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)

I feel personally betrayed by this lovely gravy boat

I must note that I feel personally betrayed by this gravy boat. I just bought it, and I think it’s SO lovely, but it doesn’t work for gravy. The spout is narrow enough that the gravy doesn’t pour out fast enough, and so it spills out over the neck instead, leading to many jokes about the bird that’s just had its throat slit — I think it was Kevin who suggested using it for red sauce instead, to intensify the effect, and Anand thought that was hilarious. Hmph.

Part of me wants to return it to Anthropologie with indignant complaints, but I *think* it will actually work just fine for something more liquid, like an au jus, so I’m going to test that, and if so, we’ll keep it. Because it’s so, so pretty. I have a real weakness for animal-themed dinnerware. But if you had seen just how dismayed I was yesterday, as I tried over and over to pour it without gravy gushing down its neck, you would have laughed. 

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.

Cashew-Mushroom Cornbread Stuffing, Sri Lankan-Inflected

People often get intimidated by recipes with lots of ingredients and steps, which is understandable, but many of them aren’t actually complicated or hard — it’s just a sequence of very simple things, like what you’d do to make this cashew-mushroom cornbread stuffing.

One of my favorite TV cooking episodes is the one where Alton Brown teaches Waldorf salad, because he starts with a basic Waldorf (apples, mayo, and lettuce), and then starts adding other ingredients (toasted walnuts, celery, mint, red onion), making it better and better with each step. That’s basically the same approach I use with this stuffing, and with a lot of my recipes — layering in simple ingredients, one after another, building to a complex, nuanced final dish.

When composing this particular recipe, I was thinking of Karina, my vegetarian ex-girlfriend from Australia. She really did not love American Thanksgiving, with the whole turkey thing. As I’m writing this, tender-hearted Anand is having a conversation in the kitchen with Kavi and Kevin about reducing his meat consumption — he’s not ready to go vegetarian yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did in the future.

It was tough eating out with Karina in Philly in the 1990s when we were dating — so many places just offered rather boring vegetarian dishes. Basic pasta. Basic salad. So for this stuffing, I wanted to be sure to compose something with exciting flavors, but also exciting colors. Not just green, not just brown. A delight on the plate!

I start with onions (a mix of red and white) sautĂ©ed with Sri Lankan spicing, plenty of colorful bell pepper, ginger & garlic (I used a spoon of jarred today, because I’m a bit tired, but chopping fresh would be even better), green chili for heat, color, and flavor, nutty-sweet cashews, mushrooms and our Sri Lankan toasted curry powder, tomatoes and lime juice for balancing tang — and now you have a beautiful, hearty curry. You could just serve it as is, perhaps with rice or naan, or with a dollop of yogurt or coconut milk stirred in. Taste seasonings, add salt / pepper as desired.

But we’re going for stuffing! So add liquid — water or vegetable broth or even chicken broth if you’re not actually cooking for vegetarians, and bring that to a boil. This is a good point to taste again, see if you like it. The cornbread’s going to add a lot of sweetness, and while this is a sweet stuffing overall, you might want a bit more salt / pepper / tang to balance. When you’re happy with it, add the cornbread, turn off the heat and mix it in — you’re done.

It’s really very simple, even though there are lots of ingredients and lots of steps! For our Thanksgiving, this is going to complement a salty ham beautifully — for a vegetarian Thanksgiving (or any dinner party), I might recommend slicing, salting, and grilling some nice thick slices of eggplant, and topping that with this stuffing.

You could even get super fancy, and make a beautiful stack: rounds of grilled salty eggplant and zucchini, alternating with this stuffing, drizzled with a yogurt-lime dressing. Maybe even served on a bed of kale mallung? Mmm….

*****

Cashew-Mushroom Cornbread Stuffing, Sri Lankan-Inflected
(30 minutes, serves 8-12)

1/4 c. vegetable oil or ghee
1 red onion and 2 yellow onions, chopped
1.5 bell peppers, chopped
1 T ginger and 3 cloves garlic, chopped, or 2 T ginger-garlic paste
3 green chilies, chopped
1 c. roasted cashews, chopped (salted is fine)
8 oz. mushrooms, quartered
1 t. salt
1 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 t. black pepper
1 tomato, chopped
1 T lime juice
2 c. water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth
3 c. cornbread stuffing

1. In a large sauté pan, sauté onions in oil on medium-high until golden-translucent, stirring as needed.

2. Add bell pepper, ginger, garlic and stir to combine. Add green chilies and stir. Add cashews and stir. Add mushrooms and stir. If sticking, feel free to add a little more oil, or a T or two of butter.

3. Add salt, curry powder, pepper and stir until well blended. Cook 5-10 minutes or so, stirring as needed, until mushrooms are reduced and browned nicely; adjust seasonings to taste. (You can stop and serve at this point, as a curry.)

4. Add tomato, lime juice, and water or broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Taste seasonings and adjust as desired; it should be on the slightly salty / tangy / peppery side at this point.

4. Crumble in corn bread and gently combine. Turn off heat, and when it’s well-blended, either serve immediately, or transfer into a baking dish for storage in the fridge.

NOTE: May be baked to bring back up to serving temperature — 30 minutes @ 350, covered, then remove cover and bake 15 minutes more.

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.)

Cornbread-Sausage-Pepper Stuffing, Sri Lankan-Inflected

Someone asked me last week if I did Sri Lankan-flavored Thanksgiving, and we don’t usually. Sri Lankan Thanksgiving in my mind is the time when I brought Kevin home to Connecticut for the first time. All the relatives came over to my parents’ house for a big American Thanksgiving, eating turkey and stuffing and all the trimmings around 3 p.m. Classic American flavors, and I warned Kevin to eat lightly, but I think he didn’t believe me when I told him this wasn’t the main event.

As foretold, around 8-9 p.m., we sat down to the REAL dinner — rice and curries, a groaning table filled with them, with short eats (delicious fried appetizers) before, and dessert after. American Thanksgiving was a fun cooking challenge for my mother and aunts back in 1995, but it wasn’t like it was proper food for a party…

I had warned Kevin that he’d better eat heartily of the rice and curries if he ever hoped to be accepted in my family, esp. since various of the aunts had made various dishes — you wouldn’t want to slight anyone! So he manfully tried. And I usually avoid words like ‘manfully,’ but in this case, it feels appropriate. He called upon all his man-stomach’s powers to avoid disappointing his girlfriend’s family.

They fretted that our food would be too spicy for my blond, blue-eyed boy, but Kevin was fine with heat; he’d grown up in California eating Mexican-influenced food. I’d seen him chomp down on a raw habañero (on a dare), so I knew he’d have no trouble with the heat levels of our curries. But the sheer volume almost unmanned him! Somehow, Kev made it through second dinner, though his stomach was aching, and won the right to be grudgingly accepted into the family. My hero.

And now here we are, more than 25+ years later, and I don’t make rice and curry in my own house for Thanksgiving. I enjoy the cooking challenge of turkey and stuffing and all the trimmings, and teaching the kids how to make these dishes. It was sheer delight yesterday evening, sitting on the couch watching an episode of Queer Eye with Kavi snuggled up with me, letting Kevin teach Anand how to make Jiffy cornbread.

But this year, I did try to add a little subtle Sri Lankan flavor to the cornbread-sausage stuffing. I didn’t want it to be overpowering; I wanted the meal to still say “Thanksgiving” instead of “Sri Lanka.” But a hint of cumin and black mustard seed worked rather nicely here, accented with lime for balance. Pleasant!

While I used black pepper this time around (due to the Anand’s continued lack of heat tolerance, sigh), what I think would really excellent would be green chili, which is so lovely with corn generally. That would cut through the richness of the sausage slightly better. But this is lovely, and I’ve already snagged a bite straight out of the fridge for breakfast, and want to go back for more. That’s the sign of a good stuffing in my book!

***

Cornbread-Sausage-Pepper Stuffing, Sri Lankan-Inflected

1/4 c. vegetable oil or ghee
3 onions, chopped
1 T ginger, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. cumin seed
1 t. black mustard seed
2 orange bell peppers, chopped
2 lbs. ground sausage
1 t. salt
1/2 – 1 t. pepper (or 3 chopped green chilies)
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 c. chicken broth
1 T lime juice
3 c. cornbread

1. In a large sauté pan, sauté onions with ginger, garlic, cumin seed, and mustard seed over medium heat in oil or ghee. Stir as needed, until onions are golden-translucent.

2. Add bell pepper and sauté a few minutes more, until softened, then add ground sausage, salt, and pepper (or chilies), and sauté until sausage has browned.

3. Stir in tomatoes and lime juice; sauté a few minutes more. Then add chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

4. Crumble in corn bread and gently combine. Turn off heat, and when it’s well-blended, either serve immediately, or transfer into a baking dish for storage in the fridge.

NOTE: May be baked to bring back up to serving temperature — 30 minutes @ 350, covered, then remove cover and bake 15 minutes more.

*****

#serendibkitchen

Gold-dusted, chocolate-covered coffee beans

So, Anand is in 4th grade and Kavi is in 7th grade. Anand’s current teacher happens to be Kavi’s favorite teacher ever, and it’s that teacher’s birthday today. Kavi really wanted to make her a present. The teacher likes Star Wars, her college, and coffee — we couldn’t figure out what to do on short notice with the first two, but coffee seemed do-able. So last night, we took 30 minutes (most of that was waiting-for-the-chocolate-to-set time) and made some chocolate-covered coffee beans.

Instructions: Melt chocolate for 2 minutes on 1/2 power in the microwave; stir until melted, putting back into microwave for 30-second intervals at 1/2 power if needed. (I think it took us about 3 minutes total, but microwave powers differ). Spoon a little into each mold, add coffee beans, spoon the rest of the chocolate to fill the molds. (Two cups of chocolate chips filled a tray of 15 chocolates for us.) Move to fridge until set (maybe 10-15 minutes). Unmold and brush with gold dust.

It’s probably not the best way of infusing coffee into a chocolate, as the end result is a bit crunchy! But I didn’t have a lot of energy for experimenting with actual recipes for things like coffee cream last night, so this had to do.

 

I happened to have these sweet containers on hand for the upcoming Colorful Holiday fair (I’m thinking I want to try making passionfruit chocolates — either passionfruit cream or with dried passionfruit or possibly both!), so we were able to package it up nicely.

The edible gold luster dust makes it look quite fancy! And Kavi did it all, start to finish, herself (including writing her teacher the SWEETEST note). She particularly enjoyed popping the chocolates out of the mold, and painting on the sparkly edible dust. (If you look carefully, you may note that she put some sparkle dust on her lips too at some point when we were waiting for the chocolates to be ready to unmold…)

 

Seattle/Clarion question

Help! Seattle / Clarion / MLA questions at the end of this!

I was super-stressed trying to figure out how I could attend SALA because it happens after MLA and MLA is late this year, which means SALA would’ve been on the first day of classes, and even if I could find a colleague willing to sub for me, I’d really HATE to miss the first day of classes. I just didn’t think I could do it, which was a real shame, because SALA is great. (https://www.southasianliteraryassociation.org)

(Although I’m a little confused that I can’t seem to find the actual program for it — maybe it’s not up yet? Is Hamara Mushaira happening again? Which evening, if so? And maybe I could bring cookbooks to sell on consignment in the book room…)

But anyway, last night I FINALLY went to look at the actual calendar with Kevin to figure out travel plans, and it turns out that they cleverly put SALA *before* MLA this year. Undoubtedly to avoid this very issue. So now I will jump on actually booking my plane tickets and hotel before they get outrageously expensive.

All that said, my MLA panel (“Sri Lankan American Women’s Writing—Contemporary Investments and Future Directions”) is Thursday evening. If I come for SALA, then that’s three nights of hotel, assuming I leave on Friday. I have a *lot* of travel that I’m supposed to do in 2020, given book tour, including possibly two international trips, and really not enough money to do it all, even with department funding and Jed helping, so I’m trying to be efficient and save money wherever possible. So questions:

– MLA-attending friends, is there anything Friday evening, Saturday, or Sunday that you think is worth my staying an extra night for? Joint readings, fabulous speakers, grad school classmate events, etc.? (Mostly, my grad school classmates do AWP rather than MLA, but just checking.)

– Seattle peeps, any suggestions for a Feast-related event I should do while I’m out there? The cookbook won’t be officially out yet, but I can bring copies to sell on consignment at bookstores, or other venues, and I have some Sri Lankan academic / writer friends who are willing to be on a panel with me, so we could in theory put together a really cool discussion of Sri Lankan history / food / etc. And I can even bring Sri Lankan treats to share, or teach a cooking class…

– Clarion peeps, ditto? (Also, I’m getting too old and back-creaky to couch-surf, but if someone I know in Seattle has an actual guest bed on offer, that might be very helpful, depending on location…)

Filipino Kamayan pop-up dinner

Was v. cool going to the Filipino Kamayan pop-up dinner event on Thursday. I think my favorite was the fried flounder (excellent!), though I also really enjoyed the pancit noodles, the garlic shrimp, and the halo-halo bar, which I hadn’t tried before. Ube flan! Coolness.

Funniest POC moment was at the end of the meal, when the Asian woman sitting across from me gestured at the other table, where there were still big mounds of rice, and compared it to our section, which was a gorgeous devastation (see final photo). She and I agreed that there were likely white people sitting over there, who didn’t understand how much better our food is when you combine it properly with rice.

They just have to come eat it more often; they’ll learn. Or maybe they won’t — Kevin still prefers way less rice with his curries than I do, 25+ years into this relationship, even though he’s probably eating rice and curry every week. (It’s a phrase, you know. ‘rice and curry’. The two go together, like ‘peanut butter and jelly’ or ‘green eggs and ham’).

Maybe some things are just bred in the bone, or inculcated in childhood, at least. Hm. (Make note to self: food essay about rice + curry? Can also address low-carb thing and gluten-free thing…)

When I wasn’t greedily devouring deliciousness (pig & fire cater, if anyone local needs holiday party help), I was thinking about how I would do a similar kind of pop-up dinner event for Feast after it launches officially in March. (I am envious of the ease of clean-up with the rolled up banana leaves!)

It may be time for me to investigate the food certification course that the state of IL does, so I can get a more serious food license, and talk to Carnivore up the street about renting out their commercial kitchen on occasion (they said they were open to it, and there are a lot of hours they’re not using it). Time to take this food thing up a notch, maybe? Hmm…

#serendibkitchen