The Last Mooncake – A very short Story by Renuka Mendis

Honest to god I know not what I should do. There’s one desolate mooncake left and I don’t think I can bear the thought that it will be gone. Feels like I walked across cataracts between high mountains knitted to the sky, across a deep river in the Yangtze gorge to get to them. And to have no more mooncakes means I put myself so far away from that place they took me to; never to return until next mid-Autumn and its silver full moon. Who knows what might happen between now and then. Now and then that chasm of time.

Perhaps I should walk over to the Metro and get myself some chocolate and have a piece each time I go near the last mooncake. So I don’t eat it and disassociate with its magic.

At Christmas I put out a piece of Christmas cake, a cookie and a cup of milk. The milk turns to a yogurt after a few days when it gets sloshed down the sink out of Arjuna’s little boy milk cup. But the plate with the cake and cookie ends up in my little shrine space where i keep treasured things. And often i forget for months. This also happens when every few years I offer kiribath to the Buddha statute (yes yes i know big secret and all) which is also kept in said shrine space. They all dry out and turn into fossilized kiribath, christmas cake and cookie. I could fossilize similarly the last mooncake. The treasure.

I have solved my dilemma. May be this is where this was going from the very start of this mooncake journey. I had turned fully away from the Buddha over the last twenty or twenty five years having seen what was being done in its name. The hypocrisy of so called Buddhists. The cruelty. I doubt I’d ever turn to the Buddha fully again. Not that I ever had anyway. But on occasion there are passing glances. Especially since January 2015. A smidgen of comfort and solace to be drawn. A finding of a sense of vague equilibrium – Upeksha slightly tilted.

I think I have solved my dilemma. I will not eat the last mooncake. Indeed I ought to have offered the first mooncake to the shrine where the buddha, aiya’s photo, a family photo of my siblings, my most treasured books, and even the Dhammapada sits with my O/Level and A/Level Shakespeare texts. The first mooncake however was eaten by me. Instead I will offer the last mooncake on a pretty plate to that shrine and it will slowly dry out and who knows what it might turn into. So let me go light a candle and make an offering to the moon, to the Buddha, and if there is any goodness left in the universe; to that too. The last mooncake on my prettiest plate. Johnson brand, Hyde Park. And hauled in a suitcase from London, to Riyadh, to Colombo, back to Toronto.  I forget the


big London store where I bought it and the whole set for twenty-five pounds.   Probably a good thing. That was too long ago when my braid was long and as thick as my wrist and fell all the way to my passa paththa inviting unnecessary attention.

And may be I’ll dream in my sleep that you are with me under the moon sailing down the Yangtze as Li Qingzhao recites her poem – thus:

It was far into the night when, intoxicated,
I took off my ornaments;
The plum flower withered in my hair.
Recovered from tipsiness,
the lingering smell of wine
broke my fond dream.
Before my dreaming soul could find
my way home.

All is quiet.
The moon lingers,
And the emerald screen hangs low.
I caress the withered flower,
Fondle the fragrant petals,
Trying to bring back the lost time.

And we can nibble at mooncakes in our dreams. Always. Forever.

Translation of poem by Li Qingzhao sourced from

Renuka Mendis, Toronto, October 2, 2015

Passing through Hungary – A Novel by @BBCMatthewPrice

So I came across a woman from Syria today. Walking along the hard shoulder of the motorway.

Pushing a pushchair. In it her two year old son. Asleep and oblivious. A handbag hanging from the handles. And a bag of apples.

Her four year old held her hand as she pushed it. The car headlights lighting them up. Then they would fade again in the darkness.

They walked like that from the central station in Budapest. Walked for eight and more hours. You know what it’s like to walk with three kids that age? That far? With a few belongings?

Her six year old daughter wrapped in a thin blanket. She told me her husband was in Germany. That she was going to find him.

The kids were amazing. Like so many have been. Most actually. But then the distance mounted. And this little family slowed.

The boy started to complain. Then cry. And he said no more. The daughter looked helpless. And mum burst into tears. There on the motorway.

She shook and crumpled over the pushchair. Her baby slept on. The cars flashed by. And mum and son cried. And trembled.

They were helped. The boy carried on shoulders. The pushchair pushed. And mum and daughter moved forwards slowly. Mum limping.

And that was how it was. For another three kilometres or more. Until they found their friend and stopped.

They lay out blankets on the grass verge. The little boy found his teddy bear. The girl wrapped herself up. They lay down.

And still the cars passed. And re baby? Slept through the lot. He will never remember how he once passed through Hungary.


Embedded image permalink

“Thank you. Thank you Austria” they say politely as they cross the border.



Approximately 8p.m. on September 4, 2015 in EST. on Twitter. All credit and ownership for content and photographs belong to: Matthew Price of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Matthew Price on the ground from Hungary near the German border today.

Compiled from Twitter feed of Matthew Price by Renuka Mendis, in Toronto. September 4, 2015. Bearing witness. (Pending permission from Matthew Price).

Title Passing through Hungary – A Novel by @BBCMatthewPrice was assigned by Renuka Mendis (Pending permission from Matthew Price).

115 Degrees Fahrenheit


Sweet tender mango and warm fresh delicate just set yogurt made at night while the world slept; the combination of a perfect mango’s sweet sensuality and the innocence of milk made more resonant in its newly jellied form.

You wanted to know how to. So here it is. First of all get yourself a food thermometer.  I know many make yogurt without one but that is the secret for success around here.  You will never go wrong. And anyway it is a useful tool to have around the kitchen.  As to the rest here you go.

What you need:

4 Litres Whole Milk (you can use skimmed or in between or add cream for richer yogurt)

4 tablespoons unflavoured yogurt (formula is 1 tablespoon per litre of milk)

Special equipment:

Food thermometer

Wide mouthed glass jars with lids

A balloon whisk

A glass cup measure for filling jars

A cup to rest the thermometer between checks

A heavy bottomed sauce pan

Oven with pilot light

Important Temperatures to keep in mind:

Milk holding temperature – 160F – 180F

Inoculation temperature – 115F

Ambient temperature to rest the yogurt – 110F

Something about ambient temperature.  The ideal temperature for yogurt to set is 110F more or less.  How this works for me is if I leave the light on in my electric oven it hits that temperature.  It should not be too much higher than that.  The yogurt takes between 5 – 6 hours to set.  The longer it sits from the moment it sets the more tart it becomes.  If you don’t like yogurt tart remove the yogurt as soon as it is set.  You will know it is set because when you tilt it the whey will separate from the solids.  For the first time suggest you give it about seven hours and you can experiment with your next batch.  I tend to like it un-tart so I remove it as soon as it is set.  Just set warm yogurt is pure magic.  Especially with ripe mango.  Anyway, back to work.

First sterilize your jars …

First sterilize your jars, lids, whisk and the cup measure in boiled water for 15 minutes. Then remove with tongs and drain on a tray lined with a clean kitchen towel. If your jars and equipment are not sterilized your yogurt might not set due to bacteria. Don’t skip this part.  Also make sure your working areas are super clean and same with your oven.

Now heat the milk in a heavy bottomed non-reactive pan stirring all the time.  Bring to between 160F – 180F and keep it at that temperature for 20 – 30 minutes.  Make sure to keep stirring and adjust heat to ensure it does not go outside this temperature range.  If you don’t stir a skin will form on top which is not a good idea.

After 20 – 30 minutes place the pan in an ice bath or cold water bath and bring temperature down to 115F.  115F is the magic temperature at which inoculation can occur which will make sure the culture you add to the milk will multiply and magically transform milk to yogurt.

As soon as the milk reaches 115F remove from the cold water/ice bath and add the yogurt and whisk it in.  Promptly transfer the milk to the jars using the measuring cup.  Cover the jars with the lids and place on a large tray in oven which should be at 110F.  Cover the bottles with a kitchen towel.

After 5 – 6 hours your yogurt will be set.  Sometimes it may take a little longer but not a lot. As I said if this is your first time just do it before you sleep and it should be set when you wake up in the morning but it will be a little tart.

I think yogurt is lovely when super fresh and warm.  But in order to store the yogurt place them in a cold water bath till room temperature.  Then refrigerate.  They keep easily in the fridge for a month without any problem provided you don’t open the lids.  Once they are open they are still good for two to three weeks.  Always keep refrigerated.

DSCF2962Until you get the hang of it after making a few batches; it’s best to use large mouthed jars.  These are small jars I make for single servings.  I leave a bunch in the office fridge; end up being my breakfast often.

And the best part.  You get to use the yogurt you made for your next batch as the culture.  Just use one tablespoon for each litre of milk.  Best of luck. This has become a beloved ritual for me.  I no longer buy yogurt.

Tips:  Sometimes I add about a tablespoon of rose water into a jar (1 litre) to give it a rose flavour.  Although I’ve never done so you could also sweeten the yogurt by adding sugar to the milk and other flavourings.  I am happy with plain yogurt and I jazz it up with some fruit preserves or fresh fruit or sometimes just some toasted oats.  Ripe perfect apricots and mangoes, fresh, are divine with just set yogurt before it gets tart. It is paradise.  Sometimes when I need something fancy I just get out the yogurt and have it with a little sugar and plop a few drops of rose water in it.  Needless to mention all the savoury possibilities for salads and things.  Chop up a cucumber and a tomato.  Throw in some yogurt and some chopped mint and/or dill.  There’s a summer salad for you.

Renuka Mendis, in Toronto, August 31, 2015.

today i plan to steal a sequin


around now on days like this
i wait
for her to appear
as she does
every tired afternoon
a lovers visit
she turns up dressed
in soft silvers and golds
in three sequins off each ear
to politely
steal kisses
that were all mine when night turned into days
days that get shorter and shorter

in alarm
like a tailor without cloth
i hang on in hope off a rope
of tensile silk
as the day gets shorter each afternoon
by miles at a time compounded
the thread she hangs me by
gets thinner
across the sky a fragile tightrope
as i drown into shorter days
and its sure promise
that soon, very soon
she will not return.

Renuka Mendis, Toronto, August 22, 2015

Photo by Renuka Mendis, in Toronto, August, 2015.


the peacock
on the mosque in silhouette
its mane heavy
its long eyes survey
as tires burn on the causeway
and a boy child gapes
from far away
through window’s bars
and sees —
a peacock at the crest

of a minaret.

Renuka Mendis, March 23, 2015



Photo by Renuka Mendis, in Pottuvil, August, 2011.

Footnote: I am told this is the 50th Post on my Store Room here. Thank you to everyone who visited and are yet to visit. I like being here most days. Renuka – Aug 12, 2015.

smoke gets in my eyes

at loose ends
hiding from the world
the sun comes down in shards
benignly cuts
trying to rip up my thin old dress
hanging loose and lazy
hammock style
i fear the unknown of sunday afternoons
as mondays lie in wait
in fear
sleeping feigning early hibernation
of oncoming summer’s end
a death
an entombment of possible escapes
seeking solace in afternoon tea cups
of hours wasted except for listening
to music
the silence of rustling leaves on the first quavers of dry
towards a bonfire’s early evening blaze
smoke and smell that straight line to when we first walked the earth upright
and noticed trees
unclothed or covered in leaves
can we stop the time at 4.11p.m.

but it’s time
to put away last night’s dishes now dry
except for the drip drip drip of a few spoons that stuck together
so i can rinse that messy pan
and fry something up to slake hunger
and once again forget the world
but then i remember
i can be useful
and stir some milk
and make yogurt
and laugh again fearless;
because you
my darling
are here.

Renuka Mendis, Aug 9, 2015, Toronto.

First get yourself a cabbage the size of a football – Cabbage Kottu


First of all make sure you have lime. We’ll get to that later.

Rinse the Cabbage – Get yourself a spanking new head of cabbage the size of a football. Cut off 1/3rd of it and leave it in the fridge for another day. Split the remainder in two lengthwise. Now tenderly dismantle the rest of the cabbage leaving cores intact and rinse it good in water. I know. But I am like that. How to dismantle a cabbage you ask? What? Your mother didn’t teach you that. Must I have to get into that now.
How to dismantle a Cabbage – OK. If you insist. Kids these days. You dismantle a cabbage leaf by leaf and it will squeak at each turn like there were little fairy children stuck between the leaves. You trim off the really near woody ends in the leaves in part closest to the core. Throw out any blemished leaves on outside or feed it to your compost heap or your worms. Once most of the leaves are removed then you get to the core which is usually paler and that you don’t have to dismantle. That is when you are about 2/3rd to 1/4ths of the way to the heart of the cabbage. Yes. Cabbages also have hearts. And to get to the heart you have to rip out the leaves. Yeah.

Sacré-Cœur – Sometimes there is a tough core you get to as you get to the centre of the cabbage. That you’ll have to remove and you should not use it unless you are really desperate. It almost kinda feels knobbish. Ask some other time.

Slice the bloody Cabbage – Place rinsed cabbage leaves in a colander to drain. These leaves have ribs and the outer leaves have ribs that are like the Drakensberg Range. Trim the leaves one by one of the tougher ribs that run down the middle of each leaf. Only the larger ribs. Slice the ribs real thin with a good sharp knife. I use my chef’s knife for pretty much most of my cutting jobs. Now take the leaves or parts thereof. Start with the outer leaves. Lay them one on top of the other about four ply. Slice them into strips about ¼ inch to ½ inch wide. Once the leaves are done slice the cores. Since they are more tender you’ll find they are easier to slice after the slightly less tender outer leaves. But this is all good stuff so don’t throw out anything. Place the sliced cabbage in a large bowl as you progress.

Green Chillies – Fresh and hot – Once you are done slicing the cabbage slice about 3 – 4 fresh hot green chillies and add to it. Or you can adjust to taste if you are a coward. If you are a daredevil go for it.

Get yourself about 4 – 5 dry red chillies and pound it with about a heaping tablespoon of maldive fish chips. Set aside. Add a 1” piece of Ceylon cinnamon to it with about ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds.

Set aside a teaspoon of mustard seeds and 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds. Also about a tablespoon of fresh/frozen curry leaves. (Never dry. That’s disgusting).

Get yourself about a heaping teaspoon of turmeric and two teaspoons good dark roasted Ceylon curry powder.
Slice about 3 small onions lengthwise. Mince fine a piece of ginger about a thumb’s size. (Ha! My thumb). About 5-10 cloves of garlic peeled, then sliced lengthwise and then halved lengthwise.

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan that could hold all of the cabbage, heat about 1/3 or 1/4th cup of oil to near smoking over medium heat. Take off stove and take a splatter shield and quickly throw in the mustard seeds and cover with splatter shield. They will pop and easily burn you. Be careful. Then add the fennel seeds to brown. Use splatter shield. Then bring back to the stove at medium heat. Add the curry leaves and when fragrant (takes a minute or less, much less) and the onions and fry stirring often till near brown and cooked through having added a ¼ teaspoon salt to it. Stir all the time and once cooked and beginning to brown make a space in middle and add the garlic and continue to stir till beginning to soften but do not burn.

Make some space in pan and add some oil (tablespoon) into the space and heat till hot. Add the pounded chillies and maldive fish and stir without burning and then add the fenugreek and Ceylon cinnamon. Stir for a few seconds and make some space in pan. Add and stir the turmeric and curry powder. Stir a few seconds till fragrant and now incorporate everything in pan.

Add the cabbage in batches starting with one fourth. Keep stirring. Reduce heat if it’s too high so you don’t burn the cabbage. That’d be disgusting. Watch and stir and keep adding the rest of cabbage in similar batches till all is incorporated. Keep heat as high as possible but not so high it would burn the cabbage. Keep stirring. Once all the cabbage is in keep stirring for about 15 minutes till cabbage is bite tender. Taste for salt and adjust seasonings.

Adding cabbage in batches … and constantly stirring it so it does not burn.



Done and glistening.

Adding Egg – Season three eggs with salt, pepper, turmeric and Ceylon brown curry powder and lightly beat. In another pan take enough cabbage kottu for two and make sure it stays hot. Make space in middle and add the egg mix. Wait till egg starts to set at bottom (in minutes) and then gently stir so egg cooks and are in soft pieces that are seasoned with all the spices.

If one wants to egg the kottu so to speak in larger batches do the same in a larger pan.  But I’ve never tried that. I tend to add the eggs in serving sizes of 2 – 3 at a time.

Serve with lime slices and if you like, Grace’s hot sauce. Will make your heart race. And that’s a good thing, eh?

Renuka Mendis

August 7, 2015, Toronto.

Football in Primary Colours – a short note on The World Is A Ball by John Doyle


There are four primary colours. Red, green, blue and football. And Doyle colours the whole world football. The paintbrush his heart. I cannot remember a book that made me so happy of late. A joyous, funny, warm and informative caravanserai through two World Cups and two Euros; deliciously larded with biting satire and sometimes spiked with heartbreak.

A travelogue and commentary interspersed with rich reportage and some behind the scenes nuggets and mostly beautiful people – some on the tops of lampposts and others holding forth over the drinks counter in railway cars; all amidst the din made by a woman on a balcony hammering away on pots and pans in celebration. Christine, the street-sleepers. Trevor and Jack (and Julie) on the train. Then back home in Toronto on Niagara Street where boys play football with sweater pile goals as snowflakes freeze. The evocative tiny paragraph of an entirely unforeseen memorial for the Hillsborough Disaster which took me entirely unawares. Short flash backs on Toronto street cars. Sedate Portuguese men watching football in Toronto bars. The common touch. Most of all for me Doyle’s accounting of Zidane’s moments of fury in Berlin; a personal catharsis and a straight line from me and my TV screen under smoke-stack towers in the Berlin Olympiastadion to a kind of justice in an unjust world. Yup. I remember where I was. I could go on.

I have not had such fun reading a travelogue since perhaps reading From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet by Vikram Seth in another place and another time. But this was more personal because of football and it is from Toronto and also from somewhere else like many of us here given Doyle’s close ties to Ireland. That constant need to bridge the gulf between the here and the there. The book for some hours filled up that chasm us outsiders carry around as we trudge around this City dragging around fragile roots.

If you have even a passing fancy for football and a generous heart; an absolute must read. Doyle opens up a whole world that we never see on TV. I await the sequel for 2010 and 2014 World Cups and the Euros in between. If ever I run into the author on the streetcar guess that will be my first question. Where is the clock that Maria gave you in Porto? And that is kinda how I feel; a bit like Maria with her plastic bag and present. Thank you.

And to Brazil 2014 – Tenho saudades de você.

Renuka Mendis  –  From July 25, 2014.

Photo by Renuka Mendis.  World Cup 2010 and daisies on Yarmouth Road, Toronto.