The ExPat Returneth

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Goodreads Book Giveaway

I'm taking a break from expat thoughts to let you know about a contest I'm doing on Goodreads. If you're headed to the beach, pool, or your living room couch this summer, enter to win one of 10 ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy) of my mystery PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY. It won't be out until August 28, but if you're lucky you can win a free book before its release!

The contest is May 23 through June 20 and ten lucky winners will get a signed ARC. If you're not familiar with Goodreads, it's a website for readers and writers to connect. You can share reviews, join bookclubs and chat with authors and other readers, but Goodreads is also a great resource for looking up books. Because I'm anal about books, I love to track what I'm reading and what I've read. I can also keep up with new books from authors I like. Feel free to friend me on Goodreads

Here's the Goodreads contest entry link: 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Portrait of a Dead Guy by Larissa Reinhart

Portrait of a Dead Guy

by Larissa Reinhart

Giveaway ends June 20, 2012.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Good luck! I hope you win!

Has anyone read some good expat related books that they'd like to share for a summer reading list? I'd love to share a list for a post.

Below is a blurb about PORTRAIT:

PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY (Henery Press, Aug 2012)
2012 Finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense

In Halo, Georgia, folks know Cherry Tucker as big in mouth, small in stature, and able to sketch a portrait faster than buckshot rips from a ten gauge -- but commissions are scarce. So when the well-heeled Branson family wants to memorialize their murdered son in a coffin portrait, Cherry scrambles to win their patronage from her small town rival.

As the clock ticks toward the deadline, Cherry faces more trouble than just a controversial subject. Between ex-boyfriends, her flaky family, an illegal gambling ring, and outwitting a killer on a spree, Cherry finds herself painted into a corner she'll be lucky to survive.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Okonomiyaki Japanese Pancake Reprise


This week is a reprise of a fun festival food that's popular in Japan in the summer: Okonomiyaki. The pancake that isn't a pancake.

The quickest way to wax nostalgic is through the stomach. 

Yakisoba--stir fried noodles sometimes put in Hiroshimayaki
At least for us. Which is why we started cooking Japanese food. We continue to cook it because most of the home-cooking dishes are simple, affordable and delicious. And fun. Grilling or cooking your own food at a restaurant is popular in Japan. Our kids especially loved these restaurants. One of their favorite things to cook was okonomiyaki, which translates as "cook how you like." It looks like a giant pancake, but the flavors are savory not sweet. And like all good Japanese food, it tastes great with beer.

Okonomiyaki covered with
 (top to bottom):
Katsuobushi flakes,
Aonori (seaweed),
 and okonomiyaki sauce.
Don't let the toppings scare you away!
Remember cook how you like!
As you can decipher from the translation, you can cook okonomiyaki with a variety of ingredients and differences in cooking technique. There is regional pride in different styles of okonomiyaki. Our friend from Hiroshima swears by Hiroshimayaki style and voluntarily cooked it at our house for our edification. Tokyo and Osaka have their own variations in cooking. has a great okonomiyaki page with a sample menu of all the different ingredients. All okonomiyaki begins with a pancake-like batter with cabbage in it. You can take in many different directions from there. 

I stole this recipe from a wonderful site called Okonomiyaki World. Check them out for okonomiyaki information. You can also buy ingredients on this site like the flour, sauce, and Japanese mayonnaise. Good to know for all you expat returnees who miss your food and have no Asian grocer close to home.

When we make okonomiyaki at home, we use the recipe on the flour bag (DH can read Japanese). As for ingredients, we wing it. We are partial to bacon and corn, lots of sauce, and Kewpie mayo. Sometimes we toss in whatever we've got leftover in the fridge. But you know, it's okonomiyaki. Use whatever you want.

*You'll find this recipe also on the recipe page at this site.*

SIMPLE OKONOMIYAKI (thanks to Okonomiyaki World):

One popular brand of
okonomiyaki flour
1 cup Okonomiyaki flour (found at most Asian food stores) 
or all-purpose flour (you can get fancy and add potato or yam starch to make it stickier, but regular flour will work)
2/3 cup water

Whisk flour and water together until smooth in the largest bowl you've got.

To batter stir in (but don't overmix):
2 eggs
4 cups of shredded cabbage

Other stuff you can mix in:
thinly sliced green onions (about 2 stalks)
pickled ginger (found in Asian stores)
raw shrimp in 1/2" chunks or very small shrimp
Or other foods of similar size, (check for Japanese menu choices)
You could use cooked chicken (cut into 1/2" chunks), veggies (partially cooked for thicker veg), other seafoods and meat. 

(IMHO cheese is delicious in okonomiyaki even though we were skeptical before trying it at our favorite okonomiyaki joint in Japan. Kind of a cabbagey grilled cheese.)
The ever popular
Kewpie Mayo

Stuff to put on the pancake while cooking:
Bacon, about 6 strips cut into 3" pieces

Traditional toppings after it's cooked (best in this order):
Kewpie or other Japanese Mayonnaise 
(This kind of food is one of the reasons why Japanese mayo comes in a squirt bottle. It's a topper, not a sandwich condiment).
Aonori (seaweed flakes)
Katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)

A variety of
okonomiyaki sauce.
*Once again, the toppings are your choice but it's not the same without the sauce. You can buy okonomiyaki sauce or make it.

3 TB ketchup
1 TB Worcestershire sauce
1 ts Soy Sauce

The technique:
Oil a griddle to about 400F (200C) and pour about 1/2 the batter into a pancake shape or all batter into 2 shapes if you've got the room. 

Flatten the pancake with a spatula to about 3/4" and about 12" wide.

Add bacon pieces to cover the top of each pancake. You can also brush on some sauce now, if you like it saucy.

After about 3 minutes, flip the pancake (bacon side down) and cook for another 4 minutes. It's tricky to flip! Don't sweat the mess. 

Brush with sauce and flip pancake again (bacon side up) and cook for another 3 minutes or until firm and well browned. 

Remove to plate and drizzle with okonomiyaki sauce. Make lovely patterns with your squirty mayo. Sprinkle with Aonori and Katusobushi (or not).

Eat it hot! It's not a reheat type of food.
Okay, it's not super healthy unless you skip the sauce, mayo, bacon, etc. But dagnabbit, it is delicious. And pretty fun!

What festival foods were popular in your host country

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Salad Days: Literally & Figuratively (with Asian Dressing)

I'm experiencing an exciting new juncture in my life with my debut novel. A true "Salad Days", as I'm so green and so thrilled by every aspect of the publication journey. In my thrall to editing and writing, cooking (and a bunch of other stuff) has gone by the wayside. 
"Asian Summer Salad"

Luckily, it's summer weather here in the south. I don't know why, but cooking feels simpler in the summer. Grilling. Salads. Food held by buns. Maybe it feels easier because I have a partner who takes over outdoor cooking (inside he suffers from Male Refrigerator Blindness), and I can delegate more. I get homemade pulled pork in good weather. 

I like good weather.

Soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar
& sesame oil
Unless we want the ultimate caveman diet, I do have to scrounge some sides. So, today I have a salad chock full of nature's goodness with an easy Asian dressing. Good anytime, this especially takes advantage of great summer veggies. It helps to have a mandolin or another kind of slicer, but you can cut the veggies thinly with a knife. 

There are several Japanese vinegar and soy based dressings that go well with cold meat and veggies. This one is based on a Sanbaizu (3 flavor dressing) but I add a fourth ingredient for extra yumminess: sesame oil.

Asian Summer Salad

My Japanese slicer
Red Pepper
Red or Sweet Onion 
And/Or any other veggie that can be eaten raw and thinly sliced (e.g. yellow squash)

Peel and Seed appropriately. Slice all thinly. Super thin if you can. Like 1/16" or 1/4 centimeter. Mix with Sanbaizu +1 dressing. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

Sanbaizu Dressing + 1
I love ratio dressings. Mainly because I hate dividing. This is great on all kinds of salads. We love it on cold meat, too.

Rice Vinegar
Big sister using
grinder over salad
Soy Sauce
Mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
 5:5:3 (5 parts vinegar & soy sauce; 1 part mirin)

Combine, bring to a boil, and cool. A quick boil smoothes the vinegar. In a pinch you can make it without boiling.

+ 1 sesame oil (add after boiling to the 5:5:3). 

I have found Aji sesame oil (with added chili pepper) gives it a nice kick, but can be too spicy for my kids. Be sure you keep the 5:5:3:1 ratio. Sesame oil is really strong!

Our sesame seed grinder
Check out this little sesame seed grinder. We got it in Japan, so I don't know if it's available elsewhere. We had a favorite ramen restaurant that had these at the table, and I had to get one.

Instead of sprinkling the sesame seeds over the salad, I use the grinder. It gives the salad an even nuttier flavor. 

Hope you enjoy! And here's to summer, where ever you may be. 

Do you have any great summer recipes inspired by your host country that you'd like to share? Tell me in the comment section. I'd love to share your recipe on the blog!

And thank you to the Japan Blog Directory (by Nihon Ichiban) for adding The ExPat Returneth to your directory! Arigato Gozaimashita!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Versatile Blogger Award

The Expat Returneth has been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award! I'm so grateful to Sabrina Garie, one of my Triberr mates and a returned expat, for the nomination. She blogs at Definitely check her out and thanks Sabrina!

As part of the rules, I have to list 7 things about myself and nominate 15 other bloggers. Since this is an expat blog, I'm going to keep those 7 things expat related and maybe you'll find some similarities in your experiences. The blogs I have chosen are ones I read so you'll have a mix of food blogs and writer blogs.

1. Egypt was my first international experience and I think my second time flying. I went in college as part of a independent study class. Halfway through the ten day trip, Iraq invaded Kuwait (the start of the Gulf War). Our tour had taken us up the Nile as far as Aswan and on our return to Cairo by boat we started seeing more and more soldiers standing in front of sandbag barricades with semi-automatic weapons. In the days before internet and satellite TV, we had no idea what had happened. Our hotel in Cairo was overrun by Kuwaiti businessmen who couldn't return home. I had to lock myself in my room. That's as close to war as I ever want to get.

2. I was almost bitten by a monkey in Thailand. My husband and I were trekking across the island to catch a boat back to the mainland. How on earth I didn't notice a monkey chained to the side of the road, is one of life's mysteries. My legs had continued the treck while my brain did a "THERE'S A MONKEY ON MY ARM TRYING TO BITE ME!" Luckily the nasty thing was jerked off my arm when it reached the end of its chain just before the teeth clamped on my skin. To this day I don't mix with monkeys.

3. I have eaten raw whale meat and it's pretty delicious. I've also had cow anus (cooked) and it's pretty much what you think it would taste like (really, really rubbery). BTW, we didn't know we had ordered cow anus and the cook had a really good laugh.

4. We let our daughters (at the time age 1 & 3) try wine in France. They didn't like it. Well, one didn't.

5. My favorite Japanese food is the kind you find in cheap bars or diners. The same is pretty much true all over the rest of the world.

6. My children were born in China and my youngest came from a province known for extremely spicy food. I'd walk in a restaurant and my nose would start running (I learned Bu la!, no spice, real fast). When she was a baby she would eat jalapeƱos with milk. Today she's got a great palette but refuses to eat anything spicy. 

7. I don't cook Japanese food because I'm a foodie. I didn't learn to cook until forced to (in Japan) and now I find it easier cooking than other kinds of food. It's fast, the prep is easy, and the ingredients are usually cheap. Plus we miss eating out in Japan, so there's the nostalgia factor. And we just like it. If you have 5 key ingredients in your cupboard -- soy sauce, mirin, cooking sake, vinegar, and sugar -- you can make most dishes. Add rice or noodles. 

The Fifteen Blogs:

1. The Displaced Nation An expat and travel friendly site that shares stories, food, information, all kinds of things that have to do with the nomadic way of life.

2. A Japanese restaurant advice guide but a great source to learn all kinds of things about Japanese food.

3. An awesome Japanese food blog by an expat Japanese. 

4. Another Japanese food blog (are you detecting a trend?). 

5. Yet another Japanese food blog, this time by an expat living on the island of Shizuoka. The blogger comments on recipes, restaurants, and travel in Japan.

6. Jennifer Tanner: Romance and Other Legal Stimulants Jennifer lives in California and blogs about everything from food, to writing, to travel. You never know what you'll get, but it's always entertaining. She's also a romance writer.

7. ChickSwagger This hilarious blog written by Misty Dietz and Josie is meant to enlighten women and also teach us to lighten up. Definitely not G rated, but always interesting. They know how to push the envelope without getting crass. 

8. Cindy is a suspense author and queen of Social Media. She offers workshops for writers. Her posts are well written and chock full of information.

9. Casey is a urban fantasy and paranormal romance author.  She writes about writing and fun things going on in her family life.

10. Karen is another writer who writes romantic suspense and romance. Her blog focuses on other writers and recipes. Fridays are Karen's Killer Fixin's. Great recipes and you can learn about new books!

11. Jill Kemerer Jill writes inspirational romance novels. She blogs about writers, writing, and interesting stuff going on in her life.

12. Brinda Berry Brinda writes Young Adult and has Cairn Terriers both fictional and real (I only have real). Her blog is always interesting, covering everything from writers to books to all kinds of things that strike her fancy.

13. Christine's Words Christine Warner writes romance and blogs three times a week on different topics. She's funny and wise, which is a great pairing!

14. Sherry Isaac Wildflower weaves her beautiful storytelling into her blog. Her writing is inspirational and gorgeously written.

15. Avery Flynn is a romantic suspense writer whose enthusiastic attitude is infectious. Her blog combines books, writing, fun stuff going on in Avery's world, and great author interviews.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What Do You Miss? The Expat Goods Exchange

The bath ball toy parade

The past week my husband's colleague from Japan came to the US on business. He and his family used to live nearby, and recently have moved home to Japan. His wife, Saiko, and I use our husbands' business trips as an opportunity to exchange goods. I shop at Target for her and she shops at the Japanese equivalent for me. We also make our husbands shop. 

We are doing our part to support both economies. And we've got a nice little foreign exchange going.

Some of the kid snacks.
Unfortunately most were devoured before I could take a picture!
Before her husband's visit, she sent me a brief message on Facebook: "What do you want from Japan?" 

I've noticed my list of needs have dropped dramatically from our initial move back a year and half ago. I can buy some stuff here. We're also learning to live without items we used to love like mochi (sticky rice cakes) and jelly drinks (soda with bits of jelly floating in them). 

A bath ball package.
Just like cereal: Happy Bear hidden inside
but you have to take a bath to get him!
I always ask for fizzy bath balls that have toy surprises inside. My kids adore them; they still love the Japanese bath culture. I wish I could find the bath balls in the US. They're a brilliant idea for kids' baths, especially if you've got a child with an abhorrence for water. 

The other item she always sends are fun kid snacks and osembe, rice crackers, for the adults.

Yummy rice crackers

Thanks Saiko and Taro for the goods exchange!

What items do you miss the most from your host country? Do you have a friend that will send you the "can't live without" foods or goods? Most importantly, have you seen bath balls with toys inside in the US? Please share!