Spring, perhaps the loveliest of seasons with regard to rebirth, spring flowers, warmer temperatures, green grass beneath my feet, and longer days. To me, it is all of these things and more; it’s a special kind of awakening, the days are twelve hours long and lengthening, in truth it’s a Renaissance.
All over the world people have different ways with which they celebrate spring. Officially it begins on the spring or vernal equinox, between March 19 and the 21st, when the sun appears to cross the celestial equator, heading northward. These days depend on whether it is a leap year or not. It is the balance of common years and leap years that keeps the calendar date of the equinox from drifting more than a day from 20th March each year. Some different cultures celebrate the beginning of their calendar year with the Northward equinox, for example the Persian calendar.
So if spring is almost upon us what do people do? How do you celebrate this great time of regeneration?
Green or clean Monday – A Holiday!
Clean Monday is known by different names: Green Monday, Ash Monday, or Monday of Lent. I live part of the year in Cyprus, where a large majority of people speak Greek and follow Greek customs. The common term for this day, “Clean Monday”, refers to the leaving behind of sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods. In this way, the faithful begin Lent with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love. Clean Monday is a public holiday in Cyprus, where it is celebrated with outdoor excursions, the consumption of shellfish and other fasting food. A special kind of bread is baked only on that day, named “lagana” and the children practice the widespread custom of kite flying. Eating meat, eggs and dairy products is traditionally forbidden to Orthodox Christians throughout Lent, with fish being eaten only on major feast days, but shellfish is permitted in European denominations. People on Clean Monday usually take their picnic baskets and put inside fasting foods because it is the day that Lent begins.
With the start of spring, other countries celebrate in a similar fashion. We see numerous craft fairs advertised, your local garden centre heralds in the arrival of spring seedlings, and family day outings to the zoo where many new-born animals can be seen. If the weather permits we fire up the grill, go for picnics, pitch a tent for the weekend, organise indoor games if it’s raining, play cricket and rounders (type of like baseball!), and tempt taste buds with a new taste of spring recipes!
A Taste of spring
There are some amazing recipes around these days –often filled with incredible ideas and ingredients. Some people don’t have the time to spend hours in the kitchen, so I’ve included one of my favourite recipes here – I hope you try it out for yourselves!
Chicken with spring herbs
Ingredients for 4 people:
• a handful of finely chopped chervil leaves,
• ½ bunch of finely chopped parsley
• 2 tablespoons of mint
• 1x 250g tub mascarpone cheese
• 4 chicken breasts (complete with skin)
• 6 leeks or 12 spring onions, sliced lengthways
• 1 glass white wine
• 25g butter
Method – dead easy!
1. Heat the oven to 180C/fan or 160C/gas 4. Mix the herbs with the mascarpone and season well. Remove the skin carefully from the chicken breasts and spread a quarter of the mixture on each breast. Put the skin back down and smooth it gently over the mascarpone.
2. Put the leeks or spring onions in a baking dish, cut-side up, and pour the white wine over. Season. Arrange the chicken on top of the vegetables. Dot the butter over the chicken and leeks and roast for 20 minutes until the chicken skin is crisp and the leeks tender.
And for afterwards…Rhubarb Tarts – a little longer to prepare but taste sublime!
• 1/4 cup cranberry juice cocktail
• 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
• 2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam, divided
• 40 1/4-inch-thick slices fresh rhubarb (preferably bright red; 3 to 4 stalks)
• 4 sheets fresh filo pastry or frozen, thawed (each about 13×17 inches)
• 1/2 cup) ¼ lb unsalted butter, melted
• Finely grated orange peel
• Lightly sweetened whipped cream
• Stir cranberry juice, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon jam in heavy large saucepan over low heat just until jam and sugar dissolve. Remove syrup from heat.
• Arrange fresh rhubarb slices in single layer in syrup in pan. Place pan over medium-low heat and bring to very gentle simmer. Cook rhubarb 1 minute only. Remove from heat. Turn rhubarb slices over. Simmer again until almost tender, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Set pan aside and cool rhubarb in syrup.
• Preheat oven to 400°F. Place 1 filo pastry sheet on work surface (keep remaining 3 sheets filo covered with plastic wrap and damp kitchen towel to prevent drying out). Brush sheet with melted butter; sprinkle all over with 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar. Fold sheet lengthwise in half, then crosswise in half. Fold crosswise in half 1 more time, making 8 layers. Cut into 5×3-inch rectangle; discard filo trimmings. Repeat with remaining 3 filo sheets, making four 5×3-inch rectangles (8 layers each).
• Arrange filo rectangles on large rimmed baking sheet. Overlap 10 cooked rhubarb slices snugly on each filo rectangle, leaving small plain border. Add remaining 1 tablespoon raspberry jam to syrup in pan. Stir mixture over low heat until jam dissolves and glaze is smooth. Brush some glaze over rhubarb on each filo rectangle.
• Bake tarts until filo is crisp and golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer tarts to cooling rack. Sprinkle finely grated orange peel over. Tarts can be made up to 4 hours ahead for your picnic. Let stand at room temperature.
• Serve tarts with whipped cream.
I love spring! It’s a promise of long, sunny, summer days. Do tell me what your special spring activity is,
Thank you for dropping by and I sincerely hope your spring is special this year too.