Lunch with Amanda Daly

On my way back from lunch at Léa with Amanda Daly (which was lovely, of course, so excited to hear about how her Daly Bagel shop is coming along — can’t wait for launch!), I dropped off a comp. copy of Feast at Carnivore Oak Park — mostly because I love having a local butcher in walking distance from me, and they’re sweethearts. (I also picked up some pork shoulder for making Sri Lankan black pork curry, probably for tomorrow night’s dinner.)

But also, we’ll be doing a launch event with them in the spring, so I wanted to get them a copy early so they could hopefully start trying recipes, and maybe they’ll even carry the book in the store? And, maybe, curry powder too? Milk toffee? Hmm…would need a serious food license for that, though, and access to a commercial kitchen. Something to think about.


I’m a little confused about ebook editions and updating.

I’m a little confused about ebook editions and updating. So, one thing that seems like I should be doing is when I bring out a new ebook (like Feast of Serendib), I should include links at the back to my other ebooks (like Vegan Serendib, the Marshmallows of Serendib, Perennial, etc.). That’s straightforward enough.

BUT. It seems like I should also upload new versions of those earlier books with links to the new ebook, yes? And my question is, does that ‘count’ as a new edition, in the eyes of librarians, booksellers, and academics? Do I need to change the ISBN? That seems sort of goofy, since I’m essentially just changing advertising copy, not the actual text of the original book.

Is there settled practice on this? Or are we just in a Wild West of chaotic ISBN-assigning? (Yes, I know a lot of ebook writers don’t even bother with ISBNs, but that makes the librarian and academic in me cringe — I couldn’t do that myself.)


Reactions to Sri Lankan food

One of the things that was fascinating to me about Sunday’s event was seeing people’s reactions to cooking and eating Sri Lankan food for the first time!

For one, several of them said that it seemed much lighter to them than Indian food, which surprised me — I think that’s perhaps because they’ve only had Americanized restaurant Indian food, which tends to be loaded with extra butter / oil. (Which I think is common in lots of restaurants?)

But yes, Sri Lankan food is generally fairly light, I think. Unless you really load up on the rice, or the fried treats at parties.

Instant pot egg bites

As we enter the season of fall baking (planning on baking pumpkin-chocolate mini-muffins later today, for Anand’s birthday party), I keep thinking about how we show love with food. The kids are so delighted when they come home and find surprise apple-cheddar crescent rolls; it’s very clearly a sign of love. And that’s fine, but at the same time, my family doesn’t do great, health-wise, if we have a ton of starches around (sweet or otherwise) — it’s so easy to reach for the easy carbs.

For the family, we try to always have fruit on hand; I just picked up a double-decker fruit basket, so we can fit even more out on the island. When the kids were younger, I did a lot of cutting up fruit for them, and I still do sometimes, to encourage them to eat it, but at this point, they’ve learned to like it enough that they just grab it and either bite into it, or cut it up themselves.

I haven’t quite gotten them to liking hummus yet (must work on that again), but sometimes when they come home from school, it’s a plate of veggies with ranch that’s waiting for them, and they’ll happily snack on that if it’s out. The specific veggies the kids like does vary over time, which is a little frustrating! But thankfully, they are consistently fans of bell pepper, so there’s at least one raw veg. I can count on them eating. They also like cooked broccoli. Bell pepper and broccoli are on a very steady rotation around here. Yes, it’s boring, but needs must.

For myself, I’m trying really hard to prep more healthy options on the weekend, to make busy weeks easier. This weekend, I grilled Sri Lankan-style shrimp (recipe soon), to toss in a Caesar salad, or with quinoa and tangerine dressing, or just nibble straight up when I want a bite. Better I reach for one of those, instead of a scone. I made two batches of soup on Sunday (chicken and tortellini for the kids, Vietnamese chicken soup for me and Kev — same base, divide into two pots, season and add veggies, etc. appropriately), and Kevin grilled some chicken breast for Kavi’s Caesar salads. Of course, I’m traveling at least one weekend out of four, and I’m not always as organized or energetic as I was this weekend. But still, something to aim towards.

Pictured, a batch of mushroom-swiss egg bites, in the new silicone egg cooker — I did these in the Instant Pot, and I have to say, it was easier than doing them in the sous vide, and I’ll probably take this option going forward. I think you could also just do them on the stovetop, with a steamer tray, if you took a little care with temps.

The kids and Kevin don’t like mushrooms, so this batch is just for me, but I think I’ll try cheddar bites next time, and then if they’ll eat that (they do like scrambled eggs, but this form is going to look weird to them), maybe cheddar-broccoli? For me (and maybe Kev), Sri Lankan green-chili & onion bites will be appealing, but it may take a while to get the kids on board with that. I’m not sure they’ll ever greet them with the excitement of a batch of muffins or scones, but I think I can be okay with that.

And it’s not like the easy carbs are going away entirely — I’m still going to bake! But I guess this is a reminder to myself, more than anything else — there are lots of ways to show love with food.

Here, have something delicious and also healthy, because I want to make it easy for you to take better care of yourself. Let’s make sure we have plenty of fruit and veg and lean protein in the shopping cart this week. I love you.

Pumpkin-Toffee Scones with Jaggery Drizzle

Pumpkin-Toffee Scones with Jaggery Drizzle

These little bites of heaven were designed to appeal to my daughter, who can be quite resistant to trying new foods. When I brought one upstairs for her to try, she initially refused. I broke off a small piece and asked her to please try it, that I’d designed it especially for her, with flavors I thought she’d love. Kavya hesitated, but unwilling to disappoint her mother entirely, eventually took it. A few minutes later, she asked for the rest, please.

Kavi then admitted that she hadn’t wanted to admit that I was right, but it was too good, so she had to give in. She’s twelve-and-a-half now; the tween years are…interesting. Two strong-willed women in one house. 🙂

This is another scone where I was aiming for autumnal + South Asian. My pumpkin spices are a little punchier than you might find in most American recipes, with cardamom and ginger added to the classic cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The jaggery drizzle adds a molasses-like complexity; Kavi and I like our drizzle with some lime, because we are all about the tang. The brightness of the lime highlights the pumpkin in beautiful ways; I love this scone with a cup of chai.

But straight up sweetness (Anand’s preference) works here too, pairing with the toffee bits; if you were going to have this with black coffee, for example, you might be just fine with a pure jaggery drizzle. Feel free to also skip the drizzle entirely; the pumpkin-toffee scone will still be delicious, especially warm, slathered with butter.

2 3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup cold butter
1/2 c. toffee bits

1/2 c. pumpkin puree (blot with paper towel if watery)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of cloves
1/2 cup milk

Jaggery Drizzle:
1/4 c. jaggery, dissolved in 1/4 c. boiling water
1 T lime juice (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Spray mini scone pan with Baker’s Joy (or butter and flour pan, which will be kind of a pain). Alternately, cut and shape these by hand, and bake on a regular baking sheet, placing them quite close together. If you pop them in the freezer for 30 minute before baking, they’ll hold shape better.

2. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Chop butter in small pieces and cut into flour with a pastry cutter (or with your fingers) until mixture resembles coarse meal. (It’s fine to have small lumps.) Stir in toffee bits.

3. In a medium bowl, beat eggs lightly and combine with remaining 9 scone ingredients. Pour into dry mixture and stir with a fork until a soft dough forms.

4. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead a few times. Cut into 16 equal pieces and press into the cavities of the pan.

5. Bake 20-25 or until medium brown. Let cool 20 minutes in pan, then remove from pan to wire rack and cool completely. Serve warm, with coffee or tea.

6. Optional: Jaggery drizzle. Dissolve jaggery in boiling water, add lime juice if desired, and pour over scones.

Chicken Curry variations

A friend was over the other day and when I offered them some chicken curry (options: mild, spicy, and with added liver) to take home with her, she said that I should explain how I did that. As a busy parent, she said it’d be helpful to others with picky eaters at home, and of course, that makes sense, but some of this I do so automatically these days that I don’t even think about it.

But here’s the process. It looks long, because I explain in some detail, but it’s actually super-simple and quick to do:

NOTE: When I say ‘chili powder’ here, I mean Indian chili powder, which is powdered dried red chili pepper; it’s usually notably hotter than the cayenne you find in American grocery stores. But you can use cayenne. I don’t mean a ‘chili’ spice mix!

NOTE 2: I use boneless thighs for this, because the kids and Kevin eat with forks and so it’s not easy eating chicken on the bone. But if you’re going to all be eating with your hands (like me), cooking it on the bone is tastier. If you have time when making the first curry and want boneless pieces, you can buy chicken on the bone, cut the meat off, and then cook the bones in the curry with the meat pieces. Alternately, if you’re in a big hurry, you can use whole chicken thighs and not cut it up at all — you can even dump frozen chicken pieces in; you just have to simmer a bit longer. I only do that when I’m truly exhausted, but sometimes needs must.

1) MILD CURRY (make as usual):

The kids don’t like chicken curry as spicy as Kevin and I like it. They’re finally at a point (ages 12 and almost-10) where they can handle black pepper, and Kavi likes a little chili, but Anand doesn’t want any. So the first step is to make a mild curry. You could do this with no pepper or chili at all, but for Kavi, I put in about a 1/2 t. of chili powder to the pot.

Then, when I serve the kids, I actually rinse off Anand’s chicken pieces. It makes me a little sad, losing that yummy sauce, but this way he eats it. And that’s actually what Amma recommended, for getting kids used to eating spicy food, what they did in Sri Lanka with toddlers — make it per usual, rinse off most of the sauce, give it to them, so they get a little bit of it. I wish I’d listened to my mom and done that with the kids when they were toddlers — maybe we’d be further along in this process now! Oh well.

I set half the curry aside in a Pyrex for dinner that night, and for their leftover meals the next days.

2) SPICY CURRY (add chili oil):

It’s time to get spicy! In a separate frying pan, I heat up a little oil or ghee, then add 1-2 t. chili powder and sauté for just a minute, until it darkens slightly. I stir that chili oil into the half-pot of chicken curry on the stove, and simmer for oh, about ten minutes, until well-blended. If you have enough liquid, it won’t hurt to simmer longer; if you’re getting low on liquid, add water. (You could add milk or coconut milk, but that would make it milder, which isn’t what you’re looking for…)

Now it’s at Kevin and my heat levels. Usually I’d just stop there, but sometimes, I want one more variation. If so, I portion out some of the spicy chicken into a separate Pyrex for Kev’s dinner and leftovers.

3) CHICKEN CURRY WITH LIVER (add sauteéd liver):

I usually make this when I’m feeling a little under the weather, and I want some extra iron and vitamins. Or when I’m feeling indulgent, because I *love* liver curry. In the same frying pan that I cooked the chili powder, I add some chicken liver and fry it for a few minutes (there’s usually enough oil left in the pan, but you could add more, if not). Brown it a little to bring out the flavor, and then just add it to the remaining chicken curry in the pot, and simmer another 10 minutes or so. If you cook it on high, or cook a long time, the liver will break down, making a very thick, rich, liver-y sauce. Usually I only want it to break down a bit, though, as I like eating the liver pieces, and I like the curry sauce closer to the original. Serve hot with rice or bread.

All this usually makes us dinners for three nights (we all eat leftovers, thankfully), so it’s not too bad to do on a weeknight. If you wanted to save more time on a busy workday when you’re getting home around dinnertime, you could do the chicken curry in a slow cooker or Instant Pot (10 minutes of sautéing onions to start, then cook long and slow) in the morning, and then just do the ‘add chili powder’ and/or ‘add liver’ steps later in the day. Having batches of cooked seasoned onions on hand (can be kept in freezer) also speeds up the process dramatically.

That’s it! 


Chicken Curry / Kozhi Kari
(1 hour, serves 6)

This is the classic Sri Lankan chicken dish; if you were just going to make one, this should be the one. A key to a good chicken curry is having a tasty kulambu (or kuzhambu, depending on how you do the transliteration), which is basically the curry sauce or gravy. Some people make it more liquid, some more thick (if you use potatoes in this dish, they will thicken the sauce). In this recipe you build a fairly spicy sauce, and then add whole milk partway through the cooking process, which melds the flavors and mellows the spice level, lending your curry a creamy richness.

You can use other kinds of milk if you’d prefer, and in fact, coconut milk is often used in Sri Lanka, but coconut milk is a little rich for everyday cooking—my family tends to save it for special occasion meals. I’ve used goat milk (works fine) and soy milk (a little thin, but acceptable). Almond milk is quite thin, and has a distinct nutty flavor—it’s not bad, but it does take the curry in a different direction; if you can find cashew milk, that might be a better option.

Note: If you’re using coconut milk, which is fairly sweet, you may want to switch out the ketchup for chopped fresh tomatoes + a little vinegar. My mother started using ketchup (which has sugar in it already) to compensate for the lack of sweetness in cow’s milk, when she first came to America as an immigrant in 1973, and coconuts and coconut milk were not so easy to come by.

3-5 medium onions, diced
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 whole cloves
3 whole cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3 pieces
1-2 TBL cayenne
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
12 pieces chicken, about 2 1/2 lbs, skinned and trimmed of fat
Note: Use legs and thighs—debone if you must, but they’ll be tastier cooked on the bone. Don’t use breast meat—it’s not nearly as tasty. (Alternately, use 6 pieces of chicken and 3 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed) If you crack the bones (using the back of a heavy knife), it will allow the marrow to add rich flavor to the dish.
1/3 cup ketchup
1 heaping tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 TBL lime juice

1. In a large pot, sauté onions in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seed, cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon pieces, until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add cayenne and cook one minute. Immediately add curry powder, chicken, ketchup, and salt.

2. Lower heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring periodically, until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thick, about 20 minutes. Add water if necessary to avoid scorching. Add potatoes if using, and add milk, to thicken and mellow spice level; stir until well blended.

3. Cook 20 more minutes, until potatoes are cooked through. Stir in lime juice; serve hot.

Yogurt Parfait at Delia’s Kitchen

Lori Rader-Day and I had a writing date this week, and we grabbed lunch at Delia’s Kitchen; I wasn’t very hungry, so I thought I’d just get a yogurt parfait. Well, it was HUGE — enough for two meals for me, and so beautifully served, I had to share.

(Note, if you’re planning to work there, they’re busy at breakfast and lunch, so I’d aim for mid-morning so as not to hog a needed table, and there’s only one table with an outlet.)

Conversation with a young friend

I’m still mopey about the makerspace sometimes, though I clearly (CLEARLY) don’t have time to do it properly right now. Talking to someone in a few weeks about whether they might be able to take over direction of it. It’s not dead, just sleeping.

I was recently talking with a former student, who’s interested in writing both fiction and nonfiction; I suggested some nonfiction pieces I thought she was well placed to pitch and write, that are totally in her wheelhouse. And she said (hope she doesn’t mind if I paraphrase her here) that talking to me, I made it seem easy, or possible — something like that.

And I totally think she could develop a side hustle writing articles for various magazines, blogs, even newspapers (she’s a young mom with littles, so it works well with that), but more, it reminded me of why I wanted to do the maker space in the first place — because so many people get intimidated by the first steps of writing, or cooking, or gardening, or tech, etc.

Or if not intimidated, they just don’t have the first steps clear to them, and if they had someone they could apprentice with, it’d be so much easier. Academia is great, for what it does, but it seems like we still need better structures for other kinds of learning.

I’m envisioning someone sort of like a high school guidance counsellor, I suppose, but for adults. Not a career coach, exactly. Someone, or some place, where you could try out lots of things, or try something you’re particularly interested in, and they’d gently guide you through the first steps, giving you the scaffolding to hold you up, until you were ready to do it on your own.

Sigh. Someday.

Feast of Serendib Events in Toronto and Montreal

Canada folks — I know shipping to Canada was outrageous, and so many people opted for ebook rather than print. But I’ll be in Toronto in the spring (date TBD), and I’ll be in Montreal in a few weeks — if you’d like to get a paperback or hardcover for pick-up, we can avoid the whole shipping issue.

I’ll be there for Scintillation (SF convention) Oct 11 – 13, staying at the Holiday Inn in Chinatown — if you or a designated friend can come pick up from me then, would love to give you a signed hardcover.  At this point, I think it’s simplest if we just figure out payment / delivery via comments, so let me know here if you’re interested, please! (Happy to also sell you copies of The Stars Change or Perennial.)

(Also, look what an adorable graphic Irene Victoria made for me for my book tour! So cute.)

Autumn Garden in Bloom

Blooming yesterday in the front garden — Kevin and I have both been sick, so the garden has been horribly neglected. It felt so good yesterday; we hired Neighbors United (“The Guys” is the new name for their landscaping service) to come out and do some mowing (our push mower wasn’t up to the task, given how long the grass had gotten), dig out some hackberry seedlings, pokeweed as tall as me, and even some burdock that had escaped my eagle eye of earlier in the summer (we hates it, my precious). They also cut away some very thorny dead rose branches. (Two guys, two hours of hard labor, $125).
And then I went around and started actually staking up some of the dahlias, moving some phlox around (I had them scattered, and I think they look better massed, so have rearranged for next year), pruning and deadheading and pulling a few of the smaller weeds. It’s looking much better now. 🙂
This is the first year I’ve really had a fall garden — I’d concentrated on spring first, then summer, so the established fall perennial garden is finally solidifying this year. The mums, sedums, and asters from last year have come back, and I’ve planted a few more to join them. Some of the dahlias made it back too, even though I planted them a bit early, and didn’t have time to do the pre-growing in pots that I did last year.
My moderately strict ‘cool tones’ of pink / white / purple / blue for the front yard gets relaxed in autumn, with more yellows and oranges creeping in. Happy with how it’s coming along.