How I Met My Dinner: Pysanky, Easter Egg Art

Apr 12, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Alicia Lieu, Food Fun, How I Met My Dinner

by Alicia Lieu

Recipe at the end of this post. Check back every month as Alicia shares her adventures of How I Met My Dinner!

Living in New York City has advantages and disadvantages. But people who move to New York and choose to stay, even after the reality of the high cost of living sets in, can reap the benefits of living in a global city. Living in the city may mean that you can’t save enough money to travel the world, but it doesn’t hurt so badly once you realize that the world is only one subway ride away. I had seen a special on PBS once that covered the Polish art of decorating Easter Eggs, called Pinsanki, and I wanted to see if I could experience this in New York. My Google search did not turn up Polish Pisanki classes, but I easily found a Pysanky class that is held every year at the Ukrainian Museum located on 6th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.

Pysanky Class

At the start of the class, we watched a short film called Pysanka by Slavko Nowytski, that introduced us to the art of Pysanky. The artisan in the film was clearly very experienced and skillful. With deft movements, she applied thin lines of molten wax to a raw egg and dipped the egg into different colored dyes. After multiple layers of intricate wax designs and dye, she shellacked her masterpiece that would then be added to her collection of eggs that had been around as long as the family legacy.

After a brief explanation of the design process and the order in which the different color dyes were going to be applied, it was our turn to try our hand at it. We took a pencil and drew dotted lines to divide each side of our eggs into quadrants. The first main dividing lines we drew with wax were going to appear white (egg colored) in the end. Although the simplest in concept, I struggled with this the longest. We took tiny bits of wax and placed them into a tiny funnel attached to the end of a short dowel. We held the funnel over a flame to melt the wax and that became our tool for drawing waxen lines on the egg.

The artisan in the movie made it look very easy. Each stroke was confidently placed and turned out perfectly. Only once in the film did she backtrack to fix a line of wax. I, however, ended up with wiggly and feathered lines and blobs of wax that had dripped onto my egg when I hesitated before drawing my lines. There were four other people in the class with me. Meredith and Claudia, a mother and daughter pair whose family is from the Ukraine and two other ladies named Ann and Susan.

Pysanky Stages

Our fearless instructor, Alexandra, led us through the process from beginning to end. Well, she was almost fearless. She did fear that we might drop our egg, so she kept reminding us to hold our eggs firmly. I think she had seen more eggs being dropped in class than she would have preferred to witness, especially during the stage when you hold the egg directly in the candle flame to melt the wax off the egg. Our instructor was extremely helpful and knowledgeable, and guided us well as we used the traditional colored dyes of yellow, orange, red, and black. After the first color of dye, yellow, we were still struggling to figure out the effects of each coat of wax and dye bath. By the time I was ready for the last color, black, I was in the habit of reciting the mantra, “Cover in wax everything that you want to be yellow (or orange or red).”

They sell Pysanky kits at the museum so that you can refine your technique at home. I need to get back there and get a kit. It is such a beautiful and artistic way of decorating Easter Eggs. After I practice for a year, I will sign up for the advanced Pysanky class next year!

I wanted to check in with my fellow composer from class at Juilliard, who is originally from the Ukraine and is back there visiting. He assured me that he was not in any danger and was doing well. He did tell me that he loved doing Pysanky as a kid, as well as having hard boiled egg fights and other traditional games at Easter, and I should Google them because they are lots of fun. There was a handout at the Pysanky class that outlines the Easter traditions in the Ukraine. The museum also offers classes in bread baking, jewelry making, and needlepoint. It all looks wonderful.

Finished Pysanky

Since I did not grow up in an orthodox culture with strong Easter traditions except for Easter baskets and Easter egg hunts, the recipe that comes to my mind when I think eggs is inspired by the Goldie Lox omelette that I first had at Sarabeth’s. This recipe is how I do it at home. I recently paired it with chocolate croissants from Trader Joe’s. They come frozen and raw and you let them proof overnight. In the morning, you bake them to perfection. The only other thing I wished I had that morning was a Mimosa.

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Scramble

3 eggs, beaten
4 ounces of smoked salmon (or Lox) cut into bite size pieces
3 ounces of cream cheese, cut into small squares
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a skillet on low heat. Add oil and butter to coat pan. Pour in the eggs and gently scramble the eggs until they are about halfway cooked. Add in the salmon and cream cheese and stir the eggs gently until desired doneness is reached. Salmon and cream cheese should be heated through but the cream cheese should not be fully melted into the eggs. Season to taste and serve immediately.

Check back every month for Alicia’s next food column & check out past columns in our Food section. You can follow Alicia on Twitter @AliciaJLieu.

Alicia Lieu grew up in Cupertino, California. She has Master’s Degree in Music Composition from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Bachelor of Art from UC Santa Barbara. A New Yorker with the heart of a Californian, she currently resides in Queens, NY and blogs about food in Jackson Heights.


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