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A Dozen Easter Delicacies From Around the Globe

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The 40 days of Lent between Ash Wednesday and Easter can feel like an endless penance when observers give up meat, sweets, swearing, and other cherished vices. But as the Lenten season winds down, nearly every Easter-celebrating culture fires up the oven to break the humble-foods fast in the most sugar-filled, carb-loaded ways possible. What more could you ask for?

1. HOT CROSS BUNS // UNITED KINGDOM

Hot cross buns aren’t just the subject of a childhood rhyme—they’re spongy, fruity pastries that have been around for hundreds of years. The origin of the buns is unknown, with hypotheses ranging from the Ancient Romans and Saxons to 14th century monks. The earliest citation for the name hot cross bun in the Oxford English Dictionary is from Poor Robin's, a 1733 almanac that says "Good Friday comes this Month, the old woman runs, With one or two a Penny, hot cross Bunns [sic]." The phrase "hot cross buns" must be older than 1733 because of the familiarity the wording seems to assume the reader will have, but it's not clear when exactly these spiced buns—filled with currants or other fruit and topped with cross-shaped cuts or icing—were first invented, and there's some confusion on when they should be eaten, too.

In 1592, Queen Elizabeth I's Clerk of the Market issued a decree saying that "no baker or other persons shall at any time or times hereafter make, utter, or sell by retail, within or without their houses, unto any of the queen's subjects, any spice cakes, buns, bisket [sic], or other spice bread … except it be at burials, or upon the Friday before Easter, or at Christmas." But that didn’t stop people from baking them at home—in which case, caught offenders had to hand over their baked goods to the poor. Plus, hot cross bun superstition makes these pastries extra desirable; it’s believed that hanging a bun baked on Good Friday from your kitchen ceiling will protect your home from bad spirits and prevent kitchen fires.

2. MAZUREK // POLAND

When a traditional dish has been around for centuries, there’s a lot about it that can change. Polish mazurek cakes are no exception and recipe variety means that no two cakes are the same, down to their base, which can be made with wafers or dense sponge cake. But, mazureks, also called mazurkas, are identifiable because of their size: they’re usually less than an inch in height and are heavily decorated with jam, nuts, chocolate, fruit, and iced lamb designs. While Easter is a common time of year to nibble these luxury cakes, mazurek also appear at Christmas and other religious holidays, where the cakes are served in square chunks. Food historians aren’t sure when mazureks first appeared, but the dessert was likely inspired by Turkish treats brought through Poland during the Renaissance.

3. OSTERLAMM // GERMANY

In Germany, many traditional Easter meals feature edible lamb centerpieces called osterlamm. These cake or bread replica lambs are baked in lamb-shaped molds, then decorated with icing or powdered sugar. Osterlamm, which means "Easter lamb," are also popular in other European countries where they are made from butter, complete with peppercorn eyes and realistic fur sculpting.

4. IGUANA SOUP // NICARAGUA

Not all Easter delicacies are eaten on the day of—some are consumed during the 40 days of Lent prior. In Nicaragua, many Lent observers refraining from meat will make meals of iguana or armadillo instead. Because these animals aren’t considered meat in the way cows or chickens are, they satisfy the religious requirements associated with Lent. While iguanas are regularly eaten in Nicaragua, there’s controversy around harvesting them in the springtime. Iguana breeding season runs September to April, and consumption is banned during this time of year to protect populations.

5. KITFO // ETHIOPIA

Easter in Ethiopia is sometimes celebrated several weeks after western churches because of calendar differences. And with that celebration comes the breaking of the meat and dairy fast. In Ethiopia, many families slaughter their own oxen or goats at home and prepare dishes of kitfo—raw meat rubbed in herbed butter—paired with collard greens and fresh cheese called ayib. For those not craving the raw delicacy, a chicken stew called doro wat is also popular.

6. FLAOUNES // CYPRUS

Like many other countries, Cyprus has its own bread-based Easter dish. Flaounes (also called pilavuna) are pastries filled with eggs, cheese and mint to celebrate the end of Lent. Flaounes often come in square or triangular shapes, and are served with sides of olives, cheese and tomatoes. Flaounes are also baked for Ramadan celebrations.

7. BABKA // UKRAINE AND POLAND

Babka are sweet breads popular throughout Ukraine, Poland, and other Eastern European countries. These dessert breads are so commonplace at Easter celebrations that they’re sometimes blessed at church events before being shared with friends and family. Traditionally, the requirement for a babka was its size—that it must be taller than wide, and, depending on the country either is more narrow at the top than the bottom or is a cylinder throughout—but modern babkas are often baked in loaf pans or cans after being filled with almond paste, nuts, fruit, or chocolate. As for the name, which means grandmother, it’s not clear if babka get their title from resembling a grandmother’s skirts or because it’s a dessert so good that only a grandma could make it.

8. HORNAZO // SPAIN

Spain's traditional Easter dish has a slightly scandalous backstory. The large meat pies (sometimes shaped as breads) are native to the Salamanca and Avila regions in central Spain. Hornazo are usually stuffed with pork, boiled eggs, and chorizo—foods that cannot be eaten during the 40 days of Lent. Hornazos were traditionally eaten during the Lunes de Aguas festival around the same time as Easter. Prior to the start of Lent, prostitutes in Salamanca would leave the city to avoid distracting men from their religious obligations. As Easter arrived, hornazos would be baked and shared with returning prostitutes to celebrate Lunes de Aguas and the end of Lent.

9. CAPIROTADA // MEXICO

The capirotadas of Mexico are bread puddings created from old bread, syrup, nuts, and fruit. Sometimes served with cheese or meat, capirotadas are served on Good Friday. The dish dates back to at least the 16th century, and was supposedly banned by a royal decree in 1540 (some people believe it was specifically created as a meat-free Lent meal while others suggest it was a dish non-Catholics could consume while secretly following their religious beliefs during times of persecution). Capirotadas can be traced back to Spain and ancient Rome, where the meals were much different. Instead of a sticky, sweet dessert, early capirotadas were more soup-like and included onions, tomatoes, and other savory ingredients.

10. MÄMMI // FINLAND

Finland’s traditional mämmi dish supposedly tastes like Guinness or a deep stout beer, but that's likely because of all the rye it uses. Mämmi has a thick, porridge-like consistency, made from water, rye flour, and rye malt which sweeten during baking. It’s then served cold with cream and sugar. Mämmi has been eaten in Finland’s southwestern region since the 13th century, and is usually served on Good Friday when observers would hold off on cooking big meals in exchange for simple and cold foods.

11. COLOMBA PASQUALE // ITALY

Colomba Pasquale (or "Easter Dove") is Italy’s most popular Easter treat. The bird-shaped bread is filled with nuts and orange peels and covered in an icing glaze. Like many Easter delicacies, colomba pasquale has been around for centuries. Two competing legends lay claim to the bread’s origins, the first dating to 572 CE following a three-year siege of the Italian town of Pavia. When the city was captured, conqueror King Alboin demanded 12 maidens as tribute, but one of the women decided to create a bread in the shape of a dove as a peace symbol. Her baking skills impressed the king and he set her free and spared the town. The second story claims colomba pasquale came about following a 1176 victory over the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, where two doves appeared on the battlefield representing the Holy Ghost.

12. SCOTCH EGGS // UNITED KINGDOM

Scotch eggs aren’t necessarily an Easter dish despite the obvious egg imagery. These picnic treats feature a hardboiled egg wrapped in meat, which is then fried, and they have been around since the early 1800s. While originally served warm with gravy, Scotch eggs are now eaten cold and considered a quick snack for busy travelers. But for Easter, some egg fans have taken to making their own version with candy and cake. Cadbury Creme eggs are wrapped in cake and cereal before being fried—which warms the creme center for a sticky, gooey treat. Perfect for a sweet tooth's Easter basket anywhere in the world.

All images via iStock unless otherwise noted.

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Game of Thrones Made a Fun Nod to Harry Potter In Its Season Premiere
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Warning: This article contains mild spoilers about the season seven premiere of Game of Thrones. It also spoils minor plot points of the Harry Potter films.

Harry Potter fans may have gotten a strange sense of déjà vu during last night’s Game of Thrones season opener. That’s because the HBO series’ creators appear to have dropped in a subtle reference to the Harry Potter film franchise—and the Internet, in a moment of truly esoteric nerd trivia, picked up on it immediately.

The Easter egg came when Samwell Tarly, eager to discover an obscure bit of history that could help Westeros fend off the advancing White Walkers, asks the archmaester Ebrose for access to the restricted section of the Citadel’s library.

Devoted fantasy fans will recall that in another world, at another time, a young Voldemort asked Professor Slughorn for permission to enter the restricted section of the library at Hogwarts. The connection? Jim Broadbent, the real-life muggle actor who played Slughorn in the final three movies of the Harry Potter franchise, made his Game of Thrones debut last night playing Ebrose.

It seems that no matter where Broadbent goes, no matter how far he travels across fantasy universes, he can’t escape eager pupils trying to meddle in parts of the library where they don’t belong.

[h/t: Independent]

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12 Ways to Use Leftover Eggshells
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After the Easter egg hunt is done, the ham has been served, and the ears have been bitten off the bunnies, you may find yourself making excessive amounts of egg salad and facing a giant pile of eggshells. But don't throw them out! Because the shells are an organic material packed with calcium and a perfectly abrasive texture, they have lots of benefits that you can tap into for plenty of helpful uses at home.

1. BOOST YOUR TOMATO PLANTS.

Easter means the summer growing season is not far off, and if you're industrious, you might already be growing some seedlings to get a jump on things. When you plant or pot your tomato plants, put some eggshells at the bottom of the hole or the pot. The shells are loaded with calcium and can help protect your tomatoes from calcium deficiency, which causes blossom-end rot.

2. MAKE YOUR OWN HOUSEHOLD CLEANER.

Eggshells are naturally abrasive but don’t contain the toxic chemicals you find in store-bought cleaners. Because of this, they make for a great multi-purpose householder cleaner. For this use, be sure to use eggshells from your deviled egg platter that have not been dyed (it’s OK to use those with stickers if you peel them off). Dry the eggshells completely and then pulverize them in a food processor. Mix them with baking soda in a 1:3 ratio (for example,1 tablespoon of eggshells to 3 tablespoons baking soda) and add water to moisten the mixture. This is a great way to scrub your stovetop, pots, counter, or water stains from your shower.

3. CLEAN YOUR DRAINS.

Dry and pulverize the shells and sprinkle a quarter teaspoon of the powder into the kitchen sink when you drain it after washing dishes. The abrasive egg powder will cling to the bits of food in your pipes and turn into little scrubbers as they move through the pipes. This will help reduce build-up throughout your plumbing.

4. MELLOW OUT YOUR COFFEE.

Make sure your eggshells are clean and do not contain any of the egg membrane (and only use plain shells or those decorated with natural food coloring). Put some of the eggshells in your coffee grounds when you add them to your coffee maker. Eggshells are mostly calcium, which is alkaline, and can absorb some of the acid in the coffee, giving it a mellower flavor. In fact, one test found that stirring some eggshells in a cup of over-brewed coffee also improved the taste.

5. USE INSTEAD OF A BOTTLE BRUSH.

If you have a vase with those annoying, impossible-to-reach water marks on the inside, drop some crushed eggshells into the vase with a little bit of warm water and a drop of dish soap. Swirl the mixture around, and the abrasive shells will scrub off the water marks and rinse right out.

6. HATCH SOME SEEDLINGS.

If you’re agile enough to keep roughly half of an eggshell intact, it makes the perfect container for starting seedlings. Place the shells in an empty egg container (or spruce things up with one of the pretty ceramic egg crates that are popular). Partially fill the shells with dirt and plant the seedlings. When it’s time to transplant them, you can just put the whole shell right into the ground since it is biodegradable and will add to the calcium in the soil (but give the shell a crack on the bottom before planting so the roots don't have any problems getting through).

7. GET RID OF GARDEN PESTS.

Diatomaceous earth is often used in gardens to control beetles, slugs, roaches, and other pests. This natural product is basically ground up fossils, which is an abrasive material that irritates, dries out, and eventually kills the bugs. Leftover eggshells can create the same effect. Pulverize them and sprinkle directly on the pests, their nests, or around the leaves or base of your plants to help control pest attacks.

8. SCARE AWAY STRAY CATS.

If stray or neighborhood cats are using your garden to relieve themselves (or are taunting your dogs by tiptoeing through your yard), spread some roughly crushed eggshells around the area the cats are frequenting. Cats don’t like the crunchy, sharp feel of the shells on their paws, and will learn to avoid that area.

9. REPLACE ANY MICROBEAD CLEANSERS.

Beauty products with microbeads can no longer be produced after July 2017, when a law signed by President Obama in late 2015 goes into effect. Microbeads are great for exfoliation, but it turns out the tiny bits of plastic are damaging to the environment, particularly to fish, who ingest them. Eggshells, however, are a great, environmentally friendly alternative. Use plain eggshells without coloring; dry and pulverize the shells, and mix with an egg white. This can be used as an exfoliating cleanser or as a face mask.

10. ADD TO YOUR BIRDSEED.

Wild birds at your feeder will benefit if you add lightly crushed eggshells to the bird seed. Be sure to use shells that are plain or have only been colored with natural food coloring and have been completely dried (baking the shells at 250°F for about 10 minutes will do the trick). Female birds, who may be calcium deficient after laying their own eggs, will get a boost from this addition to the food. You can also gently crumble the shells and spread them on the ground for the birds if you don’t have a feeder.

11. REMOVE STAINS.

If you’ve got mugs stained from coffee and tea, eggshells can help return them to their original color. Crush the shells and place them in the mug with a little water and let it sit overnight. The porous shells will absorb the stain and leave your mugs clean without any crazy scrubbing on your part.

12. MAKE AN INEXPENSIVE CALCIUM SUPPLEMENT.

Plain or naturally colored eggshells can save you money on your calcium supplements. Studies have found that ground eggshells make a good substitute for manufactured calcium supplements (and in some cases might even be better). One eggshell contains about two grams of calcium, which is twice the recommended daily intake for adults. Rather than having your omelette with a side of shell though, you can add finely ground eggshells to any variety of food that you cook, like pizza or pasta. You can also mix ground shells into your dog or cat's meal as a calcium supplement.

All images via iStock.

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