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.

Some indulgences, part 2, Tokyo, March 2006

Hassaku Orange

Hassaku orange

A somewhat dry-fleshed, thick-skinned orange, possibly from Ehime prefecture, popular for its sappari or refreshing taste. It’s a bit bitter and perhaps a bit similar to a Seville orange.

Matcha madeleine

Matcha-madeleine

Not quite shaped like a traditional madeleine, this was a conceptual sample from one of my green tea suppliers made with a madeleine-style batter.

Matcha cake

Matcha poundcake

This matcha dessert was more of a pound cake style.

Zundamochi and Ayamemochi

Zunda-mochi

Zundamochi are daifuku made with edamame paste. They’d probably be more impressive in cross-section, but we were hungry already. We found them at Mura-kara-machi-kara-kan.

Smoked egg

Smokedegg

One of our smoked eggs, before peeling. We ate the smoked eggs for breakfast in the hotel.

Okayu

Okayu

A few years ago a chain of okayu restaurants sprouted up around Tokyo, even offering brown rice and multigrain versions. With modest 200–300 calorie portions and optional add-ins, the restaurants are popular with women in their 20s and 30s. There are no unaccompanied men in most of these, and I was one of perhaps two in the restaurant. Hiromi had the yuba and greens okayu in the foreground, which had 5 grains; mine was a brown rice okayu with fried onions and greens, with an add-on onsen tamago (soft-boiled egg).

Kabocha mushi cake

Kabochamushi

I’ve forgotten what they called it, but this is essentially a steamed cake with chunks of kabocha, and ever so slightly sweet. It’s actually in the “yum-cha” or dim-sum part of the okayu shop’s menu, rather than their dessert section.

Annin-doufu

Annindoufu

Almond “tofu”, a flavored gelled dessert.

Sakura ice cream

Sakura ice

Cherry-blossom ice cream, from an old-school kissaten near Meguro-station that serves average quality vacuum-pot coffee and various sandwich-like nibbles. The ice cream appears to be a lightly-flavored cherry ice cream served on a cherry leaf and topped with shiozuke, or salt-pickled cherry blossom. This one wasn’t terribly salty, so they may have rinsed it first.

Focused/Distracted

Whenever possible, I’m inclined to write about something I’ve been doing or eating outside of work, but there hasn’t been much of that this week. I’m a little overwhelmed.

I’m not getting much sleep. I’m eating awkwardly, although I had an excellent lunch at home on Tuesday. I’m behind schedule on everything, both related to work and social life. I felt it was a great victory to fix a leaky toilet today.

YuzuMura.com has kept me busy lately, and it seems like it’s increasingly being used by customers looking for business gifts, based on the nature of several recent orders. I hope I can keep a handle on the sometimes conflicting attention required between the small very hands-on approach of YuzuMura.com to the more volume-oriented, repeat business of Yuzu Trading Co.’s wholesale end of the business. It’s getting harder, but that’s because both ends are getting busier.

I ate a bagel sandwich for dinner… poppy seed bagel, cream cheese, lettuce, tomato, mozzarella, basil. It was a common theme this week. I had an insalata caprese for Tuesday’s lunch along with a bit of pasta. Dinner involved scrounging a bit. Lately I’ve been seriously craving some protein-heavy soups, which is awfully strange for the middle of summer. The weather has cooled down a bit, but I think I’ve just been eating too much cheese, egg and tofu and need something more fiber-heavy to satiate my unseasonal cravings.

Lazy Sundays, I remember them

Most weekends I find myself in supermarkets doing demos of the candy and matcha latte stuff, but I never scheduled anything for this Sunday, so I took most of the day at leisure. I did show up to my office after whiling away most of the morning, nibbling on five-spice seasoned fritters for breakfast and drinking an iced latte.

After checking on some email and some other trivial tasks, I made my way back home, fixed myself a feta, olive, cucumber and tomato sandwich on some Essential seeded baguette.

I spent about an hour and a half catching up on photos of Akutsu Masato work… I’ve been neglecting this for way too long. I sold some of Akutsu’s work at wholesale, and the majority of my other artists I’ve sold out with a combination of wholesale and internet sales. But I bought a relatively huge amount of inventory from him at his show last year, and due to various struggles with working out an internet store solution and so on, I kept putting off taking proper photos. It made it rather challenging to sell, since nobody could see much of it.

Later I met up with friends around Westlake center, watched people swing dancing/Lindy hopping, and ate an inexpensive snack of salad rolls and fried bananas in coconut between the three of us at Green Papaya.

Akutsu Pasta PlateAkutsu SakazukiAkutsu Coffee MugAkutsu Kataguchi

Tagged

Yudoufu

After stopping in Ballard briefly I went to my office to work on a long outstanding, slightly complicated project, and it kept me there a little late. I started to get fairly hungry, because both breakfast and lunch were quite minimal.

I had a simple dinner in mind.

During wintertime in Japan, nabe-ryouri (most clearly translated as hot pot cuisine or one-pot meals) is a preferred way of warming up at dinnertime. It’s a communal kind of meal, and generally involves multiple additions of various ingredients. In a restaurant, however, sometimes everything is placed in the pot before bringing it to the table. It’s typically heated on a small portable gas stove or a small induction cooktop at the table.

Kinoko-iri Yudoufu

Yudoufu 027-640w

Yudoufu is perhaps the most assari of nabe meals. It’s light flavored, sometimes consisting of no more than some dried konbu (giant kelp) and fresh, chopped tofu. It is generally served with a sappari, or refreshing, dipping sauce, like ponzu.

Yudoufu must feature tofu, but a number of additions are quite typical. Hakusai, or napa cabbage, is a natural, and contributes a bit of a broth. I frequently include shiitake mushrooms and occasionally the thin, long enoki. For tonight’s version, I didn’t use enoki, but I did come across another good deal on chanterelles, which were cheaper than my shiitake. They provided a kind of earthiness that I don’t usually experience with yudoufu in Japan.

Other nabe might contain chicken, lighter-tasting shellfish such as hotate (scallops), and in some cases, the occasional crab or lobster. Heavier, meaty nabe are also popular. After the raw ingredients are exhausted in these stronger-tasting nabe dishes, many families will add cooked rice to make zousui, or rice porridge.

Yuzu ponzu

Hidden in my freezer is a small, slightly freezer-burned stash of grated yuzu peel. I owe this treasure to ceramic artist Minowa Yasuo, who acquired several for me from a conveniently located neighbor last fall in Mashiko, Japan. My remaining stash still seems to have a fair amount of the incomparable aroma of this citrus fruit.

To make the dipping sauce, yuzu zest is indispensible. Because of its power, I don’t really need complicated seasonings: Japanese soy sauce, a little citrus juice (I used yuzu juice also), and the yuzu peel make an aromatic, refreshing foil for the mild tasting yudoufu ingredients. Some people add might add shichimi.

Yudoufu 044-640w

 

Oyaki

Roadside dining options in the United States tend to depress me. I usually end up at burger-and-shake stops looking for a token veggie burger or a milkshake, or at some poor satire of a Mexican restaurant serving things made with canned black olives, reconstituted refried beans, salsa from foodservice jars or ketchup-like portion packs, and piles of yellow Cheddar cheese.

In Japan, the toll highway system creates a captive audience for restaurants at various highway turnouts, much like spiffed up highway rest stops. Most of these places have one or two full service family-style restaurants, a cafeteria-style quick service option that usually includes ramen, soba or udon as options, and then, most importantly, little yatai-style vendors at the front of these facilities selling tai-yaki (fish-shaped, generally bean paste stuffed, waffles), mitarashi-dango or various things on sticks.

In all fairness, the quality of cuisine at highway “service areas” in Japan is not much better than the US; it’s sometimes equally artificial, full of stale flavor-enhanced instant katsuo-dashi, mostly prepared in advance by foodservice manufacturers. However, the options are a little more diverse. And those yatai in front of these facilities often offer comforting snacks that I sometimes actively crave.

A few years ago, I finally discovered my roadside snack of choice. Atypically for Japan, they are quite often vegetarian; some of them even eschew the ubiquitous katsuo-dashi flavor base. They are not fancy, and are not usually particularly inspired flavors, but are somehow comforting. They are quite filling and usually reasonably inexpensive.

Oyaki cooking in a cast-iron pan

Oyaki on the pan

Oyaki can be considered a simpler form of Chinese stuffed buns (baozi, called humbow in Cantonese, nikuman or anman in Japanese), but unlike baozi, the dough is not made with yeast. They are a little more like certain types of stuffed pancakes (turnip cakes, sesame cakes, etc) only with an even less elaborate dough-making technique. In fact, there’s little to this dough; it’s just a sticky dough of flour and warm water, maybe with a bit of salt. No yeast, no baking powder, and minimal waiting.

Unlike baozi, oyaki are typically grilled on a cast-iron pan, ideally over an open fire. At an indoor “service area” stall, they will be cooked on a gas burner. Some recipes actually have them steamed, but this seems to defeat the concept of “oyaki”; steaming could help them cook more evenly, if they are finished on the grill.

My favorite filling is probably kabocha, which is just an absolute carbohydrate-loading feast. But I also like the classic nozawa-na (turnip greens) version. Alas, after my recent jiaozi-making adventure, I had a bit of a mismatch between the amount of my mustard greens filling and my skins, so I decided to use the remaining filling for my oyaki. I also remembered I had a small stash of turnips in my refrigerator, and some spring onions, and so I grated a turnip with a nifty micro-plane until it was the texture of oroshi-daikon or nagaimo. I seasoned the mix with a bit of miso and soy sauce.

I made a dough in the same way as noodles: I placed a bit of flour in a bowl, and made a well in the flour and filled it with some warm water; in this case, I added a pinch of salt. I kneaded the dough until it was cooperative: sticky and mostly smooth. Ideally, it should rest a bit, but I quickly went ahead and divided my dough with a dough cutter, and rolled the dough very thin.

Plated Karashi-na to kabu no oyaki

Plated oyaki

I am not particularly skilled in the art of making oyaki. I filled each round of dough and brought the ends together, twisting them and then pressed as close to flat as possible. Little to no oil is required; they just need to be added to a hot, heavy pan on a medium flame. They are cooked for a few minutes on each side, and the process of flipping and cooking is continued until the dough looks cooked and then browned.

It seems that one or two of them suffered from minor structural flaws, which resulted in tiny eruptions. I think a pinprick on the side of each oyaki would help release steam.

Shipping woes, mustard greens jiaozi

I have been frustrated for the last few days with some shipping issues… it reminds me of my very first dragon beard candy shipment, when the competence to book the cargo seemed to fail my shipping vendor, which at that time was Yamato transport.

This time was more of a comedy of errors and miscommunications: between my supplier and myself, between my supplier and a new freight company, and between that freight company and me. I didn’t always know when some problem was still unresolved because of some slow responses.

Fortunately, these appear to be resolved and the shipment is supposed to be on its way. Aside from irritating my customers, the only big remaining risk is the usual risk of customs clearance and FDA delays. If I’m lucky, everything will be ready by Monday, but if I’m not, it could take another 4 days of “fax and wait.”

In the meantime, dinner has been uninspired. Most of the week I made things that I’ve recently cooked variations of. Tonight was my first stroke of creative energy.

I like the tangy bite of mustard greens. They don’t require a lot of intervention; on most occasions I just cook them with a little olive oil and a splash of vinegar, salted to taste. Because such simple preparations work so well, I rarely push the envelope with mustard greens, but I wanted to do something more.

I massaged a bit of coarse salt into the leaves, let them sit a bit, and rinsed them. This technique hinders further shrinkage of the greens after cooking, which was important because I was turning them into a stuffing. I chopped the leaves fairly finely, and did the same thing with some mung bean sprouts. Afterward, I added some momen tofu (momen-doufu), some grated ginger, and some salt.

Karashina-tofu

Karashi-na Gyouza

I turned the filling into gyoza, or potstickers. I used my big, not terribly evenly-heating cast-iron pan. After cooking them in oil on two sides, I added some katakuriko mixed with water and covered the pan for several minutes, which contributes a nice crispiness and some aesthetic advantages.

Karashina gyoza

Mustard greens mellow out quite a bit in such an application, but contribute a nice pungency… next time I might sneak a bit of vinegar into the dumplings. I was hesitant to do so because I remember so many of my least favorite dumpling-eating experiences in Beijing were sour… but it might work well here.

Some days are complicated

Today I spent most of the day chasing down items that I’m supposed to be sending off to customers… One of my vendors hasn’t been able to come to Seattle to me for a while and we finally met halfway, so that I could get some product samples and this week’s local and internet customer orders.

I’ve also been trying to get an item from another vendor of mine who was waiting for a container to be delivered and faced three days of delivery truck delays and complications. It then turned out that the item in question was not even on that container because the styles have changed so dramatically since the previous shipment. They sent me to another one of their customers that still had the old style in stock, which required another cross-town run.

Unfortunately, this and every other errand meant that I missed the cutoff time at Kinkos; since one of the items I had to ship was in fact the thing that I ran all over town after, this was tough to avoid. Anyway, I braved rush hour traffic to drop off the package at the south Seattle FedEx facility. Of course, this took 30 minutes longer than typical due to an accident blocking part of Highway 99.

When I got home, it was very late. I set out baking some bread I had started early in the day and oven-steaming some squash. I prepared a meal of ambiguous ethnicity.

Soymilk Bread with Caraway Seeds and Coarse Salt

Caraway soymilk bread

In Japan bread made with soymilk became somewhat trendy, and, when made with a good, heavy, Asian-style soymilk, actually tastes quite nice too. A lot of breads are incorporating soy flour anyway, and I thought it would somehow work well with caraway seeds. I rarely remember to use my caraway seeds, so this half whole-wheat bread was a good opportunity. The result was nice; a dense loaf with a crackly, capricious seasoned crust.

Kabocha Soup

Kabocha soup

I used the other half of my kabocha to make a simple squash soup, with a little cream, pumpkin seed oil and toasted pepitas.

Tofu with Mustard Seeds, Sichuan Pepper and Sambal Manis

Tofu-sansho-karashi-sambalmanis-1

I pan-fried some tofu along with some sichuan pepper and mustard seeds, then seasoned with a bit of salt, a splash of soy sauce, and mirin. I topped each piece with some sambal manis, or sweet chili paste.

Some days are just busywork

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

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

I had one of those unmemorable days

Today was mostly about follow-up. I ate carelessly, ran around a bit, and was on the phone a lot.

I felt a need for caffeine around 3pm and indulged myself by walking from my office to Fresh Flours, even though I started the day with a latte and dosed on some really good matcha, both made at home. I got enough sleep last night, but still I felt inadequately caffeinated.

Dinner tonight was a little cream sauce pasta with chanterelle mushrooms. I seasoned it with a little garlic and thyme. I made a matcha flan again, but it hasn’t quite set yet…

Shoko at Dimitrou's, and the downside of remote control

Tonight I went to a free concert at Jazz Alley featuring this year’s winner of the Kobe Jazz Fesitival’s “Jazz Queen” title, Shoko. A similar event last year featured Yoshika, and I attended with a friend who was helping me out with some promotional events last summer.

This year, I was a slacker planning to attend, as I was last year, and I didn’t find anyone else to see the concert with. I ended up going on my own. It turns out I met some people who vaguely recognized me from other environs, and I recognized one of them from a weekly Japanese meeting. It turned out to open up an interesting coffee shop customer possibility I’ll have to explore, and created an opportunity to share a bottle of Oregon Pinot amongst us, and we could collectively enjoy a nice couple of sets of music.

I nearly had a disaster shipping out today’s orders… I had a bunch of packages to ship, and I was running up against the wire. I got everything loaded in my car, and tried to start it, whereupon I heard nothing but clicking sounds.

Last year, after a car breakin, I caved in and bought an expensive alarm system, which also featured a remote starter control. This is clever, if gimmicky, and is moderately useful. Unfortunately, it opens the door to special problems.

One of the very useful built-in features of my Toyota Camry is that, when I remove the key from the ignition and open the door, the headlights automatically shut off. This is very useful for someone like me, since I drive with my headlights on most of the time, and I often forget that I left them on when I get out of the car. Even when I’m forgetful, the battery doesn’t suffer.

Unless, of course, you have a remote starter. The feature still works, but, if, for example, you unwittingly kick off the remote starter when grabbing something out of your pocket, the headlights and the engine turn on. If I don’t actually drive the car anywhere, the engine shuts down after 12 minutes, but the headlights stay on, because the car door never gets opened when I’m busy packing orders in my office.

And then the battery drains. And then I miss the pickup at my nearest FedEx Kinkos. And I’m forced to wander around hoping to find someone with jumper cables, and this works out only about 30 minutes after I started this misadventure, when I happen upon some kind man walking his dog not far from his home. Then I drive to the FedEx sort facility and barely make the last shipping cutoff.

I was then compelled to eat mediocre slices of pizza somewhere downtown instead of doing something more interesting at home.

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