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.

Taco salad

Somehow I’ve been in a salad kind of mode at dinner lately.

The weather’s been a bit hot and I guess I’ve got only a summer appetite… I seem to be more interested in big lunches, or small lunches and little afternoon snacks.

Normally I don’t eat salads as a meal… I tend to make little, simple, refreshing salads as a contrast to something heavier, or to balance pasta.

But I was kind of in the mood for something a little more dramatic, and a little spicy. At the same time, I wanted some kind of crunch… so I made a kind of taco salad. I made a simple guacamole, with only some chopped tomatoes added to my usual basic crushed avocado with lime juice. I used a Trader Joe’s salsa only because I was a bit lazy tonight, and some pinto beans cooked with a bit of garlic. I grated a mild cheese that I had handy, and served with some more chopped tomatoes and some mixed greens—mostly romaine—which I mostly obscured with the toppings.

Taco saladTaco salad

I stopped at PFI and Trader Joes to get some supplies for some matcha cookies I will be baking tomorrow for an event at the Japanese garden. Now I have an insane amount of white chocolate, butter, and pine nuts. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much butter in my possession at one time.

Receiving, packing, shipping, delivering, election night

My dragon beard candy shipment finally made it in this afternoon, just at the end of the scheduled delivery window. I got to furiously packing a couple of express shipments, and some other behind-schedule dragon beard candy orders. I just barely made the cutoff time for Express, and I just barely made the cutoff time for Ground.

I then headed home to grab materials related to the election. I needed to remind myself how I planned to vote.

The polling place for my precinct seems to have changed at the last minute. I got a new voter registration card just yesterday. I was surprised about such late notice, although it’s possible that the last card that I got also noted this change. My previous polling place was just 2 blocks away, but the new location is about 8 blocks away.

After voting, I made another delivery, and met up with a friend to join in some election night gatherings. Nick Licata as an incumbent had some of the best results of the night, with 76.52% of the votes (99.6% reporting). We had some nibbles at the Mirabeau room, and then moved on to some other events at the Westin.

I’m a little tired. Tomorrow I’ve got an incredibly busy day ahead as I need to handle some big internet orders and distribute various wholesale orders.

International attention

It may not do much for me, but my retail web site was mentioned by a Singapore-based food industry magazine, The New Asia Cuisine and Wine Scene this month. The blurb "demystifying dragon beard candy" actually has a couple of trivial factual errors, but there's no such thing as bad publicity, right?

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be furiously preparing for a somewhat more dramatic launch of the product in Seattle, Portland and Hong Kong. This will require me to take a slightly heavier financial risk than I have been doing so far, but I think it's probably a good thing and will help create some long-term buzz.

Tomorrow I'll head off to Portland once again, and I'll be doing sampling in Seattle on Sunday. I also need to get some work done to prepare for some other product offerings. I'm hoping I can afford to take on everything.

 

FoodEx trade show, day 1

Today was the first day of FoodEx and I must have visited several hundred booths and talked to people at several dozen. The experience was truly dizzying. Some 2,300 companies are exhibiting, catering to manufacturers, restaurant and food service, intermediate companies (which is the category I fall into), and retailers (these booths occasionally have some relevance to what I’m handling).

I wandered around for about 6.5 hours and talked to a whole bunch of people. The highlights for me were some tea-related products, some yuzu ponzu from Ibaragi prefecture that was surprisingly nice for a packaged product, and various green/organic products which are still slightly uncommon in Japan.

Tonight after the show I met a friend and we tried to find vegetarian options at a Korean restaurant, which was interesting because this is far less trouble in Korea than here. There were whole clams in the kimchi tofu jjigae, which the waiter said had no meat in. I just worked around them and my friend at them. There were also bits of meat in a chijimi that was described as meatless.

When eating out I usually try not to concern myself with most kinds of soup stock or other things that are too much trouble to worry about, even in the U.S. where restaurants cater to every dietary whim, but being vegetarian in Japan is always complicated.

Yesterday I was a little too tired to write. I did some research in the morning and met with a couple of friends, but I didn’t really do anything that impressive. I did cook a half-decent penne with a cream sauce, garlic stems, and maitake mushrooms with some coarsely chopped pecorino romano and pine nuts. It took far too long in my weekly apartment’s kitchen, which has one burner, a warped frying pan that only cooks in one spot, and a tiny saucepan that isn’t really big enough to boil any amount of pasta in. I also made a frittata-like thing for dinner using nanohana (the greens from the canola plant) and eringi mushrooms, served with some whole grain bread I found. I got home too late to cook rice.

I realized that some people might see my half-finished web site for Yuzu Trading Co. now that my business cards are in the hands of strangers, so I fixed the layout and altered some text so that the work looks less unfinished, hopefully. I wish I had spent more time on this, but I have some ideas on how to actually make it useful later.

Somehow I’m awake much later than I should be. I should go to sleep. I’ll have time to be more reflective later …

 

Homemade Matcha Ice Cream recipe

About 4 or 5 years ago I bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker, and not much longer thereafter I found myself making green tea ice creams on a regular basis. This used to be an expensive endeavor: 30 grams of matcha bought in the U.S. usually costs $7.50–$15.00 for average quality matcha, which is roughly two tablespoons. In Japan I can usually get ordinary matcha for $6–8, and sometimes I could get bigger sizes for not much more money. But happily, since I now work with company focused on matcha products, I have access to Matcha meant primarily for cooking applications, and this makes green tea ice cream a far lesser extravagance.

I think two tablespoons of the cooking matcha works out to about $1.88 for 1.5 quarts if you buy it by the pound. Including the cost of organic milk, heavy cream, and organically produced sugar, I think I spent about $5–5.50 for this at retail prices. That’s still substantially less expensive than buying 3 pints of average-quality green tea ice cream at about $3–4/pint, and with a much more substantial green tea flavor, much more fresh, and far fewer additives.

Matcha Ice Cream (Green tea ice cream) in contemporary Mashiko bowl

For a 1.2–1.5 quart batch, I once typically used about 1–1.5 tablespoons of the tea ceremony matcha that I used to use prior to having access to culinary matcha. Now I am using an indulgent 2 tablespoons, which provides an excellent balance of the bitterness and sweetness. If you’re really looking for a heavier matcha flavor, you might use a bit more, but be judicious. You shouldn’t try to replicate the bitterness of straight matcha; you’re just trying to use the matcha as an accent.

I never previously thought blending matcha and vanilla should be controversial, but my roommate seems to be sensitive to heavy vanilla use in green tea flavored things, so I’ve since reduced the amount I use in my own matcha recipes.

Jason’s Matcha Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 cup unprocessed cane sugar (blond)
2 heaping tbsp. Matcha for cooking, Grade A
1/8 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Whisk the matcha for cooking with the milk and sugar, making sure the matcha dissolves. Stir in the cream and vanilla. If using a frozen-canister based ice cream, maker, chill the ice cream in the refrigerator for another hour to make sure it is sufficiently cold for processing, or hold in the freezer about 15 minutes.

Process in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions. This produces about 1.25–1.5 quarts of ice cream, depending on expansion. Make sure this is appropriate for your ice cream maker and adjust proportionally to your capacity.

If you’d like a more custardy ice cream, you might use an egg yolk or two in your recipe, perhaps reducing the cream a bit to compensate for the extra fat.

If you are using Ippuku Matcha Latte mix, you will use about 1/2 cup matcha latte mix and reduce the sugar content to a scant 2/3 cup.

Hoteres 2006, Day 2

In a break from the pattern I set a couple of years ago, I went to the Hoteres show on the second day of the FoodEx/Hoteres pair of trade shows; in past years, I usually went on day 3.

Hoteres focuses mostly on restaurant and hospitality industry needs, and this includes equipment, smallwares, guest amenity products, spa and bath, and foodservice products such as frozen pastry doughs for all of those fancy-looking bakeries all over Japan.

I missed most of it while touring the rest of the floor, but apparently some sort of Japanese national barista championship was going on in the food demo stage this afternoon. I managed to catch one contestant show off his skills producing Seattle-style latte foam patterns, a simple pulled shot, and a signature drink/dessert that I’d be tempted to attempt myself. His signature drink was, like most drinks that move beyond the basic latte/straight espresso/con panna pattern, more dessert than coffee, but instead of producing a dessert masquerading as coffee he embraced the idea that a barista could produce a savvy, elegant dessert. Within a strict time limit, he made a whipped cream flavored with chocolate and maybe some espresso, which he piped into a rose shape, then  placed in a wide serving cup. He created an infusion of orange peel and milk, simmered briefly, then he whipped an egg or two with some sugar. He produced maybe four shots of espresso which he combined with the strained orange-infused milk with perhaps a bit of chocolate sauce, and he worked the milk into his egg-sugar mixture, creating a kind of liquid custard. He carefully poured the custard into the cup, enabling his whipped cream rose to survived the violent heat of his custard.

The usual assortment of espresso machines, ovens, gas ranges, automatic sushi-making and gyoza-filling machines took up a fair percentage of floor space in the equipment show halls. Hiromi noticed a vendor producing a machine that automatically measures and serves portions of rice into a bowl for donburi-mono, which sounds preposterously unhelpful unless, of course, you happen to run a donburi shop that has huge lunch crowds and want to shave off several seconds per customer to squeeze in as many people as possible without over– or under-portioning.

My favorite fryer company from two years ago was back this year, demonstrating their clever “Clean Fryer” system that filters out liquids and debris into a collection tank at the bottom of the machine. Instead of creating a clogged grease trap, restaurants just need to empty out the slightly dirty wastewater that gets collected below. The gimmicky demo I saw two years ago featured ice cubes and other potentially explosive foods dropped into the fryer without disastrous after-effects; the water gets absorbed by their filtration system, rather than creating a burst of pressurized steam erupting through a batch of hot oil. The wastewater collection area is apparently stable enough to sustain life, as this year’s demonstration gimmick featured tenkasu-fed goldfish swimming obliviously in the glass-walled collection tank.

I’m sure it’s useful for oden-making companies, but I was a little surprised to see a machine that automatically and precisely peels boiled eggs…

For the Japanese spa market, the most amusing product I saw was a variation of the classic “Ashiyu onsen”, or hot spring foot bath. The typical ashiyu onsen is just a small publicly-accessible covered bath that people can take advantage of to get a bit of a respite in a hot spring town. The product we saw was basically a foot bath with a picnic table mounted over the bath, and bench seating… you can imagine a small outdoor restaurant serving simple foods as people relax with their bare feet warmed by hot water, perhaps operating deep into the winter.

The coolest piece of equipment I saw this year was all gimmick, but potentially interesting as a foundation for a franchisable business concept that would give Cold Stone a run for its money: the teppan ice cream maker. The idea is modeled after a teppan, or teppan-yaki grill, but meant to produce cold foods. A shop would use the machine to make made-to-order ice cream, sorbet, and so on, with a -30°C chilled plate, enabling completely custom, made-to-order custom frozen treats. The operator pours sweetened liquids (a gelato or ice cream base, or sorbet base), and can add fresh fruit or other items at the customer’s request, and scrape everything together teppan-yaki style to produce a scoopable, lickable treat. I think it would translate readily to the U.S. market, even if nobody gets the reference to that style of cooking, just because it’s so dramatic to watch ice cream made before the customer’s eyes in just a few seconds.

I didn’t spend as much time as I usually do in the smallwares section, since my knees have been giving me a lot of trouble, but with my current business objectives, I’m thinking any substantial mass-produced ceramicware that I might import won’t be possible to kick off until next year, at the earliest. I’d love to offer some more stylish wafuu ceramics and lacquerware than the larger U.S. importers are doing, but I’m going to continue to keep these kinds of companies in my back pocket rather than invest a lot in buying inventory from them right now.

As I had originally planned for today, I met with a company that makes some really cool hand-tied flower teas, mostly for the hotel and gift markets in Japan, designed in Japan and made by Chinese tea companies. They’ve moved beyond the already innovative flower teas I saw last year that have different stages of expansion, and now have some novel shapes such as ducks, fish, and stars. It may sound a little funny, but the effects can be quite visually stunning to watch.

Tomorrow I’m going back to FoodEx for Day 3, but I have another late night ahead because of another vendor meeting, so I may not get as far as posting photos I’ve taken outside of the trade shows.

Seattle goes ice skating

Last night I tried to wait until traffic calmed down before leaving my day job… It was a long day, thanks to a series of small technical and non-technical complications playing against an urgent issue, and my own inexperience with the mysteries of the team’s build system.

It got longer, though, when snow started coming down. I kept the traffic flow maps handy on a background window after hearing that snow was accumulating even on the freeway. After things settled down a bit, I left, but it was slow going.

I believe it took a bit more than 20 minutes to make it the half block distance between the garage and the road, thanks to ice on the road and confused people.

The freeway itself had cleared up by then; I went to pick up a colleague who was stranded after some bus mishaps, and headed across the bridge without any particular obstacles. I-5 slowed down around 65th, and I pulled off to bypass the traffic in favor of surface streets heading to Northgate. Unfortunately, one of the hills near Maple Leaf was backed up like mad… I think it took an hour to get down a hill that would normally be a 5–10 minute burden. I finally started heading home, which took another 30 minutes thanks to an icy 125th St. and Aurora Ave.

I got home around 9:45, after leaving work at 7:20. It was rather ugly.

Waking up to KUOW in the morning I heard that people were being told to stay home if at all possible, that most of the roads were actually in worse shape thanks to the overnight freeze, and that even when the freeways were clear the surface roads in Redmond and northern parts of Seattle would be risky.

I checked my survival gig email account and learned that the offices were closed, and asked a few other colleagues if they braved driving the Eastside today, and the answers were all negative.

So I dedicated the day to doing work for my own business, although at a rather sluggish pace. There’s only a seven block commute to that office. It turns out, though, that FedEx Ground services were suspended for the day, so my packages didn’t go anywhere.

Notable accumulations of ice and snow are such rare occurrences on roads in Seattle that nobody quite knows how to deal with such natural disasters as two or three inches of snow.

Kyou no Thema ha, Kabocha Desu!

I’d like to say that I took this long weekend to do something relaxing, like a little overnight trip to Ocean Shores or a little jaunt to the Columbia Valley wine region. But I don’t get to do that very often. I had the pressing need to reshuffle things in my office, as I’ve decided to consolidate the two spaces I have at ActivSpace into a single space, all in the room I was using downstairs, now serving both my warehouse and office needs. My daytime contracting gig makes having natural light in my office less valuable, and the monthly difference in rent will add up after just a few months.

Having two spaces available encouraged sloppiness, anyway. I only got around to buying enough shelving to keep my sanity a few weeks ago, and I had a rather embarrassing level of chaos in both my office and my storage area. Now the arrangement is fairly rational, although space is a bit tight.

We did get a little leisure in yesterday. Hiromi got to see the Fremont Sunday Market for the first time, and we actually ate out at some unmentionable U-District bar on Friday night, Sunday at Jai Thai for lunch, and today we had an early dinner at Hosoonyi in Edmonds. Saturday we were homebodies, with a nice homemade pizza at lunch and some sundried tomato dressed pasta at dinner.

Sunday night we were all set to serve ourselves an “Iron-Chef” style themed meal, complete with three courses of kabocha-based dishes. But we were way too full after just two of the courses… that’ll teach us to eat a large restaurant lunch, follow it with a late afternoon coffee and snack, and then go home thinking we could possibly have room for more heavy food.

But we finally got our dessert course in tonight, a few hours after an early Korean dinner with soon dubu jjigae (soft tofu soup). So today, I present you with what is likely my last squash of the season…

Homemade kabocha gnocchi with kabocha cream sauce

Kabocha gnocchi

I can’t remember how many years ago I first had this dish, but on one trip to Japan, a friend of mine took me to a hidden Italian restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo, which she explained her parents had often visited on dates. They served us something resembling this kabocha gnocchi. It was the height of simplicity, and improbably both unfamiliar and comforting. Ever since then, I have regularly and shamelessly stolen the concept: squash gnocchi with a simple squash cream sauce.

I used Japanese pumpkin and potatoes to construct the gnocchi, using enough flour to hold the dough together, with a hefty pinch of salt. The dough needs to be handled while the potatoes and squash are still fairly hot, about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This time I pressed everything through a sieve for a consistent texture, but I’ve sometimes resorted to a fork when I felt a more rustic approach would work for me. I let the dough relax about 20 minutes before forming the gnocchi, after which I boiled them in briny salted water.

Next, I used a bit more kabocha to prepare a cream sauce. I also pressed the squash through a sieve, and added a fair amount of cream, enough salt to bring out the flavor of the kabocha, and mixed everything together until it was consistent. I melted butter in a saucier, then added the kabocha cream and whisked it on medium heat until thick.

Iyokan Kurosu Salad with Kabocha-no-mi

Kurosu salad

We went an even more wafuu route with our salad, using some Saison Factory Iyokan Kurosu to make a vinaigrette. Kurosu is Chinese-style black vinegar, which is all the rage in Japan as a functional food; Saison Factory has made it more palatable to the Japanese tongue by blending it with iyokan juice, an orange-like citrus fruit. It’s meant to be consumed diluted with water, as “nomi-su”, or drinking vinegar. But I thought it would also make a nice base for a salad dressing, and it worked out quite well.

I rescued some of the seeds from the kabocha and roasted them, later seasoning them with mirin and soy sauce, as well as a bit of salt. Unfortunately, about half of the seeds suffered from burned soy sauce, so many of the seeds were sadly too bitter.

Kabocha pudding

Kabocha pudding

As I mentioned, we never found room for dessert yesterday, but Hiromi made this lovely kabocha based flan Sunday morning which led us down this squash-laden path.

I contributed by boiling sugar to hard crack stage with light caramelization. The results of my own attempts at making sugar lattices were miserable failures, although I did manage to create a fair likeness of an Olympic ski jumper, and perhaps a mermaid or a carrot, depending on your perspective, and your sense of charity. Hiromi had far more impressive results, and so we used hers instead.

Madcap dash

I am getting out of town in about 12 hours, headed to Japan.

I've been trying to finalize a shipment of ceramics to a customer in San Francisco, take care of a few related and unrelated errands, and so on... the last few days have been maddening. Fortunately, I got the shipment off, and I even gave someone who was trying to sell me some services a few minutes, and the only thing I've got left is preparing some gift wrappers to go to a few customers and some checks that need to be mailed out for outstanding bills. I think I'll just try to do those things in the morning. Sleep is good. All I am absolutely concerned about now is that I know where my passport and my wallet are. (Bad things have happened before.)

Yesterday after taking care of some other things I realized I had almost no fall clothing that is free of damage, and this is one of those things that is somewhat embarrassing when I find myself in Japan. Everyone else is hipper than me. I won't be wearing suits when meeting with businesses in Japan, but I should at least be moderately stylish, and I don't want to be wearing short sleeved summer clothing in the middle of October. So I made a financially frustrating decision to add some items to my wardrobe before my departure. I'm not Mr. Trendy, but being decently dressed in Japan is a generally good idea. This is a perennial problem associated with international travel for me... the expectations are so much lower in Seattle. On the other hand, it may have more to do with the fact that I don't travel constantly and I don't usually buy clothing unless I absolutely have to... The time between trips is probably longer than the time between shopping trips that most people make.

I'm increasingly incoherent. I think sleep would be a good thing right now, so I'll indulge myself...

The dangers of hiding for a week

I’ve somehow felt a little overwhelmed the last week… The last gasps of a cold still had a bit of a hold on me, and I usually had no energy left after dinner. I somehow managed to keep up on internet orders, but I’ve been avoiding the telephone for the most part, because I either coughed at inopportune moments or, in my better moments, sounded like I was choking on a frog.

That being said, I did my best to eat reasonably well, though weeknights were rather minimalistic.

Last Sunday, though, during the Superbowl, two of Hiromi’s former coworkers who had flown in from Japan on a business trip, came to visit us, and another friend of mine dropped by. They chatted and watched the game while I spent most of my time in the kitchen, which is probably how nature intended things.

I made a few of my signature cocktails, and a fair amount of starchy and oily nibbles. We didn’t stop for photos, but I made some fried yucca root served with a homemade mayonnaise-like sauce, made with freshly grated horseradish; some roasted potatoes with shiso; a little grilled halloumi with quince paste, olives, Marcona almonds and baby spinach. For a Seahawks-ish theme I served blue corn sesame tortilla chips with a homemade guacamole. I probably brought out a couple of other things, but I’ve quickly forgotten. My head was in a bit of a fog anyway, hopped up on Theraflu as I was.

After the game ended I also made dum ki ghom, a sort of mushroom curry with ground cashews and tomato paste, and a sort of pseudo-naan baked on a pizza stone. I also threw together a simple olive oil and cheese pizza topped with marinated fennel… These are almost all things I’ve made before, and I wasn’t in the mood to be terribly consistent with any culinary theme, save for the predominance of high carbohydrate, high fat options. It was, after all, an American event, surrounding a TV.

Here are some of our weeknight meals from this week.

Tagliatelle, broccolini, portabello in garlic cream sauce

Tagliatelle broccolini and portabella

Quick, simple, basic, comforting.

Karashi-na to nagaimo no oyaki

Oyaki-take2

Although I’ve made oyaki a few times before, I considered it a bit of an experiment. Now I’m fairly comfortable with the process, and although they still aren’t as consistently shaped as the ones I find at roadside venues, they taste at least as good. This time I used karashi-na (mustard greens) and coarsely grated nagaimo (a starchy tuber), seasoned with the typical miso-shouyu base.

Toufu no shouga-miso yaki

Miso shouga tofu

The same night we figured we needed a bit of protein to accompany our vegetables, so this is what emerged as an afterthought. This is not a typical Japanese side dish, but I was too lazy to make a proper neri-miso for dengaku-toufu. So after pan-grilling some tofu for a few minutes on each side, I added some slightly mirin-and-sugar-sweetened miso with a hefty dose of freshly grated ginger.

Eggplant and sweet potato sabji

Nasu to satsumaimo sabji

One night Hiromi was craving spicy food, and we had some nice little eggplants that begged for attention. I decided to riff off of an eggplant and potato based dish featured in a Japanese-language Indian cookbook, but we only had a sweet potato or squash handy. I substituted the regular potatoes suggested in the recipe with sweet potatoes, and it worked out very nicely.

Black daal

Black daal

The black lentils I picked up at Trader Joes recently proved useful for the daal to accompany our meal. I made this with tomatoes, onions, a stick of cassia, fresh turmeric, and other spices. Homemade ghee for the chaunk added a nice roundness to the flavor.

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