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Here is your love/ For all things
SSar's Beast
This past weekend, I cooked for gypsies and Van Helsing disciples and automatons and Queen Victoria II and demons. It was the inaugural session of a campaign steampunk LARP, and I was the only person on location whose head was still firmly in 2012.

We had gorgeous weather for the entire weekend - cool but permanently sunny. The 40 of us were staying and playing at a scout camp in Wainuiomata from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. It had wide fields, water features, and bush walks. The one time I'd been there before, I'd also been cooking - I'd been an assistant to Holly's mother as she organised the food for Holly and Gynn's wedding handfasting.

This time, I was in charge of feeding 40 people for breakfast-lunch-dinner-breakfast-lunch. It was a little daunting. I've never done catering before - I've only had people over for dinner, and my strategy has often been to add an extra side dish for each extra person. Not a strategy that works for more than, oh, ten people. So I drafted a menu, and anord was kind enough to slash it down for me, and then Mel and krastakin checked it over, and then I budgeted for it. Luckily, the amount of money budgeted for food was generous, because, well, newbie. At least I was sensible enough to rely on potatoes.

On Thursday evening, I went to Moore Wilson's, the bulk/restaurant grocery store, and bought a few things the normal supermarkets wouldn't have, such as a cheap kilo of shredded parmesan cheese, a 4kg box of mushrooms, bulk plastic container packs, and 3 x 2.5kg cans of chopped tomatoes. I had selective overestimation by which I thought I could stuff a backpack and a huge sports bag and carry two boxes on top of that and still go buy wine. I realised my error when I'd walked five steps. BUT I managed to run for the bus, get on the bus, sit down on the bus, and get off the bus, which was an amazing feat when I was a personal forklift.

I then spent the evening cooking: roasting, skinning, and chopping hazelnuts for Saturday night's apple crumble topping; blending ingredients for the stuffing in mushrooms; making six litres' worth of anord's trusty lentil salad because I was scared that we might run out of food.

Then I woke up bouncily on Friday morning, walked part-way to work with Joel, turned off up the road and visited Sam for an hour, returned, and finished packing. Then Mel and Thom (and Luke and Ben) picked us up, hauled my food-stuffed suitcases into the van, and drove off with us.

The supermarket was fun. I had a list. "10kg of onions! Good. Guys, should I get three small squash or one huge pumpkin? Okay then." I had made my budget out of the prices listed for online shopping at a slightly more expensive supermarket, so I was able to cheer Mel up several times by swooping up to an item: "Hm! This is much less expensive than my budgeted price!" *nab*.

"1kg of plunger coffee! Exactly the price I thought it would be! Huzzah. 3L of olive oil! That's $10 cheaper than I expected! Yay." Then I bought wine "for myself" - actually I was cooking with it, because I was scared Mel wouldn't let me get away with wine on the cooking budget, and I LIKE cooking with wine. I don't know what it says about me that I insist on cooking with wine when doing bulk food at a scout camp.

We made a final stop outside the home of Scott, who was safeguarding an amazing quantity of NZ-LARPs props and supplies, and after packing that, we drove and we drove and we drove. At one point we pulled over so that the driver, Luke, could check the map and take a phone call, and that segued into a ten minute conversation about everyone's favourite character from Reboot. Off we went again. The van-and-trailer seemed to struggle up the Wainuiomata hill, but we made it.

I had several dazed hours of wandering around the camp, unpacking food, and helping the gypsy characters set up parachutes and gazebos for their amazing taverna. I felt lazy and vague. Also I had terrible heartburn/indigestion/? for no reason at all (my breakfast was a modest bowl of lentils) so it was somewhat painful. Oh well. People started arriving. Then people started not arriving - the last vanload of 10 people got caught in rush-hour traffic - which caused drama and caused the LARP events to start an hour late. I chopped onions peacefully for an hour. LARP happened. musicforwolves's character was killed rather soon, and we shared a consolatory glass of wine.

I went to bed. This was a perilous affair: I'd been told not to worry about supplies, because there were heaters in our rooms. HA. HA. To be fair, I and my minion-friend Marian had the nicest rooms in camp, with real mattresses and an ensuite toilet and shower, because I was the camp cook. (Camp cook privilege was amazing; people literally bowed down when I passed.) But this was unwise. I had packed one very thick blanket, a hot water bottle, and no sheet. I ended up sleeping on top of a decorated piece of fabric I'd been reserving for costume.

At 3am, I woke up to discover that my hot water bottle was leaky. Therefore, it was freezing beyond description (there was a low of 3* Celsius overnight) and my bedding and I were soaked in cold water. I whimpered a lot.

Marian woke up and tried to cheer me up; I stumbled off to the kitchens, and warmed myself in front of the full-blasting ovens. I was utterly exhausted, and just intelligent enough to worry about the consequences of falling asleep on my feet into a full-powered oven. After about half an hour, I roused myself, stole a sheet that had been serving as set-dressing, and went back to bed, swapping mattresses with Marian, who had a waterproof sleeping bag.

After about two hours of sleep, I got up with Marian and we set out to make breakfast: toast, porridge, roast potatoes, sausage, fruit, caffeine. A lovely early riser (Sophie) helped us with cutting oranges and other such things. I'd worried about whether porridge was a good idea, but when people came up and went, "There's porridge? Is there brown sugar? And cinnamon? There IS?" it was worth it. And suddenly, our first meal was over, and there were officially-assigned minions to help me do dishes.

Lunch was crazy easy: I'd chopped all the onions that were required for it the previous night. (And I still have onion skin stabbing under my right index fingernail). I made two soups: tomato and bean, and carrot-coconut-coriander. People described them as "beautiful" and came back for seconds. Grand triumph.

Marian was in and out of the kitchen the whole time: sometimes seconded to be Queen Victoria II's bodyguard; sometimes required to be a demon extra; but ALWAYS returning to ask if I was okay and boss my minions around. She was absolutely wonderful.

By the time lunch was over I had begun on dinner. A group of LARP players gathered around and helped me stuff some pork roasts: in they went, then I poured a whole lot of wine into their braising sauce. Then more valiant LARPers showed up for the second lot of preparations. Very valiant people tackled the task of cutting up a pumpkin with blunt camp knives. I freaked one girl out by putting her in charge of gravy: "But my gravy's always lumpy!" "So's mine! You can't do worse than me!" A whole chain of people ended up stuffing mushrooms and chopping apples, and that was so lovely of them. One woman, who had a rather blunt social approach, walked up to the kitchen counter, volunteered herself for mushroom chopping, and began a conversation with, "I trained as a professional chef, but I'll do whatever you tell me."

"I'm pretty intimidated," I said sincerely.

"Oh," she said, "I didn't finish my training."

I had my one moment of frazzled freakout as dinner was served. The mushrooms were the last to come out, and one of the vegetarians, who had been working very hard as crew, was close to the front of the line. "Is there going to be a vegetarian option?" he asked in the snarkiest possible voice. "Are you kidding me?" I snarled back in my angriest voice. Twenty minutes later, he misheard me during the main serving - the rule was 2 mushrooms if you weren't vegetarian but unlimited if you were - and there was snarling again, during which I fled outside and was temporarily convinced that stuffed mushrooms were a pathetically inadequate vegetarian main course, even though there was also a TONNE of roasted pumpkin and carrot, and also rice, and that everyone would hate me for being so insensitive to to the vegetarians as to make such a paltry offering.

Marian ordered me to breathe and reminded me that I didn't have to go back inside unless I wanted to and that it was all okay. And later in the evening, Malcolm/Idiot (no, not an insult, Idiot is an official, embraced moniker of his) was gently pushed towards me by his wife and we explained to each other that we were both tired and frazzled and absolutely did not want to offend. Later, I found out that Idiot had been hounding Mel for the menu for weeks because he cares about these things. Oh dear.

And people voted that they'd rather have apple crumble for dessert than for breakfast, so then I finished the apple crumble and put it in the oven. Then I began to clean up in a gloriously half-hearted way because I was exhausted. And Bryn and the gypsies and the Nicks (there were three Nicks and a Nik present, and the kitchen roster was arranged alphabetically by first name, so dinner clean-up worked out as All Ni[c]ks All the Time) did it mostly for me while I wibbled. And there was a Demon Attack during which Jon gloriously guarded the back door. Except I wandered out there to collect a giant broom during a moment of his inattention, which meant that he looked up and saw me silhouetted with a giant broom, and raised the player alarm. And I laughed a heck of a lot. And went to bed at nine thirty, after chatting briefly with krastakin.

(I had explained to Mel and Thom about the lack of sleep and blankets, and fifteen minutes after I did so, Mel turned up with THREE blankets. Bless cook privilege, and bless the GMs - I actually slept on the second night.)

Saturday night was, of course, a great party for players. So the first people we saw on Sunday morning were horrifically hungover and chasing coffee. We made potatoes and toast and sausage and porridge and fruit and we handed out sympathy. It's funny, in the ordinary run of things I would have been sad to have missed out on a party. But I wouldn't have wanted to party on Player terms, and I was exhausted, and also filled with purpose. So I didn't mind, and both caffeine and alchohol, which I am fond of in my usual life, were nearly forgotten all weekend.

Following breakfast, Marian and I stared at all our many leftovers. Marian forbade me to cook anything new. I persuaded her to let me turn certain of the leftovers into soups, which involved chopping extra carrots and onions.

So I made a French onion soup (onions. butter. wine. done) into which I cunningly poured most of the lentil salad, figuring it would work. I set up nachos (the tomato-bean soup had been re-spiced and simmered down to sauce for much of the previous day). And I tried to make another stock out of pork drippings and leftover breakfast roast potatoes and mushrooms and carrots. Except we burned that.

When I realised we'd burned that soup, my first reaction was 'oh well,' then a revelation that we'd burned the leftovers that would have been the most annoying to get rid of, which made it a tactical defeat and strategic victory. At which point Marian and I dissolved into hysteric giggling and got rid of the evidence.

It's pretty awesome that the one food item I spoiled completely was a good thing to have happened.

So Marian and I served nachos and a soup for the final meal. I took a spoonful of the soup. "Hey, this is actually good," I said, amazed, because of the sneak lentils thing. Marian laughed at me. Twenty minutes later, she took a spoonful. "Hey, this is good," she said, surprised by her enjoyment. I laughed at her.

Then we cleaned up. I had minions again, and they cleaned, and especially mopped, which is my least favourite chore, so I was happy. We cleaned our rooms. Finally, we drove back home. Getting into the van, I banged my head very hard on the van lintel, because the sun was on the other side: so my total of injuries was hearburn, sunburn, minor oven burns, dehydration, things stuck far under fingernails, and bruising. And three separate people came and asked me if they could take home packs of frozen soup.

That was so much fun. I would do that again. Next time, I'm doing chocolate mousse, not apple crumble - apple crumble's far too much work, even if it's vegan-friendly. Vegans can have something special.

And all the things I haven't documented: the actual LARP dramas; the few personal player dramas I was privy to; Steph's character doing ALL THE THINGS, Hannah's character being SO sweet and innocent and adorable, Marian getting fond of a certain crew member and the associated mini-mini drama, Sam getting gradually exhausted of being a player yet still keeping up with game things like the holy water sprinkler system, all of the amazing costumes, the TAVERN...

I was so tired on Sunday night, at home, that I moved around the house hunched up. You know that way you hunch when you're a combination of cold and tired that is pure exhaustion and you just curl in on yourself.

Job well done.

In future I would pack 10+ tea towels (ours got desperately grotty and soaked) and put cask wine on the official budget for generic cooking.

I know about 20 good vegan soups - having invented a new one for myself over the weekend, because the butter isn't strictly necessary - so soups will be something I can lean on in future.

Next time I'll see if I can make a beef curry, because that at least solves the free-range aspect in NZ, and most of the meat eaters at the camp who were picky about meat either hated white meat or didn't do seafood.

Yes, gradually, through the event, I progressed from "If I were doing this again, I would..." to "When I do this next time, I'll..." Next time is projected for March. Bring it on.
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Glad you had fun! I'm still deciding whether I'm going to play or not, but even if I don't, I'd be keen to help out!

You've sounded very on the fence. I think transition to crew could definitely work for you.

I'm not sure they'll give me a full-time 'helper' next time, though - Marian was mostly there to make sure I didn't go crazy, and I didn't, so, possibly, training-wheels will be off next time.

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