On weddings and food

(Hang on a second while I wait for everyone who reads this who is drawn in by the title to start clicking around and then realize that I never write about weddings, and need to write more about food, and then leave – okay! Carry on :))

So, last weekend I was in Charleston for the wedding of saint of a boyfriend’s cousin. I’ve met nearly all of his extended family by this point, so it wasn’t an intimidating situation or anything – more like “hey, cool, I get to be his +1 in an awesome city that I need to see more of, for the wedding of someone I think is pretty darn sweet”. There were a few family gaps that got filled in, but by and large I spent time with people I’ve already hung out with a lot, and (happily) enjoy spending time with.

Charleston is a lovely city indeed, and I wish I’d had more time to take pictures, but as it turned out, we only had a couple of hours free the morning before the wedding, which we spent mostly looking for a place downtown to have lunch. I guess I should back up: we arrived late Thursday afternoon (the 12th), and had a rehearsal dinner on Friday (the 13th), with the wedding itself taking place on Saturday (the 14th). We left to come back on Sunday, the 15th. So, anyway, Friday the 13th a couple of us set out downtown to look around and maybe do some shopping, when one of us got a phone call suggesting that perhaps we shelve shopping for a quick lunch and then get ourselves changed and ready for the rehearsal dinner. Which we did, so there went that idea of a long afternoon of sight-seeing. My lunch was an outstanding bacon-and-mushroom quiche, which was a mere preview of what was to come later on.

Saturday after I got back from my run we went on a boat ride with saint’s uncle, the runner, and we got to see something I’m sure I’ll not see again in my lifetime: dolphins scooting fish onto the mudbanks of the river we were on, so that they could eat them. They did this awesome thing where they barreled out of the water sideways and forced the fish onto the mud, where they then got stuck and were available for quick taking. How smart is that? And then the dolphins decided to cavort all around our boat, which is just so cool if you’re used to mostly seeing dolphins swim in aquarium tanks. Absolutely amazing.

After that we had time to basically just shower and take off for the church – various family members had various obligations, so we had to get an earlier start rather than a later one, though it turned out that my obligation was to snack on food at the bride’s parents’ house before the last shift of people left for the ceremony. Oh heavens no, please don’t make me eat your cheese cookies. 🙂

So then there was the wedding itself, which was everything a wedding should be – the bride was beside herself, glowing and literally jumping with joy, and the groom was appropriately cutely nervous and slightly bumbling. The flower girls were adorable, the violinist was fantastic, everyone else was well-behaved; the ceremony went quickly, and the reception was in a beautiful location with great views and plenty of space for everyone and a great band and lots of laughing and dancing and general celebration. [I really like weddings, and the groom’s father gave a toast that contained a phrase that I think sums up what it is I like about weddings so much: “May this be the day you love each other the least.” On first thought, that seems an awful thing to say, but think about it – you’re so happy in that moment, but it can only get better and your love for one another stronger, right? Good God, I’m a romantic fool. Anyway, I think it’s that potential that I enjoy, that I get to see people so happy and know that they’ve barely scratched the surface of their warm fuzzies for one another. Blech! :)]

I could go on, but I’m teasing you with the ‘food’ bit which, let’s be honest, is definitely one of the best parts of this wedding in particular. Seven words for you about the reception: all-you-can-eat shrimp and grits. GENIUS. I may never go to a non-Southern wedding again. There were, aside from the grits, crab cakes, sausage-stuffed mushrooms, ham biscuits, pimento cheese sandwiches, mini-quiches, pork barbecue sandwiches, I guess some fruit and cheese and crackers and crudites (I saw other people eating them but somehow – somehow! – managed to miss them every time I went back for more food), and an open bar. What happens when you combine all of those things? You drink too much wine and eat 4 plates (plus or minus 3 or 4; a lady never tells the truth) of shrimp and grits with cheese and gravy, and then you’re thankful that you ate all of that food because the wine isn’t making you act stupid or even slightly tipsy. This also means you won’t be at all hung over on the next day, so that when you go back to the bride’s parents’ house for brunch at which they are serving all of the leftovers of the wonderful food you over-consumed the night before, you actually *want* to eat it, and are not the slightest bit sick at the thought of doing so. (I’m being serious here – when we arrived and I smelled the barbecue and quiches re-heating, I may have squeaked in utter delight. And then, um, eaten 4-plus-or-minus-3 plates of it all, and another slice of wedding cake. Uurrrp.)

The downside of this is that you might feel uncomfortably stuffed by the time you pile back into the car for the drive home, but the upside of this is twofold: 1) everyone else did the same thing as you, so you’re all buttons-bursting full, which means you don’t really have to stop to get dinner on the road unless you want to (which we did, seven hours later, at a Subway, where I nearly jumped over the counter at the sight of vegetables because I was craving them so badly); 2) when you do eventually stop, it will not be at a Cook Out, which you’ve already had once on this trip and cannot imagine having another time so soon thereafter. [For those not familiar with Cook Out, I suggest you visit North Carolina very soon, because you’re missing out on some wonderful greasy goodness and incredible milkshakes. It is, though, the sort of food you only eat a couple of times a year, if that, assuming that you want to not die of a heart attack.] We’d had lunch at Cook Out on the trip down to Charleston, and I could only stomach some hush puppies and a milkshake, so the thought of going there again three days later did not exactly appeal to me. Thankfully, I was not alone in that thought. I do love me some Cook Out, but not twice in one week. (Exceptions made for milkshakes, but my new rule with those is that for every other one I have, I have to run at least ten miles first.)

Do you feel full reading this? I do, writing it, and it makes me wonder how anyone lives in the South without exploding. I know that what I ate last weekend is not at all representative of what Carolinians eat all the time – except for the damn barbecue, which in South Carolina they insist on slathering with mustard. MUSTARD! For shame! Give me North Carolina vinegar any day, you hooligans – but man, oh MAN, could I not go more than a long weekend eating like that. Don’t get me wrong: I love, love, love me pretty much everything you can find down there except chitlins and other assorted animal leftovers, but there’s no way I could subsist on collard greens, grits, quiche, shrimp, ham biscuits, crab cakes, and sausage alone. I would love to, since they’re all delicious and astounding and, okay, my mouth is watering thinking about them, but especially given my dietary concerns, it’s just not possible. That said, I’m more than happy to indulge in those things for a couple of days here and there.

But wait, hang on, you might say – didn’t you mention that there were fruits and crudites at the wedding reception? Sure there were, and I’ll tell you why I ate exactly zero pieces of fruit or raw vegetables there: A proper wedding reception with an open bar involves drinking oneself to a pleasant buzz without going overboard, especially if one is in the company of one’s boyfriend’s parents and extended family. One does not achieve that pleasant buzz by drinking at a reasonable rate and snacking on strawberries and celery. THAT, friends, is a one-way ticket to Barfsville, party of you, because as great as those fruits and crudites are, they simply aren’t going to absorb your reasonably-consumed alcohol anywhere near as well as, say, shrimp and grits and baby quiches and barbecue sandwiches. So you return any sidelong glances from other reception-goers with a steely carb-fueled stare that says Enjoy that hangover tomorrow, drunkypants, and don’t dare get between me and those little stuffed mushrooms. And when you wake up the next morning starving and have to spend the morning cleaning the space in which you stayed instead of eating breakfast, and then several hours later you finally get to eat and you find out that it’s even more of the delicious fare you so heartily and soberly enjoyed the night before, well, it’s like Christmas for your taste buds.

So, yes, delicious Southern food. No raw oyster shooters this time, since it was the end of the oyster season, but that’s quite okay: there will be more. As it stood, there were plenty of hush puppies, cheesy fries, quiches, venison burgers mixed with jalapeno cheese, shrimp and grits and shrimp and grits, cinnamon rolls, cheese cookies, collard greens, the occasional spinach salad, milkshakes, sweet tea, did I mention shrimp and grits? Yum. I was, as I said, craving vegetables pretty hard by the time I got home late Sunday night, so I was more than happy to eat a metric ton of them for lunch and dinner on Monday (and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and so on…) I love food that’s outside of my usual diet, but as in all things, moderation is key – it was admittedly a relief to get back to my ‘normal’ daily consumables.

[In case you’re wondering, my Northern upbringing definitely has its share of slightly unhealthy food, which I really miss partaking of now that I hardly ever make it up there – and mostly I’m thinking of New York: macaroni and potato salads, Grandpa’s pancakes, lots of pasta and Italian dishes with plenty of Italian bread, soft-serve ice cream from the Mister Softee truck (whose dulcet tones are now stuck in my head… oops!), Dunkin’ Donuts, and, um, HELLO PIZZA (I am one of those rare birds who prefers neither Chicago nor New York style but instead asks why we even have to choose in the first place: why not have both?!).  I’m not trying to be elitist or anything; I know that ‘bad’ (or should I say – ‘bad for ME’) food exists everywhere in this country, not just in the South, but it’s just that I’ve been most recently exposed (haha I nearly wrote ‘explosed’ – ha!) to Southern food for the longest time, having lived here for (gulp) ten years now or something. I still remember all of the ice cream and cheese curds and onion rings I ate in Wisconsin, y’all!]

Such are my thoughts on weddings and food for now. I’ll likely have more thoughts on food soon (oh, who am I kidding – I have them about fourteen hundred times a day), but the wedding thoughts are going to have to wait for a little while longer. … Maybe. 😉

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