Sunday Dinner

Kavi forbid cooking pictures yesterday, because her hair was a mess (I may have made her pull it back in the kitchen with a carabiner clip because that’s all that was handy), but the first Sunday night dinner went reasonably well.

Anand got to pick, so we went with lasagne, his favorite. Kavi browned the sausage and ground beef (maybe her first time cooking meat?), cooked down the tomatoes into sauce, and seasoned both meats and sauce with salt, pepper, Italian herbs, onion powder. Then both of them layered the sauce / noodles / meat / ricotta / mozzarella in the pan a few times.

Kevin and I mostly just talked them through the recipe (such as it is), and offered some tips, like tilting the pan to drain the excess fat from the meat and using paper towels to sop that oil up and toss it away. Covered the lasagne with foil (talking about why you’d want to use foil and not, say, plastic wrap!), stuck it in the oven at 375 for an hour. Later, removed foil, let lasagne cook an additional 15 minutes (browning the top, letting the liquid cook off), then grown-ups pulled the hot, heavy pan out of the oven and let it cool for 15 minutes on the counter while the kids set the table, before we all sat down to eat.

Anand was pretty distractible, and kept running off to watch YouTube when he didn’t have an active task, but he did come and do everything he was asked to, and I think he had fun layering the ingredients in the baking dish. He was pretty stressed yesterday about vacation break ending and school starting again today, so we were inclined to let him self-soothe with electronics as needed. We’re going to try to wean everyone off electronics for the cooking Sunday dinner time, but it’ll be a process, I think. (I had to pause my online game with Jed to later eat, and it took some willpower!)

We really should’ve made a salad, garlic bread, and dessert — there was plenty of time while the lasagne was cooking, but Kavi had a book to finish reading for school, and as I said, I had a game going, so we all dispersed instead. Luckily, there was some leftover broccoli from lunch, and Kev cut up a bell pepper, so that counted as sufficient veg. to accompany.

And then we actually:

– set the table (kids)
– got everyone water (kids)
– washed hands before dinner (everyone)
– sat down and talked together while eating (everyone)
– used utensils to eat the lasagne (everyone, even Anand, which is new for him — he is not a utensil fan, but as we said, eventually he might be asked to eat with the president, who won’t be Trump, and then he’ll need to use utensils. Or if not the president, then his grandmother (Kev’s mom), who is also big on utensils
– cleared up afterwards (mostly Kev)

There’s plenty of lasagne left for dinner tonight, and today’s lunch for the grown-ups at work, so that’s also a nice way of easing into the work week. We’ll try to plan on making enough at Sunday night dinner to cover Monday, at least.

There was an extended discussion of whether Anand was allowed to repeat phrases because he thought it was funny. Kavi first came up with the rule that he couldn’t say specific phrases, but he just kept changing the phrases (there was a lot of ‘but why?’ for example). Finally she hit on: “No deliberately annoying people at the dinner table,” and Anand laughed. While he didn’t explicitly concede the point, he did stop the repeating, which I think we all took as a win. 

It was really nice. They’re now old enough that we can have interesting conversations; I honestly didn’t have the patience for doing this with little ones, and I salute those of you who do! I know many families do dinner together every night, and we’ve never done that — we’ve always just wandered off to eat with our books and shows separately. But at least once a week, sitting together, being off electronics for a few hours, and teaching the kids some basic dinner table etiquette seems useful.

It’s a piece of the parenting project that we’ve somewhat neglected, but teaching them how to get along in community and not deliberately annoy people just because you think it’s funny seems worth the expenditure of a little effort and energy. Even if it means I have to delay the last few moves in my game. (Jed was stomping me anyway!)

Pictured: Anand demonstrating what he considers proper use of a fork…


A quick peek into the Sunday of a writer

Here’s a little peek at the Sunday of a writer / non-profit arts administrator / small press publisher.. Woke up, had coffee, forgot to eat breakfast (oops), sat on couch and started processing e-mails & FB messages, ended up:

• starting to set up a monthly RPG for my “Jump Space” universe (good for SF writing, hopefully, as well as game design research)

• starting to set up a monthly cookbook club for local friends (obviously also good research for me as I promote the cookbook, work on the gluten-free sampler, etc. — might suggest a gluten-free cookbook for our first joint effort)

• spent about two hours working on SLF grants, publicizing the two newly-open grants (South Asian and Older Writers, though please note Working Class grant is also still currently open — applications encouraged to all!) and working on structural aspects both for getting more grant administrators / jurors (both badly needed) and doing a better job with our press releases and general publicity

Now I’m going to eat something (must remember to eat, Mary Anne!) and finish repotting a terrarium. Will post photos when I get a chance, which also goes to developing the gardening memoir that I hope to do down the road.

Will follow that up from noon – 2 with teaching D&D basics to a few people, which is an SLF thing too, as it’s part of the “Maram Makerspace – Gaming” ongoing activities.

And then the rest of the day is alternately working on my Wild Cards revision (slightly overdue, sorry, George), teaching the kids how to make lasagne (#sundaydinner), and continuing the big clean-up / re-org of the house. (The latter two with Kevin‘s help.)

For Wild Cards, I’m planning to start the revision work while walking on the treadmill (I use my laptop tied to a board over the arms), because I actually think better while walking, and also because I haven’t yet done any exercise today, and I really am trying to do some kind of daily exercise in this New Year, because not exercising was such a negative about fall of 2019. (I missed yesterday, which makes me cranky.)

For the house, we’ve been here 10 years (eep), and somehow, that’s translated into this being the year when everything gets revisited and reset somewhat (like the kids’ playroom transitioning into an art / lounge space; the basement beer-making area being reformed into a small business production space for the cookbook now that Kev’s given up beer making, etc.).

I’d really LOVE to get the house shift done before the semester starts on the 13th, but that’s perhaps optimistic of me, esp. if I keep getting sidetracked into things like hanging art, which is good, but perhaps less essential than actually hauling things around, assembling Metro shelving racks, etc. Well, we’ll see.

I’m going to try to focus a bit more on the latter type of activity this week, or rather, the days I’m here this week, as I’m going to be in Seattle Tues – Fri for SALA ( and MLA (on a panel about Sri Lankan literature with Sugi Ganeshananthan and other fabulous folk, woot). (Seattle peeps, maybe coffee? Ping me if you’d like to buy a book for hand-delivery…although I might be temporarily out of hardcovers until the next shipment arrives; have to count.)

I’m hoping to get a LOT of writing done on the Seattle trip — some long plane flights, plus downtime in the hotel that I can treat like a little mini writing residency, when there aren’t panels I want to attend.

Two main things to work on with writing in January / February — revising and sending out some cooking essays (fingers crossed they get accepted for publication), opening up the big SF novel, re-reading the 50K drafted so far, and then launching into the next section.

Busy busy, loving my job(s). 


How-to-write-a-cookbook class

You may remember that some time back, I tried a little cookbook writing class, which I think attendees found helpful. Look at them working so hard! (We were at Oak Park Works, a local co-working space, which worked beautifully for this.) This weekend, a friend asked if I’d be teaching cooking classes again (hi, Nikhil!), which reminded me that I should schedule some of those too, while I’m scheduling the rest of the Feast events for the spring. So this is a gauge interest post! Would you be interested in:

a) local cooking classes (would love notes on what particularly you’d like to learn, i.e., basic cooking techniques, a Sri Lankan meal with appetizer / entree / dessert, a simple recipe accompanied by mimosas, etc.)

b) local how-to-write-a-cookbook class (low cost, with the option of buying my cookbook and other books)

c) online how-to-write-a-cookbook class (would need to research a bit on what format is best to offer for this — is there a class program that would make it easier than doing it via GChat, etc?)

Please comment with interest / ideas / etc! Preferred days / times of week also welcome, i.e., Sat or Sun morning or afternoon, weekday evenings, etc.

Special copies of A Feast of Serendib for my aunties

These are some special copies of A Feast of Serendib that went out last week. These were packages I put together for my aunties, all of whom have fed me over the decades. My mother’s food has most directly influenced my Sri Lankan food tastes, but all my aunties are great cooks, and they each make their dishes a little differently.

I sent some marshmallows too, in fun flavors, and a set of postcards (recipes and monkeys and elephants and such). I’m hoping they enjoyed the little presents, and are interested and amused by how my recipes differ from theirs…

Thanks, aunties / accas! Neiliya, Regina, Benita, Sherina, Terencia, Marina, Priya, and Acca-by-marriage, Nila / Dawn! Especially for all the baggies of rolls and cutlets and curries you sent home with me on the plane over the years…

Generating nutritional information for my recipes

Question — I’d like to generate nutritional information for the recipes in my cookbook, and I was talking to a nutritionist this weekend, and she said there are programs that one can use for this. Recommendations?

It seems better than trying to have Heather calculate it all herself — if she can just plug in 1 cup of broccoli, and have it give her the nutritional info, and then plug in the whole recipe, and get the info for the whole recipe (and, ideally, the weight / metric conversions), that’d be perfect.

If there are ones that are cheap, that would be ideal, since my needs are small. 🙂 Maybe 250-500 recipes total?

Curried Chestnut, Leek, and Carrot Soup, with Fried Prosciutto (or Sautéed Mushrooms)

The semester is over, so I had time to actually come up with a new recipe tonight, for a curried chestnut soup.  So seasonal!

You can roast the chestnuts yourself — a little more effort, but it’s tasty to peel and eat some of that sweet nuttiness while it’s hot. Just be careful when cutting crosses into the chestnuts before you roast, so your knife doesn’t slip. Or you can buy a jar of them already roasted, though you may need to find a specialty shop for that. If you cleverly reserved turkey stock after Thanksgiving, you could pull some out of the freezer and use it for this. That was my plan, but I forgot to freeze the extra stock until it was too late this year. Oh well.

I used Sri Lankan roasted curry powder, but I think any standard South Asian curry powder would be tasty. The complex spicing balances the sweetness of the chestnuts and the saltiness of the prosciutto (or the mushrooms sautéed in butter with salt). Substitute in vegetable oil, vegetable stock, and coconut milk to make this a filling, nutritious, and delicious vegan meal.


Curried Chestnut, Leek, and Carrot Soup, with Fried Prosciutto (or Sautéed Mushrooms)
(serves 4, about 30 minutes (aside from chestnut roasting time))

3 T unsalted butter
2 leeks, white parts sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and chopped finely
1/2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
about 15 oz. (3 c.) roasted and peeled chestnuts
6 c. chicken stock
1 t. curry powder
1/4 c. heavy cream
additional salt and pepper to taste
1/2 t. lime juice
Optional: either fried prosciutto or mushrooms sautéed in butter for garnish — make them while the soup is simmering

1. Heat butter in large soup pot and stir in leeks, carrots, salt, and pepper. Sauté, stirring, about 5 minutes.

2. Add chestnuts and chicken stock, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.

3. Transfer soup carefully to blender — I’d use a large ladle rather than trying to pour a pot of hot soup! (If you have an immersion stick blender, that’s even easier.) Purée, and return to pot. (It’s fine to leave a cup or so of broth in the pot; just stir it into the purée when you return it to the pot.) Add cream and stir. Taste and add salt / pepper as desired; if the soup is too thick, add a little more stock. Stir in the lime juice and simmer a few more minutes, until well blended.

4. Serve hot, garnished with prosciutto or mushrooms. (I don’t recommend both together — I tried it, and oddly, they clash.) If you want to make it even prettier, you could drizzle a little cream into the bowl, or add a scattering of chives. Mmm….

Kavi loves organizing things

Kavi doesn’t have a problem with the red and green M&Ms mixing it up sometimes — she just loves organizing things. You should have heard her when I lightly jostled the tiered server while getting ready to take these photos. She gasped in dismay: “I worked SO HARD on that, Mommy — if you messed it up….!”

Thankfully, I had not. 

Seeni sambol buns

Heh — I was cooking in a bit of a rush, so accidentally made the seeni sambol for these buns to Sri Lankan spice levels — some of my guests were scared to try them, as a result. They were pretty darn hot! On the other hand, a friend’s 10-year-old son adored them and had no trouble eating them, so I guess it’s all in what you like / are used to.

Seeni sambol buns are widely available from roadside stands, shops, roving sellers on the train platforms in Sri Lanka, and are a great option for vegetarian travelers (though typically, they would have a bit of dried Maldive fish in the seasoning, so if you’re strictly vegetarian, take note). They’re usually not this hot, either!

You can make the dough from scratch (I have it in the ‘mas paan’ recipe in my Feast cookbook), but it works just fine to use a readymade refrigerated bread dough, which is easier for a party.

We used Pillsbury’s French bread dough for this, just slicing the log of dough into rounds. We spread them out a bit with our fingers and spooned the seeni sambol in, then wrapped it up into a bun (seam side down). Bake a few minutes less than the package suggests, until golden brown, and you’re done!

Seeni sambol buns freeze well, and are also great for taking on the road with you for a long car ride or as plane snacks. And if you just want to make the seeni sambol (easy, but about 30 minutes of slow stirring as the onions caramelize, will keep in fridge for weeks), it’s excellent on buttered toast for your breakfast.

If you have time to make an over-easy egg to go with it, even better. Toast + butter + egg + seeni sambol on top = perfection. Or scramble an egg and put it all in a tortilla (or better, roti!), if you want to turn it into a wrap…

Seeni sambol recipe:

I really must learn to pace myself

Heh. I appear to have lost two pounds this week without trying. I will now market my new weight-loss plan: cook and decorate obsessively for seven days straight, and you will be too hyped up on adrenaline to remember to eat much, and will wake up the day after the event with arms and legs as sluggish as if you’d done an intense gym workout.

Was fun, but also ridiculous; I really must learn to pace myself! Am contemplating rule for next party — no more than ten (10) savory items and ten (10) sweet items. But can I actually hold myself to that, is the question???

I seem to be worrying about something in the photo below — maybe the possibility that I haven’t made enough food…

(As I plan to just sit on the couch and eat leftovers for the next three days, I’m sure those pounds will swiftly return. )