Cloved-clementine pomander

Cloved-clementine pomander. We will not be playing the kissing games of our college holiday parties tomorrow, (which inevitably resulted in many people coming down with colds anyway), where you use your teeth to take out a clove and then pass it to someone else, as a medieval breath freshener. We are not doing quite so much random kissing these days as we did in our early 20s. 🙂
Tip: It’s way easier to push the cloves in, even with a soft-skinned clementine, if you use a toothpick or skewer to poke the holes first! Also, recommend putting the ribbon on first, if you’re doing it as an ornament…
This does make a very nice addition for the kitchen ornament stand. The stand was my present to myself this year, a little commemoration of doing Feast — I’m planning to have all kitchen / cooking-themed ornaments on it, ideally ones that I would actually use in my kitchen.
My mother-in-law just got me the most adorable red blown-glass stand mixer ornament, and I have a few copper pots on it, along with a pomegranate and a lemon. (I should note that this is not an invitation to give me such things as gifts generally, as I will likely be v. picky about what ornaments I actually want for it…)

Roshani took me out for lunch yesterday

Roshani took me out for lunch at the local Vietnamese place yesterday — I somehow hadn’t registered that when Saigon Pho moved from the neighboring suburb to Oak Park, that they’d also gone from being a takeout place to including a small sit-down restaurant.

My clay pot spicy catfish with rice = delicious, and I think Roshani really liked her ‘bun’ — noodles with grilled pork, lots of veggies, and a classic sweet sauce to drizzle or dip. Kevin often gets their beef pho, and if I’m feeling very nice when I’m in the area, I pick some up for him to go — they pack it in a host of separate containers, so you can combine it perfectly at home.

Late night bark-making with Kavya

Late night peppermint bark-making with Kavya. It’s funny how she reminds me of my mother. Kavi is painstaking — see how she’s carefully pushing the bigger peppermint pieces down so they stick well? This is how my mother cooks, with fine attention to detail and much care.

I’m trying to teach Kavi more of my slapdash carefree ways — I’m a big fan of ‘good enough!’ — but she is resistant.

Kavi did enjoy the smashing of the peppermints, though.

Peppermint bark, next level! Okay, I don’t think this is really bark anymore, to be honest. Molded peppermint chocolates? But regardless, cutest snowflakes. 

Kavi likes these, but is disappointed that the mold only has two snowflake patterns — “Snowflakes are supposed to be all different!” Fair critique! Winter holiday mold-makers, take note.

Gluten-Free Sri Lankan Love Cake

Success! Gluten-free Sri Lankan love cake; I substituted 1/2 fine polenta & 1/2 almond flour for the semolina, and it came out great.  Beautifully golden, the way love cake should be.

Honestly, there really isn’t so much flour in this anyway, since it’s mostly cashews, eggs, dried fruit, & sugar, so I suspect many substitution options would work fine; next time, I may try Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten-free baking flour (which is mostly rice flour, I think).



Love Cake
(two hours, including baking time; serves dozens)

Some say this Portuguese-derived cake was baked to win the hearts of suitors, while others say it’s because of the labor of love involved in all the cutting, chopping and grinding of the fruits, nuts, and spices (much easier these days with access to a food processor). But regardless, it tastes like love: sweet, tangy, and fragrant. My mother says it doesn’t taste right without the crystallized pumpkin, which you can find at Indian grocery stores, though honestly, I like it just as well with the candied ginger. A perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.

8 ounces butter, softened, plus more for greasing
16 ounces raw unsalted cashews
10 ounces fine granulated sugar
10 egg yolks
Zest of two limes
Zest of one orange
Juice of two limes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup honey
3 drops rosewater extract (or two teaspoons rosewater)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces fine polenta
6 ounces almond flour
3 ounces candied ginger and/or crystallized pumpkin, minced as finely as possible
5 egg whites
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 250. Grease a 9×13 baking dish with butter and line it with two layers of parchment paper. Grease the paper with butter.

2. In food processor, grind cashews to coarse meal.
3. In a standing mixer (paddle attachment), beat 8 oz butter and granulated sugar until creamy. Add egg yolks and mix well. Add zest, juice, spices, honey, rosewater and vanilla; mix well.

4. Add semolina and mix well; add cashews and candied ginger / pumpkin and mix well.

5. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff; fold gently into cake mixture.

6. Spoon batter into prepared pan; bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, until firm to the touch. (Alternatively, spoon into buttered & floured (Baker’s Joy makes this easy) mini tea cake molds (Nordicware made the excellent one I used for this) and bake for about 40 minutes.)

7. Let cool completely in the pan, dust with confectioner’s sugar (optional), cut into squares and serve.

Gluten-free Christmas village love cake.

Decking the halls

Maybe there are enough sweets on the table, Mary Anne. The parents of the kids attending tomorrow may not thank you for this. Better switch to making savories at least…

It’s not Christmas until I make the trifle. 🙂 Mostly the same every year, but I added a bit of lemon curd this time around, which I think will be nice. And I was out of sherry, so it’s brandy. Mmm…

LAST flash sale of the year

Flash sale — running through Sunday 12/15 midnight! $5+ off books, and I’m offering paper goods, sweets, and bath indulgences too! While supplies last — I’ll update here as we sell out. We’ll be shipping early next week, so items should arrive within the continental U.S. in time for Christmas — this is my LAST flash sale of the year.

Post in the comments with your order, and I’ll confirm and PM with payment details (I can take credit cards through PayPal or Zelle).

BOOKS (please indicate if you want them signed and/or personalized)
• A Feast of Serendib (hardcover) – $35
• A Feast of Serendib (paperback, no photos) – $20
• A Feast of Serendib (ebook: PDF / ePub / Kindle) – $8
• A Taste of Serendib (the original!) – $10
• Perennial (a garden & cancer romance) – $10
• Bodies in Motion (mainstream lit, hardcover, $20) – 10 copies left, and then I’m out. Eep.
• Survivor (SF/F anthology; stories of trauma and survival, $15) – 3 copies on hand (it’s much cheaper on Amazon right now, so you probably only want to buy it this way if you want it signed…)
• The Stars Change (science fiction, $10) – 2 copies on hand

• Feast greeting cards, set of 6, $10 – 2 left
• Feast postcards (4×6, assorted set of 6 for $5, or set of 12 for $9)
• Feast large recipe postcards (6×9, can be mailed, assorted set of 6, $9)

MARSHMALLOWS (baker’s dozen, $20)
• Honeyed Rosewater & Saffron – 3 left
• Tamarind Chili – 2 left
• Chai Spice – 2 left

BODY BUTTER 4 oz., $12
• Chocolate-Chai – 7 left
• Scheherazade (jasmine, rose, vanilla) – 6 left
• Pomegranate-Vanilla – 6 left
• Vanilla-Lime – 6 left

BAR SOAP ($5 each, or 5 for $20)
• Scheherazade (jasmine, rose, vanilla) — 11 left
• Chocolate Chai (cacao, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, vanilla) – 8 left
• Turmeric & Marigold – 6 left
• Spiced Nights (cinnamon & pepper) – 5 left
• Charcoal & Lime – 4 left
• Amma’s Kitchen (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, pepper, lime) – 3 left
• Lime (set of 2 small) – 3 left
• Pomegranate Vanilla – 2 left
• Heart of the Sea – 1 left
• Sandalwood – 1 left
• Rose — 1 left

BATH SALTS 8 oz. ($7 each, or 2 for $12)
• pomegranate vanilla – 4 left
• Scheherazade (jasmine, rose, vanilla) – 2 left
• chocolate chai – 2 left
• vanilla-lime – 2 left

BATH SALTS MINI SAMPLE (one bath’s worth) ($2 each, or 3 for $5)
• rose
• sandalwood-rose
• lime-vanilla
• chocolate-chai

LIP BALM ($3, or 2 for $5
• pomegranate-vanilla
• mango lime

See this earlier post for lots more photos:

Per usual, I can only ship food in the U.S., sorry! Shipping & handling: (varies, but generally $8-15 in the U.S.; I can calculate for elsewhere)


Last flash sale before Christmas is tomorrow

Okay, in the interests of my sanity, while we’re going to do one more flash sale this weekend for holiday gifts, the last one that should arrive in time for Christmas (if you’re in the contiguous U.S., at least), it is ONLY for things I have on hand already, so no special orders, please. Sorry! Books, signed and personalized! Sweets! Soaps! Cards! Etc! All first-come, first-served; indicate if you want something, and I’ll confirm if it’s still available, updating the counts as I go along, as I have time.

I’m going to take a little time to actually inventory everything that’s left, so the details will go up in an hour or two, so watch this space. Well, watch for the next post. And you might comment here if you want me to tag you into the sale post, because FB is terrible about showing people anything. Deal? Deal.


Simple comforts: improvising and using what you have

As part of this publishing-a-cookbook thing, I’ve learned a lot more about how people approach food and cooking. It’s made me really sad, learning just how many people never learned how to improvise tasty meals out of what’s in the fridge, or from leftovers. It can be a huge timesaver and moneysaver, letting you use up ingredients efficiently (almost nothing in our fridge ever goes bad), while still keeping plenty of delicious variety in weekly meals. A well-stocked spice cabinet lets you bring in lots of international flavors too!

Pictured below are three dishes we made post-Thanksgiving with the leftover turkey: Thai yellow curry turkey, with plenty of veggies, served with a little rice. Turkey and bacon with broccoli and pasta in a Parmesan-y white sauce, which the kids devoured. Turkey mulligatawny soup with apples, mild enough to feed my in-laws, but with enough South Asian flavor to make me happy.

None of these are difficult, but I didn’t have a recipe for any of them; after many years of cooking, I just know how to take leftovers and make up dishes with them. And this isn’t because I’m some sort of fabulous cook — it’s the kind of basic home-cooking skills that I have to think were common across America a few decades ago, and which seem to have gotten lost a little along the way. I didn’t actually learn how to do this growing up, but picked it up in my 20s and 30s. I started with recipes, but over time, learned enough basic approaches to food to not need recipes most nights.

Take the Thanksgiving turkey, for example. Okay, so you make a turkey, you feed a lot of people for dinner, it’s the end of the night. What next? Well, in my house, we pick the meat off the bones, as much as you can. If you’re fastidious, you can use a knife and fork for this, but it’s easier to do thoroughly with your clean hands. Put all the meat in a storage container in the fridge, wrap up the remaining carcass in foil and throw it in the freezer. Go to sleep, replete.

The next day, turkey sandwiches are classic and so satisfying. There are lots of interesting recipes online, but I’m perfectly happy with some good white bread, mayo, turkey, and cranberry sauce. I’m too tired to cook the day after Thanksgiving, but honestly, I’m mostly just eating stuffing out of the Pyrex, standing in the kitchen with a fork.

By day three, if you’re like me, you’re craving something spicy and also easy, because you don’t really want to do a lot of cooking yet. Thai curry to the rescue — Thai curry paste makes the seasoning part easy (I like Maesri brand), and it’s a one-pot dish. Thai curries kept us going through the infant / toddler years — Kev and I probably made one at least once a week, and managed it through a sleep-deprived haze. Kev actually made this one — he texted me when I was coming home on the train and asked what I wanted for dinner — I requested Thai yellow curry, and thirty minutes later, walked in the door to this.

Add a can of paste and a can of coconut milk to the pot, bring to a boil, add in some turkey, chicken broth, and whatever random veggies you have on hand that you want to use up, bring to a boil, simmer 20 minutes. (Carrots and potatoes and such, put it in with the turkey, since they’ll need longer cooking; bell peppers and green veggies, add near the end, so they don’t get mushy.) Nice additions include a can of bamboo shoots, drained, a little fish sauce, some brown sugar, Thai basil if you can get it, Italian basil if not. Crushed chili peppers if you want it spicier.

Put on some rice (which will also take 20 minutes to cook), or if you really want it one pot, you can add rice noodles directly to the curry in the last few minutes of cooking. The whole thing takes 30 minutes tops. Once you’ve made a Thai curry from a recipe a few times, you can probably do this without a recipe, and without thinking very much; a pot of this will provide several meals, so that should hold you a day or two. We keep several cans of Thai curry paste in our pantry (yellow, red, green, panang, massaman) at all times, and a good supply of Chaokoh coconut milk.

But the kids don’t like Thai curry, you say? No problem — that’s when you boil some pasta — rotini, penne, whatever you like. I always set a timer for the boiling, so I don’t lose track while doing other cooking and end up with mushy noodles, yuck.

In a separate pan, sauté some bacon (because turkey on its own can be a little dry) and add the turkey. Then you make a sort of roux — put a tablespoon or two of flour in the pan, sauté it in the bacon fat (add oil or butter if needed), stirring until it browns a bit, a minute or two, then add enough milk (maybe a cup?) and stir to make a creamy sauce.

I think I was in my 30s before I learned how to do this — ‘roux’ sounded so fancy and sort of intimidating. But it is EASY and the resulting sauce is fabulous for rejuvenating tired pasta, meats, veggies, etc. I am pretty sure this is technically a béchamel, one of the French mother sauces, which also sounds fancy and intimidating, but don’t let that fanciness get in your way! Fat + flour + milk. That’s all it is. (If you add gruyere cheese or white cheddar, it becomes a Mornay sauce. Extra-fancy.)

Grate in some Parmesan for extra yumminess (you can use the shaker-style Parmesan if you’re tired, but it doesn’t blend quite as well; it stays a little gritty because of additives they use to keep the cheese in the shaker from clumping). If the sauce gets too thick, add more milk and stir it ’til well blended (and maybe turn down the heat).

Taste — add salt / pepper as desired, then stir in the pasta. I had some leftover cooked broccoli, so I added that too — frozen peas are also a standard addition to this kind of thing around here. We make some version of this pretty often with the leftovers from the cooked rotisserie chicken we pick up at the grocery store, maybe every two weeks? It’s a staple in our house.

There are a lot of ways these dishes can go wrong, of course, and that’s the bit where I think people often get frustrated and give up. They put green veggies in too early, and so they come out mushy and flavorless. They cook the dish on too high a heat, or get distracted by the baby or the internet, so the sauce scorches. (Timers are your friend. Also stirring.) They forget the salt (it’s not as good if you just shake it on after cooking is done), or worse, put in too much salt accidentally (hard to recover from).

And when you’re cooking tired, or in a hurry, you’re more likely to make that kind of mistake, and more likely to get really frustrated when you do, so there’s a class-based element to this that I want to highlight. It’s so much easier to become a good cook if you have the time and energy to spare for the learning.

Which is a sort of horrible catch-22, because not knowing how to do this kind of cooking leads so many 20-somethings and 30-somethings to rely on a lot of takeout, which ends up costing them much more money in the long run. I feel like we really did an entire generation a massive disservice when so much of schooling switched over to college prep and cut home ec (and shop!) to make room in the curriculum. I don’t know what it would take to bring all of that back to the public schools, along with basic civics and budgeting, but I’d like to see an effort.

I mean, I teach college, and I do think the students learn something worthwhile in my English classes. But as a parent myself, I want to launch my kids with better-than-basic domestic skills, as well as the ability to write a coherent, well-argued paper utilizing strong critical thinking skills. Do we really not have time to teach both?

The last dish here is the soup, made with turkey stock. That’s for a weekend day, maybe the week after Thanksgiving, maybe months later. That turkey carcass will be good for quite a while! You pull it out of the freezer, throw it in a big pot with plenty of water and some coarsely chopped onions.

Depending on what ethnic direction you’re leaning in for the meals that follow, pick your additions — carrots are often good, or celery. They’ll all basically dissolve, along with the onions, making the stock flavorful, and if you want, you can just fish them out at the end, though I don’t generally bother. I wanted South Asian spicing for my soups, so I went mulligatawny-style: garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, plenty of black pepper, salt. Bring it to a boil, let it simmer, 3-4 hrs. Now you’ve got a great turkey stock. Portion whatever you’re not using right away out and freeze it for a tired day.

I made the soup just a week or so after Thanksgiving, so we still had some turkey meat left in the fridge. (Some people aren’t comfortable eating meat that’s been in the fridge for a week; our stomachs are fine with it, but use your judgement and experience here!) So this was just the easiest thing to do for my visiting in-laws; heat up some stock, simmer the turkey in it for 15-20 minutes or so, add some quartered apples and cook just until they’re softened, but still have some bite to them. Serve hot; we added some buttered French bread, which felt oddly appropriate for a colonial soup. And very tasty.

There was plenty of stock left for several more soups later in the year, when the nights get long and cold and dark, and all you want is to huddle around a tasty warm bowl of soup.

Simple comforts — at least, they ought to be simple. I wish they were for everyone.