Texas Chili!

The distinguishing character of Texas chili is believed to be that it does not have beans and has cubed meat, not ground meat. Additionally, it often has masa, corn flour (not to be confused with corn meal) as the thickening ingredient.

I did a take on Texas chili this weekend, with a chili blend of equal parts of dried ancho, guajillo, and pasilla chili. I ground up all three chili in a coffee grinder. (Cleaning the grinder with a brush was good enough for me; no need to grind breadcrumb or rice in order to clean it.)

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Then I made a mix of equal part of each chili.


The recipe is quite straightforward, pretty much similar to most stew. First I render some bacon:


then removed the bacon bits and browned cubed chuck roast.


Then I removed the meat and sweated the onions and garlic and added the chili, plus Mexican oregano and cumin, towards the end to “toast” them.


I deglazed the pot with half a bottle of beer (Lone Star, for that authentic Texas vibe :) ).


After the alcohol has evaporated I added beef stock, canned diced tomato, Grade A (formerly “Fancy”) Vermont maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, added the meat back to the pot, brought to a boil and simmered for two hours.


I like to cook my stews and chilis a day ahead and let it sit overnight in the fridge. That gives the flavors time to develop fully.

Beeswax and hand-sewing thread

So I recently discovered, after 30-plus years of sewing, that applying beeswax to thread before hand sewing virtually eliminates tangling. I also stumbled on the revelation that whenever I need to thread a needle for hand sewing, thread two needles at once, one to use right away and the other to be used the next time. That saves a bit of time the next time I need to do any hand sewing.

I have since also learned that instead of running the waxed thread between fingers, one can also run it under a warm iron to “set” the wax into the thread, to further reduce leaving wax residue on fabric.

Great corn bread recipe…

I just found this “Southern style” corn bread recipe, supposedly by someone who grew up in the South. It sounds yummy! I think I’ll try it with jalapeño and scallion, with a batch of my chili…

(Image from Books, Cooks, Gadgets and Gardening.)

“Separating hidden zippers”!

I recently discovered that there is such a thing as a “separating hidden zipper“! (Image from The Zipper Lady blog.)


Reinforcing skirt’s slit

I reinforce skirt slit by sewing a small piece of ribbon across the top of the slit. This prevents the slit’s stitching from having to handle all the stress.

Alternate filling for pin cushion

I recently made a pin cushion for myself (after 30+ years of sewing!). I used Poly-Fil polyester fiber fill but found I could not stuff enough in to make a very firm pin cushion. As a result, the pin cushion does not “grip” pins well. It does hold pins, but pins as well as needles tend to get pushed all the way in. I was making something out of polyester fleece recently and had a lot of scraps so I decided to try that as filling for the pin cushion. I cut up the scraps into small bits 1/2″ – 3/4″ in size, and stuffed them into the pin cushion cover until I get the desired firmness. The stuffing is a bit lumpy at first but a bit of massaging evens out the lumps. The resulting pin cushion is a good deal firmer than when using polyester fiber fill. Me likey!


Freezing leek

About a month ago, I made an Alsatian Stew that calls for “two small leeks”. Well, fine, what the heck do I do with the rest of the bundle of leek?! So I figured, nothing to lose, freeze the sucker. I washed the leek and cut it into 8″ lengths, put in a Zip-Loc bag and tossed it into the freezer. It appears that leek freezes very well. The stalks freeze into sticks; no discoloration, no bruising.
This past weekend, I made a mac-and-cheese beaucaire and substituted leek for eggplant. I oiled a cookie sheet, spread the leek on it, straight from the freezer, sprinkled with salt, and baked at 450°. After about 8-10 minutes, the leek has softened completely. They render a bit of fluid but not enough even to cover the bottom of the tray. Most of the leek browned nicely; some of the thicker stalks did not, but that can probably be managed by removing the browned ones first and let the rest roast for longer, or reduce the roasting temperature and let it roast for longer.

I imagine I could probably do something similar if I was to use the leek in a sautée I can also just take the leek out of the freezer and throw it straight into the sautée pan.

Another version of McCall’s 6953

I made another version of the McCall’s 6953 dress, this time from an aqua/ivory/brown rayon/silk floral fabric. I bought the fabric on sale at fabricmart.com. I bought six yards of it for $2.0/yard. I still have almost two yards of it left so I will probably make at least one more garment from it!
This time, I tried to make the armcye a bit wider, to reduce the width of the dress across the back, in order to downplay my broad(er) shoulders and back. I overdid the front armcye and the dress gapes a bit in that area, so I have to add a dart to close it up.

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The Mayan Mademoiselle: Achiote Salsa with Elderflower Liqueur

My company had our usual yearly salsa contest (as in the sauce, not the dance :) ). I wanted to do something with St. Germain elderflower liqueur so I came up with “The Mayan Mademoiselle: Achiote Salsa with Elderflower Liqueur”. It didn’t win :( . But I think it’s quite different and quite tasty, with the achiote and elderflower liqueur.


  • 11 tomatillos
  • 1 white onion
  • 3/4 C canned diced fire roasted tomatoes (I used Muir Glen Organic)
    • 9 ozs of pureed mixture of:
    • 1/4 red onion
    • 2 cloves garlic
    • 2 1/2 tsp achiote paste
    • 1 dried smoked poblano (soak in hot water for 1/2 hour to reconstitute before use), coarsely chopped
    • 2 Tsps St. Germain elderflower liqueur
    • 1 1/2 tsps salt
  • 3 Tsps finely chopped cilantro
  • finely chopped habanero to fine-tune the heat


  • Quarter white onion.
  • Cut tomatillos in halves.
  • Roast tomatillos and white onion at 450′ for approx. 20 minutes, or until blackened:
  • Separately, puree to desired chunkiness: roasted tomatillos, roasted white onions, canned diced fire roasted tomatoes in blender.
  • Puree together the next six ingredients:
  • In large bowl, mix:
    • Approx. 15 ozs. of tomatillos
    • Approx. 6 ozs of pureed roasted white onion
    • Most of onion/garlic/achiote/poblano/etc. mixture


  • Add more of each mixture, and chopped habanero, to adjust taste and heat level.

Pin cushion!

Lesson to self: to not take lightly tools or techniques that tailors have used for hundreds of years! After over 35 years of sewing (!), I finally decided that I should try making and using a wrist pin cushion, a gadget very commonly seen on tailors’ wrist. I should have done that 35 years ago! :) To me, the wrist pin cushion is one of those things that seem as if I can do without and not until I use one that I wish I had done it a million years sooner!

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Amazing news!

About a year ago, I made a “superhero” cape for a child, via art2love, an organization that helps kids in crisis by turning their art into reality, helping them believe that they can “fly”.


I just heard from one of the coordinators, who wrote: “You have brought so much happiness to one kiddo that he has apparently worn out his cape! His case worker has asked if a duplicate can be made.” !!! Wow, one cannot have a better sentiment on one’s work than that!

Masquerade ball!

We went to a masquerade ball! The ball had no specific theme, just a requirement that a mask be worn. I had always wanted to wear my Pan-Am Stewardess Halloween costume again so I decided to wear it for the “ball”. I made a mask to go with it.
I printed a pic of a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser and fused it to two layers of stiff cardboard (from a cereal box). I added some white lace as “clouds”. The fusible web that I used was easy enough to manage, but it turned out that even an 80/12 needle (for light fabrics) can sew through two layers of stiff cardboard without problems, so it would have been a lot quicker just to sew all layers together instead of fusing them together. I used clear swimsuit elastic for the strap.

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I had so many compliments and it seems like everybody wanted to have their pic taken with me!

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Striped skirt

I had some fabric left over from making the burdastyle.com “Member Model Challenge” dress so I decided to make a skirt out of it. As with everything I sew these days, I felt it would have a bit pointless if I just make a simple skirt, a skirt that I could have bought ready made. These days, everything I make has to have a bit of extra oomph, a bit of extra “me”, that would not be in a store bought skirt. (Not that finding a plain, simple, pencil skirt that is of the right color, pattern and fit, would have been an easy task!)
The extra oomph this time was going to be just inlays at the hem, from a contrast fabric. When I laid the fabrics out, the contrast was not… contrast-y enough. I wanted a bit more separation between the skirt and the contrast. I opted to added a light blue flat piping at the border between the two.

I used the skirt of Vogue 8135, a skirt suit pattern. It’s out of print, but you can still get an idea of what it looks like from a review at patternreview.com.

Here is how I did the piping for the outside corners:

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Here’s how I did the inside corners:

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And here’s the finished skirt:

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McCalls 6953

I needed some clothes for work. I wanted a dress that is conservative i.e. hem not up to here :) , but still nicely feminine. I went with McCall’s 6953 because I liked its fit-and-flare silhouette, and because I have some soft floral rayon from The Common Thread, a cool Austin fabric store South of the river. I used the pattern’s black-and-white graphic to “design” the dress in Photoshop beforehand. I used a photo of the fabric from my “fabrics inventory database” as a swatch to “fill” the empty areas of the dress graphic. I was also planning on modifying the neckline to to be a narrow scoop neck line instead of the design’s jewel neck line.

I tried several variations and settled on one with dark forest green sides and light blue trim at the waist:


It’s a good thing I wanted contrast inserts at the sides because I didn’t quite enough of the fabric for the dress, not even for this shorter knee-length version.

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Edit: A person asked on my review on patternreview.com about the facings. Here are a couple more pics of the lining and facing. I cut the facing in pieces from the fabric’s scraps, positioning the pieces’ inside edge on the selvage. I stitched the facing in position on top of the lining and construct the dress and lining as normal. The left pic below is the inside of the bodice back and the right pic is the inside of the bodice front. As you can see, I did not add a facing at the neck line, choosing instead to merely understitch the lining. (The zig zag stitches secure the rick rack trim.)

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Origami boxes

After a long hiatus, I did some origami boxes at an origami meet-up, from “Joyful Origami Boxes”, by Tomoko Fuse.



Corn husk mat

I made some finger food for a friend’s surprise birthday party, some mushrooms stuffed with pancetta, shallots, and sage. I wanted to present the food nicely and show off a bit :) but didn’t want to go too overboard. I decided on using corn husk to line the plate for mushrooms. I was planning on just having a simple layer of corn husk on the plate. It turns out the corn husk refused to lay flat and the mushrooms are too light to weigh it down.

I decided to tear the tip of the corn husks’ and weave them together to keep them flat. The obviously progression was, well, why not wave all the corn husks into a mat? I tore the husks into narrow strips and weave them into little mats, which then lay perfectly flat, and looked great too.


Food for party

A friend invited us to a surprise birthday party for her life partner. I volunteered to make a couple of dishes. I decided to do one vegetarian dish and one gluten-free dish, just to cover the bases. I also decided that they both should be finger-food. I wanted to stay away from dishes that would be more suitable for a sit-down dinner party; finger-food is much more suitable for a “mingling” type of party.
I decided on Stuffed Mushrooms with Pancetta, Shallots & Sage for the gluten-free dish, and Parmesan-Basil-Cheddar Stars for the vegetarian dish. I made a “test run” of the stuffed mushrooms beforehand. I was a bitleery of the sage, not quite sure how much of it to use. It turns out that between the pancetta and the cheese, I needed to be a bit heavy-handed with the sage othherwise its flavor would get drowned out. Generally, I stuck pretty close to the recipes.
I got over-eager and made all the mushrooms two nights beforehand instead of making them the night before. Fortunately, they lasted just fine covered with Saran wrap in the fridge. They did bake up beautifully:


For the cheddar “crackers”, it’s important to roll the dough out as thin as possible otherwise the crackers may turn out a little doughy instead of crunchy and crisp. I took the easy way out and not do them star-shaped and just cut the dough into rough geometric shapes, with a pizza cutter. I baked them just before heading to the party. Once cooled, they keep fine in a tissue paper-lined wicker basket:


Thread two needles each time…

I was doing some hand sewing and needed to stop and thread a new length of black thread when I had an “Ah-ha!” moment. When I wind bobbins of white or black thread, I always wind two or three bobbins, not just one, saving a few minutes. White and black thread is something I will need forever and ever, so the bobbins will never languish for long. So, why not do the same with hand sewing needles? Every time I thread a needle for sewing, I pull the length of thread across a lump of beeswax then run the thread between two fingers to “smooth out” the wax on it before threading it into the needle. That means I need to retrieve the lump of beeswax, unwrap it, then re-wrap it and put it away afterwards. By threading two needles at the same time, each with the usual length of thread and saving one later use, I save a bit of time wrangling the beeswax. Plus, now that I usually have a threaded needle at hand, I don’t feel as reluctant to do hand sewing.

(P.S. If you’re not already doing so, you must use beeswax when hand sewing. I sewed for 30 years before I discovered that doing so makes hand sewing about a gazillion times easier: the wax makes the thread a lot less likely to tangle.)

Thread catching bin for sewing machine table

I got tired of reaching across the sewing table to toss thread clippings into a bin so I rigged up a thread catching bin for my sewing machine table. Twenty years after I built the table. :)
I started with a distilled water container (I use distilled water for my iron). I cut off a portion of it, putting a notch in one side so it’d fit against the side of the sewing table. I drove two drywall screws into the table edge to hold the bin in place. A bonus is that the bin is easily removable for emptying.








The bin, when in place, may look too low and might foul my legs when I sit at the table, but it’s actually just right:
The bin may look too low and might foul my legs when I sit at the table, but it's actually just right

My entry into burdastyle.com’s “Member Model Challenge”

burdastyle.com had a challenge for members to make a dress, the “Pleated Designer Dress”, and model it. I needed to fortify my work wardrobe and this dress is perfect for work, so off I went.


I found a 50/50 cotton/polyester fabric at Jo-Ann, charcoal gray with white stripes. I like the blend because it should make for a wash-and-wear garment. I also like the stripes because it gives me the opportunity to play with the pattern’s design, which I think lends itself very well to juxtaposition of stripes. I would have liked the stripes to be a bit bolder, wider. That would have made for a more dramatic dress, but this fabric is not bad.
The pattern preparation is straightforward and easy: print out the pattern, tape the pages together, and cut out the pattern pieces. As is common with many burdastyle.com patterns, this pattern has no seam allowance. The seam allowance has to be added when cutting out the pattern.
I made a few changes to the pattern to better position the stripes. The first was to convert the back pieces, originally one per side, to have a princess seam: I extended the upper end of the back dart up and into the armscye seam. Adding the princess seam resulted in two pattern pieces per side, which can then have stripes running in different directions:


The other change was the addition of a “belt” mid-section, which can be cut in four sections, again allowing for stripes in different directions:


The construction is very straightforward. I would recommend this dress for less experienced sewers. The only slightly challenging part was the easing of the sleeve back piece into the sleeve front piece:


As is, the skirt is a “pencil skirt”, with the expected degree of movement restriction. For the next version, I will add a center back walking slit. I might even add one to this dress, depending how annoying the lack of a walking slit turns out to be.