Our First Feast ... Amid Snow!
We've been gradually building toward the feast for the last week. We started shopping last Friday, when we purchased bulk dried goods from Sonnewald Market, followed by a heap of produce from Baugher's. Monday, after work, we went to Restaurant Depot, which was an experience and a half! khatun had warned us about the scale and the tendency toward disarray and the maniac forklift drivers and did not exaggerate. The forklift drivers honk at the shoppers! I think they have it backward.
What made this experience all the more complicated is the fact that 1) half of our home is still under construction and 2) two of the casualties in the flood were our fridge and freezer that we use for storing food. So we had only our kitchen fridge-freezer combo for storage, and that's understandably mostly filled with the stuff we need for our day-to-day life. Thankfully, local friends who are also in the SCA loaned us freezer space. We had 45 lbs. of beef and 40 lbs. of chicken to store, in addition to other sundries. Because a lot of stuff from the basement is currently being kept upstairs, that meant that our spare bedroom turned into a sort of commissary with crates of produce, bulk foods and spices, and other feast-related stuff filling every available space.
Finally, Friday came, and it was time to really turn up the heat. My parents came up to help us through the first wave of preparations; once upon a time, the four of us all worked together at The Piece, so we all know our way around a kitchen. Bobby and I have learned that the best way to handle large, complicated meals is the front-load our time and energy in the pre-preparation stage as much as possible. This included everything from printing out recipe sheets and ingredients lists to cutting veggies to assembling casseroles. We worked till 12:30 Friday night (my parents stayed till 11) getting all of this done.
Trust there to be a wrench in the cogs. In this case, Mother Nature threw quite a wrench at us. We don't normally start to see snow in our area until Thanksgiving at the very earliest, but we had a bona fide snowstorm yesterday, the day of the event and feast. We woke up to a light coating on the grass that quickly thickened and began sticking to the roads. We had a few prep tasks that we wanted to finish before heading to the event, and we nervously watched the snow building and building as we worked. The power flickered a couple of times. Finally, as we were on the verge of leaving, the town plow came through and cleared our street. Once we hit the main roads, they were fine, but because we live at the top of the hill and don't own a four-wheel-drive vehicle, navigating to those main roads becomes perilous if the plow doesn't come through.
Once we got safely to the big roads, our next worry was how well the event would be attended. We'd been given a budget and planned for a feast for 80 people. It would be quite a loss for the barony if only a few people showed up, and a disappointment for us, after we'd worked very hard planning and purchasing and preparing to feed a crowd. When we walked in the door, though, the hall was bustling; our friends from Haus Wulfshaven--who would help us in the kitchen for the feast--were serving lunch and immediately sent us off with bowls of hot soup and salsa to get our energy primed for the afternoon and evening ahead.
Since we'd done so much pre-prep, our afternoon was fairly leisurely. One of our friends remarked that it was the quietest kitchen she'd ever seen preparing for a feast.
One of the good things about being a cook, I learned, is that people constantly come into the kitchen and give you good stuff to drink, alcoholic and not. I was turning it down by the end, because orchestrating a large meal while drunk is not something I want to attempt.
Things didn't really get hopping until about a half-hour before we were scheduled to begin serving. That's when the things that needed cooking right before serving went in, and we began to plate dishes to go out to the hall. It amused me how, even after going on ten years away from restaurant work, Bobby and I still fall wordlessly into our old roles. He always used to cook "hot side" while I did "cold side": He cooked the food while I put together plates, coordinated side orders, and gave everything the final once-over before sending it off to be served. Once again, Bobby hung mostly near the back, while I did more of the plating, garnishing, and prettification. Haus Wulfshaven and Lord Bruce, who were our kitchen staff and servers, were marvelous. They really let Bobby and me keep our efforts concentrated in the kitchen, and we had a lot of laughs to boot.
In the end, we had 75 people sit for feast--a good turnout, given the weather!--and we served a four-course meal:
chevre with fresh bread
sliced hen with ginger
ravioli with parmesan cheese and fresh herbs
lentils with tarragon vinegar
baked beef with horseradish sauce
New World stew
kidney beans and rice with plum chutney
honey vanilla ice cream with bittersweet fudge sauce
The only item that wasn't homemade was the ravioli; we ended up getting a case of frozen ravioli from Restaurant Depot. We intended to make this homemade as well, but the chaos surrounding the rebuilding of our house left us without the time and energy to do so.
One of the most fun parts of cooking a big meal, for me, is seeing what people like the most. I heard compliments for just about every specific item we served and got a few requests for recipes--the ultimate compliment! I think it went pretty well. The kitchen staff got to enjoy the leftovers, but I was way too "up," and I had no appetite as a result (the good ol' fight or flight response!), and they seemed to really enjoy everything and were clamoring for certain items. We sold leftovers for an optional donation after the feast, and all but a few bags went.
Bobby and I were exhausted by the end, but we had a lot of fun!
When we exited the hall at the end of the night--I never strayed more than 20 feet from the kitchen the whole day--we entered a winter wonderland. At home, we had 6 inches (15 cm) of snow on the ground. Because most of the trees are still leafed out and it was a wet, heavy snow, there are broken trees and branches everywhere. We were relatively lucky: We lost a few good-sized branches from the maples in the grove, and the Japanese red maple by the driveway lost two large limbs. The whole side of one of Neighbor Bob's maples split out and fell on his garden, causing some damage, so we are grateful for the relatively little damage that we had.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!