J Herbin French Ink

The fountain pens I bought in January during the great fountain pen buying binge of 2016 are now all starting to run out of ink with the cartridge that they came with.

I have bought various converters for them now so that I can use them with  various inks that are available. I started with the basic black and blue: French produced Parker Quink black, and German made Faber Castell royalblau. As I started to look at ink, it turns out there’s a whole world of ink out there. Sort of like beers, there’s all of these microbreweries that make a lot of different inks, varieties, and for different purposes. Some are quick drying, some will last hundreds of years, some are fade resistant, some are water resistant, some are special editions, commemorative editions, limited editions, small batches, and some even come with gold flakes.

I decided to give J. Herbin a try. They have been making ink since 1670, including inks for Louis XIV and Victor Hugo.  What’s good enough for the Sun King and author of Les Mis is good enough for me. They also make the ink with gold flakes. I went with the more standard ink line modestly named La Perle des Encres aka the pearl of inks. Of the 30 rather inventively named colors, I decided to give Vert reseda (green reseda) and Café des îles (island coffee) a try.

I cleaned out my Lamy Safari, installed the ink converter, and likewise Pilot Metropolitan with quite a bit of a mess at first.  Then onto the new inks! Vert reseda is actually pretty close to a light teal that is more green than blue, and the island coffee is a light pleasant brown. Definitely give the writing on the page a pop. Not sure which brand and color I will try next, but just reading about some of them is already pretty entertaining.

French ink


Back to mechanical pencils too

pencilsAfter getting back into fountain pens after a twenty some odd years of not having used one since elementary school, I realized I also haven’t used mechanical pencils in a while since moving to the US in grade school. In Shanghai, most elementary school kids have mechanical pencils. With 1st and 2nd graders using 0.9mm and then gradually going to 0.7mm and then 0.5mm in the upper elementary grades. In the US, it was all about the Ticonderoga #2 wooden pencil. In fact, I have never seen an American style hand cranked wooden pencil sharpener until I started grade school here.

Anyway, I ended up choosing 4 different mechanical pencils after reading a few online articles. Rotring 600 ($24), Rotring 800 retractable ($40), Pentel Graph Gear 1000 ($11), and Staedtler 925 25-05 ($11). All of them in 0.5mm, and Amazon was pretty quick with the shipping and the Rotrings well below MSRP.

I started with the Rotring 600, and really enjoyed writing with it.  It is super solid, great weight, heft, balance, and just well constructed. However, the lead sleeve is pointy and I didn’t think it would survive in my bag, so I wanted to see what else was out there. Rotring makes a retractable version of the 600, the 800. The 800 adds some gold accents that took me some getting used to. Sort of like people who gold plate their Lexus emblems. But after a couple of days with it, I got used to it, and now think the tone of the accents aren’t too shiny and fits the black of the pencil rather well. The 800 is ever so slightly chubbier than the 600, and the retraction mechanism added a little bit of wobble. I opened the pencil and added a piece of tape to the inside barrel and the wobble went away. But really, shouldn’t have to MacGyver a pencil this fancy with gold accents. The 800 trades portability for added mechanical complexity and a slightly less overall solid feel than the 600.

Rotring 800 wobble fix

Pentel Graph Gear 1000 is much lighter than either Rotrings, and the retraction mechanism is activated by the clip. Pressing on the clip releasing the notch on the barrel and it moves up the main body of the pencil. It is part metal, part plastic. It is a great mechanical pencil, but because it is not as solid as the Rotrings, it writes just as well, but doesn’t feel as substantial.

Both the Pentel and the 600 have rings that you can select to remind yourself what kind of lead you have in the pencil for people with real professional use of the pencils as opposed to everyday office note taking.

The Staedtler 925 25-05 is just a nice, no frills, no nonsense, comfortable, capable mechanical pencil. The Toyota Corolla of mechanical pencils really.

When I do feel like using a pencil, the 800 will go in my bag with the Pentel as the back up. The 600 will be in the office pen cup, and the Staedtler will probably around the house as needed.

While doing research on these pencils, found out that Sharp the Japanese electronics manufacturer started out with mechanical pencils called the Ever Sharp, hence the company name Sharp.

Pretty good pork chops

Pork theme continues, this time tried to do a good old skool pork chop. I got 2 of them with bone in.

  1. Brine it with some salt for about an hour.
  2. Season it with cayenne pepper, paprika, salt, pepper, and olive oil.
  3. In a preheated cast iron skillet, brown both sides.  Took around 5 minutes.
  4. Put it in 400 degree oven to roast for ~6 minutes to cook the meat through.
  5. Take it out of the oven, let it rest for 5 minutes covered under aluminum foil.
  6. Enjoy!

pork chop

How to Tonkatsu Perfectly

After many tries, finally found a Tonkatsu (aka Japanese pork Wiener Schnitzel) that works for me.  The key is adding a table spoon of oil to the egg wash, and frying it twice at different temperatures.

  1. Pork tenderloin, cut 1 1/4 inch thick pieces. Most recipes call for pork chops, but using tenderloin here since I had some on hand.
  2. Use back of kitchen knife or tenderizer and flatten out pork to size of your hand.  Around 4X4in ish size and ~1/4 in thick depending on how big the original tenderloin is and how thick you cut the pieces.
  3. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides.
  4. Lightly dredge it in plenty of flour, make sure it is all covered, pat out an excess.
  5. Beaten eggs with 1 tea spoon of oil added to make egg wash.  Coat the pork pieces in it. 1 Egg will coat ~5 pieces.
  6. Panko it gently, don’t press into it.  Make sure it is covered.
  7. Fry for 3 minutes in 300 degree oil to cook the meat.
  8. Take it out and let it rest for a couple of minutes.
  9. Turn up the temperature, fry again in 355 degrees about a minute or until golden brown. The 2nd frying makes it really crispy.
  10. Enjoy!

I used the Waring DF55 home fryer with corn oil for this recipe.  I do have some refined olive oil that I will try next time to see if it makes a difference in taste since 355 is well below smoking point for both oils.

Tonkatsu 2nd fry

Twice fried on top of the cooling rack, 1st time fried bottom.

Tonkatsu finish

Finally got to eat.

Cars of Kevin Part 1: the Cadillac Cimarron

I realized that I have actually owned quite a few interesting cars in my life so far.  Let’s start at the very beginning.  My 1987 Cadillac Cimarron.  If you look anywhere on the internet, this car is guaranteed to be in the top 10 of any worst cars ever made list, and usually credited with the lowest point in Cadillac’s history, or the car that nearly killed Cadillac.  In my mind though, it was actually a really cool car for many reasons, needed competitor to Europeans, but poorly executed for the time.

The car is really a re-skinned Chevy Cavalier, and shared the same platform as a bunch of other GM cars of the time like Buicks and Oldsmobiles.  This was a huge turn off to the Cadillac buyers of the time, but common practice in the auto industry now.  For example, VW Touareg, Audi Q7, and the Porsche Cayenne uses the same platform.  This is really Cadillac’s first effort to get to a younger segment that they didn’t have before.  They are now doing so successfully with the Cadillac ATS (shares platform with Chevy Camaro BTW).  It’s a pretty good looking car.  Mine was in a lighter blue.


My family bought it used in the early 90s and I drove it in high school and first couple years of college.  The dash is awesome for 1987, all digital, aluminum look surrounding the instrument cluster, very 80’s futuristic. At the same time, everything is where it should be. The interior is a huge step above its Chevy cousin.  Against BMW, Audi, and Saabs of the same vintage that it was supposed to compete against, it set itself apart.

Cimarron dash

The car had a 2.8L V6 making a now absurdly low 125HP by today’s standards, but it did only weigh 2700 pounds.  3 Speed automatic, and 0-60 in 10 seconds or so.  In comparison, a 2016 Honda Fit is 2600 pounds and makes 130HP from a 1.5L engine.   The earlier models had a smaller engine and better MPG.  The V6 version MPG is around the low/mid 20s. The Cimarron cost ~$35,000 in today’s dollars, once again very much in the same segment where the Cadillac ATS is now, competing back then as now with Audis and BMWs.


The drivetrain of the Cimarron was very dependable, it did burn a little bit of oil, but the all digital panel was not.  We did not have any mechanical issues during the time we had it aside from regular maintenance.  Sadly, one by one, each display started to fail.  First it was the fuel gauge, then the oil pressure, then temperature.  Until eventually the entire main display died in mid 2000.  Getting the panel repaired would have cost much more than the car was worth, and we donated the car.  Mechanically the car was very sound after 20 years, alas, the electrics did not.

While the car is widely panned by the press, in my book on its own, without all the baggage of GM’s failures of the 80s, it was a unique, dependable, and fun car for any teenager and college student.  I will always have a soft spot for Cadillacs.  Maybe one day, a CTS-V wagon.

Beers of Taiwan

I went to Taiwan around Thanksgiving time and had a great time there.  The 7Elevens and FamilyMarts is a wonderland of foods and drinks not found here in the US.  See earlier post on tea eggs.  In particular, beers and snacks.  Since the weather is pretty hot and humid, beers are perfect.  This post will feature some of the more interesting beers / light alcohol “alcopop” drinks.  IMG_0695As you can see first haul is mostly regular beers.  First 3 Japanese imports.  A Kirin lager named Bar Beer I believe is made for the Taiwan market, Suntory Premium Malt is for the Japanese domestic market.  More familiar to Americans, Orion.  The Taiwan Beer Classic isn’t as good as the Taiwan Beer Gold Medal.  And lastly the first flavored beer.  Taiwan beer with honey.  That was spectacular and a revelation.  Who’d thought beer with honey flavoring would be a good thing?  I have to try it out at home at some point.  Not sure if regular honey would dissolve in cold beer.

IMG_0702So I went full flavor beer the next 7Eleven visit.  The honey beer, plus pineapple and mango.  Like a Radler or Shandy, but instead of Sprite or lemonade, fruit juices (at least fruit flavorings).  Could not stop drinking it especially when spending a sunny humid day outside.  Also a Tsingtao in a blue can that is brewed in Taiwan, it tastes noticeably different than the regular Tsingtao.


Even more adventurous, we will concentrate on the alcohol here. Ok, not so much actual beer, but flavored shochu.  Think of wine fruit sparklers.  Pink Suntory can is white peach, then red tea, ignore 2 cans of Br Brown coffee.  The green gold can is the Kirin 5% chardonnay, tastes like grape juice.  Then the Taiwan mango again.  The whit can is the Suntory white sour that’s tastes like it is mixed with Yakut or Calpis, a Japanese yogurt soft drink.  The last is the Taiwan beer grape, it wasn’t very good.

Favorites have to be the Taiwan Honey and Mango.  Kirin Chardonnay and the Suntory shochus had a little bit of an artificial aftertaste, but great while drinking it.

Best of 7 (fountain pens)

Ended up going slightly overboard with 7 fountain pens after the Great Winter Fountain Pen Spree.  Averaging around $33 each, with a low of $12 for the Pilot Metropolitan and a high of $50 for the Waterman. Some I really liked, and will continue to use on a day to day basis.  Others very much meh and will be backup pens.  All are stock medium nibs.

Faber Castell Basic.  The weight, look, and feel was just right for me.  Industrial, minimalist, and yet pretty cool looking.  Everything seems well proportioned.  Writes extremely well.  Blue ink that comes standard is less saturated than others, but very calm and pleasing.

Runner Up:
Waterman Hemisphere.  A much more classic and conventional looking pen.  Smaller and skinnier than the Faber, with a gold and wider and stubbier looking nib, but still very comfortable to write with.  Ink flow and saturation was very consistent.

3rd (tied)
Parker Urban. Very curvy and sleek.  Nib seems small in proportion to the rest of the pen.  Pretty comfortable.
Cross Century Classic.  The opposite of the Parker.  Pen itself is skinny (would like to try a bigger one at some point), but the nib looks much larger than rest of pen.  Hard to believe it is medium with the ink and saturation, especially compared to the Pilot pens.

Pilot Metropolitan.  Great pen, medium is much thinner than others.  Plain  but aerodynamic look.  Can’t beat $12!

Lamy Safari.  Like the overall design design, very different looking than others.  The angular grip doesn’t quite work for me for longer note taking sessions.  The one on I got, the nib is very scratchy, and ink flow was inconsistent at times.

Pilot Prera.  Writes very similar to the Metropolitan.  Shorter, and made of plastic.  Was expecting more especially with the MSRP at $70 on the Pilot site.  Got it on Amazon for $30, but I still rather have 2 and half of the Metropolitans.

7 Pens

So I’m into fountain pens now, again

I haven’t used one since elementary school in Shanghai before moving to the US.  Rite of passage to own a Hero fountain pen.  Sadly no fountain pens in schools in the US.  The ones you see are often the way too expensive status symbol, but also very nice, Mont Blanc or Graf von Faber-Castell.  I took the plunge and started with a Lamy Safari a few weeks ago, and reminded me how much I liked having ink on paper.  So I also bought a few more for home and work.  A Cross Classic Century Medalist, a Pilot Metropolitan, and a Pilot Prera.  We’ll see how it goes when I go full fountain pen for everything.  Also thinking about trying different ink colors like brown, maybe…

Fountain pens

Making some Tea Eggs

Tea Eggs

Another day of winter break, another day of making something from childhood.  While you can get these tea eggs at 7-Elevens in Taipei, a little bit harder to find it here.  Once again, easier than I thought it would be, since the local Chinese supermarket had something already mixed up so I don’t have to mix 7+ spices in the right proportions and put it in a bag myself.

Pretty easy.  Put the tea flavor packet and the powder into a saucepan with eggs (should be submerged).  I added 0.25 cup soy sauce, and 1 tea spoon mirin.  I also could have added some more white pepper powder and additional tea leaves, that will be next time.

High for ~20 minutes, make sure eggs are fully cooked.  Use a spoon or tongs to crack the egg shells but leave it intact on the eggs.  Ideally marbled look.  Then turn down to low heat and simmer for another 1.5 hours.

Tea egg packet

Chinese marinade beef


Decided to make some Chinese marinated beef.  Luckily, instead of having to come up with the marinade all by myself and finding all the spices and whatnot, Lee Kum Kee already has it in a bottle called Selected Five Spice Marinade.

The sauces

Process was pretty simple. 1 pound shoulder beef, 0.75 cup LKK marinade, 0.25 cup soy sauce, 1.5 cup water, table spoon mirin, 1 lump (~60g) of rock sugar.  Throw it all into a small sauce pan.  Bring to boil, then simmer for ~2 hours.