Sunday, August 11, 2013

Almond Butter Fudge (sugar free, candida friendly)

This is one I'm really excited about.

Baking without sugar has been interesting.  While I'm comfortable baking with reduced sugar and natural sugar "substitutes" such as maple syrup and honey (really just different forms of concentrated sugar), baking completely without sugar is an entirely different ball-game.  Sugar, perhaps more than any other ingredient, is responsible for the final texture of most baked goods--without it, chasing familiar textures is challenging.  Sometimes, using products like stevia and xylitol, we can achieve flavor pretty close to what we're used to, but without that precious chemical structure of sugar in there, the texture is off (baking completely without grains doesn't help).

While normally I might just toss the whole idea of sugar free baking in the trash, accepting we'd be without sweets for awhile, H needs more calories (there's only so much one can eat of eggs, roasted cauliflower, avocados and steak).  Truthfully, I'm not hitting it out of the park with this sugar-free, grain-free baking--mostly we're settling for mediocre, happy to at least have some variety.

But we're both pretty stoked with this almond butter fudge.

This isn't your grandma's fudge, obviously.  It's quite a bit more subtle and relies more heavily on the roasted almonds than the sweetener for its flavor, but it's pretty lovely still.  The texture is smooth and melting--very much like classic fudge--interrupted by crisp toasted slivered almonds that call to mind the crispy bits in a certain candy bar.  The vanilla and salt add depth and boost the other flavors.  In short, these are delicious--so much so that I've often been choosing them over my stash of chocolate for dessert.  I've been making them every week.

I understand the use of xylitol might put some off.  In researching sugar substitutes, this one seemed like the best bet (i.e. least scary) to me.  If you prefer not to use it, might I recommend substituting 1/3 cup of dark maple syrup for the xylitol/water mixture?  You'll want to heat it to just under boiling, which shouldn't take more than a minute or so, before proceeding with the recipe.  I haven't tried this version myself but trust it would be delicious, especially with the addition of the maple flavor.

Almond Butter Fudge

sugar free, candida-friendly

makes one 8x8" pan, or 16-20 pieces

Line an 8x8" cake pan with parchment paper, allowing the excess to hang over the sides.  Have another piece of parchment ready to press the hot fudge flat later in the recipe.

First, prepare your slivered almonds:

2 T. vegetable or coconut oil
4 c. slivered almonds

  • Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat for about a minute.
  • Add the almonds and stir to coat evenly with the oil.  Turn the heat to medium-low.
  • Allow the almonds to brown, stirring every few minutes to ensure they don't burn and to encourage even toasting.  When most of your almonds are toasted (10 minutes or so), remove from heat and transfer the almonds to a plate to stop the toasting.
Next, prepare your xylitol syrup:

2/3 c. granulated xylitol
1/3 c. water

  • Combine the water and xylitol in a small saucepan over high heat.  Stir to combine, then bring the mixture to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and allow the mixture to simmer (turn the heat down even more if it starts to smoke) until the volume is reduced to 1/3 c.--pour the syrup into a measuring cup to check.  If it needs to reduce more, return it to the pot to simmer for a few more minutes.
  • Keeping the xylitol syrup in the pot with the heat at medium, add:
2 c. roasted, unsalted almond butter (if you only have salted almond butter, omit the salt below)
1.5 t. salt (I prefer this kind of salt for its milder flavor and thyroid-supporting iodine)
2 T. vanilla extract (careful--this may splatter when you add it)

  • Stir vigorously to combine.  If your mixture seizes slightly, you're on the right track--just keep stirring until it's homogeneous.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Add the toasted almonds and stir again to combine.  It's fine if they break--just make sure they're mixed in well.
  • Important: the mixture will be SUPER hot--don't let it touch your skin.
Transfer the fudge to the prepared pan, then place your second piece of parchment over the top.  Using an implement with a flat bottom (a glass or measuring cup), press the fudge evenly into the pan, smoothing the top.  Allow it to sit at room temperature for an hour to cool slightly, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill completely.  Cut into pieces (I usually cut 20 pieces but suit yourself) and serve!  These keep indefinitely in the refrigerator or freezer.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

DIY Backyard Wedding Do's

*All photos courtesy of Tahoe Wedding Photojournalism.  Check out the original source here.

I was going to start this post with, "It's been two weeks since our wedding fiesta..." but then thought to check myself.  It's been three.  Somehow it feels both so recent and still oddly distant--do you ever get that?  Somewhere in there, I filed away wedding memories and let myself get caught back in the day to day current of life.  I pulled up the carpet in our "extra" room (can one really have an extra room in a 700 square foot house?).  I applied for jobs.  I caught up with an old friend who is moving away in a little over a week.  I learned how to cook a few things for my starving spouse.  I even rode my bike a little over 75 miles last week (almost as many miles as I've put in this whole summer).  That post I wrote about feeling so sad to say goodbye to the wedding-planning part of my life?  Those feelings have been filed away, too.  Every once in awhile I get a small twinge of wishing I could plan another big extravaganza, but those twinges are now less sorrowful and more a niggling in the back of my mind that I'd like to do something like that again, which I'll take.

So here we are.  While I was wedding planning, I devoured everything I could find on real-people wedding advice.  There is a lot of information available from commercial wedding sites, and while some of it was helpful, I wanted to know what had worked (or hadn't) for real people (especially people without a $100,000 budget).  A Practical Wedding became my main source for quality, balanced, realistic advice.  Can I strongly nudge you spend a lot of time with that group of smart people if you're planning a wedding?

I've wanted to take some time to jot down a list of what worked well for us (and what didn't work so well, though that might have be a different post) to share with those who might (or might soon) be in the throes of wedding planning.  I know this is long, but hopefully there are some bits of helpful information here.  Some pieces may be specific to the kind of wedding we hosted (at-home, budget, split ceremony/reception), but my hope is most of it can be generalized to other kinds of weddings, too.  If nothing else, I want planners to realize they may have more options than they realize.  If anything isn't clear or if this advice leaves you with more questions than you started with, don't hesitate to be in touch; I'm clearly not sick of talking about this stuff yet.

Decide on a budget ahead of time and do your damndest to stick to it

Holy moly.  I consider myself a pretty enthusiastic shopper, but our wedding created some kind of consumerist monster-beast; I was sick of getting packages delivered to our house by the end of planning.  Buying stuff for the wedding was fun, but it's easy to get to a place where it becomes compulsive (I really really really need this $500 drink dispenser because the beverage table I saw on that fancy wedding blog had one and our wedding will be totally ruined IF I DON'T GET IT!).  It helped to know we were trying to keep the whole shebang under $10,000 (yes, that number still sounds crazy high to me, but in wedding-world, it's considered low.  sigh.).  That number informed some important choices from the start (i.e. no expensive dress, having it in my parents' backyard to save $1,500+ on a venue, self-serve cocktails rather than having a bar tender, etc.)  You don't want to wake up the morning after, $20,000 poorer and wondering why you thought those Louboutins were so necessary to your perfect wedding.

Can I let you in on the biggest secret of wedding planning?  Your wedding will definitely not be perfect, and (perhaps unfortunately for some) you can't spend your way closer to perfection--the same things can go wrong at a $50,000 wedding as go wrong at a $4,000 wedding.  Don't get caught up in the (heavily pushed) idea that your wedding will be better if you spend more money, especially if spending more money means going over your budget.  Remember, most of those people telling you what you *must* do for your wedding are looking to make a buck off of you--consider your sources.  (For more, see: Can You Plan a Wedding Under $6,000? and Weddings are Freaking Expensive)

Can I break a social rule here and talk money?  We kept our entire budget at about $8,500 with 110 guests, and I feel like we had a pretty extravagant wedding.  Granted, we got a couple of screaming deals from two of our vendors, but even without those we would have stayed just under $10,000.  Still not chump change, but reasonable in wedding-world.  It can be done.

Have a long engagement

I know some people are really focused on just getting married already (what?  your main goal for your wedding is just to actually get married?  how novel).  I was not one of those people; I wanted the big party (note: I say "I" because H could have done without the fiesta, but he's a good husband and an even better sport).  We were engaged for about 18 months.  You know that old saying, "You can have it cheap, good or fast.  Pick two."?  I picked cheap and good.  We were already living together as a married couple (ifyouknowwhatImean), so a long engagement worked for us.  I took the first six months to figure out my basic aesthetic (the style of images I pinned the first few months was radically different from what we ended up with--I'm so glad I had time to check myself after the initial flurry of "pin all the things."), then started the DIY stuff about a year out.  Having a year to do it all meant a) whenever I felt over it, I could take a break without stressing about a timeline and b) I saved a ton of moolah because I had time to make everything myself rather than buying it all.  I also had a year to be REALLY EXCITED about it, which was pretty awesome.  Early in the planning process, I got the fantastic advice that a wedding isn't only about the day; it's also about all the anticipation, planning and excitement leading up to the day.  Having a long engagement means you get more time to enjoy that part of the process.  I'm so glad we didn't rush it.

Make a really involved to-do list

Seven pages, my friends.  When I started feeling a little nuts trying to keep all the plans straight in my head (this happened maybe 4 months out), I started writing everything down in a word document.  Once I started doing that (I was desperate for any reason to avoid working on my thesis), I broke the list down into "to do anytime before," "to do a month out," "to do two weeks out," then a day by day list for the week prior AND detailed individual to-do lists for the five or so friends who had offered to help set up the day of.  All the day-of stuff was broken down into timelines (i.e. 9:00: begin setting tables, 10:30: hang tissue fans on fence, etc.).  This list not only proved that my control issues might actually be a positive attribute (ha), but it also helped me remember I had everything dialed in, which in turn reduced my stress to a healthy level.  Though it felt pretty weird giving generous friends to-do lists, it helped me be certain they were really willing to show up and work the day of (I e-mailed everybody their list two weeks ahead of the party and asked them to confirm they were okay with doing what was on their list).  It would have been totally TOTALLY fine if they saw their list and said, "You are a crazy mofo.  Have fun with that."  I was more than okay with these friends tapping out and deciding they just wanted to be a guest.  However, having the lists and e-mailing them out ahead of time gave me time to know exactly what needed to be done and decide on a plan b if necessary--no last minute crisis due to everybody flaking (or having a life that didn't revolve around my needs).  I also sent the list to my mom (who was a complete saint through this all) so we could be on the same page and she didn't have to just trust on blind faith that somehow I had it all under control, which I think helped reduce her stress, too.  Make the list.  Don't judge it--if it needs to be done before the wedding, put it on the flipping list, even if that's "buy a jar of peanut butter to put in my makeup bag so I don't pass out while I'm getting my hair done."  Being able to refer to a written list was a life saver; it kept me on track, it kept me efficient and knowing it was all written down helped me sleep at night. (You laugh that I lost sleep over this.  Just you wait.)

Let friends help

You need help to pull this off.  I'm pretty organized and ambitious when it comes to events, but there is a lot to do, even if you're having a simpler celebration than we did.  I promise you will not have enough minutes to do it all yourself.  Early on, I considered hiring a day-of coordinator but felt uneasy about it because it would have taken a big chunk out of our budget.  Several friends made the offer,"If you want any help, let me know!"  and I took them up on it.  It's easy to get caught in the assumption that people don't actually want to help or that somehow you're imposing on them by accepting their help, but my hunch is friends want to help you not only because they're nice.  They want to help because it lets them be involved in your life events (does this make me sound horribly narcissistic?).  I'm lucky to have some pretty stellar friends who are strong, smart, capable, generous people.  Several lady friends showed up at various points throughout the day and totally rocked it with very little further guidance from me.  They were responsible for setting up and setting the tables, attaching tissue fans all over the fence, making cocktails, making desserts, laying out the dessert tables, making last minute supplies runs and much, much more.  It was amazing to have them there, not only for their willingness to do grunt work but also because I enjoy their company and they make me happy.

If you go the friend-helper route, I recommend a) accepting help only from people whose capabilities you trust (this isn't the time to include folks who may be well meaning but will require more work from you than they contribute), b) keeping your own to-do list pretty short so you're available to answer questions, take care of last minute tasks and, in the absence of those things, lend an extra pair of hands where needed and c) having way more people help than you think you need, as inevitably somebody will have something come up--the worst than can happen is you finish early.  Also, remember your friends will want to kick back and have fun once the party starts, so please don't ask them to work the party; plan to be finished setting up at least a couple hours early so they can go home to shower, relax a little and get ready.  Hire a professional to do the dirty work like clearing plates and refilling drinks.

Skip the wedding attendants

We both have good friends about whom we care deeply.  I realized early in the process I'd rather honor these friends in other, more personal ways than asking them to be attendants (i.e. having them make their special dessert for the table, making a point to hang out with them the night before, asking them to give a toast, taking them wine tasting to choose wedding wines).  I think it's easy to get caught in the belief that your wedding party is supposed to be your help crew, but really, asking somebody to be an attendant is a way of saying, "you're an important person in my life."  It doesn't automatically make it their job to work your wedding or deal with your craziness.  Also, the people I might have wanted to honor as bridesmaids maybe weren't the best candidates to help out--either they were travelling from far away or doing manual labor and decorating wasn't really their thing.  If I had had them as attendants, I would have felt the need to include them in all the planning and preparation while also managing a whole different group of friends who volunteered to help--it would have been too many people and personalities to keep organized.  It's funny, because although selecting attendants seems intrinsic to wedding planning, reading through others' experiences, this practice seems to often add more stress than it brings joy.  I also felt pretty strange about asking my friends to wear specific clothes and walk in a straight line while people they didn't know stared at them--does anybody else think that practice is the tiniest bit odd?  The only caveat with this is if you choose to skip the attendants but you still want some kind of shower/bachelorette, you might have to directly ask a very good friend to throw you one.  Just remember: you can still have all your people around you without them having an official title in the wedding.

Evaluate tradition

This rides off of the above.  While we may happily ignore most traditions in the rest of our lives, wedding culture is entrenched in outdated tradition.  There are lots of lovely wedding traditions (we did a cake cutting) but many are maybe less than great (I was not given away by anyone).  I think it's important to take an honest look at whether you're making choices based on what you feel you have to do to have a socially valid wedding versus what's meaningful to you as a couple and a family.

Skip the rehearsal dinner

I don't really get this tradition.  You know what I did the night before my wedding fiesta?  I hung out with two of my oldest friends (people who would have been in my wedding party--this is how I acknowledged them) who had traveled for the wedding.  We drank beer and ate salty fried food.  I'm so glad I didn't have to set up all day Friday and then feel I had to put on a not-exhausted face for a bunch of people I love but maybe don't want to hang with when I'm tired and a little anxious.  Obviously this one depends on the circumstances, but I was relieved to realize we didn't automatically have to do a big event before the big event (adding another big event would also have drastically impacted our budget for the reception).  It also helped to know the British don't do rehearsal dinners.  When in doubt, find a culture that thinks the tradition you want to avoid is ridiculous (usually, the British).


You know what I wanted to do the day after the wedding?  Look at photos of it.  You know what I've done every single day since the wedding?  Look at the photos and watch our video.  I can't emphasize enough how important it is to have beautiful documentation of that day.  To me, it's more important than having a $2,000 dress and a $50 per plate meal, easy.  Hiring both Mike Henderson and Monique Sady is the one things I'd do again without even thinking about doing anything differently, even it meant radically changing other parts of the day; their work is priceless.

While planning a wedding, it's hard to imagine how surreal the day after feels; to me, it almost felt like none of it had happened.  The photos and video help me realize a) it really happened and b) all that work was totally worth it.  Truly--it goes by in the blink of an eye and you'll want hard evidence to remember it by (a hangover doesn't count as hard evidence).  They even caught a lot of moments I didn't witness, so looking at their work felt like having two extra sets of eyes on the day.

Bonus: both of them were both super amazing to work with professionally AND really great people.  It's pretty rad when your wedding vendors are people you would hang out with.

Hire an awesome DJ but not necessarily a wedding DJ

Speaking of rad people...

Maybe if you live in L.A., there are amazing wedding-specific DJ's whose work is their craft rather than a job to earn a little extra on the side.  I didn't find any of those in my neck of the woods (though admittedly my search wasn't exactly exhaustive).  We were going to do an iPod playlist and call it good, but then we heard the person we ended up hiring (DJ Mojo Jojo) spinning at a local event and were totally taken with his work.  He agreed to do our wedding even though he wasn't specifically a wedding DJ.  HE WAS SO GOOD and a key piece of making it a good party.  I loved that he played unexpected (for weddings) music (old soul and funk, mostly) and didn't interrupt with any talking.  I know that sounds awful, but I have yet to think, "Wow!  He did a really good job of talking over the music!" about a wedding DJ.  He doesn't have  web site but if you want his info, let me know!  Music is important!  You don't have to settle for the standard cheese ball.

Hire talented people and let them do their thing

I guess this is basically the gist of my whole planning process.  Though I have some micro-managing tendencies,  I made a point of mostly staying out of our vendors' hair once we settled on the important parts.  If you make the effort ahead of time to find awesome people and you get out of their way and let them be awesome during your party, your party will be awesome.  See how that works?  Also, can I give a shout out to skipping the wedding-specific vendors (except your photographer--you want somebody who's experienced with weddings or you might miss a lot of great shots)?  I feel like we got a more fun, unique party because it wasn't put together by a bunch of professionals with canned "this is how a wedding is" ways of doing the party.  Everyone brought their own thing and it was all so mind-bogglingly amazing.

Invite everyone (but not everyone)

There were a handful of people I know would have liked to be there who we didn't invite due to my stressing about space.  We then had about 10 no-shows the day of (which I assume is pretty normal) and should have just invited everyone we wanted to--people were forced to get a little cozy, but nobody seemed to mind and it made for better photos and more interaction among our guests.  (Note: our "must invite" list was about 120 people.  If yours is 250, you might have to buckle down a little more than we did).

However, we didn't do automatic plus-ones.  I felt like a schmuck for a little while about this then remembered virtually everyone who was invited knew at least five other people who would be there.  We did plus-ones for the two or three out-of-towners who didn't know anyone else and, of course, folks in long-term relationships (I don't have specific criteria for this--you know if your friend's relationship falls into your definition of long-term).  I just had a moment where I realized if we had a bunch of random plus-ones we've never met (and maybe would never see again), we'd have a lot of friends we'd have to bump off the list.  Most of our friends seem to be in serious relationships (married or otherwise), so this didn't seem to be a major issue for us.  I know this is a delicate and potentially hurtful subject, so I certainly don't offer our way of approaching the issue at the right way, but it worked for us.  This is another example of examining your circumstances and making the best choice for you, regardless of official wedding etiquette.

Can I add here that it was more important to us to have our people there than to have a fancy wedding?  I kind of hate the advice that a budget wedding relies on a restricted guest list.  Yes, you might have to watch your guest list a little.  However, you're going to remember the people who were there much longer than you'll remember the food, booze, music, decorations, venue or what you wore.  Figure out a way to make your budget work around your guest list, not the other way around.

Don't try too hard to make it look classic

When people talk about how you should look classic for your wedding, they always point to Grace Kelly and how she looked timeless on her wedding day and don't you want to look timeless on your wedding day?  You know what?  Grace Kelly was not a normal looking person.  She was stunningly, timelessly beautiful, and for all I care she could have worn a cat skin head-dress and bikini to her wedding and still looked classically gorgeous.  My mother, in contrast, wore a daisy crown and a super hippie cream dress with long sleeves and lace trim to her wedding in 1973 and looked like a fairy princess.  Does she look timeless?  In a way, because she was glowing and happy and beautiful.  Is it obvious from my parents' wedding pictures that they got married in the '70's?  Yep.  But if she hadn't worn that awesome daisy crown and if my dad didn't have wavy long hair and slightly too enthusiastic lapels, their photos would not be nearly as touching.  The lesson is this: don't wear blue eye shadow, because every time somebody points to Grace Kelly as what you want to look like for your wedding, they point the other finger to '80's permed-hair blue-eye-shadow-wearing wedding photos as the look you want to avoid.  So maybe dial back a little on the trends, but otherwise have fun with it and don't try too hard.  Remember all weddings look at least a little dated--there's no getting around that.  Looking happy and relaxed and like yourself is the only shot in hell you have of hinting at timelessness in your photos/video.  (Note: I went a little more classic for our actual wedding and more diva for the party.  I kinda like the diva version--sequins, fake eyelashes and all--better.)

Have more decorations than you think you need

This might seem obvious, but seeing all your decorations shoved into a closet is way different than seeing them spread out over a large area.  I thought I had gone overkill on all our gold stuff but it ended up looking (I think) pretty lovely and definitely not like too much.  You want more than you think you need.  More than likely, once you feel like you're getting into overkill territory, you've almost got enough.  An abundance of decorations goes a long way towards turning a regular gathering into a party.

Skip the fancy floral arrangements

I love flowers and usually keep fresh ones in our house, but I didn't focus much on the flowers for our fiesta. Wedding flowers are SO FLIPPING EXPENSIVE but nobody seems to remember them after they're gone.  You might remember your bouquet, so do what you want with that, but don't worry too much about the centerpieces.  I bought 100 stems of dahlias and freesias from Trader Joe's and also grabbed a few pretty bouquets from there (they'll order flowers for you, they just can't promise specific colors), then made about 40 small, loose arrangements two days before for significantly less than $150, and I thought they turned out beautifully with minimal effort.  There are so many other ways to decorate that last longer and are much less expensive: succulents, air plants, gold leafed votive holders, wine bottles repurposed to hold water and patterned napkins made up the rest of our table decor.  All those pieces cost less than half of what I would have spent for just one floral centerpiece per table and now I have a nice little cache of party decorations to use again.

If you decide to go the traditional floral arrangement route, plan for somebody to collect them at the end of the night to be delivered to a retirement home the following day so others can enjoy them, too.

Have a dessert table instead of a big cake

I LOVED OUR DESSERT BAR!  I know this is kind of a trend right now, but it's a good trend.  Having a mega dessert bar (or three) was rad.  I asked six friends to bake a dessert to contribute (I'm lucky to have a bunch of great bakers in my life) and I made a couple of things ahead of time to freeze as well.  One superstar friend made 10 desserts, but if she hadn't gone so above and beyond, I probably would have supplemented with a few dozen cupcakes/cookies/bars from a local bakery (I did buy 5 dozen doughnut holes from the best doughnut place in town and am totally bummed I didn't get around to eating any).  The great thing about a dessert bar is it's like going into a bakery and wanting to try everything and then actually getting to try everything.  I'm a big fan of cake (A BIG FAN) but why just have cake when you can also have a million other sugary, buttery things?  I think this was the part I got the most comments on following the wedding.  Guests were stoked and we didn't have to spend $600+ on a wedding cake, which is about as perfect as it gets.

Buy to go boxes for guests to take desserts home

Because even though my sugar tooth skyrocketed for some reason right after the wedding, we had a lot of dessert left and we wouldn't have been able to eat it all.  Being able to send everyone home with a little goody box made my force-feed-everybody self happy.  (We used the kraft 6.5x3.5x3.5 boxes from here, then I stamped them with gold ink and this stamp.)

Stash away some dinner and desserts for you and your spouse

It's cliche, but I barely ate at our reception even though I knew most couples don't eat at their receptions and damnit, I wasn't going to be one of those people.  I made a point to make a plate, but as soon as we got around to eating, the sun was setting and we were whisked away for photos.  When we got back, I was too excited to eat much.  I did manage to eat about 7 mallobars around midnight, but wished I had set aside a little of everything to eat the next day when I had more time to enjoy it.

Provide toiletries in the bathrooms

We bought dental floss, breath strips, bobby pins, tampons, stain remover sticks, hair ties, acetaminophen, band-aids and a few other things then stashed them in the bathrooms for guests to use.  I'm not sure how many people actually used this stuff but I liked knowing the basics were taken care of if anybody needed something.

Have my hair done

For most of the planning phase, perfecting my appearance rated low on the list of priorities.  I didn't spend a ton of time on my skin, I didn't get a spray tan or manicure or try to lose weight or any of that stuff.  I decided on my shoes right before we started taking pre-party photos.  But I am so, so glad I hired my hair lady friend to come up to the house to do my hair, not only because she did a way better job than I could have done but also because it gave me an excuse to sit down, close my eyes and not talk to anybody for awhile.  If she weren't there to do her magic, I probably would have put off getting ready for longer due to the allure of getting caught up in other projects and then I would have been rushed and stressed last minute instead of being ready to go an hour before our guests arrived.  She kind of became my built-in down time and I was so grateful to her for that--I needed it more than I could have predicted.

Skip the bartender

You know what makes me feel right at home at a party?  Pouring myself a drink.  Aside from the obvious budgeting considerations, I think there's something about fetching one's own drink that helps people relax in a potentially awkward social situation.  This can also be a bit of an ice breaker as people gather around the beverage tables--it's an easy and natural place to make introductions.  I'm sure expectations vary a lot depending on social class and geographical location, but I'm happy we did self-serve drinks rather than hiring someone to serve them.  We invested in a few nice drink dispensers and had two kinds of cocktails (El Diablo and vodka thyme lemonade--one of my helper friends threw them together while I was getting ready) and also made sparkling mint lemonade and bought bottled sodas for non-alcoholic options.  We had lots of wine and a keg from our favorite local bar/beer and wine store, Craft (Incidentally, if you're hosting an event in Reno, go through Craft for your booze  Ty was amazing to work with and matched our $10 per bottle price point with some pretty incredible wines.  On top of it, he kept it cold for us until we picked it up a couple hours before the party.)  This approach to drinks was easy, accessible, and people seemed to congregate around the drink tables, kind of like how people gather in the kitchen at house parties, creating a homey, relaxed feel.

I know there can be some liability issues related to serving guests alcohol.  I don't fully understand them, but it seems to depend on what state you're in.  Make sure to double check the laws where you are.

Figure out sunset time and create your schedule/program around that

I wouldn't have thought of this one without our photographer but it was really smart--there's a sweet spot for photography lighting and the last thing you want is to be in the middle of toasts during those precious minutes.  It's easy enough to figure out when the light will be right for you to sneak away to get a few portraits in the golden light (search "sunset times" for the date and location of your nuptials), so make sure you leave a spot open in your program to allow you to sneak away for a bit.

Have a few activities for guests

I know.  This sounds like advice for a kids' party and I had a few moments in the planning process when I questioned whether guests would even want to partake of the few activities I threw in there or whether they'd be happy enough drinking and talking.  In retrospect, I know they would have been happy enough drinking and talking, but the little entertainments ended up providing a break from the normal wedding hub bub and as far as I could tell, people seemed to have fun with them.  I made a couple hundred cascarones, a bunch of temporary tattoos and we had hologram heart glasses for after dark.  It was all a little nerdy but fun, and the photos of our guests wearing those glasses are some of my favorites.

Take sleeping meds (ha)

I've never taken anything stronger than Valerian to help me sleep, but with all the excitement (and some stress), I didn't really sleep for the week before the fiesta.  I stubbornly tried all my tricks--yoga before bed, lavender oil on my pillow, sleepytime tea, no TV or computer for an hour before hitting the hay.  None of it worked.  Taking sleeping meds (Ambien) initially felt kind of like giving in (like somehow I'd be tougher if I just toughed it out without sleep?  I dunno.), but it was such a relief to get some good rest the few days before the wedding.  I guess this one just gets filed under "during the week before your wedding, take care of yourself like you would take care of a sick 2 year old."  You might have to baby yourself a little more than normal--fighting that fact doesn't make you any more noble but it will make your wedding less fun.  (Note: don't give Ambien to a 2 year old.)

Buy rather than rent

Obviously this isn't practical for everything, but in doing cost comparisons, I often found buying was about the same price (napkins) or less (tablecloths) than renting.  Plates, glasses, silverware, tables and chairs were all rented.  Pretty much everything else we purchased.  I think this went a long way toward making certain aspects a little different from the norm.  There's certainly nothing wrong with renting, but if you're going to spend as much to rent something generic as it would cost to buy something unique, it might make sense to go with the latter.  I love that we have a handful of beautiful items to hold onto to use for future parties.

Skip the expensive dress

I know it's tempting to get some big fancy confection dress (I was definitely tempted) but especially if you're working on a budget, there are a million beautiful options that don't cost a fortune if you're willing to think out of the box.  If a fancy dress is in your budget, go for it, but if it isn't, know it's not going to break your day.  I felt comfortable and beautiful in both of my dresses, which together cost well under $500 (still a fortune to some, I know).  I don't think either day would have necessarily been more special had I worn fancier clothes but I can almost guarantee I would have regretted spending more on my dresses (and I changed into my wedding dress behind a bush in the woods--a fancier dress might have made this more complicated).  If you're going to splurge, I'm a big advocate for buying some fancy shoes you'll definitely wear again.  (Word from the wise: You can search for white dresses on all the upscale department store websites.  You'll get much more bang for your buck if you take the word "wedding" out of your searches.)

Have the ceremony and the reception on different days

We're both somewhat private about our relationship.  I knew H would feel uncomfortable saying our vows in front of a bunch of people, even if those people were all friends (to be honest, I would have been, too).  I also knew I'd feel bummed if we didn't have a big party.  Realizing we didn't have to have the ceremony and reception on the same day was somehow a big revelation; I had taken for granted up to that point that we had to do them together.  At first I felt guilty, but then I realized we weren't bartering--it's not as though our guests were doing us a favor by coming to the party and we, in turn, owed them a glimpse into the most intimate parts of our relationship (remember: your wedding is not a show.).  I think a few people were disappointed or put-off  to not witness the ceremony, but I think it was a non-issue for most of our friends and family (note: we did let everyone know ahead of time that they we were having a private ceremony before the reception, so nobody showed up expecting a ceremony).  We got the intimate, sweet ceremony we wanted without any pressure to perform, then we also got the big bash (bonus--we got to spend every precious minute with our guests--I can't imagine missing out on that time with them).  Splitting the ceremony and reception was also a key piece of me being able to be my own day-of coordinator since I wasn't at any point tied up hiding from my guests, walking down the aisle, taking family portraits, etc.  It really was the best of both worlds.  Also, two dresses.

Have a backyard/at-home wedding

After deciding to split the ceremony and reception, choosing to have the party at my parents' house was one of the very best decisions we made.  I get the appeal of having your wedding at a beautiful venue designed specifically to host events, but with a little extra planning, an at-home wedding can be so much more special.  Instead of dumping money into a venue, my parents used that cash to do some updates on their home and yard (hosting our wedding was a good excuse to do what they've wanted to do for a decade on their 1993 construction house).  I loved being able to go to their house throughout the year to dream about how we'd use the space.  Being able to start setting up a week early helped prevent last-minute stress.  I also enjoyed being able to create little pockets throughout the home and yard (much harder to do in a sprawling venue) and it was fun watching guests explore.  Knowing their space so intimately also helped us make the best use of it.  My parents do not have an enormous yard or house and I was somewhat nervous about having enough room, but everything and everybody fit, no problem (really, you can probably fit more people than you think).  We set up tables on the patio, in the back yard, in the front yard, and into a couple of nooks and crannies.  I think the close quarters encouraged people to mingle a bit more than if there were more space--you know how a lot of times, groups split off at weddings?  There wasn't enough room for that to happen--I had several people comment that they felt less socially awkward at our wedding than they expected, and I think the forced rubbing of elbows might have contributed.  We also had the bonus of being able to stay as late as we wanted (no 11:00 "gotta be out" pressure), people could crash in the yard, we could sleep at the house and we didn't have to clean up right away.

I do recommend getting one-day event insurance just in case.  Also, if you only have one bathroom or your sewer system is touchy, renting port-a-potties might be a good idea, and you'll want to know your electrical system well to decide whether it can handle the extra electricity requirements (whatever the DJ needs, extra lighting, etc.).  Finally, if you live in a place where weather is touchy and you can't fit all your guests into your house in the case of a weather emergency, rent a tent ahead of time.  But truly, I can't recommend an at-home wedding enough.  Even if you think you don't have enough space, there's probably a creative way to make it work, and work well.  This is a great post on hosting an at-home wedding.

Control what you can and let go of the rest

This was definitely the hardest for me--it was incredible how many challenges life threw at us in the week before our wedding (I even started my period the morning of, which was magically a week earlier than expected).  I don't know if I wrote about it much, but on our actual wedding day, a typhoon came over from Japan, dumping more rain on Northern California than the region has seen is 30 years.  We planned to have our ceremony in that area far from any shelter, and after driving for two hours to our destination and spending 20 minutes searching for a protected area, we had to turn back down the mountain with the expectation of driving two hours back to Reno to have the ceremony in my parents' living room, well after dark (which was a bummer considering our photographer had schlepped along with us).  At the last minute, the rain cleared and we spent another 20 minutes driving around, looking for a suitable spot, all the while texting among the three car caravan with updated plans.

Both our ceremony and our fiesta felt, at certain points, like they were going to be a wash.  But then they worked out.  I'm big on planning and trying to control things that can be controlled, but you have to know when extra effort from you will pay off and when it's wasted energy.  During the planning process, I kept trying to predict and avoid calamities, as though we deserved a window in our lives where nothing uncomfortable or stressful could happen.  What I learned (if I believed in divine lessons, this would be one of them) is that you have to integrate the wedding into the rest of your life, rather than expect your life to make way for the wedding. I read once that when couples say their wedding was perfect, what they really mean is they knew when to let go and just enjoy themselves.  We had more bumps in the time surrounding our wedding and reception than we've had in the past couple of years combined, and both our wedding and reception were still perfect because we chose to allow ourselves to be so carried away by the excitement and joy that the bumps stopped being important.

So, that's it.  There are small things I could add in, but really, I wouldn't change much about our wedding, despite the bumps and bruises sustained in the process.  It was beautiful.  Deep-in-my-bones beautiful.  How lucky are we?


Monday, August 5, 2013

Grain Free Crackers (raw, gluten free, candida friendly)

A big focus for me with H's restricted diet is making sure we always have food he can eat immediately--no cooking or prep work needed.  He's not much of a cook (and now doesn't seem like the right time to throw him in the deep end in that learning process) and I know him well enough to know planning for hunger isn't his strong suit (exhibit a: going on a 12 mile July hike with no food and no water wearing Chuck Taylors). Lucky for him, his wife is an obsessive over-planner and over-preparer; we balance each other out.  He does fun stuff.  I make crackers.

While we've come up with a handful of snack ideas, they're mostly unadulterated plant foods (raw vegetables, nuts).  I wanted to add a little variety, so I came up with these.  They're not as addictive as packaged, grain-based crackers, but they are tasty and easy to transport, so I call win.


Though this recipe doesn't require a lot of hands-on time, it takes at least 24 hours to make, double that if you choose to soak your almonds.  I'm giving you the recipe for a single batch, but the recipe doubles beautifully.  It takes as long to make a double batch as a single batch, so after our first batch, I've been automatically doubling this.

I soak the almonds for this because (reportedly) doing so makes them easier to digest and the lemon juice helps kill any fungus present in the nuts.  I've also done these with nuts that have been pre-soaked and dehydrated, grinding them dry and adding enough water to make a dough.  The latter tells me you can do these with unsoaked nuts, just adding as  much water as you need to get a cohesive dough.

I haven't played with making these in the oven.  If you don't own a dehydrator, I imagine you can make them in the oven on the lowest heat setting, but you'll want to watch them carefully to determine when they're done.  They may take only a couple of hours or they may take longer--let me know if you have any tips on doing them this way!

Grain Free Crackers

3 c. raw almonds

  • Place these in a bowl, cover them with water, squeeze in the juice of one lemon and let them sit for 12-24 hours, changing the water one time.
1/2 c. ground flax seed

  • Soak the flax in 1 cup of water for at least 10 minutes, until the mixture becomes thickened.
  • Drain your almonds and rinse them very well, then place them into a food processor and process until the nuts turn into (wet) meal.  Transfer the almonds to a large mixing bowl.  Add
1.5 t. salt (preferably sea salt for flavor)

For "everything bagel" variation, add
 2 t. onion powder
2 t. garlic powder
1 t. caraway seeds

For southwest variation, add
2 t. cumin
1 t. chili powder
1/2 t. coriander
1 t. onion powder
1/2 t smoked paprika
2 t. dried cilantro

  • Mix the seasonings into the ground almonds until well mixed.
  • Add the flax/water mixture and mix well.
  • Turn 1/2 cup dough onto a nonstick dehydrator sheet and place another dehydrator sheet face-down on top of the dough.  Roll the dough out (I prefer a rolling pin but you can also press with your hands) until it's about 1/8 inch thick.  Don't worry too much about getting it perfectly square; you'll clean up the edges later.  Remove the top dehydrator sheet.
  • Repeat the rolling out process with the remainder of the dough.
  • Dehydrate for about 2 hours at 115°
  • Remove the sheets from the dehydrator and cut into desired-size squares.  A rolling pizza cutter or pastry cutter works great for this.  
  • Separate the crackers, leaving 1/4 inch of so of space between each, return to the dehydrator and dehydrate at 115° until crackers are dry and crisp--12-18 hours, depending on size.  It's difficult to over-dehydrate these, so it's okay if you need to leave them in longer.
  • Yum.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Bye-Bye, Carpet!

I finally (FINALLY) got around to pulling up the carpet in our extra room.

I wrote here about the decision to pull up the carpet even though we rent.  There's also a simple tutorial there for the method I used to remove the carpet in our bedroom last summer.

Even though we might (maaaaaybe) start seriously talking about trying to buy a home soon, it was still satisfying to complete this little nesting project.  There's definitely been a shift away from wanting to continue putting energy into this house, but not knowing how the house-buying process will go, it seems reasonable to keep making this a place we want to live in.

This is what I started with--clearly our house's dumping place.  Since it's never been very aesthetically pleasing, it's always been easy to justify making it even uglier by shoving a bunch of homeless stuff in its nooks and crannies (and sometimes right in the middle of the floor).  Doing the floor required removing just about everything from the room, so we used it as an excuse to purge (got rid f 67 things and counting--well on my way to my biannual Get Rid of 100 Things Challenge).  Why does getting rid of stuff feel so good?

So after the floors and after the purge and after cleaning, we ended up with this.  Happy.  Something about "bloom where you are planted" or something.  Tempting as it is to always look forward to the next big thing, there's something very soothing about creating beauty and order where you are.


Grain-Free Sugar-Free Waffles (candida friendly)

Instead of going on a honeymoon, we went on the candida diet.

H has been dealing with this for awhile now and decided to tackle it in earnest after the wedding.  This means any foods that feed yeast (all sugars--including milk and fruit sugars, grains, alcohol) or are acidic (vinegars, citrus juices) or are moldy/fungal (cheese, mushrooms) are off the table (see what I did there?).  While this might seem straightforward, there are a lot of foods I expected to be okay that also need to be eliminated--mustard (because of the vinegar), caffeine (apparently the yeast feeds on it?) and pistachios (reportedly have a high mold content), among others.

It makes me laugh/cringe a little when people ask me how married life is going and whether we're enjoying a honeymoon phase, because instead of giving the socially appropriate response ("It's great!  We're just enjoying our time together), I launch into an informative discussion of candida and how my new husband felt (and looked) like he had the flu for the week following the wedding and is now literally starving.  Polite conversation is not my strong suit.

What we're working with: he can have meat, salmon (other kinds of seafood are prohibited), non-starchy vegetables, plain yogurt, eggs and a limited quantity of nuts (preferably soaked in a lemon juice solution overnight to kill any lingering mold).  It's pretty brutal but hopefully will help get the issue under control enough that eventually he can go back to eating a more balanced array of foods (though I think we'll probably have to maintain some semblance of this for a long time, if not forever).

This diet might be okay for a couple of months if the person taking it on has quite a bit of weight he or she can afford lose.  After all, it's very similar to another diet that rhymes with "totally flipping crazy and miserable" designed to cause individuals to lose a lot of weight very quickly.  However, because H is already pretty lean, a big concern going into this was whether he'd be able to eat enough calories.  Two weeks in, we know some weight loss is inevitable--it's simply too difficult to eat the 2,500 or so calories he needs to maintain his weight, but we're trying to find creative ways to make the food he can eat more appealing so he'll be able to get more of it down.

In other words, I've spent our honeymoon in my (not air-conditioned) kitchen with the goal of cramming as many calories as possible into foods that are easy for H to grab and eat.  So much more fun than relaxing on a tropical beach with a book in one hand and a cocktail in the other.

In my search for candida-friendly recipes, I didn't find much (at least not much that seemed appealing), so rather than relying on other people's recipes, I'm developing my own.  I don't have a lot of time to test and retest, so they may not be perfect but H seems happy with them.  As I learn and practice more, I'm sure I'll find new tricks to make these work even better, but in the meanwhile I want to get them out there for others to play with.  Let me know what you think.

Note: I am not even close to being an expert on candida; we're just doing the best we can.  My understanding is it's not ideal to eat a ton of nuts due to their carbohydrate content and the possibility they might contain mold.  H needs the calories, so it's the one place we're fudging a bit.  If you're going at this hard-core, it might be wise to soak and dehydrate whole almonds, then process them into flour yourself.

Note #2: There aren't a ton of options for sugar-free toppings here.  I've tried a mixture of almond butter, coconut milk and a few drops of stevia and maple extract that didn't go over very well.  I also made some xylitol-based syrup with maple extract that was better, but it crystallized upon cooling.  H has used these to make an egg sandwich, which might be the best use for them--you could even eat them as toast points with butter to eat alongside some eggs.

Note #3: I don't diet (in the weight loss sense) and don't have a medical reason to follow this so I'm not actually doing this full-on with H; after all, we can't both be hungry and cranky.  I do try the stuff I make and only pass along the recipes I think taste good regardless of whether or not you're starving.  Even if you're not candida-ing, I still like recipes like this (with a little syrup) for weekday mornings when you can't afford the late morning sugar crash from regular syrup-drenched waffles.

Grain Free, Sugar-Free Waffles

Makes 6-8 waffles.

Into the blender (putting the liquids in first helps the blender do its job):

6 eggs
1 c. coconut milk (I use full-fat canned to boost calories, but if you want to reduce calories, any kind of milk--dairy or non-dairy--should be fine).
6 T coconut oil, melted if it's not already (coconut oil is a powerful anti fungal so I've been using a lot of it)
1 1/2 c. almond flour
6 T. coconut flour
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 T. vanilla extract
40 drops stevia extract optional

Once all the ingredients are in, turn the blender on and process until smooth.  Allow this to sit while you heat up your waffle iron (the coconut flour will absorb a lot of the moisture--you want to give it a few minutes to do its work).

Once your waffle iron is hot, pour 1/2 c. of batter in and bake the waffle for 3 or so minutes, just until the iron stops steaming.  Don't wait for the light to indicate the waffle is ready or it will be overcooked.  You want to catch it just after it firms up but before it starts to brown.

Serve as you wish and enjoy!