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Trimming a guest list, getting outside and celebrating marriage in a pandemic

Amanda Rae
Food Matters

On Saturday I find my seat at a table of five beneath the tent, which seems to have captured warmth from the sunny Colorado afternoon. The early-season cold front that swooped in on Wednesday has departed, which is a good sign: Outdoor dining has been the restaurant industry’s saving grace this summer.

From my perch I have a clear view into the tiny kitchen. The door is propped open to dissipate heat from stations where cooks are sautéing mushrooms and tending steaming pots and pans. One chef is bent over beside a tower of stacked serving dishes … beneath an upside-down bicycle, hanging from the garage ceiling.

I know that a socially distanced, ski-house-driveway dinner for 35 family members and close friends isn’t the wedding feast that my cousin—nor his fiancée — envisioned when he proposed. But here we are. Love doesn’t stop during a pandemic.

Later, as we begin the salad course — generous portions of creamy burrata piled with zingy arugula and those sautéed wild mushrooms — conversation turns toward the benefits of holding nuptials right now. Had this wedding been held at any other time, our hosts might not have been able to exchange vows in a way that was “totally Alex and Brian,” as a friend remarks in her toast.

One month prior, guests (all of whom live in-state, except for the bride’s parents and brother from the East Coast) received an email with specific details and directions.

“Ceremony: Plan for a 9 a.m. start,” it began. “To get to the spot on top of Shrine Ridge, expect a 60 to 90 min. hike … start hiking up between 7:30 to 8 a.m. from the Shrine Ridge trailhead.”

I doubt that such an extreme scenario would have even been discussed if 130-plus guests were considered. The bride’s grandmother, who turned 100 recently, would Skype in at another point during the day.

Of course, there were bittersweet moments. Known for festive dinner parties with deep, intentional discussion, the couple would have preferred a long communal table, where we could share stories as a united group. There was no band or DJ; no dance floor, either. However, the intimate setting allowed for longer toasts featuring detailed stories, well within earshot of those seated on the perimeter.

During cocktail hour on the back deck, plump oysters were in high supply and it was refreshingly easy to belly up to the bar. I sampled all of the passed appetizers, more than once. It made me reconsider the massive celebrations for hundreds of people I’d attended in years past: rarely have I sat down to dinner well padded for the main course.

When I compliment the food (Colorado trout with sweet corn salad and saffron citrus butter; New York strip steak with salt-roasted fingerling potatoes and smoked date purée), a server tells me that the group is associated with one of the town’s most beloved, longstanding restaurants. Normally equipped to handle 400 guests, the outfit’s leader “used to do dinner for four thousand!” at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I catch his relief that this event is so manageable. So chill.

The bride and groom reflect this serenity all day. They also are seasoned entertainers, so nobody is surprised when the night ends later in the home’s kitchen, the one unused by the caterer.

After more cocktails and revelry around heaters on my uncle’s back deck, the crowd dwindles to just the couple, brothers, childhood friends, and me (sole cousin in Colorado). We gather around the oven. Two trays of golden brown dough puffs emerge, and someone announces “the 100 pizza roll challenge.”

We raise our glasses one last time to the new husband and wife, blessed to be able to honor their day in their own special way.

amandaraewashere@gmail.com


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