Apr 23, 2017

Cracked

I have many gifts, but being instinctively funny is not one of them. I have met people who are an absolute riot without breaking a sweat- they tell stories of things that happened to them casually and as they remember them and I am rolling in the aisles. Saori had a korean friend who told us a story which involved a road trip to the grand canyon, some poor asumptions about weather, a broken rental car window, a strip bar, and a case of Coca-cola, and I thought I was going to die. My brother Taylor is also one of those gifted people. And so is Olena.

Olena is one of Saori’s coworkers, a mid twentysomething Ukranian from Kiev. I first met her on a company trip to the Vitra campus where on the return trip fueled by bottles of sparkling wine passed around by the furniture company employees, she led the back of the bus belting out popular music with altered lyrics to include expensive chairs.

She told Saori who told me the story of renting ski equipment as a student in Kiev. Instead of sports rental shops, many people go to houses whose residents have a bunch of ski gear to rent out. You’re an 8 and they only have size 7 or 9? It’s OKAY! Poles mismatched? It’s OKAY! was the constant refrain.

Anyway, she must have been feeling a bit homesick over Easter, because she asked Saori if we wanted to make easter eggs together. Easter eggs? I have vauge childhood memories of using a wire loop to dip eggs in dye water. Not so thrilling in my thirties. I was a bit surprised by the invitation, but ok, there’s a great quote about odd instructions being dancing lessons from God.

Saori suggested Olena come to our place, which turned out to be exactly what Olena was hoping for because her flat didn’t have an oven and she wanted to bake some traditional Ukranian easter cake for the first time. I boiled some eggs and Saori pulled out the food coloring we’d used for our macaron-mania days. Olena showed up with candles and beeswax and a tiny metal funnel at the end of a wooden stick that her grandmother had fashioned from a metal can many lifetimes ago. It was immediately clear that this was going to be different than what I expected.

A short bit about Easter: apart from being the most significant event in the Christian calender, I never gave much thought to two other major signfiers of Easter: the easter bunny and brightly colored eggs. Something something fertility, new life, could have even been an 1910’s Hallmark invention.

However. It would appear that Easter, like many other Christian holidays, was fused with and absorbed pre-Christian pagan celebrations, including a god named Easter, and the bunny, as it turns out, is the one doing the colorful egg-laying. Egg decorating as an Easter tradition arose in eastern europe from a hell of a long time ago, and apparently the Slavic cultures and countries there have continued the tradition. Anyway, this is turning into a poorly written, citied, and researched Wikipedia article, so back to the eggs:

The way you make Ukranian Easter eggs is actually not that complicated:

  1. Prepare three or four color dye baths
  2. Using a pencil, lightly draw the pattern you want on your egg.
  3. With a candle, heat the metal funnel and take a scoop of wax.
  4. Heat the funnel with the wax as needed- the funnel has a minimeter/ 1/16” or so sized hole, and the melted wax should start flowing out at a crontrolled rate to “draw” in wax over your pencil linework.
  5. Dip egg (or leave egg, depending on dye strength) in dye water, starting with lightest colors.
  6. Repeat wax masking over differnet areas you want to leave in the first color, and then dip in the second color.
  7. Let egg dry completely
  8. Heat small areas of the egg over a candle to melt wax, gently rub off with paper towel.

Olena was really excited. Apparently this was the first time she had made eggs since she was a teenager, and when we put on a youtube channel of traditional ukranian music and (and later, ukranian pop) it was clear it was kind of a heartsqueeze for her.

When she was younger, one time she called the local music tv station to request some music, not knowing that they were running a “tell us your talent” segment. They said what are you really really good at? And she replied I can make people laugh, but they said we can’t use that- what else do you have? And she said, I make these really good eggs, so they invited her on the show and showed off the eggs she had made over the years. (the eggs are blown to keep them from spoiling).

As one might imageine the funnel plays a pretty crucial role. As there was only one funnel and three eggers, Saori and I both got to work trying to MacGyver something suitable. I spent about a half hour trying and testing various ways of attaching a tin foil funnel to a wooden chopstick with middling success which Olena actually found pretty funny but when I gave up, she took my contraption and gave Saori the funnel, and I started experimenting with a nail. I actually ended up getting pretty good with the nail- loading up and coating it with a thin layer of wax, and then heating it just the right amount so that wax flowed off it like a quill ink pen.

Of the food coloring dyes we had, eggs in the blue came out a really nice shade of blue, eggs in green came out a slightly different shade of blue, and after soaking a white egg in the red for about half an hour, it came out looking like... a brown egg. So we ended up with ANTHROPOLOGIE display Easter eggs- bohemian, spastic linework eggs in white and blue tones. It’s actually quite fun and gratifiying to learn a new artistic technique- basically batik eggs. Definately, we will be doing this next year.

The Easter cakes went into the oven and when we later checked on them and found them rising, Olena danced out of kichen singing “I’m the best baker ever!!”. But then left them in a bit too long. She left us a few, which turned out to be still good apart from the blackend outside, and took the rest to be blessed by the priest at the Russian church not far from where we live.
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