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.

A short hop to Hong Kong

I experienced some laptop trouble as I was hitting Hong Kong and I wasn’t able to get the machine to boot. I finally got it to successfully pass the initial POST tonight, just as I’ve arrived in Tokyo. I may have limited connectivity should my machine go down again, but below I’ve posted the entry I was writing as I was approaching Hong Kong March 2/3.

Last year around this time I was sitting aboard an aircraft bound to Tokyo for FoodEx, just starting out my journey as a struggling entrepreneur.

Once more I am headed to Asia, this time with slightly more carefully defined goals, a tighter schedule, and a much more cautious budget.

I spent the last few days trying to cram in a never-ending list of essential errands, some of which I had been neglecting for far too long. The night before my trip I didn’t get a wink of sleep, as I worked solidly until about 4:30 am, just enough time to get out of the shower as the airport shuttle was arriving.

My financial resources are tight this trip, owing to huge amounts of accounts receivable not yet arrived, a little oversupply of inventory in a lull between holidays, and a few accounts payable.

It’s a really nerve-wracking period. I hope to get some more support from my supplier, and then I intend to establish a couple of new relationships when I get to FoodEx that will let me launch a couple of my own signature products. I’ve been keeping a couple of ideas on the back burner for a long time due to cost concerns, but I’ve been examining the business models more carefully recently, and I think they are more achievable than I previously gave them credit for.

I plan to finalize an order for some less financially risky products as well, including some fruit teas from Korea, which I should resolve next week if all goes well. Long shelf life and pricing that is less scary for retailers should make it easier to build up my revenue streams.

On the more trivial side, I’ve learned that the best way to get an edible vegetarian meal on United Airlines is to request a Hindu meal. It’s not exactly haute cuisine, but about as good as you could expect from microwaveable trays; the dishes turned out more flavorful than is usual for airplane food, since they used at least some hint of spices. The rather amusingly misrepresented silver dollar sized “naan bread” was pretty pitiful: stale and refrigerated, as is customary for airline bread; the heavily preservative-treated conditioner-filled bread was essentially the same as supermarket bread. One of my major annoyances with the “lacto ovo vegetarian” meals on airlines is that for some reason they seem to think that a dairy-and-egg consuming vegetarian would much rather have hydrogenated-fat-laden margarine than butter. This leads to including things like inedible packaged vegan cookies and, well, inedible margarine, in the mealservice. Paneer cheese made an appearance in the first and last meals of the flight, and one of the vaguely south Asian sweets had the good sense to be made with butter.

 

Fujiya Hotel at Oowani Onsen, Aomori

After our cherry blossom viewing, we retired to Oowani Onsen to rest a bit, with the overly ambitious intention of returning to Hirosaki for night time cherry blossom viewing.

Fujiya Hotel has insanely roomy washitsu, or Japanese style rooms. The washitsu, which features tatami flooring, consists of a large dual-purpose room and a smaller one that might sleep a couple of children. But wait, there was more! For those who don't love Japanese-style bedding, or for particularly large parties, two twin beds are available in another chamber off the hallway.

We felt like we could live there... it was probably slightly larger than the weekly apartment where we were staying in Tokyo, and that was one of the roomiest places I've ever rented in Tokyo.

We chose to have a late dinner after a long bath. Both the men's and women's bath offer rotenburo, but the water wasn't especially warm, and it was more comfortable to bathe inside. They also had a sauna room, which I stepped into briefly before realizing I should have taken off my glasses first... I popped into the cold water for a bit and started turning my attention to dinner.

Menu

Fujiya Hotel Menu, Onsen hotel in Aomori

We ate in the hotel's dining room, which meant dinner was a little less intimate, but close to the kitchen, allowing for some surprisingly fresh, well-made food.

This menu reflects Hiromi's meal, and closely parallels my pleasingly customized one. Although

Grilled bamboo shoots

Grilled takenoko, bamboo shoots 

It's springtime, and I had a lot of fantastic grilled bamboo shoot dishes on this trip. But this was far and away the most visually dramatic, and one of the best tasting. I think it's seasoned with little more than salt and soy sauce and perhaps a hint of butter. I really enjoyed it and will be longing for this simple, elegant dish until I can find my way to Japan in springtime again.

The bamboo sprout's skin also decorated a dish made with soramame (fava beans) and potatoes.

Mango puree with shrimp

Mango puree with shrimp

This was Hiromi's, and at first I was a little bit jealous, but eventually my own version served with shibazuke instead of shrimp came. I can't say I've ever seen mango on the menu at a Japanese inn...

O-Sake

Joppari sake (stubborn sake!)

Apparently this sake's name, joppari, means stubborn, which fascinated Hiromi so much that she had to try it. It also happens to have a pleasingly complex flavor, even as it drinks rather smoothly.

Yakimono on urushi

Yakimono

This fish-like fillet for Hiromi is actually kabocha atop ham and cheese, with a few pine nuts. I believe it was served with a grilled scallop and a carved vegetable.

Aemono

Blanched and dressed with gomadare, sesame sauce.

Zenmai

Zenmai

More mountain vegetables, in a simple but pretty ohitashi.

Salad

Another example of Aomori-ken's fascinnation with Western food, this salad featured mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cheese, and a fairly intense vinaigrette.

Terrine

Hiromi's featured youshoku dish, featuring cooked and cured ham and mint, koku no mi (the red berry sometimes put on top of okayu) or capers. 

Wagyuu

Wagyuu

Hiromi also has a grilled wagyuu dish featuring local beef, cooked on a ceramic plate over a small flame.

Kiritampo nabe

Kiritampo nabe

In place of the beef, I have another variation of that northern Japanese specialty, kiri-tampo. This is a simple kiritampo nabe, or hot pot dish. Since I can't have this in the US very easily, I'm pleased to have another chance to taste it.

Oh, and a very nice chawan-mushi, or savory egg custard, arrived at just about the same time as this was ready... Alas, it didn't photograph very nicely, but I'm a sucker for a vegetarian interpretation for chawan-mushi. It seemed to take advantage of some seasonal vegetables as well.

Kinoko no foil-yaki

Kinoko no foil-yaki

A simple grilled foil parcel of various mushrooms...

Ringo to sansai to shiitake no tempura

Ringo to shiitake to sansai Tempura

Ryokan tempura is often a little bit dreary, as it tends to be made quite far ahead of service... However, this one was served close to the end of our meal and was still mostly fairly warm. It featured tara no me (one of many Japanese mountain vegetables), fuki (butterbur) sprouts, shiitake, and, most interesting of all, a slice of apple. I've had heavy American fast-food fried apples before, and I have to admit having a soft spot for them, but this was surprising. The fruit was unprocessed, and fried just a short time, so it remained crisp and gently tart, and had the same light crispness that the rest of the tempura featured.

Kamameshi and Suimono

Kamameshi Suimono with sakura no shiozuke and mushrooms

Rice is cooked at our table... Hiromi's is a seasoned kamameshi with bamboo shoots and I think some pork. Mine was plain, but rice cooked in this kind of pot always tastes better. We also receive a simple clear soup with thin slices of mushrooms and salt-cured cherry blossoms.

Apple sorbet, in apple

Apple sorbet in fruit shell

This was a very good apple sorbet inside an apple shell... It's Aomori, after all, and apples are a big deal here.

Before dinner, Hiromi had thought we'd go back to Hirosaki, but I think we fell asleep no later than 9 pm. We somehow woke up again, but it was already approaching midnight... too late to seriously consider the 25 minute trip back to Hirosaki Park, but not too late to head to the outdoor ceramic onsen tub on the same floor as our room.

My home is chaos

My apartment is now barely livable. After a series of new shipments, including the arrival of additional shipping supplies, and attempts at making passable photographs of products by turning my kitchen table into a makeshift studio, I barely have enough room to walk. I also have some gutted electronics in my living room, as I was trying to complete a low-cost upgrade to substitute for my briefly malfunctioning, and subsequently repaired, laptop computer. That upgrade process did not go smoothly, and the evidence of the trouble is right in

I started hunting for some low-cost storage and office space, but my choices are not enviable. The closest one is probably the best fit for my needs, though it might be a little small; the cheapest one has some unpleasant features, namely the proximity of a constantly humming transformer, and a lack of light in the section more practical for office space. Another one is more versatile but has a high total cost and is kind of out of the way; although reasonbly convenient to my home, it's convenient to nearly no one else in the city, located in northern Magnolia.

I'll try to nail down my solution for space next week, before I fly off to Hong Kong. I will go to Hong Kong to meet with my candy supplier and see their retail locations and their production facility. A couple of days later, I'll attend, and to some extent, participate in FoodEx 2005 in Tokyo. This trip will be pretty short, but I'll also try to cram in a visit to a yuzu farm in west Japan if I can arrange everything in time.

Last Sunday I managed to snag some sichuan pepper at the Beaverton Uwajimaya. After years of absence from the US market, this was a pleasant treat. I cooked some yu-tsai (na-no-hana) with ganmodoki and sichuan pepper, as well as some fresh peqin chilies. It was simple and had a pleasant numbing taste... Except for a dish I had back during the fall festival with a friend who somehow obtained some smuggled sichuan peppers, apparently from Canada, I haven't had a dish featuring sichuan pepper for years. I'm thinking of revisiting a dish my Chinese neighbor in Marburg, Germany used to make, which was basically thin sliced potatoes sauteed with sichuan pepper and a little salt.

I've had some bad luck with atsuage recently... this week marked my second recent attempt to make a stuffed atsuage that turned out to already have passed its prime. The expiration dates seemed fine, but the taste was strangely sour... two different stores, two different brands, two different disappointments. I was happier eating my eringii, carrot and greens filling.

Today in Beaverton I saw a familiar brand while doing a demo... Representatives from a company I met at FoodEx last year, Fuji Oil's Soyafarm, were demoing some tofu nuggets meant for the US market, and some fried reheatable yuba-wrapped edamame. I still prefer Soyafarm's soy milk yogurt and soy milk; that company had the nicest attempts at soy milk yogurt I have ever tested. But I would recommend with only the slightest of reservations the yuba-wrapped edamame. My only complaint is that they were a little salty, and maybe a little microwave-soggy. I don't know if there are ways around those defects; the salt might have been added for the demo purposes only, for all I know.

Civic obligations, yuzu, photos from Japan

Post-jetlag insomnia has set in over the last few days, but I woke up and started some of the necessary housecleaning I've neglected since returning from Japan.

I managed to get myself to the polling station near my home... it's just a short walk. I was expecting it to be crowded, but there were no lines out the door... it was busy around 3pm, but nobody had to wait.

This afternoon I made a surprising discovery... In one of my carry-on bags, I discovered three yuzu and another deteriorating citrus fruit from Mashiko inside another plastic bag.

The yuzu are still in good shape, but I need to use them fast because there is some hint of deterioration. The other fruit, whose name I forget, was already in bad shape when it came off the tree, but it had a nice aroma.

Mr. Minowa, a ceramic artist I met in Mashiko whose work I have been importing, drove me to the train station after I met him on the last Friday of my Japan trip. Somewhere on the way toward Kasama, he noticed a big yuzu tree in someone's front yard and started reaching over the fence to acquire a few fruit, still mostly green. He wasn't terribly concerned about the owner of the house; he said they wouldn't be missed because there are a lot of yuzu.

I was bummed out because I knew I'd have to leave most of them in Japan, but I did use one of the yuzu to keep some apples from browning when I made a cheese fondue. It turns out that the yuzu found themselves in my luggage after all. I don't know if I unconsciously grabbed them or if Hiromi slipped them into one of the bags, or if something else happened. But it's an excellent excuse to make yudoufu.

Last night I finally bulk-resized photos that I should have posted while still in Japan, but I got a little bit busy. The first few photos shown below are from my visit to Mr. Minowa, who lives in Mashiko, close to Kasama. The last time I was here with Hiromi, it was completely dark. So Minowa-san was happy to give me a tour of his home in daylight, and his wife served really nice apples and English tea.

 

Minowa-san is showing me the flora in his backyard.
Sansho fruit pods on the tree This is a citrus plant called sansho. The seed pods are very aromatic; rubbing the skin reveals hints of citrus with some cinnamon-like base notes. The leaves are also edible and make a nice garnish, although Minowa-san says this variety of sansho has better fruit than leaves.
Sansho detail photo Mr. Minowa gave me some sansho to take home.
Sansho detail with extracted seeds The black seedpods in here can be used in cooking, and will be similar to the Chinese sichuan pepper; they might have a slight numbing effect on the tongue. Minowa-san said this variety's seeds are better when green; fall is a little late for harvesting for culinary purposes.
Japanese flowers A few close-in shots of flowers from Minowa's backyard.
Japanese flowers I don't know anything about flowers, but this isn't a daisy.
Japanese flowers Minowa-san was telling me the Japanese names of each of the flowers, but I promptly forgot because I only caught each name once or twice, and he showed me a lot.
Japanese flowers Regardless of the name, this is a really nifty flower.
Yakimono from Mashiko-Tanaka Saori At one of the galleries I work with, I saw this work. Tanaka Saori does a lot with interesting abstract motifs; they feel a little rustic but have sort of modern appeal.
Yakimono from Mashiko with momiji Another artist I like had a lot of momiji (Japanese maple) motifs.
Yakimono from Mashiko, toruko (Turkish) blue The gallery where I found Minowa-san's work last time was highlighting a Mashiko artist who does lots of work with Turkish Blue glazes.
Hanamaki meal at Oosawa onsen OK, it's a little late, but here's the spread from the hot springs resort called Oosawa Onsen in Hanamaki (near Morioka) where I stayed on my second night of this trip. This is the vegetarian meal. I was impressed because rather than just provide fish-less or meatless versions of the same things they served to my friend, they changed a number of side dishes for balance purposes. This was one of the nicest meals on the trip.
Edamame Yuba, tofu, and shiso with shredded vegetables Proof that some of the nicest dishes are also the simplest. Some tofu and I believe edamame-yuba is served with shredded vegetables, a little wasabi, shiso, and a dipping sauce (not pictured).
Persimmon (kaki) stuffed with aemono Another one of the side dishes. I'm a pushover for things presented in sweet, crisp hollowed-out persimmons, ever since I had a little ohitashi presented in a persimmon at Yuu-an (Nishi-shinjuku) a few years ago. This is a kind of ae-mono, lightly dressed vegetables.
small sweet Japanese kabocha stuffed with kinoko and takenoko A warm side dish brought after we started eating, this small sweet squash half is filled with various mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and tiny eggplant. It's a very clean flavor, and the broth poured over is slightly thickened, probably with katakuriko.
Hiromi and another cheerleader in Tokyo, Japan Hiromi's (center/top) hobby is cheerleading, so she invited me to watch her team perform at a football game, along with my friend and sometimes assistant Kazue, who returned to Japan during my own business trip.

Departure

One of the things that distinguishes Tokyo from Seattle is the amount of attention that people pay to each other’s feet. In Seattle, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a pair of sneakers that you picked up at a rummage sale or flea market 5 years ago, even if they have clearly worn out their welcome, in polite company.

I don’t wear tennis shoes or sneakers save the pair of running shoes I use when exercising, but I’ve been walking around wearing some very sad, past-their-prime shoes that not only have lost most of their structural integrity, but have a small yet noticeable circle of damaged leather at one of the toes on the upper. I had planned to replace the shoes for about 5 months or so, but I moved from being a bit too low on resources to take care of such things until they were actual emergencies, to being completely overwhelmed by an insane schedule, and it just became impossible.

But I decided I didn’t want to wear such sad shoes on my Japan trip, partially because my knees aren’t very happy right now and I’ll be walking constantly next week, and partly because I don’t want to have kawaisou na kutsu (sad shoes, roughly… but please don’t reuse the Japanese term without a heavy dose of irony attached). On my first trip to Japan I realized having holey socks was more than a little embarrassing, and I’m sure that it can’t be much better to wear sad shoes.

In order to avoid pity and amused glances, I made a quick last minute stop to replace now decrepit everyday pair of shoes.

I started wearing Ecco shoes after a knee injury a few years ago. I’ve run into other people that wore exactly the same model of shoe and they were fiercely loyal… one man had about four pair that he had accumulated over time, because he didn’t want to go to replace them and find out that he could no longer get the same shoe. I, too, have bought about two pairs of the shoes, but I didn’t feel a need to hoard them… Alas, after today, I somewhat wish I had… the new variants of that model now cut against my ankle unpleasantly, and I ended up switching to a slightly less convenient laced shoe instead of the loafer-like design I had before, solely to avoid the miseries of excessive friction.

At least my feet won’t be an embarrassment.

Off to Korea and Japan on Thursday

Just a little note... I'm departing to Seoul on Thursday, April 19, where I'll be doing a little ceramics hunting, catching up with a few friends, and probably eating a little too much.

I'm flying solo on that leg of the trip, and then meeting up with Hiromi in Tokyo from April 27 to May 8, where I'll be staying in Ochanomizu. We have  a side trip to Aomori planned in the middle of that, but I guess I'll be doing the urban thing most of the time.

If your path might be crossing mine, let me know!

No more distractions, unfortunately

I spent a couple of days in Vancouver with Hiromi and came back late last night. In Vancouver, I took a look at a couple of Asian markets and along Robson Street to try to get a feel for what might be possible in the Vancouver market, and Hiromi and I visited with a couple of her friends from the time when she was on her working holiday program in Canada.

Today I fillled a couple of orders for Chinese New Year that cleared a whole lot of inventory, but I found out I have some more stock than I previously thought when I itemized my inventory more carefully. I will try to get some of that sold this weekend by doing some in-store promotions, most likely in the Seattle store.

I need to figure out how to get my candy in Los Angeles as well, so I think I'll focus on researching good venues for that. This week I also have to finalize my order for the next batch of candy as well, and I need to do an obscene amount of catchup work on bookkeeping.

I drove all day

Sunday morning, dark and early, I extracted myself from bed around 5:30 am, finished packing some ceramics samples, almost finished packing clothing, and carried everything down to my car after a quick shower. I think I actually left home around 7:30 if I take into account the quick stop at Lighthouse Cafe for a necessary dose of caffeine... I had to stop at Seatac airport for about 30 minutes to pick up frequent flyer tickets I redeemed for part of my upcoming trip to Japan. Somehow, 8:30, I got myself on the road, nearly nonstop to the Bay Area As I recall, I made one stop for gas and greasy food somewhere in southern Oregon, one secondary and another stop for gas and windshield insect removal just about 30 minutes shy of the big box hell known as Emeryville, California, where I had booked a week at Extended Stay America. I think I was all checked in by about 9:25 pm. I think 13-14 hours including stops is pretty good for 800-some miles.

The night before, I had been volunteered to take advantage of a cache of mushrooms scored by my graphic designer, Jennifer, who has previously done some work for a Portland-based fancy mushroom distributor. I cooked for Jennifer and three other friends various little treats, including porcini korokke or croquettes (which were pleasant tasting though I faced some texture issues that I haven't had before), a potato-dough based pizza featuring more porcini and some good buffalo mozzarella, a side dish of portabellas sliced and cooked with garlic and rosemary, and another side dish of golden chanterelles which were seasoned with sage brown butter and adorned with crispy sage leaves. We had sumibi-yaki of white matsutake and all the other available mushrooms, served with dipping sauce choice of yuzu-ponzu I had tossed together or ginger and soy sauce. I also made a little salad with my signature yuzu honey vinaigrette, which had some pine nuts and a little bit of browned bits of mushrooms, as well as some nice tomatoes. Leftovers mostly went home with guests, as I was leaving town for the week. Everyone went home by around 11:30 and I put myself in bed a little after midnight, where I tossed and turned and briefly woke to turn on the heat and put on more clothing after an unknown period of time, so I was impressed with myself for waking up early and mostly successfully getting on the road without panicking and without forgetting anything more than a pair of pants.

Friday night was Jennifer's birthday party, which I attended after trying my best to finalize last-minute arrangements for my little trip. Alas, many things suffered due to biting off a little too much for the last two days of the week.

The first day here was only moderately productive, but I met with one lead and made a few other calls, set up an appointment to show off ceramics to someone, and so on. I am now stopping in a Palo-Alto based cafe to feed my information needs, as the Extended Stay America has no meaningful internet access in the room and I don't have a dial-up provider. I had intended to do this in the morning but the spot I found in the Oakland area had pretty unreliable connectivity so I had only about 15 minutes of usable access. I thought about some sort of dial-up plan, but I think I am happier to spend the $3-5 in a coffee shop for internet access with a nice cup of coffee than I would be to sign up for another subscription service for something I don't really want anyway.

I'm a little nervous about all the stuff I have to cram in to the next two weeks in the United States... I'll try not to think about it too much; it'll only make things worse.

Scenes from an old Korean village

Namsangol Village is meant partially as a tourist attraction, and partially to educate Korean schoolchildren about their country's history. It's a reconstruction of an old Korean village, focusing pr imarily on the accommodations of royalty and wealthy craftsmen. It provides a glimpse, however superficial, of the lives of people before electricity, elaborate subway systems and sophisticated HVAC systems.

I visited Namsangol on my last trip to Korea, but that trip long predates this little journal of my re-imagined life, so I took my afternoon distraction in this area as an opportunity to look at things with fresh eyes.

Old-style kitchen

Old-Style kitchen, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Window, Bedding, and Chest

Window, Bedding, and Chest, , Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

A place to rest

A place to rest, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Central heating

Central heating, ondol room, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Want heated flooring? Heat the whole foundation. This is called an ondol room, and you can still rent rooms in Korea which simulate this via electrically heated flooring.

Half-timber and sky

Half-timber and sky, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Roof endcap tile

Roof endcap tile, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Work was so much harder then

Work was so much harder then, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Thatch storage and well

Thatch storage and well, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

If I had a door handle like that...

If I had a door handle like that, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Games the ancestors played

Games the ancestors played, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

 

Heyri Gallery, part 1: The pottery of Sylvia Hyman

Sunday I visited Hanhyanglim gallery in the Heyri art village just northwest of Seoul. Riding in the car of the gallery owner, we saw a very intimidating-looking spirals of barbed wire fence along the river, across which lies North Korea.

The gallery owner, Jay, is a pottery collector who has made some money in the semiconductor industry, and continues to make that his day job while his wife Hyanglim, a ceramist, runs the day-to-day operations of their gallery and gift shop. I learned about the place thanks to an introduction from a member of a clay art email discussion group, and the owner was kind enough to take pick me up from a nearby train station.

Though I was mainly here for Korean pottery, the museum also featured the work of 90-year-old Sylvia Hyman, new to me but renowned for her visual deceptions.

Through Time and Space

Through Time and Space

This comes from a spiritual Arabic text, which actually apparently is something about time and space. My Arabic is a little rusty, though, so I just enjoyed the nifty curls.

Narragansett Bay

Narragansett Bay

This piece has convincing leather straps, canvas, wood, paper, and rope, all crafted from clay.

Currogated clay

Currogated clay 

Currogated cardboard rendered with clay is even more surprising...

More to come... With actual Korean pottery too...

 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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