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.

Last day in Tokyo, at Wai Wai, Italian-Japanese Izakaya

May 8... I had a relatively quiet last day in Japan, and met a friend for a quick lunch while Hiromi started the first day of work after Golden Week. After lunch, I made my way to Yūrakuchō to look for some additional self-indulgent snacks and treats to bring back to Seattle. I made my way back to my usual favorite spots (Hokkaidō Dosanko Plaza, Mura-Kara-Machi-Kara-Kan) and discovered, downstairs in the same building, a shop selling Wakayama specialties and another focused on Toyama products. I ended up taking home some umeboshi, some yuzu yubeshi, and some high-powered umeshu, and a few other treasures.

I met up with Hiromi mid-afternoon, because she had a medical appointment and had to leave the office a bit early anyway. After she finished with that, we met in Ginza and went to Printemps, where we both ordered a really nice, this-month-only, Matcha Mont Blanc. We then slowly headed back home, rested for a few minutes, and made our way to a restaurant we'd been planning to try all week.

Wai Wai

Wai Wai

Wai Wai, or 和伊・和伊, is a Japanese-Italian Izakaya that cutely uses country-appropriate Kanji (Japan and Italy) as ateji for a word that usually means something like "noisy" or "noisily".

Seated

Hiromi at Wai Wai

The space looks tiny if you peek inside... There's only a U-shaped bar adjacent the kitchen, and maybe a small table or two. But it turns out that they have a half dozen or so tables upstairs, and that's where we were seated. The booths have small noren hanging to create some semblence of privacy.

Agedashi Mozzarella

Agedashi Mozzarella

This was fascinating. In fact, seeing this dish on the menuboard outside Wai Wai may have been what triggered us to try this restaurant.

They transformed a typical izakaya dish of fried tofu in a seasoned dashijiru into a clever, but not over-the-top, fusion dish. Deep-fried basil, mozzarella, and tomato make an appearance, along with the typical agedashi accompaniments of ginger, oroshi-daikon (grated daikon), and negi.

While the flavor isn't much a surprise, and any crispness quickly faded as the dish made its way to our table, the combination was quite successful. It's hard to go wrong with basil-tomato-mozzarella, and the mild broth added the same kind of complexity you'd get from parmesan or a more Italian style soup stock.

Nama-yuba

This was the most Japanese of the things we ordered. It's an elegant presentation of a simple dish: fresh yuba, made from skimming the surface of slowly simmering heavy soymilk, served with soy sauce, ginger, wasabi, and chopped scallions, which you add to the yuba to your own taste.

I ate most of this, as Hiromi ordered for herself some chicken thighs, grilled with something like sansho.

Caeser Salad and Crepe

This salad replaces the typical crouton with a sculptural crispy crepe, which you're encouraged to break up and scatter over the salad.

Tsukemono

Tsukemono/Marinated vegetables

Marinated vegetables, or short-term pickles, featuring Western vegetables, including red bell peppers.

Quattro Formaggi to Hachimitsu

Quattro formaggi to hachimitsu

Four cheese pizza drizzled with honey. Like most pizza in Japan, it has an impossibly-thin, cracker-like crust. With the honey it would have served as a great final cheese course, but we weren't quite done yet...

Yakionigiri no ochazuke with an Italian accent

Italian-style yakionigiri ochazukei with anchovies, parmesan and basil

Ochazuke is a popular way of finishing a meal at an izakaya... there are two main tracks of ochazuke, one of which is the near-literal interpretation of tea poured over rice, with some pickles and furikake as accompaniments. Another is with a soup broth, and this version clearly is in the latter school.

As accompaniments, some chopped basil, parmesan, and anchovies are provided; they've been served separately to accommodate my vegetarian habit.

Up close

Ochazuke up close

I'm wasn't quite sure which herb was used, but I think the rice has been mixed with a chiffonade of parsley along with some toasted sesame. Because the ball of rice is grilled before being incorporated into the ochazuke, the rice ball is called yaki-onigiri. Topping the yaki-onigiri is an earlobe of wasabi.

Any number of variations of ochazuke exist. I've made a yaki-onigiri ochazuke before, myself, though with a decidedly more Japanese flavor profile.

This dish was really smart. Well balanced and comforting, it avoids most of the cliches found in American "fusion" cuisine while still playing with foreign (to Japanese) flavors. I think it's successful because it's firmly grounded in one culinary tradition, while judiciously adapting ingredients found in another... So many fusion dishes in the US seem to have a poor understanding of all of the source cuisines they are borrowing from.

Cream anmitsu!

Cream anmitsu with tapioca in coconut milk

I think I haven't had a chance to have kuriimu anmitsu for quite a while. We had a small dish of anmitsu served with a quick set meal at a kissaten in Mashiko, but for some reason, Hiromi and I haven't found our way to any place featuring anmitsu for quite a while.

The ice cream version of anmitsu, called cream anmitsu, can be found at old-school kissaten around Japan, but it seems not as easy to find as it was even six or seven years ago.

Not your obaachan's anmitsu

Not your grandma's cream anmitsu

Usually anmitsu comes with fruit, anko (sweet red been paste), and wasanbon (blonde cane sugar syrup), kuromitsu (black sugar syrup) or occasionally a simple sugar syrup. Occasionally the concept is combined with kakigouri, the shaved ice dessert; a few years back I ate that in a little shop in Takayama in Gifu prefecture.

Since we were in a slightly quirkier restaurant, the dish had been altered a bit further... in place of a more common syrup, it was served with tapioca that had been simmered in sweetened coconut milk. That transformed this treat into a Japanese-by-way-of-Southeast-Asia treat, and it worked suprisingly well. Since cream anmitsu is sometimes made with green tea ice cream, perhaps Chockylit's coconut matcha tapioca topping would be equally suitable...

We meandered the few dozen meters to our weekly apartment and started halfheartedly attacking our luggage.

The next day, it was time to go home...

Toraya Cafe: Wagashi reimagined.

After our big lunch, we found ourselves at Toraya Cafe, another fancy Omotesando Hills concept restaurant.

You'd think that we couldn't possibly have room to eat more.

However, to think so, you must be oblivious to the concept of betsubara... literally, separate stomach, the idea is expressed rather verbosely in English as "there's always room for dessert."

Toraya Cafe is a contemporary-style wagashi shop... Much like Tsujiri Cafe, from Uji, they reference traditional wagashi (Japanese confectionary) but playfully reimagine flavors and presentations. Toraya, though, is a very old confectionary company, and their parent company is equally adept at old-school and contemporary wagashi.

Most of us ordered some sort of beverage, generally some kind of tea. Kristin ordered  a "matcha glacé", a sort of sweet matcha drink that doubles as a dessert.

Tōnyū Pudding with Matcha Sauce

Tōnyū Pudding with Matcha Sauce 

I ordered some azuki-cha (roasted azuki mean tea) served cold, with optional wasanbon syrup, a lightly processed sugar cane syrup, as a sweetener.

One of the things I love about soy-based foods in Japan, including desserts, is that, for the most part, little effort is made to conceal the soy flavor. In fact, the aroma of the soybean is often intentionally highlighted. Soy is not some sort health food or a second-class milk or meat substitute, but, when suitably fresh, a remarkable flavor all its own.

This tounyuu purin, or soy milk pudding, has a pronounced soy flavor and is pleasingly creamy.

A thick matcha-based crème anglaise adds a bittersweet touch and contrasts nicely with the soy pudding.

Dark azuki beans, slightly sweet, garnish the dessert in the same way you might expect to see in a coffee-based dessert.

Oshiruko With Pu-erh infusion

Oshiruko With Pu-erh infusion

This remarkable variation of oshiruko, sweet azuki soup, is relatively traditional except for one subtle base note: The azuki are simmered with earthy Chinese pu-erh tea. Since azuki already has a somewhat earthy flavor, the flavor doesn't dominate, but provides a pleasant underlying accent that adds a subtle complexity to a dish that normally has a very straightforward, sweet flavor.

A few shiratama, also slightly tweaked for this dish, had, I believe, a little accent from white sesame seeds.

Although Toraya is a fairly large company, their cafe is, for me, one of the pleasant things that can happen when someone with vision and firm roots in a culinary tradition smartly reinterprets their palette of flavors and techniques with a creative eye. It's not hit-you-over-the-head culinary drama, but it's pleasingly innovative, and worth seeking out.

Yasaiya Mei: Robata-ya for madamu in Omotesandō

If you're a suitably fortunate madamu, you wouldn't be caught dead in your husband's favorite, smelly neighborhood robata-ya restaurant. However, that doesn't mean you would completely eschew the idea of charcoal-grilled altogether. You just want it to be a little more elegant... and perhaps a little less heavy on the smoke.

For those well-heeled women, there is Yasaiya Mei, a high-drama robata-ya in the sparkly, mine-like structure known as Omotesandō Hills.

Hiromi and I had eyed this spot after our previous outing to Omotesandō, and put it on our list of places to come back to. The dinner menu was out when we first walked by in the late afternoon, and it was fairly tempting, so we tried to find an excuse to come back.

We made plans for lunch with Kristin of eGullet and some of Hiromi's friends for a weekend lunch, and ended up choosing this spot since absolutely none of us would be able to make it there for lunch on a normal workday. For most of us it was a bit of a splurge, certainly for lunch, though some people got away with a slightly less expensive set. Lunch goes for JPY 2400-4000 ($22~40).

Two people, including me, ordered a spring vegetable set meal with some partial vegetarian accommodations. A British software developer in our group also prefers to eat vegetarian, so we ordered the same menu option. However, in just a couple months in Japan he's resigned himself to eating fish, preferring just to avoid chunks of pork and chicken and the like because it adds so much complexity to dining out, so he

On this trip I've found that restaurants we've visited have been surprisingly accommodating for my vegetarian quirk. It's not customary in Japan to accept special requests (or, more importantly, to make them) at restaurants, so that hasn't always been the case. I don't know if it's because we tended to eat in fairly high-end spots, if we just happened to stumble on places with excellent service standards, or if things are gradually changing.

Hiromi and Kristen ordered a special-of-the-day lunch, and one person ordered a simple curry set meal. Grilled items weren't terribly prominent, but were featured in most of our meals.

First course, vegetable set

First course, vegetable set, Yasaiya, Omotesando, Japan

Five little vegetable-highlighting dishes... as usual, practicing a vegetarian diet in Japan requires a sense of humor and a tolerance for fish-as-garnish, as in the case of the typical katsuo-bushi (shaved bonito) dressed ohitashi (blanched vegetable dish, center) and the sakura-ebi (tiny shrimp) garnished sunomono (sweet vinegar dressed dish, left).

Sappari Aloe

Sappari Aloe 

Our server noticed that one of the dishes in this starter course was made with crab, and without me asking, quickly swapped that dish out for an elegant and refreshing aloe ohitashi, which was meant for today's special lunchbox. A few years ago, aloe as a vegetable became all the rage throughout Asia, and this simple dish is reflective of that. It's reminiscent of mozuku, thanks to the neba-neba (sticky) qualities of the aloe and the slightly acidic sauce.

Ume gelee-dressed vegetables

Ume gelee-dressed vegetables

This ume-gelee dressed vegetable dish was surprisingly sappari. I guess I'm a sucker for Japanese apricot, but I was almost expecting this to be either strangely sweet or intensely sour; instead, it was well-balanced and full of pleasing contrasts.

Potato and green bean salad in bamboo "bark"

Ume gelee-dressed vegetables

This simple bamboo shoot and green bean aemono gets a dramatic treatment with a garnish from the outer layer of a bamboo shoot.

Vegetable curry rice set

Vegetable curry rice set

One of Hiromi's friends ordered an elegant Japanese-style curry rice with an unusual presentation... the rice comes adorned with goya (bitter melon), takenoko (bamboo shoot) and other vegetables, and the curry itself is served in a gravy boat, which the guest uses to pours the hot curry over the rice herself... some pickles and another small side dish accompany this.

Two-tiered lunchbox

Two-tiered lunchbox

I was too distracted to remember all of the things that come in the day's special two-tiered lunchbox, but the list was so long on the menu that I stopped reading carefully. It includes some agemono (fried foods), a rice dish with ikura (seasoned salmon roe) and bamboo shoots, a few yakimono (grilled fish, vegetables and meat). I think the confetti-puff-rice covered ball is a kind of meatball.

The starter tier

The starter tier

The upper tier includes an aloe dish (as above), a kind of nagaimo pudding (I think), renkon (lotus root) chips, and a little maguro.

Vegetable set second course

Vegetable set second course

My order comes in two stages, and this second course features a rice dish, a grilled dish, a poached glutinous rice ball, and miso soup.

Steamed rice with fava beans

Steamed rice with fava beans

Soramame (fava beens), maybe some nanohana (rapeseed greens), and some kind of ingen (green beans), along with some mushrooms and an herb garnish top my steamed rice.

Nimono, perhaps, with glutinous rice

Nimono, perhaps, with glutinous rice

This glutinous rice ball is poached a bit in seasoned soup stock and served with shiitake slices. It was hard to resist.

Yakimono

Yakimono with bamboo, asparagus, shiitake and cherry tomatoes

This was my set of robata-grilled dishes... the always-tempting spring takenoko, grilled bamboo shoots; grilled asparagus, shiitake, a cherry tomato, and a little nut that I'm forgetting the name of.

The bowl makes the miso soup

The bowl makes the miso soup

Spring greens in a strong miso soup.

Pickled gourd

Pickled gourd

Most of us got this surprisingly tasty pickled hyōtan, or gourd. I can't recall actually eating hyoutan anywhere else before. I wouldn't hesitate to eat it again... I was surprised. It was fairly ordinary, as pickles go, but I just haven't seen it before.

Shokugo

Shokugo

To finish the meal, everyone received a little tea (low-end matcha), and two kinds of wagashi. One is similar to warabi-mochi (right), and the other is a flavored rice cake.

We weren't quite finished... After our big lunch, we wandered off to chat more and to have some contemporary, reimagined wagashi at Toraya just a few floors below...

Besan roti

You wouldn't know it yet considering how much I'm still focusing on my Japan trip (just a few more things to write about...), but I've actually been back home for a couple of weeks already. I've been eating fairly simply most of the time, but perhaps a bit unhealthy.

A simple dinner

A simple dinner with besan roti and channa dal 

After a week full of bread, cheese and asparagus, I was craving something hearty and dense.

I thought it might be fun to try my hand at some crispy flatbread. I'm a fond of roti canai, the flatbread served with a simple channa masala or even a "gravy" made with chickpeas. But I thought it would be nice to give the dough itself a bit of a protein boost, so I used half all-purpose flour and half besan, or chickpea flour. I add a fair amount of ghee and  a generous pinch of salt, combine the flours, and add just enough warm water to create a smooth, pliable dough. The dough needs to be rested for a half hour or so.

Besan roti

Besan roti

I cooked them on a big, hot, cast-iron skillet until they were puffy, lightly brushed each side with oil and cooked each side a bit longer. Then I folded each roti over twice so that they become pie-shaped wedges.

They weren't quite flawless, as the edges are a bit rough, but they came out just slightly crispy and the chickpea flour added a nice flavor.

I didn't really know this until looking up other roti recipes after I was all done with this dish, but some versions of besan roti add spices right in the dough. However, I was mostly looking for a structure to serve with dal, rather than something with its own complex flavor.

Channa dal

Channa dal

I made a simple chickpea dish seasoned with an onion jam (caramelized onions with added liquid), tomato paste, fresh ginger and garlic, turmeric and chilies, along with an explosion of ghee-cooked spices including cumin seeds, mustard seeds, coriander, and a garam masala blend. I take this ghee-cooked spice blend and pour it over the soup when both are very hot, causing furious frothing and bubbling, and allowing the aromas of the spices to spread throughout the dish.

The chickpeas come split, and don't take terribly long to cook. I also added a few potatoes about 25 minutes before I expected the dish to be done.

Upon serving, added some cilantro to add a fresh, cooling flavor.

Mango Pickle

The mango pickle is nothing special... just a store bought thing, used to provide a little tangy contrast... It goes well with the besan roti as well, but I later discovered that the local-to-Seattle Taaza's tomato garlic chutney, by Sunita Shastri, is particularly good with the roti.

I have been craving spicier food the last few days, so I think this won't be the only South Asian food on my table this week.

Short trip to Mashiko

We made a little trip to Mashiko on the weekend before coming back to Seattle.

We went, in part, so that I could replenish my ever-shrinking ceramics collection on YuzuMura.com. I was also looking for some new artists to consider for later in the year.

Minowa Yasuo passed away a couple years ago, so I haven't been able to buy anything he made for a long time. Besides, my original plan to sell my ceramics to galleries morphed into a mostly web-based sales model. My previous habit of buying a few remarkable pieces per artist doesn't work very well on the web, since the burden of photographing something I only have one or two examples of becomes rather exhausting. By next year, I expect I'll have fewer choices but a better ability to handle larger orders for them.

Large bowl by Akutsu Masato

Akutsu Masato large bowl

During Golden Week, Mashiko has one of two annual pottery festivals, so many artists and production kilns were out showing off their wares. We made our way to my favorite galleries first, and we were pleased to stumble upon a show by Akutsu Masato and the rest of his family at Moegi. I hadn't done much advance planning on this trip, so it was a good coincidence... I discovered that I brought the wrong contact information for him anyway, so if it hadn't been for the show at Moegi I might not have been able to get hold of him.

Masato's father, who is incredibly charming, also had some very nice pieces at the family show, and Masato's mother's work is very compelling as well, so now I'm considering importing work from the whole family... While all three seem to work from a related palette, they each have very distinctive styles.

I also discovered some Minowa Yasuo pieces at one gallery, and I was so surprised by that that I ended up buying a number of pieces. It will become increasingly difficult to find anything else he made, so I took advantage of the opportunity.

Fortunately, the gallery was kind enough to extend me a reseller price, which means I'll be able to offer the new pieces at roughly the same price as similar items I still have in stock. I was expecting I'd have to dramatically raise prices on the new pieces, but it doesn't look like I'll have to.

One unfortunate side effect of my good fortune on this trip was that I didn't have time to meet up with Senda Yoshiaki, and I couldn't buy any of his pieces on this trip. I am almost completely out, so I really need to do something about that. I think I'll send Hiromi to Mashiko once before fall to remedy that.

I didn't buy a huge amount of ceramic pieces on this trip, but enough that it wasn't possible to transport things on my back... so I have to wait a few weeks before things arrive. I'm looking forward to it...

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Kitchen survivalism

Working in a minimally-stocked kitchen that's completely different than your own is pretty tricky.

Our weekly apartment was equipped with a rice cooker, a saucepan and a frying pan. We had a few plates and bowls, but nothing close to what I'm used to at home.

But after a bunch of elaborate, not to mention expensive, restaurant meals, we wanted to make something on our own.

Haru kyabetsu to nerimiso

We have spring cabbage made with a quick homemade sweetened miso... this is sort of a typical izakaya dish nowadays. We soon discovered that the lighter colored leaves from inside the cabbage were much more tender, and decided to reserve the dark outer leaves for an itamemono on another day.

Three nice side dishes made ugly

We didn't really have all the fundamentals... just mirin, soy sauce, salt, pepper and instant dashi. We had no vinegar, and we had only a small amount of miso. We didn't actually have any cooking oil; just some butter, meant for toast for breakfast.

I normally don't use instant dashi since it's not vegetarian, but when I'm on the road and only cooking a few meals on my own, it's a bit harder to stock a bunch of konbu and dried mushrooms, so we relied a bit on a few granules of that dashi for a few things. Although I'm not really a fan of the flavor of instant dashi, some dishes just don't taste right if you only use water. Since I already have to relax my vegetarian habits when eating out in Japan, I elected to make another small concession to reality, and I used small amounts of it in one or two dishes.

Since we only had a few plates, elegant platings had to be sacrificed, but we found some sort of solution.

Our side dishes included, from left to right: An egg scramble with some cheap maitake mushrooms and leeks, an ohitashi made with sakura no shiozuke, or salted cherry blossoms, and grilled bamboo shoots with butter and soy sauce. They may not look like much, but everything turned out slightly better than I expected.

Yuba and myouga

We love myouga, sometimes explained as ginger shoots in English, and it's hard to get in the US. Myōga looks a bit like the bulb of a shallot but has a gently spicy mild ginger flavor. I sliced some with the scary, flimsy knife supplied by our weekly apartment and scattered the slices inelegantly atop pieces of cut yuba, and carelessly drizzled some soy sauce over the yuba.

I miss fresh yuba when I'm in the US. The best I can do is dried or, on rare occasions, previously-frozen... unless I'm willing to commit to sitting in front of a nabe for an hour or two as I slowly peel off pieces of yuba from simmering soymilk. I don't do that so often.

Our dinner

Hiromi prepared a miso soup, which I nearly ruined by adding too much instant dashi. Since I never have any instant dashi at home, I didn't know how much is "normal" for soup. It turns out that the answer is very little.

She also blended some more salted cherry blossoms into the rice to make sakura-gohan, and whipped out the kuromame nattou (black bean nattō) before I could blink.

After a really fancy lunch in Omotesandō, this more humble dinner helped us balance our extravagance without feeling like much of a sacrifice.

Hwayo Soju

I had bought an "expensive" bottle of soju while in Korea at about KRW 11,000, or $11-12. The mass-produced stuff like Jinro and Chamiseul goes for less than $2 a bottle at your average convenience store, so this would be considered a bit extravagant. Anyway, tonight we cracked open this bottle and each had a glass of Korean shochu on the rocks with our dinner.

It's smoother and cleaner-tasting than the mass-produced brands, but not quite as nice as the better Japanese varieties of shochu. The flavor is relatively neutral  but still has a hint of complexity. I'd buy it again if I were in Korea.

The distractions of being a long-distance newlywed

Again I apologize for being so distracted of late... Since Hiromi left, I've been rather unmotivated to write anything. I have barely been keeping up reading blogs I'm subscribed to in Bloglines. I've just been working, cooking, eating, sleeping.

Well, that's not entirely true. I've gone out to eat a little bit, too, though generally fairly lowbrow or even actively disappointing stuff. I'm still arranging weekly Japanese-speaking meetups and spending a little time with friends. I haven't become a complete recluse, but I've just appreciated staying semi-hidden for a while.

Thanks to everyone who sent kind words when I posted about our courtroom ceremony.

It turns out that our plans for a family wedding in Japan became a bit complicated due to my mother's health. We've decided to postpone that ceremony until my mother thinks she can travel... the whole point of having the ceremony in Japan was to have our parents there. If things work out, we've considered having our family ceremony in the winter, but we're more likely to wait until spring, or perhaps arrange the ceremony as a renewal of vows around this time next year.

We had a bunch of documents to assemble in order to apply for Hiromi's visa and permanent resident status. Under current regulations, these documents get filed in a rather curious order: first, a petition for permanent resident status for an immediate relative. Then, when the receipt of this petition is acknowledged, I file a petition for permanent resident status for a fiance (precisely the same immediate relative. Finally, Hiromi makes an application for a non-immigrant spouse visa at the consulate. Then she can come to the US. So we get married, then engaged to marry, and then we get to see each other finally. Then we pay a large fee for an "adjustment of status" when her permanent resident status is finalized.

Had we been a little more prepared, we could have made sure these documents were ready before Hiromi left. Of course, her original purpose for this trip was not at all to get married, but to go to a dance workshop in California and spend few leisurely days with me before going back to Japan. So we only had a small subset of the stack of papers we needed ready to go, and of course, we had plenty of small complications getting the rest of them together.

On Thursday, my attorney sent off the paperwork for the first form, the I-130. It turns out that it's been taking much longer than usual just to acknowledge the receipt of this document. Currently, it's around 3 weeks, from what I can tell.

I'm glad we engaged the services of an attorney to help with the process. Although I've filled out almost all of the forms myself first, the paralegal involved on our case caught numerous small issues that could have complicated the application process, resulting in additional delays.

We were somewhat optimistic in thinking that it should take 3 or 4 months for the visa to be approved. It looks like that's only true for the initial petition itself under optimal conditions. Thanks to a surge of applications this summer related to some fee increases, processing is running far behind schedule, from what I understand. Beyond that, it may take a fair amount of time to get an appointment at the embassy in Japan.

Although we've been in a long-distance relationship for most of the last 4 years, it's even more frustrating to have so much of a wait ahead of us now that we've officially committed to spend our lives together. Most of the ugly paperwork stuff to get Hiromi here is done; now we just have a lot of waiting, and a number of large checks to write.

We've been entertaining the idea of meeting in Vancouver, BC, or somewhere similar for a week or so around the holidays, where I could still conduct my day job remotely without too many complications, and we could have some time together. And I'm still planning to go to Japan for about a week sometime this fall, though it's no longer connected to our wedding ceremony plans.

I promise to get back to food posting shortly, and probably even a few business-related postings... I have a fair backlog of photos to plow through, and I've been taking advantage of the simple cooking that summer ingredients invite, sometimes spending less than 20 minutes to prepare what turn out to be very nice meals.

Reunion and union

Sorry for my absence the last couple of weeks. Did you miss me?

I've been a bit distracted.

Certificate of Marriage

Certificate of Marriage

Hiromi and I have been quietly planning to marry in September in Japan... most of our friends and family have known about it for a while, though I haven't been shouting it from rooftops...

I guess it's time for that to change.

In the lobby of Seattle Municipal Courthouse

Entering the courthouse

A little over five years ago, I met Hiromi in person for the first time while on business for Microsoft in Japan. We weren't really working together directly on anything at that time, but several people from the MSN Japan team went to lunch at Misato-ya in Chofu with me, and Hiromi may have been the person to suggest that we go to the popular organic vegetable teishoku restaurant whose korokke and unpredictable okazu I still crave. I'm pretty sure I spent all of lunch talking about food, cooking and ceramics, probably exhausting anyone who wasn't interested in my personal obsessions.

On another trip that year, Hiromi wasn't even in the office. She had been surprised by a brain tumor and was unable to work for a while while it was being treated.

Somehow Hiromi remembered me a couple years later when we started working on something together. It's rather embarrassing to admit now, but at first I wasn't entirely sure which Hiromi I was working with. There were two contractors named Hiromi on the team back then.

Anyway, I planned a little vacation to Japan after about a year without any business travel. Hiromi invited me to meet up with her on a trip I made to Japan in 2003. We had dinner together one night, and then went touring around Yokohama on another.

I owe my entire relationship with her to my clumsiness... While we were walking around in Yokohama, I nearly ran into a post in the middle of a shopping center, she grabbed my hand to pull me out of the way, and never let go. The wind and rain that day was furious, and a brief trip outside left us chilly and well-soaked. Our lives would be permanently intertwined that day, though I don't think either one of us really knew it then.

In Chambers with Judge Judith Hightower

Seated with Judge Hightower

I didn't really deserve her... I sent all sorts of mixed messages when we first started dating. I was conflicted about starting up a long distance relationship, as I'm sure she was. It took more than a year of trips back and forth before we removed all the ambiguity. Yet somehow she stuck with me.

Things evolved, and Hiromi decided to come to Seattle to take some classes so that we could get to know each other better. Somehow she didn't become bored of me. I don't know how I managed to keep her interested. I wasn't at my best. I was, as now, juggling a day job and my fledgling internet business, more exhausted than usual, and occasionally a bit depressed that I couldn't devote all my energies to that project. But we stayed together, and it became harder and harder for me to imagine my life without her.

We seriously started thinking about marriage, but neither of us was in great financial shape. She went back to Japan, after a little under a year in Seattle, so that she could start earning some money again. I started saving money while paying down some business debt.

At the time, it seemed like it was best to marry in Japan and arrange for the immigration paperwork there. Perhaps a bit sentimentally, we picked the anniversary of the day that I nearly walked into a pole in Yokohama, which coincidentally turned out to be a taian day this year, an auspicious day for a wedding.

Then immigration policies changed again, and we learned we wouldn't be able to start the process of bring Hiromi back to Seattle until after I would return to Seattle after our September wedding... And at first we were just resigned to a fate of things taking longer.

I had a little conversation with my attorney earlier in July to discuss our plans, and he said it was too bad we didn't just get married when Hiromi was still in town. If we weren't hung up on the date, he said, we might have been able to speed things up by starting the application process a bit earlier. I realized that she'd be in Seattle briefly after attending a dance workshop in California, and we started discussing having a simpler municipal wedding before our bigger family ceremony next month.

Well, that's what we did... perhaps a bit hurried... Hiromi's ring won't even be ready until just before I go to Japan, and we haven't figured out mine yet. The judge kindly provided symbolic rings for the ceremony.

There's still a long way to go before we're really together, but now the end of our long time living apart is finally in view.

Exchanging vows

Making our vows

Ron Mamiya, the presiding judge of Seattle's Municipal Court, had requested to do our ceremony because he shares Hiromi's family name, but Hiromi's tight schedule meant she'd be gone before he returned from his own vacation. Instead, the Honorable Judith Hightower took care of our ceremony in her chambers. She kindly indulged us taking lots of photos, actively encouraging the two camera-wielding witnesses to move about the room for the best possible angles. She even took a few shots of our group together.

Our witnesses

Judge Hightower's snapshot of everyone

Hiromi's former manager Tsuneo, a couple of layers removed, attended at Hiromi's request as a witness. Our friends Jennifer, Hal and Noriko also attended.

After the ceremony, on the steps of the courthouse

Outside on the steps of the municipal court

Unfortunately, this was also one of the briefest trips Hiromi's ever made to Seattle, and we didn't really have a lot of time to enjoy each other's company after the wedding. We had a little dinner with Jennifer and we came home early in the evening. We only had one night before I had to take Hiromi to the airport.

This was the most painful trip to the airport I've ever made.

I don't remember us posing for this

I don't remember posing for this 

Fortunately, I'll be in Japan again in just over a month. There's still a lot of planning to do, and I'm not sure how we'll get everything all done by then, but I'm sure we'll figure things out.

Just before dinner

Outside the courthouse

I was surprised at how much this small ceremony changed the way I look at Hiromi. I was completely inarticulate on our way outside the courthouse afterward, but a thousand thoughts were racing around my head. Even at my worst, most selfish moments, I haven't been able to imagine my life without Hiromi for a long time, but everything became so real to me all at once. I was more than a little overwhelmed... after going to the airport yesterday, I was completely useless for the rest of the day.

So crowded nobody goes there anymore

Over the weekend Seattle Center hosted its annual spectacle of mediocre food. I almost completely forgot it was set to happen until I spotted a note about it in one of the Seattle weekly papers late in the week.

My left foot is still easily inflamed, so I didn't go, but I'm not sure I would have expended any more effort had circumstances been more favorable.

Perhaps I'm the only one, but Bite of Seattle no longer holds the same appeal to me it once did. Last year, Hiromi and I kept fairly busy attending most of the notable Seattle festivals, from Folklife to the Solstice Parade, from the Pride Parade to Bumbershoot. We even hit the Seattle Cheese Festival, accidentally found ourselves at a Leavenworth, WA parade, and even unexpectedly found ourselves at a hydroplane event on our way to Sol Duc in the Olympic Peninsula.

But I'm fairly sure we skipped what is ostensibly the most food-centric event of the year: The annual Bite of Seattle. Near as I can tell, we stayed home and grilled peaches and made falafel.

It's probably been two or three years since I last attended the Bite. The prospect of braving large crowds of people standing in long lines waiting for almost exactly the same food that appears at ever other summer event in the region no longer holds much appeal for me.

Sure, they have the semi-fancy John Hinterberger/Kathy Casey/Tom Douglas circuit (the featured Seattle food personality changes year-to-year), but I don't think the festival does much to highlight Seattle-area restaurants anymore.

It takes almost $3000 just to rent space for the booth for the weekend, not to mention all of the equipment and staffing costs, so I think most of the interesting restaurants in Seattle have been opting out. It's a shame, because as far as I understand, the event originally had the aim of promoting local restaurants, rather than being a place to get standard greasy fair grub.

When I look at the restaurant list this year, it seems that a fair number of "real" restaurants are on the list, but even most of those are fixtures of the festival event circuit. Aside from those few spots, I think I've seen enough of Biringer Farms semi-frozen hyper-sweet strawberry shortcake, Ziegler's curly fries, Shishkaberrys skewered chocolate dipped fruits and Scotty's seafood sandwiches. It doesn't look like even a handful of the restaurants are the kind of chef-owner-operated places that make eating in Seattle interesting and remarkable.

You can't even get a decent cup of coffee at the event thanks to sponsorship restrictions. In Seattle. Why even bother showing up?

I must be idealizing the event somewhat, because even thinking back to when I first went to Bite of Seattle in 1996 or 1997 or so, I can't think of any remarkable restaurants that I was introduced to via the festival. But I do think it was more exciting for me back then. Have I just become jaded, or did the "Bite" once have more bite?

What else to do?

Sparkling sake from Sakenomi

Fortunately, Seattle is vibrant enough that we have other things going on even during major festivals. Sakenomi bravely opened a small sake retail shop in Pioneer Square, and had their grand opening event all Saturday afternoon. A friend of mine from my Japanese Meetup went with me to chat with the owners and to nibble on champagne grapes and cheese and crackers.

The shop is pleasantly unpretentious, and Johnnie and Taiko are working hard to make sake as accessible as possible. Our brief conversation made it clear just how few degrees of separation there are in Seattle's Japanese community... the store features sake ware from Akiko's Pottery and the staff wears T-shirts designed by Masa of Three Tree Tea.

Considering the location, I'm a bit surprised that they've made the choice to create more of a retail venue than a bar, but the interior is constructed in a way that they can probably evolve in that direction if it turns out to make more sense.

Pioneer Square is a difficult place to operate a retail shop. Even a lot of the galleries have been struggling as Pioneer Square loses its hold on the art buying public. I'm curious if it's possible to make money on a retail project down there that isn't a convenience store.

I wish them well... the space is cute and the environment is much more welcoming and apprachable than the average Asian market sake aisle.

I took home a nice bottle of semi-effervescent sake.

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Summertime socials

The last few days I've been fairly social, meaning that my kitchen is seeing only minimal use. Except for a Friday night experiment preparing chappati and Indira's green garbanzo and paneer dish with a haphazard, soft, homemade almost-paneer that was more like Ethiopian lab cottage cheese, I've mostly played it safe, seeing as I was heading to parties.

Even my home cooking was rather conservative, including some simple dishes like Roesti for brunch, with a sour cherry shake on Sunday afternoon, an idea stolen from a Matthew Amster-Burton article a month or so ago.

My camera wasn't really handy on the weekend, but since almost everything was a rerun, I'm just going to apologize for recycling some old photos.

Saturday I had to run an errand that made me late for my first party of the weekend, so I thought of two things I can make with about 5 minutes work.

Roasted potatoes 

Roasted potatoes

Roasted potatoes just take a little slicing, a little rubbing with olive oil, and a sprinkling with salt, seasoned or otherwise. I could carry all the equipment I needed with me to the party, do the quick preparation, and take over the unoccupied oven for about 25 minutes and out came some magic. The version I actually served involved Volterra/Ritrovo's porcini salt. (Roasted potatoes I last posted about here).

Insalata caprese

Insalata caprese

A staple of my summer repertoire, insalata caprese with heirloom tomatoes is always a crowd-pleaser when the tomatoes are at their best. Even though I prepared this before everyone's eyes at the party, people still thought there was some mysterious technique to make the dish taste good... But it was just the buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil that mattered most, along with a sprinkling of salt on the tomato slices and some fresh ground pepper over the whole thing.

Channa gobi masala cups

 Channa gobi masala cups

Channa gobi masala cups, a variation of the channa gobi masala nests I've made before, this time using sheets of filo rather than the shredded kadaifi. For some reason, PFI didn't hae the kadaifi, but the little filo cups are equally appealing. The curry was a simple cauliflower-split chickpea dish with finely chopped vegetables, just like above. The cups were just butter-brushed filo sheets folded so that they would make little cups in my mini-muffin tin. Baked until crispy and golden-brown, they provided a convenient package for party-sized nibbles.

I'd almost call this a rut, but I know better. I don't usually take big risks when heading to someone else's party... Simple, familiar (to the cook, anyway) and temperature-flexible fare is what potlucks are all about. Plus it's an unseasonably warm summer... even I want to get out of the kitchen as quickly as possible.

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