My first few weeks as White House Social Secretary were pretty overwhelming. It wasn’t simply that there were so many people to meet and things to learn; there were events almost every day, and the next day, and the next week, and the next month. It was like jumping onto a racing treadmill, catching the pace, and then speeding up as fast as the machine would go. And, of course, there is the WH way of doing things: after decades of parties, the Residence staff have a good handle on what needs to be done, and the new social secretary has to learn all of this very quickly.
A few weeks into the job, after a particularly long day, I put my head down on my desk and thought, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?” At that exact moment, the phone rang. It was Ann Stock, Social Secretary during the Clinton years, offering to host a luncheon for me to meet the other former social secretaries. (Social secretaries have luncheon, darling, not lunch.)
It was one of the most interesting afternoons of my life. Here were these uber-capable, vibrant, strong women who had thrived at the White House, who knew how to get things done, who knew where the bodies sometimes had to be buried, and, most importantly, who had all faced the challenges of the job, surmounted them, and kept moving. They represented the administrations of Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Reagan, Clinton, Bush ’41 and Bush ’43, and were helpful, welcoming, and full of hilarious stories. Ann’s luncheon started a tradition for incoming social secretaries that continues, and we always try to be a resource for the current Social Secretary, despite our sometimes-disparate political beliefs. We welcomed the newest White House Social Secretary and first man to have the job, Jeremy Bernard, into the fold, and our off-the-record get-togethers continue to be a source of camaraderie and humor.
At one luncheon several years ago, we were taught an important bit of etiquette from the beloved Tish Baldridge, manners icon and social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy. Someone made a toast, and we clinked our glasses together. Tish hid her shock at what we had done with the carefully-cultivated, expressionless, social secretary mask-of-no-judgement, and gently corrected us: “Ladies, when toasting, you do not touch the other person’s glass, you APPROACH the glass of the people with whom you are toasting.” And so we learned, and now follow.
It seems appropriate to offer a recipe that involves ‘approaching the glass,’ so here is my personal formula for a champagne cocktail with Crème Yvette, a violet-flavored liqueur. It is similar to a Kir Royale, though less sweet. Violet can be an acquired taste – it reminds me of licorice – but this liqueur is herbal and delicious, with a surprising depth of flavor.
We are past the violet season here, so I’m using a pansy (also edible) as garnish.
- One bottle of dry champagne
- One bottle of Crème Yvette violet liqueur, available at most liquor stores
- Fresh violet blossoms for garnish, or candied violets for garnish
- Pour champagne into fluted glass, until nearly full.
- Pour in a dash of Crème Yvette to fill the glass, and garnish with a violet.
Note: African violets are not edible. If you’re picking violets from your garden or lawn, make sure they have not been sprayed with any pesticides.