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.

Oh, a pronounceable domain name

After trying painfully to spell out my domain name to someone who was interviewing me last night at a fun geek-friendly event called Ignite Seattle, I realized repeating the spelling of blog.jagaimo.com to everyone I meet could become painful.

Personally, I like the name Jagaimo, and anyone who knows even a little Japanese has little problem recalling or spelling the name, but it certainly doesn't "roll off the tongue" for most English-speakers. So I finally caved in and registered PursuingMyPassions.com, which should require far less explanation. Ironically, it's a longer name, but it's certainly quicker to communicate... at least to the average English speaker.

Sometimes I wish I had a last name that people tend to spell correctly... Alas, I'm not so blessed, so this is a good alternative.

I'm inclined to continue to use blog.jagaimo.com and just forward all requests for PursuingMyPassions.com here, but I'm toying with the idea of going the opposite direction and sending everyone to the new domain name.

I'm certainly no marketing genius. What do you think  should do?

Molten chocolate cake and seville-orange mascarpone sorbet

Molten chocolate cake and seville-orange mascarpone sorbet

When I received an order for some fresh California-grown yuzu a few weeks ago, I had this grand ambition of making a yuzu mascarpone sorbet, much like one I tasted in Osaka a couple years ago. It turns out that I immediately sold almost all of the yuzu to some local restaurants and a supermarket, and I really only had two or three usable yuzu for myself. The big California freeze happened and I had little prayer of getting any more yuzu, so my carefuly laid plans never quite had a chance to materialize... I made nabe instead, and froze some of the peel for later use.

Well, it turns out that Seville oranges are in season, too, and readily available in Seattle. So I juiced about four oranges and chopped the peel finely, cooking the peel in a syrup of sugar and honey for a couple of hours until the peel had broken down a bit. I occasionally added more water to keep the mass from becoming candy. When the orange peel was soft, I let the "marmelade" cool down to room temperature, and added some mascarpone and the juice I had previously set aside.

Tonight I took it a step further and made a little chocolate cake, full of molten chocolate goodness. I actually used honey instead of sugar, and not much of that, so it's a really intense chocolate flavor. It's made with a combination of grated dark chocolate and cocoa powder. Even though I only made a small cake, I could only manage to eat half tonight, but it was the perfect thing to go along with the Seville orange sorbet.

Hiromi's got the flakier crust

Somehow I’m always happy to make a standard American pie crust, slightly flaky and crumbly and crisp all at once. I occasionally veer toward a rough puff pastry but I’m usually just not that committed, and I do like a nice American pie crust, so I tend to just take the shorter way out…

Hiromi, on the other hand, refuses to produce anything shorter than a rough puff. It’s often just shy of a true puff pastry. So when she makes an apple pie, the edges erupt dramatically, and the top crust and edges have hundreds of little layers.

Hiromi’s After-Christmas Apple Pie

Apple pie by Hiromi

If memory serves me correctly, we warmed up the last two slices just minutes before the New Year’s Eve countdown, served with a little sweet potato ice cream, just after the fireworks ended… We were too tired to go out to a New Year’s party or even to stand in the cold in front of the Space Needle, so we just looked out toward Queen Anne from our balcony window and occasionally glanced at the 7–second delayed TV broadcast.

The pie was very nice… Although I suppose it was a little strange to be polishing off a bottle of Washington sparkling wine at roughly the same time…

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

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

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

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

Steamed custard

Korean savory egg custard

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

My nokdu-jeon

Nokdu-jeon in Seoul

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

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

O-sip seju

O-sip seju in a big baek-seju bottle

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

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

That would suit me fine. Or so I thought.

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

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

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

 

Warabi no ohitashi

It's a sure sign we're in the middle of spring.

Warabi no ohitashi

I found these forest treats at the University District Farmer's Market on Sunday. The season is mercilessly brief for fiddlehead fern fronds... They'll probably be impossible to find by the time I return from my trip to Japan. So, even though I have been trying to reduce the perishable contents of my refrigerator as fast as possible, I couldn't resist picking up some fiddleheads before I go.

Warabi, as fiddleheads are called in Japanese, are typically briefly blanched in Japan to remove aku (roughly: bitterness, astringency, the "unclean" parts of food) before they are incorporated into other dishes. Often a bit of baking soda is used when blanching this type of spring mountain greens, which slightly softens them and also removes more of the traces of enzymes that, given long term heavy consumption of the plant, can lead to some health problems. This blanching technique is always used in Japan, though I think it's sometimes neglected in the US where we seem to want to immediately toss these in a pan with olive oil.

In the Pacific Northwest, my understanding is that the Chinook tribe traditionally cooked these with oil extracted from oolichan fish, which also run in the spring.

For me, I'm happiest with a simple Japanese-style preparation.

Warabi no ohitashi - close up 

I like zenmai, a similar frond common in Japan, on top of a bowl of warm soba, but for warabi I usually just make a kind of simmered ohitashi.

This is just Japanese soup stock (dashijiru), seasoned with the typical combination of mirin, Japanese soy sauce, salt, and a bit of sugar, all done to taste. Once the sauce comes to a simmer, I just add the warabi and simmer for a few more minutes. The prior blanching will also help preserve the color during the second exposure to heat.

Warabi is a little bitter, but the overall flavor is reminiscent of asparagus, if perhaps a bit more intense in flavor. Unlike most ohitashi, I serve this warm. As a result, the dish is almost like nimono, even though it's not cooked quite as long.

 

Supporting my habit

Cary Tennis: "Your music does not have to support you. In fact, your music might be happier if you were supporting it."

Poignant.

I remember when I started thinking about working in software again, sometime approaching the middle of 2005. I was watching my bank balance shrink and my debt load increase even though my business was starting to see a predictable revenue stream.

My passions and my bank account weren't quite aligned. At that point I had realized I started with too little money, and I knew I had made some early mistakes with my wholesale line of business...  not least of which was having a wholesale business, when my objective was to sell products with compelling origin stories, rather than catering to the risk aversion of retail buyers and merchandising managers.

Hiromi advised against caving in and taking a day job so soon, although my rational faculties were fully aware of the inevitability of needing to supplement my income.

I was happy when I finally saw a project come along that matched my technical interests and personal idiosyncrasies back in the winter of 2005. Although I was a little disappointed that I couldn't devote myself full-time to YuzuMura.com for the time being, I quickly learned to appreciate the freedom to go out to dinner with friends again without worrying about making the rent.

Although it's been a quiet year and a half in terms of developing my business, I've settled into a satisfying rhythm of solving challenging technical problems in the daytime, coming home and taking care of the logistics of a small business, and having the financial freedom to be a bit more self-indulgent than I was two or three years ago. My passions for travel, food, and craft have actually gotten more attention (particularly the first two) since I've had more disposable income again.

Surprisingly, I found that I was better at the software stuff than I was several years back, even though I was theoretically out of practice.

I remember a sleazy-but-well-dressed "Career Consultant" in a fancy downtown Seattle office, who had a low pressure pitch and a high pressure close, trying to sell me on repackaging myself for higher-paying jobs. For a fee, of course.

It was a weak moment for me... When his office called me, I knew I wanted to leave Microsoft, but I also knew I needed to escape the industry for a while and I had other passions I wanted to explore. I almost bought into it.

When I told him I really wanted to get out of software and either run a restaurant or start a business that indulged my passions for food and travel, Mr. Career Consultant told me, in roughly so many words, that I could be committing career suicide if I left the field for two years. (He also told me I'd never leave Microsoft, but I know it was just part of the act when he turned up the pressure).

What he said wasn't true, of course... Smart software companies hire capable people, not just resumes... but I was surprised and delighted to discover that I actually liked the work again. I was even happier to discover that being less emotionally attached to my status, or my career, made it possible for me just to "work the problem" and not only deliver value to my employer but also to enjoy most every day at work... something that wasn't happening at all in my last 18 months as a full-time Microsoft employee.

Although I haven't had as much time or energy to invest in my business as I'd like, I've actually had the financial resources to let it slowly grow, instead of having to cut my early losses and run.

Letting my work support my work has been surprisingly liberating. I make decisions for me, rather than trying to chase after small rewards in service of short term urgencies.

I know I'd have done things a lot differently, faced with the same decisions all over again, if I had the last three years of experience and my bank account of 3 years ago... lessons learned, but I'm not living 3 years ago. I'm just building on what I've got now.

Doing both my work and someone else's work makes it easier to wake up every day... Sometimes it's harder to sleep, but I can guarantee that I'll have something to look forward to the next day. Maybe it will be the joy of solving some esoteric technical problem. Perhaps I'll hear from a customer delighted to find something she never expected, all because of my little web store. Maybe it will be the more base pleasure of being able to spend a few dollars on a good pastry and a coffee without feeling accounting guilt. Maybe it'll be that little trip I'll take to Asia in a few days that's part business, part leisure, part love... and entirely in my own hands.

 

Dorayaki

For some reason I get wistful whenever I think of the various ningyo-yaki (shaped waffles typically stuffed with sweet bean paste) and dora-yaki I have eaten on my many trips to Japan. From a highway service area or a department store basement, fresh, warm ningyo-yaki are impossible to resist.

Maybe they speak to my inner child.

Maybe it's just the sugar rush.

Well, I don't have a taiyaki (fish shaped) waffle pan in my otherwise well-stocked kitchen, so at home I have to settle for dorayaki, the pancake-like equivalent. These are often served cold, but they're even better just a few minutes off the stove. You can make a batch of them and keep them in the refrigerator as an afternoon indulgence for up to 3 or 4 days.

I also don't have pancake rings or an electric griddle, so my dorayaki end up being the size of my smallest nonstick omelet pan. That means mine need to be cut up into quarters for individual servings, or perhaps folded, if i used a thinner batter.

Dorayaki, Japanese stuffed pancakes

Dorayaki aren't exactly the same thing as the pancakes you'd slather with syrup. The American pancake is, by itself, not distinctly sweet; it typically only has enough sugar to make the pancakes brown nicely. Every dorayaki recipe I've seen, on the other hand, is full of sugar or honey, and distinctly heavier-handed with eggs. That's partially because the fillings are a bit less sweet than the typical syrup topping, and partially because this is a snack rather than a breakfast item.

Mine are sweeter than normal American pancakes, but not as sugary as the typical afternoon snack version that Japanese dorayaki vendors tend to produce. The key is to eat them in much smaller quantities than you might eat pancakes... they're heavier than they look.

Measuring things precisely is still sort of anathema to me, but I used about 3 egg yolks, one whole egg, 2/3 cup buttermilk, a shy teaspoon of baking soda, about 5 ounces (by weight) of all-purpose flour, maybe a tad less than 1 cup. Cake flour might be better, but I never keep it around.  You'll also need two tablespoons vegetable oil, a few tablespoons of honey, and a generous pinch of salt. The batter needs to be mixed until lumpy, like regular pancakes; it's easiest if you mix all the liquid ingredients first.

Recipes in Japanese vary widely. Some use all sugar, some use sugar and honey, some are all honey, and some incorporate mirin. Some are lighter and fluffier, some are thinner and aspire to be a little mochi-mochi (chewy, but not tough). Almost none use buttermilk; if you only have regular milk, use that, but switch to baking powder instead of baking soda.

The pancakes need to be cooked on medium-low heat with the slightest brushing of oil in the pan.

Take two pancakes and make a sandwich with them using any kind of anko, anko cream, or maybe a thick custard. I used koshi-an (finely sieved sweetened red bean paste) bought at Uwajimaya this time, but this is also good with ogura-an (coarse red bean paste), uguisu-an (mung bean paste), and probably even zunda (sweet edamame paste). If strawberries are already good where you are, consider putting a halved strawberry in there.

If you make the pancakes bigger than 3" or so in diameter, cut them into halves or quarters before serving.

 

Rhubarb season

Last Saturday I came home with a bundle of rhubarb, so I quickly turned it into a compot and kept it handy throughout the week.

At breakfast a few times, the simmered rhubarb found itself in a lassi or smoothie-type drink. Made with a little buttermilk, a banana, and some ice cubes, the sweet-tart concoction kickstarted my morning without my usual caffeine hit.

This morning, though, I wasn't in the mood for a liquid breakfast. That, and I really wanted coffee. It's hard to convince myself to make coffee when I'm already drinking something else.

Observant readers may have noticed a distinct surplus of bread in this week's postings... This is because the obscenely large pseudo-baguette I got from my neighborhood market (from Seattle's A La Francaise) is incredibly difficult for a single person to finish. There are other baguette options in Seattle that are sized more conventionally, but they weren't available on the night I decided I needed some bread.

Well, I finally found a way to use that last little bit of bread today.

It wasn't even a struggle...

Rhubarb Buttermilk French Toast

Rhubarb french toast

Conventionally, french toast is briefly soaked in milk then dipped in egg. I would like to have done that, but thanks to my lassi adventures earlier in the week the only dairy I had at home was buttermilk, so I used that instead.

Buttermilk pancakes aside, the possible outcome of using buttermilk in french toast concerned me slightly. Buttermilk pancakes work in part because they are typically made with baking soda, which requires acid in order to yield a leavening effect, and the reduced acid after the leavening reaction makes the pancakes aromatic but mild in flavor.

Surprisingly, the buttermilk worked quite well. I was expecting it to be excessively yogurty, but no such disaster befell me. I don't know if it's because the topping was already sour, or that even with a few minutes of soaking the percentage of buttermilk stays fairly low, or because I love sourdough french toast and some of the same flavor notes were coming out of this.

Anyway, I'd definitely make it again when confronted with excessive bread. Two stalks up.

Asparagus baguettes

 Asparagus baguettes

I've been lazy this week. I just don't have much energy to make anything complicated, and for some reason I'm inadequately inspired to think of interesting simple foods.

These asparagus baguettes took advantage of what was handy... Some asparagus, onions, brown butter, and two nice cheeses. One is Rogue River Blue, the pear brandy-washed cheese that Hiromi loves so much... And another was the ash coated cheese mentioned recently.

I made a hurried cabbage salad, which has nothing more than salt-rubbed cabbage tossed with a tiny bit of sugar and an unconventional but fantastic natural, traditional balsamic vinegar. It's not a remarkable feat, but it tasted nice, and helped balance out the indulgent fat content of the cheese.

Chi goo, meet fava. Brown butter, meet soy sauce.

   

Chi goo is a slightly crunchy potato-like vegetable. It's called a "river potato" in some translations, and seems to share some textural qualities with lotus root. Apparently the name means "belly button mushrooms" in Cantonese, but it's clearly a root vegetable, sometimes called arrowhead.

I couldn't really decide what to do with these, and I lost one or two of them due to neglect.

When I finally got around to preparing them, I thought they might respond well to some leftover brown butter I had from making financiers. First boiled like potatoes, then quartered lengthwise, the chigoo are added to a pan with sizzling brown butter. After they've cooked for a minute or so, I add a serious dose of sake and moderate splash of soy sauce. When the liquid reduces substantially, I toss in some fresh blanched fava beans (soramame in Japanese) and heat them just long enough to to warm up.

Slightly salty, a little nutty, and imbued of the aroma of sake, the slightly crisp chigoo featured a hint of artichoke flavor. The dish is very simple, but serves as a nice sake accompaniment.

 

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