Author: Expat Alien

TCK, Global Nomad, Expat, Traveler writing about what is and what has been

Patient Women

41fWks8wUXLReading Larissa Shmailo’s new book, Patient Women, is like riding a wave. It easily flows from one thing to the next and you want to keep reading and reading. This book has it all. Sex, drugs, alcoholism, suicide, incest, tragedy, love, despair, hope, rebirth. What will the main character Nora do next? She compels you to find out.

Nora starts out as a juvenile delinquent who runs away from home and loses her virginity. From there we see her easily get into two highly respected colleges only to lose interest and drop out. She is a brilliant woman who can’t figure out who she is or what she should be doing. So she tries everything. 

She keeps getting derailed by her own mental illness and her dysfunctional family. She has a therapist who she hates and he really doesn’t seem very helpful. He loads her up with one drug after another. Her parents survived the holocaust and that still haunts them and plays out in several dysfunctional ways throughout her life. They are not a very good support system for her. It isn’t until she joins AA and reunites with an old friend that she starts to understand the meaning of love.

In the end we don’t know if she lives happily ever after but her demons seem to be at bay and she finds her way as a poet.

I first met Larissa in high school. She was intelligent, funny and a wonderful actress. Now she is a brilliant writer as well.



About the Author

Larissa Shmailo is the editor-in-chief of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry, poetry editor for MadHat Annual, and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. She translated Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s landmark re-staging of the Futurist opera; the libretto is available from Cervena Barva Press (2014). Larissa also has been a translator on the Bible in Russia for the Eugene A. Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship of the American Bible Society. Larissa’s collections of poetry are #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books 2014), In Paran (BlazeVOX [books] 2009), the chapbook, A Cure for Suicide (Cervena Barva Press 2006), and the e-book, Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks 2011); her poetry CDs are The No-Net World (SongCrew 2006) and Exorcism (SongCrew 2009), for which she received the New Century Best Spoken Word Album award .

Available on Amazon



Lamb Stew



My brother gave me an electric crockpot and my son was begging for some lamb so this turned out to be a great marriage. If you don’t have a crockpot, simmering on the stove would probably work just as well.

Once I got into the recipe I discovered I didn’t have any coriander so I threw in some cinnamon instead. Of course, I must have just gone brain dead because obviously coriander is cilantro and I always have cilantro. In spite of it all, it turned out to be a tasty dish.

Lamb Stew

1 lb lamb shoulder chops, trimmed and cut into smallish chunks

Mix together and toss with the meat:

1 Tbsp olive oil

4 tsp cumin

1 Tbsp coriander (cilantro)

¼ tsp cayenne pepper (I would put a little more)

¼ tsp salt (don’t really need it if you are using the full strength chicken broth)

Several turn of the pepper mill


1 large onion, chopped (I used a red one)


28-oz diced tomatoes

¾ cup chicken broth (I used half a cube in boiling water)

4 cloves minced garlic

















1 can cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

Mash about ¾ cup of the beans


6 oz fresh spinach, chopped



Put the spiced up meat into the crockpot, top with chopped onion.



Heat tomatoes, chicken broth and garlic in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.

















Pour the tomato mixture over the meat.

Cover and cook 3 hours on high or 5 hours on low, until meat is tender.

















Mix in the mashed chickpeas, whole chickpeas, and spinach

Cook an additional 5-10 minutes until headed and spinach has wilted.



Serve over rice.

Leftover note. We had this the next day as a sauce for gnocchi and it was really pretty good.




Cooking in Colorado


I recently spent some time in Boulder, Colorado with an old friend of mine. We both have frequented the Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam and gorged ourselves on Rijsttafel. I hadn’t had Rijsttafel in ages and when he volunteered to make it, I was very excited. After a quick trip to the Asian store he assembled all the ingredients and spent the afternoon cooking.

Many many ingredients

Many many ingredients

Rijstaffel means rice table. It usually consists of rice with multiple small dishes, appetizers, and condiments. The dishes can come from anywhere in Indonesia from spicy curries to dishes with Chinese influence. The Dutch colonists who had been living in Indonesia brought the Rijstaffel back to the Netherlands. Today it is virtually unknown in Indonesia but is still going strong in the Netherlands.

We had beef in red sauce with tomato chili and coconut cream, chicken Bali with lemongrass and coconut cream, Gado Gado (vegetables with peanut sauce), two kinds of Satay, rice and multiple condiments.

It was a feast and all delicious. I am going t have to try to make the chicken one day soon.

Toasted coconut and peanuts for sprinkling on dishes

Toasted coconut and peanuts for sprinkling on dishes

Beginning of beef in red sauce

Beginning of beef in red sauce

Starting chicken Bali

Starting chicken Bali

Chicken Bali almost done

Chicken Bali almost done

Condiments with Gado Gado

Condiments with Gado Gado

My plate is full!

My plate is full!

Victory Day Moscow

May 8th, Victory Day or VE Day, marks the end of World War II in Europe.  Due to the time changes, the Russians celebrate this occasion on May 9th.  They have military parades on Red Square, civilian parades down city streets, run old war movies all day on TV, and they gather with family and friends to eat and make many toasts. The USSR suffered the most casualties of any country during World War II, estimated at 27 million.  China comes in a distant second with 10 million. Indeed they have reason to celebrate.

I was in Moscow in 1995 when Boris Yeltsin pulled out all the stops to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this day. Celebrities from all over the world attended including US President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister John Major, French President Francois Mitterrand, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

We were living in an apartment on the 5th floor right on Tverskaya, one of the main streets downtown that led right into Red Square and on the parade route.

One night we were shaken out of bed in the middle of the night. I thought it was an earthquake, but it kept going and going and after a while I thought we were being invaded because it sounded like large trucks. I looked out the window and there were huge tanks rolling down the middle of our street in the middle of the night. What was going on? Turns out they were practicing for the big military parades on Victory day. This went on for several weeks.

On May 8th, we were glued to the BBC watching the celebrations in the UK including the church service at St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace with the Queen and the Queen Mum. From there BBC took us to Paris and we saw the parade around the Arc de Triumph and down the Champs Elysees.

We took the video camera and went down to Red Square and saw the big banners and the stage set up. The Hare Krishnas placed a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier (very surreal). We ran into some high school students from Wisconsin who said they were part of a marching band. We figured they were just on some school trip.

On May 9th we didn’t have to leave our apartment. First we watched the parade on Red Square on TV. Then the Communists paraded down our street so we watched them from the balcony and later in the day those tanks came rolling down in formation.

The last parade of the day was the marching bands. And in the middle of all the marching bands was the McFarland High School Band from Wisconsin playing “On Wisconsin”.



The 70th Anniversary celebrations last week were the largest in Russian history but President Obama and the EU leaders chose not to attend this time.

Any gathering in Russia starts with Zakuski.  These are the warm ups, the small plates, the appetizers.  They can include beet salads, potato salads, cabbage salads, pickled mushrooms, pickled herring, dried fish, caviar, or any other thing you can think of.  Just so there is lots of it.  For the toasts, vodka is the staple, followed by cognac for desert.  Sometimes champagne precedes the vodka.

Here are a couple of my favorite Zakuski (they are easy to make):

Julienne (Mushrooms in Sour Cream)

1 lb mushrooms

3 Tbsp butter

1 ½ Tbsp flour

1 cup sour cream

½ tsp lemon juice

salt and pepper

Slice the mushrooms.  Sauté in butter for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle in the flour and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring.  Add sour cream and lemon juice.  Keep the heat low and cook for 15 minutes more.  If the sauce seems too thin, sprinkle in a little flour or if too thick add water.  The sauce should be like thick cream.  Season with salt and pepper.This can be served in individual cups or all together in a large dish.

Cucumbers in Smetana (Sour cream)

2 large cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

3 Tbsps chopped fresh parsley

2 Tbsps chopped fresh dill

1 ½ cups sour cream

2-3 Tbsps fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, pressed

½ tsp black pepper (or to taste)

¾ tsp salt (or to taste)

Toss and chill



The Visa Lottery

I recently took a quick trip to Florida to see old friends. It started out with a cab ride at 7:30 in the morning. Way too early in my opinion. My driver was from Somalia. He spent some time complaining about the state of the world and over use of guns. When he was growing up in Somalia nobody had guns. Now they all have the light Russian guns. Rat a tat tat tat tat….

He had won the visa lottery. He asked if I knew what that was. Yes, I knew. I worked with a guy in Moscow who won it and I knew several people who entered every year. It was a program set up in 1990 and is officially call the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. Every year the Attorney General looks at the immigrants over the previous five years and makes countries eligible or ineligible based on how many people from that particular country have immigrated to the USA.

The aim is to diversify the immigrant population. Every year there are about 50,000 people who get their visas this way. If they are from a qualifying country, they must have a high school diploma, two years work experience and two years job training. In 2008 13.5 million people applied for the 50,000 slots worldwide. People are randomly selected, hence the “lottery”. My cab driver hit the jackpot in 2006. Last year he bought a house. He is living the dream.

One downside of applying for the Diversity Visa is you have shown intent to immigrate and it is unlikely you will ever get a non-immigrant visa. However, it doesn’t seem to stop people.

I arrived in Florida to perfect weather. We didn’t go to Orlando for the usual attractions. I have never been to any of them. We went out on the lakes and were impressed with the natural beauty of the area. We took advantage of the fine dining and over the top cocktails. And we laughed till we cried.

As we cabbed and Ubered around the city we met a Russian and several Venezuelan drivers. All now proud to be American.

IMG_2845 IMG_2837 IMG_2811 IMG_2842 IMG_2750



From DC to Rangoon, 1952

Fourteen hours from New York to London. Things have change a bit since then. But they did travel in class….


Sunday, Oct 26, 1952

Dear Folks,

Our time in Washington is rapidly slipping away. I hope you got my telegram saying we were cleared and would be leaving soon. They have asked for our plane reservations to leave on Wednesday the 29th. Seems like there are lots of last minute preparations to take care of. 

The following is the schedule we have asked for but won’t know about reservations until Tuesday morning.

Leave Washington      1/29    12:24 pm

Arr New York             10/29  2:15 pm

Leave New York         10/29  4:00 pm

Arr London                 10/30  11:00 am (London time)

Leave London              10/31  5:55 pm

Arrive Beirut               11/1    5:40 am (Beirut time)

Leave Beirut                11/4    4:35 am

Arrive Calcutta           11/4    11:40 pm (Calcutta time)

Leave Calcutta            11/6    6:30 am

Arr Rangoon               11/6    10:55 am

Will go from here to Calcutta on Pan American Airways and from Calcutta to Rangoon on India National Airways.

With the rest stops in London, Beirut and Calcutta it should break up the trip and make it more enjoyable. In Beirut, especially, we will have a chance to see a few things.

I think the least expensive and fastest mail service for you to write us will be on the airmail sheets such as I’ve enclosed. They go for 10 cents and come with the stamp on them. You can buy them only at the post office.

We are sitting on the banks of the Potomac doing our letter writing today while the boys run and play. It’s a nice sunny day just a little on the chilly side.

On Friday evening we took the boys to Bob Wilson’s to watch TV while went to a reception at the Burmese Embassy. We thought it was to be a small reception for a delegation of Burmese who have been here about three weeks and are now returning. It turned out to be this but in addition a most delicious buffet supper. Lots of prominent people there as well as those of small importance such as us. We did have an enjoyable time and I had met most of this delegation at the Dept. of Agriculture so didn’t feel too much out of place. It gave Virginia a chance to meet several of the Burmese people with whom I’ll be working in Rangoon.


…  I assume there was more to this letter but that is the end of what I have.

Here is an interesting film promo from 1950 for Pan American Airways.




Women’s Day Torte

Happy International Women’s Day! For some reason this day reminded me of a torte I have made several times and associate with Women’s Day. Probably because it is so delicious.

Turkey is the top producer of Hazelnuts but they are also grown commercially in Europe, Iran, and the Caucasus. The hazelnut-chocolate spread, Nutella, accounts for about 25% of all hazelnut production.

Hazelnut Torte

½ lb shelled hazelnuts

8 eggs, separated

1 ½ cups sugar

½ cup breadcrumbs

Grated rind of 1 lemon

Juice of ½ lemon

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ cup whipped cream

1 cup tart jelly

Grind the unblanched hazelnuts very fine. Put 2 tablespoons of the ground nuts aside for the outside of the cake.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar till very light. Add the breadcrumbs, lemon rind, lemon juice, vanilla and ground nuts. Fold in the egg whites whipped very stiff but not dry.

Bake in 2 layers, 30 minutes at 325 degree F. Cool in the pans.

Take out and put together with whipped cream and a little jelly spread between the layers. Whip the rest o f the jelly with a fork and spread it over the top and sides of the cake. Powder with unused 2 tablespoons of ground nuts. Decorate the top of the cake with a swirl of whipped cream. Chill before serving.



Adapt, Improvise, Learn….

I moved from the East Coast to the North (Minnesota). Same country. Should not be that big of an adjustment. But it is.

Change is not bad but can be challenging. In Virginia I could go into any grocery store and buy beer and wine. I could buy beer and wine at the drug store or the 7 Eleven. Here I have to go to a separate liquor store to buy any kind of liquor. First time I went to Trader Joe’s I panicked. No wine? Luckily they had their wine store just next door.

Food shopping takes getting used to as well. What grocery store is good for what kind of food? Where do I find my favorite things? Or do I have to discover all new food items? I live right across the street from the Farmer’s Market so when the temperature gets to a manageable number, it will open and I’m sure problem will be solved. In the meantime, I wander around trying to understand what I am looking at.

Another thing I noticed is the food tastes better here. Maybe I’m imagining it but it tastes closer to real food. I guess it is closer to the farm. People eat more locally. And it is easier to eat more locally.

People talk to you here. On the East Coast people rarely talk to you or acknowledge you. Here random people talk to you all the time. And most people are friendly. All very strange. Am I supposed to respond? Should I talk to these people or pretend I don’t hear them? I think I am supposed to talk to them.

Traffic. There isn’t any. Okay during rush hour there may be some crowded highways but that’s about it. No sitting in stop and go traffic for hours at a time. It is like living in a dream. I can go places without being obsessed by how much traffic there is going to be. And the really amazing incredible thing is once I get there I can find a place to park. That like never happened on the East Coast.

The average high this year has been 20 degrees F. Not so terrible. At least we don’t have the snow the East Coast got this year. Was able to avoid that nightmare. I do admit, though, the wind can cool you down. It’s cold out on the plains.

The music/art/theater scene is amazing. The DC area has nothing like this. It is local and accessible. People are doing interesting stuff. I live in the middle of a thriving artist community. I love it.

So challenges, yes. Problems, no. Adapt, Improvise, Learn….