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.

Making use of what's available

When I studied in Germany, my friends and neighbors were always surprised that I could make dinner out of “nothing.” What they meant was that I could scrape together something interesting from available ingredients, even if the ingredients might not be particularly inspiring… it was fairly common for my selection of vegetables to be consumed fairly quickly, so I might have had only half an onion, some previously cooked vegetable, and maybe some lentils or something in my pantry; suddenly I’d produce a seasoned lentil soup.

Tonight was one of those nights. I didn’t have anything special planned, but I had remnants of a dense bread, a tomato, some leftover roasted cauliflower from a few days ago, and some previously fried bell peppers. I also had a bit of smoked mozzarella left, which I bought on a whim about a week ago, probably used for something else baked in the oven last week.

So I just toasted some bread on one side under the broiler, turned it over and brushed with olive oil and rubbed with garlic, and layered on what was around; the cauliflower went on one, and some bell peppers on the other, then everything else. I used a little salt and pepper to season. I wasn’t trying to be delicate; I used thicker layers of vegetables than if I had planned a bruschetta or a pizza or something. I just wanted to use up things. So this was not delicate in any way. But it did the trick, and tasted pretty nice.

Toast

Last night I was out on a run… Rather than going up to Greenlake, for the last couple weeks I’ve just been jogging past the zoo up Phinney. I go up to about 70th and then my energy has been pretty much exhausted, so I come back alternating between walking and running. Actually I made it up to about 75th this time, but I stopped running and walked most of the way back home.  Along the way back, I ran into Etsuko at Fresh Flours, who had just closed up shop for the night and was locking the door as I crossed 61st. I said hello, and chatted about 30 seconds. She offered me a few little fruit tarts and a kind of cream puff.

It sort of undermined my whole reason for jogging, I supposed, but I was happy to have something nice for breakfast this morning. Half of the cream puff served as dessert tonight as well. Although a little soft after a night in the refrigerator, it had a nice custard filling. The tart was just what I needed to start the morning… that, and a standard Seattle dose of cafe latte, which I made at home.

Fresh Flours tart and cream puff

A very clean and busy final day

Hectic, but productive… my last day in Tokyo involved checking out of an Ōmori hotel and rushing to a 10:30 am meeting with at the Shimbashi-area office of a Japanese soap company. Their most distinctive product is made with white cedar extract (also known as Japanese cypress) and Japanese charcoal. I also got to look at some of their other stuff, including a thick, soft soap that is made with soy milk, sesame or almond “tofu” and packaged in cute little containers that look like “oborodōfu” (soft tofu) and covered with a “wata” style paper top. They are still hand packaged, so production capacity is so limited that I probably can’t get any for 6 months.

After a couple of hours of conversation, I came away with wholesale rates and reasonable terms for modest orders. Mostly I’m happy with the terms, though I’ll probably revisit some requests for additional concessions when I have meaningful volume for them. On the airplane I ran some numbers so I can start thinking about some sales scenarios and maybe an initial order.

Before heading off to the airport I wanted to grab a little lunch, and a very aggressive staff at a Chinese restaurant near the JR Shimbashi station came outside to encourage me to eat at the restaurant whose menu I was eyeing. When I told them I don’t eat meat or fish in Japanese, they said “oh, ok, we can do a special order for you” in English. I went inside. I ended up with ma pao toufu made with meat after all… when they asked if it tasted ok, I said “actually, I don’t eat meat” and they said “oh, you should have told me you’re vegetarian.” Go figure. Anyway, they promptly replaced it and I had a nice side dish with chingensai (bok choy) and garlic.

Apparently this restaurant has recently changed ownership. I watched the woman who handled most of the order-taking chat with every customer and aggressively solicit feedback on the food… Many complained that the food was too sweet or “usui” (literally thin or more naturally translated as weak or bland). If they had the slightest of complaints she whisked away their food and arranged for a replacement. In my case, I specified at the beginning that I didn’t want sweet, and I ended up with pleasant, very simple food. I got the feeling, though, that the aggressive, overly accommodating customer interaction was more bewildering for their Japanese customers than it was satisfying… as

I arrived at Narita a little later than I had hoped, but that was because I wandered around slightly confused at Ōmori in search of the hotel and then, when I returned, I had some trouble finding the reservation window to buy a Narita Express ticket. Anyway, the day starts all over again when I arrive at home… It’ll be Monday morning when I arrive.

One of the natural consequences of the end of my trip was a slightly increased level of anxiety… Over the last few days, I have had tinges of worry: not doubts, exactly; just nervous energy and the predictable consequences of more carefully analyzing the risks and possible outcomes of decisions I have to make very soon… I still have confidence that I can carry everything out but I know there’s an awful lot of work ahead of me.

When I return home today, I’ll get some rest, but tomorrow I also have to make some final arrangements for my new life, and I have a lot of logistics trouble to worry about. I’m looking forward to figuring everything out.

Not a good day

I was on my way to deliver the donation for the Women of Color luncheon, and had the misfortune not to see a car crossing into a curvy intersection on Motor Place. My view was obstructed by a van parked at a crossing, and although I was slowing down as I approached the crossing as I would anyway, I couldn't stop fast enough to avoid the car entering the intersection, so we smashed into each other.

We did the usual exchanging of personal information, made phone calls to 911 and waited for the police. It turned out because my airbags deployed I had to have the car towed to a body shop, so now I'm carless for the moment.

I was able to make my delivery to the international district, irritating a taxi driver as I spent a good amount of time transferring items from my car into hiscab. Afterward I took the non-donation items home in the same cab, and I'm sure he was expecting a shorter fare, so I left a more generous than usual tip, even though he didn't help me terribly much... I just figured I was a bit of an inconvenience.

Originally I thought I emerged relatively unscathed, just shaken up a bit. But the scrapes on my hand have turned irritatingly swollen, and I'm feeling tension aches in my back. I must have just tensed up too much.

In the meantime I guess I will get some air in my bicycle tires.

Kyoto Weekend

In front of Kyoto station
Hiromi and I departed to Kyoto Saturday morning... it was a trip full of amazingly close calls. We arrived at the Haneda airport just in time, after missing a connection. We had a few other complications involving catching buses, trains, and even the airplane back... Hiromi went to retrieve some items from a locker in Osaka station, which she had trouble finding because we turned out to be on the wrong side of the station. Already on a tight return schedule, I further messed things up when Hiromi and I were readjusting the two pieces of luggage, camera, and two shopping bags we were carrying back to Tokyo. Somehow, a strap on my backpack or maybe Hiromi's camera bag caught my eyeglass frame as I was removing heavy things from my body inside the train... My eyeglasses popped off my face, slid across the train car floor, and landed in the gap between the train and the platform, essentially unreachable to the most dexterous and skinny of human bodies. The station attendants suggested we wait for the train to depart before retrieving the items, and we lost about 10 minutes between trains, missing a monorail connection, and again arriving just in time for the return flight.

As for the trip itself, it was both pleasant and reasonably productive. We stopped at a yuzen fabric dye and painted fabric decoration workshop, and chatted with the someone who makes pillows, purses, and other fabric-based crafts. Although I suppose these items would be quite expensive if imported in the US, I like the work and would like to try to find a way to make it possible to bring into the US.

The labor involves traditional dying and decoration processes but the look would fit in with contemporary lifestyles. Hiromi bought a purse (pictured here) that has a pretty interesting cut and looks pretty good when worn...

Our first night in Kyoto was a kind of multicourse meal involving fresh yuba, skimmed by hand from the surface of thick soy milk. We had yuba in various preparations, yubadoufu, and other pleasant things. The entire meal was pleasantly sappari, although we decided to tempt fate and order a sort of spring roll made with yuba as the skin and what turned out to be typically Japanese processed cheese inside. This was pleasant, though if I did this back home I think I'd probably be using some camembert or raclette cheeses.

We met up with Sachi, who visited me in Seattle during Golden Week, Sunday afternoon, but not before a breakfast that included a soy milk warabi-mochi. Warabi-mochi are a chewy confection which I think are actually made with kuzu (arrowroot) starch. Hiromi discovered the shop in a guidebook, and when we arrived, we realized it should have been in Fremont, were we in Seattle and if the King County Health Department didn't have an aversion to pets in restaurants. The shop was actually mostly selling dog toys and baked items for dogs, and the cafe was just there as a diversion for their customers. We had two orders of Warabi-mochi, and some Japanese interpretations of the Korean drinks soo jeong-gwa (persimmon punch with cinnamon and ginger) and yuja-cha (yuzu tea). The rest of the short menu was multiethnic and rarely Japanese. The soymilk smoothed out the texture of the warabi mochi and what we had were much creamier than the typical confection by the same name... I suppose that might be meaningless to most folks who don't spend a lot of time eating Japanese sweets, but it's the best I can do to describe it... Our dish was adorned with a maple leaf and dressed with kuromitsu (black sugar honey syrup) and kinako (toasted soybean powder).

With Sachiko, of course, we spent most of our time walking across the Kumo-gawa river toward Gion, eating nibbles at other Japanese confectioners and senbe-makers. We even sampled some usu-jio umeboshi that are typically sold for something approaching JPY 300 each (a shy $3). She had to head off within a couple of hours due to a fairly long train ride back to her home in Wakayama, and, I think, trying to match the schedule of her friends that she had visited Arashi-yama with earlier in the day.

After wandering around in search of an exciting dinner option, we backtracked to Gion and picked a restaurant where we had more tofu and yuba dishes, in addition to some stuffed Kyoto eggplant (almost Italian), grilled mushrooms with butter, salt, pepper and garlic), and some salt-roasted ginnan nuts. We had a nigori-sake (unfiltered) which was slightly effervescent, and some excellent pickled daikon served with a little grated ginger. 

Monday, we made a pilgrimage to Del Cook, in Nose, a rustic area in the north end of Osaka. We were perhaps too focused on eating and enjoying the view to take any photos of the food, but it suffices to say that everything was as beautifully presented as the rest of the scenery. We had the fancier of the two available lunch courses, and mine was altered to be suitable for a vegetarian. We started with a small bowl of chopped persimmons served, in my case, with unsweetened yogurt, some black sesame seeds, and, I think, ginnan or similar nuts. A little coarse salt provided a little contrast to the light sweetness. 

We had a creamy gobo (burdock root) soup with a little bit of milk foam, served in cute little cups and small spoons, providing a bit of an espresso machiatto deception. Some naturally leavened breads made by Del himself provided a nice accompaniment, which we soon devoured and of which we declined an offer for a second serving. The next course was a baby organic leaf salad, served with some charcoal grilled fish for Hiromi, and some similarly prepared Kyoto-sized eggplant halves in my case. Hiromi also had a course of risotto and grilled hotate (scallops), and mine was a similar risotto and some grilled matsutake mushrooms which had been hand gathered by an older woman who operates a similarly rustic Japanese restaurant next door.

Before dessert we had something of a palate cleanser course of black currant sorbet and finely chopped pears in a light syrup. A rustic apple tart was accompanied by chestnut ice cream.

After our lunch, we were able to stop in Del's kitchen and chat a bit. There was no dinner meal planned for the evening, so he was able to talk with more leisure than otherwise, although it was clear he was exhausted. He also gave us a sample of some very nice yuzu mascarpone sorbet which went out on the dessert plates of those in the second seating.

Hiromi and I took a little walk with Del and his dogs, meeting the neighboring restaurant's ducks and walking past a backyard garden. We had a beautiful view of the Nose valley facing down the hill. One of the dogs jumped into a reservoir and swam a bit, then delighted in shaking off the water as close to his human companions as possible. As we returned to the restaurant to gather our things and settle our bill, we saw the obaasan (granny, respectfully) who runs the neighboring restaurant ride up on a motorcycle after apparently running some errands. Del says that she's been known to dive for abalone herself and share the bounty with his restaurant.

Jason, Del & one of the assistant chefs de dog

The neighbor ducks

Nose valley

 

The damage

I mentioned maybe a week or so that my car’s brakes had become a bit noisy. I got it in to have it checked out today at Meineke, not far from my office.

It turned out that this problem was not just brake pads… apparently two of the pads had worn to non-existence, and the brake was riding right against the rotor. And along with it came a $600 repair bill…

It distracted me most of the day so I didn’t make much of a dent on an insane number of internet orders that came in during the weekend. I wish I had some help right now, though I don’t have any money to pay for it.

Matcha-Matsu-White-Choko Cookies

Continuing my Matcha theme, I made these cookies with cooking matcha, white chocolate and pine nuts.

Matcha Pine Nut White Chocolate cookie

Jason's Matcha-Matsu-White Choko Cookies

½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter
¼ tsp salt
½ cup unprocessed cane sugar (blond) (roughly 80g)
1 egg
½ tsp. pure vanilla essence (some may want to reduce this to avoid competition with green tea flavor)
1 tsp. Matcha for Cooking by Three Tree Tea
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup flour (roughly 150 g)
3.5 oz. (100g) white chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp. raw pine nuts (matsu-no-mi in Japanese)

Cream butter with salt and sugar. Add matcha, egg and vanilla and mix until consistent. Stir in baking powder and flour. Stir in pine nuts and white chocolate.

Drop in 1 tbsp. portions on a baking sheet with room for 3" diameters. Bake at 375F (190C) 12-15 minutes until edges are lightly browned. Rest before removing from sheet. Yields 16-20 cookies.

Because of the potential for oxidation of the matcha I don't recommend storing a supply of the dough, but you may consider freezing in an airtight container. I have made similar cookies without the white chocolate before, but with a touch more sugar.

If it’s more convenient, you can use Three Tree Tea’s Matcha Latte mix instead of the cooking matcha. Use 4 teaspoons of the matcha latte mix and only use 3 level tablespoons sugar. In the pictured version, I used Grade A or “gold” Three Tree Tea cooking matcha, but with something crispy and low-moisture like a cookie, you should get good results from the Grade B.

Debugging my not-so-labor-saving script, relieved by apples

I remember when I could be fascinated by solving a computer problem, and I’d happily whittle away hours and hours, usually for the gain of just a few minutes of labor from time to time.

This is not so satisfying now that I am trying to build a business of my own not related to software. However, I let myself spend an insane amount of time debugging some quite simple database code and forms code, meant mostly to save some repetitive data entry work. Had I just done the tedious work, I would have spent far less time overall, but now I have a solution that should benefit me whenever I need to add a batch of similar products.

The good news, though, is that i now have all of the photographs Rob Tilley sent me online at YuzuMura.com, and I have some reusable code that will benefit me when I add other batches of products.

In the afternoon I indulged in eating most of a tremendously large apple given to me by a Nikkei-jin apple farmer on Sunday… it was so flavorful… crisp, lightly acidic, aromatic.

Ringo

Five days in San Francisco

I returned from San Francisco late last night. I took the Metro bus from the airport, which is a bit of an adventure after 10pm; this time it featured wannabe tough guy antisocial kids. The downtown transfer involved listening to a verbose guy conduct a mostly one-sided conversation with me, waxing proud about his well-behaved pitbull puppy, as his dog sniffed my luggage curiously.

When I arrived in downtown San Francisco on Friday, I checked in at my hotel, the Serrano, dropped my luggage off, then walked toward the ferry terminal to meet an old friend from college. I grabbed some food I could eat on the way, and about 25 minutes later met Jen out front of the Ferry Building. We obtained our preferred caffeine sources from the Pete's inside, and sat on a bench outside facing the bay, chatting about all sorts of things that have happened in the years since we've last seen each other, facing a stellar view.

My plane had been delayed almost two hours due to fog but it finally burned off by the time I made it this far. I had run into Greg, a colleague I had previously worked with on ad-related things at Microsoft, in the waiting area at the gate in the airport; he was headed to the Bay Area for some meetings. I learned about a job that had opened up related to a bunch of work they are having done in Shanghai.

Friday night I met my friend Sally, who works in apparel import, for dinner. We ate at a Catalan restaurant in an alley full of restaurants trying simultaneously to be large and cozy. We had some nice salad with olives and caperberries, a baked eggplant dish, an unseasonable butternut squash soup, a vegetable paella with pine nuts and currants, and a plate of cheeses with a quince-lemon paste. It was pretty decent, though I'd skip the squash soup for sure.

On Saturday, Sally took me to Japantown and Chinatown and I noted what kinds of weekly/monthly type papers were circulating targeting Japanese and Chinese immigrants and for Asian Americans. We also took a look at all kinds of stores and thought about which kinds of places might be best to approach for my Hong Kong sweet.

We had lunch at a place that serves Japanese-style western food, yet again modified to suit locally available ingredients. I had a doria, which is a rice casserole, with spinach and mushrooms and tofu. The scale was a little more American... it was too much food, and eventually a little monotonous. I just had this strange craving for doria after seeing the menu outside.

In Chinatown we looked through dozens of stores and chatted with a few shopkeepers. After a few hours we stopped at a dingy Hong Kong style cafe and bakery; my friend had some warm soy milk and I drank some strong milk tea. We ate a simple late dinner at Millenium, a pretty decent vegetarian restaurant closer to my hotel. We shared some salad and a quinoa croquette over lentils, which was adorned with a surprisingly refreshing green pea puree with lemon.

I splurged on some La Maison du Chocolat filled chocolates which I found at Nieman Marcus's food section. Apparently that's the only location of Nieman Marcus allowed to sell the chocolates; the only other places to buy are in New York, Paris, or Tokyo stores run by La Maison itself. I really wanted to see what people are paying for, since I will be selling a premium confection myself. The quality is really nice; it's very sparing with the sugar and is based on really good, carefully treated chocolate. My friend plowed through a number of them as well.

Sunday I met Sally again at Berkeley. Before she arrived by car, I wandered around and discovered that the town basically shuts down on Sunday. I did find a little soap shop called Body Time, which according to the employee working when I visited was created by a family that later sold their company name to the company now known as Body Shop.

Sally showed me another area along Fourth Street which has a stretch of gift shops and chain store concepts, and a yuppie food store. Actually the specialty food store looked like it might be an appropriate place for my Hong Kong sweet, so I'm going to try to set up an appointment with them the next time I'm in town.

We ate lunch at an inexpensive but nice taqueria; they had freshly pressed corn tortillas. I got a decent vegetarian chile relleno with fresh asparagus, and a nice fresh corn tostada. My friend had an omelette with nopales (cactus paddles). Thankfully they eschewed cheddar; they sparingly used a few types of Mexican cheese and some jack, depending on the dish; the only flaw I'd complain about is that their condiment bar didn't offer any fresh salsa, just stuff in bottles.

After I took BART back to downtown San Francisco, I met Jen, originally for a coffee, but due to a change in her evening plans we went to eat dinner at some Thai place instead. We stopped for coffee afterward. We parted around 9pm and I went back to my hotel, incredibly sleepy but I stayed up a little longer and chatted with a friend in Japan.

Monday morning I met with a soap supplier in the lobby of Courtyard Marriott in Oakland. We talked about different positioning strategies, and about which products I thought would be the most interesting. We also talked about packaging options to make the products look more compelling.

I had a little trouble getting there because I relied on my mapping software to find the place where she was staying in Oakland, and the mapping software was oblivious to the newer location of Courtyard by Marriott. I ended up having to spend money on a taxi fee to get back downtown after having changed trains to go to toward the other Oakland location of the chain.

Afterward I walked around downtown again and trekked on foot up to North Beach via Telegraph Hill; I wondered what kind of retail shops were in the historically Italian neighborhood. After wandering around fruitlessly in the area South of Market, I ate a late dinner at an Indonesian restaurant near my hotel on my own... vegetable martabak and gado-gado.

Tuesday I followed up on a couple of things I wanted to do in Japantown and Chinatown, but I was able to stop and meet Sally for lunch. She took me to the Gap corporate cafeteria and we ate typical corporate cafeteria fare facing the Golden Gate Bridge.

I also made a few media contacts when I was in town, mostly to get rate sheets and demographic information.

I basically met my objectives for this trip, but it was a fairly humble set of goals. Since I mostly wanted to get a feel for the market and see what kinds of venues might be best to approach, and my primary objective was to meet with the supplier, it didn't take much. Before I my next trip, I'll schedule some meetings to talk with potential customers.

A little fever... feverish?

I have been a bit under the weather for a few days, and my energy level has been all over the place, but mostly low, punctuated by occasional nervous tension or something like giddiness. My body gave me hints of battle with some minor cold… occasional sneezing, a moderate fever, occasional chills.

I don’t really get to stop working, but I’ve just been moving really sluggishly since Saturday. I got things shipped, took care of a number of incoming orders from wholesale customers, worked to prepare for a new shipment from Hong Kong, and so on, but I’ve just felt a kind of weariness that’s been hard to beat.

Even dinner has suffered. I’ve been keeping it brain-dead… I had a bagel for dinner yesterday, and I’m completely unable to remember what I ate on Monday.

Tonight I got home a bit late and kicked off a couple of baked potatoes. I tried to do a bit more, so I blanched some broccoli, but I was attempting a bernaise-style sauce and fought with it all the way. I nearly tamed it, but I cheated by adding some milk and mustard, since it didn’t want to emulsify with just the egg yolks. It resembled bearnaise only because of the presence of tarragon and egg yolks. The flavor and texture worked, but it wasn’t quite bernaise.

Business partner?

I spent a few hours today talking to someone I met at the party last week who has a great marketing and business development background in Japan. I think she could be very useful doing sales, marketing, and some logistics stuff. Although there are some complications that I'll have to figure out, I think we will find a way of working together in my import/export company.

We both ordered quiche and coffee at Cafe Besalu for brunch, and later continued the conversation at Hiroki. Besalu makes excellent brioche and pastry, and I like going there on weekends to get brunch... It's just a bustling, tiny, intimate space with a good set of basics. They serve Lighthouse Coffee, Tall Grass Bakery bread, and their own homemade pastries and quiches. Hiroki, on Greenlake, is a bakery run by Hiroki Inoue, a Japanese guy whose signature cake is a "green tea tiramisu." He does a lot of other interesting sweets also, sometimes with a Japanese touch and sometimes with a more French style, though all with slightly American proportions. He seems to avoid overdoing the sugar, which I truly appreciate. This time I had an "Earl Grey" cheesecake and the woman I was meeting with ordered a Grand Marnier mousse cake. Good stuff.

The weather was pretty hot but I went jogging a couple of laps around Greenlake anyway. My endurance seems to be getting better these days... I'm trying to avoid re-injuring my left knee, though, so I'll mellow out on the distance for a few days.

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