Tag Archives: cooking

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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Theory of Weird Food

Just over two weeks out from Corazon, the doing of stuff is consuming my life and the documenting of stuff is, once again, falling behind. Inspired by a conversation on Facebook, I thought it would be fun to repost this material, originally written as part of a class handout in 2013. I promise at least one more process post between now and Corazon, and a really thorough post-assessment, with pictures! – a week or so after the event.

~~~

I have come to the conclusion that what people SAY they want about “weird” period food, and what they actually want, are two different things. I’ve seen people who self-describe as very experimental eaters balk at the most astonishingly simple things, and I’ve seen “nobody will eat that” dishes absolutely demolished, with a collective cry from the populace for seconds and recipes. In trying to figure out how to more successfully walk the line between interesting and accessible, I’ve developed the theory that people parse “weird” on three axes:

  • Exotic ingredients

  • Complex flavor profiles

  • Unfamiliar or elaborate presentation

How well a dish is received is all about how we mix and match these three qualities for a particular audience.

0 of 3 – Very accessible. Runs the risk of being boring – but doesn’t have to be! Good for the keynote side dish (starch or vegetable) in a course,  or potluck or buffet dish for an audience of known conservative eaters.

Examples:

  • Meat or fruit pies
  • Macrows
  • Modernly familiar sausage
  • Simple vegetable and meat soups (i.e. potaje de fideos (chicken noodle soup) from de Nola)

1 of 3 – Accessible. Good for the main dish in a course, a potluck dish, or a novice A&S entry.

Examples:

  • Period (cake-like) gingerbread
  • Simply roasted beef, chicken, or pork accompanied by fussy period sauce
  • Period sausages
  • Salads with fresh flowers

2 of 3 – Interesting. Good for complementary dishes in a course, a potluck dish for an audience of known adventurous eaters, a setting where people will be eating small portions of enough different dishes to pick and choose, or a more advanced A&S entry or one of several dishes in a survey-style A&S entry.

Examples:

  • Simply roasted treatments of exotic meat or fowl accompanied by fussy period sauce
  • Simpler tharids (Middle Eastern savory bread puddings)
  • Most seafood dishes
  • Fragrant, elaborate desserts grounded in familiar techniques and ingredients (custards, candies, fried pastries, stuffed dates).

3 of 3 – Ambitious. Good for tasting platters, an audience of known foodies, or a high-level A&S entry.

Examples:

  • More elaborate tharids
  • Middle Eastern acid-marinaded, highly spiced meat dishes (i.e. goat with pomegranate from Anonymous Andalusian)
  • High court dishes (i.e. stuffed octopus from Sent Sovi)
  • Lactofermented period-style pickle (i.e. pickled eggplant from de Nola)
  • Fragrant, elaborate desserts using ingredients or techniques not generally seen in modern confectionery (non-dairy custards, camphored sweets, fruit conserva).

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Corazon III: Research notes

I finished the first of my stack of research notes for Corazon III over the weekend: John Super’s exceptional little book, Food, Conquest, and Colonization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America. It’s only 88 pages before notes, and it’s not a cook’s book – it’s far more economics-oriented. But it’s very revealing, and particularly in:

  • The Old World foods that the Spanish were most invested in bringing to the colonies, the spread of Old World foods through markets and agricultural records;
  • The New World foods that the Spanish adopted most readily, and the class and race issues around the adoption of certain foods;
  • The economics of agriculture in the colonies from 1600-1800, and how climate and landform affected the differences between what was grown in different areas (and what was grown in the colonies vs. Europe).

It’s very helpful in making educated guesses about what the fusion landscape would have been in the late 16th century, vs, say, the mid-18th century – what foods had already become what would later be the distinctively Mexican/Central American/South American cuisines, and what did not become integrated until much later. What “plausibly period” looks like in this context.

Next up: re-reading Sophie Coe’s excellent America’s First Cuisines and Charles Mann’s 1493. Both of these are background reads – Coe has some post-colonial material but basically her treatment is of pre-contact Native American foods, and I can’t remember how much Mann touches on food at all but he does talk a great deal about daily life.

First impressions:

Peanut marzipan! Goat and venison in the tasting course! SO MUCH MEAT. Fresh fruit is a GO – I worried about this; I know that fresh fruit wasn’t a thing in much of period in Europe, but no, multiple sources are clear that the arriving Europeans were dazzled and entranced by tropical fruit.  Yeasted wheat bread, not tortillas. Time to go back and re-read Diaz del Castillo.

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Productivity vs. submergence

Ironic, that after writing a post about the value of documentation, I left the blog fallow for sixteen months. I am rethinking the purpose of this blog, and maybe moving toward a more speculative, process-based content (which up to now I’ve been putting on LiveJournal; many posts friendslocked, although I just went through and made a bunch of posts from the last year public), and less “finished project portfolio” style content. And that is all I have to say about that.

So. *deep breath* I’ve had a very busy and productive summer, and I’m trying to go into what I expect to be a busy and productive fall and winter without becoming overwhelmed or stressed out. What I find, during the summer, is that my game begins to interfere with my game – I love the SCA for the amateur experiential archeology, the research, the social geekery of it. But as I get deeper into the logistics of encampment-building and garb production and meal planning and generally managing the campaign that is the summer season, I start to bog down, feel disconnected from the art and trapped by the craft.

I’ve gotten an incredible amount of work done this summer, an incredible amount of productivity, but it feels… not entirely real. Not meaningful. A means to an end, not the thing itself. It’s time to re-center on the thing itself.

What I’ve committed to this winter:

Corazon III: A Journey to the New World. The feast is Spanish-Aztec fusion. The narrative underpinning is this: a shipful of old-world nobility has just landed at Veracruz, and is tasting new world food for the first time. There will be theatre and crazy hall decorations and I CAN’T WAIT.

Kingdom A&S: This is the year I am going to level up my game and enter both a cooking entry and a costuming entry. There, I said it. In public. To that end, I am going to work the costume entry in stages, and enter pieces in stages at several competitions between now and then.

Personal research: I want to spend a lot of time this winter on formalizing my personal research, doing some original writing, working on the Great Baltic Mapping Project, developing some costuming resources here on this site. (Watch this space.) I also want to spend some time on Central Asian research, for my own and my oldest kid’s Lipkowie Tatar kits.

Shire administration: There’s a ton of accumulated paperwork that needs to be put in order, a website to be redesigned, a library to be built. We’re going to be doing more social activities this winter, including a weekly movie night. After a summer of EVENTS EVENTS EVENTS, I’m very into the idea of not-at-events, not-in-garb, unstructured social and structured learning time right now. I just want to spend more time with my people.

I’m keeping commitments light right now because I don’t know what will happen at Crown Tourney next weekend, but I have several friends fighting, so I want to have some energy available for service to the new Crown. And I want to do more teaching this winter. And brewing. And work slowly, quietly, on some long-term, detail-oriented garb projects.

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