I'm not a religious person. My spiritual beliefs align themselves around The The Golden Rule and a love and respect for the wonder of the world around me. While I'm not much for organized religion, I do love tradition and family history, which has clearly been influenced by my religious heritage.
That is why I love spring. My Christian upbringing provides me with an understanding of and respect for the rituals of Lent, Holy Week and Easter. My Jewish extended family gives me an appreciation of the significance of Passover. In the end, for me spring is a time of renewal and joy, rich with tradition. It's a perfect time to celebrate with family and friends.
Over the years my family has created and refined our own version of a spring fete. We honor our combined personal history in a mash-up of longstanding traditions. Call it what you will -- Passter, Eastover, or even Beltane -- it's a time when we gather to be together around a table laden with food, a time to welcome green grass and spring flowers, and revel in the spirit of rebirth and reawakening.
Most of the food I make holds years of memories, but we often introduce something new to see if it makes the cut. (We do the same with people. If they embrace the spirit of the gathering, they're invited back. If it all seems too unorthodox, they usually run screaming to the nearest church or synagog.)
The meal starts with chopped liver, served on matzo. I've used my own tweaked version of The Barefoot Contessa's recipe forever. It's divine!
What am I, chopped liver? Yup!
Next up, matzo ball soup. I always have home made chicken stock on hand. Whenever I roast a chicken, which is often, I make a pot of soup after. I throw the roasted chicken bones, skin, neck, gizzards, chopped carrots, onions, celery, a head of garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary, maybe some thyme and a cup or two of white wine into a stock pot. Then I cover it all with water, bring to a boil and then simmer. For a long, long time. Strain and voila! Perfect chicken stock.
Chicken Soup. It makes me happy.
Into the chicken soup I float lovely, pillowy matzo balls, the making of which is demonstrated here.
Matzo, matzo ball, I'm proud to be a matzo ball.
Next up, the Main Event. It's always a perfectly roasted chicken. Or two. Or three. Depending on the numbers. Life is hard. Perfectly roasted chicken is easy. Start with a great quality bird. I'm a fan of Bell & Evans. Preheat oven to 425º. Rinse, pat dry and place in a roasting pan. Put half a lemon and two or three cloves of garlic in the cavity. Slide a few more garlic cloves under the skin on the breast and thighs. Give your bird a little shower in white wine. Have a glass for yourself. Sprinkle lovingly with sea salt and course ground pepper. Give you bird a little chicken broth to sit in while it's cooking. That's it.
I cook my bird faster and shorter than most, but it's done when the internal temperature reaches 180º.
Life is hard. Perfectly roasted chicken is easy.
The bird is served with fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy made from those yummy pan drippings. Also on the plate are bright green beans sauteed with bits of salty pancetta. Definitely NOT Kosher for Passover.
Dessert is often the wild card of the Spring Fling. This year, because I am obsessed with Cabot Vanilla Greek Yogurt, I decided to make Vanilla Cupcakes with Greek Yogurt Buttercream Icing. I'm not much of a baker, but these were off-the-hook delicious.
Light and tasty: Vanilla Greek Yogurt Cupcakes with Vanilla Greek Yogurt Buttercream Icing. Oy!
At this particular celebration, the Christians outnumbered the Jews and the non-observant outnumbered them both. But we were united in our feelings of celebration...of spring, of life, of each other.