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:

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…

Update:

Apple and blueberry crumble

Mmmmm….

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:

Solo Sunday

Solo Sunday in more ways than one. My wife took Scully and went to visit her mum today, and I used the time to sit down and rewatch Solo (a Star Wars story), in preparation for starting planning on converting it into a Darths & Droids story. Yes, we’re planning ahead that far now. I think it’s only my third time watching it through, and there were several plot points I’d forgotten about, so I’m glad I did it.

This evening I had a cooking emergency, precipitated by my habitual lack of mise en place (as mentioned in the last new Irregular Webcomic!). I started boiling up some pasta, intending to just throw some pesto from a jar onto it. The pasta was boiling away, when I went to the fridge to grab the pesto… and there was none. And no spare jar in the pantry (where there is usually a spare).

So suddenly I had 10 minutes to make a pasta sauce/topping. And working with the constraints that I’m currently on a restricted diet in preparation for a colonoscopy in a few days – no seeds, and nothing coloured red. So no tomatoes.

I quickly went into a cooking frenzy, chopping broccoli into tiny florets, frying it up in olive oil, adding pine nuts, fresh garlic, chili, and then shaving some parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top once it was done. I also added a squirt of lemon juice once it was all prepared and served. It turned out pretty well! Phew. Another triumph for No-mise-en-place-man!

In other news, I got an email from the organisers of the market where I have my stall, selling photography print. They have cancelled the markets for August and September (which would have been three markets), due to caution over COVID cases in Sydney. So that’s another two months without any face-to-face selling income or handing out business cards.

New content today:

The storm?

The storm did finally hit overnight and we got a bit of heavy rain, but by the time I got up this morning the rain had stopped. Although it was cold and windy all day, and the rain did return at spotty intervals. But honestly it was nothing like the apocalypse that the weather bureau had warned us to expect. By lunchtime the sun was coming out again in between the odd showers, whereas I’d been prepared for a full day of torrential downpour. They forecast up to 50mm of rain today, but in the end we only got 13mm.

For a morning excursion I took Scully out to the hardware store, driving rather than walking. It’s next door to the home-maker centre which has dozens of furnishing shops as well as the pet shop, so we got to go in there too and Scully had a sniff up and down all the aisles of pet food. We got a bit wet walking between the two buildings, but not too bad. I also dropped off a box of electronic stuff, cables, light bulbs, and used batteries at the local recycling centre which is just around the corner from there too.

Tonight for dinner I recreated last night’s roast potato and pumpkin pizza. We always have two pizzas during what we call “pizza week” because the ready made bases come in packs of two. (I’m too lazy to make my own pizza bases from scratch each time.)

And then for dessert I made myself… a deconstructed rum ball!

Deconstructed rum ball

My wife bought me a madeira cake for a treat, which is what I use as the main ingredient to make rum balls – which I’ve made many times. But this time I thought I’d try something a little avant-garde and create myself a deconstructed dessert. After plating up (and taking photos) I sat down to eat it, mixing the ingredients with a desert fork on the plate… and it was both fun and delicious! 9/10 would do again!

New content today:

More calm before the storm?

So they told us that we’d get heavy rain today. It hasn’t rained a drop, and was sunny most of the day. There was some dramatic cloud building up late this afternoon, but as of mid-evening still not a drop of rain. Supposedly we’re still in for heavy rain and strong winds tomorrow… but I’ll believe it when I see it. It was cold though.

This was the view over the city about 4:30pm.

Incoming storm

This morning I walked up to the shops to buy a couple of things. I needed to get some batteries because the ones for the remote in our air conditioner died and we couldn’t turn the heat on or off without raiding the DVD remote for batteries – and then couldn’t control the DVD player without switching them back. And since I was going to the shops anyway, I thought I’d get some chocolate sprinkles that I want for a dessert. However when I was up there I completely forgot to get the chocolate sprinkles.

And then later in the morning I took Scully out for a walk, and I went the other direction to the other nearby shops, where there’s a small supermarket. While there, I popped in to get the chocolate sprinkles… and they had ten different varieties of cake sprinkles… all colours and flavours, but no chocolate! So in two trips to two different supermarkets I didn’t manage to get them.

I also failed to get another thing I wanted from the Japanese grocery store. I wanted ramen noodles so I could make myself some ramen for lunch. But they only had udon and somen noodles, which are thicker and thinner respectively. I made do with somen, but honestly I find them too thin. But I did use them to make a pseudo-ramen for lunch:

Home made ramen

I even made a soft-boiled egg to put in. It turned out pretty good. And for dinner I roasted some kipfler potato slices and pumpkin chunks and a clove of garlic, before putting them on a pizza.

Potato and pumpkin pizza

This afternoon I worked a bit on a new tagging system for Square Root of Minus Garfield (plus other mezzacotta comics). I made a database table and populated it with tags and descriptions. This is a project that’s been on my to-do list for ages, and I though it wouldn’t be too difficult or time consuming, and I have a volunteer on the forums who wants to go through and tag all the comics, so that makes it a good opportunity to get it done.

New content today:

A long walk and a rest

Saturday is officially “no alarm Saturday” in this household, and we all slept in until almost 8 o’clock this morning. After getting up and having breakfast, we (my wife, Scully, and I) went for a nice long walk for some exercise and fresh air. The day was beautiful – a clear, brisk, late autumn day with puffy white clouds in the sky.

We walked basically this route which I covered in a photo walk essay a few weeks ago. With some bits added on to take us from our home to the start and end points as given in that page. The total walk was 9 kilometres, and took us a solid couple of hours, with a break for my wife to grab a coffee at a cafe on the way.

This afternoon I worked some more on Darths & Droids, writing up a bunch of story planning notes, based on thoughts from the past few days that hadn’t been recorded yet, and I made a couple of new strips.

And this evening my wife cooked the cauliflower dish that I was preparing on Wednesday when I sliced my hand with the kitchen knife. The offending cauliflower has been duly punished by being baked with a miso glaze and consumed with pomegranate, chilli, mint, and toasted sesame and sunflower seeds. Yum!

Miso cauliflower bomb

New content today:

A very windy day

The weather continues to be wintry here, with cold, overcast, and very strong winds today. I took Scully for a walk and it was a bit blowy. We recorded wind gusts up to 46 km/h today.

Blowin' in the wind

I spent a lot fo time today uploading photos and writing web pages for some of my Sydney walks, as part of the process of transferring from Imgur albums to pages hosted on my own site. I also expanded the commentary a lot, doing some research into various buildings that I’d taken photos of. In particular, this walk through Greenwich (the Sydney suburb) ended up having a lot of new historical details added.

Tonight for dinner I made a vegetable quiche. I make quiches a lot, but generally just with one vegetable, like chunks of pumpkin, or chopped spinach. A friend made some quiches recently with a variety of roasted vegetables, so I thought I’d fancy it up a bit. Here’s what I did:

  1. Chopped potato, butternut pumpkin (squash for the Americans), onion, broccolini. Spread on baking tray, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with rosemary. Baked 210°C for about 25 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile got some pre-made shortcrust pastry and put it in a pie dish. Placed it in the same oven after about 10 minutes, to blind bake for about 15 minutes.
  3. Placed vegetables in pastry shell, added chunks of feta, light sprinkle of salt, then poured over 3 eggs beaten with a bit of milk.
  4. Reduced oven to 190°C and bake 25 minutes.
  5. Yum!

Vege quiche 2

New content today: