Tangy Peppered Beef Stew

(2 hours, serves 8)

This is very similar to a traditional British beef stew, but the Sri Lankan version adds vinegar and peppercorns for a distinctly different flavor. I love to chew on the peppercorns for a bit of sharp bite, and will sometimes add even more peppercorns to the pot.

3 lbs beef chuck, cubed, large pieces of fat removed
2 cups beef stock
2 TBL ghee or vegetable oil
2-inch piece cinnamon stick
8 cloves
40 peppercorns
1-2 tsp salt
2 cups vinegar
3 medium onions, peeled and cut in eighths
2-3 large potatoes, peeled and cut in large pieces
4 carrots, cut in large pieces

1. In a large stew pan, heat the oil on high, add the meat and brown on all sides (avoid crowding the pan, as that will cause it to steam instead of browning—do the meat in two batches if necessary).

2. When nicely browned, pour in beef stock and a sufficient quantity of the water to cover the meat. Add the cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, salt, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then cover, turn down heat to low, and let simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Add the vegetables, turn the heat to high long enough for the stew to come to boil, then turn it back down to low and continue to cook, uncovered, until the meat is tender and the vegetables are cooked through, about an hour. You’re aiming for the sauce being reduced to a thick gravy, so add water or cook the liquid off as needed. Serve hot, with hearty white bread or rice.

Sausage, Cannellini, Pasta and Peas

(45 minutes, serves 6)

You may remember that I’m on something of a kick to convince the kids to eat beans, as part of an attempt to get us to eat healthier and also less carnivorously.  (I don’t know that we’re likely to ever go all-vegetarian, given how much we like meat and how weak our wills are, but we can at least reduce how much meat we eat, which is better than nothing, for ourselves, for the animals, for the planet.)  You may also remember that pasta with broccoli rabe and cannellini beans was a dismal failure — the broccoli rabe was so bitter that the kids declared the entire dish inedible.  (Kevin and I liked it.)

For take two, I figured I would coax them into it.  I’d use flavors I knew they liked (chicken broth and Parmesan), I’d add in Italian sausage, and I’d cut the amount of beans in half, so they’d be a little less overwhelming.  Success was…mixed.  I thought it was delicious, though the peas were perhaps a little too similar in texture to the beans.  (Should’ve stuck with my original plan to serve this with broccolini, but I forgot to pick some up at the store, oops.)  Anand ate his entire plate and had seconds, hooray!

Kavya, sadly, avoided both beans and peas (she did have two bites of each, to show willing, but that was all I could talk her into), ate lots of sausage, and said that even her beloved pasta tasted strange to her.  Ah well.  I’ll probably try making this or something like it a few more times and hope that she gets more accustomed to the flavors.

2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. Italian sausage, skin cut off
1/2 c. white wine
2 c. chicken broth
1 c. canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. grated Parmesan
1/2 t. crushed red pepper
2 c. cooked pasta (I used veggie penne)
1/2 c. frozen peas
additional Parmesan for grating on top

1. Sauté onion in olive oil on medium-high, stirring, until softened.  Add garlic and continue sautéing until onions are golden-translucent.

2.  Turn heat to high, add Italian sausage and break up, stirring, into small chunks, letting sausage brown a little.

3.  After a few minutes, add white wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits.  Add chicken broth and beans, stirring to combine.  Add Parmesan and crushed red pepper.  Simmer on medium until sausage is cooked through, 5-10 more minutes.  By that point, the liquid should have reduced to a nice thick sauce.

4.  Stir in pasta and frozen peas and cook a few minutes more, until well combined.  Serve hot, passing additional Parmesan for grating.

Shrimp and Potato Curry

(30 minutes, serves 6)

I had a busy work day yesterday, so it was six o’clock before I had a chance to look at the calendar and remind myself what the evening plans were — only to be reminded that I’d planned to go to a refugee-supporting potluck, which started at six  o’clock!

We were supposed to bring something to share from countries that might be affected by a refugee ban, so I obviously wanted to bring Sri Lankan food.  But I needed something I could make fast!

I also ideally wanted to bring a savory dish, and something with protein, because potlucks tend to lean heavy towards the sweets and the starches.  I poked around in the freezer and pantry, confirmed I had frozen shrimp and russet potatoes; that meant I had a plan in place.  By 6:30, I was transferring the curry into a disposable container and heading out the door; just a few minutes later, people were tucking into the food enthusiastically.  Yum.

2 T vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 T ginger-garlic paste
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 stalk curry leaves
1 T chili powder
1 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1/4 c. ketchup
1 t. salt
1 lb. frozen peeled raw shrimp
1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cubed small
1 T lime juice

1.  Put potato cubes in a microwave-safe bowl with water to cover and microwave 5 minutes to par-boil.  Let sit until needed.

2.  While potatoes are microwaving, sauté onions in oil or ghee with ginger-garlic paste, mustard seed, cumin seed, and curry leaves, stirring on high, until onions are golden-translucent, about 5 minutes.

3.  Stir in chili powder, curry powder, ketchup, and salt.  Stir a minute or two to blend.

4.  Add potatoes with their cooking water.  Add shrimp (still frozen is fine).  Continue cooking on high, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are cooked and pink, and potatoes are soft.

 

5.  Add lime juice, give a final stir or two, and serve hot with rice or bread.

 

Tired

I just realized why I’m feeling so tired. There was a week in 2009 where I wrote something publicly about race and science fiction on John Scalzi‘s blog, Whatever, during the whole RaceFail thing. I made a commitment to respond thoroughly and patiently to every single comment, and there were oh, a thousand or so of them, so it took most of a week. I went to bed, reading comments and responding. I woke up, reading comments and responding.

Kevin ended up doing a lot of infant/toddler child care that week so that I could hunch over the computer, trying to calm my emotions and blood pressure enough to respond reasonably to people (except for the most awful people who hurled slurs at me — those I could safely ignore because Scalzi was also monitoring the whole thing and immediately deleted / banned the worst of it). I think I did some good back then; I hope so.

I haven’t written anything big and public about the #metoo issues, but even keeping up with the conversation is draining and upsetting, as I’m sure many of you are feeling too. And posting on Facebook the smaller things I’ve written takes some emotional fortitude. It also takes time to try and get it right, try to phrase things as clearly as I can, so they won’t be misconstrued (and always, inevitably, they are sometimes misconstrued anyway, and so there’s some more time and energy trying to manage the fallout of that).

And sometimes I just get things wrong, and have to walk back to a better position, and that’s tiring too. Learning is hard work, as my students will attest.

Just — wanted to acknowledge the emotional labor of it all, the time and energy it is costing us. I think that we’re all learning something here. And given the huge horrible poisonous problem that we’re all living with, the problem that is already costing us dearly, it is, of course, great that we are taking some steps to change our sick and sexist culture.

It’s just hard.

Basement

 What I wanted to do today — make art. What I actually did today — cleaned and organized half the basement art supplies.
 
It’s okay. It’s a task that needs to be done, every three months or so. Life gets busy, over the holidays, during the semester, entropy starts winning, you chuck things downstairs in a hurry, and order descends into chaos. And eventually you have to head in there with a shovel and start hauling out the muck. I didn’t think to take any ‘before’ pictures, but trust me, it was a disaster. It took six solid hours of effort to get to this.
 
Eventually I got past the grottier parts and started to have some fun. Pulled out the label maker and labelled a few cupboards and drawers. (What, that’s not your idea of fun? I find it positively thrilling.) I organized about half the room, and then realized it was almost bedtime, so I thought I’d at least mend two things before calling it a day.
 
A cozy wrap that my in-laws gave me for Christmas one year? The stitching holding it together had almost completely come apart (probably due to children mishandling it during play; Anand in particular likes to steal all my super-soft things). Three minutes to change the bobbin and spool to matching thread, two minutes, if that, to run a seam — done. Good as new.
 
And that necklace, very nice for pulling a work outfit together? One of the connections had come undone, rendering it unwearable. But at some point I’d picked up a ten dollar set of basic jewelers’ tools at Michael’s, and it was the work of a minute to go to the (labelled!) drawer, pull out the right tool, twist apart a ring, hook it into another, and press it closed again. Done!
 
In another life, I might’ve been one of those people who specialize in home organizing, because I *love* the efficiency of it, and the way good organization makes it so much easier to live your life with pleasure. I may have read Martha Stewart’s book, _Good Things for Organizing_, cover to cover. Twice!
 

Tomorrow is a teaching day, but I think this weekend, I should be able to finish the basement off. It’s a little dusty, a little musty, and kind of cold (I had a space heater running) — but y’know, it’s a basement, and a mostly unfinished one at that. We slapped some paint on the concrete floor and called it a day, so you can’t expect it to be too polished. But at least it’s halfway organized now; that makes all the difference.

Side note: that desk my sewing machine sits on was my desk in college. I loaned it to a local friend when I moved out of town; she passed it on to some relatives, but kindly retrieved it for me when I moved back. I love it, and it’s perfect (if a little battered) for holding my sewing machine and a host of supplies. And exactly the right height for me! Waste not, want not!

Kith and Kin

hair, clothes, and kitchen
redolent with roasted spices
cooking deep into the night
with children and husband asleep
this much unchanged, untranslated

I stand over the pan, stirring
low and slow, singing to amuse
myself — haste would destroy
the spell of memory, consanguinity

coriander cumin fennel fenugreek
in order of decreasing amount
cinnamon cloves cardamom
curry leaves and chili powder

if I have to look up the ingredients
every time, am I insufficiently
authentic? eventually, I will grind
knowledge into my bones

Ammama, could you have guessed
your granddaughter would live
half a world away, would structure
love so differently, would pass your
recipes to a thousand strangers?

in the old days, recipes were hoarded
like gold bangles; a dowry locked
in your mind could not be stolen
now I give them away, scatter them
like kisses on the networked seas

I suspect it would frighten you,
what a daughter might give away
might lose forever. yet perhaps
the world is changing. a woman
may give herself away, undiminished

trust me. what the seas carried
away, they will return; your children’s
children are with you
though at times unrecognizable

bend down your head and breathe
deep, roasting scents tangled in my hair
see — you know me still. some things
come back to you, a thousandfold

Maram Puerto Rico Fundraiser

Belatedly, I have finally gotten up the photos from the Maram Arts fundraiser for Puerto Rico last winter.  Thanks again to all the artists who brought their talents and energy out on a cold night, and to the audience and donors for the silent auction and online fundraiser.  Together, we raised $2000 for Puerto Rico disaster relief!

Maram is a new Oak Park arts collective, and all are welcome to join; Maram means ‘tree’ in Tamil.  Our next Maram event will be in February at L!ve Cafe, date still TBD.  We’re thinking a ‘love’ theme for Valentine’s Day, with proceeds to go to Brown Elephant, which supports LGBT health services.  Possibly in combination with a clothing swap sometime that week!  If you’re interested in performing with us (it’d be a short 3-minute piece, and we’re looking for writers, singers, musicians, comedians, etc.), please drop me a line, and/or join the FB group for Maram, where we’ll shortly be hashing out the date and other logistics:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1426018354109158/

Artists pictured:  Oryana Quintero, Amanda Daly, Molly Sackler, Maya Kuper, Toni Nealie, Anjali Karia, and Maui Jones.  Not pictured (how I missed them, I don’t know) but also awesome:  Christy Bonstell & Andy Carey, Allison Baxter, Angeli Primlani, and Kat Tanaka Okopnik.  Thanks again, and thanks as well to my co-host, Alexius Cruz O’Malley, Christopher Pence for publicity work, and to L!VE Café and Creative Space for donating the space!

                              

Kith and Kin

hair, clothes, and kitchen
redolent with roasted spices
cooking deep into the night
with children and husband asleep
this much unchanged, untranslated

I stand over the pan, stirring
low and slow, singing to amuse
myself — haste would destroy
the spell of memory, consanguinity

coriander cumin fennel fenugreek
in order of decreasing amount
cinnamon cloves cardamom
curry leaves and chili powder

if I have to look up the ingredients
every time, am I insufficiently
authentic? eventually, I will grind
knowledge into my bones

Ammama, could you have guessed
your granddaughter would live
half a world away, would structure
love so differently, would pass your
recipes to a thousand strangers?

in the old days, recipes were hoarded
like gold bangles; a dowry locked
in your mind could not be stolen
now I give them away, scatter them
like kisses on the networked seas

I suspect it would frighten you,
what a daughter might give away
might lose forever. yet perhaps
the world is changing. a woman
may give herself away, undiminished

trust me. what the seas carried
away, they will return; your children’s
children are with you
though at times unrecognizable

bend down your head and breathe
deep, roasting scents tangled in my hair
see — you know me still. some things
come back to you, a thousandfold

 

Patreon

I’d like to take a moment to thank my patrons. I just got my year-end statement: 2017 Net Earnings: $1,723.69.
 
That’s about four short stories’ worth of pro-level payment, looked at one way, and attendance at 3-4 conventions, or a new laptop, or quite a few hours of Chris’s assistance, looked at another. In other words, y’all make it a lot easier for me to do what I most want to do — write! So thank you.
 
In 2018, the main things I’m adding to Patreon so far are the mainstream novel draft and the memoir draft that I’ll be releasing. The cookbook club continues, since apparently I am not close to done developing recipes, even if the draft of the second book is done. And there are reprints of short stories and poems, along with the occasional textile or other art post. And in a month or so, the garden will kick into high gear again…
 
Hope you’re all getting good value out of the daily Patreon, and if there’s anything else you’re particularly looking to see, do let me know!