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.

Oirase Trail, Aomori, Japan

Hiromi did all the heavy-lifting as far as organizing and planning our Aomori side trip... I just carried some luggage.

She drove us to Oirase Trail in Aomori, not terribly far from the onsen ryokan where we were planning to stay, but a fair stretch away from Hachinohe, the train station where the shinkansen let us off.

Downstream

Downstream

Like most tourist attractions in Japan, the place is filled with tourists like us, and especially so during Golden Week. However, we manage to snag a few quiet moments.

Twig

Twig

Ishi-ge-do

Ishigedo

A slab of stone rests against an old tree. Legend has it that an evil woman lived under this slab, and lured travelers with her beauty. Unfortunately, she didn't do anything terribly mystical; she would just kill the unfortunate passers-by and steal their stuff.

The artist

The artist

A middle-aged guy concentrated on rendering a river scene as we quietly passed by.

Stream vegetable

Stream vegetable 

An apparently edible sansai, which we think was featured at dinner later that night.

Hiromi

Hiromi

Most of the trail is fairly basic, but a few stretches that would just be mudbaths most of the year are covered with simple wooden plankways.

Home

Home

Tree in stone

Tree in stone

The cliff almost looks alive...

Bud

Bud

The two of us

The two of us

Close

Close

Stream, fallen tree

Stream, fallen tree

Cliff

Cliff

Waterfall

Waterfall

 

Eki-ben on the way to Aomori

May 1st we had an early start... By this time, my jetlagged habit of waking up at 6 am without the aid of an alarm gave way to a more ordinary pattern of begrudgingly getting out of bed around 7:30 or 8. We had to use multiple cell-phone alarms to make sure we woke up in time... We had departed the football game after-party around 11, just in time to get home around midnight to bemusedly consider packing for our short trip to Aomori....

I think most of the serious packing waited until morning, but we had to wake up around 5:30 to make sure we could get to Tokyo station in time to grab breakfast and to make the shinkansen train.

JAL Sky Time Yuzu Original Citrus Drink

JAL Sky Time Yuzu Original Citrus Drink

I grabbed an overly-sweet yuzu drink from a vending machine to take on the train... I tend to make one that's closer to 4-5% yuzu at home, but mass production has certain cost constraints... the stronger-tasting yuzu drinks in Japan I've found tend to be about 200-300 yen for a small glass bottle... this was a bit more generous in size, but is only 2% fruit juice.

Balance Ekiben

Balance Ekiben box

Hiromi picked some reasonably vegetable-heavy bento... There's no such thing as a vegetarian ekiben (train station bento) anywhere in Japan that I've seen.

Balance ekiben inside

This one has a little shrimp, so Hiromi ate that part... Perhaps throwing this Balance Bento out of balance? Ah well. I was also a little sad that the takenoko gohan, which I usually love, was filled with tiny bits of chicken or pork...

Yasai Tappuri Haru-Yasai Bento

Haruyasai bento, box

This one, true to its description, was full of vegetables, but also had its fair share of animal bits.

Haruyasai bento, inside

These would have to do...

The two bento sustained us for the three hour train ride north. At our destination, Hiromi picked up our rental car and took us the rest of the way to our destination, on very little sleep, while I crashed in the passenger seat, mostly oblivious to the length of our trek across Aomori prefecture.

 

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Yakitori-ya for a vegetarian

On the Sunday before Golden Week, Hiromi had a practice session to attend, so we needed to have a late dinner. Ochanomizu completely clears out during Golden Week, as it's mostly populated by university students, so nearly every place we walked by had just closed for the evening. Most of the shops closed around 8:30 or so, even if their signs indicated that they were customarily open much later.

An incredibly intoxicated woman just outside of one restaurant loudly offered a bottle of something that was allegedly jasmine tea to everyone within earshot, and some of her friends humored her, tasted something that was likely higher proof than the average bottled tea, and spit it out onto the street. We discovered that the restaurant around which they were congregating was still open.

The restaurant promised we could still eat if we coult get all our orders in within about 30 minutes... We were up for the challenge. The one caveat is that the shop specializes in yakitori, grilled chicken (and assorted parts) on skewers.

View of the kitchen

View of the Kitchen, Ochanomizu yakitori shop

Fortunately, many yakitori shops have a number of vegetable options, and we happened to stumble into one with a surprisingly long menu.

Sobacha-Ryokucha to Shochu Cocktail

Soba-cha to ryokucha with shochu

We started with these allegedly seasonal drinks made with ryokucha (green tea). Mine had soba-cha and shochu in it... thanks to the toasted buckwheat, it resembled a slighlty alcoholic genmaicha with a pronounced buckwheat aroma.

Stick harumaki

Stick harumaki

Our first thing to nibble on... some sort of cheese-filled stick harumaki... My memory of the other ingredients has faded, but it was pleasingly crunchy and creamy.

Spring greens salad

Spring greens salad

Some bitter greens with a kind of grapefruit dressing, topped with little webs of dried fish and a garnish of katsuobushi. Another example of the sense of humor required to be vegetarian in Japan, perhaps, but the greens and dressing were nice.

Soramame no sumibiyaki

Soramame no sumibiyaki (grilled fava beans)

Ume salt

Ume-jio (ume salt)

I always delight in unexpected greatness in simplicity... These were one of our favorite treats of the night. Oak charcoal grilled soramame (fava beans) served with coarse ume (Japanese apricot)-flavored salt. The easiest way to eat this is to out the fava beans one by one and eat with a grain or two of the salt.

Shouyu-butter tofu with moyashi

Another pleasant surprise... This tofu was served on a small sizzle platter with a sauce made from little more than butter and soy sauce, and tasted surprisingly indulgent. It's topped with negi (scallions), and like so many other pub side dish in Japan, is dressed with some katsuobushi.

Kushi-yaki

Kushi-yaki: takenoko and tsukune shiitake

Tsukune-stuffed shiitake for Hiromi in the background, served with a heavy dose of yuzu-kosho, and grilled bamboo shoots with slightly sweetened miso. It's really hard to get nice bamboo shoots in the US, especially this fresh. I don't know why that is, exactly. But these were very nice, very appropriate for spring, and they were completely free of the unpleasantly preserved taste that most bamboo shoots in the US have.

 

 

Cheerleading and Chuuka

Hiromi and her cheer team had a game on Monday, April 30, just before we headed off to Aomori for a little hot spring vacation and late hanami at Hirosaki.

She's part of Club Cranes, a 2nd-division X-League American Football team sponsored by Toa construction company.

Because there's a fairly long warmup, Hiromi suggested I could wander around the station or drink coffee for a while before heading to the stadium via taxi. But one of her teammates suggested that this was altogether unnecessary, and that perhaps I could serve as their paparazzo for the day. We grabbed some takeaway bento for me and some onigiri for Hiromi right at the station, and the entire group gathered into two or three taxis to head on over to the stadium.

I sat down in the stands at first, but was invited to come down and take a bunch of photos right from the sidelines.

Hiromi

Hiromi

Rehearsal action shot

Rehearsal action shot

Chillin'

Chillin'

High energy

High energy

Sidelined for a few weeks...

Sidelined for a few weeks...

Warming up

Warming up

The big guy heading back to switch to game gear

The big guy

After some warmups, it's game time... the Cranes players and cheerleaders change into their game colors. I got to stay close to the action...

The pre-game bow

The pre-game bow 

An early touchdown

An early touchdown 
Hiromi's team took the early lead, but missed the extra point... It put them at a slight disadvantage for the first half.

Rooting for the offense, down by 1

Rooting for the offense, down by 1

6, 7, 8 and hold

6, 7, 8 and hold

Charging ahead

Charging ahead

Most of the team

Most of the team

Miyu and the captain

Miyu and the captain 

Go Cranes

Go Cranes

Not without risk

Not without risk

Satoko's announcement

Announcement by Satoko

That looks painful...

That looks painful...

But at least I'm not at the bottom of all this...

At least I'm not at the bottom of all this... ouch

Announcement by Megumi

Announcement by Megumi

Trio 1

Trio 

Trio 2

Tough

Tough

A young fan and her mother

A young fan and her mother

The big win

The big win

More photos are on the Cranes Cheer Blog...

After the game

Everyone else ordered a kind of set meal, but since I'm the odd duck and don't eat animal bits, we ordered a few vegetarian items. With 40 or so people, we completely filled the tatami room at the edge of the little Chinese restaurant we visited.

We had a little to drink, a lot to eat, and some people made a series of little speeches and a few very personal announcements...

My poor camera's 2 GB memory card was completely full at the end of the day, thanks to a couple of days without transferring to my laptop and the excessive number of photos I took that day, but I found some completely blurry images I could toss and made room for a few hurried food shots...

Fried tofu, sweet chili sauce, and cabbage

Fried tofu, sweet chili sauce, and cabbage

Pickled vegetables

Pickled vegetables

Slightly crunchy stir-fried potatoes

Slightly crunchy stir-fried potatoes

Chuuka fuu no goma-ae

Chuuka fuu no goma-ae 

 

,

Cannelini and Masa Harina Frikadellen

I don't really know what these little cakes should be called, but in Germany something similar was called a Frikadelle... traditionally something like a flat meatball, but sometimes an alternative version was listed the token vegetarian dish at the university cafeteria.

These were my first home-cooked meal after returning to Seattle from Japan... I really didn't have much in my refrigerator, and only arranged to obtain some lettuce and a little Manchego cheese on my way home... The rest depended on my pantry.

I just crushed canned cannelini beans, added some masa harina (ground cal-treated cornmeal), salt, chilies, and some shallots sauteed with cumin, mustard seeds, and a little turmeric for color. I formed three small patties and pan-fried them until crispy on both sides.

They're served on rice with some tonkatsu sauce and a simple salad with Manchego cheese.

It sounds offensively fusiony, but tasted surprisingly decent. It also took only about 10 minutes of effort (and some cooking time)... and the corn flavor worked pretty well with the cannelini. I had planned to use canned black beans or pintos, but none were handy; fortunately, the slightly sweet flavor of the cannelini worked to a small advantage.

Macchinesti: Coffee in Tokyo

I've been to the smaller, original location of Macchinesti in Akabanebashi two or three years ago with Hiromi, the Vivace-inspired outlet opened by a protégé of David Schomer. But they also run a bigger shop with a simple savory food menu not far away in Azabu-Juuban, which benefits from a pleasant outdoor seating area.

Hiromi felt the urge for some decent coffee after we woke up late Sunday morning, so we made a pilgrimage to the new location, found in a posh residential area in Tokyo.

Seattle meets Tokyo

 Macchinesti, Azabu-Juuban, Tokyo

Eggs Benedict on the menu

Tokyo Eggs Benedict @ Macchinesti

We've never encountered this favorite of Hiromi's on the menu anywhere in Tokyo, and have only seen evidence of it on expensive hotel menus online. In Seattle, we often make eggs florentine or whatever at home, and Hiromi gets her fix for the porcine version when we go out for a weekend brunch.

Take something home

Macchinesti beans

We didn't take any beans home, of course, since there's no coffee brewing equipment in my weekly apartment. For those who live in Tokyo, however, freshly roasted Vivace-blended beans (and some Tokyo-only single-estate treats) are a must-have.

Menu

Macchinesti menu 

Katakana-ized menu.

Tokyo Rosetta

Tokyo Rosetta

Ok, that was a cruel caption. But even Vivace rarely pumps out rosettas as elaborate as this duo. We might have just been lucky, though... one of the two coffees was made with a more typical single-pattern rosetta.

Department store dinner, hand transported from Shibuya to Kawasaki

Department store basement meal

On a wet and rainy April 28, Hiromi, Hiromi's mother and I trekked to Meiji Jinguu, then briefly toured Shibuya's Tokkyu Foods Show depachika madness. We were planning to have dinner at Hiromi's home that night, so we actually wanted to pick up a few things to take home.

The nifty thing about department store basements in Japan is that you can assemble a fairly elaborate meal without ever needing to whip out a spatula or your handy kitchen saibashi.

Not one of the dishes required more than a bit of reheating, although for one of the two grilled eggplant dishes (far left, middle) I chose to make a quick nerimiso to help the two variations stand apart from each other. Even in that case, however, the department store had a ready-to-buy sauce you could take away to remove even this tiny step of production.

I also made a quick seasoned soup stock for the big ganmodoki (upper left), but everything else was just a matter of heating, at most, and plating.

Among the other dishes: Fresh yuba with soy sauce, an okra ohitashi with yuba, two kinds of vegetable croquettes, supermarket sushi, blanched kogomi (a spring mountain vegetable similar to warabi), a vegetable aemono, dashi-maki tamago (a broth-seasoned omelet), takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot rice), and four kinds of inari-zushi. One variety had a wasabi-seasoned rice, another was gomoku, another might have been made with azuki, and the last one had age puffs made from black soybeans.

It wasn't all easy, though... A fair amount of time unwrapping, plating and transporting foods from the kitchen to the table made preparation take almost as long as making a simpler dinner might have taken. Of course, the quality was much better than the average takeaway meal at a US supermarket, and everything was nicer than most of what you might find at even upscale urban specialty shops.

More from Shin-Marunouchi Building

April 28: Just after my first brief visit on opening day, Hiromi and I made our way back to the Shin-Marunouchi building again in search of a late breakfast. It was still a madhouse.

Point et Ligne Bakery, Shin Marunouchi Building, Tokyo

We couldn't help but buy a lot of bread here. Point et Ligne bakery carefully illuminates the bread, but prefers to keep the staff as a background feature, assiduously assembling your order.

Yes, you want these olive-oil anko-filled baguettes

Many bakeries in Japan skip over the savory breads in favor of sugar-laden pastries... There's some sweet stuff here, but I was pleased that even the sweet treats like these olive-oil laden sweet red-bean paste baguettes avoided sugar in the bread itself in favor of an ama-sioppai experience. And there are some savory mini-baguettes just to the left of these for those who want to go straight for the butter...

Oven porn

 

Point et Ligne's extremely open format doesn't hide the guts of the operation. I wouldn't want to be the one responsible for keeping those beasts sparkling clean...

Contemporary wagashi at Kanou Shoujuan

Ume zerii presented at Kanou Shoujuan, Japanese apricot jelly, available for takeout in a bamboo-shaped cylinder. We took some home to Hiromi's parents, along with a matcha jelly.

Monaka

 

Monaka, typically sweet bean paste-filled crispy cakes (the outside texture resembles an ice cream cone), also from Kanou Shoujuan.

14 Juillet Debutante

All dressed up for 14 Juillet's second day of courting new customers.

Cassis eclair at 14 Juillet Tokyo

Black currant eclair. You must have one. We did. We will never be the same.

14 Juillet Sorbet

In case pastries don't suck you in...

1F Cafe that spells like Emeril

Although the photos of their coffee look pretty, I can't bring myself to go inside a place that spells espresso like this. And no, I don't think it's a Japanese mistake... it's far more difficult to make an "ekkuspuresso" sound in Japanese than to say "esupresso." Some highly paid consultant is clearly responsible.

 

Shalimar, Ochanomizu, Tokyo

An Indian restaurant may not be the most obvious place to eat one's first meal in Tokyo.

But this is far from my first time in Tokyo, so I can dispense with the ambition to eat the best possible Japanese food every meal I have in this city. Tokyo is kind of a part-time home for me... Since 1999 or so, I've averaged very close to two Japan stamps in my passport every year, sometimes several weeks per trip.

Besides, the tempting Italian-Japanese fusion inches from our weekly mansion was completely booked for the night. It was already rapidly approaching 9pm, when most restaurants start winding down in Tokyo, so we settled for another small temptation just a few hundred meters away.

Papadum

Papadum topped with onions

We ordered a pair of papadum, lentil-based crackers. Each papad was topped with marinated onions and other vegetables.

Bhindi

We were originally tempted to order a spinach dish but then noticed an okra curry on the menu. We've often had a simple okra and tomato masala, which we're huge fans of. This was a heavier dish with okra and potatoes along with a tomato-based sauce, which was not incredibly exciting, but was pleasingly comforting.

After a few minutes, we received another dish of what appeared to be the same okra curry, and we were told this was saabisu (free). We didn't quite expect it also to be studded with bits of lamb and chicken, but Hiromi made use of the animal bits. Based on the hodgepodge of ingredients, Hiromi surmised this was likely meant as part of the makanai (staff meal).

Channa masala

Channa masala 

We ordered a chickpea curry as our primary protein source for the evening, which looks perhaps a bit similar to the okra dish but was fortunately seasoned somewhat differently. Sometimes Indian restaurants in Japan serve the same base for almost every dish, especially if they're financed by Japanese owners. This place doesn't seem to commit quite that sin, although there are only a handful of vegetarian mains so it's a bit hard to tell.

Paratha

Paratha

This is a little different than the parathas I'm used to, as the dough seems to be twisted into a spiral. It was quite addictive, though... After everything came, we did order a bit of an unremarkable saffron rice, partially because we never received any tori-zara to set small portions of food, and maybe partially because it didn't quite seem like dinner without rice. Like many Indian restaurants in Japan, they used expensive but texturally and aromatically inappropriate Japanese rice rather than basmati. I don't really know if this is meant to accommodate local tastes or if the import tarriffs on rice make real basmati too expensive.

We also had some inexpensive but rather mild "cocktails", one made with mango, and the other meant to be a gently spiked sweet lassi, which tasted suspiciously like Calpis brand syrup (we liked it anyway).

Anyway, we were reasonably pleased with our choice to eat here. The food was slightly above average for a Tokyo Indian restaurant, and the staff was exceedingly nice to us, even offering us a complimentary salad before the rest of our food arrived.

During a trip to Osaka in Japan about 7 years ago, I visited an Indian restaurant run by a friend of a friend, who confided... no... broadcasted... that he gets tired selling the same setto combo meals one after another to 80% or more of the Japanese customers who walk in to the restaurant. He said loudly, in Japanese, that people who order set meals get much more boring food and that people should try to be adventurous "like these two" and order various things from different parts of the menu, as it would be much more delicious. After his gentle tirade, the couple sitting next to us brustled a bit, and proceeded to order two of that night's setto specials...

Phone: 03-5298-2036
Tokyo-to Chiyoda-ku Gai-Kanda, a 5-minute walk from the Ochanomizu station Hijiri-bashi exit, straight across the bridge.

A reunion: Rappopo pie with Hiromi

Rapppo sweet potato apple pie

I don't remember how long ago it was, but probably about four or five years ago I was staying somewhere in Nishi-shinjuku... Several times on the way to somewhere more interesting than Shinjuku, I found myself walking right past a tiny bakery called Rappopo. I was tempted by the aroma of constant baking, and by a shockingly long line for a train station bakery.

Most people were walking away with a Rappopo Pie. It's built on a foundation of pie crust, or perhaps what in Germany is called Biscuitt-Teig. Above that, there's a thin layer of something like pound cake, followed by a thick layer of sweet potatoes, and a layer of apples, and then topped with some sort of lattice-pattern piped streusel.

At about 700 yen, give or take, it seemed like too much to indulge in all by myself, so I kept waiting until I had a good excuse to buy one... maybe a chance to split one with a friend or three... well, such an opportunity never arose on that trip, so I finally grabbed one on my way to Narita airport.

Once I arrived at the airport, I set out to eat one quarter of the pie while it was still a bit warm, thinking I'd snack on some of the rest during the middle of the 9 hour flight.

Narita airport is a really boring place to be trapped for a couple of hours, especially if you've been there a dozen times or so and you've seen all of the duty-free shops, convenience stores, and gift shops. Even more so if you've already done all your gift shopping before leaving.

So after due consideration... Do I want to walk around the airport aimlessly for another twenty minutes? Or have another slice of this nice pie? I chose the more comforting, fattening route.

Every 20 minutes or so I repeated this internal conversation, until the pie had completely disappeared.

Friday afternoon when I arrived in Tokyo, I had some time to kill, so I spent an hour or so at Shin-Marunouchi building on opening day, but I avoided every temptation to try one of the many fantastic-looking new shops.

But when Hiromi and I met on the Yaesu side, we passed another location of Rappopo, and our fate was sealed... we had to have one of those pies.

Reunited with both Hiromi and Rappopo, the three of us made our way to the Ochanomizu weekly apartment we had arranged for this stay in Tokyo. Hiromi and I each tucked into a small wedge of the pie shortly before we started hunting for dinner, some towels and some knee supporters for my increasingly temperamental legs.

 

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