OCWW

Three hours up in Wilmette teaching a writing workshop (really impressive group, brings in speakers weekly for talks, if I lived just a little closer, I would seriously think about joining them; it’s almost like a degree program without the degree, and if I had more time to run it, I’d use them as a model for starting up something similar in Oak Park).

That was followed by an hour at weekly therapy appointment, where I kind of ran out of things to say thirty minutes in. Just talked out, I think! (After three sessions, she’s going to pass me on to the psychiatrist for an ADHD evaluation. I think she’s a little dubious, which is fine; I will be content to rule it out as a possibility too.)

I had a fun time teaching the workshop and I think it went well (let’s see how much I can download about creating rich characters in a concentrated burst — a lot, it turns out!), but that kind of thing can be draining. I will now spend the rest of the day in blessed silence.

Thanks again to OCWW for having me. Several people asked if I was lecturing anywhere else in the area, and I’m afraid not, outside my UIC classes. (I *think* you can sign up as something like a grad student-at-large, but I wouldn’t swear to that.) But if there are other groups interested in having me out, do get in touch, and I’ll see if my schedule permits. I have more time over the the summer, generally.

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Sweet Milk Rice with Chili-Salt-Lime Mango & Jaggery

(30 minutes, serves 4)

Sweet milk rice:
1 c. short-grain white rice
2 c. water
1 T sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 c. sweetened coconut milk

Chili-Salt-Lime Mango
2 c. chopped mangoes
1/2 t. fine salt
1/2 t. chili powder (cayenne)
1 t. lime juice

4 t. jaggery, grated (or brown sugar)

1. Cook sweet milk rice: Put rice with water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to boil, then cover and turn down to a simmer; cook 15 minutes. Take off lid and stir in coconut milk; simmer uncovered until coconut milk is absorbed, about 5-10 more minutes.

2. Chop mango and mix with chili, salt, and lime.

3. Serve warm milk rice with mango and a little jaggery sprinkled on top.

(Note: Rice can be made ahead, cut into pieces, and reheated in the microwave before serving. Mango can be made ahead, and will blend a little better if you do.)

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Party

I wonder if Kevin realized, back when we first started dating more than twenty-five years ago that he would, several times a year, be drafted into being support staff for massive cooking efforts. I cooked for pretty close to three days straight for this party (with a 6 hour break on Friday for teaching) — apparently, this is my version of a marathon. It is utterly exhausting (I plan to sit on the couch all day today), but also super-fun in some hard to quantify sense.

Part of it is the cooking itself — running through mostly dishes that I have made so many times that I can make them without thinking, utterly on autopilot, while mixing in a few that are stretches for me, or new experiments. Tasting to make sure I remembered the salt, and the lime juice. Finding new shortcuts — the biggest help this year was a combo: 6 bags of frozen chopped onions from Pete’s (I cleaned them out), sautéed Thursday night in big pots with cumin seed, mustard seed, and from-a-jar chopped ginger and garlic. Just dump them in the pots with some oil, bring to high, then turn it to low and let them sweat down for 45 minutes or so — you barely need to stir. My mom told me she’d started doing that recently, making the onions in advance and then just portioning them out for each curry, and it’s a huge timesaver.

A lot of the fun is the logistical challenge of it, which I kind of love — it stretches a part of my brain in enjoyable ways. My little scribbled lists are all over the place — here is the next grocery list. Here is the complete list of dishes. Here is the list of tasks for day of party, in time order. 2:00 – set out tables, chairs, and tablecloths. 2:30 – assemble fruit and veggie trays take cheese out of the fridge. 3:00 – make punch, shower and dress. 3:30 – start frying appetizers. 4:00 – party! Here is the list of tasks to hand off to other people. Four different grocery stores to get the right ingredients in three days. Planning the schedule so that everything gets done in time, and that hot things come out hot.

One microwave + one stove make this last a pretty serious element of the challenge — some of my friends have a second stove in the basement, which would definitely simplify that, but I can’t justify it for using it 2-3 times / year. So we scramble and plan a bit instead, and are grateful that Amanda is willing to take on the task of putting things into the microwave and pulling them out again, stirring and testing as she goes. In a few years, Kavi will be old enough to handle that task, but she’s not quite there yet.

The Sri Lankan appetizers (which we call ‘short eats’) are particularly labor-intensive. I could have had some catered (the rolls and cutlets, from a Sri Lankan family up near Devon), but I like mine better. So that entails several hours of additional people’s labor — Kat and Michael and Kavi on Friday night, making cutlets and crepes for the rolls, Kat and Michael again on Saturday early afternoon, egging and breading the cutlets, assembling and slicing the ribbon sandwiches, and a host of early party attendees on Saturday late afternoon, egging and breading the rolls, while I stand at the stove and fry everything.

That last is actually something I’d like to hand off, so I could be talking to guests as they arrive — but if you’re not used to deep-frying, it can be intimidating. Maybe next time, I should find a party guest in advance willing to deep-fry for me, or be sure Kevin won’t be busy with other things then. A lot of this requires delegating, which is complicated by the delegated folks’ needing the skills for it.

In twenty years, perhaps I will have trained a little coterie of locals in the subtleties of rolling cutlets and assembling rolls. Kat’s mackerel cutlets were rolled perfectly this time — honestly, she’s neater than I am. And Michael P. brings his scientist background to the ribbon sandwiches — the fillings were so finely distributed, they looked completely professional. Somehow, it all comes together in the end.

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Mango-Cardamom-Saffron Tea Cakes (vegan)

(makes about 45 tea cakes)
 
Dry ingredients:
1.5 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. cardamom
 
Wet ingredients:
1.5 c. mango puree
1/3 cup oil
1/2 c. white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch saffron threads
 
1. Pre-heat the oven to 350F, and butter & flour a tea cake pan (I use the spray, Baker’s Joy, which makes it so easy.)
 
2. Mix the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, then combine and whisk to a smooth batter texture by hand. (Don’t over-mix.)
 
3. Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake 12-15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (My pan holds 30, so I do one-and-a-half batches.
 
Serve hot — particularly nice with passionfruit curd, clotted cream, or pineapple-chili jam. Although my kids just gobbled them down straight up. (At some point, I think I may try this as a jelly roll with the passionfruit curd and cream.)
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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 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!
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Writing Shed

Writing shed. Eep. It will be tiny and free of distractions. So far:

– measured out space and stuck poles in the ground with string around it to get a sense of it
– found free shed plans on internet and sent to contractors
– went to Re-Use Depot and found some old windows and French doors (cheaper, adds character, recycling is good)
– trench dug in yard for conduit for electric and possible heat to be added later if I end up wanting to actual trek across a snowy yard to use this in winter
– four holes dug and cement filled for footings
– framing built for flooring, groundcloth laid down to block weeds, covered in gravel — contractors pointed out that I could hide things in the base if I wanted. When I said that it wasn’t enough room to bury the bodies, they said, “We have a Sawzall.”
– trench filled in (nobody fell in, yay!)

More soon!

 
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Avoid

I swear, the hardest thing about being a writer is starting writing. 800 words so far this morning on the new story, and I like them, but lord, the number of things I found to do before I actually started writing was ridiculous.

YMMV, but for me, it’s all about that moment when I finally make myself open the file and start to work. My avoidance behavior is EPIC. I have composed an entire cookbook, spanning a year of work, mostly to avoid opening the file with my novel.

In other completely unrelated news, heading to my third therapy appointment shortly (still a little startled that it’s covered by my HMO insurance and just a $20 co-pay each time), where I hope to focus the conversation on my work habits.

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Perennial Launch

Folks, I am THRILLED to announce that Perennial is now available for sale, direct from its small press publisher!

This little project is dear to me, and I’ll be talking more about it in the next few weeks. (Those of you who pre-ordered, oh so long ago, I’ll be shipping your books to you soon!) It’s a sweet little romance! It’s a collection of poetry! It’s a cancer memoir hidden in a romance and poetry! It’d make a nice gift for someone going through cancer treatment, I think. But mostly, it’s a book, and the first book I’ve published since 2013. EEP.

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