal with our family — but friends and relatives will have to celebrate in their own homes.

We can still partake in the typical menu. Both holidays include a medley of flavors: spicy, bitter, pungent, tart foods and sweet desserts to end the meal. Traditional foods help us bond with a shared story. They connect us with history and help us fashion new customs.

Matzoh Brei

While not a part of the traditional Seder, this matzoh and egg dish — with its many variations — is a popular breakfast treat during Passover week.

Ingredients:

3 eggs

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

3 matzoh crackers

1 Tablespoon butter

1 large or 2 small onions

Directions:

Beat the eggs with salt, pepper and milk. Break up the matzoh crackers, and let soak in this mixture for at least 30 minutes, stirring every so often.

While matzohs are soaking, melt butter in a large skillet. Peel and chop the onions, sprinkle with a little salt, and cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally until translucent and golden in color, but not brown. Pour in the egg-matzoh mixture, stir, cover, and cook until the eggs set and the dish is slightly puffy. Serve warm. Serves 2 to 3. For an elegant brunch, serve with crisp-tender asparagus spears and a plate of fresh sliced tomatoes.

Ala’s Easy

Easter Babka

Traditional babka is complicated and needs to rise several times. This is a simplified but delicious version our Polish friend Ala shared with us.

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons yeast

1-1/4 cups milk

2 cups sugar

6 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups flour

1 cup raisins

1 teaspoon grated orange zest or orange peel

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

Directions:

Prepare bundt pan (grease and flour).

Dissolve yeast in warm milk. Stir in 2 Tablespoons of the sugar to dissolve, then stir in the yeast. The mixture will bubble slightly.

In another bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining sugar and vanilla.

In a large bowl, combine flour with raisins and orange peel. Stir in the yeast mixture. Add the beaten eggs. Melt the butter, and add slowly while beating with electric mixer. Transfer to well-greased bundt pan. Let rise in a warm place until almost doubled, about an hour. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes.

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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrites@yahoo.com or on Facebook at Words are My World or Author Yvona Fast.

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