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The Wedding Issue

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Guaranteed fitness results through Russian Kettlebell training.

When the moniker of a workout regimen includes the phrase “boot camp,” you expect results — and probably to do hundreds of push-ups at 6 a.m. while an ex-drill sergeant yells at you. For Queen City Kettlebell’s Blushing Brides Bootcamp, only the good part of that expectation is true: the results, which are underwritten by a money-back guarantee.    

The comprehensive, personalized fitness and nutrition program at Blushing Brides Bootcamp is built around a core of Russian kettlebell training. Exercising with kettlebells — different sized cast-iron weights with handles — offers a complete, full-body strength and cardio workout. And it has been shown to burn fat and calories faster and more efficiently than the traditional blend of cardio and weight training, with an astounding average loss of 272 calories in 20 minutes, according to a University of Wisconsin, La Crosse Exercise and Health Program study.  

“[The kettlebell] is a very versatile training tool,” says boot camp instructor Carla Grimm, one of only about 2,000 Russian Kettlebell Certified (RKC) instructors in the world. “It’s ballistic, explosive and strength-training all at the same time. You’re using the largest muscle groups in your body … so it’s just an incredible tool for fat loss, fitness and strength.”   

Blushing Brides Bootcamp offers an eight- or twelve-week total body plan where brides-to-be complete an intense kettlebell interval-training program, bolstered by an intelligent nutrition plan, to help achieve the goal of looking fantastic when they walk down the aisle.   

“It’s a lifestyle approach, really,” says Grimm. “This isn’t just your Tuesday night dance club. This isn’t just your, ‘I’m dieting again because it’s Monday.’ This is, ‘Here’s how I’m going to improve my lifestyle.’ … It’s holistic in that you don’t just diet or eat a certain way and you don’t just work out. It’s both.” 

But the first thing you do when you sign up for the program is go through a consultation process with the Queen City Kettlebell instructors. “We meet with the bride, talk about what her goals are, what she would like to do and how she would like to improve her fitness and her health before she gets married,” says Grimm.   

Then, once you’re enrolled in the boot camp program, you’ll get an introductory kettlebell class to teach you basic kettlebell skills and safety followed by three, one-hour progressive small group or one-on-one workout sessions per week and personalized nutritional guidance.

“There’s no jumping, there’s no bouncing,” says Grimm. “No coordinated dance moves like Zumba to have to follow and feel silly when you can’t.”   

“There’s just some basic skills to learn which are very fundamental,” she adds. “And then once you get those, it’s just progressive — everyone’s always improving their skill.”   

The basic moves include things like a two-handed kettlebell swing, which is exactly what it sounds like; the goblet squat, which uses the kettlebell as a weight when squatting; and the Turkish Get-Up, which is a series of controlled movements that take you from the floor to your side to standing. 

“It’s both a strength and cardio workout at the same time, so that’s where you get your biggest bang for the buck,” says Grimm, who used to be an avid runner before discovering kettlebell. “There aren’t hours running on the treadmill or the cycle machine or the elliptical machine.”   

And the workout is great for any age group, even older adults, because of that focus on personalized, controlled strength and movement.   

“We do a lot of assessments with our clients on their functional movement,” says Grimm. “We try to use the kettlebell drills as corrective drills to help them move better, sit better, have better posture and increase their stability and mobility, which then allows them to increase their performance and their strength.”   

For her female clients, Grimm sees incredible gains in muscle tone. “Nothing ever bulky, of course, because that doesn’t happen — that’s a myth. But I see very leaned out brides that feel really good.” In fact, a lot of the Blushing Brides Bootcamp clients love kettlebell so much that they stay on with Queen City Kettlebell. They’ve even had a bride be so successful with her training, she had to get her dress taken in on her wedding day.   

But if for some reason a bride-to-be doesn’t meet her goal, Queen City Kettlebell offers a 50-percent money-back guarantee.    

“You know, we haven’t even had to discuss that with a client yet,” says Grimm. “But it’s there to just say we really believe in this and we really think that if you’re here and you’re serious, we’re serious and we’re going to help you meet your goals.”   

A simple, sweet signature wedding reception drink.

Signature cocktails are almost a must for wedding receptions these days. They’re a fun way to individualize cocktail hour and reflect your personal tastes as a couple. Recipes can incorporate your favorite spirits, match your color theme, enhance your wedding season or style or incorporate name play e.g. Mary’s Margarita, Groom’s Gimlet and so on.

This Cotton Candy Champagne Cocktail is such a creative, cute drink to serve at a reception, and it can be easily adapted to match your color scheme. It’s also inexpensive and basically labor free; you won’t need to hire a mixologist to stand behind the bar and shake multiple ingredients together. If you just put a little puff of the sugary stuff into a champagne flute and pour liquid over it, it magically dissolves into a beautiful cocktail — the color of your wedding!

And while cotton candy is weird and wonderful — it reminds me of fairs, the circus, Kings Island and Bengals/Reds games (because the giant pink cones always block my view) — it’s very easy to make. Cotton candy is simply spun, heated sugar, which can be turned any color or flavor you want. Just add a little food coloring to the sugar before spinning or use store-bought flavored, dyed sugar and voila! You can buy colored and flavored cocoons at the store or rent a cotton candy maker (usually around $50) and make it yourself.

INGREDIENTS: 

1fluff of cotton candy 

Champagne to top   

INSTRUCTIONS:

Put a fluff of cotton candy in each champagne flute and then pour champagne over to top it off. It’s best to pour in front of guests so they can watch it dissolve and change color.

Helpful wedding planning advice for the bride on a budget.

If you’re one of the 250,000 couples who got engaged between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 — the most popular pop-the-question week of the year — or if you’re hoping to get that sparkling rock on Valentine’s Day — the second most popular time to get engaged— you’ll be among the 1.5 to 2.2 million couples who tie the knot this year in America.

And once you have the ring, it’s time to start planning.

Planning a wedding is like planning a huge corporate event. You’ve got 100-300 guests, special speakers, entertainment, food and a theme. I’ve been helping brides plan weddings for more than 20 years and I’ve learned a few things along the way: Planning a wedding is costly, time consuming, stressful and it can be incredibly fun.   

From day one, immediately following placing that engagement ring on your finger, your head will be swimming with beautiful things: You’ll envision yourself in multiple settings, different types of dresses, surrounded by different, elaborate flowers. Allow some time to daydream … and then start working on your very special day.

Step 1: Get Organized

There is a lot to be done and I can’t stress organization enough. During a wedding I planned several years ago, we were in charge of everything. The couple was very laid-back, easy to please, picked everything we suggested and kept within the budget they planned. The only thing they had to do outside of my office was the cake tasting. They went to the bakery, tasted cakes and made their selection. On the day of the wedding, we were traveling between the church and the reception when I received a frantic call from the reception hall manager telling me no cake had been delivered. I couldn’t get in touch with the bakery (it was after hours) and there were 300 guests on their way to the reception expecting to eat cake. With a few emergency phone calls, I located a grocery store bakery and purchased multiple cakes, which arrived just before dessert was served. Apparently the bride and groom had made their cake selection but failed to make a deposit or payment on the cake. So let me say one more time: Get organized!

Step 2: Create Budget

Many brides have come to me and rattled off everything they wanted included in their wedding plans: The most popular venue, an outrageous dress, top-of-the-line menu, live flowers, 16 bridesmaids and a limo service for their entire wedding party. And their budget? An unrealistic $5,000.

In 2012, the average wedding cost $26,500 — and the key word here is “average.” In New York City, average wedding costs last year topped $65,000, so be glad you live in the Midwest.

Be practical and figure out how you’re willing to pay for your blessed event. Are your parents chipping in? Are your fiancé’s parents helping you? How much will you be contributing? In this day of high costs and low economy, anything goes. The old tradition of the bride’s parents picking up the tab ended around 1990. Find out how much you have to work with and start there.

Step 3: Price It Out

Once you have your budget in hand, purchase a wedding planning book that includes worksheets and ideas. The fun part starts when you can begin to dream. Make a master list of everything you want and dream big. Envision yourself in the most glamorous, elegant or frou-frou setting and then let reality sink in. Start pricing out the things you love and must have and then figure out what you can live without. If live orchids are the most important thing to you, get them, but realize you may have to cut back somewhere else.

Pricing out your wedding can be daunting. You need a list (hopefully from your helpful wedding planning book) covering every single item you need to purchase to have a wedding. Start with the most imperative things: the ceremony venue and reception location. Next in price importance are the photographer and videographer (if you’re using one), the entertainment (band or DJ) and the menu planning — all of these are the big-ticket items you need to plan for. Shortly thereafter, focus on the flowers, decorations and accessories.

Step 4: Secure Your Venue(S)

Remember: You’re competing with 250,000 other couples who also want a location, so book yours as soon as possible — and be prepared to put money down as soon as you start making reservations. When our son and daughter-in-law got married, they actually called on midnight one year in advance to reserve the church they wanted. By the next morning there were five messages on the answering machine from couples who also wanted that date.

There are really no set rules for wedding ceremony locations any more. Park settings are popular in the spring and summer months and even into the early fall. May and September are the most requested for outdoor locales, so again, plan in advance. Destination weddings are popular if you want just the immediate family in attendance with a larger reception when you return home. (Note: These don’t save you very much money by the time you travel to and from and then pay for the reception.) If you know someone who has a great backyard and your guest list is the right size, renting a tent and setting up chairs is an option you may consider. And if you’re a traditionalist, a church wedding followed by a separate reception (very few churches allow drinking on the church grounds) is the way to go.

The single most expensive part of your wedding will be the reception, but there are always ways you can cut costs. For example, you can rent a “hall” (i.e. a VFW, church fellowship hall, American Legion, community center, etc.). In some halls you get nothing and just pay for the time rental, and in others there’s a flat price, which includes everything but the food. Most hall rentals include the tables and chairs and the cost of clean-up. They might make you pay a bartender or two, depending on the number of guests, but you can choose and pay for your own caterer, table coverings, place settings, decorations and everything else to make the party special. This gives you the most for your money because you’re doing all the work and you can haggle for prices along the way.

Many brides choose an “all-inclusive” reception venue which provides all the above and the cake, appetizers and part of the bar selection, such as wine and/or soft drinks. This type of rental is generally a flat price for the room and so much per person. Expect to pay between $1,500 and $3,000 for the room plus $30-$50 per person attending the wedding. The bar bill is extra, so how “open” your bar tab is will determine the amount you pay at the end. Just a heads up, I have seen bar bills equal the cost of the entire reception so decide in advance if you want an open bar and how much you’re willing to spend.

Step 5: Pick Your Wedding Party

Emotional issues come up all along the way when planning, so make sure you think about things in advance. Picking your wedding party can be one of these emotional catalysts. Deciding who you’re picking and who your groom is picking for a wedding party can be frustrating, tearful and create heartfelt agony. You might not be able to have everyone in your wedding that you want. Remember, every bridesmaid adds another bouquet, bridesmaid gift, dinner plate and date, which means more money.

Another note, it is your groom’s right to choose who he wants as a groomsman, regardless of whether or not your third bridesmaid hates who she’ll walk down the aisle with. This is his time to pick and, let’s face it, it is one of the few things for which he has a final say. (While most brides begin by including their future Mr. Right, most leave him behind somewhere between the invitations and the flowers.)

Step 6: Find A Dress

Shopping for dresses can be an exciting event. Typically, you should include your mother, your fiancé’s mother and your bridesmaids. Make it a day of fun and laughter. Schedule an appointment with the bridal salon at which you want to shop and let them know how many are coming. You want to be able to take your time and not be rushed. This is an important occasion.

One of the brides I worked with had her aunt volunteer to pay for her dress because the aunt had no daughters, but instead of inviting her to come along while she was trying on dresses, the bride gladly took the money but not the aunt! Be aware of those around you who would like to be included in your “inner circle.” If you have future sisters-in-law who are not in the wedding, including them in this special event can win a lot of points later.

Step 7: Adhere To Your Timeline

Keeping track of a timeline is especially helpful. Most good wedding planning books have a master timeline of where you should be and when. A one-year engagement and wedding planning time is perfect to accomplish most of what you want to get done, but I’ve done weddings in as few as three weeks and in as many as 18 months. Keep track of everything you do and when you do it, how much it costs, if you made a deposit, what still needs to be paid or decided and if a task is complete.

Step 8: Enjoy The Ride

Have fun! Plan a day to remember and enjoy it. I have worked with some “bridezillas” in my time and they are no fun — for their fiancé, their families or themselves. Chill out. I can make a guarantee to you right now: Not everything will be perfect. The goal is to hope that about 95 percent of the wedding is and the rest will be forgotten.

When your wedding day actually arrives, take a breath and let everyone else handle the details. Adopt a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” mentality and if something goes awry, which it will, just smile and say this will be one of those memories you laugh about on your anniversaries.

Savor every minute of your wedding day. From the primping and fluffing to the vows and tears, the food and drinks, the dancing and toasts, this will be a day you want to remember for the rest of your life. Allow it to imprint on your mind and your heart and enjoy it immensely! By the way, congratulations!

Collected ideas, inspiration and DIY wedding projects.

  1. Adornments: Sew & Create Accessories with Fabric, Lace & Beads by Myra Callan. Oregon-based designer Myra Callan is well-known for her whimsically fresh bridal adornment line, Twigs & Honey. With a focus on fine craftsmanship, her headpieces, fascinators, crowns and hand-stitched veils will cost brides-to-be a pretty penny, but for those of us who would rather reach for a needle and thread than our wallet, Callan’s new book, Adornments, shows DIY brides how to create their own accessories with simple step-by-step techniques.   
  2. The Knot Ultimate Wedding Lookbook by Carley Roney and editors of theknot.com. Founded in 1996, theknot.com is an informative, visual feast and basically every bride’s first stop for wedding planning inspiration — well, outside of Pinterest. Co-founder Carley Roney and her editors have taken the essence of this quintessential wedding website and compiled a book of a similar ilk with more than 1,000 gorgeous color photographs, expert tips, effective timelines, money saving tricks and detailed lists to help couples plan their perfect day.
  3. Martha Stewart’s Wedding Cakes by Martha Stewart and Wendy Kromer. Stewart and master baker/decorator Wendy Kromer guide you through all you need to know before you make a decision about your wedding cake. There are charts and tips to explain each material bakers use, as well as what flavors and styles work best for your wedding theme, season and location. The book also has recipes and insider techniques to help you bake and decorate your own memorable, professional-grade cake.
  4. Rustic Wedding Chic by Maggie Lord. Rusticweddingchic.com is one of the internet’s best resources for information on trendy “barn” weddings, and this book takes the website’s inspiration, ideas and advice on planning a personalized country wedding and combines it with photos of real, rustic nuptials — all with a signature eco-friendly and creative approach.
  5. The Big White Book of Weddings: A How-To Guide for the Savvy, Stylish Bride by David Tutera. David Tutera is the detail-oriented diva of the wedding planning world and if you’ve seen his show, My Fair Wedding with David Tutera, you know that he leaves no decorative stone unturned. His Big White Book of Weddings offers a wealth of expert advice — the same he gives to his A-list clientele like Jennifer Lopez and Susan Lucci — on all aspects of planning the perfect day “designed to get every bride down the aisle in style.”
  6. Style Me Pretty Weddings: Inspiration and Ideas for an Unforgettable Celebration by Abby Larson. Abby Larson brings her incredibly popular, 16.5-million-viewers-per-month stylemepretty.com to paper. With a fresh attitude and more than 250 swoon-worthy photos of love-filled weddings and DIY projects, Larson’s book focuses on the basics of determining your couple style in order to thread quirky and intimate personal touches throughout your big day. 

Local floral boutiques cultivate creative bouquets and graceful centerpieces.

Eden Floral Boutique 

Eden Floral Boutique, located in the hip neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine, is the perfect setting for a floral shop that creates fresh, modern arrangements. Molly Lay, manager and graphic designer at Eden, says, “Designing a bouquet usually starts with an idea from the bride whether it be a feel, style or color scheme — analogous reds, blush tones and peach, loose and elegant, tight and contemporary … the options are endless.” Eden has access to blooms from across the globe, and while seasonal availability is important, if a flower is rare or out of season, it just costs a little bit more to get it from there to here. Browse the boutique’s slick, contemporary website filled with floral arrangements from previous weddings and don’t miss the photos of their stunning, sparkling brooch bouquets. “It is a bunching of 75 to 300 wired brooches that are meaningful to the bride and family or are just beautiful. It’s definitely an undertaking but the results are worth it,” says Lay. 1129 Walnut St., OTR, 513-281-3336, edenfloralboutique.com.

Yellow Canary: Flowers And Event Design 

Though this floral boutique was established relatively recently (in 2007), it has cemented itself as a trusted floral and detail-oriented event designer in Cincinnati. Yellow Canary’s floral designs are often grand and elegant — at times oversized and bold and in other instances more natural, reminiscent of moss and other beautiful elements that could have been gathered from the exterior of a hobbit’s home. Owner Kristen Sekowski welcomes a bride’s vision and helps her create a style all her own. “I would say that 99.9 percent of the time we create something completely unique,” says Sekowski. “I hesitate to copy a style because I think each bouquet should be special and speak to the style of the bride.” She recalls one of her favorite arrangements: a head table made completely out of natural materials.  “We used succulents, moss and flowers,” she says. “It was a lot of fun and definitely unique.” 333 W. Benson St., Reading, 859-609-2020, yellowcanaryonline.com.     

Courtenay Lambert Florals 

There’s something about Courtenay Lambert Floral’s floral and event design style that you can almost pick out of a line-up, and that consistency is why brides flock to her. Lambert says, “We have thousands of pictures. We keep a portfolio on our iPad and [brides] can flip through it while they’re here, but we also have a huge blog that they can look through.” Many of her pieces feature roses and other simple buds with soft, rounded petals often arranged in subtle color ways of white, blush, coral and ivory, sometimes mixed with striking accents of saturated colors. And Lambert always makes sure she and a bride are on the same page. “Sometimes the picture that’s in their head might not be the picture that’s in my head,” shes says. “One person’s pink isn’t another person’s pink and one person’s purple isn’t another person’s purple.” So Lambert likes to pull pictures during a consultation to make sure her design meshes with the bride’s vision as perfectly as possible. 610 Main St., Covington, Ky., 859-581-3333, courtenaylambert.com.     

Inspired Floral Design 

Inspired Floral Design’s style leans toward an organic and free-flowing bohemian vibe. Their pieces are dynamic, incorporating flowers and other natural elements of varied heights and colors. And since owner/atmosphere stylist Robin Buop has had 27 years of floral and event experience, she knows what works. “Anything on the cover of Martha Stewart is normally just for the sake of the photoshoot and not a real wedding,” says Buop. “[It] will not hold up after a long day out of water.” With the growing popularity of Pinterest and other online idea sources, brides can become overwhelmed with options. In addition to inspiring images, Buop points out, “We always ask our brides to bring in photos of what they don’t like. This allows us to explain why they are attracted to a certain style.” 130 W. Sixth St., Covington, Ky., 513-370-7372.

Expert tips on finding the right food fit.

I was married in the late ‘80s. My wedding gown was an over-the-top, frothy confection replete with poofy sleeves, shoulder pads and a bustle. My mile-high, poodle-permed hair was on point, as were my dagger-like hot pink nails. I was a stunning vision and, in my mind, the producers of Dynasty would be waiting in the wings at the reception to cast me on their show.

To this day I run into people who attended my wedding — they love to regale me with their recollections of that glorious day — but take note: not one of their memories is ever about me, the beautiful bride, it’s always about the food.

While I would love for people to remember what a stunning bride I was, as a chef and caterer, I am ecstatic that after 20-plus years guests still remember the food. Because, take my word for it, not only will people remember if what they ate at your wedding was good, they’ll reallyremember if it was bad — and they’ll talk about it for years to come.

Which leads me to why it’s so important to choose the right caterer for your big day. As a food professional, here are some of my best suggestions to help you find the right fit.

  1. Go with word of mouth. Talk to people. Don’t just ask caterers for their recommendations. Do you think they’re going to have you talk to the folks who didn’t come away happy? Put it out there on Facebook. Tweet it. Ask as many people as you can. Have you been to a wedding where the food was especially good? Talk to the bride and groom and make sure that they were happy with the planning part as well. Was the caterer timely with communication? Did they feel that they received their money’s worth? Were the servers friendly, professional and efficient? These things are just as important as the quality of the food itself.
  2. Think outside the box. You don’t always need to go with a traditional caterer. Chat up the management at your favorite restaurant. After all, you already know that you like what they have to serve. Many of them do outside catering or, if your wedding isn’t large and your choice of venue has a kitchen and allows you to bring in an outside chef, might arrange for one of their sous to cook for you.
  3. Find a caterer who is willing to personalize the menu. When we got married, the only thing my husband-to-be (a Chinese food freak) insisted on was dim sum during the cocktail hour. That, and a really delicious wedding cake. The caterer was happy to oblige and the cake was one of The BonBonerie’s finest: It had alternate layers of carrot cake and opera cream; it was sublime. Personalizing your menu that way is a great way to make your reception your own, and it’s something that no caterer should be unwilling to do. If they’re not enthusiastic about going “off menu” for you, look elsewhere but be willing to pay an up-charge.
  4. Know your budget. This is probably my most important tip. Be forthright and truthful. Nobody likes surprises — be it you or the caterer. He/she needs to know how much you can spend and you need to know what you’re getting for your money. So ask the caterer these very important questions: Is service included? Are linens, dishes, silver and crystal included? Can you provide tables and chairs if necessary and how much are they? May I bring in a cake from an outside bakery and, if so, can you provide an experienced wedding cake cutter? A good caterer wants your event to be just as fabulous as you do. After all, their reputation is on the line. If you’re on a tight budget, ask for suggestions on ways to save money. Oftentimes the caterer is the one who knows where you can pull the belt tight and where it’s imperative to spend.

And here are some more ideas on how to throw a magnificent soiree and cut some costs. First of all, choose a non-traditional day for your wedding such as a Thursday, Friday or Sunday. Florists, bands and, yes, caterers are all waiting around for business on those days. If a Friday night worked for William and Kate, it can work for you. For experienced help on a super tight budget, try calling a local culinary school to see if students are available. And, if you can’t afford to feed your guests dinner, then nix scheduling a whole night; try a champagne toast after the ceremony with a few hors d’oevres and cake. Simple and elegant, yet romantic.

How to survive a wedding sans date.

We all love a good wedding. You get to wear a fancy dress, indulge in an open bar and do a variety of choreographed group dance moves that involve waving your arms over your head to form letters. But weddings can also be stressful. Stressful for the bride, the groom and their families, sure, but also for the guests — us single guests in particular.

Despite the stories/urban legends you hear about couples meeting and falling in love at weddings or the wild tales of drunken wedding night debaucheries, I think we can all agree no one wants to attend a formal event of any sort alone. Who wants to shell out a few hundred bucks for their own hotel room? Or relive high-school-dance awkwardness every time the band plays a slow song? Is that Rod Stewart? What a coincidence. I’ve suddenly realized that my bladder is full/glass is empty/I’ve taken up smoking. What’s that? I just missed the bouquet toss? How could I have missed such a fun and not-at-all humiliating opportunity to display the fact that I am alone?

Given budgets and venue constraints, the bride and groom sometimes have to make difficult and unpopular decisions surrounding their guest list, specifically regarding who is and who is not permitted a plus one. On a day when every detail is meticulously planned the presence — or absence — of those two words, “and guest,” on your invitation was no accident.

So what do you do when the ivory envelope arrives addressed solely to you, plus none? Or you just can’t find a date to fill that guest spot? 

FAMILY AFFAIR

If you’re attending the wedding of a family member alone, accept the fact that you will be interrogated about the current status of your love life. If you’re fresh out of a break-up, you might be granted a reprieve, but in lieu of questioning, you’ll probably be given several love life pep talks. If you’re engaged, the topic of conversation will be your impending nuptials. If you’re married, they’ll ask when you plan on popping out babies. And if you have kids, you’ll be chasing them around trying not to get spit-up on your dress. As you can see, no one gets off easy at family parties, so relax and have a second piece of cake.

WORK WEDDING

If you’re attending a colleague’s wedding, regardless of whether or not you have a date, you can assume you’ll be seated at the “work table” — the table designated for the cubicle cohorts you already spend 40-plus hours a week with. “Work table” sounds boring, like a spreadsheet, so I really hope you enjoy the company of your coworkers (even without the ability to send each other links to cat videos on YouTube). Since it’s generally unacceptable to get super drunk at a work-related function and/or make-out with a coworker, it’s OK to leave this type of wedding early. Eat dinner, say your congrats, have a drink and then get out of there.

FRIENDLY NUPTIALS

This is a broader and more challenging category. 

If you’re attending the wedding of a close friend with whom you share several mutual friends and you can’t bring/can’t find a date, you’re in luck. You most likely know the people you’ll be seated with, you won’t have to worry about introducing yourself to the point of exhaustion and you probably won’t need to splurge on a king-sized room for one. Have a few cocktails, dance like a fool and let your hair down for you are among friends.

On the other hand, if it’s a peripheral friend with whom you share no mutual friends, you seriously need to assess how much you like this person. I was invited to my old roommate’s wedding last November and asked myself: Do I really need to fly across the country, spend close to a $1,000 on hotels and airfare and face the potential awkwardness of not knowing anyone other than the bride and groom? Although I was invited to bring a guest (god bless the woman who doesn’t expect me to come to Houston alone), I decided to go solo.

I was single, but I wasn’t stupid. First, I did some research to find out if I knew anyone else who was attending the wedding and then I made contact with them via email/Facebook. Then I asked for a clarification on the dress code. What do you wear to a casual BBQ second reception? Then I sought advice on where to stay. Yes, there were suggestions on the website but I wanted to stay where the other people my age (aka “the cool crowd”) would be staying. Last, but certainly not least, I got my hair and makeup done professionally. Being single at a wedding can be tough and you deserve to look fantastic. This just might be the best $100 you ever spent. You won’t regret it, I promise.

THE EX FACTOR

In a most dreaded of the single-at-a-wedding scenarios, what if your ex is attending? With his new girlfriend. Oh, and he’s officiating. A close friend found herself in this situation this past September. After much back and forth, she ultimately decided not to attend. It was sad and we missed her dearly but it was the right decision for her. Whether you stubbornly forge ahead or regretfully decline the invitation,  both choices are brave and both are OK. There are times we grin and bear it for our friends and times we honor ourselves, make the dreaded phone call and send a nice gift.

Romantic-ish Pre-Valentine’s dinner and drinks at one of OTR’s newest hot spots.

One of the most recent dining and nightlife hot spots to pop up on Vine Street is Japanese GastroPub and sushi bar, Kaze OTR. Located on the first floor of the former Cincinnati Color Company building, the restaurant, which is pronounced “Kah-zey,” boasts a balanced blend of hip and romantic — perfect for a Valentine’s Day dinner. 

To test out the Valentine-ness of it all, my date was a person I will always love: my best friend, Heather. We decided to eat at the bar the Friday night we stopped by because not a single table was open, which was wonderful to see at a new restaurant. (It should be noted that the night we went, the full dining room wasn’t open to the public yet, only the bar area. The full restaurant should be open mid-January.)

Kaze’s interior was dimly lit (10 romance points) and featured dark wood furniture with pops of color provided by Asian accent lanterns and three widescreen TVs on the wall across from the bar. There were tables on either side of the front door, each enclosed by a huge windowpane and some curtains. It felt very open, which might not seem conducive to romance, but I liked the feeling of inviting the atmosphere of the bar into the dining experience.

Heather and I stared at the menu — and mock-longingly at each other — as we tried to think of what food qualified as “romantic.” In reality, everything on the small, light fare menu is geared toward people in love with good food … and possibly each other. We decided to be adventurous in our selection and that meant trying something called the Uni Shooter, a Japanese-inspired sea urchin shot. 

Heather and I both ordered one because they were described by our efficient bartender Nicholas as tasting “like the ocean in a glass.” Heather has never been to an ocean, so we figured this was as close as she could get for the time being. The shots arrived — and we were a tad hesitant.

Accented by a slice of cucumber, the sea urchin was like a little glob in the shot glass. We looked at each other, toasted our glasses and sucked it down. It was slimy and did in fact taste like the ocean. Not bad, not spectacular, but I’m willing to concede that I’m not the most adventurous foodie, so perhaps (probably) the Uni Shooter will appeal to those who are. 

We each ordered a drink, too. I got the Araki, Kaze’s take on the Manhattan, which is phenomenal. It’s named after the artist that did the artwork in the building, a friend of owner Jon Zipperstein. Heather had a classic vodka tonic, always a good choice. 

We perused the menu, which will be expanded when the dining room opens, and Heather ordered the Pork Buns while I chose The OTR Roll. After we placed our order, Nicholas offered us a tour of the under-construction dining room and back garden. We grabbed our drinks and followed him over a little bridge that connects the dining room and the bar, passed the open kitchen walkway and saw what is going to be a fantastic dining room.

Kaze’s dining room is full of dark wood tables and the sushi bar is the main attraction. Positioned at the back of the dining room, we were introduced to the head chef, Hideki Harada (formerly of Embers in Kenwood) who was busy preparing a myriad of food but greeted us warmly. Nicholas then led us to the back patio, which was mostly just-broken ground, but the vision he described is one I can’t wait to experience.

Last on our tour was a stop to the ladies room, which you reach by taking an elevator to the basement. My fellow females will appreciate this: The bathroom is massive. Brightly decorated with distinctly modernist floral wallpaper and huge sinks, the bathroom is seriously one of the best in OTR. Our food arrived moments after we returned to our seats. The OTR Roll — with tuna, avocado, cucumber and a spicy scallion ponzu sauce — was great.  The Pork Buns were soft and stuffed with slightly unwieldy, crispy pork. Heather’s one-word review after taking a bite: “Awesome.”

I think my favorite part of Kaze OTR was the fact that so many different people stopped in over the course of our time there. In addition to the six people that eventually joined Heather and I for our romantic night out, a number of other familiar faces were present and the open atmosphere really invited mingling and chatting. I loved it and foresee many more stops to this burgeoning section of Vine Street, especially once the full menu is unveiled and the dining room and patio are open.

Local sweeteries bake up big-day cakes, pies, cookies and more.

For many brides, the vision of a fairy tale wedding used to look quite traditional with a white princess gown, massive amounts of flowers, tons of guests and a huge, tiered wedding cake. But in today’s world of Pinterest weddings, where there are literally millions of ideas flooding our computer screens from every corner of the globe, each one more creative than the next, our ideas of tradition literally change at the click of the button. 

From the start to finish of wedding preparation, no detail is left spared, and that includes one of the most important features of actual concern to the guests: the wedding cake. No longer a simple dessert item relegated to being smashed in the bride’s and groom’s faces, these creations — often costing as much as the wedding gown themselves — are now an integral part of the creative process. Here are some beautiful local bridal confections presented for your sugary inspiration.

Your cake is a great place to reflect your heritage. This standard, tiered cake is anything but when adorned with lovely cherry trees in bloom. The BonBonerie, 2030 Madison Road, O’Bryonville, bonbonerie.com.

Never neglect your groom. Let him have his cake and eat it too! The BonBonerie, 2030 Madison Road, O’Bryonville, bonbonerie.com.

Send your guests home with a delightful and delicious favor: iced shortbread cookies. Queen City Cookies, 1662 Blue Rock Road, Northside, queencitycookies.com. (Ribbon and name tag by Margot Madison Creative.)

Cupcakes give everyone their own perfect, little bite. Trendy and terrific for good reason. The BonBonerie, 2030 Madison Road, O’Bryonville, bonbonerie.com.

The sumptuous interior of a cake can be just as beautiful as the outside. Ileana Saldivia of Sugar Realm, Fine Bakery & Cake Design, sugarrealm.com.

Tiffany Blue has become a popular choice with brides for its classic elegance. The BonBonerie, 2030 Madison Road, O’Bryonville, bonbonerie.com.

Carry your theme all the way through to the cake. Most bakers are more than happy to work with you on custom designs. The BonBonerie, 2030 Madison Road, O’Bryonville, bonbonerie.com.