Friday, July 31, 2009

Skinny(ier) Bride or Bust!

It's not hard to tell that I have been a little bad about keeping up with blogging as of late. The job search is still at work and as much as I want to throw myself into at least the fun parts of the wedding-planning process, getting my life together with some full-time employment is kind of a pretty big priority. Besides, how will I actually pay for all of this if I don't have any paychecks coming in?

Additionally, my dress meeting with Elise prompted me to think a little more about the massive amounts of poundage I hope to extract from my body before the wedding. If that is actually going to happen, I will probably need to stop ordering french fries as a side and you know, workout once in awhile.

In 2008, I spent my summer back from Europe focused on losing weight. It started with a birthday gift for a week-long trip to Fitness Ridge (fat camp/spa for grown ups) during which I dropped 8 pounds in one week. My then-boyfriend/now-fiance and I had sold our belongings to finance a 2 month backpacking trip through Europe which followed the Fitness Ridge trip just a week later. I ate copious amounts of bread and cheese and other delicious European stuff while away and figured if I kept off the 8 pounds I worked so hard to lose I would keep going, and if I gained a ton more during the backpacking trip I would just give up.

Fortunately, I lost four more pounds while in Europe (nothing short of a miracle, seriously we ate bread/cheese/tapenade everywhere we went). Post trip, my new fiance and I were stuck living apart with our parents in separate states (Ohio and Indiana, but possibly also state of minds) and so I used my time to keep the fitness train on track. By the time I moved back to Chicago with Johnny in July last year, I had dropped 74 pounds, just walking/jogging daily and tracking what I ate on Post-It's. At the time, I used sites like and a lot to keep all the "I'll just have a bite of this" and "what's one more helping's?" in line. It helped keep me motivated and they seemed to be the best sites for accurate calorie counting.

Fast forward to Tuesday of this week: A little browsing lead me to find that Daily Plate and Calories Per Hour have both hooked up with Live to create a tracking site/group support forum for people looking to stay fit and active. I signed up and I am three days into tracking. I have lost 2 pounds already (one of those can probably be chalked up to water-weight, but still) and so I'm back on the wagon. It's a pretty cool site, actually, and you don't have to wear those yellow bracelets to be a part of it.

So until I make a little progress on the financial/career part of my life, I think this blog may run a little slow. Expect a shit-ton of pick-up on the posting come October, because with one year to go there will be a lot to blog about.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Dress

I've been bad with the blogging as of late. The whole job search and pick-up shift schedule has kept me a little busy and with no real job prospects in sight, I'm thinking about going back to school for a Masters in a completely different field. More on that later, maybe. Anyways...

The dress!

So, I've seen the perfect dress done in real life, and I've known plenty of ladies lucky enough to have snagged "The Dress" at sample sales, eBay and vintage stores. There's also Running of the Brides events at Filene's Basement where tons of ladies line up and wait to bum rush the door and frantically grab dresses hoping to find the right one. (Reminder for Chicago brides-to-be: The Running of the Brides in Chicago is on State Street and happens tomorrow, July 24th).

In any case, as a bride-to-be that is not sporting a sample size physique, I'm kind of doubting the sample sale and vintage route will work out the way I'd like it to. I'll keep looking and keeping my fingers crossed, but if money allows it, I'd love to have my dress custom made, so I've started looking into it.

Last week, I met with Elise Bergman, local Chicago designer with a strong grasp on how to use eco-friendly materials fashionably and expert on convertible dresses. I posted about her dresses before (see the post on Bridesmaid dresses) and wanted to see what something like this might cost and what kind of time it might take.

I headed over to Elise's current studio in Ukrainian Village and arrived a little earlier than expected. Actually, 20 minutes earlier (I forgot my phone at home and didn't want to risk being late) but Elise and her intern were incredible welcoming. As instructed, I brought some pictures and ideas of what I'm looking for and we sat and talked about the specifics. Here's some ideas on what I'd like...

Photo credit:

I know, everyone loved this dress and it's probably one of the most talked about wedding dresses of the last decade. Vivianne Westwood has made some amazing creations for some very famous ladies in the past and there's no arguing her abilities as a designer. Because I am Frankenstein-ing this idea a bit, I'm hoping to keep the type of color and fabric, the silhouette of the dress and play around with the convertible aspect of the design. Because I am not Carrie, (and cannot pull off many a style the way she can) I'll be opting with a little less pointiness in the boob region and probably will not wear a bird on my head.

Photo credit:

The marshmallow bottom convertible part of the "Carrie" dress is a little more poofy than something I'm looking to have designed, so I want to mix it up with the way this dress from Eden Bridals (pictured above) is. I love the tiered back and the way it makes the back of the dress look a little more dramatic. I'm not sold on the idea of having so many embellishments, but I'm kind of warming up to the idea of having a little bit of a train to the dress.

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In the last few years I have seen a lot of strapless dresses going on at weddings and everywhere else. I have also seen a lot of ladies pulling up their dresses all night. 20 pounds of tulle is bound to drop a little no matter how ample your rack or how tight our strapless bra may be. To combat the issue, I am hoping to add some kind of strap or off the shoulder aspect to the dress to keep my ladies in line and avoid having several candid shots of me lifting the dress at the armpits. The straps would be removed and the bottom tier part taken off for more functionality at the after party. I may just keep it strapless after all and invest in a crapload of sticky tape, but we'll see about that when the time comes.

I hope to post more pictures as things come together, but it's still pretty early on in the planning, so that's all I've got for now.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Despite being the most elaborate party we will probably have ever thrown in our lifetimes, not everything about the planning process is fun (shocker, I know, and for more on that, see previous blog on reception site hunting). However, one very fun part is the part where we go through the process of figuring out which wedding cake to get. In our case, the part where we get to stuff ourselves silly with cupcake-y goodness.

I had done a few cake tastings in Ohio. One was at a lady's house who is a friend of my mom's and one at the Bake Shop in Ghent in Bath, OH. The Bake Shop in Ghent makes this amazing date cake with cream cheese frosting and has been a cult favorite in my family for years. In addition to making one of the most delicious cakes I have ever had in my life, the lady who owns the show is also incredibly welcoming, and when Johnny and I originally planned to get hitched in Ohio, we were completely sold on going with this bake shop. As bigger fans of flavor vs. fondant and form, we figured cupcakes would be nicest way to go and the best way to have a little variety. As an added bonus, there's not scary hold-your-breath-and-hope-the-don't-drop-your-super-expensive-wedding-cake moment while you're waiting on the delivery, and cupcakes are (as a general rule) cheaper by comparison.

In any case, the relocation to Chicago meant kissing our delicious cupcake and amazing deal (at $.75 per cupcake and $25 for a smaller cake for us to cut) goodbye.

Following this decision, I did remember the tasty cupcakes I had tasted before had often come from Sweet Mandy B's. Maybe it's because it's in Lincoln Park and a lot of big agency office types commute from there, but in my intern days I remember many a Sweet Mandy B's cupcake making it's way into our office to celebrate everything from birthdays to promotions. It was as good of place as any to start looking.

I made us an appointment and when tasting day finally came, Johnny and I got in a bit of a fight. (Logistics for appointments sometimes put us a little on edge when we have a lot of other stuff going on). Anyways, I ran out to make sure we made our appointment on time and Johnny finished up his sketch for Chicago Independent and promised to head over as soon as he was done.

Having past the shop before without actually going in, the first thing that struck me was how cute the place is. Lots of pastels and the kind of decorating that plays up the inherent cuteness of a place that makes cupcakes and other baked goods. It's probably a weird thing to note, but I was happy to see that the staff was mostly the young and creative tattooed-type. Maybe it's because of the crowd we run in, but that kind of thing makes me feel more comfortable.

Anyways, once I was done gawking at all of the tasty treats at the display counter, I was seated and asked if I would like any coffee or water and presented with 12 cupcakes with various flavors and frosting...

Johnny was still running a little late, so I thumbed through the photo albums of specialty cakes and attempting to channel the willpower to not get started without him.

Since our previous tastings were with people we've met before and since we're not the kind of people who are usually find ourselves signed on for tastings, my fiance and I were not entirely sure how this was supposed to go down. Do we pay for this? How many do we try? What exactly is the etiquette for this? How many can we eat before we get physically ill, that kind of thing. Fortunately for us, Tim, a very knowledgeable staff member was able to walk us through the process with incredible ease.

Among the cupcakes we tried was a seasonal special - Strawberry with Strawberry frosting - one we were informed would be traded in for a pumpkin cupcake in a few months. We dug in, trying get past the initial awesomeness of being presented with so many different delicious options to try to figuring out which favorites we had in common. The Banana one with cream cheese frosting stood out as a favorite for both of us, while the Red Velvet (SMB's knock 'em dead best seller) was a little drier than I remembered it being before. Tim patiently watched us make our way through about six cupcakes, split between the two of us, before we called it quits and presented him with our questions. Here's the scoop:

  • They do not deliver, but most people use Chicago Messenger Service, send their caterer or send someone from the wedding party.
  • The standard cupcakes can come in mini, regular or jumbo and range anywhere from $1.12 for minis to $3.75 for jumbos. "Standard" includes the cost for their cream cheese and a few different butter cream frosting with their standard cake flavors (including red velvet, carrot and banana chocolate chip).
  • Premium cupcakes (ones with specialty flavors and fillings) can be done, but do cost extra. A regular-sized, filled cupcake will cost you $3.25.
  • They can make your cupcakes the morning of your event if you schedule your pick up time for after 2:00 p.m.
  • They will work with you on ideas for new specialty flavors.
As a huge added bonus, once we had all our questions answered, we were told we could take home the rest and given a few extra to take with us. We stumbled out of the shop and went to dinner nearby to avoid slipping into a cupcake-induced sugar coma.

We're not totally sure where we're gonna go for our cupcakes, since we still have to workout a vegan option, but Sweet Mandy B's is definitely on top in the running.

Since the whole wedding is following a Fall theme, here are the four flavors we're thinking about:

  • Chocolate with Raspberry Butter cream Frosting
  • Pumpkin Spice with Cream Cheese Frosting
  • Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
  • Banana (with added Walnuts) and Maple Butter cream Frosting (*this one was not an offering at SMB's, but they did say they could probably work with us on creating it)
Still in the air with the vegan stuff, but probably going to do a carrot cake of some kind. Thoughts? Suggestions? We had thought about going to Bleeding Heart Bakery since they specialize in vegan bakery, but word on the street it they're pretty pricey.

Monday, July 13, 2009

More on the Food

When it comes to the reception menu, finding the right caterer to keep our guests needs in mind and still keep things tasty may prove to be a little tricky. Our guest list includes vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians, people with gluten-allergies, meat-and-potatoes-or-nothing people, picky-eaters and two raw macrobiotic vegans. This makes us not the easiest group to create a make-everyone-happy menu for, but I do like a challenge and we've got a couple ideas.

Option 1:
8-10 various apps, passed around for what would have been dinner hour and then set up for stations for the night. Possibly with a mashed potato bar set up (with a vegan mash and raw jicama with mustard seasoning, of course) and an array of a buffet of tater toppings, including: cheddar cheese, blue cheese, vegan cheese, scallions, bacon, fakin’ bacon, corn, shaved fennel, roasted garlic, sautéed mushrooms and more.

Option 2:
Mini veggie, (free-range) chicken and shrimp kabobs with four different sauces. Passed for an hour and then set up at the buffet table with the afformentioned mashed potato bar and probably a couple other apps, but we have no idea what those would be just yet.

Ultimately, we are going to have to go with whatever fits the capabilities of the caterer we choose, but to help us get a better idea of what we'd like, we've been checking out our favorite vegan/veg cooking websites and the the online menus of some of our favorite Chicago restaurants for a little extra inspiration. Here's a few foods we feel would really make our menu:

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If you've ever been to Mana on Division St. and not had the sliders you are seriously missing out. The brown rice, mushroom and mayo-y goodness is incredibly delicious and if I would have known about then before the first time we went there, I would have probably made a meal just of these and not gotten around to trying anything else for awhile.

Karyn's Cooked was the setting of our second date as a couple and a birthday night for two of Johnny's closest friends. Johnny broke his straightedge streak with a glass a mead that day (and has had an addiction to craft beers and other adult bevarages ever since) but what also caught our attention was the food. It took two years before I even knew about the Karyn's Raw location, but the sliced shiitake mushroom cap carpaccio seasoned with pink Himalayan salts sounds like the right amount of fancy for this occasion.

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Chicago Diner, another Chicago veggie/vegan-friendly destination - and home of the tasty Cookie Dough Peanut Butter shake pictured above - is another favorite of ours. It’s a little pricey and kind of a hike from our apartment (these are honestly the only two factors that keeps us from being regulars), but the food and service is always fantastic. The Radical Reuben (voted “Best in the Midwest” by a Vegetarian Times reader’s poll) has been one of my go-to dinner choices for a long time, and the spicy seitan hot “wings” are a staple for Johnny. To get some more gluten-friendly, vegan and raw ideas we checked out the menu and the gluten-free quesadillas, vegan tamales and raw thai lettuce wraps all sound tasty.

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Lastly, as a nod to my favorite Chicago restaurant (5 stars for tastiness, great servers, price, location and indoor/outdoor seating) I would love to include something as tasty as their smoked gouda mac n' cheese. I had my first bite of the stuff years ago, and have nicknamed it mac n' crack ever since, due to my inability to restrain myself from ordering it every time we got there. I have no idea how to make mac and cheese work for our wedding menu since we're doing apps only, but if I can figure it out finding something as tasty as the smoked gouda mac n' cheese at Handlebar it would be amazing.

Some other delicious ideas include:

  • Free-range and faux grilled chicken skewers with a honey mustard, spicy BBQ and some kind of Asian-style dipping sauces
  • Battered pumpkin or zucchini blossoms with a couple sauces.
  • Panko stuffed mushrooms
  • Warm tomato-basil soup with mini gruyere grilled cheese skewered sandwiches
  • Grilled apple and pear slices with some kind of caramel dipping sauce
  • Crostini with gorgonzola, caramelized onions, and fig jam
  • Asian seasoned ahi tuna tartare
  • Endive spears with hummus or vegan-style mushroom pate
  • Focaccia with hoisin sauce, sauteed onions, rosemary
  • Puff pastry tart with sundried tomato walnut pesto, roma tomatoes, and rosemary
  • Herbed puff pastry cheese twists
  • Smoked salmon cakes with some fancy aioli-type sauce
  • Curried butternut squash soup (served in shot glasses)
  • Spanakopita triangles
  • Jerk seitan on plantain chips
  • Bruschetta
  • Mozzarella ball, fresh basil, sundried tomato skewers
  • Veggie egg rolls with peanut sauce
  • Pumpkin ravioli bites
  • Vegan pumpkin sage balls with spicy dipping sauces
  • Vegan meatballs with dipping sauces
I worked in catering for awhile, and I've seen the usual - crab cakes, herb and ricotta cheese-stuffed cherry tomatoes, mini quesadillas and baby quiches - but if you have any suggestive spins on old favorites or there's something you've had a wedding that you loved and would never forget, let me know.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Just Beat It

Ah, ballroom dancing lessons. A "must" for every couple...

Unless that couple happens to be us.

I'm not saying we wouldn't be interested in the classes, and I doubt Johnny would mind, but it's just sort of...boring. Like something you have to do because it's something people do when they get married. I always thought it would be much more fun to do some kind of choreographed dance with the whole wedding party. (In those times where you have a choice to go silly over serious, I always go for silly).

Being an October wedding, and since we're both big fans of Michael Jackson music, I had my heart set on having the whole party do a routine to Michael Jackson's "Thriller." It was a total go, until I saw how many times it's been done before. (And in the video below, done very well)

So then Johnny got the idea that we could maybe start with a slow song and then cut into something faster and more ridiculous. Unfortunately, this is also not an original concept and something that has been done even more so than the "Thriller" dance...

So then, keeping with the Michael Jackson idea, we though, maybe we could be the first couple do the song to "Beat It," complete with the choreographed dancing pocket knife fight.

Or, maybe we could get past not being that into FatBoy Slim and resurrect that totally believable dance scene from "She's All That"

We're still not sold on exactly how it's gonna go down, but it's gotta happen. Now we just need to find the right choreographer and do the big dress rehearsal after the rehearsal dinner. Got any Chicago suggestions on where we might find the talented soul to get everyone's two left feet moving in the right direction?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Feast on Famine: Figuring Out the Best Reception Style to Serve Food

Appetizers are served, originally uploaded by cisko.

Photo Credit: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I have always thought appetizers and desserts were the best part about going out to eat, so our decision to trade in the traditional sit-down set up in favor of a heavy hor d'oeurves reception just seems right somehow.

Of course, there are pros and cons...


  • More focus on the best parts of the wedding - the dancing, drinking and mingling.
  • No awkward head table away from the rest of the party. We're gonna be all dressed up to party, not sit in front of the party.
  • Easier way to make sure all guest dietary needs are addressed. As pescatarians, we've attended plenty of parties where hosts were gracious enough to keep us in mind when making their menus, so we feel the least we could do is have a couple vegan options and gluten-free choices for our friends and fam.
  • No check boxes for "Chicken, Fish, Beef or Tofu" to keep track of.
  • No assigned seating, (with the exception of reserving some tables for our parents and older or disabled guests who might not be comfortable hanging out at high top tables all night).
  • As I mentioned, appetizers and desserts are the best part, and they offer the chance to show off some creativity.
  • Less costly for centerpieces and rentals
  • We don't really have enough room at the venue for full sit-down set up, but we could probably try to make it work. Going apps only means more room to mingle.
  • I once heard my grandmother describe in great horror, her friend traveling to a wedding that only served a few small appetizers and coffee, tea and soft drinks. While we'll have plenty of booze, we don't want anyone feeling slighted cause we decided to go with hors d'oeuvres only.
  • We figured we would have the apps passed for an hour (during what would normally be dinner time) and then have a station set up buffet style so people could graze throughout the evening until it was time for dessert. However, figuring out where that table for this station would go and what would sit there in the meantime in kind of confusing. I guess what I mean is, we're still figuring out the logistics.
  • People sometimes think cheap when they see apps only. Worst yet, sometimes passed apps can actually cost more than the sit-down style so then you look cheap and you're spending a lot of money which just adds insult to injury.
We thought food stations might be nice. Some pasta there, some Thai food there, but that could really add up and possibly hurt us in the end. In addition to needing extra staff to man all of those stations, we would have to ante up on the rental charges and food costs and possibly even on decorations. Then there's sit-down family style, but it seems better for more intimate groups and buffet-style, which is okay, but kind of boring and annoying if your the last table called.

Which way do you think is the best way to go?

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Death of the Dream Wedding" OR Decade of the DIY?

Photo Credit:

I came across this RedEye article by Alice Truong and couldn't help but run through a series of emotions as I read it. If you don't feel like following the link, here's the synopsis:
  • Weddings are expensive...I am sure this part is coming as a somewhat of a shock, so just let that sink in a second before you continue...
  • The reign of the $50K wedding stuff is a thing of the past for most sane people.
  • Chicago wedding costs are down by 6.5 percent to $22,642 for 2009, according to The Wedding Report, a Tucson, Ariz.-based wedding research company.
  • In 2008, the number of Chicago weddings performed by Cook County Circuit Court judges dipped to 10,510 from 11,434 in 2005.
  • Us Weekly and are holding their second annual Dream Wedding, which serves as sort of a lottery ticket done wedding style. began taking votes Friday to narrow it between 10 final couples.
  • Destination weddings are increasingly popular, and according to, one in five couples planned an out-of-town wedding in 2008. The article source attributes this to thinning the guest list, and while that's certainly part of it, I think the part where you can double-up the honeymoon and having a day-of wedding coordinator at your hotel helps cut out worrying about as many smaller details. Not mention, after dealing with hours of research and finding the same sad state of pricey places all around you, it's hard not to just want to say "f-this" and go get hitched somewhere warm.
  • According to a 2008 survey by, Chicago is one of the 10 most expensive cities in which to wed. And from the experience I am having, I completely agree.
Reading this made me feel like I am crazy for trying to have a wedding in Chicago, but I really can't think of anywhere else I would rather do it. It means something to have the wedding here, and if that means going through great pains to find the DJ that doesn't cost over $1200 or the caterer that will work under $5K for 250 people, then I guess that's what it is going to have to take.

Reading the article also made me feel like I have to prove we can do this for under $20K. (To both prove it and because we don't have that kind of money, but still...)

So eat that, average wedding. We're gonna go DIY or local like this city's never seen.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dress Ideas for the 'Maids

I took a pretty sobering walk through David's Bridal the other day. I wasn't looking to buy, but I was curious as to how 25+ pounds of fabric might feel when you're walking around in it all day and wondered if the bridesmaid dresses are as ugly as people joke they are.

Surprisingly, they did have more than one dress in my size (that's plus-size, at least until my daily workouts start to make a visible difference) and actually, there were three that weren't completely terrible. Unsurprisingly, they felt cheap. Ditto for the 'maids dresses, which are kind of expensive for the quality you're getting, but since I wasn't really looking to buy, it didn't bother me as much.

I probably won't be choosing David's Bridal for my dress or bridesmaids dresses, but I'd have to recommend at least checking out what a heavy dress feels and looks like on. The waif models in all the glossies can make any dress look gorgeous and effortless - as they should, it's their job - but seeing how something like a sheath dress looks on in real life is eye-opening experience. Hello, exercise.

In a perfect world, I'd really like to have a Chicago designer make my dress. Probably something A-line, or equally flattering for my body type, but I haven't really narrowed that down yet. A friend of mine suggested Elise Bergman, and I contacted her for an appointment to get a look at what the possibilities might look like (and cost). I'm looking forward to seeing her previous bridal work. Her wrap dresses look like a great idea for the bridesmaids too, this one's the signature silk multi-wrap in Henna color ($285):

And while this is all very early in the game and idealistic, I kind of have my heart set on Twobirds Bridesmaids dresses for the ladies. They're a little pricey (Calf length is $270 and Floor length is $290) but I love that they run sizes 0-16 and have plus sizes available too, and they wrap ten different ways, so if someone doesn't feel like going strapless they don't have to. I also like to think that they're the bridesmaid dress that someone really would wear more than once (especially since we'd probably go the shorter dress route, making it easier to wear this more than once to someone else's wedding) but everyone likes to think that. Here's the chocolate brown color from someone's real wedding photos (thank you Ariane for sending the images!)

Ulimately, I am going to just ask what everyone would rather do and I will probably end up having to do the "everyone-find-a-dress-remotely-close-to-dark-brown" route, but it's nice to dream.