A Victorian Farm to Table Dinner

This spring our local history museum, the Fenton, and a local historical society of Busti, NY partnered up for the second year in a row to host a Victorian Dinner. These are some of my favorite things: fundraisers for good causes, local history, and delicious, local, real food. The dressing on the salad was that Victorian costumes were encouraged, my dream event, save if there was yoga, then it would have been over the top, but it was still quite fantastic without, reasons why below.

Victorian Costumes

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I love to get creative and dress up. The creativity comes into play by piecing costumes together with pieces that I already have and by borrowing from friends and family to pull it all together. This is an ethical decision to avoid plastic packaging and to not support fast fashion.

I knew instantly what I was going to wear for a Victorian costume. Years ago I bought a frilly white top from Zara (purchased before I knew about fast fashion) that I wore to my bachelorette Downtown Abby tea party and that would work for this event because the frills give it a perfectly Victorian feel. A friend had given me a hand-me-down long black skirt that initially I considered donating on, but I held onto it just for the Victorian Dinner and I am glad that I did, also, it grew on me so I’ll keep it for regular wear.

To perfect the look I knew I needed a hat. I spoke to a coworker about this because I had a hunch that she might be the perfect person to ask. She pulled through and delivered a magnificent hat complete with a red bird on it (Put a bird on it! Any Portlandia fans reading?) The hat was red, green, and black so it worked well with my long black skirt. Another coworker lent me a pair of black booties with buttons on the sides that fit the theme.

Others at the dinner wore their costumes and there were at least half a dozen big hats. One lady told me that she rushed around that day hot gluing fake flowers to her simple, black sun hat – I love it, another DIY costume maker! Even some of the men were in elegant three piece suits complete with pocket watches. Historical Halloween in May? Yes, please!

Farm to Table

The food was mostly local from the very first course which included apple cider which was pressed at the Busti cider mill last fall and kept frozen over winter, apple butter – homemade by our tablemates, and flour and corn meal ground at the Busti grist mill that went into the dinner rolls. Soup and salad followed. The soup was potato-corn chowder that had the ends of the bacon of a pig that the caterer had purchased and had butchered.

Mains included a pot roast beef and turkey and stuffing. At least the turkey was local as the event took place during turkey season here in WNY. Root vegetables and garden asparagus accompanied the meat. The meal was served family style and seating was unassigned. Not forgetting desert, although it would have been sensible to pass on desert after taking multiple servings of the first rounds, I am glad that I did not pass on it because it was scrumptious – pound cake with rhubarb compote from the garden pictured below. Make note of the lack of plastic, real cutlery, dishes and teacups.

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After desert was served the owner of the cartering service, 3 C’s, spoke about the food, where it came from, and how it was cooked in a Victorian way. As mentioned above, most of the food was local. The meat was cooked simply without any exotic spices. Given the season of spring, the root vegetables would have been stored in the root cellar. There was no refrigeration or frozen food in Victorian times, so we were spoiled by having tomatoes, corn, and the apple cider at our tables.

Education & Entertainment

Before and after dinner a local troupe of musicians played period pieces on stringed instruments, speaking about the songs that they played and their history. Instruments included fiddles, guitar, banjo, and stand up bass. The music was enjoyable and made me realize how quiet it was during dinner when the band was not playing. Today we’re used to music in restaurants and bars, sometimes it plays too loudly and conversations can barely be heard; it was nice to have silence for polite conversation over dinner.

Two men spoke after dinner about local history. The first man, our tablemate and one of the organizers of the event, spoke about the Victorian era and what the local town where the event was held looked like at that time. It had a tannery, shoe maker (who got leather from the tannery), carriage maker, creamery, multiple churches, school, etc. It’s romantic to imagine a time when communities were entirely involved and mostly sustainable, when everyone knew everyone else and supported each other.

The second man to speak shared historic items from the Jamestown Police. He himself a former officer, had a box that contained an old whistle, a sheriff’s badge, a police officer’s hat, and a photo of the police force from last century. Both short talks were interesting and tied the event together.

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Two sets of couples that sat with us at our table drove down for the event from about an hour away. They told me of other such historic dinners that they had attended throughout New York State, one a candle light dinner in an old mansion at Christmas time. It makes my heart smile to know that there are others out there that enjoy learning about and celebrating history. I’ll keep my ears to the ground for other such events and am already looking forward to next year’s Victorian Farm to Table dinner locally.

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Visiting Montreal

At the very end of 2017 I took a trip with my husband to visit his close friends in Quebec. It was a last-minute trip and the temperatures were brutal, averaging around -25C (-13F) most of the time,  but we managed to sight see a little and succeeded in not spending our entire trip indoors.  Here are my top highlights from our trip that I think will interest other yoga people, history nerds, and slow fashion enthusiasts out there.

First, the Yoga

There is a huge and important Sivananada ashram located an hour north of Montreal. Our friends lived north of the city as well, so the ashram was even closer to us for our stay. While visiting I attended one two-hour, beginners yoga class at the ashram. They have classes open to the public twice daily, once at 8am and again at 4pm. It costs $10/person and you can choose between the beginners’ class or an intermediate class.

The ashram is a large compound that unfortunately,I did not get to explore (remember the temperatures?) I did however step inside the registration office to pay for the class – the building was warm and welcoming. The woman at reception spoke French and fluent English. After classes there is an option to pay $10 on top of the class for a vegetarian meal, we passed on this option, but the smells were wafting around in the registration office and they were tempting me to cancel our prearranged dinner plans and stick around for the food.

The class itself was taught by whom I would guess is a student of the ashram. He led the class though pranayama at the beginning of class, which was a good 20-30 minutes long. After breathwork the asana practice began. It was a beginners class, but the teacher threw in some more challenging poses such as sirsasana. At the end there was an enjoyable savasana and the class began and ended with chants sung beautifully by the teacher and the few devotional students who somehow managed learn the minutes long chants – dedication.

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I planned to go back and attend an intermediate class, but it didn’t fit into our schedule, so I’ll have to go back on our next trip. If you’re planning a trip to the area, check out their website (hyperlinked above) for more information and schedules on themed weekends. There is lodging on sight and the schedule is that of an ashram – early morning risings for satsang and asana with karma yoga in the middle of the day and more asana in the afternoon, a busy, disciplined schedule that is fully optional, for those not quite ready to live life like a yogi.

Next, Some History

I am a self-proclaimed history nerd and Montreal had some lovely history to satisfy my dorky desires. I searched Tripadvisor and Google for a historical site that interested me and was in my price range (I am a proud budget traveler), and I came across the perfect Victorian townhouse that offered guided tours by guides decked out in crinoline and waistcoats. The townhouse was  the prior home of Sir George-Etienne Cartier, a Canadian politician and former Prime Minister. It is located in Old Montreal, a historic district near the river. The tour guide gave us a tour in English around the townhouse which took about an hour (there are also tours in French) and as mentioned previously, he gave the tour in head-to-to-toe Victorian attire (and he had a very endearing French Canadian  accent.)

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We visited at Christmas time so the focus of the tour was a Victorian Christmas, which is really interesting because the Victorians gave us most of the Christmas traditions that we follow to this day. The museum also had  some fun hands on experiences, such as making Christmas cards, sampling Victorian hot drinks – wasil and tea, and trying on Victorian clothes. The best part? The museum was free  during all of 2017 because it was the 150th anniversary of Canada. Although it’s now 2018 and it will no longer be free, I recommend visiting if you have some free time in Montreal, even if to simply get out of the bitter cold temperatures for a while.

Finally, Vintage Clothes

My friends knew that I was interested in doing some second-hand shopping while in Montreal and surprised me with a stop at a massive vintage store. It’s called Eva B and it’s more than a vintage clothing shop, it’s also a cafe and bistro, and in keeping with the world-wide stereotype of Canadians being extremely friendly, a woman handed us small cups of hot apple cider (in glass not in single use plastic) as soon as we walked in, she also had little bags (paper) of popcorn, too.

After searching a multitude of racks, I sadly left empty-handed, but there was a lot to choose from, most from the 70s/80s/90s. The price tags were more than I’m used to at Salvation Army, but most things were actually vintage, no H&M or Forever 21 in sight. Before leaving we grabbed a couple of hot samosas for $1 that were amazing, so that convinces me of their menu. Photos below are of the second level of the store and the front entrance, recognizable by the graffiti.

 

There’s plenty more to do in Montreal, I am sure, sadly the weather prohibited a long day trip to the city, but what I did see of it on this trip was enjoyable and entertaining. I’m already looking forward to a return when the weather is more hospitable. I’ll be back, Montreal.