Call me crazy, but I planned the food for my own wedding: what we actually did (Part 2)

IMGP7220(The first post in this series is here.)

When planning a wedding, it is important to accept that your initial vision might not completely pan out. I planned my ideal menu, but taking into account the amount of time, help, and space we had, I realized that I couldn’t execute roasting chickens for 90 people.

When discussing what we would do for our rehearsal dinner, we explored ordering BBQ from a nationally renowned smokehouse that happens to be about 20 minutes from where we live.  Their half pans of brisket, pulled pork, and smoked chicken feed 30-40 people apiece and cost $100-150 each.  So we started thinking about that for the wedding instead of the rehearsal. That would be $365 for the main dish for 90 people. BBQ sides would be easy. I have a standard set of favorite side (many I cooked here) and by nature they are easy to make in bulk and stand up to sitting out.

While my initial plan for appetizers was just meat, cheese, and pickles, my mom volunteered to make a bunch of our favorite dips to include as well. I asked all three of my aunts to make desserts, and planned to make the cake myself.

We revised our menu to look like this:

Appetizers:

Dinner

  • Pulled pork (from BTs)
  • Brisket (from BTs)
  • Smoked chicken (from BTs)
  • Cornbread (2 orders – 90 pieces)
  • Marinated green beans (Mom)
  • Coleslaw (me)
  • Baked beans (without the bacon, so it could be a vegetarian main) (me)
  • Mustard potato salad (Mom)

Desserts

  • Coconut cake (me)
  • Peanut butter balls (Auntie Judi)
  • Black Russian Cake (Auntie Judi)
  • Anise ring (Aunt Sandi)
  • Nut tarts (Aunty Ann)
  • Lemon bars (Aunty Ann)
  • Seven layer bars (Aunty Ann)
  • Forgotton meringues (Aunty Ann)
  • Mrs. Buerschaper’s molasses crinkles (Aunty Ann)
  • Gluten-free brownies (Aunty Ann)

Drinks

  • White wine
  • Red wine
  • Champagne
  • 3cross Ronde apricot blonde
  • Cold Harbor Indian Summer
  • Season of Love Saison (a beer we made at Incredibrew in Nashua, NH)
  • Basil lemonade
  • Water

While the names listed after the recipes were the main orchestraters, there were still a lot of other hands moving behind the scenes. My mom planned, tested, shopped for, and executed all the dishes she made, as well as helped me source and organize all of the serving pieces. My mom’s boyfriend, Ken, juiced 80 lemons for the basil lemonade, rolled up all the silverware in napkins, and prepped all of the cheese and salami for the apps.

Will’s parents, Helen and Dave, were with us in the kitchen for the 2 days before the wedding scrubbing 30 lbs of potatoes, trimming 10 lbs of green beans, chopping up peppers and celery to go with dips, getting everyone lunch while we were setting up, running out for forgotten ingredients (how could I forget the Vermont maple syrup?????), and picking up the BBQ. My aunts from both sides of my family, Judi, Sandi, and Ann, made all of the desserts, but also brought the dishes to serve them on and set them up.

(And just to be clear, this is only a list of who helped with food-related tasks. Many other family members and friends helped us sourcing, lending, and setting up speakers, chairs, tables, flowers, lights, etc.)

We did the majority of the shopping on Wednesday, the meal prep on Thursday and Friday, and then all that was left for Saturday was to frost the cake, pick up the BBQ and keep it warm, and set out all of the sides (which I hired catering staff to do). That’s enough on the menu for now, but in my next posts I’ll talk about quantities we actually made, the timeline for all of these dishes, cost breakdown, and what I would change if I did it all again (not much, but you always learn something!).

Photo by Dean Cerrati.

Call me crazy, but I planned the food for my own wedding: the initial plan (Part 1)

14079762_10101841976930277_313916221619506309_nWill and I got engaged in August of 2016 at the Athenaeum in Providence (the scene of our second date, and a most delightful place). While we did debate having one, we ultimately decided we did want to have a wedding. We’d both been to enough weddings to know the feel we wanted for our own: a comfortable, casual celebration. While we did want to have the big party, we didn’t want to get sucked into the wedding vortex and lose sight of the fact that a wedding is just ONE day (a very special day, but still just one). We wanted to host the people we love in a place we love, and share our favorite things with them as we declared our love for each other.

We decided to get married where I work, which is a farm with a large barn and a commercial kitchen. Not being a traditional wedding venue gave us more freedom in how we could run the event. There were no specific list of caterers we had to use, or minimum cost per guest. My mom did a ton of research on other venues, and from what she found I saw the more “wedding” specific a venue was, the less work you had to do to plan but you also were much more restricted in your vendor options. Places like where we got married are not as common, especially if you just use “wedding” as a search keyword, but they do exist. In the end, we couldn’t beat the convenience of getting married where we did, plus we have a personal connection to the place.

We started with a strict budget (about $8,000, which I think it is important to know because no one talks about how ridiculous wedding costs are), and stuck to it very closely. Being fairly cheap people, we planned to do the majority of the set up and clean up ourselves with help from very loving group of family and friends. Neither of us read any wedding planning books, but I did read One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding and Something New: Tales of a Makeshift Bride which both emphasize that a wedding should be just what you and your partner want it to be. We picked the traditions and trends we liked, and ignored the rest.

We sent emails for the save the date and invitation, only registered for about 10 things we really wanted, didn’t buy any decorations besides a few strings of lights, and used Spotify playlists for the music (except for the procession, when our roommate played her accordion). We used what we had or what our friends and family had whenever possible, including platters, tablecloths, speakers, and an arbor. We did rent some essentials we couldn’t borrow, including a tent, tables, and chairs, and hired a bartender for the night. My mom and I grew the flowers for the tables and bouquets, which admittedly was made significantly easier for me because I work on a farm and had access to a small section of land to use (but I have a friend who grew her flowers for her wedding at her house, so know it can be done). We had both the wedding and reception on site, and asked two of our friends to co-officiate.

From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to have a heavy hand in the food.  Planning menus is what I do for fun, and cooking for crowds didn’t intimidate me, especially with the help I knew would roll in. We decided to cook all the food ourselves. This was my initial menu:

Starters

  • Bread and butter
  • Antipasti with olives, preserved peppers and eggplant
  • Pickles (scapes, cauliflower)
  • Hummus
  • Cheeses (brie, more brie, cheddar, bleu)
  • Salamis

Drinks

  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Signature cocktails made with whiskey (Will) and gin (me)
  • Champagne

Dinner

  • Vegetable minestrone
  • Leek bacon salad? Other salad?
  • Whole chicken piccata with baked rice pilaf or baked polenta
  • Roasted vegetables with chickpeas (also serves as veg main)

Desserts

  • Variety of items made by my aunts

Everything was simple and could be done in large batches. There would be no tiny passed appetizers, and all of the foods could be prepared beforehand and would stand up fine to reheating.

(A quick side story. The first time I cooked dinner for Will was on Valentine’s Day. We had gone on our first date about a month prior, and then had gone to see a movie a few days before the fateful couple’s holiday. As you do on the 4th or 5th date, we were discussing when our next would be and Will suggested Friday (VALENTINE’S DAY). I had assumed he would completely ignore the fact that Valentine’s Day was happening and expressed that to him. His response was along the lines of “but why wouldn’t I spend it with you?” (And see why I married him?) I made gin and grapefruit cocktails with rosemary sugar, he brought a bottle of his favorite white wine, we had Alton Brown’s chicken piccata (one of my favorite dishes) for dinner, and chocolate for dessert.)

And this is why I was determined to serve chicken piccata at our wedding. We both love it, but it is not a dish meant for entertaining as you pan fry the chicken and make the sauce in the pan right before serving. So my idea was to make a dish with roasted whole chicken (also the most economical way to buy chicken) with the flavors of the dish (lemon, capers, herbs). As the year went on and we got closer to the date, I was under pressure to figure out the logistics of this. How many chickens would I buy? How would I break them down? Where would they fit into my cooking timeline? What would I roast them in?

Since this post could go on for another 1,000 words, I’ll stop here and be back later with what I actually ended up doing. (Here is Part 2!)