“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt. . . Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. . . Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
-The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams-
This is Farfel. He was given to me as an Easter present when I was seven. He became Real a long time ago and as the result of being loved so hard for decades, his face is now misshapen. His left left eye sits lower than the right.
Like the Skin Horse said, sometimes becoming Real does hurt a bit. Luckily it’s nothing a needle and thread can’t fix. Farfel’s had multiple surgeries. Mostly his tail and his neck, though I suspect he’ll soon need some stitches at the top of his legs.
When I left home for college I left my childish things behind. That is, until the first time I got sick and asked my mother to FedEx Farfel to me.
I think he is the luckiest stuffed rabbit in the world. Not only did I make him Real and love him until his stuffing went flat, but years later he has become Real to another little girl–my daughter, Helena. This has to be the life toys dream about.
So when The Unicorn Theatre brought back their production of The Velveteen Rabbit, I knew we had to get tickets. It was amazing. The actors, the choreography, the accompanying music, it was all outstanding. Ashley Byam who played the Boy was perfect and the fact that Christian Roe who played the Velveteen Rabbit wasn’t in a silly animal costume, but rather just was the rabbit, made his Realness all the more convincing.
Upon coming home, Helena and I made Sicilian inspired Easter bread. I say inspired because that’s what the flavours are, though no one’s Italian grandmother taught me how to do it. The bread is sweet with blood oranges and almond extract. And because we love rabbits so much in this house, we made them into the shape of rabbits. Below is the recipe. I hope you enjoy it.
6 raw pre-dyed eggs (make sure they are coloured raw as they cook while baking)
1 1/2 cups + another 3-4 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 cup warm milk
4 teaspoons yeast
the zest of 2 blood oranges and 1/4 cup of their juice
2 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup warm water
170 g softened unsalted butter
100 g caster sugar
2 large eggs
Dissolve 4 teaspoons of yeast in 1/2 cup of warm milk. Make sure it’s not too hot because that will kill the yeast.
Aerate 1 1/2 c all purpose flour with a balloon whisk.
Add 1/2 c warm water to the flour. Also add the yeast mixture. Stir with a rubber spatula until combined. Don’t worry if the mixture is really sticky. That’s exactly how it should be.
Cover the bowl with cling film and let it stand for at least 1 hour. After this point, it should be double in size and really bubbly.
In the meantime. . .
Cream together 170 g of softened unsalted butter with 100 g sugar.
Add the zest of 2 blood oranges and 1/4 cup of juice, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, and 2 tsp sweet almond extract.
Beat in 2 eggs one at a time.
Beat this mixture into the risen yeast with an electric mixer. It should be smooth but sticky.
Sieve 3 cups of flour. Add them to the dough by hand, one cup at a time.
Once this comes together, take it out of the bowl and place it on a floured surface. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. It should feel smooth and elastic.
Place it in a lightly buttered bowl and cover it with cling film. Allow it to stand for at least 2 hours.
Remove the cling film and punch down the dough. Divide it into 6 even pieces. Recover it and let stand another 10 minutes.
Take your first piece of dough and roll it out into a 10 inch rope. Cut it into three pieces–a 7 inch piece you will shape into a circle (this is the body), a 2 1/2 inch piece that you will shape into a head and ears, and finally a 1/2 inch piece that you will roll into a ball for a tail.
When you stick the pieces together, I find it helps to adhere them with a bit of milk or eggy milk mixture.
Once they have been shaped and placed on baking paper on a tray, place the dried off colored eggs into the centre of the rabbits.
Brush the rabbits lightly with milk and cover them again for another hour.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4. Bake the rabbits for 20 to 25 minutes. When they come out of the oven, brush them with a little milk to keep them soft.