Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Vendors: The Food

Having started a slow journey onto the local-foods train last summer (thank you Barbara Kingsolver), I was determined to source everything for the wedding as locally as possible. In general, it's always better to support local businesses and buy things that haven' t had to travel across the globe or country to get to you, whether it's a sweater, an apple or a cup of milk.

But the cards are stacked against us, my droogies, and there were times I was willing to throw in the towel and just order food from Boston Market. Not that that wouldn't have been delicious (mmmm macaroni and sorta-cheese). But with a little research and a lot of help from friends and family, we ended up with the perfect mix of delicious, elegant and home-made food.

First things first. Upon arrival to the reception, guests found a beautiful cornucocpia of fruit, vegetables, nuts, crackers and dips courtesy of Gail's Vegetarian. I found Gail's by googling "vegetarian catering D.C." on a whim, after realizing that free-range meat was going to be far too expensive to manage. When I filled out an inquiry form through their web site, I received a prompt call from Gail herself, who talked me through their options. I credit Gail with talking some sense into me about structuring the reception. She was all about my laid-back approach to the day, but she helped me realize that people were going to have expectations no matter what, and that I needed to let them know what to expect, and give them some benchmarks.

After a lot of thought, Eric and I decided that since we wanted to source our own entrees, salads and bread but that we still wanted to book Gail's for the cornucopia. Gail was very cool and helpful with that, let us know what she needed from us the day of (a table and linens) and that was that.

The first seated course was bread. Baked goods are probably the easist foods to source locally, because all you have to do is find a...bakery, duh. We've enjoyed bread from Takoma Kitchens at our year-round Takoma Park farmer's market since we moved there, so that was an easy call. Eric dropped by their shop on Riggs & East-West Highway in Hyattsville to order and pay in advance (cash only), and Grant picked up the goods the day before the wedding. We decided to have three types of bread at every table: asiago, sun-dried tomato and sourdough for my dad (a.k.a. Tim "taste buds are my enemy" Moulton).

Our bread dip was inspired by the free bread that Mama Lucia's (more on them in a few) serves at their restaurants. I picked up a megaton of olive oil from Costco, and Eric picked up some garlic, red pepper and local parmesean cheese for the dip-making. Elizabeth and my droogs made the dip the day before, and let the chopped garlic infuse. The cheese went in right before it was served - in shallow pie-tins from the 99 cent store all the way up Georgia Avenue.

Mine and Eric's peeps were in rare form during the bread and salad prep. They heated the bread in the oven and served it up like pros. Elizabeth was our sous chef for the day, managing the kitchen goings-on.

E's skills were never more apparent than in the salad-prep department. As previously blogged about, I sourced the salad greens and vegetables from our CSA farmer, Allan Balleitt. Using 4 ounces as the standard serving size for salads, E and I multiplied it out to get rough poundage of greens versus veggies. Allan gave me 12 pounds of salad greens, and 2 pounds each of cucumbers, pea shoots, radishes and peas - all grown, in Allan's words "biodynamically, without chemicals, GMOs, etc." Not to mention local. The salad stuff travelled only a hundred or so miles to get to your bellies, all for under $2 per serving.

So we have some produce. That's all well and good, but there's still work to do. Eric and his peeps picked up the schtuff from the farm on Friday, and delivered it in CSA-borrowed coolers from Farmer Allan to E's and Alli's place. While I picked up my dress from the vintage-cleaners (yes, the day before the wedding - hey, that's just how I roll), my peeps got started on making the dip and making a red-wine vinegrette from red-wine vinegar, olive oil, cheese, garlic and some spices. We had to jet to the rehearsal festivities, but my peeps and I were right back at E's apartment later that night to wash all 20 pounds of salad stuff, which was harrowing and messy, let me tell you.

I should also mention that during this wet nightmare of greens-washing, E heroically coordinated with a co-worker of ours, who delivered a voucher for a serious discount at the UMD Marriott, where Eric and I were going to stay the night of the wedding. Thanks to E and fellow TUer Big Dave, that effort was victorious and would have surely fallen through the gaping holes in my brain, so focused was I on getting through this damn thing rather than planning what I was going to do after it was over.

Suffice it to say, after a half-hourish of making seemingly no dent in the huge fucking cooler of salad greens, we got a lot less meticulous about picking only the best leaves. We called it a night at around 11:45 p.m.

Flash forward to the morning of the wedding. KB and E set to work in the kitchen, chopping and assembling the 20 pounds of salad while Amanda helped me out in the ballroom. It looked beautiful, especially the pea shoots and the mandoline-sliced radishes. Mel and my mom bought some ranch dressing for the non-adventurous types (ahem, again, old "no tastebuds" Moulton) and Mel donated some leftover dressings from the rehearsal dinner. Bravo to my peeps who worked tirelessly in the kitchen, and who served all of our guests, and to Grant, who served while being "so damn cute," according to Mel.

The salads were served on the buffet, along with the entrees, which were various types of pasta, delivered from Mama Lucia's . Eric and I have spent many a special occasion at this place. So after we dismissed a few ethnic food options (Eric's never had a taco in his whole life, if you can believe that), we decided to go with the catering menu at our favorite Italian place.

I emailed the catering director Sandra, and chose five entrees and split servings down evenly among those. We chose their ravioli rose (a huge hit, there was nothing left for leftovers, much to my chagrin), spaghetti with meatballs on the side, fettucine alfredo, eggplant parmigiana and lasagna (with meat). I set up everything with Sandra well in advance, including one special order of gluten-free pasta, which the owner made himself. It tasted awesome (I tried a bite) and he made double the amount I requested, just in case we needed more.

People seemed to enjoy the pasta, and it made for some really awesome leftovers. For any event you're planning, I highly recommend going for the catering menu at one of your favorite restaurants. It's usually way cheaper than going through a catering company, and you'll get food you know you'll enjoy. For our low-key affair, this was a great option, especially because we preferred buffet-style serving to the more formal (and more expensive) hiring of a wait staff. In general, we didn't want any strangers at the wedding and we wanted to keep things as personal as possible. Mission accomplished.

And now, the part my nephew Ollie couldn't wait for: the cake. Alli the chef got us in touch with her friend Sam, a pastry chef who worked with Alli at Hook. Sam makes cakes for weddings and parties in addition to teaching at L'Academie de Cuisine. Eric coordinated with Sam via email to set up a tasting. I was blown away by how awesome her cake was, because I'm generally not a cake person at all. In fact, I suggested having brownies or cheesecake instead of a traditional cake, but Eric really wanted one and, as it turned out, we had a vintage, family cake-topper at our disposal, so why not use it?

At the tasting, we decided that to serve about 85 people we needed three tiers. Eric made the final call - the bottom and top layers would be chocolate cake with strawberry and vanilla filling, and the middle layer would be vanilla cake with strawberry and chocolate filling. Sam includes set-up in her overall fee, so she came sometime in the morning to set up the cake, which was a buttercream-frosted, lisanthus and snapdragon sugar-flower clad dream topped with my Nana's cake-topper, used at her wedding, my parents' and both my aunts' weddings.

Looking back at the pictures, Ollie is surreptitiously, but patiently, ever-present and waiting in every single cake photo. I don't blame him one bit.

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