Alas, April, the mild-mannered month that typically heralds the coming of spring — and sparkles like its designated diamond birthstone with a pile of precious celebrations — is now on lock-down. These fun events that highlight fertility and rebirth, freedom, the national pastime, pranks and humor, and literary and planetary pursuits will all have to be rejiggered this year.
Easter reveres the miracle of Christ’s resurrection, while Passover (Pesach) commemorates Jews’ historic exodus from Pharaoh, and their liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. Steeped in irony the April-long National Humor Month, and Stress Awareness Month kick off, while National Poetry Month, and Garden Month bloom (although no one’s permitted outside to smell the roses).
Baseball has been benched, but April continues to branch out with Arbor Day and Earth Day. Perhaps the only silver lining in this black cloud is the healing of the planet as Mother Earth has been given a breather with the drastically reduced pollution due to diminished air and vehicle traffic, along with industrial emissions. More than ever we’re now relying on organic farmers to boost our immune systems with their bounty of spring produce.
In the spirit of poetry and stress-relieving laughter, here’s my food-inspired seasonal haiku:
Chocolate eggs lift mood
Matzo gives good jaw work-out
Eat greens, no caffeine
Passover week usually collides with Easter, and typically offers varied delights with traditional foods expressed in their preparation and rituals. This year, many items are in short supply, so we’ll have to improvise and substitute available foods for those that aren’t.
Eggs (now abundant in most markets) can provide versatile dishes for Easter brunch from springtime prima vera frittatas, and quiches to deviled eggs with trout roe, and smoked salmon eggs Benedict.
Eggs also provide canvases for art and occupy home-bound families by hand-decorating hard-boiled ones. Or try baking together a batch of Easter hot-cross buns blessed with crosses of vanilla frosting, filled with a confetti of candied fruits and currants.
In good times, the Passover table brings loved ones together with a communal Seder meal — a lavish feast despite the dietary restrictions forbidding chometz in the household — taboo foods, including leavening agents, breads, grains and legumes.
Sephardic Jews whose ancestors came from Spain via Turkey, Persia and the Middle East are allowed to indulge in rice and other foods forbidden in Ashkenazi (Jews from Eastern Europe) homes. But no one feels deprived as fresh fruits and vegetables, along with scaled fish, kosher meats and fowl, and yes — coconut macaroons (see recipe below) as these goodies are enjoyed throughout Passover week.
On the two Seder nights, ritual foods are arranged on the Seder plate, the most scrumptious is the haroseth mixture of ground apples and nuts that resembles the mortar the Hebrews used to build the Egyptian pyramids.
In keeping with preventive social distancing practices, gatherings should be kept to a minimum, and seniors protected from youngsters who mostly carry the virus rather than succumb to it.
If seniors live alone, their families can bring them packages of prepared dishes, and set up live streaming so they can partake in the holiday festivities.
Paying homage to National Stress Awareness Month, decompress with anti-anxiety foods — like dark leafy greens, mineral- and protein-packed nuts and seeds, Vitamin B and folate-rich asparagus spears, and berries of all manners (including blueberries, strawberries, raspberries.)
Also, bittersweet chocolate is loaded with phytonutrients found to lower cortisol stress hormones in the body. And a liquid lullaby of chamomile tea will help you catch some much-needed sleep.
Salvage soft, wilted, blemished and other imperfect fruits and vegetables to both honor the planet for Earth Day and extend your food supply. In fact, certain ripe fruits make the best treats (banana breads, apple strudels, poached pears), the creamiest smoothies (mangoes, guavas, papayas), and the sweetest preserves (strawberries, blueberries).
Vegetables past their salad days — like very vine-ripened tomatoes — make refreshing gazpachos and rich marinara sauces. Spongy carrots and soggy celery are still fine in soups and stews, while mushy avocados make wonderful guacamole.
For your just desserts (and another activity to enjoy with the kids), whip up a batch of these multi-tasking macaroon morsels that are Passover-friendly. One can incorporate some stress-reducing chocolate in the macaroons, and they can be shaped like eggs for divine Easter delicacies. Stay healthy!
Recipe: Chocolate Almond Macaroon
• Ingredients: 14 ounces sweet, shredded coconut; 4 large egg whites; 10 ounces sweetened condensed milk; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 1 teaspoon almond extract; 1/2 cup toasted, sliced almonds; 1/3 cup cocoa powder
• Method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, combine coconut, milk, powder and extract.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form. Combine the mixtures and fold in almonds. Drop batter onto parchment-lined cookie sheets using an ice cream scooper. Bake 30 minutes or until golden.
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com