Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wedding Dress Shopping Reviews: Lovely Bride

The third and final wedding dress shop I went to was Lovely Bride in Tribeca. I should have gone there to get the wedding dress shopping experience to begin with and skipped Bridal Garden. They specialize in independent designers, including some favorite designers whose dresses I had been wanting to try... Elizabeth Dye, who has a shop in Portland. Carol Hannah and Leanne Marshall of Project Runway fame. Rebecca Shoneveld, who makes her gowns in her NYC studio in Gowanus. They also have Nicole Miller, which are on the slinky side, and Sarah Seven's adorable strapless dresses.

If you want to go to Lovely Bride, book your appointment ASAP. It took me two months to get there. They are very busy, so evening and weekend times are harder to come by...and my first appointment was canceled by one of the many snowstorms this winter. Plus, the dresses are made to order, so if you decide to buy a dress there, you need to do it at least three to four months before your wedding. I presume that because they take your measurements to make your dress, fewer alterations would be needed, if any, although I didn't really ask about that.

A pretty Leanne Marshall lace dress

The dresses are not cheap. Most of the ones I tried on were 1,200-2,000. But I wasn't there to buy anything anyway, just to have fun. Surprisingly, while I liked some of the dresses, I didn't love any of them, like that Saja one, enough to consider buying one. I learned that I can rock a lace-covered mermaid-shaped number, like this one from Elizabeth Dye, which I wouldn't have expected, but the style felt too traditional for me.

Elizabeth Dye

I know an acquaintance who wore a custom Rebecca Shoneveld dress at her wedding that gorgeously suited to her, which got me interested in her dresses. Rebecca lines her gowns with the softest, most luxurious fabrics that feel amazing to wear, as I learned at Lovely Bride. This one below was similar to the Grecian style of Saja, but didn't drape as flatteringly as Saja's dresses. If I had really wanted to wear a Rebecca Shovenveld dress, I would have gone to her studio in Gowanus to check out a wider selection than what they had at Lovely Bride. Especially since Rebecca will mix and match tops and bottoms and make her designs in different colored silks.

Rebecca Shoneveld

The only thing I found odd about Lovely Bride is that the attendant came in the changing room with me. I ended up wearing my regular bra under all the dresses, even strapless, because I didn't feel comfortable going topless with her right next to me.

Elizabeth Dye, For Emily

I perhaps liked this Elizabeth Dye dress, called For Emily, the best, although the skirt felt heavier than it looks. And none of it matters, because as I shall reveal, I had plenty of family vintage dresses to choose from anyway!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wedding Dress Shopping Reviews - Saja

The next shop I went to was Saja, a boutique in the Lower East Side that sells dresses by New York-based designer Yoo Lee. Her dresses are ethereal, floaty, and as I said to the saleswoman, all so pretty. They are the exact antidote to my Bridal Garden experience. Out of all the wedding dresses I've tried on, there was just one dress, at Saja, that elicited that "This is the one" moment you hear about. Both me and my friend Jamie felt it. However, the dress was $1,900.

Again, not my dress, just my favorite Saja dress. It was disappointing to not be 
able to take pictures, since it looked quite different on me than the model.

I considered it, even though I hadn't intended on buying anything. I asked my sisters if they would wear it (meh, they said). I could resell it. However, the next night I got stains on another dress I was wearing and realized that it would be stressful to keep the dress in good enough shape (at a farm wedding!) to resell. In the end, I am too practical to consider spending $2,000 on a dress that will be worn once, when there are so many other things that money can be spent on. More importantly, I already had vintage dresses to choose from that I liked a lot (and would cost me only alterations).

Saja's simplest and most popular designs like the one above are actually a very affordable option, as wedding dresses go. They cost around $950-$1,000, and if you are willing to wear a short dress, those are around $650. They can also be found used on sites like and for $700-900. The saleswoman claimed that because of the design and the simple hemming, alterations are usually less than $100, which seems cheap when you consider that wedding gown alterations can often run to $300. Moreover, Saja dresses are made of silk chiffon, which can be dyed to another color, and many of the styles would look well hemmed to the knee, so the dresses can actually be reconfigured as party dresses to wear again and again. Saja also sells their dresses in a range of colors for bridesmaids, which I would consider treating myself to except for the below issue.

While I love Saja dresses, I don't love that you must wear a strapless bra. In this case, it's because the fabric is so sheer that the saleswoman claimed it would affect the look of the dress to sew any lining or cups into the dress. They have NuBra backless adhesive bras in the store to try with the dresses, which I discovered are much more comfortable than regular strapless bras. However, wearing that for several hours would be a risk for someone with eczema, like me. I also thought some of the styles were just a little too low cut for my comfort level. (UPDATE from the comments: Rachel was able to get away with sewing cups into her Saja dress and looked beautiful in it...good to know!)

Another lesson learned from this trip - the importance of trying on a dress to find out what size you need. If I had bought a pre-used Saja dress online without trying anything on, I would have gone with something close to my normal street size. However, in the store, I found out that I actually fit into their size zero! I thought this would also make it hard to resell, since most people shopping online would similarly assume they could not wear a size zero.

Saja has many, many photos available on their website and facebook, all too easy to get lost in all the images of real brides looking beautiful in Saja's lovely dresses.

Wedding Dress Shopping Reviews - Bridal Garden

No, this is not my wedding dress, just something out of character I tried on for fun
and I look like a giant because I was standing on a stool

After trying vintage wedding dresses from our families, I was pretty set on wearing one of them. But I wanted to go wedding dress shopping just for fun - because when else in your life is it socially acceptable to try on lots of gorgeous, expensive gowns? 

The first place I went was the Bridal Garden in Chelsea, which sells samples for discounted prices and donates a portion of the proceeds to an educational charity. The racks are organized by general style and size and you can look through it all yourself to pull out whatever you want to try on. Because they are donated, that means they only have the one dress - you can't buy it from them in other sizes, only hope that it fits you.

I knew going into it that I absolutely did not want a strapless dress or a dress that is structured like a strapless dress with boning, or to have to wear a strapless bra. As soon as I walked in, I knew it was a mistake, because that is pretty much all they have there. Literally every dress had a strapless bra sewn into it. It was like my nightmare (granted, a nightmare involving pretty dresses). 

I complained to the saleswoman about how tight and uncomfortable it is to wear dresses with boning, and she said, "But that's how they all are," and I said, No, that's not true." Because there are many flowy, sheath dresses out there without boning and too-tight waistlines, which I saw on future dress shopping trips. I wanted to be vocal with her, because maybe if people tell bridal stores what they actually want, then the industry will follow suit.

I was also upset by how the Bridal Garden treats your figure. The store sews a strapless bra into every dress to give everyone a figure they don't necessarily have. When I asked her how they would alter it to fit my small chest, she said all they would do is take it in on the sides (they do alterations in house). I told her that was not enough, and she said they couldn't do more than that. So I said, why would I pay you a thousand dollars for a dress that you won't alter correctly, that doesn't fit me and doesn't reflect my actual figure? Looking back on it, I suppose that if I had found something I really loved, I could have taken it to another tailor who could remove the bra and do a more custom alteration.

The other thing I found weird is the pricing. Their policy is that each dress has a tag with a price on it, and then they will quote you a further discounted price after you try them on. So when I let her know my favorites, she pulled out two rather arbitrary quotes out of thin air that were $100-500 less. I think she was trying to get close to my budget while also undercutting what another salesperson there might quote, in order to encourage you to buy on the spot. So it seems to be in your best interest to give a lower budget. I know a friend who got her dress there for only $500, but most of the ones I saw were between $1-2,000 before the arbitrary discount.

They don't let you take photos, so we snuck in one when the attendant was on the other side of the store. A gown I tried on for kicks that I would never actually consider wearing - with sequins and a poufy heavy skirt that I dragged around me.

The moral of the story is that if you want a standard strapless poufy gown, you might as well check out the Bridal Garden. If you know you don't want that, then don't bother, and proceed onward to the next stores I went to...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

We Bought a Cow

We bought a cow. More specifically, together with three other couples, we bought a whole cow from Evan's parents' friends who raise grass fed beef. Dividing up the cow in quarters, we each got 150 pounds of beef at about $3 per pound. This is a great deal, since grass feed beef typically ranges from $7-8 per pound for ground meat up to $20 something a pound for steak. (I'm not sure if this is a typical price for a cow share, but it happens to be the deal we got.)

Logistically, we cannot all fit our entire shares in our small New York City freezers, so luckily Evan's parents have a freezer large enough to store the rest. For now, our freezer is filled with roasts and short ribs. After the weather warms up, we will switch our focus to the steaks. I'm very excited about the opportunity to cook and eat our way through various kinds of cuts and experiment with different cooking methods.

So far, we've only made a few dishes with the beef, including these short ribs. Short ribs need to be braised over a long time, which makes them a perfect contender for the slow cooker. With all of these polar vortexes, coming home to the smell of hearty beef cooking away in a crock pot has been pretty much perfect. I also think that slow cooked beef and root vegetables is my absolute favorite combination to serve over warm polenta.

The other great thing is that we're going to have a circle of stock for months. Every time we make a roast, we use the bones leftover to make stock, which we can then use to cook the next beef dish, making it all the more flavorful, and so on.

Slow Cooker Short Ribs and Vegetables over Polenta
Short Ribs and Root Vegetables
3 lb short ribs
2 carrots
2 parsnips
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 cup beef stock
1 cup red wine
1 tbsp balsamic vineger
ground pepper
crushed red pepper

2 cups beef stock
2 cups water
1 cup polenta or coarse cornmeal
1 tsp salt

Brown the ribs in a cast iron pan for about five minutes on each side, just until browned. Place the ribs in a slow cooker. Top with chopped vegetables. Throw in the spices and then pour in the stock, wine and vinegar and try to stir it all together. Add water if needed until liquid reaches just to the top of the vegetables. Cook on high for one hour and then turn to low and cook for another seven hours. The meat is done when it is easily falling off the bone.

About 45 minutes before serving, prepare the polenta. Bring a pot of water to boil. Whisk in the polenta and stir for a couple minutes so that it doesn't stick to the bottom. Turn heat to low and cover. Stir every ten minutes, and cook for 30-40 minutes until it reaches your desired thickness.

When the ribs are done, you have two choices:
The lazy choice is to just ladle food straight from the slow cooker to your plate - plating a rib or two and vegetables and their cooking liquid over a bowl of polenta.

Or you could do what I did, which is to remove the bones and the considerable fat from the short ribs before serving. I used a strainer-ladle to remove the vegetables and meat from the crock pot. I set aside the vegetables in a container in the oven to stay warm. Then I picked through the short ribs to separate out the bones and fat, and to shred the meat into small pieces as you would with pulled pork. Then I combined the shredded meat with the vegetables.

Meanwhile, I poured the cooking liquid into a pot and cooked at medium heat uncovered for about 15 minutes until it was reduced to about a quarter of its original volume. This part is again optional, but it means the liquid to pour over the dish will be more flavorful.

Serve with the rest of the bottle of wine.

To make beef stock afterward
Throw the bones, fat and meat scraps either back into the slow cooker, or into a large pot. Add the vegetable peels from earlier. Pour in any cooking liquid leftover from making the ribs, and enough water to cover the bones and vegetable scraps complete, about 8 cups of water. Cook on low for either 3 hours, if using a pot, or 8 hours if using a slow cooker. Refrigerate. The next day, remove any fat from the top and freeze in 2 or 4 cup increments.