At the Thompson Seattle Bar

The best cosmo I’ve had (pomegranate instead of cranberry, and John uses citric acid instead of lime juice, to maintain the clear pink color, a trick I totally plan to try when I get home for my Sri Lankan arrack cocktail experiments!), beautifully balanced, along with a stunning presentation of my happy hour oysters (six for $6!). I even drizzled the tangy gingered sauce over the micro greens and ate those too! Thompson Seattle bar, you’ve revived me!

Funniest part? I think John may have fed me fabulously before, because ten years ago he was an apprentice chef at Charlie Trotters, where Kev and I went for an anniversary dinner that remains the best meal of my life.


A complicated relationship with magazines

I have this weird love-hate relationship with magazines. I’ve bought a lot of them in my time — I went through a big Martha Stewart Living phase, for example. Cook’s Illustrated is a perennial favorite. All the shelter magazines were in heavy rotation when we were renovating our house, and these days, I’m reading (well, skimming) tons of food magazines, as I think about pitching and writing essays for them, mostly to help promote the cookbook. I even fantasize about an occasional Serendib Home magazine.

This time of year, the magazines are chock-full of resolutions and ways to improve your life. There’s something so seductive about the way magazine articles promise not just to entertain, but to inform, to make your life better. And you don’t need to read a big thick book first, no! Who has time for that? Here’s a helpful tip, a life hack. Something you can read in a few minutes (illustrated with gorgeous, sexy pictures) and implement immediately.

I’m not saying it’s a big lie, exactly. But if you read several issues of say, Real Simple, in a row, you realize that they’re basically telling you the same things over and over, such as advising you to get rid of your stuff! But what if you need your stuff, and can’t afford to just buy it again when you need it?

And all while they try to sell you more stuff (explicitly in marked ads, and implicitly in hidden advertorial content), slightly more expensive than your old stuff, but just that little bit prettier or more efficient. Presumably selling you those because the real money that supports the magazine comes from ad sales.

After being introduced at Clarion by our instructor Nicola Griffith to the parts of the publisher’s promo budget that go for things like magazine ‘advertorials’, I became deeply suspicious of the magazines themselves. (Honestly, I was a little shocked when I learned that which books go face front on the shelves, or on end caps, or on the front table, are paid for by the publishers. I was very naive.) That’s a lot of why I wanted my magazines (Clean Sheets, Strange Horizons, Jaggery) to be community-supported from the beginning. Though of course, the internet ad money mostly drying up within a few years contributed to that decision too…

I do still enjoy magazines. When I read an issue of The English Garden, I often do come away with at least 2-3 ideas that I make notes on, to try to implement in my own garden. Wouldn’t these rose vines look better with clematises climbing on them, so that you have active blooms in that spot for more of the year? If my home and garden are beautiful, it’s in large part due to all the magazines I’ve consumed. Also the books and the TV shows on design, of course, which mostly aren’t selling products to you quite as intensely, but the books usually have a larger up-front cost (hooray for libraries), and TV you’re paying for in other ways.

I’m just feeling a little conflicted about writing for magazines. I want to be careful to try to write things that are worth your time to read, even if the editors decide to pair my recipe for Instapot chicken curry with a feature spread on ‘the three best Instapots, ranked!’ A feature that was probably paid for by those particular Instapot manufacturers.

I can’t be too precious about that structure; it’d be hypocritical. That ad money is what lets the magazine exist, and what lets them pay me for my essay. And of course, I’m mostly writing my essay in the hopes that people like it enough that they read my bio at the end, notice that I have a cookbook for sale, and think “Oh, I want to buy that!” Capitalism, hmph. I wish I could just GIVE everyone copies of the cookbook. In the post-capitalist utopia to come, perhaps.

Just — I hope people are aware that so much of what these magazines are selling (peace, calm, an organized home, world cuisine recipes your children will adore), often require more money to achieve easily.

Quick tip! Buying a host of beautiful squared off, stackable glass jars will make your kitchen spices look much more organized, clean, and aesthetically pleasing, like something in a magazine! But those gorgeous square jars (oh, Container Store, I can’t quit you…) will also cost a lot more than recycling the spaghetti sauce jars and bouillon cube jars, the kind my mother uses to hold her spices.

Plus, if you display those spice jars on open shelves near the stove, you’d better be able to afford the time to clean them of accumulated kitchen grease and dust at least quarterly — monthly would be better. You need to afford the time yourself, or be able to afford to pay something else to do it.

Well. I don’t mean to be too dreary and fun-spoiling. And I’m not undoing capitalism today. But I can at least try to think about what aspects of the things I do can be replicated without spending a lot of money or time. And I can think about what makes for good design, which doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be expensive.

Mostly I can try to keep talking about this issue, every once in a while at least, because the last thing I want is for someone to see a beautiful photo of my food, or my kitchen, or my garden, and beat themselves up because they struggle to achieve the same. It’s not you — it’s the system, and in particular, the way the economic divide has widened in the last decades.

Maybe a magazine piece can offer a tiny bit of help, though, if done well. A new practice that clicks, and turns into a rewarding habit?

A little easing of the road, a new perspective, a spot of beauty. That’s something to strive for.


Sunday Dinner

Kavi forbid cooking pictures yesterday, because her hair was a mess (I may have made her pull it back in the kitchen with a carabiner clip because that’s all that was handy), but the first Sunday night dinner went reasonably well.

Anand got to pick, so we went with lasagne, his favorite. Kavi browned the sausage and ground beef (maybe her first time cooking meat?), cooked down the tomatoes into sauce, and seasoned both meats and sauce with salt, pepper, Italian herbs, onion powder. Then both of them layered the sauce / noodles / meat / ricotta / mozzarella in the pan a few times.

Kevin and I mostly just talked them through the recipe (such as it is), and offered some tips, like tilting the pan to drain the excess fat from the meat and using paper towels to sop that oil up and toss it away. Covered the lasagne with foil (talking about why you’d want to use foil and not, say, plastic wrap!), stuck it in the oven at 375 for an hour. Later, removed foil, let lasagne cook an additional 15 minutes (browning the top, letting the liquid cook off), then grown-ups pulled the hot, heavy pan out of the oven and let it cool for 15 minutes on the counter while the kids set the table, before we all sat down to eat.

Anand was pretty distractible, and kept running off to watch YouTube when he didn’t have an active task, but he did come and do everything he was asked to, and I think he had fun layering the ingredients in the baking dish. He was pretty stressed yesterday about vacation break ending and school starting again today, so we were inclined to let him self-soothe with electronics as needed. We’re going to try to wean everyone off electronics for the cooking Sunday dinner time, but it’ll be a process, I think. (I had to pause my online game with Jed to later eat, and it took some willpower!)

We really should’ve made a salad, garlic bread, and dessert — there was plenty of time while the lasagne was cooking, but Kavi had a book to finish reading for school, and as I said, I had a game going, so we all dispersed instead. Luckily, there was some leftover broccoli from lunch, and Kev cut up a bell pepper, so that counted as sufficient veg. to accompany.

And then we actually:

– set the table (kids)
– got everyone water (kids)
– washed hands before dinner (everyone)
– sat down and talked together while eating (everyone)
– used utensils to eat the lasagne (everyone, even Anand, which is new for him — he is not a utensil fan, but as we said, eventually he might be asked to eat with the president, who won’t be Trump, and then he’ll need to use utensils. Or if not the president, then his grandmother (Kev’s mom), who is also big on utensils
– cleared up afterwards (mostly Kev)

There’s plenty of lasagne left for dinner tonight, and today’s lunch for the grown-ups at work, so that’s also a nice way of easing into the work week. We’ll try to plan on making enough at Sunday night dinner to cover Monday, at least.

There was an extended discussion of whether Anand was allowed to repeat phrases because he thought it was funny. Kavi first came up with the rule that he couldn’t say specific phrases, but he just kept changing the phrases (there was a lot of ‘but why?’ for example). Finally she hit on: “No deliberately annoying people at the dinner table,” and Anand laughed. While he didn’t explicitly concede the point, he did stop the repeating, which I think we all took as a win. 

It was really nice. They’re now old enough that we can have interesting conversations; I honestly didn’t have the patience for doing this with little ones, and I salute those of you who do! I know many families do dinner together every night, and we’ve never done that — we’ve always just wandered off to eat with our books and shows separately. But at least once a week, sitting together, being off electronics for a few hours, and teaching the kids some basic dinner table etiquette seems useful.

It’s a piece of the parenting project that we’ve somewhat neglected, but teaching them how to get along in community and not deliberately annoy people just because you think it’s funny seems worth the expenditure of a little effort and energy. Even if it means I have to delay the last few moves in my game. (Jed was stomping me anyway!)

Pictured: Anand demonstrating what he considers proper use of a fork…


Serendib House at L!VE Cafe, with new products and varieties

Woot! I was running about 30 minutes late, but with the help of Kavi and her friend Emma, Serendib House is finally set up at L!ve Cafe (163 S. Oak Park Ave.) and open for business until 3 p.m. So far, the pomegranate-vanilla soap, Kavi’s lip balms, the sandalwood-rose body butter, the marshmallow gift boxes, and the cookbooks have been popular. 

Come by, say hi!



Little customer

Little customer for Serendib Home, trying out the sandalwood & rose body butter.




Marshmallows in cute little boxes

I was feeling a little bummed that I’d run out of time to make truffles, esp. since I’d bought these cute little boxes for them, and then I realized that in fact, marshmallows fit perfectly into the exact same boxes.  (Selling at L!ve Cafe until 3 today…)




For today’s sale @ L!ve Cafe, I’ve carefully put all the food items to the right of me, and all the body butter (pictured below) to the left of me, and still, many people are tempted to try eating the body butter. It won’t hurt them, since it’s just shea butter + mango butter, with a little color & scent, but it is not particularly tasty.  But SO PRETTY.

(Pictured: Sandalwood & Rose; Mango, Vanilla & Lime)


Sandalwood & rose body butter
Mango, vanilla & lime body butter








Pomegranate & vanilla bath salt

Kavya and Emma agreed that this pomegranate & vanilla bath salt was the prettiest item in the display. It’s fun layering the salts, and I *love* these hex glass jars.



I tried to make the bath products either South Asian-y or Christmas-y — love how this mango, lime, and vanilla soap came out. Like a jello & sherbet dessert. And when you put the mica coloring in with the glycerin, for just a moment, it feels like Holi.





Favorite new mold — dragon eye! (The flying dragon is also cool.) The pomegranate dragon eye is perhaps my coolest holiday soap.  I’m hoping someone is delighted to find this for their fantasy-obsessed partner’s stocking gift…


Mango, vanilla & lime body butter

Glass jars cost about the same as plastic jars, interestingly, so my inclination would normally be to do all glass jars, but of course, for shipping, plastic is safer (and lighter). So I ended up with a mix of them. There are so many little details to a physical product, whether it’s a book of a jar of body butter. Just doing the writing part is, in some ways, simpler. 


Chocolate chai soaps
Melt and pour soap is not so easy to swirl — you need to get the temperatures exactly
right. I gather cold-process soap swirls much more easily; maybe I’ll try experimenting with that next summer. (I’m planning to basically be done with bath product making until AFTER next semester ends.) This batch of chocolate chai soaps didn’t swirl as much as I’d hoped; ah well. They’re still pretty, in a more muted sort of way…

Marshmallow sampler

Now THESE, you can eat.  They went out with the ALMOST-LAST physical Kickstarter orders this week. I have two more orders to hand deliver in Oak Park, and two more people who we’re trying to track them down for addresses, and then I am pretty sure that we’ll just have the digital orders left, that WILL go out by Monday 12/23, come hell or high water.

(Jed, I’m planning to get you that last bit you need by tomorrow; I hope you’ll have time to put that in.)



The Bath, a gift of self-care

A couple of friends have asked me lately where the sudden rush of bath products has come from — it’s not food, after all, so it doesn’t directly connect to the cookbook. I gave them a simple answer at the time, but I think the real reason is a little more complex.

The simple answer is that making these is a lot like cooking — you’re composing a recipe, of color and scent and consistency, thinking about ingredients. So the process is familiar to me, and easy.

It’s also just fun crafting. Relaxing, creative, something I can do with the kids / friends. I love playing with the colors, thinking of new designs and implementing them — it’s so fast, from thought to finished result, like cooking. (Not like writing!)

I mostly don’t make enough on these to do more than break even on the cost of supplies, since I’m not producing them in sufficient bulk to get cheap ingredients. So it’s more like paying for a hobby, in that sense.

The most popular items today have definitely been the bath products — I’ve sold a lot of little items, especially lip balms (inexpensive, good for stocking stuffers), and body butter (a little pricey, indulgent). People are generally buying them for gifts, often for mothers or mothers-in-law. Sometimes moms buying them for themselves, occasionally with a little mention that they need to do that because no one will think to get them anything.

It’s a huge part of the holidays, gifting scented things: bath items, candles, etc. Which is interesting, because scent is honestly so individual, that you’d think it’d be tricky to try to guess what scent somebody else would like (and some people don’t like or can’t tolerate artificial scents at all).

I think it’s less about the object itself, than about signaling care. A scented bath, a candle — it’s about a quiet moment, taking time for yourself. A lot of us wish that for the women in our lives, I think. Selves included.

For me, I can’t help thinking back to when I had cancer. It was such a tough time, going through treatment, and while I was allowed to, I found myself taking far more baths than normal. Almost every night, I’d draw a bath and disappear into it for an hour. I needed it, in a way that’s hard for me to explain or even quite understand right now. If I had the energy on those nights, I’d light candles too, a forest of them, and use all the bubble bath.

So when I make these bath products, I think that’s a lot of what’s in the back of my head. A hope, a wish, that they’ll bring some comfort to someone, at the end of a hard day. That they’ll signal love and care, even if it’s in a sort of inarticulate “I didn’t know what to get you, but I love you, so here’s some scented soap…” kind of way.


It’s a little bit of joy, selling so many of these today. Helping to send some handmade love and care out into the world.


The Bath

Baths have been forbidden
for ten days. Showers permitted
not long after surgery, but
baths were taboo, proscribed,
verboten. Unsure what to do
with this sudden wealth, first
there was reading. The prose
unremarkable, but the story
gripping. Then, watching
a show, while tending to feet
darkened by chemo (hyper-
pigmentation, it’s called) and
by garden soil that found its way
past flimsy shoe barriers.
Soaking and pumicing and
sugar scrub, and now these
feet are soft and smooth,
ready for kisses, should any
be offered. The bald scalp
has been washed as well,
dried and lotioned, and now
the faint trace of stubble has
a fuzzy halo, inviting touch.
Showers are refreshing, but
baths are seductive. Tonight,
maybe another bath, maybe
with wine and chocolates. I
will wrinkle into a raisin; you
will know me by my wrinkles,
soft and numerous and lush.

Mary Anne Mohanraj
September 27, 2015


A Colorful Holiday craft fair this weekend!

Spent a little while today getting goodies ready for Pem Hessing‘s holiday fair that I’m selling at this Saturday! It is very delightful, packing up four varieties of homemade marshmallows in these charming boxes, all ready for holiday gifting. Varieties included: honeyed rosewater & saffron, pistachio & rose, tamarind-chili, and chai spice. Mmm….

Locals, last chance to get a signed copy of Feast of Serendib (hardcover or paperback) before Christmas.  I’ll be at L!ve Cafe on Oak Park Ave., 10-3 on Saturday, along with some great jewelers and other artisan makers, all women of color. Come shop!



Curried Chestnut, Leek, and Carrot Soup, with Fried Prosciutto (or Sautéed Mushrooms)

The semester is over, so I had time to actually come up with a new recipe tonight, for a curried chestnut soup.  So seasonal!

You can roast the chestnuts yourself — a little more effort, but it’s tasty to peel and eat some of that sweet nuttiness while it’s hot. Just be careful when cutting crosses into the chestnuts before you roast, so your knife doesn’t slip. Or you can buy a jar of them already roasted, though you may need to find a specialty shop for that. If you cleverly reserved turkey stock after Thanksgiving, you could pull some out of the freezer and use it for this. That was my plan, but I forgot to freeze the extra stock until it was too late this year. Oh well.

I used Sri Lankan roasted curry powder, but I think any standard South Asian curry powder would be tasty. The complex spicing balances the sweetness of the chestnuts and the saltiness of the prosciutto (or the mushrooms sautéed in butter with salt). Substitute in vegetable oil, vegetable stock, and coconut milk to make this a filling, nutritious, and delicious vegan meal.


Curried Chestnut, Leek, and Carrot Soup, with Fried Prosciutto (or Sautéed Mushrooms)
(serves 4, about 30 minutes (aside from chestnut roasting time))

3 T unsalted butter
2 leeks, white parts sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and chopped finely
1/2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
about 15 oz. (3 c.) roasted and peeled chestnuts
6 c. chicken stock
1 t. curry powder
1/4 c. heavy cream
additional salt and pepper to taste
1/2 t. lime juice
Optional: either fried prosciutto or mushrooms sautéed in butter for garnish — make them while the soup is simmering

1. Heat butter in large soup pot and stir in leeks, carrots, salt, and pepper. Sauté, stirring, about 5 minutes.

2. Add chestnuts and chicken stock, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.

3. Transfer soup carefully to blender — I’d use a large ladle rather than trying to pour a pot of hot soup! (If you have an immersion stick blender, that’s even easier.) Purée, and return to pot. (It’s fine to leave a cup or so of broth in the pot; just stir it into the purée when you return it to the pot.) Add cream and stir. Taste and add salt / pepper as desired; if the soup is too thick, add a little more stock. Stir in the lime juice and simmer a few more minutes, until well blended.

4. Serve hot, garnished with prosciutto or mushrooms. (I don’t recommend both together — I tried it, and oddly, they clash.) If you want to make it even prettier, you could drizzle a little cream into the bowl, or add a scattering of chives. Mmm….

Seeni Sambol buns

Heh — I was cooking in a bit of a rush, so accidentally made the seeni sambol for these buns to Sri Lankan spice levels — some of my guests were scared to try them, as a result. They were pretty darn hot! On the other hand, a friend’s 10-year-old son adored them and had no trouble eating them, so I guess it’s all in what you like / are used to.

Seeni sambol buns are widely available from roadside stands, shops, roving sellers on the train platforms in Sri Lanka, and are a great option for vegetarian travelers (though typically, they would have a bit of dried Maldive fish in the seasoning, so if you’re strictly vegetarian, take note). They’re usually not this hot, either!

You can make the dough from scratch (I have it in the ‘mas paan’ recipe in my Feast cookbook), but it works just fine to use a readymade refrigerated bread dough, which is easier for a party.

We used Pillsbury’s French bread dough for this, just slicing the log of dough into rounds. We spread them out a bit with our fingers and spooned the seeni sambol in, then wrapped it up into a bun (seam side down). Bake a few minutes less than the package suggests, until golden brown, and you’re done!

Seeni sambol buns freeze well, and are also great for taking on the road with you for a long car ride or as plane snacks. And if you just want to make the seeni sambol (easy, but about 30 minutes of slow stirring as the onions caramelize, will keep in fridge for weeks), it’s excellent on buttered toast for your breakfast.

If you have time to make an over-easy egg to go with it, even better. Toast + butter + egg + seeni sambol on top = perfection. Or scramble an egg and put it all in a tortilla (or better, roti!), if you want to turn it into a wrap…

Seeni sambol recipe:

Texts with Kevin

Texts with Kevin:

K: How many onions did you want me to prep?
– seeni sembol: 4 medium onions, finely sliced
– chicken patties: 2 onions, finely chopped
– rolls: 6 medium onions, finely chopped
– mackerel cutlets: 4 medium onions, finely chopped
– do those first, and we’ll see if we have time for vadai too…


Gluten-free Sri Lankan Love Cake

Success! Gluten-free Sri Lankan love cake; I substituted 1/2 fine polenta & 1/2 almond flour for the semolina, and it came out great.  Beautifully golden, the way love cake should be.

Honestly, there really isn’t so much flour in this anyway, since it’s mostly cashews, eggs, dried fruit, & sugar, so I suspect many substitution options would work fine; next time, I may try Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten-free baking flour (which is mostly rice flour, I think).


Love Cake
(two hours, including baking time; serves dozens)

Some say this Portuguese-derived cake was baked to win the hearts of suitors, while others say it’s because of the labor of love involved in all the cutting, chopping and grinding of the fruits, nuts, and spices (much easier these days with access to a food processor). But regardless, it tastes like love: sweet, tangy, and fragrant. My mother says it doesn’t taste right without the crystallized pumpkin, which you can find at Indian grocery stores, though honestly, I like it just as well with the candied ginger. A perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.

8 ounces butter, softened, plus more for greasing
16 ounces raw unsalted cashews
10 ounces fine granulated sugar
10 egg yolks
Zest of two limes
Zest of one orange
Juice of two limes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup honey
3 drops rosewater extract (or two teaspoons rosewater)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces fine polenta
6 ounces almond flour
3 ounces candied ginger and/or crystallized pumpkin, minced as finely as possible
5 egg whites
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 250. Grease a 9×13 baking dish with butter and line it with two layers of parchment paper. Grease the paper with butter.

2. In food processor, grind cashews to coarse meal.
3. In a standing mixer (paddle attachment), beat 8 oz butter and granulated sugar until creamy. Add egg yolks and mix well. Add zest, juice, spices, honey, rosewater and vanilla; mix well.

4. Add semolina and mix well; add cashews and candied ginger / pumpkin and mix well.

5. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff; fold gently into cake mixture.

6. Spoon batter into prepared pan; bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, until firm to the touch. (Alternatively, spoon into buttered & floured (Baker’s Joy makes this easy) mini tea cake molds (Nordicware made the excellent one I used for this) and bake for about 40 minutes.)

7. Let cool completely in the pan, dust with confectioner’s sugar (optional), cut into squares and serve.

Gluten-free Christmas village love cake.