Tuesday, March 31, 2015

That's not period

Yes folks, another one :)

Back about 20 some odd years ago when I started this hobby I was told more than a few misnomers both in the cooking arena and in the non cooking arena. I have addressed the turkey one, now to address pudding.

Indeed it is true that most instances of the word pudding refer to a savory meat dish that has nothing to do with what we modernly know and call pudding. Technically this recipe is not called a "pudding" but after making it... really there is nothing else to call it. Scappi's recipe is Various ways to make pies with a cream filling, book V recipe 45 (page 456 is the translation by Terence Scully) but boiled down (no pun intended) it is pudding. It has milk, eggs, flour,sugar and a flavoring agent. In this case that agent is rosewater, a popular flavoring in the middle ages. It's use here is very similar to how we use modern vanilla extract and in fact all rosewater is, is an extract.

Scappi begins by defining what a "Crema" is, "Crema is a French term; it is made of fine flour, milk and eggs." Cooks and cultures have borrowed from and given to since time began it seems. As people move and travel they are influenced by what they experience and try to share it in tidbits with those they return to. Fashion is the most obvious of these ways but cooking gives it a good run for its money in my opinion.

While I am not ready yet to share my redaction as it is one of the dishes for feast at KWDS, I will say that it is delightful and easy to make.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Learning curve

This is sort of a follow up to my last post.

I want to discuss the event that I feel was my steepest learning curve. It has given me my greatest success  as well as my greatest "failure". I already talked about my launching points, the feast from hell and the recipe that burned my brain. I learned quite a bit from those experiences and I continue to learn from them as I learn from other experiences and make comparisons, sometimes ya don't get it on the first try. I am going to talk about 20 year celebration. I believe I even mentioned it here, that I had been invited to redact recipes for the feast. I was delighted, elated. humbled, ecstatic, scared, nervous, nauseous and a whole other large gamut of emotion and feeling  wrapped in a tiny ball. I was sure this was going to be fun! I was going to love every moment... and then, then I didn't.

It is hard to even summarize what all went wrong. Communication was slow, when it was answered. Often I had questions and no one to ask, or didn't receive answers to the questions I was asking, incorrect information, changed expectations, all of these lead to apathy and procrastination. Along with 20 year I was also committed to cooking (willingly, I could have said no) for Accademia Della Danza and a seated Baroness. Now to put some time perspective on this, I was asked to do the feast for 20 year (a June event) at least a year in advance, actually even longer. As I was blogging about it in snips as early as May the year before. No matter, the event was to be in June and ADD was in the beginning of March before that. Originally the timeline was the recipes needed to be in the end of March beginning of April and somewhere around December this changed. It should have been OK, everything should have been alright, but it wasn't. The biggest problem, I didn't know it wasn't OK. There are times when it feels like life is conspiring against us and others where we blissfully jump into the void completely unaware. I was burning to a crisp and didn't feel a single flame. I was stressed with 2 big holidays and an event in a 6 week span of time. Then I got sick, and not just a sniffle but a " Holy hell I am going to die" feeling flu. Still I was plugging along, well more like plodding. I was not yet stressed but feeling pressure. This is where I started sabotaging myself, as I got reminders from my "boss", I would pile on more pressure and function less well. My sleep and health were starting to go downhill with every day, then the floor dropped out from under me. As of mid January I began getting "reminders" of the impending deadline and began to spiral, a week later my mother went into the hospital. I dropped everything and despite not going home at that point I just couldn't focus. A week later I spoke with her, things were looking up. Her health was improving and we were making future plans. Three days later, she died. I still didn't realize things were not OK. I kept telling myself and my "Boss" everything would be fine, I honestly thought it would be and apparently they believed me. I even said in an e mail I would try to find time to work on it while I was in the US. This was my Mother and I thought I would have time for cookbooks, recipes, redaction and meal planning? I must have been crazy! and they believed me, they must have been crazy too. I came home after a week at mid February and I tried but I was so broken. My health had gone to absolute hell, I didn't sleep or I would sleep too much and I could barely focus on daily life but by now I had convinced myself not only I would do it, but that I *HAD* to do it. There was no choice, no other way, no back up plan, nothing. A week later, even sicker, the March event looming, I am still trying to convince myself that I can and will and MUST get this done. I was supposed to bring my notes and everything I had to ADD, but forgot them, along with a dozen other items. Crap, I was going to have to mail it, but I was going to get it done, I HAD to! I got through ADD (the March event on the first weekend). Sick, tired and broken... I was fired! I was angry, and then I was relieved.

I "beat myself up" plenty over this "failure" and not just my own part in it but the part of others as well and then I had space and time, so I revisited the process so I could learn. I am feeling that pay off right now.

As I mentioned I have been given an equal if not greater opportunity and feel I am meeting it head on and better armed. Over a year ago I was asked to be the head cook for a Known World event, not just feast, but all of the food. There are less people coming to this event about half the number of those that attended 20 year but about 1/3 of them are coming from outside of our Kingdom. I will be doing the cooking in the kitchen. No not by myself but I can be hands on, an option that was not available for 20year. This event will take place in 1 month from yesterday. I have no stress, my health is good and I am prepared in case of emergency. If I dropped dead I am confident that everything would continue on with only a minor bump in the road.

Where I am at, I have a solid menu. Actually I just made a change to the menu and it wasn't due to stress or anything "bad". I just re evaluated the amount of work it would take and found it did not fit with the flow of the menu planned. One month out and I changed a menu that I had set in December and you know what? The world didn't end. I have a few more things to work some bugs out of and I am happy.

I don't think of anyone on my team as a "boss" because I am not treated like an employee. This has allowed me to be more creative I think. I was given a job and  both freedom and trust to go with it, these reduce my stress about things greatly. No stress = Happy = More productivity. I have still had "low points" in the process but there will always be low points. They are what make the peaks that much more beautiful.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Baby steps and giant leaps

It is 4 years ago in April I was taken on as an apprentice. My journey is far from over but I am over the "halfway" point of my contract (7 years)  and decided to take a look back and figure out where I am. So, where exactly am I ? Who am I now? How did I get here? 

Who am I? 
     The simple answer is, me. The complex answer is... you guessed it, a bit more complex. Who I see in the mirror is not who everyone else sees, what I have needed to re learn or remember is, those other people don't matter. They don't make me who I am, I do. So, again, who am I? I am Magdelena Grace Vane or much more to my liking,  Maggie. I am a  Court Baroness, and Ex landed Baroness, apprentice, cook ,consort, friend, drinking buddy, teacher, Gottfried's wife, Alex's mom, B's mom, mom, confidant, student, the "other" mother, acting "auntie", sister from another mister, niece, cousin, family, cat herder, cooker of the food, and much more that I can't think of or haven't discovered yet and I am who I need and want to be. Nobody can make be anything I don't want to be, they can only help me discover more of who I am and who I am not.

Where am I?
     Happy, confident and at peace. I have a loving family, some great friends and a good crowd of people I know. The haters, the naysayers, the ones who can't be happy in themselves so they need to destroy others, I don't need them, certainly don't want them and don't have time or room for them. Leave them behind, let them go.  Not easy but when it is done it brings peace.

     I am currently in the middle of planning a HUGE endeavor, at least for me. A few years I was given an opportunity and was unable to "make good" on it. I at first felt like I had failed and wouldn't be deserving of another opportunity like it, I had already proven ( in my mind)  I couldn't handle it and was a failure. I was wrong, I didn't fail. I survived, I learned and I was given, not  a second chance but another opportunity to do something big and I am loving the process and the result this time around.

How did I get here?
      Four years ago I had a few good ( and recent) cooking experiences behind me (even if a few were crazy) as well as my feast from hell and a desire to move forward and do something else, something new. I had "broken up" my previous peer relationship, short story is: I was taken as a protege' things didn't work out for various reasons, relationship ended, and was in an odd space. I had within the previous 6 months written a public note about peer relationships. Just a collection of my own thoughts. The piece got a lot of good feedback and sparked discussions between myself and a couple of peers. As you might be able to guess one of those peers and I took the step forward and entered a contract. Since then it has been baby steps, or maybe they have been big leaps. None of this answers the question though, but provides a base for them, but hard work, self reflection and the ability to learn do, otherwise you don't move forward. From the first step you take to all the other "milestones" in life these three things seem to be the keys. 

     I want to address what I find the hardest of those 3 keys to be, honest self reflection. Taking the time and developing the ability to look at both your failures and your successes and learning from them is important and here is the shocker... it's hard work! You are likely both your own worst critic as well as your biggest supporter. The trick is finding balance an stepping back and looking at things objectively and not subjectively.
     When something goes wrong it is easy to sit and blame "outside" problems or oneself, what is needed though is  to take a hard look at the situation and not just at the negatives and what went wrongs but the positives and the what went rights as well. I have been working at it for the last four years and now find it is a regular part of any project I do. My peer created a document for us to work with, we call it the "Post Mortem". I offer a blank copy  to anyone that wants it along with the offer to work the process with them as well. So far, I have sent the blank out once and have heard nothing back. Anyway, this process, this post mortem dissection of the "event" / project and because it has become a normal way of  processing things for me I have been able to take my giant leaps.