Bunnies, Colored Eggs, Peeps and Hunts – EASTER is Here!

A little history first….  The first formal Easter celebration dates back to the 2nd century. But it is believed that Easter celebrations began earlier than that. The Christian holiday is to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ who rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion 2,000 years ago.

Easter Bunny and Eggs

Bunny Rabbits and Easter Eggs

In the medieval era, Christians would decorate eggs and eat them on Easter to celebrate the end of the Lenten fast–eggs couldn’t be eaten during the Holy Week. The first instance of eggs being decorated dates to the 13th century. In Christian symbolism, eggs represent new life, paralleling the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Bunnies have been associated with Easter since around the 17th-18th century!

But that’s enough of history — let’s move on to the fun stuff!

Most American families start off with an Easter Egg hunt, that can be before or after church, if that is your tradition. Sometimes the fun filled egg hunt will take place at a park, or school ground, or church–where you will see lots of little munchkins running around like crazy, loving the excitement as much as their prized chocolates, I’m sure.

The Good Ol’ Days

I remember the good old days when my parents would take my sister and I to church in our pretty new dresses, and how proud I’d be. Years have gone by, but for me Easter holiday is a memory of hiding colorful blue, and pink Easter eggs, chocolates and bunnies and little surprises around the house for the children to discover. Not sure who enjoyed it more, the kids or us, the parents.  Those days are long gone too.

For grandmas like me, it’s become a wonderful family time, followed by a delicious brunch or Easter dinner. A spiral ham has become the traditional meat of choice, but also turkey or prime rib, better yet– my favorite roast or grilled lamb can make a delicious addition or a great substitute.

On that note — here is a recipe for a Butterflied Leg of Lamb.

Easter Butterflied Leg of Lamb

This recipe came from a great friend of mine and she is a wonderful cook. I’ve tried it several times, grilling not roasted, but it is so amazing!!  I’m sure it’ll be perfect either way, but the timing will be important. My mouth waters just thinking about it! So easy, too:

  1. 1 5-lb leg of lamb, deboned and butterflied (weight after deboning).
  2. 12 oz bottle of Heinz Chili Sauce, a 5.5 oz bottle of mint sauce (Crosse & Blackwell), 1/2 cup oil
  3. Look for a leg of lamb that is mostly flat with the least fat. Pound it good so it’s about an inch or two thick and I suggest slicing off the extra fat.
  4. Combine chili sauce, mint sauce, and oil in a glass bowl. Pour over the lamb and marinate up to two days, turning the meat every 12 hours.
  5. When ready to cook, remove lamb from the sauce and grill over hot coals, basting often with the marinade. For medium rare, total cooking time is around 25 minutes. If you don’t own a grill, then place the lamb in a pre-heated oven set to 325* F for around 90-120 minutes.
  6. Carve the lamb into thin slices and choose your favorite sides. This is one of my easiest and best dinners ever!

HAVE A WONDERFUL EASTER NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO! ALSO, DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT AUTHORS’ BILLBOARD FOR THE MONTH OF APRIL. GRAB THOSE BARGAINS! LEARN MORE ABOUT ME BY CLICKING HERE.

Travel with Mona, visit Poland

In 2014, we spent four days in Poland, visiting the charming city of Poznan and the magnificent capital Warsaw, the historic Jasna Gora monastery, the Auschwitz concentration camp, and romantic Krakow, and later traveled to Gdansk on the Baltic Sea.

Poznań is a town steeped in history, as it was the first capital of Poland and seen by many as the birthplace of the Polish nation. Today it is a diverse and vibrant town, with much to divert the traveler. It has a stunningly rejuvenated central square, thriving night-life, fascinating museums, Renaissance town hall, Poland’s oldest cathedral, and many attractions in the surrounding area.

The Old Town square in Poznan

Warsow is the capital of Poland. It was completely reconstructed after wartime destruction. Its wide avenues contrast with the narrow lanes of the old section.

Palace of Culture and Science 
The tallest building in the city and landmark of Warsaw, the Palace of Culture and Science, was a gift from the Soviet people to the Poles. From its 30th floor, it offers a panoramic view of the city. It houses theatres, a cinema, museums and trendy bistros
[Picture taken from our hotel room]
Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów 
Wilanów Palace is a true pearl of Baroque architecture in Warsaw. King Jan III Sobieski, who successfully fended off the Turks in the battle of Vienna, lived in Wilanów with his beloved Marysieńka. The building and the park have both kept their original form, despite the partition, war, and occupation.
 
Vistula River
The Vistula is flowing through Warsaw. Its natural banks, inhabited by wild fowl, are right next to the city’s boulevards. In the summer, the weekend city life comes alive here – trendy bars and clubs, charming bistros, and outdoor events attract both city dwellers and tourists, while the sandy beaches are the perfect place to chill out. 
Old Town
A UNESCO world heritage site, the Old Town charms with its colorful townhouses and the exceptional atmosphere of its narrow streets.

 

We visited the Jasna Gora Monastery near Czestochowa that withstood repeated attacks of Swedish forces during the 17th century. Since then its Black Madonna is venerated as the “Queen of Poland” and has become the country’s national symbol.

The Jasna Gora Monastery:Bell Tower and monastery complex.
The entrance to the church
 
 
The Black Madonna, a miraculous icon, is the most important religious icon in Poland. Poland’s Black Madonna is located in a central chapel in the monastery complex. The Chapel of the Virgin is small, but an extended worship area enables pilgrims to attend services within the walls of the church. The icon itself is small, and the Virgin’s darkened face and hands, and the two scars that mar Her cheek, are almost impossible to see. The icon is located in the center of an ebony and silver altar, where candles and flowers are also placed.
John Paul II said that he prayed the miraculous Black Madonna during the attempt of assassination at St. Peter Square, Vatican, on May 13, 1981. There is a display of the belt of his cassock, shot and bloodied, in a special cassette on the right side of the altar.

 

Auschwitz: The Largest of the Death Camps According to our guide’s explanations, the most notorious of all the Nazi death camps, opened in the spring of 1940. Detainees included anti-Nazi activists, politicians, resistance members and luminaries from the cultural and scientific communities. Not all those arriving at Auschwitz were immediately exterminated. Those deemed fit to work were employed as slave labor in the production of munitions, synthetic rubber and other products considered essential to Germany’s efforts in World War II.

Auschwitz consisted of several divisions. The original camp, known as Auschwitz I, housed between 15,000 and 20,000 political prisoners. The biggest of the Auschwitz facilities could hold some 90,000 prisoners. It also housed a group of bathhouses where countless people were gassed to death, and crematory ovens where bodies were burned. More than 40 smaller facilities, called subcamps, dotted the landscape and served as slave-labor camps.

As 1944 came to a close and the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allied forces seemed certain, the Auschwitz commandants began destroying evidence of the horror that had taken place there. Buildings were torn down, blown up or set on fire, and records were destroyed. In January 1945, as the Soviet army entered Krakow, the Germans ordered that Auschwitz be abandoned. An estimated 60,000 detainees, accompanied by Nazi guards, departed the camp and were forced to march to Polish towns, some 30 miles away. Countless prisoners died during this process.

Huge posters gave statistics. Between 1.1 million to 1.5 million people, the vast majority of them Jews, died at Auschwitz during its years of operation. An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 Poles perished at the camp, along with 19,000 to 20,000 others.

In Auschwitz we visited rooms with glass doors showing hundreds of thousands of pieces of clothing or pairs of shoes or tons of human hair. Going through these rooms was heart wrenching. We were crying and couldn’t take any pictures. The worst nightmare you could imagine.

Krakow: Poland’s most beautiful city For almost 500 years it was the country’s capital and the residence of Polish Kings. Today it is the cultural center of Poland.

The Cloth Hall in the Main Market Street: It’s usually filled with tourists. We savored local pastry at a café.
Cardinal Wojtila’s –Pope John Paul II– house in Krakow, his hometown.

 

St. Mary’s Basilica with a dozen of lovely carriages to take us on a tour.
Enjoying the lively music in the street.
 
 
 

Gdańsk (Danzig in German) is a port city on the Baltic coast of Poland. At the center of its Main Town, reconstructed after WWII, are the colorful facades of Long Market, now home to shops and restaurants. Gdańsk is also a center for the world’s amber trade; boutiques throughout the city sell the ossified resin.

Neptune Fountain, a 17th-century symbol of the city topped by a bronze statue of the sea god.
Dlugi Targ or Long Market or Royal Way is the main street through Gdansk.

Below: The Golden Gate is the Western area with cafes, amber shops.

The iconic Town Hall Tower.
Vendors displaying their amber jewelry.

Poland is a beautiful country with old towns and modern cities, now opening its doors to millions of Ukrainian refugees.

A romance novel that will lift your mood and make you laugh:

 

BABY PLANS, Love Plans, book 5

Relax with a sweet and sassy Romance  

They meet at the fertility clinic.

Zach is working on an article. Audrey is secretly getting a baby.

And a big mess results.

Travel with Mona, visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land

Many trips to Israel and the Middle East had often been canceled or postponed because of political turmoil or instability. When a Canadian friend told us about a group from Montreal organizing a guided tourist visit to the Holy Land in March 2010, my husband and I found it an excellent opportunity to finally travel safely through the region.

We flew from New York to Amman, Jordan, where we met the eighteen people coming from Canada. The next day we boarded our comfortable bus and visited Petra that I described in a previous blog. From there we continued along the King Hussein Bridge between Jordan and Israel. The security was very tight with x-ray scanning, questioning and bag searches and passport control.

Monastery of the Temptation
 The sycamore-fig tree or  Zacchaeus tree

We stopped for lunch in Jericho, commonly known as “the oldest city in the world” (8000 BCE) and the world’s lowest city (1200 feet under sea level).” Jericho is a Palestinian city in the West Bank, an important historical, cultural, and political center located northwest of the Dead Sea. It is truly a place where the ancient past comes in contact with the immediate present and where the fragrance of oranges and citrus permeates the air.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon at the Dead Sea shore. The sea water is rich in minerals and salt, and so muddy. The mud is cleaned and sold as an anti-wrinkle facial cream at $90 the small jar. [Yes, I bought a jar. It didn’t erase a single line.]

The Dome of the Rock or Masgad El Aksa. A cabinet within the building houses a hair from the prophet Mohamad’s beard. Another tradition suggests it’s the mountain where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac.
A view of Jerusalem from Mount Olive

Finally we entered Jerusalem in the early night and checked in our hotel that was fully booked for the week. For our bad luck, millions of Christian pilgrims and orthodox Jews had flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate the Catholic Easter, Orthodox Easter, and Passover that all occurred on that same week in the year 2010. The hotel manager had programmed the elevators to stop at each floor in respect for the Jewish patrons who were not allowed to operate the lift. Imagine the slow traffic, going up and down.

In the morning we boarded our bus and headed to Nazareth where we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation and in the lowest floor an ancient house that tradition says is the site of the angelic announcement. Not far from it, we visited the Church of St. Joseph, the site of the Holy Family’s house and St. Joseph’s workshop. Later we had lunch on the Lake of Tiberias, and then drove through the verdant hills of Galilea, where we visited three more churches.

Lunch of fish on the Lake Tiberias known for its rough waves.

We spent the evening on the shore of the Jordan River. Many pilgrims wore a white robe to be baptized or renew their baptism vows in the Jordan River.

Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Tiberias, through which the Jordan River flows.

The next day, we stopped by St. John the Baptist Church, built over the house where he was born. We climbed 154 steps to the Church of the Visitation. Inside the church, 41 plaques, each in a different language, bear the Magnificat.

We visited the Museum of Jerusalem and saw the Dead Sea Scrolls, then admired a small model –maquette– of Old Jerusalem, with the Temple, Pilate’s fortress, Herod’ s Castle, and the walls of Jerusalem.

We continued to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity.

The Church of the Nativity is built above a cave which may have been the place of Jesus’ nativity.
The church was built by Queen Helena in 329, and renovated by the Crusaders. The cave includes two lobes, one with a star marks the place of Jesus’ birth, the other marks the place of the manger.

We passed by the Shepherd’s Field where the sheep and goats used to grate.

Later the hotel offered us a tour of Jerusalem by night, with a stop at Mount Olive. We crossed some villages, stopped by Victoria Hospital and Masada. We saw a temple, built by an American philanthropist on the model of the initial Temple of Solomon. It is said that the Masgad el Aksa, the mosque with the golden dome, was built on the location of the former temple.

On Holy Thursday, we returned to Mount Olive, visited a Jewish cemetery, walked by the Eastern Wall, and the Wailing Wall.

A Jewish crowd
A Christian crowd

We spent Good Friday walking through the Via Dolorosa and visiting old churches, and spent Friday evening and Saturday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre .

Strolling along the narrow lanes of Via Dolorosa
A view of the Church of Holy Sepulcher
from Mount Olive
The Chapel built on top of Christ’s Tomb in the center of the Holy Sepulcher

It would take ten blogs to describe all that we’ve seen and learned during that week spent in Jerusalem and its surroundings. An amazing trip that will remain imprinted in my memory forever.

My latest published books are part of the Love Plans.

SAILING AWAY PLANS ; DATING PLANS ; RESCUE PLANS ;

WEDDING PLANS ; BABY PLANS

Frugal Feasts with Matzo Meal by @Donna_Fasano

Matzo MealAfter Passover, matzo meal is sold for under a dollar a box, so it’s the perfect way to make frugal feasts. What is matzo meal? Matzo (also known as matzah or matza) is an unleavened flatbread that is part of Jewish cuisine and forms an integral element of the Passover festival. Matzo meal is made by grinding up this flatbread. It can be described as cracker crumbs. Matzo meal can be used to replace cracker crumbs or dried bread crumbs in almost any recipe. Here are two of my favorite recipes where I have incorporated matzo meal.

Salmon Cakes

  • 1 6-ounce can skinless, boneless salmon, drained  salmon cakes
  • 3/4 cup matzo meal, divided
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon stone ground mustard
  • 1 tablespoon onion, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons celery, finely minced
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil, for frying
  1. To a mixing bowl, add the salmon, 1/2 cup of the matzo meal, egg, mayonnaise, mustard, onion, celery, salt, and lemon pepper. Mix to thoroughly combine. Form into 2 patties.
  2. Pour the remaining 1/4 cup of matzo meal onto a plate and coat both sides of the salmon cakes.
  3. Heat the cooking oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the salmon cakes and cook until heated through and golden, approximately 4 to 5 minutes on both sides.
  4. Serve with topping of your choice—tartar sauce, hot sauce, fresh lemon wedge, etc. Makes 2 large cakes. Serves 2.

Zucchini Brunch Casserole

  • 2 medium zucchinis, washed and patted dryzucchini casserole
  • 1/2 cup matzo meal
  • 1/2 onion, finely minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon mixed herbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Trim the ends of the zucchinis. Do not peel. Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the zucchinis into a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add the matzo meal, onion, salt, pepper, herbs, garlic and onion powders, and cheddar cheese to grated zucchinis. Stir to thoroughly combine.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and the sour cream until combined. Pour egg mixture over zucchini mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
  5. Bake for approximately 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let sit for 5 minutes. Cut into squares.

Notes:

When creating this zucchini casserole recipe, I used a sweet onion. You can substitute any onion you have on hand—yellow, red, white, even scallions would work. For the herbs, I used Herbs De Provence because that’s what I had on hand, but you could substitute any herb or herb mix you prefer. Italian Seasoning would work well. If you like your food on the spicy side, you could also add a pinch of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes or a few shakes of hot sauce.