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.

Touring Wakayama

The lack of sleep caught up with me. I got out of bed around 5am again only to realize that the only motivation for that was to turn off the alarm clock on my cell phone, which was reprising yesterday’s schedule. I slept another 3 hours or so.

After that I exchanged several email messages with various companies, though I wasn’t able to read a few price sheets that I had asked for since I was unable to open PDF or Word attachments on the hotel business center computers. I guess I’ll look at them Tuesday night or Wednesday sometime.

My major accomplishment as a tourist today was walking through the rain up to Wakayama castle. The grounds for the castle are about 20 minutes from my hotel on foot, and it takes another 10 minutes or so to climb the hill. Inside the castle, the reconstructed interior features institutional tile flooring and various exhibits of historical relics. Most of the artifacts on display are the usual military attire, weaponry and old maps. Usually I look forward to seeing some pottery in such venues, but in this case, there wasn’t much to see; just some roof tiles and the like.

Sachi had previously planned to go to a piano concert which was, unfortunately, sold out, so I didn’t meet her until after I had a small meal at a barely occupied chain izakaya called Iroha, located near my hotel. At Iroha, I had a stone bowl bibimbap, some mochi-mochi-camembert-potato-age, edamame, and some yuzu-infused shochu.

Of course, Sachi was hungry after the concert, so I ended up joining her for a second meal at a more interesting place that she knows. We had some rice croquettes with various seasonings, and some salad-stuffed raw spring rolls with a sort of Caesar dressing, age-dashi-doufu, and a little dessert. The dessert is called Nostradamus, and we ordered it solely because of the name; we didn’t know what was in it until we ordered. It was basically a parfait composed of various ingredients that Japanese expect in parfaits, served with a sparkler and a little bowl of diffusing dry ice in water, intended for a fog effect.

We stayed past our welcome at the restaurant and Sachi dropped me off at my hotel, making arrangements to meet briefly tomorrow before I head to the airport.

Hiromi called me and we chatted a little bit about my trip and about our plans for the next few days.

Insured and ready

Today I entered the ranks of a real company and signed a commercial insurance policy. I didn't have a choice, really, as it was driven by a customer requirement. The last thing I want right now is additional expenses. But it was something I would have needed to do eventually.

I am exhausted, but I still have a lot of work to do still before my candy-makers arrive tomorrow.

We'll be doing live demos of dragon beard candy at Bellevue Uwajimaya on Friday, noon to 6 pm; on Saturday at Seattle Uwajimaya, noon to 6 pm, and Sunday and Beaverton Uwajimaya, also noon to 6 pm.

My plan for the Bay Area should be ready to go by tomorrow, but I'm still waiting for the customer there to arrange the details. It looks like everything will be good, and there is some promotion being done on their end too.

A new shipment came in yesterday and I have to prepare the routing details somehow by tomorrow, so maybe I'll take a few hours of leave from my guests who are arriving to do some logistics work. Tonight I have to do some housecleaning, too.

Matcha-anko muffins, some with shiratama

I made these matcha muffins this morning, and we used up some recently made shira-tama and leftover ogura-an by placing them in the muffin batter. I think I first tried matcha muffins about 6 or 7 years ago at Kimura-ya in Ginza.

They actually looked substantially more matcha green before being hyper-illuminated, so I might reshoot these at some point when I get around to making some more, and try not to overexpose them so much.

Matcha Muffin plateMatcha muffin kozara

Jason’s Matcha-An Muffins

1–1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp Matcha for Cooking
1/4 tsp salt

Ogura-an or your preferred type of anko (sweetened azuki bean puree), about 1/2 cup

Mix with a fork to a lumpy consistency, taking care not to develop strands of gluten. I filled a 24–piece mini-muffin pan with this amount of batter, using about a tablespoon of batter per pan. Using two spoons, press a bout a teaspoon of anko into the batter. We also snuck a few homemade shiratama into some of the muffins; when baked they taste kind of like yakimochi.

Bake at 375F (180c) for 22–25 minutes, until edges are browned. You can test one muffin with a toothpick.

Breakfast also included some leftover black raspberry pie, some very orange jidori no tamago medama-yaki (sunny side up orange eggs from very well-fed hens) with a little Ritrovo truffle salt, and watermelon.

Sonstiges

Hiromi and I spent the afternoon kayaking yesterday with Jennifer… we made our way from Portage Bay to the arboretum, then up to Madison Park and back. Surprisingly, three hours in the sun didn’t roast anybody. It was Hiromi’s first time on a kayak, so Jennifer gave a basic lesson to Hiromi while I was waiting in line to rent a 3rd kayak at Agua Verde.

Afterward I made a late dinner to take advantage of some decent but early heirloom tomatoes… insalata caprese, a salad with grilled figs, tomatoes and butter leaf lettuce, some bruised tomato garlic bruschetta, various leftover cheeses, and some tomato cream pasta with basil, just to complete the tomato-heavy theme. The day before we also had some tomatoes, but on ciabatta… also an egg white fritatta with morels and some earthy smoky cheese, and a salad with a crushed raspberry vinaigrette and lavender fennel cheese.

Ciabata and egg white morel fritatta

We also had a nice dinner at La Carta de Oaxaca on Friday night… preceded by cocktails at Fu Kun Wu. That seems to be a theme every time I end up at La Carta… the waiting list demands stopping somewhere else for a drink. But we got a table in 30 minutes… an impressive feat for a group of 7 on a Saturday night.

Demos on weekdays, sorbet at night

I somehow confused myself into thinking that today was still Wednesday. I’ve had a bit of trouble sleeping so maybe my mind isn’t working at full speed.

Anyway, I’ve been doing more weekday sampling at Uwajimaya so that I can get rid of more candy. I have a bit of an overstock problem still and I’m not very happy about it… but sampling helps sell products, so I’m just doing more of it… my target was more the dinner rush, but it seems Seattle’s Uwajimaya doesn’t get much of one. Fortunately, it means I can be a little more personable with the customers that come by, and talk less like a pitchman and more like an ordinary human being… the conversion rate is much higher. I sample less, but sell reasonably well and get people interested beyond the 2–5 minutes they stand in front of me.

Last week I didn’t sell much doing the two weeknight demos, but today I managed to clear about as much in two hours as I did in Portland all day last Sunday. I’ll be at Uwajimaya Seattle again tomorrow and Saturday, and somewhere else on Sunday, most likely Bellevue.

When I got home my roommate asked me to take ourselves to Red Mill for dinner, so we split a red onion veggie burger, nibbled some onion rings and overdosed on some fruity milkshakes.

She reminded me that it was Thursday. I think my brain was functioning enough at Uwajimaya that I remembered I needed some potatoes for a dinner party we planned for Friday… but I thought I had one more day, so I ignored other vegetable needs.

So after eating I stopped at a supermarket and picked up some more vegetables and some cannelini beans… I’ll make a little soup tomorrow, and some of my potato pizza, and a little salad. I made some fennel marinated in course salt and yuzu juice, something I’ve made before on several occasions and I’m quite fond of.

I did some prep work for tomorrow, since I’ll be entertaining straight after a demo. I simmered some rhubarb in sugar and water, and pureed it with some fresh strawberries and a bit of lemon juice. It’ll be turned into a sorbet in the morning. The base tastes nice, so I think the sorbet will be pretty good. The strawberries seem to be of the almost flavorless California supermarket freight friendly variety, but they’ll work for now… Local strawberries won’t be in season for a bit longer.

My favorite results with strawberry in sorbets are when small local berries make it to the market. I usually just puree the strawberries with sugar and a bit of basil, and add some lemon juice to balance the sweetness. I can’t remember the exact variety but they are usually sweet and aromatic. I guess I will hunt some down when the time comes.

Just before FoodEx

So I thought I’d do some… er… research before FoodEx, and I thought it would be very important to know how these two cakes taste.

They came from the patisserie Gerard Mulot in the basement of Shinjuku’s Takashimaya.

Cake 017-150w Chocolate from Gerard Mulot

I can report that both surpassed my expectations. The caramel and apricot tart or flan on the left was pushing the envelope on the caramelization, just to the point where the caramelization could go no further without disaster striking. and was surprisingly light on the sugar. (As the homeless culinary appreciation sensei in Tampopo explained, French cuisine is a constant battle with burns). The other cake featured two layers of chocolate ganache or mousse atop a small layer of chocolate sponge cake, covered with the intense chocolate you can see in the photo. It was seriously chocolate… minimal sweetness, very complex. I just wish I could get this in Seattle.

While I was at it I picked up some yuzu candy and yuzu seeds, and tried some tonyu gelato. Lunch involved some ordinary respectable pizza margherita and kinoko cream soup.

I also chatted with someone else in the department store who works for a rising specialty food company in Yamagata, and she put me in touch with their head office. I may have the chance to meet with them before leaving town. This company makes some really nice products with various fruits; it clearly focuses on a domestic audience, but might have some potential in upscale New York and San Francisco supermarkets or department store shops if the wholesale price is right.

Jetlagged but jogging

Somehow my body decided 5 am was the best time to get out of bed. I made some breakfast and then went jogging for a while at Greenlake around 6:30 in the morning. This is not a normal time of day for me to exercise… jogging I consider perfectly reasonable, but rarely is my body convinced to budge early enough to do any exercise that early in the morning. The big surprise was that I met a MSN colleague jogging in the opposite direction a couple of times.

I started the work to get a bank transfer out to my ceramics suppliers in Japan. It’s a little more frustrating than I was hoping, but I think I have everything in place for it to be completed by morning. Some of the bank information that makes transfers work more smoothly wasn’t provided by the suppliers, so I had to arrange some more complicated strategy to get it to them. Anyway, everything should be fine.

As for my other job, in the morning I filed my formal resignation notice. After that, I hurried through my performance document and I think I also did something useful, perhaps. I’m hoping I can maintain a little motivation.

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

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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Grilled tofu, umeboshi and tomato salad, and plotting a last minute contribution

Standard operating procedure for Americans confronted with tofu is to cover it up as much as possible. People think it “absorbs” flavors of things around it. This isn’t really true, though because water in tofu keeps the flavor mostly at the surface, unless the tofu is freeze-dried or otherwise altered in texture.

I usually don’t do much to tofu… I love yudoufu (湯豆腐), which is simmered tofu with sometimes as little as a sliver of dried kelp, served with a dipping sauce; hiya-yakko (冷やっこ), which is really just some good tofu with some garnish, such as grated ginger and soy sauce, occasionally some oroshi-daikon, and for many, shaved katsuo, is also perfectly simple and wonderful. With suitably fresh tofu, the whole point is to make the custardy, or sometimes slightly chewy texture stand out, accented by the hint of bitterness that the soybean origin contributes.

Today, though, I was craving some grill marks. I had just a bit left of a medium-firm or momen-style tofu from a local Vietnamese tofu maker. Normally I’m happy to just grill some slices on my little grill pan and maybe use a dipping sauce. Today, I decided to grill until some nice marks were established, then I brushed a little bit of shouyu, grilled a bit more, and finally brushed a slight wash of mirin.

I had a bit of a yuzu-shouyu dressing that I made a while back, so I used that to dress my salad, and I sliced some nice tomatoes and sprinkled a bit of coarse gray salt atop.

Tofu-umeboshi-tomato-salad

Yesterday I noticed an email that was apparently trapped by a spam filter. It came from someone at Seattle’s Japanese Garden, located in the Washington Park arboretum. I got a return phone call tonight, and I signed up to bring some things for the reception of this weekend’s moon viewing event. I hope I can squeeze as much work as I need to into Saturday.

I like to think "busy" and "productive" are related

On Sunday I actually took most of the day "off", in the sense that I didn't have a business agenda until I started reading email at night.

During the day, I stopped at my pottery lab to try to pick up the last bits of work from this quarter. A couple of recently glaze pots were ready, but are nothing to write home about. A ceramic "train" that I made was still on the greenware shelves, waiting to be bisque-fired. I suppose it will be ready next week. I don't plan to take the class this summer due to the demands of my business interests and, to be honest, due to the fact that I enjoy taking advantage of summer weekends, whether that means running to meet customers, networking, or jogging in the good weather.

In the afternoon, I met with a friend who had expressed some interest in promoting soaps from Japan. We chatted about different things and then I decided to stop by my grandparents' house. Along the way, I bought some stuffed figs from Fran's Chocolates in old Bellevue.

In the evening I tried to follow up with some outstanding concerns I have related to my project to import a Hong Kong sweet. I've mentioned the candy here before... the big secret that I haven't mentioned is what it's called... it's called dragon beard candy, and it's made with thousands of strands of pulled sugar and maltose. In fact, it normally only has a 15-30 minute lifespan after it's made. The version I found is high quality, beautifully packaged, and has a reasonable shelf-life. I will be the first, or at least one of the first, people to import this into the United States. Work related to this ended up keeping me later than I planned.

Today I met with a couple of banks. Alas, in spite of all of my running around a month or so ago in attempt to pick a bank, I still didn't pick one. I must do that this week. I made an appointment to talk with one of them a little bit more tomorrow.

By the end of workday (by the standards of the alternate universe that is the 9-6 world) I had made a bunch of appointments for the rest of the week. I'm meeting with a friend of a friend tomorrow who can introduce me to some people I should be talking to. I'm having dinner later midweek with Patrick, whom I've mentioned recently. Thursday, I'm meeting with a candidate to help me out for sales of dragon beard candy, meeting a friend visiting from China, and having a conversation with a manager at a local specialty supermarket. I'm also having dinner with a tech entrepreneur, Tony, whom I've mentioned before, mostly to catch up on things. One of these evenings I think I'm meeting with an acquaintance of mine from back in the day when I worked at the Northwest Asian Weekly. I should have Wednesday morning open to run errands.

In any event, this will be a busy week. One thing I learned at Microsoft was that busy doesn't always mean productive... I think, though, that everything I'm planning to do this week is valuable in one way or another. Everything looks like progress, so far.

Hoteres, Day 2: Nifty equipment and ceramics

I decided after all to go back to the Hoteres show, which turns out to have been a good idea. I found a lot of suppliers of ceramics mostly focusing on restaurant clients, one of which can also serve as an export agent for products from a potter I like in Takayama. Beyond that, I found the company behind an extra nifty cedar soap line, which is the same product that my friend Hiromi told me she uses religiously for her face. I also found another producer of a similar product, and a company that markets private label soaps to spas and hot springs and hotels in Japan, including a yuzu soap, a green tea soap that unlike Elizabeth Arden’s hyped product actually smells like green tea, and several “massage soaps” which include some kind of exfoliating ingredient.

In the “interesting kitchen equipment” category, the coolest thing I saw was a fryer which is promoted as a “clean fryer.” In a floor demonstration, one of the promoters asked an audience member to pour a glass of water directly into the hot oil, which was frying some tonkatsu or croquettes or something similar, with her hand directly above the oil. When she poured the water in, it simply disappeared; this was followed with someone tossing in an ice cube. The water, according to the demonstrator, had simply moved to the bottom of the fryer.

Another interesting machine was a countertop device that produces nigiri-sushi shaped rice in precise portions. In a similar vein, there was an automatic gyouza stuffer for countertop use. There were a couple of interesting conveyer-belt products which looked surprisingly elegant; two of them didn’t even have obviously moving belts.

I talked to one small company that manufactures oshibori wetting, disinfecting and warming countertop machines. Oshibori are wet napkins used in Japan usually instead of paper napkins, and are kind of an alternative to running off to a washroom to clean one’s hands before a meal. After the president told me everything he thought I could understand, he introduced me to his secretary, who is also his daughter. She used to study in New Zealand and had a kind of New Zealand Japanese accent. Apparently they are trying to sell a version of this in Hawaii later this year, and I suggested if they have a 110 volt version, it’s worth exploring the West Coast of the US in general, and to please let me know when it’s going to be released.

During these four days, it’s been kind of amusing how many people comment on my company name (Yuzu Trading Co. LLC). It seems to instantly establish some rapport, since it’s obvious to them I’m influenced by Japan; referring to Yuzu in my company name strikes some folks as surprising, leading them to think of me as not your usual run-of-the-mill gaijin.

I left the show around 3pm and came back to my apartment. I managed to sort through most of the papers I’ve accumulated over the last few days, organized by their relative importance to me (products I’m very interested in, products I was attracted to, companies that might be good sources if someone comes to me looking for something in particular, and companies which I don’t think I have much likelihood of being useful for me). I still have to sort through at least several dozen business cards I’ve received as well.

Tonight I cooked some of the yuzu-flavored udon I picked up last weekend in Nasu-Shiobara. I made a couple of simple side dishes… I have some leftover nanohana (canola greens or rapeseed greens), garlic stems, and one eringi from a few days ago. So I just blanched the nanohana in lightly salted water and served it with a drizzling of a white tamari sample I got from FoodEx. I also sauteed the garlic stems and browned the eringi, seasoned with some salt and the white tamari, then topped with some toasted pine nuts and pecorino romano cheese. The yuzu udon I just boiled and served cool with some store-bought noodle dipping sauce. The yuzu flavor isn’t very strong, but is at least noticeable and pleasant.

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