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.

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Big and little changes

jason

So I've been buried in things and mostly devoid of energy for a few months... sorry about that.

Life hasn't been all work... Hiromi and I made a little trip to DC a couple months ago to see a friend of hers, who cheers for the Washington Redskins. I came back just a few days later so that I could avoid taking extended vacation from work, and Hiromi stayed with her friend a few days longer. Unfortunately, at roughly the same time Hiromi was boarding the plane back to Seattle, I learned that my job at Zillow faced foreclosure, along with the jobs of about 35% of my colleagues. (The press release noted a 25% reduction, but that excluded a number of agency temporaries).

The economy is ugly, but apparently people with my background are still in strong demand. Phone calls started coming in the day the layoffs were announced, and I had my first offer about a week and a half later. My ambition was actually to switch to a more web development focused role, instead of remaining a Software Design Engineer in Test. But the manager for most promising lead for that went on vacation just as I started making progress on interviews, and I didn't quite feel comfortable waiting on that.

I ended up choosing between a Microsoft contract at a convenient location, and a contract-to-hire role at a luxury travel company. I chose the travel company because it seemed like a more interesting opportunity, though some of the details made me nervous... On the bright side, one of my ex-Zillow peers made the same decision, after struggling with some of the same things as me, so I was pleased to see a familiar face again.

The financial pain of the transition was pretty substantial, but I should be ok in a few months. Fortunately, Hiromi also found work as of today, so things should be smoother by March or so.

We've had the lofty ambition of moving to a nicer place since, well, before Hiromi even arrived. We've been torn between buying something minimalist with a tiny down payment from my now completely brutalized stock portfolio, and renting something a bit better than what we're in now.

After some disappointing tours of places all over the city, we were about ready to shelve our plans until sometime next year. Last week, Hiromi spotted a rental that looked like a potential fit on Hotpads.com, and we booked a showing Saturday morning. It turned out to be pretty close to what we were looking for, so, after five years in a cramped apartment meant to be a one-year experiment in extreme frugality during the early stages of my business, we're finally getting a little more space...

Our new home is a pretty, well-appointed side-by-side duplex in one of my favorite parts of Seattle, just a few blocks south of a cluster of nifty Madison Park restaurants. The kitchen has a really nice open layout, a nifty gas range, and somewhat luxurious fixtures, and will no longer isolate me from my guests when we're hosting dinner parties... There's also enough space to keep my YuzuMura.com stuff out of the way of the rest of my life.

Of course, the timing of our move isn't exactly the most convenient possible time... we'll be juggling an attempt to visit family in Idaho Falls for the holidays with packing too much stuff, loading and unloading a truck, and, well, work...

You'd think I'd be more motivated to cook

jason

Actually, I have been cooking, though mostly haphazardly and without particular care... I'm also less patient, and not generally willing to dig out the camera.

I'd like to blame this ennui entirely on the US Customs and Immigration Service, though I'm not quite sure that's entirely fair. It has been rather depressing to observe absolutely no change in status for I-130 applications on the USCIS web site's receipting update page, at least not for the last 8 weeks or so. This week I'm slightly more optimistic, as they've indicated that all the I-130 applications have been forwarded to Chicago. Perhaps next week I'll hear something.

It turns out one of my coworkers is facing the same thing, as he filed for his own wife about a week after me. I imagine a lot of people are similarly frustrated right now.

In about 10 days I'll be heading off to see Hiromi in Vancouver, BC for a couple of weeks, as we can't be sure Hiromi would be allowed to enter the US even as a tourist, since we've already filed an application for permanent residence. The convoluted logic of US immigration law makes it hard to enter as a tourist to see your spouse, because you might have immigrant intent. If we were both living abroad, and didn't have a pending immigration petition, we could actually enter under the normal visa waiver program that Hiromi has previously used for most of her trips to Seattle.

I'm hoping to eat well in Vancouver... we'd like to make a trip to Vij's and perhaps Lumière or something similarly celebratory... of course, we're probably going to be equally happy just cooking simple meals in our rented Yaletown apartment.

My impatience has gotten considerably worse in the last month, but of course, there's nothing I can do... Shouganai.

Saturday I visited (and co-arranged) a party celebrating nabe, the broad category of winter one-pot dishes that mark the arrival of winter in Japan. We had four varieties of nabe going in four different pots, and 27-30 people. Kimchi nabe (Japanese-styled kimchi jjigae), Ishikari nabe (a Hokkaido salmon and vegetable nabe), tounyuu nabe (fresh soymilk seasoned with miso, with tofu and shungiku, in this case), and a kinoko tofu nabe (mushroom and tofu nabe), for which I prepared a yuzu-meyer lemon-daidai ponzu.

This Friday night a few friends have been kind enough to arrange for a nice dinner at Carmelita, my favorite vegetarian restaurant in Seattle. I haven't been since Hiromi's birthday last year. In 2006, Hiromi and I did some role-reversal reversal: I took her to Carmelita on her birthday, she took me to a football game on mine.

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Reunion and union

jason

Sorry for my absence the last couple of weeks. Did you miss me?

I've been a bit distracted.

Certificate of Marriage

Certificate of Marriage

Hiromi and I have been quietly planning to marry in September in Japan... most of our friends and family have known about it for a while, though I haven't been shouting it from rooftops...

I guess it's time for that to change.

In the lobby of Seattle Municipal Courthouse

Entering the courthouse

A little over five years ago, I met Hiromi in person for the first time while on business for Microsoft in Japan. We weren't really working together directly on anything at that time, but several people from the MSN Japan team went to lunch at Misato-ya in Chofu with me, and Hiromi may have been the person to suggest that we go to the popular organic vegetable teishoku restaurant whose korokke and unpredictable okazu I still crave. I'm pretty sure I spent all of lunch talking about food, cooking and ceramics, probably exhausting anyone who wasn't interested in my personal obsessions.

On another trip that year, Hiromi wasn't even in the office. She had been surprised by a brain tumor and was unable to work for a while while it was being treated.

Somehow Hiromi remembered me a couple years later when we started working on something together. It's rather embarrassing to admit now, but at first I wasn't entirely sure which Hiromi I was working with. There were two contractors named Hiromi on the team back then.

Anyway, I planned a little vacation to Japan after about a year without any business travel. Hiromi invited me to meet up with her on a trip I made to Japan in 2003. We had dinner together one night, and then went touring around Yokohama on another.

I owe my entire relationship with her to my clumsiness... While we were walking around in Yokohama, I nearly ran into a post in the middle of a shopping center, she grabbed my hand to pull me out of the way, and never let go. The wind and rain that day was furious, and a brief trip outside left us chilly and well-soaked. Our lives would be permanently intertwined that day, though I don't think either one of us really knew it then.

In Chambers with Judge Judith Hightower

Seated with Judge Hightower

I didn't really deserve her... I sent all sorts of mixed messages when we first started dating. I was conflicted about starting up a long distance relationship, as I'm sure she was. It took more than a year of trips back and forth before we removed all the ambiguity. Yet somehow she stuck with me.

Things evolved, and Hiromi decided to come to Seattle to take some classes so that we could get to know each other better. Somehow she didn't become bored of me. I don't know how I managed to keep her interested. I wasn't at my best. I was, as now, juggling a day job and my fledgling internet business, more exhausted than usual, and occasionally a bit depressed that I couldn't devote all my energies to that project. But we stayed together, and it became harder and harder for me to imagine my life without her.

We seriously started thinking about marriage, but neither of us was in great financial shape. She went back to Japan, after a little under a year in Seattle, so that she could start earning some money again. I started saving money while paying down some business debt.

At the time, it seemed like it was best to marry in Japan and arrange for the immigration paperwork there. Perhaps a bit sentimentally, we picked the anniversary of the day that I nearly walked into a pole in Yokohama, which coincidentally turned out to be a taian day this year, an auspicious day for a wedding.

Then immigration policies changed again, and we learned we wouldn't be able to start the process of bring Hiromi back to Seattle until after I would return to Seattle after our September wedding... And at first we were just resigned to a fate of things taking longer.

I had a little conversation with my attorney earlier in July to discuss our plans, and he said it was too bad we didn't just get married when Hiromi was still in town. If we weren't hung up on the date, he said, we might have been able to speed things up by starting the application process a bit earlier. I realized that she'd be in Seattle briefly after attending a dance workshop in California, and we started discussing having a simpler municipal wedding before our bigger family ceremony next month.

Well, that's what we did... perhaps a bit hurried... Hiromi's ring won't even be ready until just before I go to Japan, and we haven't figured out mine yet. The judge kindly provided symbolic rings for the ceremony.

There's still a long way to go before we're really together, but now the end of our long time living apart is finally in view.

Exchanging vows

Making our vows

Ron Mamiya, the presiding judge of Seattle's Municipal Court, had requested to do our ceremony because he shares Hiromi's family name, but Hiromi's tight schedule meant she'd be gone before he returned from his own vacation. Instead, the Honorable Judith Hightower took care of our ceremony in her chambers. She kindly indulged us taking lots of photos, actively encouraging the two camera-wielding witnesses to move about the room for the best possible angles. She even took a few shots of our group together.

Our witnesses

Judge Hightower's snapshot of everyone

Hiromi's former manager Tsuneo, a couple of layers removed, attended at Hiromi's request as a witness. Our friends Jennifer, Hal and Noriko also attended.

After the ceremony, on the steps of the courthouse

Outside on the steps of the municipal court

Unfortunately, this was also one of the briefest trips Hiromi's ever made to Seattle, and we didn't really have a lot of time to enjoy each other's company after the wedding. We had a little dinner with Jennifer and we came home early in the evening. We only had one night before I had to take Hiromi to the airport.

This was the most painful trip to the airport I've ever made.

I don't remember us posing for this

I don't remember posing for this 

Fortunately, I'll be in Japan again in just over a month. There's still a lot of planning to do, and I'm not sure how we'll get everything all done by then, but I'm sure we'll figure things out.

Just before dinner

Outside the courthouse

I was surprised at how much this small ceremony changed the way I look at Hiromi. I was completely inarticulate on our way outside the courthouse afterward, but a thousand thoughts were racing around my head. Even at my worst, most selfish moments, I haven't been able to imagine my life without Hiromi for a long time, but everything became so real to me all at once. I was more than a little overwhelmed... after going to the airport yesterday, I was completely useless for the rest of the day.

Short trip to Mashiko

jason

We made a little trip to Mashiko on the weekend before coming back to Seattle.

We went, in part, so that I could replenish my ever-shrinking ceramics collection on YuzuMura.com. I was also looking for some new artists to consider for later in the year.

Minowa Yasuo passed away a couple years ago, so I haven't been able to buy anything he made for a long time. Besides, my original plan to sell my ceramics to galleries morphed into a mostly web-based sales model. My previous habit of buying a few remarkable pieces per artist doesn't work very well on the web, since the burden of photographing something I only have one or two examples of becomes rather exhausting. By next year, I expect I'll have fewer choices but a better ability to handle larger orders for them.

Large bowl by Akutsu Masato

Akutsu Masato large bowl

During Golden Week, Mashiko has one of two annual pottery festivals, so many artists and production kilns were out showing off their wares. We made our way to my favorite galleries first, and we were pleased to stumble upon a show by Akutsu Masato and the rest of his family at Moegi. I hadn't done much advance planning on this trip, so it was a good coincidence... I discovered that I brought the wrong contact information for him anyway, so if it hadn't been for the show at Moegi I might not have been able to get hold of him.

Masato's father, who is incredibly charming, also had some very nice pieces at the family show, and Masato's mother's work is very compelling as well, so now I'm considering importing work from the whole family... While all three seem to work from a related palette, they each have very distinctive styles.

I also discovered some Minowa Yasuo pieces at one gallery, and I was so surprised by that that I ended up buying a number of pieces. It will become increasingly difficult to find anything else he made, so I took advantage of the opportunity.

Fortunately, the gallery was kind enough to extend me a reseller price, which means I'll be able to offer the new pieces at roughly the same price as similar items I still have in stock. I was expecting I'd have to dramatically raise prices on the new pieces, but it doesn't look like I'll have to.

One unfortunate side effect of my good fortune on this trip was that I didn't have time to meet up with Senda Yoshiaki, and I couldn't buy any of his pieces on this trip. I am almost completely out, so I really need to do something about that. I think I'll send Hiromi to Mashiko once before fall to remedy that.

I didn't buy a huge amount of ceramic pieces on this trip, but enough that it wasn't possible to transport things on my back... so I have to wait a few weeks before things arrive. I'm looking forward to it...

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Supporting my habit

jason

Cary Tennis: "Your music does not have to support you. In fact, your music might be happier if you were supporting it."

Poignant.

I remember when I started thinking about working in software again, sometime approaching the middle of 2005. I was watching my bank balance shrink and my debt load increase even though my business was starting to see a predictable revenue stream.

My passions and my bank account weren't quite aligned. At that point I had realized I started with too little money, and I knew I had made some early mistakes with my wholesale line of business...  not least of which was having a wholesale business, when my objective was to sell products with compelling origin stories, rather than catering to the risk aversion of retail buyers and merchandising managers.

Hiromi advised against caving in and taking a day job so soon, although my rational faculties were fully aware of the inevitability of needing to supplement my income.

I was happy when I finally saw a project come along that matched my technical interests and personal idiosyncrasies back in the winter of 2005. Although I was a little disappointed that I couldn't devote myself full-time to YuzuMura.com for the time being, I quickly learned to appreciate the freedom to go out to dinner with friends again without worrying about making the rent.

Although it's been a quiet year and a half in terms of developing my business, I've settled into a satisfying rhythm of solving challenging technical problems in the daytime, coming home and taking care of the logistics of a small business, and having the financial freedom to be a bit more self-indulgent than I was two or three years ago. My passions for travel, food, and craft have actually gotten more attention (particularly the first two) since I've had more disposable income again.

Surprisingly, I found that I was better at the software stuff than I was several years back, even though I was theoretically out of practice.

I remember a sleazy-but-well-dressed "Career Consultant" in a fancy downtown Seattle office, who had a low pressure pitch and a high pressure close, trying to sell me on repackaging myself for higher-paying jobs. For a fee, of course.

It was a weak moment for me... When his office called me, I knew I wanted to leave Microsoft, but I also knew I needed to escape the industry for a while and I had other passions I wanted to explore. I almost bought into it.

When I told him I really wanted to get out of software and either run a restaurant or start a business that indulged my passions for food and travel, Mr. Career Consultant told me, in roughly so many words, that I could be committing career suicide if I left the field for two years. (He also told me I'd never leave Microsoft, but I know it was just part of the act when he turned up the pressure).

What he said wasn't true, of course... Smart software companies hire capable people, not just resumes... but I was surprised and delighted to discover that I actually liked the work again. I was even happier to discover that being less emotionally attached to my status, or my career, made it possible for me just to "work the problem" and not only deliver value to my employer but also to enjoy most every day at work... something that wasn't happening at all in my last 18 months as a full-time Microsoft employee.

Although I haven't had as much time or energy to invest in my business as I'd like, I've actually had the financial resources to let it slowly grow, instead of having to cut my early losses and run.

Letting my work support my work has been surprisingly liberating. I make decisions for me, rather than trying to chase after small rewards in service of short term urgencies.

I know I'd have done things a lot differently, faced with the same decisions all over again, if I had the last three years of experience and my bank account of 3 years ago... lessons learned, but I'm not living 3 years ago. I'm just building on what I've got now.

Doing both my work and someone else's work makes it easier to wake up every day... Sometimes it's harder to sleep, but I can guarantee that I'll have something to look forward to the next day. Maybe it will be the joy of solving some esoteric technical problem. Perhaps I'll hear from a customer delighted to find something she never expected, all because of my little web store. Maybe it will be the more base pleasure of being able to spend a few dollars on a good pastry and a coffee without feeling accounting guilt. Maybe it'll be that little trip I'll take to Asia in a few days that's part business, part leisure, part love... and entirely in my own hands.

 

Ways to bewilder telemarketing droids

jason

Ring. Fumble. Where is my cell phone? Ring. Fumble. Aha. Ring. Hello?

Jason Truesdell, Yuzu Trading Company... Hello?

"Hello?"

Yuzu Trading Company, how can I help you?

"May I speak with the owner?"

What do you need?

"Hello? This is [unintelligible] with Domain Names and [blah blah blah]. Can I get your fax number to send you a packet of information [unintelligible]?"

No.

"What?"

No.

"Uh... I ..."

No, I already have information on domain names. Thanks. I don't need anymore. Especially sent to my fax number, I think silently.

"Well, I just [unintelligible] mrpfhfmphf."

No, thank you. (Click)

 

Granted, I have some sympathy for people making cold calls... I've been there, done that. It's no fun. But the last thing I want, when on the receiving end of such calls, is to give implicit permission to send even more marketing material that I don't want. Especially when it's the in the first semi-intelligible utterance in the conversation.

I have this instinct that makes me immediately suspicious when I receive a call and the person on the other end of the line doesn't respond like a normal person... if they say hello before I do, or if there's a second or two of supernatural silence before a clicking sound, I just know it's a marketing droid and I immediately activate my "fight or flight" defenses.

However, I've had those defenses successfully disarmed, at least long enough to listen to the key message.

It just takes a little more effort. Not that I want more marketing calls, but just as an example...

Ring... Ring...

Jason Truesdell, Yuzu Trading Company...

"Hi Jason, I was just looking at YuzuMura.com... It's a beautiful site. You have some really interesting products I've never seen anywhere else."

Flattery will get you 15 seconds of my attention... "Is this a customer?" I wonder? Oh! Thank you, I say.

"I know you're busy... I'm with [name omitted] publishing company that produces a number of books, some of which cover Asian art and travel topics... Would you be interested in taking a look?"

Oh, it's a marketing call after all. But wait, she actually knows something about my business, and has something potentially relevant to offer.

Well, I'm certainly willing to take a look... On my web site I really need books that have a coffee-table format, or otherwise have a production style that would be appropriate for the gift market. At the moment, I have some hurdles with books because my storefront's software has some issues with shipping calculations using multiple shipping methods, but it's certainly something I've been considering...

"Yes, that's pretty much all we produce. Would you be interested in..." (the conversation continues)

 

To be fair, I haven't yet ordered from that second company yet, either, but I have a positive impression of the company, and the salesperson put me at ease. She appeared to take a serious look at my business, even if it only means she spent 30 seconds skimming through the text and photos on the top page of my online shop. She tried to offer me something she thought would be compatible with my business.

Not everything works out instantly, but guess which company I'm likely to call back when I need something they offer?

Oh, a pronounceable domain name

jason

After trying painfully to spell out my domain name to someone who was interviewing me last night at a fun geek-friendly event called Ignite Seattle, I realized repeating the spelling of blog.jagaimo.com to everyone I meet could become painful.

Personally, I like the name Jagaimo, and anyone who knows even a little Japanese has little problem recalling or spelling the name, but it certainly doesn't "roll off the tongue" for most English-speakers. So I finally caved in and registered PursuingMyPassions.com, which should require far less explanation. Ironically, it's a longer name, but it's certainly quicker to communicate... at least to the average English speaker.

Sometimes I wish I had a last name that people tend to spell correctly... Alas, I'm not so blessed, so this is a good alternative.

I'm inclined to continue to use blog.jagaimo.com and just forward all requests for PursuingMyPassions.com here, but I'm toying with the idea of going the opposite direction and sending everyone to the new domain name.

I'm certainly no marketing genius. What do you think  should do?

Things quietly enjoyed over the last few weeks

jason

I’ve tended toward silence in the last few months. My apologies for that; I’ve explained most of the reasons for that in recent posts… Beyond the usual, for a few weeks, Hiromi was in town, so I preferred not to spend all my time in front of a laptop (though both of us have a habit of doing that from time to time…)

Since I’ve not been particularly photographically-inclined, and I’ve surely been neither eloquent nor remotely verbose of late, I’m just going to make a list of things I’ve enjoyed in the last four weeks. Somehow after 8 weeks of relatively austere eating habits I practically overindulged by comparison.

  • A number of nice meals Hiromi and I cooked at home.
  • Impressive cocktails, holographic lighting and nice nibbles at the bar of Vessel. I should have stolen Hiromi’s Vessel 75, topped with a maple foam.
  • A birthday party rougly in the German tradition. That means one that I hosted myself and cooked for other people to celebrate my birthday (though really it was a much broader, less thematic party… for me a birthday is just another excuse to eat). I took the cooking a bit far by spending so much time in the kitchen (though I got out more often than average) and Hiromi was left with most of the hostessing obligations, but I have fun in different ways than most people.
  • A nice late lunch at Seattle Ethiopian restaurant Meskel.
  • Some overly-garlicked but otherwise tasty sundried tomato savory cream puffs. I brought most of them to a Christmas Eve party at my aunt’s home way out in Sultan, which, by the way, is a lot further away than I remembered. I saw my sister for the first time in a few years, and somehow didn’t immediately recognize her. I’m a bad brother.
  • We had a nice leisurely Christmas afternoon when Hiromi and I helped out with Christmas Day dinner at grandma’s house by preparing green beans and garlic with cream, mashed potatoes, the gravy (not vegetarian, but I know my sauces), and some Laugen rolls.
  • Nibbles and wine at Harvest Vine.
  • Hiromi’s apple pie.
  • A lazy New Year’s Eve watching the Space Needle fireworks from my window and on a 7–second television delay, just after eating Toshi-Koshi Soba (buckwheat noodles served for the New Year’s transition, roughly).
  • A surprisingly well-done late lunch at Tamarind Tree. If you haven’t been, go here.
  • Hiromi’s New Year’s day party featuring osechi (Japanese new year’s foods), for which she was fully occupied in the kitchen for two and a half days before the event and a fair amount of time on the day.
  • Another respectable dinner (slightly marred by the lack of cell-phone enhanced seating that I previously depended on) at La Carta de Oaxaca, followed by quirky, and mostly clever cocktails at the newly-reimagined Copper Gate in Ballard. A Scandinavian lounge. Who’d a thought?
  • Dickensian-themed cocktails and small, simple, satisfying plates at Dan Braun’s Oliver’s Twist in Phinney. If you ever are in the neighborhood and want to give it a try, give me a call.
  • A pleasant, simple lunch at Le Pichet (with some slight compromises to my vegetarian habits).
  • An unforgettable dinner at Lampreia, where my usually reasonably-educated palate was regularly surprised and maybe occasionally slightly embarrassed.

A reunion, a game, a windstorm, a party

jason

Except for a four hour round-trip commute to an unpowered office on Friday, and a seriously long delay at the UPS facility where I was trying to pick up a shipment that I needed to distribute as quickly as possible to some Christmas customers, I was largely unaffected by the fallout from Thursday’s crazy windstorm. Or rather, I was far more fortunate than many others, as the only serious problems for me were a minor loss of income and, unfortunately, a seriously long delay trying to get to a football game that Hiromi had planned to attend months ago.

Hiromi came back to Seattle for a few weeks starting last Wednesday. Thanks to my work schedule, I haven’t been as attentive a host as on previous short-term visits. In fact, thanks to some of the usual last-minute holiday gift orders, I immediately took advantage of her to help me pack some shipments.

We tried to go to the football game on Thursday night, but a tremendous windstorm started to strangle the city just around rush hour. I thought it would be clever to take the bus instead of trying to find parking, but thanks to insane traffic, the normally 40 minute bus ride extended to well over two and a half hours. Hiromi was equally stuck on a bus going from Fremont to downtown… both of us bailed on the bus when we realized we could walk faster… Hiromi got out near Queen Anne and I got out at Westlake… we arrived at the Seahawks game just seconds before halftime.

Friday, my home had no power troubles; we just saw predictable plant destruction. But that wasn’t true for much of the rest of the area. The Wallingford post office was darkened and had ominous handwritten “CASH ONLY” signs plastered all over the windows, like you’d expect to see in a shop owned by a survivalist.

We had planned a party on Saturday, and some people called and wondered if it was still on… Since we had no power interruptions, we just plodded on as planned, and things worked out swimmingly.

Tonight I made a dish I had planned to serve at the party, but didn’t quite get to… Let’s just say I was a bit distracted that night. I served about 16 or 17 dishes and skipped a few things I had originally planned.

Shiso-Shio-Koshou Toufu

Shiso-shio-koshou-agedoufu

Agedashi-doufu meets Hong Kong-style Salt-and-Pepper Tofu, with the help of a bit of shiso for a flavor contrast.

Daikon to Ninjin-zuke

Daikon-to-ninjin-tsuke

I served one of my favorite short-term tsukemono (pickle), daikon to ninjin-zuke, at the party, but fortunately, I reserved some of them for us to enjoy later.

Nasu no tsukemono with ginger

Nasu-shouga-tsuke

I usually prefer, I think, salt-cured or nuka-cured eggplant pickles, but I was pressed for time last week, and I don’t have the gear or patience for nuka-zuke anyway. So these vinegared pickles, sweetened a tiny bit with honey, would have to do. Just for tonight, we served them with a bit of ginger, which turned them into something a bit magical; before, they were a bit tart for eggplant pickles, even with the honey. Somehow the ginger balanced everything out.

Abalone mushrooms with yu tsai

Awabitake-to-aburana

I served a prettier version of this dish at my Saturday party, but tonight I had one abalone mushroom left, and a tiny amount of yu tsai or yu choi (similar to rapeseed plant greens or nanohana). So I revisited the idea, this time with a bit of a heavier hand with ginger. Both Hiromi and I really find these “abalone mushrooms” fascinating… they have a great texture, and can actually look very similar to slices of abalone when stir-fried.

Acorn Squash Korokke

Kabocha-korokke

I’ve made nice kabocha korokke before, and these are fairly nice, but they almost browned too much. This is what happens when you  freeze them and fry them frozen… I had some left over from the party, and tonight we went all out with the fried food to make a bigger dent in our party leftovers. Usually I make squash korokke with butternut squash or kabocha, but I only had an acorn squash handy. The result was just as nice, though a little sweeter and a little less nutty.

 

Dinner and a movie: a date with myself

jason

Friday I finished work at my survival gig late, as I had been trying to partially make up for time lost Tuesday, when the ice made car travel to the Eastside ill-advised. Fortunately, I finally got everything I had planned for the week done.

I was a little worried because one of the projects I’ve been working on, which was messy and complex when I started working on it, has been a real bear to clean up, and every inch of progress was fraught with new complications. Now things are almost pretty, and I can move on to other work.

Anyway, I felt this urge to do something interesting, and it was a little late to start cooking, so I went to a downtown-ish restaurant hoping to have some interesting nibbles. Suffice to say the experience was unremarkable; the interior was pretty, but the cocktail I drank had a top note much like the aftertaste of an artificial sweetener, the little appetizer that I ate was forgettable, and the only redeeming feature of the meal was a simple but reasonably well-executed dish with green beans and tofu. The front of house staff were pleasant even though I probably looked excessively serious and maybe even slightly dour when I arrived.

I left the restaurant slightly poorer and smelling loudly of garlic.

Initially, I thought I’d just go home after that, but I had a sudden urge to see a film. So I was turning my evening into half a date… the kind without a partner in crime… it might be pathetic if I were a more sympathetic character.

I didn’t do any advance research, but I settled on Babel, which I think I had heard a bit about on Ebert & Roeper sans Ebert last weekend.

For a Friday night, the film was Somewhat lightly attended. I suspect the whole parallel timelines thing is a hard sell for “date night.” Some of the online reviews I’ve seen since watching the film complain it is a poor variation on Crash, but I think that’s a bit myopic… The device of parallel timelines with scripted coincidences has been used in movies like the 1989 Mystery Train and the Tarantino “tributes” to that style, such as Four Rooms. It’s not like Crash invented that device. Crash and Babel are similar only in the sense that they are melodramatic rather than quirky in style.

Compared to Crash, Babel’s premise is far less heavy-handed, though perhaps similarly didactic. It is built on vignettes illustrating alienation, inhumanity, self-centeredness (both sympathetic and not), and occasionally, sacrifice.

The premise of the film, apparently, is that small tragedies needn’t explode into fiascos if we would, in the heat of the moment, stop a moment and listen to each other, rather than just reacting with some kind of misguided self-preservation impulse and escalating the small misunderstandings that result from our hasty judgments. That’s a complex premise, which might in itself be a weakness, but it would be unfair to the film to oversimplify the message. This isn’t some sort of goofy “if we all just communicate better we’ll achieve world peace” hippy idealism.

None of the tragedies in the film would be less tragic with less miscommunication, but perhaps such tragedies would not become such fiascos. And that’s essentially the message… Like most films with a message, the success or failure of the film is how much it draws you in and connects you with the characters. On that regard, it’s a successful film. It’s hard to build two complex characters into a film, and it’s amazing to build no fewer than 4 fully developed, evolving personalities into a film.

The most impressive achievement of this film is its sensitive portrayal of universal conflicts set in several complex cultural contexts, without devolving into some caricature of those cultures. Two preteen boys in Morocco play out predictable sibling rivalries, and do exactly what you’d expect them to do when handed a gun… and their behavior is not some canned stereotype of a Moroccan family, but a believable portrayal of the dynamic relationships between people in circumstances that escalate from ordinary to extreme.

Chieko illustrates classic coming-of-age dramas in the context of urban alienation, a handicap, and a complex family story. She’s starved for affection, detached from the world and yet wishes for nothing more but to be a part of it, and simultaneously suffers from feelings of guilt related to her mother’s suicide. She acts out in nearly tragic ways and yet is treated with great sympathy.

The scenes in Mexico are simultaneously unlikely and believable portrayal of a rural, poor family, and the implicit trust the children have for their caretaker even when she’s exercising terribly poor judgment, is fascinating and full of contradiction.

Brad Pitt’s character as a loving but somehow fatefully inadequate husband is more complex than at first glance, and avoids the trap of dwelling on the troubles in their relationship while still completely integrating that backstory into every gesture the two characters make.

It might be a bit overblown to tie together all of terrorism, sibling rivalry, the trials of coming of age, immigration, marriage troubles, the emotionally unavailable father dynamic, racism and fear of Islam.

Outside of the world of this film, it’s clear that policial forces that create hysteria around terrorism have other causes beyond poor communication; in that case, anyway, communication problems are a result, rather than a cause, of the execution of a tragic political agenda. And I wouldn’t buy that poor communication is the underlying cause of most of the other social problems examined in the film; it’s merely a catalyst of further alienation and inhumanity.

But perhaps that is the key theme… this film is not pretending to articulate a solution for all of the problems of  contemporary world politics, interpersonal relationships, and everything else, but perhaps a small examination of one of the fuels of human tragedy.

The acting is almost without exception above par, even the otherwise rarely nuanced Brad Pitt. It’s not a great movie, but it’s certainly a good one. I know that the end-of-year release is calculated primarily to extend the film’s theatrical life on hopes of the “Oscar effect”, but if it does win for cinematography, director, or a supporting acting role, it wouldn’t be undeserved.

(Trailer)

Seattle goes ice skating

jason

Last night I tried to wait until traffic calmed down before leaving my day job… It was a long day, thanks to a series of small technical and non-technical complications playing against an urgent issue, and my own inexperience with the mysteries of the team’s build system.

It got longer, though, when snow started coming down. I kept the traffic flow maps handy on a background window after hearing that snow was accumulating even on the freeway. After things settled down a bit, I left, but it was slow going.

I believe it took a bit more than 20 minutes to make it the half block distance between the garage and the road, thanks to ice on the road and confused people.

The freeway itself had cleared up by then; I went to pick up a colleague who was stranded after some bus mishaps, and headed across the bridge without any particular obstacles. I-5 slowed down around 65th, and I pulled off to bypass the traffic in favor of surface streets heading to Northgate. Unfortunately, one of the hills near Maple Leaf was backed up like mad… I think it took an hour to get down a hill that would normally be a 5–10 minute burden. I finally started heading home, which took another 30 minutes thanks to an icy 125th St. and Aurora Ave.

I got home around 9:45, after leaving work at 7:20. It was rather ugly.

Waking up to KUOW in the morning I heard that people were being told to stay home if at all possible, that most of the roads were actually in worse shape thanks to the overnight freeze, and that even when the freeways were clear the surface roads in Redmond and northern parts of Seattle would be risky.

I checked my survival gig email account and learned that the offices were closed, and asked a few other colleagues if they braved driving the Eastside today, and the answers were all negative.

So I dedicated the day to doing work for my own business, although at a rather sluggish pace. There’s only a seven block commute to that office. It turns out, though, that FedEx Ground services were suspended for the day, so my packages didn’t go anywhere.

Notable accumulations of ice and snow are such rare occurrences on roads in Seattle that nobody quite knows how to deal with such natural disasters as two or three inches of snow.

Matsutake!

jason

Matsutake-banner

I started very quietly offering local matsutake, or pine mushrooms, on YuzuMura.com last fall. This year, I’ve had a surprisingly large number of orders in spite of relatively minimal promotion, but the season has not been as prolific as in the last two years. I wonder if the scarcity is making people notice my site more, or if it just took a while to get an audience.

Matsutake-bulk-web

This was from my first batch I got a couple of weeks ago, shipped just a day after they were picked… they were quite nice (although the photo was simultaneously overexposed and oversaturated). I wish I could have afforded to eat some of them… I did manage to score a deal on some slightly older ones, not pictured, which had lost a bit of moisture, and I turned them into a few simple dishes. I really wish I had spent the time to make dobin-mushi, which is still my favorite application of matsutake.

Matsutake are as eagerly anticipated by Japanese food lovers as truffles are to those fond of Italian and French cuisine. American and Canadian matsutake are whitish, whereas the extravagantly expensive Japanese ones (the kind that go for $300 for 6 small pieces in Tokyo department stores) are a much darker brown. However, the aroma is similar; in my experience, Japanese ones tend to have a more dramatic aroma and a milder flavor, whereas the North American variety, which is actually a different species as I recall, seems to have a milder aroma but a more intense flavor.

I actually had to raise the price a bit last week, unfortunately. Thanks to the low yields this year, the matsutake costs are close to double last year’s. Once I consider the cost of including 2–day or overnight shipping in the price, they’ve been fairly low-margin… Maybe the late season will change things if I’m lucky. Some of the local matsutake guys prefer the ones that come after the first freeze.

Last reminders of summer

jason

My absence of late is thanks primarily to excessive exhaustion… My new old commute has been draining. In fact, the traffic between Redmond and Seattle seems decidedly more painful than it was a couple years back…

But 2004 was a painful year in the digital economy, and I know some substantial hiring has gone on in the Eastside since then.

At the end of the day, I have rarely had much energy to take photos of dinner or write about the growth of YuzuMura.com. I have a few photos that were stashed on my camera’s memory card, but they’re all reminders of the peak of summer.

Tomato

These were some heirloom tomatoes we bought from Sosio’s in the Pike Place Market… one day we got an incredible deal on seconds, and I made 4 quarts (a shy 4 liters) of really dangerously sweet and flavorful tomato sauce with minimal handling… just basil, garlic, a little wine, olive oil…

But we also made some insalata caprese…

Insalata caprese

And a spread particularly suited for a potato rosemary focaccia, made with cannelini beans, garlic, and olive oil, topped with some tiny heirloom tomatoes.

Cannelini-mini-heirloom-tomato

Hiromi’s parents actually came to visit for a couple of weeks recently. Her father professes a distaste for tomatoes, but I suspect this is due to the flavorlessness of Japanese supermarket tomatoes (which pretty much match the flavorlessness of US supermarket tomatoes); he reliably took several helpings of almost any tomato dish I served.

We only have another week or two left to get decent tomatoes in Seattle, but we’re lucky, as the season is pretty much over in the rest of the country…

We interrupt this silence...

jason

My laptop died another, more unfixable death a few weeks ago, and this has made me a bit sluggish posting recently.

I caved in and replaced it with a Dell, after agonizing about whether to buy a cheapo replacement or something suitable for longer-term use. I decided to get something more long-term, because even though I think I’d get a good deal on a Windows Vista-ready laptop if I buy something cheap now and something average later, I just can’t stomach the idea of discarding a laptop after less than a year if I can help it.

I chose Dell mostly because of the good deal ex-Microsoft employees get through an alumni program… I was tempted to buy a Mac, but ones with suitably large storage and comparable processors were at least $500 more, and quite outside of my price range.

After an unfortunately unsuitable stint as an agency temp in MSN, which turned out to be a substantial mismatch between what was pitched to me and what I was actually needed for, I found something else more interesting in the SQL Server team, which is going reasonably well so far. I’m actually kind of hoping that, at some point in the future, I’ll find a web development role or internationalization-focused coding assignment, but for the moment, I’m spending a lot of time digging into test automation code and refactoring it into something hopefully saner. (For my non-geek visitors, refactoring refers to a series of small, isolated changes that over time improve the design of the system).

Not a disappearing act, and grilled donut peaches

jason

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

and we're back

jason

I’m not completely up and running again, but I got my replacement hard drive for my laptop installed and the OS is back up… now I have to install all the stuff I used to have and try to recover as much of the data of the old drive as possible.

I bought a USB device that’s supposed to allow me to plug in the old hard drive and use it as an external device… I suppose that’ll work until the old one is completely dead, though it didn’t arrive with the hard drive itself. Or rather, FedEx seemed unaware of it when I went down to their sort facility to pick it up, and the tracking number from Buy.com was useless.

Tomorrow I’ll try posting some food from the weekend.

That survival gig

jason

At Revenue Science, where I’ve been doing my “pay my bills” job while slowly building YuzuMura.com, we recently shipped the product to our Japanese partner. Today one of my coworkers passed around an email from our main contact at the Japanese company, complimenting us on the quality of our understanding of Japanese software issues. I was very happy to hear that, since that was why I was brought in on the project.

I have a few weeks left on the project to focus on automating some tests, and then I need to figure out what to do next. Based on my financial projections, it looks like I will still need to find an additional software gig for the next 6–12 months. I’m hoping to find something similarly focused on making software work with other languages, since that’s where I’m most useful and what gets me most excited. If it weren’t for the international impact of my work, I wouldn’t have stayed at Microsoft for seven years.

Making difficult decisions, pressing the pause button

jason

Over the last two years, I invested a substantial amount of money trying to build a market for one of my signature products, Dragon Beard Candy, from Bamboo Garden.

Other than Japanese ceramics, it was the first big product that I started with, so I have a pretty strong attachment to it. I want to continue to invest in the Dragon Beard Candy, but I analyzed the last two years of sales and trends over the last couple of months and I realized that it doesn’t make much sense to throw more money at the product during the summer months, when sales are not quite as vigorous as in the fall and winter. I also don’t have the time to fully invest in promoting it right now, as I’m trying to build up more resources before the next holiday season.

There’s only about a 3.5–4 month shelf life from the time I receive it from the manufacturer on average, so I tend to import very modest amounts because I’d rather run out than throw it away or give it away.

Fuel costs went sky-high over the last year, so my freight costs have made wholesale sales of that product, which really needs to be shipped by air, almost without value, and I just got another notification from my freight vendor that air freight fuel surcharges went up again. I have been emphasizing retail sales on my web site more this year partially for that reason, as the margins on the web site make profitability more attainable.

Unfortunately, there’s just not that much value in selling the product in the summertime, unless I do more large-scale corporate gift sales… Of course, those orders tend to cluster around the holidays, as well.

I don’t expect the fuel costs to get better, but I want to assign my resources toward some new products this summer, so about a week or so ago I clearance priced the last little bit of candy I have from my spring shipment.

I plan to pick up a few other products that I’ve had in the back of my mind for the last few months… some Japanese snacks, some more gifty stuff, and maybe a few other unexpected things. I’ll pick up the dragon beard candy again when appropriate holidays are approaching, starting around September. That’ll coincide with the Chinese mid-Autumn festival, sometimes called the Moon Festival in the U.S. For the last two years, that’s when sales for the product really started picking up. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and to a lesser extent, Chinese New Year also drive a lot of sales.

I also think it’s more compelling as a special occasion product, with limited availability. When I was at FoodEx this year, I started thinking that I might shift into selling a few featured products and only offer them until I run out… It would let me feature a wider variety of interesting products, and of course, I could always revisit a product that turns out to have particularly enduring demand.

Introducing MoriAwase.com and the debut of my "other" blog

jason

Pursuing My Passions has always been focused on my life after Microsoft, about indulging my passions for good food, contemporary Asian craft, and travel while somehow trying to build a business around those obsessions. But except for the occasional comment on a restaurant here an there, I haven’t spent much time looking outward at what other people are doing.

I wanted to build a bit of a community focused on changing contemporary Asian lifestyles, as well as on food, crafts, and design. Of course, with my ever-increasingly insane schedule, I never put the necessary amount of time into the project. But I’ve decided I will bite off a little at a time, much like I did originally with this blog… and for now, I’ve decided to create a blog wholly focused on an assortment of such things, rather than just on what I’m up to myself.

The first couple of entries on that blog are now up on MoriAwase.com. If you have any sort of enthusiasm for rustic-contemporary Asian craft, contemporary Asian art and design, for Asian cuisine and travel, please take a look, and consider signing up to participate in the MoriAwase.com Forums.

Pursuing My Passions will continue, focused mostly on what I’m cooking, where I’m traveling, and what I’m doing with my business, as it always has… MoriAwase will be a bit more focused on the world around me, and perhaps more traditionally blog-like with links to interesting content outside of my narrow little sphere.

Tax season

jason

Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised that my taxes went a little more quickly this year than last year… I guess I understood the stuff a little better. The business schedule is fairly tedious, and the instructions are rather bewildering to parse, but somehow I figured it out.

However, I’m pretty sure that next year I’ll need a real accountant. The list of numbers to keep track of is just getting too long.

I face a lot of buy-vs.-build or pay-for-help vs. do-it-yourself decisions for which the correct answer is not entirely obvious… in theory, I should pay for help for things that are not part of my core business, but I sometimes feel tempted to do it myself when I have the skills. For example, I’m not running a technology company but I frequently debate with myself whether I should pay for someone else to do my web design and storefront work, and often find myself doing it because it’s not that difficult for me to understand, even if it can be terribly time consuming.

But I think that I don’t have much of an excuse for doing my taxes myself. I can’t possibly keep track of all of the rules and exceptions related to preparing taxes, and I don’t have much to gain from doing it myself except for moderate cost savings. Yet I’ve hung on to the habit of handling the work on my own… Am I stubborn, foolish, or something else?