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.

Tokyo FoodEx 2005, Day 4

On the last day at FoodEx I followed up with a couple of companies I had some interest in, and then I made a few other discoveries.

I can’t say that there was one product I would absolutely have to have this time, but I found several that I’m quite interested in and I think I’ll try to work something out with a few of the companies I ran into.

Because it was the end of the show for me, I spent more time cruising the non-Asian booths, and I found a suitably gimmicky nightclub drink product from an Austrian company. The product comes in metal tubes, in either alcoholic “cocktails” or non-alcoholic “energy drinks.” The taste of the cranberry-flavored “Wodka” cocktail isn’t quite my style, but the overall concept seems very clever and suitable for clubs trying to get some sort of attention. I chatted in German with one of the company representatives for a little while, and realized how sloppy my German is these days.

Actually one thing I’m happy about is that I think I’ve found some items with reasonable shelf-life at modest costs which still have decent style and interesting origin stories. Some nice cookies from Malaysia, some nicely-packaged sauces from Thailand, and various other things that seem to have good market potential without steering too far from my company vision.

By 4:10 pm most exhibitors started packing everything and departing. I was surprised that the 4:30 finishing time really meant “no later than 4:30”. Of course the trains were completely insane for the next couple of hours… I sat in a pastry shop for about an hour and I still couldn’t get a seat on the train from Makuhari station.

For dinner Hiromi and I stopped at a restaurant I really enjoyed a few years ago called Yuuan in Nishi-Shinjuku. It was still good food, but not quite the transcendent experience I remember from last time I was there. We had a nice “white sesame oil” nabe with very soft tofu and various spring vegetables, a simple tomato appetizer, and a pumpkin croquette, and some mountain vegetable tempura. The last time I was there they had their own house-infused liqueurs but these were apparently absent this time.

Another Portland demo trip

I went to the Beaverton Uwajimaya today, but somehow I didn’t arrive until about 12:15 and I spent about 10 minutes wandering around trying to figure out where my demo table might be, then I found the staff member who runs the event, and settled in as quickly as possible. I think I didn’t do any sampling until about 12:45.

Actually I try to arrive by 11:30 to these events but somehow something goes wrong each time, and I get there later. This time the issue was fairly bland… I remembered the need to get cups for serving cold matcha samples, and had to stop at a Cash & Carry on the way out of town. I would have done this yesterday, but I had a long list of things to accomplish and it just fell off.

The weather was very warm today. I think I might have a bit of open-window sunburn.

Alas, I ate rather unimpressively on the way. The day started off well, because I had two halves of two nice muffins from Fresh Flours, and a yuzu marmalade window cookie (made with Korean yuja-cha, which I myself have been intending to import since February but faced a few unrelated inventory and payment obstacles that made me skittish). Along the way I stopped at a Mrs. Beesley’s for a fresh strawberry shake, so that beat my sugar quota. I had a slice of mushroom pizza at Pizzicato. These last two are, alas, frequent stops for me when I’m playing traveling supermarket product demo guy.

Surprisingly, the usual rule about sunny weather negatively impacting sales and store traffic at Beaverton didn’t seem to hold. I found I was sampling to a steady stream of customers most of the time, and the iced matcha latte in particular went over well… I think more people have recently tasted the (in my opinion scary) Starbucks green tea drinks that the idea seems less “foreign” when they try ours. Usually people who have tried both seem to prefer ours, which makes me happy, since we use better matcha and no melon flavoring.

Usually I’ve been at Beaverton on relatively cool days so I think today was the first time to do any iced matcha lattes there… it’s actually a little more convenient since the matcha flavor is more stable when served cold, so I can make more in advance and I never have to throw any away.

When I do hot matcha lattes, the samples get cool very quickly in small sample cups, and the exposure to air is not something that green tea appreciates; accordingly, to make sure everyone has the best possible experience, I usually make four samples at a time and discard any that remain after about 5 minutes. 5 minutes isn’t too much stress for a drink in a larger cup because it doesn’t cool as rapidly or have as much surface area exposed to air. I don’t want to drink a long-neglected cafe latte either, because coffee is about as temperamental when served hot as matcha is.

Anyway, iced is nice, because it seems more people have experience eating green tea ice cream than drinking matcha, and the taste is somehow familiar to them when we serve cold things. I didn’t track it very carefully, but I think we actually had a fairly high conversion rate today for Beaverton… in Seattle I do reasonably well whether doing hot drinks or cold. The smallest size ran out by the fourth hour.

Whenever I do demos at the Beaverton Uwajimaya I wish I had progressed further in studying Korean than I have so far… I have been using a little bit just to explain the name of the products in Korean, which some Koreans have heard of… yong su-yeom yeott saseyo! Nokcha late i-e-yo. But I can’t say anything else of interest.

Beaverton’s customer base has the heaviest percentage of Koreans of any store that I visit. So it seems like it would be a good think if I could say something more intelligent than “I’m selling dragon beard candy! This is a green tea latte.”

Arrival and collapse

I arrived at Narita airport and cruised through passport control, baggage claim and customs unusually quickly. After getting a small amount of cash at the Citibank ATM, I made a stop at the KDDI/au booth on the fourth floor of the airport to inquire about and obtain a prepaid telephone.

The last time I was in Tokyo I rented a cell phone here, which incredibly simplified the often daunting task of meeting friends in various public places… the pervasiveness of cell phones has greatly diminished the importance Japanese once placed on punctuality. Beyond that, picking a well-known landmark at a particular train station as a meeting place always sounds simple, but usually at least 500 other folks had the same landmark in mind, and seeing through the crowds isn’t always easy without additional lines of communication. The rental cell phone made my life much easier; however, with a 25 day stay in mind, the 600 yen/day rental fee plus outbound talk time makes the prepaid option a financially more attractive option, and I’ll be able to use it on subsequent trips.

After wandering around Tokyo station in search of food, I finally settle on a couple of onigiri: one stuffed with natto and seasoned with soy sauce, and, apparently, butter; the other, made with “wasabi-zuke”, pickles seasoned with cheap wasabi mix that consists of more mustard than anything else. I also picked up a burdock (gobo) side dish and some CC Lemon. The gobo side dish promptly disappeared out of the little plastic bag; I must have held it with only one handle without realizing my mistake until I looked for it.

I wandered around the a little bit while waiting for my friend to fight traffic on the way from Kawasaki. After her arrival, we climbed in the car and spent about an hour trying to get out of the city, and another couple of hours heading toward an onsen ryokan in Nasu-Shiobara, “Myouga-ya Honkan”. I managed to doze off in the last hour of the trip.

Upon arrival, just shy of 11pm, we settled in, and then decided to take a late night dip in the roten-buro, an outdoor hot springs pool out back of the hotel which was actually built 300 years ago. This is actually an increasingly unusual venue; it features konyoku (mixed bathing), unclothed; very few hot springs have mixed bathing anymore.

As we walked through the old wooden structure that leads down to the outdoor pools, we could see snow slowly sublimating on rooftops. We were alone, as it’s not particularly common to be out in the onsen after 11. We tried a couple of the pools, overlooking the concrete-banked river, for maybe 30 minutes. There was a light breeze extending the influence of near-freezing temperatures, but the warm pools of highly mineralized water covered us up to our shoulders, and the baths removed all of the economy-class aches and pains in my body.

Upon returning to the room, jetlag and relaxation synergized and I easily collapsed into bed.

Matcha white chocolate enrobed fortune cookies

If you’ve never tried it before, you probably don’t know this… photographing chocolate is hard. I almost always take photographs using extra-bright halogen lamps, and these generate a lot of heat.

They’re perfect for most of my products because they create a nice warm glow. Nearly every photo on YuzuMura.com is bathed in halogen light. In some cases, there’s some combination of ambient fluorescent or incandescent light, or else I’ll use available outdoor light plus my trusty halogen. Sometimes I white balance properly, using a white card, and sometimes I rely on the automatic mode, which casts everything a bit more yellow or red than it really is.

Well, my matcha chocolate fortune cookies arrived yesterday early in the evening, and so I thought I’d try to take photographs today. One session I got half-decent shots of the cookies by themselves, but there was something wrong with all of the box shots. Usually something was too dark, and something was too bright. Alas, my cookies didn’t like the lighting at all… they were crying. I came back about an hour later and their color had slightly shifted, so I had to start again with a different box of cookies.

I knew that matcha doesn’t like to be exposed to a lot of light, but I was a little surprised at how rapid my shift in color was… although I have seen this occur before in a matcha cake stored in a pastry display case on a very sunny day… In my case, the color shift wasn’t as dramatic, but it made me a little worried.

Anyway, I tried one more time, adding another source of fluorescent light, and this improved things somewhat on the product box shots. Most still had some overexposed spots though.

Someday I’m going to have to reshoot this, maybe with some soft fluorescent lighting. But it’ll work for now.

They tasted good, anyway, even when the heat from the light melted them a bit...

Matfor-240wMatfor-8p-plate-240

Pita and foul mudammah

Obachan” recently reminded me of the joys of fresh pita bread when she talked about a cross between hummus and baba ghanouj on her blog recently. A couple of months ago I made some pita just because I felt like having some flatbread but didn’t want to drive to the supermarket just to get some stale-tasting, chemically stabilized flatbread when it only takes a few minutes and pennies to knead some dough.

It does take a bit of time to rise (45 minutes to an hour is fine), but in this case, I was able to prepare other things while I waited.

I took a quick picture just a short time after the second batch of bread came out of the oven. I made a total of 8 pita, and my roommate and I quickly devoured half of them.

Fresh-out-of-the-oven pita

Pita

My impetus for making pita was a craving for a hummus-like spread often rendered in English as “foul mudammah” or “foul medammah”, but the ambiguity of Arabic vowels results in numerous additional possiblities.

A few years ago when I was still moderately happy with my job at Microsoft, an Egyptian woman working for me, who had recently brought her family to one of my dinner parties, treated me to some homemade fava bean spread. She gave me a recipe and a verbal description of the technique. Not too long ago, I acquired a small amount of dried fava beans at PFI with the intention of making this dish.

Mine doesn’t really look the same as I remember hers; I think hers had a greenish hue and was probably made without tomatoes. It may have been a completely different dish. I’ve long since misplaced the recipe she gave me, but I was happy with the results.

Foul Mudammah

Foul mudammah

I used a bit of tomato puree in addition to cooked dried fava beans (soramame for my Japanese readers), and onions both in the foul and caramelized on top. I ground some coriander and cumin seeds then cooked them in bit of olive oil with some ground chillies, which I mixed into the foul as well, and of course some salt. I used a blender to puree everything, but I’m sure I could have gotten satisfactory results from assiduously smashing the beans with a fork.

Upon serving, aside from adding those caramelized onions, I sprinkled some dried ancho chillies and drizzled olive oil on top. It might have been nice to squeeze a bit of lemon juice on top, but I forgot to buy lemons.

I also served some sliced cucumbers, feta, and a decent tomato.

Feta, cucumber, and tomato

The only remotely expensive part of the dinner was the feta, which I really didn’t need, but I was craving it somehow.

The foul mudammah has a pleasant sweetness… I think the beans, tomato, and onions all contributed to that. I want to eat it more often.

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Just enough competence to be dangerous

Over the last couple of days I made some mini-breakthroughs in my shopping cart code, which is encouraging enough to make me feel like I know what I'm doing.

To be fair, though, that's come at the expense of time I should probably be spending selling. I'm hoping that the hard part of the work on the web store is over with, and that I can just pound out the rest of the code now that I have a functional framework. Past experience tells me things won't be so simple. But I also feel like I've finally got my head around the problem, instead of my head being disembodied, looking askance at the problem and just wincing.

I had a few more meetings and telephone conversations with potential customers, but I think I need to be more focused on that. Also I need to pick a few larger retailers to target so that I can clear out my existing inventory a little faster. I think there's not enough time in the day...

A reunion, a game, a windstorm, a party

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.

 

A short hop to Hong Kong

I experienced some laptop trouble as I was hitting Hong Kong and I wasn’t able to get the machine to boot. I finally got it to successfully pass the initial POST tonight, just as I’ve arrived in Tokyo. I may have limited connectivity should my machine go down again, but below I’ve posted the entry I was writing as I was approaching Hong Kong March 2/3.

Last year around this time I was sitting aboard an aircraft bound to Tokyo for FoodEx, just starting out my journey as a struggling entrepreneur.

Once more I am headed to Asia, this time with slightly more carefully defined goals, a tighter schedule, and a much more cautious budget.

I spent the last few days trying to cram in a never-ending list of essential errands, some of which I had been neglecting for far too long. The night before my trip I didn’t get a wink of sleep, as I worked solidly until about 4:30 am, just enough time to get out of the shower as the airport shuttle was arriving.

My financial resources are tight this trip, owing to huge amounts of accounts receivable not yet arrived, a little oversupply of inventory in a lull between holidays, and a few accounts payable.

It’s a really nerve-wracking period. I hope to get some more support from my supplier, and then I intend to establish a couple of new relationships when I get to FoodEx that will let me launch a couple of my own signature products. I’ve been keeping a couple of ideas on the back burner for a long time due to cost concerns, but I’ve been examining the business models more carefully recently, and I think they are more achievable than I previously gave them credit for.

I plan to finalize an order for some less financially risky products as well, including some fruit teas from Korea, which I should resolve next week if all goes well. Long shelf life and pricing that is less scary for retailers should make it easier to build up my revenue streams.

On the more trivial side, I’ve learned that the best way to get an edible vegetarian meal on United Airlines is to request a Hindu meal. It’s not exactly haute cuisine, but about as good as you could expect from microwaveable trays; the dishes turned out more flavorful than is usual for airplane food, since they used at least some hint of spices. The rather amusingly misrepresented silver dollar sized “naan bread” was pretty pitiful: stale and refrigerated, as is customary for airline bread; the heavily preservative-treated conditioner-filled bread was essentially the same as supermarket bread. One of my major annoyances with the “lacto ovo vegetarian” meals on airlines is that for some reason they seem to think that a dairy-and-egg consuming vegetarian would much rather have hydrogenated-fat-laden margarine than butter. This leads to including things like inedible packaged vegan cookies and, well, inedible margarine, in the mealservice. Paneer cheese made an appearance in the first and last meals of the flight, and one of the vaguely south Asian sweets had the good sense to be made with butter.

 

That survival gig

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.

A rare case of tax procrastination

When I worked at Microsoft I had a habit of figuring out my taxes just after all the forms came in… I would file my return right away if I was due a refund, or wait until the last moment if I owed money.

This year my taxes were more complicated than ever before… complex capital gains, carryover of prior year capitol loss, business loss, vehicle expenses for business, travel expenses, business use of home… I had a fat stack of papers to fill out, an insane number of receipts, and I was too cheap to spring for accounting software last year to make my life easier. I also had a pretty busy February and March.

So, in spite of the fact that I anticipated a huge refund this year, I put most of the work off until last Sunday night or so. Accordingly, I was working down to the wire. I probably have to file an amended return because I didn’t include every one of my little expenses. Not to mention my return probably looks suspicious because I have such a dramatic disparity between revenue and business expenses… some of that due to unfortunate inventory management mistakes last summer, and some due to the fact that some of last year’s sales aren’t reflected until they get paid this year.

I was one of the slackers at midnight tonight. I was suitably frazzled, and I am sure I made a few mistakes. I’ll try to figure it out again after making a dent in the litany of other tasks I am trying to catch up on…

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