Flora, a Study of Nature's Buds & Blossoms
"Let them eat cake," said the French queen.
The saying paints pictures of lush decadence and carefree luxury- how I feel when diving into a floral dessert. Crystalized flower petals frozen in time dusting delicate sugar cookies. Unraveling peonies that can't keep themselves together dotting a cake stand. Intoxicating lilac wrapping your head in an English garden fantasy.
Flowers seem ever-present in these first days of spring. Strolling my property each morning with my dog Clyde we've spotted the sprouts of English Bluebells gone wild, Crocus flowers bursting from the ground and the first rhubarb leaves reaching for the warmth of the sun.
Flowers have been on my mind lately. There is something so universally pleasant about a plant so vulnerable yet inviting.. Perfume, beauty, parties, celebrations, remembrances, romance. We have flowers to represent every aspect of our human existence because, when your life is filled with flowers, everything is a little more lovely.
This is why, when my mother suggested an issue on flowers, I thought it was a grand idea. I'd long wanted to draw up floral-inspired layer cakes and let myself go wild with rosy pinks and macaron decorations. So I did! I went deep into the world of edible flowers in the spring 2017 issue of Honest Magazine. Flora, a Study of Nature's Buds & Blossoms. An Alice-in-wonderland tale of girlish fun calling for tea parties and garden parties, recipes for Lilac Sugar Dusted Doughnuts, Rose Water Pavlovas, Lavender Chocolate Cake and a pink Scented-Geranium Layer Cake ooze off the pages while easy ideas for Floral Ice Cubes and Chocolate Flower Spoons make for fun afternoon crafts with friends and little ones.
While I thought desserts the perfect vessel to showcase floral flavors and explain the technique of infusing flavors through sweet creams and butters, the abundance of edible flowers stems far beyond the sweet side of the spectrum. With botanical illustrations of 44 edible flower varieties in the opening of the issue, blossoms such as squash flowers, chicory, borage, broccoli flower and radish flower represent peppery and cucumber-like flavors while flowering thyme, Szechuan Button and Woodruff represent herbaceous qualities.
I've always been partial to wildflowers. Modest and understated, their small faces and meadow-colors soothe. Preferring the muted petals of wild roses, I find their beauty stems from their hardiness.
My good friend Renée Bourdain agrees. A florist specializing in wild and foraged arrangements, I interviewed Renée for the Flora issue on her thoughts and methods for working with wild flowers.
Along with making arrangements for weddings and special events, Renée teaches a class each year on Wildflower Centerpieces at one of my favorite places in Seattle, The Pantry. Last year my dear friend and fellow photographer Charity Burggraaf and I attended and spent a day "playing with pansies" so to speak.
Cooking and baking with flowers are fine and getting your hands dirty in a bouquet is an excellent way to spend the afternoon, but sometimes you want to go elsewhere to experience flowers. The issue contains a list of the world's best flower markets, from Seattle to London to New Delhi to Ecuador. One of the overwhelmingly beautiful spots listed is a personal favorite known as The London Plane. A stunning space to begin with, Chef Matt Dillion has taken this ancient building in the old Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle and accentuated it's beauty with sky-high white shelves stacked with vintage vases and freshly baked loafs of bread. Carrying a highly curated selection of handmade pottery, luxe soaps and lotions and select books and publications, I picked up a soap so sweet smelling I almost passed out pressing the bar to my nose, Kurt Timmermesiter's (of Kurtwood Farms and Dinah's Cheese), new publication "Farm Food," and a fun seasonal food wheel featuring produce, meat products, dairy and pantry sections which spin with the months to show you what's in season in the Pacific Northwest and what to pair it with (I think everyone should have one of these on their fridge). I highly recommend a visit to anyone in the area- fresh baked loaf and bouquet required.
With the sun rises in the sky, the buds are turning their little heads up and blinking open their eyes. The past few days here have gone from a frigid chill locking everything in place to a fluttery breeze and the feeling of warmth on your skin. It's the perfect time of year to notice things- little buds as they burst from the dirt, the natural decay of last fall's leaves as the snow melts to expose them, asparagus and radishes at the market. So take a minute this weekend or maybe this afternoon and stroll your sidewalks peaking for daffodils or pay a visit to your local market. Better yet, spend an afternoon on one of those floral layer cakes- the scent alone will make you dream.