Pies are squared (away)

This morning I prepared some sourdough, to rise in the afternoon, then sit in the fridge overnight before baking in the morning. I’ve been using a simple “no knead” recipe that my sourdough friend pointed me to on YouTube. But after I’d prepared the dough he shared some photos of his latest dough, and it looked a lot nicer than mine. Smooth and clean, whereas mine looked… well, like this:

Sourdough before kneading

So I mentioned that I’m not kneading the dough, like the recipe he showed me, and asked if sourdough should not be kneaded. He said no, kneading it is fine and in fact good – he only showed me a “no knead” recipe because it was the simplest thing. I’ve been making bread from pre-mixed packets for months, so I’m familiar with kneading and how it changes the texture of the dough, so I was excited and went back and gave it a good 10 minutes of kneading. And then it looked and felt much, much better:

Sourdough after kneading

So this will be another experiment in my sourdough journey. But I’m confident and excited, hoping this will again be better than the previous one, in a steadily improving series of loaves.

In other food news, I went out for lunch with my wife and Scully, driving over to my favourite pie shop. It’s in the Northern Beaches region which has been under COVID travel restrictions for the past couple of weeks, but they’ve been relaxed now, so it was a good chance to go and get some pies. I had a butter chicken pie and a Mexican vegetable pie, both of which were delicious.

While there I added some masked lapwings to my eBird sighting list. That takes my eBird tally to 29 species spotted since 24 December. You can also add species you identify from their calls, but unfortunately I don’t know all of the bird calls that I hear around the region. I can identify several, but there are a few that I have no idea what bird they are, so unfortunately I can’t add them. Today I listened to 40 different Sydney bird call recordings from Birds in Backyards, but they didn’t include two of the most frequent ones I hear around here. I’ll have to find another site with more bird call recordings to learn what they are. One in particular is a distinct series of three descending whistling notes, which the repeats after a few seconds. I haven’t been successful in searching for that specific one.

To complete the food listing, this evening I made a spicy lentil dhal with potato chunks for dinner, served over rice. Very quick and easy, and delicious!

New content today:

Secret Projectifying

Not too much to talk about today. I did grocery shopping in the morning, then spent much of the day working on a secret project. I watched a bit of the cricket match being played in Sydney, but the seemingly never-ending rain here interrupted play a bit. Took Scully for a walk. Went out for dinner with my wife to a Turkish restaurant – a place we go to a bit which is one of our favourites.

I’m just relaxing now playing an impromptu games night with friends. We’re playing an implementation of Decrypto. It’s the first time we’ve tried this game, and it seems like a lot of fun, and just the sort of game we’ll enjoy playing.

New content today:

Bird photo walk

Today I wanted to get out of the house and get some exercise, but I didn’t just want to walk around the local neighbourhood, because it’s so familiar and I see it all the time. So I decided to hop in the car and drive a few suburbs away to Cremorne Point.

The point is a peninsula jutting south into Sydney Harbour. There is a walking path all the way around the shore of the point, and it has both beautiful scenery and amazing fancy houses. The shore is covered with trees and so there are also many birds in the area. I took both my phone and my dSLR with bird lens.

A rainbow lorikeet:

Rainbow lorikeet

Sulphur-crested cockatoos:

Sulphur-crested cockatoos

Silver gull, with an interesting Sydney background:

Gull and Opera House

A panorama of the lighthouse at the end of the point, and the city:

Cremorne Point walk

The MacCallum Seawater pool. This is a completely free public swimming pool, with an amazing view:

Cremorne Point walk

New content today:

Listing things to write

Several times in the past weeks I’ve sat down to write my daily blog entry and thought, “There was a thing I wanted to write about today, but what was it?” And I’ve been unable to remember what it was. So I’ve started writing down brief notes to remind myself. Let’s see how we go today…

I’m overdue for a haircut. I’ve avoided going for the past few weeks because of the current COVID outbreak here in Sydney, but now it’s getting long enough that I think I really need to get a haircut soon. The NSW Government has ordered mandatory wearing of masks in places specifically including hairdressers and beauty salons. At first I thought okay, I can just go to the barber and wear a mask… but then today I realised that there’s no way they can cut my hair normally with a mask on, as the barber trims sideburns and around the ears and stuff where the mask straps are. So I don’t know how that works. (Some searching now reveals on the NSW Government site that “You may also remove your mask for the proper provision of goods or services, for example, if you are having a facial or beard trim.” So I suppose that applies.)

Secondly, I had my first ever peanut butter and jelly sandwich today. In the USA food package that I received the other day was a jar of Smucker’s Goober Grape PB&J. Peanut butter and jelly is a very American food. We don’t really have “jelly” like in the US here in Australia, so it’s actually not easy to replicate the effect, except by using jam, which usually has at least small chunks of fruit in it. Indeed, to most Australians, the very idea of mixing peanut butter with jam/jelly sounds disgusting, so it’s not something that most of us would try to experiment with, either. So yeah, I’ve never had it before. I do enjoy making a sandwich with peanut butter, honey, and cinnamon, so I’m not averse to mixing PB with something sweet. And I like jam. But I still approached this PB&J with a bit of trepidation.

PB&J prep

I took some photos of the preparation. I’m guessing that traditionally in the US PB&J is probably made with plain white bread, but I never buy plain white bread – I always get wholemeal or something with lots of seeds in it. But today the only bread I had was my home-made sourdough. So I spread the PB&J on a slice of sourdough.

The verdict: Well, it was mostly PB since the top of the jar seems to have a lower proportion of jelly in it than further down. It tasted fine, PB with a bit of sweetness mixed in, not disgusting at all. I’m interested to see how it goes when I get further down the jar, where the jelly ratio looks higher. I expect it’ll be perfectly fine, even yummy.

In market news today, I received an email from Kirribilli Markets, where I’m supposed to have a stall this Sunday. I thought it might be notice of cancellation due to COVID, but no. It said that they’d been informed that the current railway sleeper replacement work being done on the Harbour Bridge was behind schedule, so instead of finishing this Friday, it would extend over the weekend. Which means no trains running to the station where the markets are located. They figured this would reduce shopper turnout enough that they felt the need to postpone the market for a week, moving it to Sunday 17 January. At first I thought this would conflict with my other market, which is on the third Sunday of each month, but then I realised that that market had already cancelled for January. So there’s no conflict – it just means this weekend’s market is moved to a week later.

Workwise today I had planned to complete all of the Irregular Webcomic! annotation writing by lunchtime, and then move on to writing new Darths & Droids strips. As it turns out, I had so many distractions that I still haven’t completed the IWC annotations, and probably won’t until tomorrow. I try to schedule a certain amount of “worklike” stuff each day, but it’s often amazing how long it ends up taking.

And I reached a milestone in my Italian practice today. I’ve been using Duolingo every day for a practice session for 183 days, more than half a year as of today. I’ve had longer streaks before, but I was interrupted by travel towards the end of 2019 and took a while to get restarted. But I’m pleased to have made it six full months of practice again.

Oh, and finally I got a photo of some rainbow lorikeets while taking Scully for a walk today.

Rainbow lorikeets

New content today:

Looking for birds

So as mentioned on 27 December, I’ve been getting into using eBird to record my bird sightings as I walk around the neighbourhood. I’ve been recording lists of sightings every day, which is training me to keep an eye and ear out for birds as I walk around.

Up to today, I’d recorded a total of 25 different species of birds. But today as I was out walking Scully I spotted the 26th, and a rather surprising one it was – an Australian pelican! They’re common along various Sydney ocean beaches and coastal strips, but I’m inland on the harbour shore, where they don’t often come. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one on the ground in this area – and in fact today’s was flying overhead. But as soon as I saw it I recognised it and was astonished that a pelican was flying so far from the sea. I watched it circle on a thermal over the harbour shore for a few minutes, wishing it would come closer so I could get a definite ID. After a while it did come close enough that yes, I can confirm with surety that it was a pelican. Cool!

Today I assembled the comics from the photos I took yesterday. It was a marathon effort, taking about six hours of solid work. The next step is writing the annotations, which I’ve made a start on, but will have to finish off another day.

The other thing I wanted to mention today is that I’ve been noticing a few discussion threads on reddit lately about colourblindness or other aspects of colour science. And I’m dismayed by how much misinformation there is and downright incorrect assertions that people make. I would be happy to provide correct explanations of things about colour and human vision, since this is part of my professional expertise, but it feels futile fighting against such a tsunami of misleadingly incorrect text. So it’s a bit depressing. I guess I should just stop reading anything about colour on reddit.

In COVID news, the Sydney outbreak seems to be being held under control, although there are still thousands of people under self-isolation orders. The number of actual new detected infections has been low the past few days, with testing numbers high. So if this continues, it looks like we have avoided an exponential spreading event. Fingers crossed!

New content today:

A big storm

Rather than just light rain today, we had a full on summer thunderstorm.

storm

That was the rain radar image at one point. It was spectacularly heavy rain and intense lightning and thunder. The thunder just kept rumbling and more lightning would add more thunder before the previous peal had died away, so it was continuous rumbling thunder for several minutes at one point. Before the storm (which hit about 4 pm) it was very warm and humid – very tropical feeling weather.

I spent the morning shooting photos for Irregular Webcomic! My wife was back at the office for work, so I had time alone to spread the Lego boxes all over the floor and generally make a mess, before cleaning it all up in time for her to come home. So she doesn’t know about the mess… except she reads this blog so now she does!

Also today I received a package in the mail, all the way from the USA. I did a food swap with a friend in the US, and they sent me a bunch of American foods, while I sent them a bunch of Australian stuff.

American food care package

Some of these things I’ve had before and know I like, while some will be a new experience, including the Twinkies, Goldfish Crackers, stuffed marshmallows, Goober Peanut Butter and Jelly. And I told them I like hot sauces, so I got a cool selection of new ones to try! It’ll take me a while to get through all of this stuff.

New content today:

D&D neighbours

I ran into a neighbour from our apartment complex today while we were out walking our respective dogs. His dog is Tex, a chihuahua, and Tex and Scully get along really well. They love playing together, and running rapid circles around the park across the street. It’s always good when they play together, because it wears them both out, and we know they’re going to be exhausted and quiescent during the evening.

Anyway, a few days ago my wife ran into the same guy and he was wearing a Dungeons & Dragons T-shirt. She asked him about it, and told him that I play D&D as well. Today was the first time I’ve seen him since then, so we chatted about it a bit. He said he played when he was a kid, but stopped for many years, only picking it up again recently when 4th Edition was current. And now he organises tournaments and uses them to raise money for charity. So that’s pretty cool.

I’ve noticed for a few years prior to this that another neighbour must be (or have been) into D&D as well. In one of the garages in the basement, a neighbour has a huge pile of D&D books, as well as piles of boxes of gaming miniatures and other stuff. The books there are mostly 2nd Edition, I think, so it’s possible this neighbour hasn’t played for a while. Unless they have more recent editions upstairs in the apartment. So in my building I know there are at least three people (including me) into D&D.

Weatherwise, we had more rain again today. Although it was confined to the morning, and the overcast broke up enough for a touch of sunshine around mid-afternoon, before closing in again. Now as I write, it’s sunset, and I can see some patches of blue sky. Tomorrow we’re supposed to get heavy rain and thunderstorms in the afternoon, so perhaps the morning will be dry.

What I really hate about this type of weather is the oppressive, unending humidity. It’s not hot, but it’s always just so sticky. Towels don’t dry – you can have a shower, and 24 hours later your bath towel that’s been hanging up all day is still damp. And hand towels stay damp all day from all the hand washing and drying. The pages of books go all crinkly from the humidity, and I worry about mould growing on stuff around the house. We have calcium chloride damp removers in the wardrobes and linen closet, and they fill up with water from the atmosphere in a few days, so I’m constantly having to change them. But at least you can see they’re removing moisture from the air. I should stick some more in some other storage places, maybe.

I finished writing that batch of Irregular Webcomic! today, ready for photography tomorrow. My wife returns to work tomorrow, so that will give me uninterrupted time to get it done. We were both concerned that she’d be ordered to work from home, given the current COVID situation here, but her work has told her to come into the office.

The news on COVID in Sydney is not good today. It’s been revealed that two staff at a liquor shop were infected and contagious while working several shifts over Christmas. Over 2000 people have been contacted directly from the customer COVID contact tracing register at the store, and they and all their subsequent close contacts (family and friends) have been ordered to get tested and self-isolate for 14 days. That adds up to probably well over 10,000 people. Not all will have caught the virus, and hopefully the number will be low, but it’s concerning that the potential number is so high, and that it could easily spread further if some people are not diligent in isolating. We’ll see how this plays out in the next few days.

New content today:

Rain analysis

I’ve been talking about the rainy weather a lot lately, and I decided to have a look at just how rainy it’s been here lately. Firstly, yes, it rained again today. Not heavily, but for several hours.

Looking back over the records, since 12 December, three weeks ago, Sydney has had only four days with no rain, out of 22 (counting today). Furthermore, the forecast for the next seven days indicates it’s most likely to rain every single day.

Last summer was ridiculously hot, and sparked all those horrible fires all over the place. This summer is not only very wet, but also very cool. Maximum temperatures have been mostly in the low 20s (°C), which is cool enough that it plausibly feels almost like winter.

The other news today is the Sydney COVID outbreak continues to grow, although we had only 7 new cases today. The state government announced increased restrictions today, including for the first time a legal requirement to wear masks in most public places, which will be enforced with fines from Monday. All other states and territories of Australia have re-closed their borders to people coming New South Wales. Sydney is currently partitioned into three zones, two of which we’re not allowed to enter. In the most restrictive zone, people are not allowed to have any visitors in their homes.

With all this, I’m not optimistic about my market stall happening on 10 January. But who knows… wait and see, I guess.

In work stuff, I wrote a good amount of Irregular Webcomic! scripts today. Just a few more to polish off tomorrow, and I can do photography on Monday. I mostly stayed inside today, because of the rain, but I did go out for a brief walk just after lunch, during a break. I saw several kookaburras – it looked like a group of young ones hanging out and learning to hunt for food, under the eyes of parents. I got another photo with my phone – not great, but definitely closer than I would normally expect to get to one of these birds.

Young kookaburra

New content today:

Middle Head walk

The cool wet weather continues. I managed to get out for a decent walk during a break in the rain, driving over to the suburb of Mosman with my wife and Scully at lunch time. We did roughly this walk from Balmoral Beach up to Headland Park and back. There are some excellent views of Sydney Harbour from the top of the hill:

Middle Head panorama

Apart from that I tried to write Irregular Webcomic! scripts, but wasn’t in the groove, so didn’t get many done. More tomorrow!!

(I’m actually writing Friday 1 January’s entry on Saturday morning, because last night was fortnightly games night with my friends. With COVID raging in Sydney again, we did it virtually, playing games on Board Game Arena, followed by the traditional Sketchful.)

New content today:

Codenames progress

I forgot to say yesterday that my wife and I finally conquered the Bangkok city challenge in our ongoing Codenames Duet campaign game. It took us 13 attempts and was getting to be very frustrating, sometimes losing in a sudden death final guess that could easily have gone either way. We were so close to winning many times, but never managed to make it until finally yesterday we cracked it.

Today we moved on to try Los Alamos, and we won it handily on the second attempt. Hopefully this is a sign of more progress towards completing the campaign after getting stuck for so long.

Today is also New Year’s Eve. It’s a weird one, both weather wise with another in the seemingly endless series of cool, overcast, rainy days that Sydney is having, and also with the COVID restrictions essentially putting the kybosh on any sort of outdoor celebrations. All of the harbour foreshore areas that would normally be packed with a million or more people waiting to view the fireworks are completely off-limits and you can be fined for going there. The midnight fireworks display is still happening, but almost nobody is going to be able to watch it in person, and it’s been reduced from the normal 15 minutes or so to a compact 7 minutes. And the 9 pm family preview fireworks have been cancelled completely.

The Sydney COVID outbreak continues to grow in a worrying fashion. The locally acquired cases are up to 144, with 10 new cases added today. The numbers are hovering unsteadily and it’s still not clear what sort of trend we’re currently in. I think there’s a good chance that my next market date, on Sunday 10 January, will be cancelled. Which will be annoying, but better than risking public health.

I took a long walk today with Scully and my wife. We went down to the local golf course, which is a fair walk, and up and down a lot of steep hills. I drive there when I play golf, because it’s too far to go with a full set of clubs, but it’s close enough to walk to otherwise. And I took single club and a few balls, so I could randomly hit a few shots in between players on the course. Scully enjoyed being leash-free on the course. It’s a very casual course and many people walk through it with their dogs all the time, so there was no issue there.

And for New Year’s Eve tonight we’re having a simple night at home. We always do wine and cheese and crackers on NYE, and tonight we decided to skip dinner completely and add fresh fruit—mangos and strawberries and grapes—to make it basically a full meal. Pretty decadent, but it’s fun!

New content today: