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An Eclectic Feast

Lettuce leaves cradle a mix of turkey and vegetables in this party hors d'oeuvre.

It has always been a sort of wedding tradition in my family to invite all relatives and out-of-town friends to rehearsal dinners. The concept is an appealing one for a clan that has dispersed to just about every corner of the Continental U.S. as well as Scotland, Northern England and Western Canada. One extra night — at the expense of the groom's parents, of course — to gather for stories and hugs.

So, whisper the word "wedding" and they all come running, a bottle of single malt whiskey in hand, and a schmaltzy mile-long toast on the tip of their tongues. Which is why, I suppose, that the guest list for the rehearsal dinner my fiance and I were throwing for ourselves exactly 37 years ago today had ballooned up to 85 people.

Now, the task of feeding 85 guests isn't too overwhelming if you're a bonafide caterer. But this was something Steve and I wanted to do without the aid of paid professionals or financial backing from parents. That way it would be more personal, more intimate, and more of a sincere thank you to the parents who had brought us this far in life.

Yeah, right. Memo to self: next time the idea of creating such a mentally and physically brutal experience 24 hours before a major life event, just bash thumb with hammer; quicker and cheaper.

When Steve and I had planned this feast, it seemed completely do-able. The theme was "An Eclectic Celebration," a culinary nod toward the blending of our different cultures (Steve grew up in Pendleton, I was a California girl), and commemoration of our British heritage (Scottish on my side, English on Steve's). We were keeping it simple: Simple appetizers, such as smoked salmon and a make-ahead stir-fry salad; a salad bar; an easy starter course featuring fresh Pacific shrimp and avocados atop tomato slices with a zesty vinaigrette; Scottish meat pies prepared by a fabulous cook and family friend; English trifle for dessert prepared by my mother.

But any decent banquet needs a party-planner's undivided attention. Formal weddings need not apply.

Nevertheless, preparations for the Main Event were in high gear. Mom and I were fielding an endless barrage of questions from the caterer, florist, and country club hostess, coordinating airport pick-ups, enduring photo sessions, and continually checking off chores from a list that refused to get shorter.

Meanwhile, this great-idea-of-a-rehearsal-dinner was turning into the Event From Hell. The day leading up to it, and even at the eleventh hour, a mountain of tasks hovered over us. I can still feel the panic as I recall some of the more tenuous moments:

• An exhausted mother/daughter team stir-frying several gallons of minced vegetables and turkey at midnight. (Recipe follows!)

• My poor father, hunting down extra ice and frantically taping party streamers into place as guests were arriving.

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• A bartender who contracted a personal crisis 10 minutes into the party and left.

• The friend who had volunteered to coordinate the serving of each course, but was a part of the bartender's crisis; she left.

• The scheduled dinner hour arriving, even though the meat pies hadn't.

I could go on and on. Yet, flipping through the wedding album, it seems that none of this chaos was captured on film. There was a golden dusk outside, and San Francisco Bay sparkled through the picture windows. Friends were laughing, toasting, eating, crying and celebrating. The warmth and gratitude I feel to this day for all who jumped in to help tend the bar, serve the food, put elegant finishing touches on the centerpieces, and anticipate a dozen unspoken needs, is intense.

Do it again? Not on your life. But because we were blinded by love, ignorance and the exuberance of youth, we'll always have the memory. A joyful one, after all. Happy Anniversary, my sweet.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at or find additional recipes and food tips on her blog at


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