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.

Working on sales

The last few days I've been meeting people who are either potential customers or have some useful contacts for doing sales. I'm encouraged, though it's still going to be a lot of work to get the kind of volume I need in order to make a living.

I also talked to a banker who was encouraging about the prospects for my products and may even have some useful contacts for me. I still haven't picked which bank to go with, but I'm starting to feel inclined to have a small local bank on my side for keeping most of my money plus an account at a big bank for handling credit card transactions and international wire transfers.

Today I even got contact information for a buyer at a pretty significant department store, and someone at a smaller group of stores around here that tends to do specialty stuff. In both cases, it was just due to chatting with some employee at the store that I was snooping around in. It's not a sale, but it's a more direct route to people that make buying decisions than I expected I'd need.

Of course, it would have been sensible to get customers lined up before I made this leap. But there is a kind of thrill in doing it the hard way :)

One thing I'm a little embarrassed about is my product samples presentation... I really need something better than a cardboard box filled with an assortment of things when I start presenting to customers that are strangers to me... so I started hunting for something that will work better as a samples case.

I ate a dosa today at a South Indian restaurant in Bellevue for dinner. I need to avoid spending money at restaurants right now, but it was a kind of business meeting. Other good stuff I acquired this week include a cheese with embedded lavender and fennel made by Quillisascut. I love those guys. I've been eating simple stuff this week but I haven't completely gotten out of the habit of buying good ingredients... I may have to be more parsimonious if I don't manage to make a few good sales in the near future, though.

Onsen tamago with truffle salt, crumpets with fig jam

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.

Ahiru no onsen tamago with truffle-jio, crumpet with  fig jam

Farewell to Masalisa

I went to a farewell party for Masalisa, the little tea shop in Ballard that I’ve been going to occasionally for maybe a year and a half. They will turn over the tea shop to another couple in a few days and then focus full-time on the new business, which, of course, I’m participating in as their sales broker. Actually I came straight from an abbreviated matcha latte demo at Uwajimaya to Ballard.

I always liked that space and I hope the new owners retain some of the character.

At the party I ran into a former MSN colleague and his wife, who runs Pare*Umbrella, a company that imports contemporary Japanese-designed umbrellas. I also met an employee of a sake distributor who knows some of the other importers I do, which just goes to show the circle of Asian importers makes up a very small world.

Masa and Lisa’s son charmed the crowd by performing renditions of Queen songs on a children’s amp and guitar setup, and a 5–piece ensemble of attendees played Okinawan shamisen and sang folk songs. It was the last chance to eat Masa’s Matcha Roll Cake, though I think he changed it a bit on this last occasion. A few people brought snacks, and I felt like a slacker because I didn’t bring anything except some dragon beard candy samples… I would usually cook something for an occasion such as this.

Today the heat of the last few days finally subsided… on Friday I was stuck in a car most of the day in 90 degree (Fahrenheit) weather, and Saturday I served a tremendous amount of iced matcha latte samples (soy and regular) at Uwajimaya. Today I only made it hot… It cooled quite considerably.

Besan bread

Somehow I just can't get enough of chickpeas lately.

Besan bread

Last weekend, I made the medically unfortunate mistake of going to the Fremont Solstice Parade last Saturday with a not-quite-healed metatarsal. Even though I was mostly standing, wearing a supportive medical boot, and generally resting on my unbroken right foot, this wasn't so clever. I mostly succeeded in irritating my right knee, exacerbating the dull pain in my left foot into acute agony.

So I decided not to repeat that mistake by being all in-denial and active... I stayed domestic most of the weekend. I didn't even shave until 3pm on Sunday, though I owe that mostly to the fact that I ran out of shaving cream.

As a completely irrelevant aside, don't ever bother to use the shaving cream supplied in a little 5ml packet that comes from the shaving kits in hotels and ryokan in Japan. You only have this at all because you stash it in your luggage in case your tiny sample-size shaving cream suddenly runs out on your trip, and you completely forget about it until returning to the US, when it gets unceremoniously stashed somewhere in your medicine cabinet until, one day, you run out of shaving cream. Then, you discover that it's not really enough cream to do much good, and that, in terms of quality, it's just a slight step up from a moisturizing soap. Second, it smells almost exactly like a Band Aid.

So I was really craving something along the lines of a dinner roll, but I wanted something a bit more protein-dense than the average bread, I also thought it would be nice to have a nice stew, so I made a variation of the channa masala that I previously served with the besan roti.

I wanted just a hint of spice and I wanted something moist and reasonably soft, so I chose to use a little garam masala and some butter and milk in service of that ambiguously dinner-roll like quality that is easier experienced than described.

The ingredients were, roughly:

  • 150 grams (about 5 oz) besan flour (chickpea flour)
  • 350 grams (about 12.5 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 250 ml (about 1 1/8 cups) lukewarm milk
  • 1 tbsp. melted butter or ghee
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. yeast

This is prepared like most yeast doughs: mix dry ingredients together except for the yeast, create a well, add the melted butter and milk with the yeast. Gradually incorporate the flour into the sponge by stirring along the outer edge of the well, until the dough comes together.

Kneaded until smooth but fairly sticky, the dough rises for a couple of hours before I divide it into into 12 rolls. I let the rolls have a second proof while the oven preheats to 425F on a cookie sheet, then I bake them until golden-brown, about 15 minutes. I test for doneness by tapping on the bottom of one of the rolls, making sure it sounds hollow.

They need to cool down and rest a few minutes, but can be served warm with butter and a nice stew or curry.

The outer exterior is still crisp, but the interior is moist and aromatic with hints of cumin, coriander, cloves and cinnamon. With a little bit of butter they're just rich enough to be eaten on their own, but they're also a perfect foil for a stew or daal.

Besan bread with chickpea soup,

Not a disappearing act, and grilled donut peaches

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

Pursuing my passions

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.

Easter brunch

This year Easter is solo... and, while I don't practice any particular religion, I'm willing to adopt a pagan custom or two in service of good food.

I'm too lazy to dye eggs, and probably will remain so as long as I have no children to entertain, but I'm sure willing to crack a couple of eggs.

The other thing about dying eggs is that the presentation contributes nothing to the taste of hard boiled eggs. I'm all for pretty presentations, but I'm much more motivated to create functional presentations. Whatever I decorate with should make the dish taste better. Otherwise, I'm content to just let the plate decorate the food.

Spring frittata

Spring frittata with ramps, early morels and blanched rapini

Sosio's was selling fresh wild ramps yesterday, which are a wild onion family member, sometimes called wild leeks. They're generally skinnier than the skinniest scallions, and the greens are almost leaf-like. The flavor is sharp, complex, and slightly earthy; they're more aromatic than scallions, distinct from but reminiscent of shallots, and have a sort of leek-like base notes. They're also very fragile and tend to have an incredibly short shelf-life.

They were also offering some "early morels", which are actually members of the verpa family. When sliced lengthwise an inner fleshy stem is revealed, distinguishing them from true morchella, which have a stem that doesn't come apart from the rest of the body. Apparently some people have allergies to the verpa, and there are some varieties, not common in the Pacific Northwest, which are slightly toxic when eaten raw. Cooked, they're quite nice, and they greedily absorb all the aromatics they're cooked with.

I still had a small bit of blanched rapini left in the freezer, so I had a nice trio of ingredients for a spring frittata. Gently sautéed in some nice olive oil with a pinch or two of salt, the trio of spring treats contribute a lot of flavor to a simple egg dish.

For the eggs, I just whisked a couple of room temperature eggs together and added a bit of seasoned soup broth, mixed them together and added them to my nice nonstick pan right over the vegetables. I stir the eggs with saibashi (long chopsticks for cooking) to help create nice curds and to keep the eggs from browning prematurely. Before the eggs are set, I briefly place them under a broiler, and the eggs puff up dramatically.

In my experience, when the eggs are browned in the broiler, the eggs become unpleasantly hard—almost tough—so now I just let them puff up a bit and flip them over onto the serving plate, revealing the golden-brown bottom while retaining an almost-fluffy texture.

Topped with some citrusy ash-covered Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog cheese and chopped ramp greens, this simple frittata features wild, citrusy, creamy, earthy, bitter, and gently sweet flavors all at once, somehow without any one of those flavors conflicting with the others. It's just the right thing for a lazy Sunday.

 

Takikomi gohan in donabe

During spring about a year and a half ago Hiromi and stopped at a kamameshi-ya-san, or cast iron pot rice restaurant. They served us a simple dish of seasoned bamboo shoots with rice, but on a cold day it’s very comforting. It’s a classic one-pot meal, usually featuring big chunks of vegetables.

We don’t have a lidded cast-iron or similar pot to make kamameshi, but we do do have a nice clay pot, or nabe, with a sturdy lid. We decided to make takikomi-gohan. Last night, I prepared some dashi with soy sauce, mirin and salt yesterday, and started soaking some hijiki. Tonight Hiromi soaked some rice and chopped some carrots, and I sliced snow peas while she prepared some water for blanching.

Hijiki-takikomi

It cooked with the lid on, topped with seasoned hijiki, aburage and carrots, for a bit over 30 minutes. After the rice had cooked the rice was stirred a bit to incorporate everything somewhat evenly, and we added the blanched snow peas.

Before I got home, Hiromi also prepared another nimono, this time with our remaining quarter of kabocha. I’m a big kabocha fan.

Kabocha-nimono

A few years ago, one of my Japanese friend’s mother explained that Japanese men who lived through World War II tended to dislike kabocha because it was one of the few sources of nourishment that was widely available. I fortunately don’t suffer from any such hangups, but the only way I ate squash growing up was baked with brown sugar and butter. Japanese preparations of kabocha, as simple as they tend to be, opened my eyes up to all sorts of possibilities.

Last dinner with Hiromi

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. 

Dizzied

My morning didn’t end up as productive as I needed it to be; I was hoping to get some more paper for gift cards for online orders in the morning, do some order packing, and handle a wholesale order that I needed to deliver. One of my errands today required obtaining just-finished matcha-chocolate dipped fortune cookies and trekking them out to the Eastside, with the intent of getting  back in time to finish the internet and phone orders on my plate. This didn’t work out very well, since I had to do other things on this side. I am a bit frustrated, because I’ve been really behind schedule on a lot of things recently.

I got home fairly late, so I kept dinner simple… some grilled corn with Japanese mayonnaise, pico de gallo salt, and lime juice; simple quesadillas with a pepita salsa, and some sliced jicama with a heavy splash of lime juice and a little more pico de gallo salt.

CornandquesadJicama1

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