On food writing

I’m reading through The Best American Food Writing 2019, edited by Samin Nosrat, whom you know I adore. So far, it’s not quite what I expected. Five pieces in, we have:

– a little funny piece about how we describe food, v. cute: “Imagine the agony of a ghost who is too nice to haunt anyone properly, and yet he tries and tries and tries for all of eternity. If you captured his flop sweat in a jar and put it under a heat lamp, it would turn — unfortunately — into the fermented dairy drink kefir.”

– a long, excellent, reported piece about the biggest irrigated farmers in the world (the couple who own POM Wonderful and many many nut groves) and who owns / controls water in California; really nuanced portrayal of their lives and the complexity of their attempts at philanthropy / sense of noblesse oblige with their mostly undocumented Hispanic workers

– a poetic, emotional piece about the eggs the author is no longer able to eat, connecting obliquely to her Nigerian culture

– another reported piece about the subtlety of heirloom Mexican beans, how one should cook them (very simply), and why it’s a struggle making them profitable, even though they’re now coveted by high end chefs and bean conoisseurs

– an examination of Finland’s exceedingly salty licorice, with some cultural analysis thrown in

They’re….hmm….more analytical than I was expecting, I think? More restrained? And I’m not sure if that’s reflecting Nosrat’s editing style and selections based on her taste, or if I’m just not familiar with what’s typically in this series; I might have to jump back a few volumes to compare.

But it’s a very far cry from the kinds of writing you see in most food blogs, to be certain (which often have a sort of breathless enthusiasm and fondness for adjectives), and even from anthologies like Eat Joy, which I finished a month or so ago. Maybe it’s a New Yorker thing? (Several of these pieces were originally published there.) There’s definitely a sense that Nosrat and these writers mostly move in a different world than I do, a world utterly immersed in professional food.

Roshani and I have been talking a lot lately about food writing, and the thing is, even though I’ve written a cookbook, and have a host of food-related essays in the works, I’m not sure I’m actually a food writer.

I’m…something else, I think, that intersects at times with food. A memoirist, perhaps? A cultural…not critic, exactly. Not translator. Something I’m having trouble finding a word for. Synthesist?

But I don’t think you’re going to see me writing a long reported piece anytime soon, or going deep into a specific ingredient, like onions, no matter how much I love them. That kind of food obsessiveness isn’t where my passion lies, though I can appreciate it in others. It’s a nice place to visit.

At SALA, my friend Nalini told me that she thought my writing was about…hmmm…I don’t know that I remember what she said, exactly. Lowering artificial barriers? Something like that. It rung true, whether I’m talking about being bi & poly, or about cooking unfamiliar food (or just cooking being an unfamiliar practice to you), or about letting your garden go a little wild…

Well. I’ll keep reading. We’ll see.

A request, my dears, for reviews for A Feast of Serendib

A request, my dears? If you’ve read A Feast of Serendib, and feel inclined to review it, even a few lines, it would be GREATLY appreciated, for both GoodReads and Amazon. Honest reviews are welcome.

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/46363491-a-feast-of-serendib


(And if there are other review sites I should know about, please tell me more…)


Grant deadlines

Sigh — I just went to apply for some grants, and realized that at some point in the last few months, they’d changed their deadlines. Which is fine, but is a reminder that I need to probably check this sort of thing monthly or so, given how arts organizations are.

And I say this as someone who runs an arts organization that gives out grants and that JUST changed its deadlines for one of them — we’re going to send out a press release to our newsletter with that information, and post it on our website, social media, etc., but I know we’ll miss some people, and that’s just the way of it.

Just in general, I’m not applying for enough grants, I know. Hardly any. If you were me, what would you apply for? Help? 


Serendib Kitchen redesign

Hey, folks. With Stephanie‘s help, I’ve spent a while updating the Feast page on the Serendib Kitchen site. If you feel like glancing at it and letting me know if you see any issues, that’d be great. It was a big block of text before; I’m hoping that it’s now more easily accessible and appealing! I’ve added in some background material as well.


I’m wondering if I should link at least some of the recipes listed there to pages on the cooking blog? Most of the Feast recipes aren’t on the site yet, I think, although many will likely be by the end of the year, esp. as I plan to start doing more and more cooking videos. I’ll be adding those videos too, as they get edited, at least as a link to the YouTube channel. (Not ready yet!)


Feast: officially supporting SAMBAL Sri Lanka

As we’re getting ready to more formally launch Feast, I’m trying to think through what I want the cookbook to do in the world.

One thing I’d like to do is give back concretely in some way. I thought about directing a percentage of profits to Ajit George‘s wonderful Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, but I think that’s primarily based in India, and I really do think it’s more appropriate that it be a Sri Lankan nonprofit this particular book supports.

My cousin Genisha Saverimuthu and my aunt Marietta Saverimuthu support SAMBAL, which does education work with disadvantaged children in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. (That’s my aunt in red at the head of the class in the second photo.)

SAMBAL seems like a really great fit with Feast — even the name is appropriate! And I know that I can trust them to do good work with any funds raised.

My aunt travels to Sri Lanka regularly to work with the children in these village schools. After all the heartache our country has been through, it’s good to see some smiles on these sweet faces.


Sponsor A Mind Build A Life (SAMBAL) was established to provide charitable assistance to children who are disadvantaged due to war, poverty, natural disasters and other calamities primarily in Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

We partner with organizations around the globe to identify children in need and develop coordinated efforts to nurture their physical, intellectual, emotional and social growth. Through sponsorships and program donations from individuals like you, SAMBAL builds lives and empowers underprivileged children to reach their full potential.

In many parts of South Asia, rice and sambal is a staple food–the Eastern equivalent of bread and butter. A spicy side dish made with chilli peppers, sambal is eaten from Sri Lanka to Malaysia by young and old and considered the bare minimum for a regular meal.

We believe that every child should be afforded a daily bit of rice and sambal but also the sustenance to develop socially, intellectually and emotionally despite their hardships. By feeding a mouth and feeding a mind, SAMBAL builds a child’s path to a better life.”

More about SAMBAL: http://www.sambalnow.com/page-about1.php


Seattle: Dinner at Wild Ginger

Dinner at Wild Ginger in Seattle with the Sri Lankan panelists for MLA. Funniest part — none of us thought the food was spicy enough, so we asked for some hot sauce.


They brought us a bowl of delicious house-made sambal. Perfect. Then we finished the bowl. So we asked for another one. Then we finished that bowl. We contemplated asking for a third one…but we were pretty stuffed by that point, so decided the leftovers would be okay without.

But as the person who ate the leftovers the next morning, we should’ve gotten the third bowl too. 

Good food (particularly liked the sea bass appetizer), best company. Could’ve talked with them for hours and hours and hours more. Thanks, Dinidu Karunanayake for organizing us.

Much love, Dinidu, Maryse Jayasuriya, husband Brian Yothers (who was the first to ask for more sambal), Sugi Ganeshananthan, and SJ Sindu. Come to Chicago ANYTIME. I will host you and feed you and try to set up something at my university so people can see how awesome you all are.

(My mango-lemonade soda with chili *was* appropriately spicy and also delicious, btw.)

Seattle Bookstore: Book Larder

The other store I stopped in at in Seattle was Book Larder: A Community Cookbook Store, which I’d also love to do an event at for Feast. Look at this awesome space! I could teach a real Sri Lankan cooking class here. It’s so charming. I wanted to buy ALL the books, but restrained myself. Also ALL the dishtowels. Kevin asked me recently if I really needed so many dishtowels. Yes. Yes I do. Hush, love.