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.
Hiromi arrived safely, and somehow I arrived at the airport at exactly the right time, just as she had picked up her baggage. I think I was in the Seatac parking garage about 6 minutes.
We unpacked and inspected some ceramics she brought from Minowa Yasuo and Senda Yoshiaki, which I’ll put on YuzuMura tomorrow or at least within a few days, as I made quick work of photographing most of the pieces.
I cooked a simple lunch (did I mention how many tortillas and how much mango salsa I still have?) and then I took care of a couple of small office errands and a delivery to Uwajimaya. We made our way to La Medusa in Columbia City, where only a few weeks ago I enjoyed a nice meal, and we hoped to have an equally pleasant experience this time.
We were not disappointed. We had a small amount of overlap with what I last ate there, but this time we had a nice grilled cioppino salad with some soft Quillisascut cheese, greens and pine nuts, and a nice pasta with pickled fava beans and a fava bean cream sauce. I was particularly fond of the salad. The chickpea croquettes and fig and fennel pizza were as good as last time.
Last night I was hunting down some heavy cream at Fremont’s PCC, which was out of stock at Trader Joe’s. I had already bought some eggs, but then I noticed duck eggs, and decided that I ought to have some.
This morning for breakfast I poached one of the duck eggs and grilled some asparagus, inspired by dinner at Columbia City's La Medusa last Friday. I wasn’t in the mood for a fried egg, but I followed La Medusa’s lead and sprinkled the asparagus and egg a bit of truffle salt from Ritrovo. I toasted a crumpet, upon which I spread a liberal amount of butter, and ate it with a bit of fig jam.
If I had any morels I think they might have found themselves sauteed in butter and somewhere near my poached egg.
If I was more in the mood for a Japanese vibe, I might have skipped the truffle salt and used some grated daikon, mustard and soy sauce for the egg and asparagus. Then it would really be “onsen tamago”. But somehow I thought the dish would taste best in a small Karatsu-ware bowl, along with a contemporary Arita plate for the crumpet.
I registered for the street fair that takes place in the International District July 10/11. I plan to show off the Dragon Beard candy and the ceramics from Japan. Hopefully they will do well, but more importantly, it's a good venue to get some attention.
Before dropping off my check and space application, I made a stop at the office of the newspaper where I once worked, and chatted with my former publisher a bit about what I'm up to. I also talked about some rates for an ad campaign with their ad sales manager.
The last pottery class of the quarter is actually a potluck, with some cleanup, and, for those with some glazing or decoration to do, the last chance to finish that up. The only thing I had unfinished was a little ceramic train which still needs to be bisque fired before I can glaze it, so mostly I was chatting.
Before running off to pottery class, I prepared my contribution to the potluck, which is a slight variation of something I brought to a party a month or so ago. I basically put shredded filo dough, coated with butter, into a mini-muffin pan; in this case I filled the centers with chopped asparagus, orange bell peppers, caramelized onions, a little bit of sweet pepadew peppers, and some cave-aged gruyere and pine nuts. It sounds more elaborate than it is; I put everything together fairly quickly, especially compared to last time I made them. Actually this time I also made a non-dairy version using olive oil instead of butter and hummus instead of cheese, since one or two people in class have some dairy issues.
I also showed off a few pieces of work from the potters that I bought from in Mashiko... Minowa Yasuo, Akutsu Masato, and Senda Yoshiaki. Most items went over pretty well... I guess the next question is how well they will go over with audiences less familiar with the value of handmade pottery.
On Sunday we had a raku firing, and I had three pieces in the load. Nothing terribly exciting, but they did turn out pretty nicely. I also picked up a couple of plates and a tea bowl I had recently glazed.
I needed to get one final business license completed yesterday for the City of Seattle, so I made my way downtown and paid yet another fee. Actually, the City of Seattle license costs about three times as much as the state license that I arranged a couple of months ago. The only fee more expensive is the LLC registration with the state, which I believe is just a one-time event unless I neglect to file timely reports on the management structure.
Afterward I took care of a minor errand, and went to the Pioneer Square area's First Thursday “Art Walk” event, during which most galleries are open a few extra hours. My acquaintance Dave's photo show was opening. He's also a software guy who escaped corporate drudgery; in his case, he does a mix of freelance coding and things like his photography. The show was pretty nice... a lot of captures of surprising contrasts in lighting and color on dilapidated military buildings and other abandoned industrial totems, sometimes with unconventional framing. It looked like his work was selling at a pretty good clip, also.
I also visited a Japanese art-focused gallery where another acquaintance of mine works. I didn't actually expect her to be there but we chatted a bit and I re-introduced myself to her manager. This may turn out to have been a smart thing to do, because the owner is interested in expanding her line a bit and would like to see if any of the ceramics I brought over match her taste. I will try to show off the stuff mid-next-week.
This afternoon I met with Kazue, who just came back from Japan, to talk about the Hong Kong sweet and to give her a chance to sample it.
The weather is pretty hot outside, so I've been jogging again the last few days. My endurance is getting better... I'm averaging about 5 miles a run. I just hope it doesn't ruin my knee.
Tonight's dinner was a simple pizza with fresh heirloom tomatoes, basil, garlic, mozzarella, and parmesan. Earlier in the week I made some gnocchi with tomato cream sauce and basil chiffonade, which turned out pretty nicely. The first hints of decent tomatoes, apparently only at Sosio's produce in the Pike Place Market, have been sneaking into my cuisine. Another surprise was some early peaches that had a great texture and flavor; I snuck a couple into a rhubarb-peach sorbet I made on Tuesday.
Wednesday I finished up the body of a ceramic train series (engine, cargo, and a third car with windows) at the pottery lab. Assuming the wheels don't break, it looks like it will turn out nicely; the only trouble is that pottery class ends very soon and I won't have time to glaze them because next Monday is the last class. There's no way they'll be bisqued in time.
On the night of my last day at Microsoft, April 15, I didn't really start working until I got home. I had to finish up a business proposal to one of the companies I want to work with, and there was a lot more work left than I remembered. I was up until about 3 AM focusing on that.
Saturday and Sunday I jogged in incredibly good weather around Greenlake... I also made some plates at pottery lab on Sunday.
Today I went to the North Seattle branch of Puget Sound Blood Center for the first time. I've usually donated at the Bellevue location, which was across the street from my old apartment, or at the mobile donation bus that came to Microsoft every couple of months.
I also had to go bank hunting. I have been operating from my personal account, and that's very confusing and also not good to do since I'm organized as an LLC. I wish I had this figured out 6 weeks ago... talking to banks and trying to make sense of their fee structures, especially when my stuff will involve international wire transfers and so on, is not the most entertaining part of this job.
Actually, I did start developing a lead for one or two products I want to sell when I stopped to get some tea. It would be small volume but potentially a good thing.
In the late afternoon I went back to Redmond to do my exit interview with an HR person. I played nicely... and turned in my cardkey, parking pass, corporate card and all of that stuff.
Somehow I had a series of disasters at pottery class tonight... I guess my hands weren't steady enough or something... I kept on ruining simple cylinders. At least I was able to finish up some pots that I had started last week.
After years of working a well-paid, challenging, and ostensibly prestigious job which was often interesting, occasionally satisfying, but rarely fulfilling, I’ve decided to move on.
I have three obsessions that I’ve indulged outside of work for the last 7 years or so. One is an uncompromising passion for cooking and eating good food. Another is a love of travel. And third is a wallet-thinning habit of collecting Japanese and Korean ceramics and craftwork. Beyond that, I have a long-neglected impulse to write and create, which, most likely due to excessive comfort over these 7 years, rather than inadequate time, I have mostly failed to pursue and develop.
My goal over the next few years is to explore each of these passions with an eye for making a reasonable living doing the things I love the most.
This is a life-altering transformation. My job at Microsoft, working as a test lead in software internationalization, has allowed me to live comfortably while I regularly invested at least 20% of my income. Now, for the first time in years, I expect many months during which I’ll be slowly eating away at my reserves.
My plan for the next year is to take advantage of my safety net while taking a lot of personal risks. I've established a small business entity focused on importing foods, gifts, and other things that I am excited about.
I’ll travel, but with the objective of generating some kind of return from each trip, either in a financial sense or in the sense of personal growth. I'll be exploiting my ceramics obsession by buying ceramics and craftwork, but with the intent of using my eye to bring back items that could be introduced to the U.S. market for resale. I’ll also at least occasionally be working in restaurants as a cook and waiter and whatever else will teach me what it will take to make a successful business serving food. I expect that I’ll create some opportunities to write and to create again. Within a few years I intend to have established enough of a network to be ready to start a small café/restaurant, and on the way, I will focus on building up my import/export business.
This journal is the document of my transformation.
At least once a week, I’ll be telling part of my story. I intend to be pathologically honest, but I promise to do my best to avoid sentimentality, wistfulness, or excessive self-indulgence. I don’t promise to be authoritative, profound, or even important. But I do promise, more than anything else, to live.
I decided after all to go back to the Hoteres show, which turns out to have been a good idea. I found a lot of suppliers of ceramics mostly focusing on restaurant clients, one of which can also serve as an export agent for products from a potter I like in Takayama. Beyond that, I found the company behind an extra nifty cedar soap line, which is the same product that my friend Hiromi told me she uses religiously for her face. I also found another producer of a similar product, and a company that markets private label soaps to spas and hot springs and hotels in Japan, including a yuzu soap, a green tea soap that unlike Elizabeth Arden’s hyped product actually smells like green tea, and several “massage soaps” which include some kind of exfoliating ingredient.
In the “interesting kitchen equipment” category, the coolest thing I saw was a fryer which is promoted as a “clean fryer.” In a floor demonstration, one of the promoters asked an audience member to pour a glass of water directly into the hot oil, which was frying some tonkatsu or croquettes or something similar, with her hand directly above the oil. When she poured the water in, it simply disappeared; this was followed with someone tossing in an ice cube. The water, according to the demonstrator, had simply moved to the bottom of the fryer.
Another interesting machine was a countertop device that produces nigiri-sushi shaped rice in precise portions. In a similar vein, there was an automatic gyouza stuffer for countertop use. There were a couple of interesting conveyer-belt products which looked surprisingly elegant; two of them didn’t even have obviously moving belts.
I talked to one small company that manufactures oshibori wetting, disinfecting and warming countertop machines. Oshibori are wet napkins used in Japan usually instead of paper napkins, and are kind of an alternative to running off to a washroom to clean one’s hands before a meal. After the president told me everything he thought I could understand, he introduced me to his secretary, who is also his daughter. She used to study in New Zealand and had a kind of New Zealand Japanese accent. Apparently they are trying to sell a version of this in Hawaii later this year, and I suggested if they have a 110 volt version, it’s worth exploring the West Coast of the US in general, and to please let me know when it’s going to be released.
During these four days, it’s been kind of amusing how many people comment on my company name (Yuzu Trading Co. LLC). It seems to instantly establish some rapport, since it’s obvious to them I’m influenced by Japan; referring to Yuzu in my company name strikes some folks as surprising, leading them to think of me as not your usual run-of-the-mill gaijin.
I left the show around 3pm and came back to my apartment. I managed to sort through most of the papers I’ve accumulated over the last few days, organized by their relative importance to me (products I’m very interested in, products I was attracted to, companies that might be good sources if someone comes to me looking for something in particular, and companies which I don’t think I have much likelihood of being useful for me). I still have to sort through at least several dozen business cards I’ve received as well.
Tonight I cooked some of the yuzu-flavored udon I picked up last weekend in Nasu-Shiobara. I made a couple of simple side dishes… I have some leftover nanohana (canola greens or rapeseed greens), garlic stems, and one eringi from a few days ago. So I just blanched the nanohana in lightly salted water and served it with a drizzling of a white tamari sample I got from FoodEx. I also sauteed the garlic stems and browned the eringi, seasoned with some salt and the white tamari, then topped with some toasted pine nuts and pecorino romano cheese. The yuzu udon I just boiled and served cool with some store-bought noodle dipping sauce. The yuzu flavor isn’t very strong, but is at least noticeable and pleasant.