So the reason we were in Philly the other day (along with getting to hang out with Steve’s sister and enjoy the general deliciousness of that city) was that we were actually on our way to south Jersey, to witness the wedding of one of my favorite people in the world, Eireni.
She’s popped up all over my blog, from back at school when we’d go to BU pub together or collaborate on delicious dinners (I never did get that couscous recipe), and we’ve had fun catching up together over Ethiopian when she’s come to visit in DC.
Anyway, I finally made it to her turf to celebrate a super huge day in her life.
Gosh, this friend wedding thing. Yes, weddings are fun (I mean hello, open bar and friends reuniting and crazy dancing and cake), but it is really kind of mind-boggling when you think about it. You are witnessing two people swear to love each other for the rest of their lives, helping to bless the life ahead of them, being there as the people they love.
It was such, such, SUCH a beautiful wedding.
I’m Orthodox Christian, as are the bride and groom, and the service is full of symbolism; every gesture is meaningful, every prayer connects you to the people who’ve been having basically the same service since the beginning of Christianity. The two of them, too, are actually converts and as a result have grown really close to the priest at their home church (and the one from where we went in Boston, who came down to New Jersey for their wedding), and they all said beautiful things that sort of made me nearly teary. And Steve was there and it was rawther lovely, watching the service, holding his hand, whispering translations of the Greek which I was highly impressed that I remembered.
I could gush on and on about it but, yknow, you weren’t there.
Moving on, the first thing I saw in the fellowship hall (along with adorable graduation pictures) was placecards attached to FERRERO ROCHER CHOCOLATES! Woohoo! I ate my chocolate before dinner. It felt right.
Shortly thereafter, we introduced ourselves to the bar. They did signature cocktails (LOVE this idea), which included an Atlantic City Boardwalk lemonade (with fresh Jersey blueberries and booze), a Boston Tea drink (with booze), and what I selected, the SCRUMPTIOUS champagne mojito.
It was kind of a hot day and it was mad refreshing and wow I really threw that thing back.
We had a nice long cocktail hour (for the remainder of which I stuck to water :D) and I had a great time catching up with people from college (some of whom I’d only met once or twice at the time but ended up really enjoying chatting with). It’s kind of interesting to see what people end up doing when the economy is nutso like this, particularly do-gooder types who befriended bride and groom in their respective sociology and international relations departments.
Helped myself to a bruschetta, a wee pumpernickel slice with dip, and grapes (more grapes. I have no constraint around grapes.)
And then passed appetizers… someone went by with a tray of pigs in a blanket and I just… could not imagine not eating one. It was a powerful, powerful, urge. Also ate a massive, messy stuffed mushroom.
We then headed inside the hall where everything was so… awesome. Every detail was perfect and beautiful. Loved the napkins…
The table names after special places in their lives (and it was especially cool for me to be at the Bay State Road table since that’s the street we all lived in in college)
Mason jar centerpieces with candles and beautiful flowers
The favor (which I guess you were supposed to take home but I ate before 7) were traditional for Greek weddings: Jordan almonds!
Beautiful menu in the blue and yellow color scheme that filled the room
Yum yum yum!
Began the evening with a simple salad
Then there was a buffet (LOVE that. And Steve REALLY loved that. Our portions differed, as you would imagine). Some salmon, pasta, ratatouille, potatoes, and a roll. The pasta was GREAT!
Then for the dancing. Ohhhhhh the dancing. The bride and groom broke it down to Stand by Me (what a wonderful choice; so cute and non-cheesy. It’s been stuck in my head ever since :D It was playing on the radio as they drove to Boston the day they ended up getting engaged)
Bride and dad rocked out to reggae
Everyone got down to the DJ (who was hilariously inept at pronouncing the last names of the wedding parties but did some sick mashups involving everyone from Michael Jackson to Britney to The Temptations)
There was also GREEK DANCING! THE BEST! Some people knew it, some people like me sorta knew it (I did it for our church festival when I was 7?), and some people didn’t know it at all and still had an awesome time.
All in all, we probably danced from about 6:30 (when dinner wrapped up) til 11 (when the reception ended). With boundless displays of energy from everyone involved.
In particular Eireni! In a wedding dress, after all the crazy preparation and I’m sure frenzied morning leading up to the wedding, she did not seem to sit down once. And lady, you better hook me up with whoever did your hair. Cause guys, it was PERFECT. From 3 in the afternoon til 11 at night, with frenzied dancing and July weather, it was PERFECT.
Thank goodness, to sustain us through all the merrymaking, there was a tower of cupcakes.
Apparently this had been a slight bone of contention between the bride and her mother, since Eireni wanted only cupcakes but her mom thought that a proper wedding should have a proper wedding cake. So they compromised by having a groom’s cake… which had a Batman figurine on top :D
(he was also wearing Batman cufflinks :D)
But let’s get back to that tower of cupcakes…
This baby had vanilla-vanilla, chocolate-chocolate, chocolate chip with chocolate buttercream, and lemon with vanilla buttercream. Wowsa!
And then came the most brilliant wedding idea ever: a COOKIE BAR!
Eireni had the idea to bring together their ethnic heritages (along with those of their friends/families) with a bar of cookies around the world, made with love. She made (Swedish) brown sugar cookies, her
fiance husband (eesh!) made (German) rum cookies. Ohhhhhhhhhhhh the rum cookies.
It was a beautiful, delicious idea, complemented with fresh fruit. And coffee. And Bailey’s for the coffee! :D
So she told me about it and I said, “I will make baklava!” But of course! I am Greek, she is an honorary Greek, and my family makes the best baklava ever. (And thanks to that horribly-photographed but delicious-recipe-containing tutorial, you can too!)
So it was kind of late at night (yes, I could’ve come home at a reasonable hour, but I was hanging out with my cute boyfriend, who was also making cookies, so there was even CUTER cookie dough. And by cuter I mean deliiiiiicious).
I did all my prep stuff; clarified my butter (a culinary tip! If you have to clarify butter in a hurry, simply leave it in the microwave for too long! The milk solids butter over, leaving beautiful clarified butter fatness), blanched my almonds, dried my almonds, food-processor-chopped my nuts. I’d made the sugar-honey-lemon-spice syrup earlier that morning. I ran to the store for butter on my way home.
Then it came time for putting the baklava together. It’s like a lasagna; you do your noodle layer (or phyllo dough), then your filling (the nuts). Everything was going great! Layer of phyllo, brush with butter, next layer, more brushing, my first layer of filling.
So I finished my first package of phyllo (left over from a project in the summer), and opened up my “new” one. “New” meaning never opened.
Um. Well. Apparently not so NEW, since phyllo should not be BLUE (<<< Dr. Seuss!)
This, my friends, is what they call EPIC FAIL. What to do what to do?!
Well, in past years I would have called my grandmother. But since she is no longer with us, I called my cousin Rachel. She is both a pastry chef and an exceedingly calm person. I said I had a cooking emergency (to which she responded, “Oh no”), and went through my predicament: whole lotta filling, only a bit of phyllo. There was no way I could get more, since the only store that sells fresh phyllo had closed hours earlier and the other ones only sell frozen (which, fyi, should NEVER EVER be bought since it totally ruins the dough).
So, Rachel calmly said, “Roll it.” Returning to the lasagna analogy, it basically means turning lasagna into manicotti: lie down the phyllo dough in a sheet, put down a strip of filling and roll it up.
But it made WAY less than it should have.
What to do?
I though of my great aunt Rose (this was turning into quite a family affair!), who makes kourabiedes, Greek sugar cookies, with a spiced and sweet walnut filling not dissimilar to baklava. She makes them into a cute crescent shape.
Well, I knew how to make kourabiede dough. I had sweet-spiced walnuts! I’d just wing it on the shapes!
Well as it turns out, I had melted most of my butter to make baklava so I only had enough to make a half batch of kourabiedes. Still, the dough was gorgey. Two sticks is still plenty of butter ;D
Then I had to work out a methodology to fill them. It got a little complicated… but here’s what I did.
Take a blob of dough.
Roll it into a sphere, then whack my hands together to make a nice flat surface.
Keeping the dough circle on my hand, slap my hand against the baklava filling to adhere it to the dough.
Fold the dough together… we’ll call them “tacos”, rather than “crescents”. Still, they were yummy.
So I’ll give myself an A for good intentions (I love you Eireni!), a B for results (there were so few; but people seemed to like them) and an F for preparation and execution. Life goes on.
With the four hours of dancing and all, I made many visits to the dessert table that are in no way represented by this plate.
And the man and I split a fantastic cupcake.
Many years, Eireni and Vasili! Thank you for an unforgettable day!