Sunday, December 29, 2013

Save the Strawberries: Our Wedding, Part 5

We had our reception at Nino's, just a few miles down the road from Greendance. Nino's has been around for 40 years, and is housed in a converted barn that was a former speak-easy. The restaurant is family owned and run, and truly, the entire family was involved in our reception. Nino himself made several appearances to make sure we were happy with everything. His wife did our flowers, and their daughter Elizabeth was a wedding angel who helped us pull off the entire reception, from the early planning stages to the big day. 

Many brides are faced with the task of decorating the reception area the night before the wedding. Not us; Elizabeth insisted she would take care of everything. We dropped our decorations off the night before, left a few notes, and walked away. When we arrived for the reception, everything looked amazing. Elizabeth and the entire staff at Nino's did an incredible job.

The cookie table was the centerpiece of the reception. As an Italian family, it is tradition to have a table of cookies at a wedding. My wonderful aunts were planning to make all our cookies, as they did for my parent's wedding before, but when Aunt Sarah got sick before the wedding, plans changed and they asked a local girl they knew through their church to do the cookies for us. She did a phenomenal job. When Dave and I went to pick the cookies up the day before the wedding, we were amazed at how many there were. They barely fit in the back of our van with all the other wedding things. And of course, they were all incredibly delicious. Even after sending many guests home with tins of cookies, there were still leftovers. The guys at my Dad's work were happy to get some extras, and we also put some away in the freezer to save for our first wedding anniversary. 

I knew I did not want a traditional wedding cake. Neither Dave nor I are big fans of cake, not to mention the incredible expense of a nice-looking wedding cake. When I came across an image of a strawberry tower as a wedding cake alternative, I was sold. I figured it would be much cheaper, way cooler, and fit with our DIY wedding sensibilities. As much as I searched, I couldn't find a tutorial for making the cake online, so we decided just to experiment and see what worked. 

In case anyone is interested in doing this themselves, it is pretty simple. We bought white craft foam circles in varying sizes at JoAnn Fabrics and a bunch of toothpicks and strawberries. Dave used longer wooden picks (like ones for doing skewers on the grill) and pushed them through the circles to hold the foam together. Once the base was made, it was relatively simple to cover it with strawberries, which we stuck into the foam with the toothpicks. We practiced this ahead of time, just to make sure it would work. 

The wedding was taking place on Saturday, but we planned to drive to the Laurel Highlands on Friday to spend the day preparing and hanging out with all our guests who would be arriving. Because of this, we had no choice but to assemble the strawberry tower Thursday evening. Our friends Deborah and Alex arrived at our house Thursday afternoon, so they were able to help us, along with my grandma, put the strawberry tower together. It was a lot of fun to have everyone work together to complete the cake. 

Our cake toppers were Hank and Minnie, two adorable lovebirds we ordered from a shop on Etsy. They were so cute! 

What I didn't anticipate in my master plan of the strawberry cake was how difficult it would be to get it from our house in Pittsburgh to the Laurel Highlands in one piece. When it came time to transport it, many of the strawberries had become mushy and watery from being handled and bumping up against each other. Once we got the cake to Nino's, it was looking even worse. Some strawberries were falling off and others were looking bruised. We decided we would have to buy more strawberries and set them out in a large bowl so guests could eat those and leave the less-than-ideal strawberries on the cake. Just a few hours before we were scheduled to go to a pre-wedding dinner with many of our guests, my Dad and I rushed to the nearest grocery store, a Shop-and-Save, to find more berries. Mt. Pleasant is a very small town; their grocery store reflected that. My Dad and I were dismayed to find only two packs of moldy berries on the shelf. Thankfully, a kind employee offered to check in the back for us, and wheeled an entire cart of fresher strawberries out to us. We selected something like 12 packs and proceeded to the register. I believe the checkout lady thought we were crazy. Under normal circumstances, I, too, would have thought buying $50 worth of strawberries was crazy, but when it is the night before your wedding, nothing seems strange. We waited patiently as the checkout lady affixed an orange "Thank you for your purchase" sticker to every single container of strawberries because we told her we preferred to take them out in the cardboard flat and not in plastic bags. 

We rushed the strawberries to Nino's, jotting a quick note for Elizabeth explaining our cake distress. Being the wedding angel that she was, Elizabeth somehow turned our mess of mushy strawberries on white craft foam into the gorgeous centerpiece cake you saw in the first photo here. She replaced many of the bad strawberries, added the white roses and greenery, and even put the cake in good lighting to show its best side. Everyone took strawberries from the bowl, dipped them in the chocolate fountain, and never knew the almost-disatorous story of the strawberry wedding tower cake. 

Elizabeth and her mom did a lovely job on our bright and simple table centerpieces. 

I also loved all the vintage glassware Nino's provided. Nino is an avid collector of antiques, and there is even a small antiques store attached to the restaurant. This, of course, was one of the things Dave and I loved most about the place. 

Sandhill Berries, part of Greendance Winery, made the raspberry jam for our favors. The berries were grown by them, the jam made by them, and the jars packed by Amy, our wedding coordinator at Greendance. Dave and my Dad worked together to design the labels, and my Dad printed them out. Elizabeth put one at each person's place setting. 

On top of the jam jars was a small booklet made by Dave, which I wish we would have taken better photos of. This year, Dave decided he wanted to get into book making, and this was his first foray. He made over 60 small books, each designed to unfold the message, "Two hearts are stronger together." (He even came up with that wording!) The front and back covers were made from up-cycled signage we rescued from a Bath and Body Works dumpster in Orlando. My Mom helped by writing inside the booklets and tying the ribbons. The favors were truly a group effort! 

To honor the memory of my Nana, my Dad's mom, we had her wedding photo displayed at the reception. She was a beautiful bride. 

Elizabeth also hung photos of Dave and I on jute with mini clothespins we bought at the craft store. 

We also honored the memory of my Papaw, my Mom's dad, through this photograph on the dessert table. 

After dinner, my Dad gave a hand-written speech to toast Dave and I. 

It was really touching, especially since my Dad is quiet and doing something like this is out of character for him. 

Dave and I toasted with beautiful champagne flutes gifted to us as an early wedding present by our dear friends Deborah and Alex. 

Everyone toasted with a glass of champagne. 

For music, we opted to make mix CD's ourselves to be played on Nino's stereo system. We put our first dance songs on individual CD's, and handed the task of switching the CD's to our friends Jon and Anna. Somehow, the CD with mine and Dave's first dance song, "Baby Would you Marry Me," by  Svavar Knutur, would not play. Something must have gone wrong in burning the CD. Everyone stood outside, waiting for us to dance. When we realized the CD really would not play, Dave ran out to the car with Jon and Anna to pick a different song from another CD we made. Honestly, I cannot remember now what he picked, but it was lovely and worked just fine. We laughed about it, and so did all our guests. Of all things that could go wrong, this was so minor. 

You can see the kids here peeking from the background; they pretended to dance and made funny faces at us whenever we looked their way, which of course was adorable. 

We knew no one at the reception would really be into dancing, so we kept things simple and just invited everyone out to the back patio for first dances. My Dad and I danced to Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." 

The gardens at Nino's looked magical as the light faded to evening. 

This brings us nearly to the end of the wedding photos; thank you all for hanging in there with us as we posted all these pictures. I think one more post should finish up the wedding photos. This post was especially fun to write; it is so neat to look back and recount all the little details that made our reception extra special. Even with all this, there are still things I've left out, like how delicious the food was, and the vintage trunk lined with burlap we used as a card receptacle. 

Thank you again to Miriam Lorenzi, who took all these beautiful photos, except for the two taken at our house on Thursday when we assembled the strawberry cake tower. 


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