Foodie Sunday: My mother's Easter dinner, Mandy Aftels "Honey Blossom" and a fabulous prize draw!
When I was a kid Easter dinner was something that I really looked forward to because my mother pulled out all of the stops. I think that she really loved the holiday ; as a young woman growing up in the small town of Champaign in Illinois there wasn’t much in the way of a Jewish Community so she had the distinct pleasure of being able to celebrate any of the holidays that she wanted. I think that they always celebrated Passover but that was about it for the Jewish traditions and if you’ve ever spent anytime at all in a small town, you know that the communities live for their holidays. My mom used to talk all of the time about the 4th of July parades and the door to door Christmas caroling, but what she loved the most were the May Day baskets that she made for her neighbors and the huge Easter dinners that her mother would prepare complete with colored eggs, hidden Easter baskets and her famous floating Island pudding!
My mothers Easter dinners were every bit as lavish as her mothers and absolutely beautiful. When I’d wake up on Easter morning fresh daffodils, honeysuckle (my mothers favorite!) and lilacs would be everywhere and she’d be standing in the kitchen slicing fresh garlic to tuck into the leg of lamb. The scent of her house was always amazing and her windows would be thrown open to let in the fresh spring air. The table would be already be set with her mothers lovely white and gold Haviland dishes and a flowered cloth and her sterling would be gleaming and laid out on the sideboard ready for me to set it into order along with the sparkling water and white wine goblets that were waiting alongside. I always knew that she was happy because she’d be humming old show tunes……a sure sign that she was relaxed and enjoying herself! The dinner itself was always completely delicious, lamb, potatoes and fresh asparagus, fresh pickled beets and hard boiled eggs and usually a chilled pea and fresh mint soup or a fresh carrot soup in honor of the Easter bunny that she’d scented with a bit of lemon, parsley and ginger!
After I’d peeled the hard boiled eggs for her pickled beets I would run off happily to find my Easter basket which she always hid in the most ingenious places. My mother loved games and she was quite good at them! After about a half an hour of hunting I’d finally find it. Her Easter baskets were legendary! She always filled mine with the newest Breyer horse model and lots of chocolate and spice (never fruit!) jelly beans. She always picked the black ones out. That was our game ! She loved the black licorice ones and I hated them so If I saved them all for her then she’d be sure to give me an extra helping of the purple clove scented ones which I adored.
And then there was the lamb cake!
We had a very famous bakery in town until about 20 years ago called The Hough Bakery. Native Clevelanders are known to get tears in their eyes and wax nostalgically over the thought of a Hough Bakery birthday cake. In this era of Food Network stars and fancy bakeries and cakeries there still isn’t anything quite as good as a Hough cake. I don’t know what it was that made them seem so special, but special they were. A Hough birthday cake was the perfect combination of almondy , fluffy moistness with sugary crunchy frosting, nothing like those funny whipped frostings that seem to be the only things that you can buy these days. They personalized everything and if you gave them pictures or ideas they would replicate entire scenes on their flat sheet cakes. I remember one particularly satisfying birthday when my cake was a managerie of all of my animals from my ponies to my cats with a huge “Happy Birthday Beth” on the blue ribbon fluttering gaily on the ponies bridle! Such is the stuff that wonderful childhood memories are made of.……
Aside from the most amazing mushroom pie that I’ve ever tasted to this day, Hough Bakery made several wonderful confections for Easter like almond and honey scented petit fours in the shape of eggs and decorated with that delightful sugary glaze frosting and sugar flowers as well as a spring basket made of a wonderful white cake and covered with huge mounds of colorful frosting flowers. But, as all Cleveland kids of a certain age know, the most luscious treat of all was the sacred Easter lamb cake!
The Hough bakery lamb cake was delicious and definitely shaped like a lamb, covered with mounds of fluffy white frosting. It was a constant thing on my mothers table and year after year lay peacefully on its bed of shredded coconut, tinted green to be grass with yummy sugar flowers in it’s pasture and jelly beans galore! My mom put it on her mothers lovely silver tray and placed in the center of the table, the guest of honor at her lovely Easter dinner! It smelled incredible, just like butter almond , honey , spun sugar and violet pastilles.
I have many memories of those days but the most wonderful would be the day that she hid my Easter basket underneath the Honeysuckle bush that was in full bloom that Easter. I fortunately wasn’t allergic to bees, because that bush was covered with them, but it was huge and fragrant and I was little enough to still believe in flower fairies (well I still do actually!) and I spent the whole morning laying underneath it’s boughs , galloping my plastic horses around and gorging on spicy jellybeans and chocolate until I was almost sick!
That treasured memory came rushing back to me the other day when I received a sample of Mandy Aftels absolutely gorgeous Honey Blossom perfume. I carried Mandy’s first book, Essence and Alchemy around with me for days after I read it, loath to put it down and later on when I became even more involved in the world of natural perfumes I began to seek out her fragrances. Honey Blossom is my favorite to date and the transcendent Linden beauty lingers on my skin like a sheer caress of spring wind. I adore Linden fragrances and Honey Blossom is absolutely that , but really so much more. When I wear it I get swept away by the linden but then I fall madly in love with the orange blossom and what seems to be something altogether magical like jasmine , but a fairy kissed jasmine which is almost a bit sugary and devilish , like jasmine that’s just dripping with a white truffled honey.
Afteliers Honey Blossom is an exquisite blend of alchemy and high fragrance art . It is beguiling and utterly flirtatious but oddly comforting too. It instantly returns me to the memories of the home that I grew up in. My parents had gorgeous gardens that they created themselves and they were always bit wild , a little untamed. Honey Blossom IS the scent of those gardens and my version of Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Three drops and I am aloft in the springtime winds, landing gently at the base of that beautiful honeysuckle from so long ago.
This year, Mandy Aftel has been nominated for not one , but THREE FiFi awards in the Consumers Choice Niche Perfume Category. This is a fabulous honor not only for Mandy but all of the incredible perfumers who inhabit my beloved world of Natural Perfumery! Honey Blossom is one of the distinguished finalists and this is the first time ever that one natural perfume let alone three has ever been nominated for such a prestigious award! For more information and instructions on how you can vote please click here! http://fifiawards.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/the-2011-consumers-choice-award/#more-2278
Now for the fun part! I have a wonderful Easter present for one of you. Mandy has generously sent me a beautiful sample of Honey Blossom and three of her incredible Chefs essences, Ginger, Black Pepper and Litsea Cubeba! The ginger is magnificently gingery yet a bit floral and just one drop enhances my mothers recipe for carrot soup to perfection. I also like it mixed into a bit of sparkling water and agave nectar for a delightful home made ginger ale! The black pepper essence is a sensory delight, a savory yet spicy fresh pepper that I tried in my recipe for Bordeaux poached pears. The result was a pear that melted I my mouth with the right bit of zing, not heat. Served over fresh vanilla bean vegan ice cream it was was incredible! The Litsea Cubeba is lemony and spicy all at the very same time. One drop stirred into a glass of Iced tea is sublime , but one drop of the essence stirred into a vinaigrette and laced over an arugula and raw goat cheese salad is absolutely and ridiculously delicious. Mandy tells me that she searches the world for the very best quality essences and with one taste you know that she’s completely serious about it. These are incredible and my darlings please remember …only a drop because they are strong. These bottles will last a long time if you keep them in a cool dry place.
If you want a chance a this incredible prize draw just leave me a comment and share with me one of your favorite Easter (or Passover) memories!
One last thing….. The winner of the luscious lavender syrup for The Springtime Cocktail Party Foodie Sunday is Katherine! Just contact Marina at the address on the right!
Easter Basket cake photograph courtesy of Archies Lakeshore Bakery. Honey Blossom perfume images used with permission of Mandy Aftel. Honeysuckle Fairy Image courtesy of flowerfairyprints.com