Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Heron Trumps Hummingbird

There's much to do when the ladies are coming for bridge.

Of course I'm talking about them coming to play with my mother since my one sustained attempt at learning bridge back in the '90s at the behest of a male friend who insisted all smart women should know how (I'll note here that his wife did not), did not stay with me much beyond that decade.

But my parents, now that's a different story.

They come up in an age when  smart couples did play bridge regularly and I can remember her hosting bridge luncheon parties for female friends during the day and co-ed evenings of the same, except with drinking involved.

When she, a born and raised D.C. city girl, first moved to the northern neck, she told my father she had two requirements: home delivery of the Washington Post and women to play bridge with.

Done and done.

Most of her bridge games happen at the local women's club but she's also part of a smaller group who play in each other's houses once a month. Tomorrow is her turn to host.

Which meant she wanted me to come down and help her prepare while Dad worked in the yard.

Some of my "chores" were pure Spring pleasure, like getting the big screened porch in shape by whisking away webs, re-potting petunias and filling the hummingbird feeders that hang on the side of the porch, resulting in the tiny birds showing up within minutes.

Her face lit up when I suggested a flower arrangement for the table, so I went out to the yard, past some brilliant goldfinches in one of the birdbaths and gathered some lovely pink, lavender and white blooms - two colors of lilacs, camellias, the palest of cream jonquils, tulips, blooming rosemary, even some vibrant purple money plant- depositing them in an enormous vase that smelled heavenly.

When I told her about the colorful little birds I'd seen, she one-upped me by saying she'd seen a heron in the sycamore tree this morning with a just-caught fish in its beak and watched him swallow it still wriggling. She was a tad grossed out by eating live fish, but then she doesn't eat oysters, either.

She wanted me to make a dessert, so I sliced up a pound cake and frosted six layers with dark chocolate ganache before having the brilliant idea to gather some violets and make candied violets for the torte.

Can't say I've ever had, much less made, candied violets, but with Google, all things are possible and I soon found not only two methods to do it, but some history, including that they were very popular in the 19th century, showing up in country cafes, at afternoon teas and in candy shops.

Needless to say, I headed back out to collect an array of white, lavender and purple violets to candy.

While washing, drying, dipping and sugar-dusting the violets, I wondered aloud if my Mom's Irish grandmother might have ever candied violets.

My mother laughed, saying it was unlikely, given how practical my great-grandmother had been, but she told me she remembered one of her annual Spring cleaning customs.

She'd take down all her lace curtains and wash them in sugar water, drying them between pieces of wood studded with tiny nails to hold the curtains in place and keep them taut to dry.

The sugar acted like starch, she said, and kept them crisp for another year. Amazing the family history you learn while you're making edible flowers..

As for the violets, they turned out beautifully, each glittered with super-fine sugar crystals I'd made by crushing sugar with a rolling pin, and when I left they were laid out on a rack to dry until Mom puts them on or around the torte tomorrow.

Between that and the flower arrangement, it looks to be a lovely afternoon for smart women to be playing cards on the porch.

I told her to tell them she did it all herself.

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