Sliced With Love

In ten months’ time, my daughter will be getting married. The planning of this event is sure to inspire an occasional post on this blog. My daughter is so laser-focused on the details of her big day it’s as if her hospital crib should’ve been labeled “Wedding Planner” instead of “Kelly”. Let’s pluck one item from her list today.  Or rather, taste one item.  Let’s talk about wedding cake.

Are you a fan of this grandiose dessert?  Do you revel in the wedding ceremony and the reception, but secretly count down the minutes ’til the big white cake is sliced and served?  Twenty years ago you’d be guaranteed a piece of wedding cake.  Today, the after-dinner options run the gamut.  A cupcake from a tower.  A cookie from an endless table.  Strawberries from a chocolate fountain.  Petit fours or truffles.  Cream puffs.

That’s some veil… er, CAKE!

Given all those temptations, I still choose wedding cake.  Why?  Because it’s not just any cake.  Wedding cake is heavy and layered and full of frosting.  It’s sinfully delicious.  Furthermore, wedding cake makes a statement, one much bigger than the generic desserts you find in the supermarket bakery.  Consider, wedding cake is:

  • white.  “Well of course it is, Dave, but so are a lot of other cakes.”  Yes, but in this case, white means pure and refined (as with the bride’s dress).  Makes that bite of cake just a little more special.
  • tiered.  It’s like several cakes in one.  Stacked with columns or not, cake tiers create an elegant display (and serve a lot of people, avoiding a cake the size of the American flag).  Don’t even think about a taste of the uppermost layer.  It’s (supposed to be) reserved for the bride & groom to enjoy on their one-year anniversary.
  • topped.  Sure, a kid’s cake can have a doll or a dump truck, or some other toy on its surface.  Birthday cakes are dotted with candles.  But only wedding cakes have true “toppers”, typically a miniature bride & groom.  These days you don’t see wedding cake toppers so much.  I’m okay with that (even though I liked the little Precious Moments couple atop our own cake).
  • fondant-ed.  Fondant is like edible wallpaper.  It’s a smooth, dense, shiny layer of sugary frosting you can roll out like cookie dough, to perfectly costume the cake, or to create flowers and other three-dimensional objects.  Fondant seems to come out of the closet just for wedding cakes.  My take?  Fondant looks a lot better than it tastes.  In other words, I’m not really “fond” of it.
  • a statement.  Think about it.  At a wedding you’re celebrating what is, at least for now, the most important day in the lives of the bride & groom.  It’s not as if this occasion happens once a year or on holidays.  It happens once.  Sit back and admire your plate for a second.  That’s an important slice of cake you’ve got there.
Gotcha!

Here’s a happy-ending wedding cake story for you.  When my wife & I got married, our hotel not only hosted the reception, but also created the wedding cake.  As we dashed away to our honeymoon they assured us they’d keep the top layer in their refrigerators.  But when we returned, there was no top layer to be found anywhere.  Maybe a waiter got a little hungry one night or something.  Anyway, without skipping a beat, they perfectly recreated our top layer at no extra charge.  One year later we enjoyed our anniversary with cake after all.  How did it taste?  Just like you’d expect a one-year-old piece of cake to taste.  We threw the rest away.

Our cake (w/ fondant latticework!)

Here’s a slice of wedding cake trivia.  It’s technically called “bride’s cake”.  Sometimes you find two cakes at wedding receptions.  The darker, shorter, more modest-looking dessert; he’s called a “groom’s cake”.  He’s meant to acknowledge more manly tastes.  Accordingly, a groom’s cake is often alcohol-infused.  Or covered in chocolate.  Or shaped like a football.  But no matter how you slice it, the bride’s cake wins out with the bigger, bolder statement.  Hmmm… guys, is there an underlying message at work here?

A groom’s cake

Heads up as I close this post.  There’s a reason I chose wedding cake as today’s topic.  This week, you and the $300 you’ve been saving for a rainy day could win a slice of Princess Diana’s wedding cake.  It’s up for auction as we speak.  It’s forty years old, wrapped in plastic and packed into an old cake tin.  One of a kind, right?  Not really.  Charles and Diana had so many guests at their royal celebration they required twenty-three wedding cakes.

No wonder there’s still a slice left.

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “A slice of Princess Diana’s wedding cake is going up for auction”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Her Majesty’s Persistent Presence

America is a vast melting pot, her contents stirred for generations in a dogged effort to blend peoples and cultures into a cohesive whole. It’s the classic chemistry experiment, where the glass beaker is filled with all manner of substances and then shaken, only to watch the inevitable separation back to individual weights and colors.  The shake-up brings moments of drama though; the storm before the calm if you will.  It’s also an apt description of the British Monarchy.

Despite my best efforts to filter my newsfeed, I still got the announcement about Oprah Winfrey’s televised interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last week.  I don’t know much about either former royal (or Oprah, for that matter) so I dismissed the headline and moved on.  But I was alerted to the interview again the following day.  And again the next day.  Finally, in a move that can only be described as can’t-help-myself, I got out of my chair, grabbed the remote, and programmed the DVR to record.  Something deep-rooted was telling me Sunday night’s interview was must-watch TV.

No it wasn’t.  The questions and answers were predictable.  The topics just begged for a response from Buckingham Palace (mission accomplished).  After two hours of back-and-forth (and too much time in a chicken coop) my take on this couple hadn’t changed.  Meghan shouldn’t have dabbled in the royals in the first place.  Meghan eventually orchestrated her way out of the palace (and the country).  Harry followed.  Now they’re barely surviving… in an 18,000 square foot house in Montecito, California worth $14 million.  Oprah is their neighbor.

Waste of two hours?  There’s no denying it.  Still, I chose to watch.

Americans don’t have royals, but we have a lot of movies about royals.

Why do I care about Harry and Meghan?  I don’t, yet somehow I do.  Maybe I should blame The Crown, the excellent Netflix series about the British monarchy.  By total coincidence, my wife and I started watching Season Four this week, which is all about Harry’s mother Diana.  Then my newsfeed tells me the Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip) suffered a heart condition last week, rough enough to land him in the hospital.  Add to that regular photos of Queen Elizabeth looking ever-regal at the ripe old age of 94 and the royals are all over the place.  They make themselves kind of hard to ignore.

The Queen (will live forever)

The episodes of The Crown are a revelation, especially for those of us in “New England”.  Each show kind of ungilds the lily of America’s perception of British royalty.  There’s more drama, politics, and in-fighting than we Yanks would’ve ever believed of fair princes and princesses.  Yet through it all stands the queen – at the epicenter of the shaken beaker – somehow maintaining poise and presence.  All of the events in The Crown take place within Elizabeth’s lifetime, yet it feels like we’re going several generations back. 

Despite The Crown and my newfound respect for Elizabeth, there’s no question it was the late Diana, Princess of Wales who first piqued my interest in the British royals.  Who could blame me, right?  Lady Di was beautiful and supremely innocent, a veritable Disney princess in the flesh.  She was born just a few months before I was.  Her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981 – the grandest of ceremonies watched by hundreds of millions of people across the world – was the stuff of fairy tales (Charles himself, not so much).  Diana embodied all that was good and somehow magical about life as a royal.

Lady Di belongs in this club

But then we have Diana’s shocking death not sixteen years after her marriage.  Talk about shaking the beaker.  My wife and I were at a party in California at the time and returned to our hotel late, staying up hours past midnight to watch the funeral on television.  Like the Oprah interview this week, I can’t explain why I gave up half a night’s sleep to watch.  I just felt compelled to.

Thanks to The Crown, the royals aren’t looking quite as regal as they used to.  Diana effectively sacrificed her life to be a royal.  The agendas of Elizabeth and her several prime ministers were in constant conflict.  Season Four has a poignant episode where Elizabeth arranges an individual lunch with each of her four children.  She needs a valet to prepare a brief of information on each child so she can have meaningful discussions with them.  Elizabeth may be “Queen Mother” but the title rates a distant second to “Queen”.

(photo courtesy of Fox News)

Harry and Meghan seem determined to move on from the monarchy.  They’ll never achieve “normal”, and whether their marriage is the real deal is TBD, but good on them for making a show of it.  Me, I’m moving on too.  The next season of The Crown isn’t until next year so it looks like I finally get a break from the royals.  Er, unless William and Kate are up to anything interesting.  Are they up to anything interesting?  Hm.  I’d better go check.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Fit for a Queen

Two weeks this Saturday, the United Kingdom’s Prince Harry and America’s Meghan Markle will be married at England’s Windsor Castle; an event garnering lots of attention on both sides of the pond. In the line of succession to the British throne (still occupied by Queen Elizabeth II after a record sixty-five years), Harry is now sixth, behind his father Charles, his older brother William, and William’s three children: George, Charlotte, and ten-day-old Louis. Of all these royals, I’d love to see William’s daughter ascend to the throne someday. “Queen Charlotte” just sounds so regal, doesn’t it?

Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

Princess Charlotte is now three years old and already working on her Royal Highness wave (see above).  I thought she was named after Princess Charlotte Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the German-born wife of King George III from three centuries ago, but apparently that’s a-little-too ancient history.  Charlotte’s name is instead a nod to the feminine form of “Charles”, her grandfather.  Add in her middle names Elizabeth (her great-grandmother the Queen) and Diana (her grandmother), and Charlotte’s full name is quite a mouthful.  Perhaps you prefer the more formal “Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge”?

I’m enamored with Charlotte because you just don’t see her given name in print very often.  Mecklenburg-Strelitz is one of just three Charlotte’s in the entire British monarchy.  Mecklenburg-Strelitz was Queen – by marriage – of Great Britain and Ireland for forty years in the late 1700’s, before those countries became a part of the United Kingdom.  Lest you think she was a power Queen, Charlotte was chosen by her husband King George III for just the opposite reason – her lack of interest in politics.  Charlotte bore George fifteen children (including future king George IV, who himself had a daughter Charlotte), so it’s fair to say she fulfilled her real obligation to the monarchy.

Princess Charlotte by Johann Georg Ziesenis, c. 1761

There’s America’s city of Charlotte, North Carolina, of course.  Charlotte really is named for Charlotte Mecklenburg-Strelitz, as she was the reigning “consort” (monarch’s spouse) at the time of the city’s incorporation in 1768.  America was still a grouping of British colonies back then, so the city’s naming makes more sense with that context.  Charlotte is aptly named the “Queen City” and is central to the county of Mecklenburg.  It’s as if we Americans are of British and German descent.

The only other reference to Charlotte I could find (in case someone up there is reading) is the town of Charlotte, Vermont.  “This” Charlotte was incorporated six years before North Carolina’s, no doubt also named for the eighteenth-century queen.  No surprise – Charlotte, VT is in America’s geographical region of New England.

On a personal note, my father’s older sister was named Charlotte.  She died not ten years old (of scarlet fever), so it’s a shame I never had the chance to know her.  I would’ve enjoyed calling her my Aunt Charlotte.

That’s the extent of my tour of Charlotte’s.  With any luck (and longevity), I’ll be witness to Queen Charlotte in my own lifetime.  Throne or not, the young princess’s estimated worth to the British economy is $4 billion over the course of her life.  Big number there.  Then again, I just contributed $7.95 of the total.  My wife and I renewed our Netflix subscription last night so we could watch “The Crown”.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.