9.05.2013

I'm the Dog Walker.


Oddly enough, I've been to very few weddings. A lot of people complain about weddings, like they're a drag or something. I love them. I love looking at all of the people, watching the families interact, figuring out who knows whom, who tolerates whom, you get the idea. I love to watch the eccentric great aunt with her shaky, little hands, clutching her champagne glass smeared with red lipstick smudges around the rim and crumbs of God knows what permanently lodged in the corners of her mouth. I love the awkward little children, dressed up like adults, the boys looking miserable and uncomfortable and the girls loving their princess hair and dresses and all of the attention. I love watching the bride's second cousin flirting with the groom's best man's brother, and sneaking off to hook up after just enough champagne, wine and cocktails to chalk it up to 'weddings'.

I love the formality, the process. I love watching the groom's face, and see his eyes light up (or fill with tears) when he first lays eyes on his very soon-to-be-bride walking down the aisle toward him. And, at that moment, I always cry a little. I love how awkward they are. I love that as a result of how awkward they are, and how no one really knows anyone all that well, no one is really themselves; rather people take on a veil of anonymity. And pretty much everyone over indulges in some way or another.

I love wedding food. I love food in chafing dishes. I love the taco themes, or the tapas themes, the big-fat-Greek-wedding themes, I love choosing either the salmon or the roast beef. I love the over cornstarchy, congealed sauce that is poured over either one. I love the extremeley cooked carrots and green beans with mashed potatoes and gravy. And, of course, I love the cake.

It's wonderful that everyone dances (to all manner of bad music). Everyone laughs. Everyone cries. Everyone talks. Everyone eats and everyone drinks. Family and friends from all over the country, or even the world, perfect strangers, yet all thrust together because of another couple's union. And everyone at least pretends to be happy, jubilant even. Until they receive the next wedding invitation whereupon they complain what a drag weddings are.


It had been at least five years since my last wedding, until this past weekend. One of my clients was getting married. And she wanted her dog, Giovanni, to be in the wedding. To be specific, she wanted me to escort Giovanni to the wedding and make sure he made it down the aisle with his "grandfather" (the bride's dad).  An ordinary day. Giovanni is an awesome dog and I adore him. Giovanni is a Pug. It was a hot day: Giovanni mouth breathes like a Pug, is a tiny bit chubby, and does not love the heat.

I followed the wedding planners' instructions to the T: I drove Giovanni downtown at five pm and parked outside the venue.  We were escorted in by one of the planners; I then waited to hand him off to the bride's father at the proper time. Oh, did I mention Giovanni was wearing a tuxedo?  A snug tux at that--couldn't fasten the bottom button.  So here I am in downtown LA at 5 pm on what seemed the hottest day of the year with a chubby Pug in a tux.  After Giovanni's down the aisle promenade with granddad I was to take him and wait until the conclusion of the ceremony at which point the wedding photographer was going to get a few shots of the happy couple with Giovanni.  Then Gio and I were free to go.

Everything went as planned. Except there were no side aisles. So for the first few moments of the ceremony, I sat in the very front row, next to the VIPs and the parents, who must have wondered who this bold stranger might be. I quietly explained, “I'm the dog walker”, and they seemed relieved. So, Gio's granddad walked his daughter and her dog down the aisle and it was touching. As always, while everyone else was craning their necks to catch that first glimpse of the bride, I watched the groom's face, and could tell exactly when he laid eyes on her, in her dress, for the first time. And I cried a little.


After that, Giovanni was quickly handed to me and, while the ceremony began to hit its stride, I had to awkwardly duck back up the center aisle, the only aisle. The very aisle that still had the lingering scent of the bride's perfume as she had just walked down it not six seconds prior. And, of course, with Giovanni panting very audibly in his tuxedo. A graceful exit it was not.

Then, Gio and I were shown to a corner in the back of the reception area to wait for the ceremony to end. A couple of the caterers and staff were curious about what we were doing back there, all alone, no champagne. “I'm the dog walker," I told them.

Then, as fast as it began, it was over. And while Giovanni was photographed with his just married mom and dad, I waited by the front door of the venue with the valets. Then a woman stepped outside for some air and since we were the only non-valets standing there, she felt compelled to say, “Hi, I'm Evelyn, the groom's sister. Are you with bride or groom?” To which I confidently replied, “Hi, I'm the dog walker!”

And so, as the bride and groom went back inside to enjoy the reception, the meal, the dancing and the champagne with all of their family and friends, Giovanni and I hopped back in the car to head back to my house to relax. And man, was he happy to get that tux off.


Back at my place, it was dinner time. I fed the pups their kibble and Fred poured us a couple of glasses of Vino Verde to sip while we got to our Saturday night project: making ricotta, which was something I had wanted to do for a very long time – ever since I saw the recipe in Saveur six or so years ago and ripped out the pages. As the milk and cream were heating up on the stove, I told him about how it felt so strange to have been a part, in even the tiniest way, of one of the most important days in two people's lives, but to have been so very invisible. I wasn't really even there. And I didn't mind one bit – though a glass of champagne would have been much appreciated.

As we sat down to the table to eat our dinner of grilled pork tenderloin (with an amazing dry rub) and zucchini with Niçoise olives and homemade ricotta, I realized I definitely got my wedding fix. I got the vibe. I watched the families, the couples, the singles scoping out their next flirt target. There was champagne, and spicy margaritas. It was a taco theme, with mariachis and the whole bit. I did what most women who have not yet had their own wedding do (and have thought about since they were six years old), compare it to what they would do differently, take note of what worked, little details, décor, style, all of it. And before Giovanni and I left, I did get a hug from the bride and groom – which is actually pretty hard to get at a lot of weddings, with all of the hullabaloo. Especially for the dog walker.

Would I serve this dish at my wedding? Perhaps. But man alive, the ricotta that we made was out of this world. Light, airy, buttery, creamy, rich, and delicate. We ate it in everything for three days straight, until it was gone. We even ate it for dessert; a heap of it in a bowl topped with lemon zest, honey and almonds.


Zucchini with Niçoise Olives and Homemade Ricotta

8-10 servings

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 medium zucchini (about 3 1/4 pounds)—halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into 1/3-inch dice
3 lemon thyme sprigs
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup pitted Niçoise olives, chopped
Freshly ground pepper
3/4 pound ricotta (here's how to make your own)
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped, plus a sprig for garnish

In a very large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add one-third of the zucchini, 1 lemon thyme sprig, a generous pinch of salt and 1/4 cup of water and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is barely tender and the water has evaporated, about 5 minutes; add more water if the zucchini starts to brown. Transfer the zucchini to a baking sheet to cool; discard the thyme sprig. Wipe out the skillet and repeat twice more with the remaining olive oil, lemon thyme, zucchini and salt, adding 1/4 cup of water to each batch.
In a large bowl, toss the cooled zucchini with the grated lemon zest, lemon juice, mint and olives. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving platter. Arrange the ricotta over the zucchini, garnish with a sprig of mint and serve.


Three years ago: Wolvesmouth
Four years ago: Steak au Poivre


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