Friday, December 20, 2013

Hobbit Test Kitchen: Asparagus + Carrotses = Pretteh!

One of the problems with hosting a hobbity meal is that it's supposed to be pretty simple, description is often spare, and in some categories there are no recipes (who writes a recipe for "boil peas; add butter"?). But, I found one important clue in the hobbit food study I read; it quotes Tolkien himself stating that "growing food and eating it occupied most of their time." You know what this means: veggies. And fruit!

Filling in some of the gaps left in the books requires some speculation. That's as it should be - most of us wouldn't want to read a book that stopped and described every detail about what each type of character ate; we want storyline! But it does leave us guessing. And personally, when making those guesses, I want to make sure that I'm not filling the space with the conspicuously-modern, say California blend frozen vegetables or some nonsense.

So, in serving veggies, I'm trying to come up with simple dishes that contain likely ingredients, for which I can use presentation that's just a little bit different from my norm, as a modern person. It needs to feel old school, while still suiting the modern palate. And it gives me an opportunity to put something together for the vegetarians fairly seamlessly. I can't really break out the veggie burgers and Tofurkey here.

I've jotted down a few ideas for myself - creamed potatoes with peas in? Asparagus with carrots? Carrots with leeks and mushrooms? Peas and mushrooms? Parsnips and carrots? And just the other day I began the taste-testing process.

I'll want to have myself a trial run of most everything I'll be serving that day. I mean, the day of the big party is no time to find out that a casserole takes longer than you thought, or that peas + mushrooms = herk. And I'm exited to get my test kitchen running! But it's also almost Christmas right now. I want to whip up Lancashire hotpot and steamed puddings, but I'm broke and I already have a lot to juggle. So I started small.

Asparagus + Carrotses, Precious
2 parts asparagus, cut on a diagonal for pretteh
1 part carrots, cut into thin sticks for faster cooking +pretteh
salt to taste

Place asparagus, minus tips, into steamer basket with carrots. Steam two minutes before adding tips, then cook for 5-6 more minutes until tender.

Put in serving dish and add salt and butter. LOTS of butter. Hobbits love butter; it's a known fact.

Enjoy beautiful veggies!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lord of the Rings Marathon: The ([Extremely Rough] Draft) Menu

I'm finding it very hard to contain myself. Ten bucks says I run out of steam on this, like, a month before it happens. But that's okay, because I'll probably pick it back up a week or two before the actual event.

I've rifled through several cookbooks for inspiration. I've researched British cheeses. I've researched what sorts of nuts are indigenous (or at least have been cultivated in Britain for a long enough time to be suitable). I've rejected some ideas (trifles, treacle, possibly even steamed puddings) as too modern or simply not hobbity enough.

I'm torn on Lancashire hotpot, which may seem too modern because it's a casserole, but is full of yummy baked meatiness and topped with potatoes and just says "hobbit" to me. Apparently it dates back to at least the 19th century, which puts it in the correct time frame, though Lancashire is quite a bit north of Warwickshire, the inspiration for the hobbity lifestyle. But then I'm also likely to serve Cock-a-Leeky soup, which is Scottish and therefore even more northerly.

I'm going to be leaving the lamb's kidneys out of the hotpot, though, because we're dealing with an American audience here. I don't think any of my guests will be huge fans of organ meat. Matt thinks I should rename it "Shire Hotpot," and maybe I should.

Today I drew up a very rough potential menu as a starting point:

fried eggs
bread & butter & jams or marmalade
tea & coffee
(sausage stuffed shrooms?)

apple cinnamon oatmeal (absolutely killer)
spiced nuts


cock-a-leeky soup
cold ham and chicken
bread & butter

seed cake
apple salad? brandied apples?
tea breads

stuffed mushrooms here (chestnut)?
asparagus/julienned carrots?

Lancashire hot pot?

pies - mince, blackberry
sugared chestnuts

AND SO NOW... Let the recipe testing begin.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Locavores: The Dorkening.

I follow NPR on my FaceBook feed, which is how I came to see this article about Beth Accomando's annual Lord of the Rings marathon parties. Given the length of the Peter Jackson films, this takes all day - so she serves up heaping helpings of hobbit meals that leave her guests in a food-based stupor. Every. Year.

Being a person who loves to put together overly-elaborate parties, and being married to a person who loves the Tolkien-verse, I felt an instantaneous pull to make this happen in our house, at least once. I have a saying: If it's not practically impossible, I'm not even interested.

And in terms of difficulty, this party has it all. Research on the dietary habits of the shire. Research on the dietary habits of the British (apparently the inspiration for hobbit fare). The challenge of finding guests who will sit through such a thing. Developing a menu that includes seven meals plus dessert. (I share Ms. Accomando's conviction that the movie hobbits' seven meal schedule is superior to the book hobbits' six.) Cooking seven meals plus dessert. Eating seven meals plus dessert.

I decided that this level of effort and expense might be excusable if it were staged to celebrate Matt's birthday. After all, he's the real Tolkien fan. I just like to cook. This makes finding guests easier, too, since Matt's friends have already proven a willingness to travel and participate in grueling events - they all traveled for our wedding, and most made the hour-plus-long mountain hike that served as our processional, too.

And so the research began. I started with a study of hobbit eating patterns linked in the NPR article, and when I neared the end I learned the most amazing thing of all about hobbit food:

Almost all hobbit food seems to have been grown, raised, collected, brewed, processed, and baked in the Shire, a feat which inspired great pride and perhaps even a little smugness amongst the hobbits.

Hobbits. Are. Locavores.

So now, I have a grand opportunity to revive both this blog and some of our own locavorian eating habits (some of them have gone by the wayside in the last few years). I'll be planning a day-long, marathon get-together including seven meals and approximately a thousand hours of film, and I'm going to do it all locavore style.

Challenge. Accepted.