Used Books and Rain

As soon as we crossed into our home state of Tennessee this summer for a little getaway, it seemed as though the mountains knew family had come to visit and they stood ready to welcome us in their flourishing green Sunday-best, looking more beautiful than ever.  I think both John and I experienced a sense of relief as the feeling of belonging and familiarity swept over us, unmarred by months under the scorching Texas sun.

Our first course of business (after a good night’s sleep) was to venture to our favourite used bookstore, McKay.

photo (1)

I say used bookstore but in truth McKay is an entire warehouse full of organized shelves, neatly overflowing with music, movies, video games and books of all genres at extremely reasonable prices. I remember the first time I walked into this discount treasure trove as a Londoner used to paying extortionate prices for everything! I was fresh off the boat and ran around filling up an increasingly heavy basket until I remembered that I was also a broke student and reluctantly placed each item back on its cozy shelf. Months later, John and I met and our joint obsession with McKay helped fuel our blossoming romance into wedded bliss!

McKay Chattanooga, TN

McKay Chattanooga, TN

Being English Lit, and Biblical Studies Majors, McKay was our weekly drug of choice when we lived in TN. (Which probably explains why we have 6 full bookcases at home!) And although this might be a tad unhealthy, John in particular has saved us a fortune by purchasing his necessary books and commentaries from this musty-paper smelling paradise. During our visit, we were able to sell some items for trade credit (which we immediately exchanged for more books to take home of course!) and left brainstorming how to convince the store owners to add Waco to their list of locations.

Just 5 minutes down the road from McKay is our all time favourite Thai restaurant, Rain Thai Bistro.  Another regular on our date-night circuit, we ordered our much missed dishes and it was as familiar as settling down to a home cooked meal at a family reunion.

Rain Thai Bistro, Chattanooga TN

Although Rain has a pretty extensive menu, sometimes its just the perfectly executed and well flavoured classics you crave like Basil Rolls, Panang Curry and Pad Thai.

Rain Thai Bistro, Chattanooga TN

Rain Thai Bistro, Chattanooga TN

 Rain is not only one of our favourites but everyone we have introduced it to has fallen in love. On a staff outing a few years ago, one of my students had just returned from Thailand and was immediately transported back across the world when our food arrived. As many Thai restaurants as I have tried, few compare to this one so humbly placed in a very unsuspecting strip mall. Needless to say, our first day back in TN was a home run! 

New Weekly Feature

pinteresting monday fav

If you have read anything I have written over the past year, you will see that I absolutely love Pinterest and it has literally revolutionized my life! Of course I believe in order to have a healthy mentality about Pinterest, you have to be a mindful consumer. It is easy to get obsessed (I definitely went through that phase) and spend hours re-pinning but more so I think it can become a source to fuel unnecessary dissatisfaction with your life, body image, possessions etc. So I present this obvious caution. Pin what inspires you, pin things you want to try, pin the exciting but don’t let Pinterest make you feel inadequate as a person; whether it’s about who you are, how you look, the kind of parent/spouse/friend you are, or the possessions you have. You can’t put the world’s best chef, best artist, best athlete, funniest comedian, the furthest traveler, wisest scholar etc into one perfectly designed room and realistically compare yourself to all of them and come out feeling awesome!  But, some of their work will be beautiful to look at, inspire hard work, provide great insight and make you laugh when you need it most. That to me is what Pinterest has added to my life (and also its a place for me to put things I find on-line and want to remember because I have the worst memory!)

Having said all that, I am starting a new feature on the Grumbling Belly entitled Pinteresting Mondays! I weekly (in fact multiple times a week) try out new recipes I have found on Pinterest and thought it was about time to start sharing all the great food I have discovered. I won’t be pinning just anything, only the recipes I have really liked, or slightly adapted. I have no interest in berating a recipe that didn’t come out right or insensitively marring someone else’s hard work in their kitchen. If you are interested in following my Pinterest Boards, click here. I would be happy to welcome you into my Pinterest world but you might learn more about me than you bargained for!

For our first Pinteresting Monday, I thought we could explore my all time favourite soup; Tom Kha Gai (Thai flavours with chicken and coconut milk). When I lived near Chattanooga TN, my husband and I frequented a fantastic Thai restaurant (Rain Thai Bistro) and were completely enthralled by each item on their menu. Every time we visited, we had the hardest time choosing what to order especially for an appetizer. Basil rolls or tom kha gai….it was like choosing between our (non-existent) children! So, when I came across a recipe for Tom Kha Gai on Pinterest, I was all in! Now, we could have it at home as often as we wanted and eliminate the dreaded moment at Rain when the server came for our order. I bought all the necessary ingredients, came home, recipe in hand, and a sense of trepidation began stirring in my stomach….what if it wasn’t as good, how could it be? could any soup match the excellence of Rain? Fortunately the recipe is sooooo easy that it was ready in about 20 minutes and my anxiety did not last long! I couldn’t believe how delicious this soup was and even my husband, who is the real Thai tester, could not stop umming and ahhing. I recommend this whole heartedly and have some cheats to make it even easier (and perhaps a little cheaper).

Tom Kha Gai

originally found on submitted by Jiranooch Shapiro, from Anchorage, AK. (My comments and suggestions are in bold.)

Tom Kha Gai









1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk (I don’t recommend using light coconut milk if you prefer your soups to have a silky texture)

1 can (14 oz.) reduced-sodium chicken broth

6 quarter-size slices fresh ginger * (or 2 tbsp of tube-see below)

1 stalk fresh lemongrass, cut in 1-in. pieces* (or 2 tbsp of tube-see below)

1 pound boned, skinned chicken breast or thighs, cut into 1-in. chunks 

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce** (nuoc mam or nam pla) (I always use about another 1/2 tablespoon for extra flavour.)

1 teaspoon sugar (this can be omitted without any loss of taste, esp if you add more fish sauce)

1 teaspoon Thai chili paste (Siracha is my favourite)

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup fresh cilantro

(* If you don’t frequently make other recipes with ginger or lemongrass, they can be expensive to buy and go to waste quickly, so here is a trick I have discovered. Purchase a Gourmet Garden tube of fresh lemongrass and ginger. I have always found them at the local grocery store (even Walmart!) in the fresh herbs section. They last for three months and are the best mess-free convenient alternative. I don’t recommend all their herbs but these two options are very comparable to the fresh ones.)

(** you can find Thai Fish Sauce from most grocery stores in the Asian section. It might seem a bit pricey but it lasts for ages)
In a medium saucepan, combine coconut milk, broth, ginger, and lemongrass and bring to boil over high heat. Add chicken, mushrooms, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and chili paste. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is firm and opaque, 5 to 10 minutes. (I do no less than 10 minutes for deeper flavour) Discard lemongrass (if using fresh stalks, otherwise the type from the tube just disintegrates and you don’t need to remove it). Garnish servings with basil and cilantro. (I actually add basil and cilantro the last couple of minutes and I recommend only using fresh herbs here.)

Tom Kha Gai




This soup makes about 4-5 servings and is even better the next day . Once you buy the tube of ginger and lemongrass, and get the fish sauce, this recipe is so easy to shop for and make on a busy week night.