An Tir West War Reflections

Update: I have enabled Amazon affiliate links on this blog; I figure I shill for Amazon for free, maybe it’s time to let them give me a cut! If my enthusiasm for my new camp bed persuades you, please use the links in this post so I can keep the candles lit.¬†

We made our annual pilgrimage to An Tir West War for the Cooks’ Playdate last week. It was our first major SCA excursion as a family of three, and all in all was a wonderful adventure. We have a new tourney vehicle — A VAN!!! — that I am very much in love with. We panicked and overpacked, but that’s a learning process too. Kiddo had a great time, and so did moms.

We stopped at some of our favorite places along the Oregon coast on the way down and back, and got to drink in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. We also introduced the kid to tasty shellfish — he is a bay shrimp fan! — and he had his first ice cream. So fun!

Two women and a baby sitting outdoors at a table for a medieval feast
Two mom energy! Photo by Mercy Neumark

I cooked very little at the Playdate, which I anticipated because I know how much it takes to wrangle a small human. I threw together spring greens and herb salads for a couple of dinners, which were well received; I used walnut oil and white balsamic vinegar for dressing, and put some big flake salt on the side. I cooked some shelled peas from my garden with cheese rinds for flavor, and they were fine but not spectacular. I made Iron Age Celtic Glop, with beef, fresh favas and fat-hen from my garden, and oats. It was quite tasty, although I should have used whole oat groats instead of stone milled oats. I love the flavor of fat-hen, it’s got this rich earthiness that’s just amazing.

I also did some grilling experiments not anchored in research but that turned out phenomenal and that I’ll definitely repeat. At my wife’s suggestion, I grilled peach halves, then topped them with a little mint, some thinly sliced matos cheese, and a drizzle of honey. They were utterly divine. On our last day there I went a little wild trying to use up some of the excess food we had brought and wrapped various cured meats (salami, coppa, prosciutto) around pitted dates, then skewered and roasted them. If you’ve made bacon dates, you know the magic of sweet dates and salty pig. These were better than bacon dates in my opinion! So crispy and delicious. Will definitely add both of these discoveries to the regular rotation.

Cook at work, photo by Mercy Neumark
If anyone finds a grill basket like this, I need one! Photo by Mercy Neumark

 

We got some new gear for this trip that was absolutely game-changing, knowing we had the space to bring some larger things for comfort. I keep learning that the secret is to pack heavy on infrastructure and pack light on everything else. The big thing that totally made this long weekend awesome was our new camp bed from Amazon — a folding bed frame and a summer-weight futon. Most comfortable sleep I’ve ever gotten while camping! Seriously, these are so, so awesome.

The bed set up. I cannot capture how truly wonderful this was.

We also brought our fancy camping privy¬†(and refill bags) and it made getting up to pee in the middle of the night (with a sleeping baby) much less of a production. Plus, it’s a great seat in the tent during the day with the lid closed and a sheepskin on top! The surprising hit of the weekend was our cow skin from Ikea. It was great to sit on in the grass with the kiddo, much more versatile in damp or slippery grass than a blanket. Oh, and not a large item, but I’m glad we brought a pile of folding seagrass baskets, also from Ikea, because they’re great to bring empty and then use to organize small things (like baby toys and snacks).

I came away with a better sense of what I want at events. We packed way too many snacks and brought lots of clothes and supplies for the baby that we just didn’t end up using. I didn’t wear all the garb I brought and I ended up wearing modern shoes because the ground was a little too challenging to manage when I needed to also be able to hold and chase after a kid. I came away from this event ready to get rid of a lot of SCA stuff that I think I’m just done with and streamlining / optimizing the rest of it. And I’ve accepted that I need to get some unobtrusive modern shoes.

It was great to get to see people who we don’t get to spend time with often enough. I wish I had made more time to get out of camp and be social. The people are what keep me coming back to this game.

Eventing with a kid is an adjustment for sure. I’m still having a lot of conflicting feelings and thoughts about how much time / money / effort I really want to spend on the SCA right now. But all in all, it was a good experience and we had some magical moments. Taking kiddo to see the creek, pulling him in a wagon, watching him “help” in the tent… lots of good things.

One night after the baby went to sleep, my wife and I spread out the cow skin and lay under the stars together. We watched satellites and identified constellations and talked and cuddled. Just as humans have done for as long as we’ve existed.

What I cooked at the Cooks’ Play Date

Because of everything else going on (about which I promise a large post is coming in the next several days, after I recover a little), I didn’t really plan sufficiently for this year’s Play Date at An Tir / West War, and I didn’t get to cook much at all on one of the days. Unlike what I usually do, and to my personal shame, I did not bring actual period recipes to cook from. I was winging it on EVERYTHING that I made. All that said, here’s what I put together.

Wednesday: Set up day, so no cooking. We ate dinner in town and I had an outstanding piece of grilled salmon. I did manage to start a butter culture going by adding a half pint of cultured buttermilk to two pints of heavy cream in a jug to sit out overnight. This part is important.

Thursday: I churned butter all day! We were slow to get fire going, but I still managed to make some simple oat pancakes (oat flour, the buttermilk from my butter adventures, and eggs) to put the butter on as “play food.” For dinner I made rolled stuffed beef — I pounded a steak flat and spread it with a mix of ground almonds, powder fine (mixed spices), salt, sugar, vinegar, and rose water, then tied it up and roasted it on the fire. This was good and I’ll likely do it again. I also made Roman cucumber salad, based on my memory of an Apicius recipe (but tweaked slightly because Anne refuses to eat garum) — cucumbers, olive oil, red wine vinegar, mint, and salt. So good! I also put out some butter on the dinner table. I will certainly make butter at War again, it’s so fun. And Anne said out loud “You need a bigger butter churn!” and I have witnesses, so I’m getting a bigger butter churn.

Fish Friday: Went to the fishmonger and stocked up. I don’t think I managed to do any “play food” this day. I tried to make pea soup with some smoked salmon collars and fins that I bought, but I was distracted (this was the day of my vigil) and didn’t really give it enough consistent heat. So in spite of soaking them for over 24 hours, the whole peas just never cooked. That was frustrating. But I did make two things for dinner which were both quite successful. The first was just crab meat (I got a whole crab and Tova helped me extract all its meat) in (freshly churned) clarified butter with sage. I also made a dessert that I plan to make regularly: a Dish of Snow with fresh berries. Dish of Snow is an Elizabethan recipe for whipped cream with the addition of egg white, sugar, and rose water. The egg white seems to really help the cream whip easily; I used my new adorable birch twig whisk and it was not odious to whip by hand. The original does not have fruit added to it, but I went rogue. A+ would eat again.

Saturday was my elevation and I cooked nothing, just sat around feeling a little tense and peevish. I did throw together a very lazy salad for dinner because I did not want to arrive empty handed.

Then Sunday we had to come home! But I did get Crazy Norwegian fish and chips (with grilled fish) on the way home. Yum!