Exploring Sri Lanka for Kids through Children’s Books, Food and More
I love this local cafe, L’Aroma Cafe, which seems to be a vortex attracting all kinds of nice people and frequently people who I know both one and two degrees of separation apart. It was no different the other day when I was hanging out, waiting for a friend to arrive. The owner came up and started talking to me. They had offered their space to my friend, Sharon Schindler, a talented photographer of quintessential Boston, and it was wildly popular so all parties involved were thrilled, myself included because I got to eat yummy desserts surrounded by her gorgeous photos.
Here’s the funny thing: I, along with Capability:Mom, went with Sharon to Brimfield (an outdoor huge flea market that runs for days several times a year) and I stood next to her her as she shot her photos but I, never in a million years, would have taken the photos she took. She just sees things that other people miss and her eye is extraordinary. I did, however, score a structured, trapezoid-shaped, crocodile purse circa 1950 for $15 which is worth 200x more than that! I guess in a sea of endless stuff, everyone focuses in on different things. And I do love those croc vintage purses.
Anyway, as I was waiting for my friend who, as I recall, was Capability:Mom, the owner came up and was pleasantly chatting with me when I discovered that they are from Sri Lanka. I had seen an episode of No Reservations on Sri Lanka and the food seemed amazing but crazy difficult to make at home for a non-native. Heck, even on the show, the natives hire a caterer to make Chicken Biryani for weddings because it’s a complex dish to master. I asked the owner what Sri Lanka is famous for (thinking about a future blog post for Teach Me Tuesday) and he said spices; true cinnamon is grown only in Sri Lanka. The rest of the cinnamon that we think is cinnamon is actually its coarse cousin, cassia. I did notice that sometimes a bottle of cinnamon in my spice cabinet is amazing and another jar is just so-so or even smells a little weird like not exactly cinnamon but sort of spicier but with less depth. Other spices grown at top quality are nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon — Sri Lanka is what Columbus was actually seeking.
So I poked around a little more on Sri Lanka, and found these children’s books. In addition to spices, Sri Lanka is famous for tea, coffee, coconuts, and rubber. And now it all makes sense to me why L’Aroma Cafe has a tea tasting room! The first book is a picture book that is a really wonderful way to visit another culture with your children. The second book is for young adults. Sorry about the absence of a Middle Grade book; I searched but just didn’t come up with one. Maybe you know have a suggestion? Any children’s librarians out there reading this post?!! Sometimes you just have to ask and the universe will answer.
When The Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton, illustrated by Kim La Fave
It’s time to plant rice in Sri Lanka and Malini is excited to help for the first time. Their oxcart is loaded up with seedlings, and the rice they plant will bring food and fortune to her village. When the fierce rain comes the water rises around her, her parents tell her to get to the barn. Instead, she decides to get the cart to higher ground so that the rice seedlings are not swept away. Her bravery saves the rice crop! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Tea Leaves by Frederick Lipp
Here’s a review by a parent:
As a teacher and a parent I am always searching for books that will expand children’s world view. Lipp’s first book The Caged Birds was one of the most moving, poetic children’s books I have ever read. It brought to life another world, yet its themes were totally accessible to American children and adults…Her story takes us to the tea gardens where women toil for our relaxing cup of tea, to the school Shanti attends and finally on a train to the sea which she has always longed to see. Buying the book is like buying a ticket to an exotic place. Lipp also subtly shows us the less romantic limits poverty can place on so many people. What I like most about this book is how it makes me want to appreciate the simple joys of life with more enthusiasm. Shanti soaks up with all her senses every part of the sea so that she can return to the mountain and tell her mom about it. I am left feeling like I too should soak up all the amazing things I take for granted each day. So few books have this level of sensitivity and poetic appeal, I wanted to spread the word. [picture book, ages 5-9]
Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
This review is from American Library Association by Ilene Cooper.
As lush and languid as its Sri Lanka setting, this novel tells the story of 13-year-old Amrith, whose complicated life becomes even more so with the appearance of his Canadian cousin, Niresh. Amrith lives with his adoring godmother and her supportive family in 1980 Colombo. But although he lives in luxury, he is poverty-stricken when it comes to knowing his own family. There is mystery surrounding the death of his beloved mother and alcoholic father, and because of the circumstances of his parents’ marriage, his extended family shuns him. So when Niresh turns up with his father, who has come to sell off family property, Amrith is anxious to make a connection. Eventually, he realizes his feelings for Niresh go beyond friendship, which finally makes him aware of his sexual identity. This is much closer stylistically to European novels such as Per Nilsson’s You & You & You and Andreas Steinhofel’s Center of the Universe (both 2005) than to our own plot-driven YA novels, with situations arising organically from the characters. What captures readers is the way the story rolls in waves, mimicking how Amrith looks at himself, then looks away. The luxuriant language, with details of architecture and verdant gardens, doesn’t call attention to itself, but refreshes like a breeze. Selvadurai, who wrote so gracefully for adults in Cinnamon Gardens (1998), now does the same for teens.
As for the food, I was intimidated to make Sri Lankan food, but the owner’s son who manages the two cafes assured me that this was an easy and delicious recipe that he loved as a child. And I love how his mother adapted the recipe for American ingredients which is not unlike this history of Sri Lankan food, itself a mash-up of influences from the South Indians, the Chinese, the Dutch, the British, and the Portuguese. And I should probably mention that I hounded them for weeks for this recipe. My favorite way to arm-chair travel is through food, but I prefer the home cooking over anything else. At the end of the day, we moms, no matter where we reside, want to feed good food to our kids that they will actually eat, and if we don’t have the luxury of a chef, it can’t be too difficult or time-consuming to make. [young adult, ages 14-up]
Milk Rice: Stories for Children
A collection of short stories by Sri Lankan authors, both established and new. My favorite short story is Joseph’s Letter about a girl, Nimara, in Sri Lanka who gets a pen pal in Uganda, Joseph Miremba. Both countries were colonies and both were in the midst of civil war. They write back and forth for a year until one day the letters stop coming back to her. Tragedy has happened; Joseph’s village was raided by rebels and either killed or taken as a boy soldier. Wanting to do something, Nimara begins a letter campaign to the rebel leader and president of Uganda asking for his release. Others from Sri Lanka join her cause and after one million letters are sent, a miracle happens. He’s released but so badly damaged from the horrors he has seen that he won’t speak. Nimara is asked to fly to Uganda to hel him. She finally meets him and inside his hand are pieces of one of the letters she has written asking him not to lose hope. His mouth opens, and he says her name. [short stories, ages 12-adult]
Haleema Salie of L’Aroma Cafe’s version of Sri Lankan Fried Chicken
- 1lbs chicken, preferably thigh and leg pieces, with or without bones.
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 (heaping) tsp of chili powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced or smashed
- 1/4 cup of tomato ketchup
Mix all the ingredients into a paste. Rub into the chicken. Marinate in the fridge for at least one hour (the longer the better). Heat oil in medium pot. Oil should be deep enough to cover the chicken. Fry on low to meduim heat for at least 10 minutes, apply to the other side.
My friend, DesignTrackMind, usually helps me on the interior design portion of this post, but she needs a much deserved break after a flat out, all encompassing effort to finish the This Old House project in Auburndale, MA. The big reveal was right before Christmas and she worked day and night to get it ready and it was spectacular! You can see it on T.V. The Big Reveal will be shown in January and she will on TV! So, I just did what she usually does, which is to Google like a mad woman until you hit the good stuff. I found a book on Sri Lankan Interior Design, some antiques reminiscent of Colonial Sri Lanka or maybe even actually from that period, and artisans from different regions of Sri Lanka that make these graphic masks, brightly colored lacquer ware (so different from the lacquer paintings of Vietnam ), and some gorgeous brasswork.
Sri Lanka Interior Design
As for Sri Lanka interior design, it reminds of me of Ralph Lauren when he tries to create romantic images of British Colonial Style. It’s elegant cane furniture crossed with Polynesian style.
Sri Lanka Artisans
Traditional masks from Ambalangoda.
Traditional lacquerwork on wood.
Brasswork from Naththarampotha.