Around the globe, spring feasts are for renewal
This season welcomes a stream of festivals and holidays to celebrate rebirth, freedom and, of course, food. Spring fever has also inspired the calendar gremlins to declare March 21 as Children’s Poetry Day. In honor of the latter (please, forgive me), my contribution is a food-inspired poem:
Fevered by March and literary greats
Even the Kitchen Shrink celebrates
Speckled Easter eggs and roasted lamb
Fresh rhubarb and strawberry jam
Primavera pasta, asparagus and peas
Tall tumblers of pink blossom iced teas
Frothy banana, kiwi and mango shakes
Coconut macaroons and Passover sponge cakes
Here’s a sampling of some spring traditions around the globe and how they incorporate food into the mix.
Geisha Barbie does sushi and sake
In Japan, Hinamatsuri is celebrated on the third day of the third month as families herald spring with the Peach Festival, or Festival of Dolls. On this day, they pray for the happiness and prosperity of their little girls with a display of heirloom dolls and scattering of peach blossoms (a symbol of gentility and tranquillity of the female). Ritual foods include a sweet snack called Hina arare (grilled pieces of rice cake), hishimochi (diamond-shaped rice cakes with pink, green and white layers) placed as an offering to the dolls, along with sushi and a sweet, nonalcoholic type of sake called shirozake. Confection shops also sell Hinamatsuri cakes with miniature emperors and princesses perched atop.
March matzo madness
Passover, or Pesach, the timeless story or exodus, begins at sunset on March 29 this year. On the two Seder nights, symbolic or ritual foods are arranged on the Seder plate. This childhood ditty still helps me prepare my plate: “Let’s arrange the Seder plate everything in order: haroset, shank bone, parsley, egg and in the center morror.” The favorite is the dessertlike haroset, a mixture of fruits and nuts that resembles the mortar the Hebrew slaves used to build the Egyptian pyramids.
Let me assure you that no one feels deprived during Passover. Fresh fruits and veggies are allowed, along with kosher fish, meat and fowl, and yes, macaroons. Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors came from Spain via Turkey, Persia and the Middle East, are permitted to eat rice and other no-nos in the Ashkenazi (Jews from Eastern European parts) household.
Hot cross bunnies
Coinciding with Passover week is Easter, which symbolizes the reawakening and rebirth of nature through the great story of resurrection. The delicacies that anchor our taste buds to this story are chocolate Easter bunnies, all manners of eggs, roasted ham and hot cross buns laced with currents and candied fruits, and decorated with vanilla frosting crosses representing the crucifixion.
A chocolate carnivale
Springtime in Italy is abound with festivals. In March, Turin is morphed into a chocolate wonderland as it hosts Cioccolato, the annual chocolate festival. A chocolate factory displays the process of making our beloved antioxidant aphrodisiac, and tastings along with cooking demonstrations and workshops for children are offered. Chocolate meisters concoct such divine combinations as rack of venison with cocoa beans, pasta with sweet chocolate pepper sauce, and canaroli rice blended with dark chocolate and hazelnut.
Meanwhile, Festa della Primavera is ubiquitously celebrated on March 21, centered around regional food specialties. Such northern Italian dishes as risotto and polenta, wild game and fowl with rich cream-based sauces are showcased along with southern delights as calzones and pizzas, milk-fed baby lamb, pastas of all kinds, and treasures of the sea or frutti di mare cooked in wine and olive oil.
Bonfire of the blintzes
Russians celebrate Maslenitsa — the pushing back of darkness and the return of warmth. This folk festival is the last hurrah when people can indulge in meat, fish and dairy before the somber period of Lent prohibits these palate pleasures. A straw replica of the Lady of Maslenitsa is set ablaze and leftover blintzes and other treats are thrown into the bonfire, the ashes scattered in the fields to fertilize next year’s crops.
My holiday contribution is a recipe for Passover macaroons that blends chocolate for Italy, eggs for Easter, and if you shape them like a sushi roll and burn them, then Japan and Russia are represented, too.
Chocolate Chip Macaroons
- 1 14-ounce package of shredded coconut
- 1 small can of sweetened condensed milk
- 3 medium egg whites
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 4 ounces of mini bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, combine the coconut, milk, vanilla and chocolate chips. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into the coconut mixture. Drop tablespoon-size dollops of the mixture onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.