Friday, October 28, 2011

internet alchemy : Nine Man Morris

Nine Man Morris is a 2-player, checkers-like game that requires a more sophisticated type of strategical thinking than what's typically required in a game of tic-tac-toe.  It's not as complex as chess, however, since all pieces follow the same rules, but there are similarities there as well- out-playing your opponent by trying to pre-think them.
The origins of Nine Man Morris are a little obscure, but it's thought that it was played by the Romans.  It was popular enough in medieval times for the board to be carved into cloister seats.

The great thing about Nine Man Morris is that the board is easy to make.  You don't even really need a board- you can draw one on a piece of paper or in the dirt.  You'll need 2 sets of pieces, 9 pieces each.  Stones, glass beads, wooden nickles, anything with a small diameter relative to the size of the board, and in two different colors or shapes so they are distinguishable from each other.  Keep them in a small pouch toss them in your basket for on-the-fly games.

Other than being old enough to not try eating the game pieces, your children really only need to understand the concept of game play- not necessarily the more strategical thinking involved.  The object of the game is to remove your opponent's pieces until they have no way of winning the game (typically when they are left with less than 3 pieces, but not always.)

The game begins with a blank board of three concentric squares joined at each of the four sides:

The two players pick who will go first, then each in turn, they place one piece on any circle point on the board.  The point of this initial game play is to try to strategically place your pieces at an advantage.

Anytime you are able to create a row of 3 of your pieces, called a "mill", you may remove one of your opponent's pieces.  It is preferred to remove any pieces not already arranged in a mill unless there are no others.  Creating mills and taking pieces off the board can happen during this inital piece-placement stage.  Removed pieces are out of game play completely.

Once all 18 pieces are placed (whether then lost or not), the game continues by moving pieces in turn around the board.  Players move a single piece along any available line to one adjacent space in their turn.  If they are able to create a mill with the move, they are then immediately allowed to remove an opponent's piece.  If the player is unable to move any pieces, they have lost the game.  If they are left with less than 3 pieces, they are no longer able to create mills, and cannot win the game- in other words, they have lost.

If you're looking to introduce period games to your child, Nine Man Morris is a very good one to start with, since the game play is about as easy as the board itself.  It's also easy to teach- encourage your child to teach his/her friends and organize tournaments.  It's also possible for children to be just as strategically good (if not better) than adults, so playing the game can often open up broader ranges of social interaction for children who may need more experience being around adults.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

kids cookery : chicken pasty

There are many recipes for a variety of medieval pastries that use meat fillings.  They are each unique- some savory, some sweet- but in general, you can think of them as the medieval version of the pot pie, just without all that unhealthy gravy.

Pasties are a fun medieval food for kids because of their very nature- the idea of little dough balls filled with delicious food is pretty cool.  The trick is to let them know what is inside, especially picky eaters.  An even better option, to seal the deal, is to let them taste the filling before you place it in the dough- so they can dictate whether it's good or needs more of something.  Don't go overboard with medieval flavor combinations that modern palate's aren't used to.

The recipe below uses chicken, but any meat will do.  White meats takes better to the process than red meats, but it's all in how you prepare it.  If you and your children are adventurous, try experimenting with other ingredients, like fish.  The basic recipe below uses inexpensive ingredients, so if it doesn't quite work out, you're not out a hefty chunk of change.

Pasties also travel well, and don't necessarily need to be served warm (just be sure to adhere to safe food practices- they should still be transported in a cooler, and not left sitting out too long).  They are certainly a make-ahead food, but you can place them in a dutch oven over a fire (or camp stove) to warm them up if you think they'd taste better that way.

The following recipe is portioned for older children and adults, but you can make smaller portions for younger children just by using smaller pieces of dough and smaller spoonfuls of filling.  One of the large pasties below is a serving.  You can also substitute the raw meat for canned meat- just make sure that you drain it well.

To make chicken pasties for 4, you'll need:
  • 1 tube of prepared croissant dough (like Pillsbury)
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed into about 1/2" pieces, or smaller
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1/4 green bell pepper (optional), chopped
  • cream cheese (about half a regular Philadelphia brand block) softened
  • garlic powder to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • (seasoning for chicken if desired - I recommend a small amount of powder douce)
  • Butter or olive oil for cooking
In a skillet on medium heat, cook the onion and seasoned (if using) chicken with butter/oil.  When the chicken is mostly cooked on the outside (though not yet cooked through), toss in the green pepper, garlic and pepper.  Stir often until the onion is transparent and the chicken is no longer raw.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.  Open the croissant dough and create four squares (using two triangles each, pushed together to connect them), and lay out on a non-stick baking sheet.  Cut off patties of cream cheese and press them with your fingers to flatten them out.  Place one flattened patty on each dough square. Divide the chicken mixture into four parts and place one on each dough square (the dough will stretch some, but don't over fill- you may have some extra filling.)  Place another flattened patty of cream cheese on the top of each mound of filling.  One at a time, wrap the dough up around the filling, making sure it's well sealed all around (they actually turn out better if the top is a little messy-looking) and place equally apart on the baking sheet.  Use the baking instructions from the croissant dough package, and add 2 or 3 minutes to account for the filling.  The pastry should be golden brown and the cheese slightly melted (but not soupy!).  Serve forth immediately or refrigerate and serve later (up to 2 days)..
Original Recipe from with my modifications.