Food is the stuff of life. And particularly of our lives.
The Chef and I thrive on food. We discuss what I might make for dinner on our drives to the restaurant in the early afternoon. And after a day of eating, we breathe sense memories between each other with every sigh. Creamy butter slathered on a slice of warm bread. A spoonful of savory pudding raised to the lips, the smell of thyme and fresh corn wafting in the air. A ripe-that-day avocado, so soft I am tempted to smear it on my skin, waiting to be eaten with just-warmed scrambled eggs.
We live and love through food.
“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.
So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it; and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied; and it is all one. ”
— M.F.K. Fisher
And so, when we imagined our wedding day, months in advance, we knew one truth: the food had to connect.
Most brides and grooms-to-be hire caterers. Most of the wedding meals aren’t that good. Raise your hand if you have been to a big wedding and ate nearly inedible chicken or far-too-sugary wedding cake. No matter how good a kitchen is, serving food on a large scale requires sacrifices. We don’t like to sacrifice on our food.
I remember, when I was a waitress (for about six weeks one summer), working the worst wedding I have ever attended. The bride and groom sat at a long table, the bridesmaids and grooms strewn alongside them, all of them wearing Ray Bans. They were sullen and insolent, demanding of attention. They had also invited over four hundred people to their wedding. All of them sat, in tables splayed out in a field, demanding food be brought to them, that instant. I remember one horrifying moment, in which the bride and groom began pounding their knives and forks on the table, beginning a deafening stomping that extended to every place setting within a few moments, because the plates were late in arriving.
I nearly quit in the middle of service.
We knew we didn’t want a wedding like that.
Wonderful caterers feed much more genteel wedding parties than that one. We thought about hiring someone here, someone dedicated to seasonal and local food, simple food done right, in that moment. But in the end, we knew whom we wanted to feed us.
Our friends and families.
* * *
You see, we wanted our entire wedding to be personal. Friends provided the music, the flowers, and the photographs, as gifts to us. Why not the food?
And the best parties I have ever given have been potlucks.
One of my friends told me recently that, until a few years ago, her favorite moment of a party was ten minutes before it, because the vegetable platters looked so pretty before anyone had touched them. Another friend revealed that she could not throw potlucks. What if someone brought an ugly dish to the party?
I’m sure that is how caterers keep their jobs.
But we are imperfect and thoroughly at home with the absurd. After all, we had whoopee cushions at our wedding. If it didn’t look good, we knew it would taste good. We have great friends, all of whom love food.
Feeding each other is an enormous act of love, without words. Think of those strained peas your mother patiently spooned into your mouth, even though you dribbled them down your chin, at first. Hands reaching for the pile of fried chicken on a table are not afraid to touch. And when someone who makes your heart throb, a little, makes you some sublime food, you realize how deeply in love you are with the first bite.
At least I did.
So, on the wedding website we built for family and friends, we put out the call.
“For months now, we have had this image: standing together in a room filled with people we love and the food they made for us.
If you wish, you can help feed us, and each other.
We are asking each of you to bring a pot-luck dish to our wedding.
Please bring food you love, and make the dish big enough to feed ten people.
This dish does not have to be ‘gourmet.’ A fresh fruit salad. Artichoke dip. Homemade sushi. A big plate of nachos. Potato salad. Roasted chicken.
As most of you know, Shauna needs to eat gluten-free. One bite of food with gluten in it, and she’ll be sick for the rest of the wedding. (No thanks.) If you can make your dish gluten-free, we will appreciate it.
(And if you have any questions about what this means, check out this article. You can make any of the recipes on her website! Or, feel free to email us to ask about ingredients.)
We are so grateful for your support on this.”
People arrived bearing bowls of baba ganoush, plates of just-cooked collard greens, steaming piles of roasted asparagus with homemade aioli, and a platter of roasted green beans with caramelized onions, heirloom tomatoes, and a garlic-balsamic vinaigrette. Corn salad, minted fruit salad, and nine-kinds-of-greens mixed salad. Pork roast, cheese and onion bake, and a Moroccan lentil salad. The tables were laden with plates of food, beckoning and enticing.
One of my favorite sights of the day was seeing a line of people waiting to gather food onto their plates and another line of people who had just come from the tables, already eating, before they even reached their seats.
And everything was gluten-free.
No one went hungry at our wedding.
In large part, that is also because Don and Michelle, at Volterra (a restaurant everyone should visit, after Impromptu) roasted an entire lamb for our wedding. Grass-fed, raised by a local farmer, and fresh that week, the lamb came scented with fennel or spiced with chiles. A fava bean aioli was served on the side. There was also an Italian corn pasta salad with summer vegetables. And the Portobello mushroom caps came topped with fresh mozzarella and tomato relish.
What did they do to make those mushrooms so succulent I would have given up an hour of the wedding just to eat two more?
But — as grateful as we are for Don and Michelle’s food — we would have been fine without it. As we hoped, our friends were generous and fed us well. Trust people, and they will give back.
* * *
I knew, from the start, that I wasn’t the only one with a food allergy at our wedding.
One of our dearest friends has an acute allergy to fish. Salmon, halibut, cod — you name it, he cannot eat it. But he also cannot be in a room where fish has been prepared or sits on a table. That includes fish sauce, for those of you who might have been making an Asian-inspired dish. He will go into shock and stop breathing if he is anywhere near fish. That’s no way to celebrate.
So we asked every guest to refrain from bringing fish to the wedding.
And who knew what other foods could be dangerous to the friends who filled our yard?
That’s why — thanks to my designer friend, Kayltyn Sanders — the Chef’s nieces and nephews handed out sky-blue cards to every guest.
Along with a space for the name of the cook, and the dish, the cards had a checklist of foods that someone might need to avoid:
Because of these cards, every person at our wedding had a clear choice for his or her meal. A friend with lactose intolerance simply skipped the dishes that had dairy checked. A relative with diabetes stayed away from the foods made with sugar or honey. No one had to worry. That makes food taste better too.
Since guests were told ahead of time about this, it seems that most everyone tried to make delectable dishes without any of the allergens. Those of you with multiple food allergies could have eaten here that day.
* * *
One of my favorite readings this summer is on the back of these cards. There, we left a space for friends to write a story about why they had brought that dish. Some of the ones that have caught my eye:
“This is my favorite summer salad. The ingredients are local, fresh, and organic. What more could you ask for? To me, this salad symbolizes all that is great about living in the Northwest. It simply tastes like summer.” (strawberry spinach salad)
“Because they were fresh from the orchard today.” (Lapin cherries)
“Well, I am French, so I thought the cheese would be just right.” (cheese platter)
“We wanted to bring something simple and summery.” (slices of cold cantaloupe)
“I really like pineapple. Explosion! Pow! Fruit….juice! Yellow. Rip-squish. Kambloom!” (pineapple)
“Because it’s gluten-free and yummy, and I love you.” (red quinoa salad)
“I wanted to celebrate Pacific Northwest berries and gluten-free baking.” (berry crisp)
“We just rolled into town and visited the Pike Place Market for the first time ever! Fruit represents fertility and sex and colors and wholeness and yes!” (fresh fruit)
I’ll be laughing over these, and marveling at the way we reveal ourselves (every one of these writings sounds like the person who wrote it) long after we have eaten the piece of our gluten-free wedding cake on our first anniversary.
* * *
What kind of food did we have for our wedding?
Summery as peaches so ripe they dent juicily at a thumb print. Far-flung as spices from Morocco and lentils from India. Bounteous as a mound of summer fruit piled into a bowl. And all of it, wonderfully, hopelessly delicious.
A gluten-free potluck wedding, with a checklist for food allergens? It may not sound romantic.
But believe me, it was.
Sweet Corn and Heirloom Salad
Our friends Amy and Paul brought a version of this to our wedding. Theirs was made with fresh mozzarella, which was smooth as the jazz that Kristin played for our ceremony. A few days later, desperate to re-create it, I used the French feta I had on hand. I think I may like this one even better.
Either way, or with whatever variation you derive, this is a silky symphonic celebration of the height of July.
2 cobs sweet corn, as close to fresh picked as you can find
1 fat heirloom tomato (try a lush Brandywine or Purple Cherokee for the color)
1/2 ripe avocado, cubed
1/4 cup French feta
4 leaves basil
dash of truffle salt (or fleur de sel, if you can’t find the truffled salt)
a pinch of pepper
Shuck the ears of corn. Clean them of those pesky strings that stick after you remove the husks. Rinse. With a sharp knife, shave the ears of corn and let the kernels fall into a large bowl of your choosing. Set aside.
Chop the tomato, with a sharp knife. (A great heirloom tomato, at the height of season, will feel mushier than a typical store-bought tomato. Don’t worry. The slicing reveals a tender firmness, like a parent with a little one who needs a nap. This is a real tomato.) Cut into small pieces. Add the tomato to the bowl of corn kernels.
Cut the avocado into small cubes. Add these to the corn and tomatoes. Crumble a few handfuls of the feta cheese into the mix. (please don’t stand in the kitchen and measure out 1/4 cup exactly! That is meant to be a guideline.) Tear the basil leaves apart, roughly, and toss the pieces into the salad. Add the salt and pepper. Taste.
Add more or less of what you like. Try another taste.
Feeds 2, if both people are hungry on a summer’s night.