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.

Kurogoma financiers with black sugar syrup

Black sesame financiers

Until a little trip to Licorous last fall, I had never thought much of financiers. I don't know why... maybe I never had a good one. I don't have much love for madeleines either.

But Licorous' financiers were just too hard to resist...  Served warm with an espresso caramel dipping sauce and another dipping option, perhaps a bit of warm maple syrup, the crisp-yet-tender brown-buttery goodness continues to occupy a place in my dreams.

At home, I rarely make financiers... as much as I love butter, there's only so much I can handle. But I've been tempted to reinterpret the financier with a wafuu approach, and so I have occasionally been trying my hand at them recently.

For my first attempt at making Japanese-styled financiers, I replaced all of the standard ground almonds with ground white sesame seeds. It turns out that the almonds add some flavor foundation that a pure sesame seed version doesn't supply, so I've since tweaked my recipe.

This version is based on Dana's financier recipe on Tasting Menu. When I first saw this recipe, I thought the amount of sugar was incredibly high and that this would be unbearably sweet, but it somehow works out to be just about right, and is much less sweet than I expected. Perhaps the bitterness of the nuts helps balance out the sugar.

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 4 tbsp. almonds
  • 2 tbsp. white sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp. black sesame seeds, whole
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5 tbsp. all-purpose flour (or cake flour)

Instructions

  1. Brown the butter in a small on medium heat. You want it to become the color of hazelnuts, but not carbon. This time I used some very nice Cremerie Classique butter from the Pike Place Market, which seems to have fewer milk solids than the average butter, so it took a bit longer to brown. Be careful that it doesn't cook so long that it scorches; once it's bubbling, watch very carefully.
  2. Strain and reserve the hot browned butter. Discard any particles of solids that are left behind.
  3. Grind the almonds and white sesame seeds in a food processor, spice grinder, or clean rotary coffee grinder.
  4. Sift the confectioner's sugar into a bowl and add the ground nuts.
  5. With a mixer or whisk, stir in the egg whites until a paste forms. Pour in the warm, but not fiercely hot brown butter, and continue mixing until consistent. Add the flour, salt, and black sesame seeds, and gently mix until everything is incorporated.
  6. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  7. Pour into baking forms. I used some nifty individual 1 inch silicone muffin cups on a baking sheet. They take about 17 minutes. Mini-muffin pans would work well I've also used some small rectangular loaf pans filled to a depth of about 3/4 inch, which takes about 20 minutes.

After baking, rest on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes. If you used a larger form, use a bread knife to cut the financiers into smaller cubes, but you may want to cut them a bit sooner so that they don't steam themselves soft.

Kurogoma financiers with kuromitsu and coffee

These are perfect dipped into a little kuromitsu, a bittersweet Japanese black sugar syrup. Failing that, consider blending some molasses, treacle, or sorghum syrup with honey to taste; try blending about 80% sweet molasses and 20% honey. I dusted a little kinako (toasted soy flour) seasoned with sugar and salt onto the plate, which also adds a nice flavor and makes the dish even more wafuu.

I served mine with a little espresso... A sturdy tea would work as well.

 

Maybe sugar will help

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.

Good busy

Some kinds of busy are merely distracting, but I made good progress on a lot of fronts today. The only downside was that the post office was closed, which, for someone who doesn’t take government holidays, is easy to forget. I don’t even get weekends…

I was too weary to make anything exciting for dinner, but I made a simple pajeon, for which I used a friend’s trick, incorporating milk and egg into the batter.

Unfortunately, as is frequently becoming the case, my day involves a bit of driving across town to accomplish certain tasks… I kept it to a minimum, planning my tasks to land at spots the most efficient way possible, but I didn’t quite succeed in getting everything ready to ship off before I got started on this, so I had one more stop than would have been ideal.

Pita and foul mudammah

Obachan” recently reminded me of the joys of fresh pita bread when she talked about a cross between hummus and baba ghanouj on her blog recently. A couple of months ago I made some pita just because I felt like having some flatbread but didn’t want to drive to the supermarket just to get some stale-tasting, chemically stabilized flatbread when it only takes a few minutes and pennies to knead some dough.

It does take a bit of time to rise (45 minutes to an hour is fine), but in this case, I was able to prepare other things while I waited.

I took a quick picture just a short time after the second batch of bread came out of the oven. I made a total of 8 pita, and my roommate and I quickly devoured half of them.

Fresh-out-of-the-oven pita

Pita

My impetus for making pita was a craving for a hummus-like spread often rendered in English as “foul mudammah” or “foul medammah”, but the ambiguity of Arabic vowels results in numerous additional possiblities.

A few years ago when I was still moderately happy with my job at Microsoft, an Egyptian woman working for me, who had recently brought her family to one of my dinner parties, treated me to some homemade fava bean spread. She gave me a recipe and a verbal description of the technique. Not too long ago, I acquired a small amount of dried fava beans at PFI with the intention of making this dish.

Mine doesn’t really look the same as I remember hers; I think hers had a greenish hue and was probably made without tomatoes. It may have been a completely different dish. I’ve long since misplaced the recipe she gave me, but I was happy with the results.

Foul Mudammah

Foul mudammah

I used a bit of tomato puree in addition to cooked dried fava beans (soramame for my Japanese readers), and onions both in the foul and caramelized on top. I ground some coriander and cumin seeds then cooked them in bit of olive oil with some ground chillies, which I mixed into the foul as well, and of course some salt. I used a blender to puree everything, but I’m sure I could have gotten satisfactory results from assiduously smashing the beans with a fork.

Upon serving, aside from adding those caramelized onions, I sprinkled some dried ancho chillies and drizzled olive oil on top. It might have been nice to squeeze a bit of lemon juice on top, but I forgot to buy lemons.

I also served some sliced cucumbers, feta, and a decent tomato.

Feta, cucumber, and tomato

The only remotely expensive part of the dinner was the feta, which I really didn’t need, but I was craving it somehow.

The foul mudammah has a pleasant sweetness… I think the beans, tomato, and onions all contributed to that. I want to eat it more often.

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How I examined my passions, Part II

A certain level of burnout with my job at Microsoft made me loath, or at least unmotivated, to seriously consider moving around within the company as my situation became more frustrating. It just wasn’t what I wanted.

I did spend some time looking around at similar jobs both inside and outside the company, and I tried to keep my mind open to staying, because, as I had long realized, I would need more money to realize most of my other ambitions, and it was a very lucrative way to collect savings toward that end. An alternately charming and sleazy career consultant told me the same when I confided in him that I was looking for something very different than I was doing.

Four of my long vacation trips to Japan during my Microsoft career coincided with professional crises. The first one, my first actual vacation as a Microsoft employee, wasn’t really planned to occur under such circumstances; a power struggle between two managers placed me in a frustrating position, and I had a long-planned vacation that my manager didn’t tell my new manager about, departing only a few days before I was being acquired by the new team in some sort of deal between them.

It was an awkward position to be in, but my new manager considered the information omission an error on the part of of my old manager and asked me to take my vacation as planned. During that trip, I was full of torn loyalties, feelings of disappointment, and apprehension. But my vacation, which was an incredible first experience in Japan, and my first trip outside of North America after my exchange program to Germany, gave me a lot of time to think about my future. It actually was the catalyst for a fledgling addiction to collecting contemporary Japanese ceramics, and expanded my culinary consciousness incalculably.

Over the next 6 years, my other three long vacations were very similar, although both of those vacations I took because I was frustrated at work, and wanted a distraction. It turned out that vacations were quite therapeutic, and even my short few extra days here and there that I got on business trips to Japan or elsewhere were extraordinarily refreshing.

I had the time to stop and take pleasures in basic human needs… good food, interaction with people, conscious moments of relative tranquility.

Strangely, it took me over a year to go on such a vacation again after my career frustrations began to mount. Before that, I spent more time than was probably healthy essentially fantasizing about alternative careers.

I felt really frustrated, and I had some self-destructive impulses… I thought about just walking off from my job without notice and burning some bridges, much like one of my employees did (the same forces that led me to consider leaving hit him harder, since I was deflecting some of them until he was moved under a different lead, and was used to certain kinds of irritation that were less tolerable for him). I had a few short-lived relationships where I was essentially completely emotionally unavailable and surely a source of other kinds of frustration for the women I was seeing.

I took refuge in my obsessions… I cooked a lot of elaborate meals for friends and acquaintances, refining some of my cooking skills. I spent a lot of time in pottery classes, considering early on the possibility that I might import some ceramics, and I thought it would be smart to have some first-hand understanding. Those pottery classes were also suitably humbling, as I did not have a natural talent and I sent a lot of clay flying. I also spent some taking Korean classes, remembering a college-era ambition of learning at least seven languages in my lifetime.

Early on, I started thinking about projects that I could indulge in with great passion, with some prospect for financial reward. I considered some restaurant projects, a small retail shop, and a more wholesale-focused import business.

In Part III, I’ll talk about how I evaluated the potential of these projects.

Kurogoma korokke and kazoku no ryouri

I took today off from doing demos and spent some of the day cleaning house and actually reorganizing some things that have long contributed to a certain level of chaos in my home. Among other projects, I replaced an ailing, cracked lazy susan in my kitchen with two new ones to handle my stash of spices and seasonings… it turned out that these new ones had a larger diameter than fits on the floor of my cupboard, so making use of them required a bit of improvisation. I raised them off the floor using a couple of infrequently used cake pans, and this avoided the interference of edging in the back of the cupboard. It isn’t a perfect fit, but the doors now appear closed, and I have less likelihood of dropping various bottles of spices onto an expensive piece of pottery in the sink just below, as I’m hunting for something in the back of the cupboard.

Of late I’ve found my cooking skewing decidedly Japanese. But today I cooked more “stamina” than “sappari”, more oyaji than obaachan. Today’s food was more heavy and strong tasting than the Japanese food I more usually prepare. Hiromi says it is "kazoku no ryouri", something for everyone: Korokke to appeal to the kids, kimpira for the mother, and grilled tofu for the father. 

Kurogoma korokke

Kurogoma korokke

My black sesame croquettes usually have more black sesame in them, but I just ran out today, so my hand was forced… I used a lighter touch. As usual, though, I mixed in some white sesame seeds as a source of flavor, and the only thing to suffer is the visual. I really like black sesame croquettes, and I think the only croquette I like more is kabocha. Tonight, I still had some leftover kabocha from Saturday night, so we ate that as another okazu. It was actually more flavorful than on Saturday, as is usual for nimono.

Kimpira gobo

Kimpira gobo

I had some help on this one. I spent my time doing the sengiri (matchstick cut) knifework, and my roommate removed aku as I did some other prep work; I got them started cooking in sesame oil and tossed in a pinch of salt; I tossed them around in the pan a bit and my roommate watched over them and added chili, shouyu and mirin and tougarashi (dried chilies).

Yakidoufu with baby bok choy, ginger and daikon-oroshi

Yakidoufu itame ni

My roommate requested yakidoufu again, but I couldn’t bear the thought of repeating myself so soon, so I made a variation with a bit of a sauce; mirin, shouyu and some vegetable soup stock.

Daikon to negi no misoshiru

daikon to negi no misoshiru

I had originally thought I would make a tofu-based miso soup, but I made a daikon-negi one instead, which is probably exactly what went into my last misoshiru. As usual, I made a dried konbu-shiitake dashijiru. In this case, rather than akamiso or shiromiso, I used a Korean-style dark miso (doenjang). This isn’t because I was trying to be innovative or creative; I just ran out of my supply of Japanese-style miso. It works just as well, though it tends to be a bit saltier than the most common types of Japanese miso.

How I examined my passions, Part I

When I started planning my exit strategy for Microsoft, I thought intensely about what I value and what I wanted to accomplish in my lifetime.

I never thought it likely that I’d have just one career over the course of my life. I thought that I would have at least a good 50 years of a work life, and it seemed an awfully long time to focus on one single thing. Although I truly admire the mastery of a specialty that comes from a lifetime of dedication to one specific field, I have too many interests to be satisfied with one narrow domain. I figured I had three to seven careers in me.

As a child, I had the good fortune to have early exposure to personal computers when that was still a relatively rare thing, and I had an innate curiosity that led me to explore my machine, and eventually others, in obsessive detail. For some reason I didn’t really develop a passion for writing code, although I had an early modest level of competence in that regard, but I still liked probing the machine, and had a great passion for the machine as a tool. By the time I went off to college, I had no interest in studying science, which probably would have shocked anyone with whom I attended elementary school or most of junior high school. My intellectual interests had all shifted to the dynamics of human interaction, the power of communication, the human balance of power, the nature of authority, and the forces that shape culture.

This set me off in myriad different directions. I had established a literary magazine in high school, and by the time I set off to college, I thought that my future was in the media, in radio, television or newspaper work or some other publishing outlet. My university experience, though, opened my eyes to so many other forms of expression, and, although I briefly worked at a newspaper as assistant editor after my German exchange program, my imagination of my future became less specific, more hazy. The longer I was in college, the more time I had to ask questions, the less clear my vision of what I wanted to be when I grew up became.

Whenever I summarize my college career to someone who doesn’t know me very well, the gaps sound incredibly shocking: I began as a literature major and a Media Fellow, became irritatingly politically active, planned an exchange program to Germany, spent too much time on the internet, switched my major to East Asian studies, studied in Germany and began cooking obsessively, worked at an Asian American newspaper, and graduated after an intensely compressed final semester.

These were mostly natural, easily explainable progressions, and generally traceable to long-existing interests catalyzed by the benefit of the open, dynamic environment of a liberal arts college. I was never a specialist in only one thing. I was not a generalist, either; I just had a lot of interests. I maintained an ambition of somehow fusing all of my interests into a career, but I knew I’d be happy to do something that allowed me to pursue at least a few of my interests.

When I got my job at Microsoft, I was happy that my background with German and Japanese language, studies of Asia in general, and addiction to internet technologies and new media all coalesced into skills deemed valuable for software internationalization testing. As with any career, I suppose, I alternated between excitement, boredom and frustration, but I knew early on that it wasn’t going to be my gig forever. I anticipated about 5 years there… and in fact, it was about the 5 year point when things started shifted rapidly into complete dissatisfaction with my job.

I thought about what I was most interested in outside of my work; after all, I made a career in software out of a hobby, and I didn’t think it unreasonable to explore the potential of building a new career out of my avocations. The things I invested most of my energy in outside of work were related to food (eating and cooking well), travel (primarily to Japan), and collecting ceramics and crafts (mostly from Japan, occasionally from Korea). I thought about a few ways of indulging these pursuits in a manner that could be self-sustaining.

I drafted some business plans for restaurants, since I am an obsessive cook and I’ve long imagined opening a little restaurant. I also thought about building a little ceramics shop, as well. I also even thought about planning culinary tours. I realized most of these ventures required more resources just to get started than I had available, as I was never clever enough to exercise my stock options when they were at their most valuable. So I thought smaller…

I wanted to make sure that I really was working on something I could be passionate about, so I started looking at ways of integrating food, travel, my creative impulses, and my interest in ceramics. I started to look at my options…

In Part II, I’ll focus on what went through my mind as I considered my options.

Finally reached my yuzu guy

I finally got hold of my source for yuzu juice today. Apparently my previous communications were never received due to some changes in their corporate email systems. I was happy to find out I wasn’t being intentionally ignored. I should have called and pestered them earlier.

I’ve been having trouble getting in touch with them for quite a while. It’s rather frustrating, because I’ve had customers waiting for me to provide quotes for them… grr.

Now I feel a little relief. I hope the rest of it works out.

Preparing to offer photographic prints

A few weeks ago at Bellevue’s Aki Matsuri event, I met a photographer whose work I think I had seen at Azuma Gallery at some point, but I hadn’t ever committed his name to memory. He has done a number of shoots in Japan, producing some very nice images that manage to evoke Japan without being too conventional or contrived.

I was a little sleepless when I met him, and I rambled on and on a bit, but I suggested I might be able to offer some of his work on YuzuMura.com. Over the last few weeks, we worked out some details, and I got started uploading some of them… I have a lot more work to do…

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Stuffed red chard

We have a somewhat implicit bias favoring simple, seasonal food that requires minimal forethought, but generally I’m willing to do a bit more work to step up the drama.

Red chard

But it’s nice when it’s really just a little extra work.

Gefüllte Mangoldblätter, or stuffed Swiss chard, appearing in many German cookbooks when I lived there, but I’m pretty sure I never once made it myself in the entire time that I was in the country. It’s not so much that I was intimidated; I suppose i just didn’t see the point. Or maybe I just didn’t know what to do with the vegetable when I saw it.

Rolled chard

Hiromi has a strong affection for rolled cabbage, though, so it was inevitable that I’d eventually apply the same treatment to Swiss chard. Actually, we’ve probably done it before, but I can’t quite remember when, so I’m going to say it’s still new to us.

Hiromi trimmed the leaves and we blanched the chard briefly, giving it just about one minute in the boiling water before draining and transferring to a big bowl of ice water to stop the color change.

DSC_0462

I prepared a filling inspired loosely by Hiromi’s preferred style of ganmodoki, which has some black and white toasted sesame in it. I basically sauteed some nira (a sort of Asian chive commonly used in Japanese-style gyoza) and diced shiitake with a couple of serious spoons full of black and white sesame seeds, and. Once the mushrooms were suitably browned, I added this mixture to some crumbled medium-firm momen tofu and stirred everything together. Hiromi stuffed the leaves, and skewered them with short kushi, or kebab sticks, to hold them together.

The finished stuffed red chard

I made a simple vegetable stock just before we had gotten started on this, using a mirepoix as a foundation, so the last bit came together quickly. In a saucepan I lightly browned shallots and added stock, a little splash of wine, and salt and pepper and maybe a few other herbs.

Another angle of stuffed swiss chard

We then put the stuffed chard rolls into the saucepan just for a couple of minutes to let everything mingle together, and we served them.

The robustness of the chard turns out to help the rolls stay together; they were far less fragile than the cabbage variants we’ve made before. The sesame, shiitake, nira and fresh tofu in the filling removed most of the commonality with all but the most contemporary of German versions, but provided a great source of flavor, and was comforting for the Japanese half of the family. And the shallot-enhanced broth married the earthy chard together with the savory filling.

I’d say I prefer this version over the vegetarian cabbage rolls I’ve previously made, since the wrapping itself is a star player; cabbage tends to be much less assertively flavored, and probably wants even more powerfully seasoned fillings. I felt like I could have gotten away with a slightly milder filling compared to what we ended up with, but it turned out just about right.

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