This spring a robin made a nest in our holly bush right next to our front door. I felt so badly every time I left the house, making her hurridly jump off her little blue eggs and dart away somewhere not to be seen. After the babies were born, all three in good health it seemed, she would let me know how angry she was at me for disturbing her sleeping newborns. She would perch herself across the street on a fence post and yell at me. Occasionally she would even fly over my head, squacking and screeching, pretending like she was going to dive at me and peck my nose or something. She never did, thankfully. That would have been quite traumatizing. I imagine that is how a new mother must feel when someone wakes her sleeping babe, like she wants to peck their eyes out. I know I would.
Phil and I left for a week long road trip to New Orleans (more on that at a later date!), and when we retuned I noticed that the mother robin and her three little babies were gone. The nest was undisturbed and I searched for signs of a murderous scene below the nest, but there was no indication of trauma. Phew. The birds grew up and flew the nest safely. And now I can safely leave my house without worries of being pummeled by a bird.
As happy as I was to see the robin had successfully raised three adult birds who had grown to maturity quite pleasantly and without much trauma to their little lives - at least none more than normal - I was sad to learn that they had gone. It meant that the life of spring was quickly changing in to summer - growing and maturing, blooming and wilting, morphing in to something else entirely. The delicateness that I adore in spring will soon be overcome with growth and the eagerness to test boundaries, to reach growing limbs farther than before, to become adult and cast aside the traits that make you young. To go from fragile to strong, from apprehensive to unyielding. It is a somber growth in my eyes, to have to change so quickly from youth to maturity – but it is a necessary process. We need deep roots and strong limbs to shield us from the dangers life presents. We need wings to help us escape the unfortunate situations we may find ourselves in. As long as we hold on to a little bit of that delicateness, a teeny bit of that humbled beginning, the growth doesn't seem so harsh.
I was so thankful that I took a morning before our trip to go and gather the last of the honeysuckle and violets that grow along the riding trails behind our house. Their season is a quick one, a rapid display of white and yellow honeysuckle flowers explode in the bushes along woodland paths or on the banks of rivers. Violets spill across hillsides and under shadowed tree trunks. They catch your eye for a moment, and then they are gone. Much like the faeries – that I strongly believe live in said woodland paths and under shadowed tree trunks – they are hard to catch. When you do spot the blossoms, be sure to have a big bag with some mason jars and a pair of garden sheers at the ready. And perhaps a fine mesh net, for the faerie catching.
With my end of spring bounty, I made a blueberry and violet tea buttermilk cake, as well as a honeysuckle cordial that I used in an iced milky tea. I normally take my tea hot, with milk and a little sugar in it, but I decided to try something new this time and pour it over ice, and replace my sugar with a little splash of the cordial. I was not expecting the honeysuckle to have such a presence in this drink, but oh my goodness did it ever. I think this must be why the faeries guard that honeysuckle so closely – it must be their morning drink.
I know that honeysuckle season is over, so you can either tuck this recipe away for next year, or you could make a rose cordial instead, just by replacing the honeysuckle flowers for rose petals. Roses are coming in to bloom soon, and thankfully you can easily find them all year long! Any edible flower will suffice for this recipe, as well as for the violet tea. For the violet tea, all I did was use some loose leaf black tea that I had at home, and added some dried violets. You can easily replace the violets with lavender or rose petals. You can even just use plain black tea, such as Earl Gray or English Breakfast if you don't have flowers.
• For the blueberry and violet tea buttermilk cake •
adapted from Bon Appetit
• ¼ cup whole milk
• 2 tablespoons black tea with violet petals
• 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan and parchment
• 2 1/3 cups cake flour (sifted, then measured) plus more for pan
• 2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
• 1/4 cup plus 1 1/3 cups sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 3 large eggs, room temperature
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
• ¾ cup well-shaken buttermilk
• Powdered sugar (for dusting)
Position a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350°.
In a small sauce pan, heat the milk until just simmering. Remove from heat and pour in the violet tea. Allow to steep for ten minutes, then strain and set the milk aside. Discard the tea.
Butter a cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Butter the parchment and dust with flour, be sure to tap out the excess flour. Arrange the blueberries in a single layer in the bottom of the pan - sprinkle evenly with 1/4 cup sugar.
Sift 2 1/3 cups flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a medium bowl; set aside.
Using a stand mixer, beat 3/4 cup butter and remaining 1 1/3 cups sugar in a large bowl at medium-high speed, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla, zest and tea milk. Reduce the speed to low and beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating just until incorporated. Pour batter over the berries in the pan and smooth the top with a spoon or pastry knife.
Bake until cake is golden brown and cake bounces back when pressed gently with fingertip, about 1 hour 25 minutes for a 9" pan and about 1 hour for a 10" pan. Let cool in pan set on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a thin, sharp knife around the edge of the pan to loosen. Once the pan is cool enough to touch, place a plate or cake stand top down on the cake and flip upside down, so the cake comes out on to the plate with the blueberries on the top. Remove the parchment paper.
Dust top generously with powdered sugar and let cool completely.
• For the Honeysuckle Cordial •
adapted from Local Milk
• 4 cups honeysuckle blossoms, rinsed and cleaned
• 3 cups water
• 3 cups sugar
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• 1/2 a lemon, zested & sliced thin
In a large pot, bring the water and sugar to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved.
Pour the hot syrup over the honeysuckle in a heat proof bowl or measuring cup.
Add the lemon juice, zest and slices to the syrup.
Let steep, covered, at room temperature until cooled. Place in the fridge and allow to steep overnight.
Strain through a fine mesh sieve, and pour in to a bottle or sealable container. Store in the fridge, and enjoy on and in everything.
• For the Honeysuckle Milky Tea •
Brew black tea and allow to cool completely in fridge. Pour over ice, add a teaspoon (or more, if you have a sweet tooth like me) of honeysuckle cordial, and top with milk. Stir, and sip like a faerie.
listening to: On the Radio by Regina Spektor