'I do'-it-yourself wedding

  • Article by: AIMEE BLANCHETTE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 27, 2008 - 1:41 PM

Frugal feasts and sophisticated weddings don't exactly sound like a perfect pair. But, like any odd couple, the marriage of do-it-yourself catering and bridal bliss can end happily ever after.

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Like true Minnesotans, when I mentioned to my friends we were serving fried walleye at our June wedding, some of them swooned. When I said we'd be catering the menu ourselves, complete with homemade beer and wine, they nearly fell over.

The thought of catering our own wedding with 175 guests was daunting. Could we pull it off? Would our soiree seem more like a Friday fish fry at the local church?

The nightmares began.

I envisioned myself in my white dress, up to my elbows in butter cream frosting, and my mom too busy refilling the wild rice pilaf to join in the toast.

But our goal was sincerity over perfection, so we set out to cater our own wedding. A week of delicious daydreaming about a huge spread of our favorite foods was replaced by the realities of a do-it-yourself wedding -- that is, time and budget. Discussion after discussion ensued over the next several months, followed by list after list.

I'm finally married, and with pictures to prove that with careful planning, creativity and willingness to compromise, even a bridal fish fry can be a classy affair.

The decision to forgo professional caterers came on the heels of the decision of my fiancé, Tyler, and me to get married in the back yard of my mom and dad's home in Bemidji, Minn., 220 miles north of the Twin Cities. Although we considered other venues, we both grew up in Bemidji and the idea of a homemade day with our families and friends inched its way to the top of the priority list. At the bottom of that list was spending a lot of money.

Our idea was simple: We wanted our families and friends to join us for a fabulous dinner, with lots of beer and wine, twinkly lights and our favorite tunes, followed by a weeklong honeymoon on Lake Vermilion near Ely, Minn.

A Minnesota menu

The menu was decided over many trips home to Mom and Dad's, sometimes leading to Mom getting out the frying pans to test what we'd come up with.

Walleye was a natural suggestion because it complemented our North Woods theme of homemade birch bark candles, mason jars and pine cones. And we didn't want to serve something we didn't normally eat. No beef Wellington for this family.

During one of the menu discussions, my parents' neighbor. Gordy Carlson, stopped by for his usual cup of Saturday morning coffee. This DIY bride picked up an important piece of advice that day: Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Timidly, I asked Gordy to lend his fish-frying expertise for the wedding, and he enthusiastically agreed.

I've been a guest at one of Gordy's fish fries and let me tell you, he's no amateur. He's mastered frying fish for groups small and large -- his largest feat was a group of 375 -- and he puts on a dozen or more fries a year.

For the rest of our menu, we focused on side dishes that would complement the fish, satisfy vegetarians, be easy to prepare and that could be served buffet-style, which we learned was the cheapest and most logical option for DIY catering.

Alongside the golden fillets of fish were grilled chicken breasts -- BBQ and jerk -- to honor our love of Caribbean flavor and our engagement in Jamaica. We had my Auntie Jill's homemade baked beans and Mom's wild rice pilaf, rounded out with a medley of fresh veggies with dill dip and homemade hummus, fruit and rolls, followed by wedding cake and s'mores.

Before we even thought about the menu, Tyler and I knew we wanted to make our own wedding wine. I'd wanted to get into wine-making ever since my father-in-law, Harvey, started home brewing about six years ago. When Harvey offered to make the beer for the wedding, it was the perfect opportunity to start our new hobby.

We saved oodles of money making our own wine, so we were able to afford an open bar with lots of wine and organic beer. We were a little worried that the idea of homemade booze wouldn't sit well with all of our guests, but it was a big hit. We spent the next several months making what would be the fuel to inspire a rockin' homegrown celebration.

The day of 'I do'

The wedding day arrived and as I sat in my bedroom getting my hair and makeup done, I could hear friends and family members darting around the house to get everything ready. Mom was up at the crack of dawn to prepare the wild rice, while aunts and cousins arrived early to help decorate and uncles gladly took orders from Dad outside. All the while, I stayed inside doing what brides are supposed to do: Nothing but smile and anticipate.

Before I knew it, I was standing under the big white tent with my soon-to-be husband. The nerves subsided as soon as I looked across the crowd at the familiar faces. Everything looked perfect.

The food came together magically with the gracious help of friends and relatives. Gordy, with a few fish-frying buddies in tow, fried fillet after fillet. Guests cleaned their plates, some went back for seconds and between eating, dancing and toasts, Tyler and I were greeted with rave reviews of the food and drinks. At the end of the night there was hardly a drop or a morsel left. By our standards, that alone was a measure of success.

In the weeks following our wedding, our memories centered not on the months of work, but on the generosity of everyone who helped make the day a success. I thought of my mom and sister rushing through the aisles of Sam's Club with me scouring for menu items, the hours we spent rolling 175 sets of silverware, our taste-test dinners in the months leading up to the wedding, sampling the home brew each time we visited Tyler's mom and dad, and the memories we created in making the wine.

Although it was a lot of work, our wedding turned out to be exactly how we intended: sincere and homemade, filled with love and friendship.

Aimée Blanchette • 612-673-1715

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