Cooking does not have to be a speed sport

Had a slightly frantic hour this evening because I’d promised to make and drop-off dinner for 16-20 for a non-profit thing, and I meant to start cooking at 3, but was in the groove on writing and lost track of time, so it was almost 4 by the time I started, and I was supposed to drop it off at 5:15, and all the chicken was frozen so I set it thawing in the microwave and made the veg. poriyal (yams and cauliflower, new combo, good), then checked, chicken still mostly frozen, set it to thawing some more, put the rice on (mixed red rice and basmati with butter, cashews, and sultanas), then sautéed some onions with cinnamon and cumin seed and mustard seed, etc. for the chicken and let those keep cooking on low, then made the kale sambol (kale, onion, coconut, lime juice, chopped tomatoes, salt, sugar; I was a little short on lime juice, but it was okay), and finally the chicken was thawed enough, so with twenty-five minutes to go, there was some speed chopping and frying and sautéing and covering with a lid to make sure it was definitely cooked through (because worse than being late would be serving people undercooked chicken!!!), and dumping in a can of coconut milk and somehow it all got done in time and packed up and I added some naan and samosas and a few bags of leftover Halloween chocolates from the freezer because I had completely failed to provide dessert, gah —

— and THEN I couldn’t find my damn keys for ten minutes, so I was late after all, and panicking a bit because I had originally planned to make lentils too, and just ran out of time and WHAT IF THERE WASN’T ENOUGH FOOD???

I dropped it all off full of apologies and told the staffers that they should just order more food if they needed to and I would pay for it. But they assured me that it would be plenty, and even were kind enough to drop a note just now to reassure me that there had been plenty; enough that their clients could even pack up some leftovers. So okay then.

NOTE TO SELF: USE A CLOCK, DAMMIT.

#cookingdoesnothavetobeaspeedsport

#serendibkitchen

Bittersweet chocolate, pistachio, sultana, and rose

One more floral bark for the road; now that the roses have started blooming, expect ALL the rose recipes — Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate, pistachio, sultanas, and rose. Luscious, with the slight bitterness of the chocolate balancing the sweetness of the sultanas, and that salty pistachio nuttiness….mmm…

When you’re trying to put the pieces of bark in a container for freezing (for a party to come), and you find that you keep surreptitiously eating them (they’re just *little* bits, not worth packing up, right?), you know it’s good.

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.