My best memories of Easter involve a tiny bungalow overlooking a large, sloping garden ablaze with colorful spring blossoms; stone steps winding their way through the plants and shrubs to a grassy waterfront brimming over with yellow forsythia and shaded by a massive weeping willow, the tip of its branches grazing the water. At the end of the short dock is a small boat, gently bobbing in the breeze of Lago di Lugano.
That was Easter at its most glorious! My brother and I, eager to start our egg hunt, would gulp down breakfast. Then, armed with empty baskets, we searched high and low for the chocolate eggs our mother had hidden in the garden the day before. We ran up and down those stairs, lifting rocks, pushing leaves aside, inspecting every bush, even climbing trees. Maman had to be pretty creative to keep ahead of us since each year we got closer to figuring out where the treasures lay hidden. And treasures they were! Chocolate eggs with assorted fillings (gianduja was a favorite), mini-eggs coated in nougat, white chocolate rabbits–the sugary treats collected, counted, compared and sampled on the spot.
For years, during spring vacation, my parents rented the modest abode near Lugano, in Ticino, across the water from Italy, and this idyllic place looms large in my recollections of a happy childhood. The property came with the bare minimum in terms of mod cons, but made up for it with sweeping views, direct access to the lake, plenty of outdoor space to play volleyball, hide and seek, boccia, plus the occasional company of the owners’ dog, a tired, old, black terrier we adored. When it rained, we stayed outside, sitting on the sheltered terrace and playing cards until we got so cold that we had to go inside. In the minuscule room that served as living, dining, and eating space, my brother and I, wrapped in wool blankets, huddled on the narrow benches built on each side of the chimney, no doubt drinking Ovaltine and munching homemade cookies as we watched the dancing flames in the fire.
When my children were young, I tried to recreate my mother’s awesome Easter egg hunts. They were never quite up to snuff. One year, while we lived in England, my husband and I took the boys to Leeds Castle where they participated in an organized egg hunt on the castle’s grounds. As promising as it sounded, it turned into a disaster when our oldest son threw up after ingesting too many Cadbury’s creme eggs. Ever since then, in this family, the Cadbury creme egg has come to represent all that is bad about chocolate–although the winner on that front is still Hershey.
The moral of the story? At Eastertime, stick with Swiss chocolate.