Chapter House Street, York

Chapter House Street York

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It’s The Small Things: Hot Cross Buns

Easter has long passed, and I managed to avoid the overly abundant marketing and consumerism found back home. Japan has failed to join the Easter train. And for a nation that loves it’s gimmicks, sweet treats and cute imagery, it’s surprising that the material side of the festival hasn’t become a hit over here. This year saw Japanese pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu release her single entitled “Easter”. This bizarre acid trip of a music video, complete with dancing eggs and UFO’s doesn’t really clarify the religious holiday, instead opting to further confuse the Japanese masses and everyone else for that matter.

As a kid, I fondly remember gathering a substantial collection of chocolate eggs from relatives and friends. But the one thing I really crave around Easter are hot cross buns. The sweet smell of cinnamon and orange zest, the butter slowly melting and the iconic cross decoration are a quintessential part of England’s baking heritage. That being said, the exact origins of the hot cross bun aren’t well defined. Some have linked it back to the Roman period, others to the Saxons, with many connecting them with 14th Century monks of St Albans Abbey. In fact, Elizabeth I is believed to have banned the sale of hot cross buns and spiced breads during Good Friday and Christmas due to its Catholic connotations. But the first real, documented record of the baked good can be found in the Poor Robin’s Almanak back in 1733.

Similarly, the hot cross buns connection to Easter, both in terms of its recipe and general existence are shrouded in historiographical and religious mystery. With the Church of England’s incessant need to relate every baked good to a Christian context, the bread seems to represent communion, the spice related to those used to wrap Jesus’ body, and the cross obvious represents his crucifixion. But the atheist in me simply sees them as a seasonal treat with a cute design. Though I’ll admit that I rarely ponder the significance of my afternoon treat.

Unlike baking pies or cakes, I lack the patience, methodical thinking and precision that’s required in crafting a beautiful sourdough or crusty whole-wheat loaf. So I usually buy hot cross buns from the supermarket. My particular favourite have been Marks and Spencer’s Apple-Cinnamon variety. They might be more expensive than those from Tesco or Sainsbury, but they’re worth it.

God damn it, I wish I had some now.

Japanese Flower Arranging

I go to an evening Japanese Language class once-a-week. It’s run by local volunteers who spend two hours of their own time teaching foreigners the language. We use textbooks, but I primarily use it for Japanese conversational practice. So each “lesson” boils down to talking about random things, much to the chagrin of one of the my fellow classmates.

Occasionally we’ll drop the textbooks and experience a part of traditional Japanese culture. Today we tried our hands at Japanese Flower Arranging (生け花). I’m no artist and have little understanding about flowers or horticulture, but I think I did a pretty good job. I kept it simple, remembering that saying “less is more” (here being the only situation where that advice seems relevant). The flower sensei didn’t even have to adjust anything on my display, unlike everyone else’s. Hahaha.

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