The Turkish Festival...

Exactly two years ago today, I was wrapping up three days in Istanbul, and packing for the Greek island of Rhodes. The trip (which also included Athens), was my graduation gift from my parents. Istanbul had been hectic and overwhelming, from the intense traffic and hordes of tourists at every location, to the impossibly intricate floral and geometric patterns adorning every mosque and palace, and the complex melange of spices and flavors in the food. I had loved it, but my travel companion, Amy, was glad to move on to the more laid-back vibe of the Greek isles.

The apartments of the crown prince of the Ottoman Empire,
at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.

Hence, when I saw an ad for the Chicago Turkish Festival on the side of a bus last week, I was inspired to check it out, and try to recapture a bit of my original experience in Istanbul. My resolve to attend was further strengthened, after Mom saw a spot for the Festival on the local news, and sent me a link to their website, where they touted the presence of dondurma, or Turkish ice cream. Although I hadn't been aware of dondurma when I had been in Istanbul, I had seen it featured on an episode of Food Detectives, and my curiosity was piqued. Even though it was Mom's birthday weekend and I was planning on coming home to celebrate, I rearranged my weekend, and invited Lauren to join me in my quest to sample the exotic frozen treat.

The Turkish Festival was held in Daley Plaza, home to the Richard J. Daley civic building, and Picasso's iconic abstract sculpture. I met Lauren there at noon, hoping to grab an ice cream cone and catch the performance of whirling dervishes at 12:30. My careful planning turned out to be for naught, as we soon discovered that the ice cream purveyors had gone on break for a half hour, and the day's performers were substantially behind schedule. So instead, Lauren sampled a demitasse of Turkish coffee, made by boiling the coffee grounds themselves in water, and serving the unfiltered concoction as a whole. We experimented with the practice of using the resulting dredge to read Lauren's fortune, but found the patterns difficult to read, so we opted for the most positive of potential interpretations.

After the coffee, we started to jockey for a decent viewing position for the whirling dervishes, and proceeded to push our way through the crowd while taking in a variety of Turkish folk dances, intermingled with a fashion show of traditional Ottoman styles.

This dance was particularly lackadaisical in style, and appeared to capture some sort of courtship ritual. The older gentleman on the far right reminded me of our family friend, Joe the Plumber.

A traditional Ottoman ensemble that might have graced the frame of one of the Sultan's harem.

At long last, the dervishes took the stage. The dervishes are monks from the Mevlevi Order of the Sufi branch of Islam, who practice a sort of mysticism. They perform a ritual dance, called the Sema, in which they whirl in a circle to achieve a sort of meditative trance that they believe brings them closer to God. Although they did not whirl for very long (and who could blame them?), they were still quite lovely to behold, with their flowing white robes and their unusual headgear.

We weren't sure if it was just a coincidence, but when the dervishes began to spin, the sun came out for the first time all afternoon.

After the performance, Lauren and I made a beeline for the ice cream stand, where the vendors were back from their break. However, word had gotten around that they were back to serving their frozen wares, and the line was extremely long. We were undeterred, since the dondurma was my major reason for coming, and we ended up waiting over a half hour, only to arrive at the front of the line and hear that they were about to go on break again. Crestfallen, we opted to stand there and wait for them to return, but fate smiled upon us and we received the last two cones. Perhaps our reading of the coffee grounds had panned out after all?

To keep the dondurma pliable, the vendor must constantly knead it with a metal rod. Otherwise, the stretchy polymers seize up from the cold, and the mixture can no longer be portioned out. Due to all the physical exertion needed to keep beating it into submission, the vendor was taking regular breaks.

My dondurma cone, partially dipped into ground pistachios for added textural interest. To the right, you can see a little bit of the stretch.

The dondurma gets its unique texture from the addition of mastic gum and salep, the derivative of a variety of orchid native to Turkey, whose roots form a tuber that can be ground into a flour-like consistency. The salep also gives thedondurma its flavor, which is rather hard to describe, other than being vaguely floral and herbaceous all at the same time. Because of these unique additions, the resulting ice cream is stretchy, and almost like chewing-gum in consistency. You cannot consume it by licking it, as that just causes the dondurma to stretch. Instead, you have to bite it off, and chew it. All in all, I rather enjoyed the unique texture, and I found the flavor of the salep to be pleasant, if rather difficult to explain. It was definitely worth the trek to Daley Plaza, and the lengthy wait.

It was also nice to have a little Turkish interlude in my weekend. That's just another great thing about living in the city. Even if you can't take a physical vacation to another locale, you can still experience something new and exotic, right in your own backyard. In Chicago, there's always something to do, as long as you can muster the motivation to get out of the house. It's like the song from Avenue Q (which eerily captures much of my post-college life) --

There is life outside your apartment.
I know it's hard to conceive,
But there's life outside your apartment,
And you're only gonna see it if you leave.
There is cool shit to do,
But it can't come to you!


I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness...

Okay, Ginsburg may have been writing about his generation 52 years ago, but my love of Beat literature is widely known, and I thought his words were a fitting introduction to my own sense of generational malaise. Whereas Ginsburg felt a need to celebrate the disenfranchised voices of his time, I find myself having difficulty in relating to the exceedingly well-represented voices of my own. Clearly, I have trouble relating to people my own age – I mean, I’m just now starting a blog, I’m not on Twitter (as if you can’t already tell, I am far too verbose to boil my thoughts down to 140 characters), and I only have 5.4GB of material stored on my iPod. But it’s not merely a problem of technology.

I don’t like to do the same things that other people my age like to do. If you look, there is not a single drunken photo of me on Facebook. I don’t mind a drink or two from time to time, but I have never been wasted in my entire life. In fact, drunk people really annoy me (especially when they’re riding public transportation at the same time as me, but that’s a post unto itself), which is why I never go to bars or clubs. My only experience with “clubbing,” such as it was, was so unpleasant that I really have no desire to try it again, even though our beneficent state has since instituted a smoking ban. How then, am I supposed to meet and interact with people of my own age?

Furthermore, if I were to encounter these elusive people, what would I have to talk to them about? For one thing, I feel completely out of touch with the humor of my generation. I have only seen one Judd Apatow movie, and that was only because I was trapped in a van in South Dakota with, among others, a frat boy who insisted we kill time by watching Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. For that matter, most Will Ferrell movies make me want to vomit, with the exception of Stranger than Fiction. I have never seen a movie in which Seth Rogen played a major role. I will grant that “D*** in a Box” and “J*** in my Pants” were funny, but every other Andy Samberg project receives a solid roll of the eyes from me. And those “Laser Cats” sketches on Saturday Night Live actually make me change the channel. If it weren’t for The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report I might begin to suspect that I’ve merely lost my sense of humor.

I even have trouble looking my age. Following my recent, and highly unfortunate haircut, I now have the hair of a seven-year-old, which only exacerbates my problem that everyone at work seemingly assumes that I’m an intern because I look so young. Marne, the Volunteer and Intern Coordinator at the museum tried to console me by saying, “Hey, in 15 years you’ll be grateful to look ten years younger!” Sure, when I’m 39, I’ll almost certainly be happy to be mistaken for 29, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any 24 year old who wants to look 14. And don’t get me started on my voice on the phone. Let me re-create my typical conversation with telemarketers:


“Hi sweetie, is your Mommy home?”


“Is there another adult there with you? You are too young to be left all alone!”

“I’m 24. I live by myself.”

“Oh, Ma’am, I’m so sorry! In that case, can I interest you –“

(Here is where I normally hang up.)

What’s a girl to do? You know that old cliché that youth is wasted on the young? I’m living proof.


My Big Day Out...

I had quite the full day today. Weeks ago, Lauren and I discovered our mutual interest in farmers' markets, and we made plans to go to the Green City Market, the favored destination of Chicago-area foodies and locavores, held twice a week in Lincoln Park.  I'd been wanting to go for ages, but somehow never managed to wake up in time, and once I started working in the park, my lack of desire to travel up there on my day off further diminished my resolve.  But, with plans to keep, I was newly motivated, and I met Lauren several hours into the market.

Unfortunately, I hadn't really contemplated the fact that none of the fruits and vegetables that I enjoy are in season yet. I found some rhubarb to freeze and save for Grandma Betsy, but other than a package of squeak-ily delicious cheese curds and some baby French shallots (supposedly, a substitute for ramps, whose season passed by while I was sleeping in), there was not much to tempt me in terms of produce.  Instead, the highlight proved to be a stand selling zeppole -- bite-sized Italian doughnuts. The dough was fried to order, and the results were hot, crisp, and perfectly seasoned with the organic apple cider in the dough, and the cinnamon sugar coating on the outside.  I had read a review of them in the Tribune the week before, and they were well-deserving of the hype.

After hitting the market, we decided to check out the Notebaert Nature Museum, which we thought was in close proximity to the History Museum, where we'd stopped briefly to deposit our haul in a staff refrigerator.  We headed north, assuming we'd run into it eventually, and after a great distance, we came upon the Lincoln Park Conservatory instead. Since it was free, we decided to stop in, and check out the flora. 

It was hot as the dickens in there, but it was worth it to check out the lush tropical foliage. I spotted this bromeliad, which I was somehow able to remember from my second grade lesson on the rain-forest. As you can see, bromeliads are able to store water in the "vase" formed by their leaves.

The best part of the conservatory was the orchid room, which was full of exotically beautiful flowers.

Almost all the other visitors were there for the photography opportunities, and I felt no small amount of inadequacy with my humble point-and-shoot, in the company of so many ten and twelve inch macro lenses and tri- and mono-pods. Still, I lucked into some fairly decent shots.

Next, we continued our northward trek, in search of the elusive Notebaert, which we finally found, more than a mile away from the History Museum. We probably could have taken the bus, but if we hadn't walked, we would have missed the Conservatory. Luckily, I was able to use my employee ID card to get us both in for free at the Notebaert. It's always nice to cash in on the perks that come with your job, especially when you can do it on a three-day weekend!

The main attraction at the Notebaert is the Butterfly Haven, a glassed-in structure that houses some 75 different species of butterflies. Much like the Green City Market, I had always wanted to stop by to check out the butterflies, but I'd never gotten around to it.

It was definitely an unusual experience. You enter through a air blower (an effort to keep the butterflies from flying out of their sanctuary), and immediately there are hundreds of butterflies flitting through the air. It's actually a little bit unnerving to have that many things flying around your head, but once you get over your fear of being dive-bombed, there is something magical about it. You can get really close to the butterflies, and they won't fly away. You can watch them as they bask in the sun, collect nectar, and engage in their hectic mating dances.  My only regret was that I didn't have one of those high-power SLR's I'd spotted at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, because my little Nikon just didn't have the speed to catch the butterflies when they had their wings open. All I was able to get were shots of the insects with their wings folded up.  As we learned from a stunningly vibrant blue butterfly we saw flying around, which we had thought was a species of moth when it was folded up, with butterflies, as with many things in life, true beauty is on the inside.

The Notebaert also offers up a host of family friendly edu-tainment opportunities, such as interactive water play stations that demonstrate the functions of dams, locks, and Chicago's own Deep Tunnel system; live turtles, fish, and reptiles; a green home geared to teaching families how to implement more environmentall-friendly practices in their own lives; and an exhibit on the natural flora and fauna of the Illinois prairie.  Lauren and I decided to avail ourselves of a free guided walk around Lincoln Park's North Pond, where the museum staff pointed out families of baby Mallard and Wood ducks, an abandoned beaver lodge, and a pair of very aggressive red-winged black birds who were attempting to attract some females with some rather ear-piercing mating calls. 

We ended the afternoon with our very own Animal Planet moment, as we bore witness to a tragic instance of duck rape.  An unsuspecting duck was minding her brood of ducklings while the father drake floated nearby. Out of nowhere, another drake paddled over, and attempted to mount the duck, despite her protesting flailing and squawking, and in full view of her children. Her mate quickly intervened, and the two drakes got into a full-blown battle royal, which culminated in the rapist paddling away in shame. 

This is precisely why I don't watch nature documentaries. Call me a Pollyanna, but I prefer to enjoy the beauty of nature without having to think about its harsh realities. I'd much rather spend the afternoon taking in some lovely flowers and butterflies than contemplating the violent tendencies of the food chain, and for the most part, I managed to do just that.


Tales From the City...

Tonight, I grabbed an impromptu dinner with Lauren, my friend from work, at Cafecito, my beloved Cuban sandwich shop. In terms of cheap eats in the Loop, I think Cafecito has perhaps the most favorable deliciousness to cost ratio. Afterwards, I walked Lauren over to the bus stop, since she was not entirely familiar with the area, only to discover that several of the busses had been rerouted due to a run of some variety.  I would have to walk the remaining five blocks. To avoid all of the sweaty, smelly runners on the sidewalk, I crossed the street and headed towards home.

As I neared the Hilton Hotel, I noticed a large group of people congregated outside. I soon realized that they were largely clad in full-on leatherman apparel. (For those of you unfamiliar with the leather subculture, I don't suggest you google it. Try this Wikipedia page instead, but don't say I didn't warn you.) A sign on the sidewalk read: 

Welcome to International Mr. Leather 2009
The hotel has been reserved for a private event, and will be closed to the public until May 26th.

So, apparently the leather convention booked the entire hotel so that the attendees could wander the halls at will in their, ahem, apparel. It makes sense that they probably wouldn't want to offend the sensibilities of unsuspecting families of tourists. However, since the hotel is smoke-free, the creatively-attired leather enthusiasts were pouring out onto the sidewalk for a cigarette break. I was faced with the decision of swimming upstream against the hordes of runners on the other side of the street, and working my way through the crowd of scantily clad burly men.  I opted for the leathermen, mostly because I didn't want to cross the street an extra two times, but it was incredibly awkward, and difficult not to stare. Nevertheless, it's times like this when I love living in the city. Eccentric new facets are always revealing themselves. Anything can happen...

The next day, I was on my way home from work, and whilst avoiding eye contact on the El, I was staring at the legs of the man sitting across from me. Gradually, I noticed that he had paired his chinos with black combat boots. Glancing up, I saw a further unorthodox pairing of a black leather motorcycle jacket and a black leather skullcap. When he got up to leave, his jacket fell open, revealing his shirtless chest, with a harness-like contraption connected with a metal o-ring. Clearly, he was on his way to the leather convention. I can only conclude that the chinos were a cover-up for something more scandalous lurking underneath. 


Remembering Nana...

You'll have to forgive my lack of post last week.  It was a strange week, full of bad news. Terry, long time friend and client of my Dad's, passed away after a long, tortured battle with colon cancer, while still in his fifties.  I discovered that my friend, and former college housemate, Katie, was stabbed by a mentally unstable thirteen year old boy, in her apartment building. Thankfully, she is going to make a full recovery, but I was very preoccupied with thoughts of her during the week. It's a terrifying thing to ponder.  

It was certainly a time to contemplate the possibilities of loss. Sadly, today is no different, as May 18th marks the second anniversary of the passing of my Nana. It seems hard to believe that it has been that long, but at the same time, I have been experiencing the loss of my Nana for such a long time that it feels like she’s been gone from my life for much longer.  That is what Alzheimer’s does to its victims – it robs the afflicted of everything that made them who they were, while leaving an empty husk of a body as a cruel reminder of what has been stolen from you as a loved one.

Nana started getting sick when I was still very young. It crept up slowly; there was the time we sat in the parking lot at Walmart for at least fifteen minutes while she tried to figure out how to start the car. A few years later she was confusing me for my aunt Carolyn. The time that we had together was brief and long ago, and it is hard for me to remember much about her. I can’t recall anything that she ever cooked, despite the fact my dad and his sisters rhapsodize about her homemade pies and her lasagna. 

I don’t remember most of what we did together on my annual summer visit, besides watching The Young and the Restless on television, and playing Scrabble around the kitchen table. She was an avid player, and I could barely spell at all, so she ended up playing most of my moves for me. I still remember one occasion when the best word she could think of was “tit,” and she sat and ruminated about whether she should spell a “dirty” word in a game with her young grandchild. Embarrassed, she placed the tiles on the board, and when I asked her what the word meant, she turned a deep shade of red and told me. Looking back, on the spectrum of dirty words “tit” is pretty mild, but that was the kind of gentle soul that Nana possessed. 

What I remember the best about Nana are the important things: the way she smelled, the way she felt when she gave me a hug, and the overriding sensation of being loved. When I think about my cousins, who are all significantly younger than me, I often feel sad that they never got the opportunity to know Nana the way that I did. For them, she will always be the vacant woman in the nursing home, and the stories told to them by their mothers.  But if there was one thing I could pass along to them from my experiences, it would be for them to know how much she loved being a grandmother, and the boundless unconditional love she would have had for them.  

Perhaps my fondest memory of Nana was a little game we used to play together. It went a little something like this:

“I love you, Nana”

“I love you too.”

“I love you more!”

“Well, I love you the most!”

“No, I love you the most!” (Even at an early age, I couldn’t stand to lose an argument.)

“Nope, that’s impossible, I love you the most!”

This exchange would continue endlessly, often culminating in tickling and peals of giggles on my part. Sometimes she would win, and sometimes she would let me win the great debate.  In reality, no matter who won any given game of “I love you the most,” the real winner was always Nana, because she was capable loving more than any tiny child’s heart ever could.


Happy Mother's Day...

I wanted to write a post today to wish a happy Mother's Day, mostly to my mom, but also to all the mothers in my life. Not having children myself, I find myself constantly in a state of awe over the boundless love and selfless devotion that women find within themselves once they bring a life in to the world. So, I wanted to write something today to acknowledge the profound relationship between mother and child -- but I struggled.

I've been trying to think of something to write for a whole week now. Everything I thought of seemed trite or inadequate. My mom and I have always been very close. She is the person I turn to when I'm upset, when I'm happy, when I'm proud, or when I just have a random thought that I want to share with someone. She has always been there for me.

I saw an article on this week, where people had written in about the best gift their mother ever gave them. Some people took the prompt literally, and wrote about jewelry or books they'd received. Some wrote about things their mothers had taught them, like how to cook, or how to garden. But when I thought about it, the best gift I ever got from my mom is the gift she continues to give me every day: her time.

The older I get, the more I realize how special it is to be a priority in someone's life, and my mom has always made me a priority in hers. Granted, we both benefited from her ability to be a stay-at-home mom, but if there is one thing I noticed growing up in a privileged neighborhood, it is that being a stay-at-home mom is no assurance that a mother is actually dedicating time and attention to her children. My mom, however, has always put me first, regardless of whatever else she had going on in her life, or how inconvenient it was to her. And, she is still there whenever I need her, to lend an ear or lend a hand.

For that, I want to say, "Thank you, Mom." I have been so unimaginably lucky to have you in my life. Happy Mother's Day!


Happy Birthday to Scott...

Generally speaking, I don’t have a particularly great memory for events from my own life. I have a seemingly boundless ability to recall irrelevant trivia, but when it comes to the minutia of my own existence, I’m often at a loss. However, there is a specific type of event that seems to lodge in my memory with fairly good reliability, and that is first meetings. I was inspired to write about this today, because May 10th is the birthday of my friend Scott (and in Japan, where he lives, it is already May 10th), prompting me to think about the first time I met him.

A blast from the past, but it's the best picture I have of the two of us.

Scott lived down the hall and around the corner from me my freshman year at Wash U.  The first time we ever spoke was at the very first floor meeting for residents of Beaumont’s third floor (which was actually the fourth floor, but that’s neither here nor there).  I had gotten there early, and secured a chair in the corner, and Scott showed up later and sat down next to me, on the air-conditioning vent. He made some sort of joke; we started talking, and the rest is history.

I have similar memories for almost all my college friends. I met Katherine L. at a game of Catchphrase in my dorm room. There must have been between 15 and 20 people crammed in there playing, and she and I were both sitting on my bed, with one person seated between us, such that we were on the same team. Before we even knew each other we already had a mystical brain-wave connection that would later turn us into an indomitable board game force, and when one of us received the word “precipice” the other was able to guess it. We were so amazed that we became friends right away. 

I met Abel on Halloween of my freshman year.  Scott and Katherine knew him through their Japanese classes, and they invited him over for Halloween, even though he was living off campus at the time. We watched Plan 9 From Outer Space, for which I don’t think a single person stayed awake, and played our inaugural game of Milles Bournes – the game that would launch a rap song and dozen inside jokes.

I met Drew right before Freshman Convocation. He was pacing about in front of Beaumont, and I thought he looked nervous, so I went over to talk to him. As I later learned, he wasn’t nervous, he just always paced.  I met Brad at breakfast one morning before class, with Katherine.  I met Joy on a couch in the lobby of her dorm after being introduced through our freshman R.A.’s, who were helping us find roommates for sophomore year.  I met Amy and Derek senior year when they came by our house on Pershing to visit my roommates. 

But these memories aren’t limited to college. I can still remember meeting Sarah on the first day of kindergarten. She was standing outside of Braeside Elementary School with her grandmother, and I was standing behind my mom’s legs being bashful.  In middle school, I started up a random conversation with the girl who had a locker next to mine in gym class, and even though she thought I was crazy at the time, Lisa later became my best friend. 

There are, of course, people for whom I don’t have a discrete memory, but that doesn’t mean that they mean any less to me as friends.  I don’t remember a time in college when I didn’t know Katie, although we didn’t become close until we lived together senior year. I don’t remember meeting Katherine D., but I think it probably had something to do with our pre-freshmen programs at Wash U. I don’t remember a time when Taryn wasn’t in my life, although logically I know that I didn’t meet her until I started school at Edgewood, and I don’t remember meeting Audrey for the first time, even though it must have been around the time I met Sarah. I do remember hearing about a new girl starting at Braeside, and being excited to meet her, but I don’t actually remember meeting Caitlin for the first time.  

It never ceases to amaze me how my mind works. What is it about certain events or certain people that cause my brain to say, "You should remember this."? Despite my miserable forays into cognitive psychology in college, I'm no closer to understanding my own mental processes. One thing I can say for sure: I'm glad to have had all these people come into my life at one point or another. Each one has shaped me in ways that I will probably never fully realize. 

And on that note, Happy Birthday Scott!


Salmon Saves the Day...

Some days, you just need something to go right for a change. Every day this week I have discovered a new realm of frustration at work. It's rained the last two days, and it's supposed to rain tomorrow, just when I discovered a leak in my galoshes. I could go on, but let's just say that it's safe to assume that I've had better weeks.

That's why I was so happy that my dinner tonight turned things around. I've been making this simple recipe for salmon cooked in parchment paper longer than a year now, predominately because it is fast, but also because it is delicious and helps to inject a little elegance into a weeknight meal. There's nothing to it other than a salmon filet, some vegetables, and garlic, steamed quickly in the microwave. I love everything about it:
  • It's healthy.
  • It doesn't dirty any pans.
  • It's a single serving, so there's no leftovers.
  • It's done in half a hour - until today.
This afternoon, whilst I was sitting at my desk, fuming over the latest thing to go wrong with my job, inspiration struck. What if I could use a vegetable peeler to make vegetable ribbons to cook with the salmon, instead of using a mandolin to slice them into a fine julienne? It would make the dish even faster, and I wouldn't have to negotiate washing the dangerous blades of the mandolin. It was the best thing that had happened to me all day.

Not only did my little innovation work beautifully, I had dinner on the table in under twenty minutes. Take that Rachel Ray!

Salmon en Papillote

1 small, or 1/2 large zucchini, sliced into ribbons
1 large carrot, sliced into ribbons
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 large clove, or 2 small cloves garlic, finely minced
1 salmon fillet
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut a 36 inch piece of parchment paper, fold in half, and cut into an exaggerated heart shape, and lay flat on the counter.
2. Pile the vegetables and garlic on one half of the heart and season with salt. Mix everything together well.
3. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Place on top of the vegetables.
4. Fold the other half of the heart over the top. Starting at the non-pointed end, crimp the parchment paper all the way around and fold the tail under.
5. Slide the packet onto a plate and microwave 4 minutes on high. Open the packet and serve.

Feel free to play around with the vegetables you include. Anything that is thin and quick-cooking would work here. I've had good success with snow peas, myself.


Going to the Chapel...

All in all, 2009 is shaping up to be a year of happy events: my cousin Trista gave birth to her third son, Benjamin, on Thursday. My cousin Aimee is pregnant, and due in December. My cousin T.J.'s wife is due to have a baby this summer. My cousin Alica got married in March, and this weekend, my parents and I trekked down to St. Louis for the nuptials of my cousin Abby at the St. Louis Family Church in Chesterfield.

The ceremony blended traditions from Christianity and Judaism, in a nod to the bride's Jewish heritage.
Abby and Jon lighting the unity candle. The church had the best lighting I've ever seen. It was like a theatrical production in there!
My Aunt Faye's children, Courtney and Cameron, blowing bubbles outside the church.
Me and Mom with my grandpa's sister, Aunt Dolly, at the reception.
The day after the wedding, the parents of the bride held a family brunch at their home. Here they are with Aunt Faye and Dad.
Me and Aunt Dolly.

The wedding was lovely, and the bride was radiant in a strapless gown of beaded lace, with a playful chiffon ruffle peaking out of the bottom. Her twin daughters, Lena and Nora, acted as flower girls and wore dresses made from the train of their great-grandmother (my great-aunt) Dolly's wedding gown. It couldn't have gone any better.

The reception was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Clayton, and featured several creative flourishes. At Abby and Jon's request, the reception was alcohol-free, a move which I whole-heartedly support. I admire them for sticking to their convictions. It never would have occurred to me that a dry wedding would even be an option, and I respect that they didn't let anyone pressure them into having alcohol merely because it's what is expected.

However, in my estimation the highlight of the evening was the dessert table, where they featured cookies baked by Abby and various family members according to time-honored family recipes. There were Polish chrusciki from the groom's family, spritz cookies and lemon sesame cookies from the other half of the bride's family, my great-grandmother's spice cookies and anise cookies from our half, and chocolate-chocolate chip and regular chocolate chip cookies to honor the favorites of the groom and bride, respectively. Considering my fondness for the cookie arts in general, I was impressed by the decision to gastronomically demonstrate the merging of different traditions and cultures through the medium of baked goods.

Abby and Jon were lucky to find each other, and Lena and Nora are doubly lucky to gain such an upstanding father. I wish them the best of luck in their new life together!