Oliver’s first Easter with easy French toast casserole

Easter was fun.

Really, truly fun.

In sharp contrast to Christmas, when I was stressed and overworked and dead exhausted and so completely overwhelmed I wanted to just get the whole thing over with already (sad, but true), Easter was . . . enjoyable.

It helped that we weren’t all sick. December was nothing but colds, coughs and croup, and it was awful. Now the weather is beautiful, the trees are in bloom, flowers dot lawns and the sun is shining . . . ahhh. I feel better just typing all that!

It was Oliver’s first, given he was born the Sunday after Easter last year. Because he’s four months older than he was at the holidays, he also seemed to better “get it.” He’s much more interactive now, more mobile and vocal. Though the nuances of a religious holiday were certainly lost on him, he looked darn cute in pastels — and even cuter with vibrant eggs. And bunny ears.

Blackmail for when he’s mouthing off at 16, eh?

Easter

Easter eggs

I was my better self on Sunday. The self that is in the moment, happy to be doing whatever she’s doing, wherever she is . . . running around and maybe anxious, but still aware of it all. Because it was Oliver’s last “first” holiday, I wanted to document it — but even more, I wanted to live in it.

This has been, for sure, the longest shortest time.

In two weeks, my baby will turn 1. He’s already practically a toddler, scrambling to keep up with his friends at day care and older cousins, not yet moving but definitely taking everything in. It won’t be long before it “clicks,” and then we’ll have a new problem: a child who runs faster than we do.

In that vein, I’ve given myself permission to . . . well, to let things go. Just a bit. A bit! Because we often welcome friends and family, sometimes without notice, I’ve had to fight down this … this urge to scrub, tidy and organize. To seem like a family with two working parents who still keep a spotless home.

But our home is not spotless. Even during those first few months at home, I felt like I had to keep the house impeccable even with a few scratched-together hours of sleep. It was hard to let go of those old insecurities about others not seeing you “at your best,” but I eventually accepted something had to change. That something was me.

In the last year, I have cried and I have laughed and I have welcomed friends into my living room with matted hair, smudged eyeliner and dirty diapers forgotten on the floor. When we volunteered to host an Easter brunch last Sunday, I had to fight — almost physically — an urge to clean and tidy like no tomorrow, panicking in the hours before my parents, grandparents and aunt arrived because I was worried everything was not . . . up to snuff.

But it was fine. And if it wasn’t, they would never have said anything — and surely cut us some slack. So does it really matter?

We served this French toast casserole on Easter morning, and it’s the epitome of what I love in a recipe these days: delicious, filling and quick. It can — and should! — be partially prepared the night before, meaning your work in the morning is minimal. It involves sprinkling on some brown sugar, popping it in the oven and going on your merry way.

Until you return with a fork.

Which you will do — and very quickly. Its aroma can’t be denied. Plus, the leftovers reheat beautifully for breakfasts later on . . . you know, if you have any left.

After our brunch, we had a really nice afternoon visiting with my grandmother, cousins and family in Virginia — complete with Ollie’s first Easter egg hunt! He was more concerned with beating any surface like a drum than actually seeking eggs, but he did realize they make excellent maracas.

I’ll listen to his beats any day.


French toast casserole 1

Easy Apple French Toast Casserole

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 (8 ounce) loaf of French bread, cut into bite-sized pieces and slightly dried out
2 cups milk
6 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 pinch ground cinnamon, or to taste
1 jar (15 ounces) scalloped cinnamon apples
1 tablespoon brown sugar, or more as desired

1. Grease a 9×12-inch baking dish.

2. In a medium saucepan, stir together 1 cup brown sugar and butter together over medium-low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves into butter, about 2-4 minutes. Pour into prepared baking dish and spread 2-inch layer of bread pieces over the top, lightly pressing bread into mixture to soak it up.

3. Beat milk, eggs and vanilla extract together in a bowl. Pour milk mixture over bread into the baking dish, moving bread as needed to make sure all bread absorbs liquid. Spoon scalloped apples over bread, spreading between pieces as desired. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Cover dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate, 8 hours to overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove and discard plastic wrap from dish, then sprinkle with remaining brown sugar over the bread mixture.

5. Bake in the preheated oven until browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes. Serve and enjoy, refrigerating any leftovers to enjoy later!

Recipe slightly adapted from AllRecipes


French toast casserole 2


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Egg-citing traditions

Dying eggs


A friend and I were reminiscing about dying Easter eggs yesterday.

“Remember the vinegar?” he asked. “That terrible smell?”

“And you’d drop the little colored pellets in,” I added, “and watch the colors burst to life!”

(Yes, I totally say things like “burst to life” in real life. It’s . . . I guess my thing.)

One of the things I miss most about having little ones around is doing all the fun kid stuff you enjoy around holidays — like, you know, hiding Easter eggs. Since the next kiddos in our immediate group will probably be mine (eek), I’m left as the only 27-year-old who still likes fresh Crayons, playing Uno and writing on eggs with waxed crayons . . . then dipping them in pink. To see the secret message, you know?


Initials egg


Though I don’t think my sister and I will have time to dye eggs this year, we did have fun with it last spring — and man, things have gone high-tech since I was a kid! The inexpensive pellet-and-vinegar kits are still around, yes, but there are just so many . . . options. Like the one we wound up with: a melted-wax marbling set that created some pretty cool combinations, if I may say so.


Eggs

Colored eggs


I still appreciate the simple things . . .

. . . and may it always be so.

Happy Easter!


Memories of Easter candies past


So yes, I’m trying to lose weight. Like 90 percent of the general adult population. Like many friends and coworkers, all of whom conspire to keep me on the straight and narrow. Like my poor boyfriend, who is constantly trying to get me to embrace his healthy(-ier) lifestyle . . . and has faced my hungry, annoyed face on more than one occasion. Especially as I explore the theories set forth in Cynthia Sass’s S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim, a diet book that is both enlightening and profoundly upsetting.

Because I seem to be doing All The Bad Things.

And I know a tough holiday is coming up, friends: a holiday in which I sacrifice myself at the altar of hollow chocolate bunnies. When I was a kid, Easter was all about family (and it still is, of course), worship and, well . . . presents. Edible presents.

I’m talking candy, y’all. Real, sugary, honest-to-goodness candy.

Like Christmas morning, Easter Sunday back in the ’90s would always begin with my sister and I huddled together while my parents prepared to capture our shrieks of delight as we ran down the stairs. Many years featured the Easter Bunny hiding little toys and plastic eggs around the living room, leading us into a small scavenger hunt, and we tore through the downstairs seeking our prizes.

This went on for a while — years and years. Until Katie, reaching the age of reason, finally looked at me with wide, blinking eyes. “The Easter Bunny’s handwriting sure looks a lot like Mom’s,” she scoffed, holding up a folded index card with scavenger hunt instructions. And being the older, bossy sister I was, I could only shrug with what I imagined as an impassive expression on my face. It was probably the mocking “I know something you don’t know” look all siblings despise.

At 26, I still look forward to Peeps and chocolate bunnies and robin’s egg bubblegum. And Reese’s eggs and Pixy Stix and Cadbury cream eggs. As long as I don’t get any NECCO wafers (blech, seriously — what are those?), I’m a happy girl — and no amount of faux-dieting I convince myself I’m doing will keep me from diving headfirst into my basket this year.

I’m Meg, a sweets addict. As evidenced by the time I posed in Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York City — quite possibly the most insane shopping experience I’ve ever had. In the twenty or so minutes we prowled the store, we saw and heard two glass containers full of sugary goodness smash to the floor . . . and trying to check out was enough to give me a panic attack. And all I wanted was a little porcelain container shaped like a cupcake.



And candy, of course. I don’t remember what I got, but there’s no way I left empty-handed. I must have brought home some sort of sweet for Spencer, who lives and dies by Jelly-Belly jelly beans. Pear flavored, to be exact. I tell the man he’s sweet enough already (aww), but he’s hopelessly addicted.

I don’t worry about it, though. I’m definitely not one to judge.

——

So tell me, friends: What’s your favorite type of Easter candy? What did you love as a kid? Has your sugar-covered palate changed over the years?