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.

Chai-Spiced Banana Bread Recipe

Chai-Spiced Banana Bread
(serves 12, 45-75 minutes)

(for gluten-free option, use Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free 1 to 1 baking flour; used for snowflake-shaped breads below)

We are perpetually throwing overripe bananas in the freezer around here, and when they start squeezing out the other items, we know it’s time to spend a Saturday morning baking banana bread. This is based on a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. Adding in the spices we’d use for chai, along with dried fruit / ginger, makes for a festive and hearty holiday loaf. Makes 1 loaf, or several mini loaves (nice for gifting).

2 c. flour
3/4 t. baking soda
3 very ripe bananas, mashed well
1/4 c. plain yogurt
2 eggs, beaten lightly
3/4 c. sugar
6 T butter, melted and cooled
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. cloves
1/4 t. cardamom
1/4 t. black pepper

Optional add-ins (1 c. total): dried cherries, dried cranberries, crystallized ginger, chocolate chips, chopped cashews…

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour pan(s).

2. Mix flour and baking soda in a large bowl; set aside.

3. Combine remaining ingredients (except for optional add-ins) in medium bowl with a wooden spoon.

4. Fold banana mixture into flour mixture with a spatula until just combined. If adding in dried fruit, ginger, chocolate chips or nuts, fold in now.

5. Scrape batter into prepared pan(s) until loaf is golden brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hr for a loaf, 25-35 minutes for mini loaves.

6. Serve hot, slathered with salted butter.

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…)


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…


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.


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.


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.