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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Our First Feast ... Amid Snow!

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet

"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Our First Feast ... Amid Snow!

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Yesterday, Bobby and I acted as head cooks for our first SCA feast. To this point, we'd served one feast; we'd never eaten at feast, since they rarely have enough for me to eat to make it worth our while. We were counting on our years of experience as cooks in a very busy family restaurant, plus our masochistic love of cooking complicated, multi-course meals for friends and family, to help us make this one a success.

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

First Course
sliced hen with ginger
ravioli with parmesan cheese and fresh herbs
lentils with tarragon vinegar
buttered leeks

Second Course
baked beef with horseradish sauce
New World stew
kidney beans and rice with plum chutney
braised spinach

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!

  • You got snow???!!! But you are south of us and we don't have any and there is none in the impending weather forecast. My goodness!

    Well, your cooking marathon sounds like it was a hella lotta fun! I watch Gordon Ramsay's TV programs (love them all) and your experience doesn't seem too chaotic by comparison. And the recipes sound delish. :)
    • Trust me, the snow is not characteristic at all! :D It looks more like January in our backyard that October.

      I've been in my share of chaotic kitchens, and this was definitely not chaotic! :) Bobby's and my cooking skills were tempered in a kitchen at a family restaurant where there were never more than three cooks for the whole restaurant, so this felt like a vacation in comparison. It was a hella lotta fun, definitely! :D
  • I hope you had leftovers to take home. I find when I make huge meals like that it is almost impossible to have any appetite when it is time to eat, but I love having the leftover the following day.

    It snowed all day yesterday here also. And we had a party to go to as well. It was awful getting around Brooklyn in a heavy snowfall with all the streets filled with icy water and slush.

    Edited at 2011-10-30 08:29 pm (UTC)
    • We could have taken leftovers but didn't. We'd done a practice run of the feast last Sunday for supper, so we'd recently had everything. We did take home leftovers from Wulfhaven's lunch, though! We kind of exchanged leftover with them: They took ours and we took theirs.

      I saw your post about the party! :) I'm glad you could make it, awful weather and all. The costumes were lovely!
  • (*Exhausted just by reading*) All the dishes sound delicious. Were you planning to make the ravioli yourselves? My Italian grandmother used to make them when I was very little (time of the Lamps or thereabouts) but finally gave up because of the mess of keeping the filling inside despite having the right tool (a kind of wooden grid to press the pastry -does it make any sense?) and loads of experience.
    The weather is really crazy, isn't it?
    • We were going to make the ravioli ourselves. We actually had a medieval recipe for that dish ... but we knew it would be difficult, and we were planning for at least 4 ravioli per person, times 80 ... and we had to conclude that our life just isn't in a place right now where we have time and energy for that. Next time! :)

      And we didn't have that tool, either, so it's probably definitely good that we did not!
  • Oh wow! What memories your account brings back! Did everything go off on time? Our barony was pretty good about either not letting court run over or having court after feast, but I've been to more than one event in which court really ate into the feast time! (One I recall in particular ran over almost 2 hours!)

    I used to draw a little cartoon for our newsletter called "Life in the Current Middle Ages", and I did one showing three frazzled ladies in kitchen garb congratulating themselves on getting everything ready right on time. Then the herald shows up to inform the head cook that court is running over. She runs off screaming in the last panel, while the clueless herald is going "What's the matter with her?"

    Anyhow, sounds like y'all had a good time-- and a good attendance in spite of the weather! The real question is: given time to recover, would you do it again? *grin*
    • We'd definitely do it again! Bobby and I discussed that question over breakfast this morning (which we did not cook ... we decided to go out today! :D) and both agreed that we would. It's really something that we love to do, and the group we worked with were all friends and fun to work with.

      Our barony has a rather interesting tradition to prevent court from ruining a feast by running overtime. The head cook is provided with a plastic carrot in the shape of a baseball bat. If court is beginning to jeopardize the feast, the head cook comes into court, brandishing the carrot. If ignored, the head cook can bop the baron on the head with it.

      Thankfully it did not come to that. ;) The baron and baroness called a short court during the feast, right before dessert, and the ice cream was starting to melt a bit, so one of the kitchen staff waved the carrot, and dessert proceeded in short order.

      So, yes, everything went out on time! :) The timing was rather interesting nonetheless: Feast was scheduled for 7, but due to the weather and the fact that many attendees were talking about leaving early, the autocrat asked if we could have it ready by 6. Since we were just leaning around and talking at that point, we agreed. Then court actually ended early, so the chevre and bread went out about ten minutes before 6.
      • LOL! I love your tradition! My barony was pretty strict about Baronial court, but occasionally we'd run a little over if Royals were there and wanted to hold court too.

        The two hour one was in a neighboring barony, hosting a coronation. There was apparently a lot more shtick than anyone thought about. People can get so carried away with their shtick. They had a lot of people leaving before court had ended.

        I really enjoyed being a "feastcrat", and probably would do it again if I ever become active again.
        • Admittedly, I don't attend many SCA events. I try to hit the nearby ones. So I've not been to many courts, but one that runs over two hours?! Yikes! The longest I remember was (also a baronial cum royal court) two hours total, and there were three peers elevated during it, so it wasn't without reason.
  • I had no idea you were that heavily involved in SCA, but what a nice feast you put on. I used to cook for a lot of people and it was a kick. But maybe that's one of the reasons why I don't cook at all now. I'm glad that things went off well for you and that you had a good turnout despite your unseasonable weather.

    - Erulisse (one L)
    • Bobby and I got involved in SCA about four years ago. The funny thing is that we got involved for him: He wanted to take up medieval-style combat, and the SCA was a good "in" for that. I went along for the ride, so to speak; with my love for all things artistic, I thought I might like to "learn how to write prettily," like the medieval scribes did.

      Fast forward four years, and I'm more active than Bobby, having been made an illumination apprentice two years ago. That's my main gig. Bobby still fights sometimes. We both dabble in other things as they catch our interest.

      I'm not as active as I'd like to be on account of my schedule. We were mostly asked to cook feast because the two autocrats for the event (one of whom is my master/laurel) are among the friends often invited to our multi-course meals at home, so they knew we had the love for that kind of cooking, as well as the ability to do it well.

      I learned to cook at the restaurant where I worked, so to me, cooking ain't cooking unless it's for at least ten people. ;) I have trouble mustering enthusiasm for everyday cooking; Bobby does almost all of the cooking at home.
      • Although I like many aspects of SCA, in many other ways they are so structured that they make me uncomfortable. I have friends who are part of it, though, many who joined for the same reason as Bobby did.

        I don't cook any more, but really enjoyed it when I cooked for a multitude. Cooking for two, especially when my DH criticizes anything I cook, lost its ambiance a long time ago :-)

        - Erulisse (one L)
  • Mmmm, that sounds like a yummy feast! And, frankly, it also sounds like exactly why God invented potlucks. Cook just two or three dishes, and, magically, a feast appears! (My contributions to the All-Day Singing's dinner on the grounds for Saturday: a corn salad, a quinoa salad, and a pumpkin pie.)

    The kidney beans and rice with plum chutney intrigue me, because I sometimes make a dish that I suspect is fairly similar. It's a Georgian (as in Tblisi, not Atlanta) thing called Lobio Tkemali, and it's pretty much kidney beans in a savory plum sauce. I usually serve it with nice bread, if I've got any . . . but I bet I could put it over rice and it'd probably be pretty close to what you made.
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