Monday, October 16, 2006

Feast After Action Report

There are times when I don't really feel like I have time for the SCA, and when I become impatient with tasks I've agreed to perform and can't readily get out of. Sometimes it feels like an imposition on time I need to spend on work, other hobbies or watching the Tigers win the pennant.

But as much as I rather dreaded having to devote half of Friday and all of Saturday to the Harvest of Souls VI feast and Sunday to recovering, I will admit that it was fun. Working with Lady A'isha al-Zarqa on a feast is always delightful, and getting the report that she received a Willow at the recent Donnershafen event after the feast was very nice and good timing.

We had the easiest time in the kitchen I can remember, no doubt because while A'isha and I make a good team, adding Lord Diego Brasa de Zaragoza (former caterer) and Her Ladyship Clarissa Wykeham (a past head cook for Stormvale) to the crew made a 14 dish feast remarkably easy. We had a pleasant and relaxing time in the kitchen, despite the hard work at times, and it was especially nice to know that any one of the four of us could adopt any task or dish, or switch off without fuss. And as always we could rely on His Lordship Skalla-Geirmundr Ulfsson to do various hard and thankless tasks, like processing all the onions and washing 90% of the dishes, and Mistress Melisande of Woodcrest, who ran errands. And as he often does, Lord Gerard von Lowenstein ramrodded the servers and made it so the cooks had to do little or nothing with the actual service of the feast. And we appreciated all the other folks who lent a hand, especially on clean up after the feast.

It may be a first, but when we were ready to go with the feast on time (the first two courses were plated and ready to go by then), the feast hall was not fully cleared, and there was a delay while we just kept getting farther ahead. That was quite agreeable.

The Virtues and Sins theme worked out fine, I thought, although it was a rather expensive proposition when we were comping so many tickets and couldn't count on selling out, which we didn't. But the expense wasn't so very far over our usual, everything considered, and it is nice to pull out the stops every now and then.

A few comments on the dishes, with credit to the cooks involved:

Diego was responsible for roasting and slicing the beef for Sauce Aliper, for the Pies of Paris, with a little assistance from A'isha and Clarissa, for the Risotto (he had made the chicken stock for that during the week), and for assisting with the Pippin Pudding prep. He also helped reconstitute some of the Herb Soup when it looked like we might run out. And all this while teaching a class on chain mail and even sitting down for a few minutes of the feast. The beef was fantastic (A'isha and I both snuck pieces before it left the kitchen), the pies looked gorgeous and were highly praised, and while I didn't try the risotto, it smelled divine. I should add that Diego, a former kitchen professional, knew how to operate both the convection oven, which was very handy, and the industrial-grade garbage disposal, which was a great help during clean up. We would have ignored both pieces of equipment otherwise.

Clarissa was responsible for the Pippin Puddings, and invented a clever new way to arrange them for cooking which we will certainly adopt ever after. They were in the seventh and last course, which meant there was some danger they would be refused (and I allowed Clarissa to assume an earlier, smaller number of apples for just that reason - she cooked 70 instead of the 91 planned servings), but in fact very few of them came back. Melisande and I ate some of the leftover custard, and thought it superb. Clarissa also prepped the carrots for another dish, gilded most of the chicken and generally helped with many other tasks.

A'isha, as I have mentioned before, is my favorite partner in the kitchen. Aside from a few moments of discussion at the outset, we really didn't need to plan much or discuss division of labor. We both just floated around keeping things caught up. She was responsible for the Tarts on Ember Day, which were especially glorious and buttery, the Soul Cakes, which she cooked ahead of time, the relish trays and the Herb Soup. She also did some of the more tiresome tasks, like prepping the egg yolks, of which we needed an absurd amount, and had the clever idea of using the fennel greens for garnishing the fish. I should add that both the tarts and the herbs for the soup were quite prep-intense, and A'isha probably helped with all of the dishes, and especially with getting them plated and out the door. I think she and Diego washed and sliced the radishes, too, but I was busy with something else at the time, so I'm not sure about that part.

I roasted the Gilded Chicken, cooked the Apecian Carrots, parboiled and steamed the Broccoli and Fennel, and did the Sauce Cameline for the fish. A'isha and I did most of the plating and arranging as the dishes were going out, with much help from Diego and Clarissa. And Geirmundr also helped with the eggs, butter, and prepped the Compound Salat.

I heard no complaints about any dishes (other than from Geirmundr, who thought I was adding too much odd stuff to the salad!), and I would account this a very successful feast just on that account. We all thought the gilded chicken was something of a revelation. And I thought the tarts and pies had never looked quite so good, and both got many compliments. And the Pippin Puddings came off beautifully.

Once everything was out, and we had been graciously applauded by the diners, the cooks drank champagne in the kitchen (later shared with lunch taverner Lady Eron Crowfford and Geirmundr), and enjoyed some of our cooking. To my surprise, Volkmar, a colleague from work, brought us two beautiful bottles, complete with heraldry, of kiwi lime mead! We promptly opened one and enjoyed it. Most delicious. Limes improve everything, in my view.

At roughly this time we were finding out that A'isha had received a Willow and that the Tigers had won the pennant, and the evening wound down. There was some discussion of doing it again next year, and unless someone else wants a turn or the event stewards have had enough of me, I expect we'll have to. A'isha flatters me with the suggestion that she won't if I don't, and that's pretty convincing!

One last set of comments: the promised Bourbelier de Sanglier dish (pork loin) had to be dropped for roast beef in sauce aliper at the last minute, when it developed that no one had pork loin on sale. There usually is a sale somewhere, but the beef was the planned backup, and there was a sale on some truly beautiful beef roasts. Also, while we usually provide cheese, fruit and sometimes nuts for the relish tray, I opted for less expensive components, partly because I doubted anyone would complain with 13 other dishes. And finally, I don't know if anyone noticed, but I completely forgot the Worcestershire sauce for the Apecian Carrots. I don't think anyone could seriously object to carrots slathered in butter, brown sugar and port, though.

I'd be glad of hearing more comments regarding this feast or suggestions for the next one.

1 comment:

Alinora Elizabeth McGrath said...

It was indeed a feast to remember. The Fates offer up congrats and HOOBAH to you and the other fine feast cooks- the ambiance and atmosphere were augmented by delicious food!

I can't wait for next year!

Head Fate Lachesis