Easter has always been a season of contradictions for me. On the one hand, it usually marks the beginning of spring. On the other hand, the weather is often a little iffy. The color of clothing typically sold for the holiday is pastel and white, yet technically, the fashion police would tell you that one cannot wear white until after Memorial Day. See? Stuck in the middle. Personally, it has, since I was a child, been a season touched with just a bit of melancholy. My father died suddenly in the week before Easter when I was just shy of nine years old, and of course, whenever there is a loss that close to a holiday, one always associates the holiday with the loss. My mother worked tirelessly to ensure that our lives did carry on with joy and promise after this loss. She is a remarkable woman, and one I admire deeply. I had the privilege, when I was in college, of spending Easter with my mother’s first cousins in Italy, whom I had never met before. I got to know my relatives in Italy, including my cousin Nico, and this was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. A few years later, as a young adult embarking on my first career, I met my husband on Good Friday, and begin dating him the week after. So although Easter is still a holiday that makes me think of the loss my family suffered many years ago, it is the renewal, the resurrection, the new life, I choose to celebrate. That serendipitous meeting during Easter weekend 20 years ago now, set the stage for the life Michael and I have created for ourselves. And just as one can associate loss with a holiday or event, one can also choose to replace that association. This is the great gift my mother has given me all these years: to choose the joy rather than the sorrow. To choose that which moves us towards happiness and wholeness rather than that which keeps us stagnant.
It is no wonder that the foods that are most associated with Easter have symbolic meaning as well. My Gram used to make Italian Easter Bread. The dough was a yeast dough. It rose. It had a brightness of flavor from the anise extract she added, and colored eggs were braided into it. Pastel sprinkles were added, and a bright egg wash made them shine. The breads were almost too beautiful to eat. But we did anyway…they smelled and tasted even better than they looked. From time to time I still make those Easter breads, but as I have said before, my mother taught me well that stagnation was not a good thing. If we always keep on doing what we always do, we never discover the joy of discovering. So it was in this spirit that I stumbled upon our own family tradition for Easter: lemon bread. I found this recipe in Cooking Light magazine shortly after I met my husband 20 years ago, and adapted it slightly. I don’t think my daughters have ever had an Easter without this Lemon bread. It is the sure sign of spring in my house; a kiss of sunlight, a promise of joy in the future. Whether or not you celebrate Easter, this bread is a winner. It is moist and bright. It is sweet and tart. Here is to the awakening of spring within all of us!
Sweet and Sticky Lemon Bread (adapted from Cooking Light)
1 stick unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1. tsp lemon extract
2 ¼ cups flour
¾ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. baking soda
1 6 oz. container of lemon yogurt (vanilla will work in a pinch)
½ cup sugar
½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg, and mix to blend. Add half the flour to the mixture along with the salt, baking powder and baking soda. After mixing, add the carton of yogurt and the extracts. Mix. Add the remaining flour and mix just until it is incorporated. The dough will be rather stiff. Put the dough in a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
To make the glaze:
Put the sugar and the lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Let cook over medium low heat for about 2 minutes.
As soon as the cake is out of the oven, take a large meat fork and pierce the loaf all over. Using a silicone pastry brush, brush the lemon glaze over the loaf, allowing the glaze to soak into the loaf. Once all the glaze has been absorbed, let the loaf cool for 15 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and allow to cool on a wire cooling rack. Slice and serve.