The ExPat Returneth

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Little Read Hens Wednesday #bookchat

Enjoy chatting about books? Every Wednesday the Little Read Hens cluck books on Facebook, a different topic every week. For Oscar week we're clucking about our favorite movies made from books. 

Join us at

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

NABE: Japanese Hot Pot

Now that we've had a little cold snap, it reminds us of one of our favorite cold-weather foods, NABE (nah-bay). NABE is a catch-all term for food simmered in a broth in an earthen pot, usually about 12 inches across and 3 inches deep. The best way to do it is NOT on the stovetop, but to use a little single burner and cook it on the table, right in the middle everyone.
Typical nabe pot with single burner stove

Ingredients for nabe include the following: cabbage, thinly sliced meat (beef or pork), mushrooms (esp. SHIITAKE, but also ENOKI [thin, white stringy things]), green onions, KONYAKU (a vegetable-based gelatin substance, either in cube form or noodles), tofu, spinach, sliced leeks. Really, you can put anything in NABE as long as it tastes good with the other ingredients.

For the broth, you can be really simple and use just water, or add a little DASHI or some other stock flavoring. has a great post on a classic nabe, sukiyaki, including lyrics for the most popular karaoke song of all time: Sukiyaki. For a chicken nabe, check this post.
My point is that it's simple. Put liquid in earthen pot/basin thingy, put on heat, and add ingredients to your liking. Simple, healthy, yummy, and participatory. 

After the ingredients have had some time to cook, pull out small amounts by tongs or chopsticks, place in little bowls that everyone should have, and go to town. We especially like to put a little PONZU (citrus-flavored soy sauce) in our bowls and zest up the broth. I also like adding a bit of TOHGARASHI (Japanese red pepper) to give it a kick.

Note: for the meat, we like to get pre-sliced frozen pork from the ever-awesome Buford Highway Farmer's Market in Atlanta, but you can buy pork loin or a cut of sirloin and cut as thin as possible, similar to the kind of sliced meat you might want to add to SHABU SHABU.
Note: partially freeze your meat before slicing thin for easier cutting

And, finally, a great night of NABE ends with a healthy dose of (pre-boiled) RAMEN or UDON noodles in the broth. This both takes advantage of the absorbed flavors of the broth and provides a nice little carbo kick at the end of the meal to ensure proper nutrition and absorption of the beer that was drunk during the eating of the NABE.
Adding the ramen

NABE: Japan's version of fondue that is as wonderful as it is flexible and delicious (OISHII!!!).


After getting his M.A. in Japanese Art History, Trey Hoffman eschewed university life for Japanese business. He's worked for four Japanese companies in the U.S.; for a U.S. state office in Japan; and for a Japanese City Hall in the JET program. A father and husband, Trey enjoys teaching his kids about other cultures and introducing them to bizarre foods.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Yakiudon, An Easy Noodle Stirfry

My family will eat noodles any way I can dream up serving them, but this particular expat recipe is one of our favorites. Yakiudon is a "stir fry" dish. Quick, easy, and nutritious as you want to make it, you'll find it's a great dish to use with whatever veggies and meat you have on hand.
Quick and Easy Stir Fry: Yakiudon

Udon noodles are a staple in Japanese winter soups and hotpots. The thick, white noodles made from wheat flour are becoming easier to find in American supermarkets. Much denser than your usual pasta and slightly viscous, udon provides the palate an interesting texture and mellow taste. 

The veggies & meat I had on hand that particular day:
spinach, mushrooms, pepper, onion and leftover chicken.

This brand of dry udon is sold in my local Kroger
You can buy preboiled (will look soft and fat) or dry (stick like). The preboiled udon can be added from its package in step three of the recipe below. Obviously, dried will need to be boiled first. In my local Kroger's tiny Asian section, I can find the dried udon. I have to go to an Asian supermarket to get the preboiled variety, but you might have better luck, depending on where you live. 

Yaki Udon

The Sauce: equal parts soy sauce and cooking sake
For one person, 1T each. 
Therefore, for my family of 4, I use 1/4 c sake & 1/4 c soy sauce

The Udon: the Japanese packaging can be tricky. Dry noodles usually come packaged with three sheaves of noodles (four being an unlucky number). Three sheaves is too much. Two not quite enough. Very frustrating for me. So for my family of 4 (2 of which are young girls), I make 2 to 2.25 sheaves.

The Meat: thinly sliced pork is traditional. As you can see in my latest yakiudon creation, I used leftover roast chicken. Beef is delicious, as is tofu. Whatever you have, cut it bite sized and thin enough to cook quickly with your veg. If you have pre-cooked meat, like I did, just add in at Step 3 to heat it through.

The Veg: (traditional) Green onion, cut on a diagonal.
Shimeji mushrooms (the long & skinny mushroom) are also traditional. Make sure you cut off the woody end and separate into smaller clumps. 

Other veggies: Carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts. In the above picture, I used spinach, button mushrooms, yellow onion, and bell pepper. I say use what you like & what you've got on hand. You really can't go wrong.

The Oil: I use canola, any vegetable oil works. You'll want at least 1 T to saute your meat & veg depending on your amount. Use another tablespoon to saute your noodles, if they start to stick add more oil.

The Salt & Pepper: of the shaking over the pan variety. Season to your taste.

1a. If you're using dry udon, boil the water and follow the package directions for boiling the udon. It's a thicker noodle, so it cooks longer, like linguini. Drain, rinse and separate with your fingers a bit to keep from sticking to make ready for Step 3.

1b. Slice veggies into bite size portions that will cook quickly. Same for the meat.

The sautéing of the veggies
2. Saute veggies and meat in oil and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the pan.

3. Add more oil to pan and saute udon, gently seperating strands. Stir in veggies and meat. Add soy sauce and sake mixture and heat through.
Adding sauce to the noodles

That's it? Yep, that's it. Enjoy!
Questions and comments?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Exporting Foreign Holidays: Which Way to Celebrate Valentine's Day?

How many of you ex-expats (repats) still celebrate the holidays of your former foreign land? 
Our little Oni

With no roasted soybeans,
 we made due with popcorn this year
Last week in Japan, they celebrated Setsubun, one of our kids' favorite holidays. It's a spring rite that involves throwing roasted soybeans at someone in an Oni demon mask to cleanse your house of bad spirits and usher good tidings in for spring. 

It may sound odd, but how many times a year are my children allowed to throw food at their parents? There just isn't a holiday equivalent in America. Poor kids.

Setsubun pastries in Japan

Our tiny Hina Ningyo court
March 3rd is Girl's Day or the Doll Festival, Hina Matsuri, another holiday my kids love (boys get their turn in May on Children's Day). In Japan, grandparents buy their newborn granddaughters Hina Ningyo, dolls that replicate the Emperor, Empress and court from the ancient Heian Period. These beautiful china and silk dolls are displayed on tiered steps covered in red cloth in a place of prominence. If Grandma and Grandpa are well coffered, or if you inherit a set, you might have a royal court complete with furniture, lights, and beautiful lacquer bento boxes. 

A well attended Hina Ningyo court
We found our Emperor and Empress set and a couple pieces of lacquer furniture at a flea market. I was probably more entranced with the furniture than my young daughters. The drawers open and shut. The craftsmanship is remarkable. Our daughters love the dolls. Unfortunately we weren't farsighted enough to buy two sets, so a fight may ensue when the little chickies fly the nest and want to take the dolls with them. 

Cute Girls' Day treats
On Hina Matsuri, girls are given special rice cracker treats (in pastel colors!) and families may eat chirashisushi, a vinegared-rice dish with sliced vegetables, omelette, and salmon on top. Last year, I went to a Japanese friend's home and we made California sushi rolls for our kids. You adapt. We still display our dolls through February (you have to take them down after Girl's Day or your daughter may not marry, so the saying goes).

That stealthy holiday, Valentine's Day, approaches. In Japan the day is celebrated by women giving men dark chocolate. The men are supposed to return the favor with white chocolate a month later, March 14, on White Day. 

Fun to see in Japan, but I'm not taking that one back with me! I'll keep my dark chocolate to myself.

What holidays from your host country do you still celebrate? How have you adapted them to your home country? What holidays do you miss?

Friday, February 1, 2013

5 Silly Questions for Grant Parker from FRONT PAGE FATALITY

It's another addition of Five Silly Questions, and this time I've got Grant Parker, ace sports reporter at the Richmond Telegraph from FRONT PAGE FATALITY, the new mystery by LynDee Walker. After this interview, Grant Parker was added to my fictional Fictional Characters "List". I think Grant might have even passed Rochester in my top five. I'm a sucker for a strong jaw and sweet talk, what can I say.

1.Okay, Parker. Although I spend time ogling football players, I'll admit to knowing nothing about baseball. However it sounds like you get a lot of ogles yourself. How far around the bases do you get on a first date?

Ahem. Jump right in, there, sweetheart. You know, a true Virginia gentleman would never kiss and tell. But let’s say my batting average is better than .500, and I have my fair share of homers.

I bet you've had your fair share of "touchdown" dances as well. 

2. Which is better for catching a fly ball: sugar or vinegar?

Definitely sugar. Especially when you throw in some heat.

Holy Schamoley, it's getting warm in here.

3. How about catching a ring of drug thieves? Louisville Slugger or Poison Pen?

I’ll defer to my talented colleague, Nichelle Clarke, on that one. I think the pen was mightier than the bat in that situation.

Good answer. You're smart enough to know when to send your pinch hitter.
4. As a journalist, which lucky lady would you prefer to see on Page Three? 

Now that’s a tough one. There’s a sweet little thing over at Channel Ten who would get some votes. And the Telegraph’s own Shelby Taylor would be excellent for that. Shelby’s fun to look at. It’s when she talks that things go sideways.

5. As a gritty sports writer, you're tracking down a gang of notorious curlers, who have been using their brooms and stones to wreak havoc on the city of Richmond. You've tracked them to a certain sports bar, a favorite among expatriate Canadians. To get your story, you are willing to.…

Now, that would be one hell of an interesting story. There’s no telling what a guy would do for a story like that. I wonder if I could get away with a fake Canadian accent around my Virginia drawl. Or I could always drag Shelby or Nichelle in there as bait. Bunch of guys like that will definitely gravitate to a pretty woman. I’d dress in drag myself, but I did that for a fraternity prank in college and I’m a good looking guy, but I make one ugly woman. Too strong a jaw, I think.

Thanks for chatting with me today. Your questions were good. If you’d like to continue interviewing me over drinks tonight, I’ll be done with my column by five. 

Flattery will get you everywhere, buster. However, now I keep picturing you in drag...

The blond head bobbing just above most of the crowd, however, I knew instantly.

“It can’t be,” I muttered, even as I recognized the butter-colored polo I’d seen twice that day already.

“There you are!” Parker said when I caught up to him. “This is a madhouse. How do you ever get any work done at one of these things?”

“Hey, Parker.” I stared, still unable to come up with a single logical reason for his presence. “I’ve never been to anything like this before. Boats don’t usually blow up on the James. But I’m about to find a cop and see what’s going on. Forgive my manners, but what are you doing here?”
“I know a little about what happened.” He grimaced. “The coach got a call during my interview after the Generals game. The little speedboat belonged to Nate DeLuca, one of our pitchers. I don’t know the details, but it hit a Richmond PD boat. Like you said, there was an explosion. The fire department is searching the river and the banks on both sides, but they don’t think anyone survived. After I called in my story, I came to see for myself what happened to DeLuca. I’m going to write a feature on him for Sunday. He should’ve been at the ballpark tonight, but he had friends in town, and since he wasn’t pitching, the coach gave him the night off.”

“Sweet cartwheeling Jesus. Let’s go see what else we can find out,” I said. “Kiss your Saturday goodbye, Mr. Columnist. You’re going to be at the office tomorrow.” And so was I. So much for my leisurely weekend.

I turned to dive back into the crowd in search of Aaron and mid-whirl, I noticed Jenna standing there, still and surprised. Her eyes were doing that white-all-around thing again.

“People died out there?” she squeaked.

I patted her hand. “You want to go back to the car?” “No.” She squared her small shoulders and gripped my arm a little tighter. “I want to go to work with you.”

I turned back to Parker. “Grant Parker, this is my friend Jenna Rowe. This wreck crashed girls’ night. She drank too much tequila, but she’s very excited to see the glamorous world of journalism up close.”

“The best way to do that is after too much tequila,” he said. “Nice to meet you, Jenna.”
The thin fingers around my arm dug in tighter, and I didn’t think their owner was breathing. I elbowed her lightly in the ribs, rolling my eyes. Her forceful exhale sounded like a sigh as she gazed at Parker.

“I really love your column,” she lied. Jenna hated sports in any incarnation. She was already bemoaning the start of Gabby’s soccer season, and it was three months away.

“Thank you.” He smiled.

We moved through the crowd as a unit until I saw a familiar face.

“Mike!” I waved at Sergeant Sorrel from the narcotics unit.

“Nichelle,” he said, turning from the water to face me when I stopped next to him. “Where’ve you been? You missed the TV crews. They all left about twenty minutes ago.”

Damn. Charlie no doubt drank her margaritas with her scanner in her lap.

“I was out and I missed the call, but got down here as quick as I could. I didn’t even take my poor friend Jenna home first.”

Mike smiled at Jenna and held out his hand. “I guess you never know how your Friday night is going to end up when you’re friends with Nichelle, huh?”

I started to introduce Parker, but quickly learned women weren’t alone in their rambling worship of him.

“Hey! You’re Grant Parker!” Mike said before I got a word out. “I watched you play ball when you were in college here, man. You had some arm. Too bad about all that, I guess—but I read your column. I’m a big fan.”

Parker smiled and shook Mike’s hand. “Thanks. I appreciate that.”

I stared at Mike, and then at Parker. Parker had fans? I was impressed. And a little jealous. 

Got any questions for Parker or author LynDee Walker? Please ask! However, if you're thinking about trying to muscle in on my five o'clock drink date with Grant, think again. I consider that a blog bonus, ladies.

LynDee Walker grew up in the land of stifling heat and amazing food most people call Texas, and wanted to be Lois Lane pretty much from the time she could say the words “press conference.” An award-winning journalist, she traded cops and deadlines for burp cloths and onesies when her oldest child was born. Writing the Headlines in Heels mysteries gives her the best of both worlds. When not writing or reading, LynDee is usually wrangling children, eating barbecue or enchiladas, or trying to walk off said barbecue and enchiladas. She and her family live in Richmond, Virginia.  You can visit her online at