A Seasonal Spread for Easter
My love affair with Easter was cemented the day we did our first egg hunt for Isaac when he was two years old. We have a photograph that hangs by our kitchen table that captures the look of pure joy on his face when he found a foil-wrapped chocolate ladybird hidden beneath a cloud of forget-me-nots in one of the flower beds. I don’t think I’d ever seen him so excited before that moment. These days, the tradition for Easter is to travel to my Mum’s house in the hills of the Scottish Borders, where she plans something closer to a treasure hunt and hides little toys and gifts as well as tiny chocolate treats. Afterwards, we roll decorated hard-boiled eggs down the field behind her house (the winner is the person whose egg cracks last).
Mealtimes as a family in our house are a sacred thing, they happen naturally so rarely. So with my husband, Charlie’s birthday on the horizon and a weekend at home to relax and spend some family time together before we got on the road to Scotland, I decided to plan a celebratory Sunday lunch.
At Christmas, the table had been so laden with food that I didn’t have room (nor frankly the time or the energy) to decorate with much more than a few candles and a hastily thrown together bunch of ivy berries and eucalyptus, so I really wanted to ramp it up for our Easter celebrations.
This past mid-winter was a bleak one: blustery, cold - and long, but spring was finally upon us and I was desperately seeking some kind of connection with nature. The shops were filled with ranunculus, anemones and tulips, and acid green shoots were fast appearing in the undergrowth outside. The children picked dog violets, snowflakes and winter pansies from the garden and I tied them together with anemones and tulip buds to make miniature posies bound with tiny strips of floral fabric from my burgeoning stash.
These were paired with contrasting confetti-filled miniature Liberty crackers, that the kids thought were great fun. There’s something deeply satisfying about sharing your creations with the people you love. I kept everything secret from the rest of the family until the decorations were up and the table was laid. On the table were vases of white hydrangeas, waxflowers and ranunculus plants, pansies bound and wired with moss collected from the garden (no need to soak it in water - it had been damp and dewy the past few days) and the nests I’d made from small discs of clay wrapped with coconut coir (found in the local pet shop) and decorated with moss, lichen and tiny fluffy feathers to make them look as authentic as possible. Inside were speckled pale grey and blue chocolate eggs. I confess to having spent ages searching out the perfect sized chocolate eggs - M&S came up trumps in the end. And it was worth it because the kids were completely fooled by them, until they gently picked them up and their weight gave away their chocolatey secret.
I made the eggshell vases hanging at the window by hollowing out some White Leghorn eggs. I just careful chopped the tops off, as you would a hard-boiled egg, and emptied out their contents (which went towards a yummy feta and courgette frittata!). Once they were washed and dried, I glued some strips of fabric to the underside and once those were dry, tied them to some striped cord. It’s best to hang them where you want them before adding the flowers. And because the eggs are so light, you will need something in the bottom to weigh them down so they sit upright (I used some floral foam). They were fiddly, admittedly, but I think they were worth it in the end.
All celebrations call for a feast. And, although I’d made Easter-themed fairy cakes, decorated egg-shaped biscuits and a layer cake (more on that later), I wanted this to be a proper sit-down meal rather than afternoon tea. I found endless inspiration for the food I would serve in Eva Kosmas Flores’ brilliant new book, First We Eat. I pored over it for weeks. In fact, the majority of the dishes came from my experimenting with her inspirational seasonal recipes. It was difficult to narrow it down but I finally settled on bowls of fragrant green bean and lemon soup, roasted asparagus crostini with lemon cream cheese and fennel and pistachio pesto lasagne.
On standby for the children was juniper baked salmon with freshly baked wholemeal bread (thanks, Dad), which we tucked into as well, and small bowls of one of their favourite meals, that I make time and time again, smoked haddock and dill risotto. There really was too much food but nothing that wouldn’t keep until the following day. The adults then sipped on apple and ginger bellinis (delicious but lethal - I wouldn’t advise more than a couple!) while Isaac and Sophia spent an age deliberating which egg biscuit and cupcake would be theirs. All eyes then turned to the forest-themed chocolate layer cake.
I’d foregone the candles (Charlie doesn’t need to be reminded how old he is - who does?) in favour of tiny bunting (fabric stash plummeted once again), model trees and toy animals, all of which will come in handy for the fairy garden we have planned to make this summer. I made two layers of chocolate cake and covered it very roughly with primrose coloured meringue buttercream icing, allowing some of the sponge to show through “naked” style, then covered a multitude of sins around the joins with sprigs of rosemary - this more natural style suits my less than perfect cake decorating skills down to the ground). Still, it tasted pretty good. And there wasn’t a single crumb left on anyone’s plate, so I’d call that a job well done.