Tag Archives: traditions

The Smashing Of The Bunny

It’s a funny thing, to watch an octogenarian grin wickedly as she crushes a chocolate bunny’s skull in her wrinkled hands.

The Smashing Of The Bunny is a decades-old Easter tradition in my family. Every year, a large hollow chocolate creature of some kind sits at the center of our Easter table, nestled in neon plastic grass, surrounded by Hershey kisses and Cadbury Creme Eggs.  A bunny, a hen, sometimes a squirrel, quietly waiting for us to finish our plates of deviled eggs and honeyed ham.

Waiting to meet its doom.

A different executioner is selected every year, and each family member has a different signature approach to the job. My brother grips the bunny’s ears, and then delivers a sweet right hook to obliterate his belly. More than once, we had to retrieve bunny shards from the kitchen floor. My sister has a clean, top-down approach with the chocolate hens, bringing a swift fist of justice down onto her victim. I am the decapitator, squeezing the hollow neck until I feel a crack, and then lifting the chocolate head high in victory.

When I was first asked to bring dessert to Easter dinner with my in-laws, several years ago, I brought along a lovely chocolate bunny. The family was a little puzzled at first when I explained that after dinner, we would beat him into the chocolate chips from whence he came. Luckily for me, they’re more than happy to include my family’s strange ways with theirs, and we have had a Smashing Of The Bunny every year since. I’m incredibly grateful.

Because Easter isn’t over till a chocolate bunny dies.

A Light Inside

I went to church today.

I made a quick left turn through a gap in the rush-hour traffic and pulled into the parking lot at Saint Patrick’s. I hushed the radio, switched off the engine, and sat in the quiet of my car for a minute before taking a breath and stepping out.

A small sign among the early daffodil greens in the front garden said “The Light is On For You,” but when I pulled open the front door, the church was dark inside. The space was silent and empty, and I was alone. I paused at the entrance. Dipped my fingers into the small bowl of holy water by the door, a tiny golden bird-bath. Made the sign of the cross, out of habit, without thinking. I used my left hand, the wrong hand, because I still held my car keys in my right.

I walked up the center aisle towards the altar, relieved to be wearing quiet shoes, because even the rustling of my purse against my coat seemed loud and rude. I had come to find the small altar, off in a corner, where rows of flickering candles hold the pains and hopes of the people who set them alight.

The church had small dim alcoves off to either side of the main altar. Each housed a statue and a table holding four short rows of votives. I intended to light a candle beside Our Lady, because it’s what my mother does. What all the women in my family do. Tradition and heritage, to ground me. To bring comfort. Not, for me, from faith or from prayer, but from ritual and familiarity. When someone needs help, members of my family light candles for them. When someone needs extra help, we light candles in a church. But there were no familiar saints with compassionate faces to greet me at Saint Patrick’s. Only ghosts. I had forgotten that it was the Lenten season, and that some churches shroud the holy figures in purple in the weeks before Easter. I was alone except for faceless human forms wrapped as though for burial.

 

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I chose the altar on the left side, not knowing which figure was standing over me, who would watch over the tiny flames I would leave behind. I folded up a bill for the thin slot marked “offerings” and smiled to myself at how pagan and out-of-place that word seemed in a church. I set my purse down and struck a match against the side of the matchbox, wincing at the abrasive sound. I touched the match to the end of a long wooden skewer, which crackled into flame. Slowly, carefully, I touched the flame to the wick of three candles, side by side, in the front row. One for me, and two for dear friends who are hurting. All of the votives were new, white, silent. Mine were the only ones dancing.

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The small padded kneeler creaked as I knelt in front of the shrouded saint. I found myself mouthing dimly-remembered parts of the prayer of Saint Francis. The cadence of my words matched the tune of the hymn from my childhood. Music strengthens memory.

Make me an instrument of peace. Grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved, as to love with all my soul. 

I left the candles, sat at the end of one of the pews, and looked up. The vaulted wooden ceiling stretched up forever. The only light in the church besides my candles came in through the beautiful abstract stained glass windows on all sides of me. It was late afternoon, and the sun was low enough in the sky to drag the colors into the church and paint the floor with them.

Despite the comfort I find in ritual, I don’t believe in a divine plan. Catholicism lost all credibility for me long ago, through inconsistency, intolerance, and the sins of the church. There is no Fate. Life isn’t fair, or unfair. Bad things happen to good people, and I can’t accept that there is a deity up there rolling dice to decide who deserves to suffer. There is only life, and what you can make of it, which makes it that much more important.

Rush hour continued just beyond the colored glass. Birds chirped in the garden. The sun was setting, and would rise again in the morning. Tears came to my eyes. I let them fall, finding comfort in the knowledge that the world is so very much bigger than me.

Learning with my hands

I cook like my mother.
I rarely measure anything out, even though I have lovely sets of measuring cups and spoons and am always tempted to buy more when I pass by Pier 1 Imports or Williams Sonoma. I come from a “pinch of this” and “dash of that” heritage. When it was time to learn the secrets of spaghetti sauce, I stood beside the stove and watched my mother pour spices into her cupped palm until the piles of crushed leaves looked big enough to add to the simmering pot. She instructed me on proper measurements: “Cup your palm tighter for the thyme, you only want a small handful.” I’m very lucky: our hands are the same.
Her recipes are frustrating, because they include measurements like a “a squirt” and directions like “until it’s the right consistency.” Unless you’ve watched the process all the way through a few times, it’s difficult to do her dishes justice on your own. But I watched. I watched for years. I pinched pie crusts between my fingers and I dripped sauces off the back of a spoon. I learned.

My spaghetti sauce is nothing like hers, now. But it’s incredible.

A consequence of this learning method is that no recipe is safe with me. I intend to follow recipes – really, I do – but sometimes I only have boneless chicken breasts instead of the bone-in-thighs that the recipe calls for, and the substitutions start. I’ll use cheddar if I don’t have Monterey Jack. I’ll toss in skim milk because it’s probably a better substitute for cream than my Bailey’s Toffee Almond coffee creamer. I’ll automatically double the garlic content of any recipe I’m following. 
Of course, the biggest drawback to the substitution game is that I never make exactly the same recipe twice. When someone loves what I’ve made for dinner and asks me for the recipe, I can lend them the book or forward them a website link, but the version they’ll make will never be quite right. I try to explain what I did differently, but sometimes I don’t even know. I added more honey to sweeten the glaze, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how much, because I flipped the honey bear over and squeezed him until it tasted right. I kept adding chicken stock to thin the soup, but I didn’t keep track of how much more I needed.
I’ve considered being more scientific about the process and trying to write down what I’m doing as I go. I should probably add the honey by teaspoons, not blobs, and I should pour the broth from a measuring cup instead of the box, so I can see how much I have left and do the math. But although I consider myself a scientist, I just can’t seem to bring a calculating mentality into my kitchen. My meals are art. Not always good art, mind you, but it’s a creative process more than a formula, and I don’t know that I can change it. I don’t think I want to.
I’d love to cook for you. I have so much fun experimenting in the kitchen, and it’s wonderful to share the results with friends. I promise to do my best to give you an accurate recipe if you ask for it, but unless you’ve been hanging out with me in my kitchen and watching me work, you need to take those recipes with a grain of salt. Maybe two grains. I’m not sure, exactly. Stop when it tastes right.

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