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.

Another Portland demo trip

August 6, 2005, 11:38 PM

I went to the Beaverton Uwajimaya today, but somehow I didn’t arrive until about 12:15 and I spent about 10 minutes wandering around trying to figure out where my demo table might be, then I found the staff member who runs the event, and settled in as quickly as possible. I think I didn’t do any sampling until about 12:45.

Actually I try to arrive by 11:30 to these events but somehow something goes wrong each time, and I get there later. This time the issue was fairly bland… I remembered the need to get cups for serving cold matcha samples, and had to stop at a Cash & Carry on the way out of town. I would have done this yesterday, but I had a long list of things to accomplish and it just fell off.

The weather was very warm today. I think I might have a bit of open-window sunburn.

Alas, I ate rather unimpressively on the way. The day started off well, because I had two halves of two nice muffins from Fresh Flours, and a yuzu marmalade window cookie (made with Korean yuja-cha, which I myself have been intending to import since February but faced a few unrelated inventory and payment obstacles that made me skittish). Along the way I stopped at a Mrs. Beesley’s for a fresh strawberry shake, so that beat my sugar quota. I had a slice of mushroom pizza at Pizzicato. These last two are, alas, frequent stops for me when I’m playing traveling supermarket product demo guy.

Surprisingly, the usual rule about sunny weather negatively impacting sales and store traffic at Beaverton didn’t seem to hold. I found I was sampling to a steady stream of customers most of the time, and the iced matcha latte in particular went over well… I think more people have recently tasted the (in my opinion scary) Starbucks green tea drinks that the idea seems less “foreign” when they try ours. Usually people who have tried both seem to prefer ours, which makes me happy, since we use better matcha and no melon flavoring.

Usually I’ve been at Beaverton on relatively cool days so I think today was the first time to do any iced matcha lattes there… it’s actually a little more convenient since the matcha flavor is more stable when served cold, so I can make more in advance and I never have to throw any away.

When I do hot matcha lattes, the samples get cool very quickly in small sample cups, and the exposure to air is not something that green tea appreciates; accordingly, to make sure everyone has the best possible experience, I usually make four samples at a time and discard any that remain after about 5 minutes. 5 minutes isn’t too much stress for a drink in a larger cup because it doesn’t cool as rapidly or have as much surface area exposed to air. I don’t want to drink a long-neglected cafe latte either, because coffee is about as temperamental when served hot as matcha is.

Anyway, iced is nice, because it seems more people have experience eating green tea ice cream than drinking matcha, and the taste is somehow familiar to them when we serve cold things. I didn’t track it very carefully, but I think we actually had a fairly high conversion rate today for Beaverton… in Seattle I do reasonably well whether doing hot drinks or cold. The smallest size ran out by the fourth hour.

Whenever I do demos at the Beaverton Uwajimaya I wish I had progressed further in studying Korean than I have so far… I have been using a little bit just to explain the name of the products in Korean, which some Koreans have heard of… yong su-yeom yeott saseyo! Nokcha late i-e-yo. But I can’t say anything else of interest.

Beaverton’s customer base has the heaviest percentage of Koreans of any store that I visit. So it seems like it would be a good think if I could say something more intelligent than “I’m selling dragon beard candy! This is a green tea latte.”

What am I doing right?

August 5, 2005, 11:59 PM

Yesterday I was surprised by a larger than usual number of internet orders for almost every product category I cover. I spent a good portion of the day taking care of them, although I also had a few other wholesale things to work on and a quick meeting, and some banking errands.

Today I got a smaller number of orders but fairly substantial ones. In the last couple of weeks my average internet sales per day seems to have nearly doubled. The strange thing is I haven’t really changed much, although about 6 weeks ago I increased my promotional budget on Google and Overture nee Yahoo Search Marketing. It had a noticeable but not completely direct impact. Only some of those customers seemed to have come from those ads anyway.

Someone ordered a bamboo tea tray only a few days after I put them online… I was really surprised because I did no promotion or even mention of it except in private places until after one had sold.

I don’t really know what I’ve done differently… It’s bewildering. I hope it’s a trend and not a fluke… And I better not stop whatever it is that caused whatever’s happening to happen…

Coleman pool, simple picnic

August 4, 2005, 11:55 PM

A couple of friends wanted to meet up at the Coleman Pool in West Seattle, but I got the call just about 10 minutes before the last session of the day would begin. At that very moment, I was in Ballard, talking with a client of mine. I don’t keep a spare swimsuit in my car, so I had to stop at home.

The plan seemed to evolve into going to an even farther away pool, so I had to stop to fuel up my car, because after an earlier trip to Bellevue today I was running low. This delayed my departure a bit and then I learned the original plan was still on. Of course, this meant that I was now quite late for the session.

Anyway, I got about 30–40 minutes in the pool but I haven’t been swimming for about 2 years, so my endurance for lap swimming is nonexistent. But I got more time in than my friends, who managed to arrive just 10 minutes before closing.

Coleman Pool is right on the water. It is filled with filtered seawater and seems to have a minimal level of chlorine. The setting is spectacular on a day with like today, which was cloudless and very warm.

Afterward we us nibbled on bread and cheese in the surrounding Lincoln Park.

Mrmph... Software

August 3, 2005, 11:14 PM

I remember there was a time when I enjoyed exploring the features of software even when I didn’t need to know a specific feature for any particular task or work I had ahead of me. In fact, I’d say that most of my life, “playing” with software has been a fairly important learning method for me, and made it possible for me to accomplish all sorts of things relatively easily that other folks I knew would have considered hopelessly complex.

I’m not sure when exactly my attitude changed… I know that at Microsoft, it shifted a bit. If a solution didn’t seem eminent and I had other things I should have been working on, I would give up on whatever esoteric solution I had in mind, stop tweaking and just move on. It was a necessary project management technique. If it wasn’t critical to the task, I’d just step away, regardless of how interesting the solution to my problem might have been.

As a business owner, I have slowly noticed an increasing drift toward impatience with software and with hardware idiosyncrasies. If something didn’t work as I expected, and it actually matters to me, I yell and scream and vent at my computer, which of course isn’t really listening. It provides a kind of stress relief.

I was doing some work with my online store over the last few days, uploading dozens of new products, including some really beautiful bamboo tea trays, some very stylish Yixing teaware, and some tea oil-based soaps and cosmetics. Unfortunately, some of the categories were getting unwieldy and confusing, as Hiromi rightly pointed out to me. Many of these problems are tough to solve without doing substantial code modifications to software that I didn’t even write, and I’m not that comfortable sacrificing a lot of time writing code for small benefits these days.

But I knew in the back of my mind that a feature to affect the display order of products within a particular category was supposed to be in the software. I knew how to adjust sort order of the categories themselves, but I never did quite figure out where in the UI this feature for sorting products within a category fell, though I had seen evidence of it in the database backend.

Finally, today, as I was doing some more manipulation of the categories on my web site, I found it. It allowed me to group things within some categories slightly more intelligently, roughly in conceptual groups rather than by something more haphazard, like alphabetical order, or pageviews/popularity-based sorting. Years ago, I would likely have discovered this feature way before I actually would have needed it. I’m clearly not that excited about learning the intricacies of the features of my software anymore…

I felt rather stupid that I have been using the same software for about 5 months and never noticed it. Actually the effect is rather subtle, but it at least allows me to group things in an order that makes sense within my mind, instead of just an apparently random list of products.

Making use of what's available

August 1, 2005, 11:56 PM

When I studied in Germany, my friends and neighbors were always surprised that I could make dinner out of “nothing.” What they meant was that I could scrape together something interesting from available ingredients, even if the ingredients might not be particularly inspiring… it was fairly common for my selection of vegetables to be consumed fairly quickly, so I might have had only half an onion, some previously cooked vegetable, and maybe some lentils or something in my pantry; suddenly I’d produce a seasoned lentil soup.

Tonight was one of those nights. I didn’t have anything special planned, but I had remnants of a dense bread, a tomato, some leftover roasted cauliflower from a few days ago, and some previously fried bell peppers. I also had a bit of smoked mozzarella left, which I bought on a whim about a week ago, probably used for something else baked in the oven last week.

So I just toasted some bread on one side under the broiler, turned it over and brushed with olive oil and rubbed with garlic, and layered on what was around; the cauliflower went on one, and some bell peppers on the other, then everything else. I used a little salt and pepper to season. I wasn’t trying to be delicate; I used thicker layers of vegetables than if I had planned a bruschetta or a pizza or something. I just wanted to use up things. So this was not delicate in any way. But it did the trick, and tasted pretty nice.


Last night I was out on a run… Rather than going up to Greenlake, for the last couple weeks I’ve just been jogging past the zoo up Phinney. I go up to about 70th and then my energy has been pretty much exhausted, so I come back alternating between walking and running. Actually I made it up to about 75th this time, but I stopped running and walked most of the way back home.  Along the way back, I ran into Etsuko at Fresh Flours, who had just closed up shop for the night and was locking the door as I crossed 61st. I said hello, and chatted about 30 seconds. She offered me a few little fruit tarts and a kind of cream puff.

It sort of undermined my whole reason for jogging, I supposed, but I was happy to have something nice for breakfast this morning. Half of the cream puff served as dessert tonight as well. Although a little soft after a night in the refrigerator, it had a nice custard filling. The tart was just what I needed to start the morning… that, and a standard Seattle dose of cafe latte, which I made at home.

Fresh Flours tart and cream puff

Matcha Cuisine

July 31, 2005, 11:28 PM

I don’t customarily plan an entire three course meal around a single ingredient, except to celebrate some seasonal excess, like fantastic tomatoes or the fall mushroom season.

However, over the last month or two, I started to want to push the boundaries of my usual matcha adventures

I’ve become comfortable letting matcha play a role in sweets, cocktails, and so on, and I have done a matcha flavored cream sauce before, but I never really let it play a starring role in a planned meal. I wanted to test the capacity of matcha to play different roles. In addition to its obvious applications in desserts and sweets, it also has herbal and spice-like qualities I wanted to explore. I thought maybe I would revisit my matcha cream sauce again, but this time make some homemade gnocchi instead of throwing together a quick lunch with some dry pasta from my pantry. In this case, I could let the matcha serve the role of an herb. I also wanted to use it as a seasoning, so I thought maybe a simple tempura would be nice. And I couldn’t really envision a three course meal highlighting matcha without it serving a role as a dessert flavoring, so I decided to go way back in my repertoire to produce a green tea cheesecake. I had made a matcha mousse in Germany in 1996 or so, but I think it wan’t until 1998 or so when I decided to make a cheesecake with it.

When I first attended FoodEx and Hoteres Japan back in 2004, I was intrigued by the idea of a matcha-jio, or matcha seasoned salt. The primary suggested application was as a seasoning for tempura, but I have also seen it used to season oborodoufu (custard tofu) served in small portions. I don’t really make tempura all that often, but I thought that tempura could be analogous to a “fritto misto”, and since tempura was itself a fusion of Japanese and Portuguese cooking, it seemed fitting as a gateway between the European and Japanese elements of the meal I envisioned.

Even though I’m at Uwajimaya at least weekly, I don’t really know where to find matcha salt in Seattle. I do, however, have a small mortar and pestle, and a fairly substantial supply of matcha for cooking, since I’ve been functioning as a sales broker for Three Tree Tea. So I ground some salt up to a fine snowflake-like powder, and combined it with a fairly substantial proportion of matcha for cooking (grade A).

Matcha-jioRenkon to ingen to ninjin no tempura with Matcha-jio

I spotted some freshly harvested local green beans (ingen), and some well packed Chinese lotus root (renkon). For color contrast I thought a few slices of carrot would be nice. I decided to make tempura the “old fashioned” way, which is not with a batter, but by bathing the vegetables in very cold water with a beaten egg, and dipping into flour. This allows for a very thin coating that allows the colors to come through. I did sprinkle everything a tiny amount of salt after frying before plating.

A few weeks ago at La Medusa, Hiromi and I had a nice “sappari” sauced pasta made with a fava bean cream, served with salt-marinated fava beans. I thought it was a good model for what I had in mind for my gnocchi.

For the pasta, I wanted the matcha to function much like rosemary or thyme or any other herb would work in a sauce. My goal was to make it recognizable if you were familiar with it, just strong enough that you would miss it if it weren’t there. So I chose to use a very small amount of cutting-board minced garlic (roughly half a clove), 2 tbsp. butter, 2–3 tbsp. cream (unmeasured), and a bit of parmesan. I prepared matcha by whisking about 3/4 tsp. of the powder in about 1/4 cup of my pasta water. I had some salt-water boiled edamame, which I had dropped in an ice bath after cooking. After boiling the gnocchi, which were a simple potato-based gnocchi with no special seasoning, I combined them with the edamame and the sauce and kept cooking a couple more minutes in the cream sauce (adjusting salt as needed). As a tea, matcha can become bitter or astringent when cooked for a long time, so I combined it into the sauce just before adding the gnocchi.

Matcha cream gnocchi

Gnocchi seem an ideal gateway between Japanese and Italian cuisine. The mild sweetness of the potatoes in gnocchi and the sweet-savory nature of “dango” or Japanese dumplings seemed to make the medium even more fitting. In fact, the first time I made a matcha cream sauce a few weeks ago, I used a tiny amount of sugar (1/4–1/2 tsp) just to make the sauce smoother. This time I skipped that. If someone served me a matcha cream pasta at a restaurant, I would be happy with either choice. The sauce was simple, clean-tasting, and slightly herby without any noticeable astringency.

In the morning I baked a moderately-sweetened green tea cheesecake. I am not a fan of the increasingly ubiquitous super-sweet cheesecakes. Matcha does need a bit of sugar for balance in sweets, so I did use a tiny bit more than if I were just doing a simple lemon zest cheesecake that might be topped with some fruit.

The base of the matcha cheesecake was essentially 8 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese, 2 tbsp. sour cream, 3 tbsp. sugar, 2 level tsp. matcha whipped with the softened cream cheese and sugar, a few drops pure vanilla extract, and one egg. I made a simple graham cracker crust. I used two very small (maybe 4”) springform pans. After the cheesecake came out of the oven, I made a sour cream and sugar topping which had additional matcha blended in. I served about 1/2 of the small cheesecake per person, which was more than really necessary but not overwhelming. Just before serving, I dusted a bit more matcha on top and on the plate.

Matcha cheesecake

The final product: Gnocchi with edamame in a matcha cream sauce; Renkon to ingen to ninjin no tempura with Matcha-shio, and matcha cheesecake with anko (red bean paste).

Gnocchi with edamame in a matcha cream sauce; Renkon to ingen to ninjin no tempura with Matcha-shio, and matcha cheesecake with anko (red bean paste).

Dinner is served!

This month's Is My Blog Burning theme is tea as an ingredient, hosted by A La Cuisine, so please take a look at what other folks have imagined. By Japanese standards, my dishes are probably slightly conventional but still somehow very much my own, so I'm sure you'll find some more radical uses of tea over there.

Attacked by a Senior Citizen

July 30, 2005, 9:23 PM

Whenever I’m driving somewhere, I irritate my passengers by being ultra-conservative about when I enter traffic. If I see someone on my left when I’m turning right, if I think there’s the slightest chance they could come near me, I usually wait, and wait, and wait.

So about five or ten seconds after I turned right out of a parking lot around Leary and 14th in Ballard today, I was very surprised to see a car bearing right into my direction on my driver’s side mirror. I started moving closer to the right because I thought it was very strange that someone would be moving so close to me so fast. It was also strange to see the car bearing right, as if it was aiming for me.

Then, I noticed a little scraping sound as the car zoomed in front of me. I remember thinking, oh, what’s this about? And then the car finally started slowing down and turned into another parking lot. An elderly woman got out of the car and was complaining that I had just hit her. She said she was “just in her own lane” but of course there was nothing on the left when I entered traffic, so I am quite convinced she had a very loose interpretation of “in her own lane”. In any event, she left convinced that I had hit her, even though she was coming from behind me.

She started talking about the last time someone hit her, so I thought maybe this is a habit of hers.

There was no meaningful damage to speak of; some clearcoat scratches on her car. She said there was a dent, but I couldn’t see anything; the other side of the car had the same shape. My car had minor scratches in the clear coat and a small amount of chipped paint at the wheel well edge.

She collected my driver’s license and insurance information and I got hers, borrowing her pencil and notepad, which she had in her hand as soon as she got out of her car. I didn’t think it was worth reporting, but then I realized I should call my insurance company since she seems intent on placing the blame on me.

I guess I have to watch out for people who aim at my car… It never occurred to me that someone would do that.


Technology woes

July 28, 2005, 8:25 AM

As an ex-Microsoft employee, I'm by no means easily discouraged by technological irritations. Of course, I do tend to scream and yell at my machines when they give me trouble, just like anyone else (it's not just me, is it, Doctor?). But it seems to me that when I have one small computer or cell phone problem, I have an unfortunate streak. Usually one problem coincides with another which coincides with yet another.

Recently, for the second time, my cell phone seemed to take a disliking to the manufacturer's power chargers, and the only way I can get my cell phone charged up is by connecting the data cable to my notebook's USB port. That's a minor inconvenience, and I can live with it. It just happened a couple of weeks ago and I kind of live on my cell phone these days, so I didn't want to send it in for repair.

I have another desktop machine, which is essentially a salvaged 5 year old PC with a newer processor, motherboard, and DVD-RW. It has an NTFS based file system. I never quite got this machine fully optimal, but I do use it at my office for basic tasks, or when I forget to bring my laptop to work. I was finally installing Service Pack 2 late last week on my office desktop machine, and some file permissions-related problem caused the install to fail. I didn't investigate, but I just allowed the machine to reboot. It turns out it didn't quite successfully uninstall the partial update, and my whole installation was hosed.

Then, Monday night, my laptop had a familiar problem, now out of warranty: the power clip on the motherboard seemed to misbehave, and I couldn't get it to charge the battery or sustain a power connection. This has happened before a couple of times. Apparently I have to be super-careful to make sure the AC Adapter Plug never gets jiggled or plugged in too casually, because it seems to be very easy to damage. When such a problem occurs, the whole motherboard gets replaced.

So by Tuesday, I had trouble with absolutely every essential piece of electronics in my life. It took me hours to recover my office desktop configuration, but it's now functional enough to be used for real work, including printing shipping labels and so on. So I'm up to speed again, but I wasted a lot of time, and now a substantial amount of money because of the laptop repair.

That earthquake

July 23, 2005, 1:41 AM

The earthquake registered 5 out of 7 on the Japanese scale in some parts of Tokyo and Kawasaki. Apparently the epicenter was closer to Chiba.

Kantou Earthquake

July 23, 2005, 1:08 AM

Wow… I was just watching an earthquake on an MSN Messenger video conversation and was a little speechless. Hiromi and I were struggling with network flakiness and general computer headaches and just as we got video up again an earthquake hit the Kantou region in Japan.

It seemed fairly hefty, but appears not to have been too destructive. Hiromi says it seems to have hit the Izu peninsula the hardest. The Japanese scale was about Shindou 4.0 (different than the Richter scale of magnitude). We stayed connected, so I could also see shaking from many smaller aftershocks.

It was a little scary to watch. Actually, I can’t say I’ve ever observed an earthquake from the point of view of a video conversation before…

 on Technorati


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