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.

Not enough time, some kind of dinner, blood orange and gin

Monday night we had the dubious pleasure of completing my office shelving work… I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s actually organized, but it looks much less chaotic than it previously did. I’d actually be able to make good use of another shelf, but the next step is moving the remaining bits from my upstairs office to my storage facility. I have two spaces at ActiveSpace near the zoo, one of which is small and has a window, and the other of which is large, features high ceilings, but doesn’t get much natural light save for a partial skylight.

I’m planning to consolidate the two spaces into one, now that I really don’t see the office enough during daylight hours for a window to matter much, and don’t need quite the same amount of space as I once did.

We actually didn’t feel much like cooking after a long Monday… it was a day off from my contract project, but I never get a day off from my business. But we made something that was quite pleasant… we were hungry enough that we didn’t photograph it, though. It was tounyuu nabe, or soymilk hot pot, which I think I last had in Japan last spring, but Hiromi made it last Christmas when she visited. Basically, it’s thick, unsweetened soymilk, simmered with a bit of dried konbu, seasoned with miso and maybe a bit of salt. We used a combination of yuzu-miso (expensive, but adds a nice yuzu flavor) and komekoshi-miso. To the pot we added good, fresh tofu, some takenoko, and enoki.

Tounyuu nabe is simple food, but it is kind of special for Hiromi and me, because we ate a variation of it called toufu-dzukushi the first time we had dinner together at a fancy toufu restaurant in Kawasaki.

The last two nights, dinner was completely unremarkable, but tonight I made some yu tsai (a leafy green somewhat like nanohana) with atsuage, onions, and vegetarian “oyster sauce.” Hiromi made takenoko gohan, rice with bamboo shoots. We also had miso soup, but our itamemono wasn’t very Japanese.

Yutsai and atsuageTakenoko-gohan

After dinner I asked Hiromi if she wanted a drink, and she asked me to do something with the Moro blood oranges we got yesterday. I squeezed about four or five of them and blended the juice with a couple of shots of gin, a dash of bitters and a hint of vermouth, then shook everything up in a cocktail shaker with ice. After splitting the results into two glasses, I added an ounce or so of tonic water to each glass for a bit of effervescence.

Bloodorangeandgin

The result was quite refreshing. I’m not much an expert on mixed drinks, but I’m starting to have a bit of fun constructing them, and most of my recent endeavors have been quite passable.

Attempted nougat and matcha chocolates

During the last week or so most of our home meals have been minor variations of things I’ve made recently, and on late nights, arriving home quite hungry, I haven’t felt much of an urge to photograph the “reruns.”

Tonight, though, I made a first attempt at a brown nougat, made without egg whites, flavored with a bit of kirsch and vanilla. I embedded some almonds in the nougat. My hands weren’t quite happy, because I worked the sugar while it was still hot enough to produce some blisters on my hands. The Silpat mat helped me rein in the sugar as it started cooling initially, but I wanted to incorporate some air into the candy.

The shiny stretched sugar mass

Stretching the brown nougat

Cutting the nougat into bite-sized bits

Ame: cutting

 I should have used a lower final temperature when I boiled the sugar mass. I got a fairly crunchy-chewy result; I really would have been happy if it were merely chewy.

Dusted with cornstarch

Ame nougat

I dusted the candy with cornstarch so that I can store it without the pieces sticking together. The end result isn’t bad, but I think I have to experiment a bit more before I develop much confidence in candy-making.

I finally got around to shooting some photos of Masa and Lisa’s Matcha White Chocolates, a product that evolved from a promotional concept I developed back in the late spring or early summer. After months of struggling with packaging options and some variations of recipes, they got the chocolates ready just about a week before Christmas, and we got it into the hands of a few customers before the holidays, but we will probably mostly be promoting the product leading up to Valentine’s Day.

Alas, I wasn’t quite happy with my own photographs tonight, so I’m continuing to borrow some of Masa’s and Lisa’s for my YuzuMura project.

Hiromi says that she can’t readily find matcha chocolates of this quality in Japan… most of the Japanese products I’ve seen so far use a fairly low grade of matcha and a blend of other ingredients to simulate the matcha… Masa and Lisa decided to use the same matcha they use to produce their matcha latte, so it’s a fairly nice result. I’ve gone with a somewhat more assertively matcha-y flavor profile in my own matcha white chocolate enrobed fortune cookies, so their chocolates have a slightly sweeter touch than my cookies, but I like them as a small indulgence, so the sweetness isn’t terribly overwhelming. The little foil packets help me with portion control…

Matcha White Chocolates

Matcha chocolates

Two breakfasts

We’ve been on something of a Japanese food kick of late, and this has extended into breakfast.

Yesterday, we had an instant suimono (clear soup) made from magically expanding dried fu, a puff of wheat gluten. This is from a fancy gift set that Hiromi received as a farewell present on her way here.

Ofu no suimono

This morning, I made two pancakes, which I turned into dorayaki by adding anko (sweet red bean paste) and returning the first pancake to the pan before the second one was completely cooked, creating a “sandwich”.

Dorayaki

When made on a suitable pan, or with 3–4” pancake rings, the portion size is just about right for one serving, but these were made with an 8” omelet pan and needed to be cut into wedges.

Usually dorayaki are made with lots of honey and more eggs than normal pancakes, and tend to be almost too sweet to enjoy without the aid of some accompanying tea to provide some slightly bitter notes. I made mine with some honey, but a lot less sweet than normal dorayaki, making them suitable for breakfast instead of an afternoon tea snack.

Kabocha cheese okonomiyaki, and a holiday tree

My vegetarian variations of okonomiyaki are necessarily limited, but Hiromi and I decided to make okonomiyaki for dinner today, and we happened to have a nice kabocha on hand at home.

I stole this idea from a serviceable but unremarkable (save for the cheap drinks) okonomiyaki chain in Japan. This okonomiyaki variation features thin slices of kabocha in the cabbage and batter mixture, and some pureed steamed squash added after both sides of the okonomiyaki have browned.

It’s topped with some cheese (I used some good gruyere, but ambiguous white processed cheese would be more likely in Japan), and the usual mayonnaise and okonomi sauce.

Kabocha cheese okonomiyaki

The sweetness from the kabocha makes this a pleasant but relatively mild-flavored variation of okonomiyaki.

Neither Hiromi or I have any religious reason to celebrate Christmas, but in Japan Christmas is a purely secular event, partly an excuse for fancy meals and hotel packages. For me, it’s part of an annual family reunion of sorts, but mainly a chance to wind down after difficult work schedules.

In the U.S., I haven’t usually decorated for any holiday, but Hiromi thought it would be fun to set up a tree this year.

We found a reasonably healthy, apartment-sized “living holiday tree” at Target, though we originally went there for accoutrements, expecting to pick a cut tree somewhere else. This small potted tree should be able to survive under my neglect out on my balcony after the holiday season passes, because our climate favors evergreens.

Jason and Hiromi's Holiday tree

We decorated the tree with some lights, ribbon and ball ornaments we picked up at the same time, and I extracted the ornaments collected during my childhood from storage.

Since we got a small tree, the huge satin ornaments I had from my childhood didn’t quite match the scale of our youthful tree, and the other small ornaments I had tended to be too heavy for our tender branches. But I found a couple of pieces that still worked.

I can’t quite remember where it came from, but this walnut-backed ornament was made by a family member when I was young. I wasn’t much of a baseball player, so it was probably a distant relative, but it’s still somehow cute.

Walnutjasonornament

Limited resources and a job as a revenue stream

Not terribly long ago I noted here that I’ve been struggling with my revenue stream… my business is essentially breaking even, but with ever shrinking resources, because it doesn’t pay for me. So I’ve been seriously considering looking for some side work to bring in an income as I grow my business.

I’ve been torn because I know it will make my own business more stressful to operate, and it will change the nature of my business. Most likely, I’ll focus more on the web end of the business and less on the wholesale end.

Anyway, I’ve been quietly sending out my resume here and there, and I managed to get competing, substantially equivalent offers for a day job at two different companies this week.

Both are related to software internationalization, and both are closely related to projects I’ve done before… One’s a multitiered consumer-facing web app at a… familiar company… in, actually, a familiar division. It would involve implementing test coverage and test processes for a familiar product, initially for European markets.

It’s very seductive because I know I can successfully execute on all of the required tasks, and I’m familiar with all of the available resources and processes.

The other job is at a younger company with a focus on advertising technology, which is also familiar territory to me since I worked on such a project in my previous life. But it’s more focused on the Japanese market, at least initially, and I have a stronger personal interest in that region.

It might be a bit more technically challenging, but I don’t think it’s a huge leap from my previous work. It might also stretch my Japanese language skills a bit. It has some risks, because I never tried implementing an international test strategy in an organization without some established localization processes and resources.

On a more trivial note, the second job is about 7 miles closer to home than the other, which saves about 20 minutes a day in commute time with average Seattle-to-Eastside traffic. Considering I still plan to operate my business, that may add up to quite a difference.

Both are contract gigs, which is perfect for my current situation; I just want to pay bills and build some room for growing my business. But I have conflicting motivations: I’m driven, far more than I normally would be, by financial considerations. On the other hand, I’d like a bit of sense of adventure.

I guess I have a lot to think about overnight. I’ll try to sleep early.

I have to make some kind of decision by tomorrow, so it’s going to take some serious reflection.

Tsuji Ayano

I was pleased to hear a feature on Japanese ukulele player and singer Tsuji Ayano on PRI’s The World. I’ve been listening to her music since around March 2000, when I ran into one of her early full-length albums at a “New Release” listening station in HMV Shibuya. (A Japanese site has some sound clips).

That album was a refreshing change from standard-issue Japanese pop fare, mostly because the production aesthetic was so austere.

Most Japanese musicians are barely distinguishable under the weight of their usually far more famous producers. In contast, Ayano’s work has an infections, unpretentious style, slightly boyish lyrics, and is relatively free of the standard issue self-conscious cuteness endemic among Japanese female vocalists. She has a kind of singer-songwriter style that, while certainly Japanese, would not be shocking on a playlist of contemporary American folk music.

When I first heard her music, I was hooked. Ever since then, I tend to seek out her newer albums whenever I travel to Japan, and I buy them before I even have a chance to listen to them.

The funny thing is that I started listening before most of my Japanese friends had ever heard of her. A year or so after I started listening to her music a friend in Japan told me she had a bit of an ear worm from a song of Ayano’s that had apparently been featured on a TV commercial or movie or something, but apparently the marketing department of her record label took a relatively soft approach to promoting her work.

I wonder if the little mention on The World will build some awareness of her work in the U.S.

I’m not a big fan of Japanese pop music, but Ayano’s work has made me hopeful to find more quality music from Japan.

Cold weather food: Kimchi dubu jjigae

I made a variation of kimchi dubu jjigae today, as the weather has been turning a bit cooler.

I usually get the kimchi from a north Seattle Korean market or, when I lived on the Eastside, from a little one in Factoria. This time I just got it at the Central Market location in Shoreline, where I was doing a demo.

This one has some maitake mushrooms, yu choi (like natane), soft tofu, scallions, simmered daikon, and bean sprouts in addition to the kimchi, and I later added some eggs to poach in the soup.

There were, of course, some leftovers.

kimchi dubu Jjigae

Toasted baguette with champignons

As a starving student in Marburg, Germany, I used to eye a couple of shops that apparently specialized in baked baguettes, quite often with Camembert or Brie, and some vegetable, mushroom or meat. The concept was as simple as it was seductive.

But in fact, I never made it inside the place… most of the time, it wasn’t even open as I passed by. It was on my way to university, but not terribly convenient to trek back to during lunchtime, and in fact, except for the occasional incredibly cheap Turkish Imbiss food or 5 Mark wood-fired pizza special at an otherwise unexciting Italian restaurant, I rarely indulged in eating out.

Of course, it was so easy to recreate such pleasures in my dormitory kitchen, and at the time, I couldn’t convince myself to pay for something that I could just as easily make at home. I had far more time than money.

Now I can’t say I have a lot of time or money, but conveniently, this worked out to be a quick and frugal meal.

Champignon baguette with Brie

Baguette with champignons

I buttered some second-day Le Fournil bread and added some chopped garlic. I sauteed some shallots in butter until slightly browned, then sweated button mushrooms with some thyme. I added a splash of wine. The baguette is stuffed with the mushrooms, and I covered it with a bit of soft chevre and a young Brie. Upon serving, I ground some pepper and sprinkled a hint of truffle salt atop the sandwich.

Receiving, packing, shipping, delivering, election night

My dragon beard candy shipment finally made it in this afternoon, just at the end of the scheduled delivery window. I got to furiously packing a couple of express shipments, and some other behind-schedule dragon beard candy orders. I just barely made the cutoff time for Express, and I just barely made the cutoff time for Ground.

I then headed home to grab materials related to the election. I needed to remind myself how I planned to vote.

The polling place for my precinct seems to have changed at the last minute. I got a new voter registration card just yesterday. I was surprised about such late notice, although it’s possible that the last card that I got also noted this change. My previous polling place was just 2 blocks away, but the new location is about 8 blocks away.

After voting, I made another delivery, and met up with a friend to join in some election night gatherings. Nick Licata as an incumbent had some of the best results of the night, with 76.52% of the votes (99.6% reporting). We had some nibbles at the Mirabeau room, and then moved on to some other events at the Westin.

I’m a little tired. Tomorrow I’ve got an incredibly busy day ahead as I need to handle some big internet orders and distribute various wholesale orders.

Channa gobi masala nests for a neighborhood gathering

Last night I walked to a small-scale town meeting in my neighborhood to listen and quietly participate in discussions about the upcoming election. Jennifer advised me to bring finger food, but I got home a bit later than I intended, so I didn’t get started preparing food until about 20 minutes before the event.

My intended contribution was slightly more time consuming than this allowed, and I didn’t have a backup plan, so I arrived about an hour past the official starting time. Even though I was running late, I wanted to stop and take a little photo.

Fortunately, the group had only started their planned agenda a few minutes before we arrived.

Channa gobi masala nests

Shreddedfilo-channagobimasala

This looks elaborate, but much of the preparation time is idle, waiting for something to simmer or finish baking. I needed to chop onions, cauliflower, and chickpeas, and I grated some ginger; I toasted and ground some spices, and I melted butter to coat some prepared shredded filo dough.

To form the nests, I pulled clumps of the butter-tossed shredded filo and pressed the threads into a mini-muffin form, taking care to leave a depression for the filling in each muffin cup.

For the channa masala, I used a blend of garam masala,  fenugreek, cumin, cloves, brown mustard seeds, and one or two things I’ve since forgotten, toasted and ground them, and brought them back into the pan with some ghee. I cooked down some onions, added cauliflower, then included some chickpeas and tomatoes, and a little amchur powder for a hint of acidity. I forgot that I wanted this to be a bit thicker, since it was a filling, so close to the last minute I added a little starch dissolved in water. Each vegetable is chopped very finely to make it suitable for bite-size portioning.

After the filling was ready, I spooned it into the nests and baked for roughly 20 minutes, until the bottoms of the nests were lightly browned.

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