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.

Mr. Wong is coming

The guy who makes my dragon beard candy is coming to Seattle next Thursday. I'm trying to get my publicity act together; I've got a few little mentions lined up but I'm hoping to get a little more visibility still.

His wife, his son, and one of his assistants will be coming also, so I'm trying to get publicity hotel, transportation, appliances and similar things lined up in time for their visit. I'm not sure I'll get much sleep in the next few days.

This will be cool. I think it will help sell candy, and will help us launch properly in the Bay Area.

I shipped off a small internet order to Japan today. I was excited because it was the first completed order going back to Asia. I've made one or two shipments to Canada, but that's the extent of international orders so far.

The weather is pretty cold these days, so I'm not looking forward to the depths of winter this year. Last year was intensely cold (by Seattle standards) with unusually high frequencies of snowfall... I hope it doesn't get that harsh this year.

Sales picking up

I had a busy weekend doing more promotions, this time at Uwajimaya Beaverton and Bellevue. I had lots of trouble setting up, because I couldn't find my product on display anywhere and nobody knew where it was. It turned out that what I had sent them a few weeks ago had almost entirely been sold, and that's why it was nowhere to be seen.

My bamboo display cabinet for the candy was hiding upstairs in storage. It hadn't been unpacked, although it had been at the store for quite a while. So I spent some time unpacking and setting up the cabinet. Shipping stress damaged the cabinet slightly, and adhesive from packing tape affixed to the plexiglass door on the cabinet stuck to face of the door. I spent an hour scrubbing off the adhesive residue.

After returning from Portland, late at night, I made a little stop at a Diwali party at a friend's home in Capitol Hill. Everyone tried their hardest to lose money gambling; I didn't pass up the marketing opportunity to hand out sweets, which is a reasonable thing to do on Diwali. 

My promotion at Bellevue this Sunday was beyond all historical comparisons. Usually it's one of the toughest places to sell the candy, but it sold really well today. My memory of last week's sales might be a little inaccurate, but I think that I sold slightly more today in Bellevue than I sold last Saturday in Seattle. That never happens. I am wondering if people are feeling festive, if I'm getting better at telling the story, or if people are finally starting to see the value in something like this.

Afterward, I stopped at Patrick's home. He made a matsutake risotto and an onion soup, accommodating my vegetarian quirk with a mushroom based broth. I ate so strangely the last couple of days that I was inadequately hungry, though I kept eating... today's brunch was two really large pastries from Le Boulangerie in Wallingford, and no real food except a bit of seasoned fava bean snack I nibbled on right after finishing up at Uwajimaya today. Maybe my body was in starvation mode and confused.

Early in the week I made a satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potato) ice cream which turned out to have a pretty nice texture and flavor. My blender was quite flustered by the low proportion of liquids to solids, but it survived.

My mid-week entertainment involved a stop at Troiani for lunch, where I had a decent but unremarkable penne dish. The restaurant belongs in a mafia movie. It's huge, dramatic, expensive, and apparently well-funded. I had a nice little savory crepe at 611 Supreme on the same day, which was a refreshing contrast.

Commiseration and catharsis

Amelia and Jennifer and I had a need for some decompression yesterday evening (and I'm sure we're not the only ones) so we made arrangements to meet up for dinner at Monsoon, a yuppie Vietnamese restaurant which cleverly located itself next to Kingfish Cafe on 19th in Capitol Hill a few years ago.

Monsoon has the "small and sexy" thing right; the food was generally pretty nice, though we had some grit in the matsutake component of our bok choy and matsutake.  The lemongrass tofu was nice, the persimmon salad was simple and clean (though they didn't warn about the shreds of bacon... I chose to work around them), and Jennifer and Amelia devoured the foie gras and poached peaches. A tamarind, chicken and shrimp soup probably serves as a year-round staple, and I ate some of the vegetables and broth, which was pretty pleasant.

The matsutake oversight aside, the food helped lift our apocalyptic moods.

We felt the need for movement en route to dessert, though our dessert move morphed rapidly into a need for red wine and cheese. We made our second stop at Brasa's bar, and had the cabrale cheese plate with a Spanish red that was just about the right complexity for the cheese. The thinly sliced apples, grapes and spanish almonds also helped.

We ordered more cheese from the main dining room's stash, trusting our waitress to pick the right ones, and she did. Somehow we ended up ordering the grape pizza with more cabrales cheese, which was worthwhile, and I'm sure I remember it from when I was there three or four years ago. It was a good way of communally distracting ourself from our country's confusion of bravado and virtue.

Our theme for the evening: We may not have a Democrat in the White House, but we can drink like Republicans.

I'm a little curious

If polling on the reason people voted as they did yesterday is accurate and this election was about moral values, I'm a little curious why active deception and hostile, aggressive behavior were not considered as horrifying an affront to moral values to the red states as, for example, being pro-choice. Bush's morality is far from unassailable, and yet somehow he was given a free pass to own moral values as an issue.

I was not a particularly enthusiastic a supporter of John Kerry, since he never truly articulated a vision for the future. I think this was his undoing, and not any question about his morality. He never successfully articulated a position on the Iraq war rooted in a discussion of values. When he was talking about jobs, he appealed to individual self-interest rather than to humanity and compassion.

The religious left once owned the issue of morality in American politics, the influence apparent from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Martin Luther King, Jr. Even Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, for all their weaknesses, always spoke from a foundation of values. The ability for a caricature of morality to dominate the discussion of values points to a failure of the left to speak to people at a human level.

We are not a people unable to see the morality in compassion, truth, and humanity. But in the absence of an articulation of a message built on these, the best of American values, a fetishized morality assembled from token kneejerk issues like abortion, gay marriage, and ambiguous references to "traditional values" will do. I think that it is reasonable for people to expect their politicians to speak to values, although I certainly don't want a religious group to wield all the power over the moral compass of the nation.

The future of progressive thought will be closely tied to the ability of reformers to speak to the values that are our strengths. Threats of hellfire are frightening and effective tools of the religious right. But they are no match for the strength of a positive vision articulated by someone with a unironic approach to the imperative to love thy neighbor.

John Edwards had some potential to accomplish this, but he was overshadowed by the muddled message of the Kerry campaign. The Kerry campaign offered the promise "hope" but did little to build it; all of the hope was assumed, based on the momentum that came from frustration with the situation in Iraq, the casualty of truth, the Bush antipathy to reality. The promise of hope came mostly from faded memory of the election primaries, the voices of Howard Dean and John Edwards.

Hope is precious, but needs to be nurtured. The Kerry campaign was never successful at that. The volunteers were hopeful, but it was a hope that something better than Bush would emerge.

A few articles I've seen have suggested that the re-election of Bush will force the administration to clean up its own mess. It will be at a very painful cost, for now and for a few generations, and I doubt the cleanup will happen in the blissful unawareness the Bush administration seems to have of its disasters. Four years from now, if we have made a clean transition from Iraq and haven't created new disasters, I'll be very surprised.

I am not a religious person, and perhaps this makes me part of the progressive vision problem. But I hope progressives will be able to communicate a vision that shows a positive, coherent alternative to radically isolationist Christianity.

Then again, some people throw themselves to the lions.

Gifts from Minowa-san

The first time I bought items from Minowa-san, he gave both Hiromi and me a yunomi (teacup). Hiromi's was Minowa's signature niji-yu (rainbow glaze) which is actually the typical Mashiko kaki-yu (persimmon glaze) fired in a gas kiln. (I'll put up an example later). The one I received was a more temmoku-like (iron speckled) kaki-yu.

On this trip, I didn't buy that many pieces, but Minowa-san gave me a very nice coffee cup. This one has hints of blue in it, and the yunomi shows a little bit of a red appearance. Minowa-san says he doesn't plan to make any more coffee cups, so this was a nice surprise.

The yunomi has a little bit of what Minowa-san refers to as “yuzu no hada“ or yuzu skin. This means there is a noticeable texture around the iron bumps.

I really need to get a good lighting solution so I can finally put up my ceramics for sale on the yuzumura.com website. But this shot isn't too bad.

Mashiko yunomi and coffee cup, Minowa Yasuo

Civic obligations, yuzu, photos from Japan

Post-jetlag insomnia has set in over the last few days, but I woke up and started some of the necessary housecleaning I've neglected since returning from Japan.

I managed to get myself to the polling station near my home... it's just a short walk. I was expecting it to be crowded, but there were no lines out the door... it was busy around 3pm, but nobody had to wait.

This afternoon I made a surprising discovery... In one of my carry-on bags, I discovered three yuzu and another deteriorating citrus fruit from Mashiko inside another plastic bag.

The yuzu are still in good shape, but I need to use them fast because there is some hint of deterioration. The other fruit, whose name I forget, was already in bad shape when it came off the tree, but it had a nice aroma.

Mr. Minowa, a ceramic artist I met in Mashiko whose work I have been importing, drove me to the train station after I met him on the last Friday of my Japan trip. Somewhere on the way toward Kasama, he noticed a big yuzu tree in someone's front yard and started reaching over the fence to acquire a few fruit, still mostly green. He wasn't terribly concerned about the owner of the house; he said they wouldn't be missed because there are a lot of yuzu.

I was bummed out because I knew I'd have to leave most of them in Japan, but I did use one of the yuzu to keep some apples from browning when I made a cheese fondue. It turns out that the yuzu found themselves in my luggage after all. I don't know if I unconsciously grabbed them or if Hiromi slipped them into one of the bags, or if something else happened. But it's an excellent excuse to make yudoufu.

Last night I finally bulk-resized photos that I should have posted while still in Japan, but I got a little bit busy. The first few photos shown below are from my visit to Mr. Minowa, who lives in Mashiko, close to Kasama. The last time I was here with Hiromi, it was completely dark. So Minowa-san was happy to give me a tour of his home in daylight, and his wife served really nice apples and English tea.

 

Minowa-san is showing me the flora in his backyard.
Sansho fruit pods on the tree This is a citrus plant called sansho. The seed pods are very aromatic; rubbing the skin reveals hints of citrus with some cinnamon-like base notes. The leaves are also edible and make a nice garnish, although Minowa-san says this variety of sansho has better fruit than leaves.
Sansho detail photo Mr. Minowa gave me some sansho to take home.
Sansho detail with extracted seeds The black seedpods in here can be used in cooking, and will be similar to the Chinese sichuan pepper; they might have a slight numbing effect on the tongue. Minowa-san said this variety's seeds are better when green; fall is a little late for harvesting for culinary purposes.
Japanese flowers A few close-in shots of flowers from Minowa's backyard.
Japanese flowers I don't know anything about flowers, but this isn't a daisy.
Japanese flowers Minowa-san was telling me the Japanese names of each of the flowers, but I promptly forgot because I only caught each name once or twice, and he showed me a lot.
Japanese flowers Regardless of the name, this is a really nifty flower.
Yakimono from Mashiko-Tanaka Saori At one of the galleries I work with, I saw this work. Tanaka Saori does a lot with interesting abstract motifs; they feel a little rustic but have sort of modern appeal.
Yakimono from Mashiko with momiji Another artist I like had a lot of momiji (Japanese maple) motifs.
Yakimono from Mashiko, toruko (Turkish) blue The gallery where I found Minowa-san's work last time was highlighting a Mashiko artist who does lots of work with Turkish Blue glazes.
Hanamaki meal at Oosawa onsen OK, it's a little late, but here's the spread from the hot springs resort called Oosawa Onsen in Hanamaki (near Morioka) where I stayed on my second night of this trip. This is the vegetarian meal. I was impressed because rather than just provide fish-less or meatless versions of the same things they served to my friend, they changed a number of side dishes for balance purposes. This was one of the nicest meals on the trip.
Edamame Yuba, tofu, and shiso with shredded vegetables Proof that some of the nicest dishes are also the simplest. Some tofu and I believe edamame-yuba is served with shredded vegetables, a little wasabi, shiso, and a dipping sauce (not pictured).
Persimmon (kaki) stuffed with aemono Another one of the side dishes. I'm a pushover for things presented in sweet, crisp hollowed-out persimmons, ever since I had a little ohitashi presented in a persimmon at Yuu-an (Nishi-shinjuku) a few years ago. This is a kind of ae-mono, lightly dressed vegetables.
small sweet Japanese kabocha stuffed with kinoko and takenoko A warm side dish brought after we started eating, this small sweet squash half is filled with various mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and tiny eggplant. It's a very clean flavor, and the broth poured over is slightly thickened, probably with katakuriko.
Hiromi and another cheerleader in Tokyo, Japan Hiromi's (center/top) hobby is cheerleading, so she invited me to watch her team perform at a football game, along with my friend and sometimes assistant Kazue, who returned to Japan during my own business trip.

Last days

I ended up scheduling a little more time for this trip than necessary. I had anticipated seeing a more public venue in Japan where the dragon beard candy company was planning to sell their product, so that I could witness, and hopefully learn from, a Japanese-style product launch. Their retail partner apparently recently rescheduled the event, so unfortunately I won’t get a chance to see it.

However, changing my return flight would have been more expensive than taking advantage of the remaining time. My original plan was to go to Shiga prefecture to do some ceramics hunting, as it’s one of the major ceramics centers I still haven’t visited and a substantial influence on Mashiko ware. Shigaraki ware tends to be fairly rustic, like Mashiko-yaki, so I had hoped to see more. Unfortunately, scheduling the trip turned out to be more complicated than I had hoped, so Hiromi arranged for a quick trip to the western coast of Shizuoka prefecture’s Dogashima, a small island in Izu.

This area produces a lot of wasabi products, and some citrus fruits like dekopon and a local variety of mikan (mandarin orange); I would guess that daidai could be found somewhere nearby in the right time of year.

We stayed in a hot springs inn with an oceanfront rotenburo (outdoor bath). Because of the structural design all of the rooms also featured ocean views… essentially the hotel was built against a cliff.

On the way from Yokohama, initially clear skies gave way to clouds and unexpected stretches of heavy snow, and clear skies returned as we approached our destination. Izu was chillier than Tokyo had been in the morning, and gusty winds limited our outdoor adventures. As we reached the hotel, the winds rose to a level that made opening the car doors a fair challenge.

We tried to brave the weather and enjoy the rotenburo before sunset. The men’s hot springs baths were set roughly 15 meters from the water, but as the waves crashed against the walls below, a salty spray would occasionally reach my lips as I looked out into the water. Just as sunset approached, one of the kashi-kiri onsen rooms became available, which was just above the women’s rotenburo. Hiromi had reported that one of the women’s baths was constantly besieged by cold ocean water and remained mostly unused. As some of the stronger waves launched columns of seaweed onto the roof below us, I could imagine it wouldn’t have been very comfortable to be in the way of some of the heavier spray.

Dinner was the usual ryokan style extravagant presentation, though the house seemed a little heavy-handed with their katsuo-dashi, enough that even Hiromi took notice, though she gleefully consumed the various crustacea and bivalves she was presented.

I hadn’t met Hiromi’s parents before this trip, and my awkward Japanese made conversation a bit challenging, but everything was pleasant enough. We stopped at her home on the way to and from Izu, as she needed to handle arrangements with the car.

Monday night Hiromi and I found a pleasant little Korean restaurant located atop a small Korean deli/grocery. Though it probably cost about twice as much as it would in Korea, we ate a perfectly suitable meal of kimchi dubu jjigae, pa chijimi, and chap chae, accompanied by a small bottle of low-alcohol Korean-style nigori-zake (unfiltered sake), a plate of small vegetable side dishes, and followed by some yuja-cha and soo jeong gwa. It was roughly 6000 yen, which is quite modest for Japan, along the lines of an okonomiyaki restaurant.

Juggling my luggage on the return turned out to be a bigger problem than I had hoped. In spite of asking most companies I met with at FoodEx to send me samples by post, I still ended up with a few bottles of yuzu juice, sudachi juice, and various other samples, as well as a couple of items for personal consumption I bought at Izu. Worse, the pamphlets I accumulated took up an obscene amount of space, most of which I actually wanted to keep.

I don’t think I’ll get enough sleep on the airplane, so returning to Seattle time is likely to be as painful as usual, alas.

My home is chaos

My apartment is now barely livable. After a series of new shipments, including the arrival of additional shipping supplies, and attempts at making passable photographs of products by turning my kitchen table into a makeshift studio, I barely have enough room to walk. I also have some gutted electronics in my living room, as I was trying to complete a low-cost upgrade to substitute for my briefly malfunctioning, and subsequently repaired, laptop computer. That upgrade process did not go smoothly, and the evidence of the trouble is right in

I started hunting for some low-cost storage and office space, but my choices are not enviable. The closest one is probably the best fit for my needs, though it might be a little small; the cheapest one has some unpleasant features, namely the proximity of a constantly humming transformer, and a lack of light in the section more practical for office space. Another one is more versatile but has a high total cost and is kind of out of the way; although reasonbly convenient to my home, it's convenient to nearly no one else in the city, located in northern Magnolia.

I'll try to nail down my solution for space next week, before I fly off to Hong Kong. I will go to Hong Kong to meet with my candy supplier and see their retail locations and their production facility. A couple of days later, I'll attend, and to some extent, participate in FoodEx 2005 in Tokyo. This trip will be pretty short, but I'll also try to cram in a visit to a yuzu farm in west Japan if I can arrange everything in time.

Last Sunday I managed to snag some sichuan pepper at the Beaverton Uwajimaya. After years of absence from the US market, this was a pleasant treat. I cooked some yu-tsai (na-no-hana) with ganmodoki and sichuan pepper, as well as some fresh peqin chilies. It was simple and had a pleasant numbing taste... Except for a dish I had back during the fall festival with a friend who somehow obtained some smuggled sichuan peppers, apparently from Canada, I haven't had a dish featuring sichuan pepper for years. I'm thinking of revisiting a dish my Chinese neighbor in Marburg, Germany used to make, which was basically thin sliced potatoes sauteed with sichuan pepper and a little salt.

I've had some bad luck with atsuage recently... this week marked my second recent attempt to make a stuffed atsuage that turned out to already have passed its prime. The expiration dates seemed fine, but the taste was strangely sour... two different stores, two different brands, two different disappointments. I was happier eating my eringii, carrot and greens filling.

Today in Beaverton I saw a familiar brand while doing a demo... Representatives from a company I met at FoodEx last year, Fuji Oil's Soyafarm, were demoing some tofu nuggets meant for the US market, and some fried reheatable yuba-wrapped edamame. I still prefer Soyafarm's soy milk yogurt and soy milk; that company had the nicest attempts at soy milk yogurt I have ever tested. But I would recommend with only the slightest of reservations the yuba-wrapped edamame. My only complaint is that they were a little salty, and maybe a little microwave-soggy. I don't know if there are ways around those defects; the salt might have been added for the demo purposes only, for all I know.

Call me Mr. Delivery Man

After an unexpectedly long delay in releasing my most recent shipment of dragon beard candy, I finally got notification around 5pm on Saturday that my shipment had cleared FDA document review. The FDA held the shipment for only a couple of days, but after a week and a half of disastrously long sluggishness in passing documents from one agent to another, the government hurdles only added the slightest bit of insult to injury.

More painful, perhaps, was that because my need for inventory had been transformed over the two weeks from “pressing” to “desperate”, I really needed to get the shipment to retailers in the Pacific Northwest region as quickly as possible. I also had a number of internet orders to fill.

So, I decided it was best if I personally picked up the shipment myself in my little Camry. After attending an event featuring a self-deprecating Korean potter at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, I headed straight to the airport to pick up my shipment myself.

A 1998 Toyota Camry is not a tiny car. However, it turns out not to be terribly suitable for carrying nearly 2 cubic meters of stuff. I can, however, for future reference, say that the maximum capacity of my car, including driver, is 26 cartons of dragon beard candy. For maximum sanity and safety, I'd say that 20 cartons is a little bit more realistic. Alas, I needed to move 31 cartons. Fortunately, the amused warehouse workers of Aeroground said it would be ok for me to make a second trip as long as I returned before 11 pm.

After making an initial hasty dropoff at my apartment, sure to annoy my neighbors in the morning, I went to pick up the remainder, and managed even to restock my display at Seattle's Uwajimaya around 11pm at night. I thought this was the only sane thing to do, as I knew I would be filling internet orders and making a Bellevue delivery on Saturday... and with the relative paucity of smaller sizes on display at the Seattle Uwajimaya, I knew it was essential to have some supplies there throughout the first weekend of the Chinese New Year season.

I don't remember exactly how I finished Saturday, but I know that I went to bed earlier than I have in weeks. Sunday, of course, I made off to Beaverton, both for restocking and a bit of a demo. Sales there were not stellar, but certainly more than if I had not been there. It's still taking some work to get Beaverton customers familiar with the product. Since all of the December publicity in the Seattle area, my sales in Bellevue have finally been beating the results in Beaverton.

My apartment, of course, is now an unpardonable disaster area. Recent laptop failures set me on a mission to get a functional modern machine at home (still unsuccessful) using recycled desktop components that I haven't used in a year plus a new motherboard and CD drive. Inventory from the new candy shipment, some tetsubin I recently ordered, and bulky but light cushions, as well as some tea packs from Bamboo Garden, have contributed to a special kind of chaos. I am hoping I can make enough sales in the next month or two to cost-justify some storage space, if not a full-blown office. My home is exploding.

My car was returned on Wednesday, looking better than it did before my accident. But the first two nights it was back, the car alarm seemed to be a bit paranoid, choosing 3am as a nice time of day to wake me, not to mention my neighbors, even with the vibration sensor off. The Car Toys folks first tried to extort money out of me to investigate the problem, but then decided that my extended warranty entitled me to a free exam, and everything seemed to be fixed Saturday morning.

I should perhaps be a little more reflective and less self-involved... but no, this is not the time for that. The time for reflection is after chaos has somewhat resided. Maybe Wordworth once said something along the lines that poetry is emotion reflected in tranquility. The rest, I suppose, is merely a diary.

Not a good day

I was on my way to deliver the donation for the Women of Color luncheon, and had the misfortune not to see a car crossing into a curvy intersection on Motor Place. My view was obstructed by a van parked at a crossing, and although I was slowing down as I approached the crossing as I would anyway, I couldn't stop fast enough to avoid the car entering the intersection, so we smashed into each other.

We did the usual exchanging of personal information, made phone calls to 911 and waited for the police. It turned out because my airbags deployed I had to have the car towed to a body shop, so now I'm carless for the moment.

I was able to make my delivery to the international district, irritating a taxi driver as I spent a good amount of time transferring items from my car into hiscab. Afterward I took the non-donation items home in the same cab, and I'm sure he was expecting a shorter fare, so I left a more generous than usual tip, even though he didn't help me terribly much... I just figured I was a bit of an inconvenience.

Originally I thought I emerged relatively unscathed, just shaken up a bit. But the scrapes on my hand have turned irritatingly swollen, and I'm feeling tension aches in my back. I must have just tensed up too much.

In the meantime I guess I will get some air in my bicycle tires.

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