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.

Good busy

Some kinds of busy are merely distracting, but I made good progress on a lot of fronts today. The only downside was that the post office was closed, which, for someone who doesn’t take government holidays, is easy to forget. I don’t even get weekends…

I was too weary to make anything exciting for dinner, but I made a simple pajeon, for which I used a friend’s trick, incorporating milk and egg into the batter.

Unfortunately, as is frequently becoming the case, my day involves a bit of driving across town to accomplish certain tasks… I kept it to a minimum, planning my tasks to land at spots the most efficient way possible, but I didn’t quite succeed in getting everything ready to ship off before I got started on this, so I had one more stop than would have been ideal.

Taco salad

Somehow I’ve been in a salad kind of mode at dinner lately.

The weather’s been a bit hot and I guess I’ve got only a summer appetite… I seem to be more interested in big lunches, or small lunches and little afternoon snacks.

Normally I don’t eat salads as a meal… I tend to make little, simple, refreshing salads as a contrast to something heavier, or to balance pasta.

But I was kind of in the mood for something a little more dramatic, and a little spicy. At the same time, I wanted some kind of crunch… so I made a kind of taco salad. I made a simple guacamole, with only some chopped tomatoes added to my usual basic crushed avocado with lime juice. I used a Trader Joe’s salsa only because I was a bit lazy tonight, and some pinto beans cooked with a bit of garlic. I grated a mild cheese that I had handy, and served with some more chopped tomatoes and some mixed greens—mostly romaine—which I mostly obscured with the toppings.

Taco saladTaco salad

I stopped at PFI and Trader Joes to get some supplies for some matcha cookies I will be baking tomorrow for an event at the Japanese garden. Now I have an insane amount of white chocolate, butter, and pine nuts. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much butter in my possession at one time.

Receiving, packing, shipping, delivering, election night

My dragon beard candy shipment finally made it in this afternoon, just at the end of the scheduled delivery window. I got to furiously packing a couple of express shipments, and some other behind-schedule dragon beard candy orders. I just barely made the cutoff time for Express, and I just barely made the cutoff time for Ground.

I then headed home to grab materials related to the election. I needed to remind myself how I planned to vote.

The polling place for my precinct seems to have changed at the last minute. I got a new voter registration card just yesterday. I was surprised about such late notice, although it’s possible that the last card that I got also noted this change. My previous polling place was just 2 blocks away, but the new location is about 8 blocks away.

After voting, I made another delivery, and met up with a friend to join in some election night gatherings. Nick Licata as an incumbent had some of the best results of the night, with 76.52% of the votes (99.6% reporting). We had some nibbles at the Mirabeau room, and then moved on to some other events at the Westin.

I’m a little tired. Tomorrow I’ve got an incredibly busy day ahead as I need to handle some big internet orders and distribute various wholesale orders.

FoodEx trade show, day 1

Today was the first day of FoodEx and I must have visited several hundred booths and talked to people at several dozen. The experience was truly dizzying. Some 2,300 companies are exhibiting, catering to manufacturers, restaurant and food service, intermediate companies (which is the category I fall into), and retailers (these booths occasionally have some relevance to what I’m handling).

I wandered around for about 6.5 hours and talked to a whole bunch of people. The highlights for me were some tea-related products, some yuzu ponzu from Ibaragi prefecture that was surprisingly nice for a packaged product, and various green/organic products which are still slightly uncommon in Japan.

Tonight after the show I met a friend and we tried to find vegetarian options at a Korean restaurant, which was interesting because this is far less trouble in Korea than here. There were whole clams in the kimchi tofu jjigae, which the waiter said had no meat in. I just worked around them and my friend at them. There were also bits of meat in a chijimi that was described as meatless.

When eating out I usually try not to concern myself with most kinds of soup stock or other things that are too much trouble to worry about, even in the U.S. where restaurants cater to every dietary whim, but being vegetarian in Japan is always complicated.

Yesterday I was a little too tired to write. I did some research in the morning and met with a couple of friends, but I didn’t really do anything that impressive. I did cook a half-decent penne with a cream sauce, garlic stems, and maitake mushrooms with some coarsely chopped pecorino romano and pine nuts. It took far too long in my weekly apartment’s kitchen, which has one burner, a warped frying pan that only cooks in one spot, and a tiny saucepan that isn’t really big enough to boil any amount of pasta in. I also made a frittata-like thing for dinner using nanohana (the greens from the canola plant) and eringi mushrooms, served with some whole grain bread I found. I got home too late to cook rice.

I realized that some people might see my half-finished web site for Yuzu Trading Co. now that my business cards are in the hands of strangers, so I fixed the layout and altered some text so that the work looks less unfinished, hopefully. I wish I had spent more time on this, but I have some ideas on how to actually make it useful later.

Somehow I’m awake much later than I should be. I should go to sleep. I’ll have time to be more reflective later …

 

Homemade Matcha Ice Cream recipe

About 4 or 5 years ago I bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker, and not much longer thereafter I found myself making green tea ice creams on a regular basis. This used to be an expensive endeavor: 30 grams of matcha bought in the U.S. usually costs $7.50–$15.00 for average quality matcha, which is roughly two tablespoons. In Japan I can usually get ordinary matcha for $6–8, and sometimes I could get bigger sizes for not much more money. But happily, since I now work with company focused on matcha products, I have access to Matcha meant primarily for cooking applications, and this makes green tea ice cream a far lesser extravagance.

I think two tablespoons of the cooking matcha works out to about $1.88 for 1.5 quarts if you buy it by the pound. Including the cost of organic milk, heavy cream, and organically produced sugar, I think I spent about $5–5.50 for this at retail prices. That’s still substantially less expensive than buying 3 pints of average-quality green tea ice cream at about $3–4/pint, and with a much more substantial green tea flavor, much more fresh, and far fewer additives.

Matcha Ice Cream (Green tea ice cream) in contemporary Mashiko bowl

For a 1.2–1.5 quart batch, I once typically used about 1–1.5 tablespoons of the tea ceremony matcha that I used to use prior to having access to culinary matcha. Now I am using an indulgent 2 tablespoons, which provides an excellent balance of the bitterness and sweetness. If you’re really looking for a heavier matcha flavor, you might use a bit more, but be judicious. You shouldn’t try to replicate the bitterness of straight matcha; you’re just trying to use the matcha as an accent.

I never previously thought blending matcha and vanilla should be controversial, but my roommate seems to be sensitive to heavy vanilla use in green tea flavored things, so I’ve since reduced the amount I use in my own matcha recipes.

Jason’s Matcha Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 cup unprocessed cane sugar (blond)
2 heaping tbsp. Matcha for cooking, Grade A
1/8 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Whisk the matcha for cooking with the milk and sugar, making sure the matcha dissolves. Stir in the cream and vanilla. If using a frozen-canister based ice cream, maker, chill the ice cream in the refrigerator for another hour to make sure it is sufficiently cold for processing, or hold in the freezer about 15 minutes.

Process in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions. This produces about 1.25–1.5 quarts of ice cream, depending on expansion. Make sure this is appropriate for your ice cream maker and adjust proportionally to your capacity.

If you’d like a more custardy ice cream, you might use an egg yolk or two in your recipe, perhaps reducing the cream a bit to compensate for the extra fat.

If you are using Ippuku Matcha Latte mix, you will use about 1/2 cup matcha latte mix and reduce the sugar content to a scant 2/3 cup.

Tsukushinbō-don: Tamago-don revised for spring in Seattle

Tamago-don is a homely thing. It's the stuff of busy, frugal mothers trying to throw something together for lunch on a Sunday afternoon. It's the kind of thing a salaryman trying to save a couple hundred yen on lunch might choose during a particularly rough month. It's comfort food.

Little more than sautéed onions with eggs, seasoned with a heavily mirin-sweetened, soy-sauce based dashi base,  cooked to a soft curd, the prospect of tamago-don won't trigger a lot of enthusiasm in most Japanese, but perhaps you'll catch a hint of wistful nostalgia.

On the other hand, if you offered to cook such a thing when the weather is bad and spirits are low, your efforts would probably be appreciated.

Tsukushinbō-don

Tsukushinbō-don: spring tamago don

And if, for example, you happened to have a huge supply of local morels that you really needed to make use of, and some just-picked mizuna greens, and perhaps a little chopped negi, you might be able to enliven this dish just enough to make it interesting.

If you happened to use a heavy hand with said morels, and sauteed them until almost, but not quite charred, along with the softened onions, then added a little seasoned dashi, folded this into an omelet pan full of your seasoned egg mixture, stirred the curds, and poured the just-barely-set eggs over rice, you might have something else entirely.

You might consider how much the shape of morels, more properly translated as amigasatake, resembles the tops of tsukushinbo, or horsetail shoots.

In that case, you might call this variation of tamago-don tsukushinbo-don.

Up way too close 

Extreme closeup of tsukushinbō don

The result?

Well, it's still tamago-don. It's not life a life-altering transformation, but it's certainly a worthy use of an excess of morels. I'll probably continue to cook my morels with lots of butter or olive oil, but when I'm looking for a more assari taste, this is a good alternative.

Note: Hiromi deserves all the credit for seeing the similarity between tsukushinbo and morels.

Hoteres 2006, Day 2

In a break from the pattern I set a couple of years ago, I went to the Hoteres show on the second day of the FoodEx/Hoteres pair of trade shows; in past years, I usually went on day 3.

Hoteres focuses mostly on restaurant and hospitality industry needs, and this includes equipment, smallwares, guest amenity products, spa and bath, and foodservice products such as frozen pastry doughs for all of those fancy-looking bakeries all over Japan.

I missed most of it while touring the rest of the floor, but apparently some sort of Japanese national barista championship was going on in the food demo stage this afternoon. I managed to catch one contestant show off his skills producing Seattle-style latte foam patterns, a simple pulled shot, and a signature drink/dessert that I’d be tempted to attempt myself. His signature drink was, like most drinks that move beyond the basic latte/straight espresso/con panna pattern, more dessert than coffee, but instead of producing a dessert masquerading as coffee he embraced the idea that a barista could produce a savvy, elegant dessert. Within a strict time limit, he made a whipped cream flavored with chocolate and maybe some espresso, which he piped into a rose shape, then  placed in a wide serving cup. He created an infusion of orange peel and milk, simmered briefly, then he whipped an egg or two with some sugar. He produced maybe four shots of espresso which he combined with the strained orange-infused milk with perhaps a bit of chocolate sauce, and he worked the milk into his egg-sugar mixture, creating a kind of liquid custard. He carefully poured the custard into the cup, enabling his whipped cream rose to survived the violent heat of his custard.

The usual assortment of espresso machines, ovens, gas ranges, automatic sushi-making and gyoza-filling machines took up a fair percentage of floor space in the equipment show halls. Hiromi noticed a vendor producing a machine that automatically measures and serves portions of rice into a bowl for donburi-mono, which sounds preposterously unhelpful unless, of course, you happen to run a donburi shop that has huge lunch crowds and want to shave off several seconds per customer to squeeze in as many people as possible without over– or under-portioning.

My favorite fryer company from two years ago was back this year, demonstrating their clever “Clean Fryer” system that filters out liquids and debris into a collection tank at the bottom of the machine. Instead of creating a clogged grease trap, restaurants just need to empty out the slightly dirty wastewater that gets collected below. The gimmicky demo I saw two years ago featured ice cubes and other potentially explosive foods dropped into the fryer without disastrous after-effects; the water gets absorbed by their filtration system, rather than creating a burst of pressurized steam erupting through a batch of hot oil. The wastewater collection area is apparently stable enough to sustain life, as this year’s demonstration gimmick featured tenkasu-fed goldfish swimming obliviously in the glass-walled collection tank.

I’m sure it’s useful for oden-making companies, but I was a little surprised to see a machine that automatically and precisely peels boiled eggs…

For the Japanese spa market, the most amusing product I saw was a variation of the classic “Ashiyu onsen”, or hot spring foot bath. The typical ashiyu onsen is just a small publicly-accessible covered bath that people can take advantage of to get a bit of a respite in a hot spring town. The product we saw was basically a foot bath with a picnic table mounted over the bath, and bench seating… you can imagine a small outdoor restaurant serving simple foods as people relax with their bare feet warmed by hot water, perhaps operating deep into the winter.

The coolest piece of equipment I saw this year was all gimmick, but potentially interesting as a foundation for a franchisable business concept that would give Cold Stone a run for its money: the teppan ice cream maker. The idea is modeled after a teppan, or teppan-yaki grill, but meant to produce cold foods. A shop would use the machine to make made-to-order ice cream, sorbet, and so on, with a -30°C chilled plate, enabling completely custom, made-to-order custom frozen treats. The operator pours sweetened liquids (a gelato or ice cream base, or sorbet base), and can add fresh fruit or other items at the customer’s request, and scrape everything together teppan-yaki style to produce a scoopable, lickable treat. I think it would translate readily to the U.S. market, even if nobody gets the reference to that style of cooking, just because it’s so dramatic to watch ice cream made before the customer’s eyes in just a few seconds.

I didn’t spend as much time as I usually do in the smallwares section, since my knees have been giving me a lot of trouble, but with my current business objectives, I’m thinking any substantial mass-produced ceramicware that I might import won’t be possible to kick off until next year, at the earliest. I’d love to offer some more stylish wafuu ceramics and lacquerware than the larger U.S. importers are doing, but I’m going to continue to keep these kinds of companies in my back pocket rather than invest a lot in buying inventory from them right now.

As I had originally planned for today, I met with a company that makes some really cool hand-tied flower teas, mostly for the hotel and gift markets in Japan, designed in Japan and made by Chinese tea companies. They’ve moved beyond the already innovative flower teas I saw last year that have different stages of expansion, and now have some novel shapes such as ducks, fish, and stars. It may sound a little funny, but the effects can be quite visually stunning to watch.

Tomorrow I’m going back to FoodEx for Day 3, but I have another late night ahead because of another vendor meeting, so I may not get as far as posting photos I’ve taken outside of the trade shows.

Kyou no Thema ha, Kabocha Desu!

I’d like to say that I took this long weekend to do something relaxing, like a little overnight trip to Ocean Shores or a little jaunt to the Columbia Valley wine region. But I don’t get to do that very often. I had the pressing need to reshuffle things in my office, as I’ve decided to consolidate the two spaces I have at ActivSpace into a single space, all in the room I was using downstairs, now serving both my warehouse and office needs. My daytime contracting gig makes having natural light in my office less valuable, and the monthly difference in rent will add up after just a few months.

Having two spaces available encouraged sloppiness, anyway. I only got around to buying enough shelving to keep my sanity a few weeks ago, and I had a rather embarrassing level of chaos in both my office and my storage area. Now the arrangement is fairly rational, although space is a bit tight.

We did get a little leisure in yesterday. Hiromi got to see the Fremont Sunday Market for the first time, and we actually ate out at some unmentionable U-District bar on Friday night, Sunday at Jai Thai for lunch, and today we had an early dinner at Hosoonyi in Edmonds. Saturday we were homebodies, with a nice homemade pizza at lunch and some sundried tomato dressed pasta at dinner.

Sunday night we were all set to serve ourselves an “Iron-Chef” style themed meal, complete with three courses of kabocha-based dishes. But we were way too full after just two of the courses… that’ll teach us to eat a large restaurant lunch, follow it with a late afternoon coffee and snack, and then go home thinking we could possibly have room for more heavy food.

But we finally got our dessert course in tonight, a few hours after an early Korean dinner with soon dubu jjigae (soft tofu soup). So today, I present you with what is likely my last squash of the season…

Homemade kabocha gnocchi with kabocha cream sauce

Kabocha gnocchi

I can’t remember how many years ago I first had this dish, but on one trip to Japan, a friend of mine took me to a hidden Italian restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo, which she explained her parents had often visited on dates. They served us something resembling this kabocha gnocchi. It was the height of simplicity, and improbably both unfamiliar and comforting. Ever since then, I have regularly and shamelessly stolen the concept: squash gnocchi with a simple squash cream sauce.

I used Japanese pumpkin and potatoes to construct the gnocchi, using enough flour to hold the dough together, with a hefty pinch of salt. The dough needs to be handled while the potatoes and squash are still fairly hot, about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This time I pressed everything through a sieve for a consistent texture, but I’ve sometimes resorted to a fork when I felt a more rustic approach would work for me. I let the dough relax about 20 minutes before forming the gnocchi, after which I boiled them in briny salted water.

Next, I used a bit more kabocha to prepare a cream sauce. I also pressed the squash through a sieve, and added a fair amount of cream, enough salt to bring out the flavor of the kabocha, and mixed everything together until it was consistent. I melted butter in a saucier, then added the kabocha cream and whisked it on medium heat until thick.

Iyokan Kurosu Salad with Kabocha-no-mi

Kurosu salad

We went an even more wafuu route with our salad, using some Saison Factory Iyokan Kurosu to make a vinaigrette. Kurosu is Chinese-style black vinegar, which is all the rage in Japan as a functional food; Saison Factory has made it more palatable to the Japanese tongue by blending it with iyokan juice, an orange-like citrus fruit. It’s meant to be consumed diluted with water, as “nomi-su”, or drinking vinegar. But I thought it would also make a nice base for a salad dressing, and it worked out quite well.

I rescued some of the seeds from the kabocha and roasted them, later seasoning them with mirin and soy sauce, as well as a bit of salt. Unfortunately, about half of the seeds suffered from burned soy sauce, so many of the seeds were sadly too bitter.

Kabocha pudding

Kabocha pudding

As I mentioned, we never found room for dessert yesterday, but Hiromi made this lovely kabocha based flan Sunday morning which led us down this squash-laden path.

I contributed by boiling sugar to hard crack stage with light caramelization. The results of my own attempts at making sugar lattices were miserable failures, although I did manage to create a fair likeness of an Olympic ski jumper, and perhaps a mermaid or a carrot, depending on your perspective, and your sense of charity. Hiromi had far more impressive results, and so we used hers instead.

Asparagus baguettes

 Asparagus baguettes

I've been lazy this week. I just don't have much energy to make anything complicated, and for some reason I'm inadequately inspired to think of interesting simple foods.

These asparagus baguettes took advantage of what was handy... Some asparagus, onions, brown butter, and two nice cheeses. One is Rogue River Blue, the pear brandy-washed cheese that Hiromi loves so much... And another was the ash coated cheese mentioned recently.

I made a hurried cabbage salad, which has nothing more than salt-rubbed cabbage tossed with a tiny bit of sugar and an unconventional but fantastic natural, traditional balsamic vinegar. It's not a remarkable feat, but it tasted nice, and helped balance out the indulgent fat content of the cheese.

Extra soupy

We’ve been on a soup kick for the last week and a half… I made a large batch of Western-style vegetable soup base from a mirepoix, and I took advantage of that for another canellini soup. Tonight I made an ordinary minestrone, but a few nights ago I put together a creamy broccoli soup.

Broccoli soup

One of the things that always bothers me about the prototypical cream of broccoli soup is the relatively dead presence of the frequently overcooked broccoli component.

In order to mitigate the possibility of such a disaster, I blanched and ice-shocked the broccoli, cooked only for about a minute, before pureeing it with soup stock. I seasoned it a bit in the pot and added some garlic. After that, I tried to minimize the cooking time, cooking it just until the vegetable matter was tender. In the last several minutes of simmering, I added a generous dose of cream.

Incredibly, the broccoli stayed a bright green, even after the cream thickened.  The flavor was essentially fresh, assisted by the a richness of the cream and a bit of freshly grated nutmeg.

I start my new gig tomorrow… I hope the additional daily commuting time doesn’t destroy all my mojo.

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