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.

Trying to be focused

Yesterday I shipped out an unusual number of internet orders. One of them was destined for Seattle and I almost delivered it myself, but I was busy enough that I thought better of it.

Today I was preparing a donation of candy for an event honoring minority women in business, which was a good way of using what little remains of my fall inventory; it's benefits a non-profit but has some potential marketing side effects as well.

I am also extremely short of the newer inventory in the Pacific Northwest stores, not counting big gift boxes, so I am desperately awaiting a shipment that is supposed to be here by Monday or Tuesday if all goes well. I expect it will be no problem to sell what I have in big gift boxes though...

These days I'm eating a little carelessly. I haven't been sleeping well, maybe due to subconscious distractions, and I'm sometimes skipping meals or substituting snacks for real food. I need to stop that. Yesterday I had a nice dinner though... I made okonomiyaki.

Savory bread pudding with chevre

Hiromi and I sometimes find it challenging to use up a full loaf of bread before it loses its charm. Since we tend to favor local Seattle artisan bakeries, that can become a bit expensive.

I usually like to use slightly old bread as croutons or French toast, but our other meal plans somehow distracted me from that kind of frugality. But as of last Saturday, I realized I had accumulated a fair stash of bread remnants. It turned out I had not one, but three potentially irreconcilable bits of dry bread around… one piece was the end of a baguette, one was from a walnut whole wheat loaf, and a third was a very nice rye bread from Essential Bakery, studded with pieces of onion.

Any other time I had some excessively crusty bread, I might make a bread pudding, but I thought the onion would be a bit of a dealbreaker. I can almost imagine making a dessert built on a caramelized onion jam, but working with onions trapped inside someone else’s loaf of bread would make for a bit of a stretch.

So I went the other direction, creating a savory bread pudding instead.

Savory bread pudding with soft chevre

Breadpudding-savory-chevre

After soaking the breads in a fair amount of milk until they were moist, I cut everything into bite-size chunks. In a separate bowl, I whisked together a couple of eggs, and folded them into the chunks of soaked bread, along with some extra walnuts, some soft chevre, and a bit of freshly grated nutmeg. I added a nice pinch of salt to compensate for the addition of the eggs, but bread is usually fairly well-salted, so I didn’t need much.

I baked it at about 375F in small souffle ramekins until they looked set and slightly browned, probably about 25 minutes. If I were picky, considering it’s a custard, I might have stuck an instant read thermometor into one of the puddings and make sure it had reached at least 140F, but I decided that I trusted my eggs and neither Hiromi or I are pregnant or otherwise have immune problems right now. Besides, it looked done.

After cooling a bit, I carefully extracted the bread puddings from their forms and put them on a plate, slathering them with Irish butter and topping them with a reasonably indulgent helping of sour cream. It turned out better than I expected: rich, custardy, smooth, aromatic with the help of the nutmeg, and studded with capricious chunks of chevre and flavorful pieces of onion. 

Asparagus season kicked off in earnest last week, so I also roasted about 12 spears of good Washington asparagus in the oven on a grill pan while waiting for the bread puddings to cool a bit.

In a small saucepan, I let some butter melt and sizzle with some miso, and, when the butter melted, added some milk. It thickened up without the aid of flour, and I spooned it over the roasted asparagus. Maybe 8 or 9 years ago I first encountered a really clever polenta dish at a restaurant on the Harbor Steps in Seattle, topped with a miso bechamel sauce… I’ve been hooked on the butter-miso combination ever since.

We had a nice brunch, and incredibly frugal, with the help of things that might have otherwise gone to waste combined with seasonally inexpensive local vegetables.

I didn’t realize it until after Hiromi and I had plowed through our bread pudding last weekend, but it turns out that An Obsession With Food is hosting an Is My Blog Burning event this weekend, Give Us This Day Yesterday’s Bread, also known as “Good Uses for Stale Bread.” So, I convienently have a relevant contribution for this month’s Is My Blog Burning 25 event. I’ve been completely distracted the last few months, so this is a first time I’ve been able to contribute for a long time. Hopefully circumstances will be so fortuitous next time…

Tuesday night at Lark

I’m really learning to appreciate dining out on weeknights.

Last Tuesday, we dined at Matt’s in the Market. If we had attempted to do so on a Friday or a Saturday, we would have waited for at least an hour, I’m sure. I’m increasingly disinclined to go out for dinner on weekends without reservations (at least at places that take them) because restaurants that have above average food and atmosphere (and even some that don’t) require a lot of waiting, and some of my favorite places in such categories don’t take reservations at all.

One such restaurant, Lark, also generally only allows walk-ins. It offers such a quintessentially Northwestern kind of dining experience that visitors to Seattle really should place high on their list of priorities. Lark’s chef, John Sundstrom has a very pan-Pacific consciouness, with a somewhat Japanese approach to ingredients. To me, this means allowing the ingredients to do most of the work but sort of awakening their fundamental characteristics with careful preparation and usually gentle flavoring techniques. At the same time, he emphasizes local and artisanally-produced ingredients, and conscientious production practices.

I’ve wanted to take Hiromi there but we’ve always missed an opportunity to go there, either because I forgot they aren’t open on Mondays, or because we didn’t have the patience to wait on a weekend. I haven’t been there since my Dragon Beard Candy tour when Bamboo Garden visited in December 2004 and we celebrated the tour on the last night of their trip.

Last night, Hiromi and I met with a friend of hers from Japan who has made it through the first two rounds of auditions for the Seagals. I thought it would be a good opportunity to make our way to Lark.

As with my previous experience, everything was lovingly prepared and spot on. We had an interesting creamy farro dish with pickled spring vegetables, including some fiddlehead fern fronds. We had a selection of cheeses with almonds, quince, and olives (one sheep, one goat, and one blue cow’s milk cheese; the details I’ve forgotten, but the sheep milk cheese bore the cutesy name “Ewephoria.”)

I like their sort of unconventional habit of serving cheese as a mouth opener rather than as a final course, although I suppose that’s really just an Americanism born of dinner party culture. We had some very nice mozzarella and artichokes. We also had their signature Rösti, and some sauteed mushrooms. Hiromi and her friend ate some raw oysters with a citrusy dressing, salumi from Salumi, and a braised short rib dish. We also had a smooth, creamy panna cotta topped with a wine jelly and a lacy cookie for dessert.

We each ordered an unrelated glass of wine owing to our idiosyncrasies, but everyone left happy.

Afterward we made a brief stop at Chapel for cocktails, which was reasonably busy but not insanely crowded, perfect for a relaxed evening out.

New things brewing

I was chatting with the owner/manager of a new vegetarian restaurant who is interested in marketing her soy and gluten products that she makes in her store. I think I will help her out with some sales work for her, and take a fair cut without any inventory risk on my part. I'll also research and consult on solutions for some of the foods she makes that she'd like to offer as easy-to-prepare healthy, vegetarian Chinese entrees.

I'm also trying to talk to some contract manufacturers for introducing some of my own private label products, so I started making some inquiries on that; this need should be compatible with the restaurant's needs as well.

Yesterday I moved my display out from my sales broker's showroom, since I've been doing a better job on sales than them so far. I also think that will free me up to sell some other products in the same manner, functioning as a sales broker rather than an importer or import merchant.

As for the dragon beard candy, I'm having some issues with a shortage of small gift boxes and sampler tubes of dragon beard candy, but I'm supposed to be getting a new shipment later this week. I'm trying to figure out how to accommodate some orders received in the last few days that requested some quantities of items of which I don't have enough stock.

The tour is underway

We made our move from Seattle to Portland last night. Saturday involved rushing around maniacally to get a rental car before the agency's noon closing time. Enterprise apparently doesn't "pick you up" on Saturdays if you live in Seattle, so I needed to extract Mr. Wong from his hotel a little early and have him drive my car back to my home.

The demo in Seattle went reasonably well; apparently the publicity from the Seattle P-I, Seattle WeeklyNorthwest Asian Weekly (twice), Seattle Chinese Post, and even some internal Microsoft message boards brought in a few people. We definitely attracted crowds, especially at the Seattle store. I hope that this event translates into a long-term boost in sales and also helps build the brand image in the US.

Originally we planned to return from Portland to Seattle tonight, but on Friday the Portland Fox affiliate asked us to be available for a morning TV show this Tuesday, so we decided it would be simpler just to stay in Portland and continue directly on to San Francisco from there.

We are traveling in a small van, but the amount of luggage needed for supplies, personal effects, display material, and so on makes the space pretty crowded. I almost think we would have been better off dragging a small trailer behind my Camry. I feel comfortable, but the passengers themselves must feel pretty cramped.

Tomorrow is our first relatively unstructured day. I'll be taking the Wongs around Portland to do some market research, the specific mode of which most people simply call "shopping." We'll go to downtown Portland again and maybe a few other areas. I'm not looking forward to waking up at 5am on Tuesday or driving for 10-12 hours afterward, but I think it will be interesting to see what happens in the Bay Area.

Outsourced customer service sucks

A bit over a week ago my otherwise nifty Motorola MPX220 phone decided to stop charging… the battery seemed fine, but when I plugged in any of several charging devices, no power flowed into the device.

After struggling through what I thought was a long hold time, I got someone who had a hard time understanding how to spell simple words, even when I spelled them out multiple times. A scheduled pickup never materialized, and I called back late the next day, and they told me my address was not on file. I gave my information all over again, and the scheduled AM pickup also never happened.

I called a third time yesterday, waited on hold about 20 minutes after several abortive attempts at navigating irrelevant voice prompts, and they scheduled a same-day pickup at my office. Someone from FedEx did show up, this time with a completely blank waybill, and I had no idea what the address should have been. So she said she could come back the next day, but I figured I could drop the package off somewhere just as easily on my own.

When I called Motorola again, I waited on hold for 25 minutes once more, only to get transferred a recording with a barely audible pronunciation of the destination address. I tried to drop the filled-out waybill today at Kinko’s, but they refused to accept the package because there was no recipient account number on the waybill.

On the rare occasions when I’ve had to return something electronic for repairs or exchanges, the vendor almost always just sent their driver with a door tag, or gave me a link to a web page where I could print my own label. This odd exception has wasted more hours than I would have thought possible. I found the whole thing very frustrating.

I was about to unleash a fury on the unfortunate person who would answer my call today, but the wait time was only 2 minutes, this time and she was oddly disarming and suitably apologetic. She managed to confirm the pickup by telephone instead of the usual electronic method, and even gave me an account number to list on the waybill in case something went wrong.

I could have been more explosive… I was rehearsing empty threats of lawsuits in my mind before I called. Thank goodness an occasional customer sevice lackey has decent people skills. We might be reading about violent cases of Customer Service Rage.

All of the daytime customer service staff seemed to be located in India, and are apparently unaccustomed to US accents pronouncing things like letters and common street names. However, after 4 pm or so, it seems that the support staff are in some Latin American country, and although the staff speak with an accent the ones I’ve encountered so far seemed less confused by American English conventions.

I’m not philosophically opposed to outsourcing; it stretched our resource-constrained team far further than previously possible when I was at Microsoft. Telephone customer service is hard to do well even inside a company. But I wish companies would evaluate the cost in a more sophisticated fashion: What’s the cost of customer frustration with a company? What’s the cost of a bad experience? What are your corrective measures when your outsourced customer service ruins your customer relationships?

In my import business, my goal is to find things that are imported for a good reason: I want something if the product is made better where it’s from than anywhere else, or an has a distinctive style that can’t be readily duplicated, or it otherwise has a really compelling origin story. I think that outsourcing of technical services will ultimately have this approach, as well as the low-end brutal cost consciousness that’s the dominant reason for going to India, China and Russia right now. There are some really well-educated folks in Asia and Russia and some of them are bound to develop technologies or maybe even service methodologies that will be in demand on their own merits, rather than simply because they cost less. Burnout jobs in call centers that spend most of the time trying not to be helpful to customers in to avoid expensive bench time or better software design… is this really the best outsourcing model?

 

I'm not MIA

While I was preparing to move office I got incredibly busy, and then one day my laptop decided not to start. So I sent it off for repairs on Tuesday. I expect it will be ready early next week.

I haven't gotten my desktop machine at the office fully functional yet, alas. The newly set up machine decided not to completely boot, and when I reinstalled Windows, the system freezes when I get the message "You need to activate Windows to log in. Do you want to activate windows?"

If the machine were only kind enough not to freeze and let me answer, I'd be happy to deal with it. In the meantime I'm borrowing my friend's laptop for a few minutes at a time.

It looks like one of my customers I've been waiting on for ages will finally pay their bill. That makes me happy, but I am still so cash-impaired that I'm probably going to have to take on some part-time work or a temp job in tech in order to sustain myself. I don't want to be in that position, but if it makes it possible for me to continue building my business it's a reasonable tradeoff.

 

 

Moving office is no fun

I’ve been trying to make moving into my new commercial space a gradual process, but it turns out that even moving a load or two of things each day for the last week wasn’t fast enough to get everything over there in time for my intended Wednesday deadline.

I’ll probably get most of the remaining stuff, sans desk and printer, over there tonight. But my home is still a bit of a mess… I need to make it at least somewhat presentable by tomorrow, when a friend of a friend will start renting out my extra room.

Maybe by midnight I’ll get to the required vacuuming…

Tokyo FoodEx 2005, Day 4

On the last day at FoodEx I followed up with a couple of companies I had some interest in, and then I made a few other discoveries.

I can’t say that there was one product I would absolutely have to have this time, but I found several that I’m quite interested in and I think I’ll try to work something out with a few of the companies I ran into.

Because it was the end of the show for me, I spent more time cruising the non-Asian booths, and I found a suitably gimmicky nightclub drink product from an Austrian company. The product comes in metal tubes, in either alcoholic “cocktails” or non-alcoholic “energy drinks.” The taste of the cranberry-flavored “Wodka” cocktail isn’t quite my style, but the overall concept seems very clever and suitable for clubs trying to get some sort of attention. I chatted in German with one of the company representatives for a little while, and realized how sloppy my German is these days.

Actually one thing I’m happy about is that I think I’ve found some items with reasonable shelf-life at modest costs which still have decent style and interesting origin stories. Some nice cookies from Malaysia, some nicely-packaged sauces from Thailand, and various other things that seem to have good market potential without steering too far from my company vision.

By 4:10 pm most exhibitors started packing everything and departing. I was surprised that the 4:30 finishing time really meant “no later than 4:30”. Of course the trains were completely insane for the next couple of hours… I sat in a pastry shop for about an hour and I still couldn’t get a seat on the train from Makuhari station.

For dinner Hiromi and I stopped at a restaurant I really enjoyed a few years ago called Yuuan in Nishi-Shinjuku. It was still good food, but not quite the transcendent experience I remember from last time I was there. We had a nice “white sesame oil” nabe with very soft tofu and various spring vegetables, a simple tomato appetizer, and a pumpkin croquette, and some mountain vegetable tempura. The last time I was there they had their own house-infused liqueurs but these were apparently absent this time.

Hoteres 2005, Day 3

I tried to compress seeing all of the Tokyo Hotel, Restaurant and Catering show into one day this year. It was quite similar to last year, but I did find some excellent suppliers of Japanese tableware for restaurant and gift markets… some very stylish bamboo tokkuri from a couple of makers, some nice contemporary nurimono (lacquerware), and some Singapore-made furnace glass tableware well suited for trendy Asian restaurants.

Nothing too exciting in the equipment arena this year; maybe I saw everything imaginable last year. The really cool “clean fryer” I saw last year was apparently absent and I didn’t see anything that was totally new to me, save a variation of the self-shaking wok which featured a corkscrew stirring mechanism.

One company showed off a nifty line of teas produced in China, containing hand-tied teas with flowers that “bloom” as the tea leaves expand; the product is nearing a launch in Japan. The teas are all about the drama of the flowers revealing themselves; the exhibition design had them presented in wine glasses or glass teapots. I’ll get some samples when their packaging design is ready to go next month. It seems like a clever concept, though I think they are targeting about a $2.50–3.00 retail price per bundle (essentially one pot), so that may be a very narrow market in the U.S. In Japan, they are targeting the bridal and banquet markets.

I’ve been facing a little bit of pain in my legs and back the last couple of days… when I left for Hong Kong I swapped out my worn-out custom orthotics for the standard ones in my usually comfy Ecco loafers, and I think my feet aren’t happy about the sudden change.

Tomorrow I think I’ll just spend the whole day at FoodEx, where I’d like to follow up on some things that I looked at previously.

One item that I received a small sample of turned out to be more interesting than I initially gave it credit for. It’s a wheat-free and soy-free “soy sauce” that tastes very similar to the real thing. It’s apparently meant to satisfy a particularly narrow range of folks allergic to wheat or soy proteins. It’s made with compressed sesame seeds, barley and salt instead of soy beans, wheat and salt. I used it in tonight’s dinner and it worked quite well; it had a pleasant taste, and was functionally equivalent to soy sauce as a seasoning. I should find out if the manufacturer is willing to export it. It wasn’t made by the usual soy sauce suspects (Kikkoman, Yamasa, etc.)

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