I have to remind myself next year to not schedule so many business trips in the tender weeks of late Spring. While in Vancouver, I missed the sprouting of the shallots, the first blossom of the Early Girl tomato, and the initial burst of intense forget-me-not blue now edging my front bed. I missed the unveiling of the 2010 One Seed Chicago plant: bee balm (I voted for it!). I also missed my husband's birthday, and while he is not one for big occasions, it is sad to pass a milestone alone in the house while son and wife are off eating halibut.
To make it up to him, I have constructed a mile-high chocolate cake garnished with candied violets from our backyard. I couldn't resist a homegrown garnish, even though the cake is replete with exotic ingredients. I had never candied violets before, and learned some lessons in the approach. The general idea is simple: coat the flowers in egg white, dust with sugar and let dry. Most recipes advise painting the egg white on with a paintbrush. I was put off by the preciousness of the individual petal painting, and was glad when I found a recipe that instructed the cook to swirl long-stemmed violets in frothy egg whites, "roll" in sugar, and dry them. Unfortunately, this method gave me a series of gloopy blossoms, barely recognizable under a thick lava of wet sugar.
When Martha Stewart tells me to do it her way, I should listen. It always works. So, I raided my son's craft box for a clean paintbrush and painted each delicate petal. I did ignore the call for superfine sugar. Regular granulated looked just fine. I organized the violets on waxed paper, snipping each stem off, and dried them in a warm oven for a few hours. Thanks to the egg white, many of the violets stuck to the paper and were too delicate to remove without incurring serious structural damage. After all of that work, I have six violets to show for it. This is all further evidence that I was not made to be a pastry chef. So I will use what I have and break out the grill. For though violet petals may be delicate, big hunks of marinated meat are not, and this is what the birthday boy wants for dinner.