Monday, March 11, 2019

Another "Restoration of Independence" Day

I've said before on this blog that Lithuania is the little country with two independence days. Today is the second -- the 29th anniversary of Lithuania's historic declaration of its independence from the Soviet Union (which ceased to exist less than two years later anyway).

Recently I read an online essay about what the Lithuanian revolution/restoration of March 1990 was really like. Heady days indeed -- and sharing the experience on television must have seemed extraordinarily amazing to viewers who were accustomed to nothing but Soviet TV.

I want to write an update-type post on my SCA activities, but that will have to wait until I finish my current crop of articles-for-pay.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Cookies! Or ... ?

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while have probably noticed that I don't do much actual medieval cooking in the SCA. True, I pitch in with the household dinner plan at Pennsic, but we don't cook period recipes. (Yeah, sometimes I would like to try to cook from medieval recipes at Pennsic, but it's easier to please everyone's palate by declaring "taco night" or "spaghetti night" or "grilled chicken night.")

But then our current Baron and Baroness of Storvik decided to entice more people to come to the December baronial business meeting by declaring a cookie contest, with actual prizes. And my competitive instincts kicked in: Whoa, just let me make some genuine medieval cookies!!

The only problem: Real medieval people didn't leave behind a lot of recipes for "cookies" in the sense of Keebler and Nabisco products. They had some sort of gingerbread, but not much else. I couldn't help thinking, "Gee, if everyone brings gingerbread, it's not going to be much of a competition, is it?"

Fortunately, even though "period" was one of the prize categories, it was not mandatory for every entry. (Probably because of that dearth of extant recipes.) So I started to think ... my persona is Lithuanian ... maybe I should look for something that is considered "traditional" Lithuanian, even though "traditional" usually means 18th- or 19th-century stuff.

So ... I thought of ... grybai! The word translates to "mushrooms," which is one of the five basic Lithuanian food groups, along with fatty pork, cabbage, potatoes, and sour cream. :-) But it also refers to mushroom-shaped cookies.

A couple of years ago, one of my friends from the Lithuanian Hall in Baltimore made grybai and posted about it on Facebook. Her cookies had dark brown caps and white stems, like these over here. I thought they looked adorable, although she averred that large quantities of vodka needed to be consumed to make them come out right. :-)

Anyhow, I latched on to the notion of making my own grybai, because even though the recipe isn't from the SCA period, the idea of making a "sottelty" or "subtlety" -- a sugary concoction that looks like something that isn't edible, like a castle or a ship, or something that is edible but not sugary, like a rooster -- is perfectly medieval.

What recipe? I quickly found three: one in my hardcover copy of Art of Lithuanian Cooking by Maria Gieysztor de Gorgey, one in the "Our Moms' Lithuanian Recipes" group on Facebook, and one on a blog site called The Culinary Cellar (a reprint of a recipe from a 1972 magazine called Sphere). I ended up using the last of the three, just because I figured I'd better pick one, any one, since they had essentially the same ingredients in different proportions. (Baking relies a bit more on chemistry than other types of cooking, so I didn't want to end up with inedible lumps by using mix-and-match proportions.)

Making the grybai wasn't terribly difficult, just a lengthy process. Here's what the dough looked like before I kneaded it for a bit:

I posted this to Instagram just as a teaser -- to keep everyone's competitive juices flowing. *grin*

I had to bake the stems and caps separately, then glue them together with icing (confectioner's sugar and water). Then I let them dry overnight. THEN I mixed up more icing -- some left white, some with added cocoa -- and dipped the cookies in the icing and sprinkled them with poppy seeds and shavings from a dark-chocolate bar to look like "dirt."

Did they actually look like mushrooms? You tell me:

As things turned out, my grybai were one of 22 entries in the cookie competition! It was a tough contest. I didn't win, but it was close, and I received lots of compliments on what was supposed to be a "test batch" but ended up being my entry.

When I posted all this to Facebook, my friend and neighbor Tina asked me to make some for her Solstice Party on Friday night (yesterday, as I write this). So I made a second batch. I was conscious that the first batch seemed a little dry, so I made sure I put the full half-cup of honey into this second one (I may have shorted the honey on the first). I also lowered the oven temperature slightly. The cookies turned out a smidgen softer, especially the caps, but they were easier to stick together that way. And the non-SCA folks at the party loved these grybai just as much! I brought home an empty container.

If Storvik makes this cookie competition an annual affair ... for next year, I am thinking of making another Lithuanian "cookie subtlety" that will be much easier to make. Just saying.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Letter from Pennsic 47

(In the style of the #pennsicletters hashtag, which follows the style set by the #secondcivilwarletters trend a few weeks or months ago...)

Dearest friends, I have much news to relate to you. My journey to and from the Pennsic War was eventful, with many twists and turns.

Before I departed home, my place among the warmongers was far from certain. Several days before my journey was to begin, my elderly steed, Draco, came down with a frightful fever. To prevent a fatal wound to his vital organs, he had to be carted home on a special wagon. Fortunately, after four days the pyrexia broke, and he contentedly let me load him with the bedding, clothing, and other necessities of travel.

Upon my arrival at the front lines, the members of the household known as Southwind welcomed me to their dinner feast, and a young man named Treavor, who was making his very first pilgrimage to the lands of War, provided me with kind assistance in setting up my shelter and furnishings. His helping hands enabled me to be prompt about setting Draco loose in the large paddock to be with others of his kind while I attended the War.

My goal during this year's travels was to pace myself with leisure. I took no more than one Pennsic University class per day. One of my most interesting lessons was in Chinese heraldry, about which I have been queried on numerous occasions, with not much knowledge to provide to my questioners. I also learned about archaeological excavation reports and the long-armed cross stitch, and I sat in on a history lecture taught by a fellow named Igor, originally from Ukraine.

For the first time, I attended the event known as the SCA Medieval Barter Town, in which I relieved myself of two articles that I no longer use. In return, I gained two pairs of handmade earrings and a "coiling gizmo" that I plan to use to recreate accoutrements from the ancient Baltic lands.

The second day of my sojourn ushered in a brutal wave of heat, so that several of my campmates departed to spend their evenings in a distant, and apparently marvelous, building where a "condition" is applied to the air to remove the heat and humidity from it. However, I remained in my tent, which I affectionately dubbed the "Green Monster."

At the end of the week, I found Draco to be reluctant to leave the bucolic, hilly pasture in which I had left him. He needed several prods to get moving again. In return, I took him on a nice long ride out to Ohio, where I procured a moderately delicious dinner from the estate of His Royal Majesty the King of Burgers.

My journey homeward was uneventful, and I made no side excursions. I shall always cherish my memories.

Monday, July 30, 2018

From "medieval crack" to Pennsic prep...

So far I've been having a rather quiet SCA year in 2018. Not completely dead -- I have NOT quit the SCA. No way am I doing that! But I've had to watch my pennies, and I've had unavoidable time conflicts with some events. I've been to only three events so far since New Year's Day, and one was technically a baronial activity, not an official event.

On the first Saturday of March I attended Atlantia's Kingdom Arts & Sciences Festival in the Barony of Stierbach. It's an annual event, but I haven't attended it annually. Last year it was in South Carolina, which is an awfully long drive from Maryland, so I went to my church's annual women's retreat instead (sadly, they're usually on the same Saturday). In 2016, I had a head cold and just stayed home.

"Medieval crack" is how one Facebook user described the inspiration she got from seeing all the displays and competitions. I totally agree! I went from table to table and gaped at all the wonderful things that I never knew existed or could be made. I took quite a few pictures; unfortunately, I still haven't sorted them out yet. (I know, I know ... I keep taking photos and dumping them into the cloud and then never getting around to organizing them....)

One Saturday in April I went to Storvik's Performers' Revel at the home of Master Igor and Mistress Fevronia, two longtime stalwarts of the Barony. It made for a long day, because in the morning and early afternoon I went up to Baltimore to attend the "Windmills" dance festival at the Lithuanian Hall. As it turned out, one of my Lochmere friends dances in a Scandinavian folk-dance group, so it was great to see her there and share some of my non-SCA interests with her.

Then I had yet another time conflict in June. (Seeing a theme here?) On the same day that Storvik held its annual Novice Tourney -- a single-day event without camping due to site limitations -- I was invited to a "celebration of life" for a college classmate who had passed away in February. What to do? Once again, I split my day: in the morning I went to Novice, then left mid-afternoon, changed my muddied clothes at home, and then went downtown to attend the memorial gathering at an art gallery. It rained a bit toward the end of the second event -- we had a very wet June around these parts -- and as I walked back to the Metro station, I saw traces of a rainbow in the sky. My classmate was smiling down on us....

Even though I'm a little light on my event schedule, I'm still keeping busy with other SCA-related activities. I have been making a few medallion cords for the Kingdom and finally learning how to knit with multiple colors of yarn. I'm dancing in the dance group, and I try to attend baronial meetings when I can. One highlight of the year so far was an SCA group outing to see the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of the classic Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot. The theater not only gave us a group discount, but also a free drink coupon if we attended in garb. After the show, a couple of the actors invited us on stage for group photos. They were as happy to meet us as we were to meet them!

(Incidentally, there was someone else in the audience who would have been interesting to meet ... her initials are R.B.G.)

I should probably also mention that this spring I did a fair amount of reorganizing of my craft and sewing supplies, as well as my books on SCA topics, so that it should be easier to get off my duff and accomplish some creativity. (I am a naturally disorganized person, so a friend helped me with this.)

Now I'm getting ready to go to Pennsic again. Starting in 2004, I've attended every Pennsic War with the exceptions of 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016. (I *registered* for Pennsic XL in 2011, I loaded up the car ... and that car's transmission was croaking before I got out of Maryland.) This year I'm keeping things simple -- going for War Week, editing the stuff I'm bringing so that I don't end up with a tub full of unworn garb. I've already done a fair amount of packing and staging my belongings in a spot in the spare room. (This is NOT the kind of packing one can do in an hour, or even an evening.)

I'm trying to finish a linen dress and turban before I leave, and I also have some work-for-pay that has nothing to do with the SCA. I'll try to write about the dress in a future entry.

Since my car is in the shop for a thermostat replacement, wish me luck in my travels -- I'm going to need it.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Archiving the Blogroll

I like to add new blogs to the "Blogroll" whenever I find them. However, some of them seem to be, shall we say, quite abandoned. Many of them still contain interesting information, so I don't want to lose track of them completely.

Therefore, I'm going to make a list of blogs that have not been updated in at least one year and take them off the active Blogroll on the side of the page. Here they are, in no particular order:

One year is an arbitrary choice, I'll admit. If any of these blogs reactivate, I'll add them back.

Friday, February 16, 2018


As I've said before on this blog, Lithuania is the little country with two independence days. Well, today is the first of those two holidays, and it's a big one: One hundred years ago today, the Republic of Lithuania got its independence back!

If you remember your Lithuanian history ... Lithuania was the biggest country in Europe circa 1400, but during the 1700s the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was carved up, with Russia ruling the land during the 19th century, to the point where Lithuanian cultural expression was driven underground, to the point where book smugglers helped to keep the language alive.

My grandfather came to America as a young man in 1911 to escape being forced into the Russian army. Seven years later, Lithuania regained its independence, so young men no longer had to worry about the Russian army. By then, though, my grandfather had married my grandmother and they had a baby boy (my father), so they just stayed in Massachusetts for the rest of their lives.

I'm very happy that Lithuania is celebrating its statehood today and I plan to join my friends at the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall in celebration. Valio!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Really Soon Now...

I want to get back to the tale of the 2016 Lithuanian dance festival, but in the meantime, I just will say: I will get the handout and class notes for my sutartines class up on this website as soon as I can. I have *not* forgotten! Thanks for your patience!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Back again, finally!

Yes, I know it has been a year and a half since I updated this blog.  You probably thought that this humble site had fallen by the wayside like hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of similarly abandoned blogs. But I'm bringing it back from the dead!

First, let me explain what I've been doing over this time gap.

In 2016, I attended only six SCA events. Technically, that was the same number I attended in 2015. At least in 2015, however, I managed to go to War of the Wings X (also known as WoW) down in North Carolina. I'd been to WoW once before just for the weekend, but for the 10th annual event I was able to stay for the whole thing. Those October nights got COLD. I was playing in the dance band for the Saturday night ball in the unheated castle, and as the night dragged on I was making more and more mistakes on my recorder because my fingers were stiffening. The band quit playing at the exact moment we said we would stop -- 10 p.m., if I recall correctly -- and we made it clear that the dancers would have to provide their own Bard in a Box from that time forward. We also suggested that space heaters might be nice for future wars.

Last year, I went to only weekend events ... no Pennsic, no WoW, not even Ruby Joust on Memorial Day weekend (the Joust typically attracts about 850 attendees). Instead, I spent a lot of my energy in late 2015 and the first half of 2016 preparing for something else entirely: Šokių Šventė 2016, the huge international Lithuanian folk-dance festival.

I'd heard of the quadrennial Šokiu Šventė before -- it was in Boston in 2012 -- but circumstances did not allow me to travel all the way up there just to watch an afternoon of dance. Watching the energetic young dancers at the annual Baltimore Lithuanian festival each spring for the last 10 years or so got me interested in the subject of Lithuanian folk dance. When I first heard that Malūnas, the Baltimore-based dance group, was starting a second group for "senior" (i.e., over age 35!) dancers, I was busy (that was in the fall of 2014). But in the fall of 2015, with the prospect of participating in the Baltimore Šventė looming, I took the plunge.

To be continued....

Monday, November 2, 2015

Still more link parking!

Yes, I really, really want to update this blog, but in the meantime, my browser is about to crash under the weight of all these open tabs. Let me relieve my browser of this burden. -- Ukrainian/Rus costume research and other stuff -- this appears to be the website of the author of the most recent Compleat Anachronist titled "Decorated Eggs and Pysanky" -- Finnish garb -- a compendium of stuff from the Finnish Iron Age group on Facebook -- a really interesting page on women's open hoods, with period illustrations (the rest of the blog has good stuff, too) -- why don't I have this one on my blogroll already? -- might not be completely within the SCA's purview, but still interesting -- blog of a Laurel from the West Coast -- a woman's merchant-class outfit for circa 1400 CE -- another good blog to add to the blogroll -- a lot of this blog is post-period for the SCA, but these are still some good thoughts

I promise I'll have a real update soon, but this will have to be it for now....

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Quick link parking

Once again: Long time, no post! I'd like to write a longer description of the things I've been able to do in the SCA this year, despite my lack of funds. However, that will have to wait for another day.

In the meantime, I just want to park a few links suggested by a friend who recently taught a class on "How to Be a Veiled Threat in the SCA." I wasn't able to attend her class on veils and wimples, but I definitely want to look these websites up!

After all, I've been in the SCA more than a decade now, so it's definitely time to "up my game."