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 worked on some simple tasks today and did some customer visits, and finally got some photos I can use for the matsutake gift pack on YuzuMura.com.
My roommate and I had a guest for dinner, and I was in the mood to make some simple Japanese-ish dishes.
Yakionigiri no ochazuke with very good umeboshi
I prepared miso-brushed grilled rice balls, yaki-onigiri served with pickled Japanese apricots and pickling shiso. I poured a really nice organically-grown sencha from Shizuoka over the onigiri, but it was very light, because it was the first infusion... In retrospect, I realize I should have served the first pour to drink, and the second pour for the ochazuke.
This is a little bit American preparation of tofu, perhaps; I grilled tofu on my electric grill pan, and served it with a dipping sauce of ginger, shouyu, a few drops of roasted sesame oil, and negi (spring onions). I’ve seen grilled tofu in Japan, but rarely.
Kabocha no nimono
My absolute favorite fall nimono (poached/simmered dish) is kabocha, Japanese squash. This involves simmering squash, dashijiru, salt, Japanese soy sauce, mirin, and occasionally a bit extra sugar, until soft. The ideal flavor develops the next day, but it also tastes good served after it has cooled a little bit.
I also made dashi-maki tamago, which in this case has bits of some Japanese pickles between the layers of eggs.
Finally, I made an atypical, but very tasty aemono with broccoli, raw sugar, salt, and mirin. This would be more commonly done with spinach than broccoli, but my nearby supermarket didn’t seem to have anything other than expensive baby spinach. Alas, all of the photos of that were totally out of focus, but it was actually the surprise of the night; it tasted better than I expected.
I finally got hold of my source for yuzu juice today. Apparently my previous communications were never received due to some changes in their corporate email systems. I was happy to find out I wasn’t being intentionally ignored. I should have called and pestered them earlier.
I’ve been having trouble getting in touch with them for quite a while. It’s rather frustrating, because I’ve had customers waiting for me to provide quotes for them… grr.
Now I feel a little relief. I hope the rest of it works out.
I’m trying to juggle the various competing pressures of my work and I’ve realized my wholesale sales efforts have been inadequate of late, so I’m trying to make sure I spend a bit more time each day focusing on developing new accounts.
Most of my larger existing customers have been seeing good sales results and have been increasing their order amounts, but I need a more substantial client base to get to a level of survival. I’m getting better at what I’m doing, and a fair amount of growth in my sales brokerage end has made me more optimistic, but my available resources are still getting smaller.
I’ve been thinking about doing some side work to help increase my survival chances. But I need to do build up my business at the same time, because my goal isn’t to work for someone else; I want to make my concept work.
I’m not sure how much I’ve said about it on my blog, but one of my objectives as I started plotting my Microsoft exit strategy was to build a restaurant project. I did the math on that and decided it wasn’t going to be the right time for me when I decided I needed to move on from Microsoft, but I did think that doing some work in a restaurant work as I was building my import business would have been valuable experience to work toward that.
So I’ve long considered doing side work, I’ve been kind of torn between the idea of doing some potentially more lucrative but very intellectually draining short term software gigs, and the idea of doing some for me more interesting, but certainly not particularly well-paying, work in restaurants. I do look rather strange when I show my resume to most restaurants, though, so most don’t know what to make of me.
But actually, my first priority should be to generate new wholesale accounts, and my second priority should be to build up my internet sales levels. The jump from where I am now to where I need to be to assure basic survival isn’t that far out of reach.
I’m really happy to have been able to have built the audience I have so far. I think people are really starting to respond to my work to expose people to contemporary Asian style. But like a lot of people who start businesses, I surely underestimated what I needed to start with to get from nowhere to somewhere.
My first experience eating daigaku-imo, literally and yet incomprehensibly translated as “university potatoes,” was not all that impressive. Seductive as they looked, they were dry, cold and unremarkable.
It turned out that my less than impressive experience with daigaku-imo was skewed by the fact that they were resting somewhat neglected in a supermarket. I somehow liked the idea of daigaku-imo, but never really had good ones until a friend of mine made them fresh.
I never quite memorized the proportions in the recipe, so I always improvise this recipe. We didn’t check the sugar temperature the first time, and we didn’t use enough oil for proper deep frying, and they still turned out nicely.
Accordingly, I try to be a bit more scientific about the process now, but I’m not that precise.
On this most recent occasion, I boiled raw sugar, Japanese soy sauce, a bit of mirin, and salt until they reached soft crack stage, caramelizing the sugar a bit. I didn’t measure anything but I used a fair amount of sugar. My preference for daigaku-imo is actually more on the “thick coating” side rather than the “crunchy coating” side, but this soft crack confection is a mostly happy medium; it’s a bit sticky right after serving and becomes a bit chewy and then crunchy as it cools. I’ll probably cook the syrup to a lower temperature next time, but I was happy with the results.
Upon serving, daigaku-imo are usually sprinkled with kuro-goma, black sesame seeds. I managed to coat some pieces way too much and some not at all.
I think I need to use a little bit lighter soy sauce, or a lighter hand with the soy sauce, to get a more pleasingly amber-hued caramel coating. But the flavor was quite nice.
I’m trying to figure out how to send a bunch of Oregon matsutake to Japan… One customer has asked for a way to send a bunch of them to many different gift recipients, so I’m trying to find a solution to minimize their shipping costs. I hope I can find a good deal.
The last few months I’ve found that my waist has been expanding… I haven’t been jogging as much as I have in the past, and I’m just in a car way too much.
This afternoon, I had a relatively short list of orders to fill and I didn’t need to lug around too many packages. Rather than drive to my office, then to Ballard to drop off packages, I walked the short stretch to my office, took care of things, and after I finished most of what I needed to do at my office, I walked all the way to the Ballard post office, FedEx Kinkos, and the bank. I wandered around a bit, then walked back home.
I got at least an hour of walking in, if not a bit more. I sure needed it. But I need more regular exercise generally speaking… I’ve only jogged a couple of times in the last week.
Last week I took advantage of some nicely-priced Japanese eggplant, serving my first autumn eggplant of the year, but I wasn’t quite prepared to admit that we’re firmly into the fall season. The bizarre nature of Washington’s growing season means we’re still seeing beautiful, flavorful local peaches and nectarines, and still some spectacular local tomatoes, but we had been quickly closing in on fall. The apple harvest started, as well, and I’ve indulged in the fruits of that. Sweet potatoes, too. But I wasn’t quite ready to give in and call a season a season.
Tonight’s spicy rice porridge, with onions, chestnuts, satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potatoes), kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), and some late-season locally-grown green beans, cannot fairly deny the beginning of the fall produce cycle. The chestnuts are apparently not local, and the squash isn’t quite at its prime, but the fact that I even considered making such a belly-warming dish indicates a clear change in the weather.
The rice was cooked with onions, ginger and some chopped Thai chillies, seasoned with salt, and simmered most of the time with the starchy vegetables, and only for a few minutes with the green beans. I also added a bit of coconut milk, which contributed a creamy texture and an indulgent richness. Upon serving, I place a few leaves of Thai basil in the bowl.
The idea for this dish I have borrowed in large part from a French cuisine-influenced Vietnamese chef, who runs a casual fusion-y place called Andre’s Eurasian Bistro I occasionally patronized when I worked for Microsoft. I liked that place, but had mixed experiences, as sometimes one dish would be fantastic on one visit and barely memorable on another; some dishes were clever ideas and some were not so much. It’s a tough place to have such a long, varied menu; their traffic was never quite predictable as they would sometimes be insanely busy on a weeknight and dead on a weekend, or vice versa. I did appreciate the kind of neighborhood aesthetic there, in otherwise bland strip mall surroundings.
I am not sure the chef would recognize the dish except for the commonality of rice, squash and sweet potatoes, but both versions are wonderfully comforting. No sugar was used, but the vegetables and the coconut milk contributed a kind of natural sweetness, and the Thai basil was a nice accent.
I entertained the idea of making this a simple one-pot meal, and adding some good fried tofu from Thanh Son directly to the porridge, but I decided it would work better in a dish of greens.
This is gai lan, also known as “Chinese Broccoli.” I usually don’t do much to this other than sautee it with garlic and maybe some fermented black beans, but in this case I used some onions, and a vegetarian version of oyster sauce, which is apparently made from fermented mushrooms rather than oysters. This was a simple dish, with a hint of sweetness and saltiness from the oyster sauce.
This weekend coincides with the the monthly “Is my blog burning” event, whose theme is in fact I Can't Believe I Ate Vegan. I’ve been hosting vegetarian (though not strictly vegan) dinner parties for years, and it never fails that a guest who doesn’t know me particularly well gets through the entire meal without realizing that they’ve been eating vegetarian food all night.
I’m not at all an ascetic vegetarian; I don’t really do much in the way of scary 1970s meat analogs, and I have a fairly well-traveled palate which isn’t very patient with mediocrity.
I use tofu, but I’m extremely particular about using extremely fresh tofu, and some people have never tasted anything better than the slightly soured stuff that pervades grocery stores, so they often assumed you were supposed to cover up the taste of tofu to make it palatable. In my opinion, simply prepared tofu that highlights the soy flavor itself is beautiful. Except for people who simply have mental opposition to tofu, most people respond quite positively to my tofu dishes.
Good food, whether vegetarian or not, encourages people to appreciate what they are eating, not wonder about what might be missing. When vegetarian food is prepared well, people aren’t really conscious that it’s vegetarian. My roommate wasn’t particularly aware that no animal products entered the equation for this meal, and I doubt most anyone else would have given it much thought.
My ideal cuisine emphasizes “sappari” flavors, or simple, clean, refreshing tastes. But tonight I was in the mood for a bit more aggressive seasoning, so I used chillies and a heavy hand with the aromatics.
It’s not been my habit to overeat for the last few years… I tend to indulge in things that, if eaten in excess, are not terribly healthy, but tonight, in spite of not feeling terribly hungry, I managed to eat a little bit more than I would normally consider natural when dining at Bamiyan in Gilman Village. We stayed firmly in the Afghan side of their dual Afghan/Persian menu, and the food was mostly quite well executed and tasty, but the portions were unnaturally large and we ordered too much for three and a half diners.
I kept eating, even though I wasn’t really hungry.
It’s not really my style. I tend to like eating more modest portions of things… six bites or so and I start to become bored of a dish, generally speaking, and would like to move on to something else.
Maybe it’s just stress or nerves, but I just kept nibbling. The food was, after all, still in front of me.
The primary impetus for this adventure was to see Once On This Island, a beautifully staged contemporary musical at the Village Theatre on Front Street in Issaquah, for which a friend of mine was running audio.
I overspent. This isn’t a good time to be self-indulgent. I think my entertainment budget for the next 4 weeks has been busted with today’s and yesterday’s excitement.
This afternoon I processed all of my internet orders without too much chaos or distraction, which was a bit surprising, since I often run around a bit. I noticed today that I missed delivery of a bunch of cardboard boxes and packing materials, which probably came yesterday when I was busy debugging SQL code.
Before noon and actually again in the evening, I met up with some other folks who participate in eGullet and Mouthfuls, which are food-focused community sites. It was nice to see some faces associated previously only with online personas. I also got to try Zigzag, is below the Pike Place Market near Procopio Gelato. They have a lot of interesting signature cocktails. I think Sambar remains my favorite drink spot in town, but the peach bitters-enhanced “Trident” was very nice.
This weekend my demo schedule is a little lighter, so I’m going to try to take advantage of that. I am dropping in to a matcha class at Blue Dog in U-District tomorrow, and Sunday I’ll be at Uwajimaya in Bellevue.
I remember when I could be fascinated by solving a computer problem, and I’d happily whittle away hours and hours, usually for the gain of just a few minutes of labor from time to time.
This is not so satisfying now that I am trying to build a business of my own not related to software. However, I let myself spend an insane amount of time debugging some quite simple database code and forms code, meant mostly to save some repetitive data entry work. Had I just done the tedious work, I would have spent far less time overall, but now I have a solution that should benefit me whenever I need to add a batch of similar products.
The good news, though, is that i now have all of the photographs Rob Tilley sent me online at YuzuMura.com, and I have some reusable code that will benefit me when I add other batches of products.
In the afternoon I indulged in eating most of a tremendously large apple given to me by a Nikkei-jin apple farmer on Sunday… it was so flavorful… crisp, lightly acidic, aromatic.
I sent Hiromi these photos from tonight’s dinner and she called it “obaachan no ryouri” or grandma food.
The results were nice, but not flawless..
I was experimenting with making nagaimo dango in soup, and I overruled my initial impulse of making the dango using only wheat flour, nagaimo and a pinch of salt. I thought the texture might be more interesting if I added some katakuriko. This seemed to make the dough very sticky and my experience making gnocchi didn’t provide useful sensory reference points to judge the consistency, so when I boiled the dango, they got a bit chewy.
On previous occasions, I’ve used katakuriko and blends of katakuriko and kuzuko in dango recipes, but I was generally following a recipe that wasn’t terribly temperamental. In this case, I added two unknowns: the nagaimo, and the katakuriko. I think it will take a few experiments to get the ideal texture.
I made one of my favorite variations of hiya-yakko, made with yuzu-kosho, which is a paste made from the ground rind of yuzu and ground chilies, and a splash of Japanese soy sauce. A few years ago I served a very potent yuzu-kosho with some godoufu or another similarly mild side dish, and a knife-tip portion of yuzu kosho. I guess my plating needed some work; in Japan, I have seen similar presentation, and I knew the flavor was quite powerful. But one my guests thought I had mistakenly dropped something on the plate. When I explained the flavoring, they realized that it was the perfect amount for the dish in question, but it was a bit surprising to them. This time, I used a fairly substantial amount; roughly a third to half a teaspon. Actually, my yuzu-kosho has lost a bit of its aroma over time and I only had small amount left. So this amount was just about right, and not overwhelming.
I also made some quickly fried Japanese eggplant, dressed with nothing more than grated ginger, some sesame seeds, and a little Japanese soy sauce. This is one of my absolute favorite ways to serve eggplant, because it is so incredibly simple and flavorful. For this preparation, I usually slice the eggplant for this quarter lengthwise, then halfed crosswise, but I thought this might be a bit too visually repetitive, since I planned to serve another eggplant dish sliced lengthwise. I chose instead to use a rolling cut (mawashi-giri).
I also made some dengaku-nasu, which I nearly lost to neglect. I roasted lengthwise-sliced halves of eggplant, then added a mirin-sugar-miso paste which is a classic topping for broiled tofu, called “dengaku-miso” or “neri-miso.” My dengaku-miso is usually smoother and thicker than it was tonight, so I was a little frustrated that it wanted to slide off of my eggplant. My broiler also cooked a little faster than I expected so I almost over-caramelized the topping.
This was dinner… I added some tsukemono after I set everything out.
I prepared a small delivery to the Women of Color luncheon organized every 3 months or so by Assunta Ng. When I can, I have been providing some promotional giveaways and coupons for a gift bag that they offer to attendees.
Part of the day I was also trying to debug some stored procedures intended to help me quickly add multiple similar items to my online store. Due to various quirky little bugs, it turned out to be more distracting than immediately productive, but I know I need to do this work to simplify my life. I am not quite finished, but I’ve done enough work that it speeds up adding the metadata for the photos I’m putting up right now. Actually, though, I’m kind of debugging the code one addition at a time, so this particular batch may not be finished very quickly.
A few weeks ago at Bellevue’s Aki Matsuri event, I met a photographer whose work I think I had seen at Azuma Gallery at some point, but I hadn’t ever committed his name to memory. He has done a number of shoots in Japan, producing some very nice images that manage to evoke Japan without being too conventional or contrived.
I was a little sleepless when I met him, and I rambled on and on a bit, but I suggested I might be able to offer some of his work on YuzuMura.com. Over the last few weeks, we worked out some details, and I got started uploading some of them… I have a lot more work to do…
I guess I didn’t get enough sleep the last few nights… I got up later than I should have, but I needed the sleep.
Today I was a little bit touchy, but managed to have enough charm to sell a moderate amount of matcha latte blend and a bit of dragon beard candy. I think I did better yesterday.
I had lofty ambitions for dinner today, but once I got home, I lost most of my energy, and settled for baked satsumaimo with butter, black and white sesame seeds, salt, and a bit of sliced mellow cheese from Bella Cosa in Wallingford. I think I’ll be sleeping a little early tonight.
I’m off in demoland this weekend, as usual. I can already see my Monday will be full based on incoming internet orders, but I’ll try to take care of them quickly.
I was hoping to make this nice matcha flan in time for Sugar High Friday, but alas, I didn’t get started on it until Friday night, and it didn’t have enough time to set before it was way past a reasonable hour to be serving sweets. So it turned out to be a very indulgent breakfast, and aside from a brief mention yesterday on my blog, mostly theoretical. But you can see the other participants on Simply Recipes. (Edited 19 September 2005: Note: Elise was kind enough to include my belated entry in the list in spite of my tardiness).
When I made the matcha flan, I used about a cup each of cream and milk, about 4 egg yolks, maybe 1/3 cup of sugar, a tiny bit of vanilla, and 2 slightly heaping teaspoons of matcha for cooking. I chose to oven-bake this flan, which may explain the slighly odd-looking texture, compared to a steamed one, but it did taste fairly creamy.
I served it with some tsubu-an, which is simply sweetened smashed red beans, and a little powdered sencha.
Today was mostly about follow-up. I ate carelessly, ran around a bit, and was on the phone a lot.
I felt a need for caffeine around 3pm and indulged myself by walking from my office to Fresh Flours, even though I started the day with a latte and dosed on some really good matcha, both made at home. I got enough sleep last night, but still I felt inadequately caffeinated.
Dinner tonight was a little cream sauce pasta with chanterelle mushrooms. I seasoned it with a little garlic and thyme. I made a matcha flan again, but it hasn’t quite set yet…
In spite of occasional binges cooking okonomiyaki, I don’t think I’ve ever bothered to photograph the results.
I have two or three variations of vegetarian okonomiyaki that I cycle through… Later this fall, I’ll probably start making some with kabocha, and I sometimes like to make it with kimchi and cheese. I probably should have done something with corn this summer, but I only started to think of making okonomiyaki when I saw a great deal on nagaimo recently… it was $3/lb, instead of the usual $6–9.
In this case, I’ve made a mochi cheese okonomiyaki, with a healthy dose of grated nagaimo, kizami shouga, and tenkasu. The mochi I purchased frozen, so they aren’t quite as dry as the kirimochi that are sold vacuum-sealed; they required no special consideration except for a few minutes of thawing before being cut into small pieces.
Tenkasu are small fried balls of tempura batter, which were originally merely side effects of deep-frying foods but now are produced as a carefully manufactured, predictable product. They add a little crunch to okonomiyaki, but the texture disappears quickly since okonomiyaki takes about 10–15 minutes to cook and steam will often soften much of the tenkasu.
In the last minute or so of cooking, I add Japanese-style mayonnaise, okonomi sauce, and some aonori (unseasoned gren nori flakes).
I did do some actual work today and met with a whole bunch of people, most of which were productive, though nothing I can quite reveal yet. I was running around but not really overwhelmed.
I picked up a very nice loaf of naturally leavened multigrain bread from Biofournil in Belltown today and decided to make some soup for dinner. The lentil mushroom soup, with ordinary crimini mushrooms and some local chanterelles, in addition to some freshly roasted corn and a bell pepper based mirepoix, didn’t take to the camera well, but tasted nice. Biofournil has all-organic naturally-leavened breads, pastries and so on. I am not normally a particular fan of dining in Belltown, but I got a nice sandwich here on sourdough baguette, reinforcing my image of Belltown as a place to find decent bakeries and mostly-about-the-booze dinnertime options.
On Sunday I picked up an insane amount of local strawberries, since we’ve got a fairly late run of beautiful summer fruits at unbeatable prices. The fastest way for me to use a bunch of strawberries is to puree them, so I turned a portion of them into a sorbet base.
I discovered many years ago that strawberries like basil, so I always include 4–6 basil leaves in my 5 cup sorbet base, usually adding them to the blender close to the end of the puree. I used about a cup of sugar and a bit of lemon and orange juice in today’s sorbet, but usually I just use lemon. I served the sorbet with a homemade sesame cookie, which is a sweet-savory cookie using a tiny bit of flour, a lot of butter, some sugar, an egg, salt and vanilla. It was spread out thin on a Silpat mat atop a baking sheet, baked about 10 minutes, then cooled just until solid enough to roll up.
The strawberry-basil sorbet was intensely strawberry-ish and very smooth. The smaller local strawberries, apparently not bred for industrial-scale distribution, have a lot of flavor, although the ones I got still had a bit more acid than my favorites, but because of the flavor intensity, it worked really well as a sorbet. The basil contributes a nice bit of charisma to an essentially simple flavor.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t ordinarily take weekends off, normally, and I take my rests when I can get them. Today I kept a relatively slow pace and I sent off just a few small packages today and had a little meeting in the morning. I did no sales calls at all, though I returned phone calls.
I guess a day off is when I take lots of really long breaks between tasks.
I had lunch at home, which was way bigger than it needed to be because I felt ravenous at 1pm. It was basically more quesadillas with remaining salsa, and some refried beans, but I served too much. I didn’t really feel a need for dinner at the customary time, but I had an orange at home, a cookie at Uptown, and some fried potatoes made at home, spread out as little nibbles between 6pm and 11pm.
Tonight I went to a free concert at Jazz Alley featuring this year’s winner of the Kobe Jazz Fesitival’s “Jazz Queen” title, Shoko. A similar event last year featured Yoshika, and I attended with a friend who was helping me out with some promotional events last summer.
This year, I was a slacker planning to attend, as I was last year, and I didn’t find anyone else to see the concert with. I ended up going on my own. It turns out I met some people who vaguely recognized me from other environs, and I recognized one of them from a weekly Japanese meeting. It turned out to open up an interesting coffee shop customer possibility I’ll have to explore, and created an opportunity to share a bottle of Oregon Pinot amongst us, and we could collectively enjoy a nice couple of sets of music.
I nearly had a disaster shipping out today’s orders… I had a bunch of packages to ship, and I was running up against the wire. I got everything loaded in my car, and tried to start it, whereupon I heard nothing but clicking sounds.
Last year, after a car breakin, I caved in and bought an expensive alarm system, which also featured a remote starter control. This is clever, if gimmicky, and is moderately useful. Unfortunately, it opens the door to special problems.
One of the very useful built-in features of my Toyota Camry is that, when I remove the key from the ignition and open the door, the headlights automatically shut off. This is very useful for someone like me, since I drive with my headlights on most of the time, and I often forget that I left them on when I get out of the car. Even when I’m forgetful, the battery doesn’t suffer.
Unless, of course, you have a remote starter. The feature still works, but, if, for example, you unwittingly kick off the remote starter when grabbing something out of your pocket, the headlights and the engine turn on. If I don’t actually drive the car anywhere, the engine shuts down after 12 minutes, but the headlights stay on, because the car door never gets opened when I’m busy packing orders in my office.
And then the battery drains. And then I miss the pickup at my nearest FedEx Kinkos. And I’m forced to wander around hoping to find someone with jumper cables, and this works out only about 30 minutes after I started this misadventure, when I happen upon some kind man walking his dog not far from his home. Then I drive to the FedEx sort facility and barely make the last shipping cutoff.
I was then compelled to eat mediocre slices of pizza somewhere downtown instead of doing something more interesting at home.
I found my business email account is now averaging one spam message per day advertising some sort of questionable Japanese matchmaking service, and about one or two messages per week in Hebrew. Every once in a while I get spam in Chinese or Korean, though that’s far less common.
My domain name has a Japanese word in it, so maybe that would explain why I’m targeted for Japanese spam, but it’s not much of an explanation for the stuff in Hebrew. I haven’t ever registered for any Japanese site with my business email account except FoodEx or Hoteres trade shows.
Except for the fact that MSN somehow redirects a defunct Israeli florist site to my YuzuMura domain, I can’t figure out why I get spam in Hebrew. I tried to get someone in MSN that I used to work with to investigate that particular problem, though nobody has ever gotten back to me.
I’m not literate in Hebrew and I don’t understand enough Korean to recognize what the Korean spam is about. I understand the gist of the Japanese spam but even on the extremely remote chance I were the type inclined to respond to such offers, I don’t see what value sending it out of the country would be. The Hebrew spam seems to be Israel-based companies promoting vending machines or vacation packages or something similarly useless since I’m nowhere near Israel. They are particularly abusive because they tend to include large image files.
Sometimes I wish email weren’t so close to free. One of my email accounts became almost completely useless after 6 years of use.