Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jesus Shaves and Eats Jif Peanut Butter

There's an old adage that says, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." I must confess, I had to look up this adage for the correct wording. Yes, I may be a poet, but I am a failure at even the simplest of adages. Once I tried to say to a friend, "Don't count your chickens before they become pennies." Adages, I've never been good at remembering exactly. Frankly, I don't like them and secretly distrust people who rely on them and use them during times of seriousness and sincerity.  Adages seem cheap, cliche and well, an easy way out of explaining a personal dilemma or a difficult situation.

Yet, despite my aversion to adages, there seems to be a fraction of truth to them, especially about first impressions. But even first impressions deserve some shades of explanation. For example, there is context to first impressions; someone might have had a bad day, hit a bunny on their way to work, found out they have cancer -and then walk into a room and say, "Hi, I'm Sally what a pleasure to meet you." Context, right? Another odd moment in today's world is meeting someone you only "know" through the internet and then you finally get to meet them in person. Someone told me after we had met that they thought I was going to be fat because my e-mails had been so funny. Really, is there an adage about fat people being funny? I don't know this one.

Adages, like modern mythic holiday figures and even sacred figures in history, do have some history of truth or I'd like to think so. Take for instance, Jesus and the Easter Bunny. One is a Judeo-Christian creation while the other is an Anglo-Saxon pagan. And both are often seen as the protagonists in separate books: The Bible and The Velveteen Rabbit. Despite their differences there are similar themes such as resurrection, renewal, and the belief in love. Yet maybe even more interestingly is how both come together for one holiday: Easter. 

Despite my grandmother's ardent efforts to buy me a picture book Bible every birthday until I turned 12, my favorite stories about Jesus have come from David Sedaris. In his short story, "Jesus Shaves," a group of students from all over the world try in broken French to explain the purpose of Easter to their Parisian teacher. Some of their explanations include, " He call his self Jesus and then he die one day on two morsels of...lumber." Also, "He nice, the Jesus." And finally, "He make good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today." The story isn't just funny, it is an ironic insight into the idea of faith. Sedaris attempts to discuss that the resurrection, or the ability to recreate onself, isn't just limited to holy men in togas. Sedaris attempts mostly through humor to talk about the need for "The Easter" and really the need for faith in ourselves, even if it's in just trying to learn a new language. Really, if I had to think of the two people who taught me the most about the purpose of Easter, it would be David Sedaris and my mother. 

One of my earliest memories of my mother is her standing over the stove in a worn blue bathrobe. I recall coming up for breakfast one morning following the hint of smokey links and then preceded to lie on my back and roll all over the floor. I rolled back and forth and shouted, "I have too much feeling inside." I don't recall my mother's response, but I do know she fed me and kept busy in the kitchen. This has continued to be a common interaction. I will be selfish or self involved, talking way too much about some existential dilemma sounding like Woody Allen, while my mother remains focused and selfless over the stove. As if to show and indirectly say, " just do something, something for someone else and maybe you yourself will feel better." 

And my mom did so much for me. She read to me, made my clothes, and took tasks like collecting mushrooms in spring into adventures. But showing the act of selfless love isn't the only trait of Easter that my mother has taught me. She has this ability to resurrect just about anything in the fridge into something new. For example, she has this habit of mixing all of the juices into one and giving it some name like, "mock champagne." Once, while making beef stroganoff, or so we thought, we quietly chewed and looked up to her in confusion as she said, "it's wheat meat, I wanted to try something new, " and went back to eating her food. Some of my favorite memories are eating frozen cherries in the middle of February when all was white and we forgot about color. My mother would pull out a zip lock bag from the freezer and fill a bowl with summer: resurrecting our taste buds and keeping us from becoming too dulled by the days of being kept inside.

Mostly, the ideas of Easter my mother has taught me come in one word: faith. This isn't in the esoteric sense of the word, but faith in simple acts. Faith in doing something instead of worrying about it or over-thinking about it. Faith is about believing in what you love to do, staying focused on it and doing even the smallest of actions to make it manifest. My mother loves to cook. She herself isn't afraid to try something new, but keeps her old recipes like some closet of friends she wants to visit with, keeps the flavors of family members alive, but mostly she cooks for us. She taught me that the act of feeding others, really helps you feed yourself, helps you to learn how to give in a manner of not expecting returns. Well, maybe expecting a thank you once in awhile.

And thanks to my mother and her lifetime of modeling faith through food, now I find myself in my own kitchen and I stare at a recipe or something I want to try and I don't hesitate or shy away from something complex or new. I just do it. I don't know a lot of the times how it will taste, but I figure if I follow along and be attentive then it will probably be good, maybe even be something I feel proud of making and ultimately worthy of sharing. And like my mother, if a dish doesn't turn out, I too have chickens to feed. And a husband who will eat what the chickens won't. Someone or something will benefit.

Easter is a time for chocolate bunnies, brunch and reflection on spring and new beginnings. It is a time for faith and a time for recipes that come around once a year. A time to give to others even if it is just a plate of food, a basket of eggs or chocolate nests. This recipe came from my nursery school and it is fun to make with little ones, for little ones and big ones too. My mom once sent these to me while living in Poland, and I recall eating them all. They are Easter to me. They are my mother. And mostly they are simple, fun, and a reminder of an edible spring.

Easter Nests

12 oz. chocolate chips
1/2 of a 9 0z. jar of crunchy peanut butter
1 box of shredded wheat 
wax paper
candy easter eggs or jelly beans

1. In a double boiler gradually melt chocolate chips and peanut butter together.
2.In a large bowl break the shredded wheat apart or you can break it apart in the package and then pour it out into a bowl.
3. Pour melted chocolate and peanut butter over shredded wheat and mix
4. Using two forks, form a small nest shape, about three inches in diameter and place on waxed paper. Be sure to make a small indentation in the middle of the nests.
5. Chill in fridge for about an hour
6. Place "eggs" in the center of the nests 
(can be kept in a sealed container for up to a week)

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