All posts by Mary Anne Mohanraj

Whitefish Bagel

With the New Year, I’m trying to more consciously eat plenty of fish (and serve it to my kids).  I’ve been eating lox and bagels for years, but only recently have I discovered whitefish salad.  I think it was at my friends Ellen and Delia’s apartment in New York, where we had a weekend writing workshop and they laid out a beautiful bagel spread with lox and multiple fish spreads, along with everything else you might want.  SO GOOD.

Next up in the queue is figuring out how to make my own whitefish salad (please do feel free to point me to your favorite recipes!), but for right now, I’m very happy that my local Whole Foods carries ‘whitefish paté’ in their seafood case.  Toast a bagel, layer it up with lettuce, tomato, capers, red onion (not pictured, because I was out, but trust me, that makes it even better), and you have yourself a delicious breakfast.

(And for those counting calories, if you pile this all on a mini bagel, it’s still only about 200 calories, which is kind of amazing.  Have two!)

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The novel I’m currently reading is beautifully written, and should definitely be considered for the Tiptree next year, because the ideas are terrific. But it falls into that odd category of science fiction that is really literary fiction using SF as metaphor, I think.

The societal changes she envisions are mostly happening too fast to quite make sense; the book would be picked apart in any actual SF workshop for that. I think Ishiguro’s _Never Let Me Go_ and Atwood’s _The Handmaid’s Tale_ fall into the same category.

But with these books, you sort of don’t care that the science, even the social science, doesn’t really make sense. They’re not really trying to do realistic science; they’re exploring the consequences of an idea. And they’re written beautifully enough that I, for one, am wiling to forgive them some fudging with the science bits.

“In the summer, the miles of purple heather smell like honey and butterflies dip through the bushes. Now, though, the gorse is dominant. Its silver-green blades edging onto my path, sharp and unforgiving, held firm with inexplicable shapes of wood. I once burned it back, and the branches were fragile as hollow bone, shades of silver and white and such curves and angles to them – I felt I had destroyed something beautiful, and was seeing beauty in the scars. I haven’t burned it back since, though the wood shapes decorate my home. Their twists and turns make, one day, the shadow of a wolf, the next, a beckoning hand. Or a smile. I’ll show you when you arrive.”

– Helen Sedgwick, _The Growing Season_

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Moar words

Finally got through revision notes, and actually wrote new scene in novel. I’m not sure it’s any good, but I’m trying to embrace the ‘just get some words down’ philosophy.  1260 new words, and hoping to write another scene or two later today. We’ll see.
“When Jitender told his father that he loved the washerwoman’s daughter, his father had asked him to sleep on it, think it over. Jit agreed, had spent the night awake, thinking it through as seriously as he could. His father came to the bedroom door the next morning and said, “So?” Jit replied, “I’m sorry; I still love her, Appa.” His father slammed and barred the door, swearing that Jit wouldn’t eat until he recanted. Three hungry days later, Rithika managed to get a ladder to his window, and they ran away forever.”
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Finished reading _Autonomous_, which is sort of William Gibson-y cyberpunk crossed with many of the things I’ve been thinking about re: indenture and owning people and property rights and intellectual / physical labor.

When Annalee Newitz told me she was publishing a SF novel about indenture, I kind of freaked out a little that it was going to be too close to what I was doing, but it’s fine, it’s totally different, I could never write a novel like hers, but I’m very glad she did.

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Reading First

Trying to reset my habitual schedule is tricky, but I think progressing. It helps that we’re still on break this week; makes it a lot easier to experiment with scheduling. I used to wake up and do internet first thing, but with the router off in the morning until 10, now I wake up and can’t — well, I can using cell service on my phone, but I try to leave it downstairs, so I’m not tempted to do that right away.
I’ve started waking up and just reading first thing, which is bloody brilliant, I have to say. Not only am I getting through a lot more books than I normally do these days, it’s just such a pleasant, peaceful way to start the day, AND it returns me to myself, AND it gives me ideas for when I’m ready to start writing.
Reading fiction for an hour, first thing. I’m going to have to get up a little earlier to do that next week, if I’m going to do it before the kids get up at 7, but I think it’ll be worth it. We’ll see. It feels oddly luxurious and indulgent, but I am reminding myself that this is also PART OF MY JOB.
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Ginger-Garlic Chicken and Cauliflower with Rice

(30 minutes, serves 4)

The goal for this dinner was to make the spicing very simple, make something the kids would happily eat, and have it all ready in thirty minutes, for an easy weeknight meal.  Success on all counts!

The flavors are honestly a little too similar for what I’d consider ideal — normally, I’d cook either the chicken or the cauliflower, and serve it with a contrasting curry.  But when you’re tired and want dinner on the table quick, this’ll do nicely.  If you have the energy to chop up some cucumbers and tomatoes, they’d add a nice crunch and contrast.  You could stir them into a bit of yogurt for creaminess too.

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 head cauliflower
1 c. white rice
2 t. onion powder
2 t. ground ginger
2 t. garlic powder
2 t. salt + a pinch
2 t. turmeric
2 t. pepper
vegetable oil for frying & roasting (about 1/2 c.)

1. Pre-heat oven to 400.  Cut chicken into bite-size pieces, mix with 1 t. each of the spices, set aside in a bowl.

2.  Cut cauliflower into bite-size pieces, mix with 1 t. each of the spices, along with 1/4 c. of vegetable oil.  Spread on a foil-lined baking tray and put in oven to roast.  Set timer for 20 minutes (or 25 if you prefer them entirely soft).

3.  Start rice:  Add 1 c. rice to 2 c. water, with a pinch of salt, in a sauce pan.  Turn to high.

4.  In a frying pan, add remaining oil and heat on high for a few minutes.  When the rice starts bubbling, turn to simmer and cover.  (Set a timer for 15 minutes.)

5.  Add chicken to frying pan and brown nicely on high, stirring occasionally.  When it’s browned well, turn heat down to medium and continue stirring for another 3-5 minutes, until chicken pieces are cooked through.  Drain excess oil.  (I do this by setting the pan on a tilt on the edge of the stove, scooting the chicken up to the higher edge.  Leave it alone for a few minutes, so the oil collects, then use a paper towel to sop up the excess oil, and dispose of the paper towel.)

6.  When the timer goes off for the rice, give it a stir, and then leave it for a few more minutes to finish cooking.  (My friend Kat and I disagree about this — she thinks my rice is undercooked this way, but it seems perfect to me.  Your mileage may vary — you can leave it to sit covered another 5-10 minutes if you like.)

When the timer goes off for the cauliflower, serve with rice and chicken, hot.


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Growing up

Two nice additions to my day — played Carcassone with Kevin, Kavya, AND Anand. We skipped fields, but otherwise played a real grown-up game, and Anand was a little confused, but was mostly getting it. He got frustrated at various points, but managed not to burst into tears or get angry, which is great! And even ended up in second place, behind Kavya, with both Kevin and me basically playing for real (okay, not our *most* competitive versions, but still). Feeling very hopeful about proper family gaming soon.
And after that, lit candles in the fireplace in the library, put Yogaglo on the kids’ computer there with the big screen, and did the first program with Kavya. She didn’t make it quite all the way through the 30 minutes, and her form is terrible, but I think the point right now is to have her start getting used to yoga as a thing, and also as a good way to get a little tired and wind down before bed.
I hope she gets to like it, and that we both make daily practice of it. Anand too, when he’s a little older and more able to pay attention through something like that. When I do it, I feel so good afterwards.
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Grilled Steak with Roasted Potatoes and Broccoli

(30 minutes, serves four)

It is honestly still a little bewildering to me, growing up in a Sri Lankan tradition, that one can make quite tasty food without chopping several onions and utilizing a host of spices.  But I have to admit, on a weeknight when you want to cook fast and get back to catching up on Doctor Who, it’s nice to have the option.  This dinner uses only steak, broccoli, potatoes, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  That’s it!  Yup, still bewildering.

Note: You’ll have enough time to make 2 lbs. of flank steak, which gives you enough for sandwiches or salad at lunch the next day. But you can just make 1 lb. if you prefer.

2 lbs. flank steak
4 Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 lb. broccoli
olive oil as needed (about 1/2 c. total)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350. Cube potatoes, toss in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, transfer to a foil-covered baking sheet, and start in oven. Set timer for 15 minutes.

2. Cut up broccoli into bite-size pieces (stems and heads both), toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and set aside.

3. Cut flank steak in half (so it will fit in grill pan or frying pan). Start pan heating on high (it’ll give off a fair bit of smoke while cooking, so a strong vent fan is helpful here). Spread some olive oil, salt, and pepper on both sides of the two pieces of steak. When pan is hot, add one piece to pan.

4. For medium rare, cook four minutes on one side, then flip over, and cook three minutes on the other side. Somewhere in here, your timer will go off. Pull out the potatoes, and add the broccoli to the roasting pan; I like to put them evenly around the edge, piling up the potatoes a bit if needed. Put back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

5. Take the first piece of steak to a plate to rest; it’ll give off some juices (which we usually pour off and add to our grateful dog’s dinner) over the next few minutes. Start the second piece of steak going — again, four minutes on one side, three minutes on the other.

6. Pull the second piece off to rest; by now, the potatoes and broccoli should be finishing up, lovely and golden and crispy, beautifully sweet on the insides. Slice the first steak thinly against the grain, and serve hot with vegetables and perhaps a nice dry shiraz for the grown-ups.

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I set resolutions, taking advantage
of the turning of the year, the earth’s
revolution lending energy to chart
new courses, shape a better version
of myself, hoping to make it habit.

in the new year I will floss
morning and night, will take time
to walk the treadmill, lift weights, will eat
more vegetables — the list is long
but moving through the day, tasks

easy enough to check off, except
for one. the children have gone
to bed long ago, and he is listening
to his audiobook, engaged in his
nightly battle with insomnia, but I

am looking at the list that has had
one box stubbornly unchecked
for hours now — write fiction.
No expectations for how much
or how long, just…write fiction.

finally, finally, sheer stubbornness
that I will not. be. defeated. by
a list, lets me release the held breath,
open the file, start once more
to read the words and within moments

I am typing, I am changing things,
tightening a line, adding ‘the bite
of green chili,’ which is what the scene
was missing, and it is easy, easy
to fall into this, my storytelling

heart, and what was I afraid of?
my daughter saw my list today,
made herself a chart, a dozen
boxes to check off: exercise,
pick outfit, brush teeth, make bed,

do chores, play with brother —
she wasn’t sure about that one,
but when she asked him, he said
please, with the saddest face;
she added it, along with homework.

a host of duties and any mother
would be proud, but I had to
tell her — please, add ‘make art’
to your list. Draw, crochet, it
doesn’t matter what, just give time

and space for the creativity that beats
and soars at the heart of you.
Otherwise, your most central self
might slip away, lost to grown-up
habits and unreasonable fears.

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