Author Archives: Daniel

Recipes, Annotated

Mains

Soups and Stews

Vege/Vegan

Sides

This page is updated somewhat regularly.

Substack Hack – Template

I’ve been using Substack for the past few months to send out a monthly How to Japanese newsletter. It’s basically a mini version of my Japan Times column, a little something on beer or booze, and a collection of links/thoughts at the bottom. You can see more about my thinking behind the newsletter in the first issue.

I’m not familiar with Constant Contact or MailChimp or other newsletter services, so I don’t have anything in the way of comparison, but I do like Substack’s features and the way it looks. It took me a second to figure out how to edit the url slug (a feature which I think they’ve added in the past few months; it’s in the “Settings” down near the “Publish” button), but other than that, the only feature I wish they’d add is a template feature. I solved this issue by creating a template draft and just always keep it as a draft.

When I start a new month I just copy and paste the template over into the next month’s issue.

Resolutions

The only New Year’s resolution I can remember making was back in 2012 when I resolved to learn more about wine. I failed spectacularly. Once a week for the first couple weeks of the year, I walked over to Whole Foods and picked out a bottle, but it was always too much to finish on my own, and they ended up sitting half-empty in the fridge until I dumped them out a few days later.

I can’t say for certain, but I think this likely serves as a stand in for most of my past resolutions, which makes me similar to many.

A quick Twitter search is instructive: I won’t share all of them, but I have at times resolved to ferment more foods, to want less, to read my RSS feed regularly, and to listen to more Johnny Hodges/Gerry Mulligan.

I do very few of these right now. I’m coming down off a year or two of wanting, Johnny Hodges only occasionally pops up in my play list, I can’t remember the last time I opened Feedly, and while I do still brew beer, my fermentation game has lagged in food categories…until recently.

And that is because I was fulfilling a new style of resolution that I implemented in 2017. I’d have to do a deeper dive into my journals or my Twitter feed to know exactly why I made this decision, but that year I decided that I would cook something I’d never cooked before, and that this new dish would be my New Year’s resolution.

That year it was ribs, the next saag paneer. And onward. I’ve kept it up for four consecutive years. Here’s the list so far:

2017 – ribs
2018 – saag paneer
2019 – pupusas
2020 – natto

Not everything was ‘gram-worthy, so I won’t share pictures, but I will say that it felt good to be expanding my cooking repertoire, and to be accomplishing something. When I started, I imagine my thinking was that a clearly defined accomplishment was more important than a more vague, sustained change in lifestyle, or perhaps that small, actionable items rather than broader ideals would necessarily lead to a change in lifestyle.

When life gets busy, I still reach for Trader Joe’s Indian food, as by chance I happened to do last night as I was writing this, but I also have a freezer full of food I’ve prepared myself in advance—Japanese hambagu, lentil soup, lamb meatballs, black beans.

I keep a short list for future resolutions. Lasagna and ramen are near the top. But I find myself trying out new recipes more often, without needing a prompt from the calendar. When I’m shopping, I’ll pick up something I haven’t tried before and spend a minute Googling to see if I have enough at home to turn it into something.

There are a couple of other benefits, in addition to the food itself and the sense of improvement.

I’ve experienced a heightened sense of memory related to these recipes. I remember picking up ribs from the grocery store and cooking them for friends who came over last minute to play board games. I remember venturing out early in 2018 during a snowstorm, when I still had a blissful Japanese New Year’s holiday, to find a cheesecloth for the paneer at Sur La Table and go shopping at Uniqlo downtown. And I remember picking up the wrong type of masa for my pupusas, which sadly resulted in throwing out a lot of wet cornmeal.

This exercise has taught me that you don’t have to do too much. This isn’t an excuse for me to acquire new kitchen equipment or half a dozen obscure spices. A few tomatillos or a head of cabbage can be enough. (Especially if you use the cabbage to make bigos.)

I also find these cooking adventures useful ways to dissipate the sort of restless anxiousness I find myself experiencing from time to time. Cooking new recipes gets me out into Chicago, up to Devon to pick up ground lamb, to Argyle for daikon, and to Lincoln Square for bacon from Gene’s Sausage Shop. And there’s the focus in the kitchen. Too much of my time gets spent in front of the screen. Much of it is required for work and for writing, and I sometimes hate myself a little for not writing and translating more in my free time, but relief from the screen is also critical.

My next challenge, free from the need to fulfill a resolution, is chashu. This will be the first step toward my ramen goal, but I’ve realized it’s also a key ingredient in Japanese fried rice, which has been stuck in my mind recently. I have such strong memories of eating fried rice during summer holidays in Japan.

I have just about everything I need other than the pork belly and butcher’s twine. This recipe will give me direction for a bike ride, help me restock my freezer, and focus my time during this wild and still young October 2020.

How to Japanese Podcast

I spent this summer working on a podcast project that just wrapped up in November. You can see all 10 episodes here or over on the blog:

It was a fun process! I got to figure out all the technical stuff (and make a few consumer purchases), but putting together the content, creating a replicable system to put that content into the world, and kind of sculpting it all into something meaningful was the most fulfilling part.

Life has been busy the last two months (I finished up the bulk of the podcast work by September and really just had to piece together the episodes once I launched), but I’m already starting to think about a second season. I wish it was something I could commit to every week, but things are just too busy for that, unfortunately. And I think there is something to be said for creating more concentrated doses of content. It definitely helps build anticipation. Hopefully with 10 episodes in the bag, the second season will not only be better but easier to put together. This first season is pretty, pretty good if I do say so myself!

If you’re looking to start your own podcast, I’d recommend checking out Podcastage, specifically this post about equipment. There are a lot of really good recommendations. It doesn’t have to be all that expensive.

Translation – Masquerade and the Nameless Women

Some folks go to the beach during the summer. I translate Japanese fiction.

The book I worked on this summer is available for pre-order and will be published by Vertical on January 29. The book is titled “Masquerade and the Nameless Women” by author Eiji Mikage.

Follow along over at How to Japanese for more information. Pre-order on Amazon or at your preferred bookseller.

Content Pastures

“Passive income” is a relatively newly minted oxymoron. I’m not certain exactly where the term originated, but my best guess would be real estate and investing. The idea of rental income or dividends steadily filling a savings account over the course of the year is intoxicating (mostly to the Olds).

“Passive income” is trending up in Google Trends from around 2012-2013 onward. Monetizing “content” and the internet economy probably has something to do with this.

The investing podcast “Animal Spirits” recently had a conversation about how passive income is actually quite active. Plunging plugged toilets is far less exciting and less passive than sitting on the couch and checking a bank statement, as is tracking down and paying plumbers to plunge said plugged toilets for that matter.

Writing blog posts each month, each week, or three times each week as I was when I first started blogging is the equivalent of plunging cultural toilets (to loosely borrow a concept from Murakami). Generating money from online content seems like it would be a fun, “passive” thing to do, but I think that’s only in comparison to a regular 9-5 job. It’s actually a good bit of work, and there are very few who are able to turn a content library into a full time job. Even then, once your consumers are accustomed to a schedule, you have to feed them or risk them leaving for fairer content pastures. I get far fewer commenters on my blog posts now than I did when I had something for them to read every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

In September I wrote my fiftieth column for the Japan Times Bilingual page. This is kind of crazy for me to think about, mostly because I vividly remember writing my ninth column during the winter of 2014. It was a cold, snowy Chicago weekend during the extended polar vortex that year. I was single and lonely, but I hadn’t written for the paper in nearly two years, so I was happy and fulfilled at the prospect of being paid for my writing again, and of having something to say.

I put on Beck’s “Morning Phase,” which I believe was streaming as a preview on NPR before the album release, made a cup of tea, and sat in front of the computer for most of the day. It was great.

At some point I stepped outside onto the back staircase of my apartment and took a photo of my mug with the weather.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Had to pick an appropriate mug for today. #sapporo #時計台

A post shared by Daniel Morales (@howtojapanese) on

And I tweeted out a preview of the article I was working on:

Being a writer these days is a bit like being the captain and sole crew of a ship. You put up new sails, take others down, redeploy things from the past, all in the hopes that a breath of wind will come along and propel you forward.

Strangely enough, this article got a draft from the official Haruki Murakami Facebook page:

There’s a difference between attention and money. The plug on this page got that article far more clicks than it otherwise would have had, and I imagine that didn’t hurt my chances to keep writing for the JT. In a sense it increased my potential earnings. But it wasn’t money in the bank.

I got a more financially lucrative gust of wind earlier this spring when Keio University used one of my articles (“Japanese humor: more universally funny than you think”) on their entrance exam.

My initial reaction:

But it wasn’t totally unexpected. Starting in 2011, I received half a dozen or so requests to reprint a few of my JT articles in Japanese textbooks for prep study courses. I was confused at first but later it became a nice surprise; I would wake up in the morning bleary eyed, find an email from the JT asking me for reprint permission and my author’s fee, and punch in a quick reply.

In these cases, I received money but no attention. The small author’s fees dropped into my bank account silently a month later.

But Keio was big enough that it set off a quick series of requests. Not a huge amount, but about the same as in the previous few years. It’s been a nice little windfall.

And now that I look back at my emails (that I clearly wasn’t reading closely enough), I’m realizing that another article (“Tanka help Japanese express emotions”) was used on the entrance exam for Fukuyama City University and that Senshu University used the same article on their test that Keio did. Crazy.

The last reprint request came in October, and I asked for a 15-dollar increase to cover the international wire fee I get charged by my bank. I haven’t heard back from the JT, so I may have accidentally shut off my stream of passive income, although it’s never been clear to me whether the JT is shopping around my articles (and their own content library, which is quite vast) or these prep courses and universities are discovering the writing on their own.

I did discover that university entrance exams have a history of “borrowing” material from foreign writers. Tim Murphey of Dokkyo University wrote an article in 2005 for “Shiken: JALT Testing & Evaluation SIG Newsletter” titled “Entrance exams breaking copyright law? Academically unethical?

It sounds like things have changed for the better in the past 13 years. As you can see above, I was cited, which wasn’t always the case. However, the JT and I were only paid because the test question was reprinted in an exam book. They didn’t have to ask permission or pay us to use the writing on the original exam, which feels a bit strange.

I’m not getting my hopes up that the work I’ve produced will bring in a massive amount of passive income. This next statement might come from a place of extreme privilege (this is me checking my proverbial self before I wreck my proverbial self), but I’m not sure if earning money was ever the point. I started writing How to Japanese because I needed to produce something. I needed to connect with people and share things. There was a sense of justice, a light outrage that no one was able to communicate certain things to me. And I wanted to pass those things on.

It feels good to have succeeded on that front, to be reaching out from my laptop onto the screens of others learning Japanese. And now onto the pages in front of Japanese high school kids taking their entrance exams…who hopefully glean something from my words despite the testing fervor that surrounds them.

I do appreciate the extra income, but mostly as a trophy of sorts because I know how awful a writer I was at age 23, and I know how actively I had to work to get where I am now.

The Disease

It’s funny where you find insight about writing. I was listening to the BeerSmith Podcast the other day and was struck by something Homebrew All Stars author Drew Beechum said:

“…if you want to get something written, you have to have somebody who has a sort of disease in their brain that says ‘You know what I have to do? I have to write.’ A lot of people don’t suffer from that impulse.”

It does feel like an impulse. Especially taking that first step. Shaping a finished piece of writing–editing it–feels to me like a more conscious, controllable act. I step back from the impulse to see what it is that I’ve produced.

Craft Beer in Japan

beer essentials2

I was in The Japan Times a week or so ago with an article about craft beer in Japan: “Beer Essentials: The craft beer boom in Japan shows no signs of running dry.” I’m pretty happy with the way it came out, both the text and the awesome layout they put together. This is my first feature article anywhere and my first non-Bilingual, non-Murakami article in the JT.

I wish I had better news to report: Japanese craft beer is gradually becoming more plentiful, but it’s still expensive and the quality isn’t improving as quickly. Although, to be perfectly honest, I think the quality of American craft beer isn’t all it’s made out to be.

Yes, we have a lot to choose from, but it’s not cheap, and it can be difficult to find reliable breweries. The truly excellent breweries are thriving: Sierra Nevada, Goose Island, Ommegang, Boulevard, Brooklyn…in terms of smaller more regional breweries that I’m familiar with, Urban Chestnut, Revolution, Prairie, Cigar City.

But for each of these you have smaller breweries that are producing subpar beer. Breweries that will devote half of their tap selection to IPAs that are difficult to distinguish.

So I think the comparison with the U.S. scene is overblown. I was impressed with Japanese macrobrew on my last trip. Yebisu and Yebisu Black are delicious beers. Even Super Dry is very drinkable…it has a nice bitterness not present in most American macrobrew. If only it were a bit cheaper…maybe 50-80 yen cheaper per can? I guess we just have to hope for a tax equalization at some point.

What I think about when I think about Monk

Monk

When I graduated from college I got an assortment of gifts from friends and family. Few of them stand out because they were mostly checks and gift cards, but one of our family friends got me a large beach towel in addition to a $50 gift card about a year after I finished.

At the time I had just gotten into Thelonious Monk. I visited a friend in New York for a quick vacation before shipping out to Japan on the JET Program, and my friend’s roommate had two huge folders of CDs. This was the tail end of the CD era. I didn’t have an iPod yet, but I did have a nice collection of music on my computer. I spent a few hours going through the folders and ripping things that looked interesting into iTunes.

I know I took a T-Rex album, but I can’t remember anything else other than the Monk’s Straight, No Chaser, an album the roommate recommend as a first step into his music, and Alone in San Francisco.

Once in Japan I hooked my laptop up to the large television supplied by the town and piped music through its speakers while I cooked dinner or cleaned around the house. This is how I fell in love with Monk. Chopping onions for an omelet, hanging wet clothes to dry outside (or inside if it was too cold), sweeping and wiping the tatami mats cleans. I also played Monk while driving around Fukushima Prefecture in my tiny Daihatsu Mira.

I took a few trips into Tokyo for a conference and for the winter holidays, and each time I returned with more Monk. His solo albums, his work with Sonny Rollins, his early bebop and the wild Brilliant Corners. The RECOfan in Shibuya was my go-to shop. They always had good deals or a surprising find.

I also picked up the first iteration of the iPod Mini, which enabled me to play them in the car more easily. It only had 1GB of storage, so I was forced to swap albums in and out, but I always reserved space for Alone in San Francisco and Thelonious Himself. During my first winter, I was driving a friend home to Inawashiro and had Thelonious Himself playing as we passed the snowy fields between the foot of Mt. Bandai and Lake Inawashiro. We must’ve been toward the end, right around where Coltrane comes in with the sax on “‘Round Midnight” after just piano for five straight tracks. My friend turned to me and said, “This album is pretty amazing.”

When I went home to New Orleans to see my brothers graduate in May and was surprised by the belated graduation gift, Monk was the first thing I thought to buy with the gift card. I used it on Monk’s Dream and the documentary Straight, No Chaser. We went to dinner with the family at one point while I was home, and I told them what I had bought.

“Thelonious Monk?!” the mother said with half-sincere, half-joking incredulity. “We wanted you to have some fun! That’s why we got you the towel.” She then laughed a little.

I am certain she had no real idea who Thelonious Monk was. Which is too bad. There aren’t many musicians with a greater spirit of fun than Monk.

towel4

I’ve never been able to forget her comment. I actually think about it pretty often. When I’m listening to Monk. When I use the towel, which I’ve brought to music festivals and events but not yet an actual beach that I can remember. More recently I’ve been using it to prevent bottled homebrew from becoming light struck. And to dry out my equipment after brewing.

towel3

I’m sure these aren’t the uses that she imagined, but they’re still fun. Happy 10th birthday, beach towel.

Los Morales

If you’re finding this page because you’re a Morales and are interested in connecting, please check out the Facebook group I created for Descendents of Meliton.

My brother David got married three weeks ago, and I was able to catch up with family I hadn’t seen for…I can’t even remember how long. My Uncle Rey has been the keeper of the family history, combining his own research with that of a few other family members, and after the wedding he sent me a trove of digital material. My dad had sent me some written material a few years earlier so I had a loose idea of the history, but after Rey’s email I had pictures. I’ve put together the succession below. I may add more photos in the future.

Meliton

Meliton

Meliton Morales (1836-1924) is my great-great grandfather. He’s not the oldest relative Rey has tracked down, but he is the most interesting. He was captured by Apaches when he was 7 and traded to the Delaware tribe for a blanket and a quart of whiskey (or so says the family history). He escaped at 16 or 17 and made it to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and then, strangely enough, to New Orleans (my hometown). He later joined the Union Army in Texas, established a ranching empire, and earned a Texas historical marker.

Eliseo Cecelia Ramona Meliton    Matiana

Eliseo and Angelita

Eliseo

Eliseo C. Morales

angelita 2

Angelita

Eliseo Morales (1876-1922) is my great-grandfather. He was a twin with Elisa, lower right in the Meliton family picture above. He married Angelita Camunez (1890-1946). Angelita’s mother’s family was German, from the Markwordt family, one of nearly 20,000 German settlers who took land on the Texas-Mexico border.

Reynaldo Otilia Frank

Reynaldo

Reynaldo

My grandfather Reynaldo Morales (1911-1992). Eliseo died when my grandfather was only 11.

David  Ramona Reynaldo

Eva

Reynaldo married my grandmother Eva Hurtado Morales (1910-1989).

eva hurtado

Robert and Marialice

My dad Robert “Bob” Morales was born in San Antonio (I’ll leave out dates for now, heh).

Robert 1960

Robert grad

bob marialice

He met my mom, Marialice, in Dallas. This is a picture of them in Japan in 2006.

Daniel

My brothers and I took pictures together at the wedding, but I don’t have any copies yet. These are some of the more recent photos of us. Me on the left, David, and Tim below. I’ll have to add a few younger pictures at some point.

david daniel

tim