A little spring holiday fare

  • Do-it-yourself spring cookie kit from Ciesluk’s Market in South Deerfield. Contributed photo

  • Crazy fudge. Contributed photo

  • Foccaccia before baking. Contributed photo—

  • Vicky Griswold’s focaccia. Contributed photo

  • Vicky Griswold of Colrain loves to bake bread. Contributed photo

For the Recorder
Published: 4/10/2020 3:17:41 PM
Modified: 4/10/2020 3:17:26 PM

Few of us are likely host large family or neighborhood gatherings for Easter, Passover, Holi, the Theravada new year or Ramadan this year. Even fewer plan to gather in churches, synagogues, temples, or mosques.

It’s still important to celebrate, however. All of these holidays remind us that, despite the uncertainty COVID-19 has brought to the world, our earth continues its rebirth. Bulbs are starting to flower, and trees are forming buds.

The age of these holiday traditions speaks to us in this time of pandemic. All of them have endured for centuries, some of them for millennia. In celebrating them, we remember that people and cultures have survived plagues and persecution and still managed to be grateful for nature’s gifts.

My church is tentatively exploring some kind of outdoor, spread-out service for Easter. If that doesn’t work out, we can at least see photos, hear music and read a sermon online and sing a few Easter songs on our own. 

I plan to spend much of the day on the phone, checking in with friends and relatives far and near who are feeling isolated. I’ll also cook a little something (although not necessarily a full, fancy Easter dinner) to mark the day.

I asked a couple of friends in our area what they are cooking this time of year. One of the few good things about the pandemic is that just about everyone is cooking. I know a group of historians who are blogging about the origins of the food they cook and why it comforts them, which strikes me as ideal work right now.

One friend, who lives in Rowe and wants to remain anonymous here, has turned herself into an Easter bunny by preparing lots of sweets for her appreciative husband. His favorites are cookies like snickerdoodles and the Crazy Fudge for which the recipe appears below. 

The “crazy” soubriquet comes from one of the major ingredients, which is emphatically not something one would expect in fudge: Velveeta. My friend doesn’t have any of that processed cheese or any nuts on hand right now, so she has created a second version of the fudge, which she calls “Quarantine Fudge.”

That version substitutes cream cheese for the Velveeta and flaked coconut for the nuts. She says the cream-cheese version is a bit tangier, but she prefers the original recipe. I was able to find Velveeta at my local store so I tested the original version.

My friend Vicky Griswold, of Colrain, has been baking a lot of bread lately, mostly focaccia. This flat Italian bread uses yeast but is closer to a quick bread in terms of rising and baking time.

Vicky plans to serve a decorative focaccia for Easter dinner with her boyfriend. She is still debating the rest of the menu, which will probably center around ham or lasagna.

She will miss seeing her grandchildren this Easter, but she made sure they will be thinking of her by ordering them Do-It-Yourself Spring Cookie Kits from Ciesluk’s Market in South Deerfield.

The market bakes appropriately shaped sugar cookies (bunnies, butterflies, etc.) and puts them in a package along with pipeable bags of icing and lots of sprinkles. Vicky’s grandchildren love decorating cookies.

I hope readers find their own ways to prepare a little something special this holiday season. Below are the fudge and focaccia recipes. 

Whether you are sheltering in place with an overwhelmingly large family or going it truly alone right now (or doing something in between), try to share your culinary creations and yourself responsibly with others.

I leave you with an excerpt from a recent essay by my neighbor and frequent inspiration, the composer Alice Parker. 

“… We must learn to think differently,” writes Alice. “What can I do, right here, today, to preserve this world?

“I can affirm that one day this will be over, and that there will be a world in which my great-grandchildren can live and love. I can show kindness to myself and to everyone I meet.

“I can try to get through this day with no angry words or acts. I can realize that others are facing far more severe challenges than mine, and help them however I can. It seems so little — but, if each one of us lived this way, the world would be changed.”

    Happy spring — keep cooking, and practice kindness.

Crazy Fudge

1 pound powdered sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/4 pound Velveeta

1/4 pound (1/2 cup or 1 stick) butter, cubed 

1 pinch salt

1 teaspoon vanilla 

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Sift the sugar and the cocoa powder into a large bowl. Melt the cheese and the butter together over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. The cheese will take a while to melt and blend. Stir in the salt.

Add the cheese mixture to the sifted sugar and cocoa. Blend well.

Add the vanilla and the nuts. Spread in a buttered 8-by-8-inch pan. (For convenience, you may line the pan with aluminum foil and butter the foil; this makes the fudge easier to remove.)

Refrigerate until set, as my friend says, “if you can wait that long.” Makes 16 to 25 pieces, depending on how big you cut them.

Vicky’s Savory Focaccia

2 ¾ cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon instant or active dry yeast

1 teaspoon garlic powder 

1 ½ teaspoons Italian seasonings (oregano, basil, parsley, etc.)

1 pinch black pepper 

1 cup lukewarm water

2 tablespoons olive oil plus perhaps more as needed for topping

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese plus perhaps more as needed for topping

Festive vegetable shapes (optional)

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the warm water and the 2 tablespoons of oil. Stir until mixed. Stir in the 2 tablespoons of cheese.

Oil a cookie sheet that measures at least 9 by 13 inches. Spread the dough out on it into an oval or a rectangle. Let it rise until it doubles in height. 

The time this takes will depend on the warmth of your house. Vicky let hers rise near her fire so it took her about a half hour. I had mine rising in a colder room; it took me about one hour.

Gently poke holes in the top of the focaccia with your fingertips to continue stretching it. (The holes should not go all the way through the dough.) Let the bread rise again while the oven preheats to 375 degrees.

Decorate the top of the focaccia with pieces of vegetable to make a pretty picture. Or just drizzle a little more olive oil and cheese on top. Bake the bread until it is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Makes a hearty, tear-able loaf. 

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.

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