Friday, February 26, 2016

New Modern Dress

I used Simplicity pattern 1733.   I needed a new black dress for a funeral I'm going to because the ones I have don't fit anymore.   I cut out size 10 and used panne black velvet since it was the only fabric that was winter appropriate, a knit, and I had enough of to make the dress.

I didn't follow all the directions but that was partially because it simply makes more sense to use hem facing around the neckline than to cut out a separate piece and use that only along the back.  I had some grey lace hem facing that I used for both the hem and the neckline.

The twist is tricky but not impossible.   It makes sense - amazingly- in the directions.  Basically, the bodice front is long and you make a tube out of part of it.  On the left side, you sew the end of the tube to the underarm edge after gathering the end of the tube.   On the right side, you take the right side tube, pass it through the left side loop, and attach the right side tube end to the right side underarm.  It sounds way more complex than it is and the pictures help to make it make sense.  

It took about two hours to cut it out and make the dress.   My only complaint really is that the gathers in the middle front of the skirt add too much emphasis to the stomach area.  When I do this pattern again, I'll push the gathers off to the sides instead.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Historical Food Fortnightly: Sweets for the Sweet

The Challenge:4. Sweets for the Sweet (February 12 - February 25) It’s sugar, and maybe spice, and definitely everything nice. Test out a historic recipe for sweets, sweetmeats and candies - but don’t let them spoil your appetite!

The Recipe: (where did you find it, link to it if possible) Take one hundred cocoa beans, two chillies, a handful of anise seed and two of vanilla (two pulverized Alexandria roses can be substituted), two drams of cinnamon, one dozen almonds and the same amount of hazelnuts, half a pound of white sugar and enough annatto to give some color. And there you have the king of chocolates from What's Cooking America?  You can read some of the book it is from here.

The Date/Year and Region: 1631, Spain

How Did You Make It: (a brief synopsis of the process of creation) I obviously didn't use the amounts the original author indicated. Half a pound of sugar is a bit much. Also, I don't like hazelnuts.

  • 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 cup of vanilla flavored almond milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • a pinch of anise

I mixed this together and I had hot chocolate!

Time to Complete: A couple of minutes
Total Cost: I had everything on hand

How Successful Was It?: (How did it taste? How did it look? Did it turn out like you thought it would?) The chili powder really changed the taste. However, the rest of it isn't too terribly different from how I make modern hot chocolate so....I loved it!   It's spicy because of the chili powder I used but it's really quite good if you like a rich chocolate taste.

How Accurate Is It?: (fess up to your modifications and make-dos here) I used store bought almond milk and store bought  ground ingredients. I also used the microwave. ;-)  I used almond milk rather than almond flour because, once you add water to the almond flour, the only real difference is that the almond flour would make the drink slightly more thick.   Since the kind of almond milk I buy already had vanilla in it, it makes sense to use that rather than crushing up a bunch of almonds and using vanilla extract (or the vanilla beans I have on hand that are not cheap!).

Friday, February 19, 2016

No Medieval Lenten Diet this year

Although I spoke about doing the medieval Lent thing again this year, I finally gave up today.  The biggest reason was very simple - I could either enjoy medieval food that was typically served during Lent or I could keep to my diet.  There was no way I could do both.

I'm calorie counting and have been since mid November.  It's been working and I'd like to keep it up.   However, even in a snack in the middle ages could easily be well over 500 calories.   I'm trying hard to stick to around 1300 calories a day - give or take 100 calories.   If just a snack - 1/4 cup of raisins, 1/4 cup of walnuts, and a 1/4 of almonds is 500, imagine what some of the dishes are like.   A cup of cooked rice is normally between 200 and 300 calories.  Adding and average serving of salmon to that adds another 400 calories.  This is before veggies and spices.  It came down to having just one meal every day and a snack or giving up and going to modern foods, calorie counting those, and just going to daily mass for Lent instead.   I'm not good on starvation, so daily mass it is.  Because, as anyone who has ever had Chinese take out knows, rice does not fill you up.  

I'm upset with myself a bit because I do love the medieval Lenten foods (I'll be teaching a class on them this year at Pennsic!) but it's not practical if you want to lose weight.  All the foods (And I do mean all!) are very high in calories which probably was great if you went out to work in the fields or had to walk everywhere but not when you have a car, computer, and want to get to a certain weight by Easter.

For the Historically Food Fortnightly, I'll still be making Lenten foods until after Easter - it's just fun and I'll still get an excuse to make some of my favorite dishes.  But as an everyday thing, I just can't pull it off this year.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

New 18th Century Stays

18th Century Stays at the MET

I've looked at the above stays for a while. I really, really like them and wanted to make a similar pair for at least a couple of years. Once my beat up old ones finally became completely unwearable and popped a seam, I got off my duff to make ones similar to the above.

Front of my new stays

Side View

Back View
Mine aren't perfect by a long stretch but I'm really happy with them.  First, the fit.  The dress dummy they are on is a size 8.  I used a cotton twill flocked with black velvet I got at Joanns fr the fashion fabric.  The bias tape is black silk taffeta scraps I had lying around in the scrap pile.  I used linen for the lining and cotton duck from Ikea for the inner lining.  The boning is a combo of both cable and duct ties - some of the channels were too thin for the larger duct ties so I doubled up the cable ties instead.

My point on the stays is much broader than the extant pair.  The front upper edge is curved - it's just hard to tell on this dress dummy.   Like the original, I spiral laced the back.

I wore the stays this past weekend - although I hadn't finished binding the bottom edge fully- and they fit!   I just really, really need to go get longer laces!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Historical Food Fortnightly '16 3:History Detective

3. History Detective (January 29 - February 11) For this challenge, you get to be the detective! Either use clues from multiple recipes to make a composite recipe, or choose a very vague recipe and investigate how it was made. 

This challenge couldn't be easier for me. Most medieval and Renaissance recipes don't have things like measurements or how hot the dish needs to be or how long it needs to cook for - they assume you know all of this. For instance, the one I used:

Tart for Lenton. Take figges and raisinges, and wassh hom in wyne, and grinde hom, and appuls and peres clene pared, and the corke tane out (the cores taken out); then take fresh samon, or codlynge, or hadok, and grinde hit, and medel hit al togedur, and do hit in a coffyn, and do therto pouder of ginger, and of canelle, ande clowes, and maces; and plaunte hit above (ornament it on the top) with pynes, or almondes, and prunes, and dates quartert, then cover thi coffyn, and bake hit, and serve hit forthe.

The above is from Ancient Cookery [Arundel 334](England, 1425). My translation:

A tart for Lent. Take figs and raisins, wash them in wine, and then grind them. Also get apples and pears that have been peeled and corked. Then take fresh salmon, or cod, or haddock, and grind it small. Mix all these things together and put them in a pie crust. Add powdered ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and mace. On top of this, put pine nuts or almonds, prunes, and quarted dates. Cover the pie crust, bake it, and serve forth.

So the questions begin. Do I make the figs and raisins into a mush? Does the wine just wash the fruit or should I soak them in it? How the heck do I make a pie crust without butter? How long do I cook this for? Do I cook the salmon first and then add or should I keep it raw and cook it with everything else?

Well, some of the questions can be answered through a ton of other medieval cookbooks. This late 14th century one has a recipe for "Tarte of Fysshe" that mentions the salmon should be boiled in almond milk before being put into a pie. Okay, I can do that! This page shows me how long to cook the salmon and using this page I figured out a pie crust. I also used modern renditions of a pie crust to figure out the amounts. Basically, you always have to snoop around other cookbooks to figure out what the heck the original chef meant.

Pie Crust:

then make a dough of sugar, flour, oil, water and salt, mix them together to make the dough, spread it over the bottom of a low pan, and put the mixture in so that it is no more than a finger deep; cook it in the oven or on the fire as is directed for the other tortes; when almost cooked, get wafers, crumble them over the Tart - those wafers should be made with good sugar; when cooked, garnish with sugar and rosewater. (Italy, 15th C)

Sugar, flour, oil, water, and salt - all very normal ingredients for a pie crust. Using modern sites like this one I figured out how much I'd need of each. Rather than vegan butter, I'd use olive oil as the fat.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (1 of white and 1 of brown)
  • 3/4 cup of oil (I probably should have used only a half cup)
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1/2 cup ice cold water

I mixed the flour, sugar, oil, and salt until it made sort of a clumpy mess. I added the water until it had a more dough like consistency. I then rolled it out on a floured board (I used a lot of flour. I think it was another half cup while rolling it out). I split the dough into 1/3 and 2/3. The 2/3 became the actual "coffin" and the 1/3 became the cover. Once the pan was covered with the coffin part, I put the pan and the cover in the fridge and went to Mass.

Although they couldn't have used a fridge in the middle ages, they would have used a root cellar and probably just used the dough the next morning rather than a couple of hours later.

At 350F in my very modern oven, I cooked the coffin part for about ten minutes once I came home.


For the salmon, I cooked it in store bought almond milk at 420F in the oven for 20 minutes. It cooked up beautifully. While I was waiting for it to cook, I peeled the pears and chopped them up, let the raisins and figs sit in the wine I've had in my fridge forever, and I also got out the apples I picked back in September to add them to the pie.

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 12 figs
  • 2 pears
  • 2 apples

I cut up the figs, the pears, and the apples were already cut up. I mixed in the salmon when it was done with this mess - draining the wine beforehand. Once it was mixed, I put this in the coffin. On top of that, I added the ginger, cinnamon, mace, and cloves - all ground. I spinkled it on so I have no idea what I used and of what but I know I used a good bit of ginger and the cinnamon and only put a bit of the mace and cloves on. All the spices were pre-ground in to a powder.

On top of that, I added 7 dates and sprinkled some almonds on. I didn't have prunes but I doubt they are vital to this dish. The cover went on over that. I cooked the pie at 350F for 40 minutes. I tried for 30 but the cover didn't look "cooked" so I added another 10 minutes to the total time.


It just won't cook.  The pears and the apples were only slightly mushy.   The crust wasn't completely baked either - it also could have used a bit more sugar, probably.   However, the consistency of the crust was perfect so I'll just have to work on the baking time part of it.  The salmon tasted fine - it was cooked thanks to the almond milk- but nothing else really seemed to have cooked correctly.   If I try this again, I'll probably put it in at a higher temp and for longer.  

The taste wasn't bad - it's mostly fruit and nuts with ginger and cinnamon.  It really was just a need to bake longer, I think.

Before adding the cover

After I took it out of the oven

De constructed pie!  I'm terrible at taking pies out without destroying them.

Ash Wednesday!!!

It's that time of year again! This year will be slightly different than previous Lents for a couple of reasons: a) I am no longer allergic to dairy and b)I'm trying to keep to a diet.

Granted, for Mardi Gras I sort of didn't keep to the diet but I didn't gain any weight either. I realized that even when I try to splurge now, I really don't go too far over what is recommended for a maintain weight diet. As for the dairy, I knew I had very low Vitamin D which is shown to cause an increase in allergies. By very low, I mean 8. Normal range is 20-50 and doctor's prescribe medication at 12. I wasn't good about taking the Vitamin D like I should until a few months ago. After reading scholarly articles like this I'm sort of kicking myself for not keeping up with the vitamin D more. Not only do I feel better, I can eat dairy! Ordering at a restaurant has gotten easier - as many people can now attest to for me. I can have cheesecake! (I did on Monday.)

So why, only a couple of weeks after figuring out I can eat dairy am I willing to give it up? Well, Sundays are cheat days anyway and I will be chowing down on mashed potatoes, chocolate cake, and lots of cheddar cheese then. I'm only giving it up during the rest of the week. Honestly, I feel more "joyful" for Easter when I've done the medieval Lent thing. I want Easter to come - it's not just an excuse to wear a new dress to Church. It's more of a celebration after all the fasting and staying away from animal products during the week. I like that celebratory feeling. Easter is the biggest holiday on the Christian calendar and doing the medieval Lent helps me to realize that. Plus, I do look forward to some of the foods like almond milk infused rice with raisins and cinnamon or kidney beans and rice.

Today, I've had OJ for breakfast (it's Vitamin D infused and probably not all together period for the 16th century but it is necessary so...) and a mug of hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was the Williamsburg (18th century) stuff I pay way too much for when I go down to Williamsburg but it's so good. They did have hot chocolate in the late 16th century and there is some evidence of vanilla being added to it. I mix the chocolate powder with almond milk and it's yummy. The Smithsonian has a pretty good article on hot chocolate. Wired also has a pretty good time line on chocolate in Europe. So, although the particular mix may not be exactly 16th C, hot chocolate with sugar is.

Tonight, I'm going to make a fish tart for the historical food fortnightly. Keep a look out for that!