Updated: Oct 5, 2022
Although India was where I exited the fast lane to take care of our children full-time, India was not Dana's and my first experience living abroad. Before our first child, Cole, before Dana the diplomat, before India and adopting Nina, we taught English in Japan for three years. And, whereas India holds a special place in our hearts because we found Nina there, Japan is where Dana and I spent our halcyon days before children, home ownership, and real jobs.
With money to burn and no real responsibilities, we sang at least 14,000 hours of karaoke and traveled extensively. We went to Kyoto—Japan’s ancient imperial capital—and Nara—Japan’s super-ancient imperial capital. We visited the tomb of warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu—subject of James Clavell’s novel Shogun and the television miniseries of the same name—in beautiful Nikko, staying in the quaint Pension Turtle. We skied—three-quarters of Japan is mountainous—and climbed all night to reach the summit of Mount Fuji by sunrise. Every spring we ate yaki-niku—Japanese barbecue—in the park as cherry blossoms gently rained down, a bucket-list experience known as sakura-yuki—cherry blossom snow. We pounded rice with traditional wooden sledgehammers to make mochi—rice cakes—and learned to harvest bamboo shoots in the wild. I entered an amateur sumo tournament and got my butt handed to me on a plate by a Japanese half my size and twice my age in less than two seconds. Good times.
Our sweet Japanese neighbor Yumi refused to believe that I—a mere man—knew how to cook. The pressure was on; I needed to make Yumi something tasty and that she’d never had before. I called my grandmother for inspiration, and we settled on a uniquely Southern dish: chicken and dumplings. I managed to pull it off, and Yumi and family soon became great friends.
Granny’s recipe, as told to me, with my notes in parentheses:
Granny Holt’s Chicken & Dumplings
Chicken (Granny means a whole chicken, skin and all, plucked.)
Flour (Granny just knows how much to use, but it’s about two cups.)
Cook the chicken. (Cover and boil chicken in salted water. How long? Until it’s cooked—that’s how long.)
Let it cool. (And save the chicken stock! You’re going to use it to cook the dumplings.)
Roll out your dough. (This means you’re supposed to mix the flour, a half teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of baking powder, and then add water slowly, kneading until you have a wettish ball of dough. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough thin on a floured surface.)
Cut your dough out and cook it. (Cut the dough into strips a couple of inches wide and a few inches long. Bring the reserved chicken stock to a rolling boil and drop in the strips of dough one by one. Cover, reduce heat to a slow boil, and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally.)
Put in your chicken. (While the dumplings cook, remove the chicken from the bone, shredding or chopping the largest pieces. Return the chicken to the pot when the dumplings are finished cooking.)
That’s it. (At this point, your chicken and dumplings should be swimming in a medium-thick gravy. If you feel your gravy is too thin, remove the lid and boil until desired thickness is reached. Add salt to taste. Pair with sweet tea and grandkids.)