Too much nutmeg

I’m really not sure about nutmeg. I cook a fair bit, and I have some nutmeg in the spice rack, but I never use it much. Because honestly I don’t think I like the flavour. It’s kind of earthy and woody and camphorous and resiny. Looking at some online information, nutmeg is described as a “warm and sweet” spice. “Warm and sweet” sounds like cinnamon, which I love. But nutmeg is nothing like cinnamon. It’s like the promise of something delightful, which then gets cruelly ripped away, leaving exposed the sham that is nutmeg.

I just made a simple semolina porridge as an after-dinner dessert. Normally I have this with cinnamon and brown sugar, and it’s delicious. Today I thought I’d expand my spice usage and add a dash of nutmeg…

Big mistake. Big. Huge.

It’s like what I imagine eating sandalwood, or mothballs, would be like. Bitter and nasty. I dunno… maybe the nutmeg has been sitting in a jar so long it’s gone off? But honestly the taste is pretty much what I remember nutmeg to taste like from past experience. Just stronger… maybe I just added too much? Anyway…. nutmeg is definitely no cinnamon.

Apart from poisoning myself, mostly today I did housework and little cleaning tasks, with a bit of comics work in between, but not much to speak of.

New content today:

Sourdough conclusion

It’s Christmas Eve, and that meant some cooking tasks. First cab off the rank was completing the sourdough Sourdough and Conjunctionthat I began yesterday.

After rising overnight at room temperature it looked like this (compare to the pre-rising photo from yesterday):

Making sourdough, step 3

It rose nicely, more than doubling in size, but spread out and went a bit gooey. The next step was to try to manipulate it into a rough loaf shape on a baking tray. This was tricky because it had become quite sticky, and I needed a bit of flour dusting on my hands, and a butter knife to scrape it all off, but I finally managed to produce this:

Making sourdough, step 4

I consulted my friend who’d gifted me the starter and he said it looked like it had been a bit overproofed. Which he said would make it sticky and not rise as much during baking, and quite sour, but should still taste good. He suggested letting the final rise happen in the fridge, which I did.

A few hours later I baked it, and after 40 minutes it turned out like this:

Making sourdough, step 5

The bottom (not shown) was nice and browned, but the top had a pasty look. It was firm, and sounded hollow on tapping, which indicated it was baked properly, so I let it cool. Then came the moment of truth:

Making sourdough, step 6

It was baked through, not doughy in the middle. Yes, it hadn’t risen much during baking, and so was a bit dense rather than airy. But cutting some slices and having them with a bit of butter…

Making sourdough, step 7

It was indeed delicious! Nicely sour, and very more-ish. So it turned out edible and delicious, which is all I could ask for in a first attempt. My friend advised me to to try letting it rise for a shorter time next time, and then baking it in a hotter oven to try to brown the top a bit more. I knew sourdough would be a learning experience, but I’m happy to have achieved something worth eating on the first try. Hopefully things will just improve from here.

The next thing I had to do was make some mini-quiches, in preparation for Christmas lunch tomorrow. COVID cases have been apparently under control the past couple of days, and the NSW Government announced a slight easing of restrictions for Christmas Day, to allow people to gather with their families in the lower risk regions of the Northern Beaches (which is where my wife’s family lives). The high risk region is still under a strict lockdown, but what this means is we can travel to my in-laws for Christmas lunch as planned.

After I made the quiches, we did a quick run over in the car to drop things off, since tomorrow we’ll be wrangling an entire leg of ham. We drove over during peak hour, on a work day, on one of the most notoriously busy and congested roads in Sydney… and it was eerily quiet and deserted. Almost nobody is travelling into the Northern Beaches region, which is good to see.

Finally, Christmas Eve is traditionally the day my side of the family gathers together. But today with the various COVID restrictions, that wasn’t possible, so we had a big Zoom meeting instead. We had 8 separate groups, including my aunt in Germany, in on the call, and it was hilarious and fun.

It’s a bit of a weird Christmas Eve – one of very very few I’ve ever spent not together with my extended family. The end of a weird year.

New content today:

Sourdough and Conjunction

This morning I began making my first sourdough loaf. I started by taking 100 grams of my new starter culture:

Making sourdough, step 1

I added 310 mL of water, 500 g of flour, and 10 g of uniodised salt, and mixed to form a dough:

Making sourdough, step 2

The dough seems to have a good consistency. I covered the mixing bowl in cling film and have left it to rise overnight. By this evening it’s already risen a lot, I’d say doubled in size easily. But I’ll bake it in the morning.

The other good news today is that the clouds obliterating Sydney’s view of the grand conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn for the past week finally lifted today. Only they lifted higher into the atmosphere, forming a thin haze over the sky. Nevertheless, I went out tonight with my camera to see what I could, and managed to get a few photos. Here’s the best one:

Grand conjunction: Jupiter and Saturn, 23 Dec 2020, Sydney, Australia

You can see Jupiter, all four Galilean moons, and Saturn. Saturn looks elongated by the rings, but you can’t really tell they’re rings. Here’s the same photo labelled:

Grand conjunction: Jupiter and Saturn, 23 Dec 2020, Sydney, Australia - labelled

It was a pretty crappy view, honestly. Always through cloud haze, and sometimes the planets would disappear altogether as thicker cloud wisps drifted across. But it may be the best I get, because the forecast for tomorrow is more evening rain, and then rain every day for the next week. But at least I got to see it.

New content today:

Kicking off sourdough

I got into a discussion with a friend today about baking, since I was baking some bread this morning, and he’s been doing a lot of experimenting with sourdough ever since COVID restrictions began. My loaf was just using a prepared bread mix from the supermarket, which comes with yeast. I’ve made this a few times and it’s not difficult. Here’s what today’s loaf looked like:

Home baked loaf

I said I might try starting some sourdough at some point, and my friend offered to bring over some of his sourdough starter. I said that’d be great, but no rush, but he said he was looking for an excuse to get out of the house and go somewhere different. So he brought some over!

Bébé Fett

Yes, he named it Bébé Fett. He also typed out some instructions for me on how to feed it and pointed me at a couple of YouTube videos for how to bake bread with it. So I’ll try it out some time in the next few days (when we run out of the loaf I baked today).

In other news, my wife is back to working from home following the new COVID restrictions and advice here in Sydney. We had 15 new cases today, but the NSW Government hasn’t announced any big changes to restrictions. I suspect they’ll wait until Wednesday before announcing that the Northern Beaches lockdown and other restrictions will have to be extended over Christmas.

While staring out the window, she called me to look at a kookaburra that had perched on a tree outside. I grabbed my camera and took a few photos:

Laughing Kookaburra

Finally, in today’s grab bag of stuff, I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to get a look at the amazing conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn… because it’s been raining here in Sydney every day for the past week, and it’s been overcast every single evening. Right now as I type this it’s evening and would be a great time to go out and see it… except it’s raining again. And the forecast is basically for rain for the next week. 🙁

New content today:

Just another menial Monday

I had plans for today, really I did.

First up I had to take my car in to be serviced. The service place opens at 7:30. I got there ten minutes early, and there were already ten people queued up in front of me at the door (which wasn’t open yet). However they process drop-offs very quickly and I didn’t have to wait too long once they opened up. From there I walked back home – about a 25 minute walk.

Back home, I spent the next 3 hours troubleshooting my email, which had started acting up yesterday. If you want to skip the gory details, scroll down to Long story short: near the bottom.

Playing with Thunderbird, I managed to coax it to bring up an error dialogue, reporting that the security certificate for the mail server was not valid. It looked valid, so I did what everybody does in this situation, and clicked the “Trust” button. (I can see the cybersecurity experts out there cringing. Yes, I know, I know.) Unfortunately this didn’t fix things, and Thunderbird went into another endless attempt to contact the server. I tried quitting and restarting Thunderbird several times, but it always did the same thing.

I checked my webhost’s status page, and it reported that email was working normally. I logged into the webmail interface and accessed my overnight emails that way. Then I tried checking mail on my phone… It also failed to connect to the server, and it also gave an error message saying the certificate was invalid.

I figured there must be some certificate error on my webhost’s mail server. I decided I’d contact them for support. Their support interface first tries to channel your through their KnowledgeBase, to see if you can find the answer yourself, and I found a page about certificate errors. It suggested you might need to explicitly tell your mail client to trust a new certificate, and contained this image, showing you the button to hit on your iPhone:

iPhone certificate trusting

My error looked essentially the same as that image, except there was no “Trust” button! I mentioned this to my friends in chat, and one said:

A lot of things used to have trust/ignore buttons, but some wiseacre realised that the whole system is useless if people just click “trust” every time they get an error. Then rather than coming to the correct conclusion that certificates are indeed useless, they got rid of the trust button instead.

Digging around further in the KnowledgeBase, I found a page with email server settings. It indicated that I should use the webhost’s domain for the mail IMAP and SMTP servers. My mail clients had been configured to use my own personal domain for the servers. Now I recalled that many years ago when I originally set up my email with this webhost, they said to use my own domain for the mail servers, but they changed that a couple of years ago, recommending moving to the webhost’s domain. Since my email was still working, I didn’t want to fiddle around with the server settings – on the principle of if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. But now it seemed that with the expiry of a certificate, they’ve removed support for the old server names.

So now I had to try changing the server settings in my mail clients. I tried changing the server names in Thunderbird, but after extensive fiddling and restarting and trying different port numbers and security methods I couldn’t get anything to work.

I gave up and tried changing the server settings on my phone to see if I could get that to work. No luck. Now I was getting to the point where I considered deleting the entire account information from the mail clients and setting up a new account. I know from hard experience that in Thunderbird at least editing an existing account often fails to do what you want and the best thing is to set up a brand new account from scratch. Since Thunderbird had all my email downloaded already, I didn’t really want to do that unless I had to, so I decided to start with my phone.

I deleted my mail account from my phone, and then set up a new one, using the mail server settings as recommended by my webhost’s KnowledgeBase. It asked me for the password for the mail server, which I typed in. It said the password was incorrect!

Now, I thought I knew what password I should use, but it was telling me it was wrong. If it was wrong, I had no idea what else the password could be, so I decided to log in to my webhost’s account administration system and change my mail password. I picked a new password, typed it into the password field, and the verification field. The I typed it into my phone’s mail server settings as the password… and it worked!

I now had restored access to mail from my phone. Buoyed by this success, I decided to bite the bullet and delete my account settings from Thunderbird and set up a new account with the recommended server settings. I set up the new account, confirmed with a server ping that the server and port settings were correct, typed in my new mail password, and hit go. Thunderbird told me… my password was incorrect.

I retyped the password, it must have been 5 or 6 times. No luck. It kept telling me it was wrong.

At this point I decided to give it a rest for a bit, because there was some urgent stuff I needed to do – updating Sunday’s Darths & Droids comic with notes from our commentator Keybounce, who had mailed them in a bit late. I really wanted to access the comments on my desktop, so I could copy and paste them. But now I only had access to email on my phone. I thought for a minute how I could copy and paste from my phone to my desktop, and then I realised I could use webmail on the desktop and copy from there.

I went to webmail and logged in with my new mail password…. And it told me I had the wrong password. I tried again a few times. No luck – wrong password. What the heck was going on?!?

At this point I tried setting up mail on my iPad. I deleted the old account settings and set up a new account exactly as I had on my phone. Typed in the new mail password, hit enter… and it told me my password was wrong! Wait – this was exactly the same settings as on the phone, which had worked, but here it was telling me my password was wrong??

I tried to think what possible scenarios could have resulted in the password being incorrect on Thunderbird and iPad. I thought: what if I had accidentally mistyped my intended password in both the “new password” and “verification” fields when setting a new password, so that the password actually had a typo in it. And then when setting up the new account on my phone I had mistyped it with the same typo? As unlikely as that sounded, it would explain it.

Since something was clearly up with the password, I tried resetting it again. I typed my intended password, taking extra care not to typo it. After changing it, I checked my phone, and mail said I now had the wrong password! I typed the new password again, carefully, and it worked!

I went back to Thunderbird, and had it try to connect to the mail server again… and it worked! I opened my iPad… and it already had two new mail messages waiting for me, having connected automatically now that the password matched what was on the server! So everything was working again… and I think I got into a mess by accidentally mistyping my password not once, not twice, but mistyping it the same way three separate times before I managed to type it the way I intended to.

Long story short: I spent the entire morning up to lunchtime troubleshooting my email and not getting anything else done. But in the end I succeeded. Phew.

After lunch I did a bit of photography sales related stuff, preparing files for printing, and boring stuff like paying invoices and updating my spreadsheet for tax return calculations.

Then at 2:30 I had to go pick up the car. It was badly in need of a wash, but I’d put off washing it because I know when they service the car they give it a wash as well for free. Except when they phoned to tell me it was ready, they said the car wash machine was broken, so instead they’d give me a voucher and I could bring the car back another day for a free wash! Which is useless because I don’t want to take the car over there and hang around for an hour in the middle of an industrial area with nothing to do while they wash it – it’s easy and faster just to wash it myself at home.

I took Scully up with me on the walk to the car service place, and once we had the car back we drove over to the dog park to play there for a bit with the other dogs and owners.

For dinner tonight I’d planned to make an Indian style curry, with chick peas, potato, and cauliflower, to use up a bit of coconut milk that was leftover from when I made Thai curry last week. Only I’d soaked the chick peas and chopped onions and potato and went to the fridge for the Indian curry paste… and there wasn’t any. I’d forgotten I’d used the last of it a couple of weeks ago, and hadn’t put it on the shopping list. So now the only sensible way to use up the coconut milk was to make Thai curry again!

Wow. What a day.

New content today:

Surprise picnic dinner!

Last Friday I’d planned a secret surprise picnic dinner for me and my wife. I didn’t mention it here because she reads this blog. My plan was to spend all day Friday cooking, while she was at work, and pack a picnic dinner into the car before she got home. And then when she got home from work, say we’re going out for dinner and lead her to the car and drive off, without saying where we’re going.

As it turned out, she felt a bit sick on Friday morning and decided to stay home! So I couldn’t cook without her asking what I was doing. So I decided to postpone the whole surprise. Ideally I’d do it on a Friday, but this week my wife has a dinner out with her old schoolfriends planned. And I had a bunch of ingredients already purchased that I needed to use up. Today was the first day she spent the whole day at the office (some days she comes home to work from home for the afternoon) – so today was the day!

I started with the ingredients I’d bought: baby spinach, French shallots, and button mushrooms.

Raw ingredients

I chopped the shallots:

Chopping shallots

Put them in a saucepan over a low heat to sweat and start caramelising:

Caramelising shallots

Meanwhile I chopped and sautéd the mushrooms:

Sautéing mushrooms

And while all this was going on, I was making spinach quiches in the oven:

Spinach quiches

Once the shallots had well and truly caramelised:

Caramelised shallots

I assembled the shallots and mushrooms into savoury tarts:

Caramelised shallot and mushroom tarts

Once all the cooking was done, and cooled down I packed it into containers in the car with a bottle of rosé wine. When my wife got home from work, I sprung the surprise, said we were going out for dinner, and led her out to the car. We drove to a nearby lookout spot in a park:

Picnic dinner view

And had dinner:

Picnic dinner

While the sun went down over Sydney Harbour:

Picnic dinner sunset

It was really good, and my wife was delighted! The weather was slightly cool, and a little windy, so not perfect. Maybe we can do sunset picnic dinners more as we head into summer.

So that’s pretty much what I did today… I spent over 4 hours cooking!

New content today:

Those thunderstorms

If you recall yesterday, my market stall day was cancelled due to forecast storms today.

It did rain a little overnight, but lightly, and it had stopped by the time I got up this morning. It remained dry… all day until around 5pm. The sun even came out for extended periods. When the rain finally came, it was about 5 minutes of light spattering, and then it stopped. There were actually thunderstorms in parts of Sydney, but very localised, and not until after 4pm. So basically the forecast storms during the market day didn’t eventuate at all, as we all would have been packed up and leaving before 4pm.

Oh well… I can’t blame the market organisers. They had to work with the forecast they had. It is another case of what’s become a common occurrence here though – the Weather Bureau forecasts rain, and pretty much nothing eventuates. We have had a little rain in recent months, but not a lot. Grass in parks is starting to die off and go brown all over the place. Just looking up the stats, so far we’ve had 6mm of rain in the first 18 days of October, while the monthly average is 77mm. In September we had 23mm, while the average is 68mm. In August we had 79, with the average being 81, so that was close to normal, but since August it’s been noticeably dry. And this in a spring which the Weather Bureau had predicted would be wetter than normal due to La Niña.

Instead of the market, I mostly spent the day at home, just going out with Scully a few times. For lunch I made bruschetta:


Chopped tomato, garlic, basil, mixed together and spooned on toasted wholemeal sourdough bread drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, then topped with salt, black pepper, and caramelised balsamic vinegar. I enjoy a simple tomato sandwich, and this is like the grand royal version. Yum!

New content today:

Stocktake Tuesday

After yesterday’s 34°C, the temperature in Sydney didn’t even reach 20°C today, so it was time to rug up again. I had to go out on a couple of errands, first to the post office to send a redditgifts Secret Santa gift, and then to the tailor to pick up the new cotton jacket that I bought a couple of weeks ago, and left to be altered (described last Monday here). The tailor did a really nice job fixing the pocket, and now it opens normally and usefully on the top instead of the side.

At home I spent a couple of hours doing a stocktake of the greeting cards I’ve had printed and have been selling at market stalls. I hadn’t been keeping track of the stock/sales in each of the designs up to now, but now I have a better idea of what photos are selling and what I need to order more of. I also repacked them from the way I had them, which was very haphazard, and meant I had to search the entire collection to find a specific photo if I ran out of stock on the market display. Now I have them sorted in a single box, separated by labelled dividers, so I can instantly pull the exact card I want.

I also want to take individual photos of all the stock, possibly tomorrow, so I can build myself an Etsy store to sell the greeting cards. I need to find more ways to reach customers, and this seems like a good avenue. I’ve had a look at their terms and conditions and looked at a few stores selling photo greeting cards, and I think it should be easy enough to get started.

While in a work mode, I spent time going through recent ISO Photography standards ballots that Australia needs to vote on, and downloading all of the reports presented at the recent meeting a couple of weeks ago. I still have an action item and some follow-up work to do, writing a report for Standards Australia.

After completing all this, and also taking Scully to the dog park for about and hour and a half, I managed to squeeze in assembling a couple of Darths & Droids comics before cooking dinner (vegetable fajitas), and then making myself a dessert (apple and blueberry crumble), which is right now baking in the oven as I type. I can’t wait…


Apple and blueberry crumble


New content today:

Feels like summer’s here

It was warm and summery today, temperatures reaching up to 34°C in parts of Sydney, although near the coast it was cooler with the sea breeze. It’s supposed to be hotter tomorrow, and then a cold front will come through, dropping temperatures back to around 20°C from Tuesday.

Being a long weekend, with a public holiday tomorrow, a lot of people took advantage of the warm weather by heading to the beach, or out on the harbour on boats. I went to a family lunch at my wife’s mother’s place, which is near a small harbour beach, and the traffic was horrendous, and parking near her house was non-existent. We had to park a few hundred metres away up a hill.

Before leaving for the lunch, we took Scully on a walk, doing our usual weekend loop to the bakery and back, but we took the variant route home through a bushwalk along the shore. This is actually my preferred route, but we’ve been avoiding it for the past several weeks because the local council laid fox baits to kill feral foxes in the bushland, and they’re deadly to dogs, so they advise not letting dogs into the area for about 6 weeks.

Yesterday I baked brownies to take to the family lunch, but they’re devilishly difficult to time correctly, so the centres stay soft and gooey, but the exteriors are firm enough to support the brownies when sliced. Last time we made them it turned out like a dense firm cake, with none of the delicious gooey centres. This time I took it out of the oven and let it cool, and then tried to slice it, but the centre of the baking pan wasn’t solid enough to be sliced. Fortunately the bits around the edge were pretty good, so we got a decent batch out of it. And the sloppy mess in the middle I saved to heat up and add vanilla ice cream to for dessert at home.

The other thing that happened is we went onto daylight saving time last night. I love daylight saving, with long warm evenings of light so you can do things outdoors until about 8 pm. But it means now my webcomics are updating apparently an hour later for me, which places them perilously close to bedtime. I’m thinking seriously of moving the update time an hour earlier, so I can check and write about the comics before it gets too late in the evening. In fact, maybe even a couple of hours earlier. Then I won’t have to hang around online checking things as late in the evening any more. I’ll have a bit more of a think about this tomorrow.

New content today:

Housework (and running poodle)

Yeah, the title pretty much sums it up. Vacuum cleaning, washing up, laundry (my wife did that), changing bedsheets, cleaning the bath, cleaning Scully (haha – we gave her a bath). And for dinner I made risotto, which is 15 minutes of prep followed by a solid half hour slaving over the stove, constantly stirring.

It was pumpkin risotto, with toasted pine nuts and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Pumpkin risotto

I make risotto a bit – it’s not hard, but it is time and effort intensive. Today’s one turned out very nice. We had a bottle of white wine open, so I added a splash, which you should do, but it’s rare that we have a bottle open, so I usually don’t. The real Reggiano cheese from Italy makes a difference too. I bought that recently to replace the Australian brand of parmesan that we usually buy.

Oh! One other thing I did today. I’ve been meaning for a while to try to take some photos of Scully running towards the camera, using my DSLR in AI Servo focus mode, so it tracks moving objects. So today I went out with my wife and Scully, and we found some grass where I could lie down and aim my camera at Scully while my wife tells her to sit and stay, and then walks over to where I was lying, and then calls Scully to come over. We used our special “cheese command word”. This is an emergency recall command, which we always reward with cheese, and it’s pretty much the only time she ever gets cheese, which she loves. So when she hears this word – “Schnell!” – we picked a German word so we never say it accidentally when talking – she comes absolutely running flat out towards us.

We repeated this exercise 4 times, and I took a bunch of photos rapid-fire. About half of them turned out blurry, but… we got a couple of very nice shots.

Scully running

Definitely going to try this again another day.

New content today: