Strange Food

It's my name, not a comment about what I'm eating.

(sca-gw) Almond Pudding
It's been ages since I posted, but there has been plenty going on.  Mostly, it's time I start testing recipes for the Gulf Wars menus and recording my thoughts and results.

The first one I'm listing here is for my beloved almond pudding.  It's both decadent and fairly quick to make.

I made this for Kingdom A&S last year, and it was fabulous.  I was going to make it at Gulf Wars for the MIddle Eastern Dance Competition, even though I thought it wasn't documentable.  Then, in a delightful twist of fate, I discovered that it is -- at least somewhat -- a period recipe.


From The Annals of the Caliph's Kitchens, a 10th century manuscript:

Mu'allaka (chewy pudding) by al-Amin

Take one part bruised skinned almonds, two parts pure tabarzad sugar (white cane sugar) and one part honey. 

[Bring the honey to a boil] and skim its froth.  Cook sugar [in another pot until it dissolves and comes to a boil] and remove its froth.

Mix honey with sugar and let them cook on a medium fire.  Add the almonds and stir the pot until the mixture is condensed.  When it is fully cooked, stir into it a small amount of rose water mixed with crushed musk or camphor.  Do this just once.  Take the pot away from the fire, God willing.


From Medieval Arab Cookery:

Kabis al-Lauz (almond pudding)

Take one pound of finely pounded peeled sweet almonds and three pounds of sugar, which you put in a cauldron and dissolve with two ounces of rose-water.  When it dissolves and is visibly thickening, throw the almonds on it and stir until it is done.  Ladle it out and put pounded sugar over and under it.  It might be made with flour; you put two ounces of flour on the pound of sugar and you follow the mentioned method in making it.

Another recipe in the same book outlines instructions for a semolina pudding.


My recipe:

2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 1/3 cups water
7 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely ground almonds (I don't blanch them, but you can if you're so inspired)
1/2 cup semolina

Combine the sugar and honey with the water in a small saucepan.  Place it over medium-high heat and let it simmer and boil while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  You might think it will boil away, but don't turn down the heat; if it doesn't cook down, your pudding will be runny.

In a large skillet, melt the butter.  Scatter the ground almonds and the semolina over it, and cook them over medium heat until the mixture begins to brown and is fragrant, stirring frequently.

When the almonds are lightly toasted, pour in the sugar and honey syrup.  Mix constantly until the pudding is very thick.  Remove the pan from the heat, divide into serving dishes, and serve.

It's great warm or cold.


This is a very rich and sweet dessert.  I've actually spooned it into Dixie cups and served about 20 people with just this amount.  If you aren't going for authenticity, it is sinfully delicious with a schlorb (yes, that is a technical term; it means "blob") of real whipped cream on top.

I usually opt to not use the rosewater because I don't find it adds much to the flavor; the toasted almonds overpower it.  Plus, rosewater is something of an acquired taste.

I also made this for the Medieval foods class I taught during the fall.  My students took some home, and they all later told me they could only eat a spoonful at a time.  But every one of them made sure none of it went to waste!

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A special memory

Last night we took our annual Strange Family Platter of Goodness to the fire station down the street.  The vibe was a little different this year, but they seemed very happy to have it.  Surprised, even.

It made me remember my daughter's fourth birthday.

We were going over the list of people she wanted to attend her party.  Family, friends, and -- out of the blue -- the firefighters.  I explained that they had to work and that they could only leave the fire station for emergencies.

She looked at me, cocked her head to one side, and said, "Well, can we make cupcakes to take to them?"

How could anyone say no to that?

So the girl and I made a batch of pink cupcakes with pink icing and rainbow sprinkles (her favorite colors) and drove down to the station.

They were surprised by the gift of food, and completely blown away by the notion that she had wanted to do something for *them* on *her* birthday.

I think we're going to start taking Platters of Goodness down there more often.

I can't be awesome all the time. =)
I'm gradually testing cake recipes for a handfasting book I'm working on.

The book will contain approximately 100 recipes, depending on how many turn out acceptably in the test kitchen.

So far, I've tested 31 of them.  I have tried to make at least one cake a week, but it doesn't always work out that way.  My friends are getting tired of me showing up on their doorsteps with samples, and my kids aren't always the most objective judges.  *lol*

Thirty of them have passed the various tests; some have needed minor tweaking, some have been just fine the way I wrote them.

Today, I made the Vanilla Flan Cake.  It was supposed to turn out as a cake with a vanilla flan on top, and a vanilla caramel on top of that.

Not so much.

The flavor was outstanding, rich and thick with layers of vanilla.

The structure, however, was an epic failure.  I placed a plate over the tube pan and flipped it over.  When the cake broke free, the unset flan poured out and made sticky, golden splashes all over the kitchen floor.  The pudding-based vanilla topping held thickly to the pan.

Not quite the effect I was after.

I cursed a little, cleaned off the serving plate, poured off the pools of non-flan, and scooped the topping into the center.  Then I cleaned up the floor.  The cats were a little indignant about that part.

It won't go in the book, but I have a plate full of moist and gooey vanilla goodness to make me happy anyway.  I can always eat it with a spoon.

He likes me, he really likes me!

In addition to being an aspiring cookbook author, a very occasional caterer, and having more than a passing interest in Medieval food, I'm also one of three people that runs the kitchen at an annual metaphysical festival called PUF.  It's a marathon of fun and hard work where we feed around 400 people three meals a day for four days, and our entire staff is made of volunteers.

One year, I ran the kitchen by myself.  Because I had some time in the early morning hours, I decided to make breakfast for our band of VIP authors, some of whom have become very good friends over the years.  They were stunned -- apparently, sometimes they're just damn lucky to get something that resembles food, but I digress.

I've made the VIPs (at PUF, it's a word, not three letters) their breakfasts and delivered it to their communal cabin for several years now.  They have actually insisted that I continue to do so until the end of time, or they'll mutiny.  Seriously.

Here' a blog that M.R. Sellars, paranormal horror/dark fantasy author, fellow foodie, and very good friend, wrote about it several months ago.

Here's a link to this page on his blog:

Food, Glorious Food. . . . . . . THE PUF REPORT: Part 4 of 5

MRE - Unpackaged to reveal contentsSome of you may have heard me mention that I often travel with an MRE in my luggage. An MRE being: Meal, Ready to Eat. Yeah, cooked to death, preservative ridden, irradiated, vacuum packed, shelf stable for 99 years, food sort of stuff. The very same scientifically balanced glop they feed our men and women in uniform. Some MRE’s are perfectly edible. Not 5 star dining, mind you, but edible nonetheless. Others are oddly horrible mystery foodstuff that doesn’t even vaguely resemble the description on the outside of the watertight packaging. But, you can still choke it down, and it is scientifically proven that you can not only live on it, but it isn’t likely to kill you either.

Those of you who have never heard me wax prophetic about MRE’s are probably wondering why I would bother carrying such in my luggage. Well, you see, it’s like this – When you get booked in at a festival, you never know what you’re going to get in the way of eats.

Yeah. I know it seems like a no-brainer, especially since it says right there in my contract that you have to feed me. However, I have been flown in to far away cities, picked up and hauled out to the middle of nowhere for a fest, only to have the organizers say, “What? You didn’t bring your own food?”

Of course, those are few and far between. Still, they have happened.  Right there with them are the fests where they feed toddler portions to grown adults because they don’t know how to plan meals. Three chicken nuggets and 5 french fries does not a meal make for a 47 year old fat guy like myself.

However, I think what may be worse, in fact I know it’s worse – and unfortunately these happen way too often – are the festivals where they serve you something virtually inedible. For instance:

raw-eggsI have been served raw eggs. Yes raw eggs. Not runny, not overeasy, not sunny side up. R… A… W… Raw.

I have been served spoiled pork chops. Spoiled as in gone bad folks. Salmonella and all that good stuff.

Rancid, rotting potatoes. I mean, come on… If I wanted my potatoes that far gone, I’d buy a bottle of Vodka, okay?

Unidentifiable mixtures of who knows what, cooked so far beyond tastelessness that they have moved into the direction of making you gag, so that even Oliver Twist wouldn’t ask for seconds.

And, in one instance, my wife and daughter (along with several other attendees) contracted food poisoning at a festival. Severe enough that paramedics were involved.

But, fortunately, there are other fests. We’ll call them, those fests. They are the festivals and conventions that live on the other end of the spectrum. They feed you so well that the best restaurant in the city can’t hold a candle to them. There are some stores that fall into this category as well, such as Violet Flame Gifts. We will call them, those stores… But, right now, we are talking about fests…

And, PUF is one of those fests

You see, at PUF, I have my Rachel. Some of you may even have read about my Rachel in one of my novels, namely Blood Moon. She was the character Ailleagan.

Now, the thing is my Rachel is in Ally-bammer, and she’s  actually Doug’s Rachel. Doug is wayyyyy bigger’n me. Doug could break me in half with his little finger. Fortunately, however, Doug likes me (the feeling is mutual) and he lets me borrow Rachel.

No… Not for that you dirty minded monkeys... EK would kill me and stuff. In fact, I’m not sure if she’d kill me first, or just stomp on my corpse after Doug killed me, but the effect would pretty much be the same. I’d be all corpsified and gross.

You see, what Doug actually does is he loans Rachel to the VIP’s at PUF. That is to say, he and Rachel are at PUF every year, working their tails off. But, more specifically, Rachel is the one and only, lifetime designated, Chef to the guest authors. Sometimes Rachel runs the whole kitchen, sometimes not. But, you can always find her there. And moreover, she ALWAYS cooks breakfast and various other goodies for the VIP’s.

Take for instance this year. We arrived to find the following resting on the table of the common room in the cabin -

Raspberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

Some kind of pizza meatball things (I want MORE of these!)

carrot-cake-ii_6726_450These were just a bit of comfort food on which we could nosh if the mood struck.

Now, I would be horribly remiss if I didn’t mention something else we found. This, however, was from our good friend Tracy -

Carrot Cake

And, not only was it Carrot Cake, it was probably the best freakin’ carrot cake I have ever put in my mouth (Sorry, Mom)… The only problem with it was that it was so big we couldn’t finish it. But, let me tell you, I had carrot cake every day, and I even brought a piece home with me.

Now, getting back to Rachel… Here’s the thing… I’ll put our Rachel up against Rachel Ray any day of the week. Our Rachel will whoop her ass, I’m telling you. Not only can she out cook her, blindfolded and with both hands tied behind her back, she’s really cool too. None of that ridiculously inflated perkiness. Just regular perkiness. So, if the FoodNetwork wants to set up a “cook off death match”, we’re in.

Anywho, of all the festivals where I have been, even the fests that feed you well, PUF and Rachel, feed us like you wouldn’t believe – Apple Cream Cheese “Burritos” with Caramel Sauce, Fresh Cinnamon Rolls, Chorizo Frittata, Little Canadian Bacon Cuplike Thingies with Eggs, Cuban Pork Breakfast Sandwiches… And I could go on… And on… And on…

And, believe me, I am not even scratching the surface of the food that Rachel cooks for us, much less that of the communal feast which has a spread that goes on forever, and variety like you wouldn’t believe (now that the previously mentioned Lasagna Law is in force. See PUF REPORT Part 2 of 5 – Where’s Kat?) And, if that weren’t enough, this year an attendee made Kahlua cake especially for the VIP’s as well… Not just one Kahlua cake, mind you, but two – one of them was diatetic so that two of the VIP’s who are diabetic could enjoy it as well.

Yes… We eat very well… Awww, hell, we eat like friggin’ royalty. And, not only do we enjoy it, we appreciate it as well. If nothing else we know PUF will keep us fed and happy.

However… There was a darkness over our food experience this year. More specifically, over my personal food experience. You see, every year my Rachel makes for me – specifically for me – something called the Sacred Pie. It was mentioned in Blood Moon  as well. It is this amazing melange of sausage, apples, cheese, and maple syrup, baked into a wonderful crust… and… wellbtthpppt… nmbbttpp…

Jubba mimmint…

Okay… Sorry about that. I was starting to drool… Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Rachel knows that I will actually hoard Sacred Pie. Often times she will make two. One for the cabin and one for me to take home. She does this because she is well aware that I will parcel out the second pie and have a slice for my lunch every day for the week following PUF.

I love my Rachel…

sausageBut, I’m supposed to be addressing the issue, so here it is. There was no pie this year. Rachel, with much sadness and trepidation, followed by disbelief and anger, informed me that someone had stolen the sausage from the refrigerator in the kitchen. Sausage she had purchased specifically for the purpose of making the Sacred Pie.

Yes… Stolen.

Vanished… Gone… Absconded with, and all that… Thou shalt not steal… Ill gotten sausage… Hot… Looking for a ground pork fence…

I was sad. I cried. I fell down on the floor and bawled like a baby.

I was absolutely devastated…

In fact, my reaction was so startling that EK experienced an uncharacteristic fit of compassion. Yeah, I know… Miraculous, eh? Of course, I think it is tempered by the fact that she still gets to be evil You see, not only did she comfort me, she promised to find and horribly torture for an extended period of time whoever was responsible for thieving the ground up pig leavin’s. Rachel, being Rachel, with a wicked gleam in her eye, offered to help EK with this task.

So what it comes down to is this – There’s a pork thief out there somewhere who is on the run. I’m not sure who it is, but I’ll be looking hard at anyone with grease stains on their shirt and a satisfied look in their eyes. Rest assured if I ever do catch up to this particular scum-sucking, lily-livered, low down wretched cur of a sausage stealer, there’ll be hell to pay.

And, I know for a fact it’ll be hell, because I’m just turnin’ ‘em right on over to Rachel and EK, and they are a hell of a lot meaner than me… Not only that, Rachel has knives, grinders, and other scary kitchen utensils (shudder).

Ya’know… Now that I think about it, I might just have to skip the pie next year unless I provide the sausage myself…

More to come…



another blast from my foodie past

Meridian Grand Tournament is an annual SCA event the encourages the finest heraldic pomp and circumstance of the kingdom.  It's a lovely event -- big fun, too with more than half a dozen tournaments each boasting 20 or more fighters.


Anyway, in 2008, I decided to make the MGT -- the Meridian Peep Tournament.  Doug and Seumas were huge helps in getting the thing executed.  It also happened to be the King's birthday that year, so we presented it in his honor.

The subtlety isn't truly faithful to the event -- there are no heads on pikes in the SCA -- but it's hilarious to see a decapitated Peep.

The funniest part was that nobody wanted to hack it up and eat it.  I had to enlist the aid of Count Caspar; he and Iazzie had a contest to see who could stuff the most Peeps into his mouth at once.  I think Caspar won with eleven (!).

The turret is shortbread mortared with caramel frosting, the trebuchet and tournament pell are biscotti, the shields are Milanos.  The Peeps were dipped in white chocolate bark and hand-colored with food-grade markers.  The grandstands and the Royal pavilion were built from graham crackers.  The flags and pavilion fly were made from fruit leather, and it all sits on a brownie base.

The King and Queen got such a kick out of it, they even took their Peep likenesses home with them.


Today I tested my recipe for a Semolina Cake with ButterNut Ganache.  It was a total win.

The cake wasn't too sweet.  The semolina gave it a sllightly crumbly texture, almost like a moist cornbread.  It has a fair amount of butter in the mix, so it baked up with a lovely browned and slightly crispy pan edge.  The coloring reminded me of the brown edge wafer cookies I used to love so much.  The butterscotch ganache gave it the extra sweetness some might expect in a dessert.  It was loaded with chopped nuts, which gave it a nice crunchy contrast to the cake.  Yum.

And just for fun, here are a couple of other cakes I've done.

A tie-dye cake for my daughter's 6th birthday earlier this year.  She's all about the color, especially pink.

A hot dog and fries cake for my son's 3rd or 4th birthday (it was several years ago).  His favorite meal ever was a hot dog and fries, so it seemed appropriate.  He has since discovered the joy of ribs.  Not sure how I'll translate that into a cake, though.

Chocolate Pate

I made this several months ago for the Meridian Social at Gulf Wars.

It's a dark chocolate pate, and it was huge -- something like 11" in diameter and over 1" thick.  That's a lot of dark chocolate.  The design is one of the populace badges, done in fondant.  I served it with little honey-nutmeg crackers.

It's really, really rich and you have to be a fan of dark chocolate to truly enjoy it.  I found it's best to serve it with small pineapple spears to help cut through some of the decadence.  =)

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Last-Minute Breakfasts (sca)

OK, last minute is a bit of an exaggeration.  I had five days.

When I got home from Coronation, I found an email from Baroness Bianca waiting for me.  The original breakfast-crat had had surgery, and they needed someone to make breakfast on Saturday (for about 150 people) and Sunday (for about 75 people) at Red Tower the next weekend.  Could I do it?

How could I say no?  She's a friend, she needed help, and it was an excuse to cook.  My husband was very understanding and encouraging, too.

I didn't have a lot of time -- normally a week would be enough for me to knock out an an entire feast's worth of planning, but I also had two classes to teach and a meeting to attend.  As luck would also have it, I came down with a cold during the week, so I was mentally out of it for a couple of days.

Anyway, because of those factors, I decided to go with something really simple: pancake sandwiches for Saturday, and muffins and bacon on Sunday.

We purchased pre-cooked sausage patties, so they only needed reheating.  Because it would have taken for....e....ver.... to heat that much sausage on the griddle, we layered them in roasting pans, covered them with foil, and stuck them in a low-temperature oven while I made the pancakes.  Doug has a gift with scrambling eggs, so I had him do that part.  Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the quantity of eggs he prepared, but it was about 14 dozen.

pan 1 of 2 of the sausage

Meanwhile, I prepared the oatmeal pancakes.

pan 1 of 2 of pancakes

It was odd: when I made these at another SCA event a month or so earlier, people gobbled them up.  They loved having everything in a sandwich they could carry around with them.  This time, people weren't so sure.  They didn't know what to make of sandwiches with pancakes instead of bread.  Practically everyone ate the ingredients -- pancakes, sausage, eggs, and cheese -- but very few were willing to eat them as a sandwich, even when we didn't have butter and syrup available.

Sunday, we still had pancakes and sausage left.  However, I made banana muffins and oatmeal-applesauce muffins anyway.  But instead of opening the bacon, we used the leftover sausage.  We also sliced up a watermelon we'd been given.

I saw one of the squires walking around with a handful of food, so I totally ripped off his idea -- a sausage and oatmeal-applesauce muffin sandwich is an excellent thing.  Yay, Cisco!

the picture is terrible, but the sandwich was great

I think there were three muffins left of the six or seven dozen I'd made, so I'd consider that a win.
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Orange Lemon Cheese

I actually found this recipe in a book I borrowed from a friend:  Home Cheese Making.  I had been curious about making cheese, and since it didn't call for any specialized ingredients, this seemed like the perfect place to start.

I made it for an SCA event called Beggar's Rebellion.

The instructions weren't terribly clear -- calling for the juice of six lemons and six oranges -- so I measured them for future reference.  It came out to be 1 3/4 cups of orange juice and about one cup of lemon juice.


I heated a gallon of whole milk over medium heat. I didn't want to scorch it over a higher heat, and our ancient stovetop is notoriously hot anyway. 

I stirred the milk only occasionally in the early phase of heating, just to make sure it didn't burn too badly.  During the last several minutes of cooking, after the milk reached about 190 degrees, I had to stir it constantly to prevent scorching and boiling.  It did make a really lovely foam, though.

      OK, I overshot the temperature by one degree.  No harm done.

After the milk reached its required temperature of 205 F, I added the orange and lemon juices, stirred them in a bit, and let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.

the juices were stirred in     after 15 minutes

I then poured the mixture into a length of cheesecloth draped over a colander.  I gathered up the cheesecloth and hung the bag to drain more fully.   This was my first batch of three, so I didn't think about saving the whey.  More on that later.


For the first batch, I drained the curds for an hour, then I squeezed out as much excess whey as I could.  I didn't know any better.  The result was a very dry cheese.

Really, really dry cheese -- maybe even unpleasantly dry

The second batch I made by the same method, only I drained it for about 20 minutes and didn't squeeze it out.  After I mixed the two together, it was a bit better, but it was still too dry for my liking.

With the third batch, I was a little smarter -- I saved the whey.  After seeing how much drained off, I wish I'd saved the whey from all three batches:

Save the whey!

I mixed the third batch of cheese -- which had only drained for 15 minutes -- into the other two.  I then gradually blended in some of the whey.  I used about a cup total, or what would have been 1/3 cup per batch of cheese.  The result was much nicer:

I probably could have added a little more; it seemed to dry out a little as the cheese was stored in the refrigerator.  it was still nice, though.  The flavor was lovely, too.

Many people at the event seemed to like it, but the citrus flavor was a bit odd for some.  I had a good bit of the cheese left over, and I refused to let it go to waste.

About a week later, I looked up a recipe for a Roman cheesecake of sorts in A Taste of Ancient Rome.  The redaction in the book recommended farmer's cheese (I think), but orange lemon cheese made a wonderful substitution.  The citrusy undertones were a terrific accompaniment to the poppy seeds and honey.  it wasn't sweet like modern cheesecakes, but it was a fine use of the cheese.

Just for the sake of my own fussiness, I'll probably mix the majority of the poppy seeds into the batter next time; they came off too easily when they were on top like that.

And I had still more of the cheese left.  I admit: I fretted a bit.  It was perfectly good cheese (I hate wasting food anyway, and wasting cheese is just a sin).  Also, honestly, after investing the money for three gallons of milk and 18 oranges and 18 lemons, it wasn't cheap.

That was when I really felt inspiration hit me.  I dug up a recipe for a ricotta cake.  The cheese was a perfect substitute for ricotta.  I also threw in some blueberries I had frozen earlier in the year.

Wow, what a cake.  Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of it. . . but it was a fine piece of nosh, lemme tell ya!  I'll have to make the cheese again just so I can make the cake.

It's Strange Food, not weird or bizarre food
Welcome to my food blog.  The Strange part is my name, not an editorial comment on what I'm eating or making.  This is purely for research, testing, and thinking about food.  I started it mostly so I won't be such a slacker about cooking and eating sometimes, especially when I have books pending!  

Hope you'll enjoy it.


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