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.

Rescheduling, receiving, preparing

The guy I was supposed to meet with yesterday called me up and said he owes me lunch for missing our meeting. He apparently left his cell phone behind at home, which would explain his unreachability. We rescheduled until next week.

Around 12:30 I had a meeting with a representative of the National Association of the Self-Employed at the Lighthouse Cafe near my apartment. I need to figure out whether I should use them for health insurance or if I should use the Microsoft Alumni Network plan. The legal service benefits might also be useful for me for document review and so on. I'm not sure if the other features are all that useful to me. I'll have to think about it a bit more. When one files for a business license, all sorts of people line up asking for one's money... it's not always straightforward to figure out what's worth the cost.

I finished setting up some ASP.Net code that snips content from my weblog and places links to them on my personal home page. (Home page sounds especially quaint these days... so very 1990s). I basically used RssFeed, as is, from 4GuysFromRolla.com in four different places. The only tricky thing was figuring out how to format date strings in a databound template, which would be easy for anyone who regularly uses ASP.Net but I have only played occasionally, so it was new to me. Anyway, the net gain is that essentially I no longer need to manually update anything on that page. The remaining static content is the conversational text, the snapshot image, and the links on the right side... I do have some plans to write add some code that will cycle the snapshot displayed over there.

My samples from Hong Kong finally arrived today. FedEx decided not to ring the door buzzer again, but this time, thanks to the signed waiver I put on the door, they at least left me the package. Interestingly, it looked like customs sampled the product; one of the tubes of the candy was torn open and a piece of the candy was missing. I guess they didn't find any evidence of bioterrorism.

I have to wake up extremely early tomorrow to take off to Chicagoabout 3:30 amso I'm going to go jogging around Greenlake for a little while to wear myself out, then make a small dinner and finish up packing. I ate a big salad and a little homemade asparagus pizza in the afternoon... kind of a late lunch. I had some buttermilk waffles in the morning, so I might have eaten a little too much for one day...

From fried to simmered: apple fritters and cabbage rolls

Apple fritters

Apple fritters

Yesterday I made apple fritters with some Macintosh apples. I improvised the proportions of ingredients, so I didn’t quite get the balance of flour and liquid right, and they turned out a fair bit oilier than I had hoped. The oil temperature did drop a bit, but even when I controlled the temperature precisely I didn’t quite get it right.

Of course, it set the tone for the day… I had a similarly high-fat, though fairly modestly-portioned lunch, of macaroni with a blue cheese bechamel sauce. We had a quick and dirty dinner the night before, and our top priority was to use up a few ingredients, and so I made a fairly heavy sauce and the only pasta I had handy.

Knowing I’d have a day of heavy, fatty food ahead, Hiromi and I thought aloud that I should probably make something healthier for dinner. But it wasn’t in the cards… Hiromi had a flash of inspiration, and just asked me to obtain some fresh tofu on the way home.

Vegetarian stuffed cabbage rolls

Cabbage rolls

She used kanpyo (dried gourd*) to tie blanched cabbage leaves together and stuffed them with a mixture of very fresh tofu, mushrooms, carrots and onions. She made a Japanese-ish soup stock with dried kelp and porcini, then added some western touches with some celery seed and onions.

Jaga bataa with almonds

Jaga bata

I converted a baked potato into jaga-bataa, which is nothing fancier than cut potatoes with a bit of butter, salt and pepper. I added a touch of sour cream for the Eastern European vibe we had going on, and some almonds for aroma contrast.

* The original version of this post mistakenly referred to gobo/burdock rather than gourd. That should teach me that it's a bad idea to write at midnight... but it probably won't stop me.

Sleep is not my strong point, but I can make potatoes

I’ve really not been getting enough sleep recently… it’s impacting my work a bit. I sent off a bunch of internet orders in record time this afternoon, but I had a hard time doing everything else I had planned for the day.

After shipping everything I wanted to go to the Isamu Noguchi exhibit at SAM. It’s the last chance for me, since the show closes around September 5. It should have taken 10–15 minutes to get down there from Ballard, but some stalled truck awaiting a tow and an unrelated SUV-Taxi collision turned the Queen Anne leg of my trip into a crawl. I think it took me about 40 minutes from the Ballard post office to the time I parked my car downtown.

I got home later than I expected… remembering I was out of everything vaguely vegetable-like except some salad greens, I wanted to get a few more items. Among other things, I got a decent, heirloom tomato, which I devoured before I had a chance to photograph it; it was surprisingly lacking in seeds and water; very fleshy. I squeezed a little lime juice and pico di gallo seasoning (salt, chilies, cumin, I think). I had a little mixed greens salad with my usual dressing but with a handful of roasted pepitas.

While I ate the greens and tomatoes, I roasted some slices of potatoes, which in this case are seasoned with the same pico di gallo seasoning and a little extra salt; I topped with bits of raclette cheese just a few minutes before I finished baking, and ground some pepper on the potatoes just after they came out of the oven.

Raclette potatoes with pico di gallo chili seasoning

 

Last days

I ended up scheduling a little more time for this trip than necessary. I had anticipated seeing a more public venue in Japan where the dragon beard candy company was planning to sell their product, so that I could witness, and hopefully learn from, a Japanese-style product launch. Their retail partner apparently recently rescheduled the event, so unfortunately I won’t get a chance to see it.

However, changing my return flight would have been more expensive than taking advantage of the remaining time. My original plan was to go to Shiga prefecture to do some ceramics hunting, as it’s one of the major ceramics centers I still haven’t visited and a substantial influence on Mashiko ware. Shigaraki ware tends to be fairly rustic, like Mashiko-yaki, so I had hoped to see more. Unfortunately, scheduling the trip turned out to be more complicated than I had hoped, so Hiromi arranged for a quick trip to the western coast of Shizuoka prefecture’s Dogashima, a small island in Izu.

This area produces a lot of wasabi products, and some citrus fruits like dekopon and a local variety of mikan (mandarin orange); I would guess that daidai could be found somewhere nearby in the right time of year.

We stayed in a hot springs inn with an oceanfront rotenburo (outdoor bath). Because of the structural design all of the rooms also featured ocean views… essentially the hotel was built against a cliff.

On the way from Yokohama, initially clear skies gave way to clouds and unexpected stretches of heavy snow, and clear skies returned as we approached our destination. Izu was chillier than Tokyo had been in the morning, and gusty winds limited our outdoor adventures. As we reached the hotel, the winds rose to a level that made opening the car doors a fair challenge.

We tried to brave the weather and enjoy the rotenburo before sunset. The men’s hot springs baths were set roughly 15 meters from the water, but as the waves crashed against the walls below, a salty spray would occasionally reach my lips as I looked out into the water. Just as sunset approached, one of the kashi-kiri onsen rooms became available, which was just above the women’s rotenburo. Hiromi had reported that one of the women’s baths was constantly besieged by cold ocean water and remained mostly unused. As some of the stronger waves launched columns of seaweed onto the roof below us, I could imagine it wouldn’t have been very comfortable to be in the way of some of the heavier spray.

Dinner was the usual ryokan style extravagant presentation, though the house seemed a little heavy-handed with their katsuo-dashi, enough that even Hiromi took notice, though she gleefully consumed the various crustacea and bivalves she was presented.

I hadn’t met Hiromi’s parents before this trip, and my awkward Japanese made conversation a bit challenging, but everything was pleasant enough. We stopped at her home on the way to and from Izu, as she needed to handle arrangements with the car.

Monday night Hiromi and I found a pleasant little Korean restaurant located atop a small Korean deli/grocery. Though it probably cost about twice as much as it would in Korea, we ate a perfectly suitable meal of kimchi dubu jjigae, pa chijimi, and chap chae, accompanied by a small bottle of low-alcohol Korean-style nigori-zake (unfiltered sake), a plate of small vegetable side dishes, and followed by some yuja-cha and soo jeong gwa. It was roughly 6000 yen, which is quite modest for Japan, along the lines of an okonomiyaki restaurant.

Juggling my luggage on the return turned out to be a bigger problem than I had hoped. In spite of asking most companies I met with at FoodEx to send me samples by post, I still ended up with a few bottles of yuzu juice, sudachi juice, and various other samples, as well as a couple of items for personal consumption I bought at Izu. Worse, the pamphlets I accumulated took up an obscene amount of space, most of which I actually wanted to keep.

I don’t think I’ll get enough sleep on the airplane, so returning to Seattle time is likely to be as painful as usual, alas.

Telling marketing stories

Joi Ito wrote about a book called All Marketers Are Liars which talks about the relevance of the stories behind products to their perceived value. It sounds like a good read, since I also realized the story behind a product is at least as important as the product itself… but I still haven’t figured out how to build a huge audience based on the story.

The products that I am most fascinated with, and most likely to import, have really compelling origin stories… when I first saw the dragon beard candy—served to an emperor two thousand years ago, handmade, ephemeral, usually unable to survive more than an hour or so in humid conditions—at a Japanese trade show I got really excited about it because it was unlike anything else on the US market, and fascinating to watch.

Of course, there’s not much of a “lie” in our story, but there’s some mythmaking. We don’t know which emperor the candy was first served to, but we’re retelling the traditional legend that every dragon beard candy maker in the world knows because they were taught the story by their master. We do try to message that this is more delicate than the street version, which might be a minor deception, because it’s necessary that we have this less sticky, more “refined” texture to avoid melting. It’s maybe less “fun” than the street version because it’s not as chewy and messy and there’s no 60 year old guy making it right in front of you, but the maker tries to compensate for it with beautiful presentation, an obsession for detail, and substantially better hygienic practices.

I guess one problem is getting the candy’s story retold effectively. I’ve so far been most successful with a high-touch method of doing the storytelling: live demos, in-store sampling, and so on. At wholesale margins, it’s really hard to build enough of a market to make a living doing that. Even with the word of mouth effect, I think my product is so obscure that the word of mouth doesn’t translate into rapid growth of customers; it’s special occasion; in the U.S. it doesn’t have the inherent advantage of being sold to tourists who want something interesting to bring back to their home countries, and it’s more extravagant than the US is used to for Asian foods.

But maybe my problem is more one of scale… I may not be “big” enough to do what has to be done on my own.

Working on sales

The last few days I've been meeting people who are either potential customers or have some useful contacts for doing sales. I'm encouraged, though it's still going to be a lot of work to get the kind of volume I need in order to make a living.

I also talked to a banker who was encouraging about the prospects for my products and may even have some useful contacts for me. I still haven't picked which bank to go with, but I'm starting to feel inclined to have a small local bank on my side for keeping most of my money plus an account at a big bank for handling credit card transactions and international wire transfers.

Today I even got contact information for a buyer at a pretty significant department store, and someone at a smaller group of stores around here that tends to do specialty stuff. In both cases, it was just due to chatting with some employee at the store that I was snooping around in. It's not a sale, but it's a more direct route to people that make buying decisions than I expected I'd need.

Of course, it would have been sensible to get customers lined up before I made this leap. But there is a kind of thrill in doing it the hard way :)

One thing I'm a little embarrassed about is my product samples presentation... I really need something better than a cardboard box filled with an assortment of things when I start presenting to customers that are strangers to me... so I started hunting for something that will work better as a samples case.

I ate a dosa today at a South Indian restaurant in Bellevue for dinner. I need to avoid spending money at restaurants right now, but it was a kind of business meeting. Other good stuff I acquired this week include a cheese with embedded lavender and fennel made by Quillisascut. I love those guys. I've been eating simple stuff this week but I haven't completely gotten out of the habit of buying good ingredients... I may have to be more parsimonious if I don't manage to make a few good sales in the near future, though.

Farewell to Masalisa

I went to a farewell party for Masalisa, the little tea shop in Ballard that I’ve been going to occasionally for maybe a year and a half. They will turn over the tea shop to another couple in a few days and then focus full-time on the new business, which, of course, I’m participating in as their sales broker. Actually I came straight from an abbreviated matcha latte demo at Uwajimaya to Ballard.

I always liked that space and I hope the new owners retain some of the character.

At the party I ran into a former MSN colleague and his wife, who runs Pare*Umbrella, a company that imports contemporary Japanese-designed umbrellas. I also met an employee of a sake distributor who knows some of the other importers I do, which just goes to show the circle of Asian importers makes up a very small world.

Masa and Lisa’s son charmed the crowd by performing renditions of Queen songs on a children’s amp and guitar setup, and a 5–piece ensemble of attendees played Okinawan shamisen and sang folk songs. It was the last chance to eat Masa’s Matcha Roll Cake, though I think he changed it a bit on this last occasion. A few people brought snacks, and I felt like a slacker because I didn’t bring anything except some dragon beard candy samples… I would usually cook something for an occasion such as this.

Today the heat of the last few days finally subsided… on Friday I was stuck in a car most of the day in 90 degree (Fahrenheit) weather, and Saturday I served a tremendous amount of iced matcha latte samples (soy and regular) at Uwajimaya. Today I only made it hot… It cooled quite considerably.

International spam

I found my business email account is now averaging one spam message per day advertising some sort of questionable Japanese matchmaking service, and about one or two messages per week in Hebrew. Every once in a while I get spam in Chinese or Korean, though that’s far less common.

My domain name has a Japanese word in it, so maybe that would explain why I’m targeted for Japanese spam, but it’s not much of an explanation for the stuff in Hebrew. I haven’t ever registered for any Japanese site with my business email account except FoodEx or Hoteres trade shows.

Except for the fact that MSN somehow redirects a defunct Israeli florist site to my YuzuMura domain, I can’t figure out why I get spam in Hebrew. I tried to get someone in MSN that I used to work with to investigate that particular problem, though nobody has ever gotten back to me.

I’m not literate in Hebrew and I don’t understand enough Korean to recognize what the Korean spam is about. I understand the gist of the Japanese spam but even on the extremely remote chance I were the type inclined to respond to such offers, I don’t see what value sending it out of the country would be. The Hebrew spam seems to be Israel-based companies promoting vending machines or vacation packages or something similarly useless since I’m nowhere near Israel. They are particularly abusive because they tend to include large image files.

Sometimes I wish email weren’t so close to free. One of my email accounts became almost completely useless after 6 years of use.

Not a disappearing act, and grilled donut peaches

Sorry for the long delay between postings. I suffered another laptop disaster, as the graphics controller or monitor seems to have given up the ghost. I should have known that the flaky hard drive of a month or two ago was only the beginning, but I was a tad too optimistic.

Repair would likely cost as much as a comparable replacement, since that machine is now approaching 3 years old. Accordingly, I’ve decided to delay purchase of a replacement for a bit, since I have a machine at my commercial space and I can occasionally make off with Hiromi’s laptop as needed.

I’ve also been fairly busy working on unrelated things, and catching up on some necessary reading.

We have been cooking, and we’ve made more use of the nifty shichirin. We bought some white-fleshed donut peaches at Sosio’s and grilled them for dessert. Donut peaches are more interesting for their shape than their flavor, and they tend to be less sweet than comparably seasonably appropriate peaches. But grilling them a bit creates a very nice caramelization, and provides the illusion of a sweeter taste. When eaten with a little lightly sweetened mascarpone with a few drops of good vanilla extract, magical things happen.

Peach-sumibiyaki

Pursuing my passions

After years of working a well-paid, challenging, and ostensibly prestigious job which was often interesting, occasionally satisfying, but rarely fulfilling, I’ve decided to move on.

I have three obsessions that I’ve indulged outside of work for the last 7 years or so. One is an uncompromising passion for cooking and eating good food. Another is a love of travel. And third is a wallet-thinning habit of collecting Japanese and Korean ceramics and craftwork. Beyond that, I have a long-neglected impulse to write and create, which, most likely due to excessive comfort over these 7 years, rather than inadequate time, I have mostly failed to pursue and develop.

My goal over the next few years is to explore each of these passions with an eye for making a reasonable living doing the things I love the most.

This is a life-altering transformation. My job at Microsoft, working as a test lead in software internationalization, has allowed me to live comfortably while I regularly invested at least 20% of my income. Now, for the first time in years, I expect many months during which I’ll be slowly eating away at my reserves.

My plan for the next year is to take advantage of my safety net while taking a lot of personal risks. I've established a small business entity focused on importing foods, gifts, and other things that I am excited about.

I’ll travel, but with the objective of generating some kind of return from each trip, either in a financial sense or in the sense of personal growth. I'll be exploiting my ceramics obsession by buying ceramics and craftwork, but with the intent of using my eye to bring back items that could be introduced to the U.S. market for resale. I’ll also at least occasionally be working in restaurants as a cook and waiter and whatever else will teach me what it will take to make a successful business serving food. I expect that I’ll create some opportunities to write and to create again. Within a few years I intend to have established enough of a network to be ready to start a small café/restaurant, and on the way, I will focus on building up my import/export business.

This journal is the document of my transformation.

At least once a week, I’ll be telling part of my story. I intend to be pathologically honest, but I promise to do my best to avoid sentimentality, wistfulness, or excessive self-indulgence. I don’t promise to be authoritative, profound, or even important. But I do promise, more than anything else, to live.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28