Holiday Party Prep

Holiday party:

• greenery hung, with the help of Gabriella and one of my students and his partner (cedar garlands from the Oak Park Conservatory Winter Greens market make my old Victorian feel very Victorian Christmas somehow)

• trifle (this year’s was pear, blackberry, strawberry, with ladyfinger cookies, Bird’s custard, a thin drizzling of ginger jam and a smidge of lemon curd, whipped lightly sweetened cream, and a topping of pomegranate seeds — no sherry for a change, so the kids could dig in freely, and I didn’t miss it) — all devoured by end of party

• ribbon sandwiches of beet, carrot, and spinach (Kevin made the spreads, Kavi and I spread the sandwiches Saturday and layered them with damp paper towels, two half-size sheet pan trays wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge overnight, and then we cut them just before serving at the party) went over well, per usual — very popular, all got eaten, and everyone agreed they were both tasty and pretty

• mango fluff was topped with plenty of frozen thawed mango, which is pretty much the best I could do in Chicago in the winter — also all finished by end of party, but we didn’t actually start the second tray that Kavi insisted we’d need, so I guess she’ll just be eating that herself for the rest of the week — she doesn’t seem sad at the prospect…

• Kavi and I are festive; Anand and Kevin were also suitably festive, but I spared them the agony of suffering through a photo this year, because I am the kindest

Recipes for ribbon sandwiches and mango fluff in A Feast of Serendib. (I didn’t include them in Vegan Serendib, but you can make both vegan by substituting in vegan cream cheese, agar-agar, etc. appropriately).

The trifle I just kind of make up every year, but if you google ‘berry trifle,’ you should be able to find some good starting points.


Peach Harvesting this Weekend

They’re in various stages of ripeness, and the ones that are mostly green, we’ll leave on the tree a little longer, but dozens of them are ready-ish, and some of them, the squirrels have knocked down and those need to be collected. (shakes fist at squirrels)

Plans for the peaches:

– really underripe: turn into green peach salad (like South and Southeast Asian green mango or green papaya salad, but with peaches), or green peach pickle

– slightly underripe: either put in a paper bag and leave on the counter to hopefully ripen over the next few days, or grill, which brings out the sweetness

– perfectly ripe: eat straight up

– slightly overripe or bruised: cut up and make peach jam, peach crisp, peach ice cream topping, peach quick bread, etc….

What a Good Wife I Am

Me, seeing that a box of peaches has arrived for Kevin, part of a gift subscription from his parents for his birthday last year: “I hope you’re not going to ignore the peaches I’ve spent FIVE YEARS growing for you, just to eat those.”

Kevin: “This could be the subject of an entire sitcom — do I eat your peaches, or my mother’s peaches?”

Dear reader, do not fret! I saved Kevin from this fraught decision, taking the ripest of his mother’s peaches and slicing it up to have with strawberry ice cream, yum.

What a good wife I am, looking out for him that way.

Lime Pickle

(makes about 1 quart jar; 15 minutes + a few weeks of preserving time)

Tart, spicy, and salty, with a hint of aromatic spices, lime pickle is a wonderful complement to your meal. I first encountered a simple version of preserved limes in Little Women, where the schoolgirls had been banned from eating them. I had to learn more about why pickled limes might be banned:

“…they were sold from glass jars on top of candy-store counters, and some families even bought them by the barrel. Because the import tariff for pickled limes was quite low – importers fought to keep them classed as neither fresh fruit nor pickle – children could buy them cheaply, often for a penny apiece. Kids chewed, sucked, and traded pickled limes at school (and not just at recess) for decades, making the limes the perennial bane of New England schoolteachers. Doctors tended to disapprove of the limes…in 1869 a Boston physician wrote that pickled limes were among the “unnatural and abominable” substances consumed by children with nutritional deficiencies.” Parents, however, seemed generally content for children to indulge themselves in the pickled-lime habit.” – Pickling, Linda Ziedrich

Since pickled limes are quite salty, be sure to pair them with curries that are less so, for a beautifully balanced meal.

8 limes
1/4 c. kosher salt
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 t. black mustard seed
1 t. fennel seed
1 t. fenugreek seed
2 stalks curry leaves (about two dozen leaves)
1 t. cayenne (optional)
1 t. turmeric
1/4 c. lime juice (plus more as needed)

1. Quarter limes. Rub salt into limes, then transfer limes to sterilised glass jars. Seal and let sit for three days; once a day, open the jars and press the limes down, squeezing juice out. At the end of three days, the rinds should have yellowed, and the limes should be submerged in juice; if not fully submerged, add more lime juice to cover.

NOTE: At this point, you have preserved limes, and you can eat them as is. If you let them sit for a few more weeks, the flavors will mellow and blend harmoniously. Many cuisines use preserved limes; it’s common in that case to remove the flesh of the lime (which will be very salty), and only retain the rind / pith, which may be sliced and used in various dishes. Or, continue on with your entire limes to make lime pickle.

2. In a sauté pan, heat oil on high, add mustard seeds, and cook until they start to pop.

3. Turn down heat to medium and add remaining spices (if you’d prefer a smoother result, you may roughly grind spices before adding), preserved limes, and lime juice. Cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (If you’d prefer a brighter, more fresh-fruit flavor, you may omit cooking the limes here, and simply pour the tempered spice mix over the limes in a bowl, combining well.)

4. Turn seasoned limes into sterilized glass jars, pressing down to compress. Set aside for 2 weeks to develop flavors; once a day, invert the jars so the seasoned liquid may permeate all the limes. Serve as an accompaniment to rice and curries.

NOTE: Once opened, store in the fridge for up to six months, or follow proper canning procedures for long-term pantry storage. When storing, a layer of oil on top of the limes will aid in preservation.

Chocolate-Covered Surprise

I came downstairs the other day, and found Kevin and the kids had done this. Reader, I ate them.

(Okay, not all of them. But a goodly portion.)

(I realized the ‘them’ was an unclear referent. I trust you can figure out what I meant…)

Mango-Lime Pineapple Fluff

2 1/2 tablespoons (1 Knox packet) unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water (divided use)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 c. mango puree
1/3 c. lime juice
8 oz. Cool Whip
1 cup chopped pineapple
orange food coloring (optional)
1. Place ½ c. of cold water in the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Sprinkle the gelatin on top of the water, and stir to distribute the gelatin. Allow it to stand while you prepare the sugar syrup.
2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and ½ cup of water. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then insert a candy thermometer. Cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees.
3. Once it reaches 240 degrees, remove the pan from the heat. Turn the mixer to low, and while the mixer is running, slowly pour the hot syrup into the mixer bowl over the gelatin. Be careful, as the syrup is extremely hot.
4. Gradually increase the mixer speed to high. Continue to beat the marshmallow until it has tripled in volume and is extremely shiny and thick. This process will take approximately 12 minutes.
5. Once the marshmallow is done, add the room temperature mango puree and lime juice; continue mixing until it is fully incorporated. (Add food coloring, if desired.)
6. After the puree and coloring is incorporated, turn off mixer, and stir in chopped pineapple.
7. Fold in Cool Whip and turn into a serving dish. Enjoy!

Sourdough Soup Bowl & Watermelon Salad

One consequence of writing a cookbook is that now when I eat out, I find myself taking mental notes and/or critiquing the food. These are two dishes from the Marriott I was staying at in Walnut Creek. The clam chowder was delicious, but the best part was how they served it in a little individual bread bowl, that they had buttered and crisped up before filling it with soup. Great contrasts of crispy bread exterior with soft, soup-soaked interior. Would make a fabulous autumn / winter appetizer or light meal.

I also liked this watermelon salad appetizer — so pretty! But the raspberry dressing was too sweet; it needed to be more citrus, to contrast with the candied nuts. And while the long cucumber slices are pretty, they required pulling out a knife, which none of the rest of the salad did, which was sort of annoying. I’d do it on a bed of round cucumber slices instead.

Hawaii: Crack Seed

I had never heard of crack seed, but when Jed saw the sign for the Crack Seed Store, he guided me inside, to a wonderland of Chinese snacks.

“Crack seed is a category of snacks that originated in China. It is highly popular in many regions, such as Hawaii. Crack seed are basically preserved fruits that have been cracked or split with the seed or kernel partially exposed as a flavor enhancement. This type of snack is commonly referred to in Chinese language as see mui (西梅; [siː muːi]); it arrived in Hawaii during the 19th century, when Cantonese immigrants were brought to work on the plantations.


The flavors are varied, ranging from extremely sweet and salty to sour flavors. Flavors can include rock salt plum, honey mango, licorice peach, or any kind of combination of fruits, flavors and type of preservatives used. What originally was a preserved fruit has become a favorite snack in Hawaii and a sample of a cultural food.


Crack seed stores also sell candies such as gummi bears, and Sour Patch Kids, coated with Li Hing Mui powder.

Some types of crack seed found in Hawaii and Asia are dry and chewy types of li hing mui, dried persimmons, preserved mandarin peels, and salted Chinese and Thai olives, also known as nam liap in Thai.” – Wikipedia