Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Fire Breathing Peacock 

Didn't photograph well at all. I suppose we need a better camera or a better photographer than me!

It looked really cool. And it was really quite easy to make - especially with those beer can chicken racks cheaply available at WalMart and other such stores.

I was really hoping the pictures would turn out well enough to use as the cover, but we'll just go with the photo of the cracked cauldron that inspired the name of this bakery - filled with baked goodies.

There is this about the fire-breathing peacock - using a chicken is cheap and simple and tasty, and the bulk of the feather "coat" is inexpensive enough to make from store bought feathers. The head is molded from a baked bread clay and painted to match the body. Gilding the beak with inexpensive gold leaf makes it really nifty - and has the bonus of being able to shape the beak so the cotton ball soaked with volatile liquids (in this case, cheap bourbon because that's what we had - the flame was too pale to see on film, though) burns with the flame coming out correctly.

I remember back when I first started making such spectacle foods, and used real chicken heads, the beaks almost never pointed the right way or were shaped to fit the cotton ball. Burned fingers from trying to light the mouth were common, and that's why I started keeping aloes in the kitchen.

Anyway, all the recipes have all been test cooked. Most of them have pictures, and the book itself should be constructed and written fairly soon.

The anecdotes are not limited to just food ones, although the Ent and the Strawberry Newburg is a cool little tale, as is the story of the Hamadryad, the Burping Contest, and a few other such tales. Most of the stories involve the people working at the Faire, either as the food vendors themselves, or as the performers who had something amusing happening involving food. And there are a few tales of the pets who involved themselves with food at the Faire - the wolf hybrid who loves Scottish Eggs, the Irish Wolfhound who learned to check under the tables for snacks, and more.

See, MedFaire isn't just a medieval faire with booths and performers and people dressed in medieval fashions, it's also the premiere dog show of the year. There are almost as many dogs there as people, it seems like - from the towering Irish Wolfhounds to the dinkiest toy Chihuahuas. A few cats find their way onto the Fairgrounds as well, along with pet rats, tarantulas, ferrets, and monkeys. Just wait until you read the Tale of the Monkey Food Fight.

Then there are the mythical beasts that show up at the Faire each year - the Unicorn, the Jabberwock, the Ent and Hamadryad, the Dragons, and more. They, too, have food tales.

Even the equipment has to get involved - the story of the Corn Kettle is shadenfreude at its best.

So, rather than blogging about it, I ought to get back to actually writing the book.

If you don't hear much from us in the next few days, it's because we're getting this book ready for production.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Frybread, fresh from the kettle, awaiting the Indian Taco toppings. This is a Faire classic around here. Posted by Hello

The loaded Indian Taco: beany chili, salsa, cheese, lettuce, and more cheese. Posted by Hello

Onions and garlic simmering in bacon fat, ale, and spices, preparing for addition to the broth - turkey to day, from the bits of wing left over from the Dragonette Wings. Posted by Hello

Broken bread preparing for the onslaught of the spicy Oyle Soppes. Posted by Hello

The finished Oyle Sops, poured over fresh pumpernickel bread. The cinnamon, I have it on good report, was a bit much, but I thought it was very good. Cinnamon is inspired in onion soup! Posted by Hello

A Dragonette wing, on a dinner plate with more ingredients behind it, for the Oyle Sops. Posted by Hello

Cooking for the Cookbook 

Because today is a glorious day - sunny and 70's - we're going to cook some of the cookbook foods outside on the grill and in the firepit.

The turkey legs will benefit greatly from being grilled.

Perhaps the dragonette wings should have been grilled, too, but we started those way too early this morning to think about it.

A bird soup is simmering on the stove to eventually fill a Soup Cauldron - which is also rising as I type this. We'll also make a nice beefy and onion stew for the Soup Cauldrons, and that Oyle Sops (the onion soup).

We're going to move all the plants outside today to take advantage of the sun, which means we get the table back to roll out pastry doughs. WooHoo! That will make the tarts and pies much easier to do. Although, in the cookbook, we'll tell people they can use frozen pie crusts, frozen puff pastry, or frozen phyllo dough to make them with, we will make these crusts ourselves from scratch.

OK - Not the phyllo dough. We lack the patience and the facilities to properly make phyllo, so we're just going to buy it. Our preferred brand is Athens. We've tried several other more expensive brands, and of them all, Athens is hte easiest to work with, the one that thaws the most evenly, and is slightly sturdier, making it an excellent phyllo for beginners. Plus, I like the way it has a slightly saltier, nuttier taste.

Now, back to the grills and ovens.

Buttered Wortes - How they begin - there is a mix of greens in the bowl - collard, kale, mustard, and spinach, but apparently only the spinach is visible. Posted by Hello

Buttered Wortes - how they ended. Posted by Hello

Dragonette Wings - prepped for the first stint in the oven. Let me tell you - turkey wings are freaking enormous! This is an entire jelly roll sheet - and only two wings fit on it! The shoulder part of hte wing (the "upper arm") is larger than a chicken drumstick. These wings were brined, and now they'll be baked with a red sauce that owes its color to the spices. As they bake, we'll baste them several times. Posted by Hello

Saturday, February 19, 2005


Wouldn't you know it? Fire up the oven, and people start dropping in.

That's good, because I needed people to eat the Dragontails (the recipe makes 4 really large Dragontails!) and the Makerouns, and when they come out of the oven, the Spinach Pies, Banbury Tarts, Mete Ryal, and Raphioles that are currently baking.

I wonder how many people will drop by tomorrow, when I make the soup cauldrons, salad bowls, Fyne Cakes, gingerbread, and such?

Monday will see the last of the cooking for The Cauldron Crack'd, and by Tuesday or Wednesday, the book should be ready for the proofing for Lulu.com. Today or tomorrow, we'll shoot the front cover picture and design the back cover.

It's going to be a smallish book - around 50 pages, but it will be packed with recipes from easy to find ingredients (not turnips, unfortunately, as they are scarcer than hen's teeth around here).

Let me tell you - that Makerouns dish - it is absolutely yummy! It's definitely a grown-up version of macaroni and cheese, and the spices add a depth to the flavor that will make you never want to open another box of macaroni and cheese mix. And - surprise! It goes together as quickly and almost as easily as the boxed version of mac and cheese.

OK - it's not as sinple as the microwaveable versions that you just stick in the nuke box and turn on for 3 minutes, but if you routinely make the boxed version, boiling the elbow macaronis and measuring out the milk and butter - this medieval version is just as quick and easy - and far tastier.

A Dragontail - note the little spines down the top. It is the tip of the tail, so it has the final spine separated off a bit and pointed like a spade. That doesn't show as clearly in the picture, but there it is. Posted by Hello

The inside of a Dragontail. Posted by Hello

The Makerouns before it went into the oven for a final bake - a medieval style macaroni and cheese, made with black and white peppers, sage, cinnamon, rosemary, garlic, onions, and 6 different kinds of cheese. Posted by Hello

Here is a cut of the Makerouns. Posted by Hello

Friday, February 18, 2005


We weren't able to locate a commercial kitchen by today, and today was the deadline for being able to have our own independent booth at MedFaire.

Since we can't prepare the foods according the health codes, we can't sell them at MedFaire, so no nifty stuff like Pyrate's Brew or soup cauldrons or the infamous Scottish Eggs will be there.

OK, so the Scottish Eggs will still be there, because we share them out with friends anyway. But nothing else will be there food-wise.

Well, OK, bread and cheese - but we're buying the cheese!

We'll hawk the cookbook from the blacksmith's booth, Elmtree Forge, as we help him with his demonstrations in between helping on the stages and with any of the other demonstrating artisans who didn't bring enough help of their own.

Next year. Maybe next year, we can have a booth at the Medieval Faire. And the Oklahoma Arts Festival, which takes place right after MedFaire.

That's kind of shot down, too, because Oklahoma City lacks commercial kitchens to rent out.

We found equipment we could rent, but that won't do any good without a location in which to put the equipment.

We were also offered the chance to buy several mobile kitchens, but they were all set up for short order cooking, not baking. Not to mention well out of our price range. Plus, where would we store the kitchen when not in use - ie, all but 2-3 weekends out of the year? We have no plans to be mobile bakers. Some of the breads and pastries couldn't take the jarring of the travel.

Although, to does sound attractive, doesn't it? Mobile bakers.

We bring the bakery to you.

We could travel from state to state, living out of suitcases, setting up on the edge of town like some scandalous circus side show, and tempt you with exotic sourdoughs and sweet fairy cakes and dainty cookies and fruity tarts.

Then, before you could grow jaded with our delights, we'd back up one night and sneak away, leaving you yearning for the next time we came to town.

It sounds so cool.

But I did a stint of traveling salesman sort of thing when I was younger. It's rough, and the tax codes and permits and road checks and stuff wear on you.

Manager may be young enough to handle a life like that, but me, I'm old.

She'd have to do this on her own.

Assuming, of course, she wanted to.

And if she did, what would she do with her fish? We all know I kill fish. They spontaneously freeze in their aquariums, sort of a fishy style of spontaneous combustion, except the fish don't burn, the freeze.

So, we continue to look for a local building that doesn't get up and wander the country like Baba Yaga's house.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Cauldron Crack'd 

The recipes have been chosen for the cookbook we will present at the OU Medieval Faire on April 1, 2, and 3rd.

We've already made and photographed a few of them, and will do more this weekend.

One caveat - the Fire Breathing Peacock isn't really a peacock, but a large chicken in peacock feathers. It will, however, breathe fire. It's not as difficult as it looks, and is a very spectacular centerpiece dish to serve at a fancy feast of any sort. The fire part doesn't photograph well, though, so I'm not sure we'll get a good picture of it.

Where the dishes have a medieval provenance, we've included the original recipe from its original source.

The stick foods - sausage on a stick, steak on a stake, cheesecake on a stick, monkey tails, and the assorted kebabs - are not included in this cookbook. It's too simple to put the foods on a stick and grill them or, for the monkey tails, cheesecakes, and fruit kebabs, to just stick them on the skewers and eat them.

There's more than just recipes in here, though. After more than 25 years of attending assorted Medieval and Renaissance Faires, we have lots of food related anecdotes to share.

If you've attended a lot of Faires, you'll recognize some of these foods. Now, you'll get a chance to see them from the other side of the booth.

In no particular order, here are the names of the recipes we will have in The Cauldron Crack'd:

Spinach Pie
Fryed Cheese
Scottish Eggs
Apple Dumplings
Rogue’s Sandwich
Fry Bread
Indian Tacos
Turkey Legs
Flat Pies (pizzas)
King’s Nuts – the toasted cinnamon almonds!
Jumbo Pretzels
Salad in a Bread Bowl
Dragonlet Wings (spicy turkey wings)
Five Cheese Pie
Daryoles (an egg tart)
Fryed Hattes – meat filled pastries that look like Robin Hood Hats
Shell Bread
Fyne Cakes
Fire Breathing Peacocks
Soup Cauldrons
Makerouns – Medieval style macaroni and cheese
Char du Crabb – Apple and Anise Pie
Buttered Wortes
Apfel Muse – apple sauce
Fruays (apple bread pudding)
Frytours – Battered fried vegetables with an almond cream sauce
Mete Ryall – Royal Meat Pie
Raphioles – meatball pie
Oyle Sops – onion and ale soup over bread
Koulibiaca – a salmon and rice pie

And it wouldn't be complete without a few beverages:

Soft Mead
Mulled Cider
Pyrate’s Brew
Hot Bastarde
Hippocras (Ypocras)

We'll make the book available for sale near the end of March - via Lulu.com, most likely (there'll be a link to click on the sidebar), and keep the link up until the middle of April.

And if any of you reading this have a chance to visit the OU Medieval faire - it's a crush of people (last year, we had over 300,000 visitors in 3 days!), but we'll be thrilled to see you!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A bowl of Mrs. Batchett's Creamy Potatoes, topped with broken bacon and fresh from my garden parsley. Posted by Hello

Comfort Foods 

My friend Barbara talked about comfort foods in her blog Tigers and Strawberries, mentioning such yummy goodies as mashed potatoes, oatmeal, chicken soup, and congee.

Pho would be a comfort food for many Vietnamese, I'm sure.

My grandfather's comfort food was speck - rendered pork fat - spread over bread, although when he was really stressed or in a really good mood, he'd scoop it out of the tub with a knife and lick the knife clean.

Most of my comfort foods were bread related - thin crispy knaeckebrot scraped with a thin, thin layer of sour cherry or plum butter, or thick slices of sourdough rye farm bread (what we called graubrot), sprinkled with water and topped with sugar sprinkles or grated chocolate, or dense chewy soft pretzels with a fierce German mustard, or equally dense and chewy bagels with cream cheese and a thin thin slice of ham.

I never found the right kind of knaeckebrot in the US, so that comfort food is a distant memory, and one I never shared with others.

I never did get into my grandfather's favorite comfort food, but I liked his back-up comfort food. Every night, before bed, he'd cube and fry a potato, and add an egg, and that was our bedtime snack - our "keep away the boogies at night and let us wake up safe the next morning" food. If it was really cold outside (the snow was deep enough we had to use the second floor snow door, or even the escape hatch in the attic), he'd pour chicken broth over it to keep us warm through the night. His house was old - no electricity, no running water, no piped in gas or propane. The only heated room was the kitchen, with its woodburning stove, so we spent a lot of the winter in the kitchen.

My grandmother had differnt ideas about comfort food (just for a point of reference, when I speak of my grandparents, I always mean my German grandparents from my mother's side of the family. My father's parents disliked us intensely because we weren't full blood Kiowa Apache, so we had very little to do with them. The cousins were good, though.). She liked to grate potatoes very thinly, mix them up with an egg and a bit of grated onion, and fry thin lacey patties of them directly on the stovetop. She could do this because it was a wood burning stove, and we scraped and scrubbed the stovetop with these coarse black bricks three times a day to keep it smooth and shiny. As soon as the pancakes were done, she'd roll them around soft fried apples that were sitting in the window sill to chill. Whenever she felt the need for a treat, or had gotten bad news, she'd go into the kitchen and fry herself a pancake, and if I followed her in, she'd make me one, too.

The baker down the street would always bake me a small loaf of graubrot all to myself when I helped him shape the breads before school each morning, and sometimes, when I wasn't looking, he'd slip a windbeutel or one of his tender, chocolate dipped baerentatsen into my lunch box - and those always made me happy to find at lunchtime. His bearclaws are nothing like the heavy yeasty things sold as bearclaws over here. His were delicate and golden sponge cakes, like giant madeleines (and I do mean giant - they were larger than my hand, but shaped like a madeleine, scallops and all), and he'd dip the "claw" end into chocolate and then carefully position sliced almonds for "claws". Dipped into hot chocolate, there is no better comfort food. Since no one I've found in the US makes these, when I want them, I have to make them myself.

When I left Germany for my journeyman, he gave me a jar of his sourdough starter so I could always have a piece of home with me. I still have that starter, schlepped all around the world.

My mother immigrated to the States, and I followed. I was introduced to my father's family - Kiowa Apaches from Oklahoma, and to fry bread.

That's become a new comfort food - chewy fry bread straight from the hot oil. Topped with Buffalo Breath Chili, soft beans, diced tomatoes, and shreds of greens, it's a communal comfort food. At least that's the way I saw it, because my cousins and I would sit cross-legged in the grass under a table and pull pieces off to eat as we giggled and hid from the grown-ups who didn't like me because I wasn't full blood. My cousins didn't care - I was exotic, had an accent and come from across the ocean.

When I grew up, I did the same with my children - we'd hide from the relatives under a picnic table somewhere and pull pieces of Indian Taco off the central plate. Eh, we did that at the State Fair, when we wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle, too.

Living in that weird part of the country that belongs to no particular region, I learned to make a mess of greens as comfort food. That and a bowl of red, or a pot of beans and ham hocks with cornbread were staples among my friends' families, and being the foodie I am, I incorporated all of that, too. Avocados and eggplants, turned into guacamole and baba ganoush, were comfort foods among some friends - and tabouli.

When I was known as the Chinaberry Child, we had a neighbor family on the other side of the duplex who were recent immigrants from Mexico - and the mom taught me to make flour tortillas by patting them out between my hands into perfect circles, and to have burritos for breakfast filled with spicy refried beans and eggs. Manuela, the little girl I played with, would haul piles of tortillas up into the tree, and we'd eat them at all hours of the day, with our canteens of water, pretending to be pirates.

Mrs. Batchett, who kept chickens in her backyard, taught me her favorite comfort food when her hens would scratch me collecting the eggs - mealy potatoes boiled almost tender, then drained, and the water replaced with milk that had flour and pepper beaten into it, and heated until it was a thick gravied potato dish. Sometimes, I use her potatoes as a base for a corn chowder.

Mrs. Pollard, the teacher who lived next door, liked asparagus as her comfort food, picked ripe out of her garden. Her entire yard was bordered in asparagus ferns, and she'd pay me a nickel a day to harvest her asparagus for her. She'd share a dish of steamed asparagus, with a squirt of fresh lemon and sea salt, afterwards. Now, when I'm done with a day of gardening, I miss having that dish of asparagus waiting for me.

Cabbage, steamed tender atop a pile of frying potatoes and onions - what's sometimes known as Colcannon or Bubble and Squeak - is another favorite comfort food. I picked this recipe up at a PowWow and thought for the longest time it was American Indian, just not which tribe. The day I discovered it was an inherently Irish/British Isles sort of food, I laughed until the tears came.

And then wondered about the provenance of some of my other favorite comfort foods: the hot spicy puree of peas, the lentil salad, the rice omelet, the little balls of fried dough in a bowl of syurp.

I suppose what it boils down to is that food, just food, is comfort food. The act of eating, especially in company with others, is ultimately the most comforting thing to do, and the most religious.

I can't imagine a religious ceremony or ritual that doesn't involve food of some sort, or the awareness of food through abstinence of it.

Maybe that's why so many foods have gained a reputation as being sinful.

I should take that thread of forbidden foods back up again.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Almost the final pastry: A heart shaped puff pastry lined with frothy dark chocolate, a Frangelica soaked, rose glazed, dark chocolate filled strawberry nestled into it, with a drizzled of white chocolate. Tomorrow, the pastry part will be glazed with a puree of Frangelica soaked strawberries, leaving only the drizzled strawberry peeking through. I doubt I will be able to get a picture, so you'll just have to imagine it. Posted by Hello

The filled puff pastries before the final decoration. The strawberries were cored, and soaked in Frangelica, then glazed with Frangelica and sweetened rosewater - cooked to the hard crack stage. By dipping them in the hot glaze, the berries cooked just a bit, darkening and reddening them a bit and making them juicier. Then, the core of the berries were filled with dark chocolate. The puff pastries were lined with more dark chocolate, whipped to a froth so the berries nestled snugly into the pastries. Posted by Hello

The unfilled Mardi Gras cake - it didn't upload last week as it should have. And it was devoured before I could photograph it in it's final, beaded glory. Posted by Hello

Friday, February 11, 2005

Meme Meme Meme - Oh, Sorry, I'll Stop Singing... 

My friend Barbara tagged us for the Music in My Kitchen Meme, so we'll see.

The hard part will be finding 3 people who haven't already been tagged...

What is the total amount of music files on your computer?

Zero. As far as I know, there are no music files on my computer. Even if there were, it wouldn't matter - I keep the sound turned off on my computer. It's not worth it to listen to anything ovedr the football games in the stadium behind my house, the mariachi music cranked up to drown out the stadium sounds from the family across the street who want to pretend they still live in Mexico, the kids who set up and bang arrhythmically on the drum set taking up about a quarter of the library floor space downstairs, along with the electric guitars and the violin. My poor computer can't compete with all of that, so why bother?

Manager, however, fille dup one entire computer with music. What I lack in musical ability she has in spades.

The CD you last bought?

I can't remember which was the last one I bought, since I bought several in the same weekend. Was it Boru's Ghost or the Bilge Pumps? It could have been the soundtrack to "Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?" which I bought as a gift.

Manager bought a Bilge Pumps CD last, I think.

The last song you listened to before you read this message?

On the radio coming home from work, I heard "Desperado".

Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.

Now we hit it.

I'm not allowed to sing.


I've been banned from school choirs since I was very young. My own children would cover my mouth with their hands and plead, "No sing, Mama!" from the time they were able to do so. Even the generous and forgiving SCA Bards have gently removed musical instruments from my hands - even simple ones like drums - and asked me to join the audience.

So, I never bothered to learn the words to songs, because I am banned from ever singing them.

Which is a pity, because except for rap, I like all kinds of music.

Mingalay Boat Song, Johnny Jump Up, The Dark Lady, Botany Bay, Jordin Kare's filk (not a typo), particularly "Psi Not" and "Heart of the Apple Lisa". There's Rick Farran's "Do Virgins Taste Better" played by the Brobdinagian Bards. I like Isaac Bonewit's "Black Velvet Band". I have a cassette of space filk written and performed by astronauts - my favorite one is "We're Gonna have Fun Fun Fun until Daddy Takes the Space Shuttle Away". And I have CD of NASA filk, titled To Touch The Stars.

That's more than 5, isn't it?

There aren't very many songs or music I don't like. Gangsat rap seems to be it, and only because the heavy beats deflate bread dough faster than anything I know, and I find the rhythms too simplistic and repetitive. Blame it on the medieval music I like, the filk and the folk ballads.

Oh, I haven't even touched on the folk music!

Well, not today - instead, I'll move on and tag these three next....only because no one else has tagged them yet, that I know of.

Chika at She Who Eats, because she hasn't been tagged yet, and I'll bet she has as interesting tastes in music as in food.

Cooksister because I'm curious to see if the music that ounds through her words is the same music to which she listens.

And Freeman because I know him from other venues, but not in person.


I haven't started activating the yeast cultures Tri-Pliny and Quentino yet. Manager has been ill, and I don't want the cultures contaminated.

She should be non-contagious by this weekend, so I'll start them growing then.

I feel very scientific and motherly over this. Activating a sourdough culture is not rocket science, but it does require some specialized know-how.

Let's start with the incubation chamber. Some people call it a small proofing box, but since the culture will be reborn there, I alternate between calling it an incubation chamber and an artificial womb. In winter, when the weather varies greatly (yesterday, the high was 21º, today started at 42º and should reach near 70º), a special, temperature controlled chamber is needed. Nothing fancy, mind. A large styrofoam ice chest works well, with a low heat source to maintain a steady temperature.

Are any of y'all old enough to remember the old Kenmore play ovens whose heat source was a variable wattage light bulb? It's the same principle, only with much lower temperatures. We don't want to bake Tri-Pliny and Quentino yet, just revive them and get them growing again.

The dried culture gets mixed with flour and water in a wide mouthed quart jar, placed carefully inside the incubator, and fed every 8-12 hours for 3 days. When the babies are fed, they are divided, and the divisions can also be fed up as new babies.

The divided babies aren't old enough to bake with yet. Oh, sure, they'll probably raise the dough, but they'll lack any flavor, and will need extra yeast or other leavening to boost their loft. Pancakes might work with such infantile sourdoughs...maybe.

The choice is to discard the divisions, or make new babies. Until I run out of local friends who want babies (or jars to grow them in), I make babies. The rest, unfortunately, goes into the dogfood. Which they adore, and it is healthy for them.

After a week of steady feedings, they are ready to mature, and allowed to grow undisturbed for several days.

once they've matured, they can be used right away, or stored in the refrigerator.

Most people are under the impression that once you have yeast beasties, you have to bake with htem every week.

This isn't true. Yeast beasties can sit, undisturbed, in the refrigerator for up to 6 months between use. They have to be pampered a bit and coaxed into activity again when they go dormant after such a long time (back to the incubator and daily feedings, but not for days and days as they did when they were born, just for 2-3 days and then they're mature enough to bake with again.

A clear liquid will form on the top if you don't use your yeast beasties daily. Just stir that liquor back into the culture and proceed.

Now, if the liquid turns funky colors (green in particular, but blue's pretty awesomely frightening, too, and that orangey-pink color is just plain nasty!) or the layer of liquid is on the bottom or the middle of the culture, these are indications the culture has been contaminated. Don't throw it away, you can often rescue the culture by "washing" it.

You'll need to set up an intensive care area, where you can wash it every 6-8 hours the first day, and twice more the next day. All the divisions from thsi will have to be discarded. Don't feed these "babies" to the dogs. When the yeast beastie starts activating again, and doesn't produce any more off-colored or bad smelling effluvia, your culture can be used again. It usually takes about 3 days of intensive care and another 2-3 days of general care.

Each sourdough culture and their babies have a distinctive flavor, which is why places famous for their sourdoughs (like San Francisco) jealously guard their cultures.

We don't currently have a San Francisco sourdough, but we do have yeast beasties from Canada, Germany, France, the Red Sea, Egypt, and Oregon, as well as the two new ones from Italy.

The oldest one is from Egypt, from a culture that dates back to pre-Christian times. He's named Onuri-Ufa, which means "bringer back of the distant flour".

Heike is the sourdough I brought back from Germany, she was divided off the villager baker's which was at least 300 years old, and then I have Somerlyn, given to me by a chance meeting of a fellow sourdougher at a Friends of the Library Book Sale - she's from Nevada, and then there's Penelope, from a friend in Oregon.

While Onuri-Ufa is the oldest culture I have, Heike is the one I've personally had the longest. I've been schlepping Penelope all around the world for more than 40 years, a gift from the village baker when I left to begin my journeyman years. Penelope is the one I've had second longest, from when I first came to the States, a gift from a friend in college.

Onuri-Ufa was willed to me by a friend's mother, who didn't trust anyone else with him.

And yes, yeast beasties have gender behaviors.

Heike and Penelope and Somerlyn all are easy to work with, quick to respond, and eager. Their flavors are bold and flirty, and in hand, they are easy to work to a soft elasticity.

Onuri-Ufa is cantankerous and cranky and needs lots of attention (well, wouldn't you if you were more than 2,000 years old?), but more than that, he has a subtle flavor that appears mild but will surprise you by its stamina, and under hand, he feels firmer and more substantial than the girls do. He is the first masculine yeast beastie I've encountered - all the others have clearly been female.

Yes, I know I named the Italian cultures I just got both after boys, but once they're activated, and I know them better, that may change - especially if they're girls.

By the time the Cracked Cauldron opens, I hope we will have a San Francisco culture, as well as ones from Russia, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and France.

I haven't heard of any cultures from South America (wouldn't a Brazilian or Peruvian culture be yummy?) or from China or Japan. But if I encounter any, you can be sure, I'll snag them for the Cracked Cauldron.

And maybe, I'll come across another masculine culture to keep Onuri-Ufa company.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Sausage and Kohlrabi stew. Posted by Hello

An individual-sized little Koulibiaca. Posted by Hello

Th inside of the Koulibiaca. Posted by Hello

The Bready Rice Pudding in a Frangelico Sauce. Posted by Hello

The inside of a Scottish Egg. Posted by Hello

Scottish Eggs Posted by Hello

Mardi Gras! 

So, last night, I baked King Cakes. Filled and unfilled. Rich, yeasty, dense King Cakes. I took a picture of one of them, the others were whisked away too quickly for the camera to catch.

We also made a yummy sausage stew to go into The Cauldron Crack'd: kohlrabi (you can get it at most Asian markets and even WalMart carries it - but go to the Asian markets, theirs are fresher and sweeter), a mirepoix of onions, celery, and cabbage, tiny sausages, and seasonings. For the cookbook, I bought those tiny all beef Eckridge cocktail sausages - not bad! The stew needs sauerkraut in it, though. It really does, so I'll try a version like that tonight. And something with the rutabaga I found at WalMart as well. I'm kind of surprised at that, seeing as they don't carry turnips.

Turnips! Why doesn't the local WalMart carry turnips? Do WalMarts in your area carry turnips? Maybe it's just on Okie aberration?

The Banbury Tarts didn't get made because the ferrets decided to remodel the livingroom, and we had to move the potted plants from the shelves they'd safely inhabited for 7 years to the kitchen table. And with all those plants on the table, I had nowhere to roll pastry dough except the floor. I have a bunny living in the kitchen right now who's shedding his winter fur for his summer coat. Bunny hairs may be authentic in actual medieval recipes, but I have higher standards.

So, I'll have to figure some other place to roll dough or find a safe place for the plants until it warms up enough to put them outside.

That means no more meat pies or pastries until then. That's OK, we still have breads and stews to work on making up and photographing for The Cauldron Crack'd.

Monday, February 07, 2005


We made Koulibiaca and Scottish Eggs for The Cauldron Crack'd, along with photos, and will be making a King Cake tonight, along with Banbury Tarts, a stew of some sort, and possibly another meat pie.

I managed to snap photos of the Egg and Koulibiaca, and will post them later, when I'm at the computer that has the right software on it.

If you haven't heard of Koulibiaca, it's a lovely hand-shaped rice and salmon Russian pie.

We made small ones with a deep well on top for the sauce. The filling distributed itself so only a portion was visible in the cut to show the interior. It looks remarkably white, with only a strip of carrot showing.

The pie itself is remarkably yummy - a medium grain rice, layers of boiled egg, carrots, celery, and other vegetables at hand, and rich seasonings all encased in a thick crust of chewy, flaky pastry.

When I make this family sized, I usually shape it like a salmon or a braid. For the small, individual sized pies, we made them with too much rice and not enough other filling, so we'll adjust the recipe, and make them again.

I adore Koulibiaca with a rich butter sauce, but any sort of complemetary sauce will go well with it. A Bernaise or even a country cream gravy would hold up well against this pie.

The eggs inside the Scottish Eggs are usually overcooked, but we'll share our technique for making tender delicious Scottish Eggs, and our favorite variation - the Cheesy Scottish Egg!

I like to make our own "forcemeat", but for The Cauldron Crack'd, I recommend using prepared pork sausage and a few easy to get herbs and spices to make it special.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Being Nice Can Cost You  

A couple of young girls decided to bake cookies for their neighbors one evening and deliver them. They practiced the safety procedures taught by practically every youth group (buddy system), and were home before curfew.

Still, for their act of kindness and generosity, they were sued, and lost.

I don't want to live in a world where people are punished for doing something nice and generous. Until today, I would have said sharing happiness was not a crime.

I dislike the thought that any judge would punish someone for doing good. Better, I think, for the judge to have denied this suit, especially since the girls offered both an apology and to pay for the medical bills before the woman sued.

Ms. Young said, "I just hope the girls learned a lesson." I'm not sure what lesson she wanted them to learn - that being nice is a Bad Thing? That being neighborly is Evil? That all good deeds will be punished? That judges will convict young girls for being generous?

Ms. Young needs to learn a lesson in kindness in her own turn. She's an adult (at least, I presume she is, since she has an 18 year old daughter), and to sue children for an act of kindness was an act of excessive cruelty.

I don't know what sheltered world Ms. Young inhabits, but it's not uncommon for people to knock on doors even as late as midnight. The proper response is to either peek out to see who it is, and if one can't do that, to ignore the knocking. Few criminals knock first, and the ones who do usually hope the door is answered because they lack lockpicking skills. Ms. Young's reaction was excessive, anad her response to the girls' apology and offer to pay the medical bills cruel. That the judge sided with Ms. Young was unjust and mean-spirited.

Since cookies were involved, I'd like to do something to combat this creeping meanness that is invading the US.

I propose a Kindness Cookie.

Whenever we seesomeone punishing another for an act of kindness or generosity, I suggest we give that mean person a cookie (chocolate chip or a sugar cookie, as that's what the girls baked) and a note reminding them that acts of kindness are sweet.

I am seriously resisting the temptation to say something as cruel as their act was/will be, so bear with me until I can think of something sufficiently pithy to say without being mean. Feel free to offer suggestions...

Thursday, February 03, 2005


I just received a gift in the mail that has me eager to get home: Italian sourdough cultures.

Yes, plural!

It's very very hard to get authentic Italian sourdoughs - the Italian bakers are as close with them as the San Francisco bakers are. Probably more so, since I can affod to travel to San Francisco to beg and plead for a culture, but not to Italy.

One of the cultures I received is from a bakery on the Isle of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, the other comes from Camaldoli Hill. The first culture is at least 200 years old, the other a baby, born months ago as opposed to centuries ago.

I know the older culture will be intensely sour, with a preference for unbleached wheat flours. I'm thinking of naming this culture "Neopolo" (more reminiscent of the Naples area than an actual Italian name) because it didn't come with a name already, and this one acknowledges its origins.

The baby Italian culture also came with no name. What is with people who don't name their yeast beasties? You have to care for them, feed, them, wash them, play with them, and house them just like any other pet. Don't they also deserve a name? Anyway, the baby, I think I'll name "Quentino" for active, for I certainly hope this young culture will prove vigorous and active.

In two weeks, I'll bake the first loaves with Neopolo and Quentino - and I'll take pictures to show you how pretty they are.

I'm just sorry you can't taste them with us.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words 

Or something like that, anyway.

So far, the title A Cauldron Crack'd has the most votes - i.e. more than one vote. I think the culinary and history snobs (and don't tell me there aren't any) who attend MedFaire will appreciate the tribute to Sir Kenelm Digby. And those Faire patrons who've never heard of Sir Kenelm Digby, Gillaumes Tirel (better known as Taillevent), Sabrina Welserin, Elinor Fettiplace, Chiquart, or Samuel Pepys can still enjoy wonderfully medievalish food.

This weekend, we'll cook and photograph those foods which still need pictures, and talk to our stable of artists for cover art and maybe some interior art as well, and then we'll put the book together, upload it to our POD publisher (which, really, is better than vanity), and order a lot of copies for the Faire

We'll place the order link on the sidebar here once it's up, and the link will remain until MedFaire is over. Since I don't know how many copies I'll need to pre-order, we'll leave the link up for a couple of weeks after the Faire so people can order copies if we run out. Then, because this is a limited MedFaire edition, that will be that.

Of course, we'll have more cookbooks in the future; after all, we had so many good cookbook titles suggested we have to use at least some of them.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

MedFaire Cookbook 

We've been working on the MedFaire Cookbook (still nameless, but I am kind of leaning towards a salute to Sir Kenelm Digby and his A Closet Open'd, perhaps calling it A Cauldron Crack'd?

There are a few other choices under consideration as well.

Now, we just have to pick the recipes.

Scottish Eggs will naturally be in there, along with shortbreads, gingerbreads, manchettes, some hearty stews, and a few interesting subtleties.

Naturally, since we will make them, we will also photograph them and include pictures in the book. They'll be black and white to save on the cover price since we'll "vanity publish" the book in order to have copies on hand by MedFaire. No publishing house I know of can have the books ready for sale in 2 months.

Next year, however, especially if the book proves to be popular, we can upgrade to color photographs.

And because we've been doing MedFaire for 28 years (Well, actually, since Manager is 22, she's only been doing hte Faire for 22 years), we have lots of anecdotes with which to spice up the pages.

Some of the recipes are ones requested by friends and compatriots at the faire year after year. The Scottish Eggs, for example, along with the shortbread, the gingerbread, and the sourdough.

Last year, we made 120 Scottish Eggs, and barely had enough. This was with keeping the Eggs secret and offering them only to very special people. Had we offered the Eggs for sale, we would have needed so many more Eggs...

The recipes inside the book will be altered for the home kitchen, in small batches, with commonly available ingredients. We won't make you search for exotic ingredients such as galangal root.

I think our base line will be if you can't find it at WalMart or Kroger's or some similar low-end grocery store, then it won't be in the book.

What do you think of the title Faire Food from the Cracked Cauldron?

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