Packing up more Feast cookbook orders

Just finished packing up another set of Feast cookbook orders, and had to pause again because I’m out of curry powder and need to toast / grind / pack another batch. Back to the stove — good thing I have plenty of dumb Hallmark holiday romance movies to keep me company with all this late-night spice-toasting….

I’ve taken to double-fisting the grinding, because one of my grinders is automated when you push the button, so it really is almost twice as fast to use two. Feels ridiculous, though. 

A few lovely hours with my visiting sister, brother-in-law, and the fabulous niblings

A few lovely hours with my visiting sister, brother-in-law, and the fabulous niblings. We started by stuffing them full of bombtoast, which really is an excellent brunch food. It’s so much better than French toast, because the sugar in the batter means you don’t need syrup and can just grab slices as they come off the stove, hot, and chomp away. Also, it turns out that not only are they great with bacon (which I already knew), but they’re also excellent with leftover cranberry sauce. 🙂
Recipe: http://serendibkitchen.com/2019/03/31/sri-lankan-bombay-toast-bombatoast/

I *may* have put my sister Sharmila to work on arrival, but in my defense, there’s been a LOT of curry powder to toast and grind and pack up in the last few weeks, and Kavi’s getting tired. 

A little cousin love for the holidays.

Some in the family may remember that Sharmila is generally not super-fond of cats, as there was an unpleasant incident with a neighbor’s cat when we were children (Robert Garbowski, was that your cat? We were trying to remember…). But Sripati is SO sweet that she ended up petting him anyway. #Spacecats for the win.

Veera and I are twin-braid twinsies today! (We were even coincidentally coordinating in grey and red, both of us with birds on our winter sweaters…)

Brother-in-law Ry N was kind enough to help carry our Christmas tree home for us, and by ‘help,’ we mean he ended up dragging it the whole block himself.  Here’s Sharmila telling everyone to say “Christmas Tree!”

Give a girl a sword, and she may use it on her aunt!

Selfies, trying out Beat Saber in VR, and a little piano entertainment from Ms. Veera…

(Kavya is, btw, definitely taller than me now, according to her aunt and uncle. And we’re pretty sure she and Sharmila are the same size in clothes. Kavi is a little bummed that she can’t just go start raiding my sister’s closet — guess we should visit D.C. sometime soon…)

A big bet on my beautiful book

People have been so sweet and complimentary about the cookbook, but then they say something like, “You must be so happy,” and I don’t quite know what to say. Because I am, but also, I still don’t know if we’re going to lose something like $20,000 on it, and so I’m hovering in this sort of frantic anxiety-ridden space in the moments when I think about it too much.

I mean, it’s fine, we’re not going to lose the house or anything if this book bombs and I end up with 2000 copies sitting in a warehouse in Kentucky. But Kev and I don’t really have much margin in our budget (we are house-poor, in that we chose to buy a big, beautiful house that we can only just barely afford on our academic salaries), so if we do lose 20 grand, it’s going to mean some serious budget stress for a few years.

He and I sat down a few months ago and had a tough conversation about whether we wanted to bet on this book. And honestly, we didn’t really know what we were getting into — it’s not as if we had intensively researched budget numbers for the Sri Lankan cookbook market or anything. We just…decided to have faith in how hard I’d worked on it, and my 25 years as a working writer and a good home cook, and take the gamble.

The Kickstarter doing so well was definitely encouraging, but maybe it just reflected my friends and family support? It’s super-hard to tell whether this book will appeal to a broader market. I just don’t know how many people are actually interested in a Sri Lankan cookbook, even if it *is* beautiful and well-done.

I’ve honestly been a little dismayed by how often I hear people saying they wish they could try my food, but they can’t do spicy or are allergic to capsaicin, so they can’t — I hasten to reassure them that in fact, you can make almost everything in the cookbook with no capsaicin at all, and there are plenty of Sri Lankans who neither like nor eat spicy food, including people in my own family.

Sri Lankan cuisine is also mostly coconut-milk based, so it’s great for the lactose-intolerant (and if you’re allergic to coconut, you can totally use regular milk instead)! It works so well for vegetarians and vegans too, both in the fact that most of the book is already in that category, and that almost all the meat / seafood dishes convert easily to vegetarian…

But I can’t personally talk to everyone who might otherwise be interested in the book! I hadn’t realized “Sri Lankan food = super-spicy” was such a pervasive idea. I mean, it *can* be. But it doesn’t have to be!

This coming week, Mascot Books is going to take my cookbook to big buyers. Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Costco, etc. This is one of the main reasons I chose to go with a hybrid publisher, instead of just doing an offset print run with a printer directly; Mascot has industry contacts I don’t, and I honestly have no idea where I’d even start with trying to set up a meeting with Costco! (I actually think this would make a BEAUTIFUL Costco gift book. Will Costco think so? I have no idea.)

I’m also talking to Mascot tomorrow about buying some more publicity services from them — there’s a lot I can do on my own, but there are things they can do that I can’t easily, that will amplify our reach. So maybe another $2000 invested there. Which is, frankly, nerve-wracking. (You may have seen me talking about doing a Buy Nothing January? There’s a reason. I was also thinking of spending the month trying to feed my family well, as cheaply as is manageable with our daily lives, and documenting it all.)

I’m just feeling in limbo right now. Part of me wants to run out and pick up a part-time job as a cashier every time I see a store advertising such, just to have a little more money coming in, to counter all the money that’s gone out and is still going out. That’s REALLY not a good use of my time, when you think about hourly rates!

I probably shouldn’t be making so many bath products either, because I’m not even sure I’m breaking even on those, much less making any money. Kavi was doing them with me, and she started calculating how much it would take for her to make a profit making lip balm and selling it to her friends. She didn’t think the numbers were very good. I do like the creative aspect, though, and doing something with my hands, and blogging about it, so maybe it’s okay if making bath indulgences doesn’t make money.

Better if they don’t lose money, though. And I have to be more disciplined about doing the things that actually do make money, like writing essays and stories and sending them out. And publicizing publicizing publicizing the cookbook. I spent an hour or so on that this morning, and I probably should spend an hour every morning from now until the end of time. Or at least for the next few months.

Mascot sent me a guide for publicizing indie-published books, and I’m going to sit down with Pem and Stephanie on Wednesday to review their recommendations (actually, maybe I should ask them to look at it in advance), and decide what on there we actually want to do. Me being able to keep paying my very part-time publicist & assistant is dependent on this cookbook actually making a profit, so that’s the main thing I should have them helping with.

Anyway. This is all mostly a Sunday afternoon anxiety ramble (ah, Sunday afternoon — the long, dark teatime of the soul, h/t Douglas Adams), and thank you for indulging me.

I *am*, of course, delighted that people seem so happy with the book. I *am* really proud of it, however the money works out.

But if anyone wants to whisper praise for it into the B&N book buyer’s ear, I’d be okay with that….

Lovely having friends drop in

Deborah Jian Lee stopped by on Thanksgiving to pick up her copy of Feast. I like the Thanksgiving open house thing — I think we’re going to lean more in that direction in the future, if we continue to celebrate the holiday. Lovely having friends just drop in. Even better if they walk away with books. 🙂

Flash Sale for Small Business Saturday

Flash sale for Small Business Saturday! $5+ off books, and I’m offering soaps and other bath products too! While supplies last — I’ll update on the pics and here as we sell out. I probably won’t do another of these this year, so if you’re looking for holiday gifts by me, today is your day.

Post in the comments of this Facebook post https://www.facebook.com/mary.a.mohanraj/posts/10160197150974616 with your order, and I’ll confirm and PM with payment details (I can take credit cards through PayPal).

*****

BOOKS ON SALE!

A Feast of Serendib, $35 hardcover, $20 paperback (no photos), $8 ebook (PDF, Nook, Kindle)
Bodies in Motion, $15 hardcover
Perennial, $7
The Stars Change, $7

(happy to sign / personalize books — please note if desired!)

SERENDIB PRESS:
Feast postcards: $5 (set of 6 assorted), $9 (set of 12 assorted)

SERENDIB HOME BATH:

For all of these, specify which varieties you want, and I’ll let you know if I still have enough.  If you’re flexible, note that too! See pics for names and details (will take me a minute to get them all up).

Soaps: $5 each
Soap Sampler: $20 for 5
Lip Balm: $3
Bath Salts: $8
Bath Salt Minis: $2
Body Butter: $18

*****

Shipping & handling: (varies, but generally $8-14 in the U.S.; I can calculate for elsewhere)

#blog
#serendibhome
#serendibkitchen

Sri Lankan party prep question

Sri Lankan peeps, quick question. How far in advance do you think I can make the following (as I try to be reasonable about party prep for our Christmas tea, which is in two weeks):

– rolls, cutlets, patties: my understanding is that I could make them this week, all the way to breading, and then freeze, so I just have to take them out the night before the party and then fry. Is that right?

– same for vadai and prawn vadai?

– how about Scotch eggs?

– stuffed prawns?

– ribbon sandwiches — the fillings will keep frozen for months, right? (I have some from the last time I made these). I can thaw the day before, assemble sandwiches, and then layer them in foil trays with wet paper towels and refrigerate overnight? To take out and trim off edges and cut into triangles just before serving?

– caramel pudding — can I make this and keep it in the downstairs fridge for two weeks? Is that too long?

– mango pudding — same question!

– milk toffee I think keeps forever

– marshmallows freeze fine, although I think since we’re only two weeks out, I can make them, store in the fridge in an air-tight container and they should be fine?

– any other fabulous short eats / desserts you think I’m missing?

(Please comment at https://www.facebook.com/mary.a.mohanraj/posts/10160192939799616)

Thoughts about yesterday

I hope everyone reading this had a good day yesterday, whether you were celebrating Thanksgiving or not. We almost didn’t celebrate — I waffled until fairly late about whether we’d be doing it at all, in part because I was just so busy / tired, I wasn’t sure I could pull off the big meal. And in part because I am increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of ignoring the history of this holiday.

But you know, for Christmas, we’ve taken to doing an explicitly post-colonial Christmas tea, where I serve my favorite British foods (trifle, fruitcake, etc.) alongside Sri Lankan ‘short eats’ – as someone who is now making part of my living from Sri Lankan food culture, it’s impossible to ignore the culinary effects of waves of colonization on my little island. It seems better to acknowledge that sometimes bloody history, and to reflect on it.

So for Thanksgiving yesterday, we did have turkey and stuffing and all the trimmings, but when we sat down to eat, we opened with a deliberate conversation about whether we should celebrate this holiday at all.

At first the kids said yes, of course, but then we asked them how they’d feel if they had a Native American friend who found Thanksgiving sad, because it was a reminder of how their people had been killed and brutalized. Our kids are at least familiar with that part of the story already — their schools have been doing a much better job with that in recent years, which made it easier — we didn’t have to be the ones puncturing a rosy bubble. We asked if they want to celebrate Thanksgiving again next year.

Kavi and Anand aren’t sure, so we’ll revisit the question next year when it’s time. And maybe that means we’ll revisit it every year, going forward, or maybe that means at some point we’ll just stop. We love the food, but we can have turkey and stuffing some other day. Maybe we’ll start making Indigenous Peoples’ Day a big family and friends holiday down the road, because we do want and need reasons to come together in fellowship and community. We’ll see.

But for me, yesterday’s highlights included:

• that conversation, and a later one about various philosophical questions, such as determinism vs. free will — Anand is VERY anti-deterministic, and Kavi is surprisingly okay with it. Anand and Kavya have been watching The Good Place, and Anand is particularly interested in all the philosophical aspects; he loves debating them. Kavi doesn’t like Kantian philosophy at all (sorry, Jed, as I think your personal philosophy is closer to that, but as we told them, they should wait and discuss it with you over Christmas, as we can’t whole-heartedly present the arguments) — Kavi’s more of a utilitarian, or possibly closer to my own chaotic good alignment — the fine points are still to be determined…

• realizing I could turn over much of the meal planning and cooking to Kevin and Kavya and it would come out just fine (hooray for better divisions of domestic labor, and for giving up a little control in exchange for some much-needed rest)

• Karen stopping by beforehand with her kids, bearing many treats to share, and insisting on helping me pack up books and clear the table, which I’d sort of been dreading and avoiding; she even organized all the kids to break down a big stack of recycling in the kitchen and take it out!

• having Cee Gee join us for dinner with her friend Kendra, and having them give Kavi little art lessons after dinner; they’re both artists (painter and jeweler), and it was a joy watching Kavi show off her artwork to their compliments, and having them teach her some new techniques

• teaching both of them Lanterns — it was particularly fun introducing them to a cool art-themed game, esp. since they’re not familiar with the newer generation of board games; I’m thinking Sagrada next time, but also, I need to teach Cee Gee Forbidden Island, because her little ones are just old enough to play it, and there’s about to be a world of awesome gaming opening up to them — Catan Jr. and Kid Carcassone after that, and a year or two later, Machi Koro, etc….

The toughest moment of the day was when Anand misunderstood something a guest said, and got very upset; he tried to hold it together, but he also had a toothache (probably a cavity, we’ll have to take him in), and that combined with general holiday excitement meant that he just eventually lost it, and had to leave the table for a while to calm down.

Funniest / most awful moment was when we were trying to sort out the disagreement when he came back to the table, and it wasn’t working, and he was clearly still angry and our guest was upset, and I said, “Well, it certainly feels like Thanksgiving now!” And I probably shouldn’t have said it, because while we all cracked up, Anand didn’t appreciate the humor. In my defense, I was tired!

I managed to explain it to him later, though, that Thanksgiving is notorious for family blow-ups, because you bring a lot of people in close contact and even though they care about each other, there’s cooking pressure and lack of sleep / tiredness and also just time to say things that you’ve maybe wanted to say for a while and were holding back, and so people are sometimes not so nice to each other.

His tearful response: “I DEFINITELY don’t want to celebrate Thanksgiving again!” But Anand did calm down eventually, and was able to laugh and have fun later, and today we’re going to make the pumpkin pie we didn’t have time to make yesterday, so he’s excited about that. As I said, we’ll revisit the Thanksgiving question next year.

In general, though, the holiday gave me a structure that helped me slow down and step away from the computer and intense labor – as you can see, while we managed with Karen and Carly’s help to clear off the table enough to set it, my dining room is still colonized by many boxes of Feast order paraphernalia. Getting there!

But I spent more time relaxing with friends and family yesterday than I have in quite a while. I really needed that, so for that at least, I’m thankful.

Decolonizing division of labor

I was about to launch into all the cooking for today, but I’m still very tired after all the Feast, etc. work, so I sat down on the couch. And then Kavi came by, and I realized that I didn’t HAVE to track it all myself. So I messaged Kevin a list of what needed to be done, and I made a to-do list with Kavi, which she has stuck on the fridge.

Now Kevin is doing a 3-hr quick-brine on the turkey (because I was too tired to set it brining last night), and Kavi is trimming green beans, and I’m going to post a vegetarian stuffing recipe (mushroom-cashew cornbread) from this lovely couch. Much better division of labor, both physical and mental.

Sometimes what you have to decolonize first is your own brain.

While Kevin brines the turkey, I’m sitting on the couch calling instructions to Kavi. “Okay, put the bag of potatoes in the pot…”

And then she does this.

Cooking lessons may take a while…

(This is actually more of an issue when trying to teach Anand anything, because he would rather be funny than learn things. It can make math homework take a long time, but when you try to rush it and keep him from making jokes, he gets cranky. I had no idea how much patience parenting would take. But also I had no idea how funny my kids would be. They make me laugh all the time.)