I love stealing ideas – Black and White cookies

You know what’s delicious? Black and White cookies? You know what’s not delicious? The fact that most business can’t make them any good.

I have no idea why they’re so difficult to make. I went to the Europa Cafe last night in Times Square and the cookie was pretty awful. That doesn’t mean I didn’t eat it – I do have a very tolerant sweet tooth – but it was poorly made. The cookie wasn’t cake like – it was too soft and wasn’t very thick. The frosting was too sweet and tasted too much like the frosting that goes on brownies that come from a box. The frosting should be thick, not too sweet, and should encase the cookie in what appears to be a hard shell but crumbles nicely on the bite. A black and white cookie isn’t really a cookie. It’s a small cake in cookie shape. It is a simple concept but it is so hard to do well.

There are two place in NYC that I know of that do a good black and white cookie. One is called the Sugar Cafe, located on Houston in Manhattan on the Lower East Side. The other is Martha’s Country Bakery located on Ditmars and 36th St in Astoria. The great thing about Martha’s is that I was thinking of using them to supply a bunch of the desserts for our wedding. They make delicious cupcakes, cookies, etc. I think they would make a great addition to our overall reception plan.

For some reason, I never though about ordering a bunch of black and white cookies from them. Then a post on Wedding Bee brought the idea to my mind. That bride is using them as part of their candy/favor station. I’m going to use it for a dessert buffet. And with the cheap cake stands they linked to, this is quite a score. And the white frosting goes perfect with my wedding color being “white” (and another reason why picking a very simple and plain color palate is a good thing – you can mix and match whatever you want). Excellent.

Book Review: Cheap Ways to Tie the Knot


Cheap Ways to Tie the Knot: How to Plan a Church Wedding For Less than $5,000 by Cara Davis is a short, small book that is about 100 pages longer than it should be. In fact, page 19-20 of the book is really what the book is really about. On those pages, Cara Davis reports that she saved money by simply enlisting amateurs at her church would would either donate their services or were really really cheap. That’s pretty much it. Want good photographs? Settle for a guy with a nice camera. Want a great cake? Settle for a mother who’s a homemaker. Want a sophisticated altar set up? Bug a mother at your church who can’t wait to relive her big day. Basically, that’s the whole idea behind this book – enlist, and settle, for amateurs.

This book, while valiantly claiming to be a short missive against the wedding industry (which is something I don’t mind being about) is really less about weddings and more about being frugal. Being frugal is extremely popular on the internet right now – it’s hard to find a personal finance blog out there that doesn’t advocate a form of frugality that borders on obsession. Cara Davis falls into this trap, masking it in terms of “personality” and “being different” but, really, it’s about her being addicted to learning how to be frugal. She tells the story about how she bounced a few checks after she graduated college, created a budget, and then fills her book with tidbits on how to save money. Her wedding is the wedding of her current dreams – an illustration of her love of frugality.

Now being frugal does not mean being poor. Being frugal is, rather, a privilege (which Cara Davis doesn’t seem to realize and instead masks it under Christian piety) that those in the “have columns” are allowed to have a cultural and societal identity that allows them to separate from the supposed mass culture of consumerist and instead enter a culture where writing a blog post about making 32 breakfast burritos for 70 cents each (and including pictures!) and freezing them. The way to see this in Cheap Ways.. is to notice the last chapter about frugality (masked as moderation), her attack on other women’s choices if they buy a dress at a bridal salon, and the cutesy, but completely unnecessary, filler quotes located in boxes throughout the book. How does a quote from “When Harry Met Sally” help me plan a frugal wedding? It doesn’t.

Now, once I realize this, the book made a lot more sense. Grooms are, again, regulated to the sideline and are given a check list of things to do rather than being a part of the planning, or creative, process. DIY decorations, dresses, and plans are described but not shown which means I, as a reader, have to trust that Cara Davis’s taste (what she describes as fabulous) really is fabulous. I had a problem with this because, when describing how they hired a photographer for nothing, she devotes two pages of the book to formal poses and pictures that the photographer should take. Why do I question this? Because any photographer who takes his craft seriously (professionals or amateurs) would already have this list. If you have to tell them what traditional posed pictures to take, rather than have them tell you what’s traditional and let you choose, you’re not participating in the wedding of your dreams. You are, instead, participating in the art of frugality for frugality’s sake. And you’re leaving taste and sophistication behind.

Listen, the war against the wedding industry will not be won by running away or deciding to settle for things that are “your personality”. If your personality includes Martha Stewart Wedding, that’s great – that is something you should embrace. Defaulting from one extreme princessized wedding to a frugality mindset that throws taste out of the window isn’t the answer. What’s important is to not merely accept but to question, to wonder, and to implement what you want. I think Cara Davis misses this point even though she says it several times.

This book works if you are young, conservative Christian who likes the “rah rah” type of encouragement books. If you are into frugality, you’re going to find helpful things in this book too. The tips are not new (and the fact that it continues to promote the urban legend about birds and rice is troubling) but this book does what it wants. It doesn’t, however, do anything useful for grooms, ends up making theologically dubious decisions when it comes to what frugality and moderation really means, and it also pushes an ideology of having a quick wedding, right now, to the point of annoyance. Why was I annoyed? If you want a wedding in less than 7 months and pay 5k for it and don’t want to go into debt, you need to either have savings (which her target market of young college aged Christians won’t have) or a high paying position/low cost of living to make it possible. Her ideology of frugality does lead to a general opinion that draining your savings (and possibly, say, your emergency fund) is okay and encouraged. And why? Because she wants to get married as soon as possible while at the same time buying into the need to have a certain type of wedding right now. I have my suspicions what these reasons are (well, it’s just one but it’s obvious) and it tends to do a disservice to her main ideas. Based on her background, she has an idea of what a wedding means and leads to; she’s bought into that ideology, culture, and way of life. That’s great but she doesn’t realize it and that lack of self-awareness, in the end, is what reduces the overall usefulness of this book.

Finally! Church wedding contract is signed!

Finally! My fiancee and I nailed down a contract with our church for our wedding celebration. It’s a short, two page document, covering what the church will provide and how much renting the hall for the day will cover. An ordained pastor, an organist, and a sexton are provided to keep the ceremony legal. And with all of this roughly being 13% of our total wedding budget, it is a steal (we think). Sure there are space limitations (you try to get 250 people in a church basement for a lunch) but our church is perfect and we really couldn’t think about being married anywhere else.

One good thing about actually getting married at at our own church (and being active members of the congregation) means that we were able to negotiate a contract that provides us the flexibility necessary to make our wedding possible. Need to come in the night before and set up? Ok. Need to come in early and displace a diakonia class? Sure. Need to possibly displaced the Brazilian congregation that meets in the basement on Saturday nights? Being 14 months in advance, that’s gonna work. And since we’re members, we get a discount on the overall rate. Seriously, it’s a good deal here.

We tend at Trinity to get a bunch of weddings were couples, who merely want a church wedding, will pay big bucks to have their service performed at our church. We try to make them a part of the community, ask them to attend services before hand, but, by the time the wedding happens, we never see them again. Why? Because they merely wanted a wedding that fit into their internal vision – a wedding that was religious but was minus the religious commitment. They felt Trinity was pretty (which it is), maybe they grew up Lutheran and they were trying to please their grandmother with a religious ceremony but the couple was merely going through the motions to committing themselves to each other. Now, this is admirable and important but the vows are not just a commitment to one another – they exist to announce to the community, and God, your commitment to Him. There is a religious and historical weight to the words that are being said, the hymns being sung, and the structure that is being worshiped in. In fact, a wedding is a worship service even if it’s never viewed as such. You’re not only there to be the center of the ring but you’re also to redefine your relationship to the Divine. Now, I could argue for hours what that redefinition means (this is where my religious tradition, views, and such comes into to decry a lot of supposed redefinition to be cultural rather than religious) but the general view is that there is a reason why, at the end of service, my the assistant minister of the church announces “Share the Good News!”. A church wedding is worship and a wedding can be, and should be, one of those beautiful expressions of what that Good News is.

Now is a good time to buy

The New York Times is reporting that diamond sales are down, companies are cutting production, and the price of raw uncut diamonds is down 20%. And those prices are probably going to go down another 25%. Does this mean that the polished product that you see in the store will drop in price? Yes and no.

When I was shopping for my fiancee’s ring, I did what any smart shopper does and first scouted around for prices for several months. I did this not to only figure out how much money I needed to save but also to see where I would get the best price. Sure, I’m aware that each diamond is different and its better to see a diamond in person than to order one blindly online, but if an online order would save me 10% off the final price and allow me to return it if I was unhappy, an online price point would tilt me to take a risk. Blue Nile and Engagement Rings Direct were my two mainstays. However, I discovered that those two might not necessarily offer the best price.

Since diamonds are a commodity, their price is determined, to some extend, with the prices set on the open market. As the price dropped late last year (even Tiffany’s cut rates), the drop in diamond prices started to slowly appear in the market but those two online firms, and other independent jewelers, were not necessarily the cheapest price around. The Diamond District, where most polished/uncut stones start their travels in the United States, is where the price dropped the fastest since they were the first stop in the US market. In fact, the stones my fiancee and I were looking at here hundreds of dollars cheaper in the NYC diamond district compared to small independent jewelers in Florida, New York City, and online. And don’t get me started about the price difference with the big box chains such as Zale’s. Those incredibly inferior pieces of crap, which were already inflated in price, continued to stay inflated. Even a store closing, 90% off sale, can’t make up for the fact that you’re still wasting money at that point.

So, if you’re in the market for a diamond, now’s a good time to make a buy. The price will eventually go back up as the global recession recovers but it’s good to know that, right now, you’re getting the most bank for your buck. But, if you’re unemployed or have zero job security, buying a big diamond right now might not be the best thing.

Book Review: The Engaged Groom


The Engaged Groom, by Doug Gordon, first started showing up on bookshelves nationwide in 2005. It’s a book that I had high hopes for. In fact, I even stole the concept of an “engaged groom” from this book and tried to make it my own. In a mass consumeristic culture where weddings, which are marketed as merely affairs that a groom shows up at, a book where where a groom tries to take an active role in the planning process is a good idea. It’s his day too, right? And as more and more couples wait they have their own financial resources to fund their own extravagant bash, a groom should be active. Who enjoys just writing a check without any active part in what’s being bought? No longer can grooms merely just accept the role that culture envisions them to play. The grooms are not merely some “white knight” and cannot be a mere Ken doll to his own wedding. I can’t help but think that the spending patterns of Americans, the emptying of their bank accounts and the increase in their credit card debt, had a large impact on how weddings are marketed today. Turning on the TV, from TLC to the Style channel, weddings are events that are reserved for the brides and their storybook fantasies. Wedding magazines push this concept to the point where begging your family for money like a three year old is considered good form.

But, like the current credit crisis, this can’t last forever. There are too many women in the workforce, too little disposal income, and too much income inequality in the US for it to last forever. An Engaged Groom is a groom trying to bring the second half of the future married couple into the marketing process. If business start convincing a groom to buy their products (above and beyond a lap dance and a cigar bar), there’s a good chance these companies will learn that grooms can make decisions too. It’s like the recent period in California when gay marriages were allowed – businesses immediately tried to tap that money source. And as more grooms become engaged in the process, this is what’s going to change how weddings are marketed and viewed in the US. No more images of the woman begging for some luxury and the groom saying no. Instead, weddings will be seen as they should be – a group project where the responsibilities, opinions, and the wedding itself is a product of the couple and not some externally imposed marketed event. It doesn’t mean that the wedding can’t look like a fairy tale – if that’s what the couple wants, that’s what they should have. What it means is that weddings don’t default to the fairy tale without either part of the couple being involved with the process. So this is what I thought The Engaged Groom might be – an initial attempt into the pop culture wedding wars to help bring grooms back to the wedding table, front and center. Close, but no cigar.

I was hoping for a book with teeth and this isn’t it. It’s great at what it wants to be – a mellow and very general guide for grooms who have never heard of weddings before. There are some recommendations on what to do, some stories, and a detailed diagram on how to tie a bow tie. All of this is good, I guess, but it comes off as lacking the teeth and assertiveness I feel a book about being an Engaged Groom should have. I understood the idea behind invitations, save the dates, etc. What I don’t understand, nor do I really accept, is how the wedding machine dictates the default behavior behind these items. To me, as an Engaged Groom, things like that should be questioned. The less they’re questioned, and the more they’re accepted, the less engaged a groom becomes. Grooms are then merely an accessory to the tradition of the event i.e. they are at the whim of the wedding planing skills of the bride and her mother. True, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case and might not be the case with the author and his wedding, but a rough general guide of the wedding process actually leads to this general conclusion. The easiest way to go against this grain would have been for the author to get into the nitty gritty details of his own wedding. He tried a little but he should have done more. How did he attack it. How did he make decisions. What did he accept and reject. What did he learn. Don’t hide this knowledge with general thoughts and feelings – throw your opinion around. An Engaged Groom just doesn’t react to choices by the bride or her mother, an Engaged Groom initiates. I wish I had seen more of that in the book.

This problem struck me the most when the author started talking about bachelor party. He defaults to a general discussion of strippers and strip clubs. Why? Because, and he even mentions this, this is what is usually seen at a bachelor party. He questions it a bit, attempts some commentary on the stereotypical male need to see boobs, but any teeth he had in this chapter vanishes when he acts, at first, as if he is against the idea of strippers and then mentions, near the end of the chapter, that he and his groomsmen went to Las Vegas and had a huge stripper fest. His reasoning behind this was that his groomsmen organized it and when in Rome, do as the Romans do. It would have been nice if, rather than try to make this guide cover everything about bachelor parties and strippers, if he just dropped the pretense of his being against bachelor parties and just embraced what happened to him and told his story. Do we need to read all the quotes from “real women” about strippers? No. Did we need to hear more about how his final bachelor party decision was reached, what they did, and how he engaged the process? Yes.

Time and time again, the default behavior of the American Wedding Machine is unquestioned and grooms are taught, and blindly accept, that they should be accessories to their own wedding day. It’s pretty obvious that this default behavior doesn’t work for everyone and is increasingly more and more ineffective as the culturally defined spheres of women and men finally break down to the point where they’re no longer significant. Does questioning the American Wedding Machine necessarily mean that traditions and behaviors will change? No. Can a bride still look like a cupcake and call herself a princess? Of course. But what questioning does mean is that the general consciousness of a wedding (and a marriage) will be raised and this is not a bad thing.

Korean Shows are awesome. I give you “We Got Married”

One great thing about having a roommate who speaks Korean is that you get to hear about all the cool variety shows that cover Korean tv. They are quite different from American reality shows. Sure, they have contestants, contests, and celebrities, but the shows are more gimmicky and less serious than the shows in the US. I don’t understand them but the simple fact that the Korean subtitles on their reality shows are the producers making commentary about the show, while you watch it, is something that I enjoy. It’s like they understand that watching your tv is interactive – if you’re not making commentary, yelling at the screen, or rolling your eyes so loud your neighbors complain about the noises, then you’re not getting the whole TV watching experience.

One show is called We Got Married. The premise is simple. Celebrities are teamed up together to live as “newly weds”. Every week they have a new challenge to complete and the show is basically the couples watching themselves compete while giving their own commentary after it happened. After 100 days together, the couple celebrates their “marriage” by having wedding photography done. My roommate has decided that this is how her wedding pictures are going to turn out even if she has to go to South Korea to get them done.




TLC needs to get this show and Americanize it. I would watch.

Inspiration Boards

I’m not going to lie, I find inspiration boards interesting. The concept behind them is easy – it’s merely a collection of images to match your wedding scheme. If you have a color and a season, you have all you need. But, even with my professional background, I’m a complete fail when it comes to these. The idea of trying to put together a complete collage of inspirational wedding pictures is daunting. I haven’t even been able to organize the magazine articles and ads I clip from men fashion magazines – there’s no way I could throw an inspiration board together quickly.

But she can.

Here’s the board she made for my fiancee. She told her that our color was white and it would be in the Spring.

Neat, no?

The idea behind them is not to look for perfection and find every nicknack that is going to be in your reception hall. The idea is to merely try to quickly get an overall sense of what you’re going for with the overall look and feel of the wedding. And sometimes the best person to do that is a complete stranger on the internet.

White Wash

As an amateur photographer, I understand the appeal of playing with the RAW settings on your digital images and increasing the brightness/exposure to the point where the whites are really white, bright, and dazzling. In fact, if you whites aren’t as white as Joe Biden’s teeth, most people feel you’re doing your photography wrong. But what I refuse to tolerate is wedding photography where brown skin is white washed into oblivion.

Prune Prune Prune

I’m Mexican-American, my skin is brown. I like it, enjoy it, and like that even in the dead of winter, I’m not pale. Well, that’s not true. I do become pale – just my version of pale which is a light milk chocolate. Not only do I enjoy my skin, I’m pretty proud of it and what it represents: my ancestry, my family, and where I come from. I enjoy the history of it.

But God help the wedding photographer who does to me and my lovely fiancee what they did to that couple I linked above.

The guy is Asian, his fiancee is white. By increasing the white wash factor, the woman of the couple fades into Casper land and the Asian guy skin tone ends up matching his future wife’s. The distinct individualities of the people in the couple disappear and they become merely some gelatinous blob of over exposed ridiculousness. In fact, her facial features seem to vanish into the background and where she starts and ends isn’t distinct. The photographer might have been trying to be artistic or trying to symbolically show that the couple is now “one flesh” but, come on, this is an unflattering and ugly way to do it. Or it’s possible that the young woman, who admits to being photographed, preferred the photographer to render her in a fantasy/un-realistic way but, ugh. This is not an appealing way to photograph someone.

I realize that at the more wedding photography I look at, my standards and wants are getting stricter. I’m starting to realize how big of a team I’d like, the equipment I’d want them to use, and the style I’d like them to use. I want a photographer who, when I look at their pictures, I can learn from them. I know I’m not that good but, from my first glance at wedding photographers in my area, maybe I’m expecting too much. We’ll see.

Budget Weddings and being a snob

I’m a snob – I’ll admit it. I consider myself to be a person with taste, sophistication, and I’m rather opinionated. If I see something I dislike, I’m going to say I don’t like it. If I find something “beneath me”, I’m gonna say it. I might be semi-tactful about it but I’m not going to lie and pretend that something is wonderful when I don’t think it is. And I’m not going to take out my own frustrations with my own view of self, my own personal failure at matching my own personal level of taste and sophistication, by making backstabbing complements about other people and their opinions. My wedding might not have the napkin rings I want but I’m not going to post a fake compliment about yours and how “rustic” or “handy” they seem. Your napkin rings stand on their own and should stand on their own. I’m not going to be THAT person.

But it seems other people don’t share my views.

The poster, Miss D’orsay, wrote a blog post about budget weddings. Well, that’s at least how it originally appears but, after a quick read, it’s obvious that she’s not talking about budget weddings. What she’s trying to do is ask the world to pity her because, to keep within her budget, she’s not allowed to do the things she wants to do. I am, somehow, suppose to feel sorry that her budget doesn’t allow her to hire someone to do her makeup. And not only that, I’m also to tolerate her personal view that a $10,000 dollar wedding is considered ‘cheap’ and ‘a real budget wedding’. Backyard, restaurants, and other venues are ‘quaint’ and look at how lovely these poor people’s events turned out! Her post screams of snobbery but snobbery in its worse form. She laments not having the budget to be able to buy everything and she’s taking it out on others.

Some people will try to claim that this is her attempt to talk herself down, comfort herself, and to force herself to realize that a cheaper wedding can be quite beautiful. I don’t believe that. Her piss poor analogy on her jean size and finding a wedding that “fits” her is what does her in. A size 14 jean does not mean one is rich and opulent – in our society, a size 0 does. You can almost see the frustration in her writing and, if I’m allowed to read between the lines, a certain amount of depression that she’s not given the chance to have the expensive princess wedding of her dream. This isn’t fit and this isn’t an argument about needs or wants. This is just a post crying for pity.

And pity seeking snobs are the most pathetic snobs of them all.

It’s easy to look at those who are wealthier than you, to look at the pristine pictures in the magazines, and to someone feel that you’re not up to the task. Life isn’t a magazine – you’re not allowed to spend three weeks photoshopping your life, airbrushing your freckles, and stand on a box so that during the ceremony you can be taller than your bride. Being a snob isn’t striving for that level of perfection – being a snob is understanding taste, sophistication and how to work that into your life. And, amazingly enough, a lot of that isn’t bought off a rack – it’s tailored to you or you make it yourself. So if you want a wedding to match your snobbery, you need to have taste yourself. The problem is that a lot of people DON’T have taste but automatically assume they do. And if you don’t have that, it doesn’t matter what your budget is because whatever you do is going to fail. You will then spend your life lamenting the details and what didn’t go right at your wedding. I won’t be like that. I have taste, I have sophistication but I also understand what needs to happen to make my wedding sparkle. And money isn’t what’s going to do it.

Hopefully this is that Miss D’orsay and brides will eventually learn or else they’re going to renew their vows everything three years hoping to “get it right” but never, ever will.