Sunday, June 27, 2010

wedding reception food and drink ideas (part 5)

by now you have read about having a right heart in wedding planning, tips on getting the dress and flowers for the right price, rethinking the ring, and ideas for a cake and hair/make-up.  today, i am going to focus on what is usually one of the main aspects of a wedding: the food and drinks.

there is no way around it, food and drinks will take a good chunk of your wedding budget.  some will suggest cutting down your guest list to save money on this.  however, i believe that a reception should be more about people than stuff.  alex and i placed a higher value on a variety of people celebrating the day with us, rather than making sure a few people are well wined and dined.

another idea would to have a reception without any food [this is rare, but the field is pretty open when you are rethinking traditions and trends].  however, because hospitality was a main focus for us, we definitely wanted to have food so that our guests to feel valued and loved.  furthermore, since food has been a part of celebrating for millenia, i believe that it is a healthy and God-honoring tradition [jesus even attended at least one wedding feast!]

you may be stunned to know that we spent around $400 for our food and drinks [including alcohol] for 200 people.  and it wasn't just any old thing we could scrounge up... i thought that the food at our wedding was absolutely delicious!  and i wasn't the only one who thought this, because we got a lot of compliments on this aspect of our reception.

how did we do it? we had friends [very good, wonderful, amazing friends!] make all of the food.  our menu was a nacho bar, with tons of different toppings for people to choose from.  our friends made guacamole, grilled chicken strips and pico de gallo from scratch.  they also put out some  other toppings we bought at the store: sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, black olives, diced tomatoes.  one of my regrets from the wedding was being so busy talking to people that i never got to finish my plate of nachos.  they were amazing! :)

and for $400, we were able to serve a variety of drinks (pop, coffee, lemonade, water), even including some alcohol [sangria]. it made me happy to find a frugal option for serving wine at the wedding, since red wine is one of my favorite things [not to mention that jesus apparently also thought that it was an important part of a wedding :) ].

how did we do it for so cheap?  a big thing was that our friends made and served all the food.  that cut out the cost of a caterer.  furthermore, they made huge homemade batches of guacamole, pico de gallo and grilled chicken strips, which saved a lot of money over buying each of these things pre-made.  skipping serving alcohol is definitely something that can save a big chunk of money, but we were able to do it frugally since we made it into sangria, which is about half juice and half wine.  it also helped that we found wine for only about $1.50 a bottle.  also, i shopped around:  i went to about 4 stores several weeks before the wedding and priced everything.  needless to say, i am a "j" on the meyers-briggs test :D

by the way, on our invitations we wrote that we would be having a "reception with hors d' oeuvres" so that people wouldn't come super hungry, because we were "just" serving nachos and not a full meal.  however, i almost regret doing this because we had so many leftovers!  if i had to do it  again, we would have made a little more chicken and counted it as a full meal.  i think we still would have come out easily under $500.

i loved that this worked out!  [if you cant tell, i was very enthusiastic about our nacho bar :D ] for some other ways to re-think this aspect of a wedding, here are more frugal food ideas:

i LOVE the idea of having a potluck wedding.  if we didn't do the nacho bar, this would have been my next choice for the food.  for a potluck, simply ask everyone to bring a dish to share (or you can ask a big chunk of people, say your whole family or something, to contribute a food item).  you may want to come up with a theme, as this will help people decide what would be appropriate to bring (for example, a dessert buffet).  remember to plan for logistics (ie, power strips if many people will bring crock pots, refrigerator space, etc.)

two friends of ours who got married last year just ordered a ton of pizzas and put out two liters of pop.  this not only made for a fun/casual environment at the wedding, but perfectly fit with their personalities. 

relatedly, we had some other friends get chinese take-out food in large pans for their wedding... complete with tons of fortune cookies! 

pre-made food from a bulk food store.
another idea that would save tons of money is to get pre-made food from a store that sells in bulk, such as costco.  for a full meal, you could buy tons of pans of frozen lasagna, and some garlic bread, and have friends heat it in the oven and serve it (it would be helpful to have access to industrial sized ovens for this!)

even easier would be to serve hors d' oeuvres or desserts in this fashion.  you would just need the help of a few friends to set it all out and make sure it stayed stocked up.

how did you save money on food at your wedding?  what other frugal food and drink ideas do you have?

go on to part 6 here...

Monday, June 21, 2010

simply tasty: artichoke dip

by request of my niece (in-law), i am posting the recipe for the homemade artichoke dip i made the other day.  it must have been tasty since 3 of us finished it in like 10 minutes!

now, i can really call this homemade, because i used fresh artichokes (not canned like most recipes call for), and i made my own mayonnaise and sour cream.

artichoke dip

(note: measurements here are approximate, i just eyeballed it)

1/2 cup chopped onions
2 fresh artichoke hearts
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
3/4 cup chopped broccoli stems
4-7 chopped swiss chard leaves
4 T olive oil
3/4 c homemade mayonnaise
3/4 c homemade sour cream
1/3 cup cheese (i used sharp white cheddar because that is what i had, but parmesan would probably taste better)
2 t worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
optional: a few chopped green onion tops for garnish

saute the veggies over a medium-low heat until soft, stirring constantly. (i have some concern for the stability of EVOO, so i usually only use it for cold dishes, but if i cook it i try to use a low heat.  however, a higher heat would probably bring out more flavor in the veggies)

allow veggies to cool, add sour cream, mayo, salt, pepper and worcestershire sauce.  refrigerate for an hour, then serve!

(alternatively, if you want a warm dip, add sour cream thru worcestershire sauce while veggies are warm, then heat until bubbling.  serve immediately)

these go well with homemade tortilla chips.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

part 4: the ring

if you read parts one, two and three of my series on frugal, God-centered wedding planning, you could probably tell that though I'm not completely counter-cultural, I questioned every trend and tradition before I decide how it would play out in our wedding.

this is also evident than in our decision surrounding "the ring".

i am of the opinion that most people spend way too much money on their wedding/engagement rings.  the average couple will spend $4,500 on an engagement ring and over $2,000 on wedding rings.

now to be fair, i am told that there was a day that getting an expensive ring was a wise investment and choice: basically it acted as a life insurance policy for the women in case anything ever happened to her husband.  however, these days, we have life insurance.  so the question remains, why are rings getting more and more elaborate and expensive?

to be very blunt, i think it stems from pride, not only on the side of the woman but also the man.  women want a beautiful ring so that they can show it to all their friends, and their friends will be envious.  guys give into the desires of their ladies because of cultural pressure and the desire to compete with other guys and be the one who bought the *ultimate* ring.  in addition, it is possible that many haven't ever taken a step back and questioned this trend, but just walk into it because that is what everyone else is doing.

you will notice that most women's first question upon hearing about a friend's engagement is "can i see the ring?".  i still have to catch myself, but i purposely do NOT ask this question, because i want the focus to be on the relationship and hearing more about my friend's future husband.  in a thousand years, the ring wont matter. but the relationship will.

our story

to be honest, i have never really desired to have a huge, amazing engagement ring.  but even more so after i decided to follow Christ, and realized that what i previously thought was my money is actually God's money.  he makes it clear how he desires for his followers to use His money: to fund ministries, feed the poor, care for orphans and widows, and serve other believers.  therefore, having a deep desire to use my money for these types of things which have an eternal impact, i had little desire to have so much money go to something (like a ring) which has very little important impact on the world.  after alex and i dated for a while and it became clear that overseas mission work would likely be our future path, i was even more determined to get a simple ring since it would not be ok to wear an expensive ring while doing ministry in a third world country.

therefore, as soon as the "m" word came up in our discussions, i knew i had to tell alex that i did not want a "normal" ring.  i was a little nervous to be so forthright, and also nervous about his reaction but after much thought i decided to send him this picture, of the ring i had always pictured myself wearing.

apparently i was right to be nervous. shortly after sending the picture i got a phone call.  "i refuse to buy you that piece of dust diamond!" i heard alex say.

to make a long story short, i asked him to pray about it, and God brought us to agreement on the ring.  a few months later we were engaged.  later, when it came time to made decisions about wedding rings, I decided not to get one, and alex decided to get a simple one made out of inexpensive titanium. (as a side note i especially recommend getting an inexpensive ring for men.  i know many, many men who have lost their wedding bands one or more times, and end up just getting an inexpensive one anyways!)

wedding and engagement rings are important.  they symbolize a great deal in the covenant of marriage.  however, my challenge is that christians ought to think more about the why's of a ring, before they think about the what's.

in light of this, here are some alternative wedding/engagement ring ideas:

::family heirloom ring::
my best friend's wedding and engagement rings are absolutely beautiful.  and her husband didn't spend a penny!  that is because her rings were heirlooms from her husband's family.  not only is this an inexpensive option, but it is also an awesome way to honor family and start a tradition.

another idea that i have seen friends do is to use a family heirloom diamond, set into a new ring (the metal part is often the least expensive part of a ring, so this saves a lot of money!)

::tattoo ring::
two friends from our church opted to go with tattoos of a favorite bible verse rather than actual rings.  what a cool, unique idea!  i especially love that a tattoo is permanent, just like marriage (ok, i realize that there is something called plastic surgery.  but still).

::no diamond::
if i had to do it again, i would probably go for a stone other than a diamond.  why? first of all, diamonds are way more expensive than other gemstones, but they aren't necessarily all that much more attractive.  in fact, clear is almost a little bit boring when compared to a vibrant red, blue, green or purple gem. 

another really important thing that there is a lot of injustice in the diamond industry.  though experts will tell you that you can avoid this by just asking your jeweler the origin of your diamond, others claim that the vast majority of diamonds on the market are "blood diamonds" and it is almost impossible to avoid buying one.  it might be best to just avoid this altogether.

what about you?  if you are married, what is your ring like?  what was your thought process in getting it?  if you are single, have you thought much about this issue?

go on to part five here...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

tips for a God-centered, sancifying and frugal wedding (part 3)

this week, i have been reflecting on our wedding, sharing some of our story, as well as some biblical foundations for your heart while planning a wedding.

today i will share more of how we did our wedding on the cheap (we had about 200 guests and paid about 1/10 of what the average wedding costs these days) but still got lots of good feedback from our guests.

the cake
did you know that the average couple spends $550 for their cake?  the very cake that some guests wont touch, others will complain about feeling guilty for eating it, and that only provides a few minutes of silly photo opps?  however, many people are duped into thinking that they "have" to have a wedding cake.  bakeries know this, and they also know that they can charge a lot for wedding cakes, so they do.

instead of a cake, consider having a dessert bar, with various different desserts made by friends and family (many would love to bless your wedding by getting to contribute in this way!).  even if you cant ask people to help you, you could buy various delicious looking pre-made desserts from a store like costco and still save lots of money.  just don't forget to have plenty of coffee to go with your delectable desserts!

to save even more money, you could turn the dessert bar into the main spread, and nix appetizers and a meal (just make sure to let your guests know so that they don't come hungry expecting a full meal!)

or take it a step further and forgo cake all together. this was my initial inclination, since i think that wedding cakes can often times be an over-the-top frivolity.  however, my cousin graciously offered to make our cake as a gift to us.  she is not a professional, but she has lots of experience. she did a wonderful job with our cake, as you can see in the picture above.

hair and make up
you should most definitely look beautiful on your wedding day, for no other reason than because it honors your [soon-to-be!] husband. however, spending tons of money on getting professional hair and make up done isn't necessarily worth the expense.

consider asking a friend or family member who is good with styling to help you beautify on the day of your wedding.  there are many books and magazines that you can refer to for tips and ideas on this (i used this one).

i was blessed to have my good friend shahera do my wedding hair and make up (i lucked out... not only is she one of the best dressed people i know, but she is also in the fashion industry!).  you can see her putting the finishing touches on my hair in the picture on the left.  she did a great job, if i do say so myself :)

if you have a friend do your hair and make-up, make sure to practice a couple times before the wedding.  shahera and i tried three or four color schemes of make up so that we could be sure about the best look (we settled on light pink, which you can see right).  this was also fun bonding time for her and i!  another great thing about DIY make-up is that any new products you buy for your big day can be used again and again!

i also know of people who have gotten free make-overs at department store make-up counters the day of their wedding in order to save money.

as a side note on the topic of honoring your future husband with how you look on your wedding day, ask him about his preference for your hair, make-up and even your dress.  alex really wanted me to wear my hair down.  though this isn't what i would have chosen at all, i wanted to look the best for him (and no one else) on that day.  i also know of guys who have had strong preference about the general look of his bride's dress (though obviously this doesn't mean you actually have to show him your dress if you don't want to!)

what about you?  do you have any frugal wedding cake or beauty tips to share?

go on to part four here...

Friday, June 11, 2010

tips for a God-centered, sancifying and frugal wedding (part 2)

in part one i discussed the foundation of planning a wedding: getting your heart right.

in part two, i want to get more practical with actual tips about planning your wedding.  because i am an avid multi-tasker, it makes me especially happy that not only do many of these tips save money, but they are also better for the environment, put the focus onto jesus and the reason for marriage and will help you have a unique and personalized wedding.

the dress
i'll start with ideas for getting the dress, since that is the first thought of most brides. three words: used, used, used.  now, used doesn't sound sexy, but then again neither does the word "frugal".  why go used?  go against the wasteful wedding dress industry that ridiculously overcharges for wedding dresses.  you will wear this dress for one day of your life, don't waste so much money on it!  wedding dresses are like cars: the day they are purchased, they lose TONS of value.  so capitalize on this and buy a dress that has been worn one time for a fraction of the "new" price with all of the "new" value.

this is one of the areas of our wedding that God really answered prayer. early on in our engagement, i decided that i would try to borrow a dress to wear for our wedding.  later that week, i went to a friend's wedding and she wore an absolutely beautiful dress.  because i loved her dress, and because we wear the same size, i was determined to work up the courage to ask her if i could borrow it.  but i decided that i would wait for a few months, so that she didn't feel like i was encroaching on her special day or something.

there was no need to wait.  the day she got back from her honeymoon, she called me about something, and in the course of the conversation offered me her dress, even though i didn't bring it up at all!  definitely one of those moments that was clearly 100% God, 0% me. (the above picture is me in the dress!)

other ideas for getting a used dress: your mom or grandma's dress (vintage is in these days, and your mom/grandma would certainly feel very blessed to see you wear her dress), check online sites like ebay, craigslist etc.  fortunately, since wedding dresses almost always have to be altered anyways, you dont have to worry about it being an exact fit if you buy it without seeing it.

the flowers    
three words to keep in mind for the flowers are: local, DIY and reconsider.  fist of all, local. the best advice on how to save on flowers i got was to ask around to friends or family who have nice gardens, and ask if you can use some of their flowers.  the picture to the left was from the table that alex and i sat at during the reception.  the beautiful white rose was from the garden of our neighbor and friend tom. (we also used his jalapenos for the food we made for our wedding... more on that in the next post).  we also had lots of ivy as decoration, which came from my mom's garden.  local not only saves money, but it saves the environment.  many flowers at a florist shop are shipped from hundreds, even thousands of miles away, which not only costs a lot of money, but puts tons of pollutants in the air.  i was looking into getting a gardenia to wear in my hair for the wedding, but found out the cost was prohibitive because they only ship them from Africa, even though you can get live gardenia plants from the US.  ridiculous!

                                                                                                                        when it comes to flowers, do it yourself.  bouquets are actually pretty simple to tie, so just buy a few flowers and put it together yourself (or in my case, enlist a creative bridesmaid to do it!).  buying a few large flowers is easier and cheaper than buying many small flowers, and it will make just as much of a splash.  as you can see in the picture, my bridesmaids carried bouquets of three pink gerbera daisies... they were simple but beautiful.
on the other hand, you may want to reconsider even having flowers at your wedding.  this may sound sacrilegious, since probably every wedding you have been to ever has had flowers as a prominent feature.  but who said that you have to have flowers at your wedding?  i didn't carry a bouquet, because it felt like a waste for something that would spend less than an hour actually being in my hands (instead i did choose to wear a single flower in my hair, since that would be with me the whole evening).  in fact, i almost didn't get bouquets for my bridesmaids, but i figured they might not be as into bucking the trend as i am, so i did decide to have them carry the simple bouquets i described above.

in the upcoming posts, i will write more about what alex described as the "piece of dust" on my hand, how we served a meal to 200 people for about $400 (including alcohol!), and how to save on photography.

what about you?  do you have any simple, frugal tips to share with prospective brides?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

tips for a God-centered, sancifying and frugal wedding (part 1)

reading this blog today made me reflect on my own wedding planning experience, and think about what advice i would give to other women who are currently in the process of planning their own weddings.

weddings are very much a product of culture.  there is little in the wedding that actually affects the marriage.  furthermore, there is little if any instruction in the bible on how a wedding should be conducted.  as a result, weddings, even for the christ follower, are heavily influenced by tradition and trends.

and without a doubt, the tradition and trend in our culture is to put lots of stock in your wedding, make it your perfect day, focus on yourself, and feel great about everything in life.  in other words, spend lots and lots and LOTS of money.

however, the bible tells christians not to be conformed to culture, but to be transformed by  examining what God has revealed about how we should live.

that being the case, there are three pieces of advice that i would offer to christ-following women in this lifestage, most especially before you actually start planning. (this applies to men too, but more so to women who tend to do most of the wedding planning)

1.) examine your heart.
are you the type who has dreamed of her wedding since you were a young girl? what are your expectations for your wedding?  how would you describe the weddings that you have been to in your life, especially the ones that you most admired?

what do you want to be true in your life in general, as a christ follower?  how do you want these values to play out on your wedding day?  are your desires for your wedding influenced more by the bible or by what the world tells you to value?

pretend you are 80 years old and thinking back on your wedding.  what do you want to be able to tell your grandkids was true of that day?  if you could write a mission statement for your wedding, what would it be?

2.) confess and repent of sin. 
if you truly examine your heart, i guarantee that you will have plenty of sin to confess regarding this major life event.  i am a very practical person, and i had zero desire for any kind of fancy wedding.  however, when i went to friends' weddings during my engagement time, i constantly compared myself to them, and often struggled with jealousy.  when i didn't struggle with jealousy, i fell into judgementalism.  these were sins that i continually had to confess.

ask God to show you any hint of jealousy you may have of others, selfishness that you would want to make the day about you, bitterness towards any friends or family members regarding how this day will play out, desires to be admired by others, feelings of wanting what you see in magazines and on TV, etc.

confess this sin to God.  and ask him to help you to turn away from it.  these two things will most likely be a continual process leading up to your wedding.

3.) pray.
there are many things you should be praying for in this process.  however, two that i will suggest that relate specifically to the topic of this blog are to pray for sanctification and pray for provision.

pray for sanctification, that God would make your character more like jesus' during this time.  pray that as He points out sin that He would graciously empower you to walk away from that sin.  pray that God would especially sanctify you in preparation for your upcoming marriage.

pray also for provision of what you need for the wedding, and that God would provide the people and the way to keep it simple.  more in my next post about all of the really cool ways God answered our prayers and provided for our wedding!

in many ways, having a simple wedding will honor God, and help you turn away from the world's oppressive message to honor yourself on that day.
why go simple?

1. to put the focus on jesus, not on you or your big bankroll wedding.

2. be green. ultimately, the more frivolities you buy for your wedding, the more resources that are wasted, and the more pollutants that go into the environment (more on that here)

3. save that money for something better.  like a savings account, supporting a missionary, making a wise investment, or building a well for people in india who have no access to clean water.

4. be a trend setter.  very few people go "simple" for their wedding.  who knows, you might start the next big thing.

5.  help others not to sin.  when other ladies come to your wedding, they will be less likely to sinfully fall into jealousy, but will more easily be able to focus on jesus and rejoice with you about the special journey of marriage you are embarking on.

5.  allow people in your life to bless you by utilizing their gifts and talents to make your wedding day happen.  having people you know help you also makes your wedding much more personal, unique and special.

tomorrow, i will get a little more practical.  i'll share about how we did our evening wedding for 200 guests with a meal for under $3,000, with practical tips on planning your simple, frugal and fantastic wedding.

go on to part two here...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

christ and creation: is it biblical to care for the environment?

if this earth is eventually going to be destroyed anyways, then should christians care about the environment?  if God gave people tasty animals for the purpose of eating them, does it matter what their life is like?

these and other questions about the earth have been on my mind recently.

my life experiences have shaped me to be someone who makes conscious choices about how i treat the environment.  i was raised in a house where we recycled and composted before it was popular, and i owned 3 or 4 books with variations on the title "50 ways you can save the earth".
this environmental consciousness grew when i lived in germany, a country with deep respect for the outdoors.  among other things, grocery stores dont give out bags (bring your own or purchase at the check out counter), hormone use in livestock is prohibited and EVERYTHING is recycled (i remember my first day there being very confused by the 5 different garbage cans in our friend's kitchen... each one was for a different type of recycled good.)

more recently, my research about modern farming practices has intensified my desire to care for creation.  understanding the unnatural diets fed to chicken, cattle, etc that leads to unnecessary disease, as well as the environmental effects of the over-use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer has saddened me and convicted me to change my shopping and eating habits.

a few weeks ago, alex and i got into a long discussion about environmentalism and the bible.  he asked me why, biblically, it is a priority to care for the environment.  it was hard for me to answer... i just knew that i felt very strongly about the subject, and i felt that since God made the earth, and gave us dominion over it, that we should care for it (just like any good ruler should care for those under his rule).  but i wanted a sure answer.  was i just falling for a media ploy to care for the environment that was needlessly using up my time and money for something that was not actually honoring God? 

fortunately, i remembered a recent recommendation on noel piper's blog for a book called christ and creation by craig sorley.  since i pretty much trust anything she recommends, i immediately ordered the book.  i just finished reading it, and i wanted to provide a review and summery of the book here.

"christ and creation" is God-centered and scripture saturated.  furthermore, from what i can tell his theology is sound, considering that the majority of his quotes from outside sources come from either calvin, piper, edwards or luther.  sorley has clearly studied this issue for a while and
covers a broad range of reasons why scripture supports our need to care for creation.

the book itself is rather short, just over 100 pages, but with more than enough written to give a solid biblical basis for his points.  he does not go into the practicals of how we should treat the environment/creation, but focuses solely on the "why" and basis for doing so.  i found myself underlining many points, nodding my head in agreement and wanting to stand up and cheer.  it was encouraging to read something that is firmly focused on God and not entangled with the political/emotional side of this issue.

this is the only book of its kind that i have been able to find (a book about creation from a solid scriptural perspective), and i would commend it to all christians, especially in light of the fact that the environment is such a popular issue these days (and can be a very hot-button issue).

here are some of the main points that he makes in this book.

from scripture, why should christ followers care for creation?

1. because God created it (colossians 1:15-16, genesis 1)

2. because the purpose of creation is to testify to the beauty, magnificence and glory of God (psalm 19:1-4)

3. because jesus died to reconcile creation (colossians 1:19-20, romans 8:18-23)

4. because God declared that all he made was good (genesis 1)

5. because God himself delights in his creation (psalm 104:31)

6. because God gave us dominion over the earth (genesis 2:15) and our dominion is supposed to be carried out in a christ-like manner (genesis 1:26).  many christians exercise dominion over the earth in a worldly manner, characterized by greed, self-centeredness, laziness and materialism.

7. because God is the owner of creation (psalm 24:1) and he will hold us accountable to how we steward it (matt. 25:14-30)

8. because we are called to glorify God, and caring for creation is one way of doing this. (1 corinthians 10:31)

9. because creation is suffering as a result of our sin (jeremiah 12:4, hosea 4:1-3), and jesus died to conquer sin and enable us to do good (titus 2:11-14).

10. because when the environment is ruined, the poor suffer the most, and God calls us to care for the poor (proverbs 21:13, micah 6:8).

11. because caring for creation can enhance our efforts to fulfill the great commission, because it leads to more holistic discipleship (matt. 28:18-20)

12.  because we want to point people to paradise with God and our eternal future home (2 peter 3:13)

last time i checked, this book is listed on, but not actually available from there.  here is the website where i got it, straight from sorley's ministry.