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.

Beijing Dust Dessert

The colonial legacy of the British in China produced a strange but potentially wonderful confection known as Peking Dust or Beijing Dust.

Beijing dust

It’s actually very simple, with a base constructed from little more than boiled chestnuts mashed coarsely with sugar and a generous pinch of salt. This base is kind of a chestnut marzipan, though it needn’t be nearly as sugary as marzipan. It should not, for the purposes of this dessert, be mashed finely.

Typically garnished with whipped cream and scary-looking glace fruits, I prefer using fresh, in-season fruits. In this case, I whipped a little cream with some cognac, a touch of sugar, and a hint of vanilla, and topped a mound of the chestnut mix with it. I also dotted the cream with more of the chestnut blend, and added pomegranate seeds and segments of mikan (Mandarin oranges).

A little edible gold leaf adds a bit of visual drama… The flavor is slightly salty-sweet, and balances nicely against the cognac-scented cream. I carelessly used more than a pinch of salt in this case, but next time I’ll use a slightly lighter hand with it. I do like the touch of saltiness, though, for what it adds to the flavor complexity.

Mushrooms en croute

One of the oddball recipes I internalized when living in Germany was the idea of “stuffed bread” filled with mushrooms in a bechamel sauce.

I don’t remember where I first saw it… it may have been in one of the cheap, slim cookbooks I used to see in front of bookstores as a student there, where I would often spend a few minutes doing tachi-yomi (reading while standing, in Japanese) between classes or whatever. I just recall the concept, which usually involved taking a square loaf of unsliced “toast” bread from the bakery, chopping it in half, hollowing out the center, and oven-toasting the bread with a liberal application of butter on the hollowed-out walls, then stuffing it with a savory filling.

Unsliced breads in the US don’t usually stand up on end, as the good quality bread in the US is almost always hyper-rustic. So on the rare occasions when I feel like making such things, I choose something like this medium-sized dinner roll.

Kinoko cream cup

As in the recipe I stole the concept from, I hollow out the roll, but I use a less extravagant application of butter around the inside.

I sauteed the mushrooms a bit with some onions or shallots, added some garlic and maybe some fresh dill. I made a bechamel sauce… actually a browned butter sauce, not a true bechamel, to add a bit more of a hazelnut color than the mushrooms alone would provide… I combined the sauce and mushrooms, and filled the bread again, warming for just a few minutes in the oven while I prepared some quickly cooked brussels sprouts.

This was one of the last dinners at home when Hiromi was still here…

Better living through caffeinistry

On Tuesday the kitchenette in my building where I do my little survival gig was taped off like a crime scene or city excavation project, marked with the word “Danger”. I’m not sure what was dangerous, but perhaps the “Farmer Bros.” branded coffee equipment being removed, which I lived in fear of during my 7 year tenure as a full-time employee of this company, contained toxic waste.

Walking down the halls was strangely quiet yesterday. I doubt there was any correlation between the the lack of coffee and the unusually languid vibe , but when I arrived this morning I noticed a substantially greater amount of noise, including more animated office conversations.

This new energy may have been directly traceable to particularly high doses of caffeine caused by people trying out the new Starbucks equipment.

Though the coffee itself is still mediocre, the ground-to-order brew is vastly superior to what it replaced, and the excessively roasted brew can be muted with a splash of milk. There was no hiding the stale flavor and hostile acidity of the predecessor.

Until everyone gets caffeine overload, I suspect the atmosphere at work will be unusually frenetic…

Gougères, or something like them

On the heels of my savory choux, or Gefüllte Windbeutel, I wanted to revisit the “embedded” treats we had at Pair Restaurant few weeks ago.

Unlike our last choux, these gougères have cheese right inside the choux pastry dough, instead of being sliced and stuffed. I add the cheese just after whipping the finished dough.

Gorgonzola gougères

Gougeres

I used a couple of cheeses that I had on hand: in this case, a bit of gorgonzola and parmesan, along with some scallions. Because they are already reasonably buttery, no further adornment is required when consumed warm, but an additional pat of butter or cream cheese wouldn’t hurt.

These don’t require a piping bag, but they’d probably look a bit more presentable if piped.

That survival gig

At Revenue Science, where I’ve been doing my “pay my bills” job while slowly building YuzuMura.com, we recently shipped the product to our Japanese partner. Today one of my coworkers passed around an email from our main contact at the Japanese company, complimenting us on the quality of our understanding of Japanese software issues. I was very happy to hear that, since that was why I was brought in on the project.

I have a few weeks left on the project to focus on automating some tests, and then I need to figure out what to do next. Based on my financial projections, it looks like I will still need to find an additional software gig for the next 6–12 months. I’m hoping to find something similarly focused on making software work with other languages, since that’s where I’m most useful and what gets me most excited. If it weren’t for the international impact of my work, I wouldn’t have stayed at Microsoft for seven years.

Two other okazu

Over time I’ve developed the ability to incorporate atypical ingredients into Japanese preparations of food without turning the dishes into bizarre monstrosities. In order to make such dishes work, I try to think of the function of each ingredient, rather than on self-consciously “inventing” something new and dramatic. This allows for a kind of natural evolution of possibility, without the excesses of drama-first fusion cuisine.

Sea beans, a local seaweed, substitutes neatly for hijiki in this side dish with abura-age and carrots. It has a kind of light brininess, but the real highlight is the freshness and slightly crisp texture of this seaweed compared to reconstituted hijiki. It also requires less cooking time than hijiki usually does.

Seabeans

Garlic shoots and shiitake

Garlic-shoots-shiitake

Ninniku-me or garlic sprouts do exist in Japan, though they are not an everyday vegetable for most Japanese. These ones had surprisingly large bulbs on the top. This dish is simply sauteed briefly with some sliced fresh shiitake. On trips to Japan when I have the option to cook, I like to blanch them and use them as a kind of ohitashi, but occasionally I saute them like this.

Tax season

Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised that my taxes went a little more quickly this year than last year… I guess I understood the stuff a little better. The business schedule is fairly tedious, and the instructions are rather bewildering to parse, but somehow I figured it out.

However, I’m pretty sure that next year I’ll need a real accountant. The list of numbers to keep track of is just getting too long.

I face a lot of buy-vs.-build or pay-for-help vs. do-it-yourself decisions for which the correct answer is not entirely obvious… in theory, I should pay for help for things that are not part of my core business, but I sometimes feel tempted to do it myself when I have the skills. For example, I’m not running a technology company but I frequently debate with myself whether I should pay for someone else to do my web design and storefront work, and often find myself doing it because it’s not that difficult for me to understand, even if it can be terribly time consuming.

But I think that I don’t have much of an excuse for doing my taxes myself. I can’t possibly keep track of all of the rules and exceptions related to preparing taxes, and I don’t have much to gain from doing it myself except for moderate cost savings. Yet I’ve hung on to the habit of handling the work on my own… Am I stubborn, foolish, or something else?

FoodEx 2006, Days 3 and 4

I got a late start on both Thursday and Friday, but considering the pain my knees are causing me right now, it was probably for the better. Although I’ve been waking up reasonably early, we sometimes don’t leave the hotel until fairly late, and our relatively long distance from Meguro station means that it takes about 15–20 minutes just to get started on the long journey to Makuhari Messe in Chiba.

Thursday I met up with a the Japan forum manager from eGullet and spent most of the time in the international section, where I found most of the products I was most interested in importing were from companies I’ve seen in the last two years. My favorite discovery was a special gochujang from a medium-sized Korean producer, though I’m a bit afraid I’ll be beaten to the opportunity after they exhibit later this year at some big food trade shows in the US.

The most rapidly spreading single ingredient this year seems to be salted cherry blossoms and pickled cherry leaves, represented by all sorts of Japanese companies either as an ingredient or as a part of a packaged food, and exhibited by Chinese suppliers as well. If I hadn’t attended FoodEx for the last three years, I might haved assumed that presence was seasonally-driven, but I never saw such a presence of the ingredient in previous shows. In Japan it’s mostly used for sweets such as the classic sakura-mochi, but some companies even incorporated it into nattou or other savory foods.

Okinawa-based companies had, for the last two years, run a retailer-targeted booth that showed all sorts of Okinawan packaged foods, which probably explains the three or four Okinawa-themed gift shops I’ve run into since Tuesday without really trying. Now, most of the Okinawa presence this year seemed to be booths from specific companies, such as a company that produces a deep sea water-based soda drink and various bottled Okinawan fruit juices in hip packaging.

In the international foods section, I didn’t notice as much in the way of organic food products as I had in the Japanese area, but a Korean company had a huge assortment of organic products that, if I were comfortable importing refrigerated containers of products, I’d be very excited to bring in to the U.S. Right now, though, I don’t have the facilities or the distribution network to make that work very well.

Thursday night I met with the CEO/President of a Japanese tea company that produces incredible hand-tied flower ties primarily for wedding and banquet markets, but increasingly for the gift market as well. I first talked to her last year at the Hoteres trade show, and she wanted to make sure we met up before I left Japan this time. I think I’d really like to bring their products in to the U.S., because they are particularly innovative in the domain of flower teas, with unlikely shapes and some unusual designs of their more conventional tied teas.

Friday I had to fight with some heavy winds that caused train delays going toward Chiba… we caught a train that didn’t depart until about 80 minutes after its scheduled time, or about 30 minutes after we entered the train. It moved at half speed to avoid being derailed, and took more than an hour to arrive, about 30 minutes longer than normal… So I was expecting to be at the show around 1:30 on Friday, but didn’t arrive until 3:15, for a bit more than the last hour.

Fortunately, that was just enough to see the sections that I had previously neglected, mostly in the Taiwan section. Hiromi also got a chance to check out the shochu section, but of course, we both left relatively unaffected. For me, the most interesting shochu was a 3–year aged brandy-like shochu, but Hiromi was partial to a kind of imo-jochu that she discovered, and we talked with that company a bit, even though shochu is more complicated to import than I’m willing to handle right now. It never hurts to have an interesting supplier contact, though.

I’m off to restore my body in Gunma-ken tonight. Hiromi’s driving about three hours and I’m probably going to fall asleep in the car…

Last breakfast before leaving home

When going on a trip of any duration, I feel compelled to make the best use possible of whatever ingredients remain in the refrigerator. But we ended up eating at Sofrito Rico, a Ballard Puerto Rican restaurant, on Friday night, due to various last minute errands, deliveries, and shoe needs.

So my last chance to use up things before departing was breakfast. Some brown mustard seed and garam masala seasoned potatoes leftover from a night of vaguely Indian cooking caught my eye, as I considered how to use up a bunch of eggs and a bit of remaining fresh mozzarella. The onions and garlic in the potato masala seemed a natural fit.

Aloo Frittata?

Indo frittata

If I ever again find myself in the possession of some leftover potato masala, this tweaked spanish omelet/frittata will probably be at the top of my list.

Creamed spinach with bread, and weekend muffins

Another weeknight meal last week took advantage of some onion-studded rye bread from Essential Bakery. I thought I had a bit more spinach handy, but I guess we used a fair amount of what we had started with at breakfast… anyway, I made a cream-enriched bechamel sauce with some garlic and added some spinach and parmesan. Normally, I’d be inclined to use onions for this dish, but I didn’t realize we were out until I had already set my mind on this dish.

Creamed spinach

Yesterday morning, before we headed off to my office to grab some things for my aborted Chinese New Year demo, I made some chocolate muffins embedded with a bit of raspberry jam.

Chocolate raspberry muffin

I guess they are reminiscent of thumbprint cookies, but they were softer and just lightly sweet.

Chocolate raspberry muffin detail

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