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.
Hiromi and I made a rather sluggishly paced trip out of town Monday morning, owing to some morning errands. We had vaguely planned to head toward the Olympics, but a last minute decision sent us toward Orcas Island instead, which we reached rather late due to a full afternoon ferry.
We ended up in rustic accommodations at Doe Bay Resort, which has a couple of heavily chlorinated tubs filled with water from a hot spring, facing a nice bay view. Originally we thought this would be a short stopover on the way to some forest spring, but I had forgotten about the pace of island life… it’s defined by long, occasionally severely delayed ferry commutes, and particularly in the San Juans, long stretches of windy road. The weather improved as we approached Shaw Island, but the day started out rather gloomy. Once we arrived, we made our way to the resort, took a quick dip in the hot spring tubs, and then set out in search of a late dinner, even after a day full of small snacks…
We ended up at a forgettable but serviceable Caribbean-themed restaurant full of locals, which apparently switches to a no-service fast-food-style order at the counter and pray they find you when your order is ready model after peak dinner hours. The host looked at us smugly and said there was no waiting list or probability of indoor seating but we were welcome to order and pre-pay. We had some overly browned but still edible corn fritters and some pasta, and a curried avocado dish. It was kind of hippie food with Seattle mid-range restaurant prices. The drink, whatever it was, helped.
We managed to get a healthy amount of sleep, and made another trip to the hot springs and took a nice little walk before checking out. We had a very nice, simple brunch with baked eggs and baguette, a provolone sandwich, and some very nice apricot pie at Rose’s Bakery.
Once off the island, we made our way toward Mount Baker, by way of Concrete. The Baker Lake area has an easily hikeable sulfurous hot spring, which is actually fairly lukewarm. The main challenge was passing through a heavily rutted logging road. The volcanic ash in the spring seems easily disturbed, so you can end up with a small accumulation of coarse ash particles when getting out, but it didn’t bother us.
On our way out, we noticed these nifty not-quite-ripe salmonberries, which I haven’t seen much of since I was younger. Blackberries were everywhere, though nowhere near ready. We also passed a few wild blueberry plants and Northwest red huckleberries, already growing berries, but not yet at the peak of ripeness.
I think I was too sleepy to post dinner from the day before we departed, but Hiromi and I cooperated on dinner. I usually do most of the cooking, but she did the majority of the work today. She prepared the avocado and shiitake gratin, an eggplant raita (which is noticeably lacking in fresh cilantro on these photos… we were distracted). I made a mushroom and cashew curry, and after dinner, a matcha martini.
Hiromi arrived safely, and somehow I arrived at the airport at exactly the right time, just as she had picked up her baggage. I think I was in the Seatac parking garage about 6 minutes.
We unpacked and inspected some ceramics she brought from Minowa Yasuo and Senda Yoshiaki, which I’ll put on YuzuMura tomorrow or at least within a few days, as I made quick work of photographing most of the pieces.
I cooked a simple lunch (did I mention how many tortillas and how much mango salsa I still have?) and then I took care of a couple of small office errands and a delivery to Uwajimaya. We made our way to La Medusa in Columbia City, where only a few weeks ago I enjoyed a nice meal, and we hoped to have an equally pleasant experience this time.
We were not disappointed. We had a small amount of overlap with what I last ate there, but this time we had a nice grilled cioppino salad with some soft Quillisascut cheese, greens and pine nuts, and a nice pasta with pickled fava beans and a fava bean cream sauce. I was particularly fond of the salad. The chickpea croquettes and fig and fennel pizza were as good as last time.
One of the things that happens to me when I make salsa is that it tends to be too much… I don’t really eat things involving tortillas every day. But when tomatoes are half-decent I have that inclination… Alas, I’m still working on the absurd quantity of mango salsa I produced a few days ago. I think the slightly over 2 cups that I produced is probably not that much to anyone who lives on the stuff, but when you don’t have any chips in the house it goes a long way… I’ve been making a lot of things involving cheese, tortillas, and some incarnation of beans, with occasional involvement of additional greens.
Anyway, I hope I can get over that soon. Starting tomorrow, Hiromi will be in town visiting Seattle for about 10 days, and we cannot live on tortillas and salsa alone.
Yesterday I saw Reggie Watts (of Maktub fame) perform at a “party” at the site of the SAM sculptural park. It appeared that he was highly under the influence of some sort of mellowing substance. I think the closest thing to clarity we came to seeing what the park would look like were from some wood-grain obfuscated images shown inside a 20 foot orange shipping container (not a gas chamber) at the site… but anyway, it was a pleasant excuse to socialize.
Last night I was up late debugging a problem with my website. I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before… but basically, the user experience was atrocious. If they selected an option to send the item as a gift, or any other general “order option” such as gift wrapping, it would appear to them that the whole ordering system was down. It turned out to be an error in the way a field in the database table behind the order options was defined. I thought I had done a quick run-through to test the feature, but I apparently missed something incredibly obvious. I should know better—I once was a software tester, after all, and I shouldn’t believe anything works without trying to break it—but I guess my priority these days is on rapid implementation, rather than testing. If it hadn’t been for a customer complaint, I don’t think I would have noticed it. It’s enough to make me remember the value of that kind of work…
I have been seeing a spike in telephone inquiries for products on YuzuMura.com of late. A few weeks ago, I started posting language in various places on the site that encourages people to call if they have questions. It seems to be resulting in some improvements in orders. I think I’ve processed almost as much in telephone orders this month as I had in internet orders in the particularly brutal months of February or March… The only problem is that my process for handling phone orders is tediously manual.
I guess my objective of posting photos from Hiromi’s Mashiko visit by Monday didn’t quite work out. But Hiromi managed to post a few photos on her blog.
She met with two of the artists I am selling on YuzuMura.com, including Senda Yoshiaki:
I’m a little sleepy today. Maybe I’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour… but not until I finish watching Rooftop Room Cat on AZN TV tonight. It may be a little predictable, but I find it somehow endearing…
On Saturday I did my first demo at Central Market in Shoreline. It is definitely a different crowd than Uwajimaya… The area where I ran my demo was fairly quiet, but I did sample a fair amount. Yesterday the weather was cool, so I did all hot lattes, and today the weather was moderately warm, so I offered both hot and iced.
Sales were fair, but conversion was much lower than at Uwajimaya Seattle. I know there were a whole lot of demos going on, so that may be a factor; also, the ethnic makeup is a bit different and that quite probably contributes to a difference in what people are familiar with. Anyway, feedback was probably about 80% positive, 10% neutral, 10% negative… but I didn’t keep exact track. It seemed mostly positive, but slightly less accepting than the typical Uwajimaya audience, even compared to more heavily Caucasian-frequented locations like Beaverton.
Customers tended to be a little bit more conversational, and told me all sorts of things ranging from advice to long personal stories unrelated to tea.
I missed the Fremont Solstice Parade and the Fair this year, preoccupied as I was by work.
To make up for that, when I came home I actually ate fairly well. Usually after demos I eat as simply and mindlessly as possible, but I did a bit more than usual. Saturday I drained some good fresh tofu I picked up at Central Market, chopped some crunchy vegetable matter and some kimchi. I stuffed gyouza skins and made kimchi dubu mandu, served with rice and a little dipping sauce of soy sauce and black vinegar. I actually made a little bit too much filling, but I even filled a few too many dumplings to eat for dinner, so the leftovers ended up as an improvised cold breakfast this morning.
I didn’t want to eat more dumplings tonight, so I got fixings to make some corn quesadilla-ike nibbles, salsa, guacamole, and salad. Unfortunately, the corn tortillas seemed all broken by the time I got home… I don’t know if I transported them badly or if they were that way when I got them. An avocado turned out to have some distracting hints of decay so I had to replenish both from my nearby small-scale supermarket. Anyway, dinner was simple, but a little bit more time consuming than it could have been. Jennifer came by after an early evening kayaking run, so we had three for dinner.
Since dinner became a party, I was inspired to make use of some fresh local strawberries in service of strawberry margaritas, which I served on the rocks.
Hiromi made a trek to Mashiko to pick up some ceramics for me, some photos of which I’ll probably post tomorrow…
I’ve been plotting upgrading my blog to use Community Server instead of DotText, but I found that making Community Server behave like my DotText system is a little bit more time consuming than I had expected… Oh well… I promise not to be silence for too long.
Today I got some samples of a possible new product that I’m very excited about. I think it will be a good compliment to some of the green tea stuff I’m doing for Three Tree tea. It will take a few weeks to work out, perhaps. But there’s something else I might do at the same time… stay tuned.
About 4 or 5 years ago I bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker, and not much longer thereafter I found myself making green tea ice creams on a regular basis. This used to be an expensive endeavor: 30 grams of matcha bought in the U.S. usually costs $7.50–$15.00 for average quality matcha, which is roughly two tablespoons. In Japan I can usually get ordinary matcha for $6–8, and sometimes I could get bigger sizes for not much more money. But happily, since I now work with company focused on matcha products, I have access to Matcha meant primarily for cooking applications, and this makes green tea ice cream a far lesser extravagance.
I think two tablespoons of the cooking matcha works out to about $1.88 for 1.5 quarts if you buy it by the pound. Including the cost of organic milk, heavy cream, and organically produced sugar, I think I spent about $5–5.50 for this at retail prices. That’s still substantially less expensive than buying 3 pints of average-quality green tea ice cream at about $3–4/pint, and with a much more substantial green tea flavor, much more fresh, and far fewer additives.
For a 1.2–1.5 quart batch, I once typically used about 1–1.5 tablespoons of the tea ceremony matcha that I used to use prior to having access to culinary matcha. Now I am using an indulgent 2 tablespoons, which provides an excellent balance of the bitterness and sweetness. If you’re really looking for a heavier matcha flavor, you might use a bit more, but be judicious. You shouldn’t try to replicate the bitterness of straight matcha; you’re just trying to use the matcha as an accent.
I never previously thought blending matcha and vanilla should be controversial, but my roommate seems to be sensitive to heavy vanilla use in green tea flavored things, so I’ve since reduced the amount I use in my own matcha recipes.
Jason’s Matcha Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream 2 cups whole milk 1 cup unprocessed cane sugar (blond) 2 heaping tbsp. Matcha for cooking, Grade A 1/8 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Whisk the matcha for cooking with the milk and sugar, making sure the matcha dissolves. Stir in the cream and vanilla. If using a frozen-canister based ice cream, maker, chill the ice cream in the refrigerator for another hour to make sure it is sufficiently cold for processing, or hold in the freezer about 15 minutes.
Process in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions. This produces about 1.25–1.5 quarts of ice cream, depending on expansion. Make sure this is appropriate for your ice cream maker and adjust proportionally to your capacity.
If you’d like a more custardy ice cream, you might use an egg yolk or two in your recipe, perhaps reducing the cream a bit to compensate for the extra fat.
If you are using Ippuku Matcha Latte mix, you will use about 1/2 cup matcha latte mix and reduce the sugar content to a scant 2/3 cup.
A few days ago I started getting attacked by Trackback spam.
You know, I’ve gotten used to spam in many forms… I’ve been getting junk mail since the mid-1990s, and even good junk mail filters don’t quite get everything out of my mailbox. I’m relatively unsurprised, though still annoyed, by most email spam.
When I started my blog, I didn’t quite realize that I was opening the door to additional types of spam.
Early on I started noticing “referrer spam”, which basically attempts to exploit administrative curiosity about who is sending visitors to your site, producing clickthroughs to sites which are actually scams for debt reduction or body part enhancement or whatever. With the aid of a slightly jaded eye, I can pretty much identify most of these referrer spams right off the bat and I almost never get suckered into visiting such sites.
But later I started facing “comment spam”, which were created by automated scripts. The motivation would appear to be to get users to click on such spam messages, but for the most part the spammers target older messages that only get sporadic reading, and so it turns out that what they were really trying to do was exploit Google PageRank algorithms to get people to go to pay-per-click or pay-per-lead sites. Basically, the more links to a particular site, the more highly ranked it will likely be for a particular keyword, and people searching for gambling or pornography or various misspelled male impotence drugs are more likely to find some spammer’s site and he’ll get a few cents for each clickthrough; well worth the effort of distributed spamming of thousands of blogs.
I got rid of almost all comment spam by implementing a slightly finicky Human Interface Proof technology on my blog (if you mistype the HIP text the comment goes to a bit bucket). So that disappeared, and, with a few small probably manually plotted exceptions, very little comment spam appears.
I still get referral spam, and this will likely never go away, even though it doesn’t really help the spammer much.
But more recently, I have been getting inundated by Trackback spam. A trackback is basically a ping that is sent when someone links to an article on my blog site. Most of the time, their software sends a ping request, and it magically transforms into a mini-post that looks similar to a comment on my web site. Well, spammers can exploit this also. They use it for the same purpose as comment spam, and somehow since June 7 I’ve been targeted with about 200 trackback spams. In my massive deletion of bogus trackbacks I probably deleted some legitimate ones. I may disable the display of trackbacks just to avoid the benefit to spammers… I would actually like to see who is referring to me for real, but if the order of magnitude of spam trackbacks increases I’ll not really have the energy to keep up with the deletions.
Last night I was hunting down some heavy cream at Fremont’s PCC, which was out of stock at Trader Joe’s. I had already bought some eggs, but then I noticed duck eggs, and decided that I ought to have some.
This morning for breakfast I poached one of the duck eggs and grilled some asparagus, inspired by dinner at Columbia City's La Medusa last Friday. I wasn’t in the mood for a fried egg, but I followed La Medusa’s lead and sprinkled the asparagus and egg a bit of truffle salt from Ritrovo. I toasted a crumpet, upon which I spread a liberal amount of butter, and ate it with a bit of fig jam.
If I had any morels I think they might have found themselves sauteed in butter and somewhere near my poached egg.
If I was more in the mood for a Japanese vibe, I might have skipped the truffle salt and used some grated daikon, mustard and soy sauce for the egg and asparagus. Then it would really be “onsen tamago”. But somehow I thought the dish would taste best in a small Karatsu-ware bowl, along with a contemporary Arita plate for the crumpet.
I have been holding on to a jar of German Morellen, or sour cherries, for far too long. I was thinking to incorporate them into or place atop a cheesecake, but the next time I make a cheesecake it will probably be a green tea version. No matter how I reimagine this it is unlikely to require cherries.
I happened to notice that I had about two-thirds of a packet of sweetened kanten (agar-agar), which I must have previously used to gel a cheesecake or torte topping. It turns out that this amount is just about right for four cups of liquid, so I simmered the liquid from my jar of tart cherries and a little extra water with the remaining agar agar and placed the cherries into four small bowls.
When the liquid had simmered suitably, I poured it into the bowls and let it set. Then I got this simple, refreshing dessert. It’s not as sweet as it looks, and it only has the sweetened agar agar, and whatever mysterious things (mostly water and glucose syrup) might have been in the jar of cherries. It sure beats artificially flavored Jello desserts.
I guess I never got around to mentioning that last week I made some godoufu (godofu). It’s been a while since I’ve last done this, but I posted recently on eGullet about it and thought it would be good to revisit it. The pictured godoufu is served after it had only minimally set; it’s in ideal condition after chilling for a few hours. But, alas, hunger won out over flawlessness. I garnished it with some shiso, dressed with some shouyu and konbu-shiitake dashi. There might be a little bit of yuzu zest in there.
This is most of the spread.
A close-up of my not-quite-fully-set godoufu. When fully set and cut, it looks a little more like a bulging block rather than an amorphous blob. It tastes good either way: creamy with a mochi-like texture.
I made misoshiru with daikon and leeks, as well as nasu-no-miso ni. Nasu-no-miso ni is made in many different ways, but it’s basically a braised eggplant dish with miso, usually some mirin, sometimes some sugar. The eggplant is salted and rinsed to remove aku. Sometimes it’s pan-grilled and sometimes it’s deep-fried before simmering with the miso-based sauce. In west Japan it tends to be sweeter; in north Japan it tends to be saltier. Since I was making Arita-style godoufu, I chose to make it a bit sweeter to match the region.
Nasu-no miso-ni is often garnished with sesame seeds (either black or white). It always tastes best on the second day.
A very basic bok choy no itamemono served with a few raw pine nuts. The sauce is shouyu, mirin and my own dashijiru. This takes less than a minute to prepare.
Some simple sunomono with konbu and Japanese-style kyuuri.
This dinner may look moderately complicated, but the only time-consuming part was the godoufu, which takes about 50 minutes, not counting the chilling time to make it set. If, for example, I had my godoufu and tsukemono ready to go, this dinner could be prepared in its entirety in the time it takes to cook rice.
Individual Japanese dishes are rarely terribly complicated, but the time it takes to prepare Japanese food increases with the number of dishes presented. Fortunately, unlike other cuisines, most Japanese foods can be served lukewarm or chilled; other than soup, usually Japanese only serve one or two hot dishes. A number of simmered foods like nimono improve with rest. Ohitashi (blanched, lightly dressed vegetable dishes) are often served cold.
I didn’t take any photos because it was a fried food and I was hungry, but a few days after I made my godoufu, I was trying to think of a way use up the remainder in a different way than I had tried before. So I cut the remaining godoufu and cut it into modestly-sized cubes, and coated with katakuriko. I deep-fried these cubes at about 375F. I served them in a bowl with some Japanese soy sauce, cold Japanese tea and daikon oroshi, much like agedashi-doufu. I was lazy that day and didn’t have any soup stock handy, but I did have some iced Japanese tea on hand, so I improvised. It worked fairly well.
I hate to compare something that most people have likely never tried with something else that most people have never tried, but it reminded me of tamago no tempura. This is one of the few kinds of food which I find a mystery, but basically tamago no tempura is like a poached egg that has been deep fried with a tempura coating. When I had it in a restaurant in Japan, it still seemed to have a relatively soft yolk, and the basic texture was “fuwa-fuwa” (umm… fluffy?) but with a nice crisp coating. My agegoufu was similar except it had a creamier texture.
Lacking sufficient motivation to cook and lacking sufficient inspiration on where to eat a simple, inexpensive dinner, I somehow found myself conspiring with Jennifer to come up with something entertaining for the evening, already well into the dinner hour.
Suddenly I had the idea to find something in Columbia City, a frequently neglected possibility for dining in Seattle. I noticed a little Ethiopian place that sounded inexpensive and tasty, and made my way southward, picking up my friend along the way.
We arrived slightly circuitously, but something caught my eye which had previously sounded less exciting in the particular set of restaurant summaries I had been perusing. It was La Medusa, a cute little Italian restaurant with an appealing menu. I mentioned something about how much I had been enjoying making roasted cauliflower at home recently, and we made our way across the street to sneak a peek at the Ethiopian place. It looked like a good Tuesday night place, but was a little noisy due to their Friday night musicial guest and wasn’t exactly what either Jennifer or I needed, so we trusted our impulse and returned to La Medusa.
We wandered around for a few minutes while waiting for a table to open up, but we settled on some chickpea fritters, roasted cauliflower with pine nuts, and some grilled asparagus with a fried egg and some hint of truffle salt. I ordered a glass of a Sangiovese and Jennifer got some Pinot Grigio. Somehow, in spite of eating too much pizza recently, I was still drawn to a fig, fennel and ricotta pizza. We skipped any other mains or pastas since it was already late and no longer particularly needed, but found ourselves more than satiated… still, we felt the need to indulge in a little chocolate espresso torte.
Everything was spot-on. Simple preparations, good ingredients, humble but reverential staff, and very attentive service made the whole experience very pleasant. The interior is spare yet attractive. Prices were commensurate with the quality of ingredients, but still a little less extravagant than less impressive options downtown or Capitol Hill. This is exactly the kind of Italian dining Seattle needs.
I have frequently ranted to anyone who will listen that Seattle attempts at Italian restaurants tend to miss the mark: oversized portions of boring pasta that make it hard to order a taste of anything else on the menu, spectacular prices, overly complex dishes that obscure rather than highlight the ingredients used… It’s refreshing to see that there are other alternatives to this approach.
La Medusa is no budget dining experience… I think the total bill, before tip, was about $55 for two, about $15 of which was from wine. I had originally been seeking out something more modest, thus the inclination to come for the inexpensive Ethiopian place. But it is a beautiful little space, and does an excellent job bringing out the best in simple things. The lower rents in the area probably contributed to a roughly 10–20% lower cost than an equivalent meal, if such a thing were available, in Queen Anne, downtown, or Fremont.
The space is actually fairly friendly to the young families that seem to be populating Columbia City, and we saw several (non-disruptive) children around the dining room. It’s an excellent little neighborhood place, but it’s definitely a place with enough appeal to draw me out of my Woodland Park/Fremont environs.
It’s been a productive week, but I have been behind schedule on absolutely everything. Most of what I’ve been doing has involved a lot of context switches, but I guess that’s no more unusual than any other week. The intensity has sure been pretty high.
Monday I helped Masa and Lisa load up furniture from their now-sold tea shop, and then took care of some other tasks that must have seemed important at the time but this much time later I can’t remember a thing. I filled a ton of internet orders on Tuesday at the same time I was trying to handle a wholesale ceramics order and a matcha sales call with a little tea shop downtown. Yesterday I got lost in Kent running an errand on my way down to Portland to follow up with another customer; once in Portland, I spent some time looking at furniture shops to see what the market down there is like, since I have to start making a dent on new accounts for Enlighten… I wasn’t trying to be a salesman so much as gather information, but I probably annoyed at least two shopkeepers, nearly talking their ears off.
Internet orders seem to be picking up recently, so I took care of more of them today. The rest of the day I spent doing mundane tasks like invoicing and paperwork, and I made a little delivery to a tea shop in Bellevue. Maybe I’ll catch up on some internet code tonight.
Everything that I’ve been doing this week was running at least two hours and sometimes a couple of days behind my original plan… I haven’t been procrastinating but I’m having a hard time keeping up. I wish that weeks like this translated into enough revenue to live on… But it’s getting closer.