Chicken Parm Soup

Posted by aBethke on Sunday Nov 18, 2018 Under Soup Review

This was part of a list of 68 soup recipes I saw randomly on a social media post somewhere. The recipe itself linked back to Delish.

This was a pretty easy recipe to make with well laid out instructions. You gotta love recipe sites for some of their standardized recipe formats. Having said that, with all the Italian seasonings in this soup I would have half expected to receive it on a scrap of paper from someone’s Nonna.

With the garlic, tomatoes, and onion first into the pot, the smells made me think I had just walked into a small kitchen on an Italian hillside. If I looked at the ingredients without aid of a recipe I would have thought I was making a pasta sauce, but before long the spaghetti sauce scents were subdued with the addition of 6 cups of chicken stock. Even this early in the prep the melange of scents were teasing me with glimpses of the flavours soon to be flaved.

Store bought pasta will always be a poor substitute for fresh, but wanting to limit the amount of production for this endeavour, I found a hearty looking penne that would be easy to scoop in to a spoon and equally easy to cut up into pieces for my young son. To the pot, with the pasta!

In my experience the cornerstone of most Italian dishes is the proper selection of cheese. Too often in western culture a lovingly made pasta is ruined with an over processed pre-shredded Parmesan. Sinning with the use of pasta I did not make myself, I hoped the cheese selection would be my path to redemption. A premium wedge of parmigiana regalia was paired with a fresh sphere of mozzarella. Both of these were shredded and then, like the gentle snowfall of a calm winter night, sprinkled into the pot before being slowly swirled in the broth. At this point I could feel a tingle in the air – flavour magic was occurring.

It was also around this time that the wife began hovering around the edges of the kitchen, like a mischievous child trying to steal the first cookie from the oven. This itself was a good sign that this recipe might be a winner, further reinforced by her repeated questions as to when the food would be ready.

The soup prepped, the pasta al dente, and the parsley held aloft with strands of cheese running throughout the broth, it was time to fetch the ladle and feed my family.

The smell test was quickly passed with great success. Although liquid, this was clearly the scent of a Chicken Parm before me. The spoon dipped deep into the bowl, slowly swirling once then twice before beginning its ascension to the maw of judgement. Cheesy deliciousness mixed with savoury tomato goodness, coating and running throughout the pieces of penne and chicken. This soup did not disappoint.

Learning from my mistake with the last soup, I specifically planned to bring some to work the next day and see how it tasted. Sadly this is where the Chicken Parm tasted of naught but disappointment… well, disappointment and cheese. The big problem, and likely one all pasta soups would face, is the noodles were overly soft the following day and ended up just being mushy which kind of ruined the mouth feel of the soup. It wasn’t bad, it was just a far cry from the deliciousness of the fresh soup.

All together I liked it and will probably make this again. So, if you’re looking for some cheesy savoury goodness, this soup is for you!

Recipe: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Soup: 4 out of 5 Spoons

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Coconut Red Lentil Soup

Posted by aBethke on Sunday Nov 18, 2018 Under Soup Review

[Note] This is a slightly modified version of the original Soup Review I wrote. Edits were made to remove personal details from the original version which was written and shared with my colleagues at work.

 

[Note, the second] This recipe was given to me by a colleague at work from his wife after we had been discussing food and cooking for some time. Eating largely vegetarian themselves, I had asked persistently for some recipes to try and then after receiving them, took weeks myself to actually make one. This first Soup Review was written partially as a thank you to them for being patient to get feedback on the recipe.

 

An in-development soup

An in-development soup

How does one truly approach a review for a recipe they’ve never had and are also making themselves? Tis no easy task, especially when the recipe was provided with variant options. Nonetheless, prepared ingredients and recipe at the ready, I ventured into the kitchen to make my first ever Coconut Red Lentil Soup.

Having been quite some time since I had lentils it was hard to remember if they had a signature flavour to them, so right away my mind fixated on the coconut and was whisked away to Caribbean Islands, expecting something along the lines of a spicy coconut flavoured borth with a velvety texture. It was clear to me very quickly however, that my mind had traveled to the wrong part of flavour country with this assumption as I began to add all the spices to the mix and the smells wafted up to tantalize my senses.

To remain true to the recipe that was provided, I tried to follow the instructions precisely, which of course presented a comical moment when I realized there was a step missing about when to add the sweet potatoes to the mix. Not one to be perplexed by this particular tuber, I pressed on after a short ponderance, so as to avoid any precipitous happenstance, and placed the sweet potato into the pot earlier in the process so it would come out soft while adding some of its starch to the broth. For the greens I chose some fresh and crispy Kale, lightly massaged before it was added. Resisting the temptation of more exotic flavours I held off on trying the variant with Garam Masala, a spice I have readily on hand compared to Turmeric, and stuck with the base ingredients in the recipe. The one place I may have deviated more than intended was with the addition of the minced garlic. This one ingredient, for no reason obvious to even myself, was not measured precisely like the rest, but was instead eyeballed and in that regard I think I would have use a touch more garlic if I made this soup again in the future. The one other place I ended up being lackadaisical, this time in the procurement of the lime leaf garnish, was simply due to the fact that the local store didn’t have them, so I substituted a tiny squirt of lime juice instead.

The prep completed, the soup simmering, and smells delighting the senses, I got a bowl, and with ladle in hand I reached not once, not twice, but thrice into the pot to serve a portion, immediately concerned this might be an insufficient amount of soup to sate the hunger of a man of my particular dimensions.

With a sense of purpose and a hungry belly, my spoon dove into the broth and emerged like a breaching whale, full of bits and broth. Up it soared from the bowl to my waiting maw before its final descent, post-mastication, down into the darkened depths of my gurgling gut.

What did I taste you wonder? An explosion of flavour swirled in my mouth and my initial verdict was simply, “This is a good soup”. But a good flavour alone is not the hallmark of a good soup in my opinion; other factors must be considered! The yield of the recipe proved prodigious for the modest amount of ingredients involved, a good sign after the initial flavour. The time it took to make was not too bad, putting the meal in a mid-range of time required to for prep to table presentation. So with a good flavour, large yield, and mid-range prep time this proved to be a viable vegetarian soup recipe that would likely be made again. I finished my bowl and approached the final test… how full was I? Much to my surprise, I did not require a second bowl after all, as the soup was quite filling. Satisfied with my efforts I packaged up the remaining soup and continued on with my day, thinking this exercise in flavour discovery complete. What I had not realized in that moment was that I was missing one of the most important ingredients of all…

Time! No, not thyme, but time itself – the inexorable march forward that all linear corporeal beings are slave to – always plays an important role in food preparation and doubly so when it comes to a meal like soup. I had not considered this when I made and then immediately consumed the soup. I was fortunate that I did not fall victim to my own hubris in this regard, as later that evening I returned once more to the soup pot, this time to retrieve a sampling for both the wife and myself. This time, things were different. This time, flavour magic had occurred!

Giving the soup a few hours to set and let all the ingredients properly mingle and absorb into each other I found the flavour noticeably elevated. Where before I had a soup now I had a symphony of flavours all working to form a glorious melody to delight the taste and smell senses, yet it was also hearty and satisfying. It was at this point that I thought to myself, “This is a very good soup.”

Like my spoon scraping the bottom of the empty bowl, all good things must come to an end, and so too much this review end. Overall I found this a fun exercise in cooking with a delicious result I would definitely make again in the future. I would be interested in trying the substitution with Garam Masala, adding a touch more garlic and coconut milk, and a dollop of sour creme or creme fraiche would really finish off the flavour and presentation of this delightful recipe.

Recipe: 4 out of 5 Stars
Soup: 4.5 out of 5 Spoons

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Soup Review: A Brief History

Posted by aBethke on Sunday Nov 18, 2018 Under Soup Review

At work one day I stumbled upon a conversation between two of my colleagues, a programmer and an artist, involving soup reviews. Skipping some of the personal details of the people involved, the one guy would get soups to try from the other guy’s wife’s work and then write playful about the soups for the entertainment of the couple and some of our colleagues at work. Recently however the soup reviewer ended up leaving our work for other opportunities and I have attempted to pick up the torch and continue the tradition of Soup Reviews.

 

Modifying the original format slightly I will be finding recipes to both make and consume, and in so doing, will review both the recipe and the result. The reviews will be sporadic, with no set schedule, because honestly, I’m just being realistic about how much time I’ll have to write soup reviews, but I love cooking and my family has got to eat so this might be a fun way to add a little extra zest to the grind of cooking food daily for the wife and kid. XD

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3 Magic Numbers in a Colour Replacement Shader

Posted by aBethke on Sunday Jan 14, 2018 Under Bag o' Tricks, Unity

Recently at work I was developing a shader for doing colour replacement. I wanted to create a palette of five colours and have a shader that would replace colours in a source image, video, model, or work as a post-processing screen effect. After four versions I got the types of results I was hoping for and I wanted to share a breakdown of the technique I was using to do the replacements and note a few interesting things I learned along the way including the mystery of these magic numbers: 0.3, 0.59, 0.11.

High resolution clown image from the movie It

Pennywise from the movie IT, used as a test image for the shader development

The first version of the shader was very simple. It looked at the rgb colour of the current pixel and then tried to match it to the closest matching colour from the pallette. The first really interesting thing I learned while building this version was to think of RGB values like a 3D point. This was significant for me because I previously didn’t have a good way to think of colour values in a way that could be compared but after stumbling on a forum post where someone said to think of the RGB values this way it made it really easy for me to visualize the data. At this point I wrote some shader code to take the current pixel colour and compare the distance to the palette colours and then replace with the closest match. This worked as a basic first approach but there was a lot of detail loss.

A low detail colour replaced version of the Pennywise test image

Five colour replacement shader, version 1

For the second version I tried adding a parameter to the shader called Strength which was used to blend the replacement colour back into the original image. This way I could turn down the blending strength to retain some of the detail. The result was a slight but noticeable improvement but still not good enough for what I was going for.

 

An improved detail colour replaced version of the Pennywise test image

Five colour replacement shader, version 2

In version three I started taking a different approach after having the idea that if I convert the image to grayscale first there would be a better match for colour replacement, better blending, and ultimately better detail retention on the overall picture. In figuring out how to convert an image to grayscale I found a line of code that had three magic numbers.

 

float3 greyScaledColour = dot(sampled.rgb, float3(0.3, 0.59, 0.11));

 

I didn’t understand what this code was doing but it clearly resulted in a grayscale image so I integrated it into my shader. It really bugged me that I was using a piece of code I didn’t understand so I showed it to my team lead at work and we began a discussion and some investigation to find the source of the numbers. After some back and forth my lead had an idea that was quickly verified and while still not fully understanding why this results in a grayscale pixel when using the dot product of the sampled colour against these three magic numbers what we did find is the source of the numbers. These numbers correlate to the number of Red, Green, and Blue rods and cones we have in our eyes. WILD!

Here’s some links to some of the info we read that led to this understanding.

 

So after converting the image to grayscale and then doing the colour replacement there was a further improvement as I had hoped. If you compare the v3 image to the v2 image it’s hard to notice the difference at first but if you look at the head of Pennywise in v3 you should notice that the colour gradiation resulted in better groupings of colours whereas in v2 there’s a split on the forehead between blue and pink areas that seems unnatural even in this extreme palette.

 

Third version of the colour replacement shader output.

Five colour replacement shader, version 3

At this point I was pretty happy with the shader but had one more idea that I thought might yield an even better result, which proved to be true. The final technique worked better than the previous versions and gave you a lot of control over how the colour replacements are done. So here’s what I did…

 

I realized that I could treat the grayscale colour values as a single number in the range of 0 to 1. I could also take the 5 colour palette and treat those values as a range of 0 to 1. Now instead of doing distance checks on the three values I would just be matching the 0 to 1 values between the grayscale and the replacement palette. From there the final step was to add some sliders to the shader so you could control the thresholds for each colour in the palette which gave you much better control of which colours replaced dark and light areas in the image. Once that was all done then the final value was blended as in the previous versions for the end result. I am extremely happy how this shader turned out and am already using modified versions of it in a number of projects.

Final version of the colour replacement shader using the Pennywise test image

Five colour replacement shader, version 4

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I Ruined My Life in the Nicest Way

Posted by aBethke on Tuesday Oct 22, 2013 Under Secret Projects

theRingsTheThing

On august 21st I got engaged to an absolutely wonderful lady that I’ve known for about half of my life at this point. This completed four months of scheming, secrecy and preparation. For my engagement I wanted to do something special and multifaceted and so I set for myself a quest. Herein you will find the tale of my deeds, the trials I faced, the silly things I did to win my love and the details of how I got engaged with a puzzle made inspired by Hellraiser, made from Lego and a speech starting with the perfection quote from Fight Club

For my quest I wanted to create a series of challenges to overcome that were either an extension of myself or my lady. As a martial arts enthusiast and practitioner I’ve always had an appreciation for stealth and secrecy so the first component of my challenge was to keep it on lockdown. Normally for a secret of this nature I’d have a really hard time keeping it but that was the exact requirement I set for myself. For four months I made my other preparations in almost complete secrecy until everything was ready.

For the second requirement I wanted to do something a bit challenging that extended from my passion to design and create things. I also wanted to incorporate something game related since I spend most of my time creating and even occasionally playing games. After some consideration I decided to design and build a puzzle box. As I was doing research on various styles I came upon the idea to build it out of Lego, which at the time seemed like a massive time saver but due to my life as a catastrophe magnet took a bit longer than planned. In the end I spent 34 hours designing and 4 hours building an approximately 1000 piece, 7 step puzzle box. Friend and fellow Bento Miso member Robby Duguay was kind enough to donate a not insignificant amount of his time and talent to video tape and edit the footage of me building the puzzle box.

v1 final box

“Short”

Longer with commentary

The final piece of my devious scheming was an abstract concept of epicness. I wanted to do something grandiose with a bit of showmanship. I thought I had fulfilled this with the rest of the plan however in hindsight I can see that the universe was only too happy to provide me with some additional challenges which I’ll speak about later. In fact there were several unplanned challenges that came up that on which I will elaborate.

Once everything was in place the plan was to light some candles on the balcony, bring K out there, say my partially prepared speech and then present the puzzle box. This part of the plan actually went as it was supposed to and K was a good sport about figuring out the puzzle box on her own. I have to admit I had gotten a little worried earlier in the day when as I was finishing up the puzzle box Damian asked the question “does she like puzzles” and I was not able to say yes with complete confidence.

The Story of the Ring
The ring I proposed with is a third generation family heirloom which was originally a gift of appreciation given to my great aunt for the extended care she gave to an ailing friend. Before my great aunt died she gave the ring to my grandma. After my dad proposed to my mom, my grandma gave the ring to him to give to my mom as an engagement ring. When my dad and mom got divorced, they put the ring away for safe-keeping for just such an event as my engagement.

We were at the DMG Mother, May I? game jam, taking a lunch break and I casually mentioned to my mom, amongst various other topics, that I was lamenting trying to save up for a ring. Merely noting the desire and saying nothing at the time, my mom returned the final day of the game jam and pulled me into one of the meeting rooms. At the time I thought she simply wanted to discuss the exciting new art direction we were persuing for our game Brother Nature but much to my surprise she produced the ring and offered it to me to give it K. Completely unprepared for such a thing at the time my reaction was something close to “shit just got really real”. With that I began my scheming.

Lego > Canada Post
This is a really long and painful story the short version of which is that Lego DESTROYS the hopes and dreams of Canada Post at least when it comes to taking care of screw ups and customers. Lego shipped my package, Canada Post damaged it, held it without informing me and never once returned any of my phone calls regarding my case for at least 2 weeks before my package finally showed up. In the meantime Lego had reshipped my entire order at no additional cost and threw in a $25 gift certificate just for good measure. When asked what I do if I end up with both orders? They said keep it. That’s class right there. Canada Post i condemn you to the blackest hells of your own customer service and you should learn something from Lego.

Puzzle Box Redesign
So if the whole delivery nightmare hadn’t been stressful enough there were two hiccups during the actual construction of the puzzle box. The first was simply that a small number of pieces weren’t shipped with the order so I was missing some. Luckily I had ordered spare parts of each type and was able to salvage it by replacing some colours and modifying the visual design of the outer shell. The second issue was midway through building the puzzle I realized I had created a set of Lego pieces that didn’t physically work outside of the 3d modelling tool in terms of sliding locks for the overall puzzle. Originally it was a 9 step box but with some adjustments I was able to fix the design at the cost of 2 sliding pieces. All things considered the damage could have been a lot worse.

Puzzle Box v1

Fight Club quote
A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection. ~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, Chapter 3

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Writing an Artist Statement

Posted by aBethke on Monday Oct 21, 2013 Under Randomness and Ramblings

I recently had to go through the exercise of writing an Artist Statement as part of a funding application I’m working on for a grant. I’ve never had to do this style of writing before and found the whole experience weird and a bit pretentious. Usually Andrew and I lament any time we have to write bios and find the ordeal painful and bizarre in that way that talking about yourself in the third person always can be. Artist statements as I quickly learned are an entirely different sort of beast. Anyways, I slogged through it after putting some thought into my game designs for Seraph and Brother Nature. Here’s what I came up with XD

Brother Nature
This project was a collaboration between myself and my mother and was developed over a weekend at the Mother, May I game jam hosted by the Dames Making Games organization. For this project we wanted to play with themes around creation and life, male vs female and organic vs constructed.

The concept for the game was that Mother Nature has many daughters but a single son. Usually the daughters spread life but Brother asks, ‘Mother, May I?’. Users play as Brother controlling seeds that they must navigate past various obstacles like stars and asteroids to bring rocky barren planets to life.

The art style and presentation of the assets to the user were particularly important in this game as they were the main reinforcement of the themes that we were exploring. The dead planets were presented in a very washed out grey to convey a sense of barrenness and death with revived planets conversely in vibrant colour and patterns.

The story concept for the game was largely taken from the fact that I was making this game with my mother for a game jam event hosted on Mother’s Day weekend and as such it seemed a very natural extension to make a game about Mother Nature and her son. Extending further from that idea we wanted the art style to really reflect the male vs female theme and that our character was the only son of Mother Nature and to that end we designed the revived planets with very inorganic fractal and geometric patterns in mind.

Play Brother Nature

Seraph
Based on the Experimental Gameplay Project winner “Star Fall”, Seraph is a game about a wish-born falling star soaring across a surreal landscape collecting dreams and avoiding terrible nightmares. As you hurtle through the sky faster and faster, slow down time to help navigate the crowded dreamscape. Keep your falling star burning as long as you can by gathering the blue-tinted Lucid Dreams to strike back and cleanse nightmares.

Seraph was a game with a simple core mechanic that tried to subtly look at themes of life/death, speed vs control and balance. Players start as a brilliant star full of life that quickly drains away if they do nothing. Touching dreams restores life to the star and increases the movement speed while hitting nightmares drains the star and slows it down. The player is presented with a basic problem of live and soar through the landscape at the cost of maneuverability or slow down enough to control your movement but at the same time move ever closer to dying. It was through this core mechanic that the player is forced to try to balance their actions.

The star itself is a metaphor for each of our lives. We start vibrant and pure, full of energy and as we progress through life we slowly drain away while doing what we can to find the balance between joy and adversity and striving to keep living for as long as we can. In life as in Seraph it is inevitably impossible to exist forever no matter how hard we struggle and Seraph tries to hint at this through its gameplay.

iOS – App Store
YouTube Trailer:

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Seraph

Posted by aBethke on Wednesday Nov 16, 2011 Under Game Development

Reposted from www.goldengeargames.com

Seraph for iPad on the app store
Seraph for iPhone on the app store

Seraph is a game about a wish-born falling star in search of dreams to stay alive while avoiding Nightmares. Players control the star using a virtual DPAD or tilt based controls and have the power to slow time and cleanse most nightmares.

The game features four types of Nightmares to avoid while you soar ever faster through the night sky collecting Dreams. Golden Dreams will restore you to full health while Blue Dreams empower the star with spears to cleanse most Nightmares. Trade life for the power to slow time and survive for as long as possible.

Seraph is based on our flash game Starfall which was originally developed for the Experimental Gameplay Project’s 2010 May HIGH VELOCITY competition.

Reviews

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Dirty Dancing

Posted by aBethke on Wednesday Nov 16, 2011 Under Game Development

Reposted from www.goldengeargames.com

Dirty Dancing was the second game that we worked on for Social Game Universe and was a partnership between SGU and Lionsgate.

Originally Alex was supposed to handle the client team lead position but it was later decided to put Andrew in charge for this game while Alex focused on post-launch Grow-Ops updates. We both contributed to the core design of the game, but on the coding side of things Andrew did the real work of the project by developing the Isometric engine on which the game runs, while Alex focused on other systems like Inventory, Sound Management and top/bottom bar UIs.

Dirty Dancing on Facebook: Play it now

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Grow-Ops

Posted by aBethke on Wednesday Nov 16, 2011 Under Game Development

Reposted from www.goldengeargames.com

Grow-Ops was a game developed by Social Game Universe in partnership with Fremantle Media for the Facebook platform. Alex was hired (contract) to lead the development for this project but his role quickly expanded to include project management and completion of the game design.

Grow-Ops is a farming style game with combat/strategy elements that allowed you to sneak onto your friends’ yards and attack their plants. It was designed to appeal to a niche market culture of teenage to young adults; basically, the type of game that the ‘Adult Swim’ crowd would enjoy. The game focus was on beautifying your own yard by decorating and planting pretty combo crops while setting up defenses and then venturing out into the world to unleash attacks on friends and strangers, clearing their plants and replacing them with your noxious cash crops.

Grow-Ops: Play it now

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TIFF Nexus Peripherals Initiative

Posted by aBethke on Thursday Nov 3, 2011 Under Game Development

Peripherals Initiative
Digifest event page

This was a short event after a lot of work to get us to the goal. The idea behind it was to mesh game development and hardware hacking to create unique alternative peripheral devices for gaming. There was a a flight sim you pilot with your eye, a laser trip wire maze you could physically navigate, a space shooter style game with overly complex controls (by design) and my project Button Masher. My partner on this initiative, Vlad Cazan, did a great write-up on the hardware side of things so I’ll focus a bit on the games.

By the end of the project we had planned to demo 4 games: 3 two player games and 1 one player game. When it came time to integrate the two devices to my laptop and the game logic we ran into some communication issues. We scrambled to try to resolve the issues before the show but could not. Fearing having only one game to demo I stayed up most of the night coding a new 2-player on a single device turn-based strategy game (think Othello) to try to salvage the experience. Overall people were really excited about all the projects.

Our mention on the Arduino website

We prepared this extended presentation to explain a bit more about the idea behind Button Masher and how the games work.

Additional Media

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