Category Archives: ADVICE

Wine Country Wedding Dessert: Chocolate Cabernet Cake

Text written exclusively for Have & Hold by Christy Hulsey
Produced by:  Salted & Styled and Camp Makery

Making your own wedding cake isn’t exactly easy. And it’s definitely a task that’s outside my area of expertise. So, when I arrived at the venue for our wine country wedding inspirational shoot in Georgia to see this gorgeous dessert whipped up by the talented Libbie Summers, I had to get the step-by-step guide to making this stacked cake.


Although this cake looks just as delicious as it tastes, the styling geniuses of Salted & Styled and photography by Chia Chong make these photos look even more luscious. Long after the cake is devoured, the memories of making it will stand. The whole thing is actually pretty awesome. Without a doubt, its one of the treats I loved the most from our incredible Vineyard Wedding Tabletop shoot.

Chocolate Cabernet Naked Cake
Recipe by Libbie Summers
Serves 12


For Red Wine Syrup:
3⁄4 cup Cabernet
1⁄2 cup brown sugar

For Cake:
3 1⁄2 cups cake flour
1⁄2 cup high quality cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons butter (2 sticks), room temperature
2 1⁄2 cups sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
2 cups Cabernet or other full bodied red wine
2 teaspoons vanilla paste (can substitute vanilla extract)
Red food coloring (optional)

For Frosting:
6 egg whites
1 1⁄2 cups sugar
6 sticks butter, room temperature
1 1⁄2 tablespoons vanilla paste



For Red Wine Syrup: In a medium saucepan over low heat, add the sugar and wine and whisk together until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

For Cake: Preheat the oven to 350° F. Spray three 8-inch round baking pans with nonstick cooking spray, line with parchment paper, and spray the parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment add the butter and sugar. Mix on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated. Mix in the flour mixture and wine, alternating with each. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla paste and mix until combined. At this point if you want your cake to have a more prominent red color, you can add a little red food coloring.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean (about 30 to 40 minutes). Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans completely.


For Frosting: In a medium saucepan over low to medium heat combine the egg whites and sugar. Stir constantly until the egg whites reach 160 ̊ F and the sugar has completely dissolved.

Transfer to a standing mixer fitted with a whip attachment. Whip on medium speed for 1 minute. Slowly increase to high speed. Whip until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.

Add in the butter 2 tablespoons at a time. Add in the vanilla paste. Continue whipping until the buttercream is light and airy.


To Assemble: When cakes are completely cool cut each in half lengthwise with a serrated knife (your making 6 layers). Working one layer at a time, place it on your chosen cake stand (cut side up). Brush with a very thin layer of the cabernet syrup and allow it time to seep into the cake. Place about a 1⁄2 cup of frosting in the center of the cake layer and spread it out evenly all the way to the edge. Don’t frost the sides, this is what makes it a “naked cake.”

Continue this process with the next 5 layers of the cake ending with a thicker layer of frosting on top of the cake. Decorate the top of the cake with grapes and flowers if you like.

Store cake at room temperature.

Wedding Do or Don’t: Rehearsal Dinner Location

With so much that goes into planning a wedding, it’s easy for the rehearsal dinner to slip through the cracks. It’s difficult enough to pull it together towards the end of the planning process, let alone deal with all of the opinions and ideas from (usually well-intentioned) family members.

We’re continuing our Wedding Do or Don’t series (Here’s Part 1 and Part 2) with this tricky topic: Where should you host your rehearsal dinner? Kelly McLeskey-Dolata of A Savvy Event and Sonia Hopkins of XOXO Bride provided their expert advice on how to choose the right rehearsal dinner location and style that will make everyone (most importantly, you!) happy.

all_white_rehearsal_dinner_2Photos from A Beautiful Nantucket Rehearsal Dinner by Katie Kaizer Photography

Choosing a rehearsal dinner location can be a surprisingly controversial topic. Why do you think that is?

Sonia: While traditionally the rehearsal dinner is considered the “Groom’s Dinner” and generally hosted by the groom or the groom’s family, this concept has evolved over the years. More and more, the rehearsal dinner and/or welcome reception is hosted by the bride and groom, the bride’s parents or a mix of all parties. That said, you now have multiple opinions on what type of dinner, where to host and who to invite — let alone defining a budget for this event. All of this can create controversy. It’s human nature to want to have an opinion on the venue, food and beverage and design if your funds are paying for it.


Kelly:  Today, many couples choose a rehearsal dinner destination outside of where they grew up — a location that requires travel for over 50% of the people invited, so they feel they should invite them to the rehearsal dinner. Instead of calling it a rehearsal dinner, more people are calling it a Welcome Dinner or Reception. It’s a nice way to invite all your guests to kick off the weekend of festivities.

Because this event has grown beyond the traditional immediate family and friends, it is more controversial because it is more expensive. Often, it’s almost like having two weddings. One of the ways you could still have a “rehearsal event” is to have a rehearsal in the morning and then invite the immediate people that are involved in the rehearsal to a nice lunch. That evening you could invite people to a “Welcome Wine and Cheese Reception” early in the evening, before dinner, or after dinner for a Dessert and Cocktail Reception.


Who traditionally pays for the rehearsal dinner? Are there exceptions?

Sonia: (see above)

Kelly: Typically it has always been the groom’s family that pays for the rehearsal dinner. I would say this is true 75% of the time, but now, because the scope of weddings has changed and they are much grander than years past, I have seen it all ways. I really feel you need to have this conversation early in your planning process so you know upfront who is paying for what and what level of involvement people are having financially in your wedding day.


How do you choose who is invited to the rehearsal dinner? Does everyone have to be in the wedding?

Sonia: We definitely see the separation between rehearsal dinner and welcome reception concepts more now. While we only require the immediate family and wedding party to attend the actual wedding rehearsal, most couples want an opportunity to greet their guests before the weekend’s activities begin. A welcome reception is a perfect platform for this to occur. While the rehearsal dinner generally hosts 30 to 40 guests, the welcome reception can be opened up to the entire guest list. (We encourage this especially when you have a destination wedding and more than 75% of the guests are traveling to your event.) We also take into consideration the budget for these events. We may opt to host a Welcome Cocktail Hour by providing a beer and wine bar and a few tray passed hors d’ oeuvres.

Kelly: It really depends on the wedding and all the factors involved. It’s a very nice gesture if you are having a destination wedding to invite all the guests to an event outside of the wedding and welcome them to your wedding weekend. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you want, but it’s nice to have things for your guest to do after they’ve traveled to be there for your special occasion.

Wedding Do or Don’t: Pictures Before, After or Both?

A successful wedding day is all about good timing. There’s only so much you can do in a day (half of a day, really), so making sure you and your planner are on the same page about timeline and priorities is vital. This is especially true for photography — wedding photos are a big investment, so you want to make sure you have the time to make them perfect, without it taking up a gigantic chunk of your special day.

We talked to two of our favorite wedding planners — Kelly McLeskey-Dolata of A Savvy Event and Sonia Hopkins of XOXO Bride— and asked them this wedding do or don’t: When is the best time to take pictures? Before the ceremony? After the ceremony? During the reception? Or all of the above?

seaside real weddingPhoto from Bill & Blaire’s Beautiful Seaside Wedding by Dear Wesleyann.

Q: In your experience, what leads to a more seamless wedding: taking photos before the ceremony, after the ceremony, or both?

Kelly: I feel that doing photos prior to the ceremony allows for more time and a more seamless wedding flow. You are able to get all the photos out of the way ahead of time so you can enjoy your reception after the ceremony. I do however respect the wishes of my couples and if they choose not to see each other prior the ceremony I work with my photographers on a realistic photography timeline during the cocktail hour.

Sonia: Both! We highly encourage our clients to take advantage of the growing popular choice of “First Look” in their photography. We find the couple is able to capture so much more on film this way. But I also personally feel there is an opportunity to capture another moment on your wedding day: the walk down the aisle meeting at ceremony. The walk down the aisle is so special, but it’s also is so quick. It’s nice for the couples to have that time beforehand to take each other in for more than 30 minutes.

Photos pre and post ceremony also allows for two additional options that would not be available if the couple didn’t do a First Look. The first option is to focus more time on the bride and groom photos post ceremony, giving ample time for multiple locations. The other options is to take a short amount of time for bride and groom photos post ceremony and then join their guests for cocktail hour.

first look real weddingPhoto from Gina & Ryan’s Classic Villa Montalvo Wedding by Ashley Maxwell.

Q: What kinds of things should a couple consider before making this decision?

Kelly: I always tell my couples to think about whether or not they want to see each other prior. There are pros and cons to each. I loved an element of surprise, so for my own wedding it was important for me to see my husband at the ceremony. But, I know a lot of couples really like that intimate moment between the two of them when they see each other for the first time. A lot of times the decision is easily made by how many photos they are going to take and the fact they want to be a part of the cocktail hour. There really is no right or wrong way to do it, you just really need to think about what works best for the two of you and work with your planner and photographer to create a seamless timeline for the decision you make.

Sonia: Type of photos desired and the overall timing and layout of the venue will play a large role in this decision. If photos are important to the couple, which they are more often than not are, then planning for time to capture all of the scenarios with family, wedding party and all those fun bride and groom moments take time. We always recommend 1 minute per photo. If you count how many photos a couple would like during the day, those minutes add up quickly. It’s about maximizing the short amount of time you have in one day and not feeling rushed. 

eclectic real weddingPhoto from Julia & Jonathan’s DIY Block Island Wedding by Katie Slater.

Q: What do you find photographers’ expectations are for this? How should that factor into things?

Kelly: I know from experience that photographers love when the clients want to do the First Look — this is great for them, as it allows them ample time to get all the shots they need and not rush through a list of photos in 45 minutes. However, if you are working with both an experienced photographer and planner, they should be able to create a realistic timeline for your day that won’t feel rushed or delayed.

Sonia: Photographers are always wanting, needing and asking for more time. I make it my priority to map out a day that allows for the proper amount of time to give to the photographer to do their magic and not have the bride, groom, families and wedding party feel as if we rushed them throughout the entire day just to get a photo taken. Photographers love when I can give them at least 20 minutes for the First Look and 30 minutes post ceremony with just the bride and groom.

Tell us: What did you do for your wedding? Or when are you planning to take photos? 

Wedding Dos and Don’ts: Should You Hire a Videographer?

Budget is everything when it comes to your big day. Unless yours is unlimited, odds are you’ll have to compromise on something — for some couples, it’s a video. Today, we’re talking to to of our favorite wedding planners, Kelly McLeskey-Dolata of A Savvy Event and Sonia Hopkins of XOXO Bride, to get the scoop on whether or not they think having a wedding videographer is worth it.

Destination Wedding Filmmaker {Pierre & Angeline} Caneros Inn, Napa from LoveSpun Handmade Wedding Films on Vimeo. Wedding planned by A Savvy Event.

Q: What’s your opinion on having a videographer? Is it a must? Why or why not?

Sonia: Cinematography is definitely a nice added feature to any wedding. We do encourage our clients to consider capturing this lifetime moment on film, however we find it really comes down to budget permitting. Photographs remain the strongest priority, so photographers will obtain the bigger portion of funds within a budget.

Kelly: YES! I think video is so important and the biggest regret couples have if they don’t do it. I have heard more than once that they so wished they would have had video at their wedding. It is the only thing you have that brings your wedding to life! Photography is beautiful, but the video really brings back all the memories to life and the little things you might have missed.

Q: Budget-wise, are there things that should prioritize under having a videographer?

Sonia: Yes, in fact we always try to allocate, based on the clients overall budget, the photography and videography/cinematography funds together in order to capture this vendor choice, funds more often than not are decided all to go towards the photographer packages. Beyond photography, venue and design fees play a huge role in the beginning of the planning process. Flowers, rentals, lighting and draping are sometimes must have design items, leaving very little for videographer fees.

Kelly: I always say if you want to have it all, scale your guest count back. The fewer guests you have, the less you have to spend. Invite the guests that are really the most important to you so you can have all the things you want on your special day

Q: When do you think having a videographer is as important as the photographer? Certain settings? Certain types of weddings?

Sonia: When family dynamics play a large role in a couples lives — such as family members unable to travel or attend or grandparents who are aging — we encourage our clients to document this time on film to preserve that memory forever. It’s also a great tool to have family that can not attend the wedding feel included in the festivities after the event has concluded.

Kelly: I think both are equally important. Weddings are different then they use to be. No matter what the budget is, there is a lot more thought and a lot more planning that goes into planning a wedding. Video and Photography in my opinion, go hand in hand with one another. I did not have video at my own wedding and it is also my biggest regret! There is just so much of your day that goes by so fast and at the end it all seems like a blur. I have the photos, but so wish I could have heard my vows, best man toast, maid of honor toast  and my dad’s toast.

Tell us: What do you think? Is having a wedding video a must or a bust? 

Wedding RSVP Card Etiquette from Lizzie Post

If you’ve done any research into the world of wedding invitation suites (or if you’ve just been invited to more than one wedding this summer), you’ve probably noticed how incredibly diverse they can be. Sometimes there’s a save the date, followed by a full invitation suite. Sometimes it’s just a simple card with a web address on it.  While there’s plenty of room for creativity, there’s also some key parts of your invitation that need to be clear and simple — namely your RSVP cards (you want to know who’s actually coming, right?).

invitationInvitation suite from Pottery Barn’s collection with Wedding Paper Divas. Photo by Steve Steinhardt.

We spoke to etiquette maven Lizzie Post to get the scoop on what you should keep in mind for your wedding RSVP cards. Read on to get her advice!

Online only. “People are RSVPing online more and more. I think it’s a really good idea if you have a back up plan. Because some people, like my 87-year-old grandmother, are going to have a hard time figuring out how to RSVP online.  Know who you’re inviting and have other options for people — like a phone number, email address and website.”

Decide on the date. “For your own sake, give yourself time. Remember that you’ll need time to process them, and people will need time to return them. I’d recommend 3 to 4 weeks. It’s the only way to stay sane.”

Stamp it! “Make sure your RSVP cards are pre-addressed and stamped, so there’s no excuse for guests not to return them.”

Following up. “When you haven’t received word from people, you’ll want to reach out to them individually to confirm whether or not they can attend. I’d suggest calling — never do something like a group email.”

Plus one please. “It’s totally up to your discretion who gets a plus one and who doesn’t. However if it’s an established couple — they’re living together, engaged, married or have a relationship over a significant amount of time — both parties should be invited. Other than that, it’s totally up to you.”


Need more advice? Pick up the 6th Edition of Wedding Etiquette by Anna Post and Lizzie Post. Be sure to check back in with us for more etiquette tips from Anna and Lizzie, too!


You may also like:  

Lizzie Post’s Advice for Thank You Note Etiquette
Lizzie Post’s Advice For Gift Registry Etiquette
Lizzie Post’s Advice For Your Guest List


Pretty in Pink: A Simply Delicious Cocktail for Drink Dispensers

 This post was written exclusively for Have & Hold by Christy Hulsey of Colonial House of Flowers

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I’m not gonna hide it. I loved everything about this photoshoot. From visiting with my best friend Lea, to making a flower arrangement, to finally toasting to it all. Okay, the last part is the highlight — the toast! Ah, nothing’s better than a Tybee Island Sipper recipe — created by the author of From the Kitchen of Azure Rountree.

Tybee Island Sipper From the Kitchen of Azure Rountree

Items needed:
1 (750ml) bottle sauvignon blanc (chilled)
2 cups white cranberry juice (chilled)
¼ cup agave nectar
2 tablespoons triple sec orange liqueur (chilled)
1 bottle champagne (chilled)

In a drink dispenser, combine bottle of sauvignon blanc, white cranberry juice, agave nectar and triple sec, then stir together. Fill champagne glasses 2/3 of the way full. Top each glass with champagne and serve.

Cocktail Recipe: From the Kitchen of Azure Rountree
Location: Golden Isles
Photography: Jade + Matthew and Jenna Davis Photography
Styling: Lauren Weems
Supplies: Smithers-Oasis

Bridal Diaries: Q&A with Caitlin Moran of Style Within Reach

Hindsight is always 20/20 — unless you’re lucky enough to get some great advice along the way. That’s the idea behind our new Bridal Diaries series — who else is better equipped to hand off gems of wedding planning wisdom than someone who’s just experienced it all? Today we’re featuring an interview chock full of great tips from Caitlin Moran of Style Within Reach. As the Editorial Director of Glitter Guide, Caitlin’s amazing taste and organizational expertise have helped her plan the wedding of her dreams — but she learned some important lessons along the way, too. Keep reading for her tips, along with shots of her gorgeous engagement session!

Photography by Abby Jiu


Q: What do you wish you knew before you started to plan your wedding?

A: I wish I would have delegated more tasks from the beginning (everyone is offering to help, so take it!) and I also wish I would have given myself a rule about not changing things. I’ve changed everything in our wedding so much and it’s made me so behind in planning. I even changed our wedding logo after I had a custom stamp made!


Q: What has ended up being the most difficult part of planning your wedding? Has anything been surprisingly easy?

A: The guest list was by far the most difficult task for us as a couple. I was surprised at how quickly I found a venue I was happy with -— I saw images, went in person and was sold!


Q: Is there anything you would’ve done differently so far?

A: I would have spaced out the work and DIY projects. We are down to less than 2 months from our wedding day and I’m still up to my ears in projects. I do have a goal to get everything done a month ahead of time so the month of our wedding can be spent relaxing, tying up loose ends and not running around like crazy. I’d suggest this goal to everyone!


Q: What has been your most invaluable resource?

A: Advice from my married friends. From everything on what to spend your money on to how to handle sticky situations with your future in-laws — my friends have been so supportive and helpful!


Q: What are you most looking forward to on your big day?

A: I’m so looking forward to seeing my vision come to life and to be in one place with all of the people I love — and of course marrying my guy!! Caitlin’s extra advice for brides: If your budget allows it — pay for anything you can to be done for you (like making your invitations — bad idea!!), order pre-made DIY projects on Etsy and try to cut down on the tedious craft projects you sign yourself up for. A wedding planner takes care of all these details, but if you can’t afford one try to limit the projects — it can be stressful. Like I mentioned above, I’ve given myself a deadline of September 1st to get everything wrapped up for our wedding (9/26 is our big day) — it’s my mental deadline and I hope to have all of my projects wrapped up and everything organized so I can really take a few weeks to relax, soak it all in and focus on myself!