Amanda & Shaun

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

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

Photos by: Family & Friends

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