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Getting the publicity machine started

jason

Sunday I spent time working on publicity and advertising details. My designer was struggling to finish up some image manipulation and final layout tweaks, and I got to work on a little press release.

Over the course of the day a number of little complications kept reminding me how incredibly tight time is. Somehow, though, I managed to sneak out at night to watch Michael Moore's movie with my overworked designer and my friend Amelia.

Most of the day today I spent finalizing shipment details and contract arrangements, as well as arranging to get ads ready for the papers that are going to press soon, This afternoon I did my best to make the publicity section on the Yuzu Trading Co. web site presentable, and I tried to make a dent in the work on the dragonbeardcandy.com web site. Online ordering isn't quite ready but at least it won't be blank if people start looking at it when the ads come out.

By early evening, my designer was still struggling to arrange delivery of the ads to the four newspapers that we're working with, so I went over to try to find a way to get them delivered in time. After a long series of technical battles with software, email servers, ftp servers, and even fax machines and printers, we finally got business concluded and we went off to eat some dinner around 8:30 or so.

We stopped at Galerias on Broadway I had vegetal enchiladas con mole poblano, which were better than the last time I ordered the same dish a good year or so ago... not too sweet, pleasantly spicy. Jennifer had some crab-stuffed tortillas and ended up feeling stuffed herself. The most important thing after all of the chaos was to have a celebratory margarita, so mine was a “patron” and Jennifer's was a frozen strawberry.

I'm a little tired now, but I think Tuesday will be a little easier, assuming my shipment gets sent off from Hong Kong according to plan.

It's all about logistics (oh, and that sales and marketing stuff)

jason

I wouldn't like to call this week frenetic, because confusion was rarely in play, but it has been fast-paced and occasionally exhausting. It's been a huge challenge getting all of the things that really have to be done this week completed.

In preparation for a shipment of dragon beard candy, I've been working with my graphic designer, Jennifer, and I needed to arrange buyoff on our chosen design from the company that makes the candy. Beyond that, I had a couple of rounds of conversations to resolve some issues with a legal agreement with that company.

By Thursday afternoon, I completed the details with the agreement and struggled with my fax machine when I tried to send it off. I had the same struggles trying to send off some documents related to credit card processing to my bank. On the same day I needed to pester my bank to clear some funds to wire them to Hong Kong, get some materials printed up at Kinkos, arrange for payment for an attorney, find some slacks to replace some shredded ones, and a whole bunch of other little things.

Early in the week I got an appointment with a Portland-area specialty market to show off the dragon beard candy, and that meant I needed to hurriedly find decent but not outrageously expensive hotel accommodation. I planned to go with a friend of mine who is helping out with some of the promotions, so that meant my budget challenge was more complicated, but somehow I stayed on budget finding two rooms in a hotel that wasn't scary; it wasn't special, but at least it didn't seem too dodgy. We arrived late at night because with all of the other errands I was running, and a need to eat something simple before leaving town, it was at least 8pm before leaving Seattle.

The Portland meeting went surprisingly smoothly, and the results were better than I expected. Later that afternoon, we met with Jim Hill, the editor of Yuuyake Shinbun, a Japanese and English paper that is distributed widely in the region and published in Portland. He took photos and talked with us about the dragon beard candy project. He also gave us some suggestions on other venues we should approach.

Traffic was pretty brutal in Portland, but the weather was pleasant. On the way out of town, we stopped at a restaurant called Castagna, which was surprisingly empty for a Friday night. It was a bit of a hidden gem... We ordered two starters and a main and shared everything. The "trio" of marinated artichoke hearts, blanched flat beans, and fried morels was elegantly simple, and very sappari. The three little mounds of simply seasoned dishes was unexpectedly refreshing. A modestly portioned arugula salad with aged goat cheese and roasted beets was similarly pleasant. Some "risotto cakes", which tasted like yaki-onigiri with a slightly crunchier crust and creamier center, were placed atop some fava beans, morels and other spring vegetables with seasoned with restraint. The presentation was somehow French, but the approach to ingredients was more Italian in its simplicity. We finished with a nifty black currant ice cream drizzled with cassis liqueur.

I dropped Kazue off at her home in Seattle and then came home and did a little bit of work from around 12:30-1.30 am.

After I headed off to bed, Hiromi sent me some messages on MSN Messenger, which drew me back to my laptop. Some issues with my network caused lots of messages to get lost. Hiromi got frustrated and called me.

Tonight I had a plan to meet at Patrick's and bake my jagaimo pizzas. I started a potato around 8am and got the dough going before I left my apartment. At the Pike Place Market I got some excellent tomatoes, and the last of the asparagus and morels. I got a bulb of fennel and a nice peach. I picked up some cheese at PFI and went home to do some prep work.

At Patrick's I made a simple pizza with quillisascut lavender fennel cheese and buffalo mozzarella. Out of the oven I added some lemon and salt marinated shaved fennel. Another one I made was pesto and colorful tomatoes, and a pesto/morel/asparagus/roasted pepper pizza (less heavy than it sounds... the asparagus was the only heavily applied topping). For dessert, I also made a peach and lemon-honey mascarpone pizza with a little sprinkling of the lavender cheese. Of course, there were a bunch of other dishes since it was a potluck... a nice salad, some kuri-gohan with goma-shio (chestnut rice with black sesame seeds and coarse salt), and some items that were not vegetarian that I nibbled around. I think one of the dish was boiled pork and lettuce, there was some dramatically plated crab, Naoko made a ton of gyouza, and some itamemono.

Patrick sampled a lot of wines and some sake. It was a good learning opportunity, though there were so many choices that I promptly forgot the names of most of the wines. I usually don't drink particularly expensive wines and I tend to rely on local wines just to make decisions more easily.

Tonight I prepared a matcha infused gin with a modest amount of sugar, in the style of a matcha liqueur I've had a couple of times in Japan and experimented with for a while when I had a bottle or two of it in the U.S. Mine is much less sweet so it should be drinkable by itself, but it might be diluted with a little bit more gin to make a drier drink.

The results are in

jason

Somehow all of the running around last week kept me from actually writing any updates or even reflecting on what was happening.

Most everything went reasonably well. I chatted with the attorney I mentioned last week, and learned some useful things. I was able to get a verbal agreement with a manager of a local specialty market (to remain nameless for now) to carry my Dragon Beard candy.

Dinner at Patrick's was pleasant... I brought by a hijiki dish with renkon, snow peas, and fresh soramame (fava beans), as well as a kind of nimono with morels, lion's mane mushrooms, and baby bok choy; Naoko, Patrick's wife, made a vegetarian curry and a tomato salad. Afterward we collaborated on dessert, with some gyokuro-cha from Patrick's cabinet and some homemade quince infused liqueur (karin-shu) that I brought, and some strawberry-basil-yuzu sorbet that I made served with some nice fresh figs from Naoko's kitchen. We ended up watching a 1952 Japanese film called Ochazuke no aji, mostly for the title's hint of a food theme... It was kind of like watching a movie adaptation of a Jane Austen novel set in Japan.

On Friday I ate at Carmelita with Kazue and a visitor from China, which was nice but the food was somehow disappointing to me. I usually really appreciate their generally sappari approach to food, but some things were less than memorable this time. After Tony's work schedule settled down, he met us for drinks at Sambar, which after two visits is probably now my favorite little Seattle cocktail place. I don't consider myself much of a drinker, but even the non-alcoholic house drinks there are something special; the vibe is also very nifty... very understated; the typically accidental hipness of Ballard.

Over the weekend I visited the obligatory Fremont Fair and Solstice Parade. Living in Fremont makes failure to attend inexcusable, as it would be an awful waste of free parking... Anyway, the fair was appropriately cathartic; it was also, as could probably be expected in an election year with Republicans in power and going to war, slightly more politicized than the last one I attended. The inflatable effigies were clever.

This week I really have to catch up on my web retail site, and I also have an urgent need to complete a few other errands like setting up my credit card merchant services in time for the street fair. If all goes well, I'll make some progress on those things and still go out and make a couple of small sales calls.

I like to think "busy" and "productive" are related

jason

On Sunday I actually took most of the day "off", in the sense that I didn't have a business agenda until I started reading email at night.

During the day, I stopped at my pottery lab to try to pick up the last bits of work from this quarter. A couple of recently glaze pots were ready, but are nothing to write home about. A ceramic "train" that I made was still on the greenware shelves, waiting to be bisque-fired. I suppose it will be ready next week. I don't plan to take the class this summer due to the demands of my business interests and, to be honest, due to the fact that I enjoy taking advantage of summer weekends, whether that means running to meet customers, networking, or jogging in the good weather.

In the afternoon, I met with a friend who had expressed some interest in promoting soaps from Japan. We chatted about different things and then I decided to stop by my grandparents' house. Along the way, I bought some stuffed figs from Fran's Chocolates in old Bellevue.

In the evening I tried to follow up with some outstanding concerns I have related to my project to import a Hong Kong sweet. I've mentioned the candy here before... the big secret that I haven't mentioned is what it's called... it's called dragon beard candy, and it's made with thousands of strands of pulled sugar and maltose. In fact, it normally only has a 15-30 minute lifespan after it's made. The version I found is high quality, beautifully packaged, and has a reasonable shelf-life. I will be the first, or at least one of the first, people to import this into the United States. Work related to this ended up keeping me later than I planned.

Today I met with a couple of banks. Alas, in spite of all of my running around a month or so ago in attempt to pick a bank, I still didn't pick one. I must do that this week. I made an appointment to talk with one of them a little bit more tomorrow.

By the end of workday (by the standards of the alternate universe that is the 9-6 world) I had made a bunch of appointments for the rest of the week. I'm meeting with a friend of a friend tomorrow who can introduce me to some people I should be talking to. I'm having dinner later midweek with Patrick, whom I've mentioned recently. Thursday, I'm meeting with a candidate to help me out for sales of dragon beard candy, meeting a friend visiting from China, and having a conversation with a manager at a local specialty supermarket. I'm also having dinner with a tech entrepreneur, Tony, whom I've mentioned before, mostly to catch up on things. One of these evenings I think I'm meeting with an acquaintance of mine from back in the day when I worked at the Northwest Asian Weekly. I should have Wednesday morning open to run errands.

In any event, this will be a busy week. One thing I learned at Microsoft was that busy doesn't always mean productive... I think, though, that everything I'm planning to do this week is valuable in one way or another. Everything looks like progress, so far.

Pioneer Square gallery sale completed

jason

This afternoon I completed a sale of ceramics to Azuma Gallery, a Pioneer Square gallery which carries prints, screens, and ceramics. It's my first sale of note, so I'm very happy. To the best of my knowledge, it's also the first venue where the work will be seen by an American audience. The two artists whose work Azuma Gallery has bought are Minowa Yasuo, who does gas-fired work, and Akutsu Masato, a 27-year old whose work combines rural, organic textures with a surprisingly modern feel.

Minowa Yasuo's kaki-yu (Persimmon glaze) pots, which are gas-fired, sometimes have a tenmoku-like appearance, and sometimes a striated rainbow reddish pattern, which can be matte or have a metallic luster, sometimes even on the same pot, depending on the clay body and the kiln atmosphere. The results are pretty striking, and although Minowa can control the basic "tenmoku" vs "niji" effect, no two pots are exactly alike.

Akutsu Masato's work has a lot of youthful energy and has four main textural motifs, a "doro" or rough clay look, a tetsu-yu brownish, wood-like brush pattern, a white sandy texture often adorned with sgrafitto or sometimes rough, evocative stained three-dimensional contrasting textures, and a gyokuro-yu glossy dark green glaze which references more typical Mashiko or Kasama ware.

If you happen to be in Seattle anytime soon, please stop in and take a look at Azuma Gallery, located at 530 1st Ave. S., and ask about the work of Yasuo Minowa and Masato Akutsu (the order used in this case is the customary US given name followed by family name).

Later in the day, I met up with Kaoru, a friend of mine who works for a community college program north of Seattle, and we had a little dinner at Djan's, a Thai restaurant in a little house in Wallingford. We had a nice, simple meal with cold spring rolls, green papaya salad, an eggplant dish, and a not-very-spicy red curry with tofu. We skipped the "fusion" or "specialty" dishes since none of those appeared to be vegetarian friendly. The best thing about that place is the careful, but simple presentation, and the feeling that you're really eating in someone's house. The dishes that we had would probably be easily obtainable at any kind of Thai restaurant, but overall I would say it was a pleasant, unpretentious dining experience with a little more attention to detail than the average Thai restaurant.

We stopped at Masalisa in Ballard, a tea shop which transforms into a sake place on weekend nights. At first I was inclined to order some kind of nomi-yasui sake, but in the end both of us decided to try their "sake smoothies", one with strawberries, and the other with matcha. These were interesting concoctions, reminiscent of amazake except for the icy texture.

In the morning and early afternoon, I chatted with Patrick at Vivace's, an ex-Microsoft guy I've previously referred to indirectly, who contacted me after reading my web journal. We drank too much coffee and talked about various ways we might be able to work together. I was a bit surprised that our conversation shifted into discusssion about my ambition to do a little cafe/restaurant, as I have hinted at before, and there's a distinct possibility that this may be feasible sooner than I had previously calculated. He also has some useful connections that might make it possible for me to study cooking under some chefs in the Kyoto area. In any event, we'll keep on talking over the coming weeks.

Working and even networking

jason

Taking care of this gallery sale has occupied most of my time the last few days, but everything is almost finished, so I'll report more tomorrow.

I made an appointment to meet with another ex-Microsoftee whose background has a few other interesting parallels with mine; he moved on to create a consulting company, and he has hopped back and forth between the Seattle area and Japan for the last few years.

Yesterday I got in touch with Tony, my uncle, and talked shop a bit. He had been in L.A. recently doing some work on a department store catalog. I also talked to Eugene, the green tea importer, and he pointed me in the right direction at Uwajimaya, and we talked about a couple of other ideas. I called up another Tony, a serial entrepreneur who is half Japanese and half German I met at a Starbucks a couple of years ago, and after talking a bit we made some plans to meet up and catch up over food.

The convoluted schedule of the last couple of days has left me eating irregularly, not jogging at all, and covered with newsprint stains from sorting through hundreds of ceramics pieces, but it's been pretty energizing.

Sales call

jason

Most of the morning I spent sorting samples of ceramics to show to a gallery owner in Pioneer Square. I had to run to the office supply store to get some labels so that I wouldn't lose track of which item is which, and I got another big box to make it easier to carry things around.

I finished everything by afternoon, though I didn't have a proper lunch. I nibbled a little bit, and got something small at Essential Bakery before my appointment.

Everything went reasonably well, so I've got to pack up a few other things from Akutsu-san and Senda-san (see my earlier post about the Mashiko buying trip for more details) and make a few revisions to my pricing schedule, then come back tomorrow to show the rest.

I made a few phone calls after returning and made a simple dinner. Unfortunately, I was so hungry when I got home I didn't gather the required gumption to go running. I'll try to wake up early and make up for that...

Busy enough for one day

jason

This morning I took my car to have an expensive alarm installed in my car, and I replaced the CD player that had been stolen. It took them a few hours, so I met with my graphic designer for lunch at Phuket on Queen Anne. We talked about an ad campaign for my Hong Kong candy, and some packaging for organic teas from Taiwan. We also did some exploration at Uwajimaya, looking at how different teas and gift items are packaged.

After that I waited for the Car Toys person to finish up the paperwork... apparently they suffer re-entering the invoices in three different programs that don't talk to each other.

I hurried back home to revise a couple of spreadsheets and sent them off to my contact at the candy company. We talked for an hour about getting some visuals for the ad work, and some displays and other things for the summer festival, and various other logistic details.

Afterword, I changed clothing and went jogging. The weather was pleasant. It seems like I've brought up my mileage average to about 5 miles per run... I ran around Greenlake twice, for 5.6 miles, three times over the last week, and just shy of that the other runs. It's sure not helping my belly much yet, but I'm glad I'm getting my mileage up without aching. I won't push my mileage above that for a couple of months, because the last thing I want to do is re-injure my knee with mediocre health insurance...

International District Street Fair is on

jason

I registered for the street fair that takes place in the International District July 10/11. I plan to show off the Dragon Beard candy and the ceramics from Japan. Hopefully they will do well, but more importantly, it's a good venue to get some attention.

Before dropping off my check and space application, I made a stop at the office of the newspaper where I once worked, and chatted with my former publisher a bit about what I'm up to. I also talked about some rates for an ad campaign with their ad sales manager.

The last pottery class of the quarter is actually a potluck, with some cleanup, and, for those with some glazing or decoration to do, the last chance to finish that up. The only thing I had unfinished was a little ceramic train which still needs to be bisque fired before I can glaze it, so mostly I was chatting.

Before running off to pottery class, I prepared my contribution to the potluck, which is a slight variation of something I brought to a party a month or so ago. I basically put shredded filo dough, coated with butter, into a mini-muffin pan; in this case I filled the centers with chopped asparagus, orange bell peppers, caramelized onions, a little bit of sweet pepadew peppers, and some cave-aged gruyere and pine nuts. It sounds more elaborate than it is; I put everything together fairly quickly, especially compared to last time I made them. Actually this time I also made a non-dairy version using olive oil instead of butter and hummus instead of cheese, since one or two people in class have some dairy issues.

I also showed off a few pieces of work from the potters that I bought from in Mashiko... Minowa Yasuo, Akutsu Masato, and Senda Yoshiaki. Most items went over pretty well... I guess the next question is how well they will go over with audiences less familiar with the value of handmade pottery.

On Sunday we had a raku firing, and I had three pieces in the load. Nothing terribly exciting, but they did turn out pretty nicely. I also picked up a couple of plates and a tea bowl I had recently glazed.

Art walk, and oh yes, additional minor bureaucracy

jason

I needed to get one final business license completed yesterday for the City of Seattle, so I made my way downtown and paid yet another fee. Actually, the City of Seattle license costs about three times as much as the state license that I arranged a couple of months ago. The only fee more expensive is the LLC registration with the state, which I believe is just a one-time event unless I neglect to file timely reports on the management structure.

Afterward I took care of a minor errand, and went to the Pioneer Square area's First Thursday “Art Walk” event, during which most galleries are open a few extra hours. My acquaintance Dave's photo show was opening. He's also a software guy who escaped corporate drudgery; in his case, he does a mix of freelance coding and things like his photography. The show was pretty nice... a lot of captures of surprising contrasts in lighting and color on dilapidated military buildings and other abandoned industrial totems, sometimes with unconventional framing. It looked like his work was selling at a pretty good clip, also.

I also visited a Japanese art-focused gallery where another acquaintance of mine works. I didn't actually expect her to be there but we chatted a bit and I re-introduced myself to her manager. This may turn out to have been a smart thing to do, because the owner is interested in expanding her line a bit and would like to see if any of the ceramics I brought over match her taste. I will try to show off the stuff mid-next-week.

This afternoon I met with Kazue, who just came back from Japan, to talk about the Hong Kong sweet and to give her a chance to sample it.

The weather is pretty hot outside, so I've been jogging again the last few days. My endurance is getting better... I'm averaging about 5 miles a run. I just hope it doesn't ruin my knee.

Tonight's dinner was a simple pizza with fresh heirloom tomatoes, basil, garlic, mozzarella, and parmesan. Earlier in the week I made some gnocchi with tomato cream sauce and basil chiffonade, which turned out pretty nicely. The first hints of decent tomatoes, apparently only at Sosio's produce in the Pike Place Market, have been sneaking into my cuisine. Another surprise was some early peaches that had a great texture and flavor; I snuck a couple into a rhubarb-peach sorbet I made on Tuesday.

Wednesday I finished up the body of a ceramic train series (engine, cargo, and a third car with windows) at the pottery lab. Assuming the wheels don't break, it looks like it will turn out nicely; the only trouble is that pottery class ends very soon and I won't have time to glaze them because next Monday is the last class. There's no way they'll be bisqued in time.