In the Kitchen with Scratch

Dear Constant Reader,

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For The Bod of Avon wrap party Scratch promised “some genuine Elizabethan delicacies, a Shakespeare-inspired cocktail (probably hot), and some genuine English beer.”

As it turned out, the beer was a challenge. Our local liquor store has a vast selection of beers from small New England breweries, which is normally a good thing. And plenty of German and Irish imports. And many varieties of hard cider. But Scratch wanted English beer. We finally found some Newcastle brown ale.

The cocktail was inspired by the gossip’s bowl, mentioned in both Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, a hot beverage of ale & cider with roasted apples floating in it. Scratch’s version was soft cider, Shipyard Applehead beer, Jack Daniels (it was supposed to be bourbon, but the Maker’s Mark was mysteriously absent from the liquor cabinet), lemon juice, honey, grated fresh ginger, grated fresh nutmeg, all warmed together. The drink was garnished with dried apple rings (homemade).

The food was a fun project. It had to be Elizabethan, not weird (my offer of pickled herring & fruit pie was struck down), easy to make for a group, and basically finger food. Also, mostly savory because we knew guests were going to bring stuff and a lot of it was going to be dessert.

The first item was hedgehogs. No, not actual hedgehogs, but small meatballs that look like prickly little beasts. The original recipe is in Middle English and involves a pig’s stomach and spit roasting. This is Scratch’s very loose interpretation. As he tends to cook in a loose interpretive style, I don’t have a formal recipe for you.

He started with about 2 pounds total of ground beef, pork, and veal (heavy on the pork) and seasoned it with the Elizabethan quartet of spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove), emphasis on the ginger, plus black pepper and salt. Then the meat was formed into little footballs and garnished with 2 currants for eyes and slivered almonds for prickles. Then baked until they were done (about half an hour at 350°F).

Ta da!
Aren’t they cute! And tasty too.

The second dish was Puffes, On the English Fashion, from A New Booke of Cookerie by John Murrell (published 1615).
Take new Milke curds, presse out the Whay cleane, take the yolkes of three Egges, and the white of one, fine Wheat floure, and mingle amongst your Curdes. Season it with Nutmeg, Sugar, and Rosewater, mingle all together. Butter a fayre white paper, lay a spooneful at once upon it, set them into a warme Oven, not over hot, when you see them rise as high as a halfe peny loafe, then take Rosewater, and Butter, and indale them over: scrape on Sugar, and set them in the Oven again, until they be dryed at the tops like yce. Then take them out, and serve them upon a Plate, either at Dinner or supper.

2 pounds “country style” cottage cheese, allowed to drain for several hours
2 egg whites
6 egg yolks
1 cup flour

These were all beaten together. Scratch wanted a savory dish, so instead of nutmeg, sugar, and rosewater, he seasoned them with chives, dry mustard, salt, pepper. They were dropped by spoonfuls on greased foil on a baking sheet and baked for about 15 minutes at 350°F. Because they were savory, he didn’t bother with the sweet glaze in the original.

They really puffed as soon as they came out of the oven, but by the time I snapped this, they had fallen.

Besides the historic treats we also provided crudites & dip, goat’s milk cheddar & crackers, hummus, salt & vinegar crisps (okay, really potato chips). I know guests brought stuff but I only remember Alissa’s corset cookies, Evie’s pigs in blankets, Red’s quince goo deluxe (another story for another time), and Devora’s enormous avocado.


Published in: on 4 March 2013 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen with Mina

Dear Constant Reader,

Please vote for The Boston Babydolls every day!

To celebrate a successful run of The Bod of Avon, we’re having a wrap party at Stately Babydoll Manor. Scratch has promised authentic Elizabethan delicacies for the guests. This is not as crazy as it sounds.

You know from my writings here that I am a bit of a culinary historian with an interest in mid-century cuisine. But I also do research into Renaissance cooking, mostly Elizabethan England, and Scratch dabbles a bit too.

Here’s one of my favorite Elizabethan snacks. The recipe was originally published in The Good Huswifes Jewell by Thomas Dawson in 1597. And looked like this:

To make Peascods1 in Lent2
Take Figs, Raisons, and a few Dates, and beate them very fine, and season it with Cloves, Mace, Cinamon and Ginger, and for your paste seeth faire water and oyle in a dish uppon coales, put therein saffron and salt and a little flower, fashion them then like peasecods, and when ye will serve them, frye them in Oyle in a frying panne, but let the Oyle bee verie hotte, and the fire soft for burning of them

Odd as it may look, it’s more straight-forward than Medieval recipes. For one thing, it’s not in Middle English. Here’s my version:

Filling:peascod ingredients
4 dates
5 figs
1/4 c. raisins
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground mace3
pinch ground clove

1 c. water
1/3 c. oil
1 c. flour4
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch saffron

Oil for frying

Grind together salt and saffron5. Simmer together water & oil. When boiling, remove from heat and beat in flour, salt & saffron6. Keep beating. Really. It will turn into a soft dough. Let the dough cool.

Chop fruit finely and mix in the spices.

Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 3″ diameter rounds.7

peascods in progressPlace a spoonful of fruit filling on half of a round of dough, fold the other half over & pinch shut. They’re supposed to look like peapods, so you can curve them a little into shape. The dough might crack a bit, but that’s okay.

You have two options for cooking. You can fry them in oil, like the recipe says. Make sure the oil is quite hot because the dough is like a little sponge. Serve these hot. Or you can (less authentic, but healthier) bake them on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350°F for 25-30 minutes until golden. These will keep longer than the fried version.


Makes about a baker’s dozen.


1 A “Peascod” is a peapod. A “codpiece” is something else entirely. Even if they look similar.
2 In the 16th century Lent meant no meat, no dairy, no eggs — basically vegan, plus fish. There’s also a “flesh day” version of this recipe with meat, butter, and eggs.
3Mace isn’t that common a spice these days. If you don’t have any in your spice cabinet, you could substitute a little nutmeg. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove are the classic quartet of Elizabethan spice. There’s even a little song.
4I use a mixture of flours, based on the researches of Marian Walke, to approximate the flour of the time: 3/4 c. white flour, 2 1/2 Tbs. cake flour, 1 Tbs. wheat flour, 1 1/2 tsp. rye flour. You don’t have to be this compulsive.
5 I do this with a mortar & pestle. The salt helps pulverize the saffron threads for even distribution. I did this hastily (because I was trying to cook & take photos) and ended up with little orange splotches in my dough instead of a lovely golden tint.
6 This is essentially choux pastry — like cream puffs or eclairs — without the butter & eggs.
7 A biscuit cutter works great for this.

Published in: on 26 February 2013 at 11:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Bod of Avon

Dear Constant Reader,

Please vote for The Boston Babydolls every day!

Once upon a time, in a different medium, I used to write up show reports. It was much easier when we did simple revues and not full length shows, often with plots. Still, it was a good habit and I’m going to get back into it. Here, Gentle Reader, without Much Ado, is the set list and a little commentary about The Bod of Avon.

All of the acts in this show were inspired by a work by William Shakespeare. Note I say “inspired”, or as Scratch said “interpreted through a burlesque-shaped lens” (insert appropriate hand gesture here). We weren’t recreating scenes from Shakespeare.

As I’ve mentioned before, we had to keep a minimal set for this show because of the requirements of the venue, so each act had a video projected on the back wall in lieu of scenery. Some of them were quite clever.

All of the photos were taken by Hans Wendland at our second preview at Oberon.

The Bod of Avon

Scratch, Ginny Nightshade, Lara Pollack: Introduction
In the darkness, they recited opening lines from Shakespeare plays, some famous, some more obscure.

Evie Sphinx, Stella Diamond, Ginny Nightshade, Lara Pollack: Henry V (“Drink Up Me Hearties” from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End)
King Evie fights battles, receives her crown, and knights her loyal followers, all while shedding clothing and armor. Black-clad Stella, Lara & Ginny play the opposing army, Evie’s subjects, and scenery.
Video: The St. Crispin’s Day speech, in a Star Wars-style crawl

Mina Murray: The Tempest (“Green Sleeves” by The Musicians of Swanne Alley)
This act was several years in the works and I’m so glad to finally have presented it. I originally thought of myself as being Queen Titania, but we already had a Midsummer act, so I became Ariel. It was a toss up between that and Queen Mab from Romeo and Juliet. There’s no shortage of faeries in Shakespeare. I’m really happy with this costume, which came out pretty much as I wanted. I have to thank Jeff McBride for the magic coaching and suggestions that formed the core of this act.
Video: Butterflies

Stella Diamond: The Taming of the Shrew (“I Hate Men” from Kiss Me Kate)
We certainly weren’t the first to re-interpret Shakespeare. We had to pay tribute to the great Kiss Me Kate. (Seriously, songs by Cole Porter? We’d have been fools to ignore that opportunity.) Stella’s got a great Broadway voice and excellent comic timing. She lounged against the bar, insulting male patrons as she sang. None of them seemed to mind.
Video: none (the stage was dark as the crew quickly cleaned up my mess.)

Betty Blaize: Antony and Cleopatra (“Melancholy Serenade” by Tommy Dorsey)
Betty’s tribute to the Queen of the Nile, longing for her Antony. There’s no striptease, but who cares — Betty dances with a sword. She routinely stunned the audience when she balanced it on her head and then slid into a low lunge and down onto one knee (while wearing high heels, no less). I love Betty’s costume for this, which I suspect was made from one of the many saris she brought back from India. Scratch introduced her as a performer with “great pyramids and a killer asp”.
Video: The pyramids at Giza

Brigitte Bisoux, Lara Pollack, Scratch: Sonnets (Sonnet 29/”Summertime” by Scarlett Johansson/Sonnet 18)
We couldn’t present a tribute to Shakespeare without acknowledging his work as a poet. Brigitte wanted to present a modern dance to a spoken word piece, so everything worked out nicely. Lara recited the first sonnet (“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”, then there was a little musical interlude, and Scratch read the second sonnet (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”). Poetry in motion, Scratch called Brigitte.
Video: A beach scene

Devora Darling, Ginny Nightshade, Mina Murray: Macbeth (“Pantaloons” by Tape Five)
We were the Three Weird Sisters, only cuter. Devora had a magic wand that forced us to take off our clothes. When we joined together against her, the wand wouldn’t work against its owner and we had to rip off her clothes the old-fashioned way. Many thanks to Scratch for building us a wand that would come apart into 3 sections on cue.
Viedo: A montage of witches from the Middle Ages to the present day


Betty Blaize, Devora Darling, Ginny Nightshade, Mina Murray: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“Yes Sir! That’s My Baby” by The Firehouse Five Plus Two)
We had 2 couples running away into the woods, but sadly, both the guys wanted Hermia (Ginny) leaving poor Helena (Me), sad and unwanted. But I upstaged everyone in the end! Most amusing part of this act was Betty & Devora in white suits, kind of like the one Scratch was wearing to host.
Video: A forest (just outside of Athens)

Scratch: King Lear
Scratch tells the story of King Lear using 3 cups (to represent the 3 daughters), one of which is concealing the serpent’s tooth (a very sharp, 6-inch long metal spike). Cordelia (an audience member) mixes up the cups and then Scratch, demonstrating Lear’s willful blindness to his daughters’ treachery, smashes his hand down on one of the cups. One of the empty ones. Then to represent Gloucester’s actual blindness, he dons a blindfold and with Cordelia as his guide, chooses between the remaining cups. He says that the difference between a comedy and a tragedy is often one character making a decision — the wrong one and it’s a tragedy. The right one? *SMASH* All’s Well The Ends Well. This is a very tense piece with the actual possibility of injury and I find it hard to watch.
Video: none

Brigitte Bisoux, Butch: Twelfth Night (“The Object of My Affection” by The Stolen Sweets/ “Roller Coaster Blues” by Diana Dors)
Brigitte & Butch dance adorably together until Brigitte goes in for a kiss and comes away with Butch’s mustache. Butch is slowly revealed to be Stella! Everyone’s favorite moment is when Brigitte reaches into Stella’s jeans and pulls out a couple of long socks knotted together. From backstage we would hear this huge swell of laughter and know they had just revealed The Dick Sock. Everyone loved The Dick Sock.
Video: Illyria High School

Devora Darling, Evie Sphinx: Danse Apache (“The Disillusioned Guitarist” by Zum)
I’ll be honest with you. This act wasn’t actually inspired by Shakespeare. Evie & Devora created it for The Wrathskellar, but Devora wasn’t able to be a part of the show, because of several broken bones. They planned to perform it at the Marathon, but a week before, Evie broke her foot. (From now on everyone gets bubble wrap suits.) It was just too good to allow to go fallow, so Scratch put it in this show. He thought about making it our tribute to Richard III (“Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won?”), but decided to use it to show the power of the sort of simple stage devices Shakespeare would have used and how the audience was willing, nay, wanted, to believe. Special thanks to Richard Gilbert of R&D Choreography for the violence.
Video: Red velvet curtains

Ginny Nightshade, Scratch: The Merchant of Venice
Scratch says that during the research for this show, he found a reference in Pepys’ diary to a scene in The Merchant of Venice which did not appear in the First Folio. He and Ginny recreate that missing scene. It’s actually an old burlesque comedy routine, known as “Post Office”. Yes, it’s old and corny, but still fun.
Video: none

John J. King, guest singer: Hamlet (“Ophelia” by John J. King)
From Denmark With Love, a James Bond/Hamlet mash-up opens in May and we thought it would be appropriate to give our audience a sneak preview. Creator John J King and a roster of lovely singers presented “Ophelia” (to the tune of “Goldfinger”). The picture shows Emily Hecht, but we were also graced by frequent Babydoll songbird Alissa Coates and a couple of others whose names I can’t remember right now.
Video: “From Denmark with Love” image

Betty Blaize, Brigitte Bisoux, Devora Darling, Evie Sphinx, Mina Murray, Stella Diamond: Finale (“Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” by Joe Jackson)
As the show began, so did it end, with disembodied voices quoting Shakespeare. This time they were asking questions (“Is this a dagger I see before me?”) occasionally peppered with the title of this song. I will confess, this act didn’t have much to do with Shakespeare. It’s been the finale to our last couple of Valentine’s shows and we like it a lot. Sometimes Scratch sings it for us, but he got a break this show. And we got new parasols! I do like the mix of colors; it makes us look even more like a flower garden.
Video: Flowers

And that, Constant Reader, was The Bod of Avon and we hope it was done As You Like It.


Published in: on 25 February 2013 at 3:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Closing Night

Dear Constant Reader,

Please vote for The Boston Babydolls every day!

Tonight is the last performance of The Bod of Avon. As usual, that’s bittersweet. We’re excited for the show tonight and sorry it’s the last one.

This show had a lot of challenges and I think we’re all glad that we’re done with that. The venue cancelled some of our dates. The snow storm cancelled more. We had to set up the theatre and dressing room every night and break it down, which meant we had to have *very* simple staging (hence the video backdrops). Our last show was The Wrathskellar, with set dressing in 2 rooms plus the theatre and a revolving stage. Quite a change.

After this, we focus on our new act for The Expo, plus our performances at the rescheduled Mardi Gras Ball!

Just for fun (and to reward you for voting), here’s Betty getting naughty with a glove at the 2011 Victory Party. Photo from Time Out Boston.


Published in: on 23 February 2013 at 11:57 am  Comments (1)  
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Digging out

Dear Constant Reader,

Here’s your daily reminder to nominate The Boston Babydolls for Best Burlesque. You can vote once per day per email/IP address. Thank you.

Well, a lot of snow fell on Boston. There was a driving ban, a parking ban, and no public transportation. This meant that out of the 4 shows we were supposed to be performing in this weekend, we had exactly zero.

However, tonight The Bod of Avon is back on! And the Mardi Gras Ball will be rescheduled!

Allow extra time to get to Naga tonight — we’re still starting at 8 sharp, because we still have to be done in time to turn our theatre back into a nightclub.


Published in: on 11 February 2013 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

No Show Tonight

Dear Constant Reader,

Here’s your daily reminder to nominate The Boston Babydolls for Best Burlesque. You can vote once per day per email/IP address. Thank you.

Here in Boston there’s more than 2 feet of snow, high wind, a driving ban, and no public transportation. Sadly, that means that tonight’s performance of The Bod of Avon is canceled. If you have tickets, please fill out the form here to reschedule.

We’re still planning to perform tomorrow (knock on wood, fingers crossed, et alia).


Published in: on 9 February 2013 at 12:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Bod of Avon Opens

Dear Constant Reader,

Here’s your daily reminder to nominate The Boston Babydolls for Best Burlesque. You can vote once per day per email/IP address. Thank you.

Yesterday I told you how we set up the venue for a show. The audience is sitting on chairs or benches, or standing along the bar. There’s a narrow aisle between the seating area and the standing room so the performers can get from the dressing room at the back of the room to the stage and back again. Also, when the stage lights are off, it’s very dark.

Opening night, we’ve just concluded the opening number of Act II (a humorous foursome inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and I am gaily skipping back to the dressing room when — WHAM! something strikes me in the shins and I fall forward. Ginny, directly behind, nearly goes down on top of me.

Someone, desiring a better view, had moved their bench so the end of it was sticking way out into the aisle.

I have a charming bruise right below my right knee and another one slightly further down my shin. I collided so hard with the bench, it took several days for them to come to the surface. Since I am not that sort of girl, I will not regale you with pictures of my injuries. Instead, I will share some photos that were taken at our second preview at Oberon. Have fun figuring out which plays inspired the acts!

All photos by Hans Wendland.

AS561 - 06

King Evie in action!

AS561 - 18

Mina, Queen of the Fae

AS561 - 40

Stella sings of how she hates men

AS561 - 44

Betty and her pyramids

AS562 - 09

Devora causing toil & trouble for Mina and Ginny

AS562 - 29

Brigitte & Butch


Published in: on 5 February 2013 at 9:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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Getting Ready

Dear Constant Reader,

Here’s your daily reminder to nominate The Boston Babydolls for Best Burlesque. You can vote once per day per email/IP address. Thank you.

It’s been a while since I actually told a tale of how glamourous my life is. The Boston Babydolls are currently performing The Bod of Avon at Naga. Naga isn’t a theatre; it’s a nightclub. This is important.

You might expect that before a show The Babydolls retire to their private dressing room to nibble delicacies, sip champagne, and make ourselves gorgeous at dressing tables with those mirrors with the lights around them.

Here’s the reality. We (performers, tech crew, ushers & other volunteers) show up at Naga about 3 hours before the show. The space is in nightclub mode with padded benches and low cubes they use as drink tables all over the main space and stage. There are huge leather couches in the VIP area at the back of the room.

We clear everything off the stage, except one bench that we’re using in the show. We move the biggest couches onto the floor. We move all the white cubes up into the VIP area and line them along one wall under some light fixtures — that’s our makeup station. We sit on the floor & use little personal makeup mirrors.

Someone unlocks the basement in the building next door and we start hauling our stuff out and bring it over. (Did I mention it was snowing last night?) Stuff consists of everyone’s personal gear (makeup cases, dance bags, hat boxes, &c), 2 trunks and one box of costumes, a small table (a set piece), a clothing rack & hangers, props that are too large to fit in the trunks, microphones for the performers, headsets for the techs, pipe and drape, and probably more that I’m forgetting.

Then 75 chairs and half a dozen cabaret tables. This all goes up a flight of stairs, down a flight of stairs, over to Naga, up a few more stairs, into the venue proper.

Some people set up the chairs, couches, benches, little drink tables, and cabaret tables, wondering how the heck we are going to squeeze so many people in and make sure they have a good view. (I believe the venue exaggerated their seating capacity, but we sold the tickets so we’ll make it work.) Some people set up the pipe & drape in the VIP area to make us a dressing room and make sure all the costumes and props are organized. During all this Hunter is setting up the audio, video, and lights.

Once that is all set up, then we can warm up on stage, do hair & makeup, have a little snack (the folks at Moksa, the restaurant attached to Naga, have generously been providing some scrumptious light refreshments), and be dancers instead of roadies.

After a normal show, we hang out with our fans, pose for pictures, and hawk merch. These shows we have 30 minutes to reverse everything we did a mere few hours before. Fortunately we have some of the Naga staff to help move the seating around and schlepp the chairs back to the basement. We performers pack up the dressing room and dismantle it. You’ll hear cries of “Act One packed?” and a chorus of “Yes!” followed by the trunk latching or “Everyone dressed?” with a positive response means that the pipe & drape starts to come down. We bundle into street clothes and start hauling all our stuff back to the basement.

Then the drinking begins.

Tomorrow I shall tell you a bit about the show itself. I know you’re breathless with anticipation. I might also have a special treat for you.


Published in: on 4 February 2013 at 11:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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