I often seem to end up writing about food in my stories, probably because I love to cook. Most of my books have fairly domestic settings so the characters often spend time cooking and eating together.
In The Little Things, Joel is a single parent of a three-year-old. It’s sometimes hard for him to get a babysitter, so for his second date with Liam, Joel invites Liam over for dinner at his flat. He cooks for him so they can eat together once Evie—Joel’s daughter—is in bed. Joel cooks lamb curry and dahl. I’m a UK author and we Brits love our curries. The recipes below are an anglicized version rather than being authentically Indian, but they taste pretty good. If you’re a vegetarian you can leave out the lamb and use quorn instead, or chunks of butternut squash as a meat substitute.
This serves 8+
Approx 1kg of lean lamb steaks cut into chunks
2 tbsp olive oil
one large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped
4 cardamom pods
a stick of cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
2-3 tbsp of balti curry paste (I use Pataks, but if you can’t get balti paste any medium curry paste will do)
1 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes
1 x 400g can of chick peas (drained)
1 stock cube (I use lamb but veggie or chicken would do)
250ml of water
fresh coriander (cilantro) to garnish
Pre heat the oven to gas mark 3/160 C/325 F.
In a large flameproof casserole, fry the onion and cardamom pods in the olive oil until the onion is soft.
Add the lamb and stir fry on a high heat until it’s brown rather than pink, then stir in the curry paste, garlic, and cumin and cook for another few minutes.
Add the chick peas, canned tomatoes, water and cinnamon stick and bring to a simmer.
Chop/crumble the stock cube in and stir till it’s dissolved.
Put a lid on the casserole and put it in the oven for about an hour, or until the meat is tender.
Serve sprinkled with the coriander, with basmati rice and dahl (see below)
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp vegetable bouillon/stock powder
350g red lentils
800ml boiling water (approx)
Heat the oil with the cumin seeds for a couple of minutes, then add the onion and garlic.
Fry for a few minutes until the onion is soft and golden.
Add the spices and fry for a couple more minutes.
Add the lentils, boiling water and bouillon powder. Bring to a simmer then cover.
Simmer for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens. Add more water if required to stop it sticking.
In the excerpt below from The Little Things, Evie’s asleep in bed and the food is ready. Joel cooked it all in advance which is what I normally do with these dishes. The lamb tastes better if it sits awhile, and the dahl is easy to reheat in a microwave—perfect for when you’re entertaining and don’t want too much to do at the last minute.
The next few minutes were filled with the hustle and bustle of draining rice, reheating dahl, and dishing up two fragrant platefuls of curry. Liam refilled their wineglasses while Joel did the serving.
“Where are some matches for the candles?” he asked.
“Top cupboard, over the sink.” Joel set their plates down on the table. “I forgot about those. I haven’t had much call for candlelit dinners in my life so far.”
“Not with your ex?”
Joel shook his head as Liam sat down again, struck a match, and touched it to the wick of each candle in turn. “No, he wasn’t one for quiet nights in. He always preferred to go out if we could.”
“This smells amazing.” Liam leaned over his plate and inhaled blissfully.
“Dig in.” Joel lifted up his own fork. “The curry paste is from a jar, but I think it turned out pretty well. I hope you like it.”
The conversation slowed as they ate. The curry was damn good, and Liam seemed to enjoy it. He accepted a second helping, and Joel had a little extra too. By the time they’d finished, Joel was feeling happy and relaxed with a belly full of food and wine.
“Do you want some pudding? I bought some ice cream. It’s nothing fancy, I’m afraid.”
Liam shook his head and patted his stomach. “No thanks, I’m full.”
“More wine?” There was still a little left in the bottle that Liam had brought.
“No,” Liam replied. “I’d better not, because I have to drive home later.”
Joel started to clear their plates, and Liam got up to help him. Joel stacked them in the dishwasher, and when he straightened up and turned, Liam was standing and looking right at him. Joel felt a thrill of nerves and tension when he saw the intensity in Liam’s eyes.
“Do you want any coffee… or tea, or anything?” Joel could hear the nervousness in his own voice and tried to control it.
Liam shook his head and took a step closer. Joel moved toward him too, and Liam moved his hands up to cup Joel’s cheeks and slide into his hair as he leaned in. Joel’s fingers found Liam’s belt loops and he hooked them in and tugged him closer. “God, I’ve been thinking about doing this nonstop for the last few days.” Liam’s voice was a whisper over Joel’s lips, and then his words turned into kisses. Hot, searing kisses that swept aside Joel’s anxiety like wildfire, burning it away with need and passion and want. He whimpered into Liam’s mouth as he kissed him back. Their tongues were hot and slick and everything felt so overwhelmingly right—Liam’s arms around him, the scent and taste of him. Joel’s legs felt weak with desire and he pulled away, breathless, but he kept his hands tightly gripped on Liam’s waist where they rested.
“Shall we take this somewhere more comfortable? Because if you carry on kissing me like that, I’m not sure I can manage to stay upright.” He chuckled and Liam laughed too, nuzzling his stubble against Joel’s cheek as he pressed another kiss against Joel’s jaw.
“Being less upright sounds appealing. Lead the way.”
The Little Things is available at Dreamspinner Press
Then one cold and rainy night, everything changes. Joel’s life is turned upside-down when he becomes a full-time dad to Evie, and his previously carefree relationship with Dan cracks under the strain.
Meeting Liam, who acts as if getting hurt isn’t a foregone conclusion, shakes Joel to the core. Their attraction is mutual, and Liam makes no secret of how serious he is about Joel. But Joel is wary. He tells himself he’s keeping Liam at a distance for Evie’s sake, when really he’s protecting his own heart. Taking a chance on this new relationship with Liam may seem a small step—a little thing—but is it one Joel can take after losing so much already?
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England, with her amazing, occasionally ridiculous husband, two noisy-but-awesome children, and two cats.
She comes from a family of writers, but she always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed her by. She spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content. One day, she decided to try and write a short story–just to see if she could–and found it rather addictive. She hasn’t stopped writing since.
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