Making Xmas cards again…

I made Xmas cards again this year. It’s a paper stencil cut-out on khaki twill cotton on card stock, trimmed with Xmas ribbons and framed with glossy red card stock, and finally banded with gold net ribbon.





Another art2love artling

I made another “artling” for art2love, this time a “globe” plush toy, not a cape. Here is the child’s design:
Driginal design
Here is what I came up with:




The globe (blue) and the continents (green and white) are polyester fleece. Globe is in 12 segments, stuffed with polyester fiberfill, “Poly-Fil”. Continents are hand stitched to globe. The stick figure is denim, sewn into tubes, turned, and stuffed with fiberfill. Head is in 6 segments, of cotton. Crown is “stiffened felt”. Rainbow is bias strips of satin remnants (that I had leftover from making art2love capes!), stiffened with plastic tapestry grid and padded with polyester fleece. The clouds are in two pieces, of 4-way stretch knit, hand sewn to the globe and rainbow, and stuffed with fiberfill.

Library of Congress

My tax dollars work! :)
I came across a pin pointing to The Library of Congress On-Line Search where one can search for, and view old publications! Searching for “garment cutting”, “dress making”, “tailoring” and “garment drafting” returns great old publications and books on the subject. For example, here’s a page from “Elements of garment cutting”, Madison, J. O. (James Otis), 1878:
Pages 44-45

And yet another art2love cape!

Since the child is “36 inches from neck to ankle” i.e. he/she is rather young and probably does not yet have the ability to express ideas literally, I took the liberty of enhancing his/her original design. I hope he/she will forgive me!

Original design and my interpretation of it

Original design and my interpretation of it

The construction is similar to the “Poison Ivy” cape and Dragon Ball Z cape. Of course, I just had to screw up at least once:

I con spelt I cen

I con spelt I cen

The lesson there is that when applying iron-on lettering, check and double check before applying heat in anger, ’cause there ain’t no second chance!

But all’s well that ends well:



Mitered corners!

Mitered corners!

Another art2love cape…

September 13, 2013: for those in Austin, this cape is currently on display at Dragon’s Lair.

I made another cape for art2love. The child who designed this cape took his (her? I don’t know whom it’s for; I’m not supposed to) inspiration from “Dragon Ball Z”, a Japanese anime series.

The construction of this cape is similar to the first cape that I made. The major color blocks are applied with Wonder-Under, an iron-on fusible web with paper backing. Since the pieces are huge, I only applied Wonder-Under around their perimeter. Backing an entire large piece with Wonder-Under would make the cape too stiff.

I used white polyester fleece for the “cloud”. I did a black outline as depicted in the excellent original design; it’s necessary to give the piece an “anime” feel. I did the outline with black permanent marker, then do a narrow zig-zag satin stitch over it. The black ink gives the outline more defined: I only needed to zig-zag the outline once instead of twice as usual.

The black border at the bottom is a bit of FUBAR on my part! I miscalculated and made the design too big so I had to add some length to the cape to accomodate it!

The Kanji script on the character’s white chest enblem is, AFAICT, Japanese Kanji script for “dragon”. I hope it doesn’t actually mean “dumpling” or something worse!

The “Dragon Ball Z” was replaced with the child’s initials, to avoid any possible copyright issues (though the design itself may have copyright issues as well; hopefully they won’t go after the kid for copyright infringement!).

The cape

The cape

The original design

The original design

“art2love” cape

September 13, 2013: for those in Austin, this cape is currently on display at Learning Express.

art2love is a non-profit organization that aims to “touch hearts through art“, to “to empower, encourage and elevate children in crisis through art – their own art“. Children come up with design for things such as capes, soft toys, etc. and volunteer craftster bring the designs to life.

Finished cape

Finished cape

I volunteered to make a cape for a 14-year old. Her design is quite… challenging. She was highly creative in her choice of design for the cape, of its crest, and of its colors.

Crest's original design

Crest’s original design

Cape's original design

Cape’s original design

I executed her design as is, with one small artistic license: the construction of the wavy royal blue borders lent itself to thin black outside borders. I thought the fine black lines lends even more “pop” to the blue borders.

IMAG1341 IMAG1342 IMAG1343 IMAG1344

Cape's black border

Cape’s black border

Finished cape

Finished cape

I also learned something new: working with Wonder-Under. Wonder-Under is a paper backed heat-activated fusible material. One of its uses is to apply appliques. One would heat fuse Wonder-Under to the back of the applique material, let it cool, draw the applique shape and cut it out. Peeling off the paper backing leaves behind the adhesive and the applique can now be heat fused onto background material. To add a final, neat-freak, touch, one would zig zag around the applique’s border. That would also make the applique more rugged, to withstand possible laundering. I zig zag the border twice, to make the stitching more dense and to give it more visual presence.



I love the end result (if I do say so myself!). I see many custom applique-festooned garments in my future! :)

Overall, making the cape was a rich and rewarding experience. I will definitely do more of it.

I won!

It’s summer, so it’s time for the annual Spiceworks Salsa Contest. This year, the contest is held in conjunction with our party to celebrate Sys Admin Day, which is a big deal in and of itself. Last year, I won the “Most Culinary Creativity” prize with my “Strawberry Pico de Gallo”. This year, in a bid to win everything :) (“Crowd’s Favorite”, “Most Culinary Creativity” and “Best Dressed” prizes), I aimed for something a bit more recognizable but still having enough creativity, and presented to the best of my ability: “Roasted Poblano Tomatillos Salsa With White Truffle Oil”! I got one out of three: my salsa won the “Crowd’s Favorite” prize!!!

It’s basically a roasted salsa (all veggie ingredients are broiled under the broiler in my electric oven) with the addition of white truffle oil (Grapevine brand) and seasoned with Chihuahua de Mexico smoked salt. I think the earthy truffle oil and the smoky salt really spice up this classic roasted tomatillo poblano salsa.

Look, Ma, real truffle!

Several days before the contest, I made different versions of the salsa, starting with just the vegetable ingredients, then successively adding olive oil, lime juice, and truffle oil, fine tuning as I go. I leave the salsa in the fridge overnight and taste and fine tune the salsa further the morning after, as would be the case on contest day.


I didn’t decide on adding Chihuahua de Mexico smoked salt until making the final iteration of the salsa. I’m happy the salt’s smokiness did something good for the salsa.

For presentation, I crafted a basket lined with Spanish moss, representatives of the ingredients, and a “bouquet” made from the husk of the tomatillos.

Making the "bouquet" and putting together the presentation




Roasted Poblano Tomatillos Salsa With White Truffle Oil

  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • 6 tomatillos
  • 2 fresh poblano peppers
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • 8 whole garlic cloves, skin on
  • 1/2 C very finely minced cilantro, leaves only (include stems and chop less finely for “chunkier” salsa)
  • 2 Tsps extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp Chihuahua de Mexico smoked salt, finely ground with a mortar and pestle
  • 2 tsps truffle oil
  • dash of coarsely ground black pepper

Roast tomatoes, tomatillos, poblano, red onion, and garlic cloves 3-4″ inches from broiler’s flame/element for 7 minutes then turn and roast for another 5 minutes, until blackened all over.

Squeeze garlic out of their skin. Mash to a paste with back of spoon.

Roasted garlic

Optional: remove charred skin from tomatoes and poblano. Leave more skin in for more smokiness, at the expense of having some rough bits in the salsa.

Separately, coarsely purée tomatoes, tomatillos, poblanos, and onion in blender. Remove to separate bowls.


Start with equal volumes of tomatoes, tomatillos, and poblanos.

Add onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, salts, truffle oil and pepper. Taste and adjust.

New button stitch detail!

Who knew a plain old four-hole button can be sewn on with such panache?!


My ‘C’ Spices

I keep my spices in alphabetical order.  I’m not that anal; it makes finding spices quicker when the number of spices exceeds a couple dozens.  I notice that I have quite a few spices under  ’c':

  • Cardamom
  • Cajun seasoning blend
  • Cayenne
  • Chili powder, Bolsa
  • Cinnamon: stick & ground
  • Cloves
  • Coriander
  • Cumin: whole seeds & ground
  • Curry power

The “Atlantic” Knot

We dined at Swift’s Attic recently.  The host/partner, CK Chin, nattily dressed as always, had tied his tie with a knot that I have never seen before:An "Atlantic" knot

A quick Google’ing shows that this is either an “Atlantic” knot or a “Bosphorus” knot.  The same Google results also open up a whole new world of tie knots!  For example, “The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie” is a book based on mathematical formulation of the act of tying a tie, ”equivalent to persistent random walks on a triangular lattice, with some constraints on how the walks begin and end”.  The book specifies a notation used to describe how to tie a knot.  I bet CK Chin has that book, ’cause I saw another pic of him with his tie tied with another fancy knot.

“En Papillote”

I made this “Sea Bass In Papillote” recipe today. I used dried thyme (about 1/4-1/2 tsp for two) so I “toasted” it along with the garlic and capers and tomatoes in olive oil beforehand. My twists were a bit of red pepper flakes, and a tiny bit of butter on each fillet (about 1/2 tsp each).

En papillote” is a fantastic way to bake fish, especially fish that is delicate and might fall apart from handling. I used Atlantic cod which is quite delicate. I don’t think I’ve ever successfully pan fried Atlantic cod before. It always manage to crumble upon turning. When baked “en papillote” and therefore not handled at all, the fish comes to the table intact.

Even though there was no extra fluid added, the dish has a fair amount of sauce when done, probably juice from the lemon slices, the tomato’s juice and the fish’s juice, drawn out by salt.

Prep: fish, with lemon slices, on some olive oil on the parchment paper.

Prep: fish, with lemon slices, on some olive oil on the parchment paper.

Almost ready for oven; a couple of dabs of butter complete the dish.

Almost ready for oven; a couple of dabs of butter complete the dish.

Voilà!  All done!

Voilà! All done!

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”

…or so goes the famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote.  Not so with certain culinary quests, I say.

For example, I bake French baguettes.  A lot.  I bake all the bread for our family of two.  My issue is regardless of how fastidious I am with my ingredients and methods, the end result is never exactly the same.  A loaf would be slightly more brown or less brown, slightly more or less crusty, the crumb slightly more or less open.  One might think that I am being too critical and too unrealistic, but I don’t believe so, and I think I know the reason why the results are never the same.

Recently, I was chatting with a colleague at our Friday beer bash-cum-company meeting about brewing beer.  I asked him if he thinks he can reproduce a particular batch of beer if somebody asks him to.  We eventually decided that while it may appear that a product is reproducible, it’s really quite near impossible for amateur small-batch producers to do so.  Variance in ingredients would singlehandedly thwarts such an effort.

In my case, the flour might differ depending on the crop, on how soon it was milled after harvested, on its age when I use it.  The water, though from the same faucet and filtered in the same filtering pot, might have varying quantities of dissolved gases because of temperature, season, or atmospheric pressure.  The long pre-ferment time may give the yeast too much leeway in its interaction with the flour, diverging down different paths of development each time.

Large-quantity producers produce products of consistent quality perhaps not only because of greater skill and experience, but also because the amounts of raw materials involved are so large that there is a much much larger “averaging” effect within any one batch, and also from batch to batch, such that the products vary little in quality.

Like “Pulling Teeth”?

I had five teeth pulled recently in preparation for getting braces. Food-wise, I prepared by making a huge pot of cháo, the Vietnamese version of “congee”, or rice porridge. Since I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be up to chewing anything, I opted to purée everything into a soup-like dish. I cooked rice, with twice the usual amount of water. I made chicken broth, with chicken (duh!), onions, ginger, and salt and fish sauce to taste.  I separate the chicken meat and then purée rice, broth and chicken together into a thick soup.  After I have puréed everything, I tasted and seasoned the “soup”.

To serve, I add caramelized/crisped thinly sliced shallots and thinly sliced scallions (no chewing required!) to bring a bit more oomph to the dish.

Cháo gà: Vietnamese rice porridge with chicken

(When I do phở gà, I refrigerate the chicken meat in a bowl covered with plastic wrap.  Upon uncovering, the chicken would  give off a rather strong smell, a  ”chicken” smell on steroids!  It dissipates quickly and by the time it’s served, it smells great, but the initial smell is always quite off-putting.  I wonder why it’s like that…)

Simple Salad: Yellow Beets and Strawberries

I did another simple salad for dinner, modeling it after a similar salad that my multi-talented sis-in-law made when she visited us recently.

Julienne and boil yellow beets until fork-tender.  (I only used about 1/2″ of water in the saucepan to boil/steam the beet, keeping the pan tightly covered.) Hull an slice strawberries about 1/8″ – 1/4″ thick.  Thinly slice green scallions.  I cut the scallions into 2″ sections then julienne them (lengthwise), but you can also slice them crosswise thinly.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar.  Add salt and pepper.  Toss & serve.

Zucchini and Tomato Salad with Bacon Orange Dressing

Dire straits often yield interesting, innovative, inspired, outcomes.  My kitchen dire straits often arrive at week’s end, just before we buy groceries for the coming week, when the cupboard is at its barest.  OK, so my “bare” may be many people’s “laden” but that’s another topic altogether.  Today, I need to make a veggie dish of some type for our dinner.  I had zucchini, some cherry tomatoes, and scallions.  I did a zucchini and tomato salad, with scallion and bacon bits, and orange juice-based dressing.

Bring 1/2 C of orange juice to a boil and reduce to a simmer; reduce to about 1/4 C.

Cut two bacon slices crosswise into 1/4″ pieces.  Line a bowl with paper towel (to soak up bacon fat) and microwave  the bacon for  about one minute.  Remove the paper towel and microwave the bacon some more until crispy; it will render some more fat.  Remove bacon bits to a paper towel and add the bacon fat, about 1 Tsp, to the orange juice.

Meanwhile, slice zucchini thinly, 1/16″ or less: my kingdom for a mandolin!  Actually, with a sharp knife, it didn’t take too long to slice up a couple of zucchinis.  Thicker slices is OK too, if you like your salad crunchy (I don’t, much).

Cut cherry tomatoes in halves (which makes them a lot easier to eat; chasing little spherical objects around a bowl with a fork is no fun).  Thinly slice two scallions.

For dressing: add about 2 T olive oil to orange juice/bacon fat mixture.  Add salt and pepper and about 2 tsps red wine vinegar.  I also threw in a bit of orange zest. Whisk until emulsified.

Toss zucchini, tomato, and scallions in dressing. Sprinkle with bacon bits just before serving.

Persian New Year celebration

My wife and I had the honor of being invited to a Persian New Year celebration. It was an amazing experience. I really enjoyed the opportunity to be up close and personal with a crowd of Iranians and their customs and food. I had two big revelations about Persian customs and food.

The first is about customs: everybody, and I do mean everybody, from children to old people needing a walker, introduces themselves and/or greets everybody else upon entering the house. I thought that was so cool: it immediately familiarizes everybody with each other and makes for a more comfortable gathering.

The second revelation was about the food: amazing combinations of flavors, tastes, and textures. I had had various versions of “Persian” food before at places around town so many of the dishes are familiar. However, there were two that were new to me and they also happen to be my favorites: mirza ghassemi, Persian eggplant, tomato, and egg; and zereshk polow, Persian saffron rice with cranberries/barberries, candied tangerine peels, onions, with chicken. The zereshk polow was by far my favorite, with its contrast of flavors (saffron, turmeric) and taste (cranberries/barberries) and texture (the tangerine peels are quite chewy and are a great contrast). Here’s a quick vid of the banquet.

Zojirushi appliances

I heart Zojirushi stuff, a lot! We’ve owned two Zojirushi appliances: a rice cooker and a 5-liter hot water boiler.

My sis-in-law gave us the rice cooker as a housing warming gift when we moved down to Austin over twenty years ago. You read that right: twenty, as in, two decades! The rice cooker still works as perfectly, cooking our rice almost every day. Its Teflon-coated liner has collected a layer of gunk, from years of
cooked rice bits not properly cleaned off thus getting “re-cooked” upon the next use. Despite such abuse, the non-stick coating still works and rice does not stick. All the same, I don’t like the way it looks, so I researched into getting a new liner. I emailed Zojirushi’s support. They replied:

Unfortunately our model NMDC-R10 has been discontinued since 1998.  We no
longer manufacture the inner pans. The inner pans are not interchangeable
with other models. I apologize for the inconvenience.

It’s so old Zojirushi no longer makes parts for it! I suppose such is the downside of appliances that last forever!

Garlic Bread, My Way

I don’t understand why garlic bread recipes always call for “rubbing halved garlic cloves on bread”. I find doing so either doesn’t impart enough garlic flavor to the bread, or, if I do it too vigorously, would break up the crumb. My method is to squeeze garlic with a garlic press into some olive oil, butter, dried herbs (oregano, parslet, thyme, etc.), red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, then zap that mixture in the microwave to heat up the oil/butter. I let the mixture sit for a few minutes for everything to get nicely infused, then spoon it onto bread. It’s much quicker and the flavors are more intense and more evenly distributed.

Xmas Cards

The great thing about size is that it’s relative. A scrap of fabric may seem useless in terms of making a garment, but it’s practically a huge treasure in making Xmas cards! I tried my hands at making Xmas cars this year. Growing up, we did not have a lot, so we did not any of the type of “crafting” where one can randomly slap stuff together to make things, simply because we did not have a lot of “stuff”! I think I now know how kindergarten kids feel about Play-Doh.

YAT (Yet Another Tart! :) )

I’m close to achieving a State of Yo with the tart crust! I can now get from ball-of-dough to crust-rolled-and-crimped in about five minutes! Anyway, the current baking procedure is 12 minutes at 400° covered with foil and pie weight, then removing foil and pie weight, piercing crust all over with fork, then bake for 7 minutes more uncovered, with a “rim protector” to prevent the rim from over-browning. (I use rice for pie weight, saving and re-using the rice.)

My tart this week is filled with anise bulb, eggplant, and zucchini squash, all thinly sliced and sautéed separately, blue cheese, and topped with fried fronds from the anise bulb.