The Dress

I’m sure you all saw the story on the news last week about Alfred Angelo bridal stores closing last week amid bankruptcy. Probably tens of thousands of brides who have shelled out thousands of dollars for dress are now left hanging. As a somewhat resent bride, my heart just sank for these women. I remember the anxiety of dress shopping. First, there is the fear that nothing will fit when you go to try on dresses. I’ve never been a size 5 and bridal dresses are ever smaller than normal stuff you buy in the store. Then, there is the budget. I just go into shock when I see young women setting budgets for dress on “Say Yes to the Dress” at $3,500-$6,000+. For a dress you will wear only once? How much are you spending on the rest of the wedding?

I was very lucky my mom offered to pay for my wedding dress. Jeremiah and I paid for the wedding ourselves. I tell you what, every couple should have to do that. It really makes you think twice about what you are spending your money on and how many people you invite. Even small weddings aren’t cheap. There is food, a DJ, photographer, hair/make-up, favors, and the list goes on and on. I think we had a nice wedding and were we able to pay for it 100% without taking on debt. (We are both Dave Ramsey grads.) It also taught us some very important lessons in saving for a house. Just a little over a year after our big day, we will have the down payment for our dream home.

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Pictures of dresses that didn’t become “The dress”.

Back to the dress. My mom and I went three stores. The first store was Belle Vogue. Going here first was like when we decided to spend the first two days of our honeymoon at the JW San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa before staying at a HomeAway rental. The service at Belle Vogue was amazing, the lighting was great, and the dresses actually came in sizes that I could try on. Our second stop was Natalie M’s. In this store, the service was still good, lighting wasn’t as good, brides had to share the big mirror, and the dresses weren’t quite as nice material. I did really like an Alfredo Angelo dress in this store. Our final stop was David’s Bridal. Anyone who loves anyone should never let a bride go to this store. The service was terrible, the dressing room was too small, and the dresses are very plain.

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Mom, my sister Stephanie, and I when I picked “The Dress”.

At first, I just couldn’t get past the cost of the dress. I work at a nonprofit and this was the first wedding expense we were figuring out. I only showed pictures of me in the dresses to just a couple of people. Everyone awed when they saw me in the dress I ended up picking. I returned to my first two stores to try on my top three favorite picks. The moment I put back on my Stella York, I knew it was the dress.

I know this sounds a little crazy but one of the reasons I liked it was because this dress was handmade in Australia. I knew how well they paid their workers and that my dress was less likely to get caught up in customs. Even then, I nervously waited for a phone call throughout the month of March to tell me my dress was here. Patience isn’t my best virtue so I asked while picking up my bridesmaid dresses. The good news is that it had just arrived in the shipment that day. Since Jeremiah was with me, I scheduled a time to come back later that week and asked a dear friend to join me as my mom lives so far away.

Almost a year and half later, Alfredo Angelo files bankruptcy. I think about all those women who don’t have dresses and are out the tons of money they spent on the dresses. You know best case scenario is that they will get back pennies on the dollar. But it also made me think back to my friend Jen’s wedding.

Jenny and I are friends from college. Roommates by Residence Hall chance, we have lived together in three different places and remained friends (miraculously) for 20 years. God, I feel old as I realize this. Jen officiated my wedding. I was lucky enough to stand up for her 12? years ago. But Jen’s wedding also had a dress fiasco.

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Bridesmaid bonded forever

Jen hired a small local businesswoman to make her dress. This same woman was also making articles of clothing for her mother, bridesmaids, flower girl, ring bearers, and candle lighters. The day before Jen’s wedding, I arrived in small town Nebraska. I went to pick up my dress and my jacket still wasn’t done. I thought this was odd but the seamstress said she’s have everything ready the next morning. The morning of Jen’s wedding, Jen got a call while we were at the hair studio. It was the seamstress. The dresses weren’t ready yet but they would be ready at Noon. Jen left us bridesmaids to go get her hair done at another salon. All five bridesmaids started talking and figured out that three of our dresses weren’t done. When the dresses weren’t at the auditorium at 12:45PM, we deciphered a plan to get and finish them. We are so lucky that Jen has a cousin who owns a sewing machine store. (Thank you small town Nebraska). Two bridesmaids went to get the clothes. The rest of us hopped in a van heading over to her cousin’s house. Luckily, she has three sewing machines in her basement. We also took Jen’s mom and another bridesmaid’s mother as none of us bridesmaids had sewing skills. When the other bridesmaids arrived with the items, we discovered the problem was bigger than we through. The only things that were done was Jen’s dress, the flower girl’s dress, and two bridesmaids’ dresses. My dress was almost completely done. We decided to scrap the jackets and focus on finishing the dresses. One bridesmaid’s dress was literally still in pieces. But first, we had to finish Jen’s mom’s dress so we could send her back to the house to help Jen get ready. The next few hours were a whirlwind in which the boys’ vest became just bow ties. You’d be amazed how good the bridesmaids became with scissors and hand stitching. The bottom of dresses were sergered instead of properly hemmed. But we got it done. And thank goodness because the nicest thing I had packed was a black cardigan and the nearest major city to find something had a home football game so traffic would have been crazy.

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Photo by Joseph Sands Images

I am happy to report, Jen and Brad had a great Muppet themed wedding. In fact, their Muppet character Pez dispensers for kids are the reason Jeremiah and I had Minion Pez dispensers for kids at our wedding. My nephew Brock still talks about those Pez dispensers from Jen’s wedding. The cake was delicious and who could forget every possible flavor of pie. Although I wish I could have been there to help Jen get ready, I hope she had as much as fun as I did at the reception.

Here’s hoping all those brides currently in distress look back on this moment as just a little hiccup in planning the biggest day of their lives. The years of marriage is what’s most important, right?

Today, I share recipe from our wedding cookbook from these dear friends. Since Jen and the kids have allergies, I think you will enjoy this spin on Rice Crispy Treats. It’s corn syrup free.

Brad’s Rice Krispie Bars
1 c. sugar
1 c. peanut butter or Sunbutter
1 c. cane sugar syrup (Lyle’s Golden Syrup)
6 c. Rice Krispies
6 oz. chocolate chips
6 oz. butterscotch chips (optional)

Combine sugar and syrup over a medium heat to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and add peanut butter. Stir until blended. Pour sugar mixture over Rice Krispies. Mix until well coated. Then, spread into a greased 8 x 8 pan. Microwave chips until melted and spread over bars. Refrigerate until set.

Quadruple Chocolate Cookies

I was looking for some new recipes when I ran across cookie recipe. I love Chocolate Crinkles (my signature dish) so these seemed like something I’d enjoy. Although they are tasty, I think my Chocolate Crinkles are better. But they did give me another excuse to use my Kitchen Aid mixer.

Quadruple Chocolate Soft Fudgy Pudding Cookies from Pinterest
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¾ c. butter, softened
¾ c. brown sugar
¼ c. sugar
2 eggs
1 packet of chocolate pudding
¼ c. cocoa powder
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

5 oz. dark chocolate chopped

Mix together butter, sugars, and eggs. Add in pudding, cocoa, flour, baking soda, and salt slowly. Stir in chocolate. Refrigerate for two hours. Roll into balls and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins

100_1269This morning, I was looking for a new recipe to cook. I looked through several in which I was missing at least one item to make it. For this recipe, it was buttermilk. I was fairly certain I could do something to turn the milk I had into buttermilk. Sure enough, one cup of milk and 1 T. lemon juice sitting at room temperature for 10 minutes makes buttermilk.

I reminded me of a story about buttermilk and my nephew. Each night before bed, my nephew pours himself a glass of milk. My sister buys 1% milk. My nephew poured himself a glass and went to chug it down. Immediately he was spitting it out screaming to my sister that the milk was bad. My sister was sure that wasn’t possible because she had just bought it. When Steph looked at the jug, she noticed it was buttermilk. Apparently, 1% and buttermilk use the same color for labeling.

Although Brock wouldn’t recommend that you drink buttermilk, I am sure he would approve of the taste baked into this recipe.

Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins from Pinterest
2 c. flour
¾ c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
¼ c. applesauce
1 c. chopped strawberries
½ c. rhubarb

Topping
½ c. flour
½ c. light brown sugar
¼ c. melted butter

Whisk buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and applesauce. In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Combine wet and dry ingredients and stir. Fold in strawberries and rhubarb. Put in muffin cups. Top with crumb mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Notes:

  • I used frozen strawberries and rhubarb.

Cheerios Treats

Not exactly the healthiest way to eat Cheerios but definitely a tasty treat.

Cheerio TreatsCheerios Treats from Pinterest
1 c. sugar
1 c. light corn syrup
1 c. creamy peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
5 c. Cheerios

Bring sugar and corn syrup to a boil over a medium heat. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add vanilla and peanut butter. Add Cheerios. Drop spoonfuls on waxed paper.

Notes:

  • I used reduced fat peanut butter.
  • I used Honey Nut Cheerios but Multi-Grain contain 3 g. less of sugar per serving.

Crockpot Baked Apple

Forget the scented candles – here’s the best way to make your house smell like an apple pie without much work.

Crockpot Baked Cinnamon ApplesCrockpot Baked Apple Slices from Pinterest
5 apples
¼ c. brown sugar
¼ c. sugar
½ c. apple juice
2 T. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 T. cinnamon
½ tsp. vanilla
1 T. butter

Peel, core, and slice apples. Place in Crockpot and top with all ingredients except butter. Stir and top with diced butter. Bake for 1 ½ hours on high or 4-5 hours on low. Stir halfway through.

Are You a Chocoholic?

Calling all chocoholics – this rich recipe is for you. Be sure to serve it warm with whipped topping or vanilla ice cream to help tame this chocolate dish. I could only eat piece once every couple of days.

Chocolate CobblerChocolate Cobbler from Pinterest
1 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
7 T. cocoa powder, divided
1 ¼ c. sugar, divided
½ c. milk
1/3 c. melted butter
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
½ c. brown sugar
1 ½ c. hot tap water

Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, 3 T. cocoa, and ¾ c. sugar. Stir in milk, butter, and vanilla. Pour into 8” baking dish. In a small bowl, mix ½ c. sugar, brown sugar, and 4 T. cocoa. Sprinkle over batter. Pour over water. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Festivus

What gets you in the holiday spirit? Is it watching that classic Seinfeld episode where we learn that Frank Costanza invented his own holiday entitled Festivus? Is it watching your favorite holiday movie? Is it shopping and wrapping presents?

I have always enjoyed listening to Christmas music while baking. In my college days, it meant staying up into the middle of the night baking Chocolate Crinkles, red and green colored Snickerdoodles, and Chex Mix.

Since I recently asked all my friends what their favorite Christmas songs are, I thought I would share a few of my favorites.

  • A Christmas Festival by The Boston Pops – I’m a sucker for classical music at the holidays. This song also reminds me of playing it when I was in the Wayne High School concert band.
  • Sleigh Ride – This song makes me think of The Northland Symphony Orchestra. I served on the board of directors for several years. Although I wasn’t able to make it to this year’s concert, I’m sure Jim Murray included this piece featuring the percussion auxiliary instruments of sleigh bells and the clapper.
  • Put a Little Love in Your Heart by Al Green and Annie Lennox – Ok, maybe it isn’t a traditional Christmas song but it is in the movie Scrooged. Although I was totally scared by it when I saw it in the movie theatre as a child, it was just one of the many holiday movies I’ve seen with my family. We usually go Thanksgiving weekend or Christmas Day to see a movie together.
  • Carol of the Bells by Mannheim Steamroller – Chip Davis, a fellow University of Nebraska-Lincoln alum, did a great job arranging this piece. It always makes me think of my Grandpa Fletcher. He is a huge fan of this group and a great lover of music.
  • Christmas/Sarahevo 12/24 by Trans-Siberian Orchestra – A few years ago, we went to one of their concerts for my mother’s birthday. Not only do they play cool Christmas music but they put on another show entirely of their non-Christmas stuff. I bet they played for three hours. You can catch them in Kansas City on December 22nd. But don’t forget to bring canned goods for Harvesters.
  • All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey – Sure, lots of artists put out Christmas albums remaking classics but Mariah invented a Christmas modern day classic.
  • Rocking Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee – Doesn’t it make you want to reenact the puppet/record player scene from Home Alone?
  • You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch – It’s Dr. Seuss – enough said!
  • Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays by N’sync – It makes me wish all the boys would be joining JT when I see his tour next July.
  • O Holy Night from Home Alone – E.T., Indian Jones, The Boston Pops – I love John Williams. My sister and I were talking about although he will never be compared to the likings of Bach or Beethoven, his classic movie scores will probably go down in history as our generation’s contribution to musical history.

Like holiday music, no Christmas gathering would be complete without a cheese ball. I made this one for my Volunteer Services Team holiday party. It was a big hit served with Grinch drinks (Sprite and lime sherbet).

Peppermint Oreo Cheese BallPeppermint Cookie Cheese Ball from Pinterest
1 – 8 oz. cream cheese brick
1/2 c. softened butter
3 T. brown sugar
2/3 c. powder sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 a bag mini-chocolate chips
Peppermint chips/peppermint bark/broken candy cane
5 holiday Oreos

Blend together cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Then, add dry ingredients (except Oreos and peppermint). Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Then, roll in crushed Oreos and peppermint bark.

Serve with apples, graham crackers, Oreos, and pretzels.

An Amber Original

Back in my Komen days, I remember going with our Community Outreach Manager to Atchison to present our first grant to the hospital. As the only hospital/imaging center serving that region of northeast Kansas, they hosted a big pink party to celebrate. One of the things their chef made was these amazing chocolate cookies with Raspberry M&Ms. I was in love. Although I haven’t been able to locate a recipe for these delicious cookies, I opted to take my best cookie recipe, remove the confectioner sugar, and add raspberry M&Ms. My you enjoys these as much as my Marriott co-workers did. They will melt in your mouth when served warm.

Chocolate Raspberry CookiesChocolate Raspberry Cookies by Amber Bourek
3/4 c. Butter, melted
1/2 c. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 c. Sugar
2 c. Flour
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Salt
2 Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla
1/2 c. Chocolate Chips
1/2 c. Raspberry M&Ms

In a large bowl, mix butter, cocoa, and sugar. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Use an electric mixer to add eggs and vanilla into chocolate mixture. Slowly add dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Refrigerate overnight. Roll into balls and place on baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

Notes:

  • I used mini-chocolate chips and it wasn’t as rich as I would have liked. I’d recommend using Milk Chocolate regular sized chips. You might even want to use 3/4 cup.
  • I used 1/2 c. Raspberry M&Ms. That put only about one M&M per cookie. You might want to use 3/4 or 1 cup of M&Ms.
  • I didn’t add but you could easily add a tsp. of raspberry syrup instead of adding more M&Ms.

Pumpkin Spice

Who doesn’t love the taste of pumpkin spice in the fall? This recipe is an easy way to capture the taste of pumpkin pie without all the mess.

Mini Pumpkin Pie CroissantsMini Pumpkin Pie Croissant from Pinterest
1 tube crescent rolls
2 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. canned pumpkin
1 T. pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 T. sugar

Topping
2 T. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Cream together pumpkin, cream cheese, pumpkin pie spice, and sugar. Spread 1 1/2 tsp. of filling on each crescent roll and roll up. Sprinkle sugar and pumpkin pie spice on top. Bake at 375 degrees for 13-15 minutes.

Notes:

  • I used spreadable light cream cheese and reduced fat crescent rolls.
  • I would suggest maybe cutting the amount of filling by 1/3 or 1/2. It seemed to be a lot. I had to bake for 15 minutes to fully cook the pumpkin.
  • I would also suggest cutting the amount of topping in half. It was twice as much as I needed. I also would suggest maybe even cutting the amount of pumpkin pie spice if you don’t want to be overwhelmed by it.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

When I think of rhubarb, I think of the house I grew up in. Behind our house in Wisner, my parents had a rhubarb patch and apple tree. Unfortunately, our tree was struck by lightning so the apples it produced were not edible. I remember my mother sending me out in the summer time to pull rhubarb for recipes she would make. The recipe I remember the most was a coffee cake.

When we moved to Wayne, my Grandma Fletcher helped me plant a garden our first year. When we started, the only thing in the garden was rhubarb and Morning Glory flowers growing up the vine. I really wanted strawberries and pumpkins. I learned a few very important lessons. 1) I don’t have a green thumb. 2) You can’t grow strawberries right away. 3) Pumpkins take over and spread everywhere. My great uncle Bob would often come over and take our rhubarb to make jam. The blessing of course is that he would share it with us for providing the rhubarb.

As an adult, I occasionally find recipes I want to make with rhubarb. My dear friend Chuck even has a whole recipe book with just rhubarb recipes. A few months ago, I noticed they sold it in the freezer section at Hy-Vee. I picked up some rhubarb in hopes of making a few of those recipes.

During a recent trip to visit my family, my sister had the television on The Food Network. The Barefoot Contessa was making a Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. It looked so good I decided to make it a few days ago. I wish I could capture the smell of this amazing recipe straight from the oven to share with you through my blog. I guess this beautiful picture will have to do until you cook it for yourself.

Strawberry Rhubarb CrispStrawberry Rhubarb Crisp by The Barefoot Contessa
4 c. rhubarb, chopped
4 c. strawberries, chopped
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. orange zest
1 t. cornstarch
1/2 c. orange juice
1 c. flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. oatmeal
12 T. (1 and 1/2 sticks butter), chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix rhubarb and strawberries with 3/4 c. sugar. Add orange zest. Dissolve cornstarch in orange juice. Pour into large baking dish (2 qt. oblong). Mix flour, salt, brown sugar, remaining granulated sugar, and oatmeal together. Mix in cubed butter. Sprinkle onto of fruit. Bake for 1 hour.

(Please note – I cut the recipe in half.)