Tuesday 26 September 2017

Recipe: Curried Pumpkin Soup with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds #TipsTuesdays #Vegan #GlutenFree

Curried Pumpkin Soup with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

I  literally just finished making this and it's yummy, so I had to share. Roasting the pumpkin is a bit of a faff, but it helps get rid of some of its water and starts the sugars going, so it is worth the time. From start to end it took me at least 2 hours, but it makes a lot of soup - easily enough for six hungry people, or packed lunches for days and I suspect it would freeze well. I already sent my parents off with a batch because there was no way Rob and I could eat it all :).

This recipe can easily be made vegan and gluten free, just use the right curry powder and the right stock depending on the dietry requirements of the diners.


  • 2 red onions
  • 3 tbsp curry powder (check it is gluten free if that is a requirement)
  • 1 tbsp garlic puree (I use it from a tube, but you can crush your own)
  • 1/2 tsp ground dried garlic (optional to taste - I have it in a grinder)
  • salt to taste
  • white pepper to taste
  • 1 large pumpkin (no idea of weight, but when cut into chunks it almost filled my shallow casserole pan)
  • 1 L/4.2 cups stock (chicken or veg - depending on whether you are making the carnivor or vegan version)
  • 400ml/13.5oz can coconut milk
  • oil for cooking


  • 1 large pan (at least 24cm/9.5in x 7cm/3in shallow casserole 3.2L)
  • 1 stick blender (a standard blender can also be used, but the soup will have to be blended in batches)
  • 1 spatula
  • 1 spoon
  • 2 large baking trays
  • baking parchment/paper
  • 1 sharp knife


  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
  2. Cut the pumkin in half with the sharp knife.
  3. Remove and reserve the seeds (if you run your fingers gently through the inside of the pumkin the seeds will come away easily without any of the icky stuff).
  4. Scrape out the stringy insides of the pumpkin with a spoon.
  5. Rub the flesh of the pumpkin with oil (I used a spray oil for ease) and place on the baking tray. (Don't worry if it hangs over the edge, mine did, just make sure it goes in the oven :)).
  6. Place in the oven and bake until tender - this will be at least 45mins if not longer.
  7. Line the other tray with baking parchment/paper and spread the pumpkin seeds on it.
  8. Sprinkle with oil and salt and place in the oven as well. Bake for about 45 mins, turning occasionally until the seeds are lightly toasted.
  9. When the seeds and pumpkin are done, remove them from the oven and allow to cool. The oven can go off now as well.
  10. Chop the onion. (It doesn't have to be too fine, but the smaller it is chopped the faster it will cook, so smaller is better).
  11. Put a teaspoon of oil in the casserole, add the onion, the curry powder and the garlic and cook on low until the onion is soft and translucent.
  12. Skin and cube the pumpkin (don't worry if it isn't all completely cooked because we're going to cook it some more anyway - the roasting was for flavour).
  13. Add the pumpkin, the stock and the salt and pepper to the casserole and stir to mix with the curried onion.
  14. Bring to the boil, still stiring.
  15. Turn down and simmer until all the pumpkin is soft and juicy.
  16. Take off the stove top and roughly blend the pumkin mixture and return to the low heat. Give it another ten minutes to make sure it is completely cooked through. (Best to put a lid on the pan at this point because it's like hot mud and can splooge over the edge as air is forced to the surface).
  17. Take off the heat and add the can of coconut milk.
  18. Blend until smooth. (This can take a long time - there is a lot of soup - don't give up before it has a silky texture).
  19. Return to a gentle heat and taste. Add more seasoning if necessary. (This is where I added the ground garlic to give it a little bit more of a punch, but that may not be to everyone's taste).
  20. Serve with the toasted pumkin seeds scattered on top to give it a bit of crunch.
This is a hearty thick soup and can be stored in the fridge and reheated easily. It can be eaten on its own and be very satisfying or it would go well with a dollop of greek style yoghurt/yoghurt substitute or a sprinkling of paprika or both. I also never met a soup that didn't go well with a hunk of crusty bread as long as diners are not gluten intolerant :).

Creme fraiche could easily be substituted for the coconut milk as well if you happen to have that to hand, and you aren't worried about the dish being vegan. That's the joy of this recipe, it's very versatile.

Wednesday 13 September 2017

To NaNo or Not to NaNo - That is Always the Question

To NaNo or Not to NaNo - That is Always the Question

I know, it's only September, but this is the time of year I usually start planning for NaNo. Well that's if I have a plan. A time or two I have just jumped in and hoped for inspiration.

Just in case you don't know what I'm talking about NaNo is NaNoWriMo - or National Novel Writing Month and happens every November. The idea is to write a novel of at least 50K words in a month. There is a website and lots of things to help you achieve your goal as well as having other events through the year to help you actually polish the novel.

I usually use November to start a new book and get it well on it's way or to finish one that I have just started. I have also used it for fanfic projects.

NaNo is a great way for those of us with a procrastination problem to focus and get things done. The daily word counts etc are very useful as a gentle reminder to get our posteriors in gear :). If you haven't tried it before I recommend giving it a go. It's the perfect help for getting the first draft down since the idea is not to perfect the text, but just to get it on paper.


After some thought, this year I have decided not to do NaNo. First and foremost my choice is based on the fact I don't have a new novel I want to finish at the moment. Instead I have decided to take November to finish the rewrite of Cat's Call and the re-formatting of Cat's Creation and Cat's Confidence so they are ready for paperback in time for Christmas.

I had hoped to have them ready long before this, but let's just say life got in the way and leave it at that. The new covers are done at least :).

When I read through the books to start editing them for paperback the first thing that was blatantly obvious was that the first half of Cat's Call just doesn't have the same flow as the latter half or the other two books. Hence I am rewriting it and Cat's Call will get its second edition. It will be the same story, just smoothed out with the help of my editor :). One of the advantages of it being an eBook until now is that I can make the changes and everyone who already has a copy will be automatically updated.

I'm going to be using a lot of paper in November, but I promise to recycle it. As I learned with Dead Before Dawn: The Vampire Curse, the only way to do a final proof read is to print it out and go through with a red pen. The number of typos, extra spaces etc that slip through if very surprising.

I also want to use November to get a head start on lots of the short stories for Free Fiction Friday. On the first Friday of every month we're giving away a free short story to our Wittegen Press Newsletter members. All the details are here if you would like to know more. If you would like to see what stories have been posted so far click here to see the Free Fiction Friday tag.

Are you doing NaNo this year? Do you find the camaraderie and word count useful? What tips do you have to beat procrastination?

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Recipe: Hearty Mexican Style Bean, Rice and Chicken Soup

Hearty Mexican Style Bean, Rice and Chicken Soup

This is a wonderfully hearty recipe and it is very easy to bulk up for more people. It's also gluten free and if you want to make a veggie version replacing the chicken with tofu or mushrooms or quorn, and the chicken stock with vegetable stock would work well.

This dish also only takes a few minutes to throw together if the chicken and rice are cooked in advance, so it is great for those dinners when there is little time to cook.


serves 4
  • 2 or 3 chicken breasts (you can also use chicken thighs, just up the number depending on the size of the thighs)
  • 2 tsp oil (olive, sunflower, or whichever you prefer)
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 red or green pepper (capsicum) (I use a roasted red pepper from a jar because I don't like pepper skin)
  • 250g/9oz (about 2/3 cup) cooked rice (brown rice cooked = 2x uncooked weight, white rice cooked = 3x uncooked weight) I use a basmati/wild rice combo when I can get it, but plain basmati when I can't - a pouch of precooked rice also works :)
  • 1-2 tbsp chipotle paste (chipotle is spicy, so go with your personal taste on amount, also check the label if you need it to be gluten free - not all of them are)
  • 200g/7oz (just over 1 cup) sweetcorn (I use a can, but frozen is okay too)
  • 400g/15oz can black beans (1.75 cups) (if you can't get black beans, kidney beans, haricot beans or whichever is your fav canned bean will do as long as they are not in a sauce).
  • 1.2 l ( about 4.5 cups) chicken stock (I use dilutable liquid stock)
  • a handful of fresh coriander finely chopped or 1 tspn dried coriander leaf

Optional to serve:
  • 1 large or 2 small ripe avocados
  • 1 lime
  • garlic powder or grated garlic
  • soured cream


  • sharp knife
  • large caserole pan that can be used on the hob
  • spatula


  1. If using dried rice, cook as instructed on the packet, drain and put aside for later.
  2. Fry off the chicken in the pan with 1 tsp of the oil until it is cooked through, remove from the pan and leave to rest. (You can do this in advance or use left over chicken as well - it does not need to be hot).
  3. Finely chop the onion.
  4. Heat the other tsp of oil in the same pan and throw in the onion, cooking on a low heat to sweat it down until it is translucent. Do not allow it to colour.
  5. Chop the pepper.
  6. Add the pepper to the pan. If it is raw allow to cook for 2-3 mins before continuing, if it is roasted from a jar go on to the next step immeditately.
  7. Add the chipotle paste, rice and sweetcorn to the pan and stir to make sure everything is coated in the paste. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes.
  8. Add the stock and stir.
  9. Drain and add the black beans and stir.
  10. Up the heat and bring to the boil before turning down the heat again so the pot is simmering.
  11. Shred the chicken and add half to the pan along with the corriander.
  12. Let it simmer for a minute or too and then let it sit for another minute.
  13. While the soup is simmering, cut the avocados into small cubes, add the juice of the lime and garlic to taste and stir.
  14. Ladle the soup into bowls and add the rest of the shredded chicken on top.
  15. Serve with a dollop of soured cream and the acovado salsa scattered on top.
For some added crunch, crumble a few tortilla chips onto to the top of the soup before eating. But not too many or they will go soggy :).

This works really well reheated the next day and is great for a packed lunch where there is access to a mircowave. Just make sure the soup is piping hot when reheated because of the rice and the chicken.

Wednesday 6 September 2017

How Not to Write a Police Procedural with Female Leads

How Not to Write a Police Procedural with Female Leads

Please be aware this post has SPOILERS for Women's Muder Club ep 1.

So I just watched the first episode of Women's Muder Club and I'm hoping that it is an aberation and the rest of the season is better, because it get's one more chance and I'm done.

For those who don't know, Women's Muder Club is a TV show that aired back in 2007-2008 based on books of the same name by James Patterson and the reason it caught my eye is because it stars Angie Harmon of Rizzoli and Isles fame. I love Angie Harmon, but if the second episode does not portray the female characters better I am not watching any more.

It was so bad I made claw marks in the table cloth. What is disappointing is is looked so promising with many lead female characters, one of whom is a WoC and all about solving crime.

This is supposedly a show about a female detective (Inspector Lindsay Boxer played by Angie Harmon), a female deputy DA (Jill Bernhardt played by Laura Harris), a female medical examiner (Dr Claire Washburn played by Paula Newsome) and a female crime reporter (Cindy Thomas played by Aubrey Dollar) and yet the entire first episode was all about men.

I kid you not!

In the first ep Cindy isn't really a major player yet, so we will concentrate on the other three.

I'm pretty sure they did not manage to have one conversation that did not revolve around men, and I'm not even talking about the case. The first scene they are all in together is at a crime scene and do you know what they end up talking about? Let me tell you: Lindsay's ex-husband Tom. No, really, and Jill and Claire are trying to convince Lindsay to get back together with him.

BTW - I would like to point out at this point that I only know the women's names becuase I looked them up, but Tom's is forever stuck in my memory because they talked about him so damn much!

So for Lindsay there's Tom - who turns out to be her new Lieutenant too.

Then we have Cindy, who is apparently commitment shy (we aren't given any hints as to why in the first ep). In her first scene away from the murder site, her boyfriend is asking her to move in with him and they almost go at it in her office with the door wide open, but Lindsay interupts them. This woman is supposed to be a well respected Deputy DA and yet she has sex with a man (not her boyfriend) in her office later on without the slighest reguard for professionalism or even making sure the door's locked! This scene is only there to make her realise she really should commit to her boyfriend, BTW.

She only gets to shine once in the episode where she actually does her job and brings a public defender down to size (the same one she later sleeps with if you were wondering and it's him doing the instigating). It's almost as if a woman isn't allowed to dominate a man without there being payback or something.

Claire is happily married and seems to think everyone else should be too.

The only female character with a major impact on the plot whose life does not revolve around a man is the reporter who is killed, Theresa Wu. Yep, that's right the murder victim and she is portrayed as a lonely workaholic, which is what Lindsay is desperately tyring not to turn into.

The entire message of this episode seemed to be that a woman needs a man and is only whole with one. Now I love my husband and I consider him in my life decisions, but I do manage to have whole conversations on a daily basis that don't even mention him - especially when I'm working! I also know many, many women who are perfectly happy without a man in their life at all!

Even the villain of the piece in the first episode is motivated by a man. She is a doctor who runs a free clinic and her husband is a womanising restaraunt owner. The dead reporter was having an affair with her husband, but that wasn't why she killed her. No, the reporter was working on an expose, which was why she was banging the husband to get access to their house. The doctor had been fraudulently claiming money off the government for non-existent drugs by using homeless people, which she was only doing because her husband's resturant was failing and she needed to help him.

In the end she even confesses to save her husband, not because the police  have the evidence or anything, but because they are accusing her husband.

If this had been a rom-com with a police detective in it, I might have forgiven it some of the dialog, because it would have been about romance, but Women's Murder Club is supposed to be a police procedural.  It's supposed to be a show about leading women. I can't be sure, because I was tuning half of it out by the end, but I don't think it even passed the Bechdel test!

This is not how to write a show with leading female characters! What I really don't get is that the shows creators are two women as well. What were they thinking?

Maybe the first ep was a blip. I'm praying it was and the writing will improve, but I'm not holding out much hope.


So we've watched the next few eps and they aren't as terrible as the first, but the show does make me wince at regular intervals. The women still have relationship talks at the oddest moments, but they are able to have entire conversations without mentioning their significant others or their potential significant others. However, they don't seem to be able to solve a whole case without doing so.

Friday 1 September 2017

Free Fiction Friday - Dark Celebrations by Sophie Duncan

Free Fiction Friday

It's the 1st Friday of September and that means it is Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. A new short story is now up for all the subscribers to our newsletter. Soph has written today's offering and it's a little bit spooky with a touch of sci-fi.

It is completely free to become a member and all you need is a valid email address. Fill in the form at the bottom of this page and you’re done. Don't worry if you join after the 1st Friday, the password for the month will be included in the welcome email after you subscribe.

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This Month's Short Story

Dark Celebrations
by Sophie Duncan
Genre: ghost, science fiction
Length: ~9K wds

Mina is enjoying hers and her brother, Ali's, new posts as Ensign Navigators on board Interstellar Cruiser Queen Elizabeth VI. The entire liner has been booked out by Axis, the company that brought the known universe Carbon Prime, the key to interstellar travel, and they are celebrating their primeversary, so it's party time all round.

Yet, an encounter with an impossible, derelict ship and the death of a guest in strange circumstances lead Mina to think there is something very wrong on board.

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