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.

Raspberry Lassi, Moon Viewing

I struggled to figure out the quirks of the high-powered convection oven at Floating Leaves Tea in Ballard yesterday, but after the second test batch I figured things out and started to get a rhythm. The oven fits about 5 baking sheets at a time, so I baked about 60 cookies at a time. I stopped counting how many batches I made.

When I finished, I know I had baked somewhere between 300–400 cookies…. If I recall correctly, it involved about 5 pounds of butter, about 8 pounds of flour, about 4 or 5 pounds of white chocolate, and a fair supply of pine nuts, not to mention a lot of matcha. Anyway, after baking an absurd amount of cookies, and cleaning up after myself, I rushed to Cash & Carry for some disposable cups, ice, and milk, then I made a brief stop at home to pick up my cooler and some ice. I managed to encounter some traffic on the freeway heading over to the arboretum, but I arrived just about 5 minutes before people started to line up at the Japanese Garden.

A few people were a bit confused about where I was supposed to set up refreshments, as is the nature of volunteer things, but I met my contact and got myself a little table to offer refreshments to guests of the moon-viewing festival. I stayed until about 10pm, since a fairly constant flow of visitors moved in and out of the garden. The sunset came a little late for moon-viewing, but I think the reason for staging the event so early in the year has something to do with the unpredictability of September weather.

I served iced tea donated by Floating Leaves, including a Jasmine, a Chinese Green, and something herbal, and of course I sampled matcha latte. I managed to use up absolutely everything I came with… It turns out that at least 500 people came for the festival.

I passed around a lot of business cards, and close to closing time I spoke a bit with Elizabeth Falconer, who is a well-known Seattle-based Koto player, and her family.

With some leftover raspberries, a bit of sugar, and some buttermilk, I made a kind of raspberry lassi today… No mangoes around, but raspberry works quite well.

Raspberry Lassi

Today, I finally made a dent in an upgrade from DotText to Community Server v1.1, although it did not go completely smoothly. My photo gallery is missing as of yet, and I haven’t had time to migrate my previous skin design, or tweak any of the new ones.

 

Gussied up Thanksgiving leftovers

I usually end up with too much gnocchi when I make them; it’s not easy to, for example, bake less than a quarter of a squash or less than two potatoes.

My excess butternut squash gnocchi from Thursday went straight into the freezer, but I felt compelled to dig right back into them on Saturday night. And although I love the squash-enriched cream sauce I usually make to accompany them, I wanted to do something a tiny bit different.

Butternut-gnocchi-tartufo-butter

I wanted to make further use of my truffles in something other than an egg dish. I was a bit worried that the truffle might overwhelm the squash flavor, but it turned out to work well in moderation. I just put a bit of shaved truffle in sizzling butter, added a tiny bit of preserved lemon, and adjusted seasoning a bit after adding some pasta water to the butter-truffle sauce.

Instead of using a cheese like parmesan, I shaved over the pasta a bit of an interesting aged goat cheese that has an almost fruity quality that contrasted nicely with its nutty flavor. I carelessly tossed the label, but I hope I can track it down again when I crave it next…

International District Street Fair is on

I registered for the street fair that takes place in the International District July 10/11. I plan to show off the Dragon Beard candy and the ceramics from Japan. Hopefully they will do well, but more importantly, it's a good venue to get some attention.

Before dropping off my check and space application, I made a stop at the office of the newspaper where I once worked, and chatted with my former publisher a bit about what I'm up to. I also talked about some rates for an ad campaign with their ad sales manager.

The last pottery class of the quarter is actually a potluck, with some cleanup, and, for those with some glazing or decoration to do, the last chance to finish that up. The only thing I had unfinished was a little ceramic train which still needs to be bisque fired before I can glaze it, so mostly I was chatting.

Before running off to pottery class, I prepared my contribution to the potluck, which is a slight variation of something I brought to a party a month or so ago. I basically put shredded filo dough, coated with butter, into a mini-muffin pan; in this case I filled the centers with chopped asparagus, orange bell peppers, caramelized onions, a little bit of sweet pepadew peppers, and some cave-aged gruyere and pine nuts. It sounds more elaborate than it is; I put everything together fairly quickly, especially compared to last time I made them. Actually this time I also made a non-dairy version using olive oil instead of butter and hummus instead of cheese, since one or two people in class have some dairy issues.

I also showed off a few pieces of work from the potters that I bought from in Mashiko... Minowa Yasuo, Akutsu Masato, and Senda Yoshiaki. Most items went over pretty well... I guess the next question is how well they will go over with audiences less familiar with the value of handmade pottery.

On Sunday we had a raku firing, and I had three pieces in the load. Nothing terribly exciting, but they did turn out pretty nicely. I also picked up a couple of plates and a tea bowl I had recently glazed.

O-sip-seju and nokdu jeon: A little late night snack

Sunday night in Seoul I was on my own, and incredibly jetlagged. After visiting a pottery gallery, I briefly met with a friend in Gangnam station, then I went back to my hotel near Seoul National University of Education to rest a bit... I researched some dining options, but most of the interesting ones required traveling 30 minutes or more across town and perhaps a bit more careful navigation than I was able to handle with my level of energy.

I was mostly inclined to sleep, but I was getting pretty hungry.

So I walked in the area surrounding my hotel for 20 or 30 minutes, and found a little place whose menu promised nokdu-jeon, a pancake made from shelled, ground mung beans. As I've mentioned before, I'm a sucker for jeon, so I went right inside.

Steamed custard

Korean savory egg custard

They presented a few small side dishes, included a plain savory steamed custard, which we also had at a Gangnam station-area drinking establishment we visited on Saturday night.

My nokdu-jeon

Nokdu-jeon in Seoul

These had a chewier than usual texture, so it's possible they snuck some meat inside, but I didn't recognize which one. The most common preparation of nokdu-jeon or binddaeddeok, as far as I can tell, is actually sans-meat, though many restaurants specializing in binddaeddeok serve some seasoned oysters or similar savory ingredients atop the pancakes in place of a dipping sauce.

They were pleasingly crispy on the outside, but overall I wasn't as excited by these nokdu-jeon as I usually would be.

O-sip seju

O-sip seju in a big baek-seju bottle

I figured, since the place I was in was mostly a drinking venue, the polite thing to do was to order something to drink with dinner. I had noticed they had o-sip seju on the menu when I was standing outside. I really like the basic flavor notes of baek seju, which is an herbal liqueur based on soju, but I find it a bit too sweet on its own.

Baek means 100 in Korean, and o-sip means 50. Baek-seju is therefore "diluted" with higher-alcohol, lower sugar soju in a 1:1 ratio.

That would suit me fine. Or so I thought.

It didn't occur to me that ordering such a thing means I was, for all practical purposes, ordering two full 500 ml bottles of soju. And I was by myself. Oops.

I didn't drink the whole thing. In fact, I barely made a dent, although I think I had about 300 ml in total. In terms of alcohol content, That's probably the equivalent of most of a bottle of New World red wine, which I am unlikely to consume in a typical evening. But I was jetlagged... it wasn't a typical evening.

Though I was still quite functional, falling asleep that night was no problem.

 

The dangers of Yurakucho

For people who appreciate food and would like to take a bit of Japan home with them, Yurakucho (Yuurakuchou) is a dangerous place. It’s home to the regional food specialty shop Mura-kara Machi-kara Kan, which features fresh and packaged foods from all over the country, as well as alcoholic drinks, and Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza, which features lots of treats from Hokkaido. A short walk from here will take you to another shop that focuses on all things Okinawan.

If you’re easily tempted, it might be best to avert your eyes as you walk by these shops.

Yuurakuchou-shopping

We left with soba karintou (buckwheat sweet crackers), haru yutari karintou (a wheat snack), black sugar peanut crunch, a shiso drink base, yomogi senbe (mugwort-flavored crackers), Hokkaido Tokaji wine caramels, Hokkaido hascup caramels, Hokkaido’s famous raisin butter cookie sandwiches (not from the most sought-after brand, but still quite tasty), murasaki-imo senbe or purple sweet potato senbe from Okinawa, another purple sweet potato snack also from Okinawa, some yuzu-flavored konpeito (hard candy), shiikuwasaa kokutou (Okinawan citron flavored black sugar), shiikuwasaa Calpis, some snackable salted konbu (kelp), kiritampo (rolls of mochigome toasted sort of rotisserie style, often used in nabemono or hotpot meals) from Akita, some heart-shaped cookies, umi-budou (sea grapes) from Okinawa, smoked eggs, yuzu-miso, yuzu kanten, yuzu-sake, ume-shidzuku (chewy Japanese apricot kanten candies) and two bottles of yuzu juice. Hiromi also picked up some drinking yogurt from the Hokkaido shop flavored with hascup berries, but we drank that before even getting back to the hotel.

Most of these items found their way into our luggage, but the Hokkaido raisin butter sandwiches have long since disappeared, because, of course, they are so perishable and we couldn’t possibly keep them…

For the most part, these shops carry items that are not widely distributed even inside Japan, so if you want to suprise someone with a little gift with minimal probability they will find the same thing in their local Asian market, this is the place to go.

Rushed bread

I’ve been swamped today trying to catch up with orders. Unfortunately, I didn’t get as far as I had hoped, so I need to knock out a lot of the rest tomorrow or I’ll be in desperate shape.

I was able to pick most of my orders for in-stock things picked but some complications made it impossible to get everything out. I’ve never been this overwhelmed before.

Just after making the ground cutoff for FedEx, I went back home and got a yeast dough started, while I worked on some other things. I really needed a brisk walk to decompress, so stepped out for about 30 minutes. I’m really exhausted, and I really got minimal sleep last night. Right now I’d like to be packing a few more orders to get a jump on tomorrow, but I’m so worn out I’m afraid of making mistakes.

This bread proofed only for about an hour, so it never developed any real flavor or textural complexity, but it formed a nice crust.

Rushed bread

Kabocha curry with atsuage

I am not a big fan of Japanese-style curries. They usually aren’t vegetarian, anyway, since they are usually made with beef fat and bits of various animals, and the “vegetable” curries are usually some unmemorable hodgepodge. In a pinch, though, I’ve been known to take the vegetable curry when handed a hotel food voucher, or when lacking other options at some roadside “service area” along the highway in Japan. My preference at such places is just to get a snack like O-yaki or some taiyaki or dango.

I was trying to make use of ingredients that were on hand tonight, and my initial impulse was to make some kind of squash soup, and then I was at a loss on what to do with a bunch of fried tofu (atsuage) I got on the weekend.

Finally, I decided to make some sort of spicy vegetable dish, and I used a base of ghee, garam masala, some cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cloves, a little amchur powder, mustard seeds, fresh chillies, and possibly some other spices… I sauteed onions and created a roux, which I usually do not do when making Indian style dishes. This turns the dish into a more Japanese-style curry; roux is really the defining feature.

I added raw ginger and some liquid, brought the sauce to a boil to thicken, and simmered kabocha and atsuage until the kabocha was soft. I had to adjust salt and seasoning a bit. I guess it was moderately comforting, but not very exciting for me.

Kabocha tofu curry

Channa gobi masala nests for a neighborhood gathering

Last night I walked to a small-scale town meeting in my neighborhood to listen and quietly participate in discussions about the upcoming election. Jennifer advised me to bring finger food, but I got home a bit later than I intended, so I didn’t get started preparing food until about 20 minutes before the event.

My intended contribution was slightly more time consuming than this allowed, and I didn’t have a backup plan, so I arrived about an hour past the official starting time. Even though I was running late, I wanted to stop and take a little photo.

Fortunately, the group had only started their planned agenda a few minutes before we arrived.

Channa gobi masala nests

Shreddedfilo-channagobimasala

This looks elaborate, but much of the preparation time is idle, waiting for something to simmer or finish baking. I needed to chop onions, cauliflower, and chickpeas, and I grated some ginger; I toasted and ground some spices, and I melted butter to coat some prepared shredded filo dough.

To form the nests, I pulled clumps of the butter-tossed shredded filo and pressed the threads into a mini-muffin form, taking care to leave a depression for the filling in each muffin cup.

For the channa masala, I used a blend of garam masala,  fenugreek, cumin, cloves, brown mustard seeds, and one or two things I’ve since forgotten, toasted and ground them, and brought them back into the pan with some ghee. I cooked down some onions, added cauliflower, then included some chickpeas and tomatoes, and a little amchur powder for a hint of acidity. I forgot that I wanted this to be a bit thicker, since it was a filling, so close to the last minute I added a little starch dissolved in water. Each vegetable is chopped very finely to make it suitable for bite-size portioning.

After the filling was ready, I spooned it into the nests and baked for roughly 20 minutes, until the bottoms of the nests were lightly browned.

A reunion: Rappopo pie with Hiromi

Rapppo sweet potato apple pie

I don't remember how long ago it was, but probably about four or five years ago I was staying somewhere in Nishi-shinjuku... Several times on the way to somewhere more interesting than Shinjuku, I found myself walking right past a tiny bakery called Rappopo. I was tempted by the aroma of constant baking, and by a shockingly long line for a train station bakery.

Most people were walking away with a Rappopo Pie. It's built on a foundation of pie crust, or perhaps what in Germany is called Biscuitt-Teig. Above that, there's a thin layer of something like pound cake, followed by a thick layer of sweet potatoes, and a layer of apples, and then topped with some sort of lattice-pattern piped streusel.

At about 700 yen, give or take, it seemed like too much to indulge in all by myself, so I kept waiting until I had a good excuse to buy one... maybe a chance to split one with a friend or three... well, such an opportunity never arose on that trip, so I finally grabbed one on my way to Narita airport.

Once I arrived at the airport, I set out to eat one quarter of the pie while it was still a bit warm, thinking I'd snack on some of the rest during the middle of the 9 hour flight.

Narita airport is a really boring place to be trapped for a couple of hours, especially if you've been there a dozen times or so and you've seen all of the duty-free shops, convenience stores, and gift shops. Even more so if you've already done all your gift shopping before leaving.

So after due consideration... Do I want to walk around the airport aimlessly for another twenty minutes? Or have another slice of this nice pie? I chose the more comforting, fattening route.

Every 20 minutes or so I repeated this internal conversation, until the pie had completely disappeared.

Friday afternoon when I arrived in Tokyo, I had some time to kill, so I spent an hour or so at Shin-Marunouchi building on opening day, but I avoided every temptation to try one of the many fantastic-looking new shops.

But when Hiromi and I met on the Yaesu side, we passed another location of Rappopo, and our fate was sealed... we had to have one of those pies.

Reunited with both Hiromi and Rappopo, the three of us made our way to the Ochanomizu weekly apartment we had arranged for this stay in Tokyo. Hiromi and I each tucked into a small wedge of the pie shortly before we started hunting for dinner, some towels and some knee supporters for my increasingly temperamental legs.

 

Jiyuugaoka, A restless kind of leisure

Last night Hiromi’s parents picked us up at the airport and took us to our hotel near Shirakanedai station, and treated us to dinner at a kind of izakaya-like spot at Meguro station called Himono-ya.

Himono-ya is one of many basement restaurants in Tokyo, a class of restaurant that occurs primarily in extremely urbanized parts of the U.S. but is fairly ubiquitous in Japan. I recall most German city hall buildings even in moderately small towns tended to have a restaurant, often called “Ratskeller” (City hall basement, unpoetically rendered in English), which tended to serve standard bourgeois German fare. Most of the U.S. restaurant scene prizes street level space and ignores all other options, which means that we don’t spend a lot of time eating underground.

Anyway, we had a pleasant meal that, after 10 hours in an airplane, might have tasted much better than it really was. We had a plate of variously dressed hiya-yakko (cold tofu), an assortment of grilled vegetables with simple condiments, a kabocha salad (more salad than kabocha), and a couple of grilled fish dishes for those who were eating animals. I started falling asleep toward the end of our meal as I didn’t rest on the plane at all and only had 6 hours of sleep the previous several nights.

Today we woke up around 5am and nibbled on whatever we had smuggled into the country with us. We ate some slightly less than agetate curry pan at a Meguro deparment store, and then made our way to Kobeya bakery, where we indulged in some more carbohydrate laden fare.

Satsumaimo Boat

Satsumaimo-boat

Behold, a “Sweet Potato Boat”. This is a crumbly cake with nutmeg and cinnamon and serious sweet potato chunks.

Sakura danish

Sakura danish

A bit more seasonally appropriate, we had this star-shaped sakura (cherry blossom) danish, full of buttery decadence and featuring bits of presumably preserved cherry blossom seasoned bean paste. Nearly cropped out of the frame are some mochi-mochi mini cheese-filled buns, which we would also recommend.

Tribute to Roboppy

Crumbs

These crumbs are all that were left.

We headed to Jiyuugaoka, not far from Shibuya, for aimless shopping (really, market research). We have some very cool booty from a 100–yen shop and some more extravagant minor indulgences which we’ll post later when we are less completely jetlagged.

I’d like very much to highlight our lunch, but the low lighting conditions in the restaurant meant that our meal was represented sufficiently blurrily as to be unrecognizable. We ate at a restaurant which focuses on negi in all its guises, from scallions to Japanese leeks and perhaps some European varieties. Hiromi had some kind of unagi-topped rice garnished with scallions and served ochazuke style, with tea. I had tororoimo with negi served over brown rice with some pickled konbu, sweetened miso and tarako as accoutrements, along with a nice springtime nimono of simmered bamboo shoots and lotus root, along with a sweet dashimaki tamago with scallions. We both had a nice wakame soup with spiral o-fu (wheat gluten) strips.

Late afternoon we made a pilgrimage to a tea shop operating out of an old house, where we ordered two very Japanese confections.

Anmitsu

Anmitsu

Anmitsu is a dish of fruit and anko (sweet red bean paste), often served with a black sugar and honey syrup called kuromitsu. In some cases it may be augmented with ice cream, though the shop where we went serves it fairly simply. Anmitsu is the main reason I keep coming back to Japan on a regular basis. (OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration…)

Thick matcha and zenzai

Matcha-zenzai

Zenzai is usually little more than anko  and shiratama, but this nifty version is elegantly bittersweet, slightly covered with thick matcha. I feel a need to replicate this in my own kitchen.

At night we met up with an old friend of mine from my Microsoft days, and a friend of Hiromi’s, whom Hiromi has known since elementary school, dropped in after a late shift at a hospital. We ate at Meguro’s Tuk Tuk, a clever Italian-Thai fusion restaurant that plays it safe on some things, and does a few innovative things. We kept our dishes primarily in the single-metaphor range, and had fairly nice results, by the end of which our jetlag started winning the battle for control over our minds and bodies.

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