Saturday, May 31, 2008

    Fried Green Wedding Part Two

    I always pictured waking up well-rested, full of grace and smiles on my wedding day. Though I barely drank a drop of alcohol and was in bed by midnight the night before, the morning of Jon’s and my wedding I absurdly woke at dawn and threw up twice.

    While my Dad busied himself cleaning up after me, I managed to eat some oatmeal and a banana. And then, I projectiled a little bit of that onto the couch and the nearby mirror. My Dad peeked around the corner and we both began to laugh. He said aloud exactly what I was thinking; he’s been cleaning up after me since the day I was born, so why should my wedding day be any different. Thankfully the day got better from there.

    The week before the wedding, I'd lost the ability to take deep breaths, my appetite, and at least five pounds, but that morning I was ravenous. We headed to breakfast at a greasy spoon down the road. I scarfed down toast, eggs, fruit, grits, and lots of water. Both my Dad and the waitress were a little wide-eyed over my large order. That'll be extra, that'll be extra, the waitress repeated. Dad stole a few bites of fruit in between spoonfuls of his buttery grits.

    My food tasted fine, but I was in it for the nourishment, not the pleasure. I ate mechanically, one bite following the next, with a few mini-breaths in between. The fork was the airplane, my mouth the landing pad. Or maybe I was the airplane and the “I pronounce you husband and wife” was the landing pad. I wrapped the one slice of leftover toast in a napkin but forgot it on the booth seat.

    In between hair, makeup, and getting dressed, I ate Luna bars and gnawed on the buffalo beef jerky that Dana, my Maid of Honor, brought to me. The primal nature of the jerky eased some of my anxiety, though I felt like a dog with a chew toy when I ate the thicker pieces. There’s really nothing classier than a fully made-up bride gnawing on smelly pepper-covered leather!

    The wedding was exactly what Jon and I wanted – intimate, lovely, fun and tasty. A few months before, we enjoyed brainstorming, tasting, and adjusting our wedding menu with the caterer. At the tasting we lowered the heat level on the appetizers and switched the sauce on the meat entree from fruity to tomato. We decided it'd be okay to serve some heavier dishes since it wasn’t yet blazing hot in Charleston, and we chose not to serve pork or shellfish out of respect for our more religious guests. A buffet was an absolute must since it’s Jon’s favorite way to eat, and a Southern-themed menu was my insistence as I wanted to show off Lowcountry cuisine to Jon’s Northern family.

    During the cocktail hour, mint julep lemonade was passed, along with appetizers like mini Duck Johnnycakes. These are basically pancakes made with fresh corn and cornmeal and were especially exciting to us because, aside from the name coincidence, we waited over two years to eat them. Well, not those ones exactly, but the dish itself. When Jon was in school in Boston, we took a daytrip to Newport, RI, in part because we’d seen a Rachel Ray show that took place there. We arrived and headed straight to the restaurant where she ate these great looking Jonnycakes. Sadly, they were sold out. The duck on our long-awaited cakes was tenderly cooked with a mildly spicy pomegranate glaze.

    On the buffet were, as Jon likes to say, some “very special” fried green tomatoes. They were coated with a light layer of panko breadcrumbs, and were neither too fried nor too greasy. Goat cheese crumbles and sweet red pepper relish accompanied them. I like that a traditional Southern dish can be turned on its head a little and made lighter like that. And, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe is one of my favorite childhood books. Over a decade after visiting there, I still think that the best lemonade I’ve ever had was in Juliet, Ga., the town where the movie was filmed.

    Our first entree was braised beef short ribs in tomato gravy served over slow cooked creamy stone ground grits. The grits were artfully prepared—hearty, thick, and rich, as though tended to by a gentle hand for many hours. The meat fell apart on the bone and the gravy was sop-it-up good. When Jon and I first met, I didn’t eat meat and he didn’t eat fish. A very sentimental metaphor can be drawn between how both our lives and our food preferences have grown together since.

    Pan-seared grouper with a citrus beurre blanc over fresh succotash was our second entree. The fish was flakey and flavorful, with just the right amount of sauce coating but not drowning it. The succotash lining the pan beneath it was appropriately chock-full of sweet and smoky corn and lima beans. When I was in elementary school my neighborhood teemed with boys. One day one of them punched me in the stomach as I tried to ride my bike past him. I rode home and cried to my mom, who ran me a bath upstairs. She happened to be cooking lima beans, so she brought me up a few to taste and we came up with a rhyme that I’ll never forget: “When somebody treats me mean, I get in the bath and eat lima beans!”

    Apparently I was extremely caught up in the moment when I went to our buffet, as I didn’t put nearly enough food on my plate. By the time one of my bridesmaids returned with seconds, it was time to get up and visit with our guests as they ate. So, most of my memories of the food are from the tasting, which was back in November, though I clearly remember what it looked like on other people’s plates. Apparently, no matter how much you love food, what they say about not getting to eat at your own wedding is true. Luckily there was half of a Luna bar left in my dressing room, which got me through the rest of the night. Oh, the irony.

    To ease our pressured timeline and balance the weight of the dinner, we skipped a cake, which had no real meaning to us, and chose a sampling of benne (sesame) wafer cookies, praline brownie bites, and lemon bars. Neither Jon nor I actually ate dessert because we were out dancing. That was fine though – after seven years of dating and a hectic five months of co-planning every detail of our wedding weekend while living in different states, ending the day as husband and wife was the sweetest thing imaginable.

    I’m not sure, but I can imagine that as we smiled our way down the walk towards our getaway car, my Dad quietly passed the “cleaning Jennifer’s throw up, etc.” baton to my new husband. I have no doubt that Jon will humorfully, lovingly and honorably carry it.

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