Refine tag filters

Listing posts

Tagliatelle with tomato-basil cream sauce

jason

tomatobasilcream 007

I've gotten busy the last couple of weeks... I was so tired after my day job on Wednesday that I ended up eating out with a friend downtown just to make my late return home a little more relaxing. Thursday I had my usual Japanese Meetup, and since this week is one of the three weeks of the Seattle International Film Festival, a few of us went to watch a Japanese film afterward.

This week I also learned that what I thought was just a severe foot sprain caused by my own clumsiness a few weeks ago also decidedly involved a couple of small fractures in my foot. That means that I'll be wearing a clunky medical support boot for another few weeks. The initial X-ray a couple weeks back was inconclusive, but it was so obvious even I could see it on the follow-up. Thanks to that, and thanks to some ambiguity on another one of my left foot's bones, I also had a CAT scan on Thursday, and I'll hear back sometime Monday if it's anything more severe or if I can just continue relying on the ugly boot.

Friday night I got home late, too, and tried to keep dinner simple. I wasn't in the mood for complications today, either; I did go to another Japanese film this morning, this time on my own. I was feeling a bit under the weather after doing some vegetable shopping at the Pike Place Market, so I just made a simple pasta dish, along with a side dish of baked egg with porcini mushrooms and vegetables.

One of my go-to pasta dishes when I'm being lazy is whatever pasta is on hand served with a simple tomato-basil cream sauce. It's completely unhealthy, but it's always satisfying: Butter, cream, garlic, concentrated tomato puree, parmesan, and a little salt make a nice sauce, especially when the final dish is served topped with chiffonade of basil and a little pepper.

Since such simple dishes only require a few minutes of attention, I didn't need to struggle much to get dinner on the table.

I'm keeping a low profile tonight... I hope to catch up on some long neglected things on my task list tomorrow.

Supporting my habit

jason

Cary Tennis: "Your music does not have to support you. In fact, your music might be happier if you were supporting it."

Poignant.

I remember when I started thinking about working in software again, sometime approaching the middle of 2005. I was watching my bank balance shrink and my debt load increase even though my business was starting to see a predictable revenue stream.

My passions and my bank account weren't quite aligned. At that point I had realized I started with too little money, and I knew I had made some early mistakes with my wholesale line of business...  not least of which was having a wholesale business, when my objective was to sell products with compelling origin stories, rather than catering to the risk aversion of retail buyers and merchandising managers.

Hiromi advised against caving in and taking a day job so soon, although my rational faculties were fully aware of the inevitability of needing to supplement my income.

I was happy when I finally saw a project come along that matched my technical interests and personal idiosyncrasies back in the winter of 2005. Although I was a little disappointed that I couldn't devote myself full-time to YuzuMura.com for the time being, I quickly learned to appreciate the freedom to go out to dinner with friends again without worrying about making the rent.

Although it's been a quiet year and a half in terms of developing my business, I've settled into a satisfying rhythm of solving challenging technical problems in the daytime, coming home and taking care of the logistics of a small business, and having the financial freedom to be a bit more self-indulgent than I was two or three years ago. My passions for travel, food, and craft have actually gotten more attention (particularly the first two) since I've had more disposable income again.

Surprisingly, I found that I was better at the software stuff than I was several years back, even though I was theoretically out of practice.

I remember a sleazy-but-well-dressed "Career Consultant" in a fancy downtown Seattle office, who had a low pressure pitch and a high pressure close, trying to sell me on repackaging myself for higher-paying jobs. For a fee, of course.

It was a weak moment for me... When his office called me, I knew I wanted to leave Microsoft, but I also knew I needed to escape the industry for a while and I had other passions I wanted to explore. I almost bought into it.

When I told him I really wanted to get out of software and either run a restaurant or start a business that indulged my passions for food and travel, Mr. Career Consultant told me, in roughly so many words, that I could be committing career suicide if I left the field for two years. (He also told me I'd never leave Microsoft, but I know it was just part of the act when he turned up the pressure).

What he said wasn't true, of course... Smart software companies hire capable people, not just resumes... but I was surprised and delighted to discover that I actually liked the work again. I was even happier to discover that being less emotionally attached to my status, or my career, made it possible for me just to "work the problem" and not only deliver value to my employer but also to enjoy most every day at work... something that wasn't happening at all in my last 18 months as a full-time Microsoft employee.

Although I haven't had as much time or energy to invest in my business as I'd like, I've actually had the financial resources to let it slowly grow, instead of having to cut my early losses and run.

Letting my work support my work has been surprisingly liberating. I make decisions for me, rather than trying to chase after small rewards in service of short term urgencies.

I know I'd have done things a lot differently, faced with the same decisions all over again, if I had the last three years of experience and my bank account of 3 years ago... lessons learned, but I'm not living 3 years ago. I'm just building on what I've got now.

Doing both my work and someone else's work makes it easier to wake up every day... Sometimes it's harder to sleep, but I can guarantee that I'll have something to look forward to the next day. Maybe it will be the joy of solving some esoteric technical problem. Perhaps I'll hear from a customer delighted to find something she never expected, all because of my little web store. Maybe it will be the more base pleasure of being able to spend a few dollars on a good pastry and a coffee without feeling accounting guilt. Maybe it'll be that little trip I'll take to Asia in a few days that's part business, part leisure, part love... and entirely in my own hands.

 

Dinner and a movie: a date with myself

jason

Friday I finished work at my survival gig late, as I had been trying to partially make up for time lost Tuesday, when the ice made car travel to the Eastside ill-advised. Fortunately, I finally got everything I had planned for the week done.

I was a little worried because one of the projects I’ve been working on, which was messy and complex when I started working on it, has been a real bear to clean up, and every inch of progress was fraught with new complications. Now things are almost pretty, and I can move on to other work.

Anyway, I felt this urge to do something interesting, and it was a little late to start cooking, so I went to a downtown-ish restaurant hoping to have some interesting nibbles. Suffice to say the experience was unremarkable; the interior was pretty, but the cocktail I drank had a top note much like the aftertaste of an artificial sweetener, the little appetizer that I ate was forgettable, and the only redeeming feature of the meal was a simple but reasonably well-executed dish with green beans and tofu. The front of house staff were pleasant even though I probably looked excessively serious and maybe even slightly dour when I arrived.

I left the restaurant slightly poorer and smelling loudly of garlic.

Initially, I thought I’d just go home after that, but I had a sudden urge to see a film. So I was turning my evening into half a date… the kind without a partner in crime… it might be pathetic if I were a more sympathetic character.

I didn’t do any advance research, but I settled on Babel, which I think I had heard a bit about on Ebert & Roeper sans Ebert last weekend.

For a Friday night, the film was Somewhat lightly attended. I suspect the whole parallel timelines thing is a hard sell for “date night.” Some of the online reviews I’ve seen since watching the film complain it is a poor variation on Crash, but I think that’s a bit myopic… The device of parallel timelines with scripted coincidences has been used in movies like the 1989 Mystery Train and the Tarantino “tributes” to that style, such as Four Rooms. It’s not like Crash invented that device. Crash and Babel are similar only in the sense that they are melodramatic rather than quirky in style.

Compared to Crash, Babel’s premise is far less heavy-handed, though perhaps similarly didactic. It is built on vignettes illustrating alienation, inhumanity, self-centeredness (both sympathetic and not), and occasionally, sacrifice.

The premise of the film, apparently, is that small tragedies needn’t explode into fiascos if we would, in the heat of the moment, stop a moment and listen to each other, rather than just reacting with some kind of misguided self-preservation impulse and escalating the small misunderstandings that result from our hasty judgments. That’s a complex premise, which might in itself be a weakness, but it would be unfair to the film to oversimplify the message. This isn’t some sort of goofy “if we all just communicate better we’ll achieve world peace” hippy idealism.

None of the tragedies in the film would be less tragic with less miscommunication, but perhaps such tragedies would not become such fiascos. And that’s essentially the message… Like most films with a message, the success or failure of the film is how much it draws you in and connects you with the characters. On that regard, it’s a successful film. It’s hard to build two complex characters into a film, and it’s amazing to build no fewer than 4 fully developed, evolving personalities into a film.

The most impressive achievement of this film is its sensitive portrayal of universal conflicts set in several complex cultural contexts, without devolving into some caricature of those cultures. Two preteen boys in Morocco play out predictable sibling rivalries, and do exactly what you’d expect them to do when handed a gun… and their behavior is not some canned stereotype of a Moroccan family, but a believable portrayal of the dynamic relationships between people in circumstances that escalate from ordinary to extreme.

Chieko illustrates classic coming-of-age dramas in the context of urban alienation, a handicap, and a complex family story. She’s starved for affection, detached from the world and yet wishes for nothing more but to be a part of it, and simultaneously suffers from feelings of guilt related to her mother’s suicide. She acts out in nearly tragic ways and yet is treated with great sympathy.

The scenes in Mexico are simultaneously unlikely and believable portrayal of a rural, poor family, and the implicit trust the children have for their caretaker even when she’s exercising terribly poor judgment, is fascinating and full of contradiction.

Brad Pitt’s character as a loving but somehow fatefully inadequate husband is more complex than at first glance, and avoids the trap of dwelling on the troubles in their relationship while still completely integrating that backstory into every gesture the two characters make.

It might be a bit overblown to tie together all of terrorism, sibling rivalry, the trials of coming of age, immigration, marriage troubles, the emotionally unavailable father dynamic, racism and fear of Islam.

Outside of the world of this film, it’s clear that policial forces that create hysteria around terrorism have other causes beyond poor communication; in that case, anyway, communication problems are a result, rather than a cause, of the execution of a tragic political agenda. And I wouldn’t buy that poor communication is the underlying cause of most of the other social problems examined in the film; it’s merely a catalyst of further alienation and inhumanity.

But perhaps that is the key theme… this film is not pretending to articulate a solution for all of the problems of  contemporary world politics, interpersonal relationships, and everything else, but perhaps a small examination of one of the fuels of human tragedy.

The acting is almost without exception above par, even the otherwise rarely nuanced Brad Pitt. It’s not a great movie, but it’s certainly a good one. I know that the end-of-year release is calculated primarily to extend the film’s theatrical life on hopes of the “Oscar effect”, but if it does win for cinematography, director, or a supporting acting role, it wouldn’t be undeserved.

(Trailer)

Seattle goes ice skating

jason

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.

Better living through caffeinistry

jason

On Tuesday the kitchenette in my building where I do my little survival gig was taped off like a crime scene or city excavation project, marked with the word “Danger”. I’m not sure what was dangerous, but perhaps the “Farmer Bros.” branded coffee equipment being removed, which I lived in fear of during my 7 year tenure as a full-time employee of this company, contained toxic waste.

Walking down the halls was strangely quiet yesterday. I doubt there was any correlation between the the lack of coffee and the unusually languid vibe , but when I arrived this morning I noticed a substantially greater amount of noise, including more animated office conversations.

This new energy may have been directly traceable to particularly high doses of caffeine caused by people trying out the new Starbucks equipment.

Though the coffee itself is still mediocre, the ground-to-order brew is vastly superior to what it replaced, and the excessively roasted brew can be muted with a splash of milk. There was no hiding the stale flavor and hostile acidity of the predecessor.

Until everyone gets caffeine overload, I suspect the atmosphere at work will be unusually frenetic…

Maybe sugar will help

jason

A couple weeks ago, Hiromi got a job offer that was hard to pass up, back with her old team, and decided to go back to Japan, even though it complicates a few things… She had informally extended her unpaid internship at a quirky Seattle-based mobile phone software company, and planned to start school again in January… Hopefully the sudden change will not make her next visit in December too messy when she goes through passport control.

The post-9/11 security rules make going “out of status” (including unplanned changes) on a student visa particularly subject to scrutiny.

After a long period of having a roommate last year, and the almost continuous presence of Hiromi this year, coming home to a completely empty home is very strange. I couldn’t sleep very well the last four or five nights, as my mind and body adjust to unfamiliar circumstances. When I’m traveling, I don’t have this problem, but at home, my mind is not at ease when new stressors enter my life.

Though I’ve been eating particularly lightly and suffering from a bit of stomach irritation the last few days, I just remembered how nice this key lime meringue pie tasted…

Key lime meringue

It has been languishing, almost forgotten in my archives, from around the time Hiromi went out of town for a few days late in the summer. The meringues weren’t so pretty, but the lime curd was great. I think this might have been my first or second attempt at key lime curd. I really don’t want to over-indulge in sugar right now… my waistline has expanded over the last few months and I’m not very happy about that… Increased commute time and more eating out than average since September has puffed me up a bit.

The crust was decent, though it looks a little sad in the photo… more crispy-crumbly than crispy-flaky, it was neither a great example of an American pie crust nor a pate sucree. But it did wonders for the meringue, which likes to sabotage the crispness of pie crust; the crust stood up to the curd and retained a pleasant crispness.

Last reminders of summer

jason

My absence of late is thanks primarily to excessive exhaustion… My new old commute has been draining. In fact, the traffic between Redmond and Seattle seems decidedly more painful than it was a couple years back…

But 2004 was a painful year in the digital economy, and I know some substantial hiring has gone on in the Eastside since then.

At the end of the day, I have rarely had much energy to take photos of dinner or write about the growth of YuzuMura.com. I have a few photos that were stashed on my camera’s memory card, but they’re all reminders of the peak of summer.

Tomato

These were some heirloom tomatoes we bought from Sosio’s in the Pike Place Market… one day we got an incredible deal on seconds, and I made 4 quarts (a shy 4 liters) of really dangerously sweet and flavorful tomato sauce with minimal handling… just basil, garlic, a little wine, olive oil…

But we also made some insalata caprese…

Insalata caprese

And a spread particularly suited for a potato rosemary focaccia, made with cannelini beans, garlic, and olive oil, topped with some tiny heirloom tomatoes.

Cannelini-mini-heirloom-tomato

Hiromi’s parents actually came to visit for a couple of weeks recently. Her father professes a distaste for tomatoes, but I suspect this is due to the flavorlessness of Japanese supermarket tomatoes (which pretty much match the flavorlessness of US supermarket tomatoes); he reliably took several helpings of almost any tomato dish I served.

We only have another week or two left to get decent tomatoes in Seattle, but we’re lucky, as the season is pretty much over in the rest of the country…

A smooth transition

jason

I’ve just got a couple of days left at Revenue Science, where I’m furiously finishing up some test automation code. It’s been rough going for the last few weeks, as I’m not very Java-savvy.

I’ve been trying to build tests with the help of a framework called jUnit, which required me to reacquaint myself with a set of libraries from a framework that I haven’t really used in about 8 years, and do things that are simple, familiar idioms in other programming environments I’ve used, but are done so differently in Java as to be almost alien to me.

Anyway, I’m pleased that, after a few painful hurdles, progress has since been increasingly smooth and rapid. I even made some tweaks in the build system, called Ant, today that affect the entire product build… I wouldn’t have been brave enough to consider just a week ago, though I did arrange for a quick sanity check from someone else who knows that stuff better to me.

Conveniently enough, I have a new project starting next week. It turns out to be in a discipline quite outside of my usual domain, but probably rewarding enough. I’ve never been an SDET, formally speaking anyway, so this will be a bit new to me. Ironically, it means that I’ll be working not far from my old office for a while, as the position is a contract gig for an MSN project.

I get a couple of days off midweek next week, which I should spend taking care of some tasks related to YuzuMura.com and maybe give myself some time to regain my sanity.

That survival gig

jason

At Revenue Science, where I’ve been doing my “pay my bills” job while slowly building YuzuMura.com, we recently shipped the product to our Japanese partner. Today one of my coworkers passed around an email from our main contact at the Japanese company, complimenting us on the quality of our understanding of Japanese software issues. I was very happy to hear that, since that was why I was brought in on the project.

I have a few weeks left on the project to focus on automating some tests, and then I need to figure out what to do next. Based on my financial projections, it looks like I will still need to find an additional software gig for the next 6–12 months. I’m hoping to find something similarly focused on making software work with other languages, since that’s where I’m most useful and what gets me most excited. If it weren’t for the international impact of my work, I wouldn’t have stayed at Microsoft for seven years.

Making difficult decisions, pressing the pause button

jason

Over the last two years, I invested a substantial amount of money trying to build a market for one of my signature products, Dragon Beard Candy, from Bamboo Garden.

Other than Japanese ceramics, it was the first big product that I started with, so I have a pretty strong attachment to it. I want to continue to invest in the Dragon Beard Candy, but I analyzed the last two years of sales and trends over the last couple of months and I realized that it doesn’t make much sense to throw more money at the product during the summer months, when sales are not quite as vigorous as in the fall and winter. I also don’t have the time to fully invest in promoting it right now, as I’m trying to build up more resources before the next holiday season.

There’s only about a 3.5–4 month shelf life from the time I receive it from the manufacturer on average, so I tend to import very modest amounts because I’d rather run out than throw it away or give it away.

Fuel costs went sky-high over the last year, so my freight costs have made wholesale sales of that product, which really needs to be shipped by air, almost without value, and I just got another notification from my freight vendor that air freight fuel surcharges went up again. I have been emphasizing retail sales on my web site more this year partially for that reason, as the margins on the web site make profitability more attainable.

Unfortunately, there’s just not that much value in selling the product in the summertime, unless I do more large-scale corporate gift sales… Of course, those orders tend to cluster around the holidays, as well.

I don’t expect the fuel costs to get better, but I want to assign my resources toward some new products this summer, so about a week or so ago I clearance priced the last little bit of candy I have from my spring shipment.

I plan to pick up a few other products that I’ve had in the back of my mind for the last few months… some Japanese snacks, some more gifty stuff, and maybe a few other unexpected things. I’ll pick up the dragon beard candy again when appropriate holidays are approaching, starting around September. That’ll coincide with the Chinese mid-Autumn festival, sometimes called the Moon Festival in the U.S. For the last two years, that’s when sales for the product really started picking up. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and to a lesser extent, Chinese New Year also drive a lot of sales.

I also think it’s more compelling as a special occasion product, with limited availability. When I was at FoodEx this year, I started thinking that I might shift into selling a few featured products and only offer them until I run out… It would let me feature a wider variety of interesting products, and of course, I could always revisit a product that turns out to have particularly enduring demand.

Kyou no Thema ha, Kabocha Desu!

jason

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.

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

jason

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.

What my birthday week was like

jason

I started a contracting gig on Monday at Revenue Science, which has an advertising platform that focuses on targeting behaviors rather than demographics or keywords alone. I ended up choosing the project which would be a little more challenging for a bit less money, favoring a shorter commute and a less familiar environment. I’m mostly responsible for driving international quality for an upcoming release that needs to support the needs of a Japanese internet advertising consortium… That’s about all I can reveal for now, but I got off to a half-decent start.

While getting settled, I also needed to hurriedly fill a bunch of wholesale, corporate gift, and internet orders, most of which are for Christmas… This often kept me up quite late at night. This week it also meant I had a few late starts because I couldn’t always finish everything at night and had to cram some things in first thing in the morning.

On Wednesday morning, Hiromi arrived from Japan, and I picked her up from the airport and tried to squeeze a quick lunch with her in before going to Bellevue for a meeting, and I took care of more orders before subjecting her to more errands I needed to undertake. We didn’t get home until around 8pm, so on our way back, we stopped at Hiroki to obtain some semblence of birthday cake.

I tried to prepare a simple dinner both to enjoy our first night together and to celebrate my birthday. So I made a few quiet dishes.

Wilted Spinach Salad

Wilted spinach and almond salad

Toasted almond slivers, some sauteed onions and some artisanal American Farmstead cheese accompany this olive-oil wilted spinach salad, drizzled with some 12 year-old Balsamic vinegar.

Gruyered Roasted Potatoes

Gruyered roasted potatoes

I rarely tire of variations of roasted potatoes, and this cave-aged gruyere added a nice raclette-like quality to my baked slices of potatoes.

Masoor Daal

Daal

A simple version of masoor daal, simply boiled until soft and then seasoned with a ghee chaunk with cumin, garam masala, and chilies (maybe a few other things; it’s been a few days).

Canoe Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Canoe ridge cabernet

We had a little wine from Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Birthday Cake, Sans Candle

Birthday cake

After dinner, Hiromi and I devoured the Espresso Hazelnut Torte and a cassis mousse with chocolate supplied by Hiroki.

We didn’t spend much time preparing dinner, but the food was simple and pleasant. On Friday night, we joined some other friends at Brasa for nibbles, cocktails and wine, which gave us a more sociable outlet for my birthday celebration, if a couple of days past… actually, it was the only really relaxed moment this week, because I managed to forcibly avoid thinking about work or business… though, of course, I darted out of the restaurant when a customer inquiry phone call came…

Alas, both Hiromi and I have been dining out this week more than would normally be reasonable. I had a few lunches with my new coworkers, and sometimes I’ve grabbed something quick just to avoid late night cooking. I usually don’t mind cooking late at night, but when I’m harried and it’s already approaching 9pm and not quite ready to go home, it’s hard to imagine squeezing in some shopping

We didn’t even notice we were out of breakfast fixings this morning until it was too late, and some of my almost last-minute FedEx 2–Day Christmas orders were constrained by our need to obtain food, which was, today anyway, supplied by Fresh Flours, rather than me.