Wednesday, December 11, 2013

On the Cost of Weddings

I know it's a total cliche, but having a wedding is so much more expensive than I realized. I had been interested in weddings for quite a while, read a lot of wedding blogs, saw a lot of budgets, and thought I had a good idea of how much things cost. On principle, I have never wanted to have an expensive wedding. Even spending $10,000 - $15,000 seemed to me like a lot for one event, but I had reconciled myself to the idea of spending that much and thought it was totally possible.

But after we got engaged and I started researching specific rental companies and caterers in the area, I realized I had radically underestimated those costs - more on that in another post. The wedding that we are currently planning is looking to cost around $30,000. I feel weird just writing that. Me, who won't even buy myself new clothes, have an expensive wedding? It does not compute. I've looked at my budget over and over again, trying to find a way for the numbers to add up differently, but they won't.

Yet, when I contemplate each individual cost, they all seem worthy. Of course we want to have our wedding on Evan's family farm, so we don't want to look for another, more all-inclusive venue. Of course we want to have all of our family and friends there (and Evan has a lot of friends), so we can't cut the guest list. Of course we want to have a DJ, because having a great dance party is important to us. Of course we want the food to be as local and organic as possible.

This is despite taking certain measures to save. We're not paying for a venue. I'm hopefully altering a family dress rather than buying a new one. My mom is going to do the flowers. We're going to do mostly electronic invitations. We're not going to have a cake. We don't care about having photography as art. But all that is somewhat inconsequential next to the cost of catering and rentals.

I am vacillating between just accepting that this is how it must be, and wondering if there's some other way. No one else seems to care besides me. Evan has already reached the acceptance stage. My parents, who taught me my frugal values, are incongruously unbothered by the cost. I should also add that we are lucky to be in a position that we, and our families, can afford to spend this much on our wedding. Yet, that $30,000 still stands there. It's enough to live on for a full year. It's enough for closing costs (in New York) or a downpayment (in other places). Not to mention all the philanthropic good it could do. It doesn't quite make sense to me that people are willing to spend so much on a wedding, when most people, myself included, don't think to spend that much on solving their life problems or improving their day to day quality of life.

Maybe I should think of it as an investment in building our lives together. It's important to us to have a wedding, to recognize our newly combined family, to acknowledge our close loved ones, and to gather our community together to help marry us and commit to supporting our lives together. And we also are excited to throw a fun party. Who knows, maybe (hopefully?) it won't end up being that much.

You hear that the average wedding is around $28,000, and I guess it's for a reason. I always thought it was because of the lavish, expensive weddings throwing off the average (what journalists should really share are the median wedding costs). Or I self-righteously thought it was because a lot of people are willing to splurge on things that seem silly to me, like expensive wedding gowns, letterpress invitations, favors, chivari chairs, twee decorations, etc. However, reflecting on it from this new perspective, I suppose that most people don't set out wanting to spend that much and wouldn't if there were more ways not to.

So tell me, what are your experience with how much weddings cost and how do you feel about it?

UPDATE: Literally a day after I wrote this I finally found two good catering options who cost 5k less than most caterers and will therefore bring the wedding total down to $25,000. Still not cheap, but certainly better than $30,000!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

No Bake Gluten Free Coconut Snowballs

image from the Kichn

I made these coconut snowballs for a party last weekend, and they were a big hit. They are really nothing more than coconut, coconut oil and maple syrup, but they taste delicious like chilled macaroons. They are no bake, gluten free and also free of refined sugar, yet they are a sweet treat you can enjoy even on a restricted diet.

I used a recipe from the Kitchn but realized just now that I accidentally used tablespoons of coconut oil instead of teaspoons as the recipe intended. Well, it worked anyway - they are just not quite as healthy with that extra fat in there. I doubled the Kitchn's recipe, which I heartily recommend doing since they will go quickly. I cut back on the maple syrup, though, and they still tasted plenty sweet. I used regular milk since I didn't feel like having a half an open can of coconut milk laying around afterward, but if you want to make them dairy free, then go ahead and use the coconut milk. Finally, keep in mind that though they don't require baking time, you should plan for the time spent time rolling out each snowball and chilling in the fridge.

Coconut Snowballs 
Adapted from the Kitchn

3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
4 tbsp coconut oil
4 tbsp maple syrup
4 tbsp milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon

Place 2 cups of shredded coconut in a food processor and process until finely ground. Place coconut oil in a small saucepan and heat over low until coconut oil is melted. Remove from heat. Add to the saucepan 2 cups of finely ground coconut, 1 cup of shredded coconut, maple syrup, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Stir together until combined. Shape into 1-inch balls and coat with remaining shredded coconut. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving week was a whirlwind this year, since we went to three different locations in one week, Evan met my extended family for the first time, there were lots of wedding planning conversations, and we celebrated multiple birthdays.

I help with the Thanksgiving cooking most years. This year, I spent about five straight hours cooking on Wednesday, which meant I got to sleep in and relax on Thursday. You may notice a lot of browning on the vegetables below. Every year, I have problems with my mom's oven, which browns foods extremely quickly and is quick to set off their sensitive smoke alarm. It's strange that I've used many different ovens in many different apartments in New York City and have never had the same kinds of issues. Her oven really doesn't like roasting vegetables.

My mom made her Shoprite turkey, cranberry sauce, garlicky mashed potatoes and a pumpkin pie. She deviated from the pepperidge farm stuffing to a cornbread stuffing that I liked.  

Here's what I made:

Kale salad with lemon, almond and parmesan
I shredded two bunches of kale and massaged it in olive oil and the juice of one lemon. Then I tossed it together with: half of a red onion, thinly sliced; a few cloves of garlic, thinly sliced and sauteed in olive oil until crispy; half a cup of almonds, finely chopped and toasted in a dry pan until lightly browned; a sprinkling of salt and pepper and crushed red pepper; and a cup of grated parmesan.

Most of my family had never had kale salad before, and they loved it. The lemon and parmesan give it flavor, while the finely chopped nuts added a light crunch to the texture, similar to the way that breadcrumbs would. The great thing about kale salad is that it can be prepared a day or two in advance without wilting like regular salads. In fact, it's better to give it more time for the vinaigrette to tenderize the kale. The amount above was enough as a side for twelve people, with leftovers.

Roasted brussels sprouts
My grandfather requested the brussels sprouts after enjoying them in 2011. It seems most adults over the age of 35 have only ever had brussels sprouts steamed and are pleasantly surprised by roasted sprouts. Since I was making a lot of sprouts, I decided to separate all the loose leaves and bake them on their own tray. That way I was able to take out the leaves as soon as they were done. I love snacking on the crispy leaves - we put them out in a bowl with the appetizers. Most of the time, through, I just roast the leaves alongside the sprouts.

To roast brussels sprouts: 
Preheat the oven to 400. Rinse the sprouts. Chop off the tough ends and then slice each sprout in half (if they are small, don't bother cutting in half). Grease a pan with olive oil, and throw in the sprouts. Shake salt and pepper liberally over top. Stir the sprouts around on the pan until they are evenly coated in the oil, salt, and pepper. Arrange the sprouts on the pan evenly spaced. Cook for 20 minutes until the side facing down is browned. Remove and flip them over. Cook another 10-15 minutes.

Whole wheat dinner rolls
I've made no-knead rolls in past years, but I wanted to go for a softer texture this year by incorporating milk and sweetness. I went with a recipe from The Kitchn for "soft and tender dinner rolls", substituting whole wheat flour for a third of the flour. I multiplied the amounts by 1.5 (including the yeast) to get 18 rolls instead of 12. I like to bake my rolls in muffin tins. I brushed the tops with butter just before baking, but I don't think that touch was noticeable enough to be worth the effort. I thought they were fine, but not amazing - a little softer, but not that flavorful. I made them on Wednesday and quickly reheated them on Thursday just before dinner.

Sage leaf sweet potatoes
This was inspired by Smitten Kitchen's parsley leaf potatoes - same idea but with a different type of potato and herb. I cut ten sweet potatoes in half. I melted three tablespoons of butter in a small pot and stirred in a tablespoon of honey. I coated the bottom of two pans with the melted butter/honey. I lay each potato half cut side down over a sprig of sage. I roasted them at 400 F for 20 minutes and then flipped them over for another 10. Unfortunately, they got burned on their second trip in the oven the next day to reheat them before dinner - so if you're going to need to reheat, don't cook them too long originally. The sweetness was not noticeable enough, so I'd recommend doubling the honey. I think this was a much less labor intensive way of getting flavor into a simple roasted sweet potato dish than hasselback sweet potatoes.

Medley of roasted butternut squash, parsnips, carrots and beets
I roasted the vegetables separately according to like cooking times and combined them afterward. I roasted the parsnips and carrots together, and the squash in a different pan. I originally roasted the beets peeled and chopped in their own pan, but their dark color prevented me from noticing they were burning until it was too late. I had to redo the beets, and opted to go my usual route of roasting them whole in a foil pouch, peeling and chopping them afterward. I do think that method better locks in the moisture and flavor.

Cranberry Torte
For dessert, I made this cranberry torte from Lottie + Doof. Instead of almond extract, which I didn't have, I added the zest and juice of one lemon. Lemon plays off the cranberries well. I recommend adding extra cranberries and mixing half of them into the batter, to get more fruit in each bite. This dessert comes together very quickly and is easy to make - which is helpful when you don't have a lot of time or are busy making too many foods.