Friday, August 24, 2007

Party of the Year! Part 2: The Food! Lawd, the Food!!

Ah, I could spend pages complaining that I don't have the pictures that capture the our food properly. But you know what? I was busy! Playing hostess and bride doesn't allow you time (much less the mind to remember )to take pics. That's why I've got to depend on other people's pics instead.
But at least, I can describe it all.

From the very beginning of our planning, we wanted to have the food represent us in the best way--to demonstrate a blend of his Scottish and my Haitian backgrounds. Since Andy and I do a fair bit of cooking and deemed (in our friends' eyes)foodies, we knew we would be completely involved in deciding exactly what would be served.

Friday night
That was our icebreaker dinner/dance party.
Weeks earlier, we conferred with Duncan Shearer (no relation to Andy's family), the chef for Kenmore Hotel. First, we needed to know if he was willing to prepare meals, not only of our choosing but, with specified Haitian recipes and ingredients that were unfamiliar to him. It's quite typical that the British have some knowledge of food from certain parts of the Caribbean (typically Jamaican). But one of the greatest complaints by West Indians is that most of the world thinks of the Caribbean as singular and that includes cuisine. (Of course, there is always some reason that Cuba stands outside of this ridiculous concept. There's always the false distinction that there is the Caribbean and its islands and then there is Cuba--as if it stands floating 10 degrees up and away from the region.)

For the icebreaker, I chose recipes that were Haitian or dishes that had a French Caribbean flavor. Thankfully, Chef Duncan Shearer was intrigued and up to the challenge. We had chicken marinated in traditional Haitian style then fried. For non-meat eaters, we served delicious cod puffs. Now, normally, Andy and I try to avoid fried foods however, this was a party and exceptions were made. But for those still concerned with their diets, some of our lovely sides were creative salads and healthy, vegetarian dishes.

Of course, for dessert, we had to serve a variety of fruit and Haitian sweet potato pie! YUM! YUM! It was interesting to note some of the Scots' reservation about sweet potato pie. Sweet potatoes are relatively new to British tastes. Moreover, to use the tuber in a sweet, rather than a savory manner, was somewhat disconcerting for them. These poor people have yet to understand the magic that is this incredible dish--loved throughout the American South and the Caribbean. But once prompted (pushed?) to try it, they heartily enjoyed it.

Included on the menu is one of our most beloved dishes, "diri ak djon djon" --rice with djon djon. Djon Djon (pronounce "jawn jawn") is a rare mushroom that only grows in the mountains of Haiti. The mushrooms are collected and dried until they turn black and brittle. In this form, they have a particularly pungent, musky but not displeasing odor. We steep the dried djon djon in hot water and cook rice in it. The rice takes on a dark grey to black color and the most delicious flavor! Haitians LOVE djon djon. It's integral to our identity.
The problem was trying to get the dried mushrooms into Britain. At my request, my cousins in Florida got me a stash and tried to bring it with them. Unfortunately, they were stopped at customs and forced to discard them. (I could grumble about this for another 5 hours but I'll not bore you). Fortunately, I had a backup plan and had others bring bouillon cube versions of djon djon made by the Maggi company just in case I couldn't get the true stash. It's close enough.

So! Andy and I were adamant about creating a menu that would demonstrate a melding of our cultures and tastes. There was no way we were going to sit back and let a caterer do all the creative planning, esp. when it would end it boring choices of steak and or baked chicken. And trust me, we did interview a number of caterers. We immediately dismissed any and all who could not share in our dream for a delectable culinary fusion. We didn't want to hear "well, if you wanted to have would be very difficult for us; oh really? not sure that's possible..." and so on. We weren't asking for a Donald Trump-style production.
We chose the company,FEAST Glasgow and weren't disappointed. While FEAST Glasgow does have extensive menus for weddings and other events, they were more than willing take our ideas and match the menu to our specifications.
We settled on having a buffet so that everyone could mix, match, or try whatever they wanted. No need to go into meal specifics. Just read the menu for yourself.

We thought it would be cute to give "tablet" as a wedding favor since the Scots and the French (and post-French colonies) both enjoy it. For Americans, tablet is akin to toffee-like fudge.

Wedding cake
I'm always amazed at how much time and concern is spent over the way a cake looks. Don't get me wrong; I believe cakes should tempt the eyes, but in preparation for satisfying the tastebuds. I rarely came across wedding books and wedding sites that emphasized the possible flavors of cakes. Isn't that important to people?? Especially if they have serious sweettooths?!
Our cake was made by the Mitchells of local Kenmore Bakery. Once again, we knew exactly what we wanted and the question was if the Mitchells could deliver it. And g*ddamn, did they!
Traditionally in Britain and most especially here in Scotland, wedding cakes are fruit cakes. Now, for my American readers, fruit cake in Britain is NOTHING and I mean NOTHING like that crap we suffer through during the Xmas holidays. While it is very dense, it is definitely pleasing. Here, there's actually FRUIT (dried and candied) in it-- unlike that confectionary disaster that we use as gag gifts or biodegradable doorstops (actually, I can't say for sure that the US fruitcakes are truly safe for the environment. I know they can last for years...just getting passed around from not-s0-friendly friend to the family member you hate to see if only for 2 days out of the year to the office coworker who annoys the living hell out of you with their funky breath and even worse jokes and their cubicle isn't even that close to yours).
If one chooses fruitcake then the bakers must be notified at least 3-6 months in advance. I guess it just takes that long for it to achieve the right texture and taste. Knowing we wanted to appease as many tastes as possible, we asked for three different flavored (sponge) tiers to be all covered in a lovely chocolate ganache and fresh red fruits dusted with powered sugar-- bottom tier was chocolate cake with raspberry filling; middle tier was banana/toffee with toffee filling; top tier (my tier) was lemon chiffon with passion fruit-buttercream filling. Amazing! Absolutely delicious!!


Well, it couldn't be any more relaxing than this. Guests and family who were still in the area joined us back at the village hall Sunday afternoon. Dear friends, Pat (who's a chef) and Randy helped out with the grilling. Even Randy's son, Geoffrey was getting some culinary lessons from dad. We decided to keep it simple for the main reason that Britain doesn't really have a bbq culture the way we do in the US. Hence, the complexity of grilling techniques and recipes couldn't truly be accomplished. However, we had the basics and that was good enough for us. Nothing extraordinary was served: chicken, burgers, and sausages. Side fixings were green salads, potato salads, chips, dips, etc. Sweets included specially ordered chocolate coated apples, candy apples (known as "toffee apples" here in the UK), and the remains of the wedding cake.
For those without much of a hangover, more beer and wine was consumed. Not much was left. The weather wasn't terribly cooperative so much socializing and dining happened inside the hall.

I had hoped for a brighter, drier day for a round of soccer, kite-flying, and some dominoes outside. But honestly, we were all too exhausted for much beyond eating, general talk while sober, and conversation around the various parts of the Haitian flag.

By the way, if anyone can tell me what that thing is on the top of the palm tree pole(?), I'd love to know. My cousins and I had hot debates about it.