Leftover Veggie Poriyal

Doesn’t this look yummy? It’s a Sri Lankan veggie poriyal, but it is mostly using up leftovers! (I hate waste.)

1. Take pea pods and carrots leftover from the previous night’s party dip, where they’d been served with hummus. Chop up.

2. Take the kids’ leftover steamed broccoli, dull and unappealing. Chop up.

3. Chop one onion and sauté in a few T oil or ghee, with 1 t. mustard seeds, 1 t. cumin seeds, 1 t. salt, and 1/2 t. numeric.

4. When onions are golden, add raw veggies and saute a few minutes, then add steamed broccoli and saute a few minutes more. Serve hot!

Pork Vindaloo and Banana Bread

We eat a lot of bananas in this house, but sometimes we don’t get to them before they start going bad, so we toss them in the freezer and every month or so, I pull them out and make banana bread. I am here to tell you that pork vindaloo is EXCELLENT on banana bread — it is so good that if I ever open a cafe, I would totally serve this, and people would go wild. I suppose it’s not so surprising that pork + bananas is yummy, but this specific combo surprised me. Experimenting yields great rewards sometimes!
 
I am imagining a fancy cocktail party or high-end restaurant appetizer version of this too — little circles of banana bread spread with vindaloo sauce, topped with a perfectly seared piece of pork (be sure to leave a little fat on), graced with a dab of yogurt and a tiny curry leaf.
 
But I am too lazy to go to that much effort. 🙂

ADD and agents

Here’ s another ADD-thing maybe, this one writing / agent-related. I work in a lot of different areas, and it turns out that the literary agenting world is REALLY not set up for this. When I was last agent-hunting, Benjamin Rosenbaum was strongly advocating that I find an agent who could represent all the varied things I do. That sounds great, but the thing is, what I do is REALLY varied.

My attention scatters hither and yon, and as a result, I am working in the following fields: science fiction, fantasy, mainstream lit, memoir (two different ones), cookbooks, and kids’ lit (picture books, middle grade, YA). I also write poetry, but it is perhaps my salvation that I don’t even try to publish it properly, but just post it here. I dabbled in playwriting for a year, but thankfully managed to set it aside. Mostly. I keep fighting the urge to write a graphic novel; it’s a good thing I can’t draw.

I don’t know of ANY agents who actually represent all of that. I’ve asked around, a lot! Agents tend to specialize, which makes sense, because they need to know their sub-field really well in order to keep up with what’s happening there. So in the end, I decided to pick SF as my major focus right now, and choose an agent who was good at it.

Russ Galen is, in fact, GREAT at SF/F, and I feel very lucky to have him as my agent. He’s helped me see where my first attempt at a SF novel went wrong, and the version I’m working on now is, I think, much better. On my good days, I’m quite hopeful that I can write a good SF novel and he can sell it. (Last night I was being very mopey about that whole endeavor, but Kevin talked me down from the ledge.)

Russ has given me permission to go find other agents to represent anything else I do, but unfortunately, that’s turning out to be really difficult. Most agents would prefer to represent an author entirely, so a lot of people will just say no straight off, when they hear that Russ is representing my SF/F.

After talking to some more agent friends, it seems like I MIGHT be able to find someone to do just my kid lit, so I’m agent-hunting for that now. But agents are really quite resistant, even in the initial inquiry phase, which is disheartening.

Agent-hunting is maybe not quite as terrible as job-hunting, but it’s close. I think I’ve been spoiled because I’ve never really had to do it before — I got my first agent through editing a book with Bob when he was still an editor, and I got Russ through an introduction from a fellow writer. I’ve never done a real agent search before. It sucks.

Anyway, to come back to the writing-in-many-genres thing — a lot of people would say to just pick one and stick to it, that it’s almost impossible for someone to do well in multiple genres.

But almost impossible isn’t the same as impossible, right? Iain Banks / Iain M. Banks published in both mainstream lit. and SF. Ursula K. Le Guin wrote SF/F, published as mainstream, and even did a lovely children’s book (Fish Soup) that I’m insanely fond of. Michael Chabon writes mainstream lit. and superhero stories and Frankenstein baseball. (Yes, I am aware that these people are exceptional. Sigh.)

I am *trying* to focus. I am. But sometimes my brain just spins out in other directions. On my good days, I’m hopeful that it all goes together in some sort of hodgepodge that I hope will work synergistically.

My work does center around certain things, no matter what genre it’s in: Sri Lanka, domesticity, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, immigrant / refugee / nationalist politics, polyamory, food, gardening. (A bit of climate change too, as it intersects with postcolonial concerns.)

I mean, that’s a weird mix, but it’s me, and I can hope that there’ll be *some* crossover in readership across genre borders. I think I don’t really have a choice about writing all of that, honestly — I can’t seem to stop working in multiple genres. Maybe someday it’ll all come together in a glorious explosion.

But right now, it makes agenting / marketing much harder than it would otherwise be. Sigh.

ADD thoughts

You know, I was actually in many ways a terrible student. I was bright enough that I tested well on standardized tests, and engaged enough with literature that I aced essay writing classes, but even there, I usually wrote the papers the morning they were due, getting up at 4 a.m. to crank out a quick first draft and hand it in.
 
I didn’t learn how to actually study until my Ph.D. program in my 30s, and I remember looking sort of bewildered at my college roommates, how they would just sit on their beds and study. For hours. I didn’t get *how* they could make themselves do that. I mostly didn’t try.
 
I think I am slowly processing this diagnosis / understanding of how my brain works. I hadn’t really found my ADD upsetting before now, but last night, while talking to Kevin, I kind of lost it a little. Looking back at all those years of half-attention schooling, wondering what my education might have looked like if I’d been able to approach it fully equipped. Maybe I wouldn’t have flunked calculus freshman year. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken me three tries to get into grad school. (I really am stubborn. A reasonable person would probably have given up.)
 
I spent so many years in temp secretarial jobs, and I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t doing better career-wise. Which, okay, maybe makes me a better teacher now, because I have a lot of empathy for my students who are struggling. But still — frustrating. Roads not taken. Lots of what-ifs.
 
Which are all kind of pointless to dwell on, I know, but maybe I need to sit with the frustration a little bit before I can manage to release it and move on. Going to start meditating again today, though, after a long hiatus. I think I need it.

Christmas present

Kevin and I were going to try to do a monthly date night this year — it was part of my Christmas present to him, to spend more time together, just us — which doesn’t seem too much to ask, one night a month — but then I asked if we could push the one we’d scheduled for last week to this week because I was feeling so far behind that I was too stressed to take 3 hours off on a Friday night. He said sure.
 
So we pushed to today, planning to have my assistant come in late and stay and keep an eye on the kids while we were out, but then we realized that with me going out of town for a work weekend tomorrow and him with a late work thing on campus, it’d be better if my assistant came tomorrow so we’d have coverage of the kids from 3:30 – 5:30 p.m (not that they can’t manage on their own for a few afternoon hours at this point, but it still stresses us out a little (more him than me, but still)).
 
So we thought we’d just make the kids eat pizza upstairs tonight and we’d lie in bed and get fancy takeout and watch a rom-com and call that date night, but we’re both working at home today, so he suggested we could also go out and work at a cafe together the way we used to do when we were young and carefree and I said that’s great, but it’s cold and I don’t want to leave the house.
 
So we appear to have ended up with me setting a load of laundry going and pulling all my winter clothes out of storage (because I’m cold and don’t have enough warm clothes available in my closet) and him piling them in the library for me to sort through later. And then with him lying in bed doing serious math stuff, and me lying in bed next to him half-watching cooking shows (which he swears won’t disturb him) while posting research photos from the Sri Lanka trip I took without him.
 
And maybe we’ll order some takeout later, but I actually kind of wanted to try making a curry to go with the pongal I cooked on Tuesday, so maybe we won’t do the takeout thing at all….and this, this is why even a once-a-month date night is maybe not going to happen for us despite our best intentions.
 
Maybe in February.
 
I love you, sweetie. Best of husbands.

Pongee

Happy Pongal! Pongal is a four-day-long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka (this year it’s Tues Jan 15 – Fri Jan 18) — when crops like rice are harvested. Yes, it’s a little goofy celebrating it in Chicago in midwinter, but any excuse to celebrate, right?

I haven’t made pongal (rice & lentil porridge) before, but I think it came out pretty well. A quick, simple, one-pot dish, packed with protein, that would be even better accompanied by a nice curry –– eggplant, perhaps? Coconut chutney and sambar are traditional accompaniments.

Pongal
20 minutes, serves 4

1 c. rice
1 c. moong dal
4 c. water
1/2 t. salt

2 T butter or ghee
1/2 c. cashews
1/2 c. sultanas
1 t. cumin seeds
8-12 fresh curry leaves
1-2 green chilies, chopped, optional

1. Add rice, dal, water, and salt to a pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and let simmer 15-20 minutes, until cooked.

2. While rice is cooking, heat butter or ghee, sauté cashews, stirring, until golden. Add cumin seeds, sultanas, curry leaves, and green chili if using, stirring for a few more minutes. Mix into cooked rice & lentils and serve hot.

Other standard ingredients: chopped ginger, pinch of asafoetida, turmeric, black peppercorns (whole or crushed).

 

ADD Meds Report

ADD meds report, about 3 months in:

So, I’ve been taking Vyvanse for a while now. I like it. I still find myself a little unsure of whether I ‘need’ it — various things I’d read said that the nice thing about ADD meds is that if you started taking them, you knew immediately if you needed them, and I don’t think that’s the case for me. Maybe I’m an edge case, or maybe I have developed good compensating skills in 47 years, or maybe I have the kind of job that lets me function productively despite the ADD, or all of the above — I’m not sure. I can certainly manage without them.

But I still like them. There are two distinct positive effects I can point to:

– about half an hour or so after I take them in the morning, I start feeling noticeably more relaxed. That surprised me, because my understanding is that what I’m taking is a form of ‘speed,’ which I’d expect to be the opposite of relaxing. My best guess, though, is that what the med does is reduce the stress of the cognitive load of distraction / switching attention. Because it makes that so much easier, the end result is that I feel less stressed. I hope I explained that clearly; it’s a little convoluted, but it feels right.

– when I start working on something that’s logistically complicated — a host of e-mails and FB messages and digital notes and paper notes all related to one project, which need to be sorted and assembled into some kind of coherence and then posted to a wide variety of places, keeping track of them all so I don’t duplicate or forget or put the wrong thing in the wrong place — it’s much easier. Before the meds, I found that kind of thing intensely stressful, and it would make me panicky (though I was reasonably good at shoving the panic down and getting through it somehow). Now, it’s straightforward — I just do it, and while it doesn’t make the work of it any less, the meds seem to remove an extra layer of franticness, which I think must come from the added difficulty of switching between many different types of input and output.

So that’s the good. Then there’s the ‘I don’t know yet,’ which is writing. Between everything else that’s going on, I haven’t actually done the kind of sustained novel-writing that I hoped the ADD meds would help me focus on. I haven’t even started, really. I’ve been finishing up Wild Cards and other smaller projects, and there were three international trips and Christmas and it’s easy to come up with reasons (excuses), but the end result is that I just don’t know yet how Vyvanse affects my novel writing. Hoping to change that in the next month; we’ll see. More on that anon.

What about the bad? Well, it’s not super-bad, but here’s a few more things I’ve noticed:

– if someone (usually Kevin) tries to talk to me when I’m deep in work mode, working a complex problem, I have a hard time pulling out of it to even speak to him, and I have to suppress a bit of crankiness about it. Mostly this isn’t a problem, as I try not to start on complex projects when I’m likely to be interrupted, and Kev and I both try hard not to interrupt each other during work time, but occasionally he needs to ask me something logistically important (like who’s picking up the kids, etc.). It’s a small, annoying thing.

– after about 8 hours, when the Vyvanse is wearing off, I’m definitely cranky, and try to avoid my family for 20-30 minutes until it wears off. I think that must be the return of the cognitive load, the stress of switching attention being hard. I’m trying harder to not work in the evenings, which is good for me overall anyway, and that does help.

The appetite suppressant effect is much less noticeable than it was when I started, by the way. I still don’t feel super hungry at lunchtime, but I’m not as likely to just forget to eat as I was originally, and what I eat at breakfast / dinner easily makes up any missing calories.

And that’s where we are. I like Vyvanse and plan to keep taking it.

MPS 175

Last night I went to a reunion dinner for my high school, Miss Porter’s. My parents sent me to an all girls’ high school over my fierce objections — I wanted to go the local Catholic school with my friends. I think they sent me mostly because they were worried about me getting in trouble with boys at a co-ed school; they had gone to single sex schools in Sri Lanka. (They had no idea what was to come…)

In the end, they decided that Porter’s had actually made me too feminist and independent — tough on immigrant parents! But for me, it was one of the best experiences of my life; that all-girls’ environment made it possible for me to speak up in class when I got to college in a way I think I’d have had a lot more difficulty with otherwise. Porter’s really does train leaders, and I’m seriously thinking of taking Kavi back to CT next summer for their summer leadership institute (can also visit my parents in the process).

I’m probably not going to send her there for high school — we’d need serious scholarship help, for one, as it is not cheap; my parents could barely afford it back then, and I’m not a doctor and tuition has gone up! And right now, I can’t bear the thought of sending her away to boarding school. (I was a day student). And we moved here in part because our local public high school, OPRF, is really excellent.

But I had such a great experience there (once I got over the misery of being a weird brown girl who didn’t know what to wear and didn’t fit in at all — thank god for a Star Trek geek to bond with freshman year), that I still waver sometimes. And maybe Kavi and I will start fighting all the time once she’s a teen, and the distance would be a good thing? Two strong-willed women in the same house….

Well, we’ll see what the future brings. She’ll only 11. In the meantime, it was truly lovely to be reminded of all the sweetness of those days at MPS, and to get to know a few other alumnae a little better. Now I’m wishing I’d made the effort to go out for a few of the reunions.

Also, host Sophia du Brul fed us incredibly — awesomely garlicky edamame hummus, chicken marbella (which I haven’t had before, roasted with olives, capers, and prunes! yum yum yum) with couscous and roasted vegetables, followed by a limoncello tiramisu. Her table setting was also so ridiculously pretty (with daisy-embroidered napkins!) that I was just entranced.

Sri Lankan-ish Marbled Birthday Cake

Somehow I got it into my head that I had time to make both gummy bears and cake with Kavi and her friend Emma after school, before I had to get ready and go to a dinner. That was a lie. Gummy bears take hours to set, it turns out, so I didn’t even attempt them, which was good. Another day. I managed the cake, but in a slightly frantic manner, and I got some things wrong. Oops.

For one, I hadn’t taken the butter out to soften in advance, and when I tried softening it in the microwave (which you *can* do if you are very very careful), I melted it too much, so I basically had oil. Now, you can make a cake with oil, but that makes more dense, less fluffy.  That was fine for the bundt pan I ended up using, as it turned out!

I also hadn’t looked at the recipe in advance, which was one that was supposedly for Sri Lankan birthday ribbon cake — it’s no one’s birthday, but I’d promised to make a cake with Kavi and this seemed like a good one to learn to do, because my mother’s homemade birthday cakes from childhood were delicious. I was tempted to try to make Swedish princess cake (GBBO is a bad influence), but I sternly told myself not to be ridiculous. (Another day. Shh…)

Looking at the Sri Lankan recipe, it mostly seemed like a pretty standard yellow cake recipe, except that some versions called for ‘thick milk’ and frantic googling turned up various options, such as ‘curdled,’ which seemed very wrong, or ‘clotted,’ which was possible but unlikely. It also might have been evaporated milk or condensed milk, both of which are used in Sri Lankan dessert-making a lot, but there’s a big difference between them! And if I hadn’t been in a hurry, I could have just checked with my aunties, but I didn’t have time. So oh well, I used the recipe that skipped that element — in fact, it skipped milk entirely — but now I’m wondering whether it would have been better with. (Not condensed milk, I think, because it’d be much too sweet unless you also reduced the sugar.)

The finished cake ended up tasting pretty much like a classic yellow cake, I think. (1 c. butter (except actually oil), 1 c. sugar, 4 eggs, 2 c. flour). Traditionally, you’d divide the batter, color it pink and green (why pink and green? I don’t know!), pour it into two separate 8 or 9 inch cake tins, bake, and then assemble with white buttercream frosting between and on top, decorating as desired. Happy birthday! (If you google ‘Sri Lankan ribbon cake,’ lots of examples will pop up.)

But I didn’t particularly want to make frosting — honestly, this cake doesn’t need it. The kids have been totally happy just devouring slices as is. And I had a new bundt pan that I was dying to try. So I figured what the heck, let’s do it marbled instead, and just dust it with powdered sugar.

(The powdered sugar is a lie in that first photo, because I had to run out the door, so I dusted it and took the photo when the cake was just out of the oven, so of course, it took 2 seconds before the sugar was all absorbed and disappeared. Cool cake first! But it does look pretty, doesn’t it?)

Came out great, and the kids had fun with the slicing reveal! (See next video.) Anand was disappointed that there was no chocolate, so the next time we do a marbled cake, I’ve promised that we’ll do one that’s half chocolate. (What I really want to do is half chocolate, half mango-passionfruit, but I’m not sure he’ll go for that. We’ll see.)

This is a yummy cake, but I admit, I kind of want to do it again, in traditional layered style instead, and actually use thick milk — if someone Sri Lankan can tell me what that is, please?

I’m thinking a ribbon cake in pink, green, and yellow will be perfect for Easter, and for that one, we can slather on the buttercream frosting and decorate the heck out of it too. Putting it in the calendar so I don’t forget!

*****

1 c. butter (room temperature)
1 c. sugar
4 eggs
2 t. vanilla
2 c. flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Beat butter and sugar until soft and creamy; add eggs one by one. Add vanilla and mix well.

2. Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Add flour gradually and mix well.

3. Divide the mixture into two portions and color lightly in pink and green.

4. Grease and flour a bundt pan (Baker’s Joy spray makes this easy). Spoon the colors in (or as we said yesterday, ‘glop’ them in), alternating. (If you like, you can take a toothpick, fork, or skewer and swirl for more of a ribboned effect.)

5. Bake for 35-40 minutes until toothpick comes out dry. Let cool 5-10 minutes, turn out onto a wire rack, let cool completely, dust with powdered sugar, and serve. Lovely with tea.