Baelnorn’s Guide to Feast Preparation

This guide will walk you through the basics of planning a feast, from conception to completion. This guide will assume you already have the feast bid and will focus on a smaller feast, around 50 people. You will still learn enough basics that you can extrapolate for larger crowds. I’ve cooked numerous feasts from as little as ten people to as much as 375. If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them.

Budget

The first thing you will need is your budget; how much you will you have to spend per person. This will often not be your decision but your input will often be sought so it’s important to have some idea what you will need. That is why it’s a good idea to have some concept of what you’d like to make. However in my experience it’s best to get a budget and to make your meal based on that, which is why I say the first thing you need is a budget.

My ideal budget is $3 per person. In my experience this gives you enough wiggle room that you can do most quality, non-fancy meals. This covers a protean, side and veggies, plus disposable plates and silverware. I frequently come in under budget at this price point, but it’s important to have that wiggle room in case something unexpected comes up.

For this example feast we’ll go with a budget of $150 or $3 per person.

See Your Site

It’s important to know the site you will be cooking at. Will you have a kitchen, what does that kitchen have? Will you need to bring your own cooking ware? Will you be cooking off site and transporting it? These are important questions you need to have answered before beginning to plan further.

For the purposes of this guide we will assume you will have a full kitchen on site with no utensils or cookware.

Where to Shop

Before you can work with your budget you need to know how much things will cost. That’s where knowing your stores come into play. I primarily use three stores, Cash and Carry, WinCo Foods and Costco.

Cash and Carry is a restaurant supply store located throughout the Western United States. If you don’t have one near your area it’s worth taking the time to see if you can find another restaurant supply store. They will more often than not have higher quality items at lower prices than any other store. You will buy the majority of your items at this store. Keep in mind that if you buy your protein here you will have to probably break it down yourself. So I usually stick to ground meats or large cuts I can butcher myself. I stay away from bone-in items. You will also buy your disposable pans here. They are cheap and often better quality than at any other place.

If you don’t have a restaurant supply store near you then Costco is probably your best bet. You will find most of what you need in bulk. Normally the only thing I buy at Costco is chicken. You can buy it deboned and unlike other grocery stores it really is deboned. Even if this costs a bit more than a place like WinCo, it’s worth the time it saves from having to debone. I once bought thighs from WInCo that were “deboned” only to find that there were bone shards and I spent the next two hours checking diced thigh meat for bone spurs.

WinCo Foods is massive and cheap grocery story in the Western United States. The key thing here is the bulk food department which is large and cheap. The primary thing I buy at WinCo is the bulk food seasonings. They have a good selection and it is factors cheaper to buy spices from the bulk food section than prepackaged spices. For example you can get all the oregano you might need for $1, while buying it in a container might cost you $3-5. I highly suggest you don’t buy your proteins at this or stores like it, they are lower quality and often not worth the savings. Also keep an eye on dry goods, sometimes they will be cheaper here than a restaurant supply store. If I need cooking utensils and mixing bowls I will often buy them here to cut down on store runs but you can also make a trip to a Dollar Store and find most of what you need.

Your Real Food Budget

Now you know your budget, your stores and your site you can start to look at your options and find your actual food budget. It’s important to make a list of non-food items you know you will need. To err on the side of caution I always round the cost of items up when I’m budgeting and buying items. Here is a sample list of what you will probably need, depending on your site amenities.

From Cash and Carry

  • Plates $15 (125 ct)
  • Flatware $16 (125 ct)
  • Disposable Sheet Pans $2 per 2 pack
  • Disposable Sheet Pan Lids $3 per 5 pack

From WinCo or Dollar Tree

  • Serving & Mixing Utensils $8
  • Grater $2
  • Mixing bowls $6

Seeing the list you might think that you don’t need the 125 plates and utensils but it’s the same price for 50 of equal quality plates at other places and that’s being generous. Plus you can always save them for another feast. The Flatware is actually 125 individual packets of forks, knives, salt and pepper packs with a napkin. That comes to a total of $52 of non-food items that automatically cuts down your budget leaving you $98 or $1.96 per person.

Congratulations you have your real budget and you can start to think about what you’d like to cook for your feast.

Meal Planning

Now that you have your real food budget you can look at your meal options. From here it’s more about your creativity and less about the numbers. You want to use as few actual food items to cut down on costs and mistakes but that doesn’t mean you have to cut down on quality, quantity or creativity. I’ve made teriyaki chicken with noodles and dumplings, hamburgers, stews, meatloaf, nut encrusted chicken and much more within this budget. All with good portions, often under budget and well received by the attendees.

What you want to keep in mind is your protein, your side and a vegetable. Desserts are optional. I often don’t include them; I focus on filling people up with the main meal. Another trick is to create a meal that has a backup plan. If something goes wrong you will be able to make a secondary meal from the items you’ve purchased but that requires a bit of knowledge that you may not have developed yet but don’t worry, if you follow these steps you hopefully won’t have to do a back up meal.

For our example meal we’ll be doing meatloaf, mashed potatoes and a green salad.

Test Cook 1

Once you know what you would like to cook it’s very important to cook the meal at home. Keep in mind the facilities you have at your disposal. Will you be able to scale this up to meet a huge demand using those facilities?

Once you’ve finished cooking divide up the meal into the portions you would like to serve at the feast. Doing this will allow you to figure out how you can scale up your recipe and if you can afford all the ingredients.

If you like the meal and you think it’s within your budget then it’s time to do a second test cook but first you should find a helper.

Example Meal

The recipe I usually use is 2 pounds beef, approx half a cup shredded carrots, approx half a large shredded white onion, two eggs, one cup Italian bread crumbs, Johnny’s Season Salt, pepper and ketchup. This should feed about 6 people. This gives each person a third pound of beef.

For the sides you can make them from scratch but here is my little secret, don’t do it, instead buy quality instant mashed potatoes and the bag salad. It will save you time, most people will not notice the difference and the cost is negligible.

For the mashed potatoes you don’t want to serve it just as it’s suggested, you will want to add extra butter, maybe a little salt. You’ll want to salt to taste. You want about ½ – ¾ cup mash potatoes per plate.

The salad should be about a loose cup of salad, it fills in the empty spot between the meat and the potato.

Find a Helper

While you might be able to do the feast all by yourself, it’s a good idea to find a helper. I don’t mean a last minute kitchen helper but someone who is willing to go over the meal plan before the event. If something goes wrong at the site it helps to have someone else who knew the plan to help brainstorm away out of the problem.

 

Test Cook 2

You did a test cook to see if your recipe was tasty, within reason and to see proportion size. Now it’s time to do a second test cook to see how well the meal scales and to problem solve any perceived problems with large batch cooking. Invite over 10-15 friends and do a scaled up recipe. Make sure you invite your helper over too so they can go through the process.

What you are looking for is any possible problems in your method. Is what you are doing going to work when you cook approximately 4 times as much? What are the prep times, how much did they increase when you made the smaller batch, chances are it’s going to increase even more with more food. What are the cook times, are you going to have to do more than one cook?

What problems did you encounter that you didn’t expect, are those problems something you can correct for? If not, you might need to change your menu plans.

At this point you should be able to fix any problems. If you are unsure if your fix will work it’s time to do another test cook. If you are uncertain it’s best to be cautious, you won’t get second chances on the day of the feast.

Extrapolate Your Recipe

·        Your Recipe

·        16.60 , rounded up to 18 pounds

·        5 big white onions

·        4 pound carrots

·        18 eggs (I use liquid eggs, it’s eggs pre cracked and scrambled, saves time)

·        6 cups Italian style bread crumbs

·        3 bottles of ketchup

·        ¼ cup pepper

·        Bottle of Johnny’s Seasoning Salt

·        28- 35 cups mashed potatoes

·        2 pounds butter

·        ¼ salt.

·        1 Gallon Whole Milk

·        56 cups salad

·        2 bottles salad dressing

Now it’s time to adjust your recipe for a full 50 people. If you get a fraction round up to the nearest whole recipe increment. This means you’ll have a bit more than you need but that’s usually a good thing and it usually doesn’t cost all that much more. It’s better to have seconds than to not have enough food to feed everyone. The table to the left is an example using the meatloaf meal plan.

Purchasing Your Goods.

It’s time to buy your goods! Make sure you make a full list of everything you will need and take it with you. To help make sure you stay in budget it’s important to write down the cost of each item on your list as you place it into you cart, rounding up to the nearest whole dollar.

Example List with Prices

·        18 pounds ground beef $30

·        5 big white onions $5

·        4 pound carrots $4

·        18 eggs. (liquid eggs) $4

·        6 cups Italian style bread crumbs $4

·        3 bottles of ketchup $6

·        ¼ cup pepper $1

·        Bottle of Johnny’s Seasoning Salt $6

·        28 cups mashed potatoes $16

·        1 pound butter $4

·        ¼ cup salt. $1

·        56 cups salad $10

·        2 bottles salad dressing $6

·        Plates $15 (125 ct)

·        Flatware $16 (125 ct)

·        Disposable Sheet Pans $2 per 2 pack

·        Disposable Sheet Pan Lids $3 per 5 pack

·        Serving & Mixing Utensils $8

·        Grater $2

·        Total $149

We come in just under budget. In actuality we are probably even more under the budget because we rounded up for each of the items. The cost per person would actually go down if we were doing it for a larger crowd. If we were to do the feast for 100 people the costs come to approximately $250 bringing the cost down to $2.50 per person rather than $3.

Preparing to Leave

When you are packing up to go to site, it’s important to double check your list to make sure you have everything you need. Have a clean list and check off each item as you pack it up. This will help insure you don’t forget something at home. Make sure you keep items you need cold, cold.

On Site

You have done all the hard work; if you planned correctly it should go smoothly. It might get intense but it should be manageable. Once you’re on site, it’s all about managing your time.

To help keep on time try to make sure you keep all your items organized. When you unload into the kitchen double check your list against your items to make sure something didn’t go wrong. It’s best to know you’re missing an item at the start of the day than when you are in the middle of cooking and don’t have time to fix the mistake.

If you took advantage of your test cooks you should have a good idea what your time table should be. It’s best to err on the side of caution, it’s better to serve lukewarm food, than to be 30 minutes late. Food stays hotter longer than you might expect.

Conclusion

I hope this guide has helped you figure out how you can plan for a feast. What this didn’t cover is actually cooking the feast itself. That really depends on the items you are cooking and matters on the kitchen and the equipment available to you. It also depends on the individual’s cooking knowledge. This is something I might cover in another guide.

The key thing in feast preparation is planning. You want to plan as much as possible to make sure that the execution is as smooth as it can be. Plan for all the things you know could happen and you will be better prepared to overcome any problems that were not foreseeable.

 

Burnout in Amtgard

At its heart Amtgard is a game but for people to be able to play and enjoy the game we need individuals to step up and run the organization. At that point it’s a job. As with any job there can be burnout and it can be severe.

I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about burnout in Amtgard. For those of us who take it upon ourselves to continually volunteer in the various offices and the running of events in the club it can turn what is otherwise a fun experience into a stressful, unfulfilling headache. I’ve experienced burnout several times, at different severities over my 18 years of playing.

It doesn’t happen all at once, if it happens to you at all, it is usually only happens after a few years. Eventually it becomes a chore, an activity you do more out of responsibility and habit than any kind of actual enjoyment or sense of achievement. It’s not good for the club and more importantly, it’s not good for your own well being.

Take a step back from your responsibilities. Finish your commitments to the best of your ability but don’t make any new ones, it’s time to look after yourself. Don’t worry, if you are not there to do something, someone else will step up. I know the feeling “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done” but you’ll do no one any good if you push yourself to the point where you won’t be able to do the job properly. That’s the problem with burnout. You won’t be performing at your peak, you’ll be doing your worst. Most cases you only go through the motions and the results are subpar at best.

At that point it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate what you are doing. You should take a look at the last few years and try to identify at what point you started to feel this way. It’s important to identify what exactly isn’t fun anymore so you can stop doing it. It sounds simple but it isn’t always so. Try to remember what made the game fun and try to go back to doing that rather than the added responsibilities you took on.

It’s okay to take a break from Amtgard if you find that no aspect of it is fun anymore. Your own well being is more important than the organization.

A special note to those people who first found fun in volunteering, you may find enjoyment in the activities again. Maybe it’s time to take a step back from a leadership role or switch your focus to helping a new generation leaders rather than doing everything yourself.

For myself I got burnout after a stent running in a kingdom office. Aside from fighting, my original love of the game wasn’t serving in office but in cooking for others. I stepped back from kingdom and local offices and focused on volunteering to do feasts. It was a nice change of pace that kept me engaged in Amtgard. In a very real way it’s like quitting your job and finding a new one.

If you have any questions or seek any advice post in the comments below.

I was inspired to write this after reading this article by Lifehacker.com

http://lifehacker.com/5884439/burnout-is-real-how-to-identify-the-problem-and-how-to-fix-it

How to Organize a Fundraiser Day

This article covers the basics of creating a successful fundraising day event. It doesn’t go into specifics about the different types of fundraisers but does talk about creating an environment that will help a fundraising event be successful. I will first outline the steps and then end by giving an example event.
 
A successful fundraiser isn’t just about the fundraiser itself, it’s about the whole day. You might have a great fundraising idea but if the whole event isn’t fun the chances of success are diminished. The goal is to make the day as attractive to as many people as possible to help maximize attendance. It’s often not enough to just have a fundraiser; you need to help it along with a great event.

What’s It For

Before you begin to plan your event it’s important to know what you are raising money for. You can say you are raising funds for X group or maybe for an event but it’s best to have a more specific funding goal in mind. For example you might want to raise holding funds, but you should ask yourself what for? Maybe the holding would like to provide loaner equipment but there just isn’t enough money available. In that instance your goal would be to raise money to afford loaner equipment. By creating a specific goal it will help people feel more involved and feel that their money is making a difference.

When?

Now that you know what you want to raise money for, it’s time to decide when. In many instances this will already be decided by whoever is making the reign’s schedule, but if it’s not then you should keep a few things in mind. You want to try making sure that whenever you are holding the event that it overlaps a normal practice. This will help ensure a guaranteed attendance. Always make sure you talk to the local monarchy in charge before you plan your event. Make sure that your event doesn’t come right before or right after any other major events, it’s best if it’s somewhere in the middle. People will be more willing to travel if they haven’t done so recently.
 
It’s also important to give yourself enough time to advertise your event. I recommend at least a month. If you don’t give yourself enough time to advertise the event you might not get as many people as you would otherwise get.

The Fundraiser

Now that you have figured out what you are raising money for and when, you need to decide how you’ll be doing it. You have a lot of options, pie in the face, penny drives, selling food, auctioning off items, raffles or any other activity you can think of; the key is to keep it simple. No matter which method you choose most will fall within two basic types, Macro Transitions and Micro Transactions. Macro Transactions are larger donations with fewer transactions and Micro Transactions are smaller donations with frequent transactions. There are benefits and draw backs to each.
 
Macro Transactions have the chance for larger pay offs but have greater risks. You might not have people willing to donate large sums of money. You also run the risk of not offering enough items. If you don’t offer enough items or services then you might lose some funding you might have otherwise received. An example of a Macro Transaction would be auctions where you auction off a few items.
 
Micro Transactions allow you to more easily gather money from a variety of people. More people are willing to donate smaller amounts, which can add up. An example of Micro Transactions would be a raffle where everyone can buy a ticket for a dollar.
 
Both types of fundraisers can be done at single day events. Which you should do depends on the types of people who will show up; it will be different for every region and can be different for every event. There is no right answer but I’ve found that Micro Transaction type fundraisers are best for well planned day events while Macro Transaction type fundraisers are best for non-event focused fundraisers (For example, online auctions).

The Event

You have the funding goal, the day and the fundraiser all planned, you’re almost there. Now you just have to plan the event. It’s important to have a fun, structured activity to go along with the fundraiser. It might be a tournament that’s a little bit different, a big quest, or a series of unique battle games, exactly what doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it is something more unique than the normal practice people go to every weekend. Not only will it be more fun, people are more likely to remember the date of the event and to be more interested in going.
 
Once you’ve decided what fun activities you are going to have it’s important to plan the flow of the event. You shouldn’t just tack your fundraiser onto the end of a great day. No matter how much fun people are having, by the end they are probably going to be tired and ready to go home. It’s best if you have the actual fundraiser in the middle of the day, but don’t just slam it into a time slot, find some way to make it feel like part of the fun. For example, if you are doing a pie in the face fundraiser don’t just stop all the fun and do a series of pie auctions, spread them out a little. If you’re doing a tournament, do a few auctions in between the brackets. This lets people rest and gear up while watching something fun at the same time.

The Example

For the example I’ll be using a fundraiser I ran for Shattered Kingdoms – The Cleansing Storm, a role-play camping event I run.
 
I first decided we needed to raise money for a new venue. We’ve been trying to save up extra money to move to a new spot so I figured we would take to opportunity to add to the funds. If I were to do this over again I would have set a smaller more immediate goal for this event such as raising money to purchase monster garb.
 
Next I looked for a good day. As luck would have it we were having a visitor from Canada flying down to our area and the monarch wanted to do an impromptu event to welcome him. I immediately jumped at the chance and asked if I could plan the day. On top of the added exposure, I still had over a month to advertise the event.
 
I knew the date of the event, now I needed to decide what kind of fundraiser I was going to run. I wanted to do something that would enhance the day and get as many people out as possible. I also wanted to make sure it was something I could easily do. I decided to do homemade grilled hamburgers. As well as the burger I would make homemade salsa and would buy corn chips. I wanted to have everyone have a good time so I made a decision to allow everyone to eat for free with a suggested donated price of $5 per plate. Those who donated money would get their food first.
 
Next I needed to create a fun event to host my fundraiser. I decided on a tournament. We would do a seeded tournament with two brackets, single sword and sword and board. We would have a bear pit for each bracket and then a standard tournament for the top 8 people in each bracket. Along with the more standard tournament we also had a 5 vs 5 class battle tournament.
 
The unique aspect of the tournament was the finals, the segment of the tournament where the top eight for each bracket would fight as well as the class battle segment of the tournament. Rather than starting with one bracket and continuing through the bracket to the next we would alternate between the brackets. We would do a short sword fight, then a sword and board fight then a 5 v 5 class battle.
 
To integrate the fundraiser into the day’s activities I decided to start cooking as the bear pits ended and to serve food as the finals began. Since at this point in the day not everyone would be participating in the finals this would give them a chance to eat and be spectators. It turned it into a more spectator friendly event at the point when it was necessary.

The Results

The day went off pretty much as planned. The only hiccup was the weather (It was in February), it rained constantly and turned the event into a mud pit. Despite the weather attendance was still high, we had 41 attendees, about double the attendance we normally had at that time of year. We took in approximately $110 before expenses. Everyone also had fun and we got to try a new tournament format that was enhanced by a fundraiser.
 
If you have any questions please feel free to post them below and I’ll try and answer them as best as I can.