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.

Asamushi Onsen, Asupamu, Apple Pie

May 2nd, at Asamushi Onsen, on the way to Hirosaki. We wake up early and have another bath, then breakfast, and we head off. But first we looked out the window, and decided to make a quick trip to the beach...

Our ryokan wasn't quite on the waterfront, but it's just a short hop across a busy road to the beach...

Yu no Kabuto Iwa

Yu no Kabuto Iwa

A big rock, a little island, just across the bay.

Lone tree

Lone tree, Yu no Kabuto Iwa

A view of the left side of the island reveals a dramatic-looking pine.


Torii, Yu no kabuto iwa

There's a gate and a long stairway to a temple starting at the waterfront.


Asupamu, Aomori city, Aomori, Japan

We made our way toward Aomori city, and discovered this odd looking building called Asupamu, to which Hiromi made a beeline in our rental car. It turns out that it did its job very well: the ground floor is full of gift shops peddling various Aomori specialties, and an impressive observation deck about 13 floors up. (We didn't feel any need to spend 600 yen each for that, even after buying so much stuff that we were good for up to two hours of free parking).

We gave in and bought a lot of them, some of them destined to be our gomen nasai present for coworkers when we return to the office, and some treats for friends, family, teammates, and fellow Meetup members. Oh, and some "gifts" for purely self-indulgent purposes. We need those. Self-indulgence is good.

Apple Pie

Apple Pie from Asupamu

After sampling the delights of the many Asupamu gift shops, we had pie from an Asupamu apple shop. We like pie. This one has some cream cheese in it. Aomori is famous for apples, so that makes this local food.


I chose this chausson (lady slipper?) for myself, but Hiromi thought it was boring compared to two of the other nifty options and I could sense her disappointment. Until she proceeded to eat at least half of mine. (I got my fair share of the cream cheese one though...  I'm just making fun of her for visibly, if quietly, doubting my judgment).


Of course, no coastal tourist shop would be complete without some sort of rotating squidmobile.


Listen to your produce guys

This time of year, I usually completely ignore canteloupe (aka muskmelon). The taste rarely seems worthwhile in the winter.

If you should have the good fortune to have a competent greengrocer near you, though, it's possible to discover small produce surprises when you least expect them.

When one of the Sosio's folks told me that they had great canteloupe right now, I looked a bit askance at him. It just seemed too unlikely. He challenged my skepticism with a little taste from a fruit he hat already cut into, and I turned into an easy sale.

Canteloupe, whole Muskmelon, sliced

These melons are surprisingly sweet and flavorful. While they don't reach the insane greatness of the summer Tuscan melons I go out of my way for when the season hits, they're way more than I ever expect this time of year.

This isn't to say that it's a good idea to go out to the supermarket and buy any random melon you might see right now... Chances are it'll be rock-hard and flavorless.

No, the message is simpler: get to know the produce people where you live. The good ones will rarely steer you wrong. They may help you find some hidden gems.  They'll probably know a bit more about what's good than you will.

In the summertime, when so many things are plentiful and good, I've been known to walk in to Sosio's or a similar market and ask them what I want right now. They know what is at its peak.

I've said roughly the same thing before when I talked about late summer tomatoes, but it's good to remember that, even in the winter, you can benefit from the intimacy a good vegetable and fruit shop will have with what they sell.

Farewell, Minowa-san

Hiromi passed very sad news to me this weekend. One of my ceramic artists, Minowa Yasuo, died of a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a kind of stroke which occurs when blood vessels near the surface of the brain burst. This type of stroke can affect people of any age, so it was completely unexpected. Before the stroke, Minowa-san was quite healthy.

Minowa-san and his wife were very kind and welcoming to Hiromi and to me. They often invited us to the workshop on the outskirts of Mashiko and served us English tea and Danish butter cookies as we talked about ceramics and unrelated trivialities.

Mrs. Minowa called Hiromi’s home while she was at work on Friday. Yesterday Hiromi talked to Mrs. Minowa by telephone to express sympathy… it turns out that Mr. Minowa died on September 2 and Mrs. Minowa called just after visiting family near Hiromi’s home.

During their conversation yesterday, Hiromi learned that Mr. Minowa had a son from his first marriage, and they hadn’t seen each other since both Minowa and his former wife remarried. That son moved to the US at some point to work, and somehow discovered one of my web sites, then found a way to contact his father in Mashiko. They had planned to meet again later this year, although it didn’t quite work out.

I’m not quite sure how to react yet. I have more of a personal connection with the Minowa family than other potters I buy from, so it came as a shock to me.

My cold seems to be better. I tried to take the weeekend easy, but somehow I didn’t sleep much better. I spent a lot of time playing with web code on Saturay, and enjoyed some cheap entertainment on Friday. This afternoon, I did a bit of work in my office, met with a customer, and then decided to make a simple dinner.

Grilled pear, caramelized onions and cabrales salad

Tamara Murphy’s restaurant in downtown Seattle, Brasa, gives a lot of space to cabrales cheese, particularly on their bar menu. At Brasa, cabrales is often paired with grapes, and this is perfectly sensible. The pungency of the cheese and the mild flavor and light sweetness of the fruit complement each other. I spotted some nice Bosc pears tonight and noticed a fair deal on cabrales cheese, so I chose to grill some pears and caramelize some onions, and serve these atop some red lettuce dressed with my signature yuzu dressing. A few toasted pine nuts scattered about add a bit of aromatic complexity.

Pear cabrales salad with caramelized onions and pine nuts

Potatoes au gratin with chives

I remembered I had a remaining stash of chives from a baked potato dinner a few days ago. I spotted some inexpensive Washington-grown Yukon Gold potatoes and decided I needed to give my mandoline a workout, so I made this gratin. I used half cream, half milk, a bit of salt, and a hint of garlic.

Potato gratin with chives


Molten chocolate cake and seville-orange mascarpone sorbet

Molten chocolate cake and seville-orange mascarpone sorbet

When I received an order for some fresh California-grown yuzu a few weeks ago, I had this grand ambition of making a yuzu mascarpone sorbet, much like one I tasted in Osaka a couple years ago. It turns out that I immediately sold almost all of the yuzu to some local restaurants and a supermarket, and I really only had two or three usable yuzu for myself. The big California freeze happened and I had little prayer of getting any more yuzu, so my carefuly laid plans never quite had a chance to materialize... I made nabe instead, and froze some of the peel for later use.

Well, it turns out that Seville oranges are in season, too, and readily available in Seattle. So I juiced about four oranges and chopped the peel finely, cooking the peel in a syrup of sugar and honey for a couple of hours until the peel had broken down a bit. I occasionally added more water to keep the mass from becoming candy. When the orange peel was soft, I let the "marmelade" cool down to room temperature, and added some mascarpone and the juice I had previously set aside.

Tonight I took it a step further and made a little chocolate cake, full of molten chocolate goodness. I actually used honey instead of sugar, and not much of that, so it's a really intense chocolate flavor. It's made with a combination of grated dark chocolate and cocoa powder. Even though I only made a small cake, I could only manage to eat half tonight, but it was the perfect thing to go along with the Seville orange sorbet.

WaFooD: Konnyaku Day Roundup

I promised a roundup for Konnyaku Day… Alas, thanks to my rather late announcement, there are only a couple of entries (at least so far). A number of people wrote in that they were planning to participate, so hopefully there will be a few more. However, I’d be happy to add anything that comes in this week. Just post a comment and I’ll add yours.

From Obachan’s Kitchen & Balcony Garden comes two treats: Konnyaku no miso ni and sashimi konnyaku. Konnyaku no miso ni is a clever variation of a typical braised vegetable dish, most commonly applied to eggplant. I definitely want to make this dish.

I’m also jealous that Obachan has access to unusual flavors of “sashimi konnyaku” which aren’t readily available in the U.S. She made yuzu konnyaku and aonori konnyaku with a sumiso (vinegared miso) sauce.


Amy of Blue Lotus took advantage of the noodle incarnation of konnyaku. With a bit of sakura-ebi and shiso, it’s an example of contrasting textures and flavors in each bite.

Sakura-ebi Shiso Itokonnyaku

From Hiromi’s blog (in Japanese), we have Houtou with Konnyaku. You may remember Hiromi made Houtou shortly after we came back from Japan in March. She did the hard work on this as well, though I helped twist a few of our konnyaku slices into twisted shapes following her instruction.


I’ll extend the Konnyaku day roundup if anyone has some other dishes, even if you’re just getting around to posting your entry this week… Post a comment and I’ll add you!

Hoteres 2005, Day 3

I tried to compress seeing all of the Tokyo Hotel, Restaurant and Catering show into one day this year. It was quite similar to last year, but I did find some excellent suppliers of Japanese tableware for restaurant and gift markets… some very stylish bamboo tokkuri from a couple of makers, some nice contemporary nurimono (lacquerware), and some Singapore-made furnace glass tableware well suited for trendy Asian restaurants.

Nothing too exciting in the equipment arena this year; maybe I saw everything imaginable last year. The really cool “clean fryer” I saw last year was apparently absent and I didn’t see anything that was totally new to me, save a variation of the self-shaking wok which featured a corkscrew stirring mechanism.

One company showed off a nifty line of teas produced in China, containing hand-tied teas with flowers that “bloom” as the tea leaves expand; the product is nearing a launch in Japan. The teas are all about the drama of the flowers revealing themselves; the exhibition design had them presented in wine glasses or glass teapots. I’ll get some samples when their packaging design is ready to go next month. It seems like a clever concept, though I think they are targeting about a $2.50–3.00 retail price per bundle (essentially one pot), so that may be a very narrow market in the U.S. In Japan, they are targeting the bridal and banquet markets.

I’ve been facing a little bit of pain in my legs and back the last couple of days… when I left for Hong Kong I swapped out my worn-out custom orthotics for the standard ones in my usually comfy Ecco loafers, and I think my feet aren’t happy about the sudden change.

Tomorrow I think I’ll just spend the whole day at FoodEx, where I’d like to follow up on some things that I looked at previously.

One item that I received a small sample of turned out to be more interesting than I initially gave it credit for. It’s a wheat-free and soy-free “soy sauce” that tastes very similar to the real thing. It’s apparently meant to satisfy a particularly narrow range of folks allergic to wheat or soy proteins. It’s made with compressed sesame seeds, barley and salt instead of soy beans, wheat and salt. I used it in tonight’s dinner and it worked quite well; it had a pleasant taste, and was functionally equivalent to soy sauce as a seasoning. I should find out if the manufacturer is willing to export it. It wasn’t made by the usual soy sauce suspects (Kikkoman, Yamasa, etc.)

Okinawan Lunch at Yurakucho

Hiromi planned lunch with a few friends at Yurakucho yesterday, so we went a little early and shopped a bit at the Wakayama specialty shop and an Okinawan store to pick up some umeboshi, awamori, and various snacks and treats.

After browsing shelves full of tofuyo, Hiromi was in the mood to eat something Ryukyuan, so it was a fortunate coincidence that our group stumbled on an Okinawan restaurant in a nearby department store building.

Indulging my vegetarian habit in Japan is essentially impossible, at least with any degree of rigidity. But Okinawan food is even trickier. (More impossible?)

With a heavy reliance on pork wherever an excuse can be made to use it, even a basic noodle dish is served with hefty portions of tender braised pork belly (buta no kaku ni). Hiromi orders Okinawan soba as part of a set meal, and discovers that Okinawan soba is somewhere between ramen and udon in texture, and is made entirely of wheat flour, with poetic license much like "chuuka soba" or "yakisoba."

The buta no kaku ni is lighter in color than the typical Japanese version, thanks largely to eithered reduced quantities or the complete absence of soy sauce.

Normally, making substitutions at lunch is impossible, as it severely messes with the kitchen's mojo during the business lunch hour. But we came a little after 1pm, and the restaurant said they'd be happy to cook something off the dinner menu if I couldn't find something suitable from the lunch menu.

So we ordered the closest things to vegetarian dishes we could find.

First up was nigana no shiro-ae, made with a bitter herb indigenous to Okinawa. Nigana is a somewhat ambiguous term in Japan, but in Okinawa it seems to refer to one local species of plant. I was expecting this to be more of a vegetable dish than a tofu dish, but considering the intensity of the flavor, the proportion of tofu to herb made sense.

I can't quite place the flavor, but it would be somewhat fair to compare it to arugula or maybe dandelion greens.

Another dish, recommended by one of Hiromi's friends, was a soft tofu dish called yuri-doufu, somewhere between oborodoufu and kinugoshi-doufu in texture. It's quite similar to Korean-style soon-dubu. The soup it's served with is far from vegetarian, but was mild in flavor.

Nigana tofu and yuri doufu

I had another dish called hirayachi, an Okinawan-style pancake comparable to a the simplest Korean pajeon, but described in Japanese as "Okinawan okonomiyaki."


Unlike pajeon, the hirayachi I had did not contain scallions. The Okinawan dish is often made with nira, usually translated as garlic chives, an essential ingredient for making gyoza. I think there may have been a few pieces of tiny dried shrimp in the batter or maybe finely chopped kamaboko, and it's topped with katsuobushi, but I retain a sense of humor when dining out, especially in Japan.

The pancake is served with substantial portion of a mild soy-based dipping sauce, much less salty than the typical Korean equivalent. It's very simple, and since it's so thin, it probably just takes a few minutes to cook, but I like it.

We lingered long enough that it was already coffee hour when we finished, so we stopped and had some espresso-based drinks at some concept chain from the Illy brand. I ordered some odd (but actually nice) stuffed marshmallow concoctions, one made with tomato jam and the other flavored with coffee, as a little sweet thing.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Summertime socials

The last few days I've been fairly social, meaning that my kitchen is seeing only minimal use. Except for a Friday night experiment preparing chappati and Indira's green garbanzo and paneer dish with a haphazard, soft, homemade almost-paneer that was more like Ethiopian lab cottage cheese, I've mostly played it safe, seeing as I was heading to parties.

Even my home cooking was rather conservative, including some simple dishes like Roesti for brunch, with a sour cherry shake on Sunday afternoon, an idea stolen from a Matthew Amster-Burton article a month or so ago.

My camera wasn't really handy on the weekend, but since almost everything was a rerun, I'm just going to apologize for recycling some old photos.

Saturday I had to run an errand that made me late for my first party of the weekend, so I thought of two things I can make with about 5 minutes work.

Roasted potatoes 

Roasted potatoes

Roasted potatoes just take a little slicing, a little rubbing with olive oil, and a sprinkling with salt, seasoned or otherwise. I could carry all the equipment I needed with me to the party, do the quick preparation, and take over the unoccupied oven for about 25 minutes and out came some magic. The version I actually served involved Volterra/Ritrovo's porcini salt. (Roasted potatoes I last posted about here).

Insalata caprese

Insalata caprese

A staple of my summer repertoire, insalata caprese with heirloom tomatoes is always a crowd-pleaser when the tomatoes are at their best. Even though I prepared this before everyone's eyes at the party, people still thought there was some mysterious technique to make the dish taste good... But it was just the buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil that mattered most, along with a sprinkling of salt on the tomato slices and some fresh ground pepper over the whole thing.

Channa gobi masala cups

 Channa gobi masala cups

Channa gobi masala cups, a variation of the channa gobi masala nests I've made before, this time using sheets of filo rather than the shredded kadaifi. For some reason, PFI didn't hae the kadaifi, but the little filo cups are equally appealing. The curry was a simple cauliflower-split chickpea dish with finely chopped vegetables, just like above. The cups were just butter-brushed filo sheets folded so that they would make little cups in my mini-muffin tin. Baked until crispy and golden-brown, they provided a convenient package for party-sized nibbles.

I'd almost call this a rut, but I know better. I don't usually take big risks when heading to someone else's party... Simple, familiar (to the cook, anyway) and temperature-flexible fare is what potlucks are all about. Plus it's an unseasonably warm summer... even I want to get out of the kitchen as quickly as possible.

Toraya Cafe: Wagashi reimagined.

After our big lunch, we found ourselves at Toraya Cafe, another fancy Omotesando Hills concept restaurant.

You'd think that we couldn't possibly have room to eat more.

However, to think so, you must be oblivious to the concept of betsubara... literally, separate stomach, the idea is expressed rather verbosely in English as "there's always room for dessert."

Toraya Cafe is a contemporary-style wagashi shop... Much like Tsujiri Cafe, from Uji, they reference traditional wagashi (Japanese confectionary) but playfully reimagine flavors and presentations. Toraya, though, is a very old confectionary company, and their parent company is equally adept at old-school and contemporary wagashi.

Most of us ordered some sort of beverage, generally some kind of tea. Kristin ordered  a "matcha glacé", a sort of sweet matcha drink that doubles as a dessert.

Tōnyū Pudding with Matcha Sauce

Tōnyū Pudding with Matcha Sauce 

I ordered some azuki-cha (roasted azuki mean tea) served cold, with optional wasanbon syrup, a lightly processed sugar cane syrup, as a sweetener.

One of the things I love about soy-based foods in Japan, including desserts, is that, for the most part, little effort is made to conceal the soy flavor. In fact, the aroma of the soybean is often intentionally highlighted. Soy is not some sort health food or a second-class milk or meat substitute, but, when suitably fresh, a remarkable flavor all its own.

This tounyuu purin, or soy milk pudding, has a pronounced soy flavor and is pleasingly creamy.

A thick matcha-based crème anglaise adds a bittersweet touch and contrasts nicely with the soy pudding.

Dark azuki beans, slightly sweet, garnish the dessert in the same way you might expect to see in a coffee-based dessert.

Oshiruko With Pu-erh infusion

Oshiruko With Pu-erh infusion

This remarkable variation of oshiruko, sweet azuki soup, is relatively traditional except for one subtle base note: The azuki are simmered with earthy Chinese pu-erh tea. Since azuki already has a somewhat earthy flavor, the flavor doesn't dominate, but provides a pleasant underlying accent that adds a subtle complexity to a dish that normally has a very straightforward, sweet flavor.

A few shiratama, also slightly tweaked for this dish, had, I believe, a little accent from white sesame seeds.

Although Toraya is a fairly large company, their cafe is, for me, one of the pleasant things that can happen when someone with vision and firm roots in a culinary tradition smartly reinterprets their palette of flavors and techniques with a creative eye. It's not hit-you-over-the-head culinary drama, but it's pleasingly innovative, and worth seeking out.

Purple potato lavash, Larry Anne plum crumble, orange cauli

I’ve been sleeping very little the last week or so, but not so much from jetlag… just a lot of stuff going on, and my insomnia truly kicks in when my little mind is fully engaged. I might be back to normal this week, but I think I’m going to need to spend a lot of time at the gym to take my mind off things.

We did eat reasonably well, but I was usually completely dead after dinner, save for the inability to sleep.

Orange cauliflower gratin

Orange califlower gratin 

Sometime last week, Hiromi took the second half of our orange cauliflower and made a wafuu gratin, complete with a toasty panko topping.

Purple potato pizza

Murasaki jagaimo closeup

I wasn’t quite finished with my stash of lavash, so we covered it with some blue cheese and something else mild and meltable, now long forgotten, with just the slightest brushing of olive oil, and some pre-roasted purple potatoes. Hiromi thought that I had bought purple sweet potatoes, because the concept of an ordinary purple potato never entered her mind.

Although purple potatoes are slightly less sweet and creamy than a typical white-fleshed potato, that worked out as a strength when played against the creaminess of the melted cheese. Hiromi devoured her half.

Larry Anne plum crumble

Larry anne plum crumble

We had two spectacularly beautiful Larry Anne plums, and two that were so sweet they bruised a bit on the way home. We turned the less pretty ones into this plum crumble. I usually wouldn’t torture such lovely fruit by cooking it, especially since the season for these Chilean plums is so painfully short, but we risked losing the damaged fruit so some more nefarious forces if we didn’t make immediate use of them.

I took a little butter, oatmeal, flour, sugar, and toasted soy butter, in roughly equal parts, to make the crumble topping. I would usually use peanut or almond butter, but I happened to have this toasted soy butter Hiromi and I bought a few weeks ago as a bread topping. It reminds us of kinako, which is toasted ground soybeans, and a frequent source of flavor for Japanese sweets and for boiled mochi. It turned out to be a great foil for the sweetness of the plums, providing a nutty contrast without competing for attention as aggressively as peanut butter does.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34