Monthly Archives: February 2016

Been Busy Making Things

I’m making progress on my 30×30 Makers List. To recap, I challenged myself to make 30 things before my 30th birthday. I have just under two weeks left. I’ve come a long way. Got a long way to go.

Here is some stuff I’ve been working on…

  1. PEKING DUCK. 
    That’s right. I did it. I made a Peking Duck at home. I dried that sucker out and coated it in a maltose solution and roasted it vertically. The last part I managed thanks to a tip from Serious Eats to stuff a beer can full of water up the cavity and stand it up in a roasting pan. 1.5 hours later, we feasted on delicious Peking Duck with all the fixings. And a side of snow pea tips in garlic.

peking duck abovepeking duck bun1peking duck spread 2peking duck bun 2

2. SHADOW PUPPET
I started this shadow puppet years ago after returning from Cambodia inspired by the art form. I don’t know why I decided on a flamenco dancer, but I was pleased to find this recently and add it to my maker’s list.

3. Recipe for Josefin
My friend Josefin, when she last visited the US from Sweden, had a brilliant idea: that she and I exchange recipes with the stories behind them, and perhaps one day assemble them all into a transatlantic cookbook. Naturally, I agreed. When I listed the first recipe on my maker’s list, my cousin provided this fantastic start to the challenge: my grandmother’s recipe for rye crackers written in her handwriting. The story is below.

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Our grandmother, Mimi, was an anomaly in our family. Mimi, you see, was always very proper, very feminine, reserved, and clean. She cared very much about appearances, much to the chagrin of the rest of us. My mother, by contrast, was very much a tomboy, always valuing athleticism, ingenuity, and silliness over traditional feminine attributes. Her grandmother, Mimi’s mother, was creative and affectionate and pleased to get dirty (or so people tell me…I never really knew her). My mom once told me the story of how she and her grandmother were in a row boat and my mom got out to swim alongside. She remembers her grandmother peering down at her from the boat above, shaking her head and asking rhetorically, “How did you ever come out of your mother?” All of us in the family laugh at this story. The idea of Mimi swimming in a lake, or even just messing up her hair, tickles us in its absurdity.

Growing up with Mimi, I hear, was much less funny. My mother constantly felt burdened to impress Mimi. Despite her efforts, she never seemed to escape the shadow of unachievable perfection she believed her mother sought from her. Whether or not Mimi actually desired perfection, or felt any disappointment with my mother’s choices, cannot be known until Heaven, and possibly not even then. However, my mother’s paranoia to please Mimi was transferred to me, and the unfortunate result was that I never felt comfortable around my own grandmother. I too always felt the need to put on a show, to dress well around her, and to hide my messes and shortcomings. It was stressful. We had so very little in common.

Very little, that is, except eating.

              After Mimi passed away my aunt asked us for any happy memories we had of our grandmother. As I look back on my fonder moments with Mimi, almost every single one of them involves eating. She was no chef, but she definitely appreciated delicious things. I remember sleeping over at her house during those years she lived near us in New York. Our ritual was to go out to a fancy Chinese restaurant for dinner and then in the morning she would make blueberry pancakes with kumquat marmalade and bacon. For family dinners, she would make a beef pot roast and serve it with gravy over fluffy dinner rolls baked with significant quantities of butter. As I got older, I began to cook for her, and very much enjoyed watching her eat my handiwork. She would close her eyes and make funny little grunting noises which, from her, somehow came out dainty. She would save chocolate to regift to me, knowing I would appreciate it, and she regularly had a tin of cookies and a tin of crackers ready for snacking during our visits.

It is the crackers that I share with you today. She enjoyed eating them with cottage cheese and tomato slices for lunch. I don’t remember enjoying the crackers much as a child, but my uncle brought a tin of them to Mimi’s memorial service and I gave them another try. As strange as it sounds, tasting the crackers that day made me smile. I remember the day was sunny and breezy and everything was green. We sat outside the church, munching away. They were Mimi crackers. Despite grieving her loss I felt, for me, that they manifested in a small way a celebration of her life.

And the crackers are scrumptious.

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How to Make a Renaissance Feast

This past weekend our friends hosted a murder mystery dinner party set in Elizabethan England. They called it “Myrder at the Blackfriar Taverne.”

They put me in charge of food.

I told them that I might need some boundaries.

They thought I was kidding.

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As I set about thinking through my plan, my initial inclination was to make things I already knew were delicious and pretend they were from the period. Then I remembered that I had the internet, and such access to knowledge holds us all to higher standards. Here are the steps I underwent. Should you ever host or cater a similar event, I hope will this be useful to you:

  1. Think through the categories of food you need: Starters, drinks, breads, entrees, sides, desserts (I made a spreadsheet to keep track of my plan and potential recipes). This is important because your research could easily send you spiraling off down rabbit trails and two hours later you find yourself with eighteen recipes for chicken and nothing else. Have a mission in mind. Therefore, instead of looking for “Elizabethan Recipes,” look for “Elizabethan Cake Recipe.” That said, your mission should also leave room for serendipity. You might find little factoids, as I did, of foods typical to the period that we no longer use. For instance, Elizabethan cuisine involved many floral flavors like rose and lavender, and we use much less of that today. Because of this, I knew that I needed to incorporate floral notes into the food when appropriate, thereby making it more accurate to the time period. Incidentally, this cake and this frosting were fantabulously delicious.

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    Elizabethan Honey Cake with Lavender Buttercream

  2. Choose your recipes with care, but don’t go crazy. Given that it took humanity a shockingly long time to add amounts to their recipes, many of the documented dishes that survived history are, for practical purposes, useless. Many people have made their own guesses as to what the recipes required, so given the high level of uncertainty, choose your recipes in a way that balances historicity, feasibility, and potential edibility. Remember, this is your dinner too. Challenge yourself, but be kind to yourself as well. For example, for this party I had to choose a recipe for manchet bread, a white bread typically reserved for nobility as white flour was expensive to obtain. Many recipes used lard, which I didn’t have, and others had no measurements, so it became very difficult to figure out what “real” manchet was. In the end, I picked a recipe that looked delicious, seemed supported by research, and had contemporary measurements. It was delicious and beauteous.

    manchet

    manchet, the bread of nobles

  3. Cross reference whether people ate the ingredients you want to use. Research the eating habits of different social strata…it’s fascinating. It seems Elizabethan peasants ate much more healthily than their noble counterparts. Believing vegetables to be “ground food,” nobles typically shunned nutritious options and instead indulged in white flour and white sugar, and paid dearly to do so. They loved sugar so much that the financially pressed nobles would blacken their teeth with soot to make them appear to be rotting from the sugar. It is also important to realize that, depending on when in the Elizabethan era you choose to focus, foods like potatoes, chocolate, and tomatoes had not yet made it across the ocean, and even after they did, they were only consumed by the most adventurous. Tomatoes were considered poisonous, in fact, for many years after their arrival in Europe. I share all of this because depending on your dedication to era-appropriate menu items, it helps to consider the facts.

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    mini meat pies, made with roast shredded pork, minced beef, minced sausage, carrots, onions, and peas.

  4. Think through your timing. This is true of any large catering venture, but you might not realize how long your leech, a milk and wine jelly, takes to set. Each layer of this pudding requires 12 hours each in the fridge, so I’m very thankful I checked the recipe a couple days before. In addition, bread needs time to rise and pie dough (with butter) needs to chill before rolling it out. Because you (probably) don’t have a kitchen staff in your castle bowels to get everything out on the table at the right time, you have to schedule yourself wisely.

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    Eight Cornish Hens

  5. Everyone loves cheese. 
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Best of luck with all your themed party cooking experiments!

Also, in other news, after this party I can now cross off several items from my 30×30 Maker List, including #8, the tiered cake, and #9, the Renaissance costume. Technically I made two costumes, because I was responsible for the hubby costume as well as my own. I made my costume out of curtains and a pillow sham. Seriously. I am also going to add Renaissance Feast to my list, as that was quite a feat of making.

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30×30 Challenge: Update #1

Last week I set out on a Maker’s expedition and challenged myself to make 30 things by my 30th birthday. As the (fateful) day approaches, I am pleased to report that I have made some good progress in the last week.

So far I have made…

#2 Peter’s Video

Back in the fall my buddy Peter McKeown (the talented singer-songwriter behind Woodferd) and I filmed footage to illustrate one of his new songs. We were going for a Wes Anderson-esque look. To do this properly, I will need to play with the colors and saturation quite a bit, but I finished the first edit last week. Take a look and send some kudos Peter’s way.

#6 Standing Souffle

Mwa ha ha ha! I did it! I am a master chef! After doing some research to prep for this experiment, I discovered that all souffles do eventually collapse, but it is still a question of whether you can get them to poof and stay poofed for long enough to present it to your guests. Like a doofus, I accidentally bonked the ramekin while trying to take a picture of the souffle, making it sink a bit, but over all I am very pleased with the degree of poof.

 

souffle

#30 Jewelry.

I made two pieces of jewelry. The first necklace comes from an old earring that has long lost its pair and a chain from a necklace I never liked.

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The second is mini mosaic pendant. It still needs its own chain. To make it, I bashed up this mosaic tile I’ve had in my art supplies for years and finally answered the question, “How hard could mosaics be?” Answer? Very.

mosaicneclace

I have also made excellent progress on my shadow puppet and my renaissance costume.

What about you? Go! Make things! ¡Ándale!

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