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Corn Bread

There's this book called The Cornbread Gospels by (I kid you not) Crescent Dragonwagon.  If you like lots of different kinds of cornbread, I highly recommend this book.  We love it.

If you just like good, southern-style cornbread unadulturated with any sugar, then I suggest you try this recipe:

1/4 cup butter or bacon drippings melted in a large cast iron skillet in a 450 degree (F) oven.

Mix 2 cups fine corn meal (white or yellow or one day I may try blue) with 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder in a large bowl.

In a smaller bowl, thoroughly mix 1 egg and 1 & 1/2 cups buttermilk.

When the butter is melted, take the pan out of the oven and swirl it around until the whole pan is coated.  Then mix the wet ingredients and melted butter with the dry ingredients and stir just enough to get everything wet.

Pour the batter into the frying pan and bake it in the oven for 20 or 25 minutes until the top is a golden brown and a knife comes out clean.

This is just the best bread.  And no wheat!

We did finish warping the loom. We've taken it many places since and, Penelope-like, are un-weaving afterwards.  At some point we'll finish this piece and warp up another now that it's not so scary.

The photos below the cut are from the Fiber Festival of New England. Six of us did a demo on Sunday November 2 (and two of us did one the day before, but I wasn't there).  This was our first year at this Festival and we hope to be invited back next year.

The SCA group we do fiber demos with has been invited back permanently to the Connecticut Sheep and Wool Festival. They tell us they plan to put all the demonstrators in a big tent so if it rains everyone is dry!

The Eastern States Exposition (The Big E) has also asked us back. We'll probably demo the first Saturday of the fair.

Lots of Photos below the cut!Collapse )
Side view of the loom, with Ana Ilevna showing how it works.  That's a drop spindle sticking in one of the holes of the loom.


And here it is, in all it's warped glory.  Waisting bady. We're still trying to figure out how to stop that.  The soapstone loom weights were generously made by Camma an Daraich.

Ana Ilevna showing some of Ælfgiva's sprang.  On the table we have sprang, embroidery, quilting, linen fibers for spinning, nålbinding, wool combs, drop spinning and lucet. We also had several tablet weaving looms set up, a wheel spinning linen, and the warp weighted loom along with a small table full of contact information for most of the SCA groups in New England.

Ælfgiva demonstrating sprang.

Gwenllian spinning with Ælfgiva nålbinding in the background.

Sarah with her quilting.  Note the quilted overdress!

Henna dressing a distaff with linen.  She spun it all on her wheel during the demo.

I was there, too, but I was taking all the photos!

Dressing The Warp Weighted Loom

It's time to replace the weaving on our Warp Weighted Loom (WWL).  The SCA has a fiber arts demo at The Big E on September 14th in the New England Center (where they sell the Cream Puffs) and we want to demo weaving on our WWL.

One wants the warps to be evenly spaced to begin the weaving. There are several ways to achieve this; but one of the best ways is to tablet weave a top band and run a supplemental weft that then turns into the warps on the

PhotosCollapse )


Yet more snow

I mostly seem to blog about the weather, lately.  But here are photos for my family (HALF of which is down in Australia enjoying the summer!) to view.

We seem to have gotten an entire year's worth of snow at once (plus extra!).  Unessential State workers were told to stay home Friday and Monday, too.  We can now get one car out of the driveway, but the other two are stuck tight and the sidewalk is piled high still.
Photos below the cutCollapse )
This is the fence along the walk up to the front door.  It's about waist high.

Behind that boy is Janet's car.  Really.

This is the RV.  Mind you, Janet can stand up inside this thing, it's that high.


Tir-Mara EKU

Ana Ilevna and I attended the Tir-Mara Crown Principality East Kingdom University on October 5th and 6th. We had a great time. Everyone was extremely hospitable!

For future EKUs, I would recommend that the class listing always be on a web site that is available to everyone. This class listing was not only on Facebook, it was evidently not public and so only available to people with a Facebook login ID. Not even for cool A&S classes will I create another Facebook account after the experience I had with my first one. The class list was evidently added to the EKU web site but it can't have been too much before the event because it wasn't there the last time I tried to find a class listing other than the Facebook one. Magestra Alisay did sent me a preliminary class listing when I asked for one via e-mail.

I also recommend that specific directions from the nearest freeway also be published in the Event Listing both on the EK website (GINGER) and in the Pikestaff. In this case, Mapquest more-or-less worked (aside from trying to send us *South* on Highway 55 instead of North) but having directions from the locals is always good. I e-mailed Magestra Alisay to ask; but specific directions from Highway 40 were not available. (Though a map available from the (French only!) website of the Boy Scout camp helped very much to reassure me that the Mapquest directions from Highway 40 were correct.)

The event announcement was not in the September Pikestaff. As the event was the first Saturday in October, not everyone would have received their Pikestaff even if the directions had been there. This also meant that the event was not as well publicized as it could have been, which was a shame. It was a great event and more participation would have made it even better. Not to mention, great site with beds and showers and all!

The site fees increased by $3 on *August* 15th. As the event announcement wasn't in the August Pikestaff either, we ended up paying $6 more than we could have. We volunteered to teach back in May and would have sent in our check that early had we known of the fee increase in time. As it was, when the event didn't appear in the September Pikestaff, we checked the listing on GINGER. By then it was too late to get the lower site fee.

On to the good stuff:

The classes we attended were well taught. The handouts were informative. The class kits were very well put together and the materials fees were quite reasonable given what the materials were. ($10 for everything to make a 12 signature notebook and $15 for all the fur you needed (and more!) to trim garments.) Both Canadian and American money were accepted, which was a good thing as I foolishly did not change any money before we arrived. (Having decided that all I needed was my Visa card--I utterly forgot about materials fees, silly me!)

Class hand outs were available in both French and English. We sent our handout for our Bayeux Embroidery class to Magestra Alisay de Falaise a month or so ahead of time to be translated into French. This was even more important than for many handouts as half our class is a lecture on the events of 1066 leading up to the Battle of Hastings. The how-to-embroider the Bayeux technique can be taught across a language barrier. The history not so much. There were two people in class who translated into French for the few students who did not know English so all went very well. This was my first experience teaching to students who did not speak any English and I was very happy with the results. I hope they were, too!

If any of you wish to teach in Quebec, Magestra Alisay de Falaise volunteers to translate handouts from English to French. They've evidently been trying for 15 years (!) to find a teacher for pewter casting and glass bead making. There were instructors teaching both all day Saturday and they were inundated with students! Everyone was so very friendly and welcoming that I highly recommend going up to teach. We look forward to going again.


I also recommend going up to learn. Baron Cristoforo Donatello dei Visconti taught a very informative class on how to sew fur and use it to trim garments. Ana Ilevna, who also does not speak any French, had no trouble learning all sorts of useful information in his class and I might now get that fur lined cap I've been wishing for all these years. She came away with a bag full of examples and extra fur.

Lady Cellach Donn inghean Mhic an Mhadaigh taught a class on making a Viking pouch with Bayeux style embroidery (that technique was also used in Scandinavia). She also felts. She won the Prince's A&S Championship with a gorgeous felted Mongolian wall hanging and the documentation (in both English and French) to go with it.

I took a class in 16th century Limp Binding (for books) from Seigneur Robin dit Dessaints. The pace of his class was well thought out. He'd done quite a bit of the hole punching and cutting out ahead of time so we could get down to the core of how to stitch it all together. I finished it all in three hours. I believe this was the same person who entered a replica plate, blackwork embroidered book cover and honey-combed gathered shirt in the A&S competition. If so he is a very well talented man! The teaching was very clear and the A&S entries were marvelous.

I cannot remember the name of the woman who won the Princess's Championship. But her entry was a from-the-sheep-up length of woven fabric. She scoured the wool, combed it, dyed it, spun it, and weaved it. Very nice stuff!

The feast was delicious, the hall was beautifully decorated. There were more kinds of muffins than I ever knew existed for both Breakfast and Lunch. (Lady Cellach Donn inghean Mhic an Mhadaigh also baked a lot of the muffins. Very talented woman!) Each of the instructors was given a block-print thank you to take home. There were lovely items for sale in the silent auction for the EK Travel Fund, and all the candlesticks on the feast tables had been hand turned to hold both a candle or a tea light and were for sale for $5 for the Travel Fund.


I again highly encourage anyone to consider going up to Tir-Mara to teach and also encourage Tir-Maran's, especially Francophones, to come to the States or the Anglophone areas of the Principality to both learn and teach. Magestra Alisay de Falaise and Baroness Tadea Isabetta di Bruno of l'Ile du Dragon Dormant both volunteer to translate handouts and documentation from French to English.


Oh, and the cost of embroidery supplies in Canada is outrageous! We had a swarm snap up every single one of our spare embroidery hoops. A skein of DMC cotton is somewhere around $2 up there! We should organize a Paternayan Airlift or Underground Threadway to get some supplies North for less money.



Well, I won't be moving to Wisconsin!

Governor Walker signs anti-abortion measure into law, violates both free speech rights and doctor/patient relationships, Wisconsin schools that teach sex education must promote marriage and stress that abstinence is the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and to top it all off, he signed a law repealing the state's 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to have their day in court.

Obviously he doesn't want any women to vote for him in his recall election. And the lawmakers who voted for these bills ought to be tossed out of office, too.  What's up with you, Wisconsin??!


Irene was underwhelming, at least in my neck of the state. The winds weren't very strong, even the gusts, and the rain wasn't enough to cause problems in our neighborhood. Next week we have to put the roof back on the boat shelter. That'll be the most inconvenient bit of the storm. I hope.

Elsewhere in CT, evidently anyplace that can flood has flooded, with record innundations at the coast. :-(  I hope those folks stay safe and recover well.
I saw that on a church sign on TV.  Sums up my feelings very well.

We got another 10 inches today--on top of all the rest that's been on the ground since around Christmas. This is officially the snowiest month in this state on record.

Our total:  55 inches!  That doesn't count any of the snow we got in December.

Seven storms (SEVEN!) have dropped at least six inches of snow this season. And we've got more snow forecast for Saturday and Tuesday.  I can barely see my neighbor's SUV over the snow wall between our driveways.Snowy photos below the cut.Collapse )

SF and Fantasy Books From the Last Decade

The Science Fiction publisher Tor has a very nice blog.  Lots of interesting things and varied entries by many varied authors. Lately it's been "The 12 Doctors of Christmas" and before that a fortnight of steam punk posts.  There are on-going posts by Jo Walton (re-reading Patrick O'Brian, overview of the Hugo winners) and others.

Just now, they've got a poll asking you to nominate your picks for the Best SF and Fantasy Novels of the 2000s.

My picks, in no particular order, are as follows.  I've linked to excerpts of the books, if not the entire novel, where I could find them so you can read for yourself.

See My Picks!Collapse )

A Saxon Nativity

In theory, this is a blog where I can share stuff regarding medieval crafts or history or the SCA.  Actually, I've been ranting about modern stuff lately.  But Merry Christmas Eve--here is an entry on Things Medieval.  Well, pre-medieval actually.

The Heliand is a Gospel of Jesus Christ written in Old Saxon. It was composed by an unknown priest in the early 9th century.  It was probably written during or just after the reign of Charlemagne.

But this was not just a translation of the Gospel into Old Saxon.  No.  This was a re-telling of the Gospel in terms familiar to the Saxons.  The author transformed a Mediterranean monotheistic message of love and harmony to resonate deeply with the Germanic Saxon polytheistic warrior culture without changing Jesus' message.  Genius.

Charlemagne was brutal to the Saxons.  He took them as hostages then killed them when they went back to worshiping their Gods.  He cut down their sacred groves, passed laws that penalized paganism with death, and generally converted them to Christianity at the point of a sword.

The author of the Heliand evidently disagreed with this approach.  There are subtle digs that equate Charlemagne, the unwanted foreign overlord of the Saxons, to Cesar, the unwanted foreign overlord of the Jews.  The author seemed to think that the Saxons would of course choose Christ over Odin just given a clear message that would convince them.  One they understood.  No swords necessary.

He seems to have succeeded.  Father G. Roland Murphy, who did a fantastic job of translating The Heliand, posits that the German tradition of the Warrior for Christ came from the Heliand and the depiction of Christ's Warrior Companions therein.

But on to Christmas, the Birth of Christ.

From Father Murphy's translation:
Then there came a decree from fort Rome, from the great Octavian who had power over the whole world, an order from Caesar to his wide realm, sent to every king enthroned in his homeland and to all Caesar's army commanders governing the people of any territory. The decree said that everyone living outside their own country should return to their homeland upon receipt of the message. It stated that all the warrior heroes were to return to their assembly place, each one was to go back to the clan of which he was a family member by birth in a hillfort ... The good Joseph went also with his household, just as God, ruling mightily, willed it. He made his way to his shining home, the hillfort at Bethlehem. This was the clan assembly place for both of them, for Joseph the hero and for Mary, the holy girl. This was the place where in olden days the throne of the great and noble king David stood for as long as he reigned, enthroned on high, an earl of the Hebrews. Joseph and Mary both belonged by birth to his household, they were of good family lineage, of David's own clan.

Father Murphy notes "Notice how this part of the story replaces the reference to Quirinius, governor of Syria, with army commanders governing occupied territories exactly the situation of the defeated Saxons. And the last line is evidence that even as early as the Dark Ages, Europeans needed extra reassurance that Jesus came from noble blood."

Read more...Collapse )As horse-herders watched their herds by night; an angel of the lord came down and glory shone around....Collapse )


This isn’t medieval, but it angers and confuses me anyway.

My wife is just now eligible for Medicare.  She has health coverage through my employer.  My employer and I pay all the costs associated with this coverage *and* I pay additional taxes on the imputed earnings (the health care premium my employer pays for her coverage).

So we try to opt her out of Medicare Part B coverage since she already has equivalent coverage.

And we can’t.  Not without paying a very large penalty when she finally does opt in.

Why not?  Because Medicare only allows you to opt out without a penalty if you are covered by your employer’s insurance (she isn’t) or you are covered by your spouse’s employer’s insurance (thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) we’re not ‘spouses’ in Medicare’s eyes, even though we are utterly and completely legally married—with a marriage certificate to prove it. So much for States Rights!).

This is irritating for several reasons.

DOMA aside, how many other 65 year old people out there are covered by insurance not provided by an employer or a spouse’s employer?

  • Members of the Writers Guild of America.  The Writer’s Guild is not their employer, but they do provide Medical Coverage.
  • Ditto for zillions of other professional guilds, societies, organizations and unions.  Heck one of the reasons for those guilds, societies, organizations and unions is to provide a group rate on health insurance for members!
  • People who’s employers cover Domestic Partners—both same and opposite sex.
  • Private pay insurance in general.  Maybe your children are paying your premiums.  Or you’re doing it yourself because you found a really good deal.  But no, you have to either pay for both, or drop your really good deal or pay a penalty when you get Medicare in the future.

So the result of this is that the Federal Government is going to pay for my wife’s health care costs when my employer could be doing it instead.  How’s that for responsible fiscal policy?  Not that my employer is going to mind much.  One less person to pay premiums for.

And to top it all off, not one single piece of literature that we’ve been innundated with for months mentions that “spouse” means opposite-sex spouse only.  They all say she’s fine as long as she’s getting coverage through her “spouse’s” employer.  No fine print that says “spouse must be of the opposite sex from you”.  Not even with tens of thousands of legal same-sex marriages out there right now.  No.  We had to figure that bit out on our own.  ARGH.

And a waste of government money, too.

Why can’t the law state that if you provide proof of equivalent coverage, from whatever source, you can opt out of Medicare Part B until you lose that coverage?  Who cares where the coverage is coming from?  Just provide proof you’ve got it.  Makes much more sense to me.

September 11

Today is the 9th anniversary of the Attack on the United States by Muslim extremists.

And they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.  We have lifelong US citizens, who presumably think of themselves as patriots, actively advocating abandoning our dearly held and hardly fought Constitutional rights.  Rights that thousands of US soldiers have, so they tell us, died to protect in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So on the one had I hear these folks telling me and every other American to Support the Troops!  They're putting their lives on the line to protect my freedom!  And from some of the self same people I hear Ban the Koran!  Stop the ground zero mosque! (Which is neither at ground zero nor a mosque.)

I'm having a tough time wrapping my head around the idea of being told to support those who vow to uphold and defend our Constitution by ... advocating withholding Constitutional rights.

In the face of controversy to burn the Koran as a perverted way of commemorating September 11, we went to a candlelight vigil this evening to oppose burning Korans and support the Park51 project.

The Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford was a particularly appropriate place to hold such a vigil.  Built in 1876, it is the first Jewish temple in Connecticut and required an amendment to the state Constitution to build it.  Back then only Congregationalist churches were allowed to be built in Connecticut.  No Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Jews or Muslims allowed.

We haven't progressed very far, I sometimes think.

On a brighter note, this morning we also went to see the M. C. Escher: Impossible Reality exhibit  at the New Britain Museum of American Art.  (This being American Art evidently by virtue of the fact that two New Britain residents saw it in Greece and are also members of the NBMAA.)

It was fascinating and has many different kinds of art from all periods of Escher's career.  Well worth going. I'm very glad those two people saw it in Greece and brought it here.  It moves to the Akron Museum of Art in Akron, Ohio next.

Comicon vs hateful evil bozos

I am not going to ComiCon this weekend in San Diego.  I’ve never been to ComiCon in San Diego.  But I’ve been to many other Science Fiction conventions with hall costumes and quirky in-jokes on T-shirts (I have one with a photo of Pluto inscribed with the number 134340 that says “They’ve given you a number and taken away your name.” and if that’s not an obscure in-joke I don’t know what is!  Or someone named Maureen Johnson who recently twittered Neil Gaiman in response to a photo of him wearing a black and white Hawiian shirt “Seeing these photos, I think there is a whole line of Gaiman inspired beachwear now waiting to be made. Please call it Sandman.”  Ba-dum-pcha!)


Anyway, ComiCon.  For some reason the Westborough Baptist Church decided to picket ComiCon.  Evidently God Hates Mags.


Lots and lots of people get frothingly angry at WBC.  Or at least they do since they’ve been picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq.  Back when they were only picketing the funerals of people murdered just because they were gay, not so much.


But I didn’t think at a Science Fiction/Comic/Media convention that the fans would get frothingly angry.  No, all that anger and disgust at these clueless evil bozos would be transformed in to mockery.  Derision.  Ridicule.  And in-jokes.  Because, really, that’s the best way to deal with clueless evil bozos.  Mock them until they have no influence at all.


So behold!  The fans at ComicCon protesting the WBC.  Beautiful.




I’m trying to decide which sign is my favorite.  The Star Trek: The Next Generation guy with his “God Hates Jedi” sign?  The “Magnets:  how the *%$#! do they work???” sign? (I’ve wondered the same thing myself) or Jesus with his “God Loves Every Body” sign.  I think I’ll go with that last one.

Longship Company Schedule

Ana Ilevna and I are members of The Longship Company. They are based in southern Maryland and have a faering boat, the Gyrfalcon, that was one of the models for our faering boat. They also have a 40 foot war ship. 12 oars and a crew of up to 24.

(That's a photo of me standing in front of the Gyrfalcon at the 40th anniversary of The Battle of Hastings, which was Markland's inagural event way back when.)

Their website is www.longshipco.org

Here is a tentative schedule for Summer 2010. The voyages are in the 40 foot warship, the Sae Hrafn. (Sea Raven).

Sunday, June 6th (D-Day) 1:00- Work Session and Rigging Preparation 

Saturday, June 12th, 10:00- Uprigging and Shakedown Voyage 

Saturday, June 26th, Annual Meeting and Proposed Evening Cruise 

July 9, 10 & 11, Fri-Sun; Camp Fenby, Sponsored by the Longship Company; a medieval arts and crafts weekend at Oakley Forge and LSCoNEO
Camp Fenby is a weekend of camping out and learning things. Lots of Medieval crafts happen and a crab feast on Saturday.

 Sunday, July 18th, 12:00 Voyage 

Saturday, July 31st, 10:00 Voyage 

Sunday, August 15th, 12:00 Voyage 

Saturday, August 28th, 10:00 Voyage 

If you plan to go, please e-mail and tell them so. If you then don’t go, please also e-mail and tell them so they aren’t waiting around for you at the dock. 

Bring 2 litres of water per person, sunscreen, a hat and lunch. Voyages are in 21st century boating clothes, not Viking garb, unless specified.  All these voyages are in normal clothes.

Diana Wynne Jones

Edit:  Mrs Jones has evidently stopped her chemotherapy, which wasn't helping any more according to her doctors.  I'm so sad.

Read Diana Wynne Jones.
You’ve never read a more interesting, diverse, and imagination-filled author.  Her books are wonderful, playful, serious, insightful, fun and interesting.
If you like her stuff, go to her web site (http://www.leemac.freeserve.co.uk/) and e-mail about it.  I’m afraid we may not have much time left to tell her how wonderful her stories are.
A list of her books is here:
And she wrote Howl’s Moving Castle. If you haven’t seen the Japanese Animation Film of this book, go do so immediately.  It’s fantastic!
I enjoy her books so much. Am delighted to see there are still a few I have not read.  She writes for every age and both sexes. Her imagination is boundless and whimsical.


The sail that came with our Viking Faering boat, Skogar Þrostur, has a lovely blackbird (her original name) painted on it.  But the paint is very stiff and makes the sail hard to handle.  So we bought another piece of canvas to make into a plain white sail which will take very little time to do except that the sewing machine no longer works!  ARGH!

It's an older, more-rugged-than-these-youngsters sewing machine and has worked well for donkey's years.  It's sewed all my nephews' Christmas stockings and many, many, many childhood outfits for my stepdaughter.  The machine seems to be OK but the pedal no longer works and now we'll have to find a sewing machine repair person and find out how much.  Sigh.

I realize a boat is a hole in the water into which one throws money; but we haven't actually spent any money on the boat.  We've bought a plastic portable garage, and ground anchors after the garage blew into the back yard, had the trailer re-wired, the front of the trailer re-welded and the tires on the trailer replaced and now the sewing machine.  It's ridiculous.

Just wait until we get around to re-painting the boat!

It's a good thing we LOVE doing demos so much it's all worth it!
  The demo in Blak Rose was so much fun we can't wait for next weekend at the Daily Life Schola and to find more venues.
On May 8th we, alas! had to miss The Workshop In The Other Room field trip to visit goats and nurseries, because we went to the Vinland Games event in the Shire of Blak Rose.  We brought our Viking Faering boat and spent the day talking about Viking boats, Viking history, Viking culture and Viking boats.
We had a fantastic time.  There were many other classes besides our Viking Faering class and we attended the “Diet and Nutrition among Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Viking” class by Lady Ragnveig Snorradottir which was thorough, fascinating, and packed a very dense amount of information into an hour. 
Nutritional information from middens, fecal waste, pond pollen, skeletal and dental remains.  Fascinating!  And some of it has relevance even today.  Dental structure changes in developing teeth as babies are weaned from breast milk to cereals with fewer protiens happened back then just as they happen today. She got through all her material clearly and boy did we have to pay attention to so much information in an hour!  Wonderful class.
Carowyn Silveroak taught a glass bead class that I couldn't attend, alas. But I saw the beads she made and brought as examples for the students to look at, and what a dizzying variety she's made since I taught a glass bead class in Silver Rylle years ago!  They run the gammut of time periods and techniques.  Lovely work.  She's even been making her own miliflori.
I handed out some fliers with the class schedule for the Daily Life Schola next week (http://www.bbm.eastkingdom.org/Bowmansrest/schola.html). We may get a few people from down there to come--they sounded very interested.
The feast and dayboard were delicious!  What a splendid spread.  I was told this was Ketterlyn der Wilde's first feast as head cook and she did a wonderful job.  Day board, the main feast and even a special feast for the "Odin's Table" where spaces were auctioned off to raise money.  Everything was delicious and it all looked well researched for a Viking feast.  And hot, too, despite a problem with the electricity in the kitchen.
The site was lovely.  I think it would make a great site for a Crown Tourney or Archery Championship. There are acres of space, an archery range, a playground.  There's an ampheteatre where court can be held.  The hall can hold a feast for about 75 people.  There are even shower stalls.  Parking is a bit tight but I'm sure that can be worked around.  The kitchen is not industrial; but I think Ketterlyn proved that a delicious and hearty feast and dayboard can be made in that space.
The people in Blak Rose are friendly and hospitable.  We felt very welcome.  Friderich Swartzwalder autocratted a fun and informative event with great food and lots of activities for everyone.  Huzzah!



April 17, 2010
We went to Old Sturbridge Village and watched them make soap. It will take fewer ashes than I thought. So here's what I think will work. Not sure when I'll actually DO it, though. I want to get notes down so I'll remember. (AEflgiva, I will not be doing this in May. It's sodium hydroxide lye and water for that. But I will write this down on a handout and discuss. Can't do this in a one hour class! I will at least bring a container of lye water to float an egg in to show everyone.)

Punch a hole in the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket. Fill the bottom two inches with straw. Fill it the rest of the way with ashes we saved this winter. Pour boiling water over the ashes just until a little bit drips out the hole. Let sit for 5 days.

Then pour a gallon or so of boiling water over the seeped ashes. Collect the brown lye water in quart batches. Put a fresh egg in to see if it will float. If it does, and the bit that sticks up out of the water is about the size of a quarter, then the lye is strong enough. Keep collecting lye water until it loses strength.

Add 3/4 of a pound of tallow or lard per gallon of lye water and boil for a looooong time. Stir every 5 or 10 minutes. When the soap has reduced to a pancake batter-like consistency, test to see if it's saponified. Dribble a bit on a plate and see if it feels and looks like soap. Too gray and greasy and it needs a bit more lye. Too crystalline and crumbly and it needs more fat. If it looks and feels like soap, then try dropping some in a glass of water. If it holds its shape and does not leave a greasy film on the water, then whisk briskly. If it suds up, it's ready.

If you've used lard, then stir in 1 cup of salt per original gallon of lye water. Stir until salt dissolves. This will harden up the soap almost immediately to a a gooey consistency.

Let sit overnight.

The next day, remove soap from pot and discard any lye water remaining under the soap. Cut off any obviously icky bits off the bottom. Re-melt sap in the pan and then pour into a cloth lined box (or other mold). Let sit until hardened.

If you use suet or tallow, you probably won't need to add any salt to harden the soap.

In the 19th century, housewife advice books advised burning bones and egg shells in the fire place to add calcium to the ashes. Calcium will also harden the soap like salt does. Another piece of advice was to soak your salt pork fat in water to remove the salt before using it to make soft soap, or your soap would harden due to the salt.

Salt removes water and so hardens the soap.

In the 19th century and earlier soap was mostly used to wash clothes. Also for shaving. Not as much for washing bodies. I wonder if it was used to wash fleeces? And I need to do some research into medieval soap as I have done almost none. I assume it was used mostly for clothes, too.


Yogurt Fail

Saturday March 13, 2010
I seem to have made kefir, a drinkable yogurt. Not what I had in mind.

I'll leave it heating longer; but if it doesn't behave itself by bedtime it's getting the whey drained out of it.

Not sure what went wrong. May not have heated the milk hot enough the first time. Or perhaps it was still too hot when I added the yogurt culture.

On a brighter note, Thai for birthday lunch. Yum!!

Live Cultures II

Friday March 12, 2010
Bought plain yogurt tonight for the cultures. Milk heating now. On Sunday I should have my own yogurt!

It's got to cost less than buying little 6 ounce pots. And I can drain off some of the whey to make it Greek style if I want. And sweeten it with berries.

Lots of Indian recipes call for yogurt. Saag Panir, here I come!

Debating whether to talk about yogurt in the cheese class at the Daily Life Schola in May. Probably not. Though Roman 'cheese' included what we would think of as yogurt today. I made Roman fried honey balls for the cooking class two years ago using Greek yogurt as the 'cheese' since it made more sense than cheddar! :rolleyes:

Janet made Spanish bread last night. It makes three loaves so she did one plain, one rosemary, and one olive and walnut. This is the recipe she's going to use for the wood fired brick oven at the Schola. The rosemary was really good. Next time the plain goes into a bread pan so it makes better peanut butter toast.

Live Culture

Saturday, March , 2010
Goat Cheese!
I made goat cheese a few weeks ago and it was super easy! Heat a gallon of goat milk to 170 degrees in a sterilized stainless steel pot. Dissolve 1/4 of a Junket rennet tablet in 1/4 cup water. Stir that and 1/4 cup of active culture buttermilk into the heated goat milk. Put it somewhere warm overnight. (I put it on top of my hot water heater in the furnace room.)

In the morning, cut the curds into small squares and spoon into a cheesecloth lined colander. Save the whey for cooking! It's good instead of water in breads and soups and Indian recipes.

Tie the ends of the cheesecloth up so you have a round bundle of cheese and hang it off the sink faucet all day. The longer it hangs, the dryer the cheese. When dinner time comes, put the cheese in a bowl and stir in some salt or herbs of choice or honey. I used dill this time. Store in an airtight container.

You can do this same recipe with a gallon of cow milk. Non homogenized is best of you can find it.

We also discovered low salt buttermilk. When my Mother-in-Law visits, she LOVES buttermilk, but it has a surprising amount of sodium in it and she's on a low salt diet. So we took 1/4 cup of buttermilk and filled the rest of a quart canning jar with 1% milk right off the shelf. Let sit overnight someplace warm, shake vigorously and put in the fridge. Voila! Low salt buttermilk. Shake the jar every time you take it out of the fridge.

When you start to run low, fill the jar with milk and let it sit somewhere warm overnight again. The jar in the fridge right now has been going since November and is still good. If you let it sit unused for a long time it will go bad. Just run the jar through the dishwasher and start again.

I want to try making yogurt next.