Sunday, August 28, 2005

Pregnancy pangs

No, I'm not pregnant. I was on the El (Chicago's elevated version of the subway train) and then on the buses. As I waited to get on the bus, two young men told me to go ahead of them to get on the bus. Such courtesy! I was thrilled and touched. The bus was fairly full, no seats were left, although I was fortunate enough to get one near the front because of those two men and their kind manners. But then, a few stops down the street, a very pregnant woman got on the bus. Not a single person got up to offer her a seat. There she was, with a good 8 months of fetus hanging out in front of her, her hand to her belly, the other wrapped tightly around the pole to stop her from swaying as the bus hit potholes and curbs, and I was appalled. Not a single man offered his seat. Nor a woman. Within 30 seconds I jumped up and told her, "Why don't you take my seat?" She hesitated, then nodded and sat down.

But what appalled me even more was what happened after that. First, she acted as if I'd done something wrong. If I were 8 months pregnant and carrying a belly like a house in front of me, I'd be demanding a seat that instant on a moving vehicle! But second, it was how the WOMEN all gave me dirty looks, as if I'd done something anti-ERA, anti-feminist, in giving her the seat. What has happened here? A pregnant woman deserves special treatment. Special care, and basic courtesy. She should have a seat. She is carrying another life inside of her and at that point in the pregnancy it's weighing a lot, too. But the women were all giving me dirty looks. Hey! I've been through sexual harassment while living abroad. I know what it's like to be treated badly by men in power. But when I was an investment banker in NYC, I appreciated the fact that men would open doors for me and let me into elevators and vehicles first. It shows grace and good manners, not anti-PC fascism.

Everyone! Be nice to pregnant women. Your mother was once one of them, too. Give them your seat on public transport. Smile. And please don't give dirty looks to people who were taught that it is courtesy to give a pregnant woman a seat first. What has happened to our society? Please!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Bridezilla PMS Strikes!


A picture of Venice, Italy, where we were thinking of honeymooning.

My poor husband. He's been watching me go through wedding planning and yesterday I was swearing up a cobalt streak over the Great Lakes (lots of really really bad words there, people) about how a travel agent on the West Coast had promised me three times to get back to me with a package rate on hotels and airfare for Central Europe and for Italy. We'd been looking into a 10 day trip either to Venice/Budapest/Prague or to Rome/Florence (Tuscany)/Venice. I waited, and as usual, heard nothing. Of course, this set me off at this point in the game and I was utterly enraged and began to stomp back and forth in the house, shrieking "That f$%#!ing bitch!!!" That's when it hit me: I've become Bridezilla! Only 78 days to go and I haven't even got my honeymoon, registry, transport (limousine), wedding bands, or invitations started yet. Help!

My friends have been great about it. They've been amused by the Bridezilla PMS. Now, I totally relate to the ad they are showing in Times Square in NYC on the big screen where they advertise the show by showing the bride in full get-up taking something like an axe and plunging it with a vicious snarl through a wedding cake. No kidding. By now, I am so tired of negotiating with people and checking every single line of each contract that I needed a break.

So this past weekend, a wonderful friend of ours visited from D.C. She is an editor and a college friend of my husband's and I adore her! We went to an Argentinean BYOB steak house on Thursday night and were up late drinking -- I've been working on mastering the art of making mojitos and am finally getting somewhere. (Kelly thought they were excellent.) At the restaurant, at one point I returned from the restroom. The table in front of me had a happy family with their kids, too, enjoying their dinner, but at the table behind us was a 50-something man with balding red hair wearing a yellow polo shirt dining with a very young girl who could easily be his daughter. He was speaking in a very superciliously superior way to her: "I brought you here tonight to tell you about her (another woman, obviously) because if you cannot accept that I want to be with other women too you will be constantly hurt."

Meanwhile, he was busy checking out Kelly, who was sitting across from me and facing him! Kelly couldn't hear him, but she could see him checking her out while on his "date", and I couldn't see him, but I could hear him dumping nasty and absolutely narcissistic words on this beautiful young girl. At which point, I very nearly turned around to grab her arm and say, "What are you? Stop playing victim! Just leave! You deserve so much better, girl! Get the f*!& away from this bastard!" But I didn't. I was supposed to be enjoying dinner with my friends, but it was absolutely horrifying. This man had her completely under his control. Kelly later told us that the girl was actually serving this man his dinner! Like a geisha. In this day and age in a major city.

There has to be something we can do to stop this. Why was she grateful to be abused? What type of upbringing allows people to think this way and to lack the boundaries to identify such abuse?

But the rest of the weekend was wonderful. We all attended a fantastic BBQ at our friend M's house and everything was perfect. Her friends, the food, the crowd, a group of people from different generations and different backgrounds who all ended up getting along marvelously along with amazing conversations. She actually had to throw us out at the end of the night because no one wanted to leave.

I managed to fall down the back wooden stairwell and bruise my tailbone (coccyx) so we called my brother-in-law, who is a GP, and he prescribed a lot of aspirin and rolling up a towel like a doughnut to sit down and lie upon. I was in deathly pain for a few days but now it's just wrenching pain. He was very sympathetic and said, "There's not much you can do, and it'll hurt a lot because a lot of muscles interconnect there, so every time you move it will hurt, but with time, it'll get better. Just take aspirin or Motrin, which is an anti-inflammatory, and use a doughnut." So here I am, sitting oh so delicately on my doughnut as I write this.

Well, that was a rather all over the place update. Things have been running awry with the wedding planning. It's when you get to the point that all of the little details are running amok and not under control that things get difficult. I'm going to hunt down that damn travel agent and call her. There's not much time left and I need to know if we're even going to be able to afford our honeymoon! You would think, given that she specializes in honeymoons, that she would be more sensitive. Maybe I should just contact the company and change to another agent. A vote on that one?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

One More Kitty Pic for the Week



With my husband's help, I located the picture of Oliver that is our computer screensaver. Awww! He's so cute. I think he should win an award for being the most adorable, helpless, cuddly little drooling kitty. I used to think that only dogs drooled, but Oliver out-drools our German shepherd. It's almost as if he purrs so hard that the drool just spills out.

This week has been a long one and involved a great deal of negotiating and meetings. More to come!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Pet-ty Mondays!




This week we launch "Pet-ty Mondays"! Meet Oliver, our little baby who was rescued through www.purebredcatrescue.org based in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Oliver is such a special little guy. He drools when he's feeling affectionate, sneezes, vomits hairballs, routinely pops off large clumps of fur, and likes to suck on our t-shirts when he's hungry.

Purebred Cat Rescue specializes in rescuing purebred kitties, especially Persians, who are usually put down because once they are in a state where they require rescue, their coats are so matted and filthy that the cost and time of grooming them is too great for most rescue agencies to cover. They are some of the first kitties to be put down.

Red Persian males are known for their wonderful, loving, incredibly affectionate temperaments. Purebred Rescue had three red kittens coming in and let me choose. Poor little Oliver's old home had taken him away from his mother at far too young an age. He needed to be completely shaven, and the poor little baby still stank from filth. But his sweetness and loving temperament were obvious. We fell in love and took him home. We're still in love with him. Awwww!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The World's Tiniest Tomato


Thanks to the drought in Chicago and our own benign negligence and basically homicidal attitude towards the state of our garden (okay, maybe it has something to do with the recovering vegan proclivities, but one dill plant and a cilantro plant and an entire rose bush has already surrendered the fight) meaning we never weed, we barely mow the lawn, that is, what is left of it that hasn't burned into straw in the drought, and the attitude of our huge German shepherd who loves to stampede after tennis balls and clomp down full force on the shriveled little tomato plants.... Well, basically, we managed a major achievement, to grow the world's tiniest tomato. In the picture here, you will see the world's tiniest tomato, which is for real, and ripe, and edible, and smaller than the eraser on the end of a wooden pencil. It is sitting on my desk in front of a regular sized lemon, my Motorola cell phone, and a key lime, which as you cooks out there know, are tiny. My father-in-law, who is a Nebraskan farmer, said we should win a prize for this little guy. What a compliment!

Bad Scene at Bastille Day

Yesterday my husband and I decided to go check out the Bastille Day Fest that's held every year in the city. Last year, when we'd gone with friends, we'd enjoyed superior champagne in buckets full of ice set on outdoor tables, enjoyable live music from the band jamming at the front of the street, and delectable chocolate crepes. Mmm! We only had good memories as we approached the scene of the crime.

Something, though, had happened to the festival this year. Perhaps it's because of the debacle incited by Jacques Chirac? Even if he did say that American hamburgers were good. This year, the venue was utterly packed. Barely enough room to breathe, people literally on top of one another. Last year, it had been much roomier, with more air. The music was screechy, French affectations of Warner Bros. cartoon tunes, done in a post-modern horribly atonal fashion that had tears running out of my eyes. I know it's so juvenile, but I really wanted to put my hands to my mouth and yell, New York style, "YOU SUCK!" Worse yet, the prices! One glass (probably about 4 oz.) of the good champagne was $12.50, cash only. We looked at the Spanish sparkling wine, the cava, and that went for $6, which was acceptable.

However, I was getting a very bad vibe from the entire scene and turned to my darling before he could put money down for the drinks and said to him, "Maybe we should go home and grill steaks and pop open a nice bottle of wine or sparkling there instead? I could make asparagus and mushrooms and we could throw on mashed potatoes, too?" His beautiful blue eyes widened in surprise, their long eyelashes glowing in the sunlight. "Are you actually saying to me that you don't want me to buy any drinks here?" I nodded. He put away his wallet, surprised beyond belief, because I love going out and adore crowds and luxuriating in summer weather, but this time I just couldn't deal with it. Could it be PMS?

We turned to leave. I said, "I can't pin-point it, but it's a bad scene. I'm really uncomfortable and don't like anything this year -- the music, the prices, the people. Something's wrong." That's when he told me that the festival seemed to be full of overdressed and anxious middle-aged women looking for men. Several had made eye contact with him and tried to smile at him and move in his direction, only to then notice that I (very casually dressed in a black tank top and khaki Gap shorts and sneakers) was holding his hand. Then the look on their face would change entirely, in his words, "Get really weird," and they would literally turn their backs on him and start scanning the crowd in a different direction.

As soon as he told me, I realized that what he was saying was true. There were many happy couples there, and some groups of guys in their 30s, but there were gangs of very overly made-up women wearing a "pick up uniform" of white capri pants, 4" high heels, expensive pastel tank tops with metallic leather purses. All of them seemed to be wearing a preponderance of perfume, green or blue eye shadow, and very gaudy pink lipstick accompanied by towering, teased, manes of bleached blond hair. And he was right -- they really were looking at him, and any other male around. Because I'm fairly small and was wearing my usual getup, I didn't have a neon sign over my head saying "Notice me! Notice me!" I guess I should have put on some of that flourescent eyeshadow.

Damn the French!

We took a walk in the neighborhood to clear our heads and then head home, but I just felt so.... sticky afterwards, and he said to me in our car, "I want to take a shower and clean myself off." I kissed him and said, "Let's go enjoy an evening together. Thank you for taking me to the Bastille Day Fest even though it was so bad."

Now that we're married, we can stay in on a Saturday night, grill steaks and potatoes for each other and watch "The Pacifier" while eating. I love going out, but it seemed right to simply relax and clear our heads after the brawl of desperation at the fest. My darling later smiled at me and said, "You know, I have bottles of 1985 Krug champagne. I'm saving it for the reception at our wedding." Awww! Now that will be the right place to enjoy incredible champagne with my darling and amongst those we love.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A Virgin in the Kitchen: How Do You Cook Soft Shell Crabs?

Today I went to the local market and they'd received a shipment of soft shell crabs, which my husband and I had just voraciously enjoyed at an excellent Italian cafe near Division and Damen here in Chicago this past weekend. With visions of that breaded, parsleyed, crunchy yet meaty crab in my mind, I quickly filched up a few from the seafood counter. The fellow behind the counter said, "They're still frozen, is that a problem?" Of course, being a total neo-phyte and having never cooked a crab or lobster in my life, I said, "Uh, no..." as in, "Why would it be?"

Having come home, proudly lugging my little frozen soft shelled crabs in their bag, I ran to the computer and punched in "soft shell crabs" into www.epicurious.com and into another website, www.cooks.com. That is when I read, to my increasing horror, that I had to "properly clean them" by peeling back the pointed parts of the shell and scraping away the gills on both sides, then using sharp scissors to cut off the head and carefully "squeeze out the green bubble behind the eyes," followed by bending back the apron until it breaks off and removing the intestinal vein. (All credit for the above instructions goes to www.epicurious.com, by the way.)

YUK!

I lost my appetite right there. No wonder he had asked me so solicitously, "Are you sure it's okay if they're frozen?" Because usually I would've asked him to clean them for me. If they had been thawed. And if I had known enough to do so.

Hmmmm.

My mother is at her weekly Friday social event. I can't even call her to whine about cleaning the crabs. I remember her doing SOMETHING to them when I was a kid, but not much. Maybe I blanked it out of my memory? See, I don't mind cooking it once it's all fileted and cleaned and ready for cooking, but I'm still a bit yukked out by having to do it myself.

Which brings me to my husband's brother-in-law. He is absolutely amazing. He is a surgeon who lives up in a less populated portion of the Midwest, and he is also an avid hunter and fisherman who is, yes, a gourmet chef. Imagine -- he guts and cleans the fish and the carcasses all on his own because he also does surgery for work. At least he gets a lot of practice from both his hobby and his job!

It's absolutely fascinating to go visit with them because I love my husband's sister and her family, and her house is littered with Cabela's sporting goods catalogs for hunters and fishermen. Many a late night, when I couldn't sleep, I'd be paging through reading about smokers, sausage makers, venison choppers, hickory wood, coyote call makers, e-collars for hunting dogs, waterproof hiking boots, and so on.

Here I am, confronted by these crabs, which I enjoyed so much last Saturday. If my mom were here, I wouldn't have a problem. Does that mean I'm immature? I've already lived in 6 countries, in most of them alone, and had 5 careers. That makes me pretty old. But plunging that lobster headfirst into a pot of boiling water has always bothered me a bit.

Another confession! It's confession day from the former vegan. I love eating meat. I just don't like prepping it for cooking. Well, a New York City chef admitted the same thing the other night on the Food Network. He was traveling around the world to see where the food comes from that he serves in his restaurant. Pretty cool. But they axed out all of the gory stuff. (Another pun, this one not intended at all!) He looked like he was going to be sick. Poor dude.

I have oysters. Those are less... trying to deal with. Maybe we'll just have oysters tonight. I'll let you know how it goes with the crab cleaning. Maybe they'll go in the freezer again for another week. My husband, having grown up on a farm, isn't bothered by many things. The second time I went up to Nebraska to his family's farm, they all went skeet shooting. It was a lot of fun to watch, actually, and you could see how horribly difficult shooting really is. You have to gauge for wind, distance, the arc of the bullet due to gravity, the speed of the skeet, etc.

At the end of the day, in the late afternoon, they asked me if I'd like to try a shot with the rifle. I said, "Sure! But not at anything moving." So they set down an empty box about 30 feet away from me and told me to give it a shot (pun intended, ha ha). I sighted down the barrel and pulled -- and MISSED! The 8" square box just looked back at me, glaring from its untouched position across the field. My husband smiled at me and patted me on the back, saying, "Darling, it's even tougher when the box is shooting back at you."

Please Send Britain Your Prayers

The terrorist attack in the UK has been horrifying, but the Londoners, as always, are moving on and displaying their courage and fortitude. As both a former New Yorker and Londoner, 9/11 and yesterday's events have been terribly difficult and involved breath-bated queries to best friends and former colleagues in both places to be sure that they are all right. And thankfully, both times, all of them have been, although far too many of them were literally just a few seconds away from the bomb or the horror. Thank God they were saved.

Hold hands with the Britons and stand by them with grace and faith and courage against evil and murder.

First, a Confession....



Thank you all for your comments, especially your well-wishes. They've been so sweet!

I have a confession for you. My darling and I just couldn't stand having to wait over one year to get married, and the stresses involved in the planning and costs were killing us, and we were already so in love and so together that we decided to get married in a civil wedding first, and then proceed with the church wedding in the fall to celebrate it with our families and friends.

Therefore, one huge strain is off of our backs. I'm already married! To the most incredible, loving, darling man. And I have married into a wonderfully supportive and kind family. As for him, my entire family adores him, too.

We basically eloped. I spoke to the Reverend who was to preside at our wedding, my Episcopalian minister. His wife is fluent in French and I believe they had lived in France, and he told me that there, civil weddings are required before you can proceed with a church wedding, so what we were doing has historical precedent elsewhere, too. He was very supportive. He finished by saying, "Just remind me at the fall ceremony, if I ask you to let me sign your marriage certificate, that you've already gotten that taken care of."

We decided to make it as romantic a weekend as possible and fled Chicago for Galena, Illinois, a lovely town near the border of Iowa in rather hilly country and with grand homes from the days of Ulysses S. Grant, who lived there for a while and chose several members of his administration from that town. I spent over a month using the internet to choose a lovely bed & breakfast to stay in. The owners of that B&B, Carmine and Cheryl Faruggia, helped us to find the officiant for our wedding, who also happens to be a Protestant minister and was campaigning for local Alderman and owns one of the other B&Bs.

The night before we wed, after picking up our wedding license, we had an absolutely incredible dinner at the Perry Street Brasserie. If you ever go to Galena, which is reknowned also for being near the Mississipi River, with wooded areas for hiking and fishing, and for antique shops and special romantic getaway weekends, make sure you get a reservation in advance and go eat at this restaurant. After living in NYC, Chicago, London, Paris, Nice, Germany, Hong Kong, and traveling through Italy, Spain and San Francisco, I can tell you (and I eat out a LOT -- remember, I have to make up for all of that lost time spent as a vegan and starving on soy products) that this restaurant ranked among the top three I've ever been to. In fact, our wedding officiant told us the same thing and to go if we could get a reservation, and we lucked out and got the last reservation for that evening. Just one tip -- show up early. You might lose your reservation if you are late.

Dinner was mind-blowing. The restaurant itself is intimate, classic and classy with dark wood and large glass paned windows overlooking cobble-stoned streets and the atmosphere is suffused with romantic, candle-lit lighting. As soon as you walk in, you are absolutely hit by the scent of spectacularly prepared, rich food permeating the air. The chef, Steve Dowe, has cooked for the Queen of England, the Beatles, and other famous people. We ate a delectably rich meal, in my case a seafood and fennel dish, in my husband-to-be's case a duck dish covered in an incredible berry sauce, and then we finished with a banana and cream pastry that was the best dessert we'd ever eaten (and that we were told is Queen Elizabeth's favorite!). It turns out that Mr. Dowe's desserts are quite famous and that he's a gold medal award winner.

Anyway, back to eloping. Our B&B, The Cloran Mansion Inn, was beautiful and incredibly romantic with a jacuzzi, big screen TV, spacious bedroom the size of most living rooms, and a fireplace. Carmine and Cheryl actually took our wedding photos during the ceremony by the bay window in their dining room and helped us to set up the unity candle and signed our wedding certificate as the witnesses. We served a special bottle of champagne afterwards to everyone. They then prepared another incredible dinner with the most stunning cake for us -- I had lobster and my darling had steak. They made us wait outside while they set everything up, and when we returned to our room, we found that they had set the table with bottles of wine, local sparkling wine, the food, and candles, with the fireplace roaring and the lights off. It was so remarkably romantic. It will always be one of the happiest days of my life. They deserve our deepest thanks for everything they did for us.

If you are looking for a romantic getaway, do consider Galena and the Cloran Mansion and have dinner at the Perry Street Brasserie. It was an incredible experience and full of loving and joyful memories for our wedding day.

The question then becomes: Which wedding date will be our anniversary? We decided to have two. Why not? More reasons to celebrate our life and love together. But we still want to have a church wedding. Doing both a civil and a church wedding was the right decision for us. We feel so much more at ease with one another, and less stressed, and we are totally devoted to each other, which we already were, but when you're not already bound together legally, these days it almost feels like the stress is compounded.

At first, after we eloped, we were going to hide the fact from everyone. But my husband refused to take off his wedding ring. He wanted to keep it on. So we basically let people know as we encountered them. Our friends asked at the cocktail party, "What should we tell people? Are you engaged? Or married? It's confusing!" I love and adore them. They are great. We told them, "We're married and everyone can know. We are performing the church wedding this fall, though, to celebrate in the church and with the family and all of you!" Plus this way, I get my honeymoon to Europe!

As for our parents, I mentioned it to my mother right before we went away. She was the only one who knew and she called me right after we got married and told us congratulations. She was a bit hurt that she wasn't invited to Galena, but then we realized it would turn into a big mini-wedding. My mother would bring my father, then we'd also invite my husband's parents, then the siblings would find out and get pissed -- in effect, what we're planning for the fall, but more rushed and in a different city. I felt so guilty. In the end, she understood, but it was a difficult decision to make, especially when Cheryl, the owner of the B&B, asked me where my mother was.

Two weeks after we got married, my parents-in-law came to visit us in Chicago, and we told them after picking them up at Midway Airport that we had gotten married. We had just moved houses, then run away and gotten married, and there were boxes everywhere and the mess was astounding. We had hoped to take them to a restaurant to announce it, but their flight was so late that we ended up telling them in the (still unpacked) living room. They were delighted and gave us their congratulations and hugs and kisses.

As for my sister, I later asked her to still be my bridesmaid for my church wedding, and all she wrote back was one line in an email: "I thought you already got married."

But the family is ready to celebrate, and so are we. Lesson learned: perhaps having the civil ceremony first, and then the church wedding after, is a good thing to do. It gives you time to work out your joint finances, more peaceably plan the wedding, gets rid of some of the excruciating nastiness of bachelor/bachelorette parties (because you're already married!) and legally you are already a couple. Less strain, more coalescing of the relationship, and really establishing your married life together before planning a ceremony that is sometimes overwhelming because it combines lifestyle change, legal status change, financial change, and joining a new family. It's easy to get lost and exhausted with so much going on.

So we're married! And delighted about it. Newlyweds! Ahhhh. Have a great day!

Locating the Best Tasting Wedding Cake Ever!

This past week I went to my second cake tasting. In all, I've made appointments with three bakeries. What a rough life, having to go to exclusive bakeries and sample cakes. Yum!

At any rate, the first baker is quite famous for their breads, and they've just launched into wedding cakes fairly recently. They gave me so much to taste that I had enough to bring home for my darling and one of our friends. And it was so heavy that we just couldn't finish more than three bites total, each. Maybe it was the thick layer of fondant on each piece, or else the fillings. But the entire thing tasted too.... "out of the box." The flavors and textures were either too light or too heavy, and not outstanding in any way, except for the overriding sense of massive weight gain from just having a little bit. It was too bad, because they were also the cheapest of the three bakeries.

My expectations sank, and I began to worry, because we had decided to make the wedding cake the dessert for the reception. My mother keeps saying to me, "No one eats the wedding cake! They all taste terrible! No one will eat it! I'll make you a dessert to bring to the reception!" She was adamant in her belief that spending the money on a wedding cake would simply go to waste.

What weirded me out at the first baker was that they had several tastings all going on at the same time, and in one case there was an... overwhelming mother seated at the table next to me with her daughter. The mom was making all kinds of demands and asking all types of pointed and pushy questions and basically being scary as hell. I was sitting next to them thinking, "Whose wedding is this?" The daughter never said a word! She looked pretty unhappy, come to think of it.

But then I went to Bittersweet, a very well-known and highly-rated bakery in the Lakeview area of Chicago. It's also a cafe and was packed when I got there at about 2:00 p.m. Another good friend, who is a man and a highly-ranked executive and definitely a straight dude, had been invited to several weddings and raved to us about Bittersweet. "You MUST get your cake there!" he exclaimed, and expounded on how fabulous the cakes looked and tasted and how nary a piece was left each time. He repeated it to me three times. "Go to Bittersweet! They're in Lakeview!" So fine. I called and set up the appointment. In fact, Bittersweet is so busy that I had to wait almost a month for that appointment.

It was worth every second of the wait. First I showed the proprietor the picture of my long wished-for wedding cake, a chocolate ganache covered tiered cake with sugared seasonal fruits and eucalyptus leaves in a photograph from, of course, Martha Stewart Weddings magazine. (Surprise!) She examined it and immediately took notes, asked a few questions, and then went to the back and brought out a sampler plate that would work with the chocolate ganache coating, although she took the time to make the point that "What is more important than what works with the chocolate ganache is what type of cake you like, not the frosting."

The sampler plate was served to me, along with complimentary beverages (I ended up gulping down two glasses of water and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice). It held eight or nine 1-2" round disks of chocolate, banana, and almond cake. There were beautifully laid down dollops of fillings: creme brulee, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate, along with a layer of vanilla cream that covers the entire cake just below the chocolate ganache. "Here," she said, "Let me show you how to eat this in order to sample the flavor combinations." She took the fork, sliced a chocolate cake disk in half, then removed the fork and dipped it into the creme brulee to grab a 1/2 tablespoon dollop, then sealed the bite by slipping the half disk back onto the end of the fork and passed it to me. She smiled. "Go ahead, try it."

I slipped it into my mouth and thought I had died and gone to heaven. The look on my face must have said it all, because 10 more customers came racing in to order their baked goods. (No, I'm just kidding.) But really, I felt incredulous at the deliciousness of the cake. Mike had not been overstating it at all. He'd been completely right. Serving a cake like this, using this baker with the obvious skill and expertise to pull off how it should look, would guarantee that not a single piece would be left over. She left me to continue sampling, and I ate the entire dish. I just could not stop myself. "Okay," I thought guiltily, "I'll tell my darling that we MUST go to Bally's this weekend!" And then it was all gone.

One other thing that strikes me is that most women seem to prefer the white fondant or very feminine cakes. But I, and my darling, love the look of the chocolate ganache covering the cake, even if it is a deep brown. After all, our wedding is in the fall, and will be highlighted by the jewel tones of the season -- red, burgundy, violet, orange, saffron yellow, deep green. Maybe I'm doing my "pendulum swing" away from what is in vogue, or rebellion against the overly delicate and ornately decorated, baroque bordering on rococo masterpieces I've been seeing at bakeries and in magazines. A more free form, glowing beauty in natural jewel tones will be just fine.

When I received the proposal, I found the price to be a bit more than I had wanted to pay, but in this case, I'm probably going to get that cake. The way it will look, taste, and be presented by Bittersweet is more than enough to justify it. I have one appointment left with one last baker, also extremely highly rated by everyone with whom I've spoken, and I want to go there to see what their samples taste like and what their price proposal is. Not to mention, it will be nice to have one more chance to sample wedding cakes! Their cake will have to be not just good, but actually superb to beat Bittersweet's. Bittersweet is absolutely excellent, not just with the baked goods, but with their ability to walk you through your expectations, educate you on what is available during the season of your wedding, and their overall level of expertise and customer relations. If the third baker ends up being this good, it'll be a definite struggle to decide!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

You Are Dis-Invited to the Wedding! :-(

There is more interesting background to the story, which also explains why I'm aghast at the costs of putting together a wedding. In the beginning, we had planned to have 120 people at our wedding, and the service was to be held at the biggest chapel in the Midwest ("Rockefeller" is in the church's name!) and then a full day of champagne and wine afterwards at a lovely jazz club. But we realized that the wedding was going to run at least $20,000 plus, perhaps much more than that, and we skidded to a screaming halt. We'd sent out several "Save the Date" notices, in particular to extended family, and then I had to spend weeks telling people that we could not afford our original wedding and that, although they had not been formally invited, they were being dis-invited and could they forgive us?

The vast majority have been magnanimous, although I asked about how to approach this situation on the online wedding site, www.theknot.com, and was roundly trounced by all of the other "posters" (except for one) for being such a horrible hostess. They lectured me to shrink it to punch and wedding cake in my parents' backyard. Doesn't work, folks. My parents have a tiny yard that is part of a condo association. No way it would fit more than 8 people maximum. Second, even punch and wedding cake for 120 people and the transport and all the related costs would add up to several thousand dollars, too. Third, it wasn't a formal invite, and when we had to (and I use this term loosely) "dis-invite" people, we made it clear that in a few years we are going to throw a big anniversary reception for everyone to join us to celebrate when we are better able to afford it. We were just as hurt and distressed and saddened by the entire thing. Why are people so judgemental?

My friends and family and my husband's friends and family have been utterly supportive. After all, asking people to fly in from Texas and Omaha and D.C. and London and Monaco for punch and cake in a tiny backyard is a bit rude, don't you think? They deserve a more formal occasion. We flew to a wedding in NYC two weeks ago and just the trip out there was a nightmare, even though the wedding was absolutely gorgeous and wonderfully done. It still wore us out. Given the costs just to be a guest, I can't imagine asking those closest and dearest to me to go through all of the expense and time and difficulty for punch, poundcake, and flowers from the local grocer.

So the big joke among my friends, when we threw a wine and cheese cocktail party a few weeks ago, was "How's the wedding planning going?" I replied, "I'm busy dis-inviting people." They shrieked with laughter, saying "I'm waiting for my dis-invitation!" And it actually is funny and has a life of its own. It was not the usual thing you encounter in weddings, but nothing in my life is very normal anyway.

There has got to be a way to install better control over this crazed industry. Any suggestions on how to structure some semblance of control over pricing? The economics are not working because emotions are overplayed to the hilt. There is the often mentioned "Ten Times Rule." That is, if the word "bride" or "wedding" is mentioned, suddenly all prices are multipled by ten. Sometimes it feels like the wedding industry is completely out of control with people enjoying pushing up prices to the hilt. This should not be allowed to continue. It's too outrageous.