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Amanda & Shaun


by Maddie Eisenhart, Digital Director & Style Editor

Amanda & Shaun | A Practical Wedding

It’s been a long while since we had a self-catered wedding here at APW (which if you’re considering catering your own wedding, we’ve got helpful tips for making it happen here and here). So I’m thrilled to have Amanda and Shaun here today to tell the story of how they made all the food for their own wedding, and how doing so ended up meaning so much more to them than they expected. But the thing is, what I appreciate most about Amanda and Shaun’s post isn’t that they took on the daunting task of catering their own wedding (though, to be clear, I think that is seriously rad). It’s that they did it because it was a path that felt authentic to them. Because while self-catering is certainly not for everyone (I mean, I can barely make spaghetti), shutting down the noise that says your wedding has to be the same as everyone else’s or the most different thing ever and instead saying, “Here’s what we’re doing because it feels right for us,” now that is something I can get behind.

—Maddie for Maternity Leave

Amanda & Shaun | A Practical Wedding

Shaun and I were married almost two years ago in Toronto. The morning of our wedding, we awoke to find that what was promised to be a light dusting of flurries had instead been replaced with six inches of snow. While we ran last-minute errands and worried about our guests, my grandmother assured my mom that since I had always loved winter, it was the perfect day for our wedding. Shaun and I got engaged the previous August, and I—in that romanticizing of winter which can only be convincing at the end of a hot summer—had pictured just such a day.

Amanda & Shaun | A Practical Wedding

What neither of us anticipated back in August was how many expectations and frustrations we would encounter along the way to January and marriage. We weren’t trying to be subversive, but we quickly discovered that in the world of weddings w-o-r-k was the dirtiest four-letter word around. When we talked about our wedding plans, the most common reaction was, “Oh, but that sounds like a lot of work!” uttered with a tone that seemed to suggest, “Oh, but you must be really poor!” Apparently, the only work we were supposed to do was endlessly research and agonize over everything, and then pay someone else to do it. We could have done this, had we wanted to, but we were too independent, thrifty, and particular. And besides, we had the slightly delusional conviction that we could do everything better ourselves—with help, that is.

Amanda & Shaun | A Practical Wedding

Our decision to cook our wedding food drew different reactions: bewilderment, frustration, pity, indifference, and, thankfully, offers of help. Many times, people close to us tried to reason with us, and we seriously considered catering at several points. At times, cooking for about eighty people seemed like an insane task. Several months before the wedding, crazed from indecision, I actually e-mailed the lovely Marie-Ève, of APW self-catering fame, who reassured me that cooking for your own wedding was indeed possible.(Thank you, Marie-Ève).

Amanda & Shaun | A Practical Wedding

For me, cooking food for a wedding was a long-standing fantasy. I thought of scenes from movies where families and friends were all sweaty and flour-coated in the kitchen (I watched Like Water for Chocolate several times in my formative years). I knew we were in for a lot of hard work, but this work was, in part, what I craved: a practical, grounded ritual of preparation to balance the awe-inducing realization that we were promising to be together for our lives.

Amanda & Shaun | A Practical Wedding

During the fall, we tested and tweaked tourtière recipes (French-Canadian meat pies), and then sent our pies on a crazy journey across southern Ontario—from Shaun’s parents’ house in Eastern Ontario to my Mom’s place in Caledon, where they were finally baked, then immediately to my brother’s empty fridge in downtown Toronto, and finally, on the wedding day, to the reception spot. Two days before the wedding, we turned out the salads in my Mom’s kitchen with help from Shaun’s parents. Having our families and friends working together and with us meant a lot to us.

Amanda & Shaun | A Practical Wedding

While preparing for our wedding, I enjoyed and laughed at several APW posts that emphasized how your wedding details are not you. This is very true and sane-making. However, for several months, I do believe that I saw myself in a tourtière.

Amanda & Shaun | A Practical Wedding

In the end, making the food for our wedding took on a greater significance for us than the money we would save. It became a measure of our ability to stay true to the promises we had made to ourselves about how we would live.We would spend our lives making things with our hands and our minds. We would value simplicity and self-sufficiency, if we can define “self-sufficiency” widely to include a lot of help from those closest to us. We also wanted to cook for our guests because it seemed like a real expression of our hospitality, and hoped it would shrink the sometimes overwhelming grandeur of a wedding reception into something familiar and personal: a party where we were the hosts, not the guests of honor.

Amanda & Shaun | A Practical Wedding

If I viewed the cooking as a secret, yet tangible, counterpart to our wedding ceremony, that isn’t to say that I didn’t place importance on the actual preparation for our marriage. While we found our Catholic marriage course to be uninspiring, we found that choosing and composing our readings, vows, and prayers was, on the other hand, affecting. What can I say about words that hold such significance? The ones that are right seem crystalline. On the lighter side, we had a running joke that the marriage prayer and readings booklet we had been presented with was secretly a “What kind of Catholic are you?” quiz (Answer: The most liberal kind).

Amanda & Shaun | A Practical Wedding

And what did all this preparation do for us? What did we find in these five short months? Largely the rising to the surface of all we knew before: the words and courage to pledge ourselves to each other, that those closest to us will lend us their love and support, and that we are strong-willed enough to find our own way in the world. We also found that unintentional hurt, both given and received, is nearly inevitable at such an emotionally-charged time, but that most of it heals quickly if treated with kind words.

Amanda & Shaun | A Practical Wedding

Then there are the things you don’t or can’t prepare for, the things that almost knock you off your feet with wonder or laughter: Having to catch your breath and find your voice before finally speaking the wedding vows; clasping your new husband’s hand as you walk back down the aisle, the ceremony over and your married life begun; realizing that you haven’t danced with your dad since you were a little kid, and remembering that twirling you around will always be his favorite move; seeing your grandmother dancing tirelessly with your friends, and your friend dancing with a fire-log he found. And then packing it all in at the end of the night—tired, happy, grateful.

Amanda & Shaun | A Practical Wedding

Photos by: Family & Friends

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is the Managing Editor of A Practical Wedding. She’s been writing stories about boys and crushes since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) in the art of talking from NYU in 2008. In her spare time, she takes pictures of people in love. Maddie lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband Michael, her Mastiff named Juno, and her roommate named Joe.

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  • http://www.madeinmorningside.blogspot.com Ashleigh

    What a wonderful, beautiful wedding. That dress is stunning!!

    Well done for doing what suited you and not being talked out of it.

    xox

  • http://www.lilredsbasket.com Stephanie

    Congrats – love the dress!

    “In the end, making the food for our wedding took on a greater significance for us than the money we would save. It became a measure of our ability to stay true to the promises we had made to ourselves about how we would live.We would spend our lives making things with our hands and our minds.”

    We catered our August wedding for 85 guests for the same reasons.

    Again, congrats to you both.

  • http://www.alittlebiteofeverything.com Ainhoa

    ” We also wanted to cook for our guests because it seemed like a real expression of our hospitality, and hoped it would shrink the sometimes overwhelming grandeur of a wedding reception into something familiar and personal: a party where we were the hosts, not the guests of honor.”

    This, definitely.

    We self-catered our wedding (which took place in September, and I blogged about our journey in my blog) and it was awesome. There were people who were dubious, of course, but it turned out great. We even gave USB drives with a “recipe book” of the dishes we prepared loaded in them, as wedding favors.

    • Liz

      I was just about to call out that same line, about being a host vs. a guest of honor. That crystallizes so much for me about the various ways to be present at your own wedding.

      P.S. THE DRESS OMIGAWD THE DRESS. Gorgeous.

    • the Amanda in question

      The recipe book is such a great idea. We decided to skip favours, as we had plenty of stuff to do already, but I did end up emailing some recipes afterwards.

    • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

      Like many other people here, I also loved the line about being hosts rather than the guests of honor! It sums up my feelings so perfectly, and while we won’t be doing the food ourselves, I think it explains why I’m SO excited about the favors. I am really excited about hosting our guests and taking good care of them!

  • Kirsten

    The idea of being the hosts at our wedding rather than the guests of honor is exactly what we’re going for–thank you for this timely reminder.

  • Elena

    My fiance’s family volunteered to cook for our wedding (which is in just over 2 weeks!), which means a lot to us. We’ll only have maybe 20 people though, so it’s much easier than 80, but still, I’m sure it’ll make the day even more personal and special for everyone.

  • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

    “…a party where we were the hosts, not the guests of honor” is such a perfect way of phrasing it. Now I have the words to describe what we want for our reception too. Also, I love your dress so much!

  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.nl/ Amanda

    You had me smiling at that line about how you watched “Like water for chocolate” several times. Oh the drama.
    I want to replicate that cake (except maybe without the crying effect).
    All the best wishes. And I am in awe of all of you self caterer brides… I love cooking but I can’t even start to imagine how you cook for so many people. It’s admirable and it does sound like a great adventure with which to start marriage.

    • Caroline

      I think part of it depends on your skillset. I can’t imagine not at least semi-self catering our wedding, but then I worked as a kitchen manager for two years. A family style full meal for 25 is something I can whip up in 45 minutes without prior planning beyond grocery hopping. 30 is my “requires apt of forethought and logistical work” limit. So for me, the idea for cooking for 50-60 people is just not scary. We’ll cook everything in advance, and hire an apprentice or two from my old kitchen to reheat and serve. Right now, at least, it seems really pretty easy. But like I said, I have a lot of experience cooking for large groups. My family holidays are minimum 25 people and I’ve helped cater for 3 meals a day for 400 people.

      Which is not to say you couldn’t do it without that experience (you totally can), but it makes it less intimidating. Cooking for big groups comes down to doing as much as you can in advance, and crazy thorough logistical planning (planning out exact timing, oven space, stove space, etc)

      • the Amanda in question

        Yes, the logistical planning is the tough part! Especially fridges and ovens.

      • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.nl/ Amanda

        Yup, And I guess it also depends on the kind of menu (cold vs warm), or salads, or cheeses, or quiche as opposed to having to have ready 80 steaks perfectly grilled more or less at the same time.

  • Lynn

    We self-catered our 200 person wedding mainly because I just couldn’t stomach the idea of paying that much money to have someone else do it when there were so many people in our families who could (and did!) pitch in to help. We went with really easy, make-ahead food, and while the PA’s parents balked towards the end, it all came out really well. It was interesting that both the PA and I learned new skills during the process, and I think for him, it was really important for him to realize that he could take on something of that magnitude, not only accomplish it but accomplish it well. It was a sense of pride for him, and I’m really glad that he was able to come to that realization.

  • Anonymized

    I really love the sentiment of this piece. Congratulations on doing what works for you.

    I want to offer a tiny caution to anyone else considering self-catering: try to talk to the people who helped out, not just the people who got married. I’ve heard a lot of stories from people who catered friends’ weddings over the years. Sometimes things go well from the perspective of the people getting married because the friends busted their butts to deal with major problems in ways the couple knows nothing about. Sometimes it’s great and everyone has a good time, but sometimes the friends feel pretty unhappy with the results.

    • Lynn

      This is a good caution. We had lots of help, and lots of people who were more than willing to help, but I do know that one of the people who was doing the bulk of getting things in place the day of was rather frazzled. While my officiant and best friend would say that they were happy to put together 200 mini cheesecakes, I’m not sure that J would say she was as happy with her role. Then again, she did refuse to let people help her (word from a bridesmaid’s husband who was more than happy to put out food).

      Finding the balance is important, and making sure that no one is over-loaded is key.

      • the Amanda in question

        Definitely an important consideration. We chose to hire kitchen and serving help for the day of the wedding, because we didn’t want our friends and family to miss any of that day. But some people would probably love to be stationed behind the barbecue at a summer wedding, so I guess it all depends on your needs.

        • Anonymized

          Hiring kitchen and serving help is a great thing to do. There aren’t a lot of people, no matter how much they love you, who want to wash the dishes from a multi-course meal for 100.

        • sandyliz

          We’re going to do the same- hire people to do the actual transporting and serving of the food so that all our guests are only guests for a couple of hours. It seems like the best way to both ask for help and make sure they aren’t overwhelmed with helping.

  • panda

    I also cooked everything for my wedding–the planning process was incredibly stressful, but the two days I spent calmly roasting, basting and chopping at my mother’s…pure bliss. Congrats you guys!

    • the Amanda in question

      I agree, but I wish I had known the trick for peeling pearl onions. Oh, the hours and hours of onion-peeling I could have saved!

  • http://misshappnstance.wordpress.com Miss Happ

    “a practical, grounded ritual of preparation to balance the awe-inducing realization that we were promising to be together for our lives.”
    Just this, so much, this. I think moving into any life change there’s always a lot of work to be done, and finding out what kind of elbow-grease you need to do to balance the awesomeness of it all for yourself is so important to making the change happen, and to helping you change with it. As you make the change, the change makes you, and so on… Thanks!

  • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

    Ahhh! How wonderful. Congratulations to you both! :)

    We also self-catered– not dinner, but 1000+ cookies, cupcakes and dessert bars. It was an insanely huge amount of work, but I wouldn’t go back and change it for the world.

  • http://www.discoveryourhoneymoon.com Morgan

    The process certainly brings you together and even more so, provides many wonderful memories to last a lifetime! I married into an Italian family and it was their tradition for the bride and all the women to cook Italian cookies to be displayed at the wedding. It was an all day event but was an experience I won’t soon forget. It also was sort of a right of passage into the family….very fun stuff! Congrats to you both!!

  • Michelle

    Wonderful post. But Amanda, please — tell me where you got that stunning dress! I’ve been trying so hard to find something “wedding-like” in purple and just have gotten no where. That turquoise is just perfect for you.

  • http://www.thebridecounsel.com Patricia

    I love reading stories like yours because they stay true to your beliefs as a couple without scoffing at those who make decisions different than your own.

    “It became a measure of our ability to stay true to the promises we had made to ourselves about how we would live.We would spend our lives making things with our hands and our minds. We would value simplicity and self-sufficiency, if we can define “self-sufficiency” widely to include a lot of help from those closest to us. We also wanted to cook for our guests because it seemed like a real expression of our hospitality, and hoped it would shrink the sometimes overwhelming grandeur of a wedding reception into something familiar and personal: a party where we were the hosts, not the guests of honor.”

    I know so many people quoted this paragraph, but I sincerely appreciated your words, as someone who is also a huge fan of hospitality and maintaining a host-like attitude throughout the day-of. I’m documenting my current planning process on my blog and more than drawing inspiration from color palettes and tablescapes, I love coming across gems like these. Thanks so much for sharing and cheers to you! I wish you all the best. (:

    • The Amanda in question

      Thank you – that means a lot. Good luck with your planning.

  • Seren

    I really needed this post today. We’re just under 7 months out from our self-catered wedding in June. Our reality is that we’re actually “crowd sourcing” our reception. All of our aunts are fantastic cooks, as are our families. We’re asking people who wish to help contribute a dish to share. We’ll have about 100 people, and it will be a lunchtime reception, so it’s a slightly smaller deal than dinner, but not by much.

    Does anyone have any advice for taking the enormous “to do” list for the reception and dividing it up among the people clamouring to help? We’re terrible at asking for help, and can’t afford to hire people.

  • http://www.laughterinthelou.com Emma

    Kudos to you guys! And bonus points for your adorable hairdo.

  • Marika

    “…a party where we were the hosts, not the guests of honor.”

    This is inspiring. It sums up how I want my wedding to feel.

    Great post, lovely couple!

  • http://weddings-paradise.com/ Wedding Paradise

    The dress totally suits you, as silhoutte, as cut for you…and that vivid color, the shiny texture makes it all even more elegant..congrats!

  • Aero

    What a fantastic wedding :) I would love to hear more about the ‘winter’ part of your planning. Did it change how you choose things? Congrats!

    • The Amanda in question

      Thanks! It was almost two years ago now, so let’s see what I can remember. Transportation was decidedly a factor – our church and reception spot were a 2 minute walk from each other. Usually the sidewalks in Toronto aren’t so bad in January, but we had to hop over snowbanks and I couldn’t wear my satin shoes walking from the church to the reception venue! (Hence the black boots). Other than that, self-catering is probably easier in the summer, because everyone would be happy eating cold or room-temp foods. In the winter, we felt like a warm dinner would be nicer (but a cold appetizer reception would work nicely too). On the other hand, you don’t have to worry so much about food spoiling in transportation, or everyone getting sweaty on the dance floor. It’s also super easy to get a wedding date. We had the choice of every weekend in January when we set a date in September. And one final (vain) consideration: my dress was a bit more snug after the holidays!

      • Aero

        Wow, thank you these are great tips. They seem so logical (and practical). Yay for a second pair of shoes! We won’t have snow (so jealous it’s pretty), but it will be cold.

  • April

    I am SO. IN. LOVE. with your blue wedding dress. Just… WOW. Gorgeous colour, beautiful style and you look absolute perfection in it!

    • The Amanda in question

      Why, thank you!

  • http://seventhandw.wordpress.com nors

    Ah, I love the most liberal kind of Catholic. Makes me a little less nervous for pre-martial counseling there…

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  • http://www.style-rhima.com Rhima Catering

    Good job..thank for articel…I will make samples for my catering business

  • Marie

    Everything looks amazing! I echo all the other posters as loving how you phrased wanting to be a host instead of a guest of honor. I am considering self-catering our wedding this summer for much the same reason and would love some information about how you heated all of the pies. I am considering self-catering lasagna and salad for about 70 people but am still trying to figure out how to heat and serve enough lasagna at one time. Thanks!

  • http://www.novelweddings.com Anna Ogden

    I am so glad I came across this article! We self catered as well.

    We rotisseried a leg of lamb, roasted potatoes on rosemary skewers (sourced from my fathers yard) and had a huge salad. It was really fun to purchase really high end ingredients as a ‘splurge’.
    And we were able to afford amazing wine for the dinner. Priorities! :)

    My family helped prep, and honestly it was a blast! There was so much joking around and joy. It made for a very personal loving wedding.