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Here's to love (and lunch)

With the gift of a toaster, a curmudgeonly friend of the groom catches wedding planning fever.

June 02, 2004|Emily Green | Times Staff Writer

It's a shorter road than one might think from wedding-phobe to frenzied lady with a checklist and dream for that special day. Trust me. I've traveled it.

I used to hear about extravagant wedding parties and think, "They're idiots," then reel off things that they could have bought instead: a car, a home, a farm, a private island, etc., etc. Yet from the time I eloped to the time I divorced, the world steadfastly refused to do the math. Year after year, people insisted on celebrating love, staging bashes where they drank too much, then made gooey toasts to a happily concluded search for companionship.

None of it dented my conviction that wedding season existed to put the dread in springtime, until this year, when my friend Erik Rieder announced that he had gone to Portland, Ore., to get married.

I know Erik through his business partner, Melinda Taylor, the landscape designer behind the garden at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. When he let drop earlier this spring that he had gone to Portland to get married, it was in passing and I was in a foul mood.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 04, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Champagne name -- An article about a wedding lunch in Wednesday's Food section misidentified the wine Krug Grand Cuvee as Charles Krug Grand Cuvee. Krug Grand Cuvee is made by a French Champagne producer. Charles Krug, a California winery, does not make sparkling wine.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 09, 2004 Home Edition Food Part F Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Champagne -- In an article on a wedding lunch in last week's Food section, Krug Grand Cuvee Champagne, from the French Champagne producer, was incorrectly attributed to Charles Krug. Charles Krug, a California winery, does not make sparkling wine.

"You'll have to have a toaster," I snapped.

The bitterness of my remark registered the minute I hung up. How could I have mocked his news? Erik's gay. It's not like society was pressuring him to find a husband. He must really be in love. Holy moly, Erik not only had to have a toaster, he had to have the best toaster money could buy.

The clerk at Sur La Table had Saturday shoppers lined around the counter, but I made her climb to the top shelf. Not that one, not that, no, no, that one! The Cuisinart model in stainless steel that takes four slices and has his-and-his done-nesses, so each person can have toast done to his exact preference. This much I know about marriage: Things like toast done-ness make or break it. Love is knowing how the other person likes breakfast.

How to give it to Erik? I considered dropping it off, or sending it over by messenger, but that still had a vaguely insulting, take that quality. "Hey, newlywed, here's your appliance."

Melinda and I decided we'd have a lunch. Just us, Erik and his partner, David Herzog, or more properly, Dr. David Herzog. Erik is very proud of having snagged a doctor, a psychologist.

It started with toast

What to serve when giving someone a toaster? Toast! Every wedding-planning fever, I now realize, begins with a kernel of inspiration. Mine was toast. Get me on the subject of toast, and there's no sour commentary. To me, the only thing better than good bread is bread that's been sliced and toasted so its wheaten crumb has taken on a caramelized tang.

At work, writing Erik's wedding menu when I should have been having more businesslike thoughts, it suddenly hit me: We would not only have toast, we would have a lunch where every course was toast! Hee!

I ran through everything I love with toast. Hummus, taramasalata, tzatziki, melted cheese, peanut butter, blue cheese, honey, soft boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, scrambled eggs with truffles, smoked eggplant puree, strips of rare steak drizzled with melted butter, salami, ham, chicken liver pate, anything from a deli -- slow down, I thought, this lunch can't last a year.

I called chef Nancy Silverton, a mutual friend, to ask if she'd cook Erik's dessert. "We'll do it together!" she cried. No way, I thought. I'm not a famous chef. Erik and David were about to have every gay man's dream: Nancy Silverton cooking dessert for them. Kim Boyce, Nancy's former pastry chef at Campanile, also said she'd help.

Every time I asked for help, it came. The Times' restaurant critic, S. Irene Virbila, who also writes the Wine of the Week column, offered to choose the wines. One neighbor did the invitations, another lent her umbrellas, another offered to keep track of me. They would all come. Finally, there was Paul Schrade. To the world, he is the former head of the United Auto Workers Union in the Western United States. To us, he is a regular at Nancy's restaurant. His job was to be a straight man.

Suddenly, a happening was happening: A bunch of women, my neighbors and a legend of trade unionism were about to write the book on how to present a pair of gay newlyweds with a toaster.

Finding focus

Melinda had already warned Erik that I might be getting a bit carried away when I phoned and asked if he and David would mind if a newspaper photographer came. Looking back, the idea to write about it probably came in a call to Kim, when she cut through my toast reverie, bringing the menu down to size from everything (on toast) to a mere four courses. She liked my ideas of Greek dips taramasalata and tzatziki (on toast), followed by steak tartare (on toast), then suggested we follow them with the Italian bread salad panzanella and French toast with strawberries and ice cream for dessert.

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