Gettin’ Hitched, Persian Style

When Krystopf and Atlas got married, they did it in style.  Atlas is from Iran, and so their celebrations involved many Persian traditions — and lots and lots of dancing.  And food. It was truly incredible.  And we got to meet the newest member of our family, my cousin’s baby, Ari.  She’s five weeks.  And she slept through all the celebrations thanks to her baby headphones.  So.  Awesome.

Baby Ari

Our relatively small Scottish-Canadian family was completely enveloped by Atlas’ huge Persian family as soon as we arrived, and I don’t think Krystopf could ask for a better set of in-laws.  Atlas’ sisters and parents are absolutely lovely, as well as all her aunts and uncles and cousins … Atlas’ mother, in fact, is my new hero, and she taught me how to make my own yogurt and feta cheese, so I’ll have more on that later on.

On the first night the Pie and I were there, we had the Persian wedding ceremony known as the aghd.  It was a very interesting affair, with lots of symbolic items laid out in front of the bride and groom, including the present of a mirror that they gazed into as they were wed.

Aghd
The aghd spread. Ando’s foot is in the foreground.

Then there was dancing.  And food.  And more dancing.  At this point the Pie and I had been awake for longer than was really sane so we promised Atlas’ aunt that we would do our best to dance our feet off at the western wedding on Saturday.  It took three washings of my face to get off all this makeup, but that is how it is done.

Aghd Face
My mother-in-law tells me I look like Posh Spice in this photo.  And yes, those are my real eyelashes.  The falsies we saved for Saturday.

Saturday morning we were up bright and early and drove with Atlas’ mom to the hotel where the bride and groom were getting ready for their big day.  I was a bridesmaid and the Pie was one of Krystopf’s groomsmen so we were quickly whisked off to get ready ourselves.  I know the boys spent most of the day sitting around giggling at dumb jokes, but us ladies were busy from the first moment until we left for Stanley Park, where the ceremony took place. Because I have short hair, my set-up took no time at all and I was able to take some “getting ready” shots before the professional photographers arrived.

Weddin'
Atlas and her mom, both be-curler-ed.
Weddin'
Atlas’ hair, all done.
Weddin'
Middle sister, fluffing up her ‘do.
Weddin'
Baby sister, getting her makeup done.
Weddin'
Sister-in-law, getting her hair done while trying to eat breakfast.
Weddin'
The dress.

When the pros got there I gave up my camera because then I had to be IN the photos, but the photography team was really great and easy to work with — a good thing, seeing as we spent all day with them. They even produced a short video on the day, which we got to watch DURING the reception that night. It makes my brother look like a total rock star. Atlas of course is stunning (as always), and you can even see me dancing dorkily with a knife. Check it out on Brellow Productions’ blog here.  They did a great job.

Newly wed, we headed from Stanley Park back to the hotel for the reception.  We had the use of a party bus for the occasion, complete with dancing pole.  The Pie is the same height as the pole.

Weddin'

But that didn’t stop him from trying it out.

Weddin'
Hard to take a good picture when you’re laughing hysterically while trying to stand on a bus that is careening madly through downtown Vancouver.

So then all the other boys had to have a go.

Weddin'
Ando works his Blue Steel magic.

The trick was not to kick the beautiful bride in the face while doing so.

Weddin'
Krystopf needed a little help getting up after this.

A good time was had by all, especially the newlyweds, and we’re so happy for them. Congratulations!

Weddin'

Vancouver Ho!

On home turf... sort of.

Today the Pie and I head west yet again.  This time Papa John and Mrs. Nice have flown in to babysit Grenadier while we attend Atlas and Krystopf’s wedding with my parents.  We will be starting off on the mainland, and then after the wedding we’ll make a trip back to Victoria to catch up with some old friends, whom I haven’t seen since the early 1990s, and old landscapes, which I haven’t seen since 2001.  I look forward to showing the Pie the place where I spent an awesome five years of my life.

Posts will be as regularly scheduled, plus daily tidbits from the marvelous technology that is in my magic phone.  Then a nice trip digest upon our return.  See you then!

Portland in Review

Marriott View

Aaaand we’re back. Hard to believe that I woke up Monday morning on one side of the continent and then I went to sleep at night on the complete opposite side of the continent. Four airports in four different states/provinces and two different countries, and a four-and-a-half-hour time difference later and here we are in St. John’s again.

The trip was GREAT. Doodle and the Cyclist got married and we were so happy to be able to be a part of their beautiful day. The weather was awesome, if a little hot, and nothing went horribly wrong. And I got a new camera out of it.  What more could you ask for?

New camera

When we arrived in Portland, the Cyclist picked us up and took us to the apartment he and Doodle share, where Doodle was in the midst of getting her wedding mehndi done. Mehndi, if you didn’t know, is that lovely temporary henna tattoo that goes on your hands and feet. You can read more about it here.

Henna

We crashed and burned at this point, having been up for what felt like forever, and Doodle went to bed with toilet paper on her arms to protect the design.  This is the next day, when the Cyclist helped her scrape off the dried henna paste with a credit card.  You can see that the design is a bright orange at first, and it will darken over the next few days.

Henna

That first day the Pie and I wandered about and tested out the new camera a bit.  This is a shot of him actually smiling (sort of), which is rare in photos I take of him.  Normally he just looks grumpy.

Andypie

Portland is famous for its many bridges that cross the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.  This is the Steel Bridge, one of my favourites.

Portland

And the Freemont, which is Doodle’s favourite.

Portland

Portland is also an interesting mix of old and new.  I love old business advertisements painted on the brick buildings.

Portland

At this point the other bridesmaids started to arrive, and we surprised Doodle with a dinner at Jake’s with all her female crew from town.

Jake's

Next day we set off for manicures and pedicures in the morning (my first experience, and I may well be addicted now) and then back to Doodle’s place for mehndi in the afternoon. Here is Sam, one of the bridesmaids, getting her henna on.

Henna

What a beautiful job!

Henna

The artist, for those of you in the Portland area, is Wendy Rover of Roving Horse Henna and she was lovely. I think you have to be lovely if you are hanging over someone’s body for the better part of an hour.

Here’s me getting mine done.

Henna

And the final result:

Henna

In case you’re wondering, getting this stuff done is a very pleasant experience. Wendy mixes tea tree oil and all sorts of goodies into her henna paste, so it feels cool and refreshing on your skin, not itchy at all. Of course, you have to leave it on for several hours, and you can’t bend your fingers in case the drying paste cracks. So it makes things interesting when you are trying to do things later on in the day. The Pie managed to shoe horn me into one of his new hoodies (we went to the Nike employee store and took advantage of a deep discount and Oregon’s tax-freeness, hence my full Nike attire) and we got some ice cream to eat in the sun. This was when I discovered that eating ice cream while exposing henna to the sun is a good way to make it all fall off.

Nike'd up.

I also made the mistake of discovering my new favourite store, Cargo Imports. They specialize in new and old Chinese imports. I may have purchased some things. The Pie was particularly taken with the sinks made of petrified wood.

Cargo

And I loved the hundreds of tiny apothecary bottles in a big glass case.

Cargo

And then I had to go and pet a corgi puppy. His name is Winston.

Portland Corgi

Which meant that by the time we got back to the apartment my henna paste was a lost cause.

So this is what it looks like when the paste is scraped off.

Henna

And it will darken, and look lovely and brown.

Henna

The day before the wedding, we took Doodle on her “bachelorette,” which was a tour of three local wineries.

Vintages

This first place was where Doodle and the Cyclist got engaged.

Vintages

This was indeed a tire swing.

Vintages

And an absolutely enormous cookie. I saved half for the Pie.

Vintages

And this is Mount Hood. I’ve been there.

Vintages

Some barrels.

Vintages

And some more barrels.

Vintages

And some vines. No grapes yet.

Vintages

It was a beautiful sunshiny day and pretty much all of us (Doodle excluded) got a sunburn.

Vintages

Then before we knew it, it was the wedding day!

First we had our hair done …

Dosha

… and then our makeup. Doodle of course didn’t need much — she is a very beautiful lady.

Dosha

Here’s a closeup of Doodle’s henna, nice and dark.

Dosha

Then it was off to the World Forestry Center to get ready for pictures and the ceremony itself.

World Forestry Centre

We did pictures before the ceremony to save time, but first Doodle was dressed in traditional kimono by an old friend of her mother’s.

World Forestry Centre

All set!

World Forestry Centre

While she was being photographed outside, the Cyclist arrived with his posse. We ran interference and made him cover his face so he wouldn’t see her before he was supposed to.

World Forestry Centre

Then it was time for the wedding dress.

World Forestry Centre

We all took a turn at the laces, but Sam did it the best.

World Forestry Centre

And then things started to get busy and I had to be photographed as well so this is my last photo of the wedding.

World Forestry Centre

But it was such a great experience. I’ve known Doodle since we were fourteen, so it was really neat to see her all grown up and to see how fantastic she and the Cyclist are together, and to meet all her really nice West coast friends. Sorry, I’m gushing. I’ll stop now.

On our final day in Portland we decided to check out the Portland Pride Parade, and it was a really good day for it. Not hot like the day before, but warm enough that everyone, even those who were scantily clad, was comfortable.

Portland Pride

I must have taken two hundred photos of the parade, which was fantastic. You can see more of them on my Flickr page starting here. It was really nice to see so many religious groups out in support of their parishioners.

Portland Pride

The old cars were something to see.

Portland Pride

Portland Pride

Portland Pride

As were the costumes.

Portland Pride

Portland Pride

Portland Pride

And there were so many colours!

Portland Pride

Portland Pride

Portland Pride

This flag in particular caught my eye.  I am thinking of making a DIY out of something similar.

Portland Pride

And so many loving families out and about. I think this is my favourite photo of the bunch.

Portland Pride

What a great trip. The Pie and I can’t wait to go back!

Ivy Vanilla Wedding Cake – Day Three

It’s day three — the wedding day — and all that is left is to assemble our confection.  If you’ve been following along, you’ll see that after all the hard work we put into the preparation, this next bit is a cake walk in comparison.  Ha.  Ha.

SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

Gob some royal icing inside the guidelines for the next tier, starting with the bottom tier.Align the second tier with your guideline, and then kind of drop it into place, while avoiding touching the sides of the cake with your fingers.  Gob on some more royal icing.Drop on the top tier.  That wasn’t so hard, was it?Now get your green licorice vines in order.  I used four strands, which I “stapled” into place individually, using hoops of floral wire

I kept them concentrated at the top, then draped them around the cake in a circle.

Make sure to staple the vines occasionally to the cake to hold them in place.A gob of royal icing and an ivy leaf with no stem will hide the end bits.Then I just started sticking in leaves by their stems into the cake around the vines.  I made sure that, after the first one that was glued in, all the leaves were facing the same direction, but other than that, I tried to keep it as random as possible with respect to leaf colour and size.And it turned out better than I had expected.Tada!I treated myself to a beer after I was finished, even though it was barely noon.  Before I did that, however, I put the completed, weighing-more-than-my-dog cake back into the fridge.  Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …Make sure to bring the cake to room temperature for at least two hours before serving.

Thankfully, the cake tasted even better than it looked — a marvel to be sure!  I even managed to get it to the venue before it rained.

Canada's Parliament, view from Gatineau across the Ottawa River

And the bride was happy, which was most important.

No seriously, she was super happy.

Love you guys.  Congratulations!

Ivy Vanilla Wedding Cake

On Saturday my best friend Chel got married.  To Invis.  For the second time.

Photo by Kurt Heinecke, http://www.khstudios.biz

My wedding present to the lovely couple was their wedding cake, which they wanted to be vanilla flavoured, white on the outside, and have ivy trailing over it.

I practiced ahead of time.  I got the recipe down with the Pie’s birthday cake last summer.  Then I worked on my fondant technique with my own birthday cake, and adapted the fondant flavourings with the moose cake.  I even made my own vanilla for the occasion.Was I ready for this?  I had never made a wedding cake before.  Chel and Invis wanted it simple, but a wedding cake is still a definite challenge.

First I had to figure out how much cake I needed.  I had an 8″ springform pan, an 11″ springform pan, and then a gigantic 16″ aluminum pan (which I think my father now covets).  So I did some mental math and decided to quadruple the recipe that I had for the Pie’s birthday cake and go from there.

That’s a lot of cake.

Four kilograms of icing sugar, 2 of white chocolate.  Two litres of whipping cream.  One and a half pounds of butter and the same in shortening.  Two kilos of cream cheese.  Sixteen eggs.  Two bags of flour.  Lots of mixing.

I gave myself three days to make this cake: the first day to do the actual baking and prepare the decorations; the second day to ice the cakes, and the third day to put the cake together.  So that means you get to have three days of posts, because otherwise you’d be reading the world’s longest essay on cake.  I gotta break it up a little.  Shall we begin?

DAY ONE:

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Butter your pans generously and dust them with flour, knocking out the excess.Of course, the whole selling point of a springform pan is it makes removing cake from it so ridiculously easy.  Unfortunately, you’d be hard pressed to find a springform pan bigger than 12″ in diameter.  So for the 16″ pan, which wasn’t springform, I had to cut out a circle in parchment paper for it and then butter and flour that as well.Separate 12 eggs and bring the whites to room temperature.  Save the yolks for making custard.

Then you want to do some sifting.  A lot of sifting.  More sifting than you actually want to do, to tell the truth.  I started out with a regular sifter.Then I got bored and my hand got tired so I switched to a fine mesh sieve instead.  In any case, sift together 13 cups flour (I used cake and pastry flour because it’s fortified with a bit of cornstarch, which helps you maintain volume in your cake) with 4 tablespoons baking powder and 4 teaspoons baking soda.  The sifting process helps to eliminate lumps and also serves to add a bit of air into your flour, making it lighter and fluffier.  Volume is key.Now set that aside.  In a larger bowl, beat together 2 cups softened butter with 2 cups vegetable shortening until fluffy and creamy.And I’m talking creamy.Add in 7 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup pure vanilla extract.

Make sure you’ve also got all those precious vanilla seeds in there too.Beat that up until it’s fluffy, and make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Now crack in 4 whole eggs and mix that up as well.Okay so this next bit you mix in your flour mixture, as well as 6 cups ice water.  But WAIT.You gotta do it a bit at a time.  You want to add the flour in three separate increments, and the ice water in two.  So you start with the flour, then add water, then flour, then water, and then the rest of your flour.  And that’s how that is done.Once you’ve done all your adding, scrape down the sides of the bowl and just keep mixing for a further minute or so.  Isn’t that lovely and smooth?Now, in yet another bowl, you want to whip up those nice warm egg whites.  Add in 1 teaspoon cream of tartar to firm things up a little and beat the whites until they are at the soft peak stage, shapely but not dry.Plop those whipped whites into your batter bowl.Gently, ever so gently, fold those whites into the batter.  This is what will give you the majority of your fluffy cake.Now distribute the batter between your three pans and smooth the tops.Now we bake.  Unfortunately the day I did this, Ottawa was in the midst of a heatwave.  So this is what I look like when it’s hot and I’m leaning over an oven: hair in pins, shorts, dishtowel tied around my waist, and a jaunty wet scarf on my neck to keep me cool.  Super sexy, I know.

Self-portrait of the baker in a heat wave.

In terms of baking times, I baked the first two tiers for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre came out clean.   I used a convection oven, so it might take a little longer in a regular oven.  The bottom tier took about 60 minutes to bake, but just keep checking on them to make sure they don’t burn.  The 16″ tier BARELY fit in the oven.When the cakes are all golden-brown and lovely, put them on racks to cool completely.  When they are completely cool, remove them from the pans, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge overnight.  It is much easier to decorate a cold cake than a warm one, trust me.While the cakes are doing their thing, you can make the fondant and frosting, as well as the gum paste for the ivy leaves.

For the fondant, I creamed together 1 cup softened butter, 1 cup vegetable shortening, 2 cups lily white corn syrup, and 6 teaspoons almond extract.When it was all creamy I was ready to add in the icing sugar.By the time I had the texture right, I had added almost 3 kilograms of the stuff (I’m Canadian, so forgive me for switching back and forth between Imperial and Metric.  It’s just what we do).  I had also neglected to take my rings off before I kneaded the stuff.  Shame on me.  Then wrap the fondant tightly in waxed paper and chuck it in the refrigerator overnight.For the frosting, start off by melting 4lb white chocolate, chopped.  I know, it’s a lot.  But it’s necessary.While your chocolate is becoming liquid, cream together 6, 250g packages of cream cheese.Really mix it well to get out all the lumps.Pour in 2 1/4 cups each whipping cream and icing sugar.  Add in 3 teaspoons vanilla extract as well.Whip that extra good until it’s super smooth and creamy.

By now your chocolate should be all melty.Pour that white goodness into your other white goodness and whip it up to create more white goodness.Now put plastic wrap on the surface of the icing and chuck that in the refrigerator overnight.

For the gum paste, I didn’t want to tempt fate (I know my own limitations, folks) so I purchased gum paste mix from a cake decoration store.The instructions on the package are to mix 16oz of the mixture with 1/4 cup water.Then you stir like crazy, eventually using your hands to knead it all in.Then wrap it tightly in a bag and leave it at room temperature for 15 minutes.Now you can dye it.  I used two different shades of Wilton icing colour: moss green and juniper green.It’s a good idea to use gloves when you do this, unless you want green hands.  Apply the colour with a toothpick.   Just remember that a little goes a long way.Then, with gloves on your pretty little hands, knead the gum paste until the colour is thoroughly mixed in.Okay, so now put a bit of spray oil on your rolling pin and roll that sucker out flat.We’re cutting out ivy leaves here, so I thought, what better template than a real ivy leaf?

Cait came over to help me with the cutting out.

First we squished real (washed) ivy into the flattened gum paste.

You can see how the veins show up nicely.

Now we took a sharp pointy knife and cut them all out.

Laid them on waxed paper to dry overnight.

Aaaand … that’s all you get for today.  I don’t know about you, but I’m pooped.  More Friday!

Quick Chili

Fall is always a busy season for me.  Usually, school is ramping up and the hot weather has disappeared, leaving me with more energy to get out and be active.  Plus the hockey season starts in October, and that keeps me busy until June.

As the outside temperature cools, we start making hotter dishes to keep us warm.  But because the fall is so busy, we don’t always have the time to have some sort of comfort food simmering on the stove all day.

This chili recipe can be ready in half an hour, and tastes almost as good as its slow-cooker counterpart.

So you start, as always, with an onion and some garlic.  I of course use garlic-in-a-jar, but you can use whatever you like.

Chop up the onion.

This is where I like to use the new love of my life, the Onion Goggles.  I’ve tried knives dipped in lemon juice, and cutting onions next to an open flame, but these work wayyyyy better.

Of course, I look like a total dweeb when I wear them.

Anyway, chuck your onion in a saucepan with some garlic and olive oil and cook until the onions are translucent.

Chop up two red peppers and chuck them in as well, together with some chopped fresh basil.

Add in some cumin, chili powder, and tabasco sauce (hot sauce) to taste, together with whatever else you need to make it the kind of spicy you’re in the mood for.

Our hot sauce came from my brother’s wedding.  It’s pretty good.

Next you can add in your beans.  White beans, black beans, kidney beans, it really doesn’t matter (well, perhaps not broad beans).  They can come from a can or a bag, but make sure they’re cooked before you chuck them in.  This is a bean medley my mother cooked up a while ago and froze.

Pour in a can of diced tomatoes.

Add a handful or two of TVP if you wish.  If you think the chili is too liquidy, you can also add a can of tomato paste for thickening.

I like to pop in some frozen corn when it’s almost ready.

Let it simmer the whole time you’re adding stuff, then for about twenty minutes after you’ve added the last ingredient.

Serve hot, store in your refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze it for a quick dinner some time later on.

One Year Down, Eternity to Go

If you ever want to have a do-it-yourself wedding, I’m your gal.  The Great Wedding Cupcake Experiment of 2009 was only a small part of the planning, which I did mostly long-distance from St. John’s for our wedding in Ottawa.

And it all worked out GREAT.

A year ago today I married my best friend and have spent every day since then thanking my lucky stars. 

I haven’t had so much fun on any one day in my life.  We arrived in a schoolbus decorated with carnations.  I got to play with a puppy while I waited for our two oldest grandmothers to show up (combined age: 196 years).  Everyone had some ice cream while we did the post-ceremony photos.  Best party I’ve ever been to, even if I may have burst into tears at one point in front of everyone I know and love.  We may have also accidentally flooded our honeymoon suite, but it worked out in the end.

A good time was had by all and hey, we’re still married.