Hi Woks of Life readers,
It’s been a hectic summer to say the least. We’ve been keeping up with the blog, finishing up the manuscript for our upcoming cookbook (out November 1, 2022!), and we’re now in the midst of weekly 3-day cookbook photo shoots.
(Yes, we’re doing the food photos for the book ourselves, which sounded like a good idea about 7 shoots ago. Suffice it to say, we have our 8th and last shoot coming up next, and we CAN’T WAIT to be done.)
In the midst of all this Woks of Life hubbub, though, we had a major family/life development: I got married!
A New Member of the Family
Yes, we’ve officially welcomed a new member into The Woks of Life fold. You may know him already–first introduced on the blog as my friend Justin in a post on Big Bend National Park…turned boyfriend Justin in such posts as our Iceland Ring Road Adventure, Trip to Oahu, and 3 Days in Yosemite.
While he won’t necessarily be posting recipes here on the site anytime soon, he has been a longtime Woks of Life behind-the-scenes dishwasher, taste tester, and, more recently, cookbook recipe tester!
Justin is a space nerd, software engineer, plant enthusiast, eater-of-just-about-anything, and since becoming my other half, an increasingly capable cook.
Why, just the other night, he cooked me a dinner of Bitter Melon with Eggs and Shanghai Braised Pork Belly. I didn’t even HELP! Not bad for a Jewish boy from New York.
(And just one example of how The Woks of Life has become truly invaluable to our family, and particularly me. All Justin has to do is head to the blog, and it’s like one of the four of us is there showing him the ropes! Any night where I don’t have to cook is a good night for me!)
On June 5, 2021, we took a break from blog craziness to gather with 75 of our closest friends and family for a wedding that—despite being a bit different than how we initially imagined it going down back when we booked our venue in January 2020—was pretty perfect all around.
This is perhaps one of the most personal blog posts we’ve ever published.
But this being a family blog, with some readers who’ve been following along with us since 2013 (I was 22! Just turned 31. Time flies.), we had to share our wedding weekend and big day with all of you (or at least, any of you who are interested!).
Justin and I got engaged back in January 2020.
For those of you who want the proposal story, it was in a cabin in the Catskills (not far from where my dad grew up, actually). In the dead of winter. With no internet or TV. (ROMANTIC!)
The cabin had floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room that looked out on a beautiful brook outside, which was dotted with snow. (SUPER ROMANTIC!)
We were getting ready to go out to dinner, and I had to use the bathroom before leaving.
Justin proposed…as I was coming out of the bathroom.
(OK, not the most romantic, but considering we’d already shopped for the ring and I knew it was coming, DEFINITELY a good way to catch me off guard.)
Then we drove through a mild blizzard to eat dinner at The DeBruce, a beautiful inn with an incredibly fancy and creative tasting menu. (HARROWING, but ROMANTIC.)
How did your proposal go?
If you’re up for it, share your proposal stories in the comments below! :)
Not one to waste time, I soon launched directly into the wedding planning saga.
By the end of January, we had a venue booked for June 5, 2021. By the end of February, we had a caterer, photographer, DJ, and florist, and I’d tried on about 20 wedding dresses.
(Have I mentioned that I’m the “planner” of the family?)
Of course, we all know what happened next.
Planning a wedding over the last year hasn’t been easy. We’ve all lived through it, and nothing has really been easy.
Our original guest list was nearly 150 people, which we then cut down to just 30 people.
But with the increasing availability of the vaccine last spring, we were able to expand our guest list to 75 fully vaccinated family and friends, with vaccinated venue/catering staff, photographers, and other vendors.
After seeing how quickly things can change from week to week over the last eighteen or so months, we feel incredibly grateful that we were able to have the beautiful celebration we did.
It wasn’t just a wedding, but a reunion of sorts for everyone who attended.
A full wedding weekend where our two families met, stayed together in a big farmhouse, shared meals, went fishing (more on that later!), arranged flowers (for the rehearsal dinner and tea ceremony–just wait till you see Kaitlin’s handiwork), and just…had a great time all around.
FINDING The DRESS
Before I go further, though, I know some of you are wondering about the dress.
Did you know that it’s recommended that brides only try on 4-7 dresses? Who can make a decision on just that?!
I started my search early, and by the time I found my dress, I had tried on almost 60!!! I was looking for something that wouldn’t break the bank, but that would feel like “the one” the minute I put it on.
It was one of the biggest hurdles in my otherwise airtight planning process. I ended up demoralized and wanting to just find any nice, relatively inexpensive dress that I was happy with.
I went through just about every kind of aesthetic–A-line, mermaid, lace, no lace, sleek, bohemian, classic–you name it. My one dealbreaker condition was that I didn’t want beading.
Well, I’m glad I kept searching and that I knew well enough to look a bit beyond my comfort zone, because the old adage that you always pick the dress you least expect ended up being true for me!
I ended up picking a top-to-bottom beaded gown by Australian Designer Jane Hill. The beading was super subtle, with a really pretty leaf pattern that almost resembled lace.
While I tried on plenty of beautiful dresses, I wanted something that was similar to my everyday style, but extra special.
I said YES to the DRESS. Ha.
The Whole Wedding Weekend!
Ok, in the rest of this post, I’ll take you through the entire gosh-darn-magical experience, from arrival at the venue (the very beautiful Lakewood Estate in Croton-on-Hudson, NY), to the rehearsal dinner, to the big event, to our Sunday wedding brunch.
I won’t leave out any details, partly because I know you all love photos, and partly because I know our family will enjoy looking back on this post from time to time. The Woks of Life is our family album, after all!
If, however, this is of no interest to you and you’re just here on The Woks of Life for the food, by all means exit this post now!
Some of these photos were taken by family–on phones and cameras throughout the weekend.
Others (including the featured image) are professional photos, which were done by Keristin Gaber of Haley Richter Photography. I will include photo credits on the professional photos throughout the post.
One final note before I move on is that in the interest of protecting Justin’s family’s privacy, and also with the knowledge that not everyone is looking for their faces to be in some crazy blog post, you’ll notice that the faces in this post are mostly Woks of Life family members and others who’ve been featured on the blog in the past!
Arriving at the Venue
Because we had some family making long drives from out of town, we were able to arrange with Greta, Lakewood’s owner and venue coordinator extraordinaire, to arrive a day earlier than normal, on Thursday night.
When we were planning the wedding, we wanted a venue that didn’t feel like a wedding venue. We wanted a place that felt like home.
Lakewood fit the bill perfectly, with an expansive 8-bedroom farmhouse to spread out in and display family photos, two small lakes, a honeymoon cottage, and more than enough space to host our rehearsal dinner, wedding day, and farewell brunch all in one place.
Our immediate families (and some aunts, uncles, and cousins) would be staying on site, and after a year of being apart, it really did feel like a family reunion.
Justin and I got there early, and very quickly set to work getting dinner together for everyone when they arrived.
This would be the one dinner we would actually cook during the weekend—everything else would be taken care of by outside caterers!
(Much to the relief of Justin’s dad Jeff, who was sure to emphasize that no, I couldn’t cater my own wedding.)
With dinner in the works, my parents, Kaitlin, and my cousins arrived in the early afternoon. Pretty soon, Kaitlin got to work on arranging flowers for the rehearsal dinner the next day.
The two of us had gone out the morning before to Manhattan’s flower district to splurge on high quality cut flowers.
We picked up so much stuff that the staff up and down the short stretch of 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues asked us which “account” we were with.
We told them that we weren’t professional florists, but that we were picking up flowers for some DIY wedding magic.
At that point they realized—ohhh that’s why these two girls are taking forever…
Kaitlin has always had a bug for flowers and garden magic, so she dove in headfirst to make some pretty darn professional arrangements, involving pretty white ceramic vases and chicken wire.
No white or monotone pastels for me. I wanted our wedding flowers to explode with color!
While we chose a more jewel-tone, rainbow palette for our wedding day (by Maple Field Floral), I LOVED this bright and happy yellow/orange/peach/pink palette.
With some conscientious YouTubing (shoutout to Anthony Maslo, @theboywhocriedflowers and Bia Blooms, @biablooms who were Kaitlin’s main inspiration!) and some help from my mom, aunt, and cousins, the bouquets were spectacular.
The mixture of garden roses, carnations, orchids, mini chrysanthemum, tulips, and anemones was PERFECTION.
I feel so lucky to have gotten not just one, but two sets of wedding flowers!
Making 5 large centerpieces, 2 extra large centerpieces, and a bevy of bud vases of varying sizes was no small feat.
Kaitlin stayed up late the night before and woke up early the next day to finish up the bud vases.
And believe me, we WORKED those flowers all weekend. They decorated the house and cottage, graced the tables during the rehearsal dinner, beautified the tea ceremony, and added pops of color to our farewell brunch table.
That night, we spent another hour or so tying dried lavender into the napkins for the wedding the next day. Because I’m a little extra, and my family is amazing.
Dinner was a quick affair–a casual buffet in the kitchen. I used our carnitas recipe, and we put out tortillas, guac, tomatoes, cilantro lime slaw, cotija cheese, a nice big salad, and bottles of chilled Prosecco.
Everyone spread out on the kitchen island, in the dining room, and in the breakfast area to chow down.
Friday night: The Rehearsal Dinner
On Friday, we had some time to relax, play ping pong in the basement, go on a hike nearby, harvest some of the greens that Justin and I had planted in Lakewood’s garden beds a couple months earlier, enjoy sandwiches from a local deli, and even get in a spot of fishing!
My dad and my cousin Chris are both major fishing enthusiasts, and I was sure to tell them that Lakewood’s ponds had been stocked at some point in the estate’s history. Maybe they’d get lucky and catch a few fish?
Turns out, they got more than lucky. They started pulling fish out of the water left and right!
Throughout the rest of the weekend (after the rehearsal dinner, the morning of the wedding, halfway through the brunch), Chris would sneak off back to the lake to throw a line in!
Someone would realize we hadn’t seen him for an hour, and then he would emerge from the bottom of the hill, fishing rod in hand.
My sister and cousins (also my bridesmaids) also had a chance to present some amazing gifts, which included:
- An on-brand grill spatula engraved with the words, “Best Flippin’ Couple.”
- A “Bride” bendy straw (I love bendy straws!)
- Heart-shaped sunglasses (which we would all put to good use in photos).
- A personalized hanger for my wedding dress.
- A traditional Chinese wedding basket from my mom, which we would use to hold our cards and gifts.
- The most beautiful bound wedding album for us to put printed photos in after the wedding.
That evening, we held our rehearsal dinner in the reception tent, which hadn’t yet been decked out in all its glory.
With everyone’s help (my cousin Stephanie, who works in hospital management and construction, helmed the operation), we set up a buffet and a few of the reception tables, and decorated them with candles and Kaitlin’s flowers.
I’m the kind of person who loves a good value, so being able to use our wedding rentals for more than one day was a big plus in my book!
We had a food truck called Cookery’s DoughNation set up nearby in the driveway, and they began churning out beautiful wood-fired pizzas from their mobile oven.
The favorite of the night was their fresh lemon pie with basil:
My cousins insisted I use the bendy straw for my wine, which felt very silly, but also in a weird way, a gesture that kind of encompassed the bridal shower/bachelorette party we didn’t get to have.
(I’m not at all a bridal shower/bachelorette party kind of person, so this worked for me!)
When everyone arrived for the rehearsal around 5:00, it was actually pouring rain. There was a massive thunderstorm, and we ended up having to hold the rehearsal in the basement of the house.
But it soon cleared, and turned into a beautiful evening, with a lovely sunset.
For dessert, I ordered Justin and my shared favorite dessert: pie!
If you live in New York City or the New York metro area, you have to try Petee’s Pie Company! They actually delivered to Lakewood, which was amazing.
If you live elsewhere, check out their cookbook, Pie for Everyone. They’re the best pies around.
My family is basically a professional catering staff, so when my aunt (my dad’s oldest sister) saw the pies, she set to work slicing them into small pieces and grabbing pie servers from every nook and cranny of the Lakewood kitchen so everyone could try multiple flavors.
We ordered Hudson Valley Apple, Sour Cherry Crumb, Wild Maine Blueberry, Lavish Chocolate Cream, Banana Cream, and Gluten-free Chocolate Chess. All delicious!
The sour cherry crumb was the surprise winner of the night. Not a crumb left.
It was great getting a chance to just hang out as a family, and to catch up with extended family and friends.
When the last of the pizza and pie had been cleared, and everyone just sat around chatting, Kaitlin opted for a not-so-subtle wardrobe change:
Saturday: Wedding Day!
The morning of the big day started bright and early. Bridesmaids began hair and makeup at 6:45 AM!
We worked with Eye for Beauty, and highly recommend them! They focus on natural makeup, and owner/makeup artist Kim was super attentive to all our skin sensitivity issues!
We had a breakfast buffet out of course, in the form of this lavish bagel bar courtesy of Justin’s dad:
Justin didn’t have to worry about any such thing!
He could stuff as many bagels into his face as he wanted without worrying about smudging lipstick.
In fact, all the men just rolled out of bed, ate bagels, and then donned their suits a leisurely 3 hours later.
With everyone ready, our first event of the day would be Chinese Door Games and a combined Chinese Tea Ceremony and Ketubah signing.
I brought photos of my parents’ tea ceremony from over thirty years ago…
…and a special red dress for the occasion.
While it was almost impossible to buy a made-to-measure traditional red qipao over the last year, I did manage to find this pretty red dress with pink peonies on it. Kaitlin dubbed it, “Modern Chinese Bride vibes.”
With some of our family’s heirloom jewelry, I think it worked nicely!
I was also able to wear a jade bangle that once belonged to Justin’s mom Joyce, which was really special. Though I’ve never met her, it was like having her there in spirit.
Justin had a special outfit too (we kept it simple with a dark grey suit he already owned, with a red tie).
Ok, so first: the door games. This is a rather archaic, albeit fun tradition, in which the groom must come to the bride’s home to basically bribe her sisters/cousins/attendants with money to get them to “release” her.
My parents played these kinds of games at their wedding, and we decided to keep the tradition alive for ours.
Back in the cottage, Justin had prepared some red envelopes for my sister and cousins:
He made his way over to the main house, walked up the stairs to the bridal suite, and knocked on the door.
Some serious negotiation started, with my sister and cousins demanding more red envelopes. Kaitlin is a tough negotiator, and she really put the screws to Justin to cough up more than just $10 envelopes!
Pretty soon, the $50 red envelopes came out!
The icing on the cake was when Justin’s sister’s boyfriend Bryce passed Justin something to sweeten the deal: a Papa John’s coupon for a free pizza.
Not saying that that’s what finally tipped the scales, but I was allowed to come out of the room after that!
On to the tea ceremony!
With my cousins dutifully washing cups, filling tea, and organizing gifts, it went off without a hitch.
Both sides of the family participated, and it felt really meaningful to share both Chinese and Jewish traditions together during this time of the day.
More about the Chinese tea ceremony coming soon!
Chinese Tea Ceremony etiquette can be complicated and confusing, particularly if you’re a couple generations removed from the relatives who practiced this custom in its most traditional form, like we are.
We will publish a post soon about how to pull off a traditional Chinese wedding tea ceremony like this one!
Update: read the Tea Ceremony post here!
Along with the tea ceremony, we signed our Ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract.
Our officiant, Andy (who is also a close family friend on Justin’s side), talked about passing on traditions from generation to generation, which felt fitting for this Woks of Life family.
The cool thing about our Ketubah is that the design is actually an archival marriage certificate from Shanghai, China (where my mom is from!).
During World War II, a couple fled from Europe to Shanghai, where they married in a tea room on Chusan Road.
The Chinese-influenced design came from the archives of The Jewish Museum in New York City.
We loved that there were so many cool intersections of story and place in one document.
All in all, it was one of our favorite parts of the day!
Ok, now it was time for portraits/photos…which means, OUTFIT CHANGE. Everyone transitioned into their snazzy wedding outfits.
Before we knew it, it was 3:30, and time for the ceremony to start. The rain from the night before was long behind us and we had a beautiful sunny day with blue skies.
Here are some snapshots!
One of the more special parts of the day was being able to safely have older aunts, uncles, and grandparents in attendance! We hadn’t seen our grandma in person since February 2020 at this point!
We thought it was fitting for both my parents, Judy and Bill, to walk me down the aisle, as is the Jewish tradition. Parenting me was definitely a two-person job!
As our officiant, Andy had worked for months leading up to the wedding to make sure everything about the ceremony was perfect.
We also had one of our best friends, Zoe (from such posts as Arizona & Big Bend) give a speech. She was there for our early days when we were just a trio of friends working in Manhattan and taking camping trips.
Justin and I made it through our personally written vows (with minimal tears on my end!), and just like that, we were married! It was the perfect moment after the uncertainty of the past year.
After the ceremony, it was on to cocktail hour! Everyone grabbed a cold drink (while we avoided rain, we were “blessed” with 90° weather).
And I know you all are probably wondering what was on the menu for the night.
We wanted a mix of classic, irresistible cocktail hour snacks like mac and cheese cups (made fancy with phyllo cups and a touch of truffle!), mini cuban sandwiches, crab cakes, and coconut shrimp.
But we also wanted a few items that were a little bit more special and refined, like stuffed figs, fried zucchini blossoms, and a fusion star of the night, a pastrami bao sandwich–a mashup of our two backgrounds!
We worked with Some Things Fishy Catering, and I was deeply glad that I’d been prevented from catering my own wedding.
My only regret was that I didn’t have room to eat more!
Here are the menus:
While everyone munched on hors d’oeuvres, we made the rounds taking some photos.
You may recognize my great grandmother (my dad’s grandmother). She’s 102 years old, and her haam choy recipe is unrivaled!
It was a bit of a whirlwind after that. Everyone enjoyed catching up after lost time.
Luckily, Justin and I had a sweetheart table where we could have a breather, and grab a few bites of the food that we had so carefully picked out!
Soon enough, everyone was ready to hit the dance floor. (Note that by this time the bridesmaids had already changed into flip flops and sandals.)
After some dancing, it was time for speeches! My dad’s speech wasn’t without a tear—though he would probably like to deny it! Both dads’ speeches were a little emotional!
Of course, there was the father-daughter dance. We’re not the best dancers but we haven’t got two left feet!
And Justin shared a sweet dance with his godmother, Teri.
With the fathers’ speeches complete, it was time for the “best (wo)man” and maid of honor to take the floor!
Justin’s sister Staci dredged up some embarrassing childhood memories of Justin’s “rat tail” hair style…
…And Kaitlin opted out of a classic, heartfelt wedding speech. The result was more of a stand-up routine!
Everyone from our family and friends to the DJ to the catering staff were cracking up at her recounting of being a classic third wheel to me and Justin over the years, and witnessing the early days of our relationship!
My grandma didn’t fully understand the whole speech, but she could tell by how much everyone was laughing that it was a good one!
Not long after that, we cut our cake. It was a deliciously simple and rustic lemon cake with raspberry jam from Just Desserts by Jess. The flowers on the cake were done by our florist, Maple Field Floral.
It was incredibly moist (definitely the best wedding cake I’ve ever had), and a perfect sweet and refreshing combination for the hot summer weather.
After a few bites of cake, Justin and I made the rounds for more photos with family!
Naturally, couldn’t resist this photo op with the bridesmaid crew!
We couldn’t have pulled off this wedding without the help of our families throughout the weekend. From my parents and Justin’s father, Jeff, to our sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins, everyone pitched in to make it a success.
Our officiant, Andy, couldn’t have done a better job. He made heartfelt observations, had endless Zoom calls with us to plan and get to know us as a couple, and perfectly articulated our feelings (and our families’ feelings) about getting married.
All in all, we couldn’t have had a better time! When it got dark out, everyone enjoyed the cooler evening weather, chatting around the fire pit and listening to music.
Sunday: The Farewell Brunch
Everyone clambered out of bed on Sunday, surprisingly not hungover (I think multiple folks can thank a late-night refrigerator raid of leftover pizza from the rehearsal dinner for that).
It was time to get ready for brunch!
Greta, the owner of Lakewood Estate and talker-off-ledges throughout the entire wedding planning process, was our leader for brunch.
She put together a delicious spread of pastries, silver dollar pancakes, a vegetable frittata, baked french toast, fruit, yogurt, and granola.
Kaitlin had her last opportunity to moonlight as my wedding florist, and we all helped pull together a simple but beautiful tablescape for an outdoor brunch right where we had held the ceremony the day before.
It was another instance when I got the best of both worlds, round tables for the reception and rehearsal dinner, and festive long rectangular tables for the brunch.
It was super casual, and everyone was in good spirits after the fun of the day before.
My cousin Jennifer’s birthday was in a couple of days, and we surprised her with a birthday cake and candles!
Kaitlin had accidentally shared the detailed itinerary with her a few days before, but by some miracle, she never picked up on the line items that called out her surprise cake!
We loved being able to celebrate family in multiple ways over the course of the weekend.
We ended the weekend feeling extremely happy and grateful for our good health and good fortune!