Finally Spring

Some months are so full they rush by in a blur. April 2013 was like that. After ICFA, there was a Spring roadtrip, followed by C2E2 and a wonderful meeting (resulting in an exciting announcement to be made in the near future). In between, there were family obligations, book club and school visits, beloved dead to be remembered, and deadlines to be met.

Then came May and finally Spring. Warm weather arrived, and with it the joy of open windows and fresh breezes that make a morning cup of coffee taste even better.

Yesterday was Ukrainian Easter (celebrated according to the Julian calendar).  We began our day with the traditional breakfast of eggs, rich egg bread, beets mixed with horseradish, “lamb” butter, cheese, ham and sausage. All of it was blessed in baskets adorned with embroidery on the afternoon before in the church parking lot. I love this tradition, probably because it’s tied to food, and the sharing of meals is so important to me and my family.


I remember our first Spring in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2003. I was able to find a small Ukrainian community that had services out of a Roman Catholic church. That year we blessed our basket in the courtyard alongside Ukrainians born in Germany and those recently from Ukraine. Our baskets were nearly the same, adorned with varying styles of Ukrainian embroidery.

Looking around, that was my first experience of how important community must have been for my grandparents transplanted to Chicago from Ukraine after WWII.  There is comfort is celebrating beloved traditions, even on foreign soil with people you do not know.

Food also helps us to connect–an ocean between us, on different land, we can still eat the same kind of foods, the same basic recipes, passed down from grandparents to parents to children and on and on.

Recipes are a lot like stories: they can be carried and shared; they can be written down or remembered; they vary from region to region, incorporating the influence of the land and people around them. Recipes also have the ability to transcend time and space, to connect us to those who have gone and to those who are yet to come. Like stories, they’re a little bit of magic. They provide us with opportunities to remember and reconnect.

Over the last decade, I have been slowly building up my recipes. I’m not very organized and I’ve never scrapbooked, but this thing I have somehow kept up. I don’t usually print them out, choosing instead to write each recipe on a card, adding notes, crossing things out as I adapt a dish.

It’s always been important to me. My box of recipes is one of the few things that has travelled around the world with me. Maybe it’s because I see it as a sister activity to writing and storytelling? Maybe it’s because I hope that someday those recipes will provide my children and grandchildren with a window into my life–the treasured meals I have been able to share with them and other people I hold dear. Maybe it’s because writing a recipe down feels like preserving a little of the magic.

If you have ever shared a meal with me, I thank you.

If you’ve ever given me a recipe, rest assured that it is treasured.

If you’d like to share a recipe, I would be honored to add it to my collection. 



Springtime Blessings

Both Ukrainian Christmas and Easter are rich with ancient traditions woven into the fabric of the holiday. I love the connections; these ways we remember those who came before us. When I mentioned blessings baskets on Twitter and Facebook, several people asked me to explain, so I’m adapting/updating this description from an older blog post (April 7, 2007):

I have always admired the way my maternal grandmother dyes her eggs with onion skins, so this year collected the yellow onion skins for several months. We boiled the eggs with the skins, and voila!


On Saturday, we had the blessing of baskets, one of my favorite Ukrainian Springtime traditions. In Ukraine, Christianity came late (988 CE). The peasants still clung to their Old Ways, and as a result, Christianity became infused with them.


Woodcut by Ukrainian artist Jacques Hnizdovsky, illustrating traditional Easter festivities.

The traditional Spring celebrations: dances, baking special breads, painting pysanky, burning fires, dousing with water…these were directly adapted into the Easter holiday. The Saturday before Easter, Ukrainians take their baskets filled with the traditional foods to an area outside of the Church…the blessing usually takes place outside, unless there is rain. The foods are blessed by holy waters and then enjoyed the next morning as breakfast.

The basket usually contains hardboiled and colored eggs, smoked sausages, ham, cheese, butter, horseradish mixed with beets, some salt, and of course the sacred bread, called “paska” or “babka.” Sometimes seeds are added, to be blessed for the garden. We always add some cat food for the cats, and some chocolate…well, because it’s chocolate!

The preparation and baking of paska was considered one of the most important tasks of the year. (I like to bake my own but didn’t get the chance this year.) People believed that the future could be predicted depending on how this holiday bread turned out. Every homemaker wanted her paska to be the best and the biggest, therefore while baking it she performed various magical gestures and used incantations. The dough for the paska was kneaded in a trough which rested on a pillow so that the bread would be light.

During the preparation, the baker had to maintain positive thoughts. While the paska was in the oven, no one was allowed to make a loud noise for fear it would collapse in the oven. In some regions of Ukraine the man of the house stood guard in his front door lest someone enter and cast an evil spell while the paska was baking.

The top of the paska is often covered with symbolic signs made of dough such as a cross, solar signs, rosettes, leaves, pine cones, birds and bees. They refer back to the Goddess of Spring, and the rebirth of the Sun.

Wrapped in a rushnyk (ritual cloth) and placed in the basket, the paska was carried to be blessed in the outdoor ceremony. Once these were offered to the Goddess of Spring and the Sun, now they are offered to the Mother and her reborn Son. Still a ritual of rebirth. The archetypes survive in a slightly different form.

We had a large basket for our family, filled with foods that we shared for breakfast on Easter Sunday.

In the spirit of my ancestors, I wish you all the blessings of Spring and the prosperity of a Summer and Fall filled with abundance. May the Sun shine with favor on your path, and the ground grow fertile beneath your feet.