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Thursday, July 26, 2012 07:37 am

The wedding that almost wasn’t


The wedding party.

As I write this, the sun mercilessly beats down. Our wonderful yard and woods that were lush with ferns, fragrant blooming trees and shrubs, and beautiful flowers for our daughter’s wedding three months ago are dolefully withered and drooping. Even fully shaded perennials, such as phlox and hostas, are giving up the ghost. We do some judicious watering, but because we’re on a well, can’t be overly generous to our poor plants and trees.

What a difference a year makes!

Last year the rain seemed never-ending, and it was unseasonably chilly throughout the summer. It was so bad that it upended – and came close to ruining – the wedding of our friends’ son just a year ago last month.

 Annette Chinugge and Harv Koplo have been casual friends for years. We became closer when they moved just a mile west of us on Spaulding Orchard Road. And closer still when our daughter, Ashley, began renting a room from their son, Jody, in his Chicago condo. When he began seriously dating a woman, I’d get updates from Ashley: “I think he really loves her – seems like she’s in love with him, too.” And “Jody and Debra are so well suited – they’re both really athletic and have the same interests.”

So when Jody Koplo and Debra Schnell became engaged, it wasn’t a surprise. But when my husband, Peter, and I heard that the wedding would be at Harv and Annette’s on June 18, 2011, our eyes met, thinking the same thing: What if it rains?

We’ve lived on Spaulding Orchard Road since 1979, first renting a cottage owned by the Spauldings; then in 1984, buying the historic Spaulding family farmhouse. One of the reasons we love it here is the woods across the road leading down to a creek that’s a Lake Springfield watershed. In minutes, we can be in an environment as beautiful and pristine as in many state parks. Over the years we’ve grown used to occasional flooding of the low-lying land just west and/or south of us in spring/early summer.

That’s been intentional by the powers-that-be who regulate Lake Springfield water levels and its adjacent land. It hasn’t impacted us much. But for folks living west of us on Spaulding Orchard Road, the story’s different. The house immediately beyond Koplos’ has been rebuilt many times after being completely submerged. The entire bottom story is windowless concrete. Now it’s presumably an above-ground basement; the living space is accessed by an outdoor staircase sitting atop its waterproof concrete barrier.

Our house and grounds are on high ground. Koplos’s property is the same…except for their driveway that accesses from that bottomland; land that we’ve observed floods even before the public road.

There was a personal reason for my concern as well as for our friends. Ashley had just moved back to Springfield to start a catering business. Originally, she, Jody and Debra had talked about Ashley doing all the catering. But Ashley had just begun renting late-night space from a restaurant to prep her farmers market ingredients; neither that kitchen nor the kitchen she’d rented and was in the process of renovating was as yet capable of handling the challenges of a full-on sophisticated sit-down dinner. She recommended – and I enthusiastically seconded –5 Flavors Catering for the wedding supper and reception; Ashley would do the day-after brunch and lunch.

The wedding day dawned cool and misty. More rain – lots more rain – had fallen overnight, but little was expected that day. Around noon, Peter and I headed to town. Instead of our regular route, we drove west on Spaulding Orchard Road to see if Koplos’ drive had survived the previous night’s heavy rains. Everything seemed OK, and we headed into town.

But everything wasn’t OK. Less than an hour later, Koplos’ lowland driveway and Spaulding Orchard Road itself were inundated by a rushing stream and rapidly rising water. Lights flashing and sirens screeching, police and firemen began arriving, posting big signs with flashing lights to warn drivers.

 Before the waters began rising, a limousine bearing the entire wedding party, in full regalia, had left to take photos in and around Springfield. But when the wedding party got back to Spaulding Orchard Road, they were in for a shock. The floodwaters had now risen to five feet; the only thing visible was the colorful balloon cluster, bobbling disconsolately, that the Koplos had fastened to their mailbox.

There were some heated words between Harv and the police and firefighters: Harv insisting he could rescue the photographer’s vehicle and equipment (which was floating in three feet of water inside the van); miraculously she was able to start her van and move it to safety. And he received a “stern talking-to” when he attempted to take a catering van up the hill, after police completely blocked the road. Says Harv, “In their defense, they were trying to shelter me and the road.”

By now Harv and everybody else realized the wedding and reception couldn’t/wouldn’t take place in their yard and the gardens that Annette had been laboring over for months, with gorgeous results.

After numerous phone calls, the decision was made to move everything to Chatham: the wedding would take place in the now sunny and cloudless Chatham Municipal Park, and the reception at the Chatham VFW Hall, which 5 Flavors quickly morphed from a formal sit-down dinner to a buffet.

And the caterers? “We had two other weddings that day,” says 5 Flavors executive chef, Chip Kennedy. “Everything [as regards table settings] was delivered to Koplos’ the day before: tent, linens, china, tables, etc. All I had to do was bring the food; the waitstaff would put up the tables and organize everything.”

Nicole Richards was one of the 5 Flavors advance team. “We got there early, but there wasn’t much to do besides polish the silver, so I did that. Then when we began hearing about the flooding, the two other FF people left to find out where they’d be needed. So I was stuck.”

“We finally were rescued in small boats, a few at a time,” Richards says. “The creepiest thing was that when we stepped out of the boats, we had to walk several yards further, and thousands of spiders kept trying to crawl up our legs to escape the water. Even so, 5 Flavors was highly complimentary of how the bridal couple handled things: “The bride and groom handled it very well. I was really impressed on how they shed so much light on that situation,” says Chip Kennedy. And the bridal couple and their families returned the compliment.  They were just wonderful,” says Annette They were scrambling around until the last minute, but everything looked – and tasted – great.”

“What really brought it home for me,” chuckles Annette, “Was when somebody announced over the microphone, ‘Everybody hold on to your plastic forks for the cake!”’

As for Ashley, the post-wedding breakfast menu was relatively simple: house-smoked salmon with bagels, devilled eggs, a fruit bowl, and baked goodies. The afternoon brunch was somewhat more problematic: the pulled pork could easily be frozen, as could a couple side dishes. But some things just wouldn’t freeze well or last until the delayed party a week later. So Ashley, her then-fiancée Cory, and a friend slip-slided up the muddy hill to bring food for the bride and groom’s family’s breakfast and lunch; she’d remake the rest of the items as needed.

Ultimately, Jody and Debra’s wedding couldn’t have been more wonderful. It will be long remembered, not because it was textbook perfect, but because of everybody’s – paid professionals and loved ones alike, and especially the bride and groom’s – willingness to accept the inevitable/unpredictable, make the best of the situation, and have a fantastic time doing so. All of which bodes well for Jody and Debra’s long-term happiness.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

5 Flavors’ spinach salad with candied walnuts and goat cheese dressing

For the 5 Flavors goat cheese dressing
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 T. buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 T. chopped fresh tarragon leaves

For the spiced walnuts
  • 1egg white
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 c. unshelled walnuts

To assemble the salad
A generous handful of baby spinach leaves or substitute mixed spring lettuces per person, washed and dried

Thinly sliced red onion, approximately c. per serving

Approximately 1/3 c. halved or quartered cherry tomatoes per serving

Preheat the oven to 325

If your red onion is too strong/hot, place the sliced onions in a solution of 1 T. kosher salt that’s been dissolved in 1 c. water, making enough of the saltwater solution that the onions are completely submerged. Add the onions and let stand for at least 30 minutes, or while you’re preparing the rest of the salad.

To make the dressing, place all ingredients in an electric blender and blend just until incorporated. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white, sugar and cayenne until the mixture forms stiff peaks.

Gently add the walnuts and then spread in a single layer on a sheet pan that’s been lined with greased foil or a greased parchment paper sheet.

Bake in oven at 325 for about 15 minutes or until they just start to brown and smell toasty. Immediately toss with the salt, then spread back into a single layer. Cool completely. Place in a resealable plastic bag. Squish or lightly pound with your palm and hit with a rolling pin a few times to break them up. Store in a jar with a tight lid.

Place the spinach in a large bowl.

Drain the saltwater solution from the onions, squeeze with your hands, and then strew evenly across a lint-free towel. Roll up the towel and press and twist, removing as much water as possible. Add to the spinach bowl.

Add half the tomatoes, and half the walnuts. Toss with the dressing. Top with the remaining tomatoes and walnuts and serve. Serves 6-8.

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