Lighten Up

 

The first signs of spring – robins chirping in the trees, emerging daffodils and crocus – can fill one’s soul with the expectation of renewal. One can only marvel at the earth’s willingness to get out of bed and start all over again. Although it is just early March and spring does not officially arrive for a few weeks, it seems that the worst of winter is behind us and we anxiously await the day when we turn the seasonal corner – whenever that exact day occurs.

Along with warmer weather comes a light-hearted take on entertaining and décor. Gone are the heavier winter colors of red and green and in their place are the spring pastels that we yearn for all winter long. Spring decorating takes its cue from Mother Nature, mimicking the shades of yellow found in daffodils, the violets and pinks of crocus, and the rich pastel hues of tulips in their infinite variety.

Your spring table should provide an opportunity for you to mix it up and use the whimsical and fanciful items in your china cabinet. When looking for a theme for your decorations, gather inspiration from the produce section at the grocery store, a candy box, silk ribbon or even a magazine photo. Recall spring bonnets from decades past and let your heart be your guide as you layer pastels one atop another.

Keeping a light-hearted spring table in mind, here are a few pointers to make your next table a rousing success.

Flowers

When using daffodils for cut floral arrangements, keep in mind that they exude a sap that clogs the stems of other flowers and will shorten their life. To mix daffodils with other flowers in an arrangement make sure that you trim the stem and hold it over a candle or gas flame to sear the end and stop the flow of sap. Then you can mix them with tulips, crocus, roses or any other spring flowers you choose.

The process of selecting other flowers for your centerpiece begins by evaluating each blossom for what it can contribute to the vase in terms of color and form. It seems a shame to create all white arrangements in the spring, but a vase of lilies of the valley, white daffodils, peonies and anemone makes a light as air vision for your table.

Combine different shades of lavender lilacs with fringed tulips or lily-shaped tulips in your centerpiece and you will not only get a striking arrangement, but fragrance one can only experience in the spring. And one shouldn’t forget the charm of potted pansies for a spring breakfast table. One thing about pansies that is worth remembering: they love to be picked and the more you pick them, the more they will flourish.

Table Décor

From your china cabinet, select colors and form first and assemble your choices together in one spot. Let your creative juices flow and layer patterns and colors together and try and duplicate the riot of pastels and exuberance that spring offers. Your original table creation will be much more interesting to your family and guests when you break from tradition and combine mismatched items and that includes assorted shapes, sizes and designs. And don’t think that your spring table settings have to match one another….blend different china patterns together and vary the arrangement from placesetting to placesetting for something truly interesting.

Lighter fare

Spring menus exhibit the transformation to lighter fare, replacing the heavier dishes that we crave in the cold winter months to warm us from the inside.   Use pansies and viola to decorate an angel food cake – the flowers’ colors will make a pleasing accent for the lighter-than-air nature of the delightful dessert. Let the foods of the season – rhubarb, strawberries and asparagus- dictate your menu with fresh flavors that have a just-picked taste. Enjoy varieties that you haven’t seen in the stores since last year and experiment with new recipes and serving dishes – you will feel as refreshed and renewed as your menu.

Spring teaches us the inevitability of renewal. No matter how grim the winter, the earth will come alive again in a glorious display of optimism. We come to count on spring’s reliable glad tidings as it is one of life’s only unchallengeable acts of joyful continuity.

 

Half-hour Angel Food Cake

Serves 8

1 ½ cups egg whites

¼ t. sat

1 t. cream of tartar

1 c. granulated sugar

1 c. confectioners’ sugar

1 c. sifted Swansdown cake flour

½ t. almond extract

1 t. vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Heat a 10-in. ungreased tube pan in the oven while making the batter.
  2. Beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until stiff but not dry. Sift in granulated sugar, 2 T. at a time.
  3. Sift flour and confectioners’ sugar together 5 times. Fold the flour and confectioners’ sugar by tablespoons into the egg-sugar mixture. Fold in flavoring extracts.
  4. Pour batter into the hot tube pan. Bake for 23 minutes, no longer. Cool in inverted pan.

Icing

1 cup sugar

1 egg white

½ t. salt

¼ t. cream of tartar

½ t. almond extract

½ t. boiling water

Put sugar, egg white, salt, cream of tartar, and almond extract in a mixing bowl. Start mixer and add the boiling water. Beat until of spreading consistency.

 

White Asparagus Vinaigrette Mimosa

Serves 6

2 pounds fresh white asparagus

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

½ t. Dijon mustard

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

Salet and freshly ground white pepper to taste

1 T. chopped parsley

2/3 cup olive oil

2 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped

 

  1. Clean the asparagus and remove woody ends. Steam for 3 to 5 minutes (depending on thickness) or simmer in a skillet of water and drain well. Cool.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt, pepper and parsley. While whisking, add olive oil in a steady stream and continue to whisk until an emulsion is formed.
  3. Pour vinaigrette over asparagus and marinate for 15 minutes. Garnish with chopped egg and serve.

 

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

4 cups fresh rhubarb, 1-inch diced (4 to 5 stalks)
4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved, if large
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) oatmeal, such as McCann’s
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
Vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. For the fruit, toss the rhubarb, strawberries, 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar and the orange zest together in a large bowl. In a measuring cup, dissolve the cornstarch in the orange juice and then mix it into the fruit. Pour the mixture into an 8-by-11-inch baking dish and place it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

3. For the topping, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, salt and oatmeal. With the mixer on low speed, add the butter and mix until the dry ingredients are moist and the mixture is in crumbles. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, covering it completely, and bake for 1 hour, until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream.