There we are, all lined up on the front lawn of my grandparents’ house, smiling self-consciously and dressed in our Easter finery. My grandfather is taking our picture with his square, black Kodak box camera and when it’s developed and we all have prints, the photos will take their places in our family albums, next to the previous year’s pictures.
That was back in the dark ages, of course, when it was an annual ritual to get a new outfit, complete with new shoes, for Easter Sunday. In those old photos, my rowdy, usually scruffy-looking, older brother always looks stiff and unnatural in his Easter suit, complete with a white shirt, and yes, even a tie. He hated his Easter garb, while I, on the other hand, looked forward for weeks to the new clothes, and especially the shoes. They were usually white Mary Janes (I’m aware that many readers may not even know what I’m talking about, but some of you will) and I am grinning from ear to ear in those old photos. I felt very special and grown up when I walked demurely into church in those shoes on Easter Sunday.
Our mother and both grandmothers wore new Easter hats, of course, and Dad and my grandfather looked strangely unnatural in dark blue suits and ties. When all members of our combined families finally arrived at the small church in the center of town, we filled one pew from end to end, and knew everyone else in the church, just as they knew us.
Later that day, we’d gather round the dining table, eagerly awaiting the Easter Sunday meal. There would be a huge baked ham, with asparagus, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, fruit salad, and my dad’s favorite lemon meringue pie for dessert, all prepared by Mom and the grandmothers, while we kids played outdoors, after we’d changed out of our new Easter best into play clothes, of course. If it was raining too hard to be outside, we’d be in Grandma’s attic playing make believe.
Ah, but that was then; this is now. No more Easter bonnets, at least not that I know of these days. Yes, many ladies still wear hats in some churches, especially on Easter Sunday, and head covering of some sort is still expected (mandatory?) in many, but both dress and manners seem very much more casual now than “back when.” I’m not saying this is good or bad, simply commenting on how much cultural change there has been in the space of three or four decades.
It would be impossible, now, for me to get all of our grandchildren into new outfits at the same time, let alone outfits I’d consider presentable in church, and any photos I might attempt to take would have to be quickly snapped with my cell phone or similar device, because I’d never get them and their parents all lined up, happily smiling, in our front yard at one time. Nope, Easter Sunday just isn’t what it used to be, in so many ways.
Nevertheless, I’m going out tomorrow to buy a new pair of shoes, just as I’ve done every spring since the year that photo I was talking about was taken. They won’t be Mary Janes, but I’ll find something as close to that as I can because, after all, some things just need to remain constant, no matter what else changes.
As much as I looked forward to baked ham for Easter dinner, that has also changed. Now it’s spring lamb I love to prepare, and this is one of our favorite ways to pep up the lamb. Be sure to begin a day ahead, as the lamb has to marinate overnight.
ROAST LAMB WITH TOMATO HERB VINAIGRETTE
¼ cup each chopped fresh mint, chopped fresh basil, and chopped green onions
1 t. peeled fresh garlic, put through a garlic press
2 T. chopped fresh marjoram
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. olive oil
1 6-7 lb. bone-in leg of lamb
Tomato herb vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Mix mint, basil, green onions, garlic, marjoram, vinegar and olive oil in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place lamb in a large glass baking dish, rub all over with the herb mixture, cover and chill overnight.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Uncover the lamb, transfer to a rack set in a large roasting pan. Roast for 20 min., then reduce heat to 350 degrees and roast until a meat thermometer registers 135F (for medium), probably about 1 hr. and 10-15 min. Transfer lamb to platter, tent with foil and let stand 20 min. Serve with vinaigrette. Serves 10.
TOMATO HERB VINAIGRETTE
1 ¼ cups extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup chopped fresh mint
2/3 cup chopped fresh basil
10 T. red wine vinegar
2 ½ T. chopped fresh marjoram
2 ½ T. whole grain Dijon mustard (or regular Dijon if you don’t have whole grain on hand)
1 t. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ¼ t. sugar
1 ¼ t. salt
1 2/3 cups chopped seeded plum tomatoes
In a bowl, whisk together first 9 ingredients. Add tomatoes, season to taste with freshly ground black pepper. (Can be made ahead; let stand at room temp. and mix before using.) Serve with roast lamb (it’s also delicious with fish or chicken). Makes about 2 ½ cups.
And with roast lamb, please let there be small roasted potatoes, crusted with rosemary, perfect foil for the lamb.
2 lbs. small red or gold potatoes, quartered
3 T. minced fresh rosemary (or 1 T. dried)
1 ½ T. Dijon mustard
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
½ t. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Coat a shallow baking dish or pan with nonstick spray. Partially cook potatoes in boiling salted water to cover, 8-10 min., just to blanch and soften a bit. Drain.
Mix rosemary, mustard and oil in a bowl. Add potatoes; toss to coat. Sprinkle potatoes with panko, salt and pepper. Place in the prepared dish and during the last 45 min. of roasting the lamb, place potatoes in the oven (it will be at 350 degrees at this point). Roast for 30 min., then stir potatoes gently and bake another 10-15 min., or until potatoes are golden brown on most of their surface. Serves 8.