Party-planning: brainstorming and list-making

Kavi helped me with the first stage of party planning last night — the brainstorming and list-making. We’ve checked off a few things already, but some items will probably fall off the list, and others will get added. The proportion of savory to sweet is a bit off right now, and I completely forgot to list the scones, clotted cream, and jam. What kind of postcolonial British-Sri Lankan party would this be without scones???

We also forgot to list the drinks! Mulled cider and spiced wine. Some kind of festive punch. And in theory, this is a tea party, so we’d better have tea…

Three days out from the party — today was confectionery (Which can, of course, be made weeks in advance, but there was this little Kickstarter to finish fulfilling…)

#serendibkitchen

It’s like a slow tornado hit

Heh. Our biweekly house cleaner arrived today, took one look around, and laughed, saying, “It’s like a slow tornado hit here!”

Keep in mind that I actually straightened up around midnight last night, as much as I could with book-packaging, soap-making, and sweet-making supplies / items in progress on every surface! Not to mention several bins of Christmas decor half-sorted…

#serendibhome
#serendibkitchen

Do I like this? The answer is complicated.

Stephanie asked me this morning, as we were wrapping up the Kickstarter fulfillment for Feast, and as I was making a final batch of milk toffee and cutting the last trays of marshmallows, whether I actually liked making sweets and soaps for days on end. The answer is complicated. I think it comes in two parts.

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Part I

I told her yes, but also that I didn’t love all the parts of the job — I love recipe development, and taking and posting pretty photos, and teaching people how to do things. I like melting sugar and swirling soaps. I don’t love cutting up endless trays of sweets; I’d gladly outsource that part of the gig if I could.

Kevin came down at 10 a.m., on his way out the door to give a final exam, and asked how I was doing; I told him my back was aching already, and he paused to rub it for a few minutes; if I could have, I’d have kept him there for an hour. My hands are perilously close to cracking with all the washing I’ve been doing; lotion just can’t keep up. My arm muscles have built up, but my right arm still aches after all the stirring; I could really use a little ambidexterity right now.

It’s also not easy balancing a seasonal business (Christmas gift orders!) with family who would still like to celebrate an actual Christmas — ‘mama makes Christmas’ even in our mostly-evenly-divided-domestic-labor household. Especially since Kevin and I also still have day jobs, and are in the midst of end-of-semester e-mails and grading.

The days have been unscheduled, but very long lately — I get up at 7 and pretty much work straight through until 11 or midnight or on occasion, 2 a.m. Ridiculous holiday movies and superhero shows have kept me company, so it’s fairly pleasant work, but I still fall into bed exhausted at the end of the night.

Still, we’re almost done with the Kickstarter orders — I literally have one more tray of milk toffee to cut up and pack, and one more batch of curry powder to grind, and then I can fill and package and mail the last physical order, woot! (Stephanie has been a hero, and worked well beyond the minimum the job originally anticipated; I could never have gotten these all out in time for Christmas without hiring help!)

As we finish up the Kickstarter orders, I could wish that there was a day or two of downtime before we go right into a) our annual Christmas party on Sunday and b) the holiday faire I’m selling at next Saturday. It’ll be about ten more days before I’m actually done with production cooking; once done, I’m looking forward to taking a nice long break. (We traditionally do an open house potluck for New Year’s, and I’m planning to order tamales and samosas for our portion, and call it a day.)

But none of that’s really the complicated part. The complicated bit has to do with types of work & motherhood, and how they do or don’t combine.

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Part II

Fairly often friends of mine wish out loud that their job was more of the creative, work-from-home, sweet-making, etc. kind of thing that I’ve been doing a lot of lately. And in many ways, this kind of work is pretty great — it does have a creative element, which is satisfying. I get to set my own schedule and hours to some extent, although like any small business, starting up always takes way more time than you think it should, and you always feel like you could be doing more to grow the business, or at least break even…

A huge plus is that I can do this around and with the kids. I can take breaks to put a child to bed or help with homework, and I can even include them in the soap-making or cookie baking. With kids who are still young-ish at home, that’s been important to me; I know being able to choose this kind of family-participatory work is a real luxury.

So many people have to work jobs that require many hours at an office and commuting, away from their kids. I get a little of that, with the teaching, but mostly I’m teaching and commuting while they’re also at school. Writing, though — writing needs to happen in other hours too, often hours when the kids are at home and awake.

Although I can do writing at home, it’s a mostly solitary activity. If I’m deep into a project, I often have to go away and shut myself in my shed for hours on end. (Some things, like this post, I can do in relatively short bursts — this took about an hour to draft. Other kinds of writing just don’t work that way for me, no matter how much I’ve tried — I need longer stretches of time alone.)

But even if it pairs well with motherhood, domestic work (even if it makes money) is not really what I want to be doing with most of my time. That’s the part that I’m finding really tricky right now — thinking through, in a more carefully intentional way, what kind of work I want to be doing. How I want to spend my working hours on this Earth.

There was the writing of the book — developing recipes, researching, writing them down, testing them, revising, etc. That part was good.

There’s the publishing of the book, and production of affiliated goodies, which has been really interesting, but way more time-consuming than I anticipated; I think I want to be careful not to let that take over so much. I might indie-publish something else again, but if I do, I’m going to be more careful and realistic about how much time is involved, especially if I’m making auxiliary items by hand.

Because in the end, if I’m not writing, I get cranky. And I’m starting to really feel immense pressure of words, wanting to pour out. Even little posts like this one — I’ve been wanting to talk about this issue for days, to write about it, but haven’t felt like I had a chance to put down the spatula and put words to paper, because it was so urgent to get the orders out in time for Christmas.

It’s all okay — I really can go a few days without writing, or even a few weeks. But my phone has been piling up with photos of food that I haven’t had time to write down recipes for — I even have one set of scone photos from months ago that I now have completely forgotten what I did in the recipe, which is frustrating.

I have a queue of pieces piled up in my head (fiction, essays, even poems…), and I’ve been jotting down notes, but I’m really looking forward to having time — making the time — to actually start writing them again. Some are food-related, some are memoir, or gardening, or science fiction. Choosing between writing projects is a whole separate essay, which I’ll probably also write in the next few days. It’s been simmering too.

I’m a writer before I’m a cook, or a soap-maker, or a home goods photographer, etc. It can be hard to remember that, because to be honest, some of the latter work better with also being a mom.

But in the long run, if I don’t write, I’ll be a very cranky mom. And that’s no good for anyone.

#blog
#serendibkitchen
#serendibhome

Last chance to order A Feast of Serendib before Christmas!

Last chance to order A Feast of Serendib before Christmas!

The last few days have been a whirlwind, between Kevin’s parents visiting, the last days of the semester’s classes (and the accompanying flurry of panicked student e-mails), starting to set up the holiday decor, and trying to get all the Kickstarter items (books and soaps and curry powder and sweets and cards) shipped out in time for holiday gifting.

I think we’re going to do it — pictured are the final items that we’re packing up this morning for tomorrow’s last big USPS pick-up, and there are just a few stragglers on my kitchen island that are waiting for addresses or other errata. Less than 5! In the last few days, I’ve had to make a few more batches of chocolate-covered passionfruit marshmallows, chai marshmallows, and milk toffee, but that’s fine, since I also need sweets for our big holiday party next Sunday.

I think today / tomorrow, I can also finish up the Small Business Saturday flash sale for soaps and books. I want to be sure that’s done before doing any more flash sales, just so I have a little peace of mind. 

But I do think we can squeeze in at least one or two more flash sales, and I can send out some more bath indulgences (and curry power / sweets if you’re in the U.S. — I can’t ship food internationally, sorry!)

Last shipping dates for Christmas arrival are 12/20 for contiguous U.S., 12/18 for Alaska / Hawaii.

International was 12/7 for guaranteed arrival in time, so I wouldn’t bet on it, but you might be okay for a few more days (esp. if you want to pay extra for fast shipping), so if you’ve just realized that a gorgeous Sri Lankan cookbook would be the perfect gift for your mama, aunty, uncle, boyfriend, etc., you can definitely order and take a chance.  We can always send you a digital copy to give them on Christmas morning, with the promise of a hardcover or paperback arriving shortly.

We have to update the Serendib Kitchen website with more accurate shipping info (it’s way underpriced at the moment, oops), so if you do want to place an order, or be notified for the next flash sale, just comment here, and I’ll ping you as soon as we’re ready?

Gingerbread houses

Very holiday around here. Some of my students were a little startled that I’m the one who hangs the holiday lights on the porch roof at our house (in the midst of a discussion of domestic labor division), but as we discussed, there’s really no reason why men would be any better at working on a roof than women would — and in fact, I’m both lighter than Kevin, and have better balance. Way better to have me up on the roof! Aryabhata was not exactly helping, though.

I’ve been going fairly intensely on work all day (Feast shipping + some urgency in getting lights and hanging them off the porch gutters before the average high temp. dropped 25 degrees tomorrow), but we paused long enough to assemble gingerbread houses (from a Target kit) before dinner.

Then I came upstairs to crash for a little bit, and have been watching Holiday Gingerbread Showdown, but Anand and his grandmother just came up to show me the house he’d decorated and the little video he made explaining it. I think this is actually the first time he’s successfully decorated a gingerbread house, and he did it all by himself; he’s pretty proud. Also amused. I have to admit, I love his house much more than any of the ones on the show. 

I've been going fairly intensely on work all day (Feast shipping + some urgency in getting lights and hanging them off the porch gutters before the average high temp. dropped 25 degrees tomorrow), but we paused long enough to assemble gingerbread houses (from a Target kit) before dinner. Then I came upstairs to crash for a little bit, and have been watching Holiday Gingerbread Showdown, but Anand and his grandmother just came up to show me the house he'd decorated and the little video he made explaining it. I think this is actually the first time he's successfully decorated a gingerbread house, and he did it all by himself; he's pretty proud. Also amused. I have to admit, I love his house much more than any of the ones on the show. :-)#blog#serendibkitchen

Posted by Mary Anne Mohanraj on Monday, December 9, 2019

Kavi made a gingerbread house too. As you can see, she is just a tiny bit more painstaking than Anand.  I am impressed by both her dripping icicles and her cross-hatch roof tiles! May need to draft her into more serious baking with me soon…

Kavi made a gingerbread house too. As you can see, she is just a tiny bit more painstaking than Anand. 🙂 I am impressed by both her dripping icicles and her cross-hatch roof tiles! May need to draft her into more serious baking with me soon…#blog#serendibkitchen

Posted by Mary Anne Mohanraj on Monday, December 9, 2019

 

So close to done with Feast fulfillment

We are SO close to being done with Kickstarter fulfillment for Feast. I *think* the very last of the physical packages will go out tomorrow, and I’m pretty sure everyone is getting theirs before Christmas, if we calculated the dates right. Whew!

Now, keep in mind that originally I thought I’d be shipping by the end of the summer…there were SO many unexpected delays in the process. If I ever do something like this again, remind me to budget at least six extra months into the production estimates!

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….