Autumn Leaves Bouquet

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When I saw this post on Design*Sponge last fall I absolutely itched to try it out.  I love autumn, and having grown up near Gatineau Park, I have learned to appreciate the beauty of watching a large forest slowly turn from green to a million shades of yellow, orange, and red.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t really happen in St. John’s.  In the autumn here, we have green leaves on the trees, and then we get storms like Leslie, and all the leaves fall to the ground and go dry and crunchy and brown almost immediately.

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So when I knew I was flying back to Ottawa for a weekend in September, I came determined to carry out this simple project.  The problem is that even in Ontario it’s too early for most of the trees to have made the change.  Cait kept me updated with leaf reports leading up to my flight, and her reports all said the same thing: the leaves are all green, dude, it’s not going to work out for you.  As I flew into town, however, I could see a few orange and yellow trees dotting the Greenbelt, so I knew that with a bit of searching, this thing could happen, despite Cait’s protests.

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So one afternoon, after Teedz and Tego had made it to town, Tego and I took a stroll in the nearby park to see what we could come  up with.  Lo and behold, there were two big old maple trees whose leaves had just started to turn and fall to the ground.  They weren’t totally orange or red, but the splashes of green I think added to the character of the thing.

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We started gathering, picking up maple leaves of different sizes and shapes.  You need probably 10-12 maple leaves with stems for each flower, plus a variety of thin, relatively straight sticks to use as stems.  And floral tape, which you can buy at any craft store.

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You start with smaller leaves at the centre and get bigger as you move outwards.  Take a relatively small leaf and fold down the centre and two outside points towards the middle of the leaf.

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This gives you the basic shape for a petal.

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Roll that tightly up to form your “bud”.

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Now take another leaf, fold down the points, and wrap it around your bud.

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Keep repeating that, rotating the flower the whole time so it looks natural, until you get something that is a size you like.

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Tego and I found that if we weren’t careful our buds started to stick out past the reaches of the other petals, so you want to make sure to keep that sucker tamped down inside.

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When you get something you like, pinch the bottom of the leaf where the stems are and start wrapping it up with floral tape.  Take one of your sticks and lay it at the base of the flower and keep wrapping, taping the stems to the stick.

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We learned that floral tape is not actually sticky.  It sort of relies on tension to stay stuck to stuff, so make sure that you pull it tight.  We found that once we got to the end, if we wrapped the tape several times around itself tightly enough it wouldn’t unravel on us.

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We kept on until we had a full dozen, then Tego trimmed the sticks so they were approximately the same length — you don’t want them exactly the same or the bouquet will look weird, but you don’t want them to be radically different either.

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Then we tied it up with ribbon and gave it to our cousin as a hostess gift.  Everyone thought we had bought them at some fancy craft fair, and were super astonished when they found out that we’d made them ourselves during a walk in the park!

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As they are, I think the leaf bouquet will last about a week or two, depending on the freshness of the leaves themselves.  If you want them to last longer (if, as Cait suggests, you have an autumn wedding coming up and you need time to make a large quantity of these suckers), then you can dip each flower individually in gel medium (which you can get at art or craft stores) or even spray the bejeezus out of them with hair spray or another form of lacquer and they should last you several months.

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I’m also interested to try this with non-maple leaves to see if I come up with a different shape.  I will let you know if anything comes of that.

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***EDIT, 30 January 2013***

The florist who supplies the flowers at work did this to dress up a bouquet. Very nice, don’t you think?

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Chocolate Rose Birthday Cupcakes

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Yesterday was Kª’s birthday (otherwise known as The Lady Downstairs).  She’s now 19, or somewhere close to that :).  She’s also the mother of two very energetic young boys, and if you include her husband, she’s outnumbered in the house by males 3 to 1.  So I thought that for her birthday I’d give her something incredibly girly — a flowered cupcake.  The recipe is Martha Stewart and I got the idea for the flower from here.  The decoration part is really time consuming (at least, with my amateur skills) but so totally worth it.

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This recipe makes 24 large cupcakes.

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First, preheat your oven to 350°F and line two muffin tins with paper liners.

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In a bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda and give that a stir.

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In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, plop in 12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) cocoa powder and 6 tablespoons hot water and mix them into a paste.  Apparently this helps to intensify the chocolate flavour.  I found I had to add an additional 4 tablespoons of water in order to get a paste, so keep that in mind.

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Add in 12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) buttermilk (or soured milk), 6 tablespoons melted butter, and 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg whites and whisk until combined.

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Gradually add your bowl of flour and sugar and whisk until smooth.

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Scoop the batter into your liners and bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the middle cupcake comes out clean.  Place the muffin tins on racks and allow the cupcakes to cool completely.

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While they’re cooling, plop a 250g package of plain cream cheese in a mixer together wtih about 2 cups icing sugar.  Whip that up until it’s smooth and creamy.  This is your icing.

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Frost your cooled cupcakes generously.

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Here’s where the ridiculous part comes in.  You’re going to need several packages of Fruit by the Foot, or some kind of store-brand equivalent.  I haven’t had this stuff since I was a kid.  The Pie was thrilled and went off in the throes of nostalgia, an extra candy sticking out of his mouth.

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You will need 12 strawberry flavoured ones (red) and at least 1 apple-flavoured one (green).  I could only get these variety packs, so I had to cut the green bits from the multi-coloured ones, and I ended up with some purple roses.

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Unroll one of your red strips and use a knife to cut a sine wave down the middle of it lengthwise.  Don’t worry about being perfect — it will look fine no matter what.

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Take one of the halves and, starting from the end, tightly roll it up for about five inches.  This is your “bud.”

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Take the bud and plop it in the centre of one of your frosted cupcakes.  Carefully drape the rest of the candy around the bud, tapping it into the frosting to anchor it.  I find it helps if I sort of let it feed through my fingers on one hand and use the other hand to rotate the cupcake.

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Then cut out two small leaves from the green stuff and tuck them into the frosting under the flower you have created.

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And so you are done.

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Now you just have 23 more to go.  And actually the purple ones are kind of nice, I think …

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