New Patreon tier

Hey, folks. Quick check — we’re setting up a Patreon subscription, so that people can get treats from me reliably. (Sadly, food treats can only be shipped in the U.S. right now — anything else is beyond my capacity!)

Here’s the current description — how does it look? Any thoughts?

$10 / month tier:
“Once each quarter, I’ll mail a present to you in the mail! A selection of homemade edible treats, a piece of domestic creative writing, and a tiny extra surprise.”

So it ends up being $30 / quarter, which includes shipping. Does that seem reasonable, pricing wise?

I’m being super unspecific about what the edible treats will be, because I don’t know yet, and as we’re figuring this out, it gives me the flexibility I need. Down the road, we might offer other tiers, and more specificity, but I think that’s more than I can mange at the moment. Thoughts?

I’m not sure how to manage allergies and food preferences — I think I can reasonably easily do nut-free / vegan / gluten-free on request, with the provision that I can’t guarantee a completely nut / gluten-free environment in the kitchen overall.

Bay Area book tour schedule

Bay Area peeps — trying to schedule book tour. TWO QUESTIONS:

1) I’ll be there March 4-8 for FogCon in Walnut Creek, and may have time for a book event. What bookstores / libraries would you recommend in: Marin / Sausalito / San Francisco / Oakland / Berkeley?

• I’m going to contact Omnivore, the cookbook store, later today

2) I’ll be there March 23 – 29, visiting family and friends for spring break, mostly in South Bay, but also up in Marin. What bookstores / libraries would you recommend in: South Bay and Peninsula?

• Jed mentioned Kepler’s?

Contacts particularly welcome, if you happen to know people on staff.

ALSO: If you’re willing to be part of my Bay Area book tour crew (I need a jazzier name for this!), helping to publicize and round up people to attend, would love to know that too! I’ll be sure to send you details so you don’t miss anything, and I may even be able to bring along some special treats for you. I’d love to speak to a packed room. 🙂

[goes off, brainstorming ‘book tour crew’ names. Something with a Sri Lankan mythical beast? Garudas, makaras. Won’t mean anything to most of y’all, though, so that’s a shame. Something with food? Oh, naming things is hard.]

Healthy habits

Content note: diet & exercise.

Today I finally started the morning with 30 min. walking on treadmill (at 2.0 speed) while doing recipe posting (instead of sitting on couch). I’ve been meaning to get back to that for weeks, and somehow every morning I just didn’t. But today I did.

And I’m now making a batch of sherried mushrooms with Swiss for an omelette this morning + egg bites for the rest of the work week. Going to grill some shrimp later today, to toss into caesar salads, etc.

I’ve been so harried for months that all my healthy habits fell by the wayside, but am determined to get them back, esp. as clothes are getting a bit tight. Bah.

Also, this is yummier than grabbing random carbs just because they’re easy and fast, and I feel physically better if I start the day with walking — more energy throughout the day, sleep better.

Just need to slow everything down a little bit overall. Breathe.

Sri Lankan Spinach Curry

Sri Lankan Spinach Curry

A friend asked me for a good spinach curry recipe, and I had to admit that I’ve never managed one I was happy with, so I tried working on it this weekend. I love saag / palak in restaurants, but my earlier attempts came out sort of watery and lacking in flavor; they just made me sad.

So I spent a while looking up recipes, and it seemed like most of the ones I found which might approximate restaurant saag used chopped spinach and went heavy on the cream. Which, okay, cream makes things delicious. But I was hoping to do a vegan version, and also one that was a little bit lighter and healthier, with some good fresh spinach brightness.

The key to that, I think, is the onions. And I know you’ve heard me go on about onions before, and their importance to Sri Lankan cuisine, but seriously, the amount of flavor you get out of a properly cooked onion is hard to beat.

For this, I chopped a mix of red onion and shallot — you could do either separately; I just happened to have both on hand. Yellow or white onions would also be fine, but the red onion and shallots gave a sweetness and delicacy that I thought worked particularly well with the fresh spinach. (And of course, they were awfully pretty contrasting with the curry leaves and green chili as I cooked!)

After that, it was a fairly standard base approach — sauté in oil or ghee with cumin seed and mustard seed (I call for traditional black mustard seed in my recipes, but brown is really fine; I’d avoid yellow, though, as it changes the flavor noticeably) until golden. Keeping heat on medium or even medium-low will reduce the risk of burning if you’ve stepped away to chop something; it’ll take a little longer, but the onions also caramelize beautifully this way, so if you can afford the time, I’d do that.

Add garlic after a bit (if you put it in with the onions initially, it’s susceptible to burning), curry leaves if you have them (there are no good substitutes, so just skip if not), and chopped green chili. (I didn’t have fresh ginger on hand, but if I did, I would have added some with the onions. Since I didn’t, I added a t. of ground ginger later in the dish, with the turmeric and salt.)

This basic approach is what I’d recommend for most of our vegetable curries, and indeed, for curries in general.

I’ve found over the past few years of talking to folks about their cooking habits that a lot of people skip the onions in a dish, or reduce the amount dramatically, not realizing that they’re the base of the flavor. That applies to Italian spaghetti sauce as much as to Sri Lankan curry.

I know chopping onions is a bit of a pain, but it can’t be beat for depth of flavor. There’s a reason why cooking school makes aspiring chefs start with chopping mounds and mounds and mounds of onions. 


So once you have the seasoned onions cooked down nicely (see previous post), the next step is to add some more spices — turmeric and salt are really all you need at this point. And then you could use chopped frozen spinach, but if you have fresh baby spinach, it’s lovely — I dumped two bags in here.

You basically can’t stir them at this point without lots of spinach falling out of your pan (I tried), but if you’re just patient and let it be, within a few minutes the spinach will have reduced enough to stir into the onions for a few more minutes.

You could stop the recipe at this point if you’re aiming for super-healthy low-calorie greens, and it would be tasty! But I definitely wanted a sauce, and anyway, coconut makes things better. So I added 1 cup (half a can) of coconut milk and stirred that in too.

You’re almost done at this point — the last step, always, is to check the seasonings. I’ve been surprised to learn, over the last few years of working on the cookbook, how many people are intimidated by phrases like ‘salt to taste.’

As a very rough estimate, most ‘feed 4-6 people’ dishes I use call for a teaspoon of salt for the pot, so if you’re really not sure, I’d go with something like that.

(Better to undersalt than over, so if you’re not sure, start with 1/2 a teaspoon — you can always add more, but you can’t take salt out of the curry!

If you DO oversalt, that’s tricky to fix — if it’s a dish where you can add potatoes, I’d do that (you can cut them up and cook them in the microwave separately, or boil them, so that you’re adding cooked potatoes to the dish, rather than raw potatoes which will make the whole dish cook for an extra 20-30 minutes, dulling the overall flavors.

Alternately, make a second batch of the dish, without salt. Combine them, so the salt flavors the whole thing more evenly. And if you have too much for your needs, then freeze some. That’s a lot of work, though, and requires you to have enough ingredients on hand to do this. Or you can freeze the over-salted batch to fix on another day, labelling appropriately. Yes, I’ve done this. Have I mentioned that I *hate* wasting food?)

I always take a little bit of sauce at the end, dab it on the back of my left hand, and lick it up to taste. Sometimes it’s perfect; sometimes it wants a little more salt. For this one, I added another 1/2 t. of salt, and then a T of fresh-squeezed lime juice. (Bottled is fine if you don’t have fresh on hand.)

Be a little careful adding lemon or lime if you’re using cream instead of coconut milk — when acid hits hot dairy, it tends to curdle. You’ll make cheese, which is another post altogether. So stir in the cream or coconut milk, let it cook and blend with the other ingredients for a few minutes, make sure your heat is at medium and not boiling over, and THEN add the lime juice.

The result will be glorious.  Enjoy with rice and curry, or as we did this weekend, spread on naan and toasted as delicious flatbread / pizza.

Will post actual recipe in next post, with measurements.

Part 3

Sri Lankan Spinach Curry
(30 minutes, serves 4; gluten-free, vegan)

(This is the actual recipe — see previous two posts for Cook’s Illustrated-style explication of recipe development + paean to onions.)

2 medium onions (preferably red), chopped fine
2 T oil or ghee
1 t. black mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 T ginger, chopped
1 dozen curry leaves
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 t. salt
1/2 t. turmeric
22 ounces baby spinach (2 bags)
1 c. coconut milk
1 T lime juice

1. Sauté onions in oil or ghee over medium heat. Add mustard seed, cumin seed, ginger, and curry leaves.

2. After a few minutes, add chopped garlic, salt, and turmeric, and continue cooking until golden-translucent, stirring as needed, about 15 minutes total.

3. Add spinach to pan (in two batches if necessary, depending on size of pan), let cook down for a few minutes. When reduced, stir into onions and cook for a few more minutes.

4. Add coconut milk and stir; add lime juice and stir. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Serve hot with rice or roti.


I could photograph this spinach curry ALL DAY.

(And hey, ten years in, my zinc island countertop really has weathered and patinated the way I’d hoped. Makes me so happy. (It’s not heat-proof, though, so use with care.))

(Sri Lankan spinach curry recipe in previous post.)

Our Valentine’s weekend brunch, courtesy Kavya

Our Valentine’s weekend brunch, courtesy Kavya.

(How much mess was generated in this process? So much. Did we make her clean it up? Not this time — we’re mostly working on her being confident in the kitchen right now; we’ll get to ‘clean as you go’ when she’s a little steadier on the actual cooking part. Our Valentine’s present to her was silently cleaning it all up later in the day…  )

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all.

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all. One of the best bits of the internet is sharing these holidays with you all.

Funniest bit of this morning — Anand was so focused on the show he was watching on his iPad that he walked right past this multiple times (getting his breakfast quesadilla, feeding the pets), before Mommy finally said, “Anand, Happy Valentine’s Day!” And then he looked up and saw this and ran over.

Both kids were most excited by the chocolate-covered strawberries (Kavi is packing some of those and the raspberries up to take to school right now to share with her friends), but the dried fruit will keep better.

If we weren’t hosting an event on Sunday (SLF Chicago chapter meeting, all SF/F readers, writers, and geeks welcome), I’d probably end up freezing some of it for a party (or a rainy day) down the road.

Little hearts courtesy PaperSource — I’ll save them for a craft project for me or the kids…

Question for those who like my stuff

So, a big question for those who like my stuff. Food stuff, writing stuff, etc. Be my market research.

Kev and I have been talking about what’s manageable for me in terms of cooking and shipping and the like, and we’re thinking one weekend / month is generally do-able for having one of these little flash sales of books and sweets and soaps and the like. Serendib Kitchen / Press / Home / etc.

And we were planning that, but then Kel Bachus suggested that I might want to think about also setting it up as a quarterly subscription, so that people who knew they wanted the little things I make could sign up for them in advance and be sure they would get them, rather than possibly missing out on flash sales.

Which reminded me of back when Gavin and Kelly did their chapbook, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, which I loved, and they offered one subscription level that was the chocolate subscription, which was so brilliant and indulgent — you’d get your magazine, but also get a lovely interesting bar of chocolate to enjoy with it. I loved it.

So with these things in mind — is there interest? I’m honestly not sure what this would look like, but something like:

Base level:
– a little printed chapbook of domestic writings — recipes & gardening and maybe home decor, probably with some fiction and/or poetry thrown in
– some kind of confectionery, probably a new recipe
– a tiny surprise present of some kind — maybe a set of postcards, maybe a little crocheted flower, who knows…

And then maybe some upgrade options:

a) some kind of bath product (soap, bath salts, lip balms, that kind of thing)
b) existing books
c) curry powder

(I’d plan on hiring someone local for packing and shipping and possibly order management too — in fact, whether I do the subscription or not, it’d be good for me to look into that. A nice energetic college student would be ideal, someone who doesn’t mind coming by my place and hauling boxes one weekend / month. If you know someone like that, let me know… That’d probably be something like $15 / hr.)

I don’t know pricing for the subscription yet — would depend a lot on shipping costs, etc. Maybe $30 + shipping for the base level, per shipment? (I’m thinking quarterly at first, can possibly move to monthly if it goes well.) If there’s interest, I can talk to Kevin and Stephanie to figure out if we actually have capacity to do this.

The nicest thing about it, from my point of view, is that I think I can use it as a way of collecting and generating material for the larger nonfiction book I’ve been wanting to work on…

Would you be interested in that kind of subscription, for you or as a gift?

What do you think? Should I do it?

Lunch date with Kevin at Mama Thai

(Can I encourage Americans to make a little extra effort to patronize Chinese restaurants esp. but also generally Asian restaurants right now? News reports that they’re getting hit with a notable downturn in customer business across the U.S. due to unfounded coronavirus fears.)

Lunch date with Kevin at Mama Thai, which is a convenient two block walk away (if that). The lunch special (small appetizer, small soup, entree) is actually too much food for us if we both order it; we ended up taking the potstickers home for Anand, who adores them.


And because I added their steamed shumai off the main menu (which I adore and cannot resist — sometimes I just get myself two orders of shumai for dinner), we ended up taking the green curry chicken and rice home too, and ate it for dinner.

I did doctor it a bit — it was a little watery for my taste (I’m guessing they have a big vat of it going for the lunch special, which is totally reasonable, but means it’s not their best cooking generally). So I cooked it down for another 5-10 minutes on the stovetop and stirred the rice in, which took it to just the concentrated spicy green goodness I was craving. I would’ve taken a photo, but I ate it too fast. 

It’s not the smilingest photo of Kevin, but I include it because he is carefully taking all the mushrooms out of his tom yum soup and putting them in my bowl. It is sad that he doesn’t appreciate mushrooms, but on the other hand, MOAR mushrooms for me…

Simple Sunday dinner: steak and broccoli

Sunday dinner this week we kept simple — we had some leftover pasta from the day before, so we just added steak and broccoli. About 20-25 minutes of cooking time, and the kids (mostly Kavi) did almost all of it, with instruction / supervision.

First we got the water boiling for the broccoli, which we were going to boil this time. (Sometimes we steam it, sometimes we roast it. Broccoli happens a lot around here, as it’s the only green vegetable both kids will reliably eat.) The pot was heavy enough that Kavi had a little trouble moving it over — got to get that girl doing more household and yard work, build up some arm muscles! She plays soccer, but that is not helping her arms any. 

Kavi really loves steak, so she was pretty excited to learn how easy it was to make for herself. Rinse, pat dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper (the kids love using the grinders), add a bit of oil. Get the grill pan really hot (toss some water on to make sure it’s sizzling, which is always fun). Put steak on pan and set timer for 3-4 minutes (depending on how thick your steak is; we were doing NY strip, so went with 4).

Check on the water for the broccoli — boiling yet? Almost. We’d already cut it up a few days before (leftover for serving with dip at a party), so that bit was taken care of. We put some dishes away, clearing the dishwasher for later use.

Okay, water at a full rolling boil, plenty of bubbles, in goes the broccoli, careful not to splash yourself with boiling water.

There goes the timer for the steaks — flip them! Don’t mess with them otherwise! Set another timer for 3 minutes. I showed Kavi how you can press a finger into the pad at the base of your thumb to remind yourself of the right level of squishiness for steak doneness — medium rare is what we all like. We pressed a finger in the steak to test — still too soft. Empty some more dishes from the dishwasher.

We were a little tight on time here, because broccoli and steak were finishing at about the same time — the broccoli got *slightly* overcooked as a result. Not enough to be mushy though, which was good, because the kids won’t eat it then! It’s hard to manage the timings perfectly when you’re also trying to teach two kids.

Timer goes off, steak on the cutting board, add a bit more salt and pepper, leave it to rest. (Important — if you cut it now, the juices will just flow out; messy, and less tasty steak resulting).

Drain the broccoli. This bit, I did for them, because the pot was borderline too heavy for Kavi to lift. I told her she could just take them out with a spatula instead; if I’d had one nearby, I would’ve had her do that, but I didn’t — poor planning on my part! Next time. I also warned them to be careful with the steam when pouring out the broccoli into the colander — you can burn your face or hands pretty easily. No good.

Broccoli back in the pot, and now Anand and Kevin have finished the dishwasher, heated up the leftover pasta, and are off setting the table and lighting the candles while we finish up. Kavi adds several pats of butter to the broccoli and gently stirs; we could’ve added some salt too, but with salted butter, didn’t feel we needed it. The sweetness of the broccoli was coming through nicely.

Then slicing the steak, making it pretty with a few of Daddy’s favorite kumato tomatoes, and off to eat. 

It was very satisfying teaching her how to do this at age 12. I basically didn’t learn to cook ’til college; I feel like they’re getting a big advantange in life here! Happy parenting.