Roasting potatoes

It’s Sunday, and I spent some time making new Darths & Droids strip. I’m up over 2000 strips now, which is pretty amazing.

My wife took Scully for a walk to North Sydney today because there was a special “Bark Park” event on. This is an annual event in a large park, specially for dogs and dog owners. There are pet-relevant market stalls, entertainment, and other stuff. And then this afternoon we both took her on another walk down to the waterfront for some ball chasing.

This evening I tried roasting vegetables. I’ve done this a few times but never figured out how to get the potatoes nice and crispy, so today I looked up some recipes and tips on doing that. They all agreed that you have to par-boil the potatoes first. The recipe I found then suggested to toss them in a colander to rough up the surface before putting them into a roasting pan pre-heated so it the oil is already hot. Well, I did all that – except I forgot the tossing them in a colander bit.

They turned out okay—in fact better than previous times when I’ve tried to roast potatoes—but not very crispy. I also added some pumpkin and Brussels sprouts halfway through the roast, since they take less time to cook. Overall it was pretty good!

Roast veges

A friend of mine suggested adding baking soda to the water when boiling the potatoes, which also acts to rough up the surface. I looked this up and found many tips online suggesting the same thing. So I’ll try that next time. It sounds easier than roughing them up in a colander.

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Voting and baking

Today was the second Ethics class of the year, and the first proper topic after last week’s introductory lesson. The topic is voting, and we started with a discussion of two students who wanted to be elected to the Student Representative Council at their school. One wants to tackle several thought-out issues, while the other just wants some cricket nets installed in the playground so he and his friends can play cricket – probably to the detriment of everyone else who will have less playground space. The first fears the second is more popular and so might win the election.

The discussion tackled the questions of whether it’s okay to vote for someone just because you like them, rather than thinking about their policies, and whether everybody should be allowed to vote, even if they don’t care about the issues. We had a lively discussion, with the kids bringing up various points, such as criminals being allowed to vote. It was really good, and again after last week I was pleased to see that this group is so much better behaved than a few of the kids I had last year.

At the end of the class, as they were leaving, I overhead one of the girls say to another, “That was the best Ethics class ever! Usually they’re really boring.” So that was pretty satisfying! I’m really looking forward to this year of classes with this group.

For dinner tonight I made a special fun dish: miso baked cauliflower.

Miso cauliflower bomb

The basic baked cauliflower is pretty straightforward. The real pizzazz comes form the garnish. Cashew honey cream and pomegranate:

Miso cauliflower bomb

Toasted sesame and sunflower seeds:

Miso cauliflower bomb

Chopped green chili and mint leaves:

Miso cauliflower bomb

The cauliflower cost I think $1.69. The garnish ingredients were over $10. But delicious!

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Sourdough Sunday

I baked sourdough today using my brand new loaf tin. It turned out okay!

Sourdough in a loaf tin

My wife and I also did a big walk with Scully, down to the Coal Loader Market, which runs 4 times a year. Normally this market is packed with dozens of stalls and a lot of people. They had cut it down to maybe only a quarter of the usual number of stalls, all spread out with a lot of space in between. And the crowd wasn’t nearly as big either.

Coal Loader Market

It’s on a lovely location on the shore of the harbour, this market!

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Chili miso Brussels sprouts

I didn’t do much today besides making some comic strips in the morning, and take Scully to the dog park in the afternoon. Still relaxing after yesterday’s work at the market.

I did cook dinner, however, and one of my favourite easy vegetable side dishes: chili miso Brussels sprouts. We had them with a chick pea burger patty.

It’s pretty easy to make. Wash and halve some sprouts, then par-cook either in the microwave or a steamer. Fry in a little olive oil with chopped garlic and chili, turning to ensure both sides brown. When done, pour over a half/half mix of miso paste and mirin, combined to form a runny paste, and stir to coat the sprouts, then serve. You don’t need much of the miso/mirin mix, as it’s a strong flavour.

Today I added some slivered almonds too for extra crunch.

Chili miso Brussels sprouts

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2 seconds faster

I was determined to do a second 5k run this week, and this morning was the time. It was a warmer morning, and sunny, but I managed to finish in 28:57, just 2 seconds faster than on Monday. Let’s see if I can keep up this enthusiasm for doing two runs a week…

Tomorrow I’m planning to try a new sourdough recipe: sourdough challah. My friend pointed me at a recipe which he says works well, so I’m going to give it a go, sticking as close to the recipe as I can. Today I had to feed the sourdough starter this morning, then tonight I make a levain (a new word I just learnt as I’m trying new things with sourdough), which sits overnight, before being used to make dough tomorrow morning, which then rises all day, before finally being baked tomorrow night. It’s a lot of lead-up time, so I hope it turns out!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 🙁

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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.

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