Sunday, August 31, 2008

Feasting fatigue

Bullock and I have spent today lounging around the house, because we last night we finally had the medieval feast we were planning to have to celebrate my getting tenure, and we're exhausted. Bullock spent all day in the kitchen yesterday (while I straightened and cleaned the house and occasionally helped in the kitchen) and still we weren't quite ready for the party start time. The scene for the first hour and half of the party was like something out of Dinner Impossible or some other stress-filled cooking show, as we desperately tried to get everything ready *and* entertain guests -- including introducing a lot of folks who'd never met each other.

But it all ended up a success, I think. Aside from the food -- which I'll get to in a moment -- the social elements all came together. Three Western Canadians bonded with each other; the five kids of four different couples formed their own little society and pretty much spent the evening entertaining themselves; Pippi slept in her crate without a fuss and behaved herself when she was let out (and was much admired when she was); people drove from literally hours away to come, my friend the Big Teutonic Queer coming from the farthest (2 1/2 hours by car); a possible job opportunity was made; the people whom we know *don't* get along managed to be civil and avoid each other; and the aforementioned BTQ fell madly in platonic love with a certain well-coiffed medievalist from a similar institution in a neighboring state (but then who *doesn't* love her??) and my chair ooh'ed and ah'ed over said medievalist's cool jewelry. Everyone, in short, seemed to have a great time. As one person remarked, "You have some *very* cool friends." Yes I do!

I have to say, though, I always feel a little like a latter-day Mrs. Dalloway at these moments, because whenever I throw a party (not counting the smaller affairs Bullock and I have thrown together or where the guest list has consisted of our usual suspects, all mutual friends), I invite all my friends that I know from various circumstances, and it becomes clear to me -- and in fact has been pointed out to me at various times in my life -- that I know a lot of people and seem to get along with a lot of different kinds of people. Now, in this case, it was mostly academics, but there were, at least, people from different fields and institutions, and, as I mentioned, many who had never met before. And I enjoy watching them come together and get to know each other. But whenever it's my own party, I always feel a little like I'm *merely* watching, and I never get to talk to any one person for very long because I'm always flitting from one to the next. I suppose, though, that's the nature of being the hostess. Thank god it's not a role I relish taking on frequently.

Bullock's situation was even more distant from the festivities. With the madness of still rushing around to get the food going as guests arrived, the cooking duties fell even heavier on his shoulders and I don't think he got to leave the kitchen much at all. But for all his work -- and his ingenuity in overriding or adapting some of the directions in the recipe books -- we were rewarded with a slew of fabulous dishes, most of which we'd never made or tasted before (a bold risk for any party hosts!). Here's a picture of the spread and a close up of one of the pies; following that is a list of the dishes and our sources:




In the top picture, front row to back left to right, you see:

- Boiled shrimp with a cold citrus and herb sauce (sauce recipe adapted from the blood orange and sorrel sauce in Pleyn Delit)

- Saracen Stew (a Middle Eastern style beef stew from Pleyn Delit) -- this was the biggest hit of the night, even with the kids

- Two Salmon Pies which really tested people's limits for the more exotic elements of medieval cooking, because they featured the medieval taste combination of sweet and savory -- along with the salmon, they were filled with dates, figs, currants, raisins, and pine nuts (from Fabulous Feasts). People either loved or hated this one.

- Regular old loaf of bread (we cheated - we bought it and its mate). There were no trenchers involved in this feast, btw. We served everything buffet style (obviously) with paper plates and plastic utensils, including forks.

- Two Pies of Parys (beef and veal meat pies -- very tasty as cold leftovers, btw) -- from Pleyn Delit.

- Another loaf of bread next to an earthenware jug that later contained the "Creme Bastard" (a cream sauce) for the dessert that's in the back row

- Two Tarts de Bry (brie) -- the only dish I'd had before -- available in both Pleyn Delit and Fabulous Feasts, I think.

- Salat (green salad of a very herbaceous sort -- lots of mint, parsley, fennel, thyme, garlic scapes, green onions and the like, as well as leafy green) - from Pleyn Delit.

[Non food items -- sunflower given to my by my department chair and castle pop-up book given to me by the BTQ, which made an excellent table decoration!]

- Cherry Bread Pudding (read that as 'cherry pudding with bread in it' -- not really bread pudding in the modern sense -- this dish was the only real disappointment for Bullock and me) -- this was served with the "Creme Bastard" -- both from Pleyn Delit.

[Non food item - gorgeous roses given to me by a colleague and friend]

Not pictured: "Ravioles," aka cheese ravioli, which are not only medieval, but also something we knew the kids would eat. We didn't make them ourselves -- although a recipe is in Pleyn Delit -- but purchased them from Costco. Shhhh. We also served them bagel dogs -- *not* part of the medieval theme, clearly.

People brought an assortment of drinks (including a gift of Chaucer's Mead from my chair!), but we started everyone off with Belgian Trappist ales, Monty Python's Holy Grail ale, chilled mead, white and red wine, and, best of all, a Spicy Pomegranate and Gin Cocktail that we concocted by adapting the mulled pomegranate juice recipe in Pleyn Delit. Yummy!

Oh, and as a post script: my friends Victoria and Milton gave me Beowulf the Game for Play Station (yes, we now have a Play Station). Hey, it can't be worse than the movie, right?

8 comments:

medieval woman said...

A medieval feast is such a great idea! I think I'll get that cookbook and do something similar at some point.

I'm glad it went well and everyone had a great time!

Aven said...

The food looks AMAZING. We've made quite a few of the dishes from Pleyn Delit ourselves, over the years -- I think the Paris Pies are among my favourites, along with a lamb dish stewed in yogurt with preserved lemons. Mmm. I think I need to pull that book out again...

Karma said...

Very nice! Thanks for posting these. I think my picky ten year old may be ready for Saracen Stew.

TheCrankyProfessor said...

It occurred to me for the first time how much medieval food was pie-shaped.

I wonder how much that was technological; baking something along with bread in a wood oven has to be pretty easy.

Hmmm...the things you learn from blog-reading!

The Pastry Pirate said...

mmmmm...niiiice. i've made that salmon pie and at first bite was horrified, but it grew on me. congrats on the tasty spread... was all the lard in the crust home-rendered??

Dr. Virago said...

Cranky - I think our selection may have something to do with the abundance of pies. Originally we were hoping to do the brie tarts as tartlets, with pre-made shells, but couldn't find them. And we though pie type dishes seemed easier to manage since some of the shells could be made the day before.

Pirate -- Yes, the lard -- which the recipes didn't call for but Bullock added -- was Bullock's own home-rendered lard. It didn't go in the brie tarts, though, as we wanted those to be truly vegetarian and butter seemed to suit their taste better.

Jonathan said...

A Playstation 3? We got one to double as a BluRay player.

Dr. Virago said...

Jonathan - That's exactly why we got ours as well!