I’ve made these exotic Italian cookies the last two Christmases before this one. Not this year. But they are so pretty, I’m going to post the photos for your enjoyment–and the recipe, too. I got the recipe from a library book ages ago and don’t know where to give credit.
I looked at scads of other Neapolitan recipes on the Internet–I forget why–and they were all dreadfully inferior. This one uses two different doughs, each with many tasty ingredients, whereas the others I saw used just one fairly simple dough that just had different food colorings added. This one also has no food coloring other than what is in the candied fruits.
These Italian cookies present an interesting way of making icebox cookies. They are dramatic and unusual. You will make two entirely separate recipes for the dough—and it must chill overnight.
Under the Soviet regime the making of pysanky was forbidden as a religious practice, but as this art form had pre-Christian beginnings and had spread well beyond Ukraine by the 20th century, it by no means was repressed for long.
In my world there is no connection of Ukrainian pysanky eggs to the realities of Christian faith and practice, though over the centuries people have come to use eggs as symbols of many truths or events. Many artists in my parish have through the years given informal instruction in this wax-resist method of dyeing eggshells, and this spring between Holy Week services I was able to take advantage of a class in which I was the only student.
Twice before, about 30 years ago and again 15 years ago, I took part in homeschool group efforts to try this art — the more recent occasion I actually organized the class! — and both times I’d enjoyed the process much more than the quality of my own results. A few of the pysanky in the top picture are from those attempts, but the only one I am certain I created myself is the one I did last week; the bowl of eggs is a combination of my collection and housemate Kit’s.
You use the same method that is called batik: you dye the egg and then apply a design in beeswax over that color in the places you want it to appear in the final product. As someone said, you have to think in reverse.
I’m not good at remembering a strategy with a sequence of steps to be taken in the future, or in reverse either, so without a lot of planning and notes to myself, which I didn’t want to take the time for, the results I get are pretty random and surprising.
At least, following my teacher’s example, I did draw a design with pencil on my eggshell. Several hours stretched ahead of me, but I knew I could easily get bogged down in the design phase — my weak area — and never get an egg made, so I sketched something like I often doodle when talking on the phone, and even that wasn’t quick. Then I dipped my egg in the lightest color, yellow.
Because I had drawn those crosses and dots on the plain white egg, using the hot wax pen called a kistka, the wax would keep the successive layers of dye from infusing the egg shell and those areas would remain white in the finished design.
As I continued applying wax, whatever lines went on the now-yellow egg would remain yellow. And so on through whatever dippings I made.
My teacher Tatiana had told me at the outset, “It takes about two hours to make a pysanka.” I think hers each took less time than that. It seemed that by the time I had dipped my egg in two colors, she had finished hers. It had been a light brown egg to begin with, so the undyed triangles are creamy.
She applied some metallic color with a pen to make her design even more brilliant.
I dipped my egg in the red dye, and she began her second design:
Meanwhile, when she learned that I would like a purple color, Tatiana suggested a series of immersions in colors that she thought might bring about that result, as she lacked a straight purple dye in her collection of jars. I tried it and we were both very pleased with this deep and glowing shade which, when I took the picture below, I was in process of covering with wax as much as possible in hopes of retaining a good amount of it in my finished design.My teacher was removing the wax from her second egg, and soon I had done my final dip of black and held my egg to the candle as well.
At this point it’s back and forth between melting patches of wax with the candle heat and rubbing it off with a paper towel, until you have worked your way all around the egg and only the dyed eggshell remains. I was warned not to hold the egg too long near the candle, because I might burn it.
Here is Tatiana’s second egg, with some silver metallic embellishments…
And here is mine… It had taken me nearly four hours!
I don’t like it very much, I’m sorry to say. I would not use that green color again in such a prominent part of the design. And I know, I should try some curved lines next time. I hope my next time is sooner than another 15 years from now — I’m sure my hand will be even less steady by then. And once again, even though I am not thrilled with the end product, the whole process is like magic to me, the design hidden more deeply step by step until finally the waxy black cloak is taken away and the final picture is revealed in its uniqueness. Let’s do this some more!
I still feel as though my new garden belongs to someone else. It has some lovely elements and I’m awfully thankful that I was able to accomplish it, but the circumstances surrounding its creation were not ideal for creating the space I really wanted. Just starting out on my lonesome own, in my shaken-up existence without my husband, I knew that I did not like the old arrangement — that is, the swimming pool — that was obviously not Me, because it had never been. How to get what I did want, given the limits of my suburban lot and of my financial means, and most importantly, my mental wherewithal that had been reduced to Where?
My creative self was a room all in disarray from a crazy person rummaging around trying to find something. The cupboards doors left hanging open and random items spilling out or fallen on the floor: Oh, here is a piece of orange cloth…yes, that’s right, I like the color orange… and there is one of Pearl’s plums that are so yummy… get me a couple of those trees.
From a place of more understanding six months later I can say: I wanted to be plopped down into the gardens of an old Mediterranean villa where no plants were younger than ten years, and at least two full-time and expert gardeners and groundskeepers were always on hand to do the work, leaving me at leisure to walk or sit in the garden, to pray and read and watch the birds.
It helps to shine this light on the amusing and fantastical nature of my desires so that I can laugh at them and get to work on what is really here. One of the real tasks was planting the strawberry barrels. This was an idea that Landscape Lady found in a magazine and gave me the instructions for; I would never have conceived it myself, but it was an okay idea. It has been one of the few projects that I’ve completed almost entirely on my own, doggedly.
I shopped at several stores before choosing my barrels, and brought them home and sat them in the driveway with all the other junk and clutter that overflowed the demolition/construction area. Then began the string of dirt-moving episodes:
1) Reserve an appropriate portion of the dirt designated for the general landscaping by shoveling it into the barrels.
2) After several weeks, decide on a color to paint the barrels and the playhouse, and
3) Take all the dirt out of the barrels and put it on a tarp while I spray paint them on the dead lawn.
4) Until they get holes drilled, I don’t want to put the dirt back in, so I set them in the back yard to wait, and pull the tarp around the dirt in the driveway so the rain doesn’t soak it.
5) After two sons-in-law drill the holes on Thanksgiving weekend, I move the barrels to their spot by the playhouse and drag the tarp back there and replace the dirt — not before it dawns on me that the holes all around the sides for the strawberries to grow out of will be holes that the dirt will also flow out of. What? I look back at the article and see that it calls for non-soil planting mix. Too late for that, so I put some newsprint over the holes inside before I shovel the dirt in. Wait for February when bare-root plants are available.
6) Landscape Lady says that the soil for the drought-tolerant ornamentals is not rich enough for the strawberries, so before I plant I must dig in some compost. I put that on my shopping list.
7) February comes, and the bare-root plants are bought, but the nursery is out of the compost, so I shop at another store to get it. The bale is too heavy for me to lift into my cart, so I get help with that, but after I check out no one answers the call to help me, so I manage to tip it into my Subaru and then out again at home into my garden cart and into the back yard next to the barrels. Whew.
8) By this time I have read several articles about strawberries and barrels and I realize that I should have tackled this whole project differently (though if I had had that much sense back then, I would have said No to the whole thing). I need to take all the dirt out again and mix in the compost, and then add just enough back to come up to the level of the bottom row of holes, lay the plants on top of that with their bare roots extending toward the center like hair on a pillow, cover them up with enough dirt to reach the next level of planting holes, and so forth.
9) The old paper blocking the holes has become mulch. I decide as I’m completing the project that I should have bought some peat moss to tuck in around the root crowns to keep the dirt from escaping, but now I’m in the middle of it, and just cut some new pieces of newsprint to go around the plants. I will get some peat moss later and tuck it in after the fact.
Part of the reason this was not as fun as I normally find gardening to be is that it is too contrived. Non-soil planting mix? Trying to defy gravity? But I did it, on behalf of that strange woman who was presented with this idea back in September and said, “Why not?” The woman I am would just throw some California poppy seeds around the play house and let them bloom where they will for the children to pick.
A few days later, rain has soaked the barrels and we’ll probably see more leaves poking out soon. The weather will cool again, but the temperature won’t drop to January levels, and in a few months there will be fruit hanging out of the holes. If the grandchildren aren’t around to pick strawberries, I’ll put out a sign for the blue jays to help themselves.
I have an assortment of things to share, which I believe all flow from people’s creative impulses. So I’ll make that my theme.
When I was sorting and sifting with Kate I found some crafty things I did when money was tight. If you make presents for your parents you might inherit those same things after a while.
This was the case with wall-hangings I made 40 years ago, which came back a few years ago, but then got buried again until last month. This one speaks to me now, so I hung it over a knob near where I am typing at the moment. The scraps of fabric I used remind me of dresses I made for myself in high school and college.
Another sort of scrap art is this large design in cloth that I found last month on the wall of a hospital corridor, when I was walking up and down with a post-surgical patient. That hospital has really nice art on the walls, and I kept thinking I should go on a picture-taking tour, but I didn’t. A close-up of this one shows the close quilting.
I have to credit Chel at Sweetbriar Dreams for introducing me to Ben Wilson via her blog. This man paints miniature works of art on chewing gum that has been rudely and antisocially discarded on the streets of London. I liked this BBC video about him.
The art at right includes mention of the Isle of Wight, which reminds me that I didn’t tell you about the birthday party we had for Mr. Glad last month.
Our small group of friends and family sat around singing to guitars songs such as Dylan’s “Forever Young” and the Beatles’ “When I’m 64,” which gives you a clue as to which birthday my husband celebrated. Ever since then I can’t get that song out of my mind, including the stanza that goes:
Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight If it’s not too dear. We shall scrimp and save. Grandchildren on your knee: Vera, Chuck & Dave.
At least I got a break during church this morning when other music pushed the torture aside. I went with Mr. Glad to his church which was meeting for the first time in a new place, and I took a few pictures of the window shades which I thought much better than a lot of modern church art I’ve seen. I of course prefer icons, but these images feel light and joyful, and are reminiscent of stained glass.
The last one shows the Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, a reference to Christ from the book of Revelation. He is “The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” As all our arts begin with gifts God has given us, may their ends also be for His glory and in His praise.