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.

First attempt at Matcha Mousse

I’m not completely happy with the results, but this is my first attempt at Matcha Mousse since about 1996. The texture is light, but the white chocolate I used turned out to be a bit sweet.

Matcha-mousse-320w

I started with about 300g of white chocolate (2/3 lb), a couple of eggs, Grade A Cooking Matcha by Three Tree Tea, and a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon of gin, and a hint of vanilla. I whisked the yolks, gin and a tablespoon of water together, melted the chocolate in a makeshift double boiler, and started whisking the cream with the matcha (1 level tablespooon), for what turns out to be roughly 12–15 fl oz. of mousse. I added a tablespoon of sugar to egg whites and beat them to stiff peaks. The rest was standard mousse fare; fold in the egg yolks to the chocolate, allow to cool to something close to room temp. Fold in the cream carefully. Fold in the egg white meringue carefully. I might have collapsed a little too much of the mousse or it might not have been cold enough; every cup that I put it into settled quickly into a flat top. I was hoping to get some elevation out of this mousse, but this might be hard to pull off without resorting to gelatin.

This is garnished with a bit of sweetened whipped cream near serving time, and dusted with some sweetened matcha. It could be done with more cooking matcha.

The white chocolate was a bit too sweet for my taste. The result is a completely edible dessert, but I think I need to be pickier about the level of sugar in the white chocolate source. I also think I could get away with less matcha, but with the level of sugar was too high. Needs to be served in roughly 3 fl. oz. portions or the sugar becomes overwhelming; the pictured serving is about 4 fl. oz. It would be best with some bitter accompaniment like some additional tea.

I don’t think it was the source of the problem, but the small amount sugar added to stabilize the egg white foam might have contributed to pushing the sugar level a little beyond the desirable amount. I will attempt to repeat this with a better quality white chocolate and maybe skip the sugar when beating the egg whites.

How to be adaptable

Over the last few days I have been chatting with some more people who I think will be good partners for near-term business projects… I was approached by someone who wants me to coordinate and plan a short-term ceramics event in the late summer/early fall in Seattle.

I also started conversations with another nifty Ballard business that has a compatible concept for Asian lifestyle goods, and it seems I will be doing some wholesale brokerage for them after we can settle on terms. They have excellently designed home interior goods made using sustainable practices.

Over time I realized that the best way to build my business is through partnerships with compatible projects. I’m hoping I’m not too late on the execution… but I’m quite happy with selling other goods as long as their objectives aren’t too far from my own.

I’m more than a little worried with all of the money risks I have right now, but I think I’m taking the right path to solve the problems… nonexistent inventory risk, building relationships with people of similar mind, and staying true to my vision, even if not the original tactics. 

What to do about Latvia

I am a trusting person. I don’t tend to doubt people until they give me reason to do so. But sometimes I am fairly cautious. I don’t want to assume the worst, but I also don’t want to invite disaster.

A few days ago I got an unusual order online from a customer from Latvia. At first I was a little bewildered, especially the choice of shipping method was quite expensive, and then I figured I should do a bit of research before shipping off the order.

When I run an authorization a credit card transaction, several security checks are performed by the payment gateway. The billing address and zip code are checked against the address associated with the account. The system also checks the little card verification code usually present on a signature panel.

One problem with international transactions is that address verification service doesn’t usually work. If I recall correctly, one UK transaction had successful address verification process. But most of the time the processing gateway isn’t able to verify that the billing address matches.

It turns out that Latvia is a hotbed of credit card fraud. I called my bank to ask what I should do about the transaction, and I think their official policy is to make no recommendation, so they weren’t much help. But I was able to get information about the bank that issued the credit card, and so I could now call Latvia to request verification thatIthe cardholder matches up with the address given. They aren’t under any obligation to do so, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay even my decent Vonage rates to call the bank until I had some additional reason to believe the transaction was legitimate.

I’m relatively hands-on with my web customers. A few weeks ago, someone ordered some dragon beard candy with a gift card that left me with the impression that this was a business gift. The only thing was that they ordered the “love” gift wrapping, meant for romantic occasions. So I called her up to make sure that’s what she really wanted. She was relieved because she didn’t think her client’s wife would appreciate that very much.

Frequently somebody chooses an invalid shipping method or chooses some option that leaves me confused, so I usually email and then call to determine what they really want. Sometimes it takes a couple of days to get whatever little issue resolved, but it usually prevents mistakes and sometimes results in more loyal customers, so I consider it worth the extra time.

With international transactions, usually I need to clarify some details relating to shipping or something. My online store software has some issues with international shipping quote retrieval. Also, I usually want to make sure I know something about the customer.

So finally, Wednesday night I sent an email to the customer asking them to create a document that would authorize their bank to release verification information. I just asked them if it would be possible to do so, and explained what they should authorize. I think it would be a received as a fairly reasonable request.

So far, I haven’t heard any response, so I’m leaning toward canceling the transaction.

Common international credit card fraud indicators include differing billing/shipping addresses, and using a U.S.-originating card for a transaction being sent abroad. While far from conclusive, they indicate a higher probability of a stolen credit card.

In this case, those indicators were not present. But the customer didn’t ask about alternative shipping methods and chose a relatively expensive shipping option relative to the size of the order, without asking any questions. I’ve had perfectly legitimate orders from Japan, England, Italy and Germany, but I usually had to work out some details regarding shipping.

Focused/Distracted

Whenever possible, I’m inclined to write about something I’ve been doing or eating outside of work, but there hasn’t been much of that this week. I’m a little overwhelmed.

I’m not getting much sleep. I’m eating awkwardly, although I had an excellent lunch at home on Tuesday. I’m behind schedule on everything, both related to work and social life. I felt it was a great victory to fix a leaky toilet today.

YuzuMura.com has kept me busy lately, and it seems like it’s increasingly being used by customers looking for business gifts, based on the nature of several recent orders. I hope I can keep a handle on the sometimes conflicting attention required between the small very hands-on approach of YuzuMura.com to the more volume-oriented, repeat business of Yuzu Trading Co.’s wholesale end of the business. It’s getting harder, but that’s because both ends are getting busier.

I ate a bagel sandwich for dinner… poppy seed bagel, cream cheese, lettuce, tomato, mozzarella, basil. It was a common theme this week. I had an insalata caprese for Tuesday’s lunch along with a bit of pasta. Dinner involved scrounging a bit. Lately I’ve been seriously craving some protein-heavy soups, which is awfully strange for the middle of summer. The weather has cooled down a bit, but I think I’ve just been eating too much cheese, egg and tofu and need something more fiber-heavy to satiate my unseasonal cravings.

Slacking in Yokohama and Omote-Sando

I suppose I could say I took the day off today. Hiromi and I went to a crepe shop in Omote-sando which is famous for its soba (buckwheat) crepes. I ate most of a carrot soup, and I ordered a buckwheat crepe with fresh fava beans, various vegetables, an egg, and a relatively young gruyere. She ordered one with an aged soft chevre topped with mixed greens and walnuts. For dessert, we ordered a buckwheat crepe with rhubarb-orange jam. We also ordered coffee. She had a “Bretagne Irish Coffee”, an espresso drink served with some caramel liqueur and a little cream. I had espresso with calvados.

Afterward, we headed off to Yokohama and wandered around the Daisambashi (大桟橋) pier, which is sort of a boardwalk jutting out into the bay. It’s an international port, but also doubles as a place for parents to bring their small children to play, and functions as a date spot for an uncountable number of couples. On the way there from the station, we see a few quirky little restaurants, the storefront of a vacationing reflexologist, and a couple of stores that sell hemp products or various other things that might appeal to twenty-somethings.

Basha-michi road, nearby, features a red brick building called Akarenga (which, not coincidentally, means "red brick building", if I am not mistaken) that is filled with various shops and chain stores, and is so shopping-mall-like inside that I would probably see it as a destination of last resort if I were back home, but it’s kind of interesting to see how stuff is being sold (and bought) here. Some of the shops are hipper than the usual shopping-mall fare. It kind of strikes me as similar to University Village in Seattle.

We stopped at a department store for some grocery items for dinner. I picked up some mushrooms which are similar to cauliflower-mushrooms, a little bunch of spinach, some already-grilled-tofu, and some things for breakfast. For dinner I cooked the remaining bit of penne with a sauce of butter, garlic, pine nuts, the grilled tofu, spinach, the mushrooms, and some of the tsuyu from yesterday’s noodles, then topped with some pecorino romano. The mushrooms turned out to be a little fragile and shouldn’t have been cooked more than a few seconds. The sauce was pleasant enough, but as I’ve come to expect from the pans I have in my rental kitchen, I couldn’t heat it through again in the uneven fry pan quickly enough to avoid slightly overcooking the pasta.

Almost severe fatigue meets me head-on

Playing the role of a manufacturer representative for a food product that relatively few people in the gift industry have ever heard of is kind of a surreal experience, especially for someone like me with no particular background or innate talent for sales. My goal during the show was basically to leave people with a positive impression of the product, regardless of whether it fit into their retail store or not.

For the most part I think I succeeded, but it would have been a bigger ego boost if there had been a few more orders. There were a couple of good surprises, like an order from Nampa, Idaho, a town which I probably wouldn't have visited for the purpose of making a sales call otherwise. There were a few leads which have some potential of working out in the future. If my broker has the skills and relationships to get this product into a bigger range of stores, I'll be happy.

Meeting the other manufacturer representatives also taught me a bit. I think my head was spinning with names that were being tossed about, so I'm not sure how much of that will stick with me, but it was good to hear the war stories of people who have been selling fancy foods for a while. The product line that I was most impressed by in the showroom were from a company called Hand To Mouth, which has a nicely sappari artichoke spread and a pleasantly fresh-tasting roasted red pepper tapenade, as well as a subtly anise-seasoned olive tapenade they call “Greek caviar.”

I did some sampling at Uwajimaya on Saturday, and I'm starting to feel better about the conversion ratio. It's still not really a comfortable ratio, but it seems to be an improvement over the last couple of events. Yesterday I got a report of how many units have been sold at the Seattle store and I can now say that the sampling is pretty much paying for itself. If I could just start paying for the advertising I'm doing, I'd be a little more comfortable. I'll have to check out how sales have been doing at Bellevue and Beaverton... I expect the volume is a little lower in those locations, even though the visibility is better.

On Sunday I simply walked around the temporary exhibits at the Convention Center in downtown Seattle. It was surprisingly exhausting, but I think that came from being on my feet most of the last three or four days. I met a couple of companies that may be useful in one way or another, and I actually made a sale of one box of candy to a woman who works at a local Chinese antique dealer and had trouble finding the candy in our retail outlets. She wanted to give it to her sister.

I'm getting close to needing to reorder from Hong Kong, but I hesitate to do that unless I have a good idea what sales volume will be like in September...

My objective today is to do as little work as possible. I had a little inspiration to work on my web project today, but it hasn't been a sustained motivation. I'll hack around a little bit and then I'll try to relax for the rest of the day. Tomorrow I have some outstanding errands, but I might take it kind of slow tomorrow also. I'm just really beat after a few weeks of almost nonstop movement.

Serving notice

Every time I’ve returned from a long vacation to my job at Microsoft, I’ve struggled with a ton of unpleasant feelings and internal conflicts. Most of the time, I just worked to quiet my impulses to run away and then I’d be able to hold on 6 months or 12 months or more.

Since I was fully prepared for my departure from Microsoft this time, it wasn’t quite as painful to come back, but I did catch myself wincing as I opened the door to my office this morning. I also noticed myself jittering with nervous tension at lunchtime, after I had been at the office a few hours. Some kind of negative energy builds up as the hours pass, but at least I have something to look forward to, so the overall frustration level is low.

My manager asked me to draft my performance review, a request to which I didn’t quite know how to respond… I said I wasn’t terribly concerned about it, but then I thought better of it and said I could take care of it. Toward the end of the day we had our regularly scheduled one-on-one meeting for the first time since I told him I’d be taking some time off.

Of course, I readily told him that I was leaving, and then we talked a little bit about what I had been doing the last few weeks and showed him my business card. I think he was happy that I was choosing something adventurous rather than just taking the first job that came along… He almost sounded a little jealous.

In any event, I agreed to serve out another couple of weeks to finish one of the deliverables in one of my projects, so I have to live with a little more distraction before I can tend to my new life.

Most of the day was rather pleasant, because I was able to talk about my plans with everyone who knows how much I’ve wanted to move on for the last year and a half, and even get a few useful contacts. I’ll try to make the best of the next couple of weeks.

E-commerce interim solution

Most of the expensive e-commerce framework packages that I've been investigating recently left me not very happy, but I don't want to lose any more potential orders by neglecting online ordering, and I don't think I'll have the problem licked anytime soon, since I'm still planning to go to San Francisco and Japan over the next few weeks.

There are a few adequate "happy medium" solutions, such as the systems that are offered by Yahoo and bCentral. With the amount of time I have available to invest, they offer just enough functionality to make me feel like it's worth the monthly service fee, giving me some time to implement something more suitable for my needs. Both Yahoo and bCentral are offering the service without a setup fee for now, so I decided to give bCentral a try. So, after all of my headaches, I have a temporary ordering solution for my dragon beard candy and I can probably use it for the ceramics too. The quick templates are a little ugly, but it'll work for now. Since there is a SSL solution already built in, I can accept credit cards, but I'll be doing manual processing for now.

I was wincing a lot when comparing the various off-the-shelf ecommerce frameworks because so many of them seem to have been written with a developer-centric mentality, more focused on what the developer thought was the most elegant implementation rather than on the most streamlined, comfortable user interaction experience. Most of them have clumsy methods for handling different shipping and billing addresses (which is also true for bCentral), and that's not very nice for someone who is selling a lot of items to the gift market.

Although I'm not absolutely thrilled with bCentral's solution, it's a lot less of a commitment at $24.95 a month than the $500-600 solutions that still only get me 80% done. At this rate, I've got 20 months to find or develop a better solution. My only concern is how customers will react to the distraction of being switched to another domain, but I think it won't affect most people. Also, to my knowledge, bCentral doesn't make it easy to handle orders to Canada. It treats the shipping costs as the same, which they are very much not. I think I have a workable solution for this, but it requires some user cooperation.

Anyway, I'll soon see if it makes it easier for people to order or not.

Making deliveries and a few pitches

Today I made the first delivery of dragon beard candy to Uwajimaya Seattle, and I expect things will be visible in the next day or so. I have to go back and provide some mockups (empty boxes) for the shelf displays since the Seattle store is worried about careless customers damaging  the product by picking it up and shaking, tossing, around, flipping upside down, etc. I'm not sure this risk is substantially worse than, for example, with fancy Yoku Moku cookies or even many kinds of chocolates, but I'll work with that for now. I might have overemphasized the fragility when we first spoke a while back... the main problem is with excessive vibration and with vertical display.

Yesterday I got agreement from the Bellevue store to carry the product, so I need to supply them soon. I made a date to demo the product there in early August. This weekend, assuming all goes well on the Seattle side, I need to make a trip to the Beaverton, Oregon store to meet the new grocery manager there. The grocery manager who agreed to carry our product had to go back to Japan to care for a family member, so I just have to follow up with the new grocery manager about how to display the product and when we should do in-store sampling.

Also yesterday afternoon, I made a couple of stops at small Taiwanese tea shops in Bellevue and did some guerrilla sampling with store staff after buying something to drink. I made some conversation and I'll go back to show the full product line and information shortly.

I went to a local bamboo supplier to talk to them about materials for merchandising racks. It sounds like the kind of materials that would work best will be more expensive than some possibilities that were hinted at by one of my customers... so I'll have to find out what the best option will be. Maybe it's worth the commercial presence of the more expensive option... but I don't want my subsidy of store displays to be terribly expensive. Anyway, the bamboo importer referred me to a designer who may have some ideas. Coincidentally, they had some interest in the candy for their retail store, which is planning to have a little tea bar shortly... Since the brand identity references bamboo, it might be a good match.

Lacking spectacular moments, I forge on

My silence the last few days is merely a reflection of a rough schedule, combined with relatively uninteresting eating.

I did my usual supermarket demos on Friday and Saturday, one of which was a long stretch away in Beaverton. I think I’ll be doing one more Portland area demo this holiday season, then maybe one in January. It’s still painful to go down there because of high gas prices, but someow I got decent mileage on the last trip.

My dragon beard candy has been selling at a fairly decent clip, presumably due to holiday demand. I restocked the Seattle Uwajimaya faster than I expected. I hope that keeps up. But for cost reasons, I’m not doing anything dramatic this year; last year, I brought the candymakers to Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area to run some promotional events. I can’t quite cost justify that this year, because my available resources are too tight, and unless I do something larger in scale, maybe in New York or very dense urban outlet, this kind of promotion only just barely pays for itself.

Last night I had a decent dinner, but I just haven’t been eating well lately. Today I had no time for lunch. I don’t like to eat “out” right now because it doesn’t save much time and even at the low end of the cost scale, is more expensive than making the equivalent food myself, but I’ve caved in and grabbed a burrito, slice of pizza or similar pretty much daily recently.

I wanted to make nabe-yaki udon for dinner last night, and I realized I had no udon, or even soba. So I settled for some thin “glass noodles”, turning my essentially rustic Japanese dinner into an accidental pan-Asian fusion dish. It was comforting and fairly healthy, consisting mostly of vegetables, shiitake, and tofu. I hope it made up for my slice pizza, eggnog latte and cookie lunch, which was quite the opposite.

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