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by: SUBMITTED PHOTO Hot cross buns are traditionally served at Easter, along with jelly bird eggs and chocolate bunnies.

If you observe Lent, you know that we are approaching the final countdown to Easter. Christians worldwide will celebrate Palm Sunday this week, which marks the beginning of the most holy of weeks of the liturgical year and leads us to Easter.

In Palm Sunday services Christians reenact Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, where multitudes of Jews gathered for Passover. Jesus had been preaching and performing miracles throughout the land, and though he downplayed the miracles, his many followers recognized him as the Messiah whom God promised would come and save them. Throngs of people lined the street, waving palm branches and shouting for joy as Jesus entered, riding on the back of a donkey.

The irony is that this same crowd would be shouting for Jesus' execution just five days later.

Palm Sunday is festive. Many congregations progress into their churches, waving palm fronds and singing songs that proclaim Jesus' glory. Clergy wear red garments and crosses are traditionally draped in red, the color of martyrdom and shed blood.

This festive tone changes dramatically on Maundy Thursday. This is a somber day, with a very important teaching element to it. The word Maundy comes from a Latin verb that means, 'to give,' 'to entrust' or 'to order.' Christians believe that on Maundy Thursday Jesus gathered his disciples for the Passover Seder as their Last Supper together.

After supper he washed his disciples' feet to illustrate humility and the spirit of servitude. He talked about his purposes and what his followers should do in his absence. At this Last Supper he gave his disciples wine and bread and asked that whenever they eat or drink them, they do so in remembrance of him. This is where the Christian tradition of Holy Communion, or Holy Eucharist, originates.

It is customary on Maundy Thursday for congregations to consume all the consecrated bread and wine in the church. Some congregations share in the washing of each other's feet as well.

Some churches remove all the altar coverings and decorations after the Eucharist. This 'stripping of the altar' symbolizes the abandonment of Jesus by his disciples and the stripping of Jesus by the soldiers prior to his crucifixion. This, like the darkness often incorporated into Good Friday services, represents the humiliation of Jesus and the consequences of sin as a preparation for the celebration of new life and hope that is to come on Easter.

The next day is Good Friday, the day on which Jesus was crucified on the cross for the sins of the world. It's a day of mourning and sorrow over the sacrificial death of Jesus and a reminder that the sins of all people made it necessary for him to die in the first place.

Some churches hold services between noon and 3 p.m. to commemorate Jesus' hours on the cross. Crosses are draped in black and many churches do not light the church during services and ask for silence as a reminder of the darkness that covered the earth after Jesus died. No communion is served on Good Friday.

Many ponder how dark their life would be without Jesus in them.

Jesus' followers were allowed to take his body down from the cross after he had died and they laid him in a tomb. Women stayed at the tomb and mourned, keeping a vigil.

Some churches will hold an Easter Vigil in the evening hours on Holy Saturday, watching for the first light of Easter day. It is traditionally a service where many people are baptized into the Christian faith.

And then, early in the morning, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the women. This resurrection is the most central event in Christianity and what is celebrated at Easter.

Where Lent has been contemplative and somber, Easter is brilliant and joyous, full of promise. Flowers, candles, music and fragrances all signal the new life associated with Easter.

Whether or not you celebrate Easter, you can join Christians in an Easter feast. It's a great opportunity to indulge in spring's finest food offerings: Strawberries, asparagus, lamb or an Easter ham.

I received word last week that Stroupe Family Farms have Easter hams available - which would be the perfect centerpiece to an Easter brunch or dinner. Located in Aurora, the farm raises all natural beef and pork without hormones or antibiotics. The animals are pasture-raised and fed a 100 percent vegetarian diet of locally grown grass, fruits and vegetables. They are selling their hams through S and H Logging and Landscape Services, 20200 S.W. Stafford Road in Tualatin. Hams are priced at $5 per pound. Order by calling 503-638-1011 or online at stroupefarms.com .

You might also add Eggs Baked over Sautéed Mushrooms and Spinach. It is easy, elegant and delicious. Most of the preparation can be done ahead of time and then the ramekins assembled just before baking.

And don't forget the Hot Cross Buns, chocolate bunnies and jelly bird eggs!

Bon Appetit! Eat something wonderful!

Eggs Baked over Sautéed Mushrooms and Spinach

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large leek, white and light green parts only, cut into ½-inch pieces

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 pound white or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

¼ cup dry red wine

5 ounces baby spinach, stems removed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the leek and cook over moderate heat, stirring until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in butter and mushrooms. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are softened and a lot of liquid is released, 7 minutes or more. Uncover and add the soy sauce and red wine and cook over moderately high heat, stirring until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and stir until wilted, 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Coat four 1-cup ramekins or small gratin dishes with oil or cooking spray. Transfer the mushrooms and spinach to the ramekins and crack an egg on top of each. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the white is set but the yolks still runny. Let stand 2 minutes.

Adapted from Food and Wine, Oct. 2011.

Hot Cross Buns

Makes 24 buns

1 cup warm milk (105°-115°F.)

2 1/4-ounce packages (5 teaspoons) active dry yeast

1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 sticks (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1/2 cup dried currants

1/3 cup golden raisins

2 teaspoons finely grated fresh orange zest

2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest

3 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar

In a small bowl stir together milk, yeast, and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar. Let mixture stand 5 minutes, or until foamy.

Into a large bowl sift together flour, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Cut butter into bits and with your fingertips or a pastry blender blend into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse meal. Lightly beat 1 whole egg with egg yolk. Make a well in center of flour mixture and pour in yeast and egg mixtures, currants, raisins, and zests. Stir mixture until a dough is formed. Transfer dough to a floured surface and with floured hands knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough to an oiled large bowl and turn to coat. Let dough rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1½ hours.

Butter 2 large baking sheets.

On a floured surface with floured hands knead dough briefly and form into two 12-inch-long logs. Cut each log crosswise into 12 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball and arrange about 1 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets. Let buns rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

While buns are rising, lightly beat remaining egg with superfine sugar to make an egg glaze. On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin roll out pastry dough into a 20- by 6-inch rectangle (about 1/8 inch thick). With a sharp knife cut rectangle crosswise into 1/8-inch- wide strips.

Brush buns with egg glaze and arrange 2 pastry strips over center of each bun to form a cross. Trim ends of pastry strips flush with bottoms of buns. Bake buns in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer buns to a rack to cool slightly. Buns may be made 1 week ahead and frozen, wrapped in foil and put in a sealable plastic bag. Thaw buns and reheat before serving. Serve buns warm or at room temperature.

Gourmet, 1999

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-128,1 ext. 101, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Add a little something extra to your meal with Dine Lake Oswego!

Hey friends, let me introduce you to a month-long promotion that is truly a win-win-win! The Lake Oswego Review, city of Lake Oswego and Lakewood Center for the Arts have dreamed up a program with delicious benefits for all.

During the month of April many area restaurants will be featuring a unique, tantalizing entrée or prix fixe menu option as their Dine Lake Oswego! entree. When you selected that item the restaruant will donate a portion of the cost to the Lake Oswego School District Foundation.

In addition, you will receive a special offer from Lakewood Center to buy a ticket to the upcoming 'City of Angels' production at a discount.

The restaurants participating at this point include Baja Fresh, Beeztro at PLAY Boutique, Blast Burger, Deno's Pizzeria, Five Spice Seafood and Wine Bar, Gubanc's Pub, Pizza Bella, St. Honoré Boulangerie, The Olive and the Grape and Terrace Kitchen Restaurant and Bar. My very reliable source tells me the offerings will change weekly at some restaurants.

You win by getting to try many delicious dishes at many close-to-home restaurants and can attend a great theater production at a discount, the restaurants win by introducing new customers to their fare, Lakewood Center wins as more people take in 'City of Angels' and the foundation wins by getting more funds to secure teaching positions for next year.

Watch each week for any updates in this space.


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