Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions

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.

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A reunion, a game, a windstorm, a party

jason

Except for a four hour round-trip commute to an unpowered office on Friday, and a seriously long delay at the UPS facility where I was trying to pick up a shipment that I needed to distribute as quickly as possible to some Christmas customers, I was largely unaffected by the fallout from Thursday’s crazy windstorm. Or rather, I was far more fortunate than many others, as the only serious problems for me were a minor loss of income and, unfortunately, a seriously long delay trying to get to a football game that Hiromi had planned to attend months ago.

Hiromi came back to Seattle for a few weeks starting last Wednesday. Thanks to my work schedule, I haven’t been as attentive a host as on previous short-term visits. In fact, thanks to some of the usual last-minute holiday gift orders, I immediately took advantage of her to help me pack some shipments.

We tried to go to the football game on Thursday night, but a tremendous windstorm started to strangle the city just around rush hour. I thought it would be clever to take the bus instead of trying to find parking, but thanks to insane traffic, the normally 40 minute bus ride extended to well over two and a half hours. Hiromi was equally stuck on a bus going from Fremont to downtown… both of us bailed on the bus when we realized we could walk faster… Hiromi got out near Queen Anne and I got out at Westlake… we arrived at the Seahawks game just seconds before halftime.

Friday, my home had no power troubles; we just saw predictable plant destruction. But that wasn’t true for much of the rest of the area. The Wallingford post office was darkened and had ominous handwritten “CASH ONLY” signs plastered all over the windows, like you’d expect to see in a shop owned by a survivalist.

We had planned a party on Saturday, and some people called and wondered if it was still on… Since we had no power interruptions, we just plodded on as planned, and things worked out swimmingly.

Tonight I made a dish I had planned to serve at the party, but didn’t quite get to… Let’s just say I was a bit distracted that night. I served about 16 or 17 dishes and skipped a few things I had originally planned.

Shiso-Shio-Koshou Toufu

Shiso-shio-koshou-agedoufu

Agedashi-doufu meets Hong Kong-style Salt-and-Pepper Tofu, with the help of a bit of shiso for a flavor contrast.

Daikon to Ninjin-zuke

Daikon-to-ninjin-tsuke

I served one of my favorite short-term tsukemono (pickle), daikon to ninjin-zuke, at the party, but fortunately, I reserved some of them for us to enjoy later.

Nasu no tsukemono with ginger

Nasu-shouga-tsuke

I usually prefer, I think, salt-cured or nuka-cured eggplant pickles, but I was pressed for time last week, and I don’t have the gear or patience for nuka-zuke anyway. So these vinegared pickles, sweetened a tiny bit with honey, would have to do. Just for tonight, we served them with a bit of ginger, which turned them into something a bit magical; before, they were a bit tart for eggplant pickles, even with the honey. Somehow the ginger balanced everything out.

Abalone mushrooms with yu tsai

Awabitake-to-aburana

I served a prettier version of this dish at my Saturday party, but tonight I had one abalone mushroom left, and a tiny amount of yu tsai or yu choi (similar to rapeseed plant greens or nanohana). So I revisited the idea, this time with a bit of a heavier hand with ginger. Both Hiromi and I really find these “abalone mushrooms” fascinating… they have a great texture, and can actually look very similar to slices of abalone when stir-fried.

Acorn Squash Korokke

Kabocha-korokke

I’ve made nice kabocha korokke before, and these are fairly nice, but they almost browned too much. This is what happens when you  freeze them and fry them frozen… I had some left over from the party, and tonight we went all out with the fried food to make a bigger dent in our party leftovers. Usually I make squash korokke with butternut squash or kabocha, but I only had an acorn squash handy. The result was just as nice, though a little sweeter and a little less nutty.

 

Black trumpets and a whole wheat bruschetta

jason

My weeknight meals have tended to be a bit dreary recently, as I’ve lamented elsewhere. I just haven’t been so inspired.

But sometimes, even the slightest flash of inspiration is enough to motivate me to make something simple and satisfying… Fortunately, I had the good sense to make a last minute trip to the Pike Place Market Sunday evening, and so I didn’t have to think much.

Bruschetta and black trumpet omelette

Surprisingly, there were still some passable heirloom tomatoes at Sosio’s, and some good west coast water buffalo mozzarella. So my day-old whole wheat bread became a sort of bruschetta.

I ate half of a two egg frittata, made with shallots and black trumpet mushrooms. Black trumpets have some of the foresty sensuality of truffles, a hint of the texture of fresh wood ear mushrooms, and some of the flavor of chanterelles. They absolutely love eggs.

A little watercress balanced out the richness of the rest of the food.

Nothing terribly impressive… but ideal for an after-8 dinner.

Dinner and a movie: a date with myself

jason

Friday I finished work at my survival gig late, as I had been trying to partially make up for time lost Tuesday, when the ice made car travel to the Eastside ill-advised. Fortunately, I finally got everything I had planned for the week done.

I was a little worried because one of the projects I’ve been working on, which was messy and complex when I started working on it, has been a real bear to clean up, and every inch of progress was fraught with new complications. Now things are almost pretty, and I can move on to other work.

Anyway, I felt this urge to do something interesting, and it was a little late to start cooking, so I went to a downtown-ish restaurant hoping to have some interesting nibbles. Suffice to say the experience was unremarkable; the interior was pretty, but the cocktail I drank had a top note much like the aftertaste of an artificial sweetener, the little appetizer that I ate was forgettable, and the only redeeming feature of the meal was a simple but reasonably well-executed dish with green beans and tofu. The front of house staff were pleasant even though I probably looked excessively serious and maybe even slightly dour when I arrived.

I left the restaurant slightly poorer and smelling loudly of garlic.

Initially, I thought I’d just go home after that, but I had a sudden urge to see a film. So I was turning my evening into half a date… the kind without a partner in crime… it might be pathetic if I were a more sympathetic character.

I didn’t do any advance research, but I settled on Babel, which I think I had heard a bit about on Ebert & Roeper sans Ebert last weekend.

For a Friday night, the film was Somewhat lightly attended. I suspect the whole parallel timelines thing is a hard sell for “date night.” Some of the online reviews I’ve seen since watching the film complain it is a poor variation on Crash, but I think that’s a bit myopic… The device of parallel timelines with scripted coincidences has been used in movies like the 1989 Mystery Train and the Tarantino “tributes” to that style, such as Four Rooms. It’s not like Crash invented that device. Crash and Babel are similar only in the sense that they are melodramatic rather than quirky in style.

Compared to Crash, Babel’s premise is far less heavy-handed, though perhaps similarly didactic. It is built on vignettes illustrating alienation, inhumanity, self-centeredness (both sympathetic and not), and occasionally, sacrifice.

The premise of the film, apparently, is that small tragedies needn’t explode into fiascos if we would, in the heat of the moment, stop a moment and listen to each other, rather than just reacting with some kind of misguided self-preservation impulse and escalating the small misunderstandings that result from our hasty judgments. That’s a complex premise, which might in itself be a weakness, but it would be unfair to the film to oversimplify the message. This isn’t some sort of goofy “if we all just communicate better we’ll achieve world peace” hippy idealism.

None of the tragedies in the film would be less tragic with less miscommunication, but perhaps such tragedies would not become such fiascos. And that’s essentially the message… Like most films with a message, the success or failure of the film is how much it draws you in and connects you with the characters. On that regard, it’s a successful film. It’s hard to build two complex characters into a film, and it’s amazing to build no fewer than 4 fully developed, evolving personalities into a film.

The most impressive achievement of this film is its sensitive portrayal of universal conflicts set in several complex cultural contexts, without devolving into some caricature of those cultures. Two preteen boys in Morocco play out predictable sibling rivalries, and do exactly what you’d expect them to do when handed a gun… and their behavior is not some canned stereotype of a Moroccan family, but a believable portrayal of the dynamic relationships between people in circumstances that escalate from ordinary to extreme.

Chieko illustrates classic coming-of-age dramas in the context of urban alienation, a handicap, and a complex family story. She’s starved for affection, detached from the world and yet wishes for nothing more but to be a part of it, and simultaneously suffers from feelings of guilt related to her mother’s suicide. She acts out in nearly tragic ways and yet is treated with great sympathy.

The scenes in Mexico are simultaneously unlikely and believable portrayal of a rural, poor family, and the implicit trust the children have for their caretaker even when she’s exercising terribly poor judgment, is fascinating and full of contradiction.

Brad Pitt’s character as a loving but somehow fatefully inadequate husband is more complex than at first glance, and avoids the trap of dwelling on the troubles in their relationship while still completely integrating that backstory into every gesture the two characters make.

It might be a bit overblown to tie together all of terrorism, sibling rivalry, the trials of coming of age, immigration, marriage troubles, the emotionally unavailable father dynamic, racism and fear of Islam.

Outside of the world of this film, it’s clear that policial forces that create hysteria around terrorism have other causes beyond poor communication; in that case, anyway, communication problems are a result, rather than a cause, of the execution of a tragic political agenda. And I wouldn’t buy that poor communication is the underlying cause of most of the other social problems examined in the film; it’s merely a catalyst of further alienation and inhumanity.

But perhaps that is the key theme… this film is not pretending to articulate a solution for all of the problems of  contemporary world politics, interpersonal relationships, and everything else, but perhaps a small examination of one of the fuels of human tragedy.

The acting is almost without exception above par, even the otherwise rarely nuanced Brad Pitt. It’s not a great movie, but it’s certainly a good one. I know that the end-of-year release is calculated primarily to extend the film’s theatrical life on hopes of the “Oscar effect”, but if it does win for cinematography, director, or a supporting acting role, it wouldn’t be undeserved.

(Trailer)

Seattle goes ice skating

jason

Last night I tried to wait until traffic calmed down before leaving my day job… It was a long day, thanks to a series of small technical and non-technical complications playing against an urgent issue, and my own inexperience with the mysteries of the team’s build system.

It got longer, though, when snow started coming down. I kept the traffic flow maps handy on a background window after hearing that snow was accumulating even on the freeway. After things settled down a bit, I left, but it was slow going.

I believe it took a bit more than 20 minutes to make it the half block distance between the garage and the road, thanks to ice on the road and confused people.

The freeway itself had cleared up by then; I went to pick up a colleague who was stranded after some bus mishaps, and headed across the bridge without any particular obstacles. I-5 slowed down around 65th, and I pulled off to bypass the traffic in favor of surface streets heading to Northgate. Unfortunately, one of the hills near Maple Leaf was backed up like mad… I think it took an hour to get down a hill that would normally be a 5–10 minute burden. I finally started heading home, which took another 30 minutes thanks to an icy 125th St. and Aurora Ave.

I got home around 9:45, after leaving work at 7:20. It was rather ugly.

Waking up to KUOW in the morning I heard that people were being told to stay home if at all possible, that most of the roads were actually in worse shape thanks to the overnight freeze, and that even when the freeways were clear the surface roads in Redmond and northern parts of Seattle would be risky.

I checked my survival gig email account and learned that the offices were closed, and asked a few other colleagues if they braved driving the Eastside today, and the answers were all negative.

So I dedicated the day to doing work for my own business, although at a rather sluggish pace. There’s only a seven block commute to that office. It turns out, though, that FedEx Ground services were suspended for the day, so my packages didn’t go anywhere.

Notable accumulations of ice and snow are such rare occurrences on roads in Seattle that nobody quite knows how to deal with such natural disasters as two or three inches of snow.

Gussied up Thanksgiving leftovers

jason

I usually end up with too much gnocchi when I make them; it’s not easy to, for example, bake less than a quarter of a squash or less than two potatoes.

My excess butternut squash gnocchi from Thursday went straight into the freezer, but I felt compelled to dig right back into them on Saturday night. And although I love the squash-enriched cream sauce I usually make to accompany them, I wanted to do something a tiny bit different.

Butternut-gnocchi-tartufo-butter

I wanted to make further use of my truffles in something other than an egg dish. I was a bit worried that the truffle might overwhelm the squash flavor, but it turned out to work well in moderation. I just put a bit of shaved truffle in sizzling butter, added a tiny bit of preserved lemon, and adjusted seasoning a bit after adding some pasta water to the butter-truffle sauce.

Instead of using a cheese like parmesan, I shaved over the pasta a bit of an interesting aged goat cheese that has an almost fruity quality that contrasted nicely with its nutty flavor. I carelessly tossed the label, but I hope I can track it down again when I crave it next…

Matsutake!

jason

Matsutake-banner

I started very quietly offering local matsutake, or pine mushrooms, on YuzuMura.com last fall. This year, I’ve had a surprisingly large number of orders in spite of relatively minimal promotion, but the season has not been as prolific as in the last two years. I wonder if the scarcity is making people notice my site more, or if it just took a while to get an audience.

Matsutake-bulk-web

This was from my first batch I got a couple of weeks ago, shipped just a day after they were picked… they were quite nice (although the photo was simultaneously overexposed and oversaturated). I wish I could have afforded to eat some of them… I did manage to score a deal on some slightly older ones, not pictured, which had lost a bit of moisture, and I turned them into a few simple dishes. I really wish I had spent the time to make dobin-mushi, which is still my favorite application of matsutake.

Matsutake are as eagerly anticipated by Japanese food lovers as truffles are to those fond of Italian and French cuisine. American and Canadian matsutake are whitish, whereas the extravagantly expensive Japanese ones (the kind that go for $300 for 6 small pieces in Tokyo department stores) are a much darker brown. However, the aroma is similar; in my experience, Japanese ones tend to have a more dramatic aroma and a milder flavor, whereas the North American variety, which is actually a different species as I recall, seems to have a milder aroma but a more intense flavor.

I actually had to raise the price a bit last week, unfortunately. Thanks to the low yields this year, the matsutake costs are close to double last year’s. Once I consider the cost of including 2–day or overnight shipping in the price, they’ve been fairly low-margin… Maybe the late season will change things if I’m lucky. Some of the local matsutake guys prefer the ones that come after the first freeze.

Culinary slump

jason

I’ve actually been eating fairly undramatically in the last month or so… I can think of only two or three memorable meals that I prepared recently… While I usually feel compelled to cook for myself about as well as I do for guests, I’ve sometimes struggled just to come up with an adequate idea for dinner.

It has been a long time since I’ve primarily cooked for myself… but previously, when I faced such a situation, I still tended to want to eat well. So I don’t know what’s different this time. It’s not so much that I want to eat badly; I just find myself uninspired.

One meal was memorable primarily due to the leftovers it generated. I made a kind of roasted cauliflower and cannelini soup, which got me through about a week of lunches. It was a simple soup with a simple flavor, nothing particularly dramatic.

On Thanksgiving I cooked for a friend, since my nearby family hadn’t planned anything this year… I surprised myself by putting together about 9 dishes… some focaccia with a garlic cannelini spread (yes, that white bean has been a recurring ingredient as well), some sauteed broccolini with garlic, roasted red potatoes with dill, butternut squash gnocchi, a persimmon and almond salad, more roasted cauliflower, and a truffle frittata with some shavings of a nice smoked goat cheese. I also made a cranberry sauce… some marinated mushrooms, and some chanterelles with oven-braised leeks.

I don’t do mock turkey… it just seems like a disastrous concept, so I’ve never felt any urge to add it to my table… but Jennifer baked a few pieces of brined turkey for herself (and for future leftovers), along with a stuffing.

Speaking of truffles, Ballard Market started to carry black truffles at a fairly reasonable price… I only bought a couple of smallish ones, but I have gotten fairly good results… I think I’ll make a simple pasta with truffles and butter tonight.

Last night I went shopping a bit and then ate at Matt’s In The Market… I usually don’t eat by myself anywhere other than quick service restaurants, but I just felt like being self-indulgent.

I think if I can keep preparations simple but ingredients a little extravagant, I’ll at least feel a little inspired…

Last dinner with Hiromi

jason

I guess it’s a little sad that I’ve taken several weeks to get around to writing anything about our last dinner…

Hiromi got a little restaurant weary after a few weeks of farewell dinners and , even though we generally ate very well… Over three or so weeks, we found ourselves at Volterra, Lark, Licorous, Sambar, BOKA, Nishino, Monsoon, Marco’s Supperclub, Yea’s Wok, and probably a few others…

It was a whirlwind tour of Seattle’s restaurant scene. The only time I usually go to restaurants with that much frequency is when I’m out of the country, travelling. It also hasn’t even really been in my means to do that for the last few years… even though I’ve got a reasonably reliable income stream again, it was a painful dent in the wallet, but it was worthwhile.

Anyway, she requested that I cook something for her last Seattle dinner before returning to Japan, so I tried to do a nice weeknight meal.

Goat cheese ravioli with shiitake-caper sauce

I bought some goat cheese ravioli, and Hiromi had picked up various mushrooms at Sosio’s in the Pike Place Market. So I made a sauce with shiitake, some kind of shimeji, capers, shallots and a bit of butter and cream.

Eringii-pizza

The mushroom stash also included some eringii. We had some nice tomatoes but no basil, but for some reason I did have dill… so I made an improvised tomato sauce of chopped tomatoes, dill, and garlic. It turned out to be a good match for the mushrooms. The only thing I regret is slicing the eringii lengthwise, as they did get a bit chewy and tended to slice off the crust when bitten into.

We had recently made a trip to Chateau Ste. Michelle and bought about 12 bottles of wine, which is a lot for us. For this dinner, we decided to dig into a very decent Riesling labeled Eroica. It was still a couple of weeks before Halloween, but we had a couple of the trappings, thanks to a cleverly presented gift from a friend of ours and an impulse candle purchase at the Ballard Market.

Eroica

I vaguely recall considering making a salad or some vegetable side dish, but either I skipped it at the last minute or it escaped Hiromi’s photographic attention. It was, after all, a weeknight… I wasn’t home until fairly late, thanks to evil traffic and a need to make a quick supermarket stop. I wanted to make something a little exciting, but still practical for after-work preparation.

Mangodanger

Our dessert involved some pureed Kent mango, lime juice and rum… I’m sure something else went into this, perhaps a banana or something, but my memory fails me. It’s not the rum’s fault… really… It was only there to add a touch of evil to our smoothie.

Dinner was all last minute and hurried… Hiromi threw together the pizza dough from inadequate instructions I gave only a couple of hours before I was supposed to come home. I only decided to make the pasta after it caught my attention at Trader Joe’s on the way home, when I was grabbing a couple of things.

But it was a nice quiet sendoff before I took her to the airport the next morning. 

Nashi no hiyayakko

jason

It sounded like a very odd idea to Hiromi at the time, but both of us were converts after we tasted the results of this variation of hiya-yakko.

A few weeks ago, after a rushed trip to Leavenworth, we went nashi picking near Everett, at an orchard owned by the family of a friend.

We ended up with such a bounty that we needed to exercise an unusual level of creativity to find uses for our treasure.

I suggested we try grating the nashi in the style of daikon-oroshi, to which we added some grated fresh ginger. We placed this atop of kinugoshi (soft) tofu, added a bit of chopped scallion, and splashed on a small amount of Japanese soy sauce.

Nashi-hiyayakko

It’s a surprisingly refreshing seasonal twist on a classic side dish.

Hiromi used to ask me what we needed to buy when she made a grocery shopping trip, but I usually suggest just buying whatever vegetables look tempting, and I promise to figure out something to do with them. For this meal, that was a running theme… I worked out a Japanese-ish treatment of the day’s purchases.

We ate a nice tempura of mataike and arugula.

Maitake-rukora-tempura

Hiromi had picked up some patty pan squash and shiitake, so I made a simple itamemono from that.

Pattypan-shiitake-negi-itami-ni

I also made daigaku-imo, which is usually a snack rather than a side dish, but that didn’t stop me.

Daigaku-imo-redux

Laugenbrötchen

jason

I impatiently made Laugen with an inadequately smooth dough a few weeks ago, and the skin never quite became glatt enough to make for attractive rolls.

I’ve actually made nicer Laugen before, but I was careless that Sunday…

Laugenbroetchen

Anyway, it’s another thing that Hiromi became a fan of, thanks in particular to the Columbia City Bakery, while in Seattle. So I thought I’d make some one morning.

Anyway, the technique is not particularly interesting… I just made a yeast dough, a customary Natron  (baking soda) solution brought to a boil, and stewed the rolls a minute or so, pressed the buns into some coarse salt, and baked until browned.

With more careful attention to detail, and a slightly warmer kitchen on the day in question, I’d have a somewhat smoother skin, but they tasted fairly decent.

Hiromi's eggs florentine with rapini

jason

Well, ok, I may have done a fair amount of work on this one. But I tried to use a guiding hand rather than take over.

Hiromi got hooked on Eggs Benedict after we made a stop at Fremont’s 35th St. Bistro for brunch early in the year. I’ve made Eggs Florentine or other vegetarian variants at home, and when we’ve found ourselves at brunch at a place which offers Eggs Benedict, there’s a fairly good chance Hiromi will order it. Her favorite so far was made with a sort of truffled hollandaise with mushrooms at Volterra in Ballard.

Hiromi wanted to learn to make hollandaise sauce before leaving, so I walked her through one of the effective “cheating” methods that involves melting the butter with the warmed egg yolk and lemon-water mixture. I’ve done the traditional method, the blender method (particularly effective when a rescue effort is required), and  this approach, and I think it’s the most fool-proof.

Eggs-florentine-rapini

I had blanched some rapini for ohitashi the night before, but we had a bit leftover. The slight bitterness of the rapini is a good way of balancing the luxurious richness of the hollandaise and poached egg.

We also had some crispy fried potatoes, which I oil-blanched and fried like frites.

Mushrooms en croute

jason

One of the oddball recipes I internalized when living in Germany was the idea of “stuffed bread” filled with mushrooms in a bechamel sauce.

I don’t remember where I first saw it… it may have been in one of the cheap, slim cookbooks I used to see in front of bookstores as a student there, where I would often spend a few minutes doing tachi-yomi (reading while standing, in Japanese) between classes or whatever. I just recall the concept, which usually involved taking a square loaf of unsliced “toast” bread from the bakery, chopping it in half, hollowing out the center, and oven-toasting the bread with a liberal application of butter on the hollowed-out walls, then stuffing it with a savory filling.

Unsliced breads in the US don’t usually stand up on end, as the good quality bread in the US is almost always hyper-rustic. So on the rare occasions when I feel like making such things, I choose something like this medium-sized dinner roll.

Kinoko cream cup

As in the recipe I stole the concept from, I hollow out the roll, but I use a less extravagant application of butter around the inside.

I sauteed the mushrooms a bit with some onions or shallots, added some garlic and maybe some fresh dill. I made a bechamel sauce… actually a browned butter sauce, not a true bechamel, to add a bit more of a hazelnut color than the mushrooms alone would provide… I combined the sauce and mushrooms, and filled the bread again, warming for just a few minutes in the oven while I prepared some quickly cooked brussels sprouts.

This was one of the last dinners at home when Hiromi was still here…

Better living through caffeinistry

jason

On Tuesday the kitchenette in my building where I do my little survival gig was taped off like a crime scene or city excavation project, marked with the word “Danger”. I’m not sure what was dangerous, but perhaps the “Farmer Bros.” branded coffee equipment being removed, which I lived in fear of during my 7 year tenure as a full-time employee of this company, contained toxic waste.

Walking down the halls was strangely quiet yesterday. I doubt there was any correlation between the the lack of coffee and the unusually languid vibe , but when I arrived this morning I noticed a substantially greater amount of noise, including more animated office conversations.

This new energy may have been directly traceable to particularly high doses of caffeine caused by people trying out the new Starbucks equipment.

Though the coffee itself is still mediocre, the ground-to-order brew is vastly superior to what it replaced, and the excessively roasted brew can be muted with a splash of milk. There was no hiding the stale flavor and hostile acidity of the predecessor.

Until everyone gets caffeine overload, I suspect the atmosphere at work will be unusually frenetic…

Maybe sugar will help

jason

A couple weeks ago, Hiromi got a job offer that was hard to pass up, back with her old team, and decided to go back to Japan, even though it complicates a few things… She had informally extended her unpaid internship at a quirky Seattle-based mobile phone software company, and planned to start school again in January… Hopefully the sudden change will not make her next visit in December too messy when she goes through passport control.

The post-9/11 security rules make going “out of status” (including unplanned changes) on a student visa particularly subject to scrutiny.

After a long period of having a roommate last year, and the almost continuous presence of Hiromi this year, coming home to a completely empty home is very strange. I couldn’t sleep very well the last four or five nights, as my mind and body adjust to unfamiliar circumstances. When I’m traveling, I don’t have this problem, but at home, my mind is not at ease when new stressors enter my life.

Though I’ve been eating particularly lightly and suffering from a bit of stomach irritation the last few days, I just remembered how nice this key lime meringue pie tasted…

Key lime meringue

It has been languishing, almost forgotten in my archives, from around the time Hiromi went out of town for a few days late in the summer. The meringues weren’t so pretty, but the lime curd was great. I think this might have been my first or second attempt at key lime curd. I really don’t want to over-indulge in sugar right now… my waistline has expanded over the last few months and I’m not very happy about that… Increased commute time and more eating out than average since September has puffed me up a bit.

The crust was decent, though it looks a little sad in the photo… more crispy-crumbly than crispy-flaky, it was neither a great example of an American pie crust nor a pate sucree. But it did wonders for the meringue, which likes to sabotage the crispness of pie crust; the crust stood up to the curd and retained a pleasant crispness.

Last reminders of summer

jason

My absence of late is thanks primarily to excessive exhaustion… My new old commute has been draining. In fact, the traffic between Redmond and Seattle seems decidedly more painful than it was a couple years back…

But 2004 was a painful year in the digital economy, and I know some substantial hiring has gone on in the Eastside since then.

At the end of the day, I have rarely had much energy to take photos of dinner or write about the growth of YuzuMura.com. I have a few photos that were stashed on my camera’s memory card, but they’re all reminders of the peak of summer.

Tomato

These were some heirloom tomatoes we bought from Sosio’s in the Pike Place Market… one day we got an incredible deal on seconds, and I made 4 quarts (a shy 4 liters) of really dangerously sweet and flavorful tomato sauce with minimal handling… just basil, garlic, a little wine, olive oil…

But we also made some insalata caprese…

Insalata caprese

And a spread particularly suited for a potato rosemary focaccia, made with cannelini beans, garlic, and olive oil, topped with some tiny heirloom tomatoes.

Cannelini-mini-heirloom-tomato

Hiromi’s parents actually came to visit for a couple of weeks recently. Her father professes a distaste for tomatoes, but I suspect this is due to the flavorlessness of Japanese supermarket tomatoes (which pretty much match the flavorlessness of US supermarket tomatoes); he reliably took several helpings of almost any tomato dish I served.

We only have another week or two left to get decent tomatoes in Seattle, but we’re lucky, as the season is pretty much over in the rest of the country…

We interrupt this silence...

jason

My laptop died another, more unfixable death a few weeks ago, and this has made me a bit sluggish posting recently.

I caved in and replaced it with a Dell, after agonizing about whether to buy a cheapo replacement or something suitable for longer-term use. I decided to get something more long-term, because even though I think I’d get a good deal on a Windows Vista-ready laptop if I buy something cheap now and something average later, I just can’t stomach the idea of discarding a laptop after less than a year if I can help it.

I chose Dell mostly because of the good deal ex-Microsoft employees get through an alumni program… I was tempted to buy a Mac, but ones with suitably large storage and comparable processors were at least $500 more, and quite outside of my price range.

After an unfortunately unsuitable stint as an agency temp in MSN, which turned out to be a substantial mismatch between what was pitched to me and what I was actually needed for, I found something else more interesting in the SQL Server team, which is going reasonably well so far. I’m actually kind of hoping that, at some point in the future, I’ll find a web development role or internationalization-focused coding assignment, but for the moment, I’m spending a lot of time digging into test automation code and refactoring it into something hopefully saner. (For my non-geek visitors, refactoring refers to a series of small, isolated changes that over time improve the design of the system).

Sometimes a little homemade falafel does the trick

jason

My little falafel adventure

My falafel

From 1994–1996, Imbiss falafel was one of my staple starving student lunches in the city of Marburg, Germany. Most of the Turkish restaurants in Marburg served falafel on wedge of a large round dough which they called pide, but has more in common with focaccia than the standard pita. The usual cost for such a lunch was about DM4 (give or take 50 Pfennig), or about $3, making it one of the most inexpensive lunch options in town.

I don’t know why I never make falafel at home; perhaps the relatively ready availability at various quick-service Mediterranean restaurants around Seattle is a bit of a distraction. But I can usually hope for no better than uncharismatic, flabby pita when I go to such an inexpensive place, although there are some notable exceptions when I am willing to spend a bit more for a full-service meal, such as at Mediterranean Kitchen (Bellevue, Seattle).

But at home I have the power to escape the travesty of stale or flavorless pita bread; I can make my own, and serve them just seconds after they leave the oven. It’s surprisingly easy to make good pita, as the more familiar variety requires only a quick knead and is a fairly moist, easy-to-handle dough. Rolling the dough out evenly is the most difficult thing, but is a surmountable challenge.

Falafel, too, sometimes suffer from the flaw of premature frying, to save some effort on the part of a harried staff far more concerned with pushing out orders than getting the best possible flavor. Unfortunately, falafel set aside for an hour or so and microwaved tend to be displeasingly dry. It is, alas, a fairly common strategy, but again, home cooking comes to the rescue. I soak dry chickpeas and fava beans for a few hours, chop them in a blender, add onion, various seasonings, and salt, then shape into small balls and fry.

In this case, since I was making dinner and not eating on the run, I served the falafel more like a salad, and used the pita as a utensil. I made a little yogurt sauce with a little garlic and salt, which should actually probably be served with the cucumber, but which mysteriously snuck onto the falafel itself, in addition to coating the salad.

Not a disappearing act, and grilled donut peaches

jason

Sorry for the long delay between postings. I suffered another laptop disaster, as the graphics controller or monitor seems to have given up the ghost. I should have known that the flaky hard drive of a month or two ago was only the beginning, but I was a tad too optimistic.

Repair would likely cost as much as a comparable replacement, since that machine is now approaching 3 years old. Accordingly, I’ve decided to delay purchase of a replacement for a bit, since I have a machine at my commercial space and I can occasionally make off with Hiromi’s laptop as needed.

I’ve also been fairly busy working on unrelated things, and catching up on some necessary reading.

We have been cooking, and we’ve made more use of the nifty shichirin. We bought some white-fleshed donut peaches at Sosio’s and grilled them for dessert. Donut peaches are more interesting for their shape than their flavor, and they tend to be less sweet than comparably seasonably appropriate peaches. But grilling them a bit creates a very nice caramelization, and provides the illusion of a sweeter taste. When eaten with a little lightly sweetened mascarpone with a few drops of good vanilla extract, magical things happen.

Peach-sumibiyaki

Gougères, or something like them

jason

On the heels of my savory choux, or Gefüllte Windbeutel, I wanted to revisit the “embedded” treats we had at Pair Restaurant few weeks ago.

Unlike our last choux, these gougères have cheese right inside the choux pastry dough, instead of being sliced and stuffed. I add the cheese just after whipping the finished dough.

Gorgonzola gougères

Gougeres

I used a couple of cheeses that I had on hand: in this case, a bit of gorgonzola and parmesan, along with some scallions. Because they are already reasonably buttery, no further adornment is required when consumed warm, but an additional pat of butter or cream cheese wouldn’t hurt.

These don’t require a piping bag, but they’d probably look a bit more presentable if piped.

Edamame ice cream

jason

Sure, I usually use edamame in the simplest way possible… boiled for a few minutes in salted water, and seasoned with coarse salt.

In spite of the perfect simplicity of that summer treat, I occasionally move beyond the obvious.

Several years ago, I stumbled into a special event at a Tokyo department store where I first encountered zunda with shiratama. Zunda is to edamame what anko is to azuki beans: a sweet paste, but instead of being red, it’s brilliantly green.

Thanks to that experience, I realized that edamame had a broader potential than I had first imagined. I experimented with other sweet applications.

A couple of summers ago, I made my first attempt at an edamame ice cream. It worked out well, but was a little light on the edamame flavor and heavy on the cream.

I adjusted the proportions again, using more edamame and less cream, after realizing how much fat the edamame contribute to the mix. This Wednesday, I made another batch, with some more adjustments. Now my only problem is that the ice cream is incredibly hard when it freezes, so I think I need to tweak the sugar balance to get the texure just right, but with this batch, I was very happy with the taste.

Edamame ice cream

To add to the edamame experience, I made a sort of glace of edamame, and spooned it over the ice cream when serving.

This weekend is the tail end of Sweet Pleasure's Summer Ice Cream event, so I have an excuse to consume a lot of ice cream. I’m looking forward to some other indulgences, vicarious or otherwise…