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.

Shimeji-dill pilaf with corn and little tomatoes

As a child I was under the unfortunate impression that rice pilaf was something that came from a box. The first “real” pilafs I tried were usually bland affairs mostly involving overcooked frozen vegetables.

I never developed a great affinity for the pilaf, so I’m not predisposed to the same kind of nostalgia I might have for, say, mac & cheese or lasagna. In fact, I’d almost go so far as to say it usually sounds too boring for me to even think of cooking.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. A heavy hand with fresh herbs and a good mix of can work wonders for the humble pilaf.

One recent evening, Hiromi was feeling a bit of bread overload, so she asked for something built on rice. Most of what we had on hand was more suitable for Western rather than Japanese treatment, and I didn’t want to let any ingredients go to waste, so I reached deep into my arsenal of improvisations and decided to break out our casserole dish.

After washing the rice, I sort of toast it in the pan with a little butter before adding liquid. This does wonders to keep the dish reasonably moist, and it certainly adds a nice flavor, too.

Mixing ingredients before final heat

I like to parboil the rice in seasoned vegetable stock in my pressure cooker before combining it with the main ingredients. Then I finish the pilaf off by allowing it to “rest” in relatively gently heated oven, usually 350-375F, for about 10-15 minutes. This allows the rice to develop a reasonably fluffy texture without overcooking all the vegetable ingredients.

I precooked the shimeji a bit so that they wouldn’t dry out while in the oven. I just gave them a quick sauté with butter and shallots, letting them brown a tiny bit.DSC_1511

I mixed the partially cooked rice with the cooked mushrooms, plenty of raw dill, raw tomatoes, and a handful of frozen corn. I did zero planning on this dish, so it was all about what we had in the kitchen, so it’s a rather eclectic combination.

DSC_1553 

The dill made the dish. I don’t think I would have bothered without a generous helping of fresh herbs… thyme, dill, rosemary, or oregano would have done the trick. Basil or mint could have worked in some circumstances, but mushrooms like earthier herbs.

DSC_1560

It’s probably best to serve this with something high in protein, like a lentil soup, but we had overdosed on beans that day thanks to a spicy soup at lunch, so I served the pilaf with a slightly more complicated than necessary vegetable gratin for a late evening dinner.

To prepare the gratin, I took some more shallots, rehydrated sundried tomatoes, basil and pine nuts, and sauteed them together with a little salt. I then mixed this together with romanesco broccoli.DSC_1521

I can’t quite remember if I blanched or roasted the romanesco before finishing it off in the oven. But either way would work, with the caveat that over-roasting would produce an unpleasantly dry result, and blanching would really only need about a minute of boiling before refreshing in ice-cold water, since the dish gets additional cooking when the cheese is melted.

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I was getting a little impatient that night, and most of the ingredients were already hot and cooked, so when the cheese didn’t have quite the right golden-brown texture I flipped the oven into broiler mode and slighly charred the vegetable.

Baked romanesco broccoli with mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, and pine nuts

Cheap mozzarella works well for this, so I just broke out a big log of mozz we often have on hand from Trader Joe’s. If I repeated this dish, I would rather have used some oil-marinated sundried tomatoes rather than simply rehydrated ones, since they did get a bit dry, but overall, the dish was comforting and rounded out a simple weeknight dinner nicely.

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Rogue River Blue with pear and walnut

Rogue River Blue only makes the briefest of appearances whenever Beecher’s gets hold of it. Last weekend I was lucky enough to snag some, and the only hurdle to obtaining my treasure was a misbehaving point-of-sale system that was backing up the cashiers as they hand-entered every transaction into a paper ledger.

The cheese is wrapped in grape leaves and washed with a pear brandy. Production is very limited, and it seems to get a bit more expensive every time I find it, but as an occasional splurge it’s completely worth it.

Like most great cheeses, it likes to be served at close to room temperature. Leave the leaves on the cheese when serving, because they contribute a lot to the flavor.

Rogue River blue with walnut and Taylor's Gold pear

You don’t need to do much to enjoy Rogue River Blue. I usually just dig in, or serve it with some crackers, though I’ve occasionally melted it over some vegetables when the mood struck.

This time, I thought I’d do a more classic combination, and break out some pears I picked up at the Pike Place Market.

US production of the pear variety, called Taylor’s Gold, is mostly concentrated in Washington and Oregon, and right now they’re absolutely fantastic… The aroma is really intense and they’re almost shockingly sweet.

I sliced them thin and fanned them out on slices of seeded baguette, and put little triangles of the cheese on top, finished with some freshly toasted walnut. I finished everything with a little drizzle of chestnut honey over the pear and a bit of freshly ground black pepper.

The Rogue River Blue is magical. It’s powerful but the brandy makes it almost fruity, and the rind has has none of the ammonia you might expect. The pear and honey nicely balance the slight saltiness of the cheese. You could have this as a little pre-dinner snack, or even as a stand-in for dessert.

Some indulgences, part 1, Tokyo, March 2006

Biwa

Biwa1

Mountain peach, loosely. A bit out of season.

Sakura kintsuba

Sakura Kintsuba

Wagashi filled with cherry blossom seasoned shiro-an.

Nagare-zakura

Nagarezakura

Painted, sculpted shiro-an with a cherry blossom theme, filled with koshi-an.

Three kinds of umeshu

Umeshu-nigoriKokutou umeshuRyokucha Umeshu

Nigori (unfiltered) umeshu, kokutou (black sugar) umeshu, ryokucha (green tea) umeshu. No, I didn’t drink them all; we went to a restaurant in Futako-Tamagawa, Tama-no Baiken, that featured a lot of house-made umeshu variatons and each of us ordered a different one. Mine was the nigori on the far left, and I stole a sip of Hiromi’s kokutou, both of which I would recommend.

Umeshu, frequently mistranslated as plum wine, is made by infusing a kind of green Japanese apricot in a neutral spirit such as shochu or vodka.

Nanohana and hamaguri

Nanohanatohamaguri

Hiromi and her mother ordered this clam and nanohana (rapeseed plant) dish.

Haru no yasai no tempura

Haru-no-yasai-no-tempura

Fuki, bamboo shoots and other spring vegetables, prepared as tempura.

Kuromame tounyuu toufu to yuba no nabe

Kuromamenabe

Black bean “soymilk” hotpot, with custardy tofu, yuba, leeks, and greens. We were wanting the benefit of some yuzu-koshou to enhance the experience, but this is basic Japanese homestyle comfort food with a bit of a twist.

Kisetsu no nimono

Harunoyasai no nimono

Spring vegetable nimono (simmered vegetables), with some not-quite-so-seasonal kabocha and satoimo.

Agefu

Agefu

Deep-fried wheat gluten.

Tsukemono no moriawase

Tsuke-moriawase

Pickled napa, Japanese cucumber, mustard eggplant, aka-kabu (red turnip), daikon.

Nama-fu no dengaku

Dengakunamafu

Broiled “fresh” wheat gluten, with a sweetened miso sauce. On the far right is one with yomogi (mugwort) and a dark miso. 

Hoteres 2006, Day 2

In a break from the pattern I set a couple of years ago, I went to the Hoteres show on the second day of the FoodEx/Hoteres pair of trade shows; in past years, I usually went on day 3.

Hoteres focuses mostly on restaurant and hospitality industry needs, and this includes equipment, smallwares, guest amenity products, spa and bath, and foodservice products such as frozen pastry doughs for all of those fancy-looking bakeries all over Japan.

I missed most of it while touring the rest of the floor, but apparently some sort of Japanese national barista championship was going on in the food demo stage this afternoon. I managed to catch one contestant show off his skills producing Seattle-style latte foam patterns, a simple pulled shot, and a signature drink/dessert that I’d be tempted to attempt myself. His signature drink was, like most drinks that move beyond the basic latte/straight espresso/con panna pattern, more dessert than coffee, but instead of producing a dessert masquerading as coffee he embraced the idea that a barista could produce a savvy, elegant dessert. Within a strict time limit, he made a whipped cream flavored with chocolate and maybe some espresso, which he piped into a rose shape, then  placed in a wide serving cup. He created an infusion of orange peel and milk, simmered briefly, then he whipped an egg or two with some sugar. He produced maybe four shots of espresso which he combined with the strained orange-infused milk with perhaps a bit of chocolate sauce, and he worked the milk into his egg-sugar mixture, creating a kind of liquid custard. He carefully poured the custard into the cup, enabling his whipped cream rose to survived the violent heat of his custard.

The usual assortment of espresso machines, ovens, gas ranges, automatic sushi-making and gyoza-filling machines took up a fair percentage of floor space in the equipment show halls. Hiromi noticed a vendor producing a machine that automatically measures and serves portions of rice into a bowl for donburi-mono, which sounds preposterously unhelpful unless, of course, you happen to run a donburi shop that has huge lunch crowds and want to shave off several seconds per customer to squeeze in as many people as possible without over– or under-portioning.

My favorite fryer company from two years ago was back this year, demonstrating their clever “Clean Fryer” system that filters out liquids and debris into a collection tank at the bottom of the machine. Instead of creating a clogged grease trap, restaurants just need to empty out the slightly dirty wastewater that gets collected below. The gimmicky demo I saw two years ago featured ice cubes and other potentially explosive foods dropped into the fryer without disastrous after-effects; the water gets absorbed by their filtration system, rather than creating a burst of pressurized steam erupting through a batch of hot oil. The wastewater collection area is apparently stable enough to sustain life, as this year’s demonstration gimmick featured tenkasu-fed goldfish swimming obliviously in the glass-walled collection tank.

I’m sure it’s useful for oden-making companies, but I was a little surprised to see a machine that automatically and precisely peels boiled eggs…

For the Japanese spa market, the most amusing product I saw was a variation of the classic “Ashiyu onsen”, or hot spring foot bath. The typical ashiyu onsen is just a small publicly-accessible covered bath that people can take advantage of to get a bit of a respite in a hot spring town. The product we saw was basically a foot bath with a picnic table mounted over the bath, and bench seating… you can imagine a small outdoor restaurant serving simple foods as people relax with their bare feet warmed by hot water, perhaps operating deep into the winter.

The coolest piece of equipment I saw this year was all gimmick, but potentially interesting as a foundation for a franchisable business concept that would give Cold Stone a run for its money: the teppan ice cream maker. The idea is modeled after a teppan, or teppan-yaki grill, but meant to produce cold foods. A shop would use the machine to make made-to-order ice cream, sorbet, and so on, with a -30°C chilled plate, enabling completely custom, made-to-order custom frozen treats. The operator pours sweetened liquids (a gelato or ice cream base, or sorbet base), and can add fresh fruit or other items at the customer’s request, and scrape everything together teppan-yaki style to produce a scoopable, lickable treat. I think it would translate readily to the U.S. market, even if nobody gets the reference to that style of cooking, just because it’s so dramatic to watch ice cream made before the customer’s eyes in just a few seconds.

I didn’t spend as much time as I usually do in the smallwares section, since my knees have been giving me a lot of trouble, but with my current business objectives, I’m thinking any substantial mass-produced ceramicware that I might import won’t be possible to kick off until next year, at the earliest. I’d love to offer some more stylish wafuu ceramics and lacquerware than the larger U.S. importers are doing, but I’m going to continue to keep these kinds of companies in my back pocket rather than invest a lot in buying inventory from them right now.

As I had originally planned for today, I met with a company that makes some really cool hand-tied flower teas, mostly for the hotel and gift markets in Japan, designed in Japan and made by Chinese tea companies. They’ve moved beyond the already innovative flower teas I saw last year that have different stages of expansion, and now have some novel shapes such as ducks, fish, and stars. It may sound a little funny, but the effects can be quite visually stunning to watch.

Tomorrow I’m going back to FoodEx for Day 3, but I have another late night ahead because of another vendor meeting, so I may not get as far as posting photos I’ve taken outside of the trade shows.

FoodEx 2006, Day 1

After three years attending the same insanely large trade show it would be easy to become a bit jaded… in fact, it’s surprising how little changes from year to year, but the event is still somehow exciting.

One of my goals for this trip was to find some artisanal soy sauce, vinegar, ponzu and tsuyu, hopefully to bundle as some sort of gift package for YuzuMura and then perhaps to offer as a limited-time-only kind of product through my retail client base. Hiromi also steered me toward some specialty udon and soba makers, which I’ve tended to ignore on previous trips, in spite of a personal affinity for such items. I found a fair amount of regional vendors offering products that fit this bill, and I’m hoping one of the companies I met today will work out.

We saw some interesting seasoned nori products from a Japanese company that might be another limited edition product or possibly worth test marketing at higher end retail venues. I know of an insane number of Korean companies doing this, but we found a rare Japanese maker of these products with choices of cute or rustic-gifty packaging, depending on the target customer.

I spent most of my time in the Japanese section of the hall today, taking advantage of Hiromi’s presence to extract more information than I have historically been able to do at this show, and I tried to look at the products with a slightly more opportunity-conscious eye than I have previously done. Of course my eyes were always open at previous shows, but this time I have a better picture of what’s possible in the U.S. market thanks to a fair amount of customer interaction and the benefits of a couple of years of experience. I’d say I have a better understanding of what products can work in the US at price points typical in Japan compared to my first two visits to this annual show.

I met with a couple of my contacts from a Japanese tea company and a “functional foods” ingredient company that I previously worked with to try to get yuzu products for the U.S. market, which continues to be a challenge due to supplier capacity problems. I’m looking for alternate suppliers of Japan-produced matcha as my client’s matcha-focused business grows, and hopefully a few sources of very high quality organically-grown and estate-grown teas.

In a lot of Seattle coffee shops, the owners are increasinlgy demanding organically-grown teas even if it means relying on expensively priced low-grade teas from ubiquitious companies that I shall not name. If you know tea well you know at least one brand of miserably hard to drink organically-grown tea with solid name recognition. Chances are that’s one of the companies I’m thinking of… and I’m rather tired of that kind of expensive mediocrity. I’ve talked with a couple of Japanse tea companies to see if I can find some better options, and I probably have at least one promising candidate for good green tea.

My jetlag is still pretty powerful and I’m not sure I can hold on much longer, but I’ll write a bit more tomorrow on FoodEx. I should be at the Hospitality-focused trade show, Hoteres, most of Wednesday.

Jiyuugaoka, A restless kind of leisure

Last night Hiromi’s parents picked us up at the airport and took us to our hotel near Shirakanedai station, and treated us to dinner at a kind of izakaya-like spot at Meguro station called Himono-ya.

Himono-ya is one of many basement restaurants in Tokyo, a class of restaurant that occurs primarily in extremely urbanized parts of the U.S. but is fairly ubiquitous in Japan. I recall most German city hall buildings even in moderately small towns tended to have a restaurant, often called “Ratskeller” (City hall basement, unpoetically rendered in English), which tended to serve standard bourgeois German fare. Most of the U.S. restaurant scene prizes street level space and ignores all other options, which means that we don’t spend a lot of time eating underground.

Anyway, we had a pleasant meal that, after 10 hours in an airplane, might have tasted much better than it really was. We had a plate of variously dressed hiya-yakko (cold tofu), an assortment of grilled vegetables with simple condiments, a kabocha salad (more salad than kabocha), and a couple of grilled fish dishes for those who were eating animals. I started falling asleep toward the end of our meal as I didn’t rest on the plane at all and only had 6 hours of sleep the previous several nights.

Today we woke up around 5am and nibbled on whatever we had smuggled into the country with us. We ate some slightly less than agetate curry pan at a Meguro deparment store, and then made our way to Kobeya bakery, where we indulged in some more carbohydrate laden fare.

Satsumaimo Boat

Satsumaimo-boat

Behold, a “Sweet Potato Boat”. This is a crumbly cake with nutmeg and cinnamon and serious sweet potato chunks.

Sakura danish

Sakura danish

A bit more seasonally appropriate, we had this star-shaped sakura (cherry blossom) danish, full of buttery decadence and featuring bits of presumably preserved cherry blossom seasoned bean paste. Nearly cropped out of the frame are some mochi-mochi mini cheese-filled buns, which we would also recommend.

Tribute to Roboppy

Crumbs

These crumbs are all that were left.

We headed to Jiyuugaoka, not far from Shibuya, for aimless shopping (really, market research). We have some very cool booty from a 100–yen shop and some more extravagant minor indulgences which we’ll post later when we are less completely jetlagged.

I’d like very much to highlight our lunch, but the low lighting conditions in the restaurant meant that our meal was represented sufficiently blurrily as to be unrecognizable. We ate at a restaurant which focuses on negi in all its guises, from scallions to Japanese leeks and perhaps some European varieties. Hiromi had some kind of unagi-topped rice garnished with scallions and served ochazuke style, with tea. I had tororoimo with negi served over brown rice with some pickled konbu, sweetened miso and tarako as accoutrements, along with a nice springtime nimono of simmered bamboo shoots and lotus root, along with a sweet dashimaki tamago with scallions. We both had a nice wakame soup with spiral o-fu (wheat gluten) strips.

Late afternoon we made a pilgrimage to a tea shop operating out of an old house, where we ordered two very Japanese confections.

Anmitsu

Anmitsu

Anmitsu is a dish of fruit and anko (sweet red bean paste), often served with a black sugar and honey syrup called kuromitsu. In some cases it may be augmented with ice cream, though the shop where we went serves it fairly simply. Anmitsu is the main reason I keep coming back to Japan on a regular basis. (OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration…)

Thick matcha and zenzai

Matcha-zenzai

Zenzai is usually little more than anko  and shiratama, but this nifty version is elegantly bittersweet, slightly covered with thick matcha. I feel a need to replicate this in my own kitchen.

At night we met up with an old friend of mine from my Microsoft days, and a friend of Hiromi’s, whom Hiromi has known since elementary school, dropped in after a late shift at a hospital. We ate at Meguro’s Tuk Tuk, a clever Italian-Thai fusion restaurant that plays it safe on some things, and does a few innovative things. We kept our dishes primarily in the single-metaphor range, and had fairly nice results, by the end of which our jetlag started winning the battle for control over our minds and bodies.

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.

Carbohydrates and other booty

This week was somehow maddening… I just had an insane amount of stuff to do. Last weekend we ate out with people Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, which sounds a bit like leisure, but mostly contributed to waistline expansion and lighter wallets. Beyond that, with a fair number of days when we have been underway at the dinner hour, we’ve just eaten rather haphazardly.

We did have a fun dinner a week ago Friday night, since when I’ve been too distracted to post about, but Hiromi described the menu in Japanese. It basically involved an eclectic mix of dishes that I frequently make for parties, with a few variations and minor innovations. We had some visitors mostly attended by people connected to the International English program at the University of Washington. Probably the most interesting dish is the one dessert I made, which I adapted from a smart, elegant cookbook by a Jewish French Moroccan woman, Nadine Abensur, called Secrets from a Vegetarian Kitchen. That beautiful book is now out of print, but the essence of the dish is grilled, caramelized figs and kumquats, with a light sauce based on wine that, in my variation, I thicken slightly with katakuriko, and then garnish with mascarpone mixed with a small amount of finely chopped candied ginger.

We did have a bit of home cooking midweek and on the weekend, but nothing terribly spectacular… some penne with pesto made from slightly sad basil, and various repurposed ingredients or leftovers from the party, such as a minestrone with mustard greens.

Penne pesto

This weekend I had a bit of a reunion with some former colleagues, as Hiromi was invited to a dinner in Redmond featuring various members of MSN’s international products group, including several visitors from the Japan office. Yesterday she went snowboarding with a few of them while I ran business and home-related errands, and we ate out again at Seven Stars Pepper in the International District, after some abortive attempts to get a table at some more Northwesty restaurants.

Tonight we ate at home, but kept things simple. I made quinoa with asparagus, onions, a bit of rosemary, and a topping of heavy cream…

Quinoa-aspara

One of our guests from a few weeks ago, who visited us on SuperBowl weekend, sent a care package with nifty snacks back with her visiting coworkers…

Booty

Matcha mousse pocky, Cha-dango (tea-flavored dango or small dumplings), Girl’s Day sugar coated dried peas, and spring-themed Sakura Kit Kat… the Kit Kat bar has a taste vaguely resembling salt-preserved cherry blossoms or cherry leaves.

One small importer's perspective on the Dubai Ports World soap opera

I usually eschew political monologue here since it is so rarely relevant to my post-Microsoft life as an importer, food aficionado, and struggling business owner. In college, I wore my progressive and occasionally radical politics on my sleeve, but I’ve mellowed out considerably over the years, even if I maintain a relatively similar belief system. I promise I’m not going to turn into my relatively unread blog into a political soap-box, but I do have something I must gently rant about.

I have been increasingly frustrated by the thinly veiled anti-Arab, xenophobic reaction to the news that Dubai Ports World is buying out another foreign company that manages terminals at a half dozen ports around the U.S. With a few exceptions, progressives, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, have responded in a completely reprehensible, opportunistic fashion. At the same time, the administration’s own handling of the eruption of controversy is also laughable, with the “we didn’t know anything about it, but really it’s fine with us” performance worthy of a cameo appearance by John Kerry.

The hostility toward this deal is full of opportunistic misunderstanding about how ports work, and the fuel for this uproar is equivalently opportunistic hostility and fear of Arabs and the Muslim world. Why react intelligently when you can create a fire-storm?

This is not about ceding U.S. control of our ports infrastructure to foreign companies, as Dubai Ports World has only gained control of a lease allowing them to operate terminals at US ports. This gives them the power to hire US labor to do such low-margin work as unloading shipping containers, and passing paperwork from one company to another. For their efforts, they will have the power to repeatedly touch high volumes of money that produce very low margins. Only an Arab buy-out of a municipal bond hedge fund could possibly be more uninteresting.

The way ports work is not a big secret; thanks to British trade practices dating back hundreds of years, almost every port in the world relies on the same tedious paperwork with un-memorable acronyms designed to squarely clarify title and liability for every piece of cargo and every set of hands that might touch it. The operational side is pretty much the same worldwide, except for variations in things like union-negotiated restrictions on which job description is allowed to do what kind of work. “The terrorists” aren’t going to gain substantially more insight into our security weaknesses than they could by working at a any port closer to home for a few weeks.

Security is still firmly the responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard (for seaports) and the TSA (for airports), in addition to other agencies such as local police forces and local port authorities. The terminal managers are usually only responsible for securing their own facilities, an interest which all for-profit enterprises share; Dubai World Ports is no more interested in allowing terrorists to rifle through its paperwork or sneak into its warehouse facilities than any other company.

The United Arab Emirates port of Dubai is the only Arab port participating in the innovative Container Security Initiative, which improves container security by stationing U.S. customs personnel at the port of origin, enabling risk assessment and security inspections as early in the supply chain as possible. Aside from the obvious benefit of early detection, this expedites cargo release on the U.S. side, since Customs merely needs to be satisfied that the freight containers have an intact seal before releasing cargo to the consignees.

UAE also subscribes to maritime security treaties and has a solid record of cooperation. The US Navy trusts the maritime infrastructure enough to regularly dock and service its ships at Jebel Ali, all managed by Dubai Ports Authority, closely tied to Dubai Ports World.

By buying the U.K. company which previously held these port leases and various small offices around the United States, DPW is tying its success to the future of U.S. trade. This is a textbook example of how the U.S. could improve relations with the Arab world through constructive engagement. Aside from this, Dubai Ports World’s executive staff is as multinational as any other conglomerate. Their (soon-to-retire) Chief Operating Officer is an American, their Head of Business Development and commercial business unit’s Senior Vice President, and their Chief Counsel are all American. Most of their other executives are Indian or European. Although executives are replaceable, the current management’s success is clearly not tied to an Islamist extremist future.

Some people complain that DPW is state-owned, but UAE’s government is also no friend of Islamic terrorists; they do have some human rights problems that merit concern, but this is not particularly relevant to the security of U.S. ports. Singapore’s Neptune Orient Lines can be accused of the same, and they lease a terminal in Oakland, CA; a number of Chinese state-funded enterprises lease terminals and smaller facilities at ports around the U.S. The only reason why DPW would merit special consideration is the fact that they are based in an Arab country, and the only justification for such concern is racist or anti-Islamic fear.

The security of ports in the United States is not going to be determined by the country in which the corporate parent of the shipping and logistics vendors operating in our terminals is based. It’s going to depend on the quality of the people working at those facilities, most of which are meagerly paid U.S. citizens, Hispanic immigrants, and so on, much like any number of other foreign companies operating in the United States.

Additionally, security is going to depend on the amount of resources available for inspecting incoming cargo, the biggest hole in the equation. This is about a $2 billion dollar problem, with 9–10 million containers entering the United States each year. If customs had 30,000 people whose full time job was to inspect every container that came in to this country, it would cost $1.4–2.0 billion, assuming a roughly $50–65,000 average annual cost per employee. This would add about $250 to the cost of every shipping container. That’s a lot of money from an importer’s perspective (our margins are thin, too) and I certainly would like to avoid having to pay for it, but it would do far more than disallowing companies that come from parts of the world that scare us to handle stevedoring and paperwork.

The concerns about foreign control of U.S. shipping operations are also completely misplaced. The reason why some 80% of U.S. shipping terminals are operated by foreign companies is that most U.S. companies aren’t interested in that kind of low-margin money. Imagine trying to wow shareholders of a public company with single digit profit margins, even in good years with double-digit revenue growth, as DPW has achieved through strategic acquisitions. At the same time, you have high operating costs, rapidly depreciating, expensive fixed assets (airplanes, empty containers and ships) and completely virtual strategic assets (leases and contracts).

What does that get you? A reliable source of modest income. For companies from developing countries, or countries without a lot strength in intellectual-property driven enterprise, that’s potentially compelling. But for anyone else, you could buy a mutual fund and get the same thing without all the headaches.

Cooler heads:

Technorati: Dubai, Dubai Ports World

Kyou no Thema ha, Kabocha Desu!

I’d like to say that I took this long weekend to do something relaxing, like a little overnight trip to Ocean Shores or a little jaunt to the Columbia Valley wine region. But I don’t get to do that very often. I had the pressing need to reshuffle things in my office, as I’ve decided to consolidate the two spaces I have at ActivSpace into a single space, all in the room I was using downstairs, now serving both my warehouse and office needs. My daytime contracting gig makes having natural light in my office less valuable, and the monthly difference in rent will add up after just a few months.

Having two spaces available encouraged sloppiness, anyway. I only got around to buying enough shelving to keep my sanity a few weeks ago, and I had a rather embarrassing level of chaos in both my office and my storage area. Now the arrangement is fairly rational, although space is a bit tight.

We did get a little leisure in yesterday. Hiromi got to see the Fremont Sunday Market for the first time, and we actually ate out at some unmentionable U-District bar on Friday night, Sunday at Jai Thai for lunch, and today we had an early dinner at Hosoonyi in Edmonds. Saturday we were homebodies, with a nice homemade pizza at lunch and some sundried tomato dressed pasta at dinner.

Sunday night we were all set to serve ourselves an “Iron-Chef” style themed meal, complete with three courses of kabocha-based dishes. But we were way too full after just two of the courses… that’ll teach us to eat a large restaurant lunch, follow it with a late afternoon coffee and snack, and then go home thinking we could possibly have room for more heavy food.

But we finally got our dessert course in tonight, a few hours after an early Korean dinner with soon dubu jjigae (soft tofu soup). So today, I present you with what is likely my last squash of the season…

Homemade kabocha gnocchi with kabocha cream sauce

Kabocha gnocchi

I can’t remember how many years ago I first had this dish, but on one trip to Japan, a friend of mine took me to a hidden Italian restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo, which she explained her parents had often visited on dates. They served us something resembling this kabocha gnocchi. It was the height of simplicity, and improbably both unfamiliar and comforting. Ever since then, I have regularly and shamelessly stolen the concept: squash gnocchi with a simple squash cream sauce.

I used Japanese pumpkin and potatoes to construct the gnocchi, using enough flour to hold the dough together, with a hefty pinch of salt. The dough needs to be handled while the potatoes and squash are still fairly hot, about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This time I pressed everything through a sieve for a consistent texture, but I’ve sometimes resorted to a fork when I felt a more rustic approach would work for me. I let the dough relax about 20 minutes before forming the gnocchi, after which I boiled them in briny salted water.

Next, I used a bit more kabocha to prepare a cream sauce. I also pressed the squash through a sieve, and added a fair amount of cream, enough salt to bring out the flavor of the kabocha, and mixed everything together until it was consistent. I melted butter in a saucier, then added the kabocha cream and whisked it on medium heat until thick.

Iyokan Kurosu Salad with Kabocha-no-mi

Kurosu salad

We went an even more wafuu route with our salad, using some Saison Factory Iyokan Kurosu to make a vinaigrette. Kurosu is Chinese-style black vinegar, which is all the rage in Japan as a functional food; Saison Factory has made it more palatable to the Japanese tongue by blending it with iyokan juice, an orange-like citrus fruit. It’s meant to be consumed diluted with water, as “nomi-su”, or drinking vinegar. But I thought it would also make a nice base for a salad dressing, and it worked out quite well.

I rescued some of the seeds from the kabocha and roasted them, later seasoning them with mirin and soy sauce, as well as a bit of salt. Unfortunately, about half of the seeds suffered from burned soy sauce, so many of the seeds were sadly too bitter.

Kabocha pudding

Kabocha pudding

As I mentioned, we never found room for dessert yesterday, but Hiromi made this lovely kabocha based flan Sunday morning which led us down this squash-laden path.

I contributed by boiling sugar to hard crack stage with light caramelization. The results of my own attempts at making sugar lattices were miserable failures, although I did manage to create a fair likeness of an Olympic ski jumper, and perhaps a mermaid or a carrot, depending on your perspective, and your sense of charity. Hiromi had far more impressive results, and so we used hers instead.

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