Cover Cover

Thinking about the semiotics of book covers. Leaving aside the actual design (I had a harder time doing the layout with the sari photo, because of where there was available space, but try to ignore that for now), these two covers send very different messages, I think. It’d make a good exercise for my students:

– who is each cover marketing towards (audience)?
– what are they trying to say?
– which is more appealing, and why?
– which one makes you want to cook?
– don’t forget to consider the cultural elements…

I wish Barthes had done one of his little semiotics essays on book covers…

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Feast

The cookbook, A Feast of Serendib, is off to the layout person. It was very hard letting it go. Writing the acknowledgements helped, though per usual, I am terrified that I have forgotten someone critical.

*****

Acknowledgements

This book is deeply indebted to all my readers, on Facebook and elsewhere, who offered advice, encouragement, test cooking, and demands for more recipes. It wouldn’t exist without you – thank you more than I can say.

Appreciation as well to friends and family who have been eating my food for decades, not hesitating to offer constructive criticism along with the compliments. ‘This is good, but maybe a little more lime juice next time?’ You made these dishes better. Special thanks to Aaron Lav, who answered many food science questions, and to Kat Tanaka Okopnik and my sweetie, Jed Hartman, who have given exceptional feedback over the years. The best feedback, of course, is watching them clean their plates and come back for seconds.

Special thanks to my Sri Lankan friends and relatives who answered questions from their own memories and experience cooking – my sisters, Mirna and Sharmila Mohanraj, Roshani Anandappa, Samanthi Hewakapuge, Suchetha Wijenayake, Sugi Ganeshananthan, Mythri Jegathesan, Rozanne Arulanandam, Elaine and Angeline Martyn, and all the rest. (Any Sri Lankan culture errors are my own.)

Thanks as well to my aunties, exceptional cooks, all. For all the times you insisted on my taking away another stuffed full bag of rolls or patties as I headed to the airport, I’m grateful. You’ll never know how much pleasure they brought.

Deep gratitude to my parents – to my mother, for her incredible cooking, of course, but also to my father, who was always ready to provide a mini-lecture on Sri Lankan Tamil culture and the beauty of our language. It can be challenging for any immigrant, maintaining a connection to homeland culture in the diaspora, but my parents always did their best to help us stay connected. I’m planning to take another stab at Tamil classes someday soon.

I also have to thank Kevin, for all the reasons, but mostly for the many days and nights when he cooked separate meals for the children, because they were suspicious of Mommy’s spicy food, especially once she’d started experimenting… Often they’d taste it, but teaching them to love the vast range of Sri Lankan dishes is an ongoing process. It’s getting better as they get older, but in the meantime, it’s a good thing Daddy can cook. Best of men, best of husbands. I’m lucky to have found you.

மீண்டும் சந்திப்போம்
meendum santhipom
we’ll meet again

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Shed

You’re in Santa Fe and craving spicy, delicious, homestyle New Mexican food. Go to the Shed, a circa 1692 hacienda, a little earlier than you actually want to eat, because there will be a wait. Give them your name and take a pager; use the hour to wander the tempting plaza shops nearby, considering just how far you can stretch your budget. (There will be a wide array of price points, so for just a few dollars, you can find a nice souvenir of your visit.) When your pager goes off, come back (you’ll have three minutes, so don’t go too far!) and let them lead you through the building to your seat (duck your head as needed to pass through the low doors — though they weren’t a problem for me!) to a cheery, colorful space (or eat outside, if the weather permits).

We tried both stews / soups (I was waffling, and eventually ordered one, but they kindly brought me a sample of the other) — both good, and the Nixtamal corn in the red chili posole is a nice element, but the roasted green chili one (with potato and pork) is truly delectable. The cheese-stuffed poblano will be mild by comparison, but still tasty. Enchiladas and tacos arrive smothered in red sauce, green sauce, or (my recommendation) both. You’ll leave stuffed and happy.

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Copyedits

My plans to triage e-mail were foiled by the Email Game glitching, argh. But I got my copyedits of the cookbook back from Kat, so spent an hour and a half doing a first pass on them, mostly approving her changes.
 
There’s maybe 1-2 hours’ worth of actual work to do still, focused primarily on needing to add some more food notes for unfamiliar-to-Westerners ingredients that were added in the second edition. Also need to add page breaks. But when those are done, it’s off to Matt at Inkspiral, the layout guy.
 
Note for those self-publishing or small press publishing — if you don’t have a publisher taking care of these elements, you need to do all these jobs yourself, or pay someone to do them, if you want a professional-looking book.
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Perennial and Feast

I’ve printed out and proofed the layout of Perennial (thanks to Lethe Press and Matt at Inkspiral Design for the layout work!). It’s a little under 100 pages, all laid out, which seems short, but hopefully not too short for a charming little gift book. It’s kind of thrilling seeing my illustrations in there — I’m still such a novice with drawing, but I am starting to actually like my own style. It’s odd to think of myself as sort of an artist. Odd, but nice. And for this book in particular, very personal drawings feel right.

 

Moving on to the cookbook, I find that there is a particular thrill to compiling the Scrivener file to .docx. I still write all my fiction in Word, but for the cookbook, where I was moving things around constantly, Scrivener was perfect.

I’m going to print it out now, which feels a little wasteful of paper, but I think I have to accept that every once in a while, writers need to use paper. For this final editing pass, I just find it easier to see everything in print.

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Final stretch

Plan for today: first, submit my votes for a thing I agreed to jury for — this one is quick, but I am increasingly convinced that such jury work should come with honoraria, so one of my priorities for 2018 is figuring out how to offer those to all the SLF jurors. Somehow — I hate to take away money that would otherwise go to awards, though. Well, just have to figure out how to raise more money for the SLF. Thinking. I suspect what I really need is a fundraising committee. Help?

Then, I have a theoretically open morning. I’m planning to spend half an hour pruning the parkway strip, which is full of flowers but also full of dead bits after enduring the last two weeks of construction. It’ll be nice when the street is repaved, but my plants are taking a bit of a beating. I think they’re mostly going to survive, though. I also have a few pansies to add to my fall planter, and a Japanese anemone to get in the ground — this is the THIRD year I’m trying to plant one, and I am crossing my fingers that this one actually lives. I think assiduous watering is probably key. Please picture me out there three times a day with my little watering can.

And then, I think work on the cookbook formatting. I’m sorry I don’t have a pre-order page up yet — I don’t think I can ask Steve Berman at Lethe to set a price until he knows how many pages the book will be, and he can’t do that until his layout guy does the layout, and the layout guy can’t do the layout until I give him the final text, so I’m the hold-up here.

I think I do want to add three more recipes (lamb curry, goat curry, and beet salad), which I’m planning to knock out in the next week, but mostly it’s going through and getting all the text consistent, deciding how much extra material to include, such as little stories or quotes, etc.

I think it may make the most sense to do three editions, actually — the stripped down trade paperback edition, with just the recipes, no photos, and the e-book and glossy hardback; the e-book full of photos (and included with purchase of either print book), the hardback with some photos, and both of those with some additional bits of story / memoir. I’m going to dedicate next week to getting this done — the goal is to hand it off to Steve by 10/7. (Steve, maybe we can get your designer to block off some time for the week following, so we can get the page counts and the pre-order page up ASAP?)

At lunchtime today, though, I’m going to knock off, because my college roommate Kirsten is coming into town, and I’m going to go pick her up at the airport and hang out. Man does not live by cookbook alone.

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Autumn Cookies

Owl and owlet.  These are made with my speediest form of decorating — make a six-second icing, color it, dip cookies and scrape off excess (takes a light touch to get the right amount off, but you get used to it), sprinkle with colored sugar.

 

These are quite time-consuming, adding these details, because you need to mix up different colors, put them into separate squeeze tubes or pastry bags, and apply the layers with time to dry between each one. But they are super-cute, so I suppose that makes it worthwhile.

 

Lots of little cookies, dipped and sprinkled, goes pretty fast, even if you do a few different colors.

I plan the color layers so I can do it all in one bowl — start with white, set aside any white you’ll need later for detailing in a mini squeeze bottle. Stir in yellow gel color to the bowl, ice some cookies. Add orange, ice some cookies (set some icing aside for detailing). Add copper, ice some cookies. Add burgundy, ice some cookies. Add brown, ice some cookies. Add black, set aside for detailing.

 

 

Tried a new technique this time, marbling, which is super-easy — dipped the cookies to get the base color, squeeze bottle to add a line of a contrast color, use a toothpick (while both icings are still wet) to draw lines through them both. Really like the effect, suspect I will do it often going forward. A little sugar sprinkle makes it even more festive; these are my favorites out of this batch.

Finished little batches — cookies & owlet. Hopefully will sell lots of them for Pem‘s hurricane fundraiser! I think they’re pretty darn cute, and would make a nice little snack for yourself, a treat for your kids, or a sweet gift for a friend.

Cookie recipe:  http://sweetopia.net/2009/12/sugar-cookie-recipe/

Icing recipe (thinned with hot water to 6-second icing):  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/royal-icing-recipe-1941917

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Cheesy

Kavi just took Anand a little plate with his allotment of four apple-cheddar croissants. I told her she was a nice Acca, and she laughed and said, “I’m doing this so I’m not tempted to eat his too.”

(Pillsbury crescent rolls wrapped around a slice of apple and some pre-grated cheddar, bake for about 12 minutes @ 350. V. easy, v. fast.)

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Mango Pickle

This is a fiery, fruity accompaniment that will keep refrigerated for a long time — you can add a little to your plate of rice and curry whenever you want to kick things up a notch. It would also be tasty with cheese and crackers, or layered in a sandwich with roast meat.
 
2 c. raw mango (about 1 large), cubed small
3 T oil or ghee
1 stalk curry leaves
1 T black mustard seeds
1 T ginger, finely chopped
1 T garlic, finely chopped
3 Thai green chili, chopped
3 T raw red chili powder
1 t. turmeric
1/4 c. vinegar
1 c. water
1 t. salt
 
1. Heat oil in a large frying pan and sauté mustard seeds, curry leaves, ginger, garlic, and chili in oil or ghee on medium-high for a few minutes, stirring, until they start to smell cooked instead of raw.
 
2. Add chili powder, turmeric, vinegar, water, and salt; cook down to a thick pickling paste, about five minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool for fifteen minutes or so.
 
3. Add mango to pan and mix well to combine. Store in the fridge and eat within a year or so (or fill canning jars and seal properly for seriously long-term storage). Serve with congee or other mild dishes.
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