Senses of Living® Holidays

April 2003
© 2003 by Bret S. Beall

No matter what culture one examines, the month of April seems to embody common themes around the world: purity, growth, health.

For me, one of the best symbols of all three is an egg! So, this month’s holiday décor ideas related to eggs (keep in mind that the themes of purity, growth and health are great any time of year, so don’t limit your attention to these topics to only this month).

The beautiful ovoid shapes of eggs have inspired many a collector to festoon their with a variety of egg shapes: wood, stone, glass, crystal, papier mache, even real eggs of various avian species (I have displayed an ostrich egg that has African rock art recreated on its surface; a perfect counterpoint in shape and color to some of my more angular and dark African art).

Not everyone wants to have permanent eggs in their homes, though, so may I suggest occasionally dyeing your own eggs? Anyone can go out and purchase dyes to color them, but I have found using natural materials to not only be environmentally sensible (these materials can be composted or used as mulch or just allowed to decompose outdoors after using), they are also more beautiful and elegant (in an understated way) than their commercial, in-your-face, synthetic cousins. Whether you celebrate Easter or not, these elegant eggs will make a memorable centerpiece. If they are returned to the refrigerator after each meal, the dyed eggs can also be turned into some delicious meals (see April’s Simple! Sensible! Sensational!© Recipes for several ideas).

For the dyeing, you should ideally use non-reactive pots (like enamelware); the vinegar added to the water to etch the egg shells (to help them hold the dye better) will also etch metal cookware, albeit only lightly. Begin by selecting your dyeing agent and adding it, the cold water, vinegar and eggs to the pot in the appropriate proportion indicated below. It is impossible to give absolute measurements, because everything is dependent on the size of your pot and the number of eggs you are dyeing, which will then determine the amount of water displacement that will cover the eggs (a necessity in order to get thorough dyeing). Final coloration is dependent on the eggs themselves (some eggs just seem resistant to dyeing, creating a highly mottled, yet beautiful effect … unless you purchase eggs that have the date stamped on them … that isn’t so pretty!), the concentration of the vinegar (double the volume of vinegar given below if you want somewhat darker coloration), and the time the eggs are left in contact with the dyeing liquid (which is the amount of time needed to hard-cook the eggs, as I want my decorative eggs to be edible when their role as décor is done). Timing for cooking is also variable, as it is contingent on the size of the eggs (I assume large, but they are variable), the temperature of the raw eggs (have they been stored in the refrigerator, as is proper, or left at room temperature?), the intensity of the flame used to boil the water and then to simmer it, but the following guidelines will generally prove successful: Place the raw eggs, dyeing agents, vinegar and water in your cooking pot. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and cover, allowing the eggs to cook and color simultaneously for about 10 minutes. The result will be colored eggs that are perfectly hard-cooked (NOT hard-boiled, as boiling creates that nasty greenish oxidation rim around the yolk). Transfer the cooked, colored eggs to a bowl of cold water, dry when cool, and store in the refrigerator. Please be aware that the coloring will not be even, but the irregularity and imperfection are part of the charm of these treasures, in the style of what the Japanese call wabi-sabi (one of my favorite Senses of Living© topics to lecture on).

Here are some dyeing agents:

Yellow Onion Skins: I save up my yellow onionskins all year long (yellow skins are especially rich in pigment). Make sure they are dry, and store them in plastic bags. Every so often, I use them to color a batch of eggs for décor and deliciousness. 1 c of packed skins for every 2 c of water and 1 T white vinegar is the proportion to use to produce a beautiful, pale pinkish-orange; doubling the amount of vinegar creates an amazing reddish-pinkish-golden hue.

Tea: A lot of tea is too expensive (and too tasty) to use to color eggs, but you can find bulk quantities of less than ideal teas for about $5 per pound. 1 to 2 c loose tea for each 4 c water and 2 T white vinegar to produce a range of brownish-grayish tones (different teas produce different colors, as will the concentration of the tea).

Chestnut, Pecan or Walnut shells: 1 c (1 oz) to every 2 c water and 1 T white vinegar will produce a range of warm browns in the “mocha” spectrum.

Jamaica: Pronounced “hah MY kah,” jamaica is the flower of a red hibiscus used to create a vivid magenta cold beverage in Mexico (add ½ c jamaica and ½ c white sugar to 4 c water; bring to a boil, turn off heat and allow to steep until liquid has cooled; strain through a paper towel into a glass pitcher and stir in the juice of 1 lime, about 2 to 3 T; serve chilled, with or without ice; the taste is somewhat cranberry-ish). To dye eggs, use 1 c (1 oz) jamaica to every 4 c water and 2 T white vinegar. These proportions will yield eggs that are not red or pink (surprisingly), but an amazing steely blue-gray. NOTE: Jamaica is available from most Latin markets, and various specialty food shops; it is also the dominant ingredient in Red Zinger Herbal Tea.

It’s entirely up to you to decide if you will do only one color of egg at a time (simplicity itself) or create several different colors of eggs and combine them for a display that will cause eyes to pop (especially when these eggs are placed in a white or black bowl on the table). If you want to create an additional color, take some of cooked, cooled, colored eggs, and let them soak in the cold dye pans for an hour or so; the result will be something intermediate (if you really want to get fancy, submerge only part of the cooked, cooled, colored eggs in the new color, you’ll get a very obvious dividing line, and two tones on one egg!).

There is yet another variation of all of this which involves placing a reversed image on the egg. You will need a 6” square of cheese cloth for each egg you are dyeing; the more layers of cheese cloth, the paler the dyeing, but there are no absolutes here. You will need a small rubber band for each egg you are dyeing. You will need the dyeing materials cited above. And you will need an assortment of grasses, leaves, fern fronds, and other delicate vegetation (incised leaves are better than simple leaves, because the dyes will capture the leaf-egg contrast more readily). Place a raw egg on its side in the center of a piece of cheesecloth. Now that you see how much surface area your egg has, pick up the egg and place pieces of your vegetation where the egg lay, in an attractive pattern; replace the egg. Optionally, place additional vegetation on top of the egg. Now, bring all corners of the cheese cloth together, tuck in any loose sides, twist the corners to cause the cheese cloth to hug the egg all around, and secure the twisted ends with a rubber band. Trim excess cheesecloth (as this will take up space in your dyeing pot). Repeat for each egg. Follow cooking and dyeing instructions above. In my experience, sometimes the images are very clear and distinct, other times they are rather mottled and abstract, but they are always beautiful.

Here are the holidays and events that we are celebrating this April:

National Garden Month: In past columns, I have praised the virtues (esthetic and health) of gardening indoors. Grow plants. If you have an outdoor garden, enjoy the bulbs that you planted last fall. Just do it!

Keep America Beautiful Month: Gardening will certainly Keep America Beautiful, but so will picking up litter and disposing of it in neighborhood trash cans. Littering is BAD. Just don’t do it. And keep your home beautiful too; it’s part of America, after all (unless you are one of my readers from another nation). Check out the past columns I’ve written for Senses of Living©.

Alcohol Awareness Month: I am a proponent of using wine in cooking. I encourage wine with dinner. I enjoy a nightcap. But you must drink responsibly. Too many people have destroyed their lives by imbibing too much, so drink with conscience (and awareness!).

Humor Month: Laughter has been shown to increase longevity and maintain health. Laughter has been shown to decrease stress. You can never have too much humor in your life. Go for it!

Pets are Wonderful Month: I have always had pets in my life. They bring joy and reduce stress. There are literally millions of pets waiting to be adopted in shelters across the country and around the world. Adopt one, or two or three or more. Your life will be enhanced. For those of you with pets, treat them to a deep muscle massage. No, you don’t have to take them to a professional masseur. Just pet them regularly, and rub their muscles. Scientific studies have shown that dogs and cats that receive deep muscle massage will live longer and more healthily than those who don’t receive massage. Give it a try (even for your non-cat and non-dog mammal pets). For those who have fish or reptiles or amphibians as pets, treat them like the living creatures they are (I am astounded to hear people treating their ectothermic/poikilothermic pets like disposable objects; I just learned about a restaurant here in Chicago that serves caviar in an elaborate display including a glass bowl containing a betta [Siamese fighting fish]; this can’t be good for the fish).

April 6: Daylight Savings Time begins: move your clock one hour forward (and consider going to sleep one hour earlier the night before … too many people are sleep-deprived these days! Now THAT is something to celebrate!).

April 7: No Housework Day: I’m not really into housework; at the end of my life, will I say, “I wish I had spent more time doing housework”? I doubt it. Just this one day, take some time for you! Once you see how much you like it, try it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next!

April 8: Flower Day: although this is a Buddhist Holiday, you don’t have to be Buddhist to celebrate it! Appreciate the flowers blooming outdoors, or visit a conservatory, or enhance your own home by purchasing some flowers or blooming potted plants.

April 9: Listening Day: Use this day as a starting point. Vow from today onward to LISTEN to other people. Pay attention to what others have to say. Think about what they say. THEN you may speak. Do you have any idea how much it honors another individual to listen to them? You do, if you think about how much you enjoy have others listen to you. Think about it.

April 14: National Pecan Day: I’ll be honest: I have no idea why this is National Pecan Day, and some other day isn’t. What I do know is that pecans are delicious, healthy (full of potassium, phosphorus, folic acid, oleic acid, zinc, magnesium, even Vitamin E and fiber) and convenient. I’m always adding them to salads and pastas/rices for flavor and texture (toasting does wonders for them!). They are also a terrific last minute addition to a variety of stews and desserts.

April 15: Taxes are due … ‘nuff said.

April 16: National Stress Awareness Day: I think having National Stress Awareness Day AFTER Tax Day is a bit misguided, but I’m not the one in charge of “day designations.” Stress is a killer, usually a slow one. It decreases the quality of life, and reduces our efficiency. Stress is a worldwide epidemic that we have the power to stop!

April 17-23: Passover: please visit www.passover.net for a thorough treatment of this important Jewish holiday.

April 18: Pet Owner’s Day: see my comments above regarding Pets Are Wonderful Month.

April 19: Garlic Day AND Humor Day: You know, I’ve always said that if EVERYONE ate garlic daily, no one would be accused of garlic breath (and we’d all be much healthier and happier). Roast it, sauté it, poach it, mince it and eat it raw! Just do it! Not only will garlic enhance your health, but so will laughter, so try a new outlook: the next time you feel yourself getting angry, catch yourself first and try to figure out how a professional comedian would see humor in that situation. Trust me, not only is it a lot of fun, but once you get into this habit, you will feel so much healthier, lighter, happier!

April 20: Easter: A Christian holiday, representing new beginnings, new life. A very interesting and eclectic overview of the history of Easter can be found at: www.religioustolerance.org/easter.htm .

April 21-27: Turn off the TV Week (TV Turnoff Network website) … I really need to make sure I celebrate this! Our time is WAY too valuable to waste watching most television. Read a book, have a family discussion, begin a new hobby, finish an old project. ANYTHING but watch TV.

April 23: Peppercorn Ceremony (Bermuda): This hugely popular Bermudan ceremony recognizes the tradition of the mayor of St. George paying the government an annual rent of one peppercorn for the use of the state house. In Bermuda, much pomp and circumstance surround this event. In my home, I’ll be making some spaghetti tossed with extra virgin olive oil and LOTS of freshly ground black pepper, plus a bit of grated pecorino romano cheese (spaghetti a cacio e pepio).

April 25: National Arbor Day (last Friday of April): each state has its own designated Arbor Day, usually to coincide with optimum tree planting weather in that state. Please visit The National Arbor Day Foundation website to learn more about Arbor Day.

April 26: Hug A Friend Day: I think this one is relatively self-explanatory … hug a friend! While must be cautious about intruding on one’s personal space, or giving the impression of harassment, we must also consider that research has shown that regular tactile interaction helps infants to thrive, and by inference, it will help us to thrive!

April 28: National Mourning Day: This is a national recognition day, if your nation is Canada. However, given the geopolitical events occurring as I type this, I believe we all have someone and something to mourn. It’s also Kiss-Your-Mate Day: don’t take your loved ones for granted. Ever. And don’t limit this to your spouse or significant other! Remember to acknowledge your entire family and all of your friends (but beware of personal space … not everyone wants to be kissed).

April 29: National Shrimp Scampi Day: I don’t need an official holiday to enjoy this dish, but I will agree that it deserves its own day. Everyone makes it differently, but essentially you just sauté a bit of garlic to taste in some olive oil and/or butter over medium heat (stop here for aglio e olio), toss in some shelled, deveined and chunked shrimp (I use small shrimp, since I cut them up anyway), add a bit of white wine, and simmer until the shrimp are cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add some chopped fresh parsley and toss with pasta or serve with steamed white rice.

April 30: National Honesty Day: With corporate (and other) corruption rampant in the world, one might think, “Why bother”? To that I answer, “Don’t sink to ‘their’ level. Always take the high road. Just because ‘they’ are subhuman doesn’t mean you have to!” Of course, there are times when honesty is not necessary: I once had a pseudo-friend who felt he was being “honest” by giving his opinion of everything (often in a very caustic way), when in truth, he had never grown out of that childlike/childish phase of being unable to monitor one’s own conversation. Most of us don’t have to worry about that, though. Anything said with sincerity, kindness and respect for our fellow humans is worthy of being heard.

May 1: May Day/Beltane: it’s all about growth, growing, fertility and playfulness. Flowers and greenery should be the themes of any décor decision. As I did last month, I will encourage you to grow plants in home. Place vases of flowers around your home to offer color and brightness. The warmth is returning in the northern hemisphere, and it should be celebrated. Learning to celebrate and be playful is crucial to leading a healthy life. Get out and celebrate life itself, daily!

On that note, I’ll leave you to celebrate for the next month, and I’ll look forward to our next meeting.