Woot! I am legal. In the end, it took about 1 minute at home filling out the form, 5 minutes at Village Hall, giving it to Business Services and then paying the cashier my $25, plus travel time there and back. 30 minutes max. Thanks to the various folks at Village Hall who talked me through my confusion — I hadn’t found the Home Kitchen form initially, and was trying to fill out the Cottage Food form, which is more complicated and requires you to take an 8 hour food safety certification course and pass a test.

The Home Kitchen (aka ‘cupcake law’) is a relatively new ordinance that lets people in Illinois (if their local municipalities adopt it, which Oak Park did about a year ago) sell a small amount of food cooked in their kitchen directly to the public — spices, spice blends, jams and jellies, baked goods, that kind of thing. I’m allowed to do up to $1000 / month, selling directly to the public (no wholesale businesses). If I wanted to do the Cottage Food form (and certification course) as well, I could then sell an additional much larger amount at Farmer’s Markets, but I have no plans to do that. Although I suppose if Kavya & Anand want to pick up some money as a teen, it’d be an interesting option to think about…

Now off to make up an order form for Sri Lankan curry powder…

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You know, the Thanksgiving meal is really well-designed. If you’ve been through it a few times, it’s relatively easy to cook the sides and turkey, to have the turkey rest while the sides heat up in the oven, to make the gravy from the pan drippings and bake some crescent rolls, to have it all come out at the same time, nice and hot and ready to feed a couple dozen people.

And I’m assuming that it’s not that some bright soul sat down and figured this all out from scratch. It‘s cooking wisdom that was developed over an entire culture, over decades or even centuries. It just works, and it works because it’s been made and refined a gazillion times.

After the events of Black July, tens of thousands of Tamil refugees fled their homes, many ending up in other countries — Canada, America, England, Australia. It was, among other things, a massive disruption in food culture.

My own family didn’t come here as refugees; we were simple economic migrants, who came a decade earlier, because my father got a good job here, and never ended up moving back to Sri Lanka. But my knowledge of Sri Lankan food culture was disrupted too. And sure, I can roll a simple sushi roll now, or make a decent pasta sauce, or serve chilaquiles for breakfast. We make a basic Thai curry once a week or so. I’ve gained a superficial understanding of many different cuisines, and the variety is delightful.

But there’s a depth missing. That’s one of the things that became clear when I was researching for the cookbook — that you could make hoppers and serve them with all kinds of things, but an egg hopper with seeni sambol is sheer perfection on its own. There’s a reason why that same combination is served across the island. No culinary school laying down the rules, but the wisdom of many hands stirring and seasoning, and many hungry souls eating, and giving feedback. A little less salt, a little more lime.

How long does it take a people to recover their food culture, after a massive disruptive event? Are some elements lost forever? Or can we trace out the path of what is missing, and rebuild the breadth and depth of it?

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Soup-er satisfying swapping. It was a small soup swap, just five participants, but that still meant I got a bunch of interesting soup to try — my curried squash and my Vietnamese chicken noodle have been joined by a kale-sausage, a barley-mushroom, a chicken tortilla-squash, and a carrot-ginger. Yay.

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Green Tomato Chutney

(1 hr, makes about a quart)

This is an end-of-season chutney, using up the tomatoes that didn’t have a chance to ripen, along with other fall flavors. It’d be delicious at the Thanksgiving table, alongside a honey ham, and also yummy in a sandwich on a crescent roll slathered with a little bitter, with ham or leftover roast turkey. Serve with a little green salad for a nice light lunch.

2 small onions, chopped
2 T butter
1 tsp black mustard seed
2 green tomatoes, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
2 green apples, chopped
1/2 cup sultanas
1/2 cup candied ginger, chopped
1 c. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp jaggery
2 tsp crushed red pepper
3 star anise
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 stick cinnamon

1. Sauté onions in butter with black mustard seed in a saucepan on medium-high high until onions are golden-translucent, stirring regularly.


2. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook 45 minutes.

Will keep refrigerated for a week or two in the fridge; follow proper canning instructions to store safely for months in the pantry.


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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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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.



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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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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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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