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.

The results are in

Somehow all of the running around last week kept me from actually writing any updates or even reflecting on what was happening.

Most everything went reasonably well. I chatted with the attorney I mentioned last week, and learned some useful things. I was able to get a verbal agreement with a manager of a local specialty market (to remain nameless for now) to carry my Dragon Beard candy.

Dinner at Patrick's was pleasant... I brought by a hijiki dish with renkon, snow peas, and fresh soramame (fava beans), as well as a kind of nimono with morels, lion's mane mushrooms, and baby bok choy; Naoko, Patrick's wife, made a vegetarian curry and a tomato salad. Afterward we collaborated on dessert, with some gyokuro-cha from Patrick's cabinet and some homemade quince infused liqueur (karin-shu) that I brought, and some strawberry-basil-yuzu sorbet that I made served with some nice fresh figs from Naoko's kitchen. We ended up watching a 1952 Japanese film called Ochazuke no aji, mostly for the title's hint of a food theme... It was kind of like watching a movie adaptation of a Jane Austen novel set in Japan.

On Friday I ate at Carmelita with Kazue and a visitor from China, which was nice but the food was somehow disappointing to me. I usually really appreciate their generally sappari approach to food, but some things were less than memorable this time. After Tony's work schedule settled down, he met us for drinks at Sambar, which after two visits is probably now my favorite little Seattle cocktail place. I don't consider myself much of a drinker, but even the non-alcoholic house drinks there are something special; the vibe is also very nifty... very understated; the typically accidental hipness of Ballard.

Over the weekend I visited the obligatory Fremont Fair and Solstice Parade. Living in Fremont makes failure to attend inexcusable, as it would be an awful waste of free parking... Anyway, the fair was appropriately cathartic; it was also, as could probably be expected in an election year with Republicans in power and going to war, slightly more politicized than the last one I attended. The inflatable effigies were clever.

This week I really have to catch up on my web retail site, and I also have an urgent need to complete a few other errands like setting up my credit card merchant services in time for the street fair. If all goes well, I'll make some progress on those things and still go out and make a couple of small sales calls.

Holidays are like work, only busier

I thought the last couple of days before Christmas would finally calm down, but I didn’t quite get to rest. I had a flood of late orders, some of which may have been meant for after-holiday purposes, that kept me up late. This combination of working a contracting gig (a.k.a. a job) and operating a business has already been fairly overwhelming, even though I haven’t quite done a “full” work week at Revenue Science yet… Due to holidays and competing commitments, I’ve only been “on the clock” 28–38 hours/week for the first few weeks.

The good news is my web orders this month have now beat any previous month, so the “Christmas magic” seems to have done its job. Because I had quite a boost from previous months between July and November, and relatively conservative Google and Overture/Yahoo ad spending, the jump wasn’t quite as dramatic as it is for some retailers. I also failed to get much in the way of self-promotion done this season because I was just so overwhelmed with other work from November on, so I think I can do a better job with some advance planning and maybe some hired help next holiday season.

Hiromi and I took my brothers, stepfather, and stepgrandfather to the Christmas Eve Seahawks game last weekend, where I narrowly avoided a parking ticket. I thought Christmas Eve was a city holiday, but watched some other cars being ticketed on the way to the game, and made a beeline to my car to get it in a garage. My mother couldn’t make it to the game because she had to take care of my grandmother, and due to some misinterpretation I didn’t quite realize this until about 45 minutes to kickoff… we tried to offer the ticket on the street at face value, but most average folks weren’t interested in a single, premium 200–level ticket when their main goal was to get inside the gates, and the scalpers that came up to me wanted to pay less than face value so that they can claim they had to pay $74 or whatever for it; my rush back to my car made any further negotiations complicated, so we didn’t get anything out of the extra ticket.

I actually had a couple of deliveries to make on Christmas Eve, since I had a few locally-destined internet orders that I had planned to hand-deliver, but couldn’t squeeze in during the week. I liked bringing such orders in person, but it’s no longer feasible unless it’s a very large order. Under my current circumstances, I think I’m going to have to go back to using FedEx Ground for local shipments, because I can’t deliver in as timely a fashion as they can, and it doesn’t save me any money right now when it takes so much time out of my day.

We went to a family party at my grandmother’s house after the game, which involved about 20 dessert options and nothing savory, so I threw together a frittata to have some kind of protein source… Hiromi and I took my little brother out to dinner at a corporate restaurant in downtown Bellevue late at night.

In spite of a pretty hectic schedule, we’ve usually taken 30–60 minutes a night to make a passable meal, and a few times I’ve made some more interesting things.

The night before Christmas Eve we made some pleasant manicotti, with San Marzano tomatoes; the filling involved chevre in addition to ricotta fresca. I used fresh oregano and basil, and some shiitake mushrooms in the sauce.

Manicotti side viewManicotti in the pan

On Christmas Day, I made a pizza with a potato-based dough that, in my small circle, I’m known for… We roasted bell peppers in a hurry, and served it with some very nicely caramelized brussels sprouts, seasoned with garlic.

Jagaimo Pizza with roasted red peppersRoasted red pepperBrussels sprouts

I’m not quite caught up… more good food to come… and probably some end of the year thoughts.

Toasted baguette with champignons

As a starving student in Marburg, Germany, I used to eye a couple of shops that apparently specialized in baked baguettes, quite often with Camembert or Brie, and some vegetable, mushroom or meat. The concept was as simple as it was seductive.

But in fact, I never made it inside the place… most of the time, it wasn’t even open as I passed by. It was on my way to university, but not terribly convenient to trek back to during lunchtime, and in fact, except for the occasional incredibly cheap Turkish Imbiss food or 5 Mark wood-fired pizza special at an otherwise unexciting Italian restaurant, I rarely indulged in eating out.

Of course, it was so easy to recreate such pleasures in my dormitory kitchen, and at the time, I couldn’t convince myself to pay for something that I could just as easily make at home. I had far more time than money.

Now I can’t say I have a lot of time or money, but conveniently, this worked out to be a quick and frugal meal.

Champignon baguette with Brie

Baguette with champignons

I buttered some second-day Le Fournil bread and added some chopped garlic. I sauteed some shallots in butter until slightly browned, then sweated button mushrooms with some thyme. I added a splash of wine. The baguette is stuffed with the mushrooms, and I covered it with a bit of soft chevre and a young Brie. Upon serving, I ground some pepper and sprinkled a hint of truffle salt atop the sandwich.

Rapini paneer

Rapini paneer with rice

Rapini, a bitter green, has a hint of broccoli's aroma with a suggestion of mustard's pungency. Somewhat similar to turnip greens, it's also known as broccoli rabe or raab, even though rapini isn't related to broccoli.

I usually blanch it briefly, much like spinach, before using it in anything I cook. The blanching process allows the color to stay reasonably intense, and also mellows the bitterness. Even sautéed rapini benefits from this, although I've been known to take a shortcut from time to time.

I sautéed some onions with garam masala and some garlic, ginger, coriander and cumin. I added paneer, which cooked for a minute or so, before adding the finely chopped rapini, and a touch of tomato puree (not essential, but I had a little too much... a fresh tomato might be nice), and then I covered and simmered the dish for just a few more minutes.

While it's fairly common to puree spinach in palak paneer, I chose to skip that step with my rapini version. The result might be a bit more creamy with the pureed version, but I like the texture of chopped rapini. Besides, not all versions of palak paneer involve making the greens unrecognizable...

With blanched rapini, the dish cooks quickly. Serve with daal for a complete meal...

Rapini paneer

 

Civic obligations, yuzu, photos from Japan

Post-jetlag insomnia has set in over the last few days, but I woke up and started some of the necessary housecleaning I've neglected since returning from Japan.

I managed to get myself to the polling station near my home... it's just a short walk. I was expecting it to be crowded, but there were no lines out the door... it was busy around 3pm, but nobody had to wait.

This afternoon I made a surprising discovery... In one of my carry-on bags, I discovered three yuzu and another deteriorating citrus fruit from Mashiko inside another plastic bag.

The yuzu are still in good shape, but I need to use them fast because there is some hint of deterioration. The other fruit, whose name I forget, was already in bad shape when it came off the tree, but it had a nice aroma.

Mr. Minowa, a ceramic artist I met in Mashiko whose work I have been importing, drove me to the train station after I met him on the last Friday of my Japan trip. Somewhere on the way toward Kasama, he noticed a big yuzu tree in someone's front yard and started reaching over the fence to acquire a few fruit, still mostly green. He wasn't terribly concerned about the owner of the house; he said they wouldn't be missed because there are a lot of yuzu.

I was bummed out because I knew I'd have to leave most of them in Japan, but I did use one of the yuzu to keep some apples from browning when I made a cheese fondue. It turns out that the yuzu found themselves in my luggage after all. I don't know if I unconsciously grabbed them or if Hiromi slipped them into one of the bags, or if something else happened. But it's an excellent excuse to make yudoufu.

Last night I finally bulk-resized photos that I should have posted while still in Japan, but I got a little bit busy. The first few photos shown below are from my visit to Mr. Minowa, who lives in Mashiko, close to Kasama. The last time I was here with Hiromi, it was completely dark. So Minowa-san was happy to give me a tour of his home in daylight, and his wife served really nice apples and English tea.

 

Minowa-san is showing me the flora in his backyard.
Sansho fruit pods on the tree This is a citrus plant called sansho. The seed pods are very aromatic; rubbing the skin reveals hints of citrus with some cinnamon-like base notes. The leaves are also edible and make a nice garnish, although Minowa-san says this variety of sansho has better fruit than leaves.
Sansho detail photo Mr. Minowa gave me some sansho to take home.
Sansho detail with extracted seeds The black seedpods in here can be used in cooking, and will be similar to the Chinese sichuan pepper; they might have a slight numbing effect on the tongue. Minowa-san said this variety's seeds are better when green; fall is a little late for harvesting for culinary purposes.
Japanese flowers A few close-in shots of flowers from Minowa's backyard.
Japanese flowers I don't know anything about flowers, but this isn't a daisy.
Japanese flowers Minowa-san was telling me the Japanese names of each of the flowers, but I promptly forgot because I only caught each name once or twice, and he showed me a lot.
Japanese flowers Regardless of the name, this is a really nifty flower.
Yakimono from Mashiko-Tanaka Saori At one of the galleries I work with, I saw this work. Tanaka Saori does a lot with interesting abstract motifs; they feel a little rustic but have sort of modern appeal.
Yakimono from Mashiko with momiji Another artist I like had a lot of momiji (Japanese maple) motifs.
Yakimono from Mashiko, toruko (Turkish) blue The gallery where I found Minowa-san's work last time was highlighting a Mashiko artist who does lots of work with Turkish Blue glazes.
Hanamaki meal at Oosawa onsen OK, it's a little late, but here's the spread from the hot springs resort called Oosawa Onsen in Hanamaki (near Morioka) where I stayed on my second night of this trip. This is the vegetarian meal. I was impressed because rather than just provide fish-less or meatless versions of the same things they served to my friend, they changed a number of side dishes for balance purposes. This was one of the nicest meals on the trip.
Edamame Yuba, tofu, and shiso with shredded vegetables Proof that some of the nicest dishes are also the simplest. Some tofu and I believe edamame-yuba is served with shredded vegetables, a little wasabi, shiso, and a dipping sauce (not pictured).
Persimmon (kaki) stuffed with aemono Another one of the side dishes. I'm a pushover for things presented in sweet, crisp hollowed-out persimmons, ever since I had a little ohitashi presented in a persimmon at Yuu-an (Nishi-shinjuku) a few years ago. This is a kind of ae-mono, lightly dressed vegetables.
small sweet Japanese kabocha stuffed with kinoko and takenoko A warm side dish brought after we started eating, this small sweet squash half is filled with various mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and tiny eggplant. It's a very clean flavor, and the broth poured over is slightly thickened, probably with katakuriko.
Hiromi and another cheerleader in Tokyo, Japan Hiromi's (center/top) hobby is cheerleading, so she invited me to watch her team perform at a football game, along with my friend and sometimes assistant Kazue, who returned to Japan during my own business trip.

Roasted vegetables, broiled nagaimo

I was a bit at a loss on what to make for dinner Thursday night, but I had a few things in the refrigerator that I wanted to take advantage of. I was home a little late and wanted to keep it simple, so I just cut some vegetables up and prepared them for roasting.

Roasted artichokes, sunchokes, and acorn squash

Roasted purple artichokes, sunchokes and danish squash

We had a medium-sized purple artichoke handy, some acorn squash, and some sunchokes, sometimes called Jerusalem artichokes. I tossed the sunchokes in a bit of salt, and everything else just went in a grill pan straight into a hot oven. While the vegetables were roasting, I whisked up a harissa-seasoned mayonnaise. I also toasted some walnuts, chopped finely and seasoned with salt, and pressed some soft chevre, which has been sitting neglected in the refrigerator since I first used it last weekend, and it needed a sense of purpose.

I also made a quick pesto pasta, taking advantage of some leftover pesto.

Actually I wasn’t very excited by this meal, because I put no thought into it. I didn’t think roasting vegetables was anything to write home about, but Hiromi was far more enthusiastic… Simplicity is also rewarding.

Last night I also kept things simple,  I made a few slightly tweaked Japanese dishes, including a nimono of acorn squash, a suimono or clear soup of fiddlehead fern fronds and tofu, some kyuuri no sunomono with iyokan no kurosu (cucumber marinated in citrusy black vinegar), and some grilled tofu drizzled with soy sauce seasoned with yuzu-koshou (yuzu peel and chilies). Each dish just requires a couple of minutes of attention, and it all comes together when it’s time to eat.

Nagaimo no negimiso dengaku

Nagaimo negimiso dengaku

The most interesting dish of the night was sort of izakaya-ish. I lightly broiled some slices of nagaimo, the starchy tuber that is an essential component of good okonomiyaki and a breakfast staple served as tororo-imo with rice and soy sauce. I boiled miso, mirin and sugar together until it was bubbly and thick, then added some minced scallions into the mixture. I flipped the nagaimo, topped them with this negimiso concoction, and put it under the low-heat broiler again just long enough to bubble. Topped with a little more chopped negi, it’s a pleasing twist on dengaku dishes. The yamaimo took on a slight softness, retaining an almost juicy quality, without providing much of a hint of its nebaneba (sticky) tendencies, and the sweet-salty topping provided enough flavor and contrast to balance the starchy base.

OK, time to do some real work

I tried to sort through piles of brochures and business cards today and I sent out a few follow-up inquiries to some companies that I have the most interest in. I think I got far less done than I should have, but it was at least an acceptable start. I have piles of companies to contact in order to establish an initial relationship.

For dinner, I picked up some “u no hana”, also known as “okara” and mixed with some onions, water, oil, and an egg to prepare a kind of okara burger/croquette type thing with some expensive brie and I also made a little salad with an improvised Japanese-ish dressing. One of the things I probably should have figured out a week ago is where the nearest grocery store is, as I keep on doing my vegetable and grocery shopping at Odakyu and Keio department stores, which is far from the most cost-effective solution to my dinner requirements.

Late at night, I realized a friend of mine who stayed in Seattle was on MSN Messenger, so I invited her join another friend of mine with whom I had already made plans. The three of us knew each other in Seattle, and in spite of relative proximity, they haven’t seen each other for about a year.

Chayote squash minimalism

I'm a complete sucker for simple preparations of nice ingredients.

It wasn't always that way. When I first had enough of an income to support occasional dining out, I always thought it was better to order food that required equipment or effort I was unlikely to duplicate at home. Why pay a premium for a dish I could throw together myself in just a few minutes?

But after a couple of years, I realized that complex cuisine tended to be disappointing, perhaps because so many variables made it hard to pull off "sophisticated" dishes with any degree of consistency. Now I tend to be happiest with simple, well-executed fare. I still love dining out, but I'm more likely to look for dishes that are simple and playful, or classically basic and seasonally appropriate, rather than elaborate or ostentatiously creative.

At home I've seriously simplified my usual fare, as well, and I just love doing as little as possible to bring out the best in an ingredient.

Chayote squash is one ingredient that benefits from pronounced yet fundamentally uncomplicated seasoning. I like it with little more than fresh citrus juice and salt.

Matchstick-cut chayote squash with lime and pico de gallo

chayote suqsh with lime and pico de gallo seasoning

Except for some brief high-risk mandoline maneuvering, this refreshing side dish is almost effortless. I simply matchstick cut the squash, rub the pieces with some coarse salt, and wait a few minutes for the squash to sweat while preparing something else.

I try to squeeze out excess moisture, but it's ok to be a little lazy about that. Then I squeeze in a generous splash of fresh lime juice and chill for a while to marinate. If the squash starts out cold, it could actually be eaten right away, but I didn't have that much forethought. I just let it rest for a while while I finished the rest of dinner. Besides, it keeps nicely for three or four days refrigerated, and it's nice to have a refreshing side ready to go.

On the plate, I sprinkle just a little pico de gallo seasoning, which is nothing more than salt, ground cumin, and chili. If this dish sounds like a typical preparation of jicama, that's no coincidence. It just works.

Chayote squash has the texture of a crisp pear or raw daikon but has hints of the aroma of cucumbers and melon.  When you add the lime juice, the magic starts.

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Somehow I managed to work relatively efficiently

This afternoon I processed all of my internet orders without too much chaos or distraction, which was a bit surprising, since I often run around a bit. I noticed today that I missed delivery of a bunch of cardboard boxes and packing materials, which probably came yesterday when I was busy debugging SQL code.

Before noon and actually again in the evening, I met up with some other folks who participate in eGullet and Mouthfuls, which are food-focused community sites. It was nice to see some faces associated previously only with online personas. I also got to try Zigzag, is below the Pike Place Market near Procopio Gelato. They have a lot of interesting signature cocktails. I think Sambar remains my favorite drink spot in town, but the peach bitters-enhanced “Trident” was very nice.

This weekend my demo schedule is a little lighter, so I’m going to try to take advantage of that. I am dropping in to a matcha class at Blue Dog in U-District tomorrow, and Sunday I’ll be at Uwajimaya in Bellevue.

Unplanned Valentine's Day Dinner

We had a couple of expensive grocery shopping days at Whole Foods and PCC this weekend… on a whim, we made an extravagant cheese fondue on Sunday night, full of cave aged gruyere, good appenzeller cheese, and a less noteworthy but still essential emmentaler, built upon a Swiss white wine and kirsch. We served it with some rye bread, some Granny Smith apples, red bell pepper, and blanched asparagus and lotus root.

This would have been a nice Valentine’s Day dinner. But it was still Sunday.

On Monday we picked up a few more ingredients to put together a Japanese-style rice casserole called doria, and we gave some consideration to Valentine’s Day dinner but never really settled on anything in particular. We decided we would make a chocolate fondue with various fruits and some sugar cookies, but the savory course never quite rendered in our imaginations.

When I got home that night, I tried to think of something that would make sense without requiring another trip to the supermarket. Somehow, the thought of a calzone fritti popped into my mind, as unromantic as it might seem. I proposed a few alternate options to Hiromi, but that one seemed the most interesting to her. I incorporated marinated artichoke crowns, olives, cheese, and a quick marinara sauce into the filling; the outer layer was a simple wheat dough. The whole pastry is deep-fried, producing a crispy but thin exterior.

Calzone Fritti

Calzone fritti

When Hiromi woke up this morning, she prepared the dough for some green tea sugar cookies or shortbread, made with matcha, and when I got to work on dinner, she started rolling out the dough and cutting it into shapes. These would serve as one of the dippables for our chocolate fondue.

Matcha sugar cookies

Matcha sugar cookies

The chocolate fondue featured a fruit selection of blood oranges, Granny Smith Apples, banana, and kiwi. We meant to include some kinkan, or kumquat, but I became a bit distracted and forgot about them entirely.

Chocolate fondue-destined fruits

Fondue-fruit

The chocolate wasn’t completely melted in any of my photos, so I’m purposely avoiding highlighting it. Besides, it was Valentine’s Day, so I should leave some things to the imagination.

Gifts for Hiromi

Hiromistash

This was my little gift to Hiromi for Valentine’s Day: Her favorite shaved chocolate from Fran’s, for making hot chocolate; Fran’s decadent hazelnut and chocolate stuffed figs; and 5 raspberry heart truffles and one lavender truffle from the soon-to-be legendary Bellevue, WA based chocolatier, Fiori. The heart-emblazoned guilt-free-plastic duckie complements our large collection of devil ducks. Since the Japanese custom is for women to give chocolates to men rather than receiving gifts on Valentine’s Day, this is something of a first for her. Of course, there is a Japanese reciprocal custom a month later, but the couples-ness of Valentine’s Day isn’t quite practiced in Japan… That’s what Christmas is for.

As my 15–year old rotary coffee grinder turned spice grinder went to its final resting place about a week ago, Hiromi’s Valentines gift to me was a more pragmatic one: a well-componentized rotary coffee grinder destined for the same spice-grinding labor.

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