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.

Back home, and causing trouble

I had about 5 hours of sleep Tuesday night, and got myself out of my hotel just a bit before 7 am. I tried to grab something at the Corner Bakery location near my hotel in Chicago, and somehow I managed to get myself turned around and heading away from the El station. When I realized my mistake, it started raining heavily, and I noticed there was no utensil to spread the cream cheese that was included in a small tub with the bagel. It was probably the worst bagel imaginable, short of something sold in the grocery store freezer section.. it was a poppy seed bagel, but somehow mysteriously loaded with sugar.

Yes, I did make my airplane. It was boarding by the time I checked in at the airport. I managed to sleep through more than half of the flight, even sandwiched as I was between an oversized guy on my left and a fidgety 17 year old girl on my right.

I took Metro from Seatac airport to the International District in Seattle and met with my friend Amelia, a German-English translator who has been out of the country for four or five months. We ate at Salumi. Mario Batali's father's place at the edge of Pioneer Square, and got all the specials for the day... an asparagus dish, a polenta dish, and some chickpea soup which had bits of ham in it that I ate around. Actually, it's mostly famous for the cured meats, but there were plenty of nice things for me to eat there also.

Afterward we drank some tea and quatsched for a while at the Panama Hotel Cafe at 6th an Main. This was also where I headed in the evening when I met with Eugene Levy, a green tea importer I knew from the FoodEx trade show. We talked business for two or three hours and I gave him a sample of the Hong Kong sweet I'm working on. (I also gave a piece to a staff member who was working the counter when we were there, who suggested I come in and meet the owner later). Sometime after I return next week, Eugene will help me by introducing me to some people that may be good contacts for me.

Today I made some calls to little papers to talk about ad rates and publicity and related stuff so that I can write up a coherent budget for my first project. One of them is interested in letting me write some articles in addition to getting a nice little interview type thing, if I place an ad. I love how blurry the distinction is between advertising and editorial departments in small media... it reminds me of my old days as an assistant editor at a similar paper, doing proofreading, layout, advertising design, and production work all in the same week.

I jogged around Greenlake once around lunchtime and walked one lap... this is routine, but it was somewhat urgent since I've been stuffing myself in Chicago. I'd like not to expand.

I had my last Korean class of the quarter, which for a subset of us has usually been cause for a potluck during previous quarters. This was no exception... I hurriedly made some kimchi dubu mandu before class after stopping at Thanh Son Tofu for some extremely fresh, hot out of the machine tofu, and at a Korean market for some kimchi and bean sprouts. I actually wanted to use my own homemade mandu pi (dumpling skins) but it was a little hot in here today so even with a liberal application of flour my skins stuck together too much; I ended up using manufactured ones. Next time I make them from scratch I'll roll out only a few at a time or use some cornstarch.

Today, beyond eating too much in Korean class, we were learning how to use verb forms to express "can/cannot" and "want" and so on. I need to start practicing Korean without the benefit of classes or I'll lose everything... there aren't any classes beyond the level I've taken for the forseeable future, and I don't want my modest effort to be wasted.

Short trip to Mashiko

We made a little trip to Mashiko on the weekend before coming back to Seattle.

We went, in part, so that I could replenish my ever-shrinking ceramics collection on YuzuMura.com. I was also looking for some new artists to consider for later in the year.

Minowa Yasuo passed away a couple years ago, so I haven't been able to buy anything he made for a long time. Besides, my original plan to sell my ceramics to galleries morphed into a mostly web-based sales model. My previous habit of buying a few remarkable pieces per artist doesn't work very well on the web, since the burden of photographing something I only have one or two examples of becomes rather exhausting. By next year, I expect I'll have fewer choices but a better ability to handle larger orders for them.

Large bowl by Akutsu Masato

Akutsu Masato large bowl

During Golden Week, Mashiko has one of two annual pottery festivals, so many artists and production kilns were out showing off their wares. We made our way to my favorite galleries first, and we were pleased to stumble upon a show by Akutsu Masato and the rest of his family at Moegi. I hadn't done much advance planning on this trip, so it was a good coincidence... I discovered that I brought the wrong contact information for him anyway, so if it hadn't been for the show at Moegi I might not have been able to get hold of him.

Masato's father, who is incredibly charming, also had some very nice pieces at the family show, and Masato's mother's work is very compelling as well, so now I'm considering importing work from the whole family... While all three seem to work from a related palette, they each have very distinctive styles.

I also discovered some Minowa Yasuo pieces at one gallery, and I was so surprised by that that I ended up buying a number of pieces. It will become increasingly difficult to find anything else he made, so I took advantage of the opportunity.

Fortunately, the gallery was kind enough to extend me a reseller price, which means I'll be able to offer the new pieces at roughly the same price as similar items I still have in stock. I was expecting I'd have to dramatically raise prices on the new pieces, but it doesn't look like I'll have to.

One unfortunate side effect of my good fortune on this trip was that I didn't have time to meet up with Senda Yoshiaki, and I couldn't buy any of his pieces on this trip. I am almost completely out, so I really need to do something about that. I think I'll send Hiromi to Mashiko once before fall to remedy that.

I didn't buy a huge amount of ceramic pieces on this trip, but enough that it wasn't possible to transport things on my back... so I have to wait a few weeks before things arrive. I'm looking forward to it...

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Not enough time, some kind of dinner, blood orange and gin

Monday night we had the dubious pleasure of completing my office shelving work… I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s actually organized, but it looks much less chaotic than it previously did. I’d actually be able to make good use of another shelf, but the next step is moving the remaining bits from my upstairs office to my storage facility. I have two spaces at ActiveSpace near the zoo, one of which is small and has a window, and the other of which is large, features high ceilings, but doesn’t get much natural light save for a partial skylight.

I’m planning to consolidate the two spaces into one, now that I really don’t see the office enough during daylight hours for a window to matter much, and don’t need quite the same amount of space as I once did.

We actually didn’t feel much like cooking after a long Monday… it was a day off from my contract project, but I never get a day off from my business. But we made something that was quite pleasant… we were hungry enough that we didn’t photograph it, though. It was tounyuu nabe, or soymilk hot pot, which I think I last had in Japan last spring, but Hiromi made it last Christmas when she visited. Basically, it’s thick, unsweetened soymilk, simmered with a bit of dried konbu, seasoned with miso and maybe a bit of salt. We used a combination of yuzu-miso (expensive, but adds a nice yuzu flavor) and komekoshi-miso. To the pot we added good, fresh tofu, some takenoko, and enoki.

Tounyuu nabe is simple food, but it is kind of special for Hiromi and me, because we ate a variation of it called toufu-dzukushi the first time we had dinner together at a fancy toufu restaurant in Kawasaki.

The last two nights, dinner was completely unremarkable, but tonight I made some yu tsai (a leafy green somewhat like nanohana) with atsuage, onions, and vegetarian “oyster sauce.” Hiromi made takenoko gohan, rice with bamboo shoots. We also had miso soup, but our itamemono wasn’t very Japanese.

Yutsai and atsuageTakenoko-gohan

After dinner I asked Hiromi if she wanted a drink, and she asked me to do something with the Moro blood oranges we got yesterday. I squeezed about four or five of them and blended the juice with a couple of shots of gin, a dash of bitters and a hint of vermouth, then shook everything up in a cocktail shaker with ice. After splitting the results into two glasses, I added an ounce or so of tonic water to each glass for a bit of effervescence.

Bloodorangeandgin

The result was quite refreshing. I’m not much an expert on mixed drinks, but I’m starting to have a bit of fun constructing them, and most of my recent endeavors have been quite passable.

Pioneer Square gallery sale completed

This afternoon I completed a sale of ceramics to Azuma Gallery, a Pioneer Square gallery which carries prints, screens, and ceramics. It's my first sale of note, so I'm very happy. To the best of my knowledge, it's also the first venue where the work will be seen by an American audience. The two artists whose work Azuma Gallery has bought are Minowa Yasuo, who does gas-fired work, and Akutsu Masato, a 27-year old whose work combines rural, organic textures with a surprisingly modern feel.

Minowa Yasuo's kaki-yu (Persimmon glaze) pots, which are gas-fired, sometimes have a tenmoku-like appearance, and sometimes a striated rainbow reddish pattern, which can be matte or have a metallic luster, sometimes even on the same pot, depending on the clay body and the kiln atmosphere. The results are pretty striking, and although Minowa can control the basic "tenmoku" vs "niji" effect, no two pots are exactly alike.

Akutsu Masato's work has a lot of youthful energy and has four main textural motifs, a "doro" or rough clay look, a tetsu-yu brownish, wood-like brush pattern, a white sandy texture often adorned with sgrafitto or sometimes rough, evocative stained three-dimensional contrasting textures, and a gyokuro-yu glossy dark green glaze which references more typical Mashiko or Kasama ware.

If you happen to be in Seattle anytime soon, please stop in and take a look at Azuma Gallery, located at 530 1st Ave. S., and ask about the work of Yasuo Minowa and Masato Akutsu (the order used in this case is the customary US given name followed by family name).

Later in the day, I met up with Kaoru, a friend of mine who works for a community college program north of Seattle, and we had a little dinner at Djan's, a Thai restaurant in a little house in Wallingford. We had a nice, simple meal with cold spring rolls, green papaya salad, an eggplant dish, and a not-very-spicy red curry with tofu. We skipped the "fusion" or "specialty" dishes since none of those appeared to be vegetarian friendly. The best thing about that place is the careful, but simple presentation, and the feeling that you're really eating in someone's house. The dishes that we had would probably be easily obtainable at any kind of Thai restaurant, but overall I would say it was a pleasant, unpretentious dining experience with a little more attention to detail than the average Thai restaurant.

We stopped at Masalisa in Ballard, a tea shop which transforms into a sake place on weekend nights. At first I was inclined to order some kind of nomi-yasui sake, but in the end both of us decided to try their "sake smoothies", one with strawberries, and the other with matcha. These were interesting concoctions, reminiscent of amazake except for the icy texture.

In the morning and early afternoon, I chatted with Patrick at Vivace's, an ex-Microsoft guy I've previously referred to indirectly, who contacted me after reading my web journal. We drank too much coffee and talked about various ways we might be able to work together. I was a bit surprised that our conversation shifted into discusssion about my ambition to do a little cafe/restaurant, as I have hinted at before, and there's a distinct possibility that this may be feasible sooner than I had previously calculated. He also has some useful connections that might make it possible for me to study cooking under some chefs in the Kyoto area. In any event, we'll keep on talking over the coming weeks.

Unwarranted revelry

I've been enjoying myself perhaps a little too much recently, spending too much money and being too sociable. Saturday I met Amelia and Dirk and we stopped at Sambar, which remains one of my favorite little not-so-secret spots in Ballard. Sunday morning I went with Kazue and an out-of-town visitor of hers to the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, and we stopped at Le Fournil for lunch on the way to Bumbershoot. We saw Quasi Nada after some fumbled attempts to find stages which had active performances, which was definitely a good find. Kazue and her friend headed off to Zinzanni and I later met up with Jennifer, who arrived as I was listening to the Crooked Fingers show, and we found ourselves snacking on Bumbershoot food just in time to watch Soulive, which had occasional guest vocals from Reggie Watts of Maktub fame and some cameos from a couple of east coast hip hop artists who ended their appearance with a few crowd-pleasing get-out-the-vote-and-get-Bush-out jabs. Later I met up with Kazue and her frend Yukiko again and we tried to make another stop at Sambar, but I didn't realize it was closed Sunday, so we ended up at the Chinese-apothecary themed Fu Kun Wu and each had a drink concocted with some potentially medicinal herbs. Even Monday, when I was running a demo at the Bellevue Uwajimaya, I skipped cooking and had a light meal at the I.D.'s Maekawa, and much later made a quick stop at Triple Door to say goodbye to Kazue's friend.

The fact that I'm able to plug so many spots visited over a two day timespan is probably a bad sign for my wallet, but I'll try not to wallow in regret.

On the business side, I need to head out to the San Francisco area is getting more urgent, so I think I'll head off later in the week or very early next week. I will hit a half dozen spots down there and do my best to get some initial orders. I had intended to meet up with my sales broker today, but when I arrived, I realized that Labor Day weekend extended through Tuesday for most of the showrooms down there, so I'm going to make better use of time this afternoon.

After wasting way too much time on web code for my yuzumura.com store, and I'm more inclined than ever to buy a partial solution so that I can get something up faster. I've lost a good four weeks trying to spin my own, and although I've got an almost usable solution, I just don't think I'll be able to afford the investment in time required for the harder work. I certainly predicted this as a possibility, but I guess my geeky stubbornness did me more harm than good. I've been writing code and simultaneously evaluating some off-the-shelf solutions that get me 99% of the way there and have hopefully been tested better. I remind myself again I shouldn't be wasting time on things that aren't going to be direct revenue drivers unless there's a bigger strategic purpose for doing so. Even when there is a big strategic purpose, the lost time isn't necessarily worth it at this stage.

Getting the publicity machine started

Sunday I spent time working on publicity and advertising details. My designer was struggling to finish up some image manipulation and final layout tweaks, and I got to work on a little press release.

Over the course of the day a number of little complications kept reminding me how incredibly tight time is. Somehow, though, I managed to sneak out at night to watch Michael Moore's movie with my overworked designer and my friend Amelia.

Most of the day today I spent finalizing shipment details and contract arrangements, as well as arranging to get ads ready for the papers that are going to press soon, This afternoon I did my best to make the publicity section on the Yuzu Trading Co. web site presentable, and I tried to make a dent in the work on the dragonbeardcandy.com web site. Online ordering isn't quite ready but at least it won't be blank if people start looking at it when the ads come out.

By early evening, my designer was still struggling to arrange delivery of the ads to the four newspapers that we're working with, so I went over to try to find a way to get them delivered in time. After a long series of technical battles with software, email servers, ftp servers, and even fax machines and printers, we finally got business concluded and we went off to eat some dinner around 8:30 or so.

We stopped at Galerias on Broadway I had vegetal enchiladas con mole poblano, which were better than the last time I ordered the same dish a good year or so ago... not too sweet, pleasantly spicy. Jennifer had some crab-stuffed tortillas and ended up feeling stuffed herself. The most important thing after all of the chaos was to have a celebratory margarita, so mine was a “patron” and Jennifer's was a frozen strawberry.

I'm a little tired now, but I think Tuesday will be a little easier, assuming my shipment gets sent off from Hong Kong according to plan.

Osaka diversion

Sachi and I planned to meet briefly after work today, so I checked out and left my baggage with the hotel. I went to Osaka during the daytime, mostly wandering around Umeda without much of a real objective, even as a tourist. A Korean import/export company representative whom I had hoped to meet in Osaka still hasn’t responded to a mail I sent last week, so I didn’t have much of a business agenda anyway.

I ended up eating at an Italian place for lunch where they had a conspicuous sign in Japanese saying they could cater to customers with allergies, which I took as a sign that my vegetarian habit could be indulged. It turns out that the Japanese mushroom pizza that I ordered doesn’t have anything non-vegetarian in it anyway, and the salad and bread weren’t anything to worry about either. The food was simple and pleasant, though basically unmemorable.

My favorite thing to do when in shopping districts is observing the foods being hawked in department store basements (depa-chika). This proved the most interesting part of the day. I can’t say there were many differences from department stores anywhere else in Japan, but one stand specialized entirely in “curry bread”, in this case a slightly fancier, fresher version of a long-lived staple of Japanese bakeries. The department store experience is somehow a little more welcoming than in Tokyo… somehow the heavy Kansai accents and gravelly voices of the men and warmer, less formal sound of the women hawking various wares makes the energy of the place seem more sincere. Or maybe I’m imagining all of that.

Somewhere I stopped for a maccha-white chocolate cake and maccha ole.

Unfortunately, my friend Sachi got stuck with some overtime work today so our hopes to meet for an hour or so before I ran off to the airport were dashed. After finding the cafe where she suggested we could meet if she was able to escape, I searched for something more substantial, and finally found an Indian/Pakistani restaurant near the station which I hadn’t noticed in previous wandering. The place was completely devoid of customers, but I had one of the nicest palak paneer (or saag paneer) dishes I’ve yet tasted in Japan.

I arrived just about midnight at my dodgy hotel in Yokohama. The room is incredibly small… I think there are never more than 12 inches of space to put my feet. It’s noisy, my cell phone doesn’t seem to stay connected longer than 45 seconds, so completing plans with a friend I’m meeting tomorrow has become complicated… and I am incredibly sleepy and now a little irritable, but I guess it’s just a place to sleep.

Kurogoma korokke and kazoku no ryouri

I took today off from doing demos and spent some of the day cleaning house and actually reorganizing some things that have long contributed to a certain level of chaos in my home. Among other projects, I replaced an ailing, cracked lazy susan in my kitchen with two new ones to handle my stash of spices and seasonings… it turned out that these new ones had a larger diameter than fits on the floor of my cupboard, so making use of them required a bit of improvisation. I raised them off the floor using a couple of infrequently used cake pans, and this avoided the interference of edging in the back of the cupboard. It isn’t a perfect fit, but the doors now appear closed, and I have less likelihood of dropping various bottles of spices onto an expensive piece of pottery in the sink just below, as I’m hunting for something in the back of the cupboard.

Of late I’ve found my cooking skewing decidedly Japanese. But today I cooked more “stamina” than “sappari”, more oyaji than obaachan. Today’s food was more heavy and strong tasting than the Japanese food I more usually prepare. Hiromi says it is "kazoku no ryouri", something for everyone: Korokke to appeal to the kids, kimpira for the mother, and grilled tofu for the father. 

Kurogoma korokke

Kurogoma korokke

My black sesame croquettes usually have more black sesame in them, but I just ran out today, so my hand was forced… I used a lighter touch. As usual, though, I mixed in some white sesame seeds as a source of flavor, and the only thing to suffer is the visual. I really like black sesame croquettes, and I think the only croquette I like more is kabocha. Tonight, I still had some leftover kabocha from Saturday night, so we ate that as another okazu. It was actually more flavorful than on Saturday, as is usual for nimono.

Kimpira gobo

Kimpira gobo

I had some help on this one. I spent my time doing the sengiri (matchstick cut) knifework, and my roommate removed aku as I did some other prep work; I got them started cooking in sesame oil and tossed in a pinch of salt; I tossed them around in the pan a bit and my roommate watched over them and added chili, shouyu and mirin and tougarashi (dried chilies).

Yakidoufu with baby bok choy, ginger and daikon-oroshi

Yakidoufu itame ni

My roommate requested yakidoufu again, but I couldn’t bear the thought of repeating myself so soon, so I made a variation with a bit of a sauce; mirin, shouyu and some vegetable soup stock.

Daikon to negi no misoshiru

daikon to negi no misoshiru

I had originally thought I would make a tofu-based miso soup, but I made a daikon-negi one instead, which is probably exactly what went into my last misoshiru. As usual, I made a dried konbu-shiitake dashijiru. In this case, rather than akamiso or shiromiso, I used a Korean-style dark miso (doenjang). This isn’t because I was trying to be innovative or creative; I just ran out of my supply of Japanese-style miso. It works just as well, though it tends to be a bit saltier than the most common types of Japanese miso.

Yaki-onigiri no ochazuke and rustic foods

I worked on some simple tasks today and did some customer visits, and finally got some photos I can use for the matsutake gift pack on YuzuMura.com.

My roommate and I had a guest for dinner, and I was in the mood to make some simple Japanese-ish dishes.

Yakionigiri no ochazuke with very good umeboshi

Yakionigiri top view

I prepared miso-brushed grilled rice balls, yaki-onigiri served with pickled Japanese apricots and pickling shiso. I poured a really nice organically-grown sencha from Shizuoka over the onigiri, but it was very light, because it was the first infusion... In retrospect, I realize I should have served the first pour to drink, and the second pour for the ochazuke.

Yakidoufu

Yakidoufu

This is a little bit American preparation of tofu, perhaps; I grilled tofu on my electric grill pan, and served it with a dipping sauce of ginger, shouyu, a few drops of roasted sesame oil, and negi (spring onions). I’ve seen grilled tofu in Japan, but rarely.

Kabocha no nimono

Kabocha no nimono

My absolute favorite fall nimono (poached/simmered dish) is kabocha, Japanese squash. This involves simmering squash, dashijiru, salt, Japanese soy sauce, mirin, and occasionally a bit extra sugar, until soft. The ideal flavor develops the next day, but it also tastes good served after it has cooled a little bit.

Dashi-maki tamago

Dashi-maki tamago

I also made dashi-maki tamago, which in this case has bits of some Japanese pickles between the layers of eggs.

Finally, I made an atypical, but very tasty aemono with broccoli, raw sugar, salt, and mirin. This would be more commonly done with spinach than broccoli, but my nearby supermarket didn’t seem to have anything other than expensive baby spinach. Alas, all of the photos of that were totally out of focus, but it was actually the surprise of the night; it tasted better than I expected.

Yaki onigiri dinner

Dinner is served.

Good busy

Some kinds of busy are merely distracting, but I made good progress on a lot of fronts today. The only downside was that the post office was closed, which, for someone who doesn’t take government holidays, is easy to forget. I don’t even get weekends…

I was too weary to make anything exciting for dinner, but I made a simple pajeon, for which I used a friend’s trick, incorporating milk and egg into the batter.

Unfortunately, as is frequently becoming the case, my day involves a bit of driving across town to accomplish certain tasks… I kept it to a minimum, planning my tasks to land at spots the most efficient way possible, but I didn’t quite succeed in getting everything ready to ship off before I got started on this, so I had one more stop than would have been ideal.

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