Tuesday, October 13, 2009


How to Throw A Wedding For Under Five Hundred Bucks

For the record, I’m not Mexican, I wasn’t getting married and the guest list was limited to fifty people…. But it was still my big fat Mexican wedding.

Back story: As most of you know, I’m a writer. Translation: I have a flexible schedule and a lot of time on my hands when the muse is hiding. Some years I ago I volunteered in a after school tutoring program. It was there that I met an adorable third grader, a Mexican-American girl Richard and I “adopted” in our hearts and lives.

A couple of years ago our “daughter” called.  She was getting married in four weeks… and, because her family couldn’t afford to give her a wedding, she and her fiancé were going to City Hall. Could we join them?

OK. That’s nice. Following in my footsteps. My first wedding had been in City Hall. The operative word here is “first.” But lots of City Hall marriages turn out fine, right?!? To make sure this was what she really wanted, however, I had to ask if she’d prefer a garden wedding at our house. Without a moment’s hesitation, her answer was “yes.”

So, now we were hosting a wedding. In 30 days!!!

Because we live in a California bungalow (translation: not a McMansion), we have a smallish backyard, dominated by a pool. The guest list needed to be limited. No problem. A wedding, no matter how small, is a celebration.

Did I mention that Richard and I are both writers? Translation: no fancy caterer or wedding planners. Not to worry.  As you've all gathered by now, Richard is a fabulous cook and as my 'bio' proudly states, I had been an “on-air, guest design consultant/decorative artist for HGTV (how’s that for a credit?). Again, no problem! Well, Richard might not agree since I decided to use every white linen table cloth my grandmother left me, none of which was pressed. But they were free! He definitely disagreed when I decided, two weeks before the wedding, to finally paint the dressers in our ‘shabby chic’ bedroom. OK, so I had a couple of problems.

While I ironed a kazillion tablecloths, I decided to further cut wedding costs. No paper plates! I’ve been collecting antique dishes since college, so have more than enough mix-match Limoge, Lenox and Staffordshire to fill a china shop. I also have plenty of silver-plated mix-match cutlery. (If I didn’t, I would have borrowed what I needed from friends.) Glasses would have to be plastic, though. It’s one thing if a plate broke and fell into the pool… but clear glass? Broken in the pool? Nope. However, I didn’t think anyone would mind this bow to picnic-ware.

The bride’s mom offered to make a few potato/pasta dishes. The groom’s mom would bring sodas, waters and salads. We would provide some food, the champagne for the toasts, white wine and the wedding cake.

Finding the perfect cake turned out to be our “only in LA” story. We interviewed bakers and tasted their confections, but everything we liked was more than we budgeted. Our search ended with the woman who made the cake for Eva Longhoria’s wedding on “Desperate Housewives.” Baker to the stars. Now that’s a credit! She loved our bride and groom story and gave us the two-tiered red velvet cake we wanted at the price we could afford. We had our perfect cake.

After consulting two dozen cookbooks and quizzing our “culinary” friends, Richard decided to make a Waldorf salad, grill tri-tips with a chimichurri sauce and poached salmon with a mustard-dill sauce. The salmon and sauces could be made the day before. Always a plus when planning a big party.

We scoured our local nurseries for flowering plants to dress up our garden. I plopped a potted pink hydrangea onto a wooden chair with peeling green paint. I tacked straw hats and vintage paintings on the fence and draped an antique quilt on an old painted screen door that leans against the fence. Very cottage-y. Very Provence.

Richard programmed some music into his ipod. Who needs a DJ?

The morning of the wedding I dressed the outside tables, including a borrowed banquet table set under the trees, with the ironed linen. Richard slapped eight pounds of tri-tip on the grill. The dining room table was set. Serving dishes a-ready. China and silverware arranged on the buffet.

At noon, the cake arrived and we set it in its place of honor in the dining room. By 2:00 the florist, paid for by the bride’s parents, arrived with centerpieces, boutonnieres and bouquets.

The mother-of-the-bride arrived with two enormous bowls of pasta and potato salad. But, don’t forget… this was a big fat Mexican wedding. Translation: you can never have enough food. So, along with the pasta and salad, she made about fifty sandwiches on little dinner rolls, “just in case” and brought an extra hundred rolls as “back-up.” Father-of-the-bride brought in a half-dozen coolers filled with an array of sodas, sparkling and flat waters. A minute later, the groom’s mother walked in with Caesar salads, cut veggies, and a variety of empanadas, “just in case.” One guest brought croissant sandwiches, another brought platters of sushi and fruit to go along with the cheeses and strawberries we had already put out as “appetizers.” We had everything from sushi to nuts. Literally. I ran out of serving dishes.

Soon everyone had arrived. Richard cranked up the ipod and classical music filled the air as the bride and her attendants walked down the “aisle” alongside the pool to the waiting groom. The ceremony was beautiful. It was in Spanish for the bride’s parents and, though I didn’t understand a word, I understood the “I do’s” and cried. I, too, was a “mother-of-the-bride.” The groom dipped his new wife as he kissed her. Everyone cheered. Time to toast. To eat. To dance by the pool. And when it was over, I went in the kitchen to start doing dishes, but the bride’s mom and sister were already there. A brother-in-law was stripping the tables. Another was sweeping up. There was little for me to do. I kicked off my shoes and had another glass of wine. By eleven o’clock everyone was gone, but just before our darling “daughter” left, I asked her if her day was all she hoped for. With tears in her eyes, she told me “It was perfect!”

Wedding: $490. Our “daughter’s” happiness: Priceless.

Que mas puedes pedir? Translation: What more can you ask?


Anonymous said...

Testing Uno Dos Tres.
Ilona, this is Chim testing if my Comment will go through without actually having a BlogSpot / Google account. If this succeed, then I'll follow with an actual Comment.

Chimi said...

Hey, Ilona, this is Chimi.

Whoa! WHAT? You're NOT Mexican. All these years knowing you and somehow I assumed you WERE Mexican? I am stunned! Just Kidding! LOL

I sense that this wedding got Outta Control / Off Track from the initial idea / concept. It was supposed to be a SMALL Garden Wedding because the bride & groom's families couldn't afford an all out wedding extravaganza. Yet, by the time all was said and done, it turned into a Wedding Extravaganza to the Power of Ten! OMG! LOL I certainly haven't been to any Mexican wedding like what this one sounded. Sushi? Nope, I haven't seen that at the Mexican weddings to which I've been.

I got a kick out of the "Just In Case" tsunami of food that seemed to be flooding your little garden wedding. LOL I was like, "A Mt. Everest of Pasta, Salad, Empanadas and such? And 50 sandwiches! And Croissants! But, but ... but, I thought these people couldn't afford to throw a wedding?"

BTW, did y'all eventually switch over to some Accordion foot-stomping Mexican music?

ilona saari said...

LOL -- As the bride (our wonderful 'daughter')told us -- there's never a gathering of more than four Mexicans where everyone doesn't bring food - and then stay to clean up afterward. And no, they're all pretty poor (except for her mother-in-law), but they all wanted to "do" something -- so they brought food -- it was so much fun -- and everything Richard made and all the additional food went (well not the 'back-up' rolls). And, yes, some of the music played was Mexican - but the bride and groom are young, hip live in two cultures and chose a good deal of good ole American rock 'n' roll, too.

Chimi said...

One of my friends over at my Online Community have this periodic running gag regarding one of Mexicans' Feasting Favs to which she was exposed to / treated to once.

I think she had attended some Block Party at some predominantly Mexican community where she lives. She was surprised when they dug up ... yes, as in from the ground, this Barbacoa de Cabeza de Vaca. That is Spanish for Barbecued Cow's Head. It freaked her out a bit to see the whole BIG thing there on a platter. Then they fixed it up with onions, potatoes, peppers and who knows what else. She was like, "And it's NOT like someone would serve you. You had to go yourself and cut pieces of Barbecue right off of the head!" Zoits! LOL

She admits she liked it, but it still freaks her out.

So, if you should find yourself having run out of Entree ideas for a party, Ilona ... Google up Barbacoa de Cabeza de Vaca and give it a shot. Well, ideally you'd have to have a place where you can dig a hole in the ground where it is buried while it cooks.

Anonymous said...

Looney, It seems like you out did yourself on this one. very heartening story. Should have had the pictures attached.

Anonymous said...

I hate this choose identity bullshit, I like comments to be made freely and easily. Sid

Anonymous said...

Bay i always thought you were mexican...ah well never judge a book by its cover (hahah) That cake looks gorgeous. too good to eat!


ilona saari said...

Nope - Mel - just your ordinary blondish Finnish-American (see "From Start to Finnish" further down into my blog)- Did you think I was Mexican because of Gaby?

And sorry Sid - it seems this thing is pretty standard...

Sorry about no more pix. Didn't want to put anyone's pic on the blog and we forgot to take 'before' pictures of the tables, etc.