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.

Heyri Gallery, Part 3, Ceramics you can go home with

I've been trying to catch up to my Japan trip, but I took far too many photos in Korea.

The main goal for my trip to Hanhyanglim gallery was to get some insight on the possibility of importing some nice contemporary Korean pottery, and I was pleased to find that the gallery gift shop's buyer's taste runs a pretty close parallel to my own. I still have to work out a lot of details, but I'm hoping to bring the work of at least one of these production potters to YuzuMura.com later this year. Let me know if you have any favorites...

Donburi

Bowl 

Vase with carved illustration

Vase

Unlipped plates

Plates

Medium-sized low open form 

Low open plate

Tea cups, bowls, and a large serving plate

Nokcha cups

Mugs and deep plate

Plate and teacups

 

Nokcha mugs

Nokcha mugs with infuser

These green tea mugs come with a tea infuser and lid. I really like this artist's work.

Oil-burning candles

I have a nokcha cup with an infuser in the same style from this artist, so I was happy to re-discover this artist.

Small plates

Small plates 

Candle stand

Candle stand

Teacups and pot with golden enameling

Teacups and pot with golden enameling

Rich textured plates

Rich Textured Plates

Hyper-contemporary beer cups

A little French? 

, Part 2, Part 3

One last gimchi-jeon in Seoul

My last reasonably complete meal in Seoul was a late lunch last Thursday... Somehow, after a week of sleeping six hours a night I didn't have quite the energy level required to search for something more substantial, and I was only moderately hungry that night... I ended up just grabbing an overpriced smoothie and some more of those addictive but deadly hoddeok.

Anyway, Thursday afternoon I found this little spot, Waelbing Buchu Nara, just a short stretch from Namsangol Hanok Village. It's extra tiny, and only has room for a bit more than a dozen people to sit. But I was drawn in because of the short, simple, reasonably healthy-looking menu. More importantly, they had gimchi-jeon (kimchi jeon), which is one of the few vegetarian-ish jeon I hadn't indulged in on this trip.

 Waelbing Buchu Nara restaurant

The restaurant offered up a few simple banchan, though I skipped the one that involved a bunch of fried tiny fish.

Mu gimchi

Mu gimchi (daikon kimchi)

Common enough, but this pretty daikon kimchi was quite nice.

Minari

Minari

I might be wrong about this, but I believe this is minari, similar to garlic chives.

Kong namul guk

Kong namul guk

The jeon comes with a bean sprout soup... It's fairly strongly seasoned with bits of what appears to be dried mackerel. Thanks to my vegetarian habits, it was a bit difficult to for me to eat much of this, but it was a nice touch.

The main event

Kimchi jeon (gimchi jeon)

I ate way more of this than I should have... but the kimchi jeon was pretty nicely done. On previous trips to Korea, at a couple of restaurants the kimchi jeon I've had somehow seemed slightly undercooked. I think that owed itself to the complexity of identifying how well cooked a very uneven batter covering copious amounts of kimchi might be.

At Waelbing Buchu Nara, however, I was pleased with my order. The surface of the jeon just teeters on crispness, while the pancake itself is almost fluffy. The kimchi adds a lot of flavor without being overwhelming.

Even with my almost nonexistent Korean ability I was able to make myself reasonably well understood, and they understood my badly worded request to make sure the jeon was devoid of meat. (It's not all that common to add pork or seafood to this type of jeon, but some places might).

 

Sanchon: Mountain temple cuisine

Although I tend to make an effort to go to a place like Pulhyanggi whenever I get a chance to go to Korea, I've long wanted to try another Seoul institution which is also known for fairly high end cuisine.

Sanchon restaurant, just down the street from this alley

Sanchon, located in Insadong, offers an elaborate prix fixe vegetarian meal somewhat comparable to what you might find at a place like Pulhyanggi, but more firmly rooted in the Buddhist tradition. Pulhyanggi, while it was influenced by monastic cuisine, focuses more on the culinary traditions of the Korean aristocracy.

On my sixth evening in Seoul, I invited a friend to join me at the restaurant, and we arrived in the middle of the evening's entertainment. The location is a bit more intimate, and the stage is located right in the center of the dining room, which makes the experience a little more like a dinner theater than the more restrained approach at Pulhyanggi.

Playing a complex rhythm 

In fact, it was a little overwhelming... Sudden dramatic shifts in lighting, fairly loud drumming, occasional chanting or call-and-response bits, along with bursts of amplified recorded instrumentals, all presented just centimeters from our table, made the show the center of attention. It had a slight Disney vibe, though I noticed a few diners got quite into the drum performance.

Scary drummer dancing

Thankfully the performance soon ended and the restaurant lighting settled into something more comfortable for dining and conversation.

Rice porridge

Rice porridge (juk/okayu)

Small parcels of wrapped vegetables

Parcels of wrapped vegetables

Mountain berries

Mountain berries

Mul gimchi

Simple mul gimchi
We start off with this small serving of juk (rice porrige) and something remiscent of the crepes wrapped in the nine-sectioned dish from Pulhyanggi. The pancake dish has a bit stronger flavor than the nine-sectioned dish, perhaps from the addition of buckwheat in the crepes batter. We also receive a dish of some Korean mountain fruit, which was reminiscent of either omija berries or sansho, but didn't seem quite like either. We also have a simple mul gimchi, which unlike the previous water kimchi I've shown from this trip, was made without chilies, and is closer to the one I first experienced several years ago on my first trip to Korea.

Seven mountain vegetables

Seven plates of Korean mountain vegetables

It's spring, so mountain vegetables have been in full swing. We receive a basket of them, alongside with some dressed bitter greens. In contrast to Pulhyanggi's rich, complex flavors, Sanchon's preparations and choices of ingredients tend to have a more austere, almost medicinal character.

Gosari wraps with gochujang

Fresh blanched gosari wraps with gochujang

Another simple crepe-like dish with fresh, blanched gosari, jp. zenmai, known as bracken in the US. The gochujang made this one more exciting than I expected.

Dwaenjang jjigae

Temple dwaenjang jjigae

Full of daikon, tofu, scallions, and enoki, this is a very hearty miso stew.

Bellflower root in a spicy sauce

Bellflower roots in spicy sauce

Actually, this might be gobo, but I think this dish is bellflower root. It's very nice... a little sweet-spicy.

Peanuts and honey

Peanuts and honey

Peanuts with a something sweet, probably honey.

Fried kelp

Fried kelp (kombu/kongbu)

This one could turn into a dangerous habit... it's fried kombu, crunchy and slightly salty.

Fried spring vegetables

Fried spring vegetables at Sanchon

We received a plate of fried vegetables, made with a fairly heavy batter. I think one of these was fuki, and there was some renkon. It was served just slightly warm.

After-dinner rice confection

Dessert at Sanchon

These ubiquitous sweets have a puffy, slightly glutinous, slightly crispy texture, and are generally made with various nuts. For me, they're sort of a guilty pleasure, though they don't seem so incredibly indulgent since they're only moderately sweet.

 

Dolsot Bibimbap at Lotte World

Dolsot bibimbap with an atypical sunny-side up egg

I don't know what possessed me to go to Lotte World, the megalithic shopping center, in Jamsil, complete with indoor ice skating rink and a shooting range. But I did, and of course, I needed lunch.

While touring the food-laden Lotte department store basement section, I acquired some very nice artisanal gochujang, dwaenjang, and ssamjang, which may be responsible for my sudden urge to eat dol sot bibimbap.

But I walked over acres (hectares?) of shopping madness before deciding to do that, narrowly escaping a Disneyland-like hell of a parallel universe constructed inside the 3rd floor of one of the Lotte World buildings meant to resemble a traditional Korean village. When I saw photos outside the entrance featuring bizarre cartoon-like characters in big-headed costumes, I realized that this particular tourist trap was not for me.

And so I moved on in search of food.

As it turns out, most of the building suffers from the same chain-driven mediocrity that any other big shopping mall in the world aspires to, complete with TGI Friday's and KFC and Lotteria. But it looks like it's possible to eat a decent meal even in the cafeteria-like sections of the complex. One of said cafeterias was where I ended up.

You can walk around the cafeteria perusing short menus, then you place your order at a counter in center of things that serves as a hub. The cashier dispatches your order to the appropriate shop electronically. When your number appears on a mechanical sign, you go to the appropriate vendor and pick it up.

My dolsot bibimbap dispatched with the conventional raw egg in favor of a partially cooked one. That may be because they don't heat up the dolsot well enough to completely cook the egg as you stir it into the rice and vegetable mixture. The flavor was respectable, but I've actually had a better, spicier dolsot bibimbap in a department store basement quick-service restaurant in Japan. In a pinch, it works, but I prefer to eat this kind of thing at a small mom & pop place in a decaying old building.

 

Seoul Bread and Coffee

I'm usually craving coffee and bread in the morning, although I'll certainly dig into a heavy Korean or salt-laden Japanese-style breakfast from time to time. Fortunately, Seoul and Tokyo, more so than Seattle, have an insane number of mostly French-influenced bakeries, all with local touches, so I often have the chance to find such treats in the morning. The main caveat is that in Tokyo, bakeries often don't really open until 10am. As for coffee, both Japan and Korea are heavy consumers of coffee, but with big chains like Dottoru and various Korean Starbucks knock-offs, it's sad to say that quality is not usually a priority.

Tokyo, in spite of an extended reign of coffee superiority vis a vis the land of Maxwell House and Folgers, is really not that great a place to drink coffee. During the economic bubble, it's said that Japan had a number of cafes with owners fanatically devoted to the art of coffee, but these days it takes a special effort to locate anything substantially better than the ubiquitous "blend coffee" or watery "America coffee". Espresso, save for places like Macchinesti, is generally more a milk delivery mechanism, and tends to be bitter and undrinkable, often even more so than what Starbucks produces.

Seoul, in my limited experience, is even worse. Most places I've had coffee (and there haven't been that many even over several trips so I may not be fair) served something that was not only painfully bitter, but tasted stale and faintly metallic.

Paris Croissant latte, Gangnam-gu station

Kapae Latte, a cafe latte in Seoul 

Fortunately, I've had just slightly better luck this time. A cute little flower-shop/cafe, just inches from my hotel, suffered only from having slightly stale coffee and oversteamed milk; it wasn't the bitter mess I had encountered on previous trips. Another bakery (Paris Croissant at Gangnam station, I believe) seemed to almost understand milk foam rosettas, though the milk was also slightly too hot and the coffee had that faint stale flavor I've come to associate with drinking coffee in Korea.

I was even more pleased yesterday morning, when, in my urge to caffeinate myself, I ended up buying coffee at a chain bakery, Tous Les Jours, also a stone's throw from my hotel.  It wasn't as pretty as the one at Paris Croissant, but it was flavorful without being unnecessarily bitter, appeared to be made from reasonably fresh beans, and was well-balanced enough that I wouldn't have been surprised if someone told me it came from a local Seattle indie coffee place. Even better, the drink was notably cheaper than the Big Green Monster's Seoul offerings, from what I understand.

The one constant this time for coffee in Seoul, it seems, is that nobody ever uses a thermometer to check the milk temperature and it's always life-threateningly hot.

As for the pastries (because Roboppy always wants to know)... well, Tokyo still seems to have a slightly higher standards overall, but in Seoul prices seems slightly more reasonable. Both Korea and Japan almost always cheaper than Seattle when it comes to laminated doughs and such, thanks to saner portion sizes and higher volume.

I usually try to go for flavors that are hard to find outside of Japan or Korea when I come to this part of the world, and I certainly found plenty to choose from.

Sweet potato roll

Sweet potato pastry roll

A pastry with sweet potato puree in the center from Paris Baguette, Gangnam-gu station...

Marron cherry puff

Marron (chestnut) cherry puff 

Puff pastry with the unlikely but pleasant combination of marrons glace (candied chestnuts) and cherries.

Tous les jours trio

Sweet potato filled danish, croissant, anpan with walnut

Sweet potato-filled pastry, mini-croissant, and red bean stuffed soft bun with walnut.

Black sesame tapioca roll

Black sesame tapioca bun

Nice. Chewy, mochi-mochi, slightly salty, and, well, black sesame-y. Good with cream cheese. You want one of these.

Chocolate streusel bread

Chocolate streusel bun

A lot less sweet than it looks, this one was a pleasant surprise.

One caveat to pastry and bread in East Asia, though: Savory, hearty breads are relatively rare, and even items that sound savory are often made with a sweet bread base or heavily sweetened laminated dough. Ham, processed cheese and sweet mayonnaise seem to be a favored combination in both Korea and Japan, as are things baked with sausages, and, of course, corn-mayo.

Heyri Gallery, part 1: The pottery of Sylvia Hyman

Sunday I visited Hanhyanglim gallery in the Heyri art village just northwest of Seoul. Riding in the car of the gallery owner, we saw a very intimidating-looking spirals of barbed wire fence along the river, across which lies North Korea.

The gallery owner, Jay, is a pottery collector who has made some money in the semiconductor industry, and continues to make that his day job while his wife Hyanglim, a ceramist, runs the day-to-day operations of their gallery and gift shop. I learned about the place thanks to an introduction from a member of a clay art email discussion group, and the owner was kind enough to take pick me up from a nearby train station.

Though I was mainly here for Korean pottery, the museum also featured the work of 90-year-old Sylvia Hyman, new to me but renowned for her visual deceptions.

Through Time and Space

Through Time and Space

This comes from a spiritual Arabic text, which actually apparently is something about time and space. My Arabic is a little rusty, though, so I just enjoyed the nifty curls.

Narragansett Bay

Narragansett Bay

This piece has convincing leather straps, canvas, wood, paper, and rope, all crafted from clay.

Currogated clay

Currogated clay 

Currogated cardboard rendered with clay is even more surprising...

More to come... With actual Korean pottery too...

 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Besan bread

Somehow I just can't get enough of chickpeas lately.

Besan bread

Last weekend, I made the medically unfortunate mistake of going to the Fremont Solstice Parade last Saturday with a not-quite-healed metatarsal. Even though I was mostly standing, wearing a supportive medical boot, and generally resting on my unbroken right foot, this wasn't so clever. I mostly succeeded in irritating my right knee, exacerbating the dull pain in my left foot into acute agony.

So I decided not to repeat that mistake by being all in-denial and active... I stayed domestic most of the weekend. I didn't even shave until 3pm on Sunday, though I owe that mostly to the fact that I ran out of shaving cream.

As a completely irrelevant aside, don't ever bother to use the shaving cream supplied in a little 5ml packet that comes from the shaving kits in hotels and ryokan in Japan. You only have this at all because you stash it in your luggage in case your tiny sample-size shaving cream suddenly runs out on your trip, and you completely forget about it until returning to the US, when it gets unceremoniously stashed somewhere in your medicine cabinet until, one day, you run out of shaving cream. Then, you discover that it's not really enough cream to do much good, and that, in terms of quality, it's just a slight step up from a moisturizing soap. Second, it smells almost exactly like a Band Aid.

So I was really craving something along the lines of a dinner roll, but I wanted something a bit more protein-dense than the average bread, I also thought it would be nice to have a nice stew, so I made a variation of the channa masala that I previously served with the besan roti.

I wanted just a hint of spice and I wanted something moist and reasonably soft, so I chose to use a little garam masala and some butter and milk in service of that ambiguously dinner-roll like quality that is easier experienced than described.

The ingredients were, roughly:

  • 150 grams (about 5 oz) besan flour (chickpea flour)
  • 350 grams (about 12.5 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 250 ml (about 1 1/8 cups) lukewarm milk
  • 1 tbsp. melted butter or ghee
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. yeast

This is prepared like most yeast doughs: mix dry ingredients together except for the yeast, create a well, add the melted butter and milk with the yeast. Gradually incorporate the flour into the sponge by stirring along the outer edge of the well, until the dough comes together.

Kneaded until smooth but fairly sticky, the dough rises for a couple of hours before I divide it into into 12 rolls. I let the rolls have a second proof while the oven preheats to 425F on a cookie sheet, then I bake them until golden-brown, about 15 minutes. I test for doneness by tapping on the bottom of one of the rolls, making sure it sounds hollow.

They need to cool down and rest a few minutes, but can be served warm with butter and a nice stew or curry.

The outer exterior is still crisp, but the interior is moist and aromatic with hints of cumin, coriander, cloves and cinnamon. With a little bit of butter they're just rich enough to be eaten on their own, but they're also a perfect foil for a stew or daal.

Besan bread with chickpea soup,

Wakayama umeboshi: pickled apricots

Umeboshi and homemade kyuuri no sunomono

Umeboshi and kyuuri no sunomono

Umeboshi (pickled Japanese apricots*) are an acquired taste, perhaps, but I grew to love them early on in my encounters with Japanese food.

They are the olives of Japanese cuisine.

They range from very salty and sour, to slightly sweet and sour. Some are tiny and some are huge.

I'm very fond of the flavor of sweeter, generally medium-sized varieties, but one look at the ingredient list of most hachimitsu umeboshi (honey umeboshi) or usu-jio (lightly salted) varieties makes my head spin. I appreciate receiving the better-tasting of those additive-heavy variants as gifts, because I can enjoy them as a gesture of kindness, but when my pocketbook is involved, I prefer to buy all-natural umeboshi with short ingredient lists.

Ume (Japanese apricots*) themselves are greenish, firm and incredibly tart when fresh. Thanks to the magic of red shiso, they transform into something very red as they cure. If you find very red umeboshi made without shiso, they likely have added food coloring. I usually like to umeboshi that come packed with pickled shiso leaves, because I'm as big a fan of shiso as I am of umeboshi.

Umeboshi larger than life

Umeboshi larger than life

The beautiful umeboshi featured above is made with very good Wakayama ume, salt, and red shiso, along with some additional shiso just used in the brine. Wakayama is one of the most famous locations for ume, and I recall the ume trees all around Wakayama castle when I visited a friend in the capital city several years ago. Further west, I remember standing under blooming ume trees in Dazaifu, eating a candied strawberry, thinking that ume blossoms surely give cherry blossoms some serious competition.

Since this is an all-natural umeboshi, it's fairly salty... you'll generally want to eat one or two with rice and several nice side dishes. The other dishes can be assari (lightly seasoned), as the intense ume flavor will brighten up the whole meal if you nibble a little bit at a time.

* Ume are not plums. I promise. When you see them fresh, you can clearly see the telltale fuzz. Anzu-zake (apricot liqueur) has much of the flavor of umeshu (usually mistranslated as plum wine) with less acidity.

 

Technorati tags: , , ,

Golden beets, beet greens and soft chevre with garlic

Beets deserve a little respect.

Golden beet salad with chevre, medium shot

Long abused by the canned food industry, which has perfected the art of turning perfectly good beets into gelatinous salt licks, beets rarely get the attention they deserve. The best you can hope for, on average, is a nicely done borscht.

While I'm as big a borscht fan as anyone, I can only make it so often... I always end up with too much. I end up eating the borscht for days and days on end.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But sometimes, I just crave a simple, refreshing dish to accompany the rest of my dinner.

Golden beet close up

I had some nice golden beets with their fresh greens still attached, so I decided to blanch the greens as a base for the beets themselves. My greens were full of mud and required multiple baths in cold water, but once washed, they require just about 15 seconds in boiling, salted water. The water should be about as salty as the ocean, much like you'd season water for perfect pasta.

Drain and shock the greens with ice water.

The beets themselves can be sliced with a mandoline, or with a knife, if your knife skills are more consistent than mine. I put them on a Silpat mat on a baking sheet and baked the slices until tender, but not mushy, at 350˚F (about 175˚C).Without an oven handy, I might  carefully boil the beet slices instead.

The fully plated golden beet dish

Taste the beet greens to make sure they have enough salt for your taste. If you like, you might toss them with a little vinegar to counter the slight bitterness of the leaves; I didn't feel the need for that.

Arrange the blanched leaves on a plate with the cooked beets.

Gently simmer slices of garlic on low heat with way too much olive oil for at least 5 minutes... don't let the garlic brown. Pour the olive oil all over the arrangement. Don't worry about the fact that you are using so much oil; it's mostly used to transfer the garlic flavor onto the greens and the beet slices. Certainly you consume some of that, but much of the oil will simply rest on the bottom of the plate.

I topped this with some soft chevre and a drizzling of real balsamic vinegar, and some freshly ground black pepper. This particular chevre is made from delightfully grassy spring goat's milk, and comes from Port Madison Farm on Bainbridge Island.

Rapini paneer

Rapini paneer with rice

Rapini, a bitter green, has a hint of broccoli's aroma with a suggestion of mustard's pungency. Somewhat similar to turnip greens, it's also known as broccoli rabe or raab, even though rapini isn't related to broccoli.

I usually blanch it briefly, much like spinach, before using it in anything I cook. The blanching process allows the color to stay reasonably intense, and also mellows the bitterness. Even sautéed rapini benefits from this, although I've been known to take a shortcut from time to time.

I sautéed some onions with garam masala and some garlic, ginger, coriander and cumin. I added paneer, which cooked for a minute or so, before adding the finely chopped rapini, and a touch of tomato puree (not essential, but I had a little too much... a fresh tomato might be nice), and then I covered and simmered the dish for just a few more minutes.

While it's fairly common to puree spinach in palak paneer, I chose to skip that step with my rapini version. The result might be a bit more creamy with the pureed version, but I like the texture of chopped rapini. Besides, not all versions of palak paneer involve making the greens unrecognizable...

With blanched rapini, the dish cooks quickly. Serve with daal for a complete meal...

Rapini paneer

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55