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.

Pre-Chinese New Year Demo and various harumaki

We kept ourselves busy the last few weeks, even though last weekend, for example, was a more leisurely kind of busy. I haven't scheduled any product demos since just before the Christmas season. This was our first weekend back in the routine, and we took it relatively easy, with just a four hour Sunday demo in the cards.

Yesterday we handled a fair number of internet orders, and took care of some necessary evils related to either home or office. In the process, we encountered this little made-in-China, post-holiday-clearance pillow creature:

Omocha-ushi

He found a new home. This doesn’t happen often. Several years ago, after a missed opportunity and a subsequent couple of trips of half-serious searching, I bought a (huge) stuffed dog from The Dog Club on a trip to Japan, which went on to become a huge licensed product with a worldwide presence. In spite of me being ahead of the trend curve on this one, this odd fisheye-perspective dog, along with the collection of teddy bears primarily inherited from my great-grandmother, nevertheless continues to inspire snickers and innuendo from non-Asian visitors. “Momo”, the litte round cow pictured above, was, however, Hiromi’s pick. My masculinity in this case cannot be questioned, although I can’t say that’s ever been a terribly important consideration for me.

Subsequent to accomplishing this very important mission, at a hardware store in South Seattle,  we found some suitable shelving to help bring sanity to my office. I like the shelves that I got, so I’m likely to expand that set to complete this office sanity effort.

Alas, this pilgrimage to South Seattle did not go as planned. We tried to drop a couple of items at a post office on the way to some other errands. Not only were we foiled by some awful stadium traffic starting at the downtown exit of Highway 99; I also discovered that this particular post office offers no Saturday collection, which meant that my decision to shorten my path worked out to be both fruitless and inefficient.

Somehow we lost all motivation to prepare food after our mission to South Downtown, and the traffic distracted us from our original goal of obtaining some very fresh tofu from Thanh Son’s factory shop. So we made our way to Maekawa, which, if you order from the relevant three pages of the menu, serves izakaya-style food.

Although we’ve been eating a fair amount of Japanese food lately, it’s all been homemade. This was Hiromi’s first-ever meal in a Japanese restaurant in Seattle, and it’s probably one of very few places that I would take anybody who is actuavlly Japanese. This isn’t because it’s spectacular food; it’s decent, but not pushing any boundaries. The thing that I dislike about most Seattle Japanese restaurants is the distortion of portion sizes and the bizarrely non-Japanese combinations and seasoning approaches. But this place is so familiar and ordinary, that it wouldn’t be terribly shocking to find similar food in a little neighborhood spot in Japan. Except for the strange “teishoku” section on the menu, which is out of place on an izakaya menu, it’s all standard izakaya fare, with a few interesting house specials and so on.

It was, of course, Hiromi’s chance to eat some non-vegetarian Japanese dishes she hasn’t been able to indulge in when I’m cooking. She was simultaneously curious about the place and skeptical, but pleasantly surprised by the comfortable familiarity of it all.

Tonight, on the other hand, we had a bit more initiative. We had some soup and rice, but most importantly, we made a few different kinds of spring rolls.

Harumaki no moriawase

I make a few unconventional spring rolls, but tonight we went over-the-top and made about five or six variations. We put some away in the freezer for later indulgence, but we alternated between heavy and light flavors.

One was nattou, camembert, negi (actual Japanese-style leeks in this case) and shiso, and an alternate version with nattou, negi, takenoko (bamboo shoots), and nori. We also made a simple one with takenoko, carrots, and rice noodles, as well as a version with cabbage standing in for the takenoko. We also made one with camembert, walnuts, umeboshi, and shiso, which is the only one that required no dipping sauce. For the others, especially the nattou spring rolls, we used some Japanese mustard (karashi) mixed with Japanese soy sauce.

Harumaki detail

From fried to simmered: apple fritters and cabbage rolls

Apple fritters

Apple fritters

Yesterday I made apple fritters with some Macintosh apples. I improvised the proportions of ingredients, so I didn’t quite get the balance of flour and liquid right, and they turned out a fair bit oilier than I had hoped. The oil temperature did drop a bit, but even when I controlled the temperature precisely I didn’t quite get it right.

Of course, it set the tone for the day… I had a similarly high-fat, though fairly modestly-portioned lunch, of macaroni with a blue cheese bechamel sauce. We had a quick and dirty dinner the night before, and our top priority was to use up a few ingredients, and so I made a fairly heavy sauce and the only pasta I had handy.

Knowing I’d have a day of heavy, fatty food ahead, Hiromi and I thought aloud that I should probably make something healthier for dinner. But it wasn’t in the cards… Hiromi had a flash of inspiration, and just asked me to obtain some fresh tofu on the way home.

Vegetarian stuffed cabbage rolls

Cabbage rolls

She used kanpyo (dried gourd*) to tie blanched cabbage leaves together and stuffed them with a mixture of very fresh tofu, mushrooms, carrots and onions. She made a Japanese-ish soup stock with dried kelp and porcini, then added some western touches with some celery seed and onions.

Jaga bataa with almonds

Jaga bata

I converted a baked potato into jaga-bataa, which is nothing fancier than cut potatoes with a bit of butter, salt and pepper. I added a touch of sour cream for the Eastern European vibe we had going on, and some almonds for aroma contrast.

* The original version of this post mistakenly referred to gobo/burdock rather than gourd. That should teach me that it's a bad idea to write at midnight... but it probably won't stop me.

A couple of vaguely Korean meals

This week we had another nabemono craving, this time a reprise of my last kimchi soon dubu jjigae, with a couple of tweaks. I made it with some shirataki, or konnyaku jelly noodles.

Kimchi dubu jjigae v2

The next day we made a bibimbap, but in a clay pot, rather than stone. I don’t have a dol sot (stone bowl) handy, but I have a huge clay pot that works atop a gas burner… you’ll recognize it from most of my nabemono. As an alternative, it works reasonably well, but the “okoge” (crusted rice) is harder to extract because we fear breaking the pot. We were abe to cook the rice reasonably well, though this time, I think we had a touch too much water in the rice.

We made the bibimbap with some dotori muk, which I had previously used as a side dish dressed with sesame oil and soy sauce.

Big bibimbap in a clay pot

Bibimbap big detail

This was all fairly easy to prepare, but a fair amount of chopping and shredding was involved in our bibimbap…

Tonight, we had Hiromi’s carefully crafted osechi meal, which I can’t take any credit for, except for the photography, and a last minute run for some missing ingredients… I’ll post it shortly.

Kabocha korokke and winter comforts

Kabochakorokke 037-640w

I always crave kabocha croquettes in the fall and winter. I think I first experienced them at some chain izakaya in Japan, but even there they made an impression. I now seek them out anytime I am in Japan during in the cooler months. The sweet nuttiness of kabocha squash, mashed with potatoes, contrast nicely with the crunchiness of panko.

Unlike the usual Japanese croquette presentation, served with tonkatsu sauce or a similar fruity thickened worcestershire-enhanced sauce, I served mine with an apple-ginger chutney from a Washington apple orchard (Woodridge Farms, perhaps).

Hiromi and I collaborated on tonight’s meal, and she made this beautiful satoimo to gobo to ninjin no nimono (simmered baby taro root, burdock and carrot).

Gobo, satoimo, ninjin no nimono

Since we went through the trouble of frying foods, we also decided to make agedashi-doufu. I’ve made this occasionally, but usually I’m so intent on getting what little crispiness I can from the experience of eating it that I don’t want to distract myself by letting it absorb the soup stock while I’m trying to take a few pictures. Today, though, I caved in, even though this is not one of my best agedashi-doufu. It would have been a bit nicer with some daikon-oroshi; all I could find in my refrigerator was some negi and shouga (scallions and ginger). It was reasonably crispy, though.

Agedashi-doufu

We also had some dotori muk, a Korean dish made from acorns. I served it with nothing more than a little soy sauce blended with sesame oil, which is just about right to bring out the nuttiness of the starchy dotori.

Kabocha korokke in the fryerApple-ginger chutneyKabocha korokke with chutneyDotori Muk
 
 

Les Cadeaux Gourmets and a face from my past

This week was completely crazy, and I rarely had a spare moment before, say, 7 pm, in the best case. Today was like that, but more so. I had a couple of urgent shipments to take care of, which I handled, but the rest will unfortunately have to wait until Monday. I hate to delay sending off orders but I haven’t been able to keep up completely.

After running over to Redmond for a few hours, I got back to Seattle with just about an hour to take care of several outstanding tasks before I needed to make some final preparations for a demo event at Les Cadeaux Gourmets.

I haven’t done a lot of events in this type of venue before, and it was nice to have an audience that was already excited about specialty foods. It never fails when I do a demo in Uwajimaya that someone will complain that my products are too expensive. In that context, they are at the top end of the scale, but for most specialty gift stores, my products are in a fairly comfortable price range, and nobody visibly compained about the prices (which I cannot make any better without selling at a loss). The only thing that makes the products atypical is that they are Asian rather than European.

So today, I had slightly more intimate conversations with customers, and a very receptive audience, and, although I didn’t do a detailed analysis yet, an apparently higher conversion rate than I usually see. I was fairly happy with the results, even though store traffic was a bit quieter than I’m used to handling at supermarkets.

While doing my demo I ran into the group manager for my team in MSN, which was quite a surprise. I don’t know why it should have been a surprise, as I vaguely remember hearing he lived in the Queen Anne neighborhood when I worked at MSN, but somehow it didn’t register. Anyway, I introduced my products (at least the objects of today’s demo) to him and caught up a little bit.

After finishing up with my demo I met up with Lisa of Three Tree Tea to get more demo materials for the next few weeks. I finally got to eat dinner at that time: a quick burrito at the West Seattle Tacqueria Guaymas. Today worked out to be about 14 hours of nonstop activity…

Persimmon and tofu salad with miso vinaigrette

I wanted a light dinner today because I’ve been eating too much bread and dairy products for comfort.

I didn’t entirely lay off the bread tonight, I served a nice simple salad with a persimmons and very fresh tofu. The dressing consists of a small spoonful of white miso, a little mustard, a neutral vegetable oil, a bit of lime juice, and a hint of sesame oil with some grated fresh ginger.

I had a packed schedule today, so simplicity ruled dinner.

Kaki salada

 

French toast and real maple syrup

Nothing is more comforting than some nice French toast on a weekend morning, even if I do have a full day of work ahead of me. I cut some 1– or 2– day old Essential Bakery baguette into roughly 1 inch thick slices, and dipped each slice into some milk, then into some beaten egg. I dusted the slices with some Chinese-style five spice powder, and grilled them in a buttered pan. I served the toast with some medium amber maple syrup and a few slices of banana.

French toast

My Thanksgiving weekend was no weekend… I spent a lot of time doing supermarket demos. I hope they pay off.

Food-related taboos in Japan

On eGullet an innocent inquiry by a restaurant-savvy Manhattan denizen about disposable chopsticks turned into a lively discussion about Japanese food-related taboos.

Namely, Japanese seem to be resistant to reusing chopsticks, and people are far more comfortable with disposable chopsticks than reusable alternatives (unless they are using their own pair). Chopsticks become strongly associated with the person that uses them. On the eGullet thread, I suggested that the origin of this is in old taboos about touching other peoples’ belongings, and also tied to Shinto rituals related to chopsticks.

Actually, although Japan has a reputation for elaborate ritual, it’s not so difficult to learn basic Japanese dining etiquette. Most of the rules about how to behave when eating are just related to chopstick usage.

You don’t need to worry about the order of utensils to use since there’s usually only one to choose from. You don’t really need to worry about where your left hand is. You don’t even need to worry about the order of what to eat, although it’s more delicate to take a bite of rice, when present, between tastes of different side dishes.

I think you need to worry more about whether you have holes in your socks than the way you eat.

Gourmets may argue about the preferred order to eat certain foods, but it’s not necessary to follow such rules to be polite; it’s sort of like knowing the preferred order to eat cheese in the U.S. or Europe. It might reflect on your sophistication or lack thereof, but doesn’t make you a barbarian.

I have sometimes tended toward nervousness when eating with unfamiliar people in Japan, perhaps from some anxiety that I may do something inappropriate. This is perhaps slightly amusing or occasionally endearing but completely unnecessary. Except for some easy-to-follow rules about manipulating chopsticks, you don’t need to worry much.

Tuesday as a weekend

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t ordinarily take weekends off, normally, and I take my rests when I can get them. Today I kept a relatively slow pace and I sent off just a few small packages today and had a little meeting in the morning. I did no sales calls at all, though I returned phone calls.

I guess a day off is when I take lots of really long breaks between tasks.

I had lunch at home, which was way bigger than it needed to be because I felt ravenous at 1pm. It was basically more quesadillas with remaining salsa, and some refried beans, but I served too much. I didn’t really feel a need for dinner at the customary time, but I had an orange at home, a cookie at Uptown, and some fried potatoes made at home, spread out as little nibbles between 6pm and 11pm.

Full of borscht

As winter approaches, I like to get back to my roots and tubers. (Insert groan here.)

Borscht is a colorful way of incorporating several earthy fall and winter vegetables in one simple, comforting dish.

It doesn’t take much: tonight’s borscht involved onions, celery, turnips, potatoes, beets, cabbage and carrots. After sweating the vegetables a bit with salt, I add soup stock and simmer until the beets are tender.

Borscht, plated with sour cream

Borscht

When I did my Bellevue demo today, I was pleased to see that most of the big boxes of dragon beard candy I delivered on Friday had already disappeared. I hadn’t expected that. I’m guessing that someone was waiting for the new shipment and bought several boxes, but of course there’s no way to know.

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