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.

and we're back

I’m not completely up and running again, but I got my replacement hard drive for my laptop installed and the OS is back up… now I have to install all the stuff I used to have and try to recover as much of the data of the old drive as possible.

I bought a USB device that’s supposed to allow me to plug in the old hard drive and use it as an external device… I suppose that’ll work until the old one is completely dead, though it didn’t arrive with the hard drive itself. Or rather, FedEx seemed unaware of it when I went down to their sort facility to pick it up, and the tracking number from Buy.com was useless.

Tomorrow I’ll try posting some food from the weekend.

Kabocha cheese okonomiyaki, and a holiday tree

My vegetarian variations of okonomiyaki are necessarily limited, but Hiromi and I decided to make okonomiyaki for dinner today, and we happened to have a nice kabocha on hand at home.

I stole this idea from a serviceable but unremarkable (save for the cheap drinks) okonomiyaki chain in Japan. This okonomiyaki variation features thin slices of kabocha in the cabbage and batter mixture, and some pureed steamed squash added after both sides of the okonomiyaki have browned.

It’s topped with some cheese (I used some good gruyere, but ambiguous white processed cheese would be more likely in Japan), and the usual mayonnaise and okonomi sauce.

Kabocha cheese okonomiyaki

The sweetness from the kabocha makes this a pleasant but relatively mild-flavored variation of okonomiyaki.

Neither Hiromi or I have any religious reason to celebrate Christmas, but in Japan Christmas is a purely secular event, partly an excuse for fancy meals and hotel packages. For me, it’s part of an annual family reunion of sorts, but mainly a chance to wind down after difficult work schedules.

In the U.S., I haven’t usually decorated for any holiday, but Hiromi thought it would be fun to set up a tree this year.

We found a reasonably healthy, apartment-sized “living holiday tree” at Target, though we originally went there for accoutrements, expecting to pick a cut tree somewhere else. This small potted tree should be able to survive under my neglect out on my balcony after the holiday season passes, because our climate favors evergreens.

Jason and Hiromi's Holiday tree

We decorated the tree with some lights, ribbon and ball ornaments we picked up at the same time, and I extracted the ornaments collected during my childhood from storage.

Since we got a small tree, the huge satin ornaments I had from my childhood didn’t quite match the scale of our youthful tree, and the other small ornaments I had tended to be too heavy for our tender branches. But I found a couple of pieces that still worked.

I can’t quite remember where it came from, but this walnut-backed ornament was made by a family member when I was young. I wasn’t much of a baseball player, so it was probably a distant relative, but it’s still somehow cute.


Tax season

Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised that my taxes went a little more quickly this year than last year… I guess I understood the stuff a little better. The business schedule is fairly tedious, and the instructions are rather bewildering to parse, but somehow I figured it out.

However, I’m pretty sure that next year I’ll need a real accountant. The list of numbers to keep track of is just getting too long.

I face a lot of buy-vs.-build or pay-for-help vs. do-it-yourself decisions for which the correct answer is not entirely obvious… in theory, I should pay for help for things that are not part of my core business, but I sometimes feel tempted to do it myself when I have the skills. For example, I’m not running a technology company but I frequently debate with myself whether I should pay for someone else to do my web design and storefront work, and often find myself doing it because it’s not that difficult for me to understand, even if it can be terribly time consuming.

But I think that I don’t have much of an excuse for doing my taxes myself. I can’t possibly keep track of all of the rules and exceptions related to preparing taxes, and I don’t have much to gain from doing it myself except for moderate cost savings. Yet I’ve hung on to the habit of handling the work on my own… Am I stubborn, foolish, or something else?

Ceramics shipment arrived!

I need to busily photograph and inventory my ceramics shipment. 9 boxes, around 130 kilos, and hundreds of pieces to sort through...

It's hard to tell right now but I think everything arrived intact. One of the boxes seemed a little overstuffed, but everything else seemed like it was packed by a potter.

Today I just want to make a dent in my web application for the online store, and in the morning tomorrow I need to run a few errands... finally commit to some continuous lighting solution and take care of some other small things.

Insanity, sado, comfort food

I don’t know how I got so busy today, but a huge number of Internet orders came in last night, and I also had to rush off an order to a special event on the East Coast. A company picked up my green tea white chocolate enrobed fortune cookies (made with matcha) for a film premiere.

It didn’t help that I had a bit of an office supply shortage. Yesterday I ran out of ordinary paper and started printing invoices and shipping labels on bright yellow paper. This meant that at some point today I also needed to make a trip to get more paper.

After making my final dropoff, I met up with a friend who is attending classes with Urasenke Seattle, and I played the role of clueless guest at one of their Thursday night classes. In Japan I usually consumed matcha in tea shops, not tea ceremony, so I have a lot to learn even just to be a properly dignified guest. Fortunately, the instructors are both patient and informative. Since I had a fresh batch of cookies, I left some behind for other people to enjoy.

Of course, I got home quite late, and dinner was ready around 9:30 pm. I was in the mood for comfort food, though I suppose something Spanish would have been appropriate considering the hour.

I made a quick macaroni and cheese, using pennette instead of elbow macaroni, and topped with buttered panko. I snuck a little bit of wasabi in there because I was out of regular horseradish.

Mac & cheese out of the oven

Mac & cheese plated

Japanese-Indian, French pastries, and comfort food

I spent most of the day writing email messages to various companies, and responding to a couple of incoming messages. I occasionally took short breaks to finish reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s book, It must have been something I ate. I actually read more than half of it on the airplane ride over to Japan, but I’ve only been reading a chapter here and there since I hit the ground. I usually enjoy reading about other foodies’ adventures and idiosyncrasies. Of course, I can’t believe he wrote an article about espresso without visiting Vivace’s in Seattle; David Schomer’s obsession with the technical minutiae of the ideal espresso would have been the perfect supplement to Steingarten’s haphazard experimental efforts.

The weather was a little less pleasant today, so I didn’t really look forward to stepping out for lunch. I ducked into a little “curry-ya-san” that is slightly more Indian than the usual Japanese roux-thickened interpretations but still catering to mainstream Japanese tastes. I had a dish of dal, some ambiguous vegetable curry with potatoes and disintegrated greens, an egg, and pickles with a little rice and nan. Everything was sort of the quality that you would expect from a buffet in an Indian restaurant in the U.S., by which I mean edible and more pleasant than the average fast food chain but not particularly special.

In the early evening I wandered around and found a café in Lumine that was offering a mille feuille pastry with strawberries and a custard cream, so I stopped there and had a 600 yen serving of the cake and a 400 yen espresso.

My friend offered to make a vegetarian version of nikujaga, which is normally a beef and potato stew a la japonaise, for dinner tonight, so this is the first day I’m neither cooking nor am I eating restaurant fare for dinner. With a limited kitchen, a one-pot meal is a pretty good idea, and it’s a little cold today, so it was comforting.

Some days are just busywork

Until I shipped off today’s internet orders, I didn’t do anything particularly sociable, but after finishing most of my work I stopped at Floating Leaves and chatted a bit with Shiuwen.

Tomorrow I still have some catch-up work to do…

I've got the FDA Inspection, not sure when I'll get my candy blues

I've just been informed that the FDA will inspect my candy shipment; I'm not yet sure when they'll schedule the sampling. I have no worries about the shipment passing sampling inspections, since the FDA did this before on a small FedEx shipment I received a couple of months ago. What I'm worried about is when my cargo will be released. Since the FDA is under no obligation to accommodate my schedule, and since the new anti-terror legislation makes the inspectors especially busy, I may be in for a long wait.

As a contingency plan for the festival, I'll still display the tiny number of samples I've got and offer to take orders and offer free or cheap shipping, but then shift most of the booth layout to focus on the ceramics maybe Eugene Levy's tea. It's also possible the second shipment, due to arrive in the morning, will clear earlier, and then I'll just be missing the bigger gift boxes and the sampling tubes.

Not yet that sane

I was doing the usual sampling at Beaverton and Bellevue this weekend... Beaverton went reasonably well, with a high sampling-to-buying ratio; Bellevue was a little slower but sales picked up as I was about to give up for the day. One guy who bought several boxes last time I saw him picked up another big box today. I'm happy to have that kind of customer.

Hiromi discovered a unique "pillow" when acting as a tour guide for one of our mutual colleagues.

This is probably not something for my import company, since I tend, to my detriment, to focus on slightly more high-brow items, but someone would probably appreciate it if I did bring it in... Called "hiza-makura" (hiza means falling asleep in someone's lap, makura means pillow), I guess it's designed for a special kind of man. If nothing else, this pillow seems to have the "dirty old man" or ojisan market locked up. Cost: about $90 (retail). 


I'm likely to be incommunicado on the web journal for an extended period, as I prepare for Mr. Wong's visit and try to solve some irritating issues I'm facing. But I'll do my best to report what's going on during the tour.

Eating Italian in Japan; where else?

Today I met with a representative from a company that makes yuzu drink “marmalades” in Korea and we talked for a couple of hours about products and selling strategies. Actually I can get customized labels and even packaging, so that will be beneficial. Prices seemed ok, but I don’t have much to compare against.

It turns out I can also get a customized drink product created to my specifications, and if I can do that, I could introduce a product very compatible with my company name and pretty distinctive in the US market. I thought this was pretty cool. The turnaround time could be pretty fast: one or two months.

This representative took me to a Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki place opposite Starbucks in an area on the west side of Shinjuku station, and we had a simple lunch followed by coffee. I had appreciated our previous conversation at FoodEx but actually this discussion made me more likely to work with his company, since they seem to have more options for product development than I expected and pricing could be quite reasonable.

I contacted Yamato Transport’s Seattle office by telephone and talked with them about their shipping logistics services and pricing. They should be able to provide pretty simple support for my ceramics shipments from Mashiko, so that made me happy. They can of course also do shipments from Hong Kong, Taipei and Korea.

Today I also got responses from almost all of the companies that I have been waiting on, including the Taiwanese tea company and the soap company. So now I just need to meet with the companies I can see while still in Japan, make a few more logistics arrangements and I can go back well-armed with a product line and a lot of samples for demonstration. I’ll also go back to Mashiko to make a few small orders. I guess the next step is sales… That’s the scary part for me…

I tried to find a way to reach a couple of companies I expect to be dealing with in the US but was reduced to using their online feedback forms. I don’t expect much to come out of that, but I’ll have a better chance of getting to the buyers when I can go and knock on their doors back home.

For dinner I went to La Manina, an Italian restaurant on the top of Takashimaya in the area south of Shinjuku station. It’s very corporate and large and dramatic, but has pretty decent food, so I’ve been there on several business trips in Japan. I broke one of my own rules and we ordered some tomato-based appetizer in March… and we had pizza with pesto Genovese and mozzarella, and nice gnocchi with a gorgonzola sauce. After dinner I had a limoncello digestif and my friend ordered flaming Sambuca anisette with a few coffee beans floating on top.

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