The Puddings Start Tomorrow!

The joy of soup is in its relative simplicity, quickness and the instant gratification you get from the very first spoonful.
But, when I tell my Mother that I’m cooking soup for tea, she’s quick to point out: “how on earth will Paul be full on that?”
I have noticed that certain people from a certain generation feel that meat and two veg is the only meal you can serve your hardworking husband when he gets home from work.. After all, a strapping young man like that needs his nourishment.
What most people don’t know about Paul though, is that he was a vegetarian in his youth and in college survived on a diet of boiled rice and soy sauce. For which I thank him profusely.
Our conjoined lives are made that much easier by our non-committal to a raging, carnivorous desire to eat red meat garnished with the odd overcooked sprout or soggy carrot. We don’t spend our evenings gnawing on ribs and tossing the bones to our drooling, anticipatory hounds, or nibbling chicken wings clean, cartilage, tendons and all.
That’s not to say that we don’t have our moments. On next weeks menu is Oxtail Soup, made with one of the most gelatinous, meaty and flavoursome parts of the bovine beastie. And any leftover meat I plan to throw into a hearty Mulligatawny Soup.
But for last nights meal we tucked into steaming bowls of Green Thai Curry Soup, bolstered generously with Mange Tout, shredded chicken breast, French Beans and Beansprouts.
And that’s the thing about soup. You think it’s never going to be enough, but as you reach the bottom of the bowl, scooping out all the best bits that have sunk to the bottom, concealed like buried treasure beneath the pale green broth, you start thinking: “I couldn’t manage another bite. Well, maybe a couple of peanut M&Ms.”
For those of you who are Thai Green Curry virgins or have only used the stuff in jars, I would suggest that you try to make your own paste. Most ingredients are readily available from your local supermarket now and it keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge in a seal tight container (I keep mine in the little coffee/spice grinder I make it in), and in fact, improves over time, becoming more mellow and flavourful. At a push, the jarred pastes are generally quite good.
One final note: the vegetables and meat recommended are just that: a recommendation. We use what we have lying around. You could use prawns instead of chicken, or one of those mixed seafood selections (just remember to put them in at the very last moment lest the squid turn into rubber). Thinly sliced beef or pork would also add a good flavour to the soup. And just for the record: the meat is entirely optional. Vegetables could include fresh thinly sliced Shiitake Mushrooms, baby corn, Bok Choi, Aubergine, Courgette or perhaps even some diced squash. I also place some Straight to Wok noodles in the bottom of the bowls and pour the soup over the top. You could boil up some regular dried noodles if you’re not a fan of the Straight to Wok ones.
TIP! A way to make the soup even more nutritious and savoury is to add half a block of creamed coconut to a pint of boiling chicken/fish/vegetable stock and then stir in a tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter. Whisk together well then add to the paste where you would normally add the coconut milk.
serves 4-6
Paste (from Nigel Slater’s Appetite)
4 lemongrass stalks, tougher outer leaves discarded

2-6 green chillies (the 3” long ones), deseeded or not depending on your heat tolerance
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2″ galangal or ginger, peeled
2 shallots or half a small white onion, peeled, cut in half
4 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chopped lime zest
1 tbsp nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
½ tsp ground black peppercorns
1 Tin Coconut Milk
400ml Chicken/Fish/Vegetable Fish Stock
500g Vegetables: baby corn, mange tout or sugar snap peas, halved Green Beans, Beansprouts, Diced Aubergine (nb: If you are using Aubergine, I would recommend frying it off with the meat before you add the paste, otherwise it just doesn’t taste that great), sliced Shiitake Mushrooms etc.
500g sliced Chicken (I used breast but thighs have a better flavour)/raw Prawns/thinly sliced Beef or Pork
3 Tablespoons Groundnut Oil
1 Tablespoon Nam Pla
Juice and Zest from 1 Lime
Half a Bunch of Chopped Coriander
Seasoning to Taste
To make the paste, throw all the ingredients into a spice grinder and whizz until fragrant and smooth. You may need to add a little more lime juice to get everything to cohere. Alternatively, you could probably do this in a blender or, the worst possible scenario, in a pestle and mortar.
To make the curry, heat the oil in a wok or shallow frying pan. Fry off the meat (i.e. chicken, beef, pork or aubergine if going for the vegetarian option) until browned on all sides. Remove to a plate.
Turn the heat down to medium and add a little more oil if the pan seems dry. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of your freshly made (or jarred) Thai Green Curry sauce. It will sizzle but then start to simmer. After a couple of minutes it will smell deliciously fresh and fragrant.
Pour over the coconut milk and stock or coconut/peanut butter mixture and bring to a brisk simmer. Leave to mingle for 5-10 minutes then add the Nam Pla, Lime Juice and Zest, browned Meat, Vegetables and half the chopped Coriander. Leave to simmer for another 5 minutes.
Taste for seasoning. I always need to add a little salt and pepper but you may not need to.
If you are using prawns or seafood add them now and simmer for a couple minutes more.
To serve, ladle into deep bowls and sprinkle with the remaining chopped Coriander.
You can also make this into a more substantial meal by adding a little cornflour dissolved in cold water to thicken it and serving with Jasmine Rice.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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