Easter Gospel Brunch
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Easter-Fest 2010! Update the pastel haze of the spring holidays with your very own music festival. Relax—I'm not talking about holding the next Woodstock in your backyard—I'm talking a gospel brunch inspired by the famous New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Every spring, New Orleans hosts two jam-packed weekends celebrating the best of the best such as Aretha Franklin, the Allman Brothers, Keely Smith, the Four Freshman, Anita Baker, the Neville Brothers and hundreds more incredible local musicians, choirs and gospel greats. It's the perfect excuse to toss out the disposable plastic eggs and fake grass, skip the chocolate bunny chase and start some new, high-spirited, friends-and-family traditions. Music is the perfect springboard for the kind of group fun that creates lasting memories. You don't have to be a gospel aficionado to compile a playlist for the party, just go to your favorite music site, online radio station, old vinyl shop, the attic, whatever—and hit play!

How to set the table and make new traditions!
Set the Table
What would Paula Deen do? She would head to the South with that menu. Set up a lemonade and sweet tea bar too. Make pitchers of sweet tea and lemonade and set them out with bowls of condiments so guests can accessorize their beverages with a little flavor enhancer. Try mint sprigs, orange and lemon wheels, berries, lavender (dried or fresh, but not perfumed), candied ginger, pineapple chunks, cherries and slices of kiwi and peaches. Add vodka, gin or tequila to make simple cocktails with the lemonade and garnishes. In the kitchen, you'll be hauling signature Southern dishes out the oven: flaky biscuitscrab cakeshamcornbreadgreensjambalaya and you know my favorite: fried chicken and waffles, covered with maple syrup. Warning: You'll be (happily) incapacitated for the rest of the afternoon. For a centerpiece, add some whole fruits and vegetables in big bowls accented with simple fresh flowers in jelly jars, and you're all set.

Nod to Tradition
Not ready to give up the egg hunt? Understood, but how about using natural ingredients as a new tradition? Let the kids get creative using unexpected ingredients to make the dye colors. Here's how: Boil eggs in water with a bit of vinegar and one of the following ingredients. Let it simmer for at about 15 minutes.
• For blue eggs, use red cabbage
• For green, use spinach
• For yellow, use carrot tops, saffron, turmeric, orange or lemon peels
• For orange, use yellow onion skins
• For pink, use beets or cranberries
• For red, use red onion skins
• For purple, use red wine
• For lavender, use Concord grape juice

Don't forget to make time for fun activities and thoughtful moments
Group Activities
Spring brings unpredictable weather, so hedge your bets. If it's sunny, it'll probably be breezy, so take the crew out to the local park and go fly a kite! Making and customizing a homemade kite is fun for kids of all ages; there are a lot of online resources for kite-crafting, and you might already have the ingredients at home. Just make sure to run inside if the sky starts to threaten you with a thunderstorm, because you don't want to reenact Ben Franklin's electricity experiment! Stuck inside because it's pouring rain? Then bring on a little gospel karaoke! Rally the troops for a sing-along and pass the mic for solos. Crank up the speakers or, even better, recruit your nearest piano player and fire up that four-legged piece of furniture gathering dust in the corner of your living room. Add a "Hallelujah!" if you're feelin' it, along with a little tambourine, harmonica, forks on drink glasses—whatever makes a beautiful noise. Decades ago, before hi-fis, flat-screens, iPods and texting, this is how people spent most evenings.

Thoughts and Prayers
You've probably said it: "You're in my thoughts and prayers." Me too, but I never really focused so much on the "thoughts" part. But I've learned that thoughts are as powerful as words, so invite everyone to participate in a little positive thinking in celebration of Easter/spring/new beginnings—positive thoughts that your guests can take home with them as a little party favor and share out loud as a toast, the kind that last a long time. Give them a running start by printing out a thought and leave a blank space to fill in. For example: "We are drawn together to celebrate life and create happiness. When I think of the ___________ that I experience today, I will smile and spread the joy!" It's like one of those old Mad Libs, only, you know—happy.

The Family Photo Op
Be the family historian and herd your crew in front of the camera. The party activities will naturally lend themselves to photo and video-taking, especially if everyone's dressed in their Easter Sunday best. Also, decades from now, when hairstyles change, this will be awesome blackmail material. Recruit your local teens as camera crew, given that they usually have an electronic device in their hands at all times. Break the ice by submitting a question to each guest. For example, "What makes you sing?" The more story- and joke-telling, the better. Organize group photos: little kids sitting on dad's shoulder, bigger kids holding hands in a Ring Around the Rosie circle, generations of moms in one shot—grandmother, mother, daughter and generations of dads too!

Whatever you do, be sure to gather everyone around, smile and count your blessings!

More Brunch Ideas
Check out Oprah's gospel brunch
Get inspired by Southern chef Tyler Florence
Try this bunny cake with white fluffy icing


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