What’s Coming Up in the Next Two Weeks for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers

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Cooking with Cat – Steamed Pork Buns are the Food of the Gods by Travis Heermann

Cooking with Cat:
Steamed Pork Buns are the Food of the Gods
by Travis Heermann

Back when I was living in Japan, about 2003-2006, one of the foods that I fell in love with was nikuman 肉まん, steamed pork buns. They could be found in any convenience store, and they made a great meal for someone who didn’t feel like cooking.

They come with various fillings: pork, beef, chicken, shrimp, veggie, even sweet custard. They are particularly comforting when the weather turns chilly and they’re all steamy and warm.

I was planning a vacation to Japan with the family in March 2020. We’d been planning it for years, and it would have been the first time I’d been back since returning to the States. I was excited to show my family, whom I didn’t have then, all the sights.

A secondary reason for going to Japan was professional, as I was in the midst of writing Tokyo Blood Magic, the first volume of my Shinjuku Shadows trilogy. I wanted to visit some important Tokyo locales, refresh my memory, gather some inspiration, but it was not to be.

As you might guess, COVID-19 derailed that, four days before wheels up for Tokyo. I was crushed, and nine months of isolation has not done much to help that state of mind.

Nevertheless, writing the book did assuage some of my disappointment, as I spent a lot of time in Google Street View, walking virtually around the streets of Tokyo. Writing the book was a fun way to reminisce, and also learn about places I didn’t get to visit while I was living there, such as Shizuoka, Ginza, and Roppongi.

There’s a scene in Tokyo Blood Magic where our hero, Django Wong, a ninja warlock, has his bacon saved from a very dangerous monster by a wisecracking alley cat, known only as Cat. Cat, however, is far from normal, and it’s not clear exactly what he is until Book 2, Tokyo Monster Mash.

Amid snarky repartee, Django and Cat venture into a convenience store for some post-fracas grub, where nikuman becomes a big part of their bonding. Cat becomes Django’s supernatural sidekick.

So in this Year of a Thousand Cuts, I wanted some comfort food for the Virtual Book Launch Party, which my wife and I put together over Zoom a couple of weeks after Tokyo Blood Magic was released. So I made some nikuman, and this video tells the tale so much better than text.

This recipe is adapted from Japanese measurements. Credit for the original goes to Namiko Chen.

Nikuman, Steamed Pork Buns

Video: Cooking With Cat – Nikuman



  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose white flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 scant Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, canola, etc.)
  • 2/3 to 3/4 cup water


  • 2 shiitake mushrooms (without the stems), finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 green onion/scallion, finely chopped
  • 4 leaves cabbage, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp kosher/sea salt
  • 3/4 lb. ground pork
  • About 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sake
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp potato starch/cornstarch
  • freshly ground black pepper


  1. First, we make the dough. Put all dry ingredients in a large bowl (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, yeast). Add oil and mix. Once the oil is thoroughly mixed in, slowly add the water while mixing. Mix until incorporated.
  2. Flour your hands and knead the dough into a ball. If the dough is too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water.
  3. Sprinkle a smooth surface with flour, move the dough onto the surface, and knead for 10-15 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, sprinkle it with a little flour. After 10-15 minutes, dough should be smooth and silky.
  4. Form the dough into a ball. Grease the bottom of the bowl with neutral flavored oil and put the dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place to rise for about an hour, until the dough doubles in size.
  5. Meanwhile, it’s time to make the filling. Remove the thick stem parts of the cabbage leaves, then chop them finely. Sprinkle 1 tsp of salt onto the chopped cabbage. Massage the salt into the cabbage. This will begin to draw out cabbage’s moisture. After about ten minutes, squeeze the excess moisture out of the cabbage.
  6. Add pork, mushrooms, and scallions to another bowl.
  7. Squeeze the excess moisture from the chopped cabbage, then add it to the pork mixture.
  8. Add ginger, sugar, sake, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and starch. Sprinkle on some fresh black pepper to taste. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate until dough is ready.
  9. When dough has finished rising, divide the ball in half. Roll each half into a log shape, then cut each log into five pieces. Then cut each piece in half.

Note: If you like big buns, and you cannot lie, you can cut your dough into larger sizes and use more filling for each one.

  1. Lightly dust the balls with flour, cover them loosely with a damp cloth, and let them rest for ten minutes. (In the video, I missed this step!)
  2. Roll each ball into a flat circle about five inches in diameter.
  3. Cut twenty squares of parchment paper, about 3” x 3”.
  4. Take a circle of dough and place 1 1/2 Tbsp of filling in the center.
  5. Fold the dough into a pouch around the filling. It works well to hold the pouch closed with thumb and forefinger while folding up the next bit of dough. First, it will resemble a taco, then a crab rangoon. As you fold in the corners of the “crab rangoon, ,” you’ll end up with a little pouch. Then pinch these corners together and give them a twist to seal the bun. Put each bun on a piece of parchment paper.
  6. Cover the finished buns with plastic wrap and let them rest for 20 minutes. (In the video, I missed this step, too.)
  7. Prepare a steamer with boiling water. Put buns in steamer, about 2” apart. They will swell during steaming process. Steam for 10-15 minutes, (10 for small buns, 15 for large ones).
  8. Enjoy!

The result: they were delicious.

The texture of the bun was a little bit off, maybe because I missed a couple of steps with letting the dough rest. Another reason might be because I live in the Denver area, and altitude can certainly affect cooking and baking in unexpected ways, which I didn’t account for in my procedure.

Cooking is much like magic and writing. A little here, a little there, bits and pieces of accumulated experience and creative wisdom.

I hope you’ll give this recipe a try for yourself. If you do, let me know how it goes. Going into the Winter of COVID, maybe we’ll all need a little more comfort food.

Author Photo of Travis Heermann.Bio: Freelance writer, novelist, editor, and screenwriter, Travis Heermann is the author of nine novels, including Tokyo Blood Magic, The Hammer FallsThe Ronin Trilogy, and others, plus short fiction in Apex Magazine, Cemetery Dance, and many moreHis freelance work includes contributions to the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Battletech, Legend of Five Rings, and EVE Online.

Find out more at travisheermann.com or follow him on Twitter @TravisHeermann.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

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Rambo Academy Campus Calendar for January 2021

Zoom links will be available on Patreon, pinned in #localannouncements on the Discord server, and available via the !calendar command on Discord.

How do you get access to these events? Details are here, but basically you can subscribe through Patreon or Paypal. There are free scholarships.

Event explanations:

  • Unmoderated co-working. Log on and work with other Chez Rambo peeps. Does not have to be writing. Structure is up to the participants.
  • Moderated co-working. Cat or designated other will lead three thirty minute sprints, with check-ins to say how we’re doing in between. Does not have to be writing.
  • Chillax and chat:. Hang out and craft or clean your virtual or real workspace while we talk about stuff.
  • Story discussion group. Story changes every two weeks; titles and links will be posted on Discord and Patreon. Additional resources will be in #thepanel channel on Discord.
  • Writing Games. Bring a prompt if you like. We all write for 10 minutes to the same prompt, then people who want to share theirs. Then we do that a couple more times. Great jolt of creativity

All days
12-3 AM Midnight co-working (unmoderated)
8:30-10:30 AM Morning co-working (unmoderated)
1-3 PM Afternoon co-working (moderated, weekdays only)

Weekly Events:
6:30-830 PM Evening co-working (unmoderated)

11-12 PM Story discussion or writing games morning session
4-5 PM Story discussion or writing games evening session

10-11 AM Chill and chat

Upcoming Classes

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Fiction Reading: The Coffeemaker’s Passion

This short story about a woman and her appliance was originally published in Bull Spec.

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Goodbye 2020 Sale – All On-Demand Writing Classes $5

All on-demand online writing classes are currently $5 off through January 1, 2021It’s the end of the year that has somehow been one of the longest and shortest in human history. To celebrate, the Rambo Academy is finishing up with a massive sale: all on-demand online writing classes are $5, but only for a limited time!

This has been the 10th year of the school’s existence, and over the course of that decade its students have included some of the best and brightest new (and sometimes established!) voices in the speculative fiction field, while its faculty members has been equally stellar. My thank you to the friends who initially said okay to my “please come teach a class for me,” Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky, as well as all the folks who’ve taught for me in recent years. I’ve learned SO MUCH from you, and I look forward to learning more.

Here’s the list of classes that are on sale for $5:
Character Building Workshop
Description & Delivering Information
Dunking Your Reader in the Details
Epistolary Fiction with Jamie Lackey
Getting Your Pod On: Podcasting for Writers with Alan J. Bailey
Literary Techniques for Genre Writers
Moving From Idea to Finished Draft
Old Stories Into New with Rachel Swirsky
Power of Words: Linguistics for Writers with Juliette Wade
Reading to an Audience
Rewriting, Revising and Fine-tuning Your Fiction
To Space Opera and Beyond with Ann Leckie
Writing Flash Fiction
Writing in the Cracks
Writing Interactive Fiction with Kate Heartfield
Writing Steampunk & Weird Western
Writing Your Way Into Your Novel

This is only good through midnight, January 1, 2021, so if you think you want these classes as part of your 2021, book them while you’re thinking about it. 😉

Don’t want to bother clicking through individually? You can grab the entire bundle for $99.

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Fiction Reading: An Appetite for Love

This piece of flash fiction originally appeared in Sybil’s Garage Issue Five.

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Appearance: Read It Again Bookstore, December 17, 2020

I’m pleased to be making a virtual appearance with the awesome Read It Again Bookstore this Thursday! I will be reading a little from Carpe Glitter as well as from the space opera that is coming out in 2021 with Tor Macmillan and will also be answering questions. Come finish out 2020 with me!

Here is the event on Facebook.

Here is the event on the bookstore website.

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Guest Post: Verity Player’s Fiendish Bean-Dish by C L Spillard

Verity Player’s Fiendish Bean-Dish

“Oh, brilliant! What shall we bring?”

Verity and her husband Sacha—and any of their family friends—will never have a host cook all alone.

This is the dish they brought round to the Meiers’ for the first ‘do’ at theirs of that fateful new year: the year when she would twice travel to the USA—the ‘Evening Lands’. There she would risk her life for a simple letter written, as it turned out, during the head-splitting hangover after this particular soirée…

Arash and Farrukh had arrived in Britain, the day after New Year’s, without anywhere to stay. Within three days, they’d launched themselves into buying a house together.

Ruth said it might be fun for them all to meet up.

By nine in the evening noisy conversation criss-crossed the Meiers’ generous dining table. Dishes of gefiltefish, couscous salad and stuffed vine leaves passed from hand to hand, along with news and wine.

Verity sat next to the two new arrivals.

She picked up an open bottle of red to refill her glass, offering it to her neighbours first.

Each declined with a polite wave of the hand.

“Er…white, then?”

Neither said anything.

“Oh, right. Sorry. Of course.”

Sharia law.

Two blokes living together.

Sometimes people made even less sense than usual.

She poured herself a glass and took a swig.

“Ruth said you were house-hunting.”

She’d start with the easy question.

“Where’re you going to buy?”

“Bishopthorpe Road.”

“What, near the racecourse?”

Farrukh nodded.

“Would you go to the Races? Are you allowed to bet?”

“Gambling is haram. But for horses, one can make an arrangement with the organisers—‘make a prediction’ and win, if one is correct. There are bureaux for this, in our country. We’ve not yet found a Predictions Bureau here, though.”

Arash smiled. “There’s a business opportunity for someone.”

He paused.

“My cousin would have been good at that.”

“Would have?” She picked up her glass. “Does he…do something else now?”

No! Her face burned—Heck, it must match the colour of the wine in her glass. Would have. That must mean he was dead, been killed somewhere.

“He disappeared.”

The whole table went quiet.

Everyone turned to her. Was she supposed to ask?


“He was arrested. In Rawalpindi, the night before he was due to fly to Europe. Terrorism. No one has heard from him since.”

“What’s…what’s his name?”

Perhaps Amnesty had taken up his case? Perhaps she’d see him in next month’s magazine when it arrived at the house. She should make sure to find it, and write. She’d already made that New Year’s resolution to write to the Director of the C.I.A. about those camps…

The formal name, elaborate and winding, soon left her consciousness. She didn’t dare ask, ‘what was that again?’

Ruth rescued her. “So, about the house?”

Arash explained the very thing she’d wanted to know to start with—how a Sharia mortgage worked. A mortgage without usury.

She hoped she hadn’t drunk too much to be able to remember the details in the morning.


Verity pressed the hot flannel against her forehead. If she pressed hard enough, perhaps the splinters of ice might melt—not dig into the joints in her skull. She tried not to groan. Sacha stirred. Damn, she’d not wanted to wake him.

“I made an idiot of myself at the Meiers’, love. Sorry…”

“I did tell you. I did pour some water out for you.”


“And you asked so many questions. I hope we haven’t upset the Meiers.”

He turned over, away from her, but the pain put her past the point of caring.

She had to write that letter in the morning.

It needn’t be a long one…

But to more practical matters. The dish, being Vegan, is (or at least, can be considered) also both kosher and halal. And you never know when that might come in useful.


The vegetables: 

  • 2 small potatoes
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 parsnips
  • Half a celeriac, or 4 sticks celery

The rest: 

  • 4 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • About 1/2 cubic inch ginger
  • 2 red onions
  • Fistful of fresh mint leaves
  • 1 level teaspoon crushed chillies (turmeric will also work, if people prefer a milder dish)
  • 1 tin (about 400g) tomatoes
  • 1 tin (about 250g once drained) cooked chick-peas or any white beans such as cannellini, pinto…
  • 1 mug (about 300g) of veggie stock
  • Pinch saffron threads


  • Large frying pan
  • Cooking spoons
  • Deep dish or similar, to set vegetables aside in
  • Only one cooking ring needed
  • About 50 minutes of time, of which 20 are actually busy


  1. Dice the vegetables.
  2. Finely chop the onion, garlic and ginger (no need to peel the ginger).
  3. Finely chop the fresh mint.
  4. Make up the stock and drop the saffron threads in.
  5. Tip half the sunflower oil into the frying pan and gently fry the vegetables until they begin to soften. If the frying pan has a lid that’s great, but still make sure the veggies don’t stick to the bottom. I don’t know why but the potatoes are always the worst for this.
  6. Take the fried veggies out and set them aside.
  7. Top up the oil in the pan, and heat gently.
  8. Fry the garlic and ginger.
  9. Add the onions, mint and chilli, and fry on low heat until the onions are soft and translucent.
  10. Tip in the tin of tomatoes, stir them in, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  11. Add the drained beans, stir in, then add the fried veggies and the stock.
  12. Simmer for at least half an hour.

Seasonal variations: 

Fiendish bean-dish can be adapted for summer by changing to summer vegetables. Celery rather than celeriac, and red peppers instead of parsnips, for example. It can even be served cold, if the weather merits it.

BIO: C L Spillard is a complex interplay of matter and energy in a wave-pattern whose probability cloud is densest in York, United Kingdom.

The moon landings influenced the young pattern’s self-awareness mechanisms, igniting lifelong interest in Physics, and in humanity’s plight on Earth.

C L Spillard’s wave-pattern enjoys proximity to a second pattern originating in St Petersburg (Russia), and these two have since generated two younger ones who are now diffusing over the planet stuffing themselves with knowledge as if it were going out of fashion.

She claims responsibility for a raft of published short stories, the fantasy ‘The Price of Time’, and its newly-released sequel ‘The Evening Lands’.

Her website lurks at www.cspillardwriter.co.uk and she can be stalked on Twitter @candispillard.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

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Fiction Reading: Planet Crabby

This piece of flash fiction originally appeared in Asylum Magazine in 1990 and is the first piece of fiction that I published that was not in a school literary magazine or genre magazine.

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Fiction Reading: Red Boot Blues

This is a short story that is a fairytale mash-up done for the anthology, Upon a Once Time, from Air and Nothingness Press. It combines two Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, “The Red Shoes” and “The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf,” and tells them with a cyberpunk spin that turns hopepunk. It was influenced by Sarah Pinsker’s excellent class on applying songwriting techniques to your fiction.

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