Monday 24 December 2012

It's Christmas Eve!

Today I am mostly enjoying an unexpected bonus day away from work - never a bad thing.

There is cheese and champagne in the fridge (darn, I miss champagne at French prices...) and presents are nearly all wrapped. The Snowman was on television yesterday which means it is properly Christmas now. Alan will be home from work soon (don't feel too bad for him, he had a festive work breakfast this morning, and is about to have a festive work lunch!) and then the holidays can begin properly. The next few days will be a blur of visiting family and friends and trying (probably failing) not to eat all the delicious food in sight.

I love Christmas Eve - in some ways I prefer it to the day itself. The anticipation in the air, the hours spent baking festive treats; a selection of wrapped parcels under a shimmering, sparkling tree. Carols from Kings on the radio in the late afternoon, the beautifully haunting tones of Once in Royal David's City adding to the magic as night draws in. Lights, good food and carols - you can't beat it.

Merry Christmas - and a happy New Year.

Thursday 20 December 2012

2012: How was it for you?

Funnily enough, today is 20.12.2012. So, a good day for writing about... 2012, no?


New Year in Paris, under the Eiffel Tower. No official fireworks, but firecrackers everywhere. We walk back to the flat, from one side of the city to the other. It's magic.

Ring shopping, an afternoon spent playing with diamonds and designs. Excited. A secret that noone else knows.


Paris gets cold, temperatures below zero for a fortnight. Snow, but less than an inch.

We get engaged, in the sparkling cold of Place des Vosges, our favourite place for every season in Paris. Champagne for breakfast, enjoying that bubble of time where we are the only people who know what we have done. Letting everyone know - phone calls, texts and emails flying about.


Moving back to London, refamiliarising myself with the workings of our London office. Sad to leave Paris, less sad not to be working there anymore. Excitement at finally starting our life as a new family together and the journey of engagement. Spreading the happy news  further and showing off our ring.


Venue hunting. Panic, despair that we will never find somewhere suitable for hosting our wedding.

Resignation at visiting the last place on the list. Delight when we realise it's perfect. Nervously waiting to see if they still have the date we want. That moment when we realise we will be getting married on 11 May 2013. That's our date. This is really happening.


Realising there's one year to go, and being glad we don't have to wait until the following September.

Walking on Hampstead Heath in the early summer sunshine, not realising that we will have to make the most of every minute the sun is out this year.

A weekend in Devon at cookery school, a whole weekend of food and laughter.


Wedding blitz week 1. Meeting lots of people and creating a vision for our day. Being let down by people who don't turn up to appointments.

The Dress. Trying on several, picking one. I love it, but have I settled too soon?

It rains.


A quiet month, with a lovely housewarming dinner in a friend's new flat.

The Olympic Opening Ceremony. What was that about?

It rains more.


Going to the Olympics, being part of the nation's excitement. I am an expert on dressage, synchronised swimming and lord knows what else.

Going to the Proms, losing myself in an evening of Scottish-themed music and chocolate ice-cream. Inexplicably I feel like we are on a proper old-fashioned date night.

Wedding blitz week 2. Getting there, most suppliers booked.

Two weddings in a week, both lovely. One on the hottest day of the year so far.


All change at work, a new office and supervisor, different work. That feeling that I am six months from qualification.

Another lovely wedding, disappointed to be struck by cold and sore throat. City centre brunch in the sunshine the following day.

Off to the theatre to see the Mousetrap. Whodunnit? Not telling.

The Dress is here. I try it on. I am not sure I like it any more, I feel frumpy and miserable. Am I crazy?

My birthday, another year passes. A day off work and a lovely evening meal out by the side of a lake.


A weekend spent kayaking, culminating in a BCU 1* award and a capsize and rescue drill in the chilly autumn water. Paddling down the canal in the sunshine on a Sunday morning. It's bliss.

Our house goes back on the market, people come to view but nobody is taken by it. We start planning where to live next, searching houses in so many different places. Waiting.

An afternoon of wedding ring design. Annoyed that the appointment is late to start, happiness that they do not kick us out at the time they would normally close. That moment of horror when the sapphire I am holding pings out of the tweezers and onto the floor. Relief when it is found, twinkling its blue light under the table.


A lovely day of museums and afternoon tea with my old housemate, who will be my maid of honour in May. I am struck down by a headache and am inexplicably sick lots. Brightening up and going to watch fireworks together in Blackheath - thousands of upturned faces reflecting the mesmorisingly bright sparkles exploding in the night. Back to my friend's flat for warmth, wine and popcorn.

Visiting friends in Ashby, just enjoying catching up in the late autumn sunshine. Dinner in a pub with THE largest portions of food ever. The waitress mentions desserts and at least one of us turns visibly pale.

Trying on the Dress again. I have lost weight and it is far too big. But the lady shows me how it can be solved, and I am happy again.

Alan turns 30, celebrations and an excuse to spend a day making the perfect birthday cake.


That first morning when we have to scrape ice off the car.

Buying our first tree together, a real one that smells of pine and Christmas. Decorating, delighting in the baubles twinkling in the lights. Watching a series of Christmassy films and drinking ginger wine. Checking to see when The Snowman is on.

About to find out whether I will be staying at this firm come February. Nervous. It's not the end of the world if not. But nervous.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Happy Birthday Alan!

Happy 30th Birthday! As ever, here is some cake.

It took forever to light these sparklers, and had us debating which end we were actually supposed to light! Literally, the wrong end of the sparkler...

Monday 26 November 2012

The Perils of Bridesmaid Dresses

So here we are, less than six months to go and everything is slowly starting to come together. My dress has arrived and I've tried it on (twice - slight fit of bridal craziness but that's a whole other story!). We have just sent off designs for invitations and I can't wait to see the finished product. I badly want to post the samples on here but you'll just have to wait and see.

The one area where we have really struggled recently is how to dress the bridesmaids. Having narrowed ideas down to blue or green, and long, and not strapless, many hours seem to have been spent searching websites for dresses for the ladies in question.

Bridal magazines only ever seemed to suggest three or four sources of bridesmaid dresses. That in itself is nothing to criticise, I'd seen several pretty styles which I was interested to track down. However, what I soon found is that while these designers all have an extensive range of dresses on their websites, this doesn't seem to extend to actual shops where you can buy the darned things.

I have four lovely bridesmaids, none of whom live near me - one isn't in the country at all and may not be until a week before the wedding. While I love the notion of 'going bridesmaid dress shopping' with them all, they are busy people too and if I am going to demand that they take the time to travel to a particular place (bridal shops are never close together!) I wanted to make sure that there were several options for them to try on.

Whilst browsing the website of a bridal shop nearish our house, I noticed that the shop had "over 65 bridesmaid dresses in different styles and colours". 65? SIXTY-FIVE?! Having been a little disappointed by the limited range stocked by the shop where I'd bought my dress, 65 sounded like a dream come true. I had hazy notions of picking a handful of beautiful dresses to showcase to my bridesmaids.

Hopes faded upon being led to a small alcove where the dresses in question were kept. 65 was clearly a gross miscounting. A severe overcounting, if you will. There were perhaps 15 dresses, all of which were various degrees of hideous, either in colour, shape or material. Based on what was there, the bridesmaid industry seems to think that 1980s shiny American prom princess is a good look. We left feeling slightly desperate. Why so little choice?

I have considered getting dresses designed specially, but I am not sure it is really worth the money, even if they are dresses which might well be worn again.

And so we turn to the high street. Not often lauded by magazines, but mainstream shops nowadays have cottoned on to the fact that there's a whole market of budget and style savvy brides out there and have upped their game considerably. A slight lack of choice in colours notwithstanding (but then who needs a palette of sixty colours if the style is all wrong?), I've found a range of flattering styles and think this may be the solution; a real competitor against bridesmaidwear designers. To be honest, I'm not sure why I didn't realise this before - since when has John Lewis not had the answer to most problems?

Now, where to find pretty wedding day shoes?

Thursday 20 September 2012

Our Wedding - Finding the Venue

During the initial phase of excitement we skipped and flitted over all of the minutae and details that makes up a wedding. It soon became clear that until we had a venue there was little that could be done in earnest.

The idea for starting this blog came after months of frustrated searching, with the decision looking like it would be led by necessity.
The morning that we set this up we were feeling low, and rather pessimistic, about the single viewing that we had for the day. We'd seen some dreadful places the day before and thought that sharing some of our experience might elicit useful advice from people, or at least assist others in similar future searches.

That one viewing changed everything.


Golf-clubs and Barns

We live in Hertfordshire, on the border of North London, close to where I grew up. Our guests, however, live as far afield as the Alsace; and Frances grew up in Derbyshire. We toyed with the idea of getting married in the beautiful surroundings of Derbyshire or a location that suited where people would be travelling from - but quickly realised that to be able to organise the wedding that we wanted around our work commitments meant we needed somewhere close at hand.

This certainly helped narrow down the search (Try typing "Wedding Venues" into a mapping search engine of your choice and see if you can spot land underneath all of the resulting tags!). I dislike too much choice - it constantly leaves you feeling that you are missing out on something just around the corner.

We compiled a long-list of venues that caught our eye (My father was exceptionally useful at sending through additions to the list and seemed to do little else for a couple of days with e-mails arriving every few minutes - I swear he made a few of them up ...) and then spent time filling in a spreadsheet of all the costs. Every venue has its own methods of obfuscating the real costs involved and go out of their way to make sure that the headline figures are incomparable with other venues. It took hours of detailed investigation to get to a position to be able to compare apples with apples, but it was worth it as the results were often counter-intuitive.

We made appointments in priority order - so you can see why we were getting dispondent when we found ourselves getting to the end of the list without anywhere that had stood out.

All the venues were lovely, and any one of them would have been more than adequate - but somehow none of them really felt right.

We suspect that the venues around us cater for North Londoners wanting to get married in the countryside, rather than the suburbs, which explains the extraordinary prices that some places wanted to charge. We also found that the majority of venues were based in golf-clubs, spas and barns. The previous top venue in our list was a stunningly beautiful golf club set within acres of land, with picturesque landscaped water features. It was by far the best that we had seen, although the most expensive, so neither of us wanted to mention what we later both admitted to being concerned about - the fact that the wedding would take place with golf club members playing around us and ill-defined parts of the ground that our guests would be prevented from exploring. It didn't represent us - we don't play golf for a start!

Definite No

There were certainly some that we walked away from with an instant no. We arranged proper viewings with the majority of venues, but for a few we either went along during a wedding fayre or just popped in for afternoon tea.

(The wedding fayre idea was a mistake. While we thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to see the venue's sales pitch it ended up being the opposite. The focus was on the suppliers and it made it impossible to actually see the venue underneath.)

During one of the afternoon tea visits we found out that that particular venue was ordinarily used as a spa. Every guest but us was wearing little other than a white cotton bathrobe ... It takes a lot to put me off my scones but that came close!

We also found a disappointing number that advertised gorgeously picturesque buildings - only to turn up to find that these were available for a 30 min photo shoot only, and that the actual wedding would take place in a small conference centre at the other end of the grounds.


Gut feeling for the rationalist

The real struggle was just understanding what it was that we actually wanted. It was proving frustratingly difficult to articulate. Decision making should be such a straight-forward process. Gather requirements, look at options, choose best outcome - so why is it so hard? When we questioned recently married friends and family about how they chose their venues, the general response was "we just knew it when we saw it"!

We'd recently noticed that the weather was also affecting our decision - probably coincidentally, but every venue that we had liked had been seen on a sunny day - and every definite no had been in the gloom or rain.

So when we travelled to one of the last venues on our list and the rain came pouring down, we expected the worst. Imagine our joy at finding that, despite the rain we still found it beautiful. Every question that we asked the lady showing us around got the right answer, and every flaw that previous venues had had was absent. There was just something about it that matched what we had both been so unable to articulate that we wanted.

As soon as we left we both looked at each other and said 'I think this is the one'. We spent the drive home saying that we should sleep on it, look again at the spreadsheets and discuss in more detail - but by the time we had arrived home we had decided that it couldn't hurt to ask them what dates they had available, and by the time we picked up the phone we had already set our hearts on it.

So when we found that they only had two dates left we had a tense few minutes shaking ourselves to make sure we really knew what we were doing before spending an agonising lifetime on the phone trying to get back through!

What made this the right venue? How did we work out that this was the one for us?

We just knew it when we saw it ...

Monday 27 August 2012

What I Did On My Holidays

For several reasons, we did not go on holiday this summer. Firstly, I was on secondment in our Paris office until the beginning of March – it turns out that 6 months' worth of Eurostar tickets is not particularly cheap. Secondly, as you'll know if you are reading this, we are getting married next year – again, not cheap. However, we also needed the time elsewhere. Weddings not only do not pay for themselves; they also don't plan themselves.
I will, at some point in the not-too-dim-and-distant future, be writing a post for the fabulous Any Other Woman's A-Z of Weddings on the subject of how to plan a wedding when you feel like you have no time day-to-day to do so. This post is therefore just a little place to say that although we haven't been exploring the exotic beaches of Ecuador, or toasting ourselves in the trattorias of Tuscany, we have had a lot of fun - having a wonderful summer really doesn't have to involve going to the airport or ferry terminal.
In May, we went for a cookery weekend at the wonderful Ashburton Cookery School in Devon:

In August, we went to the Olympics (four times) and were glued to the tv whenever we weren't sunning ourselves in the garden. Synchronised Swimming? Dressage? Beach volleyball? We're experts:

We cooked:

And baked and bought ourselves a beautiful shiny KitchenAid mixer:

Lemon drizzle cake

Orange drizzle cake with chocolate buttercream

Never thought I would be in love with a piece of machinery - but look how pretty!
We went to weddings of friends and family and made each one into a lovely weekend away - we went punting, ceilidh dancing and each has been a valuable chance to catch up with people we don't see often. Looking forward to the next wedding on 8 September.

And finally, we planned our own wedding. But that's for another post.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Olympic Cooking

The Olympics are here! It's fair to say that so far this weekend I have been glued to the TV and have quickly become an 'expert' on road cycling, handball, gymnastics and weightlifting, amongst others. We're off to the dressage on Friday, and two synchronised swimming sessions next week (no prizes for guessing who suggested which tickets we apply for...), and I am very excited! I keep forgetting that in reality tomorrow is just another day at work and I can't spend the day flitting between different sports. Bah. Still, we have some time off next week (wedding planning/Olympic watching mission) so just the four days to get through.

Anyway, here's some cake to cheer us all up as we head into another Monday.

And, randomly, some onion bhajis. From sticky mess... crispy oniony goodness.

Friday 6 July 2012

View From The Pigeon Hole

I always knew that the stereotype existed. It's well known and often repeated on tv in some form or another. Post-engagement, and without forewarning, the bride-to-be immediately starts project managing delivery of the wedding that they have dreamed of for decades. Ideas and details, completely alien to everyday humanity, stream forth from hidden depths. The groom-to-be, completely overwhelmed in a sea of lace and ribbon, initially resembles a startled rabbit and rapidly accelerates to levels of apathy and resignation that prepares him for a life of post-marital gloom.

But, I thought to myself, surely this is a thing of the past. Held up for parody and mockery today for the general amusement of those who have made it through and to scare those about to embark.

It appears not.

Don't worry - I'm not referring directly to ourselves here. Frances hasn't yet produced a dog-eared table-center design drawn on the back cover of a school exercise book; and I haven't found myself fascinated by the patterns forming under my pint glass. Instead I'm referring to how others continue to reinforce this stereotype.

When Frances tells work colleagues that she is getting married they fuss over her, wanting to know in detail about how wedding planning is going and excitedly discussing every element. When I told work colleagues that we were taking a few days off work to organise wedding suppliers they offered their condolences ...

The most positive suggestions I've had so far from someone I work with is "best stay out of it - just nod and smile if asked for an opinion". One prides himself in telling me that he knew nothing about what was going to happen on the day and just waited to be told where to go!

At the very least (and I mean very least) surely you would take an interest in what your money is being spent on!

From a personal perspective it never crossed my mind not to be as involved in this as Frances is. We see this as our day, and have been working together to make it work. We each bring different skills to the table and have split up tasks at times, but the journey has always felt like a joint one. Travelling around the county interviewing photographers, and painting mental pictures with florists has been a lot of fun, and frankly there is no greater incentive for marriage out there than the cake tasting! ;)

The clearest demonstration of the maintained stereotype, and the reason I decided to write this post, came from the day we met two potential florists.

I was in charge of organising the meetings with all of the wedding suppliers. Not only do I enjoy this kind of task, but I am also blessed with the ability and time to check e-mails at work occasionally! We also felt that this was a good way of demonstrating to people that I wanted to be as involved in the process as the bride-to-be.

The first florist that we met was a dream. The meeting went incredibly well. She was able to take our half-formed ideas and make them into a complete picture. I didn't expect it to be an area I would be that interested in, but came away buzzing.

A couple of hours later we went to see the second appointment of the day. Despite having organised everything, including multiple back and forth emails, through myself the lady ignored me from the first word. Talking only to Frances she asked for our wedding details and then for our contact details. When I started to provide mine (being the only one of the two of us able to really field calls / emails Monday to Friday) she interrupted and said that she would need Frances's ...
I tried a few times to talk during our meeting and provide my opinion - and each time I was ignored and talked over. We left as quickly as we could.

When the quote was sent through the following day it was addressed to Frances only, and entitled "Quote for Frances". You may have heard the sound it made when it hit the bottom of the bin from where you are ...

This has been an isolated incident (so far!) and the vast majority have welcomed my inclusion with open arms. None more so that when we went to find Frances her wedding dress. This was one place where I felt I was sure to encounter resistance (and of all of the parts has been the most controversial with friends and family!), but not an eyelid was batted. I was treated royally and enjoyed a happy afternoon being served tea while Frances twirled and sparkled before my eyes. Why would anyone not want this?

Sunday 24 June 2012

The Weekend That Was: Home Cooking Come Rain or Shine

After 7 months of frustration, dreaming and asking ourselves a lot of questions, we think we have finally decided to take our house off the market. Oddly enough, this decision comes a few weeks after another couple made an offer. Sadly, it started off as an offer far far below the asking price - and has only just started to improve.

The fact is that because the offer has only just increased to what was our very bottom line, this has forced us to ask questions about whether now is actually the right time to move, where we would move to and how this would affect our lives in the near future.

There are several reasons why we wanted to move house - although it's ideal for a commute into the City, which is why Alan bought it (well before I turned up), I work in Canary Wharf and it takes me easily 80 minutes to get into work. I work long and sometimes unpredictable hours, and it can be tough sometimes getting home about half an hour before I want to go to bed (yes, yes, I know if I lived round the corner from the office this might still be the case, but at the moment I do this regularly)!

Secondly, our house is not walking distance from the station, and the bus service inexplicably finishes at 7pm and is non-existent on Sundays. I don't drive (a sad accident involving a driving test, failure, and moving to a city as a student where car use was far from necessary), and even if I did, the idea of driving separately to the station every morning seems ridiculous. So at the moment I find myself dependent on Alan being willing to pick me up from the station, or having to get a taxi, if I have a day or evening out without him. Fine for the short term (so he says!), but certainly not ideal for the long term.

Thirdly, the house is lovely but it isn't a family house. It isn't where we envisage setting up our family, and although that won't be for a while, it's certainly at the back of our minds.

But then against that are other issues we had to think about, and which seemed so clear when we first put the house on the market. I will find out in December whether I will be staying at my current firm, and although I love my job and want to stay there, I may not have a choice. This then has an onward impact on where we live - an easy commute to the City is not the same as an easy commute to Canary Wharf, and the former gives us far more options that we would be silly not to consider.

Secondly, we have booked our wedding on the basis of where we live now, and we are now keen to stay close to this area where possible.

We debated renting, but this is also not ideal. Reading Esme's recent post on Any Other Woman, and recalling the time my friend and I came home one day to a notice to quit from our landlord simply because he wanted to move back in, I realise how lucky Alan and I are to have a house. We have space, we have a garden and although it's taken time for me, it suddenly feels like our home. We can decorate, we have security, and paying the mortgage is not money down the drain. Yes, we want to move, but renting just anywhere as quickly as possible no longer works for us.

The odd thing is, that if this other couple had made an initial offer that was somewhat nearer the mark, we might not have had this conversation, we might not have asked these questions of ourselves and we might have rushed into something that wasn't quite right for us - and although we are not necessarily looking for a house for life, it needs to stand up to at least five years of family Godfrey-Iwaschkin.

This weekend's cooking:

Fish pie

Butternut squash and chilli soup

Cardomom loaf (l); Chocolate and currant loaf (adapted from recipes by the Hummingbird Bakery)
A quick snooze in the brief Sunday afternoon sunshine!

Sunday 17 June 2012

Soundtrack of a Journey into Marriage: Ooh

Or: How do you know the Dress is The One? And is there such a thing anyway?

This weekend, the Dress was bought. I wouldn't say I am indecisive but I have been known to take a disproportionate amount of time to choose a biscuit, so to choose a dress quite so quickly was quite a surprise.

Being honest, it was an experience I hadn't particularly been looking forward to. Sure, wedding dresses are pretty and I'd spent hours looking online and at magazines oohing and aahing and deciding what I was looking for - and all that was really really fun.

But the idea of walking into a shop, being the centre of attention and not being a magic size 8? The more I thought about it, the more butterflies were flapping frantically round my insides. I wasn't particularly expecting to find a dress I wanted, but at the same time I was anxious that I wouldn't find one at all.

Despite the friendly shop assistant who welcomed us and quickly went in search of tea (always bonus points in my book), my feelings of anxiety increased as I surveyed a room of what seemed to be a hundred strapless dresses.

Dear reader, I did not want a strapless dress. I don't do strapless dresses in general life, and it seemed to me that our wedding day would not be the ideal time or place to start. So for what seemed like hours, I stood in the middle of a sea of white (and various associated shades), trying not to follow my instinct to run.

Then, on closer inspection, I found one where the straps had simply slipped off the hanger. I liked it. I found another. I liked that one too. Suddenly my hopes lifted and excitement returned as I pointed out an armful of dresses to be carted to the changing room.

Spurred on, it was time to try them on. I stepped into the first dress, which happened to be one I had fallen in love with from the shop's website. I say "stepped". What I actually mean is that the lovely assistant* held the dress, I hung onto her shoulder for dear life and plunged a foot into the mass of underskirt and lace overlay. I came out of the changing room, and looked in the mirror.

To say I was speechless is an understatement. I looked - different, yet like me. I don't know what I was expecting. Did I like the dress? Yes. Was it right for me? I honestly didn't know. So I ummed and aahed, and went to try on the next one.

After what seemed like more hours, I eventually narrowed the choice down to two. I couldn't decide (cue more umming and aahing - I am getting to be an expert at 'decision' noises) - and then that great saviour, gut instinct, kicked in.

We as brides-to-be hear so much about finding the Dress that is The One. We are supposed to try on dress after dress after dress until we step out of the changing room and make the mirror shine with Disney-like brightness (never likely in Hertfordshire, although a singing teapot wouldn't go amiss). In reality, life isn't like that. In my oh-so-logical mind, how can you possibly know that a Dress is the most perfect one that exists for you?

Do I know if this dress is The One? Despite the gut instinct, no. But I know I have bought the dress that made my mother go "Ooh" when I walked out. I know I have bought a dress that my fiance thinks is gorgeous (yes, he's seen it; no, he probably won't remember what it looks like in 11 months time; yes, I love that he helped choose it - why should he not?). I know that this dress made me smile when I first saw it, and makes me smile even more when I think about wearing it to say my vows on our wedding day. It makes me happy, and if that makes it The One, then that's an added bonus.

*Becky. She was genuinely lovely, so so helpful, and even arranged an ad hoc appointment for Alan to try on suits. He looked awesome.

In other weekend news, here's a Berry Pavlova I made (the best kind of meringue).

I will not be able to eat this again for a year.

Friday 8 June 2012

Soundtrack of a Journey into Marriage: The Kettle Boileth

This week has been an eye-opener. In both a passionate "this is our wedding taking shape" way and a "this just isn't for us" way. Nope, not a change of heart, but a meeting (or several) of suppliers.

We booked this week off work, originally just to benefit from the jubilee days off, but also to concentrate on getting a few wedding plans concreted, as we both work long hours during the week and don't get much else done. This post is about those initial supplier appointments, and all the cups of tea we have drunk along the way.

Suppliers may vary. Nothing is more evident than this after the last few days. And that's how it should be. Wedding budgets, and the personalities of the couples, vary hugely and it's good for there to be a range of real options.

So it's interesting to reflect on what made us drawn more to one than another. What made us come out of one appointment with even Alan being passionate about floral arrangements (although he did struggle with the concept of raffia, which I suppose is allowable), and yet leave other appointments with a subtle shake of the head and the word "No"? Here's some musings:

1. Florists - we appreciate you helping us with a vision - you are the expert. We've thought about bouquets but got stuck on centrepieces; can you help us tie that together? Do you get what I mean when I say "kind of like a slightly vintage-y lace effect but not so vintage that there's milk jugs"? We will be flexible with flowers, but if you don't give the impression that you know the look we are after, it's not particularly helpful.

2. Please don't talk over us, however enthusiastic you might be. This could also be rephrased as "please listen to us" (in case you weren't paying attention the first time round). If I mention that we'd quite like some flowerheads/ small flowers on the cake table, please don't insist that loose petals are really popular. Equally, if Alan has spent 5 minutes talking about a traditional, natural, garden-flower look, showing us modern cube vases and mirrors probably won't win you many brownie points.

3. Prompt email quotes/ notes are appreciated. You messing around on the computer sending us an email when we are still talking to you face-to-face is not.

4. If your showcase is on a computer - know how to work it. We don't want to waste time with you looking for a photo that may or may not be in a folder somewhere.

5. There's a difference between small talk and inane chat. It's good to get to know you and a bit about your product. We do not need to be told in detail what a DVD slideshow is. Secondly, please don't bad-mouth specific venues or other suppliers. It's unprofessional, and we've already booked our venue.

6. Please remember that we have an appointment with you. If you can also remember that we're having a church wedding that would be just lovely.

7. We appreciate being able to taste the cake. Taste is an important factor to cake - good cake is why we're here.

This may sound like one long criticism of suppliers. It's really not intended as such. The most important point we take away from this is that, like your friends and colleagues, a wedding couple will click with some suppliers and not with others. We have found that some suppliers just 'get' us and what we want, even if we haven't quite decided it ourselves. Whether that's natural or simply the result of making a professional effort, these are the people we've gone with.

And to wedding suppliers everywhere - in return, we assure you we will buy more coffee.Lots more coffee. Apparently not everyone drinks tea. Odd.

No coffee here, but here's some cakes I made for a picnic that got rained off.

Sunday 27 May 2012

Chewing It Over

Phase 2 of wedding planning appears to be "the suppliers". So far we're finding it hard to do any research during the week, and hard to make any decisions at the weekend - so we've booked a week off work, made loads of appointments and hope to come away from the week with lots of things sorted, or at least more advanced than now.

Not all of the appointments could be made to fit into that week, so this morning we were out discussing Wedding cake.

Poor lady, I'm not sure she knew what hit her ...

Well it was the first one of these that we've done, so we didn't really know what to come prepared with. We were hoping that she would tell us a bit about what she did and spend some time discussing options. It didn't quite go to plan. I think that she was hoping that we were a bit more advanced in thinking what we wanted - whatever question we asked or suggestion we mooted she suggested wouldn't be a problem ... after about 2 minutes we'd run out of things to talk about!

Then it was just a case of making conversation while eating cake ... such a hardship!

Monday 7 May 2012

A Little Taste Of Heaven

I'm probably quite hard to buy presents for. Outside of work I don't have any particular hobbies, and to be honest not much time to pursue them even if I did.

So you can imagine how impressed and pleased I was when Frances thought outside the box, and arranged a weekend cookery course with the Ashburton Cookery School down in Devon.

Not only was it a really relaxing weekend get-away in the beautiful Devon countryside; but I learned a huge amount, had so much fun and spent most of the time eating something wonderful!

The course was called "Express Dinner Party".

On the Saturday we made:

  • Lunch:
    • Pan-fried Duck Breast, with Cranberry Sauce
  • Canap├ęs:
    • Tapenade Palmiers
    • Marinated Pork, Courgette and Baby Corn Kebabs
    • Butternut Squash Veloute
    • Herb Breaded Mussels
Breaded Mussels, Pork Kebabs and Tapenade Palmiers
  • Main Course:
    • Salmon Parcel, stuffed with Anchovies, Olives & Sundried Tomatoes
  • Desert:
    • Chocolate Mousse, with Orange Segments in Cointreau and Chocolate decorations
Chocolate Mousse with Frances's Amazing Decorations!

Then on Sunday:
  • To Start:
    • Skate, in Black Butter, with Capers and Parsley
  • Middle Course:
    • Pan-Fried Scallops, Aubergine Cavier, Quail's Egg
Scallops & Quail's Egg (I broke my egg - sadness!)

  • Main Course:
    • Fillet Steak, Griddled Baby Vegetables, Wasabi Mash and Grain Mustard Sauce
Action Shot: Griddling Veg
  • Dessert:
    • Plum Clafoutis
    • Tuile Biscuits 
Frances got the hang of these. I attempted a bunny - it didn't end well ...

And the best part of all?

Someone else did all of the washing up! Bliss.


Sunday 29 April 2012

The Weekend That Was: Baking

What do you do when it hasn't stopped raining all week and isn't about to let up just because it's Saturday? Why, you make Earl Grey tea cupcakes with tea-scented buttercream.

This was also a weekend in which we made butternut squash soup, bagels and potato dauphinoise, and cooked..... zebra. Pan-fried, in case you too have some zebra steak and just don't know what to do with it.

Result? A weekend of food so awesomely delicious that it makes me sad not be able to carry on eating all week. Still, the threat of having to try on wedding dresses soon is keeping the reins on temptation for now...

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Our Wedding - The Proposal

We've noticed a pattern emerge in the responses that people have given to news of our engagement.
  • Everyone has been very happy for us - which is surprisingly reassuring; 
  • Every recently married couple has responded instantly with "Congratulations! Oh, you have so much organising ahead of you ..." - which is unsurprisingly worrying; and
  • Every female friend, relative or colleague has immediately asked "How did you propose?!"
      The problem, if it can be called such, is that we don't really have a good answer to this. Let me explain how I proposed, and you'll see why.

      Controversially, I would like to start from the end:

      She says "yes"! (when I remember to ask)

      Let me set the scene. It's Paris, it's February, and it's so cold that everything is covered in a thin layer of ice that sparkles in the moon-light.

      I had debated getting down on one knee, but had left it undecided with the thought that I would know what was right at the time. The ice decided it for me - we were huddled close for body warmth and the frozen pavement looked uninviting.

      We found a secluded spot after a couple of failed attempts, and I brought the box containing the ring out of my pocket and held it between us.

      I was so caught up in the moment that it took me a short while to realise that I hadn't actually asked her to marry me yet! Fortunately when I did finally remember she said "yes", and I was able to put the ring on her finger.

      So this was the moment that we became officially engaged, and this will be the moment that we will remember forever. It means more to us than I can explain. But it leaves a lot of questions unanswered ("why were we loitering in a dark corner on a frozen Paris winter night?" being the premier ...). Upon asking me whether I was nervous, or Frances whether she was surprised, people learn that neither was the case ... because at this point we both already knew the answer - and that inevitably leads to the search for the true "moment" that I proposed.

      A night to remember

      What posessed us to brave the -10C of a Paris winter night? Unsurprisingly that wasn't the original plan.

      Frances had been in Paris for a few months with work, and I had been out to visit more times than I care remember. For her birthday we decided that we should go to a nice restaurant, but not knowing the city we set about researching options. It soon became apparent that we both had a favourite, and that it was the same restaurant - but it was too short notice and we couldn't get in.

      When we were organising the evening of the proposal it was obvious that this would be the place that we went. It seemed to be symbolic in some way. It was also located around a small square, with a park at its centre, that we had stumbled upon early on in our Parisian adventures. It had stood out to us amidst the chaos and noise as being so peaceful and joyous and we had spent some time just relaxing there in the sunshine.

      The restaurant was where I was planning on proposing. The place was beautiful, and we had a lovely meal, but it was too claustrophobic. The service was so attentive as to be hovering over our shoulder and we could not escape the feeling that someone was watching us at all times. (There was also the couple in the corner who looked suspiciously close to proposing as well - which would have been a bit awkward!)

      It was clear from early on that outside after the meal would be better - whereas in the restaurant we felt like sight-seers in a grand life that wasn't meant for us, outside where it was peaceful, natural and beautiful was where we belonged.

      So was it at the restaurant that my intentions became clear? Nope. We had planned the evening together a month earlier, around about the time that we chose the ring together ...

      Sparkle, sparkle, everywhere

      Nothing quite sends the subtle message of your intentions to propose like choosing an engagement ring together.

      When I told people I was engaged some people asked when we were going to get the ring. Maybe it is just me, but I kind of thought that having the ring was fairly integral to the whole proposal? ("Distract her with something sparkly and she'll say anything!")

      I knew that she would be happy for me to choose something myself, but I preferred to have her involved in the process for several reasons: a) She doesn't wear rings normally, so there was no way of getting a ring size without involving her somehow; b) I didn't trust myself to get it right; and c) because choosing a ring can either be an agony of self doubt and torturous paranoia, or a dream day out that you will remember forever.

      It almost didn't work out that way. With her in Paris the opportunities were limited, so we picked a weekend and went shopping. Like Goldilocks, we got it right on the third attempt - the first area being at the "if you have to ask for a price you can't afford it" end; and the second area full of window displays that they "don't like to open unnecessarily, so let us know when you've chosen one and we'll get it out for you". We finally found somewhere that worked for us, who made us feel like we were the most important customers they had and that no request was too much. We spent just over two hours in there - not because we were particularly indecisive, in fact we'd already worked out pretty much what we wanted before we walked in - but simply because we were having so much fun.

      The ring we chose needed some alterations, but they agreed to get it done by the day that I was due to catch the train out to Paris. In the end I picked it up the day before, and so had it with me in my luggage on the Friday morning at work. (I was a little startled by a colleague who asked where I was going that morning, and then declared that it would be the perfect opportunity to propose! They then spent the rest of the day trying to convince me, while I pretended that it was the last thing on my mind.)

      You can probably see what's coming next. Was asking her to choose the ring with me the "moment"? No, of course not. I'm not quite that blunt. We'd even decided on the restaurant a few months before. Although we lived together beforehand, she had been seconded to Paris for six months, and the idea that I would propose in Paris, at the end of her stay there, right before she returned home to (hopefully) live with me forever, just felt so obvious.

      A tale of two cities

      How far back is the story going? Did we know even before Paris? We sometimes say that we knew very early on in our relationship. I still think that I did, but I can't honestly say that it was anything that we discussed before Paris.

      Living together for a while, and then seeing how hard being pulled apart was, seemed to make up both of our minds. The question was never asked, but one day we just found ourselves talking about it, and as soon as we both realised that the other person hadn't suddenly run off into the distance the decision was made and rapidly escalated into the plans above. 

      So the "moment" is in here somewhere, it's just not possible to put our finger on it - hence why we stick to "a secluded corner of Paris, with the world sparkling in the moon-light".

      Sunday 15 April 2012

      Soundtrack for a Journey into Marriage: Wheeeeeeee!!

      Getting married seems easy until you get engaged. Not at first - at this point the feeling of being engaged roughly translates as "Wheeeeeeeeee!"*

      But then you come to the realisation that a wedding is a huge party. And you have to organise it. And someone - whether that's you, your parents or anyone else - has to pay for it. And thus begins the planning.

      The first step to planning - once you have dragged yourself away from spending hours admiring pretty pictures on blogs (not something I have done at all. Oh no. Ahem...) - is finding a venue.

      Who knew there were that many venues offering to create your "perfect day"? And who knew that as a bride-to-be, what you really really need to know is that there will be chair covers? With sashes in your 'accent colour'? I have spent 26 years not caring about chair covers - do I really need to start now? I can't even remember if there were such things at any wedding I have been to.

      Out of interest, we interrogated asked politely how various of our friends had found a venue? Their (kindly meant) responses: "We didn't really look at that many"; "We just knew when we saw it"; "It just seemed obvious". Ok. That's clear as mud then.

      We did an initial internet search and booked some visits - and I can only be honest and say that all this has been a mixture of terrifying, depressing and incredibly exciting. Neither of us likes to be rushed into decisions - not least for something that for which we are about to bear our souls and spend our hard earned money - and yet sometimes it seemed that the instant we turned up to a venue we were supposed to know what we wanted, how we wanted to do it, who we are inviting. That's the terrifying. The depressing - we have spent so many hours poring over websites, driving across the county and visiting venues that we can tell instantly are just not for us. The depressing is wondering whether our current house is big enough for 90 people to have a huge party (it's not) because it seems to be the only place for miles that makes us happy.

      But best of all is the exciting - finally stumbling (for that is the only way I can describe it) across somewhere that we both love. Somewhere that we can see ourselves throwing a party with our friends and family as we start a new journey together. Exciting? We were one massive grin. And the really quite wondrous thing is that we just knew it when we saw it (this may or may not be because chair sashes were not mentioned once).

      Today we booked a provisional date. And guess what? It turns out that completing the first step to a wedding also sounds mysteriously like "Wheeeeeeeeeeee!!"**

      *other reactions are available.
      **nope, that's it for now. Just "wheeeeeeee!!"

      Testing Testing 1 2 3

      This is a test post.

      Weddings, houses and life in general.