Re-org

A *lot* of what I’m doing this past week has been organizing and reorganizing my life. I realized that I needed staff a year or so ago, and it’s trying to figure out how to get staff when I don’t have money for staff that’s been part of the problem. Luckily, there are a lot of tasks that are volunteer do-able, and there is some money for staff, so I think it’s sorting itself out? Maybe? Slowly.
 
Part of it is also figuring out Trello boards and Discord and Google Drive, so that all these far-flung groups can share content effectively. We’re getting there. Some of what I’ve sorted out more clearly this week:
 
– household management is a separate thing that can be handed off pretty easily, and Christopher Pence has been doing that wonderfully for a while. Everything from laundry to dishes to outdoor chores to taking down the holiday decorations to running errands, all freeing up time for me to think / write. He’d also be great at physically managing the Maram arts center if we get into a space, so we’re hoping that will work out, at least part-time. And maybe he’d have a little time for his own writing there too, in a creative space? I hope so!
 
– social media / PR is a separate thing that can be handed off pretty easily and done remotely, and we’re delighted that Irene Victoria has been helping with that. We can even pay her, which is great.
 
– SLF: Colleen Waldie is project manager there, and the main point of contact — I talk to her, and she talks to everyone else. Well, not really, but it means that I don’t have to try to keep track of every little detail. That’s her (volunteer) job. 🙂 She’s been a con chair for SF, so she knows the field intimately, and knows how to wrangle a passel of volunteers, which is what this job needs.
 
– Maram: Meghan O’Shea is project manager there. Ditto much of the previous!
 
– DesiLit: I don’t have anyone project managing this, but it’s mostly on hiatus right now, with very little active happening beyond the lit mag, Jaggery, which Anu Mahadev has taken over almost completely, and the Chicago monthly book club, which Sital Shah and crew run completely without me.
 
The main thing I could still use on this is someone else to cut checks for Jaggery, so I don’t have to think about it — if I had an office manager here in Chicago, I’d pass that off to them. If we wanted DesiLit to start doing more again (we used to have local chapters in various cities, the Kriti Festival, etc.), then I’d need a volunteer project manager to oversee that. (If that’s you, let me know!) I just don’t have the bandwidth right now. (Look at me, acknowledging the obvious that everyone has been telling me for years! Personal growth, people, that’s what you’re seeing here.)
 
There’s some possibility that the Sri Lanka retreat might get run out of DesiLit, so that’s a thing to think about. Well, we’ll see.
 
– Serendib Press / Serendib Kitchen: These are still just me, which is why they get done in a haphazard manner. An office manager would help with this.
 
– Mary Anne Mohanraj. I could use someone to project manage me, primarily re: the writing career, but also to facilitate all the arts organization work above. Executive assistant would work too? Office manager? Heather has been trying to do it, but it’s really hard to do remotely, because at least the first stage is sitting down with me, understanding everything I do, and gently taking things off my plate, one by one. I can hand her concrete tasks remotely, like booking my travel, but some of the rest is much more amorphous and hard to pin down. We’re going to try it a little longer, see if we can make it work, but I may need someone here in Oak Park who can actually swing by daily and work with me for an hour or two. If so, then Heather will move to more task-oriented discrete projects. Or maybe if Heather and I have a daily conversation, we can do it remotely? I’m honestly not sure. We’ll see.
 
*****
 
Oof. It’s a lot, but honestly, it really helps laying it all out. I’ve been saying for a little while that I’m trying to do five peoples’ jobs, but I think I didn’t really believe it? I was doing those jobs very badly, and very minimally, in a rather scrambly, desperate sort of way. They could be done so much better, and then I might even have time to finish writing some books?
 
Let’s see how it goes.
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Chicken Salad, Sri Lankan-Style

   (10 minutes, serves 4)

You know how you’re tired and the kids need dinner, so you pick up a rotisserie chicken on the way home from work? And your family eats some of it that night, and maybe a bit more the next day, but they’re bored with it after that. But you can’t stand wasting food, so you spend a little time taking the remaining chicken off the bone?

In my experience, that results in about two cups of cooked chicken, a mix of light and dark meat, heading towards too-dry, so needing some moisture added to be tasty. Sometimes I make a spicy curry with the leftover chicken, but often, chicken salad is the way to go. Mayonnaise leaps to the rescue!

While you can certainly add a little yellow curry powder to chicken salad, I actually like it just fine without, and usually don’t bother. It’s the cashews, sultanas, green chili, and lime juice that make it ‘feel’ Sri Lankan to me.

Bonus — if you wait to add the cashews and cilantro, you can actually do everything else and it’ll freeze well. Then just let thaw in the fridge overnight, or at room temperature for a few hours (I wouldn’t try to use the microwave defrost on this, personally, for risk of the mayo starting to cook), add the cashews and cilantro, check your seasonings, and you’re ready to serve it to guests, or have it for a few days of sandwiches.

2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1/4 c. cashews, chopped
1/4 c. sultanas, chopped
3-5 Thai green chilies, chopped
1/2 c. mayo
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped
1/2 – 1 t. fine salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1-2 T lime juice

1. Combine ingredients, adjust seasonings to your taste, and enjoy! If you let it sit for maybe 20 minutes or so, the flavors will meld a little better.

*****

(I do like a recipe with only one step!)

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Instant Pot Sri Lankan Lamb Curry in Coconut Milk

(1 hr, serves 8)

Cooking lamb curry in the instant pot is only a little faster than cooking this on the stovetop, but does mean that you can make it in advance, or go run an errand (or attend a board meeting, in my case), and let it keep warm until you’re ready to devour the dish.

3 TBL vegetable oil
3 medium onions, chopped
2 TBL ginger, chopped fine
6-8 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 stick cinnamon
6-12 curry leaves (optional)
1-2 TBL raw red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 lbs leg of lamb, cubed, about 1 inch pieces, with some fat left on

1/2 c. ketchup
1 can coconut milk
1-2 TBL lime juice

1. In the Instant Pot, heat oil and sauté onions with ginger, garlic, mustard seed, cumin seed, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon and curry leaves until onions are golden/translucent (not brown), stirring as needed.

2. Add chili powder, curry powder, and salt, stirring to combine, then add lamb and sear, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, to bring out the flavor of the meat.

3. Add ketchup and coconut milk, stir well, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom.

4. Set to pressure cook for 15 minutes; allow pressure to release before opening. Add lime juice and salt to taste, simmering if needed to reduce liquid.

5. Serve hot, with rice or bread.

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Instant Pot Black Pork Curry / Uru Mas or Padre Kari

 

 (1 hour, serves 6-8)

Cooking this in the Instant Pot only saves about 30 minutes off the traditional recipe, but it does make it easy to set it going, and then wander off, knowing it’ll be kept nice and warm for you until you get back. When I made this test batch, I was able to take Anand to his swim lesson after I set the pressure-cooking going, knowing that it’d be all done and ready for me to eat when we got back!

This traditional tangy, peppery dish gets its dark color from the combination of dark roasted curry powder, tamarind paste, and lots of black pepper. (The colloquial name ‘padre kari’ refers to the black robes of a padre / priest.) Tamarind paste is fairly easy to find in Mexican and Indian markets, or you can order it online. It keeps well in the pantry for a long time, even after opening. Typically, you’d leave a good portion of the fat on the pork pieces; it soaks up a ton of flavor, and is truly delectable, balancing the meat, which can otherwise be a bit dry after long cooking. But you can trim all the fat off if you’d prefer.

3 medium onions, chopped
2 TBL ginger, chopped fine
6-8 garlic cloves, smashed
6-12 curry leaves (optional)
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
1 heaping tsp salt
4 tsp black peppercorns
3 lbs pork shoulder, cubed, about 1 inch pieces, with some fat left on
3 tsp tamarind paste
1/2cup white vinegar

1. In the Instant Pot, sauté onions, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and curry leaves in oil until onions are golden/translucent (not brown), stirring as needed.

2. Add curry powder, salt, and peppercorns, stirring to combine, then add pork and sear, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, to bring out the flavor of the meat.

3. Add tamarind paste and white vinegar; stir well.

4. Set to pressure cook for 30 minutes; allow pressure to release before opening. Serve hot, with rice or bread.

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Instant Pot Beef Smoore

   Instant Pot Sri Lankan Beef Smoore
 
This dish translated really easily to the Instant Pot — I hardly had to modify it at all. And it’s simple enough that even a novice cook shouldn’t find it too intimidating. It normally takes 4-6 hours by the traditional method, but this was just an hour, start to finish. Maybe add another 10-15 minutes if you’re slow at chopping onions, but still — v. speedy, and I didn’t notice any lessening of flavor from the traditional version.
 
Beef Smoore / Mas Ismoru
(1 hour, serves 8)
This is a dish of Dutch / Sri Lankan origin. Yummy with rice — also great in weekday lunch sandwiches on hearty Italian bread, or shredded into a pita or folded naan, with some pickled onions and a little yogurt. Long-handled metal tongs will help with moving the large piece of hot meat. This is made to authentic Sri Lankan spice levels; reduce chili powder for a milder version. Delicious with a deep red wine; garnish with cilantro if desired. A fabulous dinner party dish.
 
3-4 lb chuck roast
3 TBL ghee or vegetable oil
1 TBL salt
1 TBL pepper
1/2 cup vinegar
1 TBL tamarind, dissolved in one cup water
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 TBL finely chopped fresh ginger
1 stick cinnamon
2 stalks curry leaves
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
2 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp salt
1 cup coconut milk
1. Set Instant Pot on sauté and heat oil. Rub beef with salt and pepper, then sear the beef until lightly brown on all sides, which adds great depth of flavor to the sauce.
 
2. Add the vinegar, tamarind water, onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, curry leaves, lemongrass, curry powder, chili powder, turmeric, fenugreek, remaining salt, and coconut milk. Stir to combine, scraping up any browned meat on the bottom of the pan.
 
4. Cover the Instant Pot and set to pressure cook for 45 minutes. When finished, release steam and then remove lid.
 
5. Remove meat to a serving dish; if the gravy is too thin, reduce it by boiling rapidly uncovered. Transfer gravy to a serving bowl. Slice the meat into the desired thickness, and pour gravy over the slices; serve hot with rice or bread.
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Instant Pot Sri Lankan Red Lentils (Masoor Dal)

  Okay, so this was my first instant pot experiment, and I definitely went wrong in a few ways. For one, red lentils are delicate and don’t actually take that long to cook, so it doesn’t really make sense to make them in a pressure cooker — the stovetop works fine. All the lentil recipes I looked at warned against red lentils for the pressure cooker!

But I love them, and they’re what I normally cook if I’m making a Sri Lankan lentil dish — I’m pretty sure that’s common throughout the country. Also, I’m nothing if not stubborn. So I figured what the heck, let’s try.

And so I cobbled together a recipe from suggestions here and there, using my own regular Sri Lankan red lentil recipe as the base, and set it going. Only to hear a beep and see the ‘burning’ alarm! OH NO.

(I admit to a brief moment of panic there, that I had perhaps just broken my new expensive device!)

But it turned out to be basically fine — when my instant pot thinks it doesn’t have enough water, and things have started sticking to the bottom, it turns itself off (and tells you it’s burning). So I opened it up, took the lentils out, and there was a little stuck to the bottom, yes, but I’d say more caramelized than burnt; I didn’t feel like it hurt the flavors at all. (A bit of a nuisance to clean, but not bad. Soaking took care of it.)

The lentils overall were quite porridge-like in consistency, but that’s actually how I usually cook them on the stovetop anyway; I like them better that way than the more soup-y preparation that is common. But I’m pretty sure that if you just added 1-2 c. of water, you’d get that version, and without the ‘burning’ warning!

I’ll try that next time, just to know for certain, but here’s the ‘burning’ porridge version, for your amusement. I served it to guests, and they said it was delicous!

2 medium onions
1 stick of cinnamon
3 strips of lemon rind (about a quarter lemon)
dozen curry leaves
2 c. red lentils
1 can coconut milk + 2 can water
1 dried red chili, broken into pieces
1 pinch saffron
1 t. salt

1. Dice two medium onions and put in Instapot with cinnamon stick, lemon rind, and curry leaves. Sauté 2 minutes, stirring. Hit cancel to stop the sauté function.

2. Add lentils, coconut milk, chili, and saffron to pot (should not be more than 1/2 up the pot interior).

3. Seal the lid, then set to cook on HIGH pressure for 10 minutes. (It will take about 8 minutes for the pressure to build, then the timer will begin.) [note –I’m not actually sure where in here it turned itself off, but close to 10 minutes, I think]

4. Once the timer has stopped, let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes, then vent to release the pressure completely.

5. Open the lid, taste, and adjust seasoning as desired. Serve hot with rice, garnished with cilantro.

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Instant Pot Chicken and Potato Curry

It’s going to take me a while to figure out what the Instant Pot is actually good for. For example, this chicken and potato curry isn’t really any faster doing it this way than on the stovetop — you need the same time sautéing, then the time for preheating and pressure cooking, then you need to remove the chicken and potatoes and cook down the sauce, ideally.

I think the only time I’d maybe do this is if I wanted to do the first step in the morning before work, set a timer, and then have it pressure cook the rest when I got home (or just before I got home)? Although I don’t love the idea of uncooked chicken sitting all day at room temperature. Do steps 1 and 2 in the morning, let it keep warm ’til you get home, and then do step 3? That’s a lot of morning cooking time. Just do step 1 in the morning, so you’re ready to quickly cook it when you get home? But you’re still looking at 30-45 minutes then, so….?

I am new to the ways of the Instant Pot, so feel free to opine. This works, anyway, if you really want to use one for chicken curry

******

(serves 4-6)

This is the classic Sri Lankan chicken dish; if you were just going to make one, this should be the one.

2-3 medium onions, diced
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 whole cloves
3 whole cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3 pieces
1-2 TBL red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
6-8 pieces boneless chicken thighs, about 2lbs, skinned and trimmed of fat
2 russet potatoes
1/3 cup ketchup
1 heaping tsp salt
water to cover
1 TBL lime juice

1. In the Instant Pot, sauté onions in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seed, cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon pieces, until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add chili powder and cook one minute.

 

2. Add curry powder, chicken, potatoes, ketchup, salt, and water. Pressure cook on high 8 minutes (allowing time for preheat cycle beforehand, about 15-20 minutes).

3. Release steam, open and remove chicken and potatoes to a serving dish. You can serve now, but the sauce will be very liquid. I recommend going back to sauté mode, stirring in lime juice, and simmering it down 10-20 minutes until it’s thickened.

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Headspace

Self-care note: Signed up for Headspace meditation app again. I stopped last spring when my free trial ran out, but I think the lack of meditation became clear in my stressed-out fall, and apparently I need the structure of an app at least for now, so have shelled out $100 for the year to use it. I am trying to prioritize budgeting for things that qualify as health-related, and putting them ahead of material purchases like books and clothes and such.
 
Health comes first (I can hear my doctor dad saying, “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything”), which at least this year, is going to include meditation as well as doctors and meds and exercise and all that. Yoga too, because gods, I need to stretch. Every damn day. Dana Steinhoff had us doing meditation and stretching during our game design retreat, and it was SO HELPFUL and SO NEEDED and yet I wouldn’t have done it on my own. I ought to start every day with meditation and stretches, instead of lying in bed doing e-mail (or Facebook-ing).
 
The physical therapist who looked at the knee I injured said that the main problem was that my leg muscles were so tight that I was putting extra strain on them. This is not surprising. I went for a massage about two weeks ago, the first in three months or so, and the poor masseuse said that she was going to have to convert it to a deep tissue massage, because the knots in my back were so tight that a regular Swedish massage wouldn’t cut it.
 
If I can figure out a way to budget for regular massages, that will be in there too. I suspect ‘make more money’ is the only way that will happen, though. At least my YMCA gym membership is free these days, thanks to the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s program for cancer survivors. It helps.
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Help

I got some great news this morning that I can’t talk about yet, burble burble. Soon.

In unrelated but also good news, I have hired a very part-time, very underpaid social media person for all my orgs. We will try to get her better paid as quickly as possible. Yay, Irene Victoria.

I am also in the midst of hiring a very part-time person, ditto wildly underpaid, to help me keep track of my schedule, essentially, and make sure that important things get done on time. Yay, Heather Rainwater Campbell.

I continue to find Christopher Pence essential for 16 hrs / week of household management and other locally-based assistant work. AND we have a cleaner who comes twice a month. Isa comes and for a few brief hours, peace and gorgeous cleanliness descends on the household. Thankfully, we can pay them both appropriately.

Apparently I would lose my head if it weren’t attached. I suppose doing five different jobs does take some extra coordination. Is it 5? I don’t even know. Let’s count:

– mom
– professor
– writer
– director, SLF (reading series coordinator, Deep Dish)
– director, DesiLit (publisher, Jaggery)
– director, Maram Makerspace
– library trustee

I think I can legitimately count that as 7, actually. Some of these are more part-time than others, but STILL.

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Sigiriya Retreat Day One

Arrived last night in Vermont for the Sigiriya game-building retreat with Rad Magpie. We’re in a gorgeous old farmhouse, and lucky enough to have Kel‘s wife, Becca, cooking for us all weekend. I enjoyed a little local cider (Tits Up!) last night, and started the morning with Dana, our project lead, also leading us in a little stretching and a guided meditation. After the hurried rush of the last few months, this is bliss.
 
Sometimes this life of mine, it is very good.

It feels a little ironic to be creating a Sri Lankan jungle game in the midst of New England hills and trees and snow, but also oddly good. A little attention to environment, please; it determines so much.

Breakfast of “Mike’s Mess” with artist Kat Weaver.

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