Blog: August 2010

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Chicken paprikash

One of Dani's comfort foods is Hungarian Chicken Paprikash, which was new to me when we met. (My European roots don't get any farther east than Italy.) I've tried making it a few times (through the power of Google :-) ) with so-so results. Tonight's version, an adaptation of several other recipes (among things to make it kosher), worked well.

  • 4 chicken thighs (on bone, with skin)
  • oil
  • 3 medium onions, chopped small
  • 0.5 red bell pepper, chopped small
  • a few cloves of garlic, minced
  • about 3T Hungarian (not Spanish) paprika (could have used more)
  • 1C chicken stock
  • 2 small tomatoes, diced (these were plum 'cause that's what I had)
  • 2-3T flour
  • egg noodles, cooked

Heat oil, then brown chicken over high heat and remove from pan. Lower heat to medium and cook onions, pepper, and garlic until soft. Add paprika and cook for a minute, then add chicken back to the pan, turning to coat with the vegetable mixture. Add tomatoes and stock, bring to boil, then simmer covered until done, which will take about 15 more minutes. (Turn chicken over half-way through.) Don't rely on cooking times in recipes (a past mistake of mine); use a meat thermometer. When done remove chicken from the pan to a bed of egg noodles, raise the temperature to high, and stir in flour to thicken and reduce the sauce. Pour that over the chicken.

I did not know much about the different types of paprika when I posted this. There is extensive discussion in the comments (archived for extra safety).


Dani sits down in his reading chair and picks up a book. I catch only a glimpse of a somewhat distinctive cover.

Me: wait, what is that you're reading?

Dani: (holds book up)

Me: (walks five feet to my chair and picks up a book): we have got to coordinate these things better.

Yup, both our copies came today. Oops. :-) (Being Geek. I didn't know Dani was tracking it. Maybe I'll see if I can sell the duplicate copy to a coworker.)

Food in the SCA

Anastasia has been asking some interesting questions about what people look for in SCA feasts (and lunches). You should go read all the discussion on her posts (linked from my Dreamwidth post), but I'm going to copy some of my comments here too.

What makes a great luncheon buffet at an SCA event?

Speaking generally: period tasty food, compatible with the weather and event activities (e.g. summer fighting events are different from spring schola etc), variety of food groups including vegetarian protein, attention to presentation. If there is no place for me to leave the dirty dishes until dinner, finger food.

What foods/types of foods do you most like to see on a lunch board?

Vegetable pasties (e.g. spinach) or tarts (e.g. ember-day), fish, bread, cheese, fresh fruit in season that won't leave me with pits/cores/stems to dispose of (so, e.g. sliced apples rather than whole ones), hard-boiled eggs, nuts, pickles.

What foods do you always move past?

Meat, olives, mushrooms, blatantly-modern food, anything messier than I'm prepared to deal with.

(And a later thought: anything where I can't determine to my satisfaction that there are no unsafe ingredients. Pie shells, for example, might contain lard, so I will consult any posted ingredients list, ask, or pass.)

What food do you wish you saw on a lunch board but actually never see?

"Never" isn't bringing anything to mind, but in the "almost never" space, fish (not shellfish) in pretty much any form. Smoked salmon, fish pies of various sorts, herring... all of that works, but the SCA seems to be somewhat fish-averse except for the occasional appearance of shrimp.

1) We can all agree that not enough food is a problem. But at what point does it become "too much" food? Is three courses (around 15 dishes) plus fruit and nuts at the end too much? Is it a question of time (ie: we've been here forever, lets go home) or being stuffed?

There are two different aspects, variety and quantity. In terms of overall quantity, if the first course had enough food for a full meal and then there are two more courses, that's too much. But on the other hand, if you're sending out small quantities of lots of different things, three courses might or might not be enough in terms of total quantity. It just depends.

Most experienced cooks I know use some metrics along the lines of N oz meat, X cups starch, Y cups vegetables, etc, where these values can be context-adjusted. IMO a feast at a typical event [1] should go about 2 hours, which supports 2 or 3 courses plus a dessert board. How much variety you can pack into each course depends on your kitchen, your crew, and to some extent your budget. I'm used to seeing about four items per course, give or take one.

[1] By "typical event" I mean fighting and other physical activities during the day, maybe a short court, feast, maybe dancing in the evening. Contrast with, e.g. a university (might want food to be quick to allow more class time), or 12th night (4 hours for the meal, split into 2 chunks with dancing or court in between could be fine), or a performers' revel (might want to have a longer feast but with entertainment breaks), or...

2) Non-fast day Medieval feasts (at least as we have documentation for them) were very meat heavy, but of course many in the SCA are vegetarian (for a variety of reasons) and most of us agree that in modern meals meat should only be a small portion of a balanced meal. How do you feel about the balance between these two things, in terms of what is served at a sit-down feast? Obviously there needs to be a filling (and tasty) vegetarian entree, but how many of the remaining dishes should be 100% vegetarian?

If I paid full price for the feast and I can't eat at least two-thirds of it, I will be grumpy. A mushroom tart and all the bread I can eat doesn't make for a satisfying meal. So most dishes should be vegetarian or at least vegetarian-possible (e.g. there's a small pot of soup available that wasn't made with beef stock for those who want). Cooks should think carefully about use of problem ingredients where they don't really have an impact; I'm totally cool with the roasted chicken with meat-based stuffing (how could it not be?), but using the pan drippings to flavor the rice on the side can feel gratuitous to me.

At feasts I often see a lot of meat, a lot of starch (bread, rice, noodles), and not very much with actual vegetables. I realize that we don't have as many period recipes for vegetables; I don't know to what extent it is a different balance in the meal versus them not bothering to write some things down as carefully. (I mean, we also don't have a lot of bread recipes compared to meat dishes, but we know that bread was often central to a meal...)

Assuming you don't know the cook personally, what would convince you to pre-reserve for an evening feast?

Unless I not only know the cook but know that the cook is inclined to cook enough food I can eat, I absolutely require a menu. I don't want to be told "there'll be something for vegetarians"; I want to make the decision myself (too many bad experiences with "something for vegetarians" meaning "bread, and you can pick the meat out of the stew, can't you?").

I won't leave an event to go get food, so beyond this, it's a matter of whether we are staying for dinner or leaving before. That's a decision we will make jointly. It is informed by planned activities (e.g. is there dancing after dinner?) and density of people we want to socialize with who are staying for dinner.

Shabbat with the new(ish) rabbi

My rabbi was away this Shabbat and last, and the associate rabbi (formerly known here as "the third rabbi" or "the educator rabbi") said he'd like to include lay people in services instead of just doing everything himself (yay!). I'm now the head of the Neshama Center (um, is complicated -- not just a worship committee but go ahead and think of it that way for now), so he asked me to invite some people from our group. Since I got to do a service myself in July under similar circumstances I deferred to others this time. Then this Thursday at the board meeting the cantorial soloist told me that one of the people for this week was sick and she wanted me to fill in. People told me it looked very smooth, as if this set of people was used to working together. Nifty. :-) (The cantorial soloist and I, and my rabbi for that matter, have worked together enough to be able to sort of read each others' minds on the bimah. Glad to see it works with the other rabbi too.)

This spirit of inclusiveness extended to the morning bar-mitzvah service in one way. (This is the sanctuary service with family-centric attendance, not the regular morning minyan with a steady community. We're talking about ways to fix that but it's a hard problem endemic to the Reform movement.) Obviously the associate rabbi can read torah -- you won't graduate rabbinic school without demonstrating capability there -- but instead he invited another lay reader and me to read for these two bar-mitzvah services. The other one did last week and I did this week, each of reading everything except the part that the student read. Mine went very well, I thought -- I made two mistakes requiring correction, one of which was accidentally over-shooting an aliya boundary (I realized it at the same time as the rabbi). The bar mitzvah chanted very well; afterward I whispered to him that he was welcome to come back and read for us any time. :-) (Articulate, on key, and it was clear that he understood what the text he was reading meant.) I hope we'll see more of him.

The typical Reform bar-mitzvah service is somewhat tedious (to those outside the family) in some respects; there's a reason the president of the URJ once called it "king for a day". Yesterday's was a little better than I'm used to in some ways; I suspect that's the handiwork of the associate rabbi, and if so I'll be interested to see where this goes. Other aspects still require a lot of work, but I'm glad to have good relationships with both our rabbis such that I can talk with them about these things.

This rabbi was originally hired to focus on education and not be on the bimah much; with the (planned) departure of another associate rabbi earlier this summer, we are back down to two. So roles have shuffled around somewhat and he'll be on the bimah more. Between his service-leading skills, his excellent sermon-craft, and his interest in involving lay people more, I'm looking forward to this.

New game: Defenders of the Realm

Dani played Defenders of the Realm at Origins and found it promising despite its high similarity to another game we enjoy, so he ordered a copy. We've now played a few games.

This is a cooperative game where the players are trying to prevent the spread of four strains of monsters before they overwhelm the map. The map consists of a bunch of interconnected sites, each color-coded to one of the four types of monster. On each turn new monsters appear in designated locations (dictated by cards), and if you get more than three monsters in a particular location that spot becomes tainted. Each type of monster also has a general; the generals might move during the "darkness spreads" stage (also when new monsters come out), and if any of them reach the capital you lose. Other ways to lose are to run out of taint markers and to run out of monsters of any given color. You attack monsters by going to their locations and rolling combat dice; you attack generals by accumulating cards of the right colors, which you draw each turn. Each player has a unique role with associated special abilities. You win by killing all four generals.

But wait; this isn't at all like Pandemic. Why, this is non-deterministic! You have to roll dice to attack infections, er, monsters. And the infection, err, darkness-spreads, cards don't get reshuffled and put back on top. And taint is completely different from outbreaks. Um, yeah.

But all that said, it's an enjoyable game; while it blatantly rips off most of the Pandemic mechanics, it doesn't feel like a complete knock-off. This is its own game, though I do wonder how the publisher has stayed out of trouble.

Read more…

Halacha geeking

One of the many fences created by the rabbis is that of muktzah. This is a class of object that you're not even supposed to handle on Shabbat, because the primary use of that object involves activities that are forbidden on Shabbat. So, for example, you aren't supposed to handle writing utensils, your gardening equipment, the TV's remote control, etc.

Recently, while contemplating the logistics of a pot-luck break-fast for Yom Kippur, I found myself wondering: since Yom Kippur is Shabbat Shabbaton (the Shabbat of Shabbats), and it's a fast day -- on that day is food mutkzah?

I don't actually have anything riding on the answer to this (if I did I'd ask my rabbi); I'll take my contribution over before the holiday starts, most likely. But I do find myself wondering about the principles involved. Torah law doesn't need to follow consistent principles -- it is what it is -- but rabbinic law does.

In the comments I learned that food isn't muktzeh on Yom Kippur because there is a sizable class of people who need (or might need) to eat on Yom Kippur. I would still need to deliver the food before Yom Kippur because we don't prepare on any Shabbat or festival for the next day. This led to a discussion of eruv tavshilin, which is more complicated than I thought. Also, there are four classes of muktzeh. There is always more to learn. (Archived comments)

Pennsic in bullet points

(+) Our camp (Polyhymnia) worked really well together.
(+) Potentially-challenging land negotiations worked out in the end.
(+) Goodies from my friend Magid.
(-) The weather the last few days sucked. I can't remember a Pennsic where I felt so enervated. I almost went home a day early.
(+) Rain was mostly overnight, not during less-convenient times, and our road never became impassable like it sometimes does.
(-) 20+ gallons of water a day? Yikes.

(+) I Sebastiani (commedia dell'arte) performance was a lot of fun.
(-) Except some unfortunate staging in the final act that meant we couldn't see anything from the side seats.
(-) And a really annoying sign-language interpreter.
(+) I Genesii (commedia dell'arte) was very good this year; they've moved up a level or two in both plotting and execution.
(?) What's with the "I Something" naming pattern for commedia dell'arte, anyway?

(+) Went to the "meet the BoD (board of directors)" session and it was mostly good.
(-) But some people really need to learn what sorts of things really, truly are not the BoD's problem (take it up with your kingdom, autocrat, etc).
(+) From a BoD member after the meeting: "I wrote down nine good questions requiring followup and you asked four of them; who are you?".
(-) BoD members present did not seem to grok that they are raising, not lowering, exposure to lawsuits through some of their policies. (Though I guess someone wrote it down because I only asked four questions.)

(+) Way more vegetables in camp meals than in the past. Also fish and vegetarian options, yay!
(?) All three propane sources (water heater, grill, stove) ran out while I was cooking. Unlucky much? :-)
(+) Bourbon slushies. Who'd've thought?

(+) Our choir performance went really well!
(-) But the lighting was terrible; could barely read music on stage because of floodlights pointed at us.
(-) And I didn't realize quite how bad it was until I flubbed our one-on-a-part piece because of it. :-( (Naturally, we had nailed it in rehearsals...)
(-) According to the person in charge, other configurations of those lights are not possible. Reminder for next year: get some sort of booklight to mitigate this problem.
(+) An audience member commended me on my breathing (he commented that my diaphragm was moving several inches).
(+) "Subtitles" during the Pennsic Choir's performance of Matona Mia Cara. I assume the vocal performance was good too (the rest of their concert was), but most of the audience had its attention elsewhere. :-) (I do hope the person responsible makes that "translation" available somewhere.)

(+) Class by Cariadoc on Jewish civil/criminal law was interesting even though I'd read much of his material on his blog as he worked through it.
(+) He turned to me a couple times for help. Cariadoc knows who I am?
(+) Class on evolution of the haggadah was interesting. Teacher has a copy (via the Library of Congress) of Amram's haggadah (9th century); remember to ask about getting a copy of that. I didn't know Amram had a haggadah; I wonder if she has his siddur too.
(-) Another Jewish-themed class was rather disappointing. Oh well; can't win 'em all.
(-) Skipped some interesting-sounding classes because the class tents were way too hot for the previously-mentioned horrible heat.
(-) Failed to go dancing. (Scheduling conflict for the most interesting ball.)
(+) "Pennsic planner" calendars distributed at July barony meeting were a big help.

(+) "Flash mob" choral singing at kingdom party got a lot of compliments.
(+) "Random acts of choir" in camp during dinner, party, random other times.
(+) We had a few more visitors from the rest of the barony camp this year.
(-) But I didn't visit as much over there. Oops.
(+) Got to see several friends from distant lands.
(-) But not for nearly long enough, and missed many others entirely.

(+) Signs in the nearby privies by the urinals, changing approximately daily, including: "drinking fountain out of order", "real vikings hit their targets", "this is not a clout shoot; get closer", and "armrest low, also wet and smelly".

(-) Air mattress lost structural integrity on my antepenultimate night there.
(+) Tear-down today finished by 12:30.
(+) Upon filling in the sump and noting its resemblance to a (large) freshly dug grave, someone in camp erected a headstone ("RIP Pennsic 39") and planted flowers.
(+) Good cat-sitters!

In comments, people asked about the BoD items. Read more…

Midrash session 3.5

The last of the burning-bush midrash:

scan of Hebrew text

scan of rest

(1) "And this rod take in your hand" -- the rod that was created at twilight (lit: between the suns) was transmitted [a] to Adam Rishon (the first man) in the garden of Eden, (2) and Adam transmitted it to Chanok, and Chanok transmitted it to Shem, and Shem to Avraham, and Avraham to Yitzchak, and Yitzchak to Yaakov, (3) and Yaakov took it to Egypt and he gave it to Yosef his son. (4) And when Yosef died

(Second image starts here)

he bequeathed it to his house and it was given into the palace of Paro, (5) and Yitro was one of the magicians of Egypt, and he saw the rod and the signs upon it he coveted it in his heart, and he took it to his place [b] and he planted it in the midst of the garden of his house, (6) and there was not a man who could draw near upon it [c], until Moshe came to the land of Midian, and he entered the midst of the garden of his [Yitro's] house, and he saw the rod, and read the signs on it, and sent forth his hand to take it. (7) This in the future will redeem Yisrael from Egypt, therefore he gave to him his daughter Tzipporah for a wife.

It doesn't actually say "Yitro saw this and said "this will redeem...", but that's the only way this part makes sense.

Why Yosef, who had sons, would have let the rod go to Paro's palace instead of to his family is not explained. I mean, the plain text says "his house", which you'd think means his own family, but then it goes on to say that something else happened.

The transmission at the beginning is interesting; Chanok (Enoch) is in the seventh generation but yes, lifespans were long enough that Adam was still alive. Chanok must have given the rod to Shem before the flood (though I hadn't thought he lived that long; Chanok got short-changed compared to the others), and I guess it's possible that Shem was still alive in Avraham's time. While trying to look that up without actually doing the math I came across this family tree that looks potentially useful. (No dates/ages, though.)

[a] The root here is mem-samekh-reish, the same root as "mesorah", a tradition passed down from generation to generation.

[b] Not makom and not beito (his house); I'm taking someone else's word for this one.

[c] Better, less-literal translation: No man could draw near it.

See comments for some corrections.

Interviewed by hrj and ichur72

The interview meme is going around again, and in starting to respond to my questions from hrj I stumbled upon a way-overdue set from ichur72. Oops! And, ironically, there's some overlap. :-) Read more…