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.

A wasted trip

November 7, 2005, 11:23 PM

My dragon beard candy order cruised through customs and FDA clearance today, which is a relief after a series of messy problems on the Hong Kong side.

The freight vendor told me everything was ready to pick up at the airport, so I went down to the cargo facility to pick it up. I’ve been to this location before; the same airline as usual transported the shipment, but the logistics vendor was different.

Apparently, the warehouse hadn’t properly understood instructions to break down the consolidated shipment, so it wasn’t ready after all. They also said the shipment couldn’t be broken down until tomorrow because they were busy preparing a large outbound shipment. I wasn’t very happy.

Basically, this meant my entire trek to the airport, during peak traffic hours, was pointless.

Fortunately, the logistics provider’s sales representative had planned to meet me at this warehouse, and he tried to straighten things out there. He couldn’t, however, get them to budge. So he volunteered to have his company pay for trucking to my office in Fremont.

Oddly enough, in spite of the hiccups on this shipment, this freight vendor has provided some of the best service I’ve encountered so far. They’ve been fairly hands on helping my vendor prepare documents for the shipment, and they are the only freight company to actually come meet me in my office, and probably the only logistics company to offer anything as compensation for an error.

Of course, this final complication means my schedule will be messy tomorrow, so it may not help me all that much.


November 6, 2005, 11:38 PM

After stopping in Ballard briefly I went to my office to work on a long outstanding, slightly complicated project, and it kept me there a little late. I started to get fairly hungry, because both breakfast and lunch were quite minimal.

I had a simple dinner in mind.

During wintertime in Japan, nabe-ryouri (most clearly translated as hot pot cuisine or one-pot meals) is a preferred way of warming up at dinnertime. It’s a communal kind of meal, and generally involves multiple additions of various ingredients. In a restaurant, however, sometimes everything is placed in the pot before bringing it to the table. It’s typically heated on a small portable gas stove or a small induction cooktop at the table.

Kinoko-iri Yudoufu

Yudoufu 027-640w

Yudoufu is perhaps the most assari of nabe meals. It’s light flavored, sometimes consisting of no more than some dried konbu (giant kelp) and fresh, chopped tofu. It is generally served with a sappari, or refreshing, dipping sauce, like ponzu.

Yudoufu must feature tofu, but a number of additions are quite typical. Hakusai, or napa cabbage, is a natural, and contributes a bit of a broth. I frequently include shiitake mushrooms and occasionally the thin, long enoki. For tonight’s version, I didn’t use enoki, but I did come across another good deal on chanterelles, which were cheaper than my shiitake. They provided a kind of earthiness that I don’t usually experience with yudoufu in Japan.

Other nabe might contain chicken, lighter-tasting shellfish such as hotate (scallops), and in some cases, the occasional crab or lobster. Heavier, meaty nabe are also popular. After the raw ingredients are exhausted in these stronger-tasting nabe dishes, many families will add cooked rice to make zousui, or rice porridge.

Yuzu ponzu

Hidden in my freezer is a small, slightly freezer-burned stash of grated yuzu peel. I owe this treasure to ceramic artist Minowa Yasuo, who acquired several for me from a conveniently located neighbor last fall in Mashiko, Japan. My remaining stash still seems to have a fair amount of the incomparable aroma of this citrus fruit.

To make the dipping sauce, yuzu zest is indispensible. Because of its power, I don’t really need complicated seasonings: Japanese soy sauce, a little citrus juice (I used yuzu juice also), and the yuzu peel make an aromatic, refreshing foil for the mild tasting yudoufu ingredients. Some people add might add shichimi.

Yudoufu 044-640w



November 5, 2005, 1:47 PM

Roadside dining options in the United States tend to depress me. I usually end up at burger-and-shake stops looking for a token veggie burger or a milkshake, or at some poor satire of a Mexican restaurant serving things made with canned black olives, reconstituted refried beans, salsa from foodservice jars or ketchup-like portion packs, and piles of yellow Cheddar cheese.

In Japan, the toll highway system creates a captive audience for restaurants at various highway turnouts, much like spiffed up highway rest stops. Most of these places have one or two full service family-style restaurants, a cafeteria-style quick service option that usually includes ramen, soba or udon as options, and then, most importantly, little yatai-style vendors at the front of these facilities selling tai-yaki (fish-shaped, generally bean paste stuffed, waffles), mitarashi-dango or various things on sticks.

In all fairness, the quality of cuisine at highway “service areas” in Japan is not much better than the US; it’s sometimes equally artificial, full of stale flavor-enhanced instant katsuo-dashi, mostly prepared in advance by foodservice manufacturers. However, the options are a little more diverse. And those yatai in front of these facilities often offer comforting snacks that I sometimes actively crave.

A few years ago, I finally discovered my roadside snack of choice. Atypically for Japan, they are quite often vegetarian; some of them even eschew the ubiquitous katsuo-dashi flavor base. They are not fancy, and are not usually particularly inspired flavors, but are somehow comforting. They are quite filling and usually reasonably inexpensive.

Oyaki cooking in a cast-iron pan

Oyaki on the pan

Oyaki can be considered a simpler form of Chinese stuffed buns (baozi, called humbow in Cantonese, nikuman or anman in Japanese), but unlike baozi, the dough is not made with yeast. They are a little more like certain types of stuffed pancakes (turnip cakes, sesame cakes, etc) only with an even less elaborate dough-making technique. In fact, there’s little to this dough; it’s just a sticky dough of flour and warm water, maybe with a bit of salt. No yeast, no baking powder, and minimal waiting.

Unlike baozi, oyaki are typically grilled on a cast-iron pan, ideally over an open fire. At an indoor “service area” stall, they will be cooked on a gas burner. Some recipes actually have them steamed, but this seems to defeat the concept of “oyaki”; steaming could help them cook more evenly, if they are finished on the grill.

My favorite filling is probably kabocha, which is just an absolute carbohydrate-loading feast. But I also like the classic nozawa-na (turnip greens) version. Alas, after my recent jiaozi-making adventure, I had a bit of a mismatch between the amount of my mustard greens filling and my skins, so I decided to use the remaining filling for my oyaki. I also remembered I had a small stash of turnips in my refrigerator, and some spring onions, and so I grated a turnip with a nifty micro-plane until it was the texture of oroshi-daikon or nagaimo. I seasoned the mix with a bit of miso and soy sauce.

I made a dough in the same way as noodles: I placed a bit of flour in a bowl, and made a well in the flour and filled it with some warm water; in this case, I added a pinch of salt. I kneaded the dough until it was cooperative: sticky and mostly smooth. Ideally, it should rest a bit, but I quickly went ahead and divided my dough with a dough cutter, and rolled the dough very thin.

Plated Karashi-na to kabu no oyaki

Plated oyaki

I am not particularly skilled in the art of making oyaki. I filled each round of dough and brought the ends together, twisting them and then pressed as close to flat as possible. Little to no oil is required; they just need to be added to a hot, heavy pan on a medium flame. They are cooked for a few minutes on each side, and the process of flipping and cooking is continued until the dough looks cooked and then browned.

It seems that one or two of them suffered from minor structural flaws, which resulted in tiny eruptions. I think a pinprick on the side of each oyaki would help release steam.

Shipping woes, mustard greens jiaozi

November 3, 2005, 10:41 PM

I have been frustrated for the last few days with some shipping issues… it reminds me of my very first dragon beard candy shipment, when the competence to book the cargo seemed to fail my shipping vendor, which at that time was Yamato transport.

This time was more of a comedy of errors and miscommunications: between my supplier and myself, between my supplier and a new freight company, and between that freight company and me. I didn’t always know when some problem was still unresolved because of some slow responses.

Fortunately, these appear to be resolved and the shipment is supposed to be on its way. Aside from irritating my customers, the only big remaining risk is the usual risk of customs clearance and FDA delays. If I’m lucky, everything will be ready by Monday, but if I’m not, it could take another 4 days of “fax and wait.”

In the meantime, dinner has been uninspired. Most of the week I made things that I’ve recently cooked variations of. Tonight was my first stroke of creative energy.

I like the tangy bite of mustard greens. They don’t require a lot of intervention; on most occasions I just cook them with a little olive oil and a splash of vinegar, salted to taste. Because such simple preparations work so well, I rarely push the envelope with mustard greens, but I wanted to do something more.

I massaged a bit of coarse salt into the leaves, let them sit a bit, and rinsed them. This technique hinders further shrinkage of the greens after cooking, which was important because I was turning them into a stuffing. I chopped the leaves fairly finely, and did the same thing with some mung bean sprouts. Afterward, I added some momen tofu (momen-doufu), some grated ginger, and some salt.


Karashi-na Gyouza

I turned the filling into gyoza, or potstickers. I used my big, not terribly evenly-heating cast-iron pan. After cooking them in oil on two sides, I added some katakuriko mixed with water and covered the pan for several minutes, which contributes a nice crispiness and some aesthetic advantages.

Karashina gyoza

Mustard greens mellow out quite a bit in such an application, but contribute a nice pungency… next time I might sneak a bit of vinegar into the dumplings. I was hesitant to do so because I remember so many of my least favorite dumpling-eating experiences in Beijing were sour… but it might work well here.

Respite, and something out of nothing

October 30, 2005, 7:45 PM

It’s been a tough few weeks for me. Instead of scheduling supermarket demos this weekend, I decided to get out of town. I’ll get back to the usual routine next weekend. Assuming my new shipment arrives, I will need to go to Portland next weekend.

I drove over Stevens Pass to Leavenworth, through Snohomish County. Fall certainly seems to have set in; the non-native deciduous trees have been turning. Fortunately, the dreary rain dropped off as I crossed over the pass.

In Leavenworth I ate some Kartoffelpuffer and drank a glass of Glühwein, both of which were often offered as street food when I was in Germany, but were served at a middle-brow restaurant here. After lunch, I walked past Kitschdorf (no, that’s not an official name for the center of town, but it fits) down to a walking course along the river, where I noticed a few fallen chestnuts and the occasional river fish.

When I got home, I realized I had a fair amount of ingredients which I had originally quite specific plans for, but which no longer had a clear fate. Rather than let them go to waste, I set out do do some serious improvisation.

Roasted potatoes with chive sour cream, and cabrales salad

My leftover cabrales cheese needed a final send-off, so I decided to use it in a salad. I incorporated a small amount into a sour cream/mayonnaise based dressing with a mustard kick. I’m not much of an aficionado of creamy dressings, but this worked quite well. In a frying pan, I let some butter cook at low heat with garlic and chopped tarragon, and added some pieces of my remaining rye bread to toast for croutons. Just a bit before pulling the croutons off heat, I added some of the cabrales cheese, so I could taste the contrasting flavors of raw and cooked blue cheese.

Alongside, I served some roasted potatoes with chive sour cream. The contrast between the blue cheese and the lightly flavored sour cream meant some subtlety in the sour cream was lost, but I was being frugal here, not trying to win any culinary contests.


Roasted cauliflower in white Cheddar sauce

I had half a cauliflower left after making my “nests” last week, so I roasted the cauliflower and served it in a white Cheddar sauce. This was essentially a cream and garlic enhanced bechamel with a fair amount of sharp white Cheddar.

Cauliflower in cheddar sauce

Dinner ended up being fairly dairy-intensive, but of course, it was quite comforting. I think later this week I’ll probably switch gears back to more sappari food.

Channa gobi masala nests for a neighborhood gathering

October 27, 2005, 4:36 PM

Last night I walked to a small-scale town meeting in my neighborhood to listen and quietly participate in discussions about the upcoming election. Jennifer advised me to bring finger food, but I got home a bit later than I intended, so I didn’t get started preparing food until about 20 minutes before the event.

My intended contribution was slightly more time consuming than this allowed, and I didn’t have a backup plan, so I arrived about an hour past the official starting time. Even though I was running late, I wanted to stop and take a little photo.

Fortunately, the group had only started their planned agenda a few minutes before we arrived.

Channa gobi masala nests


This looks elaborate, but much of the preparation time is idle, waiting for something to simmer or finish baking. I needed to chop onions, cauliflower, and chickpeas, and I grated some ginger; I toasted and ground some spices, and I melted butter to coat some prepared shredded filo dough.

To form the nests, I pulled clumps of the butter-tossed shredded filo and pressed the threads into a mini-muffin form, taking care to leave a depression for the filling in each muffin cup.

For the channa masala, I used a blend of garam masala,  fenugreek, cumin, cloves, brown mustard seeds, and one or two things I’ve since forgotten, toasted and ground them, and brought them back into the pan with some ghee. I cooked down some onions, added cauliflower, then included some chickpeas and tomatoes, and a little amchur powder for a hint of acidity. I forgot that I wanted this to be a bit thicker, since it was a filling, so close to the last minute I added a little starch dissolved in water. Each vegetable is chopped very finely to make it suitable for bite-size portioning.

After the filling was ready, I spooned it into the nests and baked for roughly 20 minutes, until the bottoms of the nests were lightly browned.

Sleep interrupted

October 26, 2005, 11:57 PM

I got a decent night’s sleep Monday night, and woke up early and started plugging away on my work. Somehow everything just went better than average, and I blew past a bunch of things that usually don’t quite go so smoothly.

The only thing that distracted me was a truck, which was in front of me, trying to maneuver through an underpass just south of the Highway 99 bridge between Fremont and Queen Anne. Over about 10 minutes, a few cars started to pile up and then everyone got smart, realizing the truck driver wasn’t going to give up anytime soon, and wasn’t likely to try to get out of everyone else’s way; we backed out and popped back into traffic on the 99. I was on my way to a customer meeting, so this delayed me a bit, though it turned out to contribute to 5 minutes tardiness.

Tuesday night, however, didn’t go so well. I did some work in my office late at night, and then went home with an open issue with one of my vendors in Asia. They called me about 1:30 in the morning, and we tried to settle things, which took about 40 minutes on the phone. After that, my generally insomniac mind was unwilling to become restful again; a little stress goes a long way to unsettle my sleep patterns. I should probably consider this a health problem; it sure causes me a lot of trouble.

Tuesday nights I usually go to a Japanese language meetup in Seattle, and so dinner tends to be simple, and often eaten on the run. This time, I managed to make something simple that I had partially prepared the night before.

Red lentil soup

Red lentil soup

Spiced with some garam masala, some chilies, and a few adjustments, this lentil soup provided both comfort and heat. Cold weather makes me crave fiber and warmth… this works for me. Red lentils turn themselves into a bit of a puree, with no intervention required, assuming the liquid ratio is about right. It’s a nice low-effort soup-like dish.

Grilled cheese with chanterelles on caraway rye

When I’m in a hurry I feel little concern with making the ethnicities of my cuisine particularly closely aligned. My soup was aggressively seasoned, but I went with something mellow and brain-dead to nibble on.

I took some caraway-seasoned rye bread, a decent white cheddar, and some more sweated chanterelles and turned them into grilled cheese.




Jumping regions again, I served a medicinal Korean drink that I cooked up on the weekend. Omija-cha (occasionally romanized without the hyphen, i.e. omijacha) is a “tea” made from the fruits of something occasionally translated as magnolia vine, or alternately as schizandra berry.

It takes me about an hour or so of simmering the very expensive berries to get the right level of flavor intensity, and I’m sure you could find someone who tells you it needs to be done much longer. I rarely make it, but I thought it would be a bit refreshing and maybe keep my little cold from relapsing. It’s served cold and fairly heavily sweetened.

Omija-cha is often a bit darker, but I might have been stingy with the berries this time. The name refers to the “five flavors” of the berries, the classic five flavors of Chinese cuisine: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent. I like it, but I’m sure it’s an acquired taste. In Seoul I once ordered it while sitting alone at an art gallery/cafe, and I’m sure the young girl at the counter was a bit perplexed, though she understood my awful Korean.



Farewell, Minowa-san

October 23, 2005, 10:50 PM

Hiromi passed very sad news to me this weekend. One of my ceramic artists, Minowa Yasuo, died of a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a kind of stroke which occurs when blood vessels near the surface of the brain burst. This type of stroke can affect people of any age, so it was completely unexpected. Before the stroke, Minowa-san was quite healthy.

Minowa-san and his wife were very kind and welcoming to Hiromi and to me. They often invited us to the workshop on the outskirts of Mashiko and served us English tea and Danish butter cookies as we talked about ceramics and unrelated trivialities.

Mrs. Minowa called Hiromi’s home while she was at work on Friday. Yesterday Hiromi talked to Mrs. Minowa by telephone to express sympathy… it turns out that Mr. Minowa died on September 2 and Mrs. Minowa called just after visiting family near Hiromi’s home.

During their conversation yesterday, Hiromi learned that Mr. Minowa had a son from his first marriage, and they hadn’t seen each other since both Minowa and his former wife remarried. That son moved to the US at some point to work, and somehow discovered one of my web sites, then found a way to contact his father in Mashiko. They had planned to meet again later this year, although it didn’t quite work out.

I’m not quite sure how to react yet. I have more of a personal connection with the Minowa family than other potters I buy from, so it came as a shock to me.

My cold seems to be better. I tried to take the weeekend easy, but somehow I didn’t sleep much better. I spent a lot of time playing with web code on Saturay, and enjoyed some cheap entertainment on Friday. This afternoon, I did a bit of work in my office, met with a customer, and then decided to make a simple dinner.

Grilled pear, caramelized onions and cabrales salad

Tamara Murphy’s restaurant in downtown Seattle, Brasa, gives a lot of space to cabrales cheese, particularly on their bar menu. At Brasa, cabrales is often paired with grapes, and this is perfectly sensible. The pungency of the cheese and the mild flavor and light sweetness of the fruit complement each other. I spotted some nice Bosc pears tonight and noticed a fair deal on cabrales cheese, so I chose to grill some pears and caramelize some onions, and serve these atop some red lettuce dressed with my signature yuzu dressing. A few toasted pine nuts scattered about add a bit of aromatic complexity.

Pear cabrales salad with caramelized onions and pine nuts

Potatoes au gratin with chives

I remembered I had a remaining stash of chives from a baked potato dinner a few days ago. I spotted some inexpensive Washington-grown Yukon Gold potatoes and decided I needed to give my mandoline a workout, so I made this gratin. I used half cream, half milk, a bit of salt, and a hint of garlic.

Potato gratin with chives


Pizza with arugula, chanterelles and oyster mushrooms

October 21, 2005, 12:21 AM

Whatever is affecting my sleeping pattern and energy level bit me hard last night. Fortunately I had a light workload, so I decided to do some cleaning at home, which I’ve neglected a lot since I moved to my current apartment, so there’s always something out of order.

I’m in a bit of a comfort food mode recently, but tonight I balanced my need for something comforting (lentil vegetable soup with some tarragon) with something a little more drama. The mushroom season is in full swing, so I got a few chanterelles again, and some oyster mushrooms, which I briefly sweated with a hint of thyme and a dash of salt in olive oil. I didn’t feel like making any sort of sauce or pesto, so I just rubbed garlic and olive oil on my pizza dough, added a bit of mozzarella and parmesan, and baked the pie with the mushrooms. Upon finishing, I sprinkled some arugula on top.

Pizza with mushrooms and arugula


A little fever... feverish?

October 19, 2005, 11:18 PM

I have been a bit under the weather for a few days, and my energy level has been all over the place, but mostly low, punctuated by occasional nervous tension or something like giddiness. My body gave me hints of battle with some minor cold… occasional sneezing, a moderate fever, occasional chills.

I don’t really get to stop working, but I’ve just been moving really sluggishly since Saturday. I got things shipped, took care of a number of incoming orders from wholesale customers, worked to prepare for a new shipment from Hong Kong, and so on, but I’ve just felt a kind of weariness that’s been hard to beat.

Even dinner has suffered. I’ve been keeping it brain-dead… I had a bagel for dinner yesterday, and I’m completely unable to remember what I ate on Monday.

Tonight I got home a bit late and kicked off a couple of baked potatoes. I tried to do a bit more, so I blanched some broccoli, but I was attempting a bernaise-style sauce and fought with it all the way. I nearly tamed it, but I cheated by adding some milk and mustard, since it didn’t want to emulsify with just the egg yolks. It resembled bearnaise only because of the presence of tarragon and egg yolks. The flavor and texture worked, but it wasn’t quite bernaise.

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