How to Nail the Off-Registry Wedding Gift? A Very Special Experience for Two

Going off-registry for a friend or family member’s wedding can be risky — best reserved for only daring friends who know the couple well. But for those who are up for the challenge, a thoughtful off-registry gift that truly complements the couple can the most meaningful. We got married this past December, and one of the more unexpected but happy surprises have been some of the off-registry wedding gifts from friends and family. Knowing my French husband Olivier and I love cheese and wine, one friend gave us gift cards to boutique shops we hadn’t yet tried in our neighborhood, Moore Brothers wine and Beechers cheese. Other friends gifted memberships to MoMA, so we can get our culture on a bit more (while there’s so much to do in New York you’re a boring person if you find yourself bored, it’s also easy to be lazy and miss some of the city’s many arts and culture offerings). But the coolest gift so far showed up at our door last night at 7pm: Dante Giannini, a personal chef to make a romantic dinner for two in our tiny Chelsea kitchen, making “farm to table with seasonal ingredients” in a “classic French/American” style. We had a moment: Olivier joked that now Dante’s cooked a three-course gourmet meal in our kitchen, I can’t complain anymore about not having enough space. Ha. But seriously, the meal he managed to cook on a counter space of less than two feet square was quite incredible. A few photos of our night:


Creative use of space! All this fit in our kitchen.


Braised pork chops…


…plus a mint-yogurt sauce for the appetizer.


The finishing touches…apple salad and truffle oil!


Prepping the table: Decanting a Durigutti Malbec from Back Label wines + lots of candles = roooomaannncceeee.


We finished every bite!


Buttery sauteed mushrooms to top a lamb chop entree.


Lamb chops with lentils, sauteed mushrooms, basalmic reduction. Delicious!

DSC_0464Homemade apple crumble ice cream and lemon tart. Tasted like cookie dough!


Puglia, Italy Days 5-7: Wedding at the Borgo Egnazia

This is the last blog in a series about a trip my fiance and I took to Puglia, Italy, for a friend’s wedding. See Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Thursday 9/18
Borgo Egnazia

I wake up at our hotel room in Matera before Olivier and decide he needs to sleep this morning. So I go for run. I find my way around the cliffs easily after getting so lost the night before. Aside from a local blasting music from a boom box strapped on the back of his bike, singing in Italian and peddling up and down main street, I am only person up and definitely the only working out. Italians look at me like I’m crazier than crazy bike guy.

Matera 34 Matera 35

When I get back, I shower, pack, and eat two croissants; one plain and one made with chocolate chips and filled with Nutella, for measure. We decide croissants in Italy are definitely not as good as croissants in France.

We drive to the Bari airport to drop off our rental car. On the ride, we discuss what it would have been like to live in Middle Ages — a town like Matera was built for protection and survival, near a source of water, where people could hunt and gather and live in cave homes sheltered from intruders in the cliffs. I think even though it all sounds romantic, people spent their whole lives just trying to eat and not get killed. And we are pretty fortunate today in the US for not having to spend every day worrying about getting speared in the back, or dying from childbirth or dysentery. And now that we have it so good, we need fast cars and skydiving to get the thrills that were once everyday life. That people couldn’t have been as happy as us tourists, dropping by for a day to drink wine and eat croissants. Olivier says he thinks happiness is relative. I think he’s just arguing to argue.

We drop off the car. Guy who checks us in notes a couple of scratches. We tell him they were already there; first guy who rented us the car refused to note them because they were too small. The first guy is there: He denies it. But Olivier took iPhone photos of scratches before we left (they’re dated and everything), which we show to the rental company. They still have us fill out paperwork that basically says we’re responsible. But insurance covers it. Now it makes sense. This is the Italian way of doing business.

We cab it to Borgo Egnazia, the hotel where our friends are holding their wedding weekend (Thursday to Sunday):

Borgo Egnazia map

This place is insane. The lobby’s air vents are all perfumed with a signature fig milk scent. There are candles everywhere (must be someone’s job just to run around and light them all day). Justin Timberlake had his wedding here three years ago; this is also the place where sultans from India come to get married. This sounds like our friends.

Borgo Egnazia 1 Borgo Egnazia 3 Borgo Egnazia  2

The front desk tells us the hotel was built — three years ago, by Americans — to look like a typical Italian village, complete with its own cathedral. The design is convincing. Except everything is so perfect it all looks same to me…and I keep getting lost.

We eat lunch by the pool. Servers are “polite,” pulling out chair for me but not Olivier, and giving me a menu with no prices printed. (Olivier, of course, gets a menu with prices.) I want to pull out my own chair and see prices. We order pasta with saffron and mussels, local white fish with roasted vegetables:

Borgo Egnazia lunchBorgo Egnazia Lunch 2

Then we spend the rest of the afternoon at the pool, reading:

Borgo Egnazia 4

That night, we go to a wedding welcome dinner in a nearby restaurant, among olive groves. I give my bridesmaid speech to Emily and Matt, the couple. I had planned it thinking this was the rehearsal dinner, and it would be 20 of their closest friends. The realty: It’s 120 people. Emily, my friend, is only person laughing at my inside jokes. I am humiliated. So I just get really drunk (we later find out that each guest drank an average of 4 bottles that night).

Friday 9/19

7:40 am: Splitting hangover. Can’t fall back asleep. Olivier is out. And mad at me for mouthing off last night. I lay in bed, then slip out at 9am. I don’t make a peep.

9:30 am: Yoga class by MOH. I get the spins in child’s pose; almost puke in downward dog. Two girls do just that in bathroom.

12pm: Olivier and I skip out on socializing for an amazing massage at the spa.

2pm: Rent bikes to try and go to the beach club, where the rest of the wedding party is, instead of taking the bus with the rest of the guests. We are proud of ourselves for being adventurous. We bike to wrong beach. We go back, take the bus.

3pm: We arrive at beach club our friends have rented out and hired a DJ to give it a boozy brunch atmosphere. We feast on a huge Italian buffet with six types of pasta, seafood, cheese, grilled veggies, rose wine on ice; then we float on rafts in the lagoon. The bride’s photogs are stationed hidden behind bushes on cliff taking pics of us. We pretend we’re celebs.

Borgo Egnazia  7Borgo Egnazia  6

Dinner that night is in “Borgo Square” of our hotel. There are candles everywhere, and even more food: A chef making burrata in a giant barrel as we watch. Other chefs slicing steak and ribs, serving pastas and cheeses. During dinner, an 8-person traditional Italian band played while four traditional dancers danced. Then the piece de resistance: Three hours in, a 20-person Brazilian drum band arrives and plays for the next four hours.

Borgo Egnazia 10 Borgo Egnazia  11

This is not even the wedding day.

We note we will probably never be invited to a wedding like this again. Including our own.

Saturday 9/21

Olivier and I go for run in morning around the golf course next to the hotel. An Italian security guard kicks us off 20 minutes in: Guess some things are too tacky for even guests to do.

After preparing at the hotel, we load on buses to go back to Ostuni, the place we visited on Day 2:


But this time, it’s to attend the wedding of my friend. She and her husband met and live in New York, but they love Italy and decided it was the place for their wedding.

The ceremony takes place in the same cathedral that Olivier had commented — before we knew it was where our friend’s wedding was going to take place — that he would want to ditch our beach wedding and have a wedding in a church if it looked like this:

Ostuni 10

We take photos of the bridal party on our iPhones before going into the church:

Ostuni wedding party

This is the last I got of the wedding itself, since I was busy doing my bridesmaid duties…but the local Ostuni newspaper featured the wedding that weekend.

We bus back to the hotel, and after cocktails on the roof, we bus again back to the hotel beach club. It’s lit with hundreds of candles. We eat until we’re stuffed and dance until 4am to the tunes of BBC DJ our friend flew in. Private fireworks show: included. It is over the top, and it is beautiful:

Borgo Egnazia  14

Borgo Egnazia  16 Borgo Egnazia  15

The Mean Girl Who Size-Shamed Me Wedding-Dress Shopping


Question: What do Barbie, Cindy Crawford, and Angelina Jolie have in common?

Answer: Boobs and a butt.

OK…it’s a bit more than that. Each has been some little girl’s icon at one time or another for the ideal of beauty she embodies (mine was and actually still is Julia Roberts). And don’t get me wrong — it’s for much more than how some of them look (I admire Angelina for always being sort of crazy and not caring, for her humanitarianism, for her pre-emptive mastectomy). But it’s even more about how the media portrays them and other women. As a macho friend of mine once said in response following one of my feminist tirades on the unattainable ideals of beauty, “Is it so wrong to admire a pretty girl you see walking down the street?” No. No it is not. Even girls do it. The problem is it’s hard to put things in perspective when all you can see in magazines are rail-thin models like Kate Moss, and your boyfriend drools over girls with the 36-24-36 curves online.

Most of us will never look even close to any of these ladies (save a raw vegan diet, boob job, and a little lipo…not to say that any of these are wrong – in fact I’m an advocate for doing whatever the hell you want with your own body, no judgments! – they’re just maybe not necessarily always fun or cheap).

So I’ll be the first to admit it: I have body issues. I don’t think I’m the first or the last gal to have them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my weight. But with my pear-like shape, I’ve struggled my whole life to escape body issues – especially when I first sprouted boobs and a butt (which, appropriately enough, I named – it was so larger-than-life that I had to own it). But I took my aggressions out toward my supple lower body in some pretty unhealthy ways.

There is a happy ending: Since then I’ve found more peace with my butt. I found a healthy fitness routine that makes me feel happier not just in my own body but also my mind. I found a healthy appreciation for food. And once I had these down pat and was coming to terms with my unique and special body shape, I found a wonderful man who loves every healthy inch of my body, curves and all. I am one lucky girl.

So it took me back to an ugly place yesterday with what I think was a particularly nasty incident when I went dress shopping. I dropped by a store during my lunch hour to try on a wedding dress and to my shock found The One. It was stunning. I shivered. I knew it was exactly what I’d been looking for.

The sales girl, pleased with herself for helping me to find it, whipped out her measuring tape to take my measurements so we could put in the order. I tried to look away and tune out as she read out numbers for my bust, waist, thighs. She disappeared into the back to do some paperwork. And when she came back, she did something that has stayed with me like seven-cocktail hangover to now as I exorcise the experience on my keyboard: she brought out her size chart, to show me EXACTLY what each of these measurements would be in dress size.

Bust? She pointed to the measurement, then ran her finger over to the size. 0. Waist? She ran her finger over and down; it ran somewhere between a 2 and a 4. And hips? She ran her finger down to my measurement and then over to the size. Somewhere between a 4 and a 6. “So while otherwise you’d be maybe a two or a four, because of your hips, I recommend you get a six. We’ll have to take it in a bunch on the bust and maybe a little on the hips, but it’s better to get it too big than too small.”

It stung. When I left the shop I tried really hard to put it out of mind. But every few moments, all day long, I couldn’t keep it from wandering back.

I felt vain and stilly and ashamed for even caring. But then again, so visually pointing out the big difference in size between my apparently nonexistent boobs and my four-times-larger butt? It hurt me. I couldn’t help but think that this sales girl – who had seen me undress down to just a thong, bare butt up in the air and boobs flopping around as she helped me try on each dress – was, in her own very special way, being petty and cruel. She’s a woman, and she works with naked women all day, so she has to know how hard we all are on our own bodies. So it felt, at least, that she was intentionally trying to hurt my feelings. Am I being ridiculous? Is it wrong to feel shamed?

Here’s how I would have handed it: Take the measurements. Go into the back. Come out and tell my client that she runs somewhere between a 4 and a 6, but that a 6 is best because it’s easier to tailor it down than up. And we work with an amazing seamstress who will make the dress fit like magic. That’s it. No size-chart shaming.

I’m still trying to get a hold of myself, to be the bigger person. I’ll get over it. But for now, I’m trying to come to terms. Mean girls don’t go away, even a decade out of high school. I just wish we as women could all take a step back, recognize that we all have insecurities, no one is perfect, and we’re all our own worst critics, and try to treat each other with a little more compassion. Well that, and I need to be a little less hard on myself.

Update 12/17: I talked with a few  friends who think I overreacted. I thought about taking down this post. But writing it was cathartic. I still think the saleswoman could have been more sensitive. But maybe my anger is really about an outdated size chart that needs to be fixed (who says that 32 inches is a size 0??) than with how one woman treated me.