Haste

I’ve had so much computer work in the last three days, between the Black Panther fundraiser, teaching, union work, Wild Cards story revision, and going strong on the YA novel, that my hands have started to ache.

That hasn’t happened since I wrote _The Classics Professor_ on a very tight deadline — 60,000 finished words in three weeks. (It’s one of my choose-your-own-adventure erotic stories, and not a bad book, but it’s not as good as its partner book, Kathryn in the City, which I had a couple months to write.)

They paid me well for it ($10,000 for three weeks of work, if I remember right), but I had to rest my hands for a solid month afterwards to recover, avoiding typing entirely. I’m going to try to take it easy the next few days. Make haste more slowly.

Read-In

I signed up a month or so ago, when they put out a call for elected officials, professionals, community leaders to come and read a story to the kids for the national African American Read-In, in the neighboring District 89 school district, at a school in Melrose Park. Today was hectic, full of deadlines — I’ve basically been running headlong since I woke up, and yesterday was much the same actually, and tomorrow will be as well, and possibly Thursday and Friday. I am tired, folks.

But I’m glad I took an hour out of my day to go read to those 2nd grade children. I read Obama’s _Of Thee I Sing_, which I won’t claim is the most poetic picture book I’ve ever read, but is certainly both inspiring and meaningful. And I laughed with them, and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. I talked about being an immigrant, and about running for office, and about being a college professor. I told them I hoped some of them would be in my college classes someday.

They were so bright and sweet, and by the end of my 30 minutes of reading and chatting, I think every one of them had shot a hand up in the air with something urgent to say. I hope they keep that eagerness, that willingness to leap right in. It’s going to be hard sometimes. One of them asked me how I could like being a teacher, when there were so many bad kids.

It took me a second to come up with my response to that one — I told him that I loved being a teacher, and I didn’t really believe there were any bad kids. It was just that sometimes we all had challenges we had to try to deal with. Sometimes it was hard. He nodded solemnly in response.

I don’t think I’d have the patience to teach little kids full-time; all honor to those who do. They get so excited, and then there’s a lot of noise, and it seems like half the teacher’s job is telling them to shush so they can hear her, and hear each other. I would get very tired of all the shushing, but they really do need to quiet down some of the time. A little, anyway.

But oh, it was good to hear their stories and see their smiles. An administrator walked me out, and as we went, thanked me for talking about college with them. “For so many of our kids, the only place they hear about college is from us; it’s not going to come up at home. They need to be reminded that it’s a possibility, something they can work towards.”

The kids today wanted to be: a veterinarian, a policeman, a teacher, a doctor, a cartoon creator, a Pokemon designer, a therapist. Right now, at least, they are full of possibilities.

Le Guin #2

The second tribute I wrote for Le Guin appears here, in _Another Chicago Magazine_.

“The only time I met Ursula K. Le Guin, she was mean to me.

Not really.

She was a little sharp, though, acerbic, which I gather was not uncommon for her. I was a young writer, halfway through an MFA at Mills College, attending a reading in Berkeley given by my literary hero. I had gathered up all my courage to ask a question. I’d spent a few years writing and publishing explicitly about sex, fighting through my own hesitations and society’s disapproval – my parents were tremendously upset with me for writing under my own name, another writer at a writer’s gathering accused me of being a nymphomaniac, and I even received hate mail from men in India, furious that one of their women was writing about sex.

Of course, Le Guin was writing daring stories decades before me, stories of women who loved women, of four-person marriages, of people without gender. Her stories offered possibilities that most of society hadn’t even imagined in the late 1960s; I knew she must have faced similar societal disapproval….”

Composing a Vegan Sri Lankan Dinner

This was a fun one for me — an entirely vegan dinner, that I did for last week’s board game night. Pretty easy with Sri Lankan food. Going around clockwise: lentils in coconut milk (tons of protein), carrot in coconut milk, kale sambol, coconut sambol (spicy), seeni sambol (spicy and sweet), eggplant curried in coconut milk, with red rice / quinoa in the center.

If I were doing it again, I’d make more of a bed of red rice / quinoa — I had to go back for seconds on that to happily eat the rest, get the balance right in each bite. And I’d dice the onions for the lentils instead of slicing them — they were a little too noticeable when paired with the sliced onions in the seeni sambol.

This was plenty of food for the number of people we had, but for a larger dinner party, you could expand the plate’s options.

I’d add papadum for crunch, probably some lime-masala mushrooms for the tang. Devilled potatoes would add a luscious spicy-tomato element, though you could also just add tomatoes and potatoes to the eggplant curry for similar effect. Cashew curry or chili cashews would add another hit of protein in rich, nutty form. And while I’ve never had a raita without yogurt, I wonder if you could do something similar with coconut milk, for another cold element.

Proper balance of varied flavors for a Sri Lankan dinner party is an art form! But making it vegan was no more difficult than vegetarian or with meat, it turns out.

Eggplant Curry / Kattharikai Kari

(30 minutes draining time + 30 minutes, serves 6)

My mother’s eggplant curry was always a huge hit at Sri Lankan dinner parties, and is particularly popular with vegetarians.

1 lb eggplant, roughly 1-inch cubes
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 onions, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup oil or ghee
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 dozen curry leaves
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder
1/2 cup coconut milk

1. Prep eggplant — rub with turmeric and salt and then set in a colander to drain at least 30 minutes, which will draw out the bitter water. Blot dry with paper towels.

2. Sauté onions in oil on medium-high, stirring, with cumin seed, black mustard seed, and curry leaves, until golden.

3. Add eggplant, sugar, and curry powder, and sauté for another ten minutes or so, until eggplant is nicely fried. (Add more oil or ghee if needed.)

4. Add coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes until well blended. Serve hot with rice or naan—particularly nice for a vegetarian dinner with lentils as the main protein.

Variation: Eggplant and bell pepper work well together in this dish; just add chopped bell pepper about five minutes into frying the eggplant for a nice sweet element to the dish. Sometimes I make a nightshade curry, adding potatoes and tomatoes as well — small cubed potatoes would go into the onions first, then eggplant and spices, then bell pepper, then tomato, with a few minutes between each addition.

NOTE: I was wanting something a little spicier, so this time I added some chopped green jalapeños when I added the eggplant. Yum.

Tempered Lentils (Paripoo / Dal)

(60 minutes, serves six)
 
Lentils are a staple dish in Sri Lanka—across the country, people eat what we call paripoo daily, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s terribly good for you, very affordable, and also delicious. I used to dislike lentils, or I thought I did, but it turned out I only disliked my mother’s version (which everyone else loved, so I blame my being a slightly picky kid). I was converted to lentils through my adult discovery of Ethiopian food, a cuisine which cooks the lentils to a soft porridge-like consistency; now I am quite fond of them. This recipe is adapted from Charmaine Solomon’s The Complete Asian Cookbook.
 
2 cups red lentils
1 can coconut milk, plus 1 can hot water
1 dried red chili, broken into pieces
a pinch of ground saffron
1 tsp pounded Maldive fish (optional)
2 TBL ghee or oil
2 medium onions, finely sliced
6 curry leaves
1 stick of cinnamon
three strips of lemon rind (about a quarter lemon)
salt to taste (about ¾ – 1 t.)
 
1. Put lentils in a saucepan with the coconut milk, chili, and saffron (and Maldive fish, if using). (If you don’t have red lentils, you can use a different variety, but it will notably change the flavor.) Fill the can with hot water and add that as well; this will ensure you don’t waste any coconut yumminess. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until lentils are soft, about forty-five minutes. Stir periodically and add more water if needed; it’s fine if the bottom starts to stick a little—just scrape it up.
 
2. In another saucepan, heat the oil and fry the onions, curry leaves, cinnamon, and lemon rind until onions are golden-brown.
 
3. Reserve half the onions for garnishing the dish and add the lentil mixture to the saucepan. Stir well, add salt to taste, and cook down until thick, like porridge. Serve with rice and curries.
 
Notes: Some people like their paripoo more watery, but I think they’re just wrong. Still, cook to your preference. I tend to leave the Maldive fish out, since I often make this dish when I’m cooking for vegetarians, but it certainly is more traditional (and I think tastier) with the fish added.

Cauliflower ‘Rice’

The experiments continue — tried cauliflower ‘rice’! I wouldn’t say I like it as well as rice, but it’s pretty okay, esp. if sautéed with a bit of ghee first, and served with a nice chicken curry and kale sambol. Feels more culturally appropriate for Sri Lankan food than shirataki, certainly.

Tired Moms’ Night Out

I really like the new drinks-with-the-tired-moms we’re doing; very therapeutic. I feel like I’ve been a little slow getting on the mom train with this kind of activity, but I’m totally on board now.

And Cooper’s Hawk appetizer of ahi tuna sashimi is *delicious*, served with ponzu-ginger vinaigrette, avocado, radish, wasabi cream, and sriracha. If I weren’t too lazy, I would happily eat that for lunch basically every day. The crab-lobster bisque is also yum.

Thai Yellow Curry with Shirataki Noodles

Experimenting with tofu shirataki noodles (shirataki is made of yam, and is extremely low-carb, low-calorie, and gluten-free); here I added them to a simple Thai yellow curry.
 
Take one can Maesri yellow curry paste, add one can Chaokoh coconut milk, heat in a large saucepan on medium high heat. Stir in a t. of brown sugar and a T of fish sauce. Add two frozen tilapia filets (no need to thaw), one can drained bamboo shoots, and half a pound of trimmed green beans, simmer until fish is cooked through, 10-15 minutes. That’s your basic curry; use the protein and veggies of your choice.
 
Usually I’d serve this with white rice, but I’m trying to eat a little less white rice these days (sob!), so experimented with shirataki noodles. Follow the instructions on the package — rinse noodles well and drain, toss in boiling water for 3 minutes, drain again. Then stir the noodles into the curry and serve hot.
 
I’d call this a qualified success. It doesn’t taste as good as eating the curry with rice or the kind of noodles you’d use for pad thai; the shirataki noodles retain more bounce / tooth to them, so just don’t blend into the dish as well. But that said, they’re very neutral; I ate a big plate of this and was reasonably happy with it, and will be happy to eat more tomorrow as leftovers.
 
At something like 20 calories for the entire package of noodles (of which I ate perhaps a third), it’s at the very least a good option to know about if you’re being careful about calories or carbs, or need to eat gluten-free.