An expedition for cotton

It was a lot colder today than yesterday. After the 33°C of yesterday, a cold front came through overnight, and today’s maximum was only 20°C, which felt really nice and cool after that heat.

My wife wanted to get some more cotton thread for her sewing, so we took a drive over to Birkenhead Point, where there is a large shopping centre with a branch of the fabric crafts store that she likes to go to. I dropped her off there and took Scully with me to a nearby bakery to get some lunch. We walked down to a park to sit while I ate, and she got to explore a new neighbourhood.

This afternoon I prepared the last lesson of my Creative Thinking and game design class for the students. It was really going over any comments and ideas they had on the second iteration of the Ruin the Wedding game that we’ve developed, giving them another creative thinking technique, and wrapping up with tips on how to use everything they’ve learnt in the future. The class went really well, and I think they really enjoyed the whole course.

Shakshuka with spinach

This evening for dinner I made shakshuka. I searched for some recipes and just figured out the common ingredients and threw it together, adding some spinach for greenery. Rather than bake it, I just let it sit in the frying pan on the stove top with a metal backing sheet over the top to keep the heat in and cook the eggs on top. It turned out pretty good!

New content today:

Storms and banana bread

The morning here was fine. I walked with Scully up to the local shops to get some sushi for lunch. There’s a small square with some grass which is a nice place to sit and eat lunch, so I went there. It’s good having Scully with me, because this is the turf of some very aggressive magpies who hang out and try to steal people’s lunches. At first they gave me a wide berth because of Scully, but they got bolder and bolder…

Sushi thief posse

They didn’t quite get close enough to steal any of my sushi, but I’m sure they would have tried if not for Scully.

Back home I made some banana bread. This time I decided to add some choc chips, and leave out the yoghurt. And I made extra certain to bake it long enough, after the one I made a couple of weeks ago turned out a little soggy in the middle.

Normally to test cakes, I use a metal skewer to probe the middle and see if it comes out clean. I’ve done it that way for as long as I can remember. But I read recently that you should use a wooden skewer, because metal is too smooth and the texture of the wood holds the undercooked batter better, so it’s a better indicator. Curious, I did a bit of Internet searching… and I was astonished to find the most common question asked about testing cakes was:

How can I test if a cake is done if I don’t have a toothpick?

Toothpick??? Who tests cakes with toothpicks??

Apparently everyone according to the Internet. But I’d honestly never heard of using a toothpick for this before. It’s weird the stuff you discover sometimes. Anyway, the banana bread turned out brilliantly this time.

Choc chip banana bread

As I type, there was just a huge flash of lightning and a loud peal of thunder. It’s been storming on and off all afternoon, with really heavy and violent storm cells sweeping across Sydney. Early this afternoon the weather bureau even issued a tornado warning:

THIS INCLUDES A TORNADO WARNING. […] Tornadoes, destructive winds, large, possibly giant hailstones and heavy rainfall that may lead to flash flooding are likely.

I’ve never seen one of these before. Tornadoes have historically been extremely rare to non-existent in Australia – we just don’t have the geography for them. But they’ve been becoming increasingly common in recent years. There was a very destructive one reported a couple hundred kilometres west of Sydney a week or two ago, which destroyed some properties. But this is the first time I’ve seen a specific tornado warning for the Sydney area. I strongly suspect that with climate change this is going to become more common in this region.

There was destructive hail and wind and flash flooding in parts of Sydney, but mostly west and south of where I live. We got some heavy rain and spectacular lightning here, but nothing destructive.

New content today:

About cauliflower rice

I tried a new recipe for dinner tonight after seeing it on a TV show a few weeks ago: Cauliflower rice bowls with crispy chilli eggs. It looked delicious. I downloaded the recipe and read through it… and I wondered where the rice was. “Cauliflower rice” – that means rice with some cauliflower in it, right?

I expressed my puzzlement to some friends online, and they laughed at me for not knowing that “cauliflower rice” is just shredded cauliflower, designed to resemble rice. Huh. I have never come across this ever before. Who comes up with this stuff, and why did they include “rice” in the name to fool people?

Anyway, I cooked it tonight, and it turned out really nice! I am tempted to replace half the cauliflower with actual rice, though!

Cauliflower rice with crispy chilli egg

In other news, it was very rainy today.

New content today:

Game design theme decided!

Tonight I ran the third lesson of my 6-week course in Creative Thinking and Game Design. If you recall last week we had some intriguing suggested themes for the game that we’re working on. I’m happy to say that after going through and rating all of the theme ideas, we came up with three ideas that we all agreed were good for a game:

  • Visiting different countries
  • Causing trouble in school
  • Ruining someone’s wedding

And by consensus we agreed that the one we liked best was the last one: ruining someone’s wedding. So that’s what we’re now officially doing – designing a board game about ruining a wedding! We also came up with the goal of the game – how you win: By making as many people as possible upset. And we listed some tentative game mechanics – we might use a board to represent the wedding venue (although I’m not convinced we need to do this); and we might have cards with various objects that will make people upset, for example an embarrassing photo of the bride. (We’ll keep it clean and G-rated! So let’s say no more about that.)

The kids have homework to play with mechanics and come up with any new ideas during the week. Next lesson we’ll put them together into a game that we can start playing!

Other than that, today I worked on the current batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips, assembling them from the photos I took a couple of weeks ago. I’ve now completed that batch, so I can start thinking about writing the next batch…. it never ends.

I also did some baking today. I made sourdough bread, and because my wife is keen on fruit and nut loaf I made one of those, with dried apricots and walnut chunks in it. And I made some chocolate chip cookies, which I’ve been craving for weeks. I finally got around to buying some choc chips in the last grocery shop, so today I made a batch. I dotted two baking trays with dough and put them in the oven, heated to 180°C, and set the oven timer for a couple of minutes less than the minimum baking time specified in the recipe.

When the timer went off, I opened the oven to check the cookies… and black smoke poured out! I didn’t know what had happened until I noticed the oven mode selector knob wasn’t pointing at “Bake”, but rather at the adjacent setting, “Pizza”. I know I set it to “Bake” and the temperature to 180°C, but I must have bumped the knob when putting the baking trays in or something, and when the knob is turned to “Pizza” it also automatically resets the temperature to 220°C! The “Pizza” setting also applies base heat, to crisp the bottom of the pizza dough and uses the fan to force hot air throughout the oven. So the cookies were WAY overdone.

Burnt cookies

The ones on the bottom baking tray were basically charcoal on the lower half, and unsalvageable. The upper baking tray fared a little better – they are a bit well done, but just edible. I normally like them a bit gooey in the middle, but these are baked hard through.

It hasn’t been a good week for me in the kitchen.

New content today:

Another busy Saturday

The main thing I did today was work on completing the lesson plan and slides for tomorrow’s third lesson in my Creative Thinking & Problem Solving course on Outschool. There was less prep work needed for this one, but it will be more on-the-fly discussion with the kids about the various game theme and mechanics ideas that we’re working on, mixed with some thinking techniques to help settle on a single theme and then choose a few appropriate mechanics. I hope it goes well in practice!

I also did some housework, cleaning various rooms and finally going through the pile of old paperwork on my desk to sort out what needs filing and what could be thrown away. There’s still a bit of clutter around. I really think at some point I need to declare a week off doing other things and just spend it doing a proper spring clean and getting the whole house in order again. I’ve got three new books that I have no room for on my bookshelves, until I rearrange things and potentially get rid of some old stuff I don’t want any more. The pains of living in a small place.

For dinner I tried the eggplant and haloumi tarts that I tried unsuccessfully a few days ago. I didn’t burn the eggplant this time, but it reduced in volume quite a bit, and I ended up with less filling than I expected. So they ended up with a higher crust/filling ratio, but tasted good. Next time I might try adding some more filling ingredients.

New content today:

French lentils

Today was a day for more ethics classes, plus working on some Darths & Droids comics.

I also tried something new for dinner tonight. I cook with red lentils a fair bit, usually making some variant of dhal, to have with rice. But after reading some recipes I decided to try getting some French Puy lentils, which take longer to cook and hold their shape. I cooked them tonight, boiling them first and draining them. Then I fried up some chopped onion, celery, carrot, garlic, potato, then added the lentils and a chopped tomato, with a splash of red wine and seasoning.

I forgot to take a photo before eating, which is a shame as the resulting dish looked marvellous. It tasted pretty good too and my wife declared it a positive.

New content today:

Attempted eggplant tarts

Today was Labour Day Monday, a public holiday. Not that it was much different to any other day in COVID lockdown.

I went on another exploratory walk with my wife and Scully, to new places we hadn’t been before within our 5 km radius from home. I have some photos, but it’s too late now to prepare them, since we’ve spent this evening watching The Adventures of Tintin on Netflix. I’m a big Tintin fan – of the books – but I’ve never seen this movie until tonight. I got bad vibes from all the publicity and avoided it until now. It’s a bit uncanny valley in the character animation, and it plays very fast and loose with the story material from the books, but it’s not as terrible as I feared, and there were a lot of nice references to the greater Tintin canon sprinkled throughout, which someone like me could pick up on. I feel like it would have been nice if they played the canonical story straighter and didn’t include so many gratuitous action sequences, but it was okay.

For dinner tonight I planned to make eggplant and haloumi tarts. I grilled the eggplant first to make it soft…

Burnt eggplant

… but I forgot about it while doing something else, and came back too late to find this. So yeah, I completely ruined dinner. I was so put out that I ended up just making fried eggs on toast for dinner instead.

New content today:

Zucchini day

It was the day to order groceries online, for picking up tomorrow morning. Which meant it was also time to use up the remaining vegetables. I had 1.5 zucchinis, and some baby spinach. Normally with this I’d think of making a pasta dish, but we had pasta last night, so I wasn’t keen on doing that again. I canvassed my friends and one suggested this recipe for a baked zucchini slice. He said he’d made it before, and was now inspired to also make it for himself tonight. So we had duelling zucchini slices.

I subbed the spinach for the extra zucchini, and I didn’t have sun-dried tomatoes, but otherwise I followed the recipe pretty closely.

After getting mine in the oven, I concluded that the 5 minutes preparation time mentioned in the recipe was highly optimistic. Maybe you could assemble the dish in 5 minutes, if you’d already spent 15 minutes grating and chopping all of the ingredients. My friend, who cooked earlier, mentioned that the cooking time was also too short – he let it bake for over 30 minutes and it was still a bit mushy in the middle. I ended up baking mine for a bit over 35 minutes, and honestly it could have done with another few.

My wife declared it a hit and told me I could cook it again. So we’ll add this to our repertoire. It looks easy to vary with different ingredients and flavours too.

New content today:

A night off teaching, but on cooking

It’s the mid-semester break week for the University, so I don’t have image processing tutoring work on tonight. We get stuck into the student project work next week, which will be interesting, because it’s a big change from the lecture structure we’ve had so far.

Instead I’ve spent this evening cooking! I wanted to try a recipe I saw on TV a few weeks ago: baked brie in sourdough. I walked up to the bakery with Scully earlier in the day to get a sourdough cob loaf, but unfortunately they didn’t have any sourdough in that shape, so I had to just get a plain white cob.

Baked brie in bread

That’s what it looked like before cooking. But before I reveal the after photos, let me change the subject completely!

A few days ago I noticed that there was a small nest in the jacaranda tree across the street, and it was being tended by noisy miners, feeding some baby birds. I considered getting some photos, but from ground level you wouldn’t be able to see much but the underside of the nest. Then I realised that I could probably climb partway up the tree and get a photo from higher up, and reasonably close. It might be a good opportunity to get a close shot of baby birds in the nest.

So this afternoon I went out with my camera. I ran into my wife out there, who was coming back from walking Scully during her lunch break. I got her to help me by passing my camera up to me once I’d climbed into the tree. In hindsight, I’m not sure I could have got up there carrying the camera by myself at all. While up there, she took this photo of me:

Photographing a nest

You can see the nest roughly where I’m aiming my camera. I was sitting about 2.5 metres off the ground. I’d originally intended to climb further up the limb of the tree in front of me, but being that high off the ground made me realise I really didn’t want to risk falling that far. So I didn’t get as high as I would have liked, and my best photo only turned out like this:

Noisy miner nest

You can barely see two birds in the nest. Oh well. At least I didn’t break my leg or something.

Back to dinner… After half an hour of baking I took the loaf out and topped the cheese with hazelnuts and honey:

Baked brie in bread

The recipe suggests serving with fresh figs, but we didn’t have any, so we had it for dinner with some fresh strawberries on the side, to provide something to break up the glut of cheesy goodness. Here’s what it looked like sliced open:

Baked brie in bread

Wow. It was really rich, as you can imagine. But we can pretend we’re French for a night and have a dinner of baked cheese and bread!

New content today:

Trigonometric survey

In my friends’ Discord chat today one of them posed this:

Survey question. You’re doing a trigonometry question. It says you’re standing on a cliff 250m high looking at a rock that’s 450m away. Is 450m the hypotenuse or the base of the resulting triangle?

Just to be silly, I quickly drew this:

Trig drawing 1

But then another friend one-upped me with this:

Trig drawing 2

Incidentally, the original friend asked “Survey question” because he was surveying us to find out what we thought of this poorly framed high school maths question. A coworker had asked him for advice on what to advise his child while doing homework, and my friend decided to canvas for opinions. But at least two of us thought he’d said “Survey question” as a prelude to a question about surveying. English is funny sometimes.

This evening I had a Zoom meeting for ISO photography standards. This is an ad-hoc group meeting for one particular standard: ISO 15739 Visual Noise, held between the regular week-long digital photography meetings. The group of experts working on this particular standard have ongoing experimental work to discuss, so the project leaders organised this interim meeting to go through some technical details. We met for 90 minutes, and there was a lot of very interesting discussion. We agreed on the plan for further experimentation, which will be done hopefully it time for the next meeting in October.

For dinner tonight I varied my pizza making by trying out some calzones.

Calzones for dinner

I filled one with spinach and ricotta, and the other with mushrooms and ricotta. I didn’t know how much the insides would cook in the oven, so I pre-cooked the spinach and the mushrooms, and that seemed to work well. I also made a tomato sauce with garlic, onions, and herbs for spooning on top.

Calzones for dinner

They turned out really well! I was a little worried about the insides leaking in the oven, but they were fine, and delicious. My wife told me I can definitely make these again.

New content today: