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.

Foggy day

Early this morning I drove to Beaverton, Oregon for in-store demos, and it was incredible how thick the fog was along the way. As I approached Olympia, it got progressively thicker. I thought it might be a morning thing, but on the way back home in the evening, the fog was about as dense.

The weather has been pretty cold recently. I set myself up near the front of Uwajimaya and occasionally thought it would be nice to have something even warmer than my yellow Merlino wool sweater. The opening and closing doors brought a lot of cool air whooshing past my little spot.

The last few days I tended to eat leftovers with slight modifications. I still have a little bit of my squash gratin left over, but it gets pretty soft upon reheating. I didn't eat a proper lunch on Saturday, when I was doing a demo in Seattle. I don't know if I wasn't hungry or if I just forgot to eat.

I was happy to find some yuzu-shichimi seasoned potato chips at the Bellevue Uwajimaya on Friday. I might not indulge on a regular basis, but the taste was pretty nice.

FoodEx, Day 2: Sweets, tea, and soy

Today I was blown away by a Hong Kong confection that’s sort of like a grown up version of cotton candy with a nice crunch, nice flavor, and beautiful packaging. I think it was the most compelling item of the day… they have no agent in the U.S., and it’s definitely a top candidate… it has a compelling story (a 2000 year history, supposedly), it’s handmade, it’s usually not available outside of the area where it’s made, and it has great packaging.

I also tasted some truly amazing oolong tea, and my enthusiasm seemed to carry over to the booth organizer, who gave me 5 packages of tea that were being sold at the show for 2000 yen each (a little less than $20/100 grams). The aroma on the prepared tea sampe was very complex, almost fruity… completely unexpected. It’s a Taiwanese product, organically grown, and mostly sold in Japan.

I talked to one Japanese guy who spent some time in Portland and worked as a buyer for Costco in a previous life, and we discussed importing some Korean yuzu tea and jujube tea into the US. The quality of their yuzu and jujube teas is very good, and they have some other stuff like Aloe drinks and thin yuzu-flavored drinks I was less excited about. We’ll probably meet again before I leave. He’s very interested in expanding the market outside of Japan, as it’s apparently struggling here.

There was a mae-sil cha and red shiso cha concentrate from Korea that was pretty nice… nothing artificial about them and a nice pleasant flavor.

I looked at a lot of Korean and Thai products… the highlights for me were definitely this Hong Kong confection and that oolong tea. I even found some nice ceramics from a Taiwanese potter… It’s rare for me to find Chinese-style pottery that I have much enthusiasm for, but the tea ware he was selling was quite stunning coming out of a high-production studio.

When I got home, I noticed a message from a Japanese soy milk producer that I talked to yesterday; they produce a yogurt that tastes very normal… not very soy-like. They have some very milk-like soy milk also, which I was less enthusiastic about; I actually like soy milk to taste like soy beans, unlike most Americans, but I have until now never been a fan of soy-based yogurts. The texture is sort of typical for Japanese yogurt interpretations… very custardy, rather than the European smooth texture, but still nice. Anyway, it turns out that if I find some sort of export agent they may be able to work with me; they don’t do any direct exports and they don’t have a huge production capacity as yet.

I ate with my friend Hiromi tonight at an izakaya-type place and had some nice early-harvest grilled bamboo shoots, some soba-based gnocchi with butter and a little shiso, and some croquettes with embedded crunchy soba groats. Also we had dashi-iri tamago-yaki, which are sort of thick omelets with soup stock in them. Not so exciting were yakimiso (I love Takayama’s hoba-miso specialty… this wasn’t it), and some soba-gakki (sort of soba dumplings) with camembert inside, which were a little dry.

I think I’ll go to FoodEx in the morning and then go to the Hoteres show in the afternoon tomorrow. I’ve probably covered most of the floor at FoodEx by now, though I think I missed a few things in the center. Anyway, I have a few candidate products that I really feel impressed by that want representation in the US, so I think I have a place to start.

Aki-nasu and nagaimo-dango

I sent Hiromi these photos from tonight’s dinner and she called it “obaachan no ryouri” or grandma food.

The results were nice, but not flawless..

I was experimenting with making nagaimo dango in soup, and I overruled my initial impulse of making the dango using only wheat flour, nagaimo and a pinch of salt. I thought the texture might be more interesting if I added some katakuriko. This seemed to make the dough very sticky and my experience making gnocchi didn’t provide useful sensory reference points to judge the consistency, so when I boiled the dango, they got a bit chewy.

Nagadan

On previous occasions, I’ve used katakuriko and blends of katakuriko and kuzuko in dango recipes, but I was generally following a recipe that wasn’t terribly temperamental. In this case, I added two unknowns: the nagaimo, and the katakuriko. I think it will take a few experiments to get the ideal texture.

I made one of my favorite variations of hiya-yakko, made with yuzu-kosho, which is a paste made from the ground rind of yuzu and ground chilies, and a splash of Japanese soy sauce. A few years ago I served a very potent yuzu-kosho with some godoufu or another similarly mild side dish, and a knife-tip portion of yuzu kosho. I guess my plating needed some work; in Japan, I have seen similar presentation, and I knew the flavor was quite powerful. But one my guests thought I had mistakenly dropped something on the plate. When I explained the flavoring, they realized that it was the perfect amount for the dish in question, but it was a bit surprising to them. This time, I used a fairly substantial amount; roughly a third to half a teaspon. Actually, my yuzu-kosho has lost a bit of its aroma over time and I only had small amount left. So this amount was just about right, and not overwhelming.

Hiyayakko-yuzukoshou

I also made some quickly fried Japanese eggplant, dressed with nothing more than grated ginger, some sesame seeds, and a little Japanese soy sauce. This is one of my absolute favorite ways to serve eggplant, because it is so incredibly simple and flavorful. For this preparation, I usually slice the eggplant for this quarter lengthwise, then halfed crosswise, but I thought this might be a bit too visually repetitive, since I planned to serve another eggplant dish sliced lengthwise. I chose instead to use a rolling cut (mawashi-giri).

Nasushouga

I also made some dengaku-nasu, which I nearly lost to neglect. I roasted lengthwise-sliced halves of eggplant, then added a mirin-sugar-miso paste which is a classic topping for broiled tofu, called “dengaku-miso” or “neri-miso.” My dengaku-miso is usually smoother and thicker than it was tonight, so I was a little frustrated that it wanted to slide off of my eggplant. My broiler also cooked a little faster than I expected so I almost over-caramelized the topping.

Nasudinner

This was dinner… I added some tsukemono after I set everything out.

I prepared a small delivery to the Women of Color luncheon organized every 3 months or so by Assunta Ng. When I can, I have been providing some promotional giveaways and coupons for a gift bag that they offer to attendees.

Part of the day I was also trying to debug some stored procedures intended to help me quickly add multiple similar items to my online store. Due to various quirky little bugs, it turned out to be more distracting than immediately productive, but I know I need to do this work to simplify my life. I am not quite finished, but I’ve done enough work that it speeds up adding the metadata for the photos I’m putting up right now. Actually, though, I’m kind of debugging the code one addition at a time, so this particular batch may not be finished very quickly.

Quinoa

Quinoa is a miraculous thing… not exactly a grain, but nothing like a bean, it has a fairly high protein content, and serves well as a vegetarian main dish. It also looks almost alive when it’s cooking, as the germ starts making its way out of the seed.

I once served quinoa to a bunch of Japanese friends who were kind of afraid of the dish, because they watched the germ squirming out of the quinoa in a wormlike fashion. But they took to it instantly, as it was richly satisfying served with some bitter greens and mushrooms.

Tonight I made a not very exciting dish with quinoa, broccoli, confettied bell peppers, tomato, and onions. I stirred in a bunch of basil pesto, sans cheese, and served it with a little more pesto and harissa. I usually cook this with a bit of  vegetable soup stock, and lacking this, the dish suffered a bit and required more aggressive seasoning. I might have been able to use a lighter hand with the pesto had I a bit more complex of a base note.

Tonight’s dish looks a little bit like a 1970s vegetarian creation, but it did actually taste fairly nice. It did benefit from the harissa, though.

Quinoa dishQuinoa detail

Shall I be soapy?

A couple of days ago, I headed off to Shizuoka to meet with a soap supplier whose product I was interested in when I was last in Japan.

Although I'm very interested in the soap, I'm still trying to find a way to make it work financially, because their export price will make it hard to offer in a reasonable price range in the U.S. I think some retailers won't mind as long as people buy. The price will work out to be closer to the cosmetic soaps that they tend to sell in department stores. It's unique enough that this may not be a problem, but like many products I am interested in, developing the market may be very challenging and expensive. I suppose, however, if it weren't challenging, I wouldn't be interested... I started planning to leave my last job when it stopped being challenging. Still, I'd be much more comfortable with a price point that would be more compatible with US equivalent markets, and also avoid risk of parallel imports from individuals with friends back home...

I did a little bit of research on sources for a product a customer requested, which bore some fruit, so to speak. If I can establish a connection with the company in question, I may be able to get a much better price for a product of similar quality. At the same time, I found some other interesting products, though I am a little ambivalent about importing them.

Last night I met with Linda of Azuma Gallery, who invited me to join her and the daughter of her one-time host family at a print show and benefit. After the reception and viewing of the prints for sale, Linda rounded up some artists whose work she sells, and Hiromi joined us as we all went out for a light dinner and drinks, overwhelming the waitstaff and kitchen staff by suddenly appearing all at once in a group of 20.

Tomorrow I head off to Kyoto, which is now a slightly different trip than I had originally planned... it should be pleasant... I'll get to see a friend from college and another friend or two, and also have the chance to eat at Del Cook Cuisine de Nose, which is a French restaurant in a woodsy area near Osaka. I may try to do a little ceramics hunting, though the dealer layer will make that much more expensive than I'd like. I've had a few requests for some work that comes out of Kyoto, so I will hunt a bit.

And we're back...

I just returned home from the long return drive about an hour ago... The weather today was beautiful... I apparently was just a few hours too late to witness the results of the minor Mt. Saint Helens eruption today... still somewhere in Oregon when I heard about it.

The trip was mostly productive. I sold a fair amount of ceramics to a suitable spot, and got agreement for a chain of several other stores to carry the candy. The direct sales from this trip probably covered most of the expenses from this trip, and I established a couple of relationships that will probably have future benefits.

I'd write more, but I'm exhausted. I didn't consume any measurable amount of caffeine today, either.

Slammed

The weekend internet orders that had accumulated since Friday almost spiraled out of control. It’s relatively rare for me to get a lot of internet orders over a weekend, but last week had the advantage of coinciding with a new month. Over time, I’ve learned that I get a higher number of orders in the first half of each month than the last half. I’m not quite sure why that is.

Anyway, the car complications distracted me from filling orders, so I didn’t get any of the weekend orders out until today. I still have a few orders that date back more than 48 hours, which is my usual service standard. But I should be able to get everything under control by tomorrow, unless something insane happens.

I’m really happy with the upswing in traffic and orders on YuzuMura.com. I’m still not exactly sure what’s responsible for the upswing, but I hope it keeps working. I need it to roughly double to make it really pay for itself, though. And it’s already getting hard to keep up with, considering all of the other things I should be working on outside of YuzuMura.

If I knew that absolutely every day would be as busy as the last 7 days, I could actually hire some help. But I’m not quite there yet.

More fall foods: Chanterelle mushrooms

Chanterelles seem to be fairly plentiful right now… I got some on Sunday, thinking I got a deal, but the price seems to be even better today.

Mine were apparently locally-grown. Chantrelles always seem to have a fondness for butter, so of course I used some, and shallots, garlic, thyme and cream. I served them with spaghetti.

I don’t really use spaghetti all that often… for some reason, the ubiquity of spaghetti works against it for me, and I just never think of buying it. But a while back I got a strange craving for long pasta, and I bought some and used it a few times when I needed a quick lunch.

Chantrellepasta1

I thought today was going to be relatively light-duty, but it turned out busier than I expected. I took care of a bunch of things that have been suffering, but new tasks came in before I got very far. Tomorrow will be more eventful, because I have another very time-sensitive order and a long list of new internet orders that came in tonight.

Finally reached my yuzu guy

I finally got hold of my source for yuzu juice today. Apparently my previous communications were never received due to some changes in their corporate email systems. I was happy to find out I wasn’t being intentionally ignored. I should have called and pestered them earlier.

I’ve been having trouble getting in touch with them for quite a while. It’s rather frustrating, because I’ve had customers waiting for me to provide quotes for them… grr.

Now I feel a little relief. I hope the rest of it works out.

Salsa, visitors, art, YuzuMura

One of the things that happens to me when I make salsa is that it tends to be too much… I don’t really eat things involving tortillas every day. But when tomatoes are half-decent I have that inclination… Alas, I’m still working on the absurd quantity of mango salsa I produced a few days ago. I think the slightly over 2 cups that I produced is probably not that much to anyone who lives on the stuff, but when you don’t have any chips in the house it goes a long way… I’ve been making a lot of things involving cheese, tortillas, and some incarnation of beans, with occasional involvement of additional greens.

Anyway, I hope I can get over that soon. Starting tomorrow, Hiromi will be in town visiting Seattle for about 10 days, and we cannot live on tortillas and salsa alone.

Yesterday I saw Reggie Watts (of Maktub fame) perform at a “party” at the site of the SAM sculptural park. It appeared that he was highly under the influence of some sort of mellowing substance. I think the closest thing to clarity we came to seeing what the park would look like were from some wood-grain obfuscated images shown inside a 20 foot orange shipping container (not a gas chamber) at the site… but anyway, it was a pleasant excuse to socialize.

Last night I was up late debugging a problem with my website. I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before… but basically, the user experience was atrocious. If they selected an option to send the item as a gift, or any other general “order option” such as gift wrapping, it would appear to them that the whole ordering system was down. It turned out to be an error in the way a field in the database table behind the order options was defined. I thought I had done a quick run-through to test the feature, but I apparently missed something incredibly obvious. I should know better—I once was a software tester, after all, and I shouldn’t believe anything works without trying to break it—but I guess my priority these days is on rapid implementation, rather than testing. If it hadn’t been for a customer complaint, I don’t think I would have noticed it. It’s enough to make me remember the value of that kind of work…

I have been seeing a spike in telephone inquiries for products on YuzuMura.com of late. A few weeks ago, I started posting language in various places on the site that encourages people to call if they have questions. It seems to be resulting in some improvements in orders. I think I’ve processed almost as much in telephone orders this month as I had in internet orders in the particularly brutal months of February or March… The only problem is that my process for handling phone orders is tediously manual.

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