Short Story: Grains of Rice

It’s five o’clock and I make my way down to the kitchen. I take out the vegetables that will accompany my rice. I cut my garlic into small cubes before moving onto the rest of the ingredients. The onion in slices, the leek cut diagonally and the peppers into strips. I slowly sweat down the onions, add the garlic before throwing in the leeks and peppers.

“That smells really good,” says my housemate as he opens the fridge door and takes out a ready meal, “I swear you’re the only one who cooks nice things, Karen.” He’s wearing a grey hoodie, the hood up, and a pair of long shorts. Apparently the cold doesn’t get to him, which is odd because why would you wear a hoodie if you weren’t cold? I’m dressed in so many layers, I look like a human marshmallow.

“Thanks,” I say.

He stabs the plastic cover of his ready meal several times with a pair of scissors and I jump twice at the first two stabs. The microwave-hum choruses with the sizzling of my stir-fry, his lasagne starting its time. He grabs a small handful of salad before carefully counting five tomatoes and placing the remaining packet of salad and tomatoes in the fridge. A rustling sound destroys the kitchen symphonies as he starts to devour a packet of crisps. He shakes the packet towards me. No thanks I say, poking my stir-fry. He shrugs, sucking his flavoured fingertips and going in for more.

He pushes his hood off his head and runs his seasoned hand through his wet hair. He’s come back from the gym, he’s starving, he tells me. I tell him I am too.

I throw in cubes of tofu and black bean sauce into my vegetables and toss. A home comfort I typically enjoy making without the pollution of the tomato sauce floating in the air.

The microwave dings and my housemate pops the door open. I try not to analyse his eating habits but I can’t help it when it’s right in front of me. So much effort cooking, he says, who can be asked?

Yeah… totally.

I can imagine my mum telling him how little vegetables he has on his plate. She used to tell me when I was younger that vegetables never fill up your stomach. I think it was a way to make me eat the last piece of broccoli that remained at dinner.

“You have one and I will have one,” my mum would say.

I would agree and go to the rice cooker to scoop more jasmine rice into my bowl. I’d grab the piece of broccoli with my ivory chopsticks, my Chinese name engraved at the top. A slice of garlic would attach itself to my broccoli floret and I’d shake off onto the white disposable table cover that gets laid out every evening. Taking a bite, I’d put it down and place the bowl to my lip, pushing the rice into my mouth with my chopsticks.

“Make sure you eat the last mouthful of rice,” my mum would say.

Any rice that would remain meant a spot on my husband’s face. That’s what she told me and my big sister. Sometimes I’d leave half a bowl of rice, defeated by the need to eat the dishes in the centre. Home-roasted duck with plum sauce, pork pulled out of the pot of soup with goji berries and black-eyed beans and a plate of steamed Chinese cabbage. What we didn’t eat would be put into bowls and covered with cling film.

“We have so much to eat for the rest of the week!” my mum would beam, “only need to cook more vegetables.”

Every dinner was a family feast with leftovers to last at least two days, sometimes three.

For my housemate, back at home, it was a new meal every day. What he doesn’t eat is fed to the bin because eating it again the next day is unappealing. He’d learnt that at home. Everyone in his family had individual plates that they had to eat off of. Thursday was take-out evening, usually Chinese. Spring rolls, satay chicken and egg fried rice. It was the only meal where everyone sat together to eat. As they shovelled the food in their mouths, the plate balancing on their laps, the television would talk for them. That was not what I called a family meal.

My mum used to tell me about how it was back in Hong Kong. Her mother’s dining room table only big enough to fit half the family. So they would have to feed everyone in batches. As one half ate, the other half sat in front of the television and watched an Asian drama full of slapstick action. Ones where someone would dramatically hanging from the ledge of a tall building shouting whilst their saviour would trip over wide-eyed as they run over. My grandpa would laugh out loud in his reclined chair, whilst everyone else sat on the sofa, a mahogany bench with a cushioned seat.

My mum would be positioned by the sink. As the first dinner came to an end, she would be at the sink cleaning the white porcelain bowls and chopsticks. Her mother would be cooking another round of vegetables for the next lot of people in the wok.

A family feeding the family, an evening filled with nonverbal words of satisfaction. Pointing to a plate, this one is good, eat, eat, very good.

I sometimes wish we had more family members in the UK. But we’re just a table of four. My dad, my mum, my sister and me. My mum is the chef in our house, so it leaves me and my sister to set up the dinner table, dish out the rice and place a small dish of soy sauce in between the meat and the soup contents. Then we’d sit and wait. My sister would bounce in her seat, she hardly cooks Chinese food at her home. My dad would have his chopsticks poised, ready to pick at my mum’s homemade char-sui pork.

“Eat, eat,” my mum would say as she’d scurry to the table, holding the final centre dish in her hands and placing it down when she sits.

As we eat we’d make loud non-verbal sounds of enjoyment to ensure our mum would know we’d eat well tonight.

“Mmmmm, so good!”

In between those sounds, my dad would discuss his day at work and we’d all chime in. School was a drag, I need to study tonight, the supermarket was busy. Every small detail important like how the mangos are only seventy-nine pence instead of one pound. Our discussion switching between English and Cantonese.

*

Last week, my housemate had just come back from buying more ready meals and was stacking them up on his shelf. He found a carrot tucked away at the back of his shelf.

“I’m not going to eat it,” he said, waving the carrot around, “Do you want it?”

I did. It was perfectly fine in my eyes but would he find that disgusting? Am I disgusting to want to eat it? It had shrunk in size and was soft and squishy.

I shook my head and he tossed it into the bin.

“Well, if you really want it you can reach in and get it,” my mum told me on the phone, “just wash it off.”

And so I did. He started throwing away his spotty bananas, after he told us he only ate green ones. Six bananas only just starting to form black dots, no bruising in sight. When the kitchen was empty, I counted to twenty to make sure no one would come out of their rooms. Then I reached in and grabbed the goods.

His pickiness with food is in my favour. It’s like those bargain hours at the supermarket except is free and I didn’t need to leave the house.

My family typically made their way to the supermarket every Sunday, buying all the discount goods that lined the shelves. Sometimes we go wild and go during a weekday, it really depended on our cravings. People have their vouchers for discounts, we have our love for the yellow sticker discount barcodes.

It was like a weekly family trip, circling the aisles, waiting for the workers to discount the New York onion bagels, for my dad to take to work. Sometimes we’d manage to beat people to the out-of-date spinach and bags of disregarded bashed up bananas for sixty pence. My mum would hover by the chilled fish counter, ready to buy the rainbow trout as soon the price drops. We’d steam it and top it with fried ginger, spring onion strips and soy sauce.

As I turn the heat off of my pan, I scoop my tofu dish into one of my pasta bowls. I go to the fridge and scoop some left over rice into my bowl and microwave it, heating it until the cling film creates a dome over the bowl from the heat.

I can hear my housemate slurping his food down before I reach the table. His tomatoes have probably rolled an inch round his plate but they all still remain there. All five of them, there for the aesthetics, along with the leafy greens that bring brightness to the plate.

I am envious that he can eat ready meals and seem visibly okay. His shopping bags normally also contain three packets of large chocolate bars and two big bags of crisps, contrasting with the amount of greens found in my bags.

I have tried eating his way. My dad has bought a discounted ready meal before, it was too much sauce not enough pasta. We ended up dipping pieces of bread in the sauce to not waste it.

My housemate told me that the Thai curry and the meatball spaghetti were the best ones. The chicken roast and raviolis are not good, he had tasted them and was disappointed. I gleefully took his advice since I was a newbie in this area. He’s made his way through enough so he’s got to know what’s worth his money. The rich tomato sauce with basil filled the kitchen and it coaxed out my housemate. He had the meatball spaghetti that evening too.

My first bite was exciting and flavoursome. Then the slimy and sloppy texture, the dull browny-red colours and the overexposure to salt bored me. I felt my body absorbing more oil than nutrition. I felt like a lump of mash potato after the week of ready meals had come to an end. So I celebrated by spending more than two hours in the kitchen making a homemade falafel burger with sweet potato French fries and a side salad. I happily ate all of it. I am a slave for food.

He doesn’t change his posture as I take my seat opposite him. In one hand he holds his phone, scrolling through it with his thumb, and in the other is his fork. He’s not here for conversation. Doesn’t care for green tea that is one pound rather than two pound fifty.

He’s hunched over, his legs spread around a small coffee table that the landlord thought was a good alternative for a dining table.

Apart from the stubble that covers the lower half of his oblong-shaped face, there isn’t a blemish in sight. So I guess I don’t need to worry about him making an impacted on my life.

 

Review: The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L Armentrout

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Title: The Problem with Forever
Author: Jennifer L Armentrout
Publication Date: 17th May 2016 (Mira Ink)
Pages: 474
Genre: Contemporary 
Format: Paperback

Links to buy: |Amazon UK| |Waterstones| |Book Depository|

For some people, silence is a weapon. For Mallory “Mouse” Dodge, it’s a shield. Growing up, she learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. And even though it’s been four years since her nightmare ended, she’s beginning to worry that the fear that holds her back will last a lifetime.

Now, after years of homeschooling with loving adoptive parents, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at public high school. But of all the terrifying and exhilarating scenarios she’s imagined, there’s one she never dreamed of—that she’d run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn’t seen since childhood, on her very first day.

It doesn’t take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded. Yet the deeper their bond grows, the more it becomes apparent that she’s not the only one grappling with the lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider’s life spiral out of control, Mallory faces a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants, and the truths that need to be heard. [Goodreads]

After years of being homeschooled, Mallory wants to stop hiding. She wants to stop being the quiet one and fight her monsters. She wants to go to University to study but before that she must concur her fears and prove how much she has grown to her foster parents. The only way to do that is to go to a public high school for her senior year. And out of all the possibilities that she had in her mind none of them included Rider, her protector from the dangers in their childhood together, sitting next to her in class.

Mallory is an interesting and complex character to read about, even more so because Armentrout wrote in a first person narration. We don’t see her as quiet because her internal dialogue is so present. Her character arc is beautiful but it’s not perfect. Far from it and this is probably the downfall in this novel, but it’s also something that is realistic in a sense.

Both Rider and Mallory come from an abusive childhood and then they get separated. They both struggle. We’re so caught up in Mallory that Rider is sidelined throughout the novel and by the time we get to know him in the present it’s the end of the novel! So here’s what I make of it:
1) The main protagonist is Mallory and because of this we read around her. It’s her internal battle and her world. We are allowed to get caught up in our own struggles and achievements and goals.
But then 2) Mallory questions Rider and he is never responsive. She accepted that Rider was this “protector” figure but never asked how he really is. He is the one asking her the questions. Is she being selfish?

I did adore the interaction between Rider and Mallory. They knew one another so well as soon as they cross paths again it was like they were never apart. The ease in their friendship was really nice to read, though this novel does include the cliché mean and evil girlfriend. The events that rolled out with her were predictable… and there wasn’t really much to her than to be the enemy.

Rider Stark could have his own novel. Almost like Blood Brothers, both Mallory and Rider start out in the same place and part. I’d love to read about his life, though we get a glimpse into it near the end half of the novel.

**Recommend to those who’ve read or liked:
Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines |Goodreads|
The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay |Goodreads|

My rating
I really liked it

4 cup

Short Story: Her/Him

I remove my heels from my feet and welcome the cold pavement, relieving me of the pain from my feet contorting. Eight hours walking around serving drinks to clients seemed like easy work on paper.

I’ve walked down the Kingston suburban streets so many times I don’t need much light to guide me through the evening. Curtains cover windows, some only partially closed, allowing me to see what their evening TV watch. Eastenders is a favourite among the various households. The smell of bolognese warms me and I take clumsier steps trying to walk faster, my feet landing on sharp stones that have lost their way from the stony driveways.

I turn the corner and there is figure near the mouth of the street. He’s under a street-lamp, standing tall and with a black bicycle between his legs.

A high-pitched sneeze escapes him and he slumps forward. He shakes his head as the sneeze leaves him then straightens and stands tall once again.

“I can do this,” he says, “you’ve got this.” Every word uttered escapes with a small white puff that twirl into the cold evening.

With his feet firmly on the pedals, he slowly moves down the street towards me. His jacket parachutes out and the curls on his forehead part to reveal his acne covered forehead. He doesn’t register my presence and starts to speed up. Shadows form across his face, stretching and shrinking his features as moves between the street-lamps.

He breaks unexpectedly, the back wheel lifts from the ground but his feet are already on the floor, grounding him. Pumping his fists into the sky and he jiggles about, his bike sandwiched between his legs.

I tuck myself in between two cars, not wanting to frighten him. I doubt he’d want to know someone is watching him right now. His moves aren’t something I’d ever show off.

He hops off his bike and claps his trainers together like a soldier called for attention before turning his bike round to face where he came from. He almpst trips over his own feet. I can’t help put feel a smile form on my face, his happiness so easy.

Without hesitation he mounts and pushes off again, standing up as he pedals, the bike swinging between his legs. I fan my hands out in the cold, suddenly realising they had become clammy in my pockets, and a vibration goes off in my pocket.

Just a few more moments. Let me look. Let me see.

He grips the handlebars so tightly the whites of his knuckles show, he leans forward as he pedals, his ears have gone pink from the cold. He starts to twist his handles and there is a faint click after each turn. His legs awkwardly pedalling round at different speeds after every gear change. He does a small semi-circle with his bike to face towards me again.

When he stops, he ruffles his hair with his hands with short stubby fingers. His hair hangs over his forehead drawing my attention in to his hazelnut eyes. There was something innocent in them, a hint of rebelliousness, but mostly warmth.

I jump as a firework lights the sky. A flash of red towering above us. I watch it disappear before another shower of colour fills the sky. I turn back to him on the bike, wanting to know if he’s watching them too, but he’s on the ground examining his hands. His bike is lying on the floor. What happened? Is he hurt? I want to run to him. To help him up but it isn’t the right moment yet.

I stubbornly crouch behind the car, allowing him to recover from his injury alone. Is he okay? I could rub the pain away? Maybe he’ll pretend it never happened. Our secret to keep. Just me and him.

I peek round the car. He is standing, his jeans hanging lower than normal but hiding his arse, hidden but easy to imagine. His jacket slid up his back revealing his bony figure, his skin most likely untouched. Small bumps form, he feels the cold on his exposed skin. I wonder if he would like my touch? Would he like being wanted? Teased?

“Jack.”

It is a woman. She has the same hay coloured hair as him, the same arched nose. She wears a nightgown and a pair of slippers. She is holding a green helmet.

“You’ve already fallen over,” she says, looking at the bike then at him.

“I’m fine.”

“Don’t give me that.”

“Sorry,” he said, “thanks for the bike.”

She takes Jack into an embrace, “You’re so big now, seven years old. I love you.”

I start to increase the distance between us.

“I love you too,” Jack says.

I need to return home.

Review: Little White Lies by Katie Dale

17232924Title: Little White Lies
Author: Katie Dale
Publication Date: August 2013 (Simon & Schuster)
Pages: 394
Genre: Contemporary 
Format: Paperback

Links to buy: |Amazon UK| |Waterstones| |Book Depository|

The first time Lou meets mysterious Christian, she knows he is The One. But Christian is hiding a terrible secret. Why does he clam up every time Lou asks about his past? Why doesn’t he have any family photos, and why does he dye his blond hair black? When Christian’s house goes up in flames, his tires are slashed, and he flees for his life, Lou insists on going with him. But as Christian’s secret is unveiled in front of the whole world, it seems everything he’s ever told Lou is a lie. Can what the media are saying about him really be true? Should Lou trust him? Or is she in grave danger? And what if their accidental meeting wasn’t an accident at all…? [Goodreads]

I read Someone Else’s Life a few years back and loved it, so when I came across Dales’ second novel I knew I had to pick it up!

Lou is trying to run away from the past in London. She’s changed her identity and is starting at Sheffield University. But she’s still on edge and nervous that someone will figure out who she is. She meets Christian, who is also in Sheffield for a new beginning, hiding behind his own web of lies. The more time they spend together the more they try to hide, to spare one another the pain, but both their secrets are the thing that’s tying them together.

It’s so refreshing to read a YA novel that is set at a university. I think it’s something that makes this book quite British in a way. Going to university and finding this ‘new self’/creating a new identity was something I expected when I started. And with more mature characters, it is definitely nothing I’ve read about in a UKYA novel before!

I loved reading about Lou, each time learning more about her past and what she really ran away from. She’s constantly looking over her shoulder but when she meets Christian, she relaxes and build her new life.

The book is almost split into two sections, one half panning out like a contemporary romance and the second half speeding up with the crime and mystery elements. The change of pace does have a huge affect on the believability of the story and it only just keeps grounded enough for me to stick with it. It’s very mild and mellow at the beginning, which makes the jump really sudden and either you’re on the train or you’re not – I’m on it! It keeps you on your toes with character’s whipping off and around the page, their decisions frantic and panicked.

The only weak point about this novel was the last few pages, which seemed to keep to the fast pace, and lessened the satisfaction at the end.

But I was glued to the book til the very end!

My rating:

I really liked it

4 cup

My Best 2016 Discoveries: TV, Music, Film, Books and Theatre!

Whilst I have been quiet for the last few months, I cannot leave 2016 without doing a list of my favourites. Though some things have made it onto the list aren’t 2016 releases I want to share them because they are things that I have gotten round to watching/listening/reading this year.

Television:

I’ve been binge watching a lot of shows recently but I’ve been struggling to find something that I absolutely love. In the past two months I’ve watched: Outlander (Season 1 & 2), Crazy Ex Girlfriend (Season 1 & 2), Humans (Season 1 & 2), Westworld, Fleabag & Mr Robot (Season 1 Only). Out of the lot I would recommend…

  1. Westworld
    It’s about a Western-world theme park which is occupied by robotic “hosts” that roam the park for humans to enter and interact with. Westworld enables people to live in their fantasy world where they aren’t in real danger as hosts are not able to harm humans.
    It’s very cleverly done and everything is very tightly-knit. I feel like the network knew it’d be something big so it is an all star cast, with some new faces to give them some fame. Hopefully there will be another season.
    And also, James Marsden.
  2. Mr Robot
    I’m very behind when it comes to TV and I have only watched Season 1 of Mr Robot. And I’m completely mindblown by it.
    It follows Elliot who’s a cybersecurity computer programmer during the day and an hacker during the night. He’s sought out by a secret hacking group to help take down the conglomerate ECorp, but this is also where he is paid to work during the day. Told with a first person narration, you quickly become to know Elliot’s internal voice and his moral and personal struggles.
    The pacing for me is super slow and I was close to giving up, however I stuck through it does turn around.

Music:

Once I find a selection of albums I like, I tend to repeat them over for the rest of the year. My top albums for 2016 are:

  1. X Ambassadors – VHS
    Imagine Dragons discovered X Ambassadors and I think there are similarities in their first albums. They’re known for their single Renegades but their song Unsteady is featured in the Me Before You soundtrack.
  2. Chainsmokers – Bouquet & Collage EP & Major Lazer – Peace is the Mission
    Joint second are two electronic dance music albums. It’s a bit of a weird music choice when studying but it’s worked for me – the upbeat tempo and catchy words make it an easy escape. Though I don’t like to acknowledge the fact that the Chainsmokers created Selfie.
  3. Oh Wonder – Oh Wonder
    An electropop indie group from London, their music is quite soft and relaxing… A recommendation from my sister – she has great taste.
  4. Griffin Peterson – From All Sides
    Griffin Peterson is attached to Colleen Hoover’s novel Maybe Someday, which is where I first discovered him. His album is simple and easy, mostly led by guitar strumming and drum beats.

Films:

Watched films are lacking in 2016…

  1. You Before Me
    I managed to get early screening tickets for this film and I sobbed/ugly cried/completely broke down. That in itself is an amazing achievement because I’m not an emotional person when watching most things. I was not as emotional when reading the novel but the film tore me apart.
  2. The Prestige
    Directed by Christopher Nolan, this film is about two magicians who compete to outdo one another with their illusions. It’s a pretty intense competition as they become more and more obsessed with trying to top one another and it leads to tragic endings. Less intense than Inception but still a great watch.

Books:

I did manage to read a lot during the beginning half of 2016 but from that point onwards, I hardly touched a book of my choosing. The books that I did pick up more were cookbooks!

Fiction:

  1. Vendetta and Inferno by Catherine Doyle.
    I have reread this duo more than three times this year. It’s a great modern twist on the overused Romeo and Juliet retelling. People mess up, fall in love and fall out of love. It’s pretty darn perfect, but not in the fairytale kind of way, in the ‘it is realistic’ kind of way.
  2. Flawed by Cecelia Ahern
    I saw so many negative reviews attached to this novel and I approached this book with caution. I’ve read some of Ahern’s adult novels and enjoyed them but I didn’t know how to compare them since Flawed is a dystopia. Find my review of the book here.

Non-Fiction:

  1. Elly Pear’s Fast Days & Feast Days by Elly Curshen
    Perfect for quick and easy recipes!
  2. Twist by Martha Collison
    This is the first Bake Off contestant book that I’ve owned and it comes with beautiful drawings and plenty of sweet recipes to try!
  3. The Minimalist Baker Everyday Cooking by Dana Schutz
    Dana Schutz runs the blog The Minimalist Baker, which I have followed for a while now, and I bought the book as soon as it was released. A must for those plant-based eaters!
  4. Stirring Slowly by Georgina Hayden
    Stirring Slowly focuses on the hearty meals. It’s all about speed nowadays and it’s really lovely to have something on the stove brewing for a little longer than ten minutes. There is one one person serving recipe however most of them are for four servings, so definitely one for people who need to cook for a family or friends!

Theatre:

I made more trips to the theatre than usual at the end of this year. I’ve always loved going to the theatre but the trips lessened after finishing secondary school. Everything about the theatre is really exciting to me, I’ve always said that if I get a chance I’d love to work in one, even if it’s simply front of house!
Anyway after my birthday that included a trip to see The Phantom of the Opera, a musical I have wanted to see for so long, I booked three solo trips to see three musicals. They included: The Murder Ballad, The Last Five Years and The School of Rock. Only two of the four have made it into my highlights of 2016.

  1. Taking the number one highlight is The Phantom of the Opera. I have wanted to see it for so long and it really exceeded my expectations. It was dramatic in all the right ways and I found myself almost tearing up when the chandelier started to rise. I was more surprised about how quickly the action moved, getting chills when “The Mirror/Angel of Music” began.  The famous songs “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Music of the Night” lacked in richness and power from the actors, though it didn’t ruin my enjoyment.  “Masquerade” was a delight to watch with the full company in dazzling costumes. It’s no surprise why it’s been running for as long as it has and I can imagine revisiting it. I would love to see the tech behind it as well. It’s really a feast for your eyes.
  2. The Last Five Years had a very short run at the St James Theatre. It’s a small and intimate performance with two actors, Samantha Barks known for playing Éponine in the film version of Les Mis and Johnathan Bailey, who played Olly in Broadchurch. I’d heard a lot about the musical before and knowing Barks was part of it made me really want to see it. The musical follows a five year relationship between Cathy, a struggling actress, and Jamie, a novelist. The whole structure of the musical was new to me as we follow Jamie’s side of the story in a chronological order (falling in/out of love with Cathy) and following Cathy in reverse. The most surprising part was hearing Bailey sing. Just completely blown by his voice as I only knew him from Broardchurch and I hate his character too. It was really nice to see in something completely different. The songs are upbeat and occasionally funny to other members of the audience, yet I was left put-down and heartbroken, I Can Do Better Than That being the worst of them all for me.
    I’ve listened to the soundtrack non-stop all in order. It’s become the music I listen to when I work!

And that’s it!

 

What’s if your 2016 discovery? Comment and share below – I would love to see what everyone else is watching/reading/listening to! Maybe I’ll check it out in 2017 😉