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.

Out-of-town visitors

This week ended up being relatively unproductive when it came to work, because I needed to prepare for visitors and run various errands. On Thursday, I had two visitors from Japan and one from Victoria, BC.

Hiromi came in on Thursday morning and I picked her up at the airport. We were hoping to take a look at tulips up in the La Conner area, but the early spring weather this year had forced all of the growers to top their tulips a little early this year, so we ended up relaxing on the beach at Golden Gardens in Ballard, then having a little iced tea at Masalisa.

I had a conference call with one of my suppliers around 7pm. It was encouraging. I'll need to make some changes in my plan with that product and revise my sales objectives, but actually they are going to be more conservative than before, and that makes me feel a little better about the project because I don't have to take risks quite as substantial as I had expected.

Sachi and her Canadian friend, Sandra, arrived via the Victoria Clipper a little after 8:30, and cleared customs a little shy of 9pm. We made our way to La Spiga restaurant on Broadway and ordered Crescioni and Piadina in addition to various pasta choices. I had a pretty nice asparagus tortelli with a lemon butter sauce. We stopped at Dilletante and shared a single piece of cake between the four of us.

Friday, we played tourist all day and into the night. I took everyone to breakfast at Cafe Besalu in Ballard, we stopped at Archie McPhee and at the Ballard Locks, and we headed over to West Seattle for some postcard photography opportunities at the fishing pier and at Alki beach. We ate a little lunch at a tiny restaurant on 8th & King in the International District, Szechuan Noodle Bowl. I ordered their cold seaweed dish, a little braised bamboo shoot dish, and green onion pancakes. Two of us ordered vegetable dumplings in la-yu and soy sauce, and two ordered a vegetable udon dish in soup.

Afterword, we made a stop at Pacific Place mall, and then walked over to the Pike Place market to get vegetables and other things for dinner. We did a little gift shopping, and then briefly visited Vivace's for coffee and tea. We also made a quick run to Fran's chocolates at University Village.

Finally, we came to my place and tried unsuccessfully to get Japanese natural oak charcoal to burn in a tiny tabletop grill called a “shichirin“. This was the first time I have actually tried to use the shichirin so it was a little more trouble than I expected. I had gotten one of my potato pizzas done while my guests were fighting with the shichirin, and finally we gave up on it. I was asked to re-warm the potato pizza, which on a baking stone turned out to be a bad idea because there would have been no way to quickly bring the oven temperature down to a “warming“ temperature. and I managed to char the previously flawless but cold pizza. I them promptly managed to drop a slippery and unfortunately too flexibly plastic bottle of oil into the sink and it splashed back on to Sachi's clothing. I don't think I've ever had so many things go wrong in one meal. We did manage to eat grilled vegetables and my guests had shrimp, scallops and squid also; I just used my indoor grill pan and a cast iron skillet to stand in for the finicky oak charcoal. It didn't occur to me until far too late that I probably could have used my small “konro“ (like a gas camping stove) to ignite the charcoal.

We also had some nice yuzu ice cream and a kona coffee sorbet that I made, and dipped into a quince infused liqueur that I had started back at the end of January. Except for the comedy of errors, the food was mostly pretty good.

We finished the evening by going up the escalator in the Space Needle during the last open hour, and taking in the cityscape. Sachi and Sandra went back this morning, and Hiromi is here until the 4th.

Earlier in the week I finally got my car detailed by Fremont Auto Detail, which seems like a bit of an indulgence for someone without any consequential revenue but was very worth it... my car had been looking very sad especially on the interior. I also took care of getting some shelving I need to handle the ceramics boxes that will be coming from Japan later in May. I didn't do much that was actually useful for my business except for creating some price lists. I have another visitor to entertain from the 4th through the 7th, and then I'll get back into the swing of things.

Hanami in Hirosaki, Part 1

 

May 2. Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan.

Sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom late in northern Japan, and the blossoms typically coincide with the Golden Week holidays.

As I always seem to find myself in Tokyo toward the end of March, and never at the beginning of April, I was looking forward to finally seeking sakura in full bloom on this trip... For Hiromi's schedule, late April worked better, so we chose to make a special trip up north to take advantage of the seasonal progression

Hirosaki Park in Aomori prefecture has more than 2600 cherry trees, and the timing of the blooms makes this park a popular destination for both locals and out-of-towners.

May 2 wasn't technically a holiday, and we faced some rather dreary weather... overcast skies and occasional rain, along with periodic bursts of wind. Thanks to that, the crowds were fairly mild.

I don't think we ever got around to having a normal lunch that day, but we did have some nice sakura-mushi-dorayaki, steamed dorayaki pancakes made with salt-preserved cherry blossoms and sweet white bean paste, found at one of the many vendors inside Hirosaki park. Later, we discovered a section populated entirely with yatai and hungry park-goers, and snacked on kabocha dango with a sweet miso sauce, as well as some black simmered konnyaku on a stick.

We imagined we might come back at night when the park was completely illuminated for night-time hanami, when various salaried workers would congregate, drink a little too much, and eat some combination of yatai treats and hanami bento... Alas, we reached our evening destination, took a bath, had dinner, and were completely exhausted... we didn't make it back until daylight.

Moat

Moat

Shidare-zakura

Shidare-zakura

Botan

Botan

Hashi

Hashi

Solo

Solo 

Branch 1

Branch 1

Branch 2

Branch 2

Clusters

Clusters

Petals on water

Petals on water

Petals over water

Petals over water

It could be snow

It could be snow

Hirosaki-jo

Hirosaki-jo

View from a castle

View from a castle

Exhausted

Exhausted

See part 2.

 

 

For someone with no income, I'm eating a little extravagantly in Chicago

I arrived in Chicago exhausted Thursday afternoon... I was able to sleep a bit on the airplane but it didn't quite make up for the inadequacy of the three hours of sleep I got Wednesday night.

Though I didn't eat dinner until late, a friend of mine and I went to Emilio's Tapas on Clark and ordered five “small” plates which turned out to be larger than I expected. We had an oversized salad, a oversized serving of patatas bravas, little eggplant roulades (which were in fact tapas-sized), some stuffed mushrooms, and some forgettable chickpea spread. I liked the egggplant roulades and the stuffed mushrooms were nice enough.

Today I was in Lincoln Park for a little walk, and then ate mediocre Chicago-style pizza at some regional chain that my friend wanted to try, and then recovered with some nice pastries at Bittersweet, a cute little pastry shop that serves modest portions of good quality tarts. Every time I've been in Chicago since stumbling onto that place, I've felt the urge to go there.

I went to a Korean movie, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, which was playing on the smaller screen in Music Box. Actually I missed the first few minutes because I walked into the wrong place. Overall, I was pretty pleased with the film; it had a simple, sparse aesthetic and explored innocence and human weakness in both mundane and jarring ways.

For dinner I had stuffed chiles with huitlacoche (corn fungus) at Salpicon in Old Town, as well as some nice corn soup and mini-tamales. It's a great place for upscale Mexican food; the flavors are a little more restrained than one might find at a more working-class kind of place, but I like the kind of sappari approach to Mexican cuisine; this way of thinking about food is not even close to imaginable at the low-end places that pile loads of yellow Irish cheese on everything. It was a little extravagantly priced, but I left happy.

Back in Seattle

I returned to Seattle Tuesday morning... still a little jetlagged, but I managed to pop into the swing of things and sleep almost normally again. I still have a ton of photos to dig through, and things to catch up with... more to come.

O-sip-seju and nokdu jeon: A little late night snack

Sunday night in Seoul I was on my own, and incredibly jetlagged. After visiting a pottery gallery, I briefly met with a friend in Gangnam station, then I went back to my hotel near Seoul National University of Education to rest a bit... I researched some dining options, but most of the interesting ones required traveling 30 minutes or more across town and perhaps a bit more careful navigation than I was able to handle with my level of energy.

I was mostly inclined to sleep, but I was getting pretty hungry.

So I walked in the area surrounding my hotel for 20 or 30 minutes, and found a little place whose menu promised nokdu-jeon, a pancake made from shelled, ground mung beans. As I've mentioned before, I'm a sucker for jeon, so I went right inside.

Steamed custard

Korean savory egg custard

They presented a few small side dishes, included a plain savory steamed custard, which we also had at a Gangnam station-area drinking establishment we visited on Saturday night.

My nokdu-jeon

Nokdu-jeon in Seoul

These had a chewier than usual texture, so it's possible they snuck some meat inside, but I didn't recognize which one. The most common preparation of nokdu-jeon or binddaeddeok, as far as I can tell, is actually sans-meat, though many restaurants specializing in binddaeddeok serve some seasoned oysters or similar savory ingredients atop the pancakes in place of a dipping sauce.

They were pleasingly crispy on the outside, but overall I wasn't as excited by these nokdu-jeon as I usually would be.

O-sip seju

O-sip seju in a big baek-seju bottle

I figured, since the place I was in was mostly a drinking venue, the polite thing to do was to order something to drink with dinner. I had noticed they had o-sip seju on the menu when I was standing outside. I really like the basic flavor notes of baek seju, which is an herbal liqueur based on soju, but I find it a bit too sweet on its own.

Baek means 100 in Korean, and o-sip means 50. Baek-seju is therefore "diluted" with higher-alcohol, lower sugar soju in a 1:1 ratio.

That would suit me fine. Or so I thought.

It didn't occur to me that ordering such a thing means I was, for all practical purposes, ordering two full 500 ml bottles of soju. And I was by myself. Oops.

I didn't drink the whole thing. In fact, I barely made a dent, although I think I had about 300 ml in total. In terms of alcohol content, That's probably the equivalent of most of a bottle of New World red wine, which I am unlikely to consume in a typical evening. But I was jetlagged... it wasn't a typical evening.

Though I was still quite functional, falling asleep that night was no problem.

 

The dangers of Yurakucho

For people who appreciate food and would like to take a bit of Japan home with them, Yurakucho (Yuurakuchou) is a dangerous place. It’s home to the regional food specialty shop Mura-kara Machi-kara Kan, which features fresh and packaged foods from all over the country, as well as alcoholic drinks, and Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza, which features lots of treats from Hokkaido. A short walk from here will take you to another shop that focuses on all things Okinawan.

If you’re easily tempted, it might be best to avert your eyes as you walk by these shops.

Yuurakuchou-shopping

We left with soba karintou (buckwheat sweet crackers), haru yutari karintou (a wheat snack), black sugar peanut crunch, a shiso drink base, yomogi senbe (mugwort-flavored crackers), Hokkaido Tokaji wine caramels, Hokkaido hascup caramels, Hokkaido’s famous raisin butter cookie sandwiches (not from the most sought-after brand, but still quite tasty), murasaki-imo senbe or purple sweet potato senbe from Okinawa, another purple sweet potato snack also from Okinawa, some yuzu-flavored konpeito (hard candy), shiikuwasaa kokutou (Okinawan citron flavored black sugar), shiikuwasaa Calpis, some snackable salted konbu (kelp), kiritampo (rolls of mochigome toasted sort of rotisserie style, often used in nabemono or hotpot meals) from Akita, some heart-shaped cookies, umi-budou (sea grapes) from Okinawa, smoked eggs, yuzu-miso, yuzu kanten, yuzu-sake, ume-shidzuku (chewy Japanese apricot kanten candies) and two bottles of yuzu juice. Hiromi also picked up some drinking yogurt from the Hokkaido shop flavored with hascup berries, but we drank that before even getting back to the hotel.

Most of these items found their way into our luggage, but the Hokkaido raisin butter sandwiches have long since disappeared, because, of course, they are so perishable and we couldn’t possibly keep them…

For the most part, these shops carry items that are not widely distributed even inside Japan, so if you want to suprise someone with a little gift with minimal probability they will find the same thing in their local Asian market, this is the place to go.

Slacking in Yokohama and Omote-Sando

I suppose I could say I took the day off today. Hiromi and I went to a crepe shop in Omote-sando which is famous for its soba (buckwheat) crepes. I ate most of a carrot soup, and I ordered a buckwheat crepe with fresh fava beans, various vegetables, an egg, and a relatively young gruyere. She ordered one with an aged soft chevre topped with mixed greens and walnuts. For dessert, we ordered a buckwheat crepe with rhubarb-orange jam. We also ordered coffee. She had a “Bretagne Irish Coffee”, an espresso drink served with some caramel liqueur and a little cream. I had espresso with calvados.

Afterward, we headed off to Yokohama and wandered around the Daisambashi (大桟橋) pier, which is sort of a boardwalk jutting out into the bay. It’s an international port, but also doubles as a place for parents to bring their small children to play, and functions as a date spot for an uncountable number of couples. On the way there from the station, we see a few quirky little restaurants, the storefront of a vacationing reflexologist, and a couple of stores that sell hemp products or various other things that might appeal to twenty-somethings.

Basha-michi road, nearby, features a red brick building called Akarenga (which, not coincidentally, means "red brick building", if I am not mistaken) that is filled with various shops and chain stores, and is so shopping-mall-like inside that I would probably see it as a destination of last resort if I were back home, but it’s kind of interesting to see how stuff is being sold (and bought) here. Some of the shops are hipper than the usual shopping-mall fare. It kind of strikes me as similar to University Village in Seattle.

We stopped at a department store for some grocery items for dinner. I picked up some mushrooms which are similar to cauliflower-mushrooms, a little bunch of spinach, some already-grilled-tofu, and some things for breakfast. For dinner I cooked the remaining bit of penne with a sauce of butter, garlic, pine nuts, the grilled tofu, spinach, the mushrooms, and some of the tsuyu from yesterday’s noodles, then topped with some pecorino romano. The mushrooms turned out to be a little fragile and shouldn’t have been cooked more than a few seconds. The sauce was pleasant enough, but as I’ve come to expect from the pans I have in my rental kitchen, I couldn’t heat it through again in the uneven fry pan quickly enough to avoid slightly overcooking the pasta.

FoodEx Day 3 and on to Hoteres

I had a pretty interesting conversation with a Sri Lankan tea company director… They have a pretty decent upscale tea that they mostly sell in England, and they aren’t very happy with their U.S. distributor, which has started to focus on its own branded tea. They sell single-estate teas

Anyway, he’s interested in doing a line of “healthy” teas and could source organic single-estate products, and says he could contribute some kind of marketing effort for this line; some kind of high-profile tasting event, for example, which they have done in London. They’re also creating a sort of prefab tea bar concept, which is a British-style presentation, but kind of interesting. I could actually start with relatively small shipments with them, which may be compelling; they also have a reasonably interesting story (163 year old company, bought back from the English by a Sri Lankan family, and their tea line is all single-estate, they’ve got a standing deal with the Queen of England, etc.) It’s not necessarily in the “pacific lifestyles” category, but with an organic product line I think I could be happy.

Beyond that, I noticed a couple of gems that I had previously overlooked in the Japanese food sections. I was kind of frustrated that I hadn’t seen many products from Japan that I thought were must-haves… I still don’t know that I’ve found a must-have item, but I did discover a nice natural aromatic vinegar line and some interesting grain-based tea beverage products, including an azuki bean tea similar to mugicha.

In the afternoon I went to another trade show at Tokyo Big Site in Odaiba, the big artificial island in Tokyo Bay. That show was mostly food equipment and furnishings for hotel, hospital, and restaurant businesses. I think I don’t really understand food equipment well enough to operate as an importer for that kind of thing, but I did see some cool stuff… there was a product that takes a small block of ice and turns it into large spherical, soccer-ball-shaped, or other novelty shaped large ice “cubes”. Another product in the same vein makes ice bowls for serving food, and produces the sort of ice you’d expect to serve oysters atop. Beyond that, I spent a while talking to a guy whose company produces a product for making fresh oborodoufu (custard-texture) tofu at the dinner table, for home or restaurant use. The device could be used for other recipes as well, but they have a companion product which is soy milk mixed with nigari and some other ingredients, and has a fairly long room-temperature shelf-life. I think it could sell to certain Japanese restaurants and maybe to Asian shops in the west coast; the tofu it produces is actually pretty decent.

The other cool thing was an ozone-generating hand dryer that operates with the mythical (by which I mean often overstated… another story) Japanese efficiency… very high powered air. Unfortunately, none of the companies producing these devices have a 110 Volt product yet, but if they did, it would be really cool as an alternative to the paper-towel heavy solution that health departments in the US seem to prefer. One of the companies producing them has one that’s been marketed mostly to medical institutions and outperforms alcohol-based hand sterilization using a combination of heat, high air pressure, and ozone. I got a non-specific invitation to go out for drinks with a representative from one of the companies making these before I leave Japan.

For dinner, I went out with Hiromi to Okonomiyaki at a family-restaurant style chain in a Shinjuku department store. The okonomiyaki was average, as would be expected; I’ve been there before, but we were at a loss for interesting okonomiyaki restaurants in Shinjuku, which is dominated by expensive corporate concepts and chains.

The main selling point of this okonomiyaki restaurant is the cheap drinks… a grapefruit and cassis drink went for 280 yen, and another drink made with lychee liqueur and a self-squeezed grapefruit half went for 380 yen. By way of contrast, afterward, I ordered a small pot of tea at a popular cake shop, Comme Ca, for 600 yen, with a couple of slices of impressive-looking cakes for 700-800 yen each. 90% of those attending the cake shop were women, and maybe more than 95% of the male customers are there with dates.

I haven’t decided what to do tomorrow… I’ve seen nearly everything possible except some seminars at FoodEx, and I’m not sure that the rest of the Hoteres show will be that valuable for my current business direction, though I’ve only walked through half of the exhibition area.

Sanchon: Mountain temple cuisine

Although I tend to make an effort to go to a place like Pulhyanggi whenever I get a chance to go to Korea, I've long wanted to try another Seoul institution which is also known for fairly high end cuisine.

Sanchon restaurant, just down the street from this alley

Sanchon, located in Insadong, offers an elaborate prix fixe vegetarian meal somewhat comparable to what you might find at a place like Pulhyanggi, but more firmly rooted in the Buddhist tradition. Pulhyanggi, while it was influenced by monastic cuisine, focuses more on the culinary traditions of the Korean aristocracy.

On my sixth evening in Seoul, I invited a friend to join me at the restaurant, and we arrived in the middle of the evening's entertainment. The location is a bit more intimate, and the stage is located right in the center of the dining room, which makes the experience a little more like a dinner theater than the more restrained approach at Pulhyanggi.

Playing a complex rhythm 

In fact, it was a little overwhelming... Sudden dramatic shifts in lighting, fairly loud drumming, occasional chanting or call-and-response bits, along with bursts of amplified recorded instrumentals, all presented just centimeters from our table, made the show the center of attention. It had a slight Disney vibe, though I noticed a few diners got quite into the drum performance.

Scary drummer dancing

Thankfully the performance soon ended and the restaurant lighting settled into something more comfortable for dining and conversation.

Rice porridge

Rice porridge (juk/okayu)

Small parcels of wrapped vegetables

Parcels of wrapped vegetables

Mountain berries

Mountain berries

Mul gimchi

Simple mul gimchi
We start off with this small serving of juk (rice porrige) and something remiscent of the crepes wrapped in the nine-sectioned dish from Pulhyanggi. The pancake dish has a bit stronger flavor than the nine-sectioned dish, perhaps from the addition of buckwheat in the crepes batter. We also receive a dish of some Korean mountain fruit, which was reminiscent of either omija berries or sansho, but didn't seem quite like either. We also have a simple mul gimchi, which unlike the previous water kimchi I've shown from this trip, was made without chilies, and is closer to the one I first experienced several years ago on my first trip to Korea.

Seven mountain vegetables

Seven plates of Korean mountain vegetables

It's spring, so mountain vegetables have been in full swing. We receive a basket of them, alongside with some dressed bitter greens. In contrast to Pulhyanggi's rich, complex flavors, Sanchon's preparations and choices of ingredients tend to have a more austere, almost medicinal character.

Gosari wraps with gochujang

Fresh blanched gosari wraps with gochujang

Another simple crepe-like dish with fresh, blanched gosari, jp. zenmai, known as bracken in the US. The gochujang made this one more exciting than I expected.

Dwaenjang jjigae

Temple dwaenjang jjigae

Full of daikon, tofu, scallions, and enoki, this is a very hearty miso stew.

Bellflower root in a spicy sauce

Bellflower roots in spicy sauce

Actually, this might be gobo, but I think this dish is bellflower root. It's very nice... a little sweet-spicy.

Peanuts and honey

Peanuts and honey

Peanuts with a something sweet, probably honey.

Fried kelp

Fried kelp (kombu/kongbu)

This one could turn into a dangerous habit... it's fried kombu, crunchy and slightly salty.

Fried spring vegetables

Fried spring vegetables at Sanchon

We received a plate of fried vegetables, made with a fairly heavy batter. I think one of these was fuki, and there was some renkon. It was served just slightly warm.

After-dinner rice confection

Dessert at Sanchon

These ubiquitous sweets have a puffy, slightly glutinous, slightly crispy texture, and are generally made with various nuts. For me, they're sort of a guilty pleasure, though they don't seem so incredibly indulgent since they're only moderately sweet.

 

A reunion: Rappopo pie with Hiromi

Rapppo sweet potato apple pie

I don't remember how long ago it was, but probably about four or five years ago I was staying somewhere in Nishi-shinjuku... Several times on the way to somewhere more interesting than Shinjuku, I found myself walking right past a tiny bakery called Rappopo. I was tempted by the aroma of constant baking, and by a shockingly long line for a train station bakery.

Most people were walking away with a Rappopo Pie. It's built on a foundation of pie crust, or perhaps what in Germany is called Biscuitt-Teig. Above that, there's a thin layer of something like pound cake, followed by a thick layer of sweet potatoes, and a layer of apples, and then topped with some sort of lattice-pattern piped streusel.

At about 700 yen, give or take, it seemed like too much to indulge in all by myself, so I kept waiting until I had a good excuse to buy one... maybe a chance to split one with a friend or three... well, such an opportunity never arose on that trip, so I finally grabbed one on my way to Narita airport.

Once I arrived at the airport, I set out to eat one quarter of the pie while it was still a bit warm, thinking I'd snack on some of the rest during the middle of the 9 hour flight.

Narita airport is a really boring place to be trapped for a couple of hours, especially if you've been there a dozen times or so and you've seen all of the duty-free shops, convenience stores, and gift shops. Even more so if you've already done all your gift shopping before leaving.

So after due consideration... Do I want to walk around the airport aimlessly for another twenty minutes? Or have another slice of this nice pie? I chose the more comforting, fattening route.

Every 20 minutes or so I repeated this internal conversation, until the pie had completely disappeared.

Friday afternoon when I arrived in Tokyo, I had some time to kill, so I spent an hour or so at Shin-Marunouchi building on opening day, but I avoided every temptation to try one of the many fantastic-looking new shops.

But when Hiromi and I met on the Yaesu side, we passed another location of Rappopo, and our fate was sealed... we had to have one of those pies.

Reunited with both Hiromi and Rappopo, the three of us made our way to the Ochanomizu weekly apartment we had arranged for this stay in Tokyo. Hiromi and I each tucked into a small wedge of the pie shortly before we started hunting for dinner, some towels and some knee supporters for my increasingly temperamental legs.

 

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