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.

Belgian Endive Salad with Robiola Due Latti

belgian endive with robiola

After a heavy breakfast and hearty lunch on a very lazy homebound Saturday, I thought it best to keep dinner lighter, so I had a big salad and a little more bread.

What did I have handy? Some Belgian endive, one bulb white and one red. A lime. Some tea seed oil, mustard, honey... That would work as a dressing. A little more of the robiola due latti from my unhealthy pizza fritti last weekend... not the most natural fit for this kind of salad, but at room temperature, it has a luxurious quality that certainly doesn't hurt.

When I was living in Germany many years ago, I was impressed at how big a full-scale German lunch was in contrast to relatively modest, mostly cold dinners. Granted, that's tradition: contemporary practice is all over the map. But many Germans still say they must eat "warm" for lunch and are perfectly content to have a simple evening meal of bread and cheese and sausage.

Sometimes I think it's better to eat that way... though I'm most in the mood to have a complete meal at dinner. I just don't feel comfortable taking two hours off of work to go make a nice lunch at home... in smaller towns in Germany, that was perfectly feasible.

But sometimes I just want to have something comforting and slightly refreshing.

Since I already had a big protein-rich lunch, some greens and cheese were perfectly in order. I didn't really have dinner until an insanely late 9:30 PM, so anything more elaborate would have probably been terribly overwhelming. This was just what I needed.

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Baby zucchini, tomatoes and oregano

Baby carrots, as we know them, are a clever innovation of industrial agriculture: Carefully milled down into unnaturally smooth specimens from big torpedo carrots, baby carrots might as well be kokeshi dolls.

So I wasn't sure what to think when I spotted some miniature zucchini at the supermarket last week.

Baby zucchini could be some sort of bizarre genetically manipulated factory agriculture monstrosity, for all I know. Since I found them at Whole Foods, though, I made the assumption that they are at least arguably natural, even if they did come in a sealed plastic bag. Every time I've seen home-gardened zucchini, though, they've been unnaturally large... I'm not sure what kinds of tricks make them stay small.

Baby zucchini with tomato and oregano (side view)

I took the zucchini home, not quite sure what I had in mind, but when I got home, I just wanted a simple side dish to accompany a couple of other things.

This dish required the least bit of attention, but it was the star of the show. It's made with some sauteed onions splashed with vermouth, and maybe a little garlic.

Sliced lengthwise, the zucchini were gently caramelized, flesh-side-down, in a little olive oil. I added the onions, fresh tomatoes, and a little additional tomato paste, the tomato paste would have been unnecessary with good tomatoes, but the fresh ones I had on hand weren't really that aromatic. A little fresh oregano wakes up the rest of the flavors.

Baby zucchini with tomato and oregano

I served this with a flavorful but very ugly savory custard. If I hadn't been eating something so rich along with it, I might have added a little shaved parmesan or some nice feta. I wanted something a bit lighter this time. Keeping things simple has its own charms...

 

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Fremont Solstice Parade

One of the best things about the Seattle is the remarkably quirky character of its neighborhoods... Fremont is perhaps the quirkiest of all of them, and happens to be home for me. I'm increasingly partial to Ballard, but Fremont is the historic heart of Seattle's expressive streak.

The Fremont Solstice Parade is probably the only event in the entire country where political statements, ambiguously nature-worshipping themes, unashamedly contemporary art, well-decorated public nudity, unstructured individual expression, and family entertainment come together all in one place, while remaining mostly devoid of overbearing corporate sponsorship messaging.

If you ever find yourself in Seattle during the summer, you really owe it to yourself to come to the parade. There's nothing quite like it.

(See way too many other photos on Fremont Fair Flickr set).

fremont 244 

fremont 316

fremont 121

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fremont 380

 

fremont 414

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fremont 431

fremont 450

Asamushi Onsen, Asupamu, Apple Pie

May 2nd, at Asamushi Onsen, on the way to Hirosaki. We wake up early and have another bath, then breakfast, and we head off. But first we looked out the window, and decided to make a quick trip to the beach...

Our ryokan wasn't quite on the waterfront, but it's just a short hop across a busy road to the beach...

Yu no Kabuto Iwa

Yu no Kabuto Iwa

A big rock, a little island, just across the bay.

Lone tree

Lone tree, Yu no Kabuto Iwa

A view of the left side of the island reveals a dramatic-looking pine.

Torii

Torii, Yu no kabuto iwa

There's a gate and a long stairway to a temple starting at the waterfront.

Asupamu

Asupamu, Aomori city, Aomori, Japan

We made our way toward Aomori city, and discovered this odd looking building called Asupamu, to which Hiromi made a beeline in our rental car. It turns out that it did its job very well: the ground floor is full of gift shops peddling various Aomori specialties, and an impressive observation deck about 13 floors up. (We didn't feel any need to spend 600 yen each for that, even after buying so much stuff that we were good for up to two hours of free parking).

We gave in and bought a lot of them, some of them destined to be our gomen nasai present for coworkers when we return to the office, and some treats for friends, family, teammates, and fellow Meetup members. Oh, and some "gifts" for purely self-indulgent purposes. We need those. Self-indulgence is good.

Apple Pie

Apple Pie from Asupamu

After sampling the delights of the many Asupamu gift shops, we had pie from an Asupamu apple shop. We like pie. This one has some cream cheese in it. Aomori is famous for apples, so that makes this local food.

Chausson

I chose this chausson (lady slipper?) for myself, but Hiromi thought it was boring compared to two of the other nifty options and I could sense her disappointment. Until she proceeded to eat at least half of mine. (I got my fair share of the cream cheese one though...  I'm just making fun of her for visibly, if quietly, doubting my judgment).

[YouTube:Mwf3EeF6SMg]

Of course, no coastal tourist shop would be complete without some sort of rotating squidmobile.

 

Kiri-tampo

A specialty of northern Japan, and particularly popular in Iwate and Akita prefectures, Kiri-tampo are usually made with uruchi-gome, which falls into the category of everday rice. The other two categories of rice are mochi-gome, the pearly glutinous rice, and saka-mai, which is riced used for brewing sake.

Miso-dare kiritampo

Kiritampo on a stick, with miso-mirin sauce

We stopped at a small lake-front gift shop while between cities in Aomori. We weren't in any hurry to do any actual shopping, but we started looking at the types of things offered as fancy Aomori omiyage so that we could be suitably jaded by the time we were actually ready to buy.

I was sucked in by a little storefront window where a woman was busy grilling kiritampo over hot sumi, Japanese oak charcoal.

We had to have one. Each.

Although breakfast was heavy, we hadn't really eaten a real lunch, so this was a nice light snack, and very reasonably priced. We placed our order and the obachan handling the grill suggested we head upstairs to sit down, where we could sit in relative comfort facing the lake.

Middle of nowhere, Aomori

Middle of nowhere, Aomori prefecture, Japan

Five or ten minutes later, our kiritampo arrived, dressed with a sweet-salty miso flavored tare (sauce). It was far more than we ever hoped it to be.

We found, but did not make use of, this helpful device...

Tabletop fortune-teller

For just 100-yen, you could use this old-school tabletop device to obtain an all-knowing omikuji, complete with horoscope.

 

Bibim naengmyeon: Extreme elasticity in noodles

Bibim-naenmyeon

One of my lunches in Seoul... These chewy, stretchy long noodles made in part from buckwheat (like soba) but with a very distinctive texture are known as reimen in Sendai, Japan, where a local version is quite popular. In Korea, the most popular preparation is mul naengmyeon, which is made with a chilled, slightly acidic and fairly refreshing un-beefy beef broth.

On a previous trip, I didn't even know I was being served something made with a beef broth because the friend who took me out for lunch on that occasion didn't know how they were made, and the beef flavor is deceptively subtle when the dish is served cold.

Bibim-naengmyeon is essentially ovo-vegetarian, but it is typically served with a warm version of that broth, generally without the vinegar that marks mul naengmyeon, on the side. Various shredded vegetables may be added to the top, and a spicy sauce most likely based on gochujang adds a big burst of flavor to the whole thing.

Note: The precision geek in my wants to write the name of this dish as "bibim-naengmyeon", which is closer to the actual Hangeul characters used, but typical Korean slurring makes the word sound closer to "bibim-naengmyun," which is probably the most conventional rendering in English romanization.

Tōkyō ni tsuita : Arrived in Tokyo

I arrived in Tokyo last night... There's still a lot to write about from my Korea trip, but I just wanted to post a quick update... Off I go to cause trouble with Hiromi.

My timing was fortuitous., or insane, depending on your perspective... right outside the Marunouchi exit of Tōkyō station, a brand new building opened up, the Shin-Marunouchi Building. Just as you might expect, it was crowded and bustling with activity... When something new and big comes to Tokyo, everyone wants to be there.

Shin-Marunouchi Building Opening Day Congratulatory Flowers

Hanawa

These flowers mark the opening of a new building or business.

Lining up

Shin-Marunouchi Building Opening Day

Every restaurant or cafe had a long queue.

A new restaurant menu

Dashichazuke

Dashi-chazuke. Rice with various toppings and Japanese soup stock instead of the typical tea.

Gateau Fraise

Gateaux Fraise

I just managed a glimpse of the goods at this fancy cake shop.

Coffee from my hood

Caffe Appasionato Tokyo, Shin-Marunouchi Building

Seattle's Iranian-American family-owned Caffe Appassionato gussies up their look for the Japanese market.

Fancy little gourmet shop

Salad dressings in Shin-Marunouchi

Too many salad dressings.

An upscale outpost of an ordinary supermarket

Seijo Ishii

Somewhere to buy the essentials, and everyday splurges.

 

On the streets: Scenes from Namdaemun market

We didn't really do much buying, aside from our Hoddeok, but Namdaemun is a crazy busy place full of tourists looking for visual drama and trinkets to take home (that would be us) and locals looking for cheap clothing and the occasional fish or vegetable.

Ginseng Shop

Ginseng infusions, Namdaemun market, seoul

These were stunning bottles of infused ginseng roots.

A small restaurant welcoming Japanese

Youkoso, youkoso, koko-e

We discovered that it is a very bad idea to speak Japanese in Namdaemun market.

No, there wasn't any overt hostility, but the merchants take the sound of Japanese as a cue to turn on the hard sell, and to charge higher than normal prices. Hiromi had the impulse to buy some gim (nori, a.k.a. laver) as a souvenir snack, but the price, for her, was always man-il-cheon-weon for a bundle, 11,000 Won, about $12. If I asked a shop for a similar item in the same size in English, it was 8000 Won, or about $9. The cost in Tokyo for most types of Korean seasoned laver is most likely cheaper than that.

We actually gave up on the market when we saw a sign targeting Japanese selling the exact same brand as one of our earlier overpriced places, atypically with actual price signs. I misread the sign as W2000, but was actually JPY2000; we thought we were getting a deal at about 1/5 the typical price, but it was actually almost twice as much as the same thing at other shops.

We found some very good gim at a department store adjacent to the market, for a very reasonable price.

Sea cucumbers

Sea cucumbers

Well, some sort of amorphous sea creature, anyway. As a vegetarian who gave up meat far before I started exploring the culinary world deeply, I'm not exactly sure how one prepares them.  Perhaps like Japanese takosu?

The sea cucumber vendor hard at work

Squirt vendor

Salted fish

Salted fish

Presumably ready to grill...

Bundaeggi

Silkworm larvae, bundaeggi, Namdaemun market

Stewed silkworm larvae... not for the faint of stomach, the smell is overpowering even if you're just passing by. Hiromi spotted a little boy gleefully eating them one-by-one with a toothpick from a paper cup... She wasn't adventurous enough to try.

Clothing bazaar

Clothing bazaar in Namdaemun

Inexpensive clothing, often with fake paper-labeled brand names or patched-on embroidered logos.

Child's apron

Child's apron in Namdaemun market

Ddeokbokgi and skewered fish cake stall

Ddeokbokgi

The ajumma at these stalls selling stewed foods always seem surprisingly relaxed.

Korean dragon beard candy

Fresh from the hands of the young master

A Korean version of dragon beard candy, called yong su-yeom yeott in Korean.  

Almost ready to stuff

Cutting in to pieces

In Korea, these are actually cut with scissors rather than by a yank of the hand, which probably makes this go a bit faster.

Filling the candy

Filling the candy

 

Hummus in asparagus season

Continuing on with my recent run of extreme simplicity, I made a dinner that looks far more time-consuming than it actually was.

Hummus on Baguette

This toasted baguette has been baked with a bit of garlic butter (minced garlic, salt, butter) and topped with a warm homemade hummus.

Sounds complicated? Not at all. I used canned chickpeas and suffered very little. The garlic was cooked with a bit of olive oil until it had slightly mellowed, then I added the can of chickpeas and brought it to a simmer. After a few minutes I tossed the results in a blender and added a bit of tahini (ground sesame seed paste) and some Meyer lemon juice. That might sound like a waste of good Meyer lemons, but my regular lemons had already been claimed for something earlier in the week. It worked out...

The still-warm hummus is drizzled with extra olive oil and sprinkled with some chili powder.

Roasted golden beets and asparagus

This simple dish of roasted golden beets and asparagus was prepared the usual way, with a few small adjustments... olive oil, pepper, and a little porcini flavored salt. I waited to add the asparagus to the pan until the beets were pretty soft already, so that I could avoid over-cooking the asparagus.

I meant to eat about half of this side dish and reserve the rest for another day, but I greedily ate every last bite.

Not bad for about 10 or 15 minutes conscious preparation work...

 

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Yes, it's asparagus season...

Two asparagus dishes in a row?

Yes, but it's that time of year. I suppose there will be at least one or two more. 

Actually, I haven't eaten asparagus all that often lately, and local asparagus hasn't quite kicked in. But most weeknights I've been too lazy to take any photos of dinner, and on weekends... well, I guess I've been lazy on weekends too. In fact, Friday night I was so lazy that, straight off the bus on the way home, I went straight to Paseo, the Cuban-ish shop in my neighborhood, and grabbed dinner to go. I almost never grab dinner to go.

Today I made a brief stop at Thanh Son Tofu, followed by some vegetable shopping at Uwajimaya. I originally had planned to make some Japanese foods, but I was really feeling weary once home... all I really wanted was a gin and tonic.

I kicked off the rice cooker, but I didn't do anything at all that would result in a Japanese dinner appearing on the table... A few minutes before the rice finished, I chopped some asparagus, scallions and garlic, sliced some shiitake, and halved some fried tofu. I prepared a very hurried porcini-konbu soup stock. A quick saute, a splash of soup stock, a little piqin chili oil, a drizzling of vegetarian oyster sauce, a few grindings of black pepper, and suddenly dinner was on the table. Not fancy, but flavorful and satisfying...

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