HOME PLACE - Some wedding tasks, gasp, just take the cake

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It is officially time to panic, according to people who have been married before. More recently and in a more detailed way than me, I mean.

In 1974, I got married in a 10-minute ceremony in an apartment living room. My mother-in-law made our wedding cake from a mix, in three leaning layers with piped-on red frosting and a lot of it. I wore a skirt and blouse and garter. My new husband and I paid for it all, and I did dishes on my wedding night.

I truly am planning for this go-round to look different, but am having the hardest time gaining momentum. It's like I work all day and have a family and home to take care of the rest of the time. Or something.

I don't have a wedding dress. I don't have a back-up venue for inclement weather. I haven't ordered the invitations. And I have yet to find the wedding cake maker.

On that note, however, I have started down the fondant-or-not-to-fondant path. The wedding planner, who is waiting for my grandson to be born and filling time by trying her darndest to get me organized, lined up our first cake tasting at Super 1 Foods. Can I just say something? I've never, not once, thought about a dedicated cake tasting. I know, I know, there are all those wedding shows and magazines and websites that no doubt would roll their collective eyes at me. But other than nibbling samples when my oldest daughter and I went to a bridal fair as she was getting married, it just never occurred to me that this was something you set up like a doctor's appointment.

You do, apparently, and Camo Man and I found ourselves at a table in the deli section with a tray of teensy cake squares and tasting cups of frosting and fillings - basically a circle of delight.

There was chocolate and red velvet and carrot and white. There was lemon, raspberry, custard and strawberry. Butter cream, cream cheese and whipped.

And there was Jan Taylor.

Jan is the cake maestro for Super 1, the one who can take that grimy, oft-folded magazine picture you've been carting around in your purse and make it a delicious reality.

Not however, like food reality shows make it seem. "People watch shows like Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes," . "Then they come in here and expect to get those in Walla Walla."

Which is entirely possible, but not for $40 or even triple that, she pointed out. And absolutely, positively not with that smooth-as-plastic fondant covering shown on every cake show ever produced. Not at that price.

"Fondant is all the Cake Boss uses. And the Cake Boss won't even touch a birthday cake for under $1,000," Jan told Camo Man and me.

We, of course, have no desire to spend even half of that, so I crossed "fondant" off my mental list, even as the picture I carried displays that sort of cake covering in its raffia-and-daisy cuteness.

Jan took us deeper into cake lore, explaining how wedding cakes stack up.

"Now, are you having a tiered cake? Or a stacked cake?" she asked.

"Um," I replied, looking helplessly at my fiance, "what's the difference?"

Tiered, it turns out, involves those little pillars and stacked is, well, stacked. And both styles are multiple layers, which is where the filling flavor comes in. We had a number of choices which all tasted pretty much the same in the beginning. Cherry or strawberry. Or lemon. Or "other."

Some flavors are more popular with certain demographics, Jan taught us. But with no mention of what the "middle-aged couple who both lost spouses and then found each other" routinely choose.

What flavor is love, after all? Feel free to gag.

Soon enough, the man and I felt we could discern the minute differences in flavors, chose a complimentary duo and moved on to the frosting.

By now, I was sweating. Here was all this sugar going into my mouth and all these choices and did I hear birds singing above me? I won't lie - "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was playing in my head.

Butter cream really is the best choice nearly every time, our tutor assured us. "We can make it as smooth as the fondant. And fondant will crack when it dries out. Butter cream is not going to dry out on you."

OK, then. Butter cream it is.

But there's more, so much more. We have to have someone transport whatever cake we choose to the wedding site, or be willing to pay for a professional cake mover. We have to have someone schooled in the art of wedding cake serving-up on hand to cut this puppy. We have to decide on what sort of platform we want the cake to present on.

And, honestly, we need to do more than one cake tasting at more than one place, Jan said. With a smile.

We left, swimming in this new education. In the parking lot, I posed the biggest question.

"Seriously, Honey, do you really remember how anyone's wedding cake tasted the day after the ceremony? Doesn't it all turn into poop anyway?"

But, we agreed, we don't want our cake to taste anything like the byproduct, so we're going to listen to Jan and continue this quest for another day or two.

I cannot devote any more time after that, however. I have to move on to the dress. And the hair. And who can I ask to remotely mike the musicians?

And should we do this many flowers or that many?

And is it crass to send out invitations by postcards, or charming and cute?

And is it fine to rent just enough chairs for those who need them for a short ceremony? And ....

Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or sheilahagar@wwub.com

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