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.

Rushed bread

November 21, 2005, 10:14 PM

I’ve been swamped today trying to catch up with orders. Unfortunately, I didn’t get as far as I had hoped, so I need to knock out a lot of the rest tomorrow or I’ll be in desperate shape.

I was able to pick most of my orders for in-stock things picked but some complications made it impossible to get everything out. I’ve never been this overwhelmed before.

Just after making the ground cutoff for FedEx, I went back home and got a yeast dough started, while I worked on some other things. I really needed a brisk walk to decompress, so stepped out for about 30 minutes. I’m really exhausted, and I really got minimal sleep last night. Right now I’d like to be packing a few more orders to get a jump on tomorrow, but I’m so worn out I’m afraid of making mistakes.

This bread proofed only for about an hour, so it never developed any real flavor or textural complexity, but it formed a nice crust.

Rushed bread

Food-related taboos in Japan

November 20, 2005, 10:49 PM

On eGullet an innocent inquiry by a restaurant-savvy Manhattan denizen about disposable chopsticks turned into a lively discussion about Japanese food-related taboos.

Namely, Japanese seem to be resistant to reusing chopsticks, and people are far more comfortable with disposable chopsticks than reusable alternatives (unless they are using their own pair). Chopsticks become strongly associated with the person that uses them. On the eGullet thread, I suggested that the origin of this is in old taboos about touching other peoples’ belongings, and also tied to Shinto rituals related to chopsticks.

Actually, although Japan has a reputation for elaborate ritual, it’s not so difficult to learn basic Japanese dining etiquette. Most of the rules about how to behave when eating are just related to chopstick usage.

You don’t need to worry about the order of utensils to use since there’s usually only one to choose from. You don’t really need to worry about where your left hand is. You don’t even need to worry about the order of what to eat, although it’s more delicate to take a bite of rice, when present, between tastes of different side dishes.

I think you need to worry more about whether you have holes in your socks than the way you eat.

Gourmets may argue about the preferred order to eat certain foods, but it’s not necessary to follow such rules to be polite; it’s sort of like knowing the preferred order to eat cheese in the U.S. or Europe. It might reflect on your sophistication or lack thereof, but doesn’t make you a barbarian.

I have sometimes tended toward nervousness when eating with unfamiliar people in Japan, perhaps from some anxiety that I may do something inappropriate. This is perhaps slightly amusing or occasionally endearing but completely unnecessary. Except for some easy-to-follow rules about manipulating chopsticks, you don’t need to worry much.

Hua juan and yuba-vegetable soup

November 17, 2005, 11:03 PM

My favorite steamed Chinese bun is one of the simplest. After proofing a fairly standard, slightly sweetened yeast dough, I massage in a tiny bit of baking powder, which seems to affect elasticity. I roll out the dough as thin as practical, then rub in a liberal amount of roasted sesame seed oil. After that, I usually add nothing more than scallions, but occasionally I add some chili flakes or some sesame seeds according to my whim.

I roll up this sheet tightly, then take a dough cutter to create 1.5”-2” wide sections. I use chopsticks to smash the end of the spiral into the bun, causing the bun to expand out into a flower-like shape. The buns need to be steamed for just about 15 minutes.

Hua Juan: Steamed Flower Rolls


Yuba and vegetable soup with kikurage

Alas, because I never progressed very far when studying Chinese, I only know the Japanese names for most of the ingredients in this Chinese-style soup. Although essentially a simple soup, I used a lot of different vegetables, including onions, celery, garlic, sichuan ja tsai (zasai) pickles, snow cabbage pickles, carrots, napa cabbage, carrots, chilies, and, perhaps atypically, some turnips, and some shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves).

I incorporated some rehydrated yuba (soy milk skins), and dried “tree jellyfish” mushrooms (kikurage in Japanese) some pressed, slightly dried Chinese style tofu.

In order to add an earthy nuance, I seasoned this soup with a moderate amount of sesame oil. I also incorporated a fair amount of black vinegar and, of course, soy sauce and salt. To thicken the soup slightly, I relied on a bit of katakuriko dissolved in liquid.

Huajuan 016-640w

Dinner is served.

Huajuan and yuba vegetable soup


Tsuji Ayano

November 17, 2005, 12:26 AM

I was pleased to hear a feature on Japanese ukulele player and singer Tsuji Ayano on PRI’s The World. I’ve been listening to her music since around March 2000, when I ran into one of her early full-length albums at a “New Release” listening station in HMV Shibuya. (A Japanese site has some sound clips).

That album was a refreshing change from standard-issue Japanese pop fare, mostly because the production aesthetic was so austere.

Most Japanese musicians are barely distinguishable under the weight of their usually far more famous producers. In contast, Ayano’s work has an infections, unpretentious style, slightly boyish lyrics, and is relatively free of the standard issue self-conscious cuteness endemic among Japanese female vocalists. She has a kind of singer-songwriter style that, while certainly Japanese, would not be shocking on a playlist of contemporary American folk music.

When I first heard her music, I was hooked. Ever since then, I tend to seek out her newer albums whenever I travel to Japan, and I buy them before I even have a chance to listen to them.

The funny thing is that I started listening before most of my Japanese friends had ever heard of her. A year or so after I started listening to her music a friend in Japan told me she had a bit of an ear worm from a song of Ayano’s that had apparently been featured on a TV commercial or movie or something, but apparently the marketing department of her record label took a relatively soft approach to promoting her work.

I wonder if the little mention on The World will build some awareness of her work in the U.S.

I’m not a big fan of Japanese pop music, but Ayano’s work has made me hopeful to find more quality music from Japan.

Mini galettes with chevre and caramelized onions

November 14, 2005, 10:43 PM

On a whim, last Friday night I made a savory galette-style cheesecake. I improvised the dough, cutting a bit of clarified butter into flour, adding a bit of mace and salt, then working in a bit of cold water in a well.

I hurriedly caramelized some onions, which is not a process that likes to be rushed, but it worked out reasonably well. I mixed soft chevre, cream cheese and sour cream together, beat in an egg, adjusted salt, and filled a large round of dough; I baked the cheesecakes until the filling set, and served warm.

Tonight I took advantage of a bit of leftover dough and filling, and made a smaller version to go with yesterday’s borscht.

Savory mini galette cheesecakes

Mini Galette


Full of borscht

November 13, 2005, 10:05 PM

As winter approaches, I like to get back to my roots and tubers. (Insert groan here.)

Borscht is a colorful way of incorporating several earthy fall and winter vegetables in one simple, comforting dish.

It doesn’t take much: tonight’s borscht involved onions, celery, turnips, potatoes, beets, cabbage and carrots. After sweating the vegetables a bit with salt, I add soup stock and simmer until the beets are tender.

Borscht, plated with sour cream


When I did my Bellevue demo today, I was pleased to see that most of the big boxes of dragon beard candy I delivered on Friday had already disappeared. I hadn’t expected that. I’m guessing that someone was waiting for the new shipment and bought several boxes, but of course there’s no way to know.


A long time since Portland

November 13, 2005, 12:03 AM

I haven’t made it down to the Beaverton Uwajimaya for a while, so it was a good thing I finally made it down there.

I got a late start due to a bunch of things that I needed to prepare this morning, and I had so much merchandising and preparatory work to do when I was there that I took more time than usual to get set up, and in fact I wasn’t ready to go until just before a fairly substantial foot traffic rush started to subside.

This could be considered a problem, but in fact I’m never quite sure whether heavy or moderate foot traffic is better for me, because I tend to convert more customers when people come in small, sporadic waves than when I have dozens of people pressing by, grabbing samples and moving on before I have a chance to explain products to them.

This weekend I’m back into full demo mode; I will be at the Bellevue Uwajimaya in the afternoon tomorrow.

My dragon beard candy shipment is very tight right now. Including intended deliveries, I think I have just about 2 small gift boxes left, and maybe about 18–22 larger gift boxes. I still have a moderate amount of a new style of packaging left (a tea and candy gift set), and enough of the 3 pc samplers to meet anticipated needs, but I’m going to have to reorder this week.

I had a bit of a run on the candy this week that I didn’t expect. I am torn because it’s too soon to order again for most of my wholesale customers, but stock is inadequate to cover near-term demand. Hopefully I can make things work somehow.

Toasted baguette with champignons

November 10, 2005, 11:44 PM

As a starving student in Marburg, Germany, I used to eye a couple of shops that apparently specialized in baked baguettes, quite often with Camembert or Brie, and some vegetable, mushroom or meat. The concept was as simple as it was seductive.

But in fact, I never made it inside the place… most of the time, it wasn’t even open as I passed by. It was on my way to university, but not terribly convenient to trek back to during lunchtime, and in fact, except for the occasional incredibly cheap Turkish Imbiss food or 5 Mark wood-fired pizza special at an otherwise unexciting Italian restaurant, I rarely indulged in eating out.

Of course, it was so easy to recreate such pleasures in my dormitory kitchen, and at the time, I couldn’t convince myself to pay for something that I could just as easily make at home. I had far more time than money.

Now I can’t say I have a lot of time or money, but conveniently, this worked out to be a quick and frugal meal.

Champignon baguette with Brie

Baguette with champignons

I buttered some second-day Le Fournil bread and added some chopped garlic. I sauteed some shallots in butter until slightly browned, then sweated button mushrooms with some thyme. I added a splash of wine. The baguette is stuffed with the mushrooms, and I covered it with a bit of soft chevre and a young Brie. Upon serving, I ground some pepper and sprinkled a hint of truffle salt atop the sandwich.


November 10, 2005, 12:25 AM

I was mostly in rush-everywhere-mode today, going from customer to customer and errand to errand. I got a fair amount done but I’m still behind on a couple of things.

Actually, until tonight, I didn’t even get around to sending out shipping notifications for the large number of internet orders I sent out on Monday and Tuesday.

I never ate a proper dinner. I just nibbled on good bread from Le Fournil and dug in to some Brie. If I had been doing this on a park bench or at the dinner table, that would have been perfectly respectable, but actually I was mostly eating it while underway this evening, between tasks.

I got a bit hungry late tonight but I remembered I have some kuri-kinton, or sweet potato puree with chestnuts, that I made a few days ago.

Kuri-kinton is one of the humblest of Japanese confections. You won’t find a lot of middle-aged Japanese mothers who make the kinds of sweets that appear at fancy wagashi-ya-san, even if it’s as simple to replicate as dorayaki. Daifuku (usually ambiguously referred to as “mochi” in the U.S.) are rarely made at home except for special events. But a fair number of people are willing to attempt kuri-kinton.

I have attempted to make daifuku at a nursery school in Japan that a friend’s family managed. This was about 7 years ago, and my Japanese was even worse at that time. The teacher gently scolded me for making them inadeqately elegantly; the 4 year olds had more experience and seemed to understand the instructions on kneading the dough better than I did, and they managed to massage out any hint of seams in the bottom.

Homemade Kuri-Kinton


Kuri-kinton, however, requires no such attention to detail. Boil some Japanese-style sweet potatoes, peeled and in pieces, until fork tender. Drain. Add a fair amount of sugar to taste, and optionally, a splash of mirin; I recommend adding a pinch of salt to add some richness. Smash with a fork or potato masher while still quite hot (about 160F sounds good to me).

When you have a nice, smooth paste, you will then incorporate some chestnuts. For convenience, canned or jarred chestnuts preserved in syrup work well; the syrup should be drained, and may used in something else if you so desire. Otherwise, you’re welcome to attempt to make them from scratch by boiling in your own syrup; this requires very careful peeling, and even with my nifty Japanese chestnut peeler I rarely quite get that right. I’ll save the chestnut peeling for roasted chestnuts or things that require a less sweet starting point.

You can serve the kuri-kinton warm, but it’s more typically served at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Kurikinton requires no artfulness in presentation and can simply be spooned onto a plate. If you feel so inclined, however, you may shape the kurikinton into little balls or other shapes. I chose to highlight one chestnut in the center.

 Serve with some good Japanese tea.

Receiving, packing, shipping, delivering, election night

November 8, 2005, 11:59 PM

My dragon beard candy shipment finally made it in this afternoon, just at the end of the scheduled delivery window. I got to furiously packing a couple of express shipments, and some other behind-schedule dragon beard candy orders. I just barely made the cutoff time for Express, and I just barely made the cutoff time for Ground.

I then headed home to grab materials related to the election. I needed to remind myself how I planned to vote.

The polling place for my precinct seems to have changed at the last minute. I got a new voter registration card just yesterday. I was surprised about such late notice, although it’s possible that the last card that I got also noted this change. My previous polling place was just 2 blocks away, but the new location is about 8 blocks away.

After voting, I made another delivery, and met up with a friend to join in some election night gatherings. Nick Licata as an incumbent had some of the best results of the night, with 76.52% of the votes (99.6% reporting). We had some nibbles at the Mirabeau room, and then moved on to some other events at the Westin.

I’m a little tired. Tomorrow I’ve got an incredibly busy day ahead as I need to handle some big internet orders and distribute various wholesale orders.

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