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.

It was too hot

Sunday we endured almost unpleasantly hot weather most of the day. Seattle’s summers tend to be moderate and plesant for the majority of the season, but this season we’ve alternated between drearily cool and cloudy and excessively sunny.

To cool off, we had sakuranbo soumen, another treat from my stash of FoodEx sample booty from this March.

Sakuranbo soumen

Sakuranbo-soumen-only

Made with cherries to bring out a pinkish hue, the soumen are cut slightly thicker than typical. Hiromi kept the noodles in a bath of ice water in one of my Hagi ware bowls, doubling the pink.

Ever so slightly sweeter than ordinary soumen, you’d barely notice the difference, bu the visual appeal is certainly striking.

Sakuranbo-soumen-only

We’re not much for convenience foods, but thanks to the insanely warm weather, we did take advantage of the supplied dipping sauce, diluted with a bit of water and further chilled with an additional ice cube.

It was a refreshing dinner, especially after a heavy breakfast and lunch.

We made hiya-yakko (cold tofu) with yuzu-kosho, a sort of staple around here, to go with it, and another cold dish, an ohitashi of ingen (green breens), blanched and dressed with nothing more than ginger and soy sauce.

Ingen-no-ohitashi

In fact, for the ohitashi, we used a sesame-derived “soy” sauce, marketed in Japan to those unfortunate enough to have a soy allergy in a country as dependent on that bean as Americans are on corn. For the hiya-yakko, we used a high quality Japanese Maru-daizu soy sauce, and found the flavor surprisingly hard to distinguish when served side-by-side.

WaFooD: 5/29 is Konnyaku Day!

Update: For those of you coming from elsewhere, the roundup so far is posted here. Please send me your entries by Sunday and I can include the procrastinators...


A couple of weeks ago on eGullet, member Hiroyuki noted that May 29 is Konnyaku Day.

5/29 could be read “Go Ni Kyuu” in Japanese, which sounds very roughly like “Konnyaku”. That little dajare, or wordplay, is as good an excuse as any for the Japanese konnyaku farming industry to celebrate the gelatinous products of the devil-tongued root.

Since the non-Japanese blogging world is probably oblivious to such events, I thought it might be fun to invite a few English bloggers to make their favorite konnyaku dish, or try something completely new. It’s a bit short notice, but if you have a blog and you would like to join in, send me a link to your “5/29” celebration anytime from now until May 30. Contact me using the “Email" link at the top of my blog, or just leave a comment below. I’ll round up anyone who participates and include them in a roundup starting on May 29. This will be the first event in a series I’ll call WaFooD, explorations of Japanese cooking ingredients and techniques.

Dengaku Konnyaku with Sansho

Konnyaku dengaku

What is Konnyaku? Wikipedia says it’s a tuber valued for its starchy corm, which still leaves me bewildered, and I actually cook with konnyaku relatively often. I guess I must not spend a lot of time with corms.

You might be surprised to find out that konnyaku’s starch is processed much the same way that corn for making tortillas or hominy is treated: subjected to some torture by limewater, the starches from the plant are apparently converted to something magical.

Insanely gelatinous, but relatively low in calories on its own, konnyaku is popular in Japan as a diet food. People believe that it expands in their stomach and keep them feeling full, though I suspect most of that expansion has happened already when it’s processed. I'm not really into food as medicine; for me, it's just another fun ingredient.

Popular applications include blocks of konnyaku which can be used for dengaku konnyaku or any number of other treats, thinly sliced konnyaku for “sashimi”, tied konnyaku for oden or nimono (poached, simmered dishes), noodles called shirataki popular for one-pot meals called nabe. In Taiwan, some manufacturers have turned konnyaku into yet another vegetarian "meat."

Sometimes konnyaku is processed into sweet confections with fruit flavors, but a skittish FDA forced recalls after discovering cases of a dozen or so people that carelessly swallowed the snacks whole and choked. The remaining products in that category were reformulated, and the remaining examples of those products in the US barely have any konnyaku in them. I guess Jello Jigglers weren’t considered dangerous, but these mysterious foreign vegetable products had to be stopped!

Eat small bites, but be adventurous! A few extra grams of fiber can’t hurt you.

OK, get in touch with me and tell me about your konnyaku creations. They can be Japanese-style, fusiony, or adapted to your local cuisine. If you’ve got photos, even better! See you May 29…

To make it easier to find you, you may also include a technorati tag for WaFooD in your post, just like below:

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A Little Respite in Gunma-ken

We departed Japan on Sunday, but not without a valuable trip to Takaragawa Onsen, a hot spring ryoukan in Gunma prefecture.

After a quick lunch at a Meguro-station cafe on Saturday, Hiromi drove us through a mysterious maze of toll highways about three or four hours, but I managed to sleep through about two hours of road time, oblivious to my surroundings. Only when traveling internationally do I seem to magically acquire the ability to fall asleep anywhere, anytime.

For me, a stay in a ryokan is an opportunity for an extravagant simple meal, but it also offers an ideal bathing experience…

We stopped briefly at a highway service area for a snack, and after resting a bit upon arrival, we made a quick trip to the rotenburo (outdoor hot springs bath). This hotel’s rotenburo is one of the largest konyoku-buro (mixed baths). Although in other konyoku-buro, people generally enter the onsen naked, people at this onsen are advised to cover themselves with a towel (men with a tiny towel, women with a larger towel), as one sign indicated, so that “nobody has to be embarrassed” using the konyoku-buro.

We didn’t feel comfortable really photographing the baths themselves, of course, but here’s what we found along the way…

Lukewarm spring water

Nuruisen

The irouri as ashtray

Irouri-ashtray

In old Japanese houses, people sat around the irouri to share dinner and discuss the day’s business. For the contemporary onsen-goer, it seems to be a destination for an ippuku (rest, but actually a euphemism for a smoking break).

Tengu

Copper tengu

This hall is filled with tengu and tanuki, mystical creatures with exaggerated body parts.

In the ryokan eating area

Jasonatryokan

After soaking a bit we sat down to dinner. In this particular ryokan, most floors have two or three eating areas, at least in the steerage class, although in the most expensive rooms they serve fancier meals in the room.

Shokuzen-shu

Shokuzenshu

The apertif seemed to be some sort of shiso-based shochu infusion, heavily sweetened and only lightly alcoholic.

Kinoko sumibi-yaki

Kinoko no sumibi-yaki

Sumibi-yaki, char-grilled foods, seemed to be the theme of our stay. For a spring meal, the selections we were offered were surprisingly full of various “wild” mushrooms, but we had some fresh spring bamboo shoots as well.

Mmm-flames

Each table has a small shichirin, or clay grill, placed atop a concrete trivet with a wooden base to buffer against heat damage to the table.

Note to us

Ryokan-notetous

Each diner receives a note describing tonight’s menu. You can see from the “yamame” (small fish) and “joushuugyuu” (local beef) items that this is Hiromi’s menu.

Mame

Mame, slightly savory

A rare sweet-savory bean side dish, apparently typical for this area. Most of Japan prefers beans as a dessert, but this dish is prepared with enough salt to make it a pleasant side dish for a savory meal.

Maitake no itame-ni

Maitake-itameni

Several standard side dishes, such as ohitashi (blanched vegetables), pickled vegetables (nozawana, for example), and other obligatory ryokan fare, such as nabemono, were also featured. I had a cold dish with a kind of abura-age in clear soup, as well.

Sleepy Hiromi

Hiromi sleepy

After the meal, Hiromi became a bit sleepy.

On the banks of the river

Onthebanksoftheriver

We somehow managed to fall asleep around 9 in the evening, but the next morning, we awoke to this view outside our room’s window.

The bridge to the hot springs

Takaragawa bridge

We took advantage of the hot springs once more in the morning… a bit of snow started falling upon us while we were bathing.

Breakfast

Asagohan-takaragawa

Breakfast included miso soup, salad, bamboo leaf-wrapped nattou (fermented soybeans), more of the sweet-savory local beans, yogurt, an orange segment, and a soft-boiled egg, as well as some pickles and nori, not pictured.

Grilled potatoes, green beans and carrots

Youfu sukiyaki

This marks the first time I’ve been served ketchup at a ryokan, but my breakfast featured a sort of Western-themed sukiyaki, in lots of butter, meant to be dipped in ketchup.

Shake no sumibiyaki

Shake-sumibi

Salmon for Hiromi. We had a lot of fire at our table.

Breakfast window view

Breakfast snow

From our seats at breakfast, we could see the tall winter accumulation of snow that hadn’t yet sublimated or melted.

Display hearth

Display irouri

I’m guessing this irouri, not terribly well ventilated, doesn’t get much use in practice.

Goodbye!

Takara onsen

We had to rush back to Narita airport, where we met Hiromi’s parents one last time, and started the long journey back home.

Sheep's milk custard, red wine kale, and some nice dates

This really ought to be made for two.

Of course, I'm on my own right now, so that doesn't quite work out. But that's no reason to eat like a prisoner. After all, self-indulgence is its own reward.

This weekend, I somehow developed an inexplicable urge to eat some kind of sheep's milk cheese.

It started yesterday, when I remembered I still had a couple of quince I needed to use up. I had more than I actually needed for an infused vodka I started last week, so I boiled the remaining quince with sugar and water to caramelization, added additional water and lemon juice, and pureed everything into a flavorful, smooth sauce.

As soon as I tasted it, for reasons I can't possibly explain or understand, I immediately thought I'd like to have some sheep's milk cheese with that sauce.

Somehow this urge was transformed into a craving for a sort of savory cheesecake or custard.

I found some nice manouri cheese, which has a texture similar to cream cheese but is made from a blend of sheep’s and goat’s milk. I blended this with grated Bellwether Farms San An Shee and an egg. Freshly grated nutmeg added a bit more magic, but no salt was needed, since the cheeses were already both a bit salty.

The ideal vessel in which to bake these “cheesecakes” would probably be a tiny springform pan or a custard cup, but the smallest springform pan I have is still way too wide. In retrospect, I could have used my non-stick mini-muffin pans, but I chose to hand shape the cheese into small rounds, and baked them free-form on a Silpat mat. Fortunately, nothing tragic happened.

Whipping the mixture with a blender would probably produce a lighter, smoother texture, but I was in the mood for something a bit more rustic.

I served the finished custard, embedded with a parmesan crisp, atop roasted thin golden beet slices, and spooned some of the quince sauce over the top. It’s nice with lightly dressed escarole and radicchio.

Winter makes me want to eat dark leafy greens, so I accompanied this with some garlic sauteed kale, simmered with vinegar and red wine. The pleasingly tangy kale still had a hint of crispness.

Two dates stuffed with pepadew-studded soft chevre provide a sweet-savory distraction from the saltier custard.

Along some nice multigrain Macrina bread and an oregano-seasoned lentil soup, it was very satisfying.

Maybe one or two days off

Most people take Christmas Eve off, but I'll probably do a few hours of promotions at Uwajimaya Seattle before attending a family party.

The Hong Kong folks took off Wednesday, only a few hours after Hiromi arrived in Seattle for a two-week visit. Tuesday, our last full day, we ran around doing a few morning errands, although I dropped Mr. Wong's son Hong off at GameWorks, where he spent about 6 hours playing "Street Fighter 3."

Everyone else went shopping. We stopped at the Pike Place Market for a whirlwind tour and visited Bacco for lunch in their new "Bistro" location, where Mr. & Mrs. Wong and Lavina shared a crab sandwich and a lox bagel with some soup and salad. I had a panini of some sort suitable for vegetarians.

I think I added about 5 pounds to my waistline in the last two weeks due to constant restaurant eating, even though I tried to be more cautious about how much food I was putting down my throat. With no meaningful level of exercise and a plentiful supply of heavy food portions, I was feeling some serious stomach pressure by the end of the week.

We ate our last dinner together at Lark in Seattle, which roughly met expectations and was overall quite appealing to my supplier. The atmosphere is pleasant, the food is decent, the portions are just right for sharing between four or five people. Not counting alcohol, I think we spent about $23-24/person including a reasonable tip. (Keep in mind that none of us were starving). With the alcohol I think it was a little higher, as the wine list tended to be pricy. We had a modestly priced sparkling wine at about $32/bottle and a couple of other drinks, but I don't recall seeing a red wine under $50/bottle on their wine list.

Today I ran around like a madman in the afternoon but it was mostly in search of food for the next few days. I fulfilled a wholesale order in the morning. Hiromi was driving tonight's dinner plan, featuring a tofu gnocchi and a gobo soup from a Japanese macrobiotic magazine I picked up on my last trip, and I prepared something for tomorrow's family gathering, basically filo cups filled with a savory cheesecake, upon which I will place some sauteed chanterelles with sage pesto and shallots, or probably some lox and capers for the non-vegetarians.

I need to eat more judiciously the next few weeks so that the holidays don't lead me back to my early Microsoft expansion...

Last day before a long journey home

We had our last demo today, in Milpitas, which attracted record crowds and pretty respectable sales. Saturday was surprisingly calm in Foster City, but the 99 Ranch store there is beautiful and well-suited for presenting the candy.

We had a few issues with proper display of the product in one store yesterday, and today we discovered one store had mislaid our cardboard display stand since signing for delivery. I am hoping to properly resolve these in the next couple of days.

I'm expecting good results overall in the Bay Area as word spreads, and we had a healthy launch for the area this week.

Tonight I learned one of the stores in Seattle has gone through a lot of inventory in the last two weeks, so I'm trying to decide whether to pull some inventory from other stores or to sacrifice some of my inventory meant for internet orders. I wasn't expecting to need another shipment this quickly, and the Hong Kong side had some unexpected orders, so I had not budgeted for a new order, and the Hong Kong office doesn't have much capacity to spare as they ramp up for Chinese New Year.

We ended up eating at a really horrible Japanese restaurant tonight after a tour of Macy's in San Francisco. I knew it was trouble before walking in, but my preference was overridden. I ate some not so freshly boiled edamame, a strange squash-filled roll, and some oddly prepared firm agedashi-doufu. I couldn't eat two full pieces of the agedashi-doufu because it was so mediocre. The staff didn't understand Japanese, and as far as I can tell from the misspellings on the menu and the waitstaff interactions, everybody working there was Korean. I left at the suggestion of Lavina to hunt down something I might enjoy more, and walked around aimlessly looking for a snack.

Last night we had a good meal in North Beach though, so I think that makes up for it.

Naked roasted cauliflower

Naked roasted cauliflower with Spanish paprika

Isn't this sexy?

Cauliflower soup may look homely, but the most minimalist preparation of roasted cauliflower can still make heads turn.

Roasted cauliflower became trendy a few years back, and I fell in love with it long ago. In my kitchen, it's become such a common fixture at when I bring home cauliflower that I never give it much thought.

It's certainly fun to play with the basic ingredients. Sometimes I add a few pine nuts in the last few minutes of baking; maybe a splash of wine and a few currants; perhaps some herbs.

But roasted cauliflower is equally satisfying at its simplest. I usually slice the head of cauliflower or break it into florets, then I do little more than add a generous sprinkling of olive oil and salt.

This time, I used some Korean bamboo salt and a little bit of Spanish paprika. The bamboo salt that I used has a small amount of a Korean herb incorporated into the blend, but the flavor is very subtle, if it's recognizable at all. The Spanish paprika adds a pleasingly smoky quality and a sweet aroma.

Roasted at 375F until golden, the cauliflower requires little attention. I usually flip over the florets once or twice, usually after each 15-20 minutes in the oven. I usually bake it somewhere around 40 minutes in total, sometimes a little longer. Most vegetables don't hold up to long periods of cooking, but cauliflower is an exception.

The best thing about roasted cauliflower is that it only takes two or three minutes to prepare, and you can let the oven do the hard work while you're preparing the rest of the night's dinner.

When the cauliflower is finished, it becomes soft and inexplicably sweet. You can serve it naked, like I did, or, if that's not exciting enough for you, it goes nicely with a little tsatziki or aioli.

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Korean ddeok sweets at Jilsiru

Jilsiru cafe

Jilsiru storefront, Insadong, Seoul

After a little walking around Jongro (aka Jongno) on Monday, a friend suggested we go to this nice Korean ddeok cafe in neighboring Insadong. The cafe serves teas, smoothie-like concoctions and traditional and updated Korean confections.

Ddeok assortment

Various glutinous rice cakes: yuja, su

Clockwise, from top: Yuja-flavored (jp. yuzu) ddeok with coconut, ssuk (jp. yomogi, mugwort) flavored rice cake, red bean filled, and apple with coconut.

Red-bean ddeok

Red-bean filled ddeok

I could swear I detected a slight hint of gaennip (perilla, shiso) in this red-bean filled ddeok but my friend was convinced that couldn't possibly be the case.

Persimmon shake

Persimmon shake with pumpkin seeds

This fairly simple frozen persimmon shake was a delight, though in retrospect I think I should have ordered some bitter tea to accompany my sweets, instead of a sweet drink.

Jilsriru take-home souvenirs

In case you need something to take home with you...

 

Rhubarb season

Last Saturday I came home with a bundle of rhubarb, so I quickly turned it into a compot and kept it handy throughout the week.

At breakfast a few times, the simmered rhubarb found itself in a lassi or smoothie-type drink. Made with a little buttermilk, a banana, and some ice cubes, the sweet-tart concoction kickstarted my morning without my usual caffeine hit.

This morning, though, I wasn't in the mood for a liquid breakfast. That, and I really wanted coffee. It's hard to convince myself to make coffee when I'm already drinking something else.

Observant readers may have noticed a distinct surplus of bread in this week's postings... This is because the obscenely large pseudo-baguette I got from my neighborhood market (from Seattle's A La Francaise) is incredibly difficult for a single person to finish. There are other baguette options in Seattle that are sized more conventionally, but they weren't available on the night I decided I needed some bread.

Well, I finally found a way to use that last little bit of bread today.

It wasn't even a struggle...

Rhubarb Buttermilk French Toast

Rhubarb french toast

Conventionally, french toast is briefly soaked in milk then dipped in egg. I would like to have done that, but thanks to my lassi adventures earlier in the week the only dairy I had at home was buttermilk, so I used that instead.

Buttermilk pancakes aside, the possible outcome of using buttermilk in french toast concerned me slightly. Buttermilk pancakes work in part because they are typically made with baking soda, which requires acid in order to yield a leavening effect, and the reduced acid after the leavening reaction makes the pancakes aromatic but mild in flavor.

Surprisingly, the buttermilk worked quite well. I was expecting it to be excessively yogurty, but no such disaster befell me. I don't know if it's because the topping was already sour, or that even with a few minutes of soaking the percentage of buttermilk stays fairly low, or because I love sourdough french toast and some of the same flavor notes were coming out of this.

Anyway, I'd definitely make it again when confronted with excessive bread. Two stalks up.

On the streets: Scenes from Namdaemun market

We didn't really do much buying, aside from our Hoddeok, but Namdaemun is a crazy busy place full of tourists looking for visual drama and trinkets to take home (that would be us) and locals looking for cheap clothing and the occasional fish or vegetable.

Ginseng Shop

Ginseng infusions, Namdaemun market, seoul

These were stunning bottles of infused ginseng roots.

A small restaurant welcoming Japanese

Youkoso, youkoso, koko-e

We discovered that it is a very bad idea to speak Japanese in Namdaemun market.

No, there wasn't any overt hostility, but the merchants take the sound of Japanese as a cue to turn on the hard sell, and to charge higher than normal prices. Hiromi had the impulse to buy some gim (nori, a.k.a. laver) as a souvenir snack, but the price, for her, was always man-il-cheon-weon for a bundle, 11,000 Won, about $12. If I asked a shop for a similar item in the same size in English, it was 8000 Won, or about $9. The cost in Tokyo for most types of Korean seasoned laver is most likely cheaper than that.

We actually gave up on the market when we saw a sign targeting Japanese selling the exact same brand as one of our earlier overpriced places, atypically with actual price signs. I misread the sign as W2000, but was actually JPY2000; we thought we were getting a deal at about 1/5 the typical price, but it was actually almost twice as much as the same thing at other shops.

We found some very good gim at a department store adjacent to the market, for a very reasonable price.

Sea cucumbers

Sea cucumbers

Well, some sort of amorphous sea creature, anyway. As a vegetarian who gave up meat far before I started exploring the culinary world deeply, I'm not exactly sure how one prepares them.  Perhaps like Japanese takosu?

The sea cucumber vendor hard at work

Squirt vendor

Salted fish

Salted fish

Presumably ready to grill...

Bundaeggi

Silkworm larvae, bundaeggi, Namdaemun market

Stewed silkworm larvae... not for the faint of stomach, the smell is overpowering even if you're just passing by. Hiromi spotted a little boy gleefully eating them one-by-one with a toothpick from a paper cup... She wasn't adventurous enough to try.

Clothing bazaar

Clothing bazaar in Namdaemun

Inexpensive clothing, often with fake paper-labeled brand names or patched-on embroidered logos.

Child's apron

Child's apron in Namdaemun market

Ddeokbokgi and skewered fish cake stall

Ddeokbokgi

The ajumma at these stalls selling stewed foods always seem surprisingly relaxed.

Korean dragon beard candy

Fresh from the hands of the young master

A Korean version of dragon beard candy, called yong su-yeom yeott in Korean.  

Almost ready to stuff

Cutting in to pieces

In Korea, these are actually cut with scissors rather than by a yank of the hand, which probably makes this go a bit faster.

Filling the candy

Filling the candy

 

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