Our Wedding Day

(Photo by Todd Sumlin)

I saw Mike’s car turning onto Kings Street as I blew past in my little red Nissan. I hoped he hadn’t caught a glimpse of me — I wanted to see his face when he had a real “first look.” I jumped out of my car at Mama Ricotta’s, an iconic and well-loved Italian restaurant in Charlotte. The best photographer in the universe (Charlotte Observer photojournalist and a great family friend Todd Sumlin) met me with a big hug and an even bigger camera. I told him Mike was just about to pull in and then, sure enough, his black car pulled into the parking lot. I hid (and did considerable hair-floofing, dress smoothing, and smile-adjusting) until Mike got out of the car, whereupon he turned and there it was — the moment I’d imagined a million times: our first sight of each other, complete with him (absolutely killing it in his blue suit) walking quickly over to me with a broad smile, saying, “Julie, you look beautiful.”

The first look (Photo by Todd Sumlin)

Our wedding was picture perfect for me, from proposal to the last goodnight. One of my favorite details was the beautiful custom invitation that illustrator Lana Frankel created. I have to brag on Lana for a bit, because this girl worked tirelessly to make sure these were perfect: she included our special fountain, hand addressed our envelopes, and even lined them with metallic art deco inspired paper (to match my vintage ring)! She went above and beyond — and that’s what I love about working with a small, passion-driven business like hers. We were so tickled with the invitations and they’re now one of our most special wedding mementos.

Another perfect detail was our ceremony. I wanted to retain a few wedding traditions that were meaningful to us and ditch the many that weren’t. Mike and I opted for a small exchange of vows at the restaurant itself followed by a big feast — the food was a very important detail for me, of course! No aisle, no long ceremony, no separate dancing reception. I love those things at others’ weddings, but for us, it really fit to do a big family dinner instead. That’s more who we are.

Mama Ricotta’s seated us in the back of the restaurant with a heavy red/gold metallic curtain drawn behind us. My mom worked magic with $20 worth of hot pink baby roses I’d picked up at Trader Joe’s the day before, making it look like we’d actually planned some d├ęcor. After fretting for a week or so about who would officiate our ceremony (we wanted someone special to us who knew a bit about us personally), Mike and I convinced my dad to get ordained and do the job! It was the most wonderful twist I could’ve imagined: I’ll never forget that my dad not only “gave me away,” but actually led us through our vows on my wedding day.

After our vows — which we giggled and sniffled our way through — the servers brought us tray after tray overflowing with amazing food (some of which is pictured in our wedding album, below). Here’s the menu we enjoyed surrounded by our close family:

My lovely new in-laws (who have really felt like family for years) jokingly asked whether we’d also paid for the servers to roll us all out with handtrucks after the meal. Despite having just eaten a huge amount of food, Mike and I happily cut the cake: a huge sheet cake from Sam’s Club with fluffy whipped icing. Perhaps that doesn’t sound too fancy, but to me, there’s nothing more decadent than a ton of fluffy icing that I didn’t mix up myself! I had a hard decision to make, though, as I tried to determine which piece had the maximum amount of icing.

Mike helps me decide which piece of cake I want. Pretty sure this is important practice for being my husband. (Photo by Todd Sumlin)

At the end of the night, the marriage license was signed and hugs and kisses given all around. Mike and I found ourselves buckled into his car, husband and wife. I read him the cards we’d received from our family as he drove us through the streets of Charlotte. Three days later, we still turn to each other every now and then and laugh, realizing again how surreal it is that we’re married. I don’t know how long it’ll take for that to wear off, but I’m in no hurry. It has been a truly lovely union so far.

I thought I’d share a few photos from our wedding album with you. Thank you so much, again, to our wonderful photographer and friend, Todd Sumlin, for taking these photos. If you’re in Charlotte and need a photographer, I can’t recommend him enough! (You can click the “full screen” button to make the slideshow larger.)

layers_of_eli's weddingphotosubset album on Photobucket

Just like that, on August 4, 2013, all my dreams came true. Thank you all for your love, congratulations, and support!

* * *

Disclosure: Lana and Todd both generously gifted portions or the entirety of their services to me for my wedding; however, I value my readers such that all opinions expressed on Willow Bird are always my own. I share these lovely folks and their businesses with you because they are absolute gems and I know you’ll appreciate the quality of their work as much as I do.

Quick Reminder: Google Reader is Shutting Down

Friends, this is just a quick reminder that Google Reader is shutting down tomorrow. If you currently follow blogs on Google Reader, you can check out other readers like feedly and bloglovin’, both of which allow you to import all your Google Reader subscriptions with just a click or two. That way you won’t miss out on any dessert!

P.S. Byrd says to tell you that if you snooze, you lose. And she eats your share of the cupcakes.

Willow Bird Baking’s Top 11 Recipes of 2011

It was only a couple of hours ago that I realized the big ball drops tonight. Mike and I have no plans besides watching more Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I haven’t thought of a single resolution yet. You could say I’m unprepared.

But actually, I am ready. I may not have all the trappings quite prepared, but I’m more than ready to send 2011 off with a kiss and a wave. There were lovely parts of this year — my time with my students, my trip to San Francisco, and most of all, my reunion with Mike. But there were also many challenges. I’m thankful for where I am, but so ready to charge forward in 2012 and live a life I believe in. How about you? What are your resolutions, goals, or plans?

To conclude a wonderful year on Willow Bird Baking — a year in which I have so appreciated your every visit and every comment to these pages — here are the top 11 recipes from ’11. Thanks for a fantastic year, y’all!

11. Strawberry Cheesecake Stuffed Amaretto Cake Pops (on Pretzel Sticks!)
10. One-Skillet Gooey Pumpkin Cookie Cake
9. Birthday Cake Cheesecake
8. Deep Fried Cake Batter Cookie Dough

7. (Freshly Picked!) Strawberry Cream Pie
6. Cake Batter Cookie Dough Truffles
5. Salted Caramel Chocolate Trifle
4. Easy Sopapilla Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

3. Pumpkin Spice Pull-Apart Bread with Butter Rum Glaze
2. Red Velvet Cheesecake

And the top Willow Bird Baking recipe of 2011 is . . .

1. Three Safe-to-Eat Cookie Doughs: Chocolate Chip, Sugar, and Cake Batter!

Happy New Year!

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Make-Ahead Christmas Morning Breakfast Recipes from Willow Bird Baking

You probably would’ve guessed dessert, but breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I’ve been scheming for a month to bring you this collection of recipes. They’re festive, delicious dishes that are perfect for the most special breakfast of the year: Christmas morning!

Most of these dishes have make-ahead instructions tucked right into the recipe so that you can spend time with your family Christmas morning. There’s also a section of recipes at the end that aren’t make-ahead, but are worth considering anyway because they’re so tasty. I hope you choose one or more of these treats for your holiday table.

1. Sassy Sausage & Hash Brown Breakfast Bake
2. Gingerbread Coffee Cake with Cranberry Pecan Streusel
3. Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate
4. Bright Pepper Jelly on Buttered Toast

5. Blueberry Cream Cheese Almond Braid

6. Raspberry Almond Braid
7. Cinnamon Sparkled Pastry Stix with Egg Nog Glaze
8. Buttermilk Cranberry Scones
9. Pumpkin Pecan Streusel Breakfast Braid

10. Winter Breakfast Chili Over Eggs in Sourdough Bowls

The following recipes aren’t make-ahead, but they are fantastic:

11. Blueberry Stuffed French Toast Bowls (you could prepare the filling in advance)
12. Banana Nut Bread Waffles
13. Carrot Cake Waffles
14. Eggs in a French Toast Basket

15. Pecan Maple Bacon Pancakes

Merry Christmas!

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Thanks a Million

Willow Bird Baking just hit 1,000,000 all-time views. Typing something to you just didn’t feel like enough. Instead, I got out my sharpie-of-a-regrettable-color and wrote you a letter.

…A letter that you kind of have to be sideways to read. Okay, so I didn’t think through all the details. What can I say — I was filled with emotion!

Basically: Each and every comment, each and every visit, each and every kitchen triumph you’ve shared with me and with your families — each one has meant so much to me. Thank you so, so much.

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