A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.
I don’t customarily plan an entire three course meal around a single ingredient, except to celebrate some seasonal excess, like fantastic tomatoes or the fall mushroom season.
However, over the last month or two, I started to want to push the boundaries of my usual matcha adventures…
I’ve become comfortable letting matcha play a role in sweets, cocktails, and so on, and I have done a matcha flavored cream sauce before, but I never really let it play a starring role in a planned meal. I wanted to test the capacity of matcha to play different roles. In addition to its obvious applications in desserts and sweets, it also has herbal and spice-like qualities I wanted to explore. I thought maybe I would revisit my matcha cream sauce again, but this time make some homemade gnocchi instead of throwing together a quick lunch with some dry pasta from my pantry. In this case, I could let the matcha serve the role of an herb. I also wanted to use it as a seasoning, so I thought maybe a simple tempura would be nice. And I couldn’t really envision a three course meal highlighting matcha without it serving a role as a dessert flavoring, so I decided to go way back in my repertoire to produce a green tea cheesecake. I had made a matcha mousse in Germany in 1996 or so, but I think it wan’t until 1998 or so when I decided to make a cheesecake with it.
When I first attended FoodEx and Hoteres Japan back in 2004, I was intrigued by the idea of a matcha-jio, or matcha seasoned salt. The primary suggested application was as a seasoning for tempura, but I have also seen it used to season oborodoufu (custard tofu) served in small portions. I don’t really make tempura all that often, but I thought that tempura could be analogous to a “fritto misto”, and since tempura was itself a fusion of Japanese and Portuguese cooking, it seemed fitting as a gateway between the European and Japanese elements of the meal I envisioned.
Even though I’m at Uwajimaya at least weekly, I don’t really know where to find matcha salt in Seattle. I do, however, have a small mortar and pestle, and a fairly substantial supply of matcha for cooking, since I’ve been functioning as a sales broker for Three Tree Tea. So I ground some salt up to a fine snowflake-like powder, and combined it with a fairly substantial proportion of matcha for cooking (grade A).
I spotted some freshly harvested local green beans (ingen), and some well packed Chinese lotus root (renkon). For color contrast I thought a few slices of carrot would be nice. I decided to make tempura the “old fashioned” way, which is not with a batter, but by bathing the vegetables in very cold water with a beaten egg, and dipping into flour. This allows for a very thin coating that allows the colors to come through. I did sprinkle everything a tiny amount of salt after frying before plating.
A few weeks ago at La Medusa, Hiromi and I had a nice “sappari” sauced pasta made with a fava bean cream, served with salt-marinated fava beans. I thought it was a good model for what I had in mind for my gnocchi.
For the pasta, I wanted the matcha to function much like rosemary or thyme or any other herb would work in a sauce. My goal was to make it recognizable if you were familiar with it, just strong enough that you would miss it if it weren’t there. So I chose to use a very small amount of cutting-board minced garlic (roughly half a clove), 2 tbsp. butter, 2–3 tbsp. cream (unmeasured), and a bit of parmesan. I prepared matcha by whisking about 3/4 tsp. of the powder in about 1/4 cup of my pasta water. I had some salt-water boiled edamame, which I had dropped in an ice bath after cooking. After boiling the gnocchi, which were a simple potato-based gnocchi with no special seasoning, I combined them with the edamame and the sauce and kept cooking a couple more minutes in the cream sauce (adjusting salt as needed). As a tea, matcha can become bitter or astringent when cooked for a long time, so I combined it into the sauce just before adding the gnocchi.
Gnocchi seem an ideal gateway between Japanese and Italian cuisine. The mild sweetness of the potatoes in gnocchi and the sweet-savory nature of “dango” or Japanese dumplings seemed to make the medium even more fitting. In fact, the first time I made a matcha cream sauce a few weeks ago, I used a tiny amount of sugar (1/4–1/2 tsp) just to make the sauce smoother. This time I skipped that. If someone served me a matcha cream pasta at a restaurant, I would be happy with either choice. The sauce was simple, clean-tasting, and slightly herby without any noticeable astringency.
In the morning I baked a moderately-sweetened green tea cheesecake. I am not a fan of the increasingly ubiquitous super-sweet cheesecakes. Matcha does need a bit of sugar for balance in sweets, so I did use a tiny bit more than if I were just doing a simple lemon zest cheesecake that might be topped with some fruit.
The base of the matcha cheesecake was essentially 8 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese, 2 tbsp. sour cream, 3 tbsp. sugar, 2 level tsp. matcha whipped with the softened cream cheese and sugar, a few drops pure vanilla extract, and one egg. I made a simple graham cracker crust. I used two very small (maybe 4”) springform pans. After the cheesecake came out of the oven, I made a sour cream and sugar topping which had additional matcha blended in. I served about 1/2 of the small cheesecake per person, which was more than really necessary but not overwhelming. Just before serving, I dusted a bit more matcha on top and on the plate.
The final product: Gnocchi with edamame in a matcha cream sauce; Renkon to ingen to ninjin no tempura with Matcha-shio, and matcha cheesecake with anko (red bean paste).
Dinner is served!
This month's Is My Blog Burning theme is tea as an ingredient, hosted by A La Cuisine, so please take a look at what other folks have imagined. By Japanese standards, my dishes are probably slightly conventional but still somehow very much my own, so I'm sure you'll find some more radical uses of tea over there.
Whenever I’m driving somewhere, I irritate my passengers by being ultra-conservative about when I enter traffic. If I see someone on my left when I’m turning right, if I think there’s the slightest chance they could come near me, I usually wait, and wait, and wait.
So about five or ten seconds after I turned right out of a parking lot around Leary and 14th in Ballard today, I was very surprised to see a car bearing right into my direction on my driver’s side mirror. I started moving closer to the right because I thought it was very strange that someone would be moving so close to me so fast. It was also strange to see the car bearing right, as if it was aiming for me.
Then, I noticed a little scraping sound as the car zoomed in front of me. I remember thinking, oh, what’s this about? And then the car finally started slowing down and turned into another parking lot. An elderly woman got out of the car and was complaining that I had just hit her. She said she was “just in her own lane” but of course there was nothing on the left when I entered traffic, so I am quite convinced she had a very loose interpretation of “in her own lane”. In any event, she left convinced that I had hit her, even though she was coming from behind me.
She started talking about the last time someone hit her, so I thought maybe this is a habit of hers.
There was no meaningful damage to speak of; some clearcoat scratches on her car. She said there was a dent, but I couldn’t see anything; the other side of the car had the same shape. My car had minor scratches in the clear coat and a small amount of chipped paint at the wheel well edge.
She collected my driver’s license and insurance information and I got hers, borrowing her pencil and notepad, which she had in her hand as soon as she got out of her car. I didn’t think it was worth reporting, but then I realized I should call my insurance company since she seems intent on placing the blame on me.
I guess I have to watch out for people who aim at my car… It never occurred to me that someone would do that.
As an ex-Microsoft employee, I'm by no means easily discouraged by technological irritations. Of course, I do tend to scream and yell at my machines when they give me trouble, just like anyone else (it's not just me, is it, Doctor?). But it seems to me that when I have one small computer or cell phone problem, I have an unfortunate streak. Usually one problem coincides with another which coincides with yet another.
Recently, for the second time, my cell phone seemed to take a disliking to the manufacturer's power chargers, and the only way I can get my cell phone charged up is by connecting the data cable to my notebook's USB port. That's a minor inconvenience, and I can live with it. It just happened a couple of weeks ago and I kind of live on my cell phone these days, so I didn't want to send it in for repair.
I have another desktop machine, which is essentially a salvaged 5 year old PC with a newer processor, motherboard, and DVD-RW. It has an NTFS based file system. I never quite got this machine fully optimal, but I do use it at my office for basic tasks, or when I forget to bring my laptop to work. I was finally installing Service Pack 2 late last week on my office desktop machine, and some file permissions-related problem caused the install to fail. I didn't investigate, but I just allowed the machine to reboot. It turns out it didn't quite successfully uninstall the partial update, and my whole installation was hosed.
Then, Monday night, my laptop had a familiar problem, now out of warranty: the power clip on the motherboard seemed to misbehave, and I couldn't get it to charge the battery or sustain a power connection. This has happened before a couple of times. Apparently I have to be super-careful to make sure the AC Adapter Plug never gets jiggled or plugged in too casually, because it seems to be very easy to damage. When such a problem occurs, the whole motherboard gets replaced.
So by Tuesday, I had trouble with absolutely every essential piece of electronics in my life. It took me hours to recover my office desktop configuration, but it's now functional enough to be used for real work, including printing shipping labels and so on. So I'm up to speed again, but I wasted a lot of time, and now a substantial amount of money because of the laptop repair.
Wow… I was just watching an earthquake on an MSN Messenger video conversation and was a little speechless. Hiromi and I were struggling with network flakiness and general computer headaches and just as we got video up again an earthquake hit the Kantou region in Japan.
It seemed fairly hefty, but appears not to have been too destructive. Hiromi says it seems to have hit the Izu peninsula the hardest. The Japanese scale was about Shindou 4.0 (different than the Richter scale of magnitude). We stayed connected, so I could also see shaking from many smaller aftershocks.
It was a little scary to watch. Actually, I can’t say I’ve ever observed an earthquake from the point of view of a video conversation before…
Somehow I’ve been getting to bed late recently, even though I’m reasonably sleepy at normal hours. I started jogging again this week, and I’m hoping it will contribute to being more restful at appropriate times of day.
I should be reporting on the mostly good business news this week, but I’ve been a little distracted… I’ll talk more later.
I wanted to make sure I made it to Fresh Flours on their opening day, so I came for a late breakfast with my roommate. The space was jumping; a steady stream of adventurous joggers, baby-stroller wielding couples, and meandering neighborhood residents flowed through, and decimated most of the available pastry selection in short order.
There were a number of tempting things, but I got started with two of the more Japanese-ish fusions, and my roommate chose a sibling of the Almond Brioche Toast I first tried at Essential Bakery, where Keiji (Fresh Flours owner and baker) has previously worked.
The cautious use of sugar was a big plus. The fact that this place is in my neighborhood will make it a frequent destination for me… but I better walk there in the future or it will make me fat quickly. I had a morning latte, which was very nice; it’s made with Victrola coffee.
Below: Matcha macaron, kabocha muffin, and almond brioche toast by Fresh Flours.
I made a small delivery to complete the order of my new customer, Les Cadeaux Gourmets, in Queen Anne. They have picked up both my dragon beard candy and the Matcha Latte from Three Tree Tea, so I went and helped them with setting up a display stand and I dropped off the second part of their order, which is the Matcha Latte.
Last night I was playing around a bit and I made my second attempt at an Irish Matcha. When the weather was still cool, it occurred to me that a classic Irish coffee, made with a bit of brown sugar and coffee, then floated with cream, was only a short stretch from my infused gin, and considering that a Matcha Latte works quite well with whole milk, and matcha itself works well with desserts like cheesecake and ice cream. I’ve established that Matcha and gin works well, so I didn’t think it would be too much of a stretch to this.
I haven’t yet managed a decent photo, but I wanted to leave at least some visual impression, so here we go. I’m quite fond of this drink, but I think it will be more fun in winter.
Boil some water, and pour 4 oz. into measuring cup. Add the 2 tsp. Matcha Latte mix and stir until blended. Pour this matcha blend into a glass. Carefully float cream atop.
If, for example, you don’t have the same Matcha Latte mix as I do, try whisking furiously about 1/2 tsp of matcha into the water, then add 1.5 tsp. sugar. For a more Irish effect, use brown sugar. The flavor profile of brown sugar is somewhat similar to kokutou/kurozatou, /Japanese “black sugar”, because of the molasses content, so I would expect that to work fairly well.
When I was younger, my family moved around frequently, from city to city or sometimes relatively short stretches within town. This usually required renting a truck from U-Haul whose every panel was plastered with the slogan “Adventures in Moving.” Usually the adventure part involved exhaust fumes coming into the passenger cabin, an overheated engine, or some small electrical fire, so the phrase “Adventures in Moving” became a standard inside joke for several years, as our minds filled with images of disaster.
People don’t want moving to be an adventure. Likewise, an importer does not want a shipment to be an adventure.
If, for example, you remind your shipping vendor about three times to make sure FDA Prior Notice is filed and noted on the airwaybill before shipping the cargo, several days before and on the day of departure, you would like that to happen. It’s not sort of a Las Vegas, “hey, if this doesn’t pan out, I only wagered a little bit of money and it’s no big deal; it’s the experience of just being here that I came for” kind of thing, it’s a “will I see my cargo at all and how much will the FDA penalize me and will I ever be able to convince the shipping vendor that they owe me that money since it was their mistake after all, and if so, will I ever see the refund” kind of thing.
Adventure is not what we want; it’s not the experience of shipping something, it’s the getting the cargo in a timely manner that I care about. I’m all for zen-like experiences, you know, when I’m on a four hour bicycle ride or jogging around Greenlake, or maybe if I'm cooking a really good meal. In such cases, I don’t mind something being about the process and not about the result.
But importers are not particularly excited by shipping products. That’s why we usually let someone else handle the freight arrangements. Importers are excited about receiving products, and then actually selling them.
So, when I found out on Tuesday that, in spite of at least three days reminders from my supplier and me, requests for fax copies (which we did not receive), I was a little peeved when my customs broker told me that the cargo might be refused because no prior notice was filed. Or, if the FDA decided they would release the cargo in spite of lacking prior notice, they could still penalize me some amount of money which is likely to be whatever tiny amount of money I could possibly home to profit from this shipment and then some.
My customs broker went ahead and filed prior notice. It turns out that I got the shipment in a timely manner. But the remaining unknowns still make me very irritated. I was paying a premium for my particular shipping vendor because they never screw anything up, but they did this time. So I’m not very happy about that. I think my next shipment will be handled by someone else.
I went to deliver something to one of my customers, Fresh Flours, which is just awaiting final inspections before they open. They were having some computer trouble, and remembered that I used to work for Microsoft, so I was recruited to investigate the problem. Somehow I managed to solve it… it was deceptively simple. Anyway, I was given a preview of coming things to take home… some black sesame cookies and some chocolate cookies with nutty slivers (maybe almond).
They are quite nice… only mildly sweet, full of nutty flavor, and with a nice sugar crunch on the outside…
I also made a brief stop at Les Cadeaux Gourmets, originally just to look for something yummy to substitute for my standard Dragon Beard Candy gift for folks who have had enough already. Anyway, I got to talking with the owners, and suddenly found myself with a new customer… I’ll reveal more later…
I was a little more aggressive today pitching the products we sell, and the additional energy seemed to help motivate my assistants a bit. We sold a bit more than yesterday, but it was still a bit quieter than this time last year.
I’m hoping that the event will produce some internet orders and it seems like a couple of possible corporate gift customers showed some interest. I didn’t come away any richer than I started the weekend, but it wasn’t too bad.
We had a little dinner at Vegetasia, after drinking tea with proprietor Nancy, which was really nice… some Singapore-style “curry” soup with noodles, slightly acidic, and a dish made with bamboo shoots, fried yuba in nori, and a nice deep-flavored sauce. Nancy also made us some grilled tofu with plum sauce and cilantro as an almost dessert kind of thing.
Actually my lunch was also from Vegetasia… some baozi (steamed buns, these with whole wheat dough) and chimaki (the Japanese name for a leaf-wrapped sticky rice dumpling, this made with chestnuts and some “vegetarian ham”), and a spring roll… I just ordered from their little table in front of the restaurant during the festival.
This has been a very different Chinatown International District Summer Festival than last year. I don’t know if it was the advance publicity, the relative novelty, or the great support from JACL and co., but last year was much busier at the summer festival than this year. I sold a lot more candy last year, even on the relatively challenging first day I had this time last year.
But I have a few things going for me this year… I have been directing people to YuzuMura.com more aggressively, with a promotional coupon, and I had additional products from Three Tree Tea to offer, and those have been doing well. I just wish we had one (still secret, sorry) product that isn’t going to be ready until about 2 weeks from now. It would be very tempting at an event like this.
I had help from Kaori (my roommate) and a woman I hired for the event who speaks Cantonese. But I didn’t do as much advance “training” as last time, so it was more seat-of-the-pants.
Afterward, two of us went to a cheap, decent Ethiopian restaurant in Columbia City. It was not bad, though I think I’ve been happier in other places… but the best Ethiopian meals I’ve had were probably in Chicago.
Hiromi just posted this photo from when we were headed to watch fireworks on July 4, in yukata (summer kimono, roughly). I wonder if I can ever find a less touristy yukata with a height suitable for me…
Hiromi had to go back home yesterday, so I took her to the airport to send her off. We drank two coffees on the way to the airport, because it’s Seattle and we only made one coffee stop this entire trip. We had a reasonably decent latte at Essential Bakery, and something else at the airport, which was a little overcooked.
Of course, we started enough of the days with an iced latte or perked up with a straight espresso or something made at home, so we didn’t walk around uncaffeinated. We had some of the most luxurious breakfasts I’ve indulged in for a long time. Everything happened deliberately most of the time, which is usual when she visits Seattle… I will never be able to shake the image that I move at my own pace. Actually I often have the urge to move at a frenetic pace when left by myself.
I got a bit of a sunburn on July 4, in spite of a relatively pain-free long kayak ride on Sunday. I forgot to apply sunscreen for a short meander along Alki on Monday, and I exposed my usually covered feet to the sun by wearing sandals most of the day. Somehow, although the burn was rather moderate, I had a slighly lobsteresque look on my feet, arms and legs by the end of the day, and walking around yesterday exacerbated the irritation a bit.
I went to Ikea today to arrange for additional parts for my bare storage shelving, which I’ve been using ever since I brought over my first ceramics order last year. I hate shopping at Ikea. It’s not that I am particularly opposed to their products, but I feel like I’m in a lab mouse maze, complete with traps and dead ends. They have signs to guide you where you think you want to go, but they always force you to walk through things that you have no need for, unless you happen to be their target audience with 1.8 children in tow, an outdoor garden, and a house whose kitchen you can alter at will. When you see a sign that tells you to walk straight through, then walk through a non-negotiable U-Turn path around another wall, only to see another sign urging you to walk straight ahead parallel to but in the opposite direction of the last sign, you feel a little manipulated.
Anyway, I now have more shelving to assemble. I also realized I’m going to need another small shelf, preferable something portable and ideally snappable for my Chinatown Summer Festival event this weekend, but that’s not a problem Ikea seems to be able to solve, so I’ll go and get something utilitarian at Office Depot or Staples tomorrow, I think.
I made these matcha muffins this morning, and we used up some recently made shira-tama and leftover ogura-an by placing them in the muffin batter. I think I first tried matcha muffins about 6 or 7 years ago at Kimura-ya in Ginza.
They actually looked substantially more matcha green before being hyper-illuminated, so I might reshoot these at some point when I get around to making some more, and try not to overexpose them so much.
Jason’s Matcha-An Muffins
1–1/2 cups flour 2/3 cup sugar 2 eggs 1 stick butter, melted 1/2 tsp baking powder 2 tsp Matcha for Cooking 1/4 tsp salt
Ogura-an or your preferred type of anko (sweetened azuki bean puree), about 1/2 cup
Mix with a fork to a lumpy consistency, taking care not to develop strands of gluten. I filled a 24–piece mini-muffin pan with this amount of batter, using about a tablespoon of batter per pan. Using two spoons, press a bout a teaspoon of anko into the batter. We also snuck a few homemade shiratama into some of the muffins; when baked they taste kind of like yakimochi.
Bake at 375F (180c) for 22–25 minutes, until edges are browned. You can test one muffin with a toothpick.
Breakfast also included some leftover black raspberry pie, some very orange jidori no tamago medama-yaki (sunny side up orange eggs from very well-fed hens) with a little Ritrovo truffle salt, and watermelon.
Hiromi and I spent the afternoon kayaking yesterday with Jennifer… we made our way from Portage Bay to the arboretum, then up to Madison Park and back. Surprisingly, three hours in the sun didn’t roast anybody. It was Hiromi’s first time on a kayak, so Jennifer gave a basic lesson to Hiromi while I was waiting in line to rent a 3rd kayak at Agua Verde.
Afterward I made a late dinner to take advantage of some decent but early heirloom tomatoes… insalata caprese, a salad with grilled figs, tomatoes and butter leaf lettuce, some bruised tomato garlic bruschetta, various leftover cheeses, and some tomato cream pasta with basil, just to complete the tomato-heavy theme. The day before we also had some tomatoes, but on ciabatta… also an egg white fritatta with morels and some earthy smoky cheese, and a salad with a crushed raspberry vinaigrette and lavender fennel cheese.
We also had a nice dinner at La Carta de Oaxaca on Friday night… preceded by cocktails at Fu Kun Wu. That seems to be a theme every time I end up at La Carta… the waiting list demands stopping somewhere else for a drink. But we got a table in 30 minutes… an impressive feat for a group of 7 on a Saturday night.