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.

Reunion and union

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.

Attempted nougat and matcha chocolates

During the last week or so most of our home meals have been minor variations of things I’ve made recently, and on late nights, arriving home quite hungry, I haven’t felt much of an urge to photograph the “reruns.”

Tonight, though, I made a first attempt at a brown nougat, made without egg whites, flavored with a bit of kirsch and vanilla. I embedded some almonds in the nougat. My hands weren’t quite happy, because I worked the sugar while it was still hot enough to produce some blisters on my hands. The Silpat mat helped me rein in the sugar as it started cooling initially, but I wanted to incorporate some air into the candy.

The shiny stretched sugar mass

Stretching the brown nougat

Cutting the nougat into bite-sized bits

Ame: cutting

 I should have used a lower final temperature when I boiled the sugar mass. I got a fairly crunchy-chewy result; I really would have been happy if it were merely chewy.

Dusted with cornstarch

Ame nougat

I dusted the candy with cornstarch so that I can store it without the pieces sticking together. The end result isn’t bad, but I think I have to experiment a bit more before I develop much confidence in candy-making.

I finally got around to shooting some photos of Masa and Lisa’s Matcha White Chocolates, a product that evolved from a promotional concept I developed back in the late spring or early summer. After months of struggling with packaging options and some variations of recipes, they got the chocolates ready just about a week before Christmas, and we got it into the hands of a few customers before the holidays, but we will probably mostly be promoting the product leading up to Valentine’s Day.

Alas, I wasn’t quite happy with my own photographs tonight, so I’m continuing to borrow some of Masa’s and Lisa’s for my YuzuMura project.

Hiromi says that she can’t readily find matcha chocolates of this quality in Japan… most of the Japanese products I’ve seen so far use a fairly low grade of matcha and a blend of other ingredients to simulate the matcha… Masa and Lisa decided to use the same matcha they use to produce their matcha latte, so it’s a fairly nice result. I’ve gone with a somewhat more assertively matcha-y flavor profile in my own matcha white chocolate enrobed fortune cookies, so their chocolates have a slightly sweeter touch than my cookies, but I like them as a small indulgence, so the sweetness isn’t terribly overwhelming. The little foil packets help me with portion control…

Matcha White Chocolates

Matcha chocolates

Things quietly enjoyed over the last few weeks

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.

As usual, my stuff didn't arrive on time

The good news is that I finally have the remaining portion of my candy shipment. The bad news is that it wasn't delivered in the morning as was last indicated. I had to wait at home most of the afternoon, and then I did my best to get the cartons out of the way of my neighbors. The weather was hot and all the lifting and hurrying made me very sweaty.

Maggie had asked me to arrange to get a box to her for some Vancouver visitors, and I originally planned to run over to the Eastside for another reason and was going to just bring it to her. With the delayed arrival, I couldn't proceed with my original plan, but I did go and meet her just before she was heading off to another evening job. She even ordered a take-out meal for me from the restaurant they had been visiting just beforehand, so I drove down to the Kirkland waterfront and ate a bit as the sun was setting on the shore of Lake Washington.

In spite of a relative lack of productivity this week, I tend to feel pretty exhasted at the end of the day. If I'm awake later than 11 pm tonight, I'll be surprised. I wonder how much energy the petty frustrations of logistics will sap from me...

Kurikinton

I was mostly in rush-everywhere-mode today, going from customer to customer and errand to errand. I got a fair amount done but I’m still behind on a couple of things.

Actually, until tonight, I didn’t even get around to sending out shipping notifications for the large number of internet orders I sent out on Monday and Tuesday.

I never ate a proper dinner. I just nibbled on good bread from Le Fournil and dug in to some Brie. If I had been doing this on a park bench or at the dinner table, that would have been perfectly respectable, but actually I was mostly eating it while underway this evening, between tasks.

I got a bit hungry late tonight but I remembered I have some kuri-kinton, or sweet potato puree with chestnuts, that I made a few days ago.

Kuri-kinton is one of the humblest of Japanese confections. You won’t find a lot of middle-aged Japanese mothers who make the kinds of sweets that appear at fancy wagashi-ya-san, even if it’s as simple to replicate as dorayaki. Daifuku (usually ambiguously referred to as “mochi” in the U.S.) are rarely made at home except for special events. But a fair number of people are willing to attempt kuri-kinton.

I have attempted to make daifuku at a nursery school in Japan that a friend’s family managed. This was about 7 years ago, and my Japanese was even worse at that time. The teacher gently scolded me for making them inadeqately elegantly; the 4 year olds had more experience and seemed to understand the instructions on kneading the dough better than I did, and they managed to massage out any hint of seams in the bottom.

Homemade Kuri-Kinton

Kurikinton

Kuri-kinton, however, requires no such attention to detail. Boil some Japanese-style sweet potatoes, peeled and in pieces, until fork tender. Drain. Add a fair amount of sugar to taste, and optionally, a splash of mirin; I recommend adding a pinch of salt to add some richness. Smash with a fork or potato masher while still quite hot (about 160F sounds good to me).

When you have a nice, smooth paste, you will then incorporate some chestnuts. For convenience, canned or jarred chestnuts preserved in syrup work well; the syrup should be drained, and may used in something else if you so desire. Otherwise, you’re welcome to attempt to make them from scratch by boiling in your own syrup; this requires very careful peeling, and even with my nifty Japanese chestnut peeler I rarely quite get that right. I’ll save the chestnut peeling for roasted chestnuts or things that require a less sweet starting point.

You can serve the kuri-kinton warm, but it’s more typically served at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Kurikinton requires no artfulness in presentation and can simply be spooned onto a plate. If you feel so inclined, however, you may shape the kurikinton into little balls or other shapes. I chose to highlight one chestnut in the center.

 Serve with some good Japanese tea.

Matcha flan

I’m off in demoland this weekend, as usual. I can already see my Monday will be full based on incoming internet orders, but I’ll try to take care of them quickly.

I was hoping to make this nice matcha flan in time for Sugar High Friday, but alas, I didn’t get started on it until Friday night, and it didn’t have enough time to set before it was way past a reasonable hour to be serving sweets. So it turned out to be a very indulgent breakfast, and aside from a brief mention yesterday on my blog, mostly theoretical. But you can see the other participants on Simply Recipes. (Edited 19 September 2005: Note: Elise was kind enough to include my belated entry in the list in spite of my tardiness).

When I made the matcha flan, I used about a cup each of cream and milk, about 4 egg yolks, maybe 1/3 cup of sugar, a tiny bit of vanilla, and 2 slightly heaping teaspoons of matcha for cooking. I chose to oven-bake this flan, which may explain the slighly odd-looking texture, compared to a steamed one, but it did taste fairly creamy.

I served it with some tsubu-an, which is simply sweetened smashed red beans, and a little powdered sencha.

Matcha Flan

 

A modest success

It really would have helped to have the rest of my shipment, because the first day I sacrificed a lot of full-priced candy in sampling. Word got around, so this got very expensive. Our rule of thumb for the first day was to give a sample to people with sample coupons, or to those that appeared engaged and interested in the story of the product. Due to the power of word of mouth, this got a little out of control, but we did sell more than we gave away.

On the second day, we changed the rule of thumb to accepting the coupons, or taking $1 for a sample to defray a portion of our costs. Those that actually bought full boxes received a credit toward their purchase. By the end of the day today, we were selling slightly better than Saturday, but with a much lower cost of sales.

The JACL, Japanese-American Citizens League, had a booth next to us, and Sharon Tomiko Santos, the Democratic Whip of Washington's state house of representatives, was helping the JACL booth out. She bought a nice quantity of our product.

The attention that Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post helped bring to our booth was apparently quite high, as many people remembered reading the article or seeing our ad. Even Yuuyake Shinbun of Portland and, to a limited extent, Soy Source helped attract a few customers.

Maggie, my Cantonese-speaking assistant at the festival, helped explain and convert a lot of Chinese visitors into customers. Erin, who speaks Korean, helped draw in a lot of people who had by approaching them and telling them the story of the product, and Kazue was good at explaining the product to people who approached the booth. Maggie also facilitated making connections with people who have retail stores or other networking value. She was operating on very little sleep, because she was also busy doing night club promotions Friday and Saturday nights.

All-in-all, we did reasonably well on sales and very well on the promotion side of things. It would have really helped to have the impulse-buy size (single tube with three pieces of candy) and the big box, because we received a lot of requests for lower-commitment options and also for the bigger boxes. One gift set sample with 4 kinds of tea and 4 tubes of candy appealed to a several customers who wanted to buy it outright, but, alas, it was my only production sample and isn't yet being produced in quantity, so we were unable to sell it.

It's been a pretty rough weekend. I was up late on Friday preparing, up early on Saturday packing everything into my car, and really exhausted at the end of the day each day. On Saturday, Amelia, Erin and I went to Tutta Bella in South Seattle, which is a pizza place run by some people who apparently studied in Naples. It was pretty nice pizza: wood fired, thinner than typical American internpretations, but a little pillowy in texture; relatively simple, relatively sparing use of toppings. They also served a caeser salad, which was too big for one person; we shared one between three of us.

First matcha latte demo

It was a quiet day at Bellevue’s Uwajimaya, but I did my first demonstration of Three Tree Tea’s matcha latte mix.

Customer reception seemed mostly positive, but there are some folks who don’t like matcha, some who don’t like sugar, and some who don’t like milk…We’re not talking about an outrageously sweet drink; it’s not like a typical bubble tea. But there’s a wide range of tolerance for sweetness. Occasionally someone would say it wasn’t sweet enough (which is a more solvable problem: add more sugar)… Tea is a very personal beverage, and everyone responds differently. I’m quite fond of this particular blend, because it’s not too sweet and not too bitter… most of my Japanese friends say “choudo ii” (just right.) But Uwajimaya’s customer base comes from all sorts of regions… Today a Thai customer said that the dragon beard candy wasn’t as sweet as she prefers. Indian, Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese taste preferences tend to run a little sweeter than Japanese and Korean preferences, and Japanese and Koreans tend to like more sweetness than Chinese customers.

One bit of disaster struck. I started out serving hot matcha lattes, steaming the drink with an espresso machine’s steamer attachment. At some point the power indicator light went out, and I thought maybe the machine overheated and shut itself off. But it never got back to normal… I couldn’t turn it on again.

I improvised. The weather was moderate today, so it was no problem to start serving “iced” lattes… I just used cold milk and shook it up in a plastic pitcher supplied by Masalisa.

The big surprise of the day was that the medium size outsold the smallest “impulse” size. It is a bit cheaper per serving, but that’s quite the opposite experience with the dragon beard candy; I usually sell way more 3–pc. samplers than any other size. I’m happy about that, because the 1/2 lb. size will likely have some more elegant packaging in the future, and if it remains the bestseller, that will be a good coincidence.

Reunions

I didn't make much use of the end of last week. I like to think that it was necessary recuperation, but that might be self-delusional.

Saturday I woke up very early on not much sleep and drove to Beaverton, Oregon to do sampling. I didn't give away as much as usual, and the conversion ratio wasn't horrible... I was trying to finish up a little earlier than 4pm today so I could return in time for a little dinner party in North Bend, featuring various members of my little pottery circle. A small distraction made it harder to accomplish that goal... Somehow, for reasons unknown, my car battery was dead when I was preparing to leave Beaverton. I don't know if my car alarm went off, or if maybe I unintentionally hit the remote starter buttons on my keychain while in the store, but regardless of the cause, I was unable to depart without the benefit of assistance from Sheena from the gift department. On the bright side, the only horrible traffic was on route 26 heading toward Portland.

Somehow I made it to the dinner party only about an hour late... Fashionable, perhaps... Fortunately, everything seemed to be just getting started when I arrived, though I imagine some people were there much earlier than I. Because of my lack of access to any meaningful kitchen in the interim, I only brought a box of candy and the fixings for a simple salad dressing Carol, one of the most productive students at the BCC studio, showed off photos of a recent trip to Africa, and everyone nibbled on various things. I haven't seen most folks in over 2 months... It was a pleasant little reunion.

Speaking of reunions, today I went to a farewell party for Susan, a former editor at the Northwest Asian Weekly, under whom I served as an intern in my January 1994 “Winter term” program at DePauw University. I may have run into her once or twice since then at some event, but I basically haven't seen her in about 10 years. Monica, the long-time office manager at the paper, is also leaving Seattle to return to Hong Kong soon. So this was a day of partings, and a weekend of reunions. Some folks were grilling various animal parts, corn, and so on, and there were some plates of fruit and side dishes. I brought a little salad, which is what I was planning to bring yesterday, when I was lacking time and ingredients.

I realize I have a busy week ahead of me. All of the things I neglected at the end of last week are now coming due...

Art walk, and oh yes, additional minor bureaucracy

I needed to get one final business license completed yesterday for the City of Seattle, so I made my way downtown and paid yet another fee. Actually, the City of Seattle license costs about three times as much as the state license that I arranged a couple of months ago. The only fee more expensive is the LLC registration with the state, which I believe is just a one-time event unless I neglect to file timely reports on the management structure.

Afterward I took care of a minor errand, and went to the Pioneer Square area's First Thursday “Art Walk” event, during which most galleries are open a few extra hours. My acquaintance Dave's photo show was opening. He's also a software guy who escaped corporate drudgery; in his case, he does a mix of freelance coding and things like his photography. The show was pretty nice... a lot of captures of surprising contrasts in lighting and color on dilapidated military buildings and other abandoned industrial totems, sometimes with unconventional framing. It looked like his work was selling at a pretty good clip, also.

I also visited a Japanese art-focused gallery where another acquaintance of mine works. I didn't actually expect her to be there but we chatted a bit and I re-introduced myself to her manager. This may turn out to have been a smart thing to do, because the owner is interested in expanding her line a bit and would like to see if any of the ceramics I brought over match her taste. I will try to show off the stuff mid-next-week.

This afternoon I met with Kazue, who just came back from Japan, to talk about the Hong Kong sweet and to give her a chance to sample it.

The weather is pretty hot outside, so I've been jogging again the last few days. My endurance is getting better... I'm averaging about 5 miles a run. I just hope it doesn't ruin my knee.

Tonight's dinner was a simple pizza with fresh heirloom tomatoes, basil, garlic, mozzarella, and parmesan. Earlier in the week I made some gnocchi with tomato cream sauce and basil chiffonade, which turned out pretty nicely. The first hints of decent tomatoes, apparently only at Sosio's produce in the Pike Place Market, have been sneaking into my cuisine. Another surprise was some early peaches that had a great texture and flavor; I snuck a couple into a rhubarb-peach sorbet I made on Tuesday.

Wednesday I finished up the body of a ceramic train series (engine, cargo, and a third car with windows) at the pottery lab. Assuming the wheels don't break, it looks like it will turn out nicely; the only trouble is that pottery class ends very soon and I won't have time to glaze them because next Monday is the last class. There's no way they'll be bisqued in time.

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