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Respite, and something out of nothing

jason

It’s been a tough few weeks for me. Instead of scheduling supermarket demos this weekend, I decided to get out of town. I’ll get back to the usual routine next weekend. Assuming my new shipment arrives, I will need to go to Portland next weekend.

I drove over Stevens Pass to Leavenworth, through Snohomish County. Fall certainly seems to have set in; the non-native deciduous trees have been turning. Fortunately, the dreary rain dropped off as I crossed over the pass.

In Leavenworth I ate some Kartoffelpuffer and drank a glass of Glühwein, both of which were often offered as street food when I was in Germany, but were served at a middle-brow restaurant here. After lunch, I walked past Kitschdorf (no, that’s not an official name for the center of town, but it fits) down to a walking course along the river, where I noticed a few fallen chestnuts and the occasional river fish.

When I got home, I realized I had a fair amount of ingredients which I had originally quite specific plans for, but which no longer had a clear fate. Rather than let them go to waste, I set out do do some serious improvisation.

Roasted potatoes with chive sour cream, and cabrales salad

My leftover cabrales cheese needed a final send-off, so I decided to use it in a salad. I incorporated a small amount into a sour cream/mayonnaise based dressing with a mustard kick. I’m not much of an aficionado of creamy dressings, but this worked quite well. In a frying pan, I let some butter cook at low heat with garlic and chopped tarragon, and added some pieces of my remaining rye bread to toast for croutons. Just a bit before pulling the croutons off heat, I added some of the cabrales cheese, so I could taste the contrasting flavors of raw and cooked blue cheese.

Alongside, I served some roasted potatoes with chive sour cream. The contrast between the blue cheese and the lightly flavored sour cream meant some subtlety in the sour cream was lost, but I was being frugal here, not trying to win any culinary contests.

Bluecheesesaladandjagaimo

Roasted cauliflower in white Cheddar sauce

I had half a cauliflower left after making my “nests” last week, so I roasted the cauliflower and served it in a white Cheddar sauce. This was essentially a cream and garlic enhanced bechamel with a fair amount of sharp white Cheddar.

Cauliflower in cheddar sauce

Dinner ended up being fairly dairy-intensive, but of course, it was quite comforting. I think later this week I’ll probably switch gears back to more sappari food.

Channa gobi masala nests for a neighborhood gathering

jason

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

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

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

Channa gobi masala nests

Shreddedfilo-channagobimasala

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

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

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

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

Sleep interrupted

jason

I got a decent night’s sleep Monday night, and woke up early and started plugging away on my work. Somehow everything just went better than average, and I blew past a bunch of things that usually don’t quite go so smoothly.

The only thing that distracted me was a truck, which was in front of me, trying to maneuver through an underpass just south of the Highway 99 bridge between Fremont and Queen Anne. Over about 10 minutes, a few cars started to pile up and then everyone got smart, realizing the truck driver wasn’t going to give up anytime soon, and wasn’t likely to try to get out of everyone else’s way; we backed out and popped back into traffic on the 99. I was on my way to a customer meeting, so this delayed me a bit, though it turned out to contribute to 5 minutes tardiness.

Tuesday night, however, didn’t go so well. I did some work in my office late at night, and then went home with an open issue with one of my vendors in Asia. They called me about 1:30 in the morning, and we tried to settle things, which took about 40 minutes on the phone. After that, my generally insomniac mind was unwilling to become restful again; a little stress goes a long way to unsettle my sleep patterns. I should probably consider this a health problem; it sure causes me a lot of trouble.

Tuesday nights I usually go to a Japanese language meetup in Seattle, and so dinner tends to be simple, and often eaten on the run. This time, I managed to make something simple that I had partially prepared the night before.

Red lentil soup

Red lentil soup

Spiced with some garam masala, some chilies, and a few adjustments, this lentil soup provided both comfort and heat. Cold weather makes me crave fiber and warmth… this works for me. Red lentils turn themselves into a bit of a puree, with no intervention required, assuming the liquid ratio is about right. It’s a nice low-effort soup-like dish.

Grilled cheese with chanterelles on caraway rye

When I’m in a hurry I feel little concern with making the ethnicities of my cuisine particularly closely aligned. My soup was aggressively seasoned, but I went with something mellow and brain-dead to nibble on.

I took some caraway-seasoned rye bread, a decent white cheddar, and some more sweated chanterelles and turned them into grilled cheese.

Grilledcheeseandchanterelles

Omija-cha

Omija-cha

Jumping regions again, I served a medicinal Korean drink that I cooked up on the weekend. Omija-cha (occasionally romanized without the hyphen, i.e. omijacha) is a “tea” made from the fruits of something occasionally translated as magnolia vine, or alternately as schizandra berry.

It takes me about an hour or so of simmering the very expensive berries to get the right level of flavor intensity, and I’m sure you could find someone who tells you it needs to be done much longer. I rarely make it, but I thought it would be a bit refreshing and maybe keep my little cold from relapsing. It’s served cold and fairly heavily sweetened.

Omija-cha is often a bit darker, but I might have been stingy with the berries this time. The name refers to the “five flavors” of the berries, the classic five flavors of Chinese cuisine: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent. I like it, but I’m sure it’s an acquired taste. In Seoul I once ordered it while sitting alone at an art gallery/cafe, and I’m sure the young girl at the counter was a bit perplexed, though she understood my awful Korean.

 

Farewell, Minowa-san

jason

Hiromi passed very sad news to me this weekend. One of my ceramic artists, Minowa Yasuo, died of a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a kind of stroke which occurs when blood vessels near the surface of the brain burst. This type of stroke can affect people of any age, so it was completely unexpected. Before the stroke, Minowa-san was quite healthy.

Minowa-san and his wife were very kind and welcoming to Hiromi and to me. They often invited us to the workshop on the outskirts of Mashiko and served us English tea and Danish butter cookies as we talked about ceramics and unrelated trivialities.

Mrs. Minowa called Hiromi’s home while she was at work on Friday. Yesterday Hiromi talked to Mrs. Minowa by telephone to express sympathy… it turns out that Mr. Minowa died on September 2 and Mrs. Minowa called just after visiting family near Hiromi’s home.

During their conversation yesterday, Hiromi learned that Mr. Minowa had a son from his first marriage, and they hadn’t seen each other since both Minowa and his former wife remarried. That son moved to the US at some point to work, and somehow discovered one of my web sites, then found a way to contact his father in Mashiko. They had planned to meet again later this year, although it didn’t quite work out.

I’m not quite sure how to react yet. I have more of a personal connection with the Minowa family than other potters I buy from, so it came as a shock to me.

My cold seems to be better. I tried to take the weeekend easy, but somehow I didn’t sleep much better. I spent a lot of time playing with web code on Saturay, and enjoyed some cheap entertainment on Friday. This afternoon, I did a bit of work in my office, met with a customer, and then decided to make a simple dinner.

Grilled pear, caramelized onions and cabrales salad

Tamara Murphy’s restaurant in downtown Seattle, Brasa, gives a lot of space to cabrales cheese, particularly on their bar menu. At Brasa, cabrales is often paired with grapes, and this is perfectly sensible. The pungency of the cheese and the mild flavor and light sweetness of the fruit complement each other. I spotted some nice Bosc pears tonight and noticed a fair deal on cabrales cheese, so I chose to grill some pears and caramelize some onions, and serve these atop some red lettuce dressed with my signature yuzu dressing. A few toasted pine nuts scattered about add a bit of aromatic complexity.

Pear cabrales salad with caramelized onions and pine nuts

Potatoes au gratin with chives

I remembered I had a remaining stash of chives from a baked potato dinner a few days ago. I spotted some inexpensive Washington-grown Yukon Gold potatoes and decided I needed to give my mandoline a workout, so I made this gratin. I used half cream, half milk, a bit of salt, and a hint of garlic.

Potato gratin with chives

 

Pizza with arugula, chanterelles and oyster mushrooms

jason

Whatever is affecting my sleeping pattern and energy level bit me hard last night. Fortunately I had a light workload, so I decided to do some cleaning at home, which I’ve neglected a lot since I moved to my current apartment, so there’s always something out of order.

I’m in a bit of a comfort food mode recently, but tonight I balanced my need for something comforting (lentil vegetable soup with some tarragon) with something a little more drama. The mushroom season is in full swing, so I got a few chanterelles again, and some oyster mushrooms, which I briefly sweated with a hint of thyme and a dash of salt in olive oil. I didn’t feel like making any sort of sauce or pesto, so I just rubbed garlic and olive oil on my pizza dough, added a bit of mozzarella and parmesan, and baked the pie with the mushrooms. Upon finishing, I sprinkled some arugula on top.

Pizza with mushrooms and arugula

 

A little fever... feverish?

jason

I have been a bit under the weather for a few days, and my energy level has been all over the place, but mostly low, punctuated by occasional nervous tension or something like giddiness. My body gave me hints of battle with some minor cold… occasional sneezing, a moderate fever, occasional chills.

I don’t really get to stop working, but I’ve just been moving really sluggishly since Saturday. I got things shipped, took care of a number of incoming orders from wholesale customers, worked to prepare for a new shipment from Hong Kong, and so on, but I’ve just felt a kind of weariness that’s been hard to beat.

Even dinner has suffered. I’ve been keeping it brain-dead… I had a bagel for dinner yesterday, and I’m completely unable to remember what I ate on Monday.

Tonight I got home a bit late and kicked off a couple of baked potatoes. I tried to do a bit more, so I blanched some broccoli, but I was attempting a bernaise-style sauce and fought with it all the way. I nearly tamed it, but I cheated by adding some milk and mustard, since it didn’t want to emulsify with just the egg yolks. It resembled bearnaise only because of the presence of tarragon and egg yolks. The flavor and texture worked, but it wasn’t quite bernaise.

Not sure if it's rest

jason

It wasn’t a very restful weekend, perhaps, but I did skip my usual demo routine. Today, I had a slow-paced afternoon, a relative lack of productivity.

I didn’t really have lunch today, but I made some mochi-mochi an pan in the morning, which I ate around 11am or so. It was just a milk-based yeast dough with a bit of mochi-ko in it, and I made small balls filled with anko, sweetened red bean paste. I made two flat savory rolls also: gomashio, black sesame and coarse salt.

Somehow I was craving a savory, quichelike tart today, but I didn’t want to have a meal mostly composed of butter, cheese and eggs, especially since I’ve been slightly dairy-heavy this week.

So I made a little salad, and I roasted halves of delicata squash stuffed with shredded satsumaimo. The satsumaimo was still tossed with a modest amount of melted butter, and a little black sugar and salt. It allowed me to serve a lighter portion of the tart.

I made the tart with a half-wholemeal crust, a lot of butter, and a little mace. I caramelized some shallots with some thyme, and I sauteed some incredibly cheap chanterelles with garlic. For the cheese, I used a cheap, unremarkable raclette from Trader Joe’s. I usually expect raclette to be a bit more aromatic, but this was a pretty bland one; that turned out to be just fine for the purpose of making a quiche, but I would have been disappointed if I actually made raclette.

My crust turned out to be fairly crumbly. I think my beads were a bit too fine to produce a very flaky result, but the texture worked out to be pleasant enough.

Chantart-delicata

 

Under-rested

jason

I slept around 2 am last night, which is in fact earlier than I have been sleeping recently, but not healthy. I don’t know why, but I’ve just been unable to get to sleep at night for a while. I’ve often had issues with insomnia, throughout my life, but it’s been worse the last 6 months. Personal and business stresses conspire to keep me awake.

Unfortunately, eventually, this sleeplessness catches up with me. I headed off to Bellevue Uwajimaya for an in-store demo but I wasn’t feeling very well, and due to some side errands required to do my demo I ended up arriving a bit later than I expected. I went in to say hello to the grocery manager, and he said I wasn’t looking well…

I’m not sick, although a few days ago I had the first hints of a cold. A few sneezes later, my morning congestion disappeared, and I thought I was back in the swing of things. Even if my immune system is still functioning, though, my body appears not to be.

Anyway, I set up a little store display and took his suggestion to skip my demo, though I ignored the part about getting some rest. Having driven to the Eastside, I felt I should at least make good use of my mileage, and stopped at my grandmother’s house for a bit.

Afterward I went to check on another customer, wandered a bit, and found myself talking another shopkeeper’s ear off, and finally made my way back to Seattle, where I coincidentally ran into Eugene of MyGreenTea, who was taking a rest after a hard day constructing a walk-in cooler in his new warehouse facility, where he will store his tea in a carefully climate-controlled environment.

I never did get a “rest,” but I ended up with a rather improvised day, which is almost as good.

Insanity, sado, comfort food

jason

I don’t know how I got so busy today, but a huge number of Internet orders came in last night, and I also had to rush off an order to a special event on the East Coast. A company picked up my green tea white chocolate enrobed fortune cookies (made with matcha) for a film premiere.

It didn’t help that I had a bit of an office supply shortage. Yesterday I ran out of ordinary paper and started printing invoices and shipping labels on bright yellow paper. This meant that at some point today I also needed to make a trip to get more paper.

After making my final dropoff, I met up with a friend who is attending classes with Urasenke Seattle, and I played the role of clueless guest at one of their Thursday night classes. In Japan I usually consumed matcha in tea shops, not tea ceremony, so I have a lot to learn even just to be a properly dignified guest. Fortunately, the instructors are both patient and informative. Since I had a fresh batch of cookies, I left some behind for other people to enjoy.

Of course, I got home quite late, and dinner was ready around 9:30 pm. I was in the mood for comfort food, though I suppose something Spanish would have been appropriate considering the hour.

I made a quick macaroni and cheese, using pennette instead of elbow macaroni, and topped with buttered panko. I snuck a little bit of wasabi in there because I was out of regular horseradish.

Mac & cheese out of the oven

Mac & cheese plated

More fall foods: Chanterelle mushrooms

jason

Chanterelles seem to be fairly plentiful right now… I got some on Sunday, thinking I got a deal, but the price seems to be even better today.

Mine were apparently locally-grown. Chantrelles always seem to have a fondness for butter, so of course I used some, and shallots, garlic, thyme and cream. I served them with spaghetti.

I don’t really use spaghetti all that often… for some reason, the ubiquity of spaghetti works against it for me, and I just never think of buying it. But a while back I got a strange craving for long pasta, and I bought some and used it a few times when I needed a quick lunch.

Chantrellepasta1

I thought today was going to be relatively light-duty, but it turned out busier than I expected. I took care of a bunch of things that have been suffering, but new tasks came in before I got very far. Tomorrow will be more eventful, because I have another very time-sensitive order and a long list of new internet orders that came in tonight.

Good busy

jason

Some kinds of busy are merely distracting, but I made good progress on a lot of fronts today. The only downside was that the post office was closed, which, for someone who doesn’t take government holidays, is easy to forget. I don’t even get weekends…

I was too weary to make anything exciting for dinner, but I made a simple pajeon, for which I used a friend’s trick, incorporating milk and egg into the batter.

Unfortunately, as is frequently becoming the case, my day involves a bit of driving across town to accomplish certain tasks… I kept it to a minimum, planning my tasks to land at spots the most efficient way possible, but I didn’t quite succeed in getting everything ready to ship off before I got started on this, so I had one more stop than would have been ideal.

Cold weather food: Kimchi dubu jjigae

jason

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

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

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

There were, of course, some leftovers.

kimchi dubu Jjigae

Whew

jason

I watched my database-driven web sites, including this blog and my web store, YuzuMura.com, suffer from a 40 minute outage tonight.

That was painful.

The database server apparently went offline for a longer than cozy period of time… I think the hosting service sometimes restarts the database server on weekends at night, but the impact is usually smaller than 3 minutes.

I hope it didn’t negatively impact any customers who came to the site.

Some days are complicated

jason

Today I spent most of the day chasing down items that I’m supposed to be sending off to customers… One of my vendors hasn’t been able to come to Seattle to me for a while and we finally met halfway, so that I could get some product samples and this week’s local and internet customer orders.

I’ve also been trying to get an item from another vendor of mine who was waiting for a container to be delivered and faced three days of delivery truck delays and complications. It then turned out that the item in question was not even on that container because the styles have changed so dramatically since the previous shipment. They sent me to another one of their customers that still had the old style in stock, which required another cross-town run.

Unfortunately, this and every other errand meant that I missed the cutoff time at Kinkos; since one of the items I had to ship was in fact the thing that I ran all over town after, this was tough to avoid. Anyway, I braved rush hour traffic to drop off the package at the south Seattle FedEx facility. Of course, this took 30 minutes longer than typical due to an accident blocking part of Highway 99.

When I got home, it was very late. I set out baking some bread I had started early in the day and oven-steaming some squash. I prepared a meal of ambiguous ethnicity.

Soymilk Bread with Caraway Seeds and Coarse Salt

Caraway soymilk bread

In Japan bread made with soymilk became somewhat trendy, and, when made with a good, heavy, Asian-style soymilk, actually tastes quite nice too. A lot of breads are incorporating soy flour anyway, and I thought it would somehow work well with caraway seeds. I rarely remember to use my caraway seeds, so this half whole-wheat bread was a good opportunity. The result was nice; a dense loaf with a crackly, capricious seasoned crust.

Kabocha Soup

Kabocha soup

I used the other half of my kabocha to make a simple squash soup, with a little cream, pumpkin seed oil and toasted pepitas.

Tofu with Mustard Seeds, Sichuan Pepper and Sambal Manis

Tofu-sansho-karashi-sambalmanis-1

I pan-fried some tofu along with some sichuan pepper and mustard seeds, then seasoned with a bit of salt, a splash of soy sauce, and mirin. I topped each piece with some sambal manis, or sweet chili paste.

Kabocha curry with atsuage

jason

I am not a big fan of Japanese-style curries. They usually aren’t vegetarian, anyway, since they are usually made with beef fat and bits of various animals, and the “vegetable” curries are usually some unmemorable hodgepodge. In a pinch, though, I’ve been known to take the vegetable curry when handed a hotel food voucher, or when lacking other options at some roadside “service area” along the highway in Japan. My preference at such places is just to get a snack like O-yaki or some taiyaki or dango.

I was trying to make use of ingredients that were on hand tonight, and my initial impulse was to make some kind of squash soup, and then I was at a loss on what to do with a bunch of fried tofu (atsuage) I got on the weekend.

Finally, I decided to make some sort of spicy vegetable dish, and I used a base of ghee, garam masala, some cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cloves, a little amchur powder, mustard seeds, fresh chillies, and possibly some other spices… I sauteed onions and created a roux, which I usually do not do when making Indian style dishes. This turns the dish into a more Japanese-style curry; roux is really the defining feature.

I added raw ginger and some liquid, brought the sauce to a boil to thicken, and simmered kabocha and atsuage until the kabocha was soft. I had to adjust salt and seasoning a bit. I guess it was moderately comforting, but not very exciting for me.

Kabocha tofu curry

Pita and foul mudammah

jason

Obachan” recently reminded me of the joys of fresh pita bread when she talked about a cross between hummus and baba ghanouj on her blog recently. A couple of months ago I made some pita just because I felt like having some flatbread but didn’t want to drive to the supermarket just to get some stale-tasting, chemically stabilized flatbread when it only takes a few minutes and pennies to knead some dough.

It does take a bit of time to rise (45 minutes to an hour is fine), but in this case, I was able to prepare other things while I waited.

I took a quick picture just a short time after the second batch of bread came out of the oven. I made a total of 8 pita, and my roommate and I quickly devoured half of them.

Fresh-out-of-the-oven pita

Pita

My impetus for making pita was a craving for a hummus-like spread often rendered in English as “foul mudammah” or “foul medammah”, but the ambiguity of Arabic vowels results in numerous additional possiblities.

A few years ago when I was still moderately happy with my job at Microsoft, an Egyptian woman working for me, who had recently brought her family to one of my dinner parties, treated me to some homemade fava bean spread. She gave me a recipe and a verbal description of the technique. Not too long ago, I acquired a small amount of dried fava beans at PFI with the intention of making this dish.

Mine doesn’t really look the same as I remember hers; I think hers had a greenish hue and was probably made without tomatoes. It may have been a completely different dish. I’ve long since misplaced the recipe she gave me, but I was happy with the results.

Foul Mudammah

Foul mudammah

I used a bit of tomato puree in addition to cooked dried fava beans (soramame for my Japanese readers), and onions both in the foul and caramelized on top. I ground some coriander and cumin seeds then cooked them in bit of olive oil with some ground chillies, which I mixed into the foul as well, and of course some salt. I used a blender to puree everything, but I’m sure I could have gotten satisfactory results from assiduously smashing the beans with a fork.

Upon serving, aside from adding those caramelized onions, I sprinkled some dried ancho chillies and drizzled olive oil on top. It might have been nice to squeeze a bit of lemon juice on top, but I forgot to buy lemons.

I also served some sliced cucumbers, feta, and a decent tomato.

Feta, cucumber, and tomato

The only remotely expensive part of the dinner was the feta, which I really didn’t need, but I was craving it somehow.

The foul mudammah has a pleasant sweetness… I think the beans, tomato, and onions all contributed to that. I want to eat it more often.

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How I examined my passions, Part II

jason

A certain level of burnout with my job at Microsoft made me loath, or at least unmotivated, to seriously consider moving around within the company as my situation became more frustrating. It just wasn’t what I wanted.

I did spend some time looking around at similar jobs both inside and outside the company, and I tried to keep my mind open to staying, because, as I had long realized, I would need more money to realize most of my other ambitions, and it was a very lucrative way to collect savings toward that end. An alternately charming and sleazy career consultant told me the same when I confided in him that I was looking for something very different than I was doing.

Four of my long vacation trips to Japan during my Microsoft career coincided with professional crises. The first one, my first actual vacation as a Microsoft employee, wasn’t really planned to occur under such circumstances; a power struggle between two managers placed me in a frustrating position, and I had a long-planned vacation that my manager didn’t tell my new manager about, departing only a few days before I was being acquired by the new team in some sort of deal between them.

It was an awkward position to be in, but my new manager considered the information omission an error on the part of of my old manager and asked me to take my vacation as planned. During that trip, I was full of torn loyalties, feelings of disappointment, and apprehension. But my vacation, which was an incredible first experience in Japan, and my first trip outside of North America after my exchange program to Germany, gave me a lot of time to think about my future. It actually was the catalyst for a fledgling addiction to collecting contemporary Japanese ceramics, and expanded my culinary consciousness incalculably.

Over the next 6 years, my other three long vacations were very similar, although both of those vacations I took because I was frustrated at work, and wanted a distraction. It turned out that vacations were quite therapeutic, and even my short few extra days here and there that I got on business trips to Japan or elsewhere were extraordinarily refreshing.

I had the time to stop and take pleasures in basic human needs… good food, interaction with people, conscious moments of relative tranquility.

Strangely, it took me over a year to go on such a vacation again after my career frustrations began to mount. Before that, I spent more time than was probably healthy essentially fantasizing about alternative careers.

I felt really frustrated, and I had some self-destructive impulses… I thought about just walking off from my job without notice and burning some bridges, much like one of my employees did (the same forces that led me to consider leaving hit him harder, since I was deflecting some of them until he was moved under a different lead, and was used to certain kinds of irritation that were less tolerable for him). I had a few short-lived relationships where I was essentially completely emotionally unavailable and surely a source of other kinds of frustration for the women I was seeing.

I took refuge in my obsessions… I cooked a lot of elaborate meals for friends and acquaintances, refining some of my cooking skills. I spent a lot of time in pottery classes, considering early on the possibility that I might import some ceramics, and I thought it would be smart to have some first-hand understanding. Those pottery classes were also suitably humbling, as I did not have a natural talent and I sent a lot of clay flying. I also spent some taking Korean classes, remembering a college-era ambition of learning at least seven languages in my lifetime.

Early on, I started thinking about projects that I could indulge in with great passion, with some prospect for financial reward. I considered some restaurant projects, a small retail shop, and a more wholesale-focused import business.

In Part III, I’ll talk about how I evaluated the potential of these projects.

Kurogoma korokke and kazoku no ryouri

jason

I took today off from doing demos and spent some of the day cleaning house and actually reorganizing some things that have long contributed to a certain level of chaos in my home. Among other projects, I replaced an ailing, cracked lazy susan in my kitchen with two new ones to handle my stash of spices and seasonings… it turned out that these new ones had a larger diameter than fits on the floor of my cupboard, so making use of them required a bit of improvisation. I raised them off the floor using a couple of infrequently used cake pans, and this avoided the interference of edging in the back of the cupboard. It isn’t a perfect fit, but the doors now appear closed, and I have less likelihood of dropping various bottles of spices onto an expensive piece of pottery in the sink just below, as I’m hunting for something in the back of the cupboard.

Of late I’ve found my cooking skewing decidedly Japanese. But today I cooked more “stamina” than “sappari”, more oyaji than obaachan. Today’s food was more heavy and strong tasting than the Japanese food I more usually prepare. Hiromi says it is "kazoku no ryouri", something for everyone: Korokke to appeal to the kids, kimpira for the mother, and grilled tofu for the father. 

Kurogoma korokke

Kurogoma korokke

My black sesame croquettes usually have more black sesame in them, but I just ran out today, so my hand was forced… I used a lighter touch. As usual, though, I mixed in some white sesame seeds as a source of flavor, and the only thing to suffer is the visual. I really like black sesame croquettes, and I think the only croquette I like more is kabocha. Tonight, I still had some leftover kabocha from Saturday night, so we ate that as another okazu. It was actually more flavorful than on Saturday, as is usual for nimono.

Kimpira gobo

Kimpira gobo

I had some help on this one. I spent my time doing the sengiri (matchstick cut) knifework, and my roommate removed aku as I did some other prep work; I got them started cooking in sesame oil and tossed in a pinch of salt; I tossed them around in the pan a bit and my roommate watched over them and added chili, shouyu and mirin and tougarashi (dried chilies).

Yakidoufu with baby bok choy, ginger and daikon-oroshi

Yakidoufu itame ni

My roommate requested yakidoufu again, but I couldn’t bear the thought of repeating myself so soon, so I made a variation with a bit of a sauce; mirin, shouyu and some vegetable soup stock.

Daikon to negi no misoshiru

daikon to negi no misoshiru

I had originally thought I would make a tofu-based miso soup, but I made a daikon-negi one instead, which is probably exactly what went into my last misoshiru. As usual, I made a dried konbu-shiitake dashijiru. In this case, rather than akamiso or shiromiso, I used a Korean-style dark miso (doenjang). This isn’t because I was trying to be innovative or creative; I just ran out of my supply of Japanese-style miso. It works just as well, though it tends to be a bit saltier than the most common types of Japanese miso.

How I examined my passions, Part I

jason

When I started planning my exit strategy for Microsoft, I thought intensely about what I value and what I wanted to accomplish in my lifetime.

I never thought it likely that I’d have just one career over the course of my life. I thought that I would have at least a good 50 years of a work life, and it seemed an awfully long time to focus on one single thing. Although I truly admire the mastery of a specialty that comes from a lifetime of dedication to one specific field, I have too many interests to be satisfied with one narrow domain. I figured I had three to seven careers in me.

As a child, I had the good fortune to have early exposure to personal computers when that was still a relatively rare thing, and I had an innate curiosity that led me to explore my machine, and eventually others, in obsessive detail. For some reason I didn’t really develop a passion for writing code, although I had an early modest level of competence in that regard, but I still liked probing the machine, and had a great passion for the machine as a tool. By the time I went off to college, I had no interest in studying science, which probably would have shocked anyone with whom I attended elementary school or most of junior high school. My intellectual interests had all shifted to the dynamics of human interaction, the power of communication, the human balance of power, the nature of authority, and the forces that shape culture.

This set me off in myriad different directions. I had established a literary magazine in high school, and by the time I set off to college, I thought that my future was in the media, in radio, television or newspaper work or some other publishing outlet. My university experience, though, opened my eyes to so many other forms of expression, and, although I briefly worked at a newspaper as assistant editor after my German exchange program, my imagination of my future became less specific, more hazy. The longer I was in college, the more time I had to ask questions, the less clear my vision of what I wanted to be when I grew up became.

Whenever I summarize my college career to someone who doesn’t know me very well, the gaps sound incredibly shocking: I began as a literature major and a Media Fellow, became irritatingly politically active, planned an exchange program to Germany, spent too much time on the internet, switched my major to East Asian studies, studied in Germany and began cooking obsessively, worked at an Asian American newspaper, and graduated after an intensely compressed final semester.

These were mostly natural, easily explainable progressions, and generally traceable to long-existing interests catalyzed by the benefit of the open, dynamic environment of a liberal arts college. I was never a specialist in only one thing. I was not a generalist, either; I just had a lot of interests. I maintained an ambition of somehow fusing all of my interests into a career, but I knew I’d be happy to do something that allowed me to pursue at least a few of my interests.

When I got my job at Microsoft, I was happy that my background with German and Japanese language, studies of Asia in general, and addiction to internet technologies and new media all coalesced into skills deemed valuable for software internationalization testing. As with any career, I suppose, I alternated between excitement, boredom and frustration, but I knew early on that it wasn’t going to be my gig forever. I anticipated about 5 years there… and in fact, it was about the 5 year point when things started shifted rapidly into complete dissatisfaction with my job.

I thought about what I was most interested in outside of my work; after all, I made a career in software out of a hobby, and I didn’t think it unreasonable to explore the potential of building a new career out of my avocations. The things I invested most of my energy in outside of work were related to food (eating and cooking well), travel (primarily to Japan), and collecting ceramics and crafts (mostly from Japan, occasionally from Korea). I thought about a few ways of indulging these pursuits in a manner that could be self-sustaining.

I drafted some business plans for restaurants, since I am an obsessive cook and I’ve long imagined opening a little restaurant. I also thought about building a little ceramics shop, as well. I also even thought about planning culinary tours. I realized most of these ventures required more resources just to get started than I had available, as I was never clever enough to exercise my stock options when they were at their most valuable. So I thought smaller…

I wanted to make sure that I really was working on something I could be passionate about, so I started looking at ways of integrating food, travel, my creative impulses, and my interest in ceramics. I started to look at my options…

In Part II, I’ll focus on what went through my mind as I considered my options.