Monday, April 14, 2014

Easter breads to make with kids

Here is a favorite for the season. Enjoy!

Making Hot Cross Buns
             Originally these were very plain buns with a cross made out of dough across the top; they were eaten on Good Friday.  Now the buns are sometimes filled with fruits and nuts, then topped with a cross made of frosting.  They are often eaten throughout Lent, as well as on Easter.
As you make these buns with the children, tell them how the bread of sorrow became the sweet bread of celebration.  While you’re working, if you know the old street vendor’s “Hot Cross Buns” call, teach it to them. You can find a lively version here.
            To make hot cross buns, use your favorite basic sweet bread recipe, or go online to find one. You can also use frozen bread dough, defrosted. Whatever dough you use, while you are kneading, you can add either candied fruit or dried apricots and raisins, steamed soft and (for the apricots) cut into small pieces; you can include chopped walnuts, too, if the children like nuts, and flavor the dough with a teaspoon of allspice or cinnamon.  Dough made with four cups of flour will make about 20 buns. After the dough has gone through one rising, punch it down and have the children shape it into smooth balls,.  Set them two inches apart on a greased baking sheet and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand or the bottom of a glass or mug. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Let the buns rise until double in bulk, brush with a wash made of an egg yolk beaten with a tablespoon of milk or cream, then bake for about 12 minutes. Remove to wire cooling racks and -- after they are cool -- draw a cross on each bun using a simple confectioners sugar frosting (a cup of powdered sugar, a tablespoon of cold milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla).  Note: if you try to put the frosting crosses on while the buns are still hot, the frosting will melt and slide off.  Hard as it is to wait, do let them cool before frosting! Then eat and enjoy!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Eggs, whales, and butterflies, Easter preparation from 2013 redux

Let's start with the most basic of all Easter activities: dying hard boiled eggs.  Although the intricate designs of Ukrainian eggs are famous, another tradition of the Ukraine is to dye eggs in a single bright color.  For a step by step explanation of how to do this, check out:<>.
Before your Easter dinner, have the children place the eggs in the containers of newly grown grass (from last week's suggested activity).

Historic note:   During the Middle Ages when infant mortality was high, bereaved mothers in the Ukraine took comfort during Easter by sending something tangible to the souls of their children. They told the story of the Blazhenni, spirits who live on the edge of the world where all the streams and rivers come together; these Blazhenni, they believed, were the souls of unbaptized babies.  On Easter, grieving mothers would throw the shells of red-dyed eggs into nearby rivers and streams, believing that when the shells reached the Blazhennni, they would know that it was Easter and they, too, could celebrate.  The Blazhenni were gentle spirits who ate no meat, except on the day the red shells reached them. 
More things to do: Another activity in preparation for Easter is to decorate an Easter Tree with ornaments of eggs, whales, and butterflies.  Choose a tree or shrub in the yard, or bring a branch indoors to use as your Easter Tree. 

In preparation for making whale decorations, tell the children the story of Jonah and the whale (read it from Scripture, paraphrase it on your own, or use one of the many picture books -- Amazon lists 1,618 versions of this story!). Jesus told his followers: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” No wonder the early church celebrated the story of Jonah and the whale as symbolic of Jesus’ death, entombment, and resurrection!
Then as the children work on butterfly decorations, tell them about the metamorphosis of caterpillars into moths and butterflies through the seeming tomb of the cocoon, and tell them that the butterfly--also symbolic for the early church--is still used today to represent Jesus’ resurrection.  Both Golden Books and Scholastic Books offer readable explanations and clear illustrations of the metamorphosis, or you could read Eric Carle’s lively classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. 
If you haven’t talked about eggs while coloring them, do so as they make egg ornaments. Since ancient times, eggs have been symbols of fertility and new life.  Many cultures believed that the world began as an egg; the Hindus, for example, said that the “World-Egg” was formed in “the waters of chaos” before the beginning of time.  Christians adopted the egg as an Easter symbol because, like the dry, hard seed that brings forth new plant life, seemingly hard eggs bring forth new animal life.  In both cases, what seems dry and hard and dead actually contains new life.  This hiddenness is part of the strangeness and surprise of Easter itself. 
Additional activities: For activities that echo this theme of hiddenness, have an old fashioned Easter egg hunt, either with hard-boiled eggs or with foil-covered  chocolate eggs.  Be sure to have extras to pass out at the end so that the less successful hunters don’t have empty baskets or bags.  (If the successful egg-hunters complain, tell them the parable of the laborers in the vineyard from Matthew 20; or use Dina Strong’s retelling of this parable in her book The Vineyard and the Wedding.)  Another option would be to get a piñata that holds hidden treasures; if you can’t find piñatas locally, you can online -- eggs, whales, or butterflies! Hang the piñata from a high place, and take turns blindfolding the children and having them swing a broomstick or other long stick at it (remember to have everyone else stand far back while this is going on). When a child finally manages to break open the piñata, all the children get to gather and share the goodies.