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.


My morning didn’t end up as productive as I needed it to be; I was hoping to get some more paper for gift cards for online orders in the morning, do some order packing, and handle a wholesale order that I needed to deliver. One of my errands today required obtaining just-finished matcha-chocolate dipped fortune cookies and trekking them out to the Eastside, with the intent of getting  back in time to finish the internet and phone orders on my plate. This didn’t work out very well, since I had to do other things on this side. I am a bit frustrated, because I’ve been really behind schedule on a lot of things recently.

I got home fairly late, so I kept dinner simple… some grilled corn with Japanese mayonnaise, pico de gallo salt, and lime juice; simple quesadillas with a pepita salsa, and some sliced jicama with a heavy splash of lime juice and a little more pico de gallo salt.


Pizza and promotions

Saturday marked my first in-store promotion for the Dragon Beard Candy since returning from Japan. I did pretty well with large gift boxes, which was unexpected. This is the second piece of evidence that I may have under-ordered large gift boxes. The small boxes are selling too, but the big boxes are outpacing small box sales for the first time.

I anticipated that the percentage of big gift box sales would increase in November, so I weighed that when placing my order, but I wasn't quite expecting this.

The sample size is small, so this may just be a fluke. But I expect this will be a good month for sales.

This afternoon, I visited my grandmother's house for a bit of a family gathering; my uncle Jeffrey is visiting briefly from North Carolina. Two of my aunts made appetizers... a baked artichoke dip and some stuffed mushrooms.  and baked a bunch of pizzas using my signature pizza dough. I made one with thin slices of Japanese eggplant, one with yuzu-marinated fennel and a simple olive oil base, and one with shiitake and oyster mushrooms. There was also one with an arugula pesto and some roasted peppers with soft chevre. I don't eat meat, but I made pepperoni pizzas for the carnivorous ones, and I finished with a gorgonzola, pear and caramelized onion pizza.

It was nice to see everyone... I don't see my aunts and uncles very often these days, and I know I'll be incredibly busy until Christmas.

Cherry kanten jelly

I have been holding on to a jar of German Morellen, or sour cherries, for far too long. I was thinking to incorporate them into or place atop a cheesecake, but the next time I make a cheesecake it will probably be a green tea version. No matter how I reimagine this it is unlikely to require cherries.

I happened to notice that I had about two-thirds of a packet of sweetened kanten (agar-agar), which I must have previously used to gel a cheesecake or torte topping. It turns out that this amount is just about right for four cups of liquid, so I simmered the liquid from my jar of tart cherries and a little extra water with the remaining agar agar and placed the cherries into four small bowls.

When the liquid had simmered suitably, I poured it into the bowls and let it set. Then I got this simple, refreshing dessert. It’s not as sweet as it looks, and it only has the sweetened agar agar, and whatever mysterious things (mostly water and glucose syrup) might have been in the jar of cherries. It sure beats artificially flavored Jello desserts.

Cherry kanten


A week of new accounts

I don’t think I’ve been so optimistic in a long time.

With only a few days of active sales efforts, I’ve had pretty good luck getting new accounts this week. Central Market in Shoreline took delivery of the Matcha Latte today and the Mill Creek location will start carrying it soon as well. A gift shop in Redmond called Wagamama (selfishness?) started selling it as well.

Cafe Zoe in U-District and Aruba in Fremont started serving the Matcha Latte as well.

I faced another set of irritations with a shipping vendor for the new shipment of dragon beard candy. It was frustrating, but it worked out more quickly than the last time we used them. I think I’m likely to dump that vendor because they don’t file papers with the right people when needed and it causes no end of headaches. Fortunately my customs broker has been on top of things and fixes them quickly whenever possible.

I’m not getting enough sleep this week, alas.

Utthapam, dosa, and Chinese New Year

We were supposed to do a supermarket demo at the Bellevue Uwajimaya today, but they were a little bit more crowded with Chinese New Year demos than expected and we decided not to become a fire hazard. We did have a fairly substantial delivery for them, so it wasn’t a total loss, but a bit of a complication to our carefully laid, if a little haphazardly executed, plans…

Since we found ourselves firmly planted in the Eastside, we went to eat dosas and utthapam at the Crossroads (Bellevue) location of Udupi Palace, a fairly decent south Indian restaurant that’s actually an outpost of a successful suburban Bay Area group of restaurants.  I used to come here fairly often when I was a Microsoft employee, and to its predecessor called Golkonda.

Today, we ordered rasa vada (fermented lentil fritters in rasam, or spicy tomato soup) to start. We each had half of a pineapple utthapam (thick lentil pancake) with cilantro, and half of a dosa (thin lentil crepe) stuffed with an apparently Sri-lankan style shredded spiced coconut mixture.

Utthapam and dosa

These are served with coconut chutney and sambar… our lunch was full of fiber, and sustained us well past a normal dinner hour. Alas, we only had a cell phone handy to record our excessive consumption, so we ended up with a blurry photo.

More demos, less drama

This was a pretty quiet weekend after two months of mostly good sales results from in-store demonstrations. It felt a little like summer only with less store traffic.

I want to get rid of a little bit more candy before Chinese New Year shopping kicks in, since a few items from the fall shipment are still in stores (though, thankfully, not much of it). Despite pretty good sales, I made the mistake of leaving about 4 cartons of candy back in Seattle during the tour to the Bay Area, so some of it was sitting around when it could have been sold to customers down there. Not much of that is left, but it's irritating that I had such good sales and still have the risk of a little expired inventory after everything, mostly due to my inability to move some items from one place to another while I was out of town.

Thankfully, the risk of expired inventory will decrease to a very small number one I get another 12-14 stores selling the candy. I won't have to order too far in advance of need at that point.

In other news, I really need to get myself some winter exercise gear. It's so cold that I have even more excuses for not jogging these days.

FoodEx 2006, Days 3 and 4

I got a late start on both Thursday and Friday, but considering the pain my knees are causing me right now, it was probably for the better. Although I’ve been waking up reasonably early, we sometimes don’t leave the hotel until fairly late, and our relatively long distance from Meguro station means that it takes about 15–20 minutes just to get started on the long journey to Makuhari Messe in Chiba.

Thursday I met up with a the Japan forum manager from eGullet and spent most of the time in the international section, where I found most of the products I was most interested in importing were from companies I’ve seen in the last two years. My favorite discovery was a special gochujang from a medium-sized Korean producer, though I’m a bit afraid I’ll be beaten to the opportunity after they exhibit later this year at some big food trade shows in the US.

The most rapidly spreading single ingredient this year seems to be salted cherry blossoms and pickled cherry leaves, represented by all sorts of Japanese companies either as an ingredient or as a part of a packaged food, and exhibited by Chinese suppliers as well. If I hadn’t attended FoodEx for the last three years, I might haved assumed that presence was seasonally-driven, but I never saw such a presence of the ingredient in previous shows. In Japan it’s mostly used for sweets such as the classic sakura-mochi, but some companies even incorporated it into nattou or other savory foods.

Okinawa-based companies had, for the last two years, run a retailer-targeted booth that showed all sorts of Okinawan packaged foods, which probably explains the three or four Okinawa-themed gift shops I’ve run into since Tuesday without really trying. Now, most of the Okinawa presence this year seemed to be booths from specific companies, such as a company that produces a deep sea water-based soda drink and various bottled Okinawan fruit juices in hip packaging.

In the international foods section, I didn’t notice as much in the way of organic food products as I had in the Japanese area, but a Korean company had a huge assortment of organic products that, if I were comfortable importing refrigerated containers of products, I’d be very excited to bring in to the U.S. Right now, though, I don’t have the facilities or the distribution network to make that work very well.

Thursday night I met with the CEO/President of a Japanese tea company that produces incredible hand-tied flower ties primarily for wedding and banquet markets, but increasingly for the gift market as well. I first talked to her last year at the Hoteres trade show, and she wanted to make sure we met up before I left Japan this time. I think I’d really like to bring their products in to the U.S., because they are particularly innovative in the domain of flower teas, with unlikely shapes and some unusual designs of their more conventional tied teas.

Friday I had to fight with some heavy winds that caused train delays going toward Chiba… we caught a train that didn’t depart until about 80 minutes after its scheduled time, or about 30 minutes after we entered the train. It moved at half speed to avoid being derailed, and took more than an hour to arrive, about 30 minutes longer than normal… So I was expecting to be at the show around 1:30 on Friday, but didn’t arrive until 3:15, for a bit more than the last hour.

Fortunately, that was just enough to see the sections that I had previously neglected, mostly in the Taiwan section. Hiromi also got a chance to check out the shochu section, but of course, we both left relatively unaffected. For me, the most interesting shochu was a 3–year aged brandy-like shochu, but Hiromi was partial to a kind of imo-jochu that she discovered, and we talked with that company a bit, even though shochu is more complicated to import than I’m willing to handle right now. It never hurts to have an interesting supplier contact, though.

I’m off to restore my body in Gunma-ken tonight. Hiromi’s driving about three hours and I’m probably going to fall asleep in the car…

A wasted trip

My dragon beard candy order cruised through customs and FDA clearance today, which is a relief after a series of messy problems on the Hong Kong side.

The freight vendor told me everything was ready to pick up at the airport, so I went down to the cargo facility to pick it up. I’ve been to this location before; the same airline as usual transported the shipment, but the logistics vendor was different.

Apparently, the warehouse hadn’t properly understood instructions to break down the consolidated shipment, so it wasn’t ready after all. They also said the shipment couldn’t be broken down until tomorrow because they were busy preparing a large outbound shipment. I wasn’t very happy.

Basically, this meant my entire trek to the airport, during peak traffic hours, was pointless.

Fortunately, the logistics provider’s sales representative had planned to meet me at this warehouse, and he tried to straighten things out there. He couldn’t, however, get them to budge. So he volunteered to have his company pay for trucking to my office in Fremont.

Oddly enough, in spite of the hiccups on this shipment, this freight vendor has provided some of the best service I’ve encountered so far. They’ve been fairly hands on helping my vendor prepare documents for the shipment, and they are the only freight company to actually come meet me in my office, and probably the only logistics company to offer anything as compensation for an error.

Of course, this final complication means my schedule will be messy tomorrow, so it may not help me all that much.

The Bamboo Garden team is here

Mr. Wong, Mrs. Cheng, and two other key staff members of Bamboo Gardenhave arrived safely. I trust they are now getting some sleep. We had countless errands to run this afternoon, including nailing down the final schedule, routing the new candy shipment, and sending some media to the 99 Ranch promotions folks. Afterward, we made some attempt to find large quantities of cornstarch, which Mr. Wong was loath to bring on the airplane and risk misinterpretation by Homeland Security folks.

Before turning on full-productivity mode, we stopped at Cafe Besalu for a little breakfast and caffeine, with a little bit of chatter. After that, I was either on the phone or driving somewhere or writing up a shipping order for the next 5 or 6 hours. We mellowed out around 5:30 pm, although it took me a good 30 minutes to make it from Queen Anne back to Fremont due to heavy traffic. I did some prep work in the kitchen and came back after they had time to take a shower.

I did manage to make them a little dinner, but I think we didn't eat until about 8:30.... I made a potato pizza with sage pesto, chanterelles, and thin slices of eggplant, a mixed green salad with yuzu vinaigrette, a little squash-potato soup, some grilled mushrooms with basil and garlic, and some green beans with lion’s mane mushrooms and ginger. We finished off the pear sorbet which I think I mentioned here a few weeks ago, and it still tasted pretty decent.

The schedule for Bay Area is now settled, though I think the actual time of day might still need clarification.

  • December 15: 99 Ranch Daly City, 250 Skyline Plaza, Daly City, CA 94015
  • December 16: 99 Ranch Cupertino, 10983 North Wolfe Road, Cupertino, CA 95014
  • December 17: 99 Ranch Richmond, 3288 Pierce Street, Richmond, CA 94804
  • December 18: 99 Ranch Foster City, 1070 Foster City Blvd., Foster City, CA 94404
  • December 19: 99 Ranch Milpitas, 338 Barbar Lane, Milpitas, CA 95035

On dinner parties and not traveling light

Saturday, March 20, 2004

This morning I packed up my larger suitcase, which is now full of product samples and related pamphlets, in preparation for an early Sunday departure to Kansai airport. I think there’s a little bit of clothing somewhere in there as well. Actually I have little desire to carry this overweight suitcase with me, so I made arrangements to deposit it at the Yokohama area hotel where I’ll be staying on my return.

The hotel in Yokohama is near Bashamichi, where Hiromi and I wandered around last Saturday. It’s a little dodgy… although it’s a full service hotel, it’s at the low end of the scale; a sign at the front door advertises short-term rates for those who might need a room for a few hours in the afternoon. The lobby lounge is occupied entirely by Russian guests who must have discovered the place in a guidebook. My friend Hiromi found the place online, but it doesn’t offer the usual amenities, like a credit-card secured reservation over the telephone, so I also made advance payment on the room for next week while checking my baggage.

We had lunch at a little kissaten-style place nearby which has dozens of varieties of tea and a few interesting tea beverages, but we’re in a bit of a rush, so we order only a couple of simple dishes (a Japanese style dish called omu-raisu, which is an omelet with seasoned rice, in this case made with various mushrooms; a spaghetti arrabiata, described in Japanese as an “angry Italian” dish; soup and salad) and then we move on.

Afterward, we meet Hiromi’s friends, both named Sanae, and go shopping in preparation for nabe dinner party. Nabe is the kind of dish that is nearly always ignored by U.S. Japanese restaurants; it’s a very rustic, humble, communal one-pot meal that is for Japanese in winter what outdoor grilling is for Americans in the summer, except, perhaps, without the heroic grill-meister bravado.

In this case, we were having a miso-seasoned nabe filled with various mushrooms, tofu, a kind of translucent noodle, and greens, with a little bit of kiri-tampo (toasted mochi).

I contributed by making a hijiki (black, noodle-like seaweed) dish with renkon (lotus roots), carrots, and sora-mame (fava beans), and a little dessert of oboro-doufu (very soft, custardy tofu) with boiled sweetened azuki beans and a ginger syrup.

The Sanae whose home we were visiting has a 5-year old boy and an approximately 2-year-old girl. The girl was a bit of a fan of the renkon in the hijiki dish and said “daikon choudai” (please give me some daikon) to her mother a couple of times… she hasn’t quite learned the word renkon yet. Another one of Sanae’s friends also made use of the blanched renkon and carrots I had leftover by pan-frying them in a little butter with a sprinkling of salt, making an elegant and simple appetizer or drink accompaniment.

Everyone was fairly sleepy after dinner and I was one of three people who dozed off occasionally near the couch. I need every bit of rest I can get, as I only have time for about four hours of sleep tonight.

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