Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Let them eat Cake Maison

I find wedding shows a mixed bag. There are usually some suppliers who have such colourful, attractive stands, I can’t help but look, even if I didn’t think that I would be interested in their products. But in general, I am put off by the vastness and the crowds, the ‘sameiness’ of so many of the products and the styling, and the stereotyping. I was furious when I went to one show when I was engaged, and a person working on a cake stand offered cake to my then partner but said to me, “Oh, I guess you need to fit into the dress, don’t you?”  How sexist and rude!

I don’t need to tell you that that stand wasn’t Cake Maison!

I’ve seen Emma Drew and her wonderful Cake Maison cakes a few times now – at her home and at wedding shows – and she is as delightful as her cakes. Her consultation with me and my then partner lasted hours as we happily chatted away. Oh, and her cakes! They taste delicious, her sugar flowers are so exquisite you might mistake them for real ones, and her designs are stunning and reflect love, life, nature and beauty. Have a look here and you will see what I mean. The Alice in Wonderland-esque red hearts cake and the pale pink and blue chevron peony cake are especially enchanting in the flesh. Or rather, in the sugarpaste. As she is based in East Sussex, she also did a beautiful bright cake with deckchair-inspired stripes, in honour of brilliant Brighton.

I couldn’t take great pictures of her cakes at Brides the Show last autumn because her stall was so busy, but here are a few. I love, love, love this one! I’ve seen a few variations on it, and this was the cake that made me and my ex go ‘Wow!’

Even though I prefer the natural, country garden look, thanks to Sofia Coppola and her visually stunning, historically-patchy film, the Marie Antoinette look is a guilty pleasure of mine. This gold cake is perfect for a would-be Versailles bride.

The final picture is a Cake Maison cake beautifully adorned with flowers by Flowerbug Designs. I’ve seen many photos of beautiful windows at the Mathilda Rose bridal shop, with gorgeous dresses, amazing cakes and wonderful flowers.

If you go to a wedding fair and you see that Emma has a stall there, make sure you have a look…and a taste!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Floral Angels

One of the saddest things about working for some ‘big’ florists was seeing the amount of waste. There were beautiful, huge wedding flower samples costing thousands to set up, which, once seen by the couple, would be dismantled, the flowers filling up to fifty buckets. There were Michelin-starred restaurants and 5-star hotels that requested fresh flowers every other day, even though the ‘old’ flowers were perfectly healthy and beautiful. It was heartbreaking to throw the old flowers away, and a few times I asked if I could take the old flowers home. Even parrot tulips, cut ever so short to fit in dainty glass vases in a restaurant, were still good enough for me to turn into a table arrangement.

Like any other business with perishable goods, it’s impossible to accurately forecast what and how much people will want to buy from day to day. When I’ve worked in florist shops, there have been days when I’ve been rushed off my feet all day, sold out of several types of flower, and I’ve had to get cover and run/bus across London to get more red and white roses. But there have also been days when there has just been one customer all day, and despite the cold in the shop, some of the flowers are beginning to look tired of waiting for a new home. The majority of flowers sold in the UK are sold through supermarkets, which I’ve bleated on about before. An independent florist simply can’t afford to lose money through buckets of wasted, unsold flowers, and consequently, many are forced to close.

This is where Floral Angels come in. Floral Angels is a new, not-for-profit charity, started by four friends who met on a floristry course - Frances Hunter, Amanda Romain, Gracia La Fuente and Julie Ritter. They were inspired by an American charity called Random Acts of Flowers, which recycles flowers from weddings, events, and wastage in the industry. The members of Floral Angels loved the idea of doing something sustainable and kind with all that wasted beauty. They now have support from floral benefactors Shane Connolly, Rebecca Louise Law, Simon Lycett, Rona Wheeldon, Larsen Jay, as well as a host of volunteers who help to make and deliver the arrangements. Judith Blacklock has kindly lent the angels her London flower school as they urgently needed a base to work from. Hopefully, other premises are on the cards so the charity has a stable future.

There are lots of photos and tales of wonderful flower donations from florists and happy deliveries of flowers to hospitals, refuges, care homes, and other recipients, which you can see here.

Meanwhile, here are just a few. I hope these bring a smile to your face!

Donated flowers are turned into nine beautiful bouquets and given to a woman's shelter in London.

Floral Angels received a huge donation from Shane Connolly (yes, that would be royal wedding florist, Shane Connolly) of burgundy dahlias, white roses and white hydrangeas, which were turned into arrangements that were given to Maggie's Cancer Centre and Hestia Women's refuges.

These colourful bouquets went to Jersey Hospice, and were created and donated by florists Okishima & Simmonds following their beach photo shoot in the Channel islands.

Finally, here is a happy recipient with her flowers. 

A testimonial from her daughter, Anne Pritchard, gives an idea of the joy the Floral Angels bring to people:

"Thank you so much for the very pretty bouquet of flowers that you gave my mother last week. She is a little too frail now to go out very much and spends many hours in her room. The flowers look beautiful and have added some sunshine to her surroundings. Mummy was so touched by the kindness shown to her by Frances and Floral Angels, she asked me to write and thank you all."

If you are a florist in London who sometimes has a bucket or two of old or event flowers that look too pretty to throw away - consider donating them to Floral Angels. Likewise, if you are having huge flower arrangements for a London wedding, that guests can't exactly take home with them, then consider donating the flowers to Floral Angels. It's such a shame to throw them away after they've only been enjoyed for a day.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Hasty vintage flowers

I did some bridal bouquets and hair flowers for a vintage photoshoot at the end of last year. There was a wonderful sixties-inspired shoot, with a Twiggy-esque model, Kat O'Mahoney, and hippy-esque model (as well as teacher and blogger), Kay Joon, and a fifties-inspired shoot with a wonderfully glam actor, Elizabeth M. Quilter.

The beautiful dresses were all by Tobi Hannah, for a chapter in her book about short wedding dresses, the amazing photos were by Garazi Gardner, and the stunning hair and make up were by Becky Hunting.

The flowers were bought and arranged very hastily. I was horribly ill the day before and thought I wouldn't be able to do the flowers, but I managed to drag myself to get flowers from a local florist, wire the hair flowers on the train (one of my stupidly risky moves), and do the bouquets at the studio while the models were in hair and make up! I didn't get the exact flowers I'd planned to use because the unexpected illness meant I was not fit enough for a trip to New Covent Garden Market on the trains, but I did manage to stick to the colour palettes I wanted: white and pale pink roses with blue delphiniums for the fifties, and bright, flower power sunflowers, orange celosia and pink snapdragons for the sixties. I also used Thlaspi 'Green Bell' and garden herbs, and the acid green worked well for the sixties shoot, but I think I should have just stuck to the more muted green of mint and sage for the fifties shoot.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Twelfth Night

A belated happy new year. You can probably guess what one of my new year's resolutions is, from my lack of blogging at the end of 2013.

As it's the twelfth day of Christmas, I thought I would add some Christmas photos, before decorations get packed up and put away for another 11 months.

I did two themed Christmas bouquets last month. One was The Miracle of 34th Street, inspired by the 1947 film with Maureen O'Hara and a very young Natalie Wood. It's red and green, with anemones, rosemary, pepperberries, and viburnum. It is supposed to represent tradition but also a childlike sense of fun. I used rosemary in all of the festive bouquets, and as well as making them smell delicious, they also conveyed one of the sentiments of Christmas and new year - remembrance.

The other was Joyeux Noël, inspired by the 2005 film about the Christmas truce during the First World War. I saw the film when it came out at the cinema, and I thought it was lovely - just the right side of sentimental, with some wonderful acting. Although it was odd to see Alex Ferns as anything other than Trevor from EastEnders. This bouquet has blue, red and white, with bubblegum-scented muscari, anemones, pepperberries, some had viburnum and others white hellebores (Christmas roses), and most had senecio. They are supposed to represent warmth and empathy. I got all of the ribbons for the jam jars from Bromley market on Small Business Saturday.

There was a lot of Christmas baking, too. Two different attempts at lebkuchen (this one, thanks to a recommendation on Twitter, which I amended to replace the ground almonds with flour because of an allergy, and this one, which I added a bit of melted butter to as it wouldn't bind), mint chocolate cakes, spiced mocha cakes, peppermint fairy cakes, and mince pies aplenty (using variations on Nigella Lawson's and Mary Berry's recipes). The peppermint cakes just use the standard 2oz to 1 egg sponge recipe I was taught as a girl, with melted dark chocolate for the mint chocolate ones, and peppermint essence. I do recommend the Primrose Bakery book as the recipes are wonderful (the Earl Grey cakes, for example) and the bakery in Covent Garden is the perfect pitstop.

And finally, this was one Christmas present that went down well with my little sister. I admit it - I probably enjoyed playing this game more than her.

Happy Twelfth Night!