A lesson in publishing

In the interests of documenting the setbacks as well as the successes, we had a rough time with the cookbook last week. It was honestly pretty upsetting, and mostly my own fault, I think. I had one sleepless night, and a few very awkward conversations that I had to push myself to actually have (I wish I were less conflict-averse).

What happened was that I’d hired someone to do interior layout for the books, but he’d thought I was just hiring a formatter. Once we started working, and the e-mails started going back and forth, there was a lot of my wanting him to do things that he said would be too hard or too time-consuming, beyond the scope of what he did.

I did actually say in our original e-mail exchange that I wanted someone who could do beautiful design, rather than just someone who would run the file through a conversion program like Vellum (which I’ve done myself), but apparently something got lost in translation.

The short version is that we managed to get books formatted sufficiently that we could, in a bit of a mad rush, get rather ugly ARCs out to the book reviewers that we’d set up a blog tour with for late June. It hurt my soul to send those books out, but hopefully the reviewers will focus on the writing and recipes and not the aesthetics of the book.

What does that mean for now? Well, he and I have parted ways, and I’m out $1500 — which, once I looked around more thoroughly, I realized really wasn’t near enough for professional interior design for three versions of the book. If I’d done more research, I would’ve known that his bid was much too low, and I might’ve asked more questions about what exactly he was planning to do.

I am trying to treat all of this as a lesson in publishing, and thinking that if I’d paid $1500 for a course in how-to-publish and what-not-to-do, that would’ve been not unreasonable. Still. Ouch. I’ve now contracted with someone else (my cover designer, whose work I love) to do the actual design for the print books, at fair market rates, and have just sent him the files.

So that’s going to eat up…well, probably all of the immediate Kickstarter ‘profits,’ plus maybe a bit more, which is a bit painful. But I can still afford to do a print run for the hardcover, which gives me hope of some profit down the line, if more people actually buy the book.

Probably not a print run for the paperback (just POD), but I wasn’t sure I was going to do that anyway, because at least for the Kickstarter, a lot more folks were interested in the hardcover with its lovely color photos. Which kind of surprised me, given the higher cost of the hardcover, but I guess most budget-minded folks get the ebook, and the ones who go for print are more likely to be willing to spend a bit more for a beautiful object.

Anyway, live and learn. Now I go look at Pamudu Tennakoon‘s lovely pen and ink illustrations, and let her know if I have any revision requests, and then have her upload them to Google Drive to share with my designers.

Oh, and for the ebook, Jed is going to take a stab at the design and layout, which is very kind of him; he says he’s thinking of it as good practice for his own burgeoning Constellation Press, rather than just a favor for me. I’ll take it either way, gratefully.

If it ends up too time-consuming for him, though, I’ll either do it myself — I think I have the basic skills for what I want — or hire someone else. Whew.

I’ve slipped the delivery deadline a bit, as a result of all this — I had originally hoped to have books by mid-June, but that’s clearly not happening. Aiming for July 1 now; we’ll see.

Publishing beautiful, professional books is expensive.

And not easy!

Roasting seeds for curry powder

On the one hand, it was actually lovely, after a few days of grocery store hot-bar meals because the end of semester is too frantic for cooking, to be cooking again. I was just dry-roasting curry powder ingredients, nothing fancy, but between the scent of the spices and the sandalwood I burned earlier in the writing shed, I felt like I was coming home to myself.

On the other hand, I was still so tired that I somehow put the glass jar down too hard on the shelf, and it cracked a piece off, and suddenly I had coriander seed spilling out voluminously onto the counter, my cupped hand — it took a second before I even really believed I’d managed to break the jar.

I was tired enough that I just gave up and went to bed — not quite to sleep, actually, because I owed George a pitch for a Wild Cards story, which I’d started in the shed earlier, and I wanted to finish it before sleep. Which I did, though my eyes kept closing as I tried to write the last sentences — hope he likes it. My new protagonist, Jesús “Retazos” Sanchez, is a general contractor who can mend things — his patches don’t last for very long, but they’ll hold for a bit, until he hopefully has a chance to do the job properly. It’s a very tiny little superpower, generated in brainstorming with my father-in-law; I like it.

I owe George another pitch, which I’ll hopefully have some time to finish writing up today. Also owe Marco an expanded pitch. And then back to finalizing revisions on the SF novel that used to be Flight. It’s actually really close to done, I think, has been for months — just need time to sit and write it. Summer is coming, and there will be much writing.

Anyway, this morning, I woke up sore from all the gardening I did yesterday, but sore in a good way. I’ve added a bunch of natives to my garden — they don’t look like much right now, but hopefully they’ll settle in and thrive, bringing more pollinators to the garden. The coffee is kicking in, so in a minute I’ll get up and actually clean up the glass + coriander mess.

Then I get to roast curry powder spices all over again. Not because there’s glass in what I did — thankfully, that accident happened far away from the roasted spices I had been working with. (Though I’m going to have to throw away a good cup of coriander seeds, which is a sadness.) No, I was tired enough that I was sort of on autopilot, and as I roasted seeds individually, I threw them all into one big pot for grinding — which is *not* what I need today.

I’m staffing the South Asian group table at Julian middle school’s ethnic festival today, and I promised to do a spice grinding demo, and for that, I usually put out a set of little jars with the spices individually pre-roasted, and let the kids / adults measure out the spices into the grinder and grind them. I could just let them grind the mixed spices, but the measuring is more fun for them. I suppose I’ll bring the mixed stuff in a bag too, as back-up — sometimes I run low, if things are busy.

Okay — clean-up, then roasting (need to give the spices time to cool before packing up), then printing out recipe sheets, then printing out South Asian coloring sheets, then packing up books for sale (my old cookbook, since the new one isn’t even close to ready yet), stuff to decorate the table, some saris to demo textile art and dress people in.

It’s a slightly complicated day, because Kavi also has a soccer game, and is then joining me at the table for a few hours, and is then going to a sleepover, and eventually coming home tomorrow, but tomorrow is also a Maram day of cooking and art at my house, so I need to remember to pick up some plastic tablecloths this afternoon to protect tables for one of the art projects, and there are probably some other things I’m forgetting right now. Find the name tags and photo permission stickers. Bring the projector and screen up from the basement. Make a list, Mary Anne. Lists are helpful.

Monday. Monday I sleep all day. That’ll be nice.

A book, a book. I seem to have finished a book.

I have handed A Feast of Serendib off to the formatter & indexer. I’ve added photos throughout, purchased ISBNs (oof!), the colophon is done, the author bio is added. I want to revise every single recipe again, but I am not going to do that.

 

I am fighting a nasty cold that has made me light-headed and woozy all day, so I think I’m going to have some comforting rice and meen kari (fish white curry, made with halibut in this instance, which came out very nicely) and a little seeni sambol, and then I’m going to put myself to bed early. 

 

 

Maybe I’ll post some more Sri Lanka photos if I find the energy. If I weren’t sick, I admit, I would have a drink right now. I could use one.

 

A book, a book. I seem to have finished a book.

Eep.

 

Retake photography

Yesterday was a mad rush to finish off the retake photography on the cookbook — I think it is actually done, finally. I have all the photos I need. 4 days left on the Kickstarter, and we broke $13,000 this morning. Neat.

We left the kitchen an absolute disaster and simply walked out the door so we could hit the road earlier and not do night driving, which stresses me out these days. Old eyes get tired.

We’ve taken us and the kids off to a friend’s lake house in Indiana for no good reason, really — it’s too chilly this weekend to do much lake stuff. But Kev and I have just been working so hard, and I miss the kids, and I thought it might do us good to have a little time away, just in a different space. Also, I wanted to check this place out, and see if we might want to come back for a longer stretch this summer, maybe a week or so.

Anyway, Kev and I still have way too much work to do; we should really work straight through the weekend. But maybe we can do 8 hour days instead of 16 hours days; that would be a nice change.

I let myself sleep in this morning, until 9 a.m., when Anand pitifully came and asked if he could have some breakfast please, and Kev’s actually still in bed, which I think he really needed. The union bargaining ate up an incredible amount of time; it is not easy fighting the forces of neoliberalism. My hero.

Now I will finish assigning the photos, write up the salmon curry recipe that I’m adding, do one last compulsive check of the text, and then…send it off? Eep.

After that, I need to pay some people, and I need to write some things, but I’m also going to chill out with the kids. Make art. Knit a little. Watch TV. Play board games. Dream of mango mimosas on the beach in Sri Lanka…

Home stretch for the Feast of Serendib Kickstarter

Less than a week left on the Feast of Serendib Kickstarter — we’re heading into the home stretch. I just checked, the first time I’ve looked at the page in days, and someone actually signed up for the poetry package, which is delightful. (I hand-write a poem for you, on the topic of your choice.) The Island Relaxation package is almost all gone; just one left. And we’re almost halfway to the third stretch goal, where I commit to doing various teaching videos.

Heather is running numbers for me on the possibility of doing a print run (maybe yes for the paperback, probably no for the hardcover, I think, given pricing, but we’ll see, and will also be editing the little video that Kavi and I did together.)

Chugging along, chugging along.

Today, I re-cook the last few dishes to take better photos; this morning for falooda experiments — because if I’m going to re-cook, I might as well try expanding the recipe a bit too, right? I know, this way lies madness — just for the falooda, okay? Deal. And then I need to cook one more white fish curry, and one creamy mushroom appetizer, and then I think we’re done. Done? Well, we’ll see.

#serendibkitchen

Sri Lankan Bombay Toast / Bombatoast

(serves 4)

Buttery-sweet bombatoast is one of my favorite breakfast foods. The term comes from Bombay toast, like French toast, but the Sri Lankan version has sugar in the mix, so you don’t need syrup. There are savory versions too, with onion and green chili, but this is the one I grew up eating. It’s soft and tears apart as you eat it; my children love it too.

It’s the perfect meal for recuperating from an illness, or just for a lazy Sunday.

12 slices white bread (not too mushy, or it’ll completely fall apart)
2 cups milk
2 eggs
6 TBL sugar (this makes it pretty sweet; you could cut back a bit if you wanted)
butter for spreading

1. Butter both sides of each slice of bread. (You can do these as you go, pretty much.)

2. Beat the egg well and add sugar; beat well until sugar dissolves. Add mix this to milk and beat well.

3. Dip a slice of bread in the egg and milk batter (both sides) and put it in hot buttered griddle (I’d use nonstick). (If you leave in the batter too long, it’ll get soggy and hard to flip without tearing. Still yummy, though.)

4. After a bit (when you think it’s browned, but not burned, flip and cook the other side. Serve hot.

Off to layout!

I have finished my edits on Feast, and am sending the cookbook to my indexer and layout person.

No more changes, Mary Anne. I mean it. If you decide you need to add another hundred recipes, please wait another decade or two.

Still planning to bring out more little cookbooks — Instant Pot Sri Lankan, etc., no fear. But this was a big production, as my mother would say.

Kickstarter launches April 1st with discounted pre-orders. Mark your calendars!

Eep.

Leftover Veggie Poriyal

Doesn’t this look yummy? It’s a Sri Lankan veggie poriyal, but it is mostly using up leftovers! (I hate waste.)

1. Take pea pods and carrots leftover from the previous night’s party dip, where they’d been served with hummus. Chop up.

2. Take the kids’ leftover steamed broccoli, dull and unappealing. Chop up.

3. Chop one onion and sauté in a few T oil or ghee, with 1 t. mustard seeds, 1 t. cumin seeds, 1 t. salt, and 1/2 t. numeric.

4. When onions are golden, add raw veggies and saute a few minutes, then add steamed broccoli and saute a few minutes more. Serve hot!

Sri Lankan-ish Marbled Birthday Cake

Somehow I got it into my head that I had time to make both gummy bears and cake with Kavi and her friend Emma after school, before I had to get ready and go to a dinner. That was a lie. Gummy bears take hours to set, it turns out, so I didn’t even attempt them, which was good. Another day. I managed the cake, but in a slightly frantic manner, and I got some things wrong. Oops.

For one, I hadn’t taken the butter out to soften in advance, and when I tried softening it in the microwave (which you *can* do if you are very very careful), I melted it too much, so I basically had oil. Now, you can make a cake with oil, but that makes more dense, less fluffy.  That was fine for the bundt pan I ended up using, as it turned out!

I also hadn’t looked at the recipe in advance, which was one that was supposedly for Sri Lankan birthday ribbon cake — it’s no one’s birthday, but I’d promised to make a cake with Kavi and this seemed like a good one to learn to do, because my mother’s homemade birthday cakes from childhood were delicious. I was tempted to try to make Swedish princess cake (GBBO is a bad influence), but I sternly told myself not to be ridiculous. (Another day. Shh…)

Looking at the Sri Lankan recipe, it mostly seemed like a pretty standard yellow cake recipe, except that some versions called for ‘thick milk’ and frantic googling turned up various options, such as ‘curdled,’ which seemed very wrong, or ‘clotted,’ which was possible but unlikely. It also might have been evaporated milk or condensed milk, both of which are used in Sri Lankan dessert-making a lot, but there’s a big difference between them! And if I hadn’t been in a hurry, I could have just checked with my aunties, but I didn’t have time. So oh well, I used the recipe that skipped that element — in fact, it skipped milk entirely — but now I’m wondering whether it would have been better with. (Not condensed milk, I think, because it’d be much too sweet unless you also reduced the sugar.)

The finished cake ended up tasting pretty much like a classic yellow cake, I think. (1 c. butter (except actually oil), 1 c. sugar, 4 eggs, 2 c. flour). Traditionally, you’d divide the batter, color it pink and green (why pink and green? I don’t know!), pour it into two separate 8 or 9 inch cake tins, bake, and then assemble with white buttercream frosting between and on top, decorating as desired. Happy birthday! (If you google ‘Sri Lankan ribbon cake,’ lots of examples will pop up.)

But I didn’t particularly want to make frosting — honestly, this cake doesn’t need it. The kids have been totally happy just devouring slices as is. And I had a new bundt pan that I was dying to try. So I figured what the heck, let’s do it marbled instead, and just dust it with powdered sugar.

(The powdered sugar is a lie in that first photo, because I had to run out the door, so I dusted it and took the photo when the cake was just out of the oven, so of course, it took 2 seconds before the sugar was all absorbed and disappeared. Cool cake first! But it does look pretty, doesn’t it?)

Came out great, and the kids had fun with the slicing reveal!  Anand was disappointed that there was no chocolate, so the next time we do a marbled cake, I’ve promised that we’ll do one that’s half chocolate. (What I really want to do is half chocolate, half mango-passionfruit, but I’m not sure he’ll go for that. We’ll see.)

This is a yummy cake, but I admit, I kind of want to do it again, in traditional layered style instead, and actually use thick milk — if someone Sri Lankan can tell me what that is, please?

I’m thinking a ribbon cake in pink, green, and yellow will be perfect for Easter, and for that one, we can slather on the buttercream frosting and decorate the heck out of it too. Putting it in the calendar so I don’t forget!

*****

1 c. butter (room temperature)
1 c. sugar
4 eggs
2 t. vanilla
2 c. flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Beat butter and sugar until soft and creamy; add eggs one by one. Add vanilla and mix well.

2. Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Add flour gradually and mix well.

3. Divide the mixture into two portions and color lightly in pink and green.

4. Grease and flour a bundt pan (Baker’s Joy spray makes this easy). Spoon the colors in (or as we said yesterday, ‘glop’ them in), alternating. (If you like, you can take a toothpick, fork, or skewer and swirl for more of a ribboned effect.)

5. Bake for 35-40 minutes until toothpick comes out dry. Let cool 5-10 minutes, turn out onto a wire rack, let cool completely, dust with powdered sugar, and serve. Lovely with tea.