29 April 2009

shoes. omg. shoes.

I'm not as obsessed with shoes as Kelly is, but I'm definitely particular. Most strappy heels don't really appeal to me, and 90% of the time you'll find me on the streets in some mod ballet flats.

When I bought my dress last year, I had a month to buy my wedding shoes for my fitting (I had to finish my alterations before the move!). That meant I had to get some shoes, and I had to get them fast. Luckily jcrew is always there to help a sistah out. Even luckier - her ugly stepchild ebay is always willing to cut you a black market shoe deal!

I'm short (a whopping 5'2"), and the Mr. is nearly 6', so I definitely needed a shoe with a heel. The jcrew Hadley d'Orsays were simple and effective - just what I needed! And at a steal on ebay (even less than this listing!), I considered my shoe case closed.

A girl is never "done" with buying shoes. No. It just doesn't happen. When I got the heels in the mail, they were great. They were fine. They hurt. I'm a little granola, if you haven't picked up on it yet. Heels are beautiful, but I just don't know how to walk in them!

I do, however, know how to dance in them! ;) I took some salsa lessons a few years ago, and Mr. Cubbie thought it would be awesome to do salsa as our first dance! You need heels to dance salsa - you're on the balls of your feet 100% of the time. I'm actually more likely to trip while dancing if I wear flats!

Then again, we are getting married on dirt. Heels and dirt are the biggest frenemies at a wedding! I could wear heel stoppers, like Miss Lab, but I could also trip while I walk down the aisle. (For some reason I'm only coordinated when I concentrate really hard. Go fig.)

I settled for buying a cute pair of brown suede flats (thanks again, 'crew!). I had my dress hemmed for the heel height, but right now I'm planning to wear flats down the aisle.

And then I saw these:

Jeez lil' miss 'crew - why you gotta keep tormenting me with all your stylin' stems??

Since my dress looks like this, I thought the little flowers would look oh-so-dainty peeking from underneath the fabric. But at $125 (even on eBay!), I don't know if I should chance this buy.

How many times did you second-guess yourself on shoes? Do you have any shoe recommendations for a short, clumsy, dancing fashion junkie?

28 April 2009

Did she just say marathon??

Yes - I did! Twenty-six-point-two-miles of wedded bliss!

Mr. Cubbie and I thought this would be a good goal for our getting-in-shape-for-the-wedding pipe dream. As of today, there are 16 weeks until the Portland Marathon. Mr. Bear Cub is from Portland, and has always wanted to run the Portland Marathon. Unfortunately, two years ago while he was training for it, his stepdad died in a plane crash (while on a rescue mission!). This happened about a month before the race - he would have had to be running 40+ miles a week to adequately maintain his training (and not risk injury!). He went to the funeral, and pulled out of the race. A month after, we ran the Rio Grande half marathon together.

Running is something that's truly brought us together as a couple. You need to trust your running buddy - both to help you and to challenge you. I started out not being able to run even a mile... and then 7 months later I was running 13.1 of them.

Running in Portland is even better.

Forest Park, Portland

There's rain, trails, cool air, and a positive running culture. The Portland Marathon is known for being the most walker-friendly marathon!

There's also Forest Park. It's one of the largest urban forest reserves in the US. While the Portland Marathon doesn't go through the park, you could run a marathon on trails to work if you wanted! Mr. Cubbie and I always make time to run together in Forest Park when we're visiting family in Portland.

Granted, I'm definitely not in shape to run a marathon. That halvsie I did? Two years ago. I still consider myself a runner, but moving to another country (and finishing my masters degree) last year really ate up my time.

If you have a good attitude though, running a marathon with 3 months of training is completely doable. My favorite resource for running advice is Runners World. We get the magazine, but the website is hundy-percent free!

Running is an awesome way to get in shape for your wedding. Don't be intimidated - anyone can do it! Runners World has a great first 5k training plan. If you're interested in the sport of running to get in shape for the dress, you should check out their advice (walking is totally acceptable!).

I've got a different beast ahead of me - the marathon. Luckily Runners World is a well of knowledge for first-time marathoners. Their most accessible training plan takes 16 weeks. I've got 16 weeks - this is perfect! They also have great training advice to keep you from being injured. The last thing I want is for my new husband or myself to get seriously injured after only two weeks of being married!

Besides looking better in my wedding dress, I'm looking forward to sharing such a special event with my new husband (it will be his first marathon, too!). We'll be racing for each other, and cheering one another along the entire way.

What are you doing to get in shape for the dress? Do you work out with your fiancé? Are you training for a marathon (or another race) this year, too? Do you have any advice for a first-time marathon runner?

27 April 2009

Will you be my bridesmaid... again?

When we got engaged last May, I couldn't wait to tell everyone! Even though Mr. Cubbie and I were in Thailand, we immediately hopped on a computer at our tiki-hut to spread the good news. Two of my future bridesmaids (FB?) were on gchat - I told them right away I wanted them to be my bridesmaids! The rest of my girls I asked over the phone when we were back in the country.

There's a million and one ways to ask your friends to be your bridesmaids. No one way is better than the other. Personally, if I have a fab secret, I can't keep it! I'm bursting with happiness! Asking my girls while I still had that "just slipped the ring on" glow was 100% me.

And then I saw all those other wonderful ways to ask "will you be my bridesmaid?", and I of course I wanted to do that, too! I decided this would be a great way to
  1. RE-ask them (it's been almost a year since we got engaged!)
  2. give them more up-to-date info about the wedding
  3. pass around b-maid contact info
  4. make them feel special
  5. have an excuse to craft - tee hee! :)
The only problem is that now I live in Chile, and as we already know, there's not a whole lot in the way of crafting supplies here. No goccos, no papersource, no nothing that you lucky lucky brides in the states get to play with. You know what I did? I went to the grocery store. Ironically, in the grocery store, they carry [a minimal supply of] felt, [random colors of] cardstock, and [probably lead-laden] acrylic paints. I had never really painted before, but I was on the verge of considering markers, so I figured what the heck? Might as well try.

When I was looking for supplies, I told my super-cute mamacita spanish teacher that I was having trouble finding pretty paper to work with in La Serena - she whipped out a packet of purple artisan paper made from seaweed! It's not enough to make into 80 invitations, but it is enough to embellish cute letters to my girls! I also found in my closet some old (papersource brand!!) matching white paper and envelopes - I was set to craft to my heart's delight!

If you're interested in making cards for your girls based mostly on the junk you can find in the grocery store, you've just hit the crafting jackpot!

I bought blue cardstock (it was either that or hot pink), white felt, and acrylic paints in green, red, purple, yellow, white, and black. The old papersource letter paper was already sized to fit into its envelope, so I borrowed a guillotine-paper-cutter from work to cut the cardstock.

My idea was to paint a background of a lavender field with 6 sets of poppy buds (for each 6 of my bridesmaids!). Then, to give the card a little more texture, I affixed the lavender-colored seaweed paper to the front as a base for a little felt hand-cut wedding dress.

I first made one card completely to make sure I was happy with the result. I mixed my colors until they matched a picture of lavender, and then I painted the soft green lavender stems, then the flecs of lavender buds, then the bright poppies, and finally some touch-ups. The work wasn't so bad for six cards, but I don't think I could survive hand painting 80 wedding invitations.

All of my bridesmaids are scattered across the states. I really had to give them a lot of information in a little letter - long distance coordination is crazy! I gave them the dates of the wedding, the wedding location (if they didn't already know), dates to be in town (for fun BM outings!), the color palette, a BM coordination website, email addresses for the other BMs, and attire suggestions.

I secured into the envelope some paint chips from our palette to help them get an idea of how the mixy-matchy BM dresses will work together.

I wanted the pretty frayed edge to be the most obvious, so I put the glue on the front side of the letter:

I miss my friends in the states a whole lot - I'm happy for the opportunity to make them feel special, and I can't wait to see them in September!

How are you coordinating your bridesmaids before the wedding? Did you ask your BM over the phone? via gchat? with a cute little card? Are you crafting wedding paraphernalia with run-of-the-mill supplies and leftovers?

24 April 2009

Dream Wedding Location Fridays

White sands is one of those places you almost can't believe exists on earth...

Wouldn't this be a fantastic place to say your vows? There's even a legend of a bride who walks the dunes at night in her flowing white dress, searching for her love.

I think the most beautiful wedding at White Sands would be at sunset on a full moon night - the sun sets in the west, as the moon rises in the east. So romantic!

23 April 2009

What's the deal with a date? - Part 2

You might be thinking, "omg - wtf Miss Bear Cub... a TUESDAY wedding?? are you MAD??"

Well, I'm not mad, but I'm definitely conflicted.

I've let you in on the little secret that Mr. Cubbie and I are full-time astronomers. That's the reason why we're in Chile - we do research funded by the National Science Foundation on objects that can only be studied from the southern hemisphere.

When we were picking our wedding date, we had a choice between mid March and mid September (summer camps are chock-full-o-kids in the summer!). September in Oregon is way more likely to be sunny than March, so that was easy. Within September, we were able to choose our wedding date - we wanted the weekend of the autumnal equinox.

Really quickly, remember our venue? Since we live a hemisphere away from our family and friends, we wanted to spend the entire [long] weekend with them - three full days of fun at a summer camp! For this reason, our wedding is really more of a domestic destination wedding. The idea isn't for people to be able to drive in for the afternoon - it's to spend several days together.

The autumnal equinox, however, lands on a Tuesday (sept 22) this year. Did you know it's a different date every year? It oscillates between September 21, 22, 23, and sometimes 24! Seeing as how our wedding "date" - the equinox - changes every year anyways, we figured it wouldn't be a big deal if this year it was the 21 instead of the "real" equinox on the 22. Some years it'll be on the 21!

September 21 is a Monday. This isn't as bad as a Tuesday, but it's still a Monday - a 3-day weekend ending on Monday. For some reason it seem like people are generally more willing to take a Friday off from work than a Monday, even though the hours lost is the same.

While you're silently gawking at how I'm forcing my 80-so-odd guests to miss work for my Monday nuptials, hear me out a bit. The symbolism of an equinox wedding is, to me, awesome.
  • The "equinox" means equality - the hemispheres of the Earth have equal daylight for that one day. Equality in our marriage is very important. The two halves of this marriage will always be equal.
  • While it's autumnal equinox in Oregon, it will be vernal (spring) equinox in Chile - we're traveling from the vernal equinox to the autumnal equinox! Not only is our wedding day going to have symbolic equality (of spirit), it's also going to have literal equality (of uniting the southern hemisphere with the northern!).
  • We're freaking astronomers! Why wouldn't we include something astronomical in our nuptials??
We were all set to send out our save-the-dates as September 21, when I panicked. What if, out of 150 invited, only 20 show up?? What if everyone hates me for insisting on having a Monday wedding? I couldn't bare the thought of traveling all the way from South America, to be surrounded by a whopping 5% of my friends and family on my wedding day. I tend to take things rather personally, and this lack of support on such an important occasion would devastate me.

I called our site coordinator, and changed our date to September 20 - Sunday. We felt that could be a decent compromise - it's still the weekend, and almost the equinox.

I understand having your wedding on any day that's NOT Saturday is rather controversial. But given the significance of our equinox wedding date, would you really be so upset to go to a domestic destination wedding on a Sunday? Can we still call our wedding an "equinox" wedding even though it's the weekend before the actual equinox? Have you had any positive experiences with non-saturday weddings?

What's the deal with a date? - Part 1

With an average gestation period of eight months, couples have a lot of time to think about their wedding date - a lot of time to sear it into their minds. That date (that number on a calendar) will forever signify their promise of love. It's not surprising, then, when brides try to find the "best" date to save.

My personal favorite I've seen recently is 10-10-10 (October 10, 2010). 101010 is binary for 42, and if you're familiar with the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you'll know that 42 is the answer. The answer to what? In this case, the answer to love - any couple who gets married on 10-10-10 can rightly claim that their wedding date was the answer to love.

For other couples it might be something more mathematically simple - the anniversary of a grandparents' wedding, a first date, a first kiss; that sort of thing. At some point, we (as brides) kind of have to let go of the power of choosing a date. The church might be booked on that date for the next 3 years! The perfect reception hall might already be booked when you already have the perfect church date!

Then you're not so much choosing your date, as your date chooses you. That perfect venue is available only one weekend this year? And it's in February? We'll take it! This is often what a lot of couple have to deal with when choosing a wedding date. We certainly determined our date based on the availability of the space!

Even if our wedding date doesn't coincide with an ancestral anniversary, it is still meaningful.

Our wedding date does coincide with a celestial anniversary - an anniversary of equality. Unfortunately, that day is a Tuesday this year.

Is your wedding date imbued with special significance? How did you choose your wedding date - did it choose you?

22 April 2009

The wedding dreams are starting

Last night I had one of my first wedding-themed dreams.

We were running late, or we were rushed - I can't remember, only that everyone was sat really quickly. The weather was gorgeous, and everyone was sitting in chivari chairs on the high meadow at westwind (the grassy meadow that overlooks the coastline). I was running late, I had no makeup on, and my hair was just down - normal, straight, flat. The ceremony was starting in a few minutes, so I grabbed a strip of extra lace fabric, and tied my hair in a loose low side ponytail with a lacy bow (I've actually been eyeing my mom's vintage lace scarf! I don't think she'd actually let me use it, though... it's sooo pretty). I was wearing my insanely stunning gown, but I was barefoot and late. So I ran the mile from our cabin to the ceremony site. Barefoot. In my designer gown and lace bow.

Everyone was waiting there for me, and although only 20 or so (out of 150!) had made it, they all looked so happy to see me. I caught my breath - and I caught the most beautiful smile from my fiancé, waiting for me at the other end of the aisle. I grabbed some wildflowers from the earth, and, holding them haphazardly at my side, I walked down the aisle to marry my best friend. We had forgotten the rings, but we didn't care - we said our vows, and we married anyways.

My first wedding dream was riddled with hang-ups and problems, but the thing I remember most of the dream wedding day is how happy I was. I didn't care that I was barefoot, or that my hair wasn't fancy, or that we didn't have our rings. I was calm and contented to be surrounded by the love of my family and friends, and my new husband.

Amidst the dreaded wedding-day nightmares, have you had any positive wedding dreams?

21 April 2009

Yes we can!

Probably one of the most difficult things to learn in a marriage is teamwork. There's no milk left in the fridge? He picks it up on the way home. The dog needs to go to the vet ASAP, but he's stuck in meetings? Maybe you can drive the dog there, while he agrees to pick the kids up from school later. This give-and-take cooperative isn't always easy; most of the tasks we need to learn to share end up changing daily!

When Mr. Bear Cub and I moved in together, we tried to tackle this aspect of our relationship with a gameplan. The easiest thing to pin down is house chores - they're always there, constantly needing to be done. again. and again. We decided that if there was one chore that either of us detested, and the other was more ambivalent towards, that person could be off the hook. That's to say, if you can't stand doing any one particular chore around the house, your partner loves you so much that they'll always do that chore for you.

Obviously this works best (most visibly) with big chores, things that always stack up. I hate doing dishes. I hate it. My skin is left really dry and my nails really brittle. I cook the most often, so it's really tiring to have to wash dishes after hours of cooking. He, on the other hand, hates doing laundry. He's not really familiar with separating lights and darks, and only knows one setting on the washer. Solution: I do all of the laundry, and he does all of the dishes. Always!

Before you start thinking that I got the better end of the stick here, it's not all black and white. I don't mind putting dishes away, but he sees a mountain of clean dishes as a reason to not clean more (there's no room to put more dishes in the drying rack). No problem, I put the dishes away after he cleans them!

Obviously there are innumerable more things that we help each other out with daily - this is just one example of the simplest way we've found to share our responsibilities.

How are you learning to be a team with your fiancé? Is he responsible for some specific chores, and you others?

20 April 2009

Working off the cake.

Yeah, soo.... Fatty McChunkbutt's been talking a lot about shoving cake down her gullet. Mm-mmm I love cake! And chocolate chip cookies. And brownies. (This isn't going so great, eh?)

Seriously though, I think it's important to have a healthy body (and cookies). You might be surprised to learn that I'm a bit bi-polar when it comes to exercise. Sleep in till noon? Sign me up! Run 4 miles after eating chile rellenos? Yep! (feel the burn...)

I like to keep my exercising habits interesting. If it's boring, I won't do it. If it's not working my entire body at the same time, I get distracted. In high school I was on the dance team and in gymnastics and on a cheerleading team. I could eat 8 cookies in one sitting if I wanted to! (and I did...) I liked the dance team and cheerleading for the benefits of a group workout, and gymnastics because of the full-body plyometrics. In college my caloric-genocide of choice was rock climbing - ladies, this gives you ripped arms.

Then in grad school I met Mr. Cubbie. Mr. Bear Cub loves to run! I hated to run! Even though I participated in a whole slew of fully cardio-intensive sports before, I had never been able to tolerate running. I was convinced I had exercise-induced asthma. When I started grad school in 2006, I had never even run a mile.

Mr. Bear Cub is an extremely patient and encouraging man. He wanted to be able to share his love of running with me, so he helped me start this sport by being my personal running coach. We slowly worked up from a half mile, to my first whole mile, then 2 miles, 3 miles, and then it got to the point where I was running on my own after school without him. It's not so hard to get into running with flat dirt trails like this -

He started training me to run in March of 2007, and by November 2007 I finished my first half marathon!

raaarrr!!... meow!

omg that thing hurt! I now know what it feels like when grandmas say their hips hurt. Holy hell that thing hurt. But holy hell was it worth it!

For a while there I could call myself an "avid runner" - I ran about 15 miles a week, mostly just to de-stress (grad school gives you a lot of reasons to stress). When we moved to Chile, all of that changed. Chile has a huge wild dog problem.

Ok, maybe the dogs don't all look like rabid blood-suckers. They look like that to me when I'm running! A pack of dogs chased my friend's car last week!

I've got another unfortunate deterrent, too - machismo. Chileans aren't so used to seeing women run solo (and I hate catcalls, especially if I can't understand them).

Mr. Cubbie still loves to run with me, though. He also really wants to get in better shape for the wedding. For him, the best motivator is having a goal. If we've got a goal, even the most rabid macho cat-caller can't stand in our way!

We thought for a while about what kind of exercise goal we could do together, stick to, and get a fulfilling workout from. Then we remembered that the Portland Marathon is usually in early October. It turns out that this race is the weekend we get back from our mini-moon. The timing is amazing! The training situation isn't so amazing. The best thing about running in southern New Mexico was that I could step out of my door and be on a trail. Here, I have to drive 15-20 minutes to get to a gym or otherwise.

The safest place to run near to where I live is the golf course - a gated community with miles of grass and no dogs. This is a good 20 minute drive from my house, so I usually only get out there once a week. Otherwise, I'm doing the Jillian Michaels Shred workouts 4-5 times a week, and I just started a pilates class.

Does anyone have any advice for training for a marathon with minimal access to safe running? How are you getting in shape for your wedding? Do you have a workout goal with your fiancé?

19 April 2009

So you want to bake a wedding cake - cake 2 (part 3)

What do you do when you have a good two cups of leftover italian meringue icing?

Aaand leftover lemon poppyseed custard?



You make macarons!

These definitely weren't Ladurée clones, but they sure tasted good! YAY for leftovers!

What's your favorite flavor combination for macarons?

So you want to bake a wedding cake - cake 2 (part 2)

When I say I "invented" my own wedding cake recipe, that may have been a bit of an embellishment. Realistically, I edited a few key recipes I found online. Editing recipes can get a little hairy, though. You should be prepared to bake lots of cakes, or just scrap some cakes altogether (cake baking is the most volatile form of stoichiometry I know!). I was looking for something pretty specific, so when I didn't find it as I imagined, I made it that way.

The specific things I was looking for in my main wedding cake were:
  • light, airy, and very fluffy almond-flavored cake
  • thick lemon curd filling (it needs to hold its shape so that when sliced it doesn't run)
  • light and airy frosting that tastes more like icing (sugary, but not fondant) than frosting (thick, like butter)
Our main cake is going to be - get this - three layers of almond chiffon cake with lemon poppyseed curd filling, and lavender infused italian meringue icing. We have a lavender and poppies cake! :)

sticking to simple decorations is best for me.

The Cake:

My absolute favorite cake in the world is angelfood cake. I definitely have a love affair with chocolate, but nothing beats a cake that tastes like a sugary cloud (plus, my mom would always bake me an angelfood cake for my birthday as a kid :) ). Angelfood as a layered wedding cake doesn't really work. I found out, however, that chiffon cake is the next step down in fluffiness from angelfood - and it holds up great in layered cakes!

I found two recipes online that were almost want I wanted, so I combined them, optimizing for fluffiness (more levener) and richness (more milk in the place of water). The trial cake I baked was about 6.5 inches in diameter, yielding 3 layers of a pretty good thickness. For the final cake, I'm going to increase the recipe.

Almond Chiffon Cake
  • 2.25 C sifted cake flour (use 2C of flour - once sifted it will be about 2.25 C)
  • 1.25 C granulated white sugar + 0.25 C confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 1 C egg whites (from about 5 eggs)
  • 0.5 C vegetable oil
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 100grams almonds (a heaping 0.5 C)
  • 1 t cream of tartar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 0.25 C water + 0.5 C whole milk
  • 2 t almond extract
Pre-heat your oven to about 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare your cake tins by putting parchment paper in them - do not grease your tins, or the cake will fall.
  • Bowl 1 -- With a food processor, pulverize together the 1.25 C sugar and the almonds. With a hand mixer, beat together the sugar-almond mixture and yolks. Beat in the veggie oil and zest, then the almond extract, then the water and milk. Add in the baking powder, and incorporate the flour in thirds. Cream everything together completely.
  • Bowl 2 -- With a really good hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the egg whites. What's the best way to beat egg whites? Start on a low speed until the whites are foamy/frothy, then add the cream of tartar and crank it up to the highest speed! When the whites hold stiff peaks, slowly add the 0.25 C confectioner's sugar, continuing to beat the eggs whites on a moderately high speed.
  • When the egg whites are fully stiff, pour bowl 1 into bowl 2 (carefully!). I recommend doing this in parts - add about a third of bowl 1, fold, add another third, fold, etc. Be careful to not pop the egg whites you worked so hard to create! A spatula (not a slotted turner) is your best friend here - scoop and fold, scoop and fold.
Divide the batter into the three 6.5" cake tins, and cook for about 25-30 minutes. The cake is ready when it's slightly golden brown on top, and a wooden toothpick stuck in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let cool a bit, then remove from the tins to finish cooling. If this cake is being prepared in advance, let the cake cool completely, and then wrap it several times with saran wrap and put it in the freezer.

Note - if you don't have cake flour (because they only have two types of flour in Chile - with or without baking powder), you can make it really easily. Put 2 tablespoons of corn starch or potato starch in a cup measure, and fill the rest of it up with all-purpose flour. Sift this several times, and now you have a cup of cake flour!

The Filling:

I used Alton Brown's recipe for the lemon curd, and added poppyseeds. The easiest way to learn a recipe is to watch someone else make it, so I recommend watching Alton make his lemon curd yourself (start the video at 4:32).

Lemon Poppyseed Curd
  • zest of 4 lemons
  • juice of 2 lemons (about 1/3 C)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (0.5 C)
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 C granulated white sugar
  • about 1 T poppyseeds (more, if desired)
  • Add together the yolks, zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a metal bowl, and whisk well for about 4 minutes.
  • Put your bowl over a pot of boiling/simmering water, and continue to whisk! This will take about 10 minutes. When it's done, the custard should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (this is a cooking term called "napé"). I wanted my custard to be on the thicker side, so I whisked it in my make-shift double boiler for more like 15 minutes.
  • Whisk in the butter, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until completely smooth.
  • Add poppyseeds!
Note - This holds up extremely well in the fridge. If you want to save on prep time, make this in advance.

Warning: if you want your lemon curd filling to stay put, think about adding some stabilizer (like corn starch or gelatin). When I cut into my first trial cake, it turned into a lemony Niagara Falls.

The Frosting:

Originally I tried making the frosting as an italian meringue buttercream frosting, but the only butter you can buy in Chile comes con sal - they don't even sell it without salt! (Chileans love salt.... and sugar. Ask any South American about manjar - they'll start drooling!) Anyways, the meringue buttercream frosting did not hold up well in the fridge. It turned into cement. So just don't add any butter to the meringue - add more powdered sugar - and you've got meringue icing. This is very similar to "royal icing" (another common wedding cake icing), but my version turns the egg whites into an italian meringue first.

The basic recipe I used for the frosting was from a youtube instructional video by CakeLove owner Warren Brown. He makes italian meringue so easy (and easy to look at - I don't know which looks tastier - Hottie McCakeBaker Brown or the buttercream!).

Lavender-infused Italian Meringue Icing
You'll need a candy thermometer for this!
  • 2T cooking-grade dried lavender buds
  • 0.25 C boiling water
  • 1 C granulated white sugar + 0.25 C confectioner's sugar
  • (approx) 1 C confectioner's sugar
  • whites from 5 large eggs
  • food dye, if desired (enhances lavender look)
  • (approx) 0.25 t vanilla extract
  • Make a "tea" with the lavender buds - steep the boiling water and lavender for about 10 minutes.
  • Put the lavender tea (with buds) and the granulated sugar in a small saucepan on medium-high heat. When the candy thermometer reads 245 degrees Fahrenheit, it's ready to be added to the stiffened egg whites.
  • While the candy water is heating up, start beating the egg whites in a metal bowl. Make them frothy on a low setting, then beat the crap out of them on high! When the eggs form stiff peaks, slowly add the 0.25 C confectioner's sugar and beat for another minute or so.
  • When the candy water reaches 245 degrees F, pour this directly into the egg whites bowl, while continuing to mix! You should beat the meringue on a medium-high speed, completely incorporating the hot candy water. The metal bowl should feel hot to the touch - you're cooking the egg whites!
  • Continue to beat until the bowl cools off completely.
  • Still beating (now on medium-low speed), slowly add the 1-ish C of confectioner's sugar. Honestly, I don't know the best amount of sugar to add here. A cup to a cup & a half should do it, though.
  • Beat in the vanilla extract and the food coloring!
Note - Reserve some of the icing (pre food coloring) for the "cement" of the cake. Take about half a cup of the icing, and beat it with about half a cup (to a cup?) of butter. You'll know your buttercream cement is done when it has the consistency of whipped butter. The Warren Brown video is a great resource for this.

The Construction:

In general, if you want to keep your filling between the cake layers, it's a good idea to pipe a border of frosting around each layer. This is the buttercream cement you made from before.

I just used a plastic bag with a corner cut off for piping

Then dollop on some yummy lemon curd. (Think of the buttercream as a sugar fortress!)

I could invite Hansel and Gretel to a dinner party at this castle!

And caaarefully place the next layer on top of the last.

This is serious work, this cake-making stuff!

Now put a first layer of frosting on the cake. If you have leftover buttercream, that's a good first layer. If not, the royal icing works fine here, too. This acts as cement to keep the crumbs out of the final product.


Sometimes the toughest of fortresses can't keep out the sugar fairies. My first cake trial sprung a leak:


delicious falling cake

Bummer, but oh well. I still served half of that cake to my co-workers! My first trial cake was made with the italian buttercream frosting - everyone agreed the cake was delish, but the frosting was like chewing on butter. Funny, I had a roommate in college that liked eating straight butter (margarine, actually). She said it tasted like cake batter. (huh...)

So my first cake trial was good, but had a few issues - the butter frosting, and the runny curd. I had half a cake left, and no desire to shove straight butter in my mouth (I prefer my butter with accoutrements). I did what few cake bakers ever dare to do. I took apart the three layers and re-filled it and re-iced it!

I've got the blue-steel blues

The lemon curd was almost there - all I did was add some corn starch. I made a whole new batch of meringue icing, from the above recipe (with lots of leftover icing).

Overall, this cake was a success! Everyone I gave a slice to said it was definitely wedding-cake caliber taste-wise. There are still a couple of kinks I need to work out:
  1. The cake falls a little bit in the middle. Maybe I need to cook it longer, at a lower temperature?
  2. What's a good diameter for a single-tier, triple-layer wedding cake? I still need to adapt the recipe for a larger (than 6.5") cake.
Was your wedding cake everything you thought it would be? What do you think is a good diameter for a single-tiered main wedding cake? Which do you like more, in general - italian meringue icing, buttercream, or fondant?

17 April 2009

So you want to bake a wedding cake - cake 2 (part 1)

A wedding cake is, generally speaking, a pretty big undertaking. Unless you want to make something like this, you're going to have to think outside the box a little.

What's most important to you - the presentation? the decorations? the flavor? the height? the color? Unless you're a professional baker (or you've got a lot of time on your hands and are willing to take a cake decorating class), you may have to prioritize what you want in a wedding cake, especially if you plan on making it yourself.

I already told you that I'm making (with my sister) three "normal" sized cakes to serve as a wedding cake buffet. I decided early on that I don't really care so much about the decorations; simple is sophisticated, and I want the flavor to speak louder than the fondant. Just to remind you, this is what I consider a beautifully decorated wedding cake:

I do, however, want one of my wedding cakes to be what I consider a "stereotypical wedding cake" - light as air, fluffy as marshmallows, and trend-settingly elegant in flavor palette. This will be our "main" wedding cake, the one we slice into and feed to each other (and the one with little birdies on top!).

This was (believe it or not) the hardest cake for which to pin down a recipe. After looking in several places, I first tried the smittenkitchen-recommended Vanilla Buttermilk cake. The author of this awesome cooking blog made an amazing wedding cake from this recipe, so I figured it could work great for me!

I baked this trial cake with my parisienne ex-pat friend for our Obama-rama election party.

There's a reason I don't want to decorate my wedding cake.

Great friends, obama-rama parties, and Charlie the Unicorn. That's how I roll.

The cake was everything it was supposed to be - moist, rich, and yummy. But it wasn't quite right. (besides my suck-tastic decorating skillz.)

I decided I'd have to invent my own wedding cake recipe.

How did you decide on the flavors for your wedding cake? What's the most important thing to you when deciding on a wedding cake - the presentation? the decorations? the flavor? the height? the color? other?

16 April 2009

A quirky venue for a quirky couple

There's no denying it - a summer camp isn't exactly a "normal" wedding venue. I love our venue (we did pick it! ;) ), but it does come with its quirks.

Camp Westwind is situated on the southern shore of the Salmon River estuary in northwest Oregon. It's completely surrounded by land preserved by The Nature Conservancy, and the camp itself strives to live in symbiosis with the land. It's less a "summer camp" these days (it was formerly owned by the YWCA) and more a wilderness education camp.

The primary goal of Camp Westwind (besides environmental education) is to conserve the ecosystem it's in. As such, they don't allow many cars to drive directly to the site.

We can have about one to two cars for our entire wedding group (all 80ish of us). The majority of our guests will have to park on the north shore of the estuary in a sanctioned parking lot and cross the river in a barge.

Since this is an estuary, this means that the banks of the river are very sandy. The barges can only cross at high tide. That's one crossing per day, two at the very most! Our wedding is going to be three nights - our friends and family will be trapped have the pleasure of our company for a full weekend!

The campgrounds are large enough for our guests to explore a little bit and relax during the two days before our wedding. That's the idea, actually - we want our wedding weekend to feel more like a reunion of friends and a new-union of family.

Another "quirk" is the sleeping arrangements. Most of our guests will be sleeping in cabins like this:

Where, on the inside, it looks like this:

Two words - bunk. beds. I'm cool with it, most of my friends will be cool with it, all of Mr. Bear Cub's friends will be cool with it, and most of his family will be cool with it. We like roughing it! We're all friends and family - there's no airs to be putting on, here!

I'm not so sure some of my family members (and a few of his) are cool with it, though. Luckily, there are a couple cabins that are a little more... technologically advanced. These cabins are fully-heated, though - they're not that rustic. We are trying to encourage all of our guests to stay at the camp with us. Due to the idiosyncrasies with crossing the river, staying at a hotel (over 40 minutes away, at closest!) would be difficult. Plus, we wouldn't get to see those guests as much over the course of the weekend - we want to see our loved ones!

There's another little teeny thing about the cabins - they don't come equipped with bed linens. This is a summer camp! Usually people bring their sleeping bag and pillow.

My mom, the most organized person in the world (this is a compliment!), is a little concerned about the logistics of getting everyone sleeping linens. The vast majority of our guests (including ourselves!) are traveling a long ways to get to our wedding - the worry is they won't have room in their luggage for a sleeping bag sheets and a blanket and a small pillow. We're looking into renting bed linens from a hotel, but I don't know how well that's going to pan out.

The next "quirk" directly affects wedding decor - the campgrounds don't allow any open flames. We can have a bonfire in the firepit ('mallow-roasting after party!! chubby bunny battle royale!!), and a "unity candle" if we want, but no candles anywhere else.

This is a real bummer, because Mr. Bear Cub and I love to eat by candlelight. It sets such an awesome mood for dining. Unfortunately, I can't have centerpieces like this:

There is, however, a super-sweet fireplace in the lodge. We can't have candles on the table, but we can have a roaring fire in the hearth! In the end, I know this is for the best. September is fire season, and I wouldn't want to be responsible for starting a forest fire at my venue!

The last little quirk is that they don't allow any pets. Again, I totally understand this - they're trying to maintain the ecosystem, and dogs just love to chew on and dig up "ecosystem". This is a super bummer. We got our dog, Beauregard (bo-tard) when we moved to Chile. He's our little boy, and he's the only one we'd want as our ring-retriever!

He's already pretty good at retrieving the beers!

Did your venue come with any "quirks"? How are you making your venue work for you?

15 April 2009

I'm drooling on my plantable paper

Even though there are a few road blocks to getting the invitations made, I definitely have an idea of how I want them to turn out.

Actually, I have a really strong idea of how I want them to look - is that normal? I feel like if I were in the states, I could start on this project ASAP; the vision's all there!

Since my hands are tied in this DIY venture, we're thinking pretty seriously about having them made in the states. We've been talking with some vendors, but I'll hold off on the details until things are finalized!

On to the paper porn!

If I could make my own DIY invites, first I'd take a local class in letterpressing so I could do that myself also! Then I'd order a whole bunch of plantable paper from porridgepapers - their seed paper is actually thick enough to hold a letterpress design!

Imagine you're a guest at my wedding. You open the envelope to this beautiful little booklet:

The booklet is made of Lotka paper (Nepalese artisan paper), and there's a rustic little flap that's sealed shut with a pressed lavender bud.

Then you open the booklet to find the invitation inside - one page of maps (on the left) and one of the actual invitation on the right. Sewing all those booklets together might be a bit much, though, so maybe I'd affix them to the booklet like Mrs. Cherry Pie's tri-fold:

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's look at the main event - the formal invite. It's kind of a mix between this, with the red poppies and lavender intertwined -

... and this, with maybe a real poppy pressed into the invitation...

...and the sketches of the flowers are reminiscent of vintage scientific botanical sketches.

The map on the other page would be made by Crystal Kluge. She makes - hands down - the most beautiful wedding maps I've ever seen.

Luckily for me, Mr. Bear Cub loves maps - this is one splurge he wants! The map would be of northwest Oregon, with maybe a zoom-in on Camp Westwind. The zoom-in would include different locations at the camp - the main lodge, the wedding meadow, the ultimate frisbee field... important stuff. :)

Crystal also has the most unique handwriting I've seen.

I wish I could just buy her handwriting as a font. I've never really been smitten with calligraphy, but this style is just so unique! In my dreams her calligraphy would be plastered all over these invitations.

The directions page would also include our wedding website, with a suggestion to RSVP via the site - less paper, less cost overall, and better for the environment!

What do your dream invitations look like? Did you have a solid idea for your invites from the get-go, or did it take a little while to hash things out? Where did you get your invitation inspiration from?