Category Archives: events

Taking measure

Sometimes, I like to take on a project that is at the bleeding edge of my current skills, take my time, and just assess the current envelope (for to stretch it, of course). I’ve done this with big cooking and costuming projects, but this is the first time I’ve done it with a scribal project.

Recently, I was honored with the assignment of Duke Albert von Dreckenveldt’s Doe and Mountain, the Outlands’ award for long service in arts and sciences. His Grace is a dear friend and an artisan I’ve admired for years (and his Laurel is a couple of months younger than I am) so “daunted” was a little bit of an understatement.

As he is an armorer, if I were better at figure work, I’d have worked from a late-period illumination or print illustrating very fine armor design. I didn’t find an inspiration piece I was happy with, but I did find the Almugavar Hours, a scribe’s dream of an early 16th-century Spanish devotional. I decided that the best way I could honor Al’s art was with the very best art I could bring, so I did. This was a whole lot of fun to work on, and a delight to see presented.

Arches Cold Press Watercolor, Deckled Edge, 22×30
Higgins calligraphy ink
Windsor & Newton (Cotman line) paints
Liquid Leaf
Pigma Micron artists’ pens

Finished scroll

Finished scroll

His Grace Albert receiving his Doe and Mountain from HRM Anna, with many thanks to Lady Adelaisa Bernois for the court photography!

His Grace Albert receiving his Doe and Mountain from HRM Anna, with many thanks to Lady Adelaisa Bernois for the court photography!


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I have just had the best couple of weeks! This past weekend was Outlands Heralds and Scribes, and the weekend before that was the new Kingdom A&S Collegium. I’ve been playing at a pretty low level since Fall Coronation, and although I’ve been recovered from the post-elevation fatigue for a while now, I haven’t been caught afire by any new projects yet. These couple of weekends have been just what I needed – coming back to what drew me into the SCA in the first place, the geekery and discovery, learning and teaching and sharing.

I actually only took three classes at KA&S, but they were really good classes. An all-morning reprise of the Battlemoor lampworking class and open torch time, timed just right to refresh everything I learned at Battlemoor and was starting to get anxious about losing.

2015-04-14 08.56.21

After lunch I took Mistress Eibhlin’s cheesemaking class, which was intended to be practical and turned out to be incredibly informative and useful on a theoretical level because the curd didn’t cooperate, and then Mistress Ursula’s arboriculture and medieval gardening class, which was fascinating on a theoretical level but also left me with a lot to think about practically as we lay the groundwork for moving to a new place.

But the best part of the event, as ever, was the people. The long drive and opportunity to really catch up and gossip and talk deep SCA philosophy with HE Leofsige, and a fantastic dinner with a bunch of Dragonsspine and Aarquelle people.

Then turning around the next weekend and heading up to north Denver for Heralds & Scribes. Classes on the history of heraldic tabards, on streamlining workflow for combat scribes, on applied gold leaf, and on faux non-Roman-alphabet hands (where my own Laurel scroll, which is done in a faux proto-Cyrillic that HE Avram developed specifically for that project, was featured in the examples). Every class was exciting, inspiring, and immediately practical. But the highlight of the event was the scribal display. I would have loved to have just blown off a couple of classes and spent hours just studying those scrolls – the extraordinary masterworks and the pieces of history. Many, many premier scrolls. Scrolls in every imaginable size, style, period, material, language. Just amazing. I’m absolutely humbled; I realize how far I have to go to be doing really masterful work, but I also have a better idea of how to get closer to it. And two current assignments that I am excited to start on. So much fun.

And because it just gets better, on Sunday, we went and ran a bunch of errands all over the city before heading home. At Black & Read, our favorite used bookstore, I found a lovely little calligraphy book, an annotated excerpt of Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta. At Colorado Fabric, I found wool for Juan’s Norse garb, a beautiful diamonds-within-stripes faux-silk satin for a new doublet and paned slops set, a half-yard of rich dark indigo linen (in the $2/lb discount bin! Seventy-eight cents!) for a new veil or light shawl, and a gold-stamped silk crepe that will become the accent fabric in a late-period project for me. Unfortunately, the big Korean grocery was out of goose, so I couldn’t pick one up to start recipe testing on Corazon.

And now I have a few weeks of breathing room before Coronation, no immediate deadlines except those two scrolls, and lots of fabric and wood and glass and food and ideas to play with.

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Corazon III: Post-assessment

I started drafting this post a week after the event, but then Kingdom A&S loomed large, and then, and then – suddenly it’s been two months and I still haven’t sat down to finish it.

I took part of a slow boring afternoon to rectify that. I’ve got the menu, a couple of recipes, and some other information up in their own section; this post is reflective.

This is the most ambitious feast I’ve done, by far. Over lunch on Sunday after closing out the site cleanup, my Laurel asked me, “Was it too ambitious?” I had to think about that for a minute, and then replied, “It was right on the edge.”

Right on the edge. It’s where I live. I feel odd – guilty, almost – if I’m not pushing myself to the limits of my capacity, growing my capacity, and pushing some more. There’s no question, I could not have pulled off this feast, this time last year. I’m proud of that, and yet it makes me anxious too. The reward for success is an ever-shifting goalpost.

What worked:

  • Kitchen crew! I had a solid crew, recruited in advance, and created a private Facebook group to share information and coordinate with them in advance. Kitchen ran incredibly smoothly all day and things that had to be started in advance finished at the correct times to come together for feast. And having several of the kitchen crew staying AT MY HOUSE could have been a wreck but actually worked out extremely well – we got good work done on Thursday and Friday, and had a lovely little after-revel (of the “fall about the living room and drink till our feet quit hurting” variety) on Saturday.
  • Pre-cooking/freezing EVERYTHING lunch-related. Lunch was “heat this, mix these three bags, set it out.” The only bobble was that the vent fans drew heat away from the ovens and caused their effective temperature to drop by over 50 degrees, which slowed down the rate of rotating stuff through. Once we turned off the fans, everything was fine. VERY GLAD we found that out at lunchtime and not in the leadup toward feast.
  • Hall Steward: Having someone who’s entire job is announcing dishes as they come out, rather than trying to brief servers and have them remember.
  • Pre-cooking!
  • It was awesome to have our own servingware and not have to worry about borrowing Dragonsspine’s. We need more. Working on an inventory, a “fill in the gaps wishlist”, and will be requesting funding for totes.

What didn’t work:

  • Prior to this year, we’ve always sold out and had people who still wanted feast and so were willing to serve. Since we didn’t sell out, we didn’t have that ready pool of serving volunteers. Next time: smaller reservation limit, to be raised closer to the event if we want to or kept sold out. Also, more advertising of need for servers in advance.
  • Also, because I cooked for 96 and we didn’t serve 96, lots of leftovers. I save a lot of money by shopping sales far in advance, but I could have saved MORE money by buying 2/3 to 3/4 of the food in advance and making a late decision about whether or not to buy the rest at full price just in advance. (For example, buying only 8 turkeys at .89/lb in November and making a late decision about whether I really needed the other 4 at $1.49/lb. I actually needed one or two, MAYBE.)
  • Cleanup crew: We were lucky on volunteers, especially after Garick started organizing people, but that was luck, not planning. Madhavi made an interesting suggestion of something they do in Trimaris: Hire a group (household, guild, or shire) to come in and JUST do cleanup. I will definitely be pitching this in the future.
  • I was pretty comfortable delegating longer cooking and prep tasks to kitchen crew (both pre-arranged and on-the-spot volunteers), but closer to the end, I ended up at the stove, doing the things that needed done quickly, instead of supervising the whole operation. Recruit a saucier – someone who comes in half an hour before feast is served and just runs the stove during service.
  • Could have done even more pre-cooking! I ran out of room in my own freezer (and fridge, and coolers…) but could certainly have been more organized about transferring finished pre-cooking to other people’sfreezers. And there were certain dishes that I wanted to cook fresh but would have been fine frozen in advance. FOUR DOZEN CREPES.

It’s strange to realize – after three consecutive years of “leveling up” in the complexity and scale of feasts, the next couple of cooking gigs I have lined up are far less ambitious – things I feel very confident about pulling off almost effortlessly. Maybe that’s a better approach – alternating challenging projects with ones that give me a little room to get comfortable in my own skillset and focus on details and precision rather than careening along the edge of the possible.

Some great pictures that my Laurel took and gave me permission to share:

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Corazon III: Sea change

I’ve spent the last month and a half, more or less, trying to chase down any Spanish manuscript between 1580 and 1650 in translation, to no avail. I came across a couple of references to translations of Diego Granada (Libro del Arte de Cozina, 1599) by Mistress Brighid ni Chiarain, the translator of De Nola; but they appear to be individual recipes.

On Friday, during another idle Google session (my job involves about four hours per week of work that looks like: click – cut and paste – click – wait 90 seconds – repeat; I get a lot of low-level SCA research done while working on that task) I pulled up the Google Books electronic facsimile of Francisco Martínez Montiño’s Arte de Cozina, Pasteleria, Bizcocheria y Conserveria (1611).

And discovered that I could read it.

Well. “Read” is a relatively loose term. I took three years of high school Spanish, twenty years ago, and evidently have retained the fundamentals of grammar. I have studied Spanish, Mexican, and Central American cooking for a very long time, and have quite a lot of functional Spanish culinary vocabulary. And I have handled enough 15th-17th century Spanish maps and documents (reproductions, of course!) that my brain seems to subliminally make the s/f and u/v substitutions where appropriate on words I recognize, even if the meaning doesn’t pop into my head at a conscious level. So I could get the gist of a passage, on a cold read, to about 40% – comprehending some entire sentences, losing others, picking up at least a few key concept words in most. Tables of contents of recipes, my comprehension was closer to 80-90%.

So I transcribed a couple of pages and ran them through Google Translate that evening. The machine translation leaves a lot to be desired, but it provides enough information to tell me what is and isn’t useful. And a lot of it’s useful. There’s extensive narrative about kitchen and service practices, there are New World foods, there are seasonal recipes, there is just a wealth of new and exciting material.

I’ve stepped off the cliff. Over the weekend I finished 63 pages (of 697) of transcription. My plan is to transcribe the whole thing, make a rough machine translation, and select sections I want to work with for deeper translation for this feast and Kingdom A&S 2014.  That’s all I’ll have time for if I want to be in recipe testing by Thanksgiving, which is my usual goal for this feast. The rest, I’ll poke at as I have time. I’ll add a section for the polished translation sections as they come. I’ll also be blogging about the process.


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Battlemoor II & Outlands 25th Year: and time shifts

Where do you start?

There’s an old Leslie Fish song called “Valhalla.” It’s perhaps over-sentimental and melodramatic, but it captures the deep subjective experience of the SCA – of Living the Dream. It talks about how a weekend camping event can put you thisclose to a transformative headspace, but a longer, larger war can really take you there.

I went back to work on Tuesday morning, to a job where my co-workers and patrons know what I do on weekends and how much I’ve been looking forward to this particular event, and, meaning well, they all ask how it was, and I don’t even have the words.

I’m still re-learning how to camp, and learning for the first time really how to field cook. I had a very ambitious menu planned, and for the most part, I pulled it off – a little re-shuffling at times, a little streamlining at times, and a little creative disbursement of leftovers, but by far and large, the menu came off as advertised. I learned a great deal and have pages of notes of what to do better next time, but I’m not sure when “next time” will be; I’m buying into the meal plan at both Fall Crown (the last camping event of the year) and Known World Cooks and Bards (the first camping event of next year).

I sat and watched an entire tournament from start to finish, and stood on the edges of a woods battle, watching the fighters move in and out of the trees in clusters and then boil out all at once to fight furiously for the flag.

I spent a lot of time just talking to friends, an endless succession of small conversations, catching a breath in the shade or sharing a drink or a meal or walking.

I learned to work gate.

My cell phone’s battery died before noon on Friday and I spent the rest of the event on pre-clockwork time, waking with the sun and resting in the heat of the day. At night, I partied until I could barely stand and danced for hours and then slept under the stars.

I stood in a circle with some of my dearest friends and some of my newest friends and swore my oath of honor to my Laurel, ending one long and winding journey and beginning another.

It was one of those nearly perfect events. Even the heat and dust and fatigue just melted into the background, becoming part of the embodied experience of doing a different thing, of departing the clean conveniences of modern life altogether, heightening the pure emotional flavor of the thing. It was just what I needed; it was everything I needed.

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Outlands Kingdom A&S 2011: Full Circle

After an incredibly hectic month and more, I’m finally getting caught up on some overdue posting. I’m only just now writing about Kingdom A&S in the Barony of Fontaine dans Sable on April 9th.

It’s hard to articulate just how significant this event was to me. I never competed in A&S in Meridies; I was the perpetual newbie, never feeling that my work was up to competetive standards, not sure how to go about getting from here to there, too shy to ask for help, ever more wound up over it and just unable to jump over my own shadow. I’ve joked that it became a 40-Year-Old Virgin kind of thing. So when I started thinking about coming back, I promised myself an unencumbered new beginning in this. Among other things.

And so I came back. And my first event back, my first event in this kingdom, was Kingdom A&S 2010 in Caer Galen. It was an incredible event – a high-intensity madhouse in too small a venue, incredible entries, glorious clothes, intense conversation, everbody constantly elbow-to-elbow. I was dazzled and astonished and inspired, and for the first time in my SCA life, I thought, I can do this. I’m in the same league with this.

The year flew by; I attended Battlemoor I and helped a bunch of newbies find their way; I went back to Trimaris to assist at Fall Coronation/25th Year; I helped found a shire, and that took almost all of my time and energy for several months; and during all of that, I was starting from scratch myself, building up garb and gear for myself and my family from nothing. I came up for air in mid-January and realized that Kingdom A&S was 11 weeks away, and I dove headfirst into my project, a handwoven, natural-dyed, tablet-woven belt. (I always seem to be careening from one thing to another, just-in-time style…) I secured a sponsor, got my research written up, worked through the project, and made several friends along the way, and, finally, I met with one slight aquaintance and five total strangers to roadtrip to a barony on the other end of the kingdom. Because this is the SCA, several of these people had become dear friends by the time we made it back to Walsenburg, a few hours short of two days later..

This event was slower, sprawlier, more comfortable than last year in Boulder. I got on site quite early (because I stayed with the trollcrat) and set up my display and settled in and started getting visitors immediately. I got a LOT of visitors. I talked about my research and my persona and my vision of Baltic studies and my passion for underrepresented cultures in the SCA endlessly, it seemed; it all blurred together. I broke away now and then, to do the circuit of other entries, to work the competition/donation luncheon (reprising the Feast of Fools cumin broth and earning a respectable chunk of money for the kingdom travel fund) and a couple of times just to clear my head. Finally the call to break down went out and I changed out of my old, now-ragged, first-attempt belt and into the lovely new competition belt I’d just pulled off of my table.

I was wearing it for court, when they announced I’d taken the Costume Accessories category and placed second in the Textile Arts division, and a little while later, when I was called up to receive my Award of Arms.

There are some truly awful pictures on Facebook. My hair (which had just been cut in layers; it’s cute as hell in a professional style, but fell out of braids terribly) is in disarray, I’m crying and my face is red and splotchy, and the pattern of the cloak I’m playing is terrifically busy. I treasure those pictures. I never did get any pictures of my own; I did not know that my camera charger had shorted out, so I pulled a battery off the charger and loaded it back into the camera still depleted, and didn’t know it until I got to the event.

I have to make this clear: I loved Meridies. I still do. I was very happy there; and those things about it that were dissatisfying, I entirely brought upon myself with my timidness and my anxiousness – and, to be fair, life circumstances that extremely limited my ability to be involved. There’s absolutely no one in Glaedenfeld or Meridies in general who ever gave me anything but the warmest welcome, and I have many dear friends there still, and will always think of it as my first home.

But I played there for years, and never left the fringes, and sometimes I felt like I never would. The long, unwanted break from the SCA gave me a lot of time to think about what I wanted, and the fresh start in a new kingdom gave me the chance to go after it. The Outlands, this year here, has been a revelation and a transformation. I feel that I have finally, truly, begun.

(View online version of paper here.)

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Feast of Fools 2011: The Edge of the Ocean

Yesterday was my first cooking gig in the Outlands! I cooked the first course of the Barony of Dragonsspine’s Feast of Fools event, a themed feast conceived and executed by the very talented Lady Apollonia de Avena. There was a lot of secrecy around this feast, which is why I didn’t post my recipes in advance, but now it’s done and I can talk about it!

It was a really unusual format in two ways:

First, it was an all-day feast, not a dayboard but a real served feast, with the courses going out at 11am, 12:30, 2pm, and 4pm, with fighting, performing arts, games and other activities between and during each course.

And second, it was all subtleties. The entire feast. Every course was served as a full-on subtlety. The feast was a visual, sensual prop to a quest tale, the narrative of which threaded through the entire event. It was an ambitious, outrageous, wonderful concept.

I had the first course, and I had complete creative control within the theme: the beginning of our Valiant Hero’s quest with a voyage over the ocean and landing on a distant shore. Apollonia asked for three soups, of which one should be seafood and another vegetarian, and for breads shaped to reflect the ocean theme and a soft cheese crab spread for the breads. Beyond that, I was on free to play.

For the soups, I chose two period and one reconstructed recipe, originals and redactions below.  I made a basic soft cheese with fresh herbs and faux crab; and a dozen sculpted fish loaves and about a gazillion accompanying scallop-shaped dinner rolls, using the Double Master recipe from Artisan Bread in Fifteen Minutes A Day. (“Impress your friends by memorizing this simple recipe and pulling it out of thin air! 6 (cups of warm water) – 3 (Tbsp. yeast) – 3 (Tbsp. salt) – 13 (cups flour).”)  I was just absolutely delighted with how the breads came out, and once I got the hang of it, it was not significantly more labor-intensive than making regular loaves. Bread sculpting is a skill I plan to develop and deploy at every opportunity in the future.

Cumin Broth (15c. English spiced meat broth), from Liber Cure Cocorum)

If you will make a cumin broth,
Veal and mutton and pork you hew
In small gobbets; put them in [a] pot
With minced onions, quite well I know,
And powder of Pepper you cast thereto;
Color it with saffron ere you do more,
And strain a mixture of brown crust also
To thicken this broth that is so meek.

For 1/2 gallon:
5 lbs. mixed bones and bony meat of several different kinds
(leftover bones from crown roasts or seven-bone roasts work well, as do soup bones, bone-in porkchops, etc. Use at least two, preferable three or more meats. I used beef, lamb, and pork in the recipe testing.)
1 large onion
3 Tbsp coarse black pepper
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp azafran/Mexican saffron/safflower

In a crock pot 12-18 hours or a large stock pot 6-8 hours, cook down bones, adding more water as needed to keep them just covered.

Strain liquid off and return 1/2 inch to the bottom of the stock pot. Recover any chunks of meat from the bones and chop very fine; add to pot along with onion chopped very fine and spices. Simmer at very high heat until all of the liquid is taken up. Return remaining broth to pot and cook down to desired consistency and volume. Turn off and cover to hold temp until serving.

Patine Zomore (4-5c. fish stew, from Apicius)

The zomore fish dish is made as follows [2] take raw ganonas [3] and other [fish] whichever you like, place them in a sauce pan, adding oil, broth, reduced wine, a bunch [4] of leeks and [green] coriander; while this cooks, crush pepper, lovage and a bunch of origany which crush by itself and dilute with the juice [5] of the fish. Now dissolve [break and beat egg yolks for a liaison] prepare and taste the dish, binding [the sauce with the yolks] sprinkle with pepper and serve.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 leek, ends trimmed (use whites and softer greens)
1 bundle cilantro
1 Tbsp oregano
1 tsp. summer savory
1 tsp. fennel seed
1 pinch saffron
1 c. white wine
1 28-oz. can baby clams
1 8-oz. can lump crab
1 can octopus
1 can faux abalone
1 Tbsp. Thai fish sauce
1 Tbsp. sea salt
2 eggs yolks

Get olive oil very hot in the bottom of a stock pot and saute all vegetables and all spices except saffron together until the leeks are soft and have taken up the oil. Deglaze the pan with wine, then slowly add water to make 1/2 gallon of volume. Add all the seafood and bring to a simmer, holding for 20-30 minutes to reduce.

In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks well. Add hot stock very slowly, a spoonfull at a time, beating vigorously, until yolk is well diluted; then add mixture back into the stew and stir well, Continue stirring for 5-10 minutes, until broth thickens. Bring to a full rolling boil, crush saffron and add, then add fish sauce and salt to taste. Remove from heat and cover to hold at temperature until serving.

Duszony Por z Pasternak i Gier (reconstructed, from Food and Drink in Medieval Poland)

4 pounds leek greens (use the leafy part that is normally discarded)
3 pounds small parsnips, trimmed, pared, and sliced on a slant to resemble thick potato chips
2 cups sliced leek, white part only
2 cups white cabbage, shredded as for sauerkraut
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
4 cloves Rocambole garlic, sliced in half lengthwise [Ed. Note: see glossary]
6 tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 cup coarsely chopped alexanders (leaves and small stems only)

Boil the leek greens in 1 gallon of water until soft and until the stock is reduced by one-fourth (about 1 hour). Strain and reserve the liquid, discarding the leek greens. Put the stock in a stewing pot with the parsnips, sliced leeks, cabbage, onion and garlic. Cover and stew 45 minutes, or until the parsnips are tender, then add the honey, saffron, cinnamon, salt, and vinegar. Stew 15 minutes, then add the alexanders. Let the alexanders cook for about 5 minutes, then serve immediately over pieces of stale manchet bread or cheese dumplings.

For 1/2 gallon:

2 large leek,s sliced and greens separated from whites
2 lb. parsnips, trimmed and diced
1/2 large head of white cabbage, shredded very fine
1 Tbsp. sea salt
1 large onion, diced very fine.
1 bundle kale, chopped
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cumin
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey

In a large stock pot, add leek greens and salt to about 1/2 gallon boiling water and boil vigorously for 15 minutes. Remove leek greens and add in parsnips, cabbage, onion, and garlic. Reduce to a simmer and leave for 45 minutes.

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