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.

Visiting the pottery town, Mashiko

For a day which I had originally written off as an R&R day, I was incredibly productive.

Somehow Japanese style domestic travel usually means going to be early… Especially if one soaks in a hot springs bath for more than 30 minutes a day. It sort of makes sleep an inevitable event shortly after dinner, unless one has unusual willpower. It also tends to result in early rising… I think I was fully conscious and rested shortly by around 6am this morning. We showered, had breakfast, and packed up, and were on the road by around 9am.

Hiromi had planned a day in Mashiko. For her, it was the first time to visit; I’m kind of a veteran by now, with today being about the fifth or sixth visit for me; ever since my second trip here I’ve led whoever was traveling with me to all my favorite shops.

I managed to abuse my friend as an unpaid interpreter, and did some basic negotiations for ordering pottery under wholesale terms from several of the resellers of pottery in town. I took a ton of photos of things I am interested in buying, and I’ll need to come back here in a week or two so that I can finalize my purchasing decisions, after I’ve arranged for freight forwarding services. I’ll be able to offer some really beautiful pots from some young potters, as well as some impressive but more anonymous pots from the big production studio in town, Yokoyama.

Mashiko ware has incredible variety of styles, mostly because it has a relatively young history as a pottery center; Shoji Hamada basically led the way to the village, encouraging a couple of generations of potters to settle here relatively unconstrained by pervasive traditions common to the legendary kilns (Arita/Imari, Seto, Hagi, Bizen, and so on). There’s a lot more experimentation, influence by foreign potters who found the area more welcoming than most, and the durable legacy of Shoji Hamada’s and Murota Gen’s philosophy of soulfully-created craft ware.

We were encouraged to try Yokoyama’s new café atop the school where they offer wheel-throwing, slab-building and decorating lessons. I had taken a lesson here about a year and a half ago with another friend of mine, and it was the first time to attempt the very humbling wheel-throwing process. I still have evidence of this attempt, and although I still have limited throwing skills after over a year of practice, I’m slightly embarrassed by this “early work.”

I had a mushroom pilaf, which was actually surprisingly tasty, considering how meager my other dining experiences in Mashiko have been up until now. We also shared a sampler of cakes… green tea chiffon cake, chocolate gateau, pumpkin flan (kabocha purin), a maple syrup scone, and pot du crème or panna cotta.

For dinner, we stopped at a rest stop along the highway and I ate two oyaki (pan toasted buns filled with vegetables), and a stick of battered fried small potatoes served with a packet of mayonnaise. Not haute cuisine, but filling enough.

After a long drive back to Tokyo, I settle into the weekly-rental apartment and start to think about how to best make use of a free Monday before the FoodEx show.

Relaxing in Nasu-shiobara at a hot spring

Daylight suffices to signal my body to wake up. Outside, fresh snow is accumulating on the trees and rooftops.

My friend’s hopes of driving to Nikko are dashed by reports of poor road conditions, so she makes inquiries about things one can do in sleepy Nasu-shiobara. We snap a few photos around a pedestrian bridge that crosses a river bordered by snow-covered rocks. We visit a museum and mostly see various artifacts chosen to demonstrate that famous poets have stopped in town here before. I pick up some udon which have bits of yuzu zest embedded in the noodles, which I’ll cook while staying in a weekly apartment in Tokyo.

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We drive to a soba/udon shop recommended by the tourist information center and have handmade soba in soup, served with freshly made yuba, and rustically cut udon in soup, served with mountain vegetable tempura. We also order some soba-gakki, after I describe it to my friend based on the one time I tasted a not-very-similar version of it in Saru-ga-kyou.

Afterward we drive around somewhat aimlessly, and stop in a gift shop and find ourselves attracted to some kuromame daifuku with zunda filling (black beans mixed with mochi, and filled with sweetened paste of mung beans, and some black bean cocoa, which we buy and take along with us. I am nearly convinced that the dried niga-uri (goya, or bitter melon) chips are worth trying by the salesperson, who says they are easy to eat, but I don’t buy.

My friend convinces me to order “cream soda,” an ice cream float made with an aggressively green-colored soda which is flavored similarly to the vanilla soda known as cream soda in the US but apparently with extra esther of wood rosin. At least the vanilla ice cream was nice…

We go back to the hotel and my jetlag catches up with me… I sleep, though I have no idea if my friend does the same or not, for about an hour. We decide to head to the outdoor hot springs pools again after learning we just missed by a few minutes the chance to use one of the private ones… but nobody else is down there, as it’s the start of the dinner hour. The view of the snow-covered rocks in the river is probably more compelling anyway.

Dinner is a typically elaborate spread of mostly simple foods that you would expect to find in a Japanese ryokan, and I get some special treatment to accommodate my vegetarian habit. Dengaku nasu, and some unusual cross between yuba and tofu that the woman serving us couldn’t quite explain, and some nice jelly covering crisp fresh shredded vegetables, and a pot of yu-doufu are all nice; there’s also chawan-mushi (savory egg custard), and some dried persimmon stuffed with candied yuzu peel.

I end up eating so much I barely touch the rice. The half hour in the hot spring makes it hard to concentrate on anything, and sleep seems inevitable…  

Arrival and collapse

I arrived at Narita airport and cruised through passport control, baggage claim and customs unusually quickly. After getting a small amount of cash at the Citibank ATM, I made a stop at the KDDI/au booth on the fourth floor of the airport to inquire about and obtain a prepaid telephone.

The last time I was in Tokyo I rented a cell phone here, which incredibly simplified the often daunting task of meeting friends in various public places… the pervasiveness of cell phones has greatly diminished the importance Japanese once placed on punctuality. Beyond that, picking a well-known landmark at a particular train station as a meeting place always sounds simple, but usually at least 500 other folks had the same landmark in mind, and seeing through the crowds isn’t always easy without additional lines of communication. The rental cell phone made my life much easier; however, with a 25 day stay in mind, the 600 yen/day rental fee plus outbound talk time makes the prepaid option a financially more attractive option, and I’ll be able to use it on subsequent trips.

After wandering around Tokyo station in search of food, I finally settle on a couple of onigiri: one stuffed with natto and seasoned with soy sauce, and, apparently, butter; the other, made with “wasabi-zuke”, pickles seasoned with cheap wasabi mix that consists of more mustard than anything else. I also picked up a burdock (gobo) side dish and some CC Lemon. The gobo side dish promptly disappeared out of the little plastic bag; I must have held it with only one handle without realizing my mistake until I looked for it.

I wandered around the a little bit while waiting for my friend to fight traffic on the way from Kawasaki. After her arrival, we climbed in the car and spent about an hour trying to get out of the city, and another couple of hours heading toward an onsen ryokan in Nasu-Shiobara, “Myouga-ya Honkan”. I managed to doze off in the last hour of the trip.

Upon arrival, just shy of 11pm, we settled in, and then decided to take a late night dip in the roten-buro, an outdoor hot springs pool out back of the hotel which was actually built 300 years ago. This is actually an increasingly unusual venue; it features konyoku (mixed bathing), unclothed; very few hot springs have mixed bathing anymore.

As we walked through the old wooden structure that leads down to the outdoor pools, we could see snow slowly sublimating on rooftops. We were alone, as it’s not particularly common to be out in the onsen after 11. We tried a couple of the pools, overlooking the concrete-banked river, for maybe 30 minutes. There was a light breeze extending the influence of near-freezing temperatures, but the warm pools of highly mineralized water covered us up to our shoulders, and the baths removed all of the economy-class aches and pains in my body.

Upon returning to the room, jetlag and relaxation synergized and I easily collapsed into bed.

Flying away from my old life

Under something close to the least favorable economic conditions of my short life, facing the prospect of casting aside a mostly respectable seven-year career at the largest software company on the planet should be terrifying.

Instead, I am strangely calm. During the past two weeks, I have probably felt more relaxed than I ever did while shackled by the constraints of stability; fear of my uncertain future has, so far, been fleeting, if present at all.

Today, I am crossing the Pacific Ocean aboard United Flight 875 to Tokyo-Narita International Airport, carrying freshly minted business cards that bear no reference to my prior professional identity. Although I’ve often heard other Microsoft employees express the feeling that they make up their role in the company as they go along (and I've probably even said that myself) the constraints and freedoms inherent in subsuming your persona to a corporate entity are nothing like starting from nowhere, as I am doing now. Corporate tradition, colliding egos, and layers of mutable but established hierarchy trump all but the most skilled balancing act of ambition and creativity.

Ten years ago, I had no aspiration to become part of a massive corporate machine; in fact, my politics rapidly assumed the opposite direction, inspired by revolutionary ideologies and assisted by frustration with the careerist impulses of students who chose what to study based not on what they were curious or passionate about, but by what they thought would be most financially rewarding. Ironically for all of us, it was my own idiosyncratic curiosity that led directly to the job I found shortly after university.

I fell into majoring in East Asian studies via a gateway course, “Modern Japanese Novels,” chosen purely out of curiosity. Soon I found myself in Japanese classes, Buddhist studies, and so on. At the same time, I was continuing to learn German, and I headed off to Germany as an exchange student, oddly situated as probably the only late addition to the East Asian Studies program ever to have planned a European exchange program. Evenings and sometimes whole days I spent hacking around Bitnet and later the Internet, and by the time I graduated from university I was a well-rounded humanities major with geek tendencies. If it weren’t for all of that, I wouldn’t have found a nice cushy job at the big cozy corporation that that all of the economics majors around me fantasized about. Who could know that, 4.5 years after beginning university, Microsoft would be interested in hiring computer-savvy folks with Japanese or German language skills who had an ability to write at least some haphazard web code and could think about problems analytically?

When I first arrived at Microsoft, like most recent college graduates of that era, I felt it was my duty to say yes to nearly everything asked of me and, perhaps more importantly, to fit in to the company culture and even to believe in as much of the company dogma as I could cognitively reconcile. I eventually developed a little more personality and actually became more productive when a legendary manager took me under his wing and taught me how to say “no.” Of course, my experience working for a manager of his caliber was limited to about 7% of my time at the company due to a combination of corporate and management reshufflings, my own decisions about how to react to various job frustrations, and the relatively low percentage of people who actually have that kind of skill in a company dominated in management by geeks who got rewarded for their technical skills with team leadership responsibilities on the one hand, and those skilled at political manipulation on the other. It’s rare to find managers who are smart, ambitious, involved, and fiercely loyal to their staff; in my time at Microsoft, only that one manager would stake his career in defense of his team.

I spent the last year and a half or so actively disliking my job, and disenchanted enough not to want to seek out other opportunities within the company. I was coming to work every day driven only by momentum, not by intent. I spent that time thinking about my exit strategy—how I would move on after leaving the company, what kind of timeline, and so on—and I set conscious boundaries between the sufferable and the intolerable. When circumstances moved beyond the merely unfortunate, I had already decided how to handle the situation long in advance. I decided I would be going on “vacation.”

So here I am, technically on vacation, but with no plans to return. I’ve spent the last two weeks doing most of the essentials associated with starting my own small business, including registering a LLC with the state government, hurriedly establishing phone and fax services, buying a new laptop to replace the one previously supplied by my employer, and getting an annual medical checkup I’ve only delayed by about five or six years. I’ve been jogging daily, and just making the psychological transformation that is required when one decides to separate from something that has been such a tremendous portion of one’s life.

This relaxed feeling is some sort of delusion, but it just means is that I’m at peace with myself. I have almost never been at peace with myself while at Microsoft. I have occasionally liked my job, and I was even passionate about some aspects of my work, but I have almost always had trouble sleeping at night and almost always dreaded waking up in the morning. I rest easily now, and wake up earlier than I usually did when I was expected to be at the office.

Over the next few weeks, I must reinvent myself. I am scouting suppliers of things that I consider interesting—things that have stories, things that I can talk about to complete strangers and infect them with some of the same enthusiasm I feel. In the Tokyo area, after a brief weekend of R&R, I’m attending a trade show related to food products; after that, I’ll spend a little more time researching logistical requirements, and I intend to go to some rural villages where I can find potters and craft technicians. When I come back, the hard work of finding buyers will begin, and the brutal realities of generating income based on work that I just happen to like doing may start to hit home. In the meantime, I’m just getting started. Every step I take now is full of intent.

Pioneer Square gallery sale completed

This afternoon I completed a sale of ceramics to Azuma Gallery, a Pioneer Square gallery which carries prints, screens, and ceramics. It's my first sale of note, so I'm very happy. To the best of my knowledge, it's also the first venue where the work will be seen by an American audience. The two artists whose work Azuma Gallery has bought are Minowa Yasuo, who does gas-fired work, and Akutsu Masato, a 27-year old whose work combines rural, organic textures with a surprisingly modern feel.

Minowa Yasuo's kaki-yu (Persimmon glaze) pots, which are gas-fired, sometimes have a tenmoku-like appearance, and sometimes a striated rainbow reddish pattern, which can be matte or have a metallic luster, sometimes even on the same pot, depending on the clay body and the kiln atmosphere. The results are pretty striking, and although Minowa can control the basic "tenmoku" vs "niji" effect, no two pots are exactly alike.

Akutsu Masato's work has a lot of youthful energy and has four main textural motifs, a "doro" or rough clay look, a tetsu-yu brownish, wood-like brush pattern, a white sandy texture often adorned with sgrafitto or sometimes rough, evocative stained three-dimensional contrasting textures, and a gyokuro-yu glossy dark green glaze which references more typical Mashiko or Kasama ware.

If you happen to be in Seattle anytime soon, please stop in and take a look at Azuma Gallery, located at 530 1st Ave. S., and ask about the work of Yasuo Minowa and Masato Akutsu (the order used in this case is the customary US given name followed by family name).

Later in the day, I met up with Kaoru, a friend of mine who works for a community college program north of Seattle, and we had a little dinner at Djan's, a Thai restaurant in a little house in Wallingford. We had a nice, simple meal with cold spring rolls, green papaya salad, an eggplant dish, and a not-very-spicy red curry with tofu. We skipped the "fusion" or "specialty" dishes since none of those appeared to be vegetarian friendly. The best thing about that place is the careful, but simple presentation, and the feeling that you're really eating in someone's house. The dishes that we had would probably be easily obtainable at any kind of Thai restaurant, but overall I would say it was a pleasant, unpretentious dining experience with a little more attention to detail than the average Thai restaurant.

We stopped at Masalisa in Ballard, a tea shop which transforms into a sake place on weekend nights. At first I was inclined to order some kind of nomi-yasui sake, but in the end both of us decided to try their "sake smoothies", one with strawberries, and the other with matcha. These were interesting concoctions, reminiscent of amazake except for the icy texture.

In the morning and early afternoon, I chatted with Patrick at Vivace's, an ex-Microsoft guy I've previously referred to indirectly, who contacted me after reading my web journal. We drank too much coffee and talked about various ways we might be able to work together. I was a bit surprised that our conversation shifted into discusssion about my ambition to do a little cafe/restaurant, as I have hinted at before, and there's a distinct possibility that this may be feasible sooner than I had previously calculated. He also has some useful connections that might make it possible for me to study cooking under some chefs in the Kyoto area. In any event, we'll keep on talking over the coming weeks.

Out-of-town visitors

This week ended up being relatively unproductive when it came to work, because I needed to prepare for visitors and run various errands. On Thursday, I had two visitors from Japan and one from Victoria, BC.

Hiromi came in on Thursday morning and I picked her up at the airport. We were hoping to take a look at tulips up in the La Conner area, but the early spring weather this year had forced all of the growers to top their tulips a little early this year, so we ended up relaxing on the beach at Golden Gardens in Ballard, then having a little iced tea at Masalisa.

I had a conference call with one of my suppliers around 7pm. It was encouraging. I'll need to make some changes in my plan with that product and revise my sales objectives, but actually they are going to be more conservative than before, and that makes me feel a little better about the project because I don't have to take risks quite as substantial as I had expected.

Sachi and her Canadian friend, Sandra, arrived via the Victoria Clipper a little after 8:30, and cleared customs a little shy of 9pm. We made our way to La Spiga restaurant on Broadway and ordered Crescioni and Piadina in addition to various pasta choices. I had a pretty nice asparagus tortelli with a lemon butter sauce. We stopped at Dilletante and shared a single piece of cake between the four of us.

Friday, we played tourist all day and into the night. I took everyone to breakfast at Cafe Besalu in Ballard, we stopped at Archie McPhee and at the Ballard Locks, and we headed over to West Seattle for some postcard photography opportunities at the fishing pier and at Alki beach. We ate a little lunch at a tiny restaurant on 8th & King in the International District, Szechuan Noodle Bowl. I ordered their cold seaweed dish, a little braised bamboo shoot dish, and green onion pancakes. Two of us ordered vegetable dumplings in la-yu and soy sauce, and two ordered a vegetable udon dish in soup.

Afterword, we made a stop at Pacific Place mall, and then walked over to the Pike Place market to get vegetables and other things for dinner. We did a little gift shopping, and then briefly visited Vivace's for coffee and tea. We also made a quick run to Fran's chocolates at University Village.

Finally, we came to my place and tried unsuccessfully to get Japanese natural oak charcoal to burn in a tiny tabletop grill called a “shichirin“. This was the first time I have actually tried to use the shichirin so it was a little more trouble than I expected. I had gotten one of my potato pizzas done while my guests were fighting with the shichirin, and finally we gave up on it. I was asked to re-warm the potato pizza, which on a baking stone turned out to be a bad idea because there would have been no way to quickly bring the oven temperature down to a “warming“ temperature. and I managed to char the previously flawless but cold pizza. I them promptly managed to drop a slippery and unfortunately too flexibly plastic bottle of oil into the sink and it splashed back on to Sachi's clothing. I don't think I've ever had so many things go wrong in one meal. We did manage to eat grilled vegetables and my guests had shrimp, scallops and squid also; I just used my indoor grill pan and a cast iron skillet to stand in for the finicky oak charcoal. It didn't occur to me until far too late that I probably could have used my small “konro“ (like a gas camping stove) to ignite the charcoal.

We also had some nice yuzu ice cream and a kona coffee sorbet that I made, and dipped into a quince infused liqueur that I had started back at the end of January. Except for the comedy of errors, the food was mostly pretty good.

We finished the evening by going up the escalator in the Space Needle during the last open hour, and taking in the cityscape. Sachi and Sandra went back this morning, and Hiromi is here until the 4th.

Earlier in the week I finally got my car detailed by Fremont Auto Detail, which seems like a bit of an indulgence for someone without any consequential revenue but was very worth it... my car had been looking very sad especially on the interior. I also took care of getting some shelving I need to handle the ceramics boxes that will be coming from Japan later in May. I didn't do much that was actually useful for my business except for creating some price lists. I have another visitor to entertain from the 4th through the 7th, and then I'll get back into the swing of things.

Sweet Seattle

I'll admit I have a little weakness. Although I don't really appreciate the hyper-sweetened desserts ubiquitous in the United States, I'm a pushover for a nice pastry, lightly sweetened cheesecake, or torte.

This list includes a lot of Asian style pastry shops because even in the U.S., these shops tend to use a lighter hand with sugar and sell more sane portion sizes, so that I don't feel I'm risking a heart attack every time I'm eating.

Hiroki. Hiroki Inouye makes a beautiful matcha tiramisu, which is served in the style of a cake, made with Japanese green tea. Other great things you might find here are include an Earl Grey cheesecake, and, on occasion, a mont blanc-style chestnut pastry. It reminds me of the French-ish cake shops I found in Japan, with slightly larger portion sizes and perhaps a slightly more European flavor. The good thing is that he tends to avoid the hyper-sweet exaggerations that are common in American style cakes, in favor of clean, refreshing flavors. 2224 North 56th Street, Seattle, WA. (206) 547-4128. Open Wednesday-Sunday.

Cafe Besalu. You need to come here for a light weekend brunch. Order a slice of quiche and a brioche, or one of their fantastically flaky croissants. They have sweet pastries and not-so-sweet, and they make espresso drinks using Lighthouse Coffee (based in Fremont; see also my Coffee in Seattle notes). You're probably craving sweets, so order an orange brioche or one of their strawberry danishes. If you're having a simple afternoon espresso, they also have a nice selection of cookies to accompany it, but get there before 3pm. Keep in mind this is really a daytime place and they are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. If you're up for something savory, the word is that the first quiche of the day comes out at about 10:30 am. 5909 24th Ave NW. Phone 789-1463.

Fresh Flours. Think standard coffee shop fare with a Japanese approach. Keiji Minematsu produces freshly-made scones, muffins, slices of pound cake, and little cookies; in theory, you could find such items anywhere, but not likely made like this. Don't expect to find a replica of a Japanese style bakery, but you will find Japanese accents, such as a satsumaimo (sweet potato) tart, a kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) muffin,  Parisian-style macarons flavored with matcha (ground tea ceremony tea), black sesame seed cookies, and azuki-cream filled brioche. Sugar is used in judicious moderation. Countertops and some of the seating area are made from a reclaimed bowling alley. 6015 Phinney Ave N. Phone (206) 790-6296. Full Disclosure: Fresh flours is a customer of mine; accordingly, I've tried to be more descriptive here than evaluative. Added 7/21/2005.

Le Fournil. Some people are convinced that the best croissant in Seattle is found here. I don't have much cause to disagree with them. They have a nice lemon pastry made with the same laminated dough used for croissants, they have amandine, and a huge selection of French-style cakes. As for the atmosphere, you'll feel like you're in any of a number of counter-service coffee shops in Seattle; a little sterile, but the new digs about two doors down from their original location are a little bit hipper than before. 3230 Eastlake Ave E #A, Seattle, WA. Phone (206) 328-6523. Parking in building.

Belle Pastry. Old Bellevue, the area on Main Street west of Bellevue Way, had been a sleepy business district for the last several years, but things have been looking up recently. Fran's chocolates moved their Bellevue store to this area, another entrepreneurial chocolate maker opened its doors, and Belle Pastry replaced a wedding cake company here. The French owner of Belle Pastry offers probably the best Eastside options for European-style cakes and pastries. For the most part, he avoids a heavy hand with the sugar, though most options are sweeter than what Hiroki makes. Keep in mind the hours are also very old Bellevue. 10246-A Main Street, Bellevue, WA. Phone (425) 289-0015.

Fran's Chocolates. Fran's produces some of the nicest chocolates in Seattle. The stores are really retail shops, not cafes, so you're coming here on a mission. You want one of the hazelnut stuffed figs or maybe the gray-salt topped chocolate caramels. They have two bittersweet filled chocolates which are perfect if you like chocolate more than sugar. I've been nibbling on their chocolate covered cocoa nibs recently, and it's a good thing I buy small containers or I might not be able to stop. University Village in Seattle or on Main Street in Old Bellevue.

Regent Cafe Bakery. If you happen to be in the Overlake area of Bellevue, not far from Microsoft or Sears, this Taiwanese-style cake shop and bakery offers a pleasant strawberry mousse cake, a Chinese-American take on Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (black forest cherry cake), and various sugary breads. 15159 NE 24th Redmond, WA. Phone 425 378-1498.

Sweet & Fresh Bakery. I used to come to this place promptly at 9:30 am when working at a newspaper which was a couple blocks down the street, then buy an inexpensive croissant right out of the oven. At other times, this place offers sweet Hong Kong style breads. I get the feeling the owners are not the same as 10 years ago, but it's still pleasant enough. 610 8th Ave. S., Seattle 98104.

Seabell Bakery. Seabell offers Japanese-style breads like an-pan (sweet azuki bean stuffed bread), uguisu (sweet mung bean stuffed bread), cream pan, mocha pan, and so on. It's not open on Sundays, so if you want a weekend fix, pop in on a Saturday. 12816 SE 38th
Bellevue, WA  98006. Phone (425) 644-2616.

Cake Fuji. Cake Fuji isn't anything like Fuji-ya, the legendary cake shop in Tokyo whose name Cake Fuji references, but it does have a good selection of Japanese style cakes, like a matcha mousse cake (green tea mousse cake) and a strawberry cake. As I recall, the portion size of a single slice of cake is just about right for one healthy adult; you will see none of the gut-busting exaggerations that you might find at a typical US cake shop. No atmosphere, limited hours, average quality, but sometimes I need a matcha mousse cake. 1502 145th Pl SE Bellevue, WA  98005. Phone (425) 641-3889.

Dilettante. The Broadway location of Dilettante is a full-service cafe featuring cakes, “grown up“ milkshakes made with spirits, espresso drinks, and various other desserts in addition to their signature chocolate lineup. For best results, stick with things made with chocolate, though some people enjoy their fruit parfaits. Non-chocolate cakes tend to be a little heavy on sugar for my taste, and I can't quite handle the sugar level in their “hot schmocha“ (peppermint schnapps mocha), but there are some things worth coming for. The Rigo Jansci is pretty nice, but make sure to eat light before coming in or plan to share with someone. Alternatively, order a plate with six filled chocolates of your choice and overindulge with an intimate friend. 416 Broadway East, Seattle, WA 98102. Phone (206) 329-6463.

B&O Espresso has two locations, but the one with more sweets to choose from is at the intersection of Belmont and Olive on Capitol Hill. It's one of the few full-service coffee shops in Seattle, and the atmosphere is sort of diner-like but with better food (at least at dinner time). Most of the sweets are very American and accordingly quite sweet, but you'll get nice results by ordering one of the Greek specialties in the evening. I am fond of the Greek style “pudding” in filo pastry. 204 Belmont Ave. E, Seattle, WA. Phone (206) 322-5028.

Departed:

Masalisa. (Closed May 29, 2005; sold to new owners, Floating Leaves Tea, using Macrina products). Masalisa is first and foremost a tea shop, but if you're craving Japanese-style cream roll cakes, with matcha (green tea flavor), mocha flavor, or any of several occasional varieties, this is a great option. You'll even find a few Japanese sweets from time to time (zenzai or oshiroko, sweetened azuki bean soup) and a selection of homemade cookies. Masalisa has a pleasant atmosphere for sitting and chatting. 2213 NW Market Street Seattle, WA 98107. Full Disclosure Notice: This comment was written about a year ago, but I've since established a business relationship with the owners of Masalisa involving selling their tea products online and at wholesale.

Korean class is hard

Since March last year, I've been taking Korean classes. I started taking pottery class as work got more frustrating, and then I remembered an ambition I once had in college of being capable of communicating in a certain number of languages by the time I am 35 or so. So far, I speak English reasonably well for someone who spent seven years at a software company, my German is still passable, and my Japanese only embarrasses me every other time I speak it. I've forgotten most of the little bit of French I've taken and I never really succeeded at learning Hungarian, though I did briefly attend a Hungarian class when I was a student in Germany.

Oh, yes, Korean. I remembered the time that I went to Korea on a business trip and how much I enjoyed being there, but how helpless (or hapless?) I was wandering on my own even in Seoul. So I finally decided that I could get more out of future travel to Korea if I was at least able to ask for things.

I had a little bit of a break from January to March, because no fourth-quarter Korean class was offered in Bellevue Community College's continuing education program. So at that time, I took a beginning Chinese course (Mandarin) so that I had something to occupy my mind outside of the office. But fortunately, the fourth quarter class was offered starting in April.

I attended last week and realized how much I've forgotten. This week was a little bit harder. I hope I can finally catch up and remember all of the things which I have neglected to spend much time studying over the last few months... I need to work harder.

Sometimes a lone humorist can be more devastating...

All promotions, all the time

For three days I was doing in-store demonstrations of the dragon beard candy... first in Bellevue, then I spent Saturday and Sunday in Beaverton during the Japan America Society's Japan Festival. With the help of a little bit of discounting on the part of Uwajimaya, and a more festive atmosphere, the Beaverton sales were pretty decent, and mostly justified the long drive and overnight hotel costs. It was nothing like the first weekend of sales at the Chinatown festival, but it sure didn't hurt.

I benefited also from the September publication of the Japanese translation of an article about my company and the product in Yuuyake Shinbun. A few people commented that they had read about the candy, though, as usual, many were unclear about their source. Someone even thought they had heard about it on TV. The most amusing thing was that I suddenly picked up the ability to talk about my product in machine-gun fashion (kikanjuu-no-you-ni) in simple Japanese... it was particularly challenging when I was trying to explain the price discounts that involved a lot of the number nine.

The best thing about the festival itself was that someone had set up a stand to serve freshly-made tai-yaki, which are a Japanese answer to waffles shaped like fish... snapper... they were offered stuffed with anko or with custard cream. They were so good. I haven't had fresh tai-yaki since....well... March, when I was in Japan plotting my escape from Microsoft. I couldn't help myself. When I took a little break, I ate at the restaurant neighboring Uwajimaya called Sambi, where I had a little set meal with pretty good vegetable croquettes (yasai korokke) and other things which were perhaps less exciting. Actually both before and after I ordered I saw two staff members taking breaks who turned out to be eating the same thing, so it must have been a worthwhile choice.

I tried to be adventurous and find a hip place to get a small late dinner Saturday night, but when I arrived at the first place I was interested in, it was closed for a private wedding reception. I ended up at an unremarkable but cheap pasta-focused spot and had some manicotti in a heavy marinara sauce. I tried wandering around looking for a low key place to get a drink and possibly socialize, but I made the mistake of going to the Portland equivalent of Pioneer Square, not knowing any better, and it was all noisy places for people far younger and more drunk than I am or wanted to be... so I just wandered back to the hotel.

“Dinner“ on the way home was a little sad... I ate an entire bag of “saya bean“ baked snacks, had a little blackberry kefir, and a bottle of gogo no koucha (milky bottled tea), snacking while driving. I got home late enough that real food wasn't worth the energy. I am feeling a little heavier in the last week or two, so I think I need to get myself back to exercising more regularly and eating less excessively and less irregularly.

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