Monday, June 8, 2009

Two vegans, two years, one wedding -
The Saga, part 1.

This is the first installment of an as of yet unknown quantity of posts about my wedding nonsense, to be posted monthly.

I'm getting married! Or, at least, that's the predominate theory of what's happening between my partner and I. It's been under a fair amount of debate since last March, when the Serious Discussions began. And I imagine there will be more than a few eruptions of disagreements and/or misunderstandings before next March, when the deal is to be sealed.

Now, to be clear, there are two distinct (and yet related) events occurring here. One is that Jonathan and I are getting married - that is, entering into the legal and spiritual union of marriage, thereby formalizing and solidifying the partnership which we've been building since May of 2006. The marriage, the entering into a state of being husband and wife, is not what seems to be causing most of the problems. Oh, there have been a few - some getting past of stereotypes of "husbands must do this" and "wives must act like that" and "married couples MUST IMMEDIATELY move to the suburbs, buy a house, have kids..." and so on. All of that is, of course, hogwash. Becoming husband and wife will naturally change the people that Jonathan and I are to an extent, but it will *not* somehow magically transform us into people that we have never wanted to be.

Almost entirely separate from the concept of becoming a married couple is the idea of having a wedding. Here is where we run into every possible issue in the book. There's money, there's trouble with families and social delicacies with friends, there are issues (SO many issues) with wedding "traditions" that neither of us agree with - and yet without them we're left without a road map, as it were, as to how to get the thing done. And then there's that extra little complication that can be so easy to maneuver around in every day life, but can really start to rear its head with big events: we're both vegan!

Is it possible to have a big, fabulous, amazing vegan wedding? Yes! Absolutely. VegNews magazine features eight vegan weddings per year, and applicants compete to be featured. Is it easy to have a vegan wedding? No! Because even the simplest of weddings isn't easy, and adding in any complicating factor will naturally make it harder.

The "vegan issue" pops up in two main places: food and adornments. This first one is pretty obvious. At a wedding, people almost always get fed. This can range from a simple cake-and-champagne hour to a full blown, multi-course sit down dinner. In our first set of wedding plans (oh yes, there has been more than one plan) we wanted to get married here in New York City where we live. In our feeding-the-guests goals we were aiming for something in the middle: casual dinner and drinks amidst a dance party. But dinner, that was key, that was a must. Before I began my search for a caterer, I sort of took it for granted that there would be no problem in finding someone to provide us with an all-vegan meal and desserts here; after all, this is a city with so many all-vegan restaurants that I haven't even eaten at all of them yet.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered there is not one dedicated vegan caterer in the city! Not only that, but there's only one (1) all vegetarian caterer, and that outfit doesn't provide any service, only trays of food. I mean, the food looked great and all, but I needed so much more than they could offer.

Hmm. Ok. So, it went, rock -> me <- hard place. I discussed this problem with a few omni friends and co-workers, and kept getting the same frustrating reaction. "But your guests won't be vegan... why do you have to serve vegan food?" Uh, yeah. I wondered if they would have suggested to a Kosher couple that, because not all of their guests would be Kosher, they needn't worry about the food? I somewhat doubt it. I tried to explain that I wasn't about to spend thousands of dollars on food that I'm ethically opposed to, thus in a way undoing the past several years of my boycotting said foods. This was mostly met with blank stares. In the end, whether others understood it or not, Jonathan and I knew we just had to stick to our guns that the food would be vegan, period. Being the sweets fiend that I am, I of course also had my mind on dessert - and what's the main dessert at a wedding? The wedding cake! Again, I believed that finding a vegan wedding cake baker in New York would be no sweat. And in a way I was right - it was far easier than finding a caterer. What was not easy, however, was finding a vegan cake baker who was organized and professional, communicated well, had good vegan options, and had meeting times available for working people. In fact, in the six months I spent planning my "New York Wedding" we never did find an acceptable cake baker. Yes, I know I have high standards. Can you tell me why I shouldn't?

My first choice for tasting was Vegan Treats. Of course I loved the idea of supporting an all-vegan bakery! But I quickly discovered that working with them would be just that - work. Questions in my emails were not answered. A tasting was set up, of a fashion anyway; I basically had to track down their delivery truck during one of its NYC delivery days. That, of course, was not something I could have done if I had been working at the time as it was the middle of the day on a workday, but it just so happened that I was on sabbatical at the time.

I will say that the tasting cupcakes I received were absolutely gorgeous. They were also four days old - I know that because they told me so. That didn't irk me quite so much as the fact that I was told I'd be getting five flavors, I asked about a sixth flavor (and of course my inquiry wasn't addressed), and I ended up receiving four. All of it made me wonder what, exactly, would happen if I did order a wedding cake from them? Would it show up on time to the right place? Would it be the flavor that I ordered? Would I have to drive to their storefront in Pennsylvania to pick it up? No, they didn't exactly engender confidence in me. And what of the cake itself? Well, it was exactly like their regular cakes - very sugary and laden with icing. Very tasty after a burger and fries at Curly's, but for a wedding cake I was seeking something a bit finer.

Next we tried an individual baker calling her business Nana Pearl's Wooden Spoon. Based on her website and our initial email correspondence, I was very, very excited to meet with her. The website flaunts an entire page of vegan cake flavors, icings, and fondants - including marzipan! I thought that maybe I'd found the answer to our cake dilemmas. I filled out the inquiry form on her website and waited a week... nothing. Thinking that maybe something had gone awry, I found a real email address on the website and wrote to her - bingo! She wrote me back that night and was totally professional and on point.

And so the time for our meeting came. And she was late. Now, in New York, a certain amount of lateness is acceptable. We almost always depend on public transportation, which is anything but dependable. But for this kind of meeting, as a vendor trying to sell a cake for several hundred dollars, wouldn't you aim to be early? I certainly would. Lateness, you should know, is a pet peeve of mine.

Well, she arrived, and she'd brought us to a fancy and/or schmancy private club near Bryant Park. For some reason the elevator wouldn't work, but instead of inquiring at the desk she brought us into the library. So there we sat, in the library, talking and eating cake beneath the elegantly etched sign that clearly stated "no food or drink in the library". The cake was decent, but not spectacular. She forgot to bring a knife with which to cut the samples, so she awkwardly hacked at them with the plastic forks she'd brought. She had a fair amount of trouble remembering which samples were which flavors of cake and filling. And then she mentioned the date of our wedding - which struck me as very strange. I had mentioned the date in the website inquiry form, the one she specifically said she never got, but never in our email correspondence. Mmm hmm. Suffice it to say, we kept looking for the right cake.

One cake vendor that we had high hopes for was Red Mango Bakery - another all vegan outfit out of Brooklyn. Sadly we never did manage to do a tasting with them. We got a per-slice price from them that was maybe a tad high, but for an awesome vegan wedding cake it might just be worth it...

Our search for a caterer of course continued, and we eventually came upon a company called Naturally Delicious. No, they are not a vegan or even vegetarian caterer, but they'd be more than happy to come up with a vegan menu for us - a new challenge for them, they said. We had extensive communication with them and it was all clear and concise; they were highly responsive to every question and request that we had. Essentially, they were everything we'd been looking for.

We went for a tasting and found that they'd done a wonderful job. They had numerous options for appetizers, buffet options, plated meals, salads, desserts, the works, and everything we tasted was wonderful. For a few days we were flying high, thinking that our catering problems were solved. And then... we got the quote. When all was said and done, with all of the various equipment, staffing, service fees, taxes, and so on, the bill would come to about $260 a head - meaning that for our tiny little 50 person wedding, on food alone, before cake or drinks, we'd be spending in the neighborhood of thirteen thousand dollars.

Talk about a major wake-up call. Understand that until I was about 25 years old, I'd never even made that much money in an entire year. And now we were talking about spending that kind of lump sum, for one day, for one meal? It was the point at which the New York Wedding Plan began to crumble. By Christmastime, we'd decided to give up our beautiful venue - The Foundry, which was also costing a pretty (but, for NYC, somewhat reasonable) penny. We scrapped everything we'd decided on, thinking that somehow we'd come up with something else.

This was hard on me, as you may imagine. I had spent six months pouring my bridal dreams into a plan that then utterly fell apart. It led to more than a little sadness. Don't worry though; this story does not become a downer. Enter Plan B: the Wedding In New Orleans! But that, my poppets, will be for next month. And just think - you haven't even heard about the dress yet!

Until next Monday,

Melissa Bastian.


Maxine said...

Did you try Babycakes in the lower east village?

Hazel said...

Yikes - you'd think NY would be capital of diverse foods. Sounds like a nightmare - hope the next chapter makes things all right...

Ana said...

you're doing it right--there's no reason to compromise your morals and standards in such a momentous occasion. can't wait to read the second part of your vegan wedding saga!

melissa bastian. said...

Maxine: I'm quite familiar with Babycakes. Their cupcakes are gorgeous, but to my knowledge they don't do wedding cakes. At any rate we did not try to do a tasting with them. But they could be a great source for a vegan couple who wanted to do cupcakes instead of a cake for an NYC wedding - particularly if the bride or groom had wheat sensitivities.

Hazel: I dunno about nightmare - any more than any other wedding, anyway - so much as a matter of "if you've got the $$$$". Naturally Delicious would have given us the vegan catering of our dreams - really, the food was outstanding. But it sure did come at New York prices. The funny part is that it's the low end of New York prices! You can easily get up to $400 a head in this town.

Ana: Yup! Precisely. And I'm glad you enjoyed it. Next installment will be the first Monday of July. :)

Emma's K9 Kitchen said...

Oh my, Melissa, what a frustrating experience for you! I'm glad that things get better, though. I would have high standards, too. It's your special day and for what you spend on wedding food & cake, the service and food should be perfect!

VeganCraftastic said...

I'm so glad we had a tiny wedding - less than 15 guests and we had it in our little apartment. And of course all of the food was vegan - and delicious!

Vegan Mama said...

NOLA!! Yipppie!! Have you been to the new veg restaurant? Cafe Bamboo :

veganessa said...

Hope you find what you want, and I totally agree, don't compromise on your beliefs. I would never have thought finding an affordable vegan wedding cake would be so much trouble.

melissa bastian. said...

Vegan Mama - Yes! You have no idea how excited I am that a veg restaurant is once again open in my hometown. It's been years. We can't wait to eat there when we visit in August, and we plan to... wait! I'm gonna talk all about that in the next wedding post. :)

Veganessa - "affordable" and "wedding"-anything don't rally go hand in hand, here in the states at least. And the fact is that I am both a) very exacting and b) do have what most bakers consider a 'special restriction'. I can't even imagine what people with a wheat allergy go through trying to find a wedding cake - I imagine many of them resign themselves to the fact that they won't be able to eat their own wedding cake! I find that a bit sad.

The truth is that both of the companies that I did tastings with would have provided me with a lovely vegan wedding cake at a fairly "normal" wedding cake cost, as would several other companies that I found on the internet but never had the time to do tastings with. I just have very, very high standards - not only does it have to be vegan, but it also has to be the most delectable thing I've ever put in my mouth, and the people I'm doing business with have to conduct themselves as I would if I were doing their job. Trust me, that's a tough standard!