Easter Bread

There are a lot of things to love about Easter—chocolate bunnies, new dresses, egg hunts, spring blossoms—but the thing I love the most is reading the account of Christ’s resurrection. As a perpetual optimist, I’m a big fan of happy endings, and that’s what we get when we keep reading the Gospels after the events of the crucifixion. The difference between Luke 23 and Luke 24 is monumental!

 

The women who had looked after Jesus and his disciples throughout his ministry saw him die a gruesome death. Luke says that others “beat their breasts and walked away” from the foot of the cross, but many of his followers, including these women, stayed to keep watch. Later, they followed Joseph, the man who had asked permission to bury Jesus, to see where he would lay the body. Once they knew where the tomb was, they went home to prepare burial spices and finish all their tasks so they could rest. It was the Sabbath, and these women knew the rules.

 

I imagine them feeling weighed down, their arms and legs seemed heavier than ever before as they took down their spices, pausing to hold the dried flowers and leaves and resin to their noses to smell the familiar, soothing scents which perhaps reminded them of the burials of other loved ones. They were sad and confused, but I bet they were grateful for a job to do. They needed purpose and agency to keep going.

 

Then, early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women took the spices and headed to the tomb. When they got there, they saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. They ran inside, but Jesus’ body was gone. They clutched those spices and wondered what had happened. Was this good? Was it bad? What should they do? Who should they tell? Then two men in lightning-bright robes appeared out of nowhere. The women fell to the ground, hiding their faces. The angels said, “Why are you looking for him here? Don’t you remember what he told you? It’s all happened just as he predicted.” Then the women remembered, and they ran to tell the others.

 

I look forward to the day when I can meet these women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. I want to ask them what it was like to be a woman in their time, and what did Jesus’ teachings mean to them in light of their social position. I wonder if they’ll discuss how caring for others, especially Jesus and his disciples, was such a big part of their ministries. Whether they were preparing meals or preparing burial spices, this was how they showed love.

 

The older I get, the more I see this to be true. I feel a natural pull toward feeding the stomachs and souls of those I get to love on. Now that I have college-aged kids, I like to cook a meal for them and their friends. And my kids are learning to appreciate our family traditions as they see them in a new light from a little farther away.

 

One of those traditions is something my mom started when I was little. Every year, she made Easter Bread—soft, eggy rings of yeast bread covered in crunchy sprinkles with a dyed egg nestled in the center. It was my favorite breakfast all year, and now it’s the favorite of my kids. There are several steps to make the bread, but it’s not all that difficult. In fact, I made it twice this year to accommodate the busy schedules of my girls. That’s how important it’s become to us. But for me, it’s not about eating the bread. It’s about creating memories. Yeast dough has built-in periods of rest where you wait for the dough to rise. These magical moments are gifts. The dough expands while you remain watchful, expectant. Then, when the dough is baked, the house smells amazing, filling up with a heavenly aroma. This is how we prepare and celebrate.

 

So much has changed over the thousands of years since Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary crept home after witnessing the horrors of the cross. The most striking difference came when they entered the tomb and found it empty. They had carried spices to mask the smell of death, but left the tomb rejoicing with the angels’ news ringing in their ears!

EASTER BREAD

  • 12 hard-boiled, dyed eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 packets of yeast (or 5 ½ tsp)
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
  • Sprinkles (optional, but also essential)

Cook milk, sugar, and water in microwave for 1 minute. Pour into large bowl, and add yeast and ½ cup flour. Stir until smooth. Add oil, salt, and 2 eggs, and beat with mixer. Add flour, mixing well after each cup. Turn dough on lightly floured surface. Knead for 5-8 minutes. Put dough back in well-oiled bowl, coating all sides of dough with oil. Cover with a cloth, and put the bowl in oven with the light on to rise for 1 hour. Punch dough down and let rise for more 30 minutes. Divide dough into 4 equal parts. Roll each part into a long rope. Take two ropes and twist them so that there are 6 “nests” to hold 6 dyed eggs. This makes one 1 large ring. Repeat with other dough and eggs. Let rings rise until doubled in size (or let rise over night in the refrigerator). Beat egg and brush onto dough. Add sprinkles. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool slightly before cutting each ring into 6 sections.

Twelve Stones and a Tissue Cozy

When I was growing up, I was blessed to spend a lot of time with my paternal grandmother. Twice she and my grandpa moved to the city my parents moved to, thereby always giving me grandparents nearby. She was the mother of four sons so when she was eventually given four granddaughters she was happy to use her considerable skills to sew frilly dresses and crochet Barbie clothes instead of mostly patching the knees of blue jeans.

She was an amazing seamstress, quilter, and all-around super crafter. Considering that this was before the age of Pinterest boards and the ever-present influence of Martha Stewart, it’s even more extraordinary. When my sisters and I visited her, she found all kinds of projects for us to do. Before I got married, she even taught me how to make her famous chocolate chip cookies—the ones she had always had frozen batches of, ready for any grandkids who might drop by. (To this day, I still prefer my chocolate chip cookies frozen.)

She’s the one who taught me how to make things from plastic canvas. For those of you unfamiliar with this oft-dismissed craft medium, it consists of sheets of plastic grids that can be cut and sewn together with yarn to construct a variety of objects. Full nerd disclosure: I may or may not have subscribed to Plastic Canvas magazine at one time.

I made door hangers and drink coasters and doll beds out of plastic canvas, but the thing I made most was tissue cozies. In case you’re wondering, that’s a decorative box to cover your tissue box. We plastic canvasers believe that a naked Kleenex box is a travesty and the spread of such debauchery is probably responsible for most of what’s wrong in the world, including the recent election. I made Christmas themed ones and ones with stripes and polka dots and argyle designs and even one that looked like a two-story, Cape Cod-style house complete with movable shutters (the tissues came out the chimney).

Along with plastic canvas, my grandmother also taught me how to crochet. She kept a Malibu Barbie at her house to use as a model for all of the outfits she would make from yarn. Watching her hands fly through the complicated finger acrobatics required to make a miniature sweater dress was like watching an Olympic gymnast. She made it look easy and impossible at the same time. I practiced the craft but never really achieved much mastery. I went back to the tissue cozy instead.

When I was married and a mother to young babies, I found myself yearning to crochet again. My grandmother lived 200 miles away so I went to a yarn store and let some ladies try to reteach me the basics. I made a hat for my sister’s new baby, but it didn’t go much farther.

A few years later, after my grandmother passed away, the pull toward crocheting was even stronger. Her passing left a hole in many ways and maybe I wanted to fill it in a tiny bit with links of yarn. Silly but true. I found books and patterns and started to teach myself the craft…again. This time I made scarfs and baby blankets and afghans. I wanted to make something tangible and comforting for the people I loved most.

For me, carrying on the tradition of crocheting is like picking up a stone. When the Israelites passed through the Jordan River, the Lord told Joshua to instruct twelve men to pick up a stone from the middle of the once-flowing but now miraculously stopped river and stack them up where they would camp that night. He wanted the stones to stand as a memorial for all that had happened. He wanted them to see this very tangible representation of their rescue and tell their children about it and their children’s children.

The holidays are the perfect time to find those stones. Families gather and the regular routines are paused just like that rolling Jordan River. It’s a time to look at where you’ve been and be grateful. Some years, this is easier than others. The older I get the more I realize that every family has at least a touch of dysfunction and heartache.

I’m not saying you should disregard or ignore all of the dysfunction—Heaven knows these things can continue on to future generations if they aren’t aired out and dealt with—but do find the parts of your family, the traditions and the stories and the memories of honey-colored afternoons full of pleasantness (even if they are few and far between), and celebrate them. Make connections. Carry on the best parts through blessed rituals and shared interests. Stack up your own pile of gratefulness. Then, sit back and tell the story of how far you’ve come.