Monday, October 20, 2008

Cake Tasting Part Two: Nana Pearl's.

Initial results were promising. Actually, that's not entirely accurate. The very first initial result was, well, nothing. The website has a 'contact form' which I filled out, with promises of receiving a response within 24 to 48 hours. No such thing happened; I received no response whatsoever. So a week later I scoured the website, found an email address, and wrote directly to it.

And then, results abounded. Exactly 1.5 hours after I sent my email, I received not a return email but an actual phone call. The proprietor left a voicemail, explained that she's been having trouble with her website turning up blank forms, expounded upon her vegan options, and stated that she'd soon be sending me an email with details as to what her next available dates for tastings were. Sure enough, at 1:30 that morning she sent an email with links to appropriate pages on her website and the next three dates she had available for tastings. This, I believed, was promising: total score.

We made an appointment for October. The weeks passed. The week of the tasting arrived, and I emailed her with the flavors we'd decided to taste - some slight variations from our original requests and her suggestions. She wrote back the next day saying that accommodating these changes would be no problem at all. Score number two.

The fateful day arrived this past Saturday; of course it came when we also had Jonathan's parents in town. That's not so much a problem though, as they're fairly self sufficient. I was excited and nervous and also hopeful: this woman seemed to be the polar opposite of what I'd experienced with Vegan Treats. The meeting was set to be held in the fancy and/or schmancy Penn Club on w. 44th Street. It was sorta nuts in there, to the point where I was inspired to photograph the bathroom... and steal one of their uber high-quality paper towels. (The photograph you see is taken from this angle because I was attempting to hide my camera from the barkeep.) We arrived three minutes early, and despite the fact that she said she'd doubtless be there before us, she, um, wasn't.

By New York Standards she wasn't really even late at all - within ten minutes of the appointed time. But still. Punctuality is one of my pet peeve kind of things. So, sorry, minus one point. We went to the elevator to go to a more private space than the first floor 'library' and for some reason the elevator didn't want to go to eleven. But instead of inquiring of the two front desk men, the flustered baker simply led us back into the library. Minus half a point there - it was definitely a bit uncomfortable to be talking and eating cake in a place obviously intended to be exclusive and quiet.

She first presented us with a scrapbook of the cakes that she has made. Sadly, scrap book is the proper term. While the cakes shown were for the most part lovely, the book was put together very poorly - ragged edges on pictures of low quality printed of off the internet, corners not glued down, and so forth. That's an attention to detail thing, big time. If this is what you're using to sell yourself, it shouldn't be sloppy and childish looking. So sorry, another point down. It's just not that hard, and it's a very important part of the presentation.

From there we moved on to the real meat of the event: the cakelets. She pulled out a bag containing three small boxes, each containing one miniature cake. Each had one flavor of cake batter, two fillings, and one icing/covering. She, um, couldn't tell us which one was which though until she'd cut pieces from each and started tasting them. She'd also neglected to bring a knife.

By this point, my image of her being a super-organized and polished businesswoman was thoroughly shattered. There we sat, eating tiny pieces of we weren't sure what kind of cake, which had been cut with plastic forks, layered with we weren't sure what kind of fillings, conjecturing flavors as we went along. In a library.

Fortunately, and very much to her salvation, the cake was pretty good. As was finally discerned, we ended up with the following samples:
-Almond cake covered in Marzipan, with one layer of Chocolate Espresso filling and one layer of Caramel Espresso filling
-Almond cake covered with Almond Vanilla Buttercream, filled with one layer of Vanilla Bean mousse and one layer of Hazelnut Espresso filling
-Chocolate cake covered in Chocolate Buttercream, filled with Grand Marnier filling and a combination of Black Cherry filling and Chocolate Ganache

The caramel filling, which we had neither requested nor discussed, had an aroma that began as pleasant and ended up being absolutely cloying. Just as well; it was never really in the running anyway.

The Black Cherry with Chocolate Ganache was pretty good, and definitely goes nicely with a chocolate cake. It would probably work a lot better with a chocolate ganache or rolled chocolate covering on the cake. That seems the obvious choice, and I'm not sure why it wasn't presented that way.

I was always pretty hot on the Marzipan idea, so I'm excited that it was AWESOME. Not only that, but after tooling around with Jonathan's parents all day that particular cakelet was in much better shape than the other two - the almond paste coating offered structural integrity.

The Chocolate Espresso filling? YES. Rich and thick, but not overly sweet. Combined with the almond cake and the marzipan, it actually created a kind of amazing petit four situation, and I was pretty upset that I didn't have more of it to "sample".

The overall decision that we'd come to by the end of the night was that... we're not done looking for a cake baker. I was so hoping that this woman would be The One, but there were ways in which she just didn't come through. She's not out of the running, but her performance (and cakes) were too far from stellar to discontinue the search. Food is going to be a big deal at this wedding, and the cake is sort of la piece de resistance - it has to be amazing.

Ho hum. I suppose it's not the worst thing in the world. After all, it means I get to eat more cake.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Attendant anxiety abated.

So, I'm nuts. I was totally creating a person and a situation that don't exist. I do that sometimes. At least I didn't do it for too long. Jon's pick is lovely, and she's truly happy for us. And when he asked her, she was so excited that she almost cried. We had lunch and all talked together like old friends, and then continued it over beers. (No beers for me; only ice cream from Penny Licks. But still.) When we left her company she hugged us both, twice. So yeah. Total nonsense. Oh well. Could have been worse I guess.

In other barely related news, the champagne flutes have arrived. and they're lovely. I tried to take pictures, and they didn't really turn out, but I'll post one anyway for the fun of it. For the record, they're the Lenox Firelight Platinum design, and we ended up ordering them from mytableware.com. I was pleased with their service, the shipment came quickly and with tracking, and they arrived perfectly intact. So, hooray for stupid misconceptions and shiny things!

Attending to the attendants.

So tomorrow, we're lunching Jon's honor attendant.

Only, she doesn't know that's why we're lunching. In fact, we're lunching her with the precise purpose of asking her to be his honor attendant. Which for some reason is making me really, really nervous.

About the whole honor attendant thing. As I've mentioned previously, we've re-structured the way the ceremony will work, and indeed where it will take place within the event space, in a manner that makes one attendant for each of us the best number. So, basically, when we're up there doing our thing it will be the two of us, the officiant, one attendant (functioning as witness and ring holder) each, and our parents. No flanks of bridesmaids and groomsmen. That just doesn't work for us.

For me the choice was easy; Miss Nina would have always been my "maid of honor" in pretty much any scenario. Been that way for quite a few years now. She's around for most everything I do, and moreover tends to have silently, slyly been kestone, crane, and lynchpin of whatever it is I'm trying to pull off. For Jon it wasn't so easy, but upon soul searching he's decided that his "best man" should be... a woman. Despite all stupid recent movies to the contrary, that doesn't need to be some super-weird scenario.

Her being a her, though, does seem to be what has me gitchy about the whole thing. (And yes, that was supposed to be a g.) It's not because they've dated, though they did. It was approximately a million years ago, lasted for an extremely short period at the very beginning of their friendship, and couldn't matter less to either one of them. Moreover I've seen them around each other; it ain't there.

It's more that she's a different sort of woman. Which I'm glad of; I don't get along with most girls. I get along with the girls who don't get along with other girls - we're like a weird unspoken club, and if you're in it you know what I'm talking about and if you're not, well, I can't help you because you probably don't like me anyway. But she's extremely hard to read, and despite the fact that she's only in Brooklyn we see her like once a year. She's a good bit older too; more than ten years my elder, as a matter of fact.

And... when Jon and I started dating, she gave him a warning. She told him that he liked me way too much. Reminded him that he hadn't liked the last girl nearly as much, and that when she left she upset him rather badly. That he'd better be careful, because I had the potential to really break his heart.

When he told me about that conversation, ever so long ago - two years at the very least - it told me two things. One, that she was a true friend with a bit of a motherly streak of caring for him. And two, that he actually liked me. He's not really one for the talking about the feelings, so it was a nice little piece of information to get.

Since the engagement, she's been overflowing with congratulations. Or at least, so I hear. I have no reason to suspect that she is anything but happy for us, that she will be anything but flattered to be asked to be in the wedding, and so on, and so forth. And hey, that's a third vegan in the mix! I don't even have to explain to her why I'd prefer that she not wear leather shoes. So what, what is this nag in my brain, this worm in my belly?

I think, in short, that I am intimidated by her. Because she's known him longer, and maybe in different ways than I have. Because she is older, wiser, (thinner), more mysterious, cooler, more interesting, taller, more intense than I can dream of being. Because maybe she'll look prettier than me at the wedding. (But who am I kidding? My sister will be there, so my best bet on being noticed is to actually learn to become invisible.) Because she taps some deep insecurity of mine about not being... enough.

Which of course I'm just going to have to suck up. This didn't rear its head even a little bit until tonight, the eve of our lunching, which is intensely annoying. If it had come earlier maybe I could have worked on it, brought it into therapy or something. Now it will just internalize and make me ill. But this is important to Jon, and at the base of it I really like her.

And maybe all I want is for her to really like me... and think that I'm good enough for him.