Wednesday, October 16, 2013


So, last night we were supposed to wrap up a boot making class, but the instructor wound up hurting his back at work and the group had to scramble to find a substitute A&S class.

I was hesitant to attend when I found out it was a form of cheese making. But... I went anyway, and let me just say, it was a wonderful 45 minutes of time well spent.

First of all, Lady Najat and I really haven't had much in the way of long conversations, nothing against her, mind you, but we walk in different circles. Last night, I discovered we both were addicted to Iron Chef, both loved to cook, and interesting is a lot of the pragmatic parts of cooking. It really was a fun conversation to have with her, and it might (maybe) be enough to pull me out to the cooking guild or something of that ink.

But other than that... the reason for my post is to point some well earned attention to her class. I don't know that she typed this up on 45 minutes notice, but she pulled the class off on it, and it was a great little meeting in its own right.

Below are her notes as she presented them to me.

Labneh : Straining To Make Cheese?

by Lady Najat bint Aygölgesi

What is Labneh?
Labneh is the Turkish term to refer to the product when yogurt is strained of the extra liquid to make a thicker, more cheese like food product that is easier to keep for longer periods of time (up to three weeks!). The end product is similar in consistency to cream cheese while maintaining a tangy flavor similar to the original plain yogurt.

It is hard to pinpoint when humans started straining yogurt to created strained yogurt cheese, but not unreasonable to suggest that it has been around as long as the first silly person tried to store yogurt in cloth one day. It is a traditional food of the Middle East and South Asia and is known by many names, from labaneh to dehi to chaka depending on the cultural origination and types of milk that it is made from.

The flavor and consistency of the strained yogurt cheese is dependent on the milk originally used. As camel and water buffalo milk yogurt is not readily available in the United States we will be experiencing the more mildly flavored cow milk yogurt’s flavor instead.

How does one make Labneh?
Labneh is created by straining plain yogurt until it creates a thick cheese like substance to work with.  Things you will need for this project include a strainer, a bowl, yogurt, a twist tie or some string, and the material to strain the yogurt with. The straining material can be cheesecloth or a very thin dishcloth or even a couple layers of coffee filter, it just needs to be a material that will allow extra liquid to drain off rather than sticking to the rest of the yogurt.

These materials will give you the general set up for straining the cheese in your fridge. The bowl will help by collecting the drained off whey (which can then be used in other recopies!). Set the strainer into the bowl and make sure it will set there nicely. Then lay down a layer or two of your filtering materials.

Into your cloth or filter scoop out how much plain yogurt you want to strain. A general rule is that you put four times as much yogurt as you want labneh, as this is about how much it will reduce during the straining process. 

After placing the amount that you want into your straining material gather up the edges of the cloth and tie together somewhat tightly in the middle, just so that it stays encased in the filter. Then place this onto the strainer into the bowl into the fridge.

Once about two hours has passed you should notice the whey beginning to form in the bottom of the bowl. If there looks to be anything thicker making it through the straining material it’s a good idea to add layers so that you are keeping that intact and just losing the whey.

At the four to six hour mark I find that I usually have a substance with similar consistency to the “greek” yogurt you will find available at the local grocery store. That’s right, now you know the secret to making greek yogurt for half the price! Woohoo!

But back to the Labneh…

After about twelve hours the cheese has come to a consistency that you can enjoy, but can still be strained further for whatever desired consistency.

 What can it be used for?
Tzatziki Sauce
Mix a cup of your yogurt cheese with a pound of minced cucumbers, three tablespoons olive oil, a tablespoon minced mint or dill, a clove of minced garlic, and salt and lemon juice to taste

Herbed Cheese Balls
Strain cheese until it can be formed into balls. Mix desired spices (my favorite include mint, cumin, cardamom, and garlic) with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Roll the cheese balls into the spice mixture to then be spread on pita, naan, or any other flatbread of your choice.

As an additional ingredient
Because of labneh’s high fat content it can be added to a variety of dishes to make the sauce more creamy and thick without curdling at the high cooking temperatures.

Impressing people in camp
This entire cheese making process can be done overnight, outside, in camp. You can simply tie some yogurt up in a cheesecloth and hang it somewhere, either over a bowl or just over some place no one will mind it draining onto, and wake up to a delicacy. This is usually suggested for nights that are somewhere between 40F and 70F so that it comes out alright.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God save the King!"

Sunday, October 13, 2013


So, today a handful of us gathered to assemble the arrows that our archery marshal had purchased for us a while ago.

So, 100 shafts, knocks, heats and feather sets, all in one place...

What could possibly go wrong?


Well, it wasn't that things went wrong from the start. I just wanted expecting to have Derega hand me a fine-point sharpie and say "start lettering". And no, this wasn't just numbering the shafts. Each shaft now has inscribed on its side:

                     Province of Mooneschadowe
                   Set 1  # 1

8 sets
12 arrows each
and a few extras

Our archery marshal is a real task master.
(the above said in good humor).

We broken the process down, first shorting out the shafts into sets of 12, and then taken each set and lettering them, Derega took the odd numbers, I took the evens. It actually wasn't that bad of a process, but there were a few breaks involved.

Tigernach arrived not long after us, and started walking through the next steps in the process with Liliana and Derega while I kept lettering the last few sets.

We had a small panic moment when Tigernach thought we had different sized shafts. Okay, some of us had slightly larger panic moments, specifically Derega who has been fighting to keep this archery on track from the first day of the order. Not long after this, Snyder and Sky arrived, and Sky (in his usual fashion) heard what was going on and promptly volunteered "I have a gauge at home that would measure these" We rushed him back out the door with all sue haste so that we could decide if these shafts were different sizes, or if our eyes were playing tricks on us.

He returned a short while later, and after some walking around, measuring shafts and looking at the grains (and a few other things that I wasn't 100% sure I understood), Tigernach proclaimed that they were, in fact, all the same size. We wound up deciding that a few of his tools were a little more worn out than he had though, but we switched out blades and straightened things in short order, and before long, we had a good little system going.

Tigernach and Sky were tapering the ends down for the heads and nocks, while Derega and Snyder use epoxy to fix the knocks on. I took it upon myself to take the shafts and stand them up in groups, so that the knocks didn't glue together, and the numbers we had so carefully put on didn't become meaningless.

As fortune would have it, I actually had to duck out early... (mundane obligations), but the chance to help out was well worth the two and  a half hours spent.

it will probably be another meeting or two before we can actually make these things flightworthy, but it was a good progress today so far.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God save the King!"

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A step into a different type of heralding

I've never considered myself a book herald, and honestly, I don't find the discipline terribly rewarding, and much of its nomenclature is alien to me. its not that I don't appreciate it, or respect its purpose in the SCA, but let's be clear, I have never heavily studied the art.

But, as usually does happen with me, (in and out of the society) my personal wishes are not the only  forces that shape my path.

Following a meeting two weeks before Triumph, I was stepped away from a heraldry planning session when Lady Derega stepped up to our herald, Lord Lucas.

"Did you want to help with site heraldry?" he asked her.

"No, I have a totally different question." She walked over to him and showed him the submission forms for the arms she was working on. "Emma just said I can't submit these." She sounded more than a bit frustrated, and I didn't blame her. Those arms had been put together at King's college months before, researched to death, and the submission was only delayed because of some logistical issues on the part of the herald. She was eager to get it into the college and approved, but now there seems to be yet another hurdle to get over.
The conversation lasted only a few moments longer before the meeting was abruptly ended. Several things came together just then, necessitating us to depart. The Students had a demo to prepare for, we were at out 9 pm agreed upon departure time, and the Stillwater Multi-Arts center was wanting to close on time. The meeting disbanded into two groups, those who were going to campus to set up, and the rest of us, a smaller group, for whom a late night was just not an option.

For my part, my wife my son and myself were all due up before sunrise the next morning, staying up late, slinging signs and list-field poles would serve no one any good.

The "refugees" from setup congregated at our usual post-meeting haunt, the local Mazios. As it happened, I wound up sitting across from Derega, who was still none to happy with her heraldry situation.

She'd spent a huge measure of time at the consulting table at King's College, and the work she'd put into the design was impressive, especially for someone as relatively young to the SCA as she was. Evidently Emma has seen her, or spoke with her at the beginning of the meeting and explained that something about her design was not acceptable and that she would have to change it.

Three things really worked against her here, and all three were visibly grating on her. First, we are just a couple months in the school year, and her schedule (not unlike Mine, my wife's and my son's, coincidentally, though for different reasons all), was more or less wall to wall activity, with no break. School, work, SCA... and so forth. She was tired, stressed, generally frustrated already, and now Emma came in and more or less landed an off-handed comment about "this won't work".

That really is the second major complaint for me; Derega walked away from the encounter with only enough to know what she had wouldn't' work, and not any more. Not the worst way to approach the issue, but it sure was up there. And finally, the amount of work she did put into it was considerable. I remember watching her pouring over heraldry books for some hours at King's College, documenting examples, taking extensive notes... the works... and now, as far as we were concerned she just got hit with a technicality.

Most of dinner for us was casual chatter, none of us were overly energetic. The days were long, the nights were longer, and usually not for any enjoyable reasons. Conversation, as I recall, was light, inconsequential, and a lot of us just enjoying what chance we had to forget the day. We departed that night, and when I got home I wound up going to bed relatively early (at least for me).

Wednesday was another long day for me; up early, long hours at work, and then a long drive back. But, like the Wednesday before, it was also archery.

It's probably been over five years since the last time I donned armor, a combination of health, time, money, goals and politics were what finally worked me away from that life in the SCA, and while I don't regret the decisions that led me away, I do miss it.

Archery, however, does appeal to me in many of the same ways, but without  a lot of the drawbacks that heavy combat brought with it. There is no win or loss with the bow, just a goal, a tool, and a distance to bridge between them. For me, its not hard to understand the characteristics of the art that lead to Japanese to take it up as a form of meditation. Wednesday afternoon was the meditative period I needed, and the socialization as well.

At the moment, a typical Mooneschadowe shoot consists of about 5 minutes off shooting, and about 15 (and at times more) of recovering arrows that never hit the target. While we're all walking about trying to decide which clump of grass has the missing arrows, a lot of talk is exchanged, and usually, its a lot of venting about the day, or talk about life or... whatever. Just a chance to get to know the person next to you a little better if nothing else.

We also had a new member there, a recruit from the college intramural archery team who thought what we did sounded cool. She was there, like most new members, wide eyed and starting from the beginning, but was friendly and welcomed without hesitation from us. Derega spent some time coaching her on shooting techniques while I tried to get my grouping down at the 30 yard Target.

We finally closed the day out in time to break down the range and head our separate ways. As I took down one of the targets and walked it back to Degera's car, I felt refreshed mentally. The focus of the range helped me to clear my thoughts, and the work helped me to burn off extra energy.

Something of an informal ritual following Wednesday shoots is for a handful of us to meet and have a quick dinner together. Tonight was no exception, with our newcomer, myself, my 7 year old son (who also shoots, albeit only occasionally), and Derega.  Normally I pick my wife up, but she was swamped with school work that night, so we both opted to let her have some extra peace while I grabbed dinner.

It was only once we were all sitting down and talking that I started to see the stress that Derega hadn't shed with the rest of us at the range. She was still burned out, and when she got on to the topic of her heraldry, she started to visibly shake, and more than once I heard her voice crack.

I know that now, in the sterile environment of words on paper it seems easy to dismiss her tears as silly, but trust me, her emotions were quite warranted. Beyond all of what I mentioned before, she was now just two weeks from Triumph, and she would be running all of the archery there, so... add that to the list of life, work, SCA and whatever that she was carrying around. We were all feeling it to one extent or another, I think that I was more hardened against the worst of it all after a decade and a half in the middle of it. Derega was scantly into her second year, and less than six months as an officer.

(addendum: to clarify... those tears were not those of a fragile woman. Derega has become to be one of the most determined and focused people I know. The sight of her that shaken didn't speak of weakness, but of someone who was willing to push herself forward where others would likely crumble. Fatigue created frustration which created more fatigue and so on.... a cycle she not only survived, but eventually overcame.)

For all my voice heraldry, I've never been any good at all at book heraldry. But still, I knew how the college of heralds works, and I know who to talk to, which was more than anyone else at the table could say.

"Can I see your submission form?" I said, somewhat interrupting her as she vented about the whole messed up situation.

"Um, sure." she reached into her bag and pulled out one of the colored sheets.
"I'll tell you what," I said as I took out my phone and snapped a photo of  it. "Let me take this to the herald's Facebook group and see what they say."

Derega seemed taken aback at the offer."Okay..." she said, I'm sure not wanting to get her hopes up.

"Look, the first thing we need to do it get some details about why Emma thinks this won't pass, and then we need to see what we can do to make it passable. What do you remember of what Emma did tell you?"

She tried to recall, but the conversation was too distant, and her frustration too high. The poor girl started to tear up again at the whole mess.

I reached across the table just then and took her hand, "Hey, listen to me." I reassured her. "Let me tackle this for a while. There is no reason for you to beat your head against a wall right now. I know who to talk to and who to ask questions of."

She took a second to compose herself, and then smiled. "Thank you."

I laughed, "Thank me after this is over," I quipped.

While we were talking  I was concentrating on heraldry, and remembering why I got into heraldry all those years ago. it was an interesting reflection.

For me, it was more than just being loud and easily heard; there was an art, a pageantry, a beauty to it that helped set the SCA apart from the world around it. It wasn't one eureka moment, but a gradual progression away from others things, and towards heraldry for me. I did it, in large part to help make others look better.
I guess, in many respects that was why I was stepping in to help Degera here, to help her look better, with a registered set of arms to show with her AOA.

Dinner concluded, and we went our separate ways, my son and I went home where I went to Facebook and posted the photo on the herald's chat group. Not long after, the first replies starting coming.

The first hangup was the black bird on a red background, color on color. I wasn't overly worried about that... the new provisions allowed  for an exception if we could document three cases of it in period. I knew that Derega had such documentation.

The line of division was another point, but I wasn't too worried about that as they were more concerned with the drawing. So long as the crenelations were redrawn larger, and with fewer of them, we would probably be in good shape.

The bird, however... another story. Evidently "migrant" is a modern invention, thanks to early heralds in the SCA. That was going to require some fancy footwork, and more expertise than I had at the moment.

I had something to work with at least. Something that I could take back to Derega and begin working with.

It would still be a long process, but at least we had a direction to go.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God save the King!"