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.

and we're back

I’m not completely up and running again, but I got my replacement hard drive for my laptop installed and the OS is back up… now I have to install all the stuff I used to have and try to recover as much of the data of the old drive as possible.

I bought a USB device that’s supposed to allow me to plug in the old hard drive and use it as an external device… I suppose that’ll work until the old one is completely dead, though it didn’t arrive with the hard drive itself. Or rather, FedEx seemed unaware of it when I went down to their sort facility to pick it up, and the tracking number from Buy.com was useless.

Tomorrow I’ll try posting some food from the weekend.

Expect delays

My laptop at home suffered a hard drive failure. Hopefully I can recover some of the data, but it'll be out of commission until I get a replacement hard drive next week.

That's my primary machine at home, so I might not have the patience to do much blogging for the next few days.

Tagged

Introducing MoriAwase.com and the debut of my "other" blog

Pursuing My Passions has always been focused on my life after Microsoft, about indulging my passions for good food, contemporary Asian craft, and travel while somehow trying to build a business around those obsessions. But except for the occasional comment on a restaurant here an there, I haven’t spent much time looking outward at what other people are doing.

I wanted to build a bit of a community focused on changing contemporary Asian lifestyles, as well as on food, crafts, and design. Of course, with my ever-increasingly insane schedule, I never put the necessary amount of time into the project. But I’ve decided I will bite off a little at a time, much like I did originally with this blog… and for now, I’ve decided to create a blog wholly focused on an assortment of such things, rather than just on what I’m up to myself.

The first couple of entries on that blog are now up on MoriAwase.com. If you have any sort of enthusiasm for rustic-contemporary Asian craft, contemporary Asian art and design, for Asian cuisine and travel, please take a look, and consider signing up to participate in the MoriAwase.com Forums.

Pursuing My Passions will continue, focused mostly on what I’m cooking, where I’m traveling, and what I’m doing with my business, as it always has… MoriAwase will be a bit more focused on the world around me, and perhaps more traditionally blog-like with links to interesting content outside of my narrow little sphere.

Little eggplants in the spring

These small “Indian” eggplants from Uwajimaya remind me of kyo-nasu (Kyoto eggplant). I love using these small eggplants for elegant side dishes. It’s a little early for great eggplant, but they’re starting to be quite respectable again.

But I chose to lean toward spicy…. Nothing terribly complicated; just fresh and full of little contrasts.

Eggplant marinated with lime

Eggplant and cilantro

Thai chilies, shallots, and lime juice marinated with briefly fried halves of eggplant, with fresh cilantro leaves. I salted the eggplant and rinsed to keep them reasonably shapely. Pleasantly tart and exciting the first night, they have an even better flavor on the second day. Just add the fresh cilantro at the last minute for a nice balance of flavor.

Eggplant and tofu with thai basil

Eggplant and atsuage

Extra soft atusage (fried tofu), braised eggplant, seasoned with a little green curry paste, and basil, served dry. A little indulgent, but somehow comforting.

A reunion, a game, a windstorm, a party

Except for a four hour round-trip commute to an unpowered office on Friday, and a seriously long delay at the UPS facility where I was trying to pick up a shipment that I needed to distribute as quickly as possible to some Christmas customers, I was largely unaffected by the fallout from Thursday’s crazy windstorm. Or rather, I was far more fortunate than many others, as the only serious problems for me were a minor loss of income and, unfortunately, a seriously long delay trying to get to a football game that Hiromi had planned to attend months ago.

Hiromi came back to Seattle for a few weeks starting last Wednesday. Thanks to my work schedule, I haven’t been as attentive a host as on previous short-term visits. In fact, thanks to some of the usual last-minute holiday gift orders, I immediately took advantage of her to help me pack some shipments.

We tried to go to the football game on Thursday night, but a tremendous windstorm started to strangle the city just around rush hour. I thought it would be clever to take the bus instead of trying to find parking, but thanks to insane traffic, the normally 40 minute bus ride extended to well over two and a half hours. Hiromi was equally stuck on a bus going from Fremont to downtown… both of us bailed on the bus when we realized we could walk faster… Hiromi got out near Queen Anne and I got out at Westlake… we arrived at the Seahawks game just seconds before halftime.

Friday, my home had no power troubles; we just saw predictable plant destruction. But that wasn’t true for much of the rest of the area. The Wallingford post office was darkened and had ominous handwritten “CASH ONLY” signs plastered all over the windows, like you’d expect to see in a shop owned by a survivalist.

We had planned a party on Saturday, and some people called and wondered if it was still on… Since we had no power interruptions, we just plodded on as planned, and things worked out swimmingly.

Tonight I made a dish I had planned to serve at the party, but didn’t quite get to… Let’s just say I was a bit distracted that night. I served about 16 or 17 dishes and skipped a few things I had originally planned.

Shiso-Shio-Koshou Toufu

Shiso-shio-koshou-agedoufu

Agedashi-doufu meets Hong Kong-style Salt-and-Pepper Tofu, with the help of a bit of shiso for a flavor contrast.

Daikon to Ninjin-zuke

Daikon-to-ninjin-tsuke

I served one of my favorite short-term tsukemono (pickle), daikon to ninjin-zuke, at the party, but fortunately, I reserved some of them for us to enjoy later.

Nasu no tsukemono with ginger

Nasu-shouga-tsuke

I usually prefer, I think, salt-cured or nuka-cured eggplant pickles, but I was pressed for time last week, and I don’t have the gear or patience for nuka-zuke anyway. So these vinegared pickles, sweetened a tiny bit with honey, would have to do. Just for tonight, we served them with a bit of ginger, which turned them into something a bit magical; before, they were a bit tart for eggplant pickles, even with the honey. Somehow the ginger balanced everything out.

Abalone mushrooms with yu tsai

Awabitake-to-aburana

I served a prettier version of this dish at my Saturday party, but tonight I had one abalone mushroom left, and a tiny amount of yu tsai or yu choi (similar to rapeseed plant greens or nanohana). So I revisited the idea, this time with a bit of a heavier hand with ginger. Both Hiromi and I really find these “abalone mushrooms” fascinating… they have a great texture, and can actually look very similar to slices of abalone when stir-fried.

Acorn Squash Korokke

Kabocha-korokke

I’ve made nice kabocha korokke before, and these are fairly nice, but they almost browned too much. This is what happens when you  freeze them and fry them frozen… I had some left over from the party, and tonight we went all out with the fried food to make a bigger dent in our party leftovers. Usually I make squash korokke with butternut squash or kabocha, but I only had an acorn squash handy. The result was just as nice, though a little sweeter and a little less nutty.

 

Yakinasu: Feeding my grilled eggplant urges

washoku 188-lr

Yakinasu (grilled eggplant) is one of those incredibly simple but irresistible dishes... I can't help but order it whenever I see it on an izakaya menu. Sometimes we've even bought it at department stores to take home, as when Hiromi and I ate at her parents' home during my last trip to Japan.

Ideally grilled over Japanese charcoal with a shichirin, yakinasu can also be prepared on an ordinary grill or with a small flame on a gas konro. I used to rely on the broiler feature of my stove, but that requires very careful monitoring to pull off successfully.

You can use either the long, skinny 5-6" nasubi (Japanese eggplant) for this, or the 2-3" roundish ones reminiscent of kyō-nasu (Kyoto eggplant), sometimes called Indian eggplant here in the U.S. The larger European-style eggplants common in the U.S. are probably too big for this.

The one important question to ask when preparing this: Skin on or skin off? I tend to prefer the variations which keep the skin, mostly because it looks more appealing, but you can get a slightly smokier flavor if you're willing to sacrifice it. If you do that, you grill or broil the eggplant on all sides until the skin is more or less blackened, then wrap up the eggplant in aluminum foil, or place it in an airtight container to steam the skin until it becomes easy to remove.

When you remove the skin, you might dress the eggplant with some katsuobushi and soy sauce, or some nerimiso (sweetened miso sauce). Since I'm vegetarian, I make the latter.

For the skin-on version, I typically score the skin on either side, first lengthwise, then about 30 degrees off axis. I've chosen to cut the eggplants in half before grilling, and I rubbed the flesh with a little salt. Each side is grilled gently until the flesh slightly softens. After a few minutes of rest, the eggplant becomes a bit more tender thanks to residual heat, so it's better not to overcook it.

This version is ideal with some freshly-grated ginger, chopped scallions and a little splash of Japanese soy sauce.

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Shichirin night

We didn’t want to be indoors last night, since it was hotter inside than out. A hot kitchen in a hot apartment with no air conditioning seemed an unbearable thought, so we lit some binchoutan (Japanese charcoal) and set up the shichirin, a small table-top grill, outside on the balcony.

Shichirin-de-pan

My tiny table barely fit all of the plates, but we ultimately grilled some whole wheat bread, asparagus, onions, scallions, red bell peppers, green beans, and even some tofu. For dipping, I put together three options: an improvised harissa mayonnaise, and some yuzu miso, and some fleur de sel.

Hiromi put together the insalata caprese. I was the one drinking the fruity white wine, while she drank Red Hook IPA.

As the sun set, the red glow of the shichirin kept going strong.

It was too hot

Sunday we endured almost unpleasantly hot weather most of the day. Seattle’s summers tend to be moderate and plesant for the majority of the season, but this season we’ve alternated between drearily cool and cloudy and excessively sunny.

To cool off, we had sakuranbo soumen, another treat from my stash of FoodEx sample booty from this March.

Sakuranbo soumen

Sakuranbo-soumen-only

Made with cherries to bring out a pinkish hue, the soumen are cut slightly thicker than typical. Hiromi kept the noodles in a bath of ice water in one of my Hagi ware bowls, doubling the pink.

Ever so slightly sweeter than ordinary soumen, you’d barely notice the difference, bu the visual appeal is certainly striking.

Sakuranbo-soumen-only

We’re not much for convenience foods, but thanks to the insanely warm weather, we did take advantage of the supplied dipping sauce, diluted with a bit of water and further chilled with an additional ice cube.

It was a refreshing dinner, especially after a heavy breakfast and lunch.

We made hiya-yakko (cold tofu) with yuzu-kosho, a sort of staple around here, to go with it, and another cold dish, an ohitashi of ingen (green breens), blanched and dressed with nothing more than ginger and soy sauce.

Ingen-no-ohitashi

In fact, for the ohitashi, we used a sesame-derived “soy” sauce, marketed in Japan to those unfortunate enough to have a soy allergy in a country as dependent on that bean as Americans are on corn. For the hiya-yakko, we used a high quality Japanese Maru-daizu soy sauce, and found the flavor surprisingly hard to distinguish when served side-by-side.

Extra soupy

We’ve been on a soup kick for the last week and a half… I made a large batch of Western-style vegetable soup base from a mirepoix, and I took advantage of that for another canellini soup. Tonight I made an ordinary minestrone, but a few nights ago I put together a creamy broccoli soup.

Broccoli soup

One of the things that always bothers me about the prototypical cream of broccoli soup is the relatively dead presence of the frequently overcooked broccoli component.

In order to mitigate the possibility of such a disaster, I blanched and ice-shocked the broccoli, cooked only for about a minute, before pureeing it with soup stock. I seasoned it a bit in the pot and added some garlic. After that, I tried to minimize the cooking time, cooking it just until the vegetable matter was tender. In the last several minutes of simmering, I added a generous dose of cream.

Incredibly, the broccoli stayed a bright green, even after the cream thickened.  The flavor was essentially fresh, assisted by the a richness of the cream and a bit of freshly grated nutmeg.

I start my new gig tomorrow… I hope the additional daily commuting time doesn’t destroy all my mojo.

Drinking food

Rabokgi

Rabokgi: ddeokbokgi with ramen

Rabokgi is the derelict pot-smoking cousin of ddeokbokgi, the ubiquitous Korean stewed glutinous rice cake dish. Ramyun (instant ramen), glutinous rice cakes, and spicy gochujang are the essential components in rabokgi; in this case, ours were served with a hard-boiled egg and some variety of fried hanpen, or fish cake, which is called odeng in Korean. I left the odeng for Hiromi.

Normally this is food that accompanies a late night round of drinking, but Hiromi and I didn't have any opportunity to do that before her Sunday morning departure to Tokyo. She had been craving it the entire trip, but we were so full from our three substantial meals on Saturday that even our shared hoddeok was pushing the limits of our stomach capacity.

It turns out, though, that a small restaurant in a building adjacent Gangnam express bus station not only offered rabokgi, but was open at 8am. So not all hope was lost...

We then had a small challenge getting the attention of the waitstaff (I was too polite), but service was quick, and we had this unlikely breakfast. If, however, we had been up all night drinking, like some ajeossi (middle-aged men) at the 24-hour kamja-tang restaurant who we spotted drinking soju with their stew at 7 am Saturday, it might have just been par for the course.

We did, however, observe a small part of the ritual after dinner at Pulhyanggi.

A little makgeolli

Four with a little makgeolli, in band photo formation

We met with a friend of ours who had studied in Seattle and his sister for a little makgeolli.

Makgeolli, sometimes rendered makkori, is sort of what beer would be if it were made from rice instead of barley or wheat, and devoid of hops. It's creamy white, and served with a ladle.

We were completely stuffed from our previous dining excesses, but this nice vegetable jeon was available for those needing a snack. I managed only a bite or two, but I wish I could have managed more. I'm a sucker for good jeon. (I'll try to remember what the highlighted vegetable was at some point and post a trivial update later).

A big jeon

Jeon, but I forget which kind

 

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