the wedding chronicles | decision #4

THE PHOTOGRAPHER

as many former brides have told me and will likely tell you, the photographer is one of the most important decisions you will make for your wedding day.  they all have said, “your pictures are the only thing you have to remember the day by afterwards, so you have to make a good choice.”  if you think about it, it is quite true.  in addition to being reminded of this truth, you’ll get the name of every photographer who has photographed any wedding you have ever been to and even those you never attended.  while a great starting point for ideas and inspiration, be sure you pick the photographer right for you and your big day.  how do you do that, you ask?  like this.

first, like the starting point for many other wedding choices, determine what your budget is.  although you might want the celebrity photographer in town, they might be out of your price point.  and, something else to be said here is that the photographer is likely going to cost more than you expect.  one night i was churning through photography sites on my computer to try and narrow down some options but was derailed when it felt like each one was more expensive than the last!  i understand you don’t necessarily want to skimp in regards to the photographer, but a “starting at” price of $4500 seems high.  but hey, what do i know; it’s not like i’ve ever planned a wedding before.

second, figure out if you want just a photographer or if a videographer is also part of your needs.  the reason i encourage you to figure this out is because the more you want, the more you have to pay, and even though a videographer might sound like an awesome add-on, it also comes at a price.  if you’ve got the budget or wiggle room elsewhere in your wedding, go for it!  i think videographers capture a special essence of the day and create a great keepsake for the future.

third, while flipping through galleries of potential photographers, try to discern what their style is and what they tend to focus on in their pictures and if what they produce matches up with what you and your fiance want.  are they capturing a lot of detail of the day?  are the family portraits high quality?  is the level of professionalism apparent?  now, with this being said let me let you in on a little secret:  after a while all of the pictures are going to look the same.  or almost the same.  what i’m trying to say is that you’re going to get tired of looking through these pictures, and that’s okay.  you have to stop looking at some point, so decide on your top two or three prospects and go from there.

fourth, while trying to pick out some favorite contenders, i encourage you to include your significant other, especially if it’s a man and especially if you think he might not care.  the reason i say this is because the pictures you will have after your wedding day are both of yours, and sometimes a fiance can help you make that tough choice by having a preference of their own.  hopefully it will work out nicely for you and yours like it did for phillip and me.  🙂  we worked particularly well together as a team on this decision.

fifth, once you have a few photographers in mind, meet them in person if possible!  although their site might be informative and the pictures breathtaking, nothing replaces a personal connection, something you can really only gauge by meeting face-to-face.  for phillip and me, we had two finalists that we met for coffee (separately, of course).  the first finalist was nice enough and quite laid back but was almost too laid back for our liking.  our second finalist was extremely professional, asked us questions about ourselves, paid for phillip’s coffee (excellent move if i do say so myself), and even started offering some ideas, not knowing if we were going to go with them or not.  sometimes it might “just be a feeling” you have on whether or not you like a particular photographer, but that’s okay.  this is your day, after all, and you should feel confident about each decision you make, especially such a big one.

sixth, ask questions.  how many hours do you get?  how many photographers will be there?  is an engagement session included?  if your photographer has to travel, are there any fees incurred?  so on and so forth.  just google “questions to ask a wedding photographer” and you’ll get yourself a nice big list of questions with which to pepper your professional.  the photographers we encountered were very open to answering our numerous inquiries, which was not only nice but also the right thing to do.

seventh, if possible, see if you can get an engagement session included.  i think for each photographer we interviewed this was the case, which is a great thing.  why?  well, i initially wasn’t interested in doing an engagement shoot, but then everyone said it was a good opportunity for you and your fiance to get to know your photographer and vice versa.  i mean, it does seem like a good way to get comfortable not only with your photographer but also with getting your picture taken, A LOT.  plus, it’s a good excuse to buy a new outfit and get all dressed up, which is fine by me.

so!  in the end, who did we choose?  we chose a pair of photographers by katie snyder photography.  their reputation, genuine joy, and industry knowledge were among the deciding factors, and what’s even better is that they were flexible with us and are in budget – sign us up!

the wedding chronicles | decision #3

THE DRESS

now that phillip and i are less than eight months out from the big day, things are really starting to kick into gear.  the to-do list hasn’t necessarily grown, but we’ve realized that it’s time to start making some more decisions.  the latest and one of the most exciting decisions?  the dress!

most folks consider the dress the crown jewel of the wedding day, and understandably so.  the bride is wearing the dress all day, she’s being photographed in it from sun up to sun down, and it’s the most important dress she will wear in her entire life.  so, it makes sense that people tend to make a big deal about it!  but, with all the expectations that guests have about the dress comes the pressure to feel like you are picking the perfect one.  as alluded to in other wedding chronicle entries, some brides have a specific vision for themselves and don’t sway from that at all.  this could be in regards to the venue, the meal, the cake, and especially the dress.  for those brides, i say, “more power to you!”

my situation for the dress, though, wasn’t exactly that.  i’d first tried several dresses on with my mom back in april, and this past weekend she and my bridesmaid kari and i made a return trip to birmingham to see if i could make a decision.  as far as dress shopping goes, we’re in crunch time and needing to order asap!  the good news was all the dresses i liked in april were still front-runners this time around – they were just so different!  then, our trusty consultant laura at bella’s bridal over in hoover was so good at her job that she pulled even more contenders, and it was then that i realized i might be in trouble.  with so many beautiful gowns surrounding me i now had quite a dilemma:  what part of me was my dress going to represent?  would it be the old soul part of my personality?  or maybe the fun quirky side?  what about a little romance?  and what would others picture me wearing?

if you’ve ever watched any wedding dress shopping shows, the emotion of this important choice can take two routes:  one of excitement and joy or, as we many times see, one of disappointment.  it breaks my heart when i see brides who aren’t surrounded by people who only want to see them happy.  it is the bride’s (and groom’s) day after all, and shouldn’t the bride be wearing something that makes them feel confident and at their best?  yes, and without any reservations or doubts!  so here is my message to dress-searching brides everywhere:  come with ideas, enjoy the experience, stand up for yourself, don’t try on anything outside your budget, and choose a dress that makes you feel like the most beautiful girl in the world.  if this means bringing only a few people to your appointments, then politely do so.  too much distraction and sometimes too many opinions can cloud things, and the last thing you want to do is make a deposit and walk out of the salon with a sinking feeling in your stomach.  this is the biggest day of your life an you deserve to feel great about each decision you make!

with the wrong crowd you can see how things could start to get very stressful very quickly.  and without supportive people around me, i might have spiraled into dress distress!  however, once i focused my thoughts, shut my eyes, and pictured myself walking down the aisle, i knew that my biggest inspiration would be coming from the church and the reception site, which led me to make the perfect dress choice for the occasion.  as the tears flowed and clapping filled the dressing room, i confidently said yes to the dress!  we celebrated and toasted with glasses of rose champagne, thrilled that another detail of the big day was coming into focus.  i feel lucky to have had a pretty easy time searching for and deciding upon a dress and cannot wait to reveal it to everyone in april!

that blue apron thing

after much advertisement dodging and internal reflecting, i decided to take the plunge, jump on the bandwagon, and try out blue apron.  for those of you who do not know, blue apron is a meal-delivery service.  now, when i say “meal” i mean that they mail you all the ingredients and instructions for a few meals that you then get to cook in the comfort of your own home.  now, there are all sorts of companies like blue apron, but considering they were offering three meals for only $20 in your first week, it sounded like a deal too good to pass up.

when you sign up for blue apron, you do get to decide what day of the week your box arrives.  i figured tuesday was as good a day as any, so a few days ago our first box was waiting at the back door for me to scoop up and bring inside.

in addition to designating your delivery day, you get to provide some meal preferences.  for example, if you’re vegetarian or only eat seafood, you can indicate just that in your profile.  a handy feature, especially for someone who might be on a more restricted diet.

the box that arrived was quite compact, at least in my opinion, and i got as excited as a child on Christmas morning when i grabbed the scissors and cut that box open.

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before i proceed much further, it is clear that blue apron definitely has some thinkers working for them.  the way they package the ingredients and recipes along with the charming notes and witty branding really does the job it should:  it gets you excited to cook!

one of the delightful things about blue apron is that each refrigerated item is individually packed, “pantry” produce is loose in the box (which is fine because less packaging means less waste), and you get these awesomely large freezer packs that you can re-use or, if you desire, you can have blue apron recycle for you – nifty!  however, maybe above all else, the best part is that everything comes in the cutest little bags and cutest little containers with the cutest little labels!  again, their marketing dollars hard at work.

our box had three meals that have two servings each.  of the options in front of us, phillip and i decided to make the burgers and slaw because we were hungry.  as such, we wasted no time at all grabbing the recipe (complete with instructions, pictures, and recommended wine pairings) and getting to work.

now, the estimated completion time for this particular recipe was 25-35 minutes.  my friend judson who had done a similar meal-delivery service said that it always takes him longer than what the recipe says.  well, challenge accepted!  i kept our trusty chef timer around at all times to see if we could beat the clock.

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the recipe’s step-by-step instructions were perfectly clear.  i chopped away and mixed up the slaw while phillip was on burger duty.  phillip enjoys being in the kitchen and was especially entertained as he marked off each completed step with a little check on the recipe.  #adorable

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just as phillip was flipping the burgers to finish them off, our chef timer rang out loudly, sounding the buzzer for the suggested 35 minutes to cook the entire meal.  well, it turns out we needed about 10 minutes more.  but still, a home-cooked meal in under an hour isn’t something to be too upset about, right?  sure!

with the oven off and the stovetop cooling down, phillip and i plated our first blue apron meal, poured a couple glasses of delicious red wine, and dug in.  first things first, yes, this meal was as delicious as it looks.  the slaw was a great crunchy texture to have with the tender beef patty and schmear of sriracha mayo.  and, as you can see, there was plenty of slaw that we really even had it as a second side next to the sweet potato wedges.  those wedges were cooked through just right and were so easy to make!

now, i know what your next thought is.  “that looks like a pretty big plate of food.”  well, it certainly was.  in fact, the portion size for this meal was so large that i almost couldn’t finish!  i let phillip polish off the last few sweet potato fries and then i think we were both stuffed.

besides the end result of a delicious and different dinner on an otherwise normal tuesday night, what is our review of blue apron?

  • are you happy you tried it?  yes, especially with the first week at only $20!
  • did the box provide everything you needed to make the meal?  almost.  blue apron assumes you have things like extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper on-hand.
  • was the food you got a good value for what you paid?  again, for the first week, yes!  it’s hard to go out to restaurants and spend only $20 on six humongous meals.
  • what are you liking most so far?  i think the convenience factor is the ultimate perk of something like blue apron.  i didn’t have to stop at the store on the way home from work, which saved me time and got us cooking earlier in the evening.  i also very much like the variety of recipes.  for example, this week’s recipes were the burgers and slaw, creamy shrimp spaghetti (which we made last night and also was quite tasty), and then chicken enchiladas.
  • will you do blue apron again?  well, considering i forgot to cancel next week’s “order,” yes!  at least for one more week.  do know, though, that the regular price for three meals with two servings each (so six meals total) bumps up to $60 per week.  however, if you don’t like eating monstrous dinners, you could likely split these two servings per meal into four, so then you’re getting twelve total meals for $60 rather than just six.  so, in the end, still a pretty good price.
  • anything else we should know?  well, yes!  apparently i have three free meals i can give to my friends, so if you’re interested, let me know and i’ll hook you up!  also, for those of you who want more per meal or have more than just a pair like phillip and me, they do have family-size options you can order.  and (i promise this is the last thing) you can also skip weeks without any penalty at all.  just make sure you do so a week before your next delivery date.

bon appetit!

ze best chili ever

yesterday at work we had the annual chili cookoff at the office.  like a good sport, i offered to bring some in.  however, i don’t really have a go-to-chili recipe on hand.  lucky me, my family out in california is all about a good chili competition, so i went to the experts for a little help.

my cousin ali was quick to supply a recipe that put her in first place at a local competition in southern los angeles.  well, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!  i pulled up the recipe and was slightly intimidated by the required prep work and number of ingredients, but i figured if i was going to make some chili i may as well go all out for it.

to make things easy on myself, i chopped all the vegetables earlier in the week so that the actual cooking would be a quick process.  now, after having made the chili and also eaten more bowls than i care to admit, i think it goes a long way if you chop the vegetables up as tiny as you can.  i mean, i’m not sure a big ‘ole hunk of green pepper is really what you want, but if that’s how you like your chili, go for it!

also, whatever you do, do not leave out the italian sausage.  in my opinion, the sausage is what makes the chili, so please, please, make sure you have it in there.

finally, i think i could have used a bit more heat.  now, the recipe calls for four tablespoons of chili powder which, honestly, terrified me.  as such (and not wanting the chili to be inedible because it was too spicy), i used only a single tablespoon of chili powder.  however, this recipe makes so much that i think i easily could have done at least two if not three, and i am a spice wimp.

so!  the chili cooked overnight as i dreamed happy dreams, and when i awoke in the morning, my nose was warmly greeted with the delectable scent of a cozy, home-cooked meal in the crockpot.  after freshening up, i loaded up the car and headed to the office, where i counted down the minutes until noon so that i could eat.  it’s hard to not be hungry when there are crockpots full of chili in the office!

once the hour was upon us, our moderators meghan and greg explained that we could try all three and then vote for our favorite chili, for the most unique chili, and then for the hottest chili.  the votes would be cast and collected and then the winners would be decided.

my coworkers and i gabbed and relaxed between bites of chili and cheese and bread, but i was secretly (and anxiously) awaiting the results of the competition.  now, i wouldn’t say i am much of  a competitor, but i wanted to make ali proud!

so, after all bowls were emptied and the tally sheets were in, the results were……that i won the most unique chili!  people liked the seasonings and sausage (duh!) and thought the flavor profile was unexpected (in a good way).  greg won the award for the hottest chili and then our other coworker tabri won the award for the favorite chili.  i think the potatoes in tabri’s chili is what won over everyone, even i admit it!

it was such a pleasure to become part of this company tradition, and even though the chili was a bit of work, i’d say it was worth every minute spent.  this chili is hearty without being heavy and is so delicious that i had a hard time putting my spoon down.  if you’re looking for a warm meal as the winter weather sweeps in, give this recipe a try.  i bet it’d be a hard thing to be disappointed with it.

tabri, greg, & me.

tabri, greg, & me.

m&m cookies!

i found myself in a baking mood late last night.  the result?  m&m cookies!  this recipe has been in my recipe book for ages, and whenever i flip past it i always wonder how i obtained it.  there’s no author, no web url, nothing.  just ingredients and instructions written on a piece of college-lined notebook paper.

regardless of how and when i got it, i decided they would make the perfect labor day weekend treat.  rather simple, this recipe makes a bucketful of cookies that would be great for a crowd, the office, or even a college football tailgate (go dawgs!).

ingredients

1 cup shortening (like crisco shortening, not oil or butter)

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 1/4 cups plain flour

1 bag of m&ms (12 ounces, anymore and you’ll have more candies than batter!)

instructions

cream together the shortening and sugars using an electric blender.

add the vanilla and the eggs and beat until mixed.

in a separate bowl, mix the salt, baking soda, and flour.  then, slowly incorporate into egg mixture with blender.

using a spoon (not the mixer!) fold in the m&ms and stand back at take a look at what a beautiful thing you’ve made.

the cheeriest cookie batter there ever was!

the cheeriest cookie batter there ever was!

dollop the cookie batter on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees fahrenheit.  let cool before storing.

then!  because you have extra batter and what to be a little cray on a friday night, make one giant cookie the size of your face!  🙂

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coconut curry shrimp

earlier this week i was looking for an easy weeknight recipe that would satisfy and also provide tasty leftovers for lunch the next day.  well, phillip and i struck gold with a coconut curry shrimp recipe that had been hiding in my recipe book.  to no surprise, it actually originated from fellow food blogger ree drummond, and the unarguable fact that this recipe is delicious should also not be a surprise.

i got done prepping all the ingredients when phillip walked in the door just in time for cooking and assembling.  our walk the moon album was spinning on the record player while he prepared the shrimp and sauce and i finished up the rice and got the table set.

we sat down and dug in, remembering exactly how good this meal is.  phillip was almost speechless between bites!  this recipe is quick, delicious, and filling.  it doesn’t take many scoops of rice and shrimp and sauce to satisfy your taste buds and your hungry stomach.  as usual, i pretty much doubled up on the garlic and the curry because who doesn’t like a little punch at the end of each bite.  also, don’t be afraid to go a bit spicier since the coconut milk will definitely sweeten the dish considerably.  enjoy!

i promise this looked way fancier in my fine china at home.

i promise this looked way fancier in my fine china at home.

the easiest dip ever

this past weekend phillip and i spent some time in dadeville, alabama visiting my childhood friend adam at his parents’ lakehouse.  at lake martin we lounged in the water drinking beers, took the jet ski for a whirl, ventured to chimney rock, and enjoyed the company of friends both old and new.  after this long day of relaxation and fun, we arrived back at the house hungry and lazy.  well, the dip that adam’s mom tina whipped up was the perfect appetizer for a bunch of hungry and lazy twentysomethings.  this recipe is so easy and so delicious that i insist you go out to the store, acquire all of the ingredients, and make it right now!

so, how easy is it?  let me tell you.

step one:  grab an 8-ounce block of cream cheese out of the fridge (no need to let it soften).

step two:  moosh that cream cheese evenly across the bottom of some kind of microwave-safe dish (i think a square or circle casserole dish would do nicely).

step three:  grab a can of your favorite chili.  with beans, sans beans, beef, turkey, whatever your taste buds desire.

step four:  evenly spread the chili on top of the cream cheese.

step five:  suffocate the chili layer with shredded cheese of your choice.  i prefer to put so much on that you can’t see the chili through the cheese.  true confessions:  i love cheese.

step six:  microwave your masterful creation for about 3-5 minutes, depending on how powerful your microwave is and depending on how melty you want the cheese.  we nuked ours long enough so that the cheese kind of bubbled around the edges.  mm.

step seven:  devour the entire dish without any regrets because you’re at the lake and it’s the weekend and that’s acceptable.

chocolate sheet cake

chocolate cake

folks, this recipe comes to you straight from the pioneer woman.  i made this classic chocolate sheet cake this past weekend for mother’s day, and i think it’s safe to say that our mothers and everyone else partaking in the celebration very much enjoyed a slice.  this cake is decadent yet somehow not too sweet.  be warned, though, that a small piece will do you just fine, especially if you top it with some vanilla ice cream.  noms!

the sprinkles were a recommendation from milo, and someone even commented that the cake reminded them of those irresistible little debbie treats called cosmic brownies.  i think i can safely put them both in the ‘i only need one but will eat the whole box/pan’ category.

spicy pasta salad!

with the cool breeze in the atlanta air these days, the mood struck me suddenly and i was craving pasta salad.  sure, i could hop into disco kroger and pick up a pint of the premade stuff, but with plenty of time on my hands, i decided to bust out a tried and true spicy pasta salad recipe.  now, when i pulled up the ingredients and directions from my cookbook, my handwriting gave no clue as to where the recipe originated.  after a quick search, though, i found out it was another classic from ree drummond.

the good news?  now i don’t have to type out every measurement and step.  the better news?  i still feel compelled to post all the pictures of me making this dish!  for your viewing pleasure, here is me at work in my little kitchen.  🙂

cook up some pasta.

next, measure out half a cup of mayo.  throw it in a mixing bowl.

pour one fourth cup of whole milk and then add it to the mayo.

get yourself four tablespoons of white vinegar and marry it up with the mayo and milk.

to the mix add the salt and some peppa and adobo sauce!

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whisk it all up.

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next?  chop up some tomatoes.  the grocer didn’t have red grape tomatoes, so i went with cherry tomatoes and just chopped ’em a little finer.  also, it was a very happy coincidence because these hokee tomatoes come from right down the street in forest park, georgia.  cool!

next you’re going to cube up some gouda.  i won’t judge if you consume any awkwardly shaped or sized pieces on the spot.  i’d be lying if i said i didn’t do that exact thing myself.

now, we’re almost done, i promise!  in your bowl, toss together the gouda, tomatoes, cooled pasta, and dressing.  then, use all your self control not to take a bite – it’s not ready quite yet!

okay, the final step is to grab a whole bunch of basil and chiffonade it.  “chiffonade” is technically a noun, but as a verb, it means to stack all your basil leaves…

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…roll them up…

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…and then use your knife to thinly slice it all.  just like that you’re a chiffonade pro!

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take all that lovely basil and incorporate it in with the pasta mix.  this salad will be sure to please at home, at a picnic, at a bbq, just about anywhere that pasta salad is welcome.  the dressing isn’t overwhelming and has a nice kick from the adobo that provides great flavor.  as with all pasta salads and potato salads of this sort, letting it sit overnight makes for a greatly refreshing snack the next day.

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