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Not for Human Consumption: Peter Cottontail might go to an Easter buffet, but he's not on the menu.

Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow

Easter egg hunts, fluffy bunnies, chocolate chicks--what's the origin of this annual Hallmark moment?

By Christina Waters

WE NEED TO GO back to the marketing magic surrounding the early Christian era, when church founders borrowed pagan rituals celebrating the vernal equinox and milked them for all they were worth. It was brilliant actually, to graft the last days of Christ--and that famous death-defying denouement--onto the eerily similar Jewish Passover (in which, if you remember your Cecil B. DeMille, the Angel of the Lord killed the Egyptians and spared the lives of the children of Israel).

Now add the fact that it all happened when the earth's seasonal cycles were turning from the cold, dead days of winter into the annual miracle of new life, new growth and new fertility. And voilà!

The name "Easter" honors the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn, whose favorite animal companion was the hare. Now hares, like rabbits, aren't exactly known for celibacy and are perfect as a symbol of the hormone-intensive season. After the hard times of winter, spring was worth celebrating (and here we'd do well to recall that baby chicks, bunnies, lambs and other adorable barnyard entities are actually born in the spring). The egg motif, again symbolic of birth, also predates Christianity and was used by ancient Egyptians and Greeks in their fertility cults. It would be cynical to point out that each spring, hens tend to lay a lot of eggs and somebody had to invent something to do with all this ovoid glut. Nature was essentially the biological metaphor for Christ's return from the dead--and vice versa. It was a good fit, and the early Christian marketing geniuses knew it. So did Mrs. See, Russell Stover and the Godiva chocolate people.

In these parts we tend to celebrate the season with buffets. We recommend that you consider the following possibilities (none of whose menus will be featuring braised lapin).

At Bittersweet Bistro's Bunny Buffet, Chef Tom Vinolus plans to wow your entire bunny-lovin' family with a lavish brunch buffet that ranges from classic eggs Benedict, smoked salmon and asparagus salad to made-to-order omelets and French toast. Glazed Corralitos ham and grilled teriyaki salmon share main course honors with spring leg of lamb and salt-crusted prime rib, all carved to order.

Young gourmets can enjoy scrambled eggs, chicken fingers, grilled cheese and other special kid's table goodies.

All of the above--and much more--plus miniature versions of the legendary Bittersweet desserts and coffee is yours for $42.95 adults, and $17.95 for children aged 6-12. If you're lucky enough to be age 65, you may come early and receive a $10 discount. The entire Easter brunch will be served from 10am through 1:30pm, at the Bistro, 787 Rio Del Mar Blvd., in Aptos.

Also, if you'd prefer your Easter buffet at dinnertime, Bittersweet is also offering a lavish Easter dinner buffet. Slightly different menu, same prices, ditto for kids. The dinner menu runs from 2pm to 7pm. For Easter reservations for either brunch or dinner, call 831.662.9799.

An intimate Easter brunch in a matchless garden setting is yours at Soquel's landmark Theo's, where from 11am until 3pm, on Easter Sunday, March 31 (for you pagans), you can enjoy a prix fixe meal --$23 (sans drink, tax and tip). Choose from a starter of tropical fruits and baked Camembert, or chilled asparagus and vine-ripened tomato tartare. Entrees include smoked salmon Benedict, duck confit hash and poached eggs, pan-seared day boat scallops or slow-roasted leg of spring lamb. Desserts of crème brûlée, caramelized pineapple/carrot cake or triple berry crisp are $6 each. Theo's is located at 3101 N. Main St., in Soquel; 831.462.3657.

Looking Ahead

For those who believe in life after Easter, there's the chance to welcome spring by touring our Santa Cruz Mountain wineries on Saturday, April 20. The Spring Passport self-guided winery tour takes place from 11am to 5pm, and will run you a bargain $20 to taste and tour or to learn such insider secrets as this: Merlot is a one-dimensional wine.

Pick up your passport at any participating winery, or order one from the SC Mountains Winegrowers. Call 831.479.WINE or visit http://scmwa.com.

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From the March 20-27, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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