Little Novel, Big Novel

Finished a revision of the opening to the big novel. (I’m thinking of it as the little novel and the big novel, but it’ll be nice when I actually finish the little novel and send it out, so I can just refer to the novel instead of big novel, but anyway.) I wouldn’t prioritize that now, except that I think this first chapter (about 5300 words) actually works as a standalone story.

So I’ve now sent it to a few people with some questions, and we’ll see what they say — with luck, it’ll be ready to submit shortly. In the meantime, I have a few other stories to finish, so I’m planning to pick up one of those tomorrow.

But now, switching gears to Serendib Press & Home stuff — I have some promo e-mails from the cookbook to answer, and some masks and books and curry powder to put in the mail. Always so satisfying, shipping out cookbooks. 

*****

“May I offer you lovely ladies some mas paan? It’s still hot.” Narayan-first-son-of-the-Big-House, the most tempting of all temptations. They had known each other since childhood – he only lived a few streets away, but lately, things had felt different between them. That electric spark she felt when the waves knocked her down, lightning in her veins? Sometimes she felt that same spark when Narayan smiled at her. Dangerous as the ocean.

He smiled at Tharani, and held out a paper on which two buns were nestled, side-by-side. Narayan’s curling black hair fell across his eyes, blocking his vision, and for a moment, the universe held its breath. She should be good. But then Tharani reached out, deliberately, and brushed the hair away. She could feel her world shake, reconfiguring into something new and strange – such a small gesture to do so much. Beside her, Raji took in a quick, shocked breath.

*****

Quick Fire

Hydrangea “Quick Fire” (my second favorite, after oak leaf), with redbud. This is a lacecap style of hydrangea, and its white petals will go to pink and then red as autumn approaches, but in high summer, they’re a lovely cool white.

Lacecaps don’t generally need pruning; you can deadhead to increase flower production if you want, though I usually don’t bother. If your lace cap is older and not flowering much, then in late winter, you can prune off a third of the stems at ground level, and that should revitalize it. Old must make way for the new.

It’s Tricky

Spent a little time tending the parkway garden this morning, and among other things, propped up a stem of this veronica that had fallen over. I try to avoid staking, planting thickly instead, but some bits aren’t as filled out as I’d like, so needs must.

It’s tricky in a perennial garden where some plants have withered away in their season, trying to make sure there’s enough there to hold up the ones that need it!

You can see these veronica stems that are pointing sideways now; they were almost flat on the ground a little while ago. I’m hoping they’ll decide to start pointing up again, to match their neighbor, but if not, oh well. Still pretty. With daylilies.

Tension and Harmony

When I first came to UIC, I really hated its Brutalist architecture, which can be a bit depressing in a long Chicago winter. But it’s grown on me over time, mostly because I’ve realized the clean, rigid lines provide a dramatic modern backdrop to the wildness of nature. Tension and harmony.

So when I was looking for a planter for my parkway blueberry, I went for one with clean rectangular lines. Finally got it planted up and moved in last week, and I’m loving the effect.

And see how the pink-blue of the ripening blueberries (I think this variety is called “Pink Lemonade”) plays with the grey of the planter and the bright pink of the achillea (and “Elvira” gladiola beyond)? Makes my eyes happy.

Now if I can just encourage passing children to snack on the blueberries, that’d be perfect. Maybe I need a little sign, like in Alice in Wonderland: “Eat me.” 

Coneflower, Two Ways

Coneflower, two ways. The one on the right is the native; the one on the left is a cultivar. In general, natives are going to be better for the birds and pollinators, because when you breed for other flower structures (doubled blooms, for example), often you make the seeds / pollen / etc. harder to get to.

But those of us who garden for beauty have a hard time resisting the glorious variations. One compromise approach is to plant 4-5 of the natives for every 1 of a cultivar; the cultivars become the specimen gems of your garden, and the natives a pleasing setting, leading to a garden full of life.

Natives are also generally more hardy, drought-tolerant, disease-resistant (thousands of years of evolution versus a few generations of careful breeding), so when your delicate hybrid may falter, the natives go marching steadily on…

Sigh

Sigh. I’ve been watching Madam Secretary while sewing masks recently, and the current episode is on Sri Lanka (season 4, episode 13), and as you might expect, I was excited to see how they’d engage with the complex Sri Lankan political situation…this could be really juicy.

There’s certainly PLENTY to engage with on a political show, even if you stick to the previous decades of ethnic conflict and don’t try to bring in the current Sri Lankan administration or the recent elections, which I admit might be tricky ground for an entertainment show, but you could totally bring in the current situation with China buying up so much of Sri Lanka’s shoreline, which would tie in well to the ongoing U.S. / China rivalry thread on the show…

Until I realized that oh, no. The entire episode is going to be focused on the Sri Lankan President’s tasseographer (tea leaf reader), and how the spirits have told him that this trade deal cannot go forward. Just, gah.

This is just such lazy orientalist writing. If the producers had bothered to get a Sri Lankan writer as a consultant on this — me, or Sugi Ganeshananthan, or Nayomi Munaweera, or a host of others, we could have helped them write SUCH a better episode. Seriously disappointing.

And the dialogue, gah:

The Sri Lankan president: “Ranuga is going to grace us with a reading. He will tell you things about yourself you never knew…”

Ranuga: “In truth, I say nothing. I am merely the earthly chalice the spirits have chosen to fill with their wisdom….”

Sigh.

Sri Lankan Varai

This isn’t so much a recipe, but a what-do-you-do-with-veggies-that-you-need-to-use-up approach to cooking. My default is to turn it into a Sri Lankan varai, a lightly cooked vegetable dish.

In this case, I had leeks, cabbage, and carrot that I needed to use.

  • Chop leeks (remember to rinse them, or you may end up eating grit)

  • Sauté in a bit of oil until golden-translucent, with mustard seed and cumin seed.
  • Add chopped cabbage. Add carrots, cut up small. (This method also works with thawed frozen mixed veg; drain the excess water).

  • Stir on medium-high for 5-10 minutes, until partially cooked and a little browned. If you want it spicier, add chopped green chilies (or crushed red pepper, or cayenne).

  • Stir in desiccated (not sweetened!) coconut, salt (1 t.), and a little turmeric

  • Cover and turn to medium low for 5-10 minutes, so veggies can cook through (depending on what veggies you’re using, you may be able to skip the covering stage — peas don’t need it, for example)

  • Remove lid and cook a few minutes more, stirring, until water has evaporated. Serve hot with rice and curries.

NOTE: Day after, this is easy to reheat with a little oil and leftover rice, scrambling a few eggs in, to make a healthy and filling vegetarian meal. You could also sauté some ground beef, and stir this in with rice similarly; we’ll be doing that for dinner tonight.