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:

More experimental baking

I had more leftover sourdough starter today, so I decided to try making some sourdough focaccia using it, plus a bit of yeast to get it to rise. (Sourdough rises when the starter is fresh, but not if the starter has been left over and sitting for a few days.)

It turned out pretty well!

Sourdough focaccia

I think I baked it a little too long, and next time I won’t use the base heat setting in the oven, as it made the base very crisp and close to burnt. But otherwise it was really good. For dinner I made a simple tomato and chilli sauce with pasta, and we have that with the focaccia and some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip it in. A very simple and rustic Italian meal, but delicious.

In other news, Scully had her groom today, and now she’s all fuzzy and velvety with short hair again. I didn’t get a photo to compare with yesterday, but maybe I will tomorrow.

I spent the afternoon working through the exercises for Monday’s next lecture in the image processing course I’m tutoring. We’ve finished the basic image processing stuff and are moving on to machine learning for pattern recognition. I have a very high level knowledge of machine learning, but have never dealt with the nitty gritty aspects of it in detail before, so this part of the course will be more challenging for me. This first lecture is really an introduction to machine learning, and most of the actual work is on probability distributions, which I have more familiarity with. So the work wasn’t too difficult, although I had to struggle with Matlab’s weird syntax issues for a while before getting something to work.

I’ve also started work on a new course for Outschool, to complement the ongoing classes on critical and ethical thinking. This new one will be a fixed length course of about 6 weeks, on creative thinking and problem solving. I plan to teach the kids how to think about problems and come up with creative solutions to them. And as an example context, I thought that over the six-week course we could work on a specific creative problem: designing a simple board game! The goal would be to have a completed, playable game at the end, invented by the kids, with my guidance. I think this should work well as a course, and I have ideas for all the stages. Just need to write it up and then submit the course for approval.

New content today:

Corners and features

COVID update: 830 new cases in NSW, another new record. Australia has never had case numbers this high. This right now is the worst part of the whole pandemic for Australia, and it’s only going to get worse for the next few weeks. But enough on that for today.

Yesterday morning for breakfast I made sourdough pancakes:

Sourdough pancakes with macerated strawberries

I’ve been making sourdough bread every few days as needed, and in between keeping the starter in the fridge. But my friend who got me started on sourdough says he keeps his starter out at room temperature, and feeds it every 2 days, and so generates some excess starter, which he then keeps in the fridge until he uses it for some other thing… such as sourdough pancakes! The other thing to know is that his bread constantly turns out very airy, with large air bubbles, while mine is always very dense, with only tiny air bubbles. So I wanted to try to emulate what he’s doing a bit more to see if I can get my bread to rise more. The result was I ended up with leftover starter at the end of the week, so I tried sourdough pancakes for the first time. And they turned out really good!

The other feature here is the strawberries. There is currently a huge oversupply of strawberries in Sydney, apparently caused by the COVID lockdown. Everybody is buying groceries online (either for delivery or “click & collect” pickup), rather than browsing around in the supermarkets. And apparently strawberries are primarily an impulse buy – not something that people add to their baskets when doing grocery shopping online. So nobody’s buying strawberries. And so the price has crashed… I picked up three punnets for what I would normally pay for just one. I might get more this week if the price is still low.

Today I worked on getting up to speed with the next lecture in the image processing course I’m tutoring on Monday evenings. Lecture 4 is on feature detection in images, primarily Harris corners and SIFT features. While I know about these things and had a basic understanding of them in my time at my previous job, I’d never fully internalised exactly how they work, at least not to the point where I could remember the details. So I had to do some reading up and make sure I understand the basic principles and how to implement them. And then I tackled the tutorial questions for the week, writing some Matlab code so that I have a ready-made solution which I can explain as necessary to students who need guidance at various stages. It took me well more than the hour that the students have assigned to this task!

After finishing that, I worked on assembling comics in time for Monday. I’m cutting this batch pretty close to the bone – I’ve been so busy with stuff lately that I couldn’t get to it earlier to ensure a comfortable buffer.

The other thing of note today was the weather. It was warm. Sydney recorded 25.4°C, up to 28.6°C in some suburbs. It was also very smoky, with hazard reduction burns being carried out in several forest areas around the city outskirts. The northerly wind blew this into the city, and where I live it varied between barely noticeable to strong smoke smell and dull orange sunlight throughout the day. The forecast for tomorrow is even warmer, up to 27°C in the city.

And it’s still winter. We’re starting to wonder what this summer is going to be like.

New content today:

Secret projection

Its been a busy day, mostly working on my current secret project. I wanted to reach a certain milestone today, and just managed it. Not much else to say about that.

COVID news was very bad here today, with another record high of 356 new cases for NSW.

For dinner I made shortcrust pastry and used it to make a mushroom quiche.

I really can’t think of anything else interesting I did today.

New content today:

Sourdough spätzle!

First the bad news: 172 new COVID cases in New South Wales, beating the record high for this outbreak set two days ago. Worse is that most of those were infectious and still going about their business in the community, rather than having been isolated as known contacts. The state government announced the lockdown will be extended for another 4 weeks, meaning until 27 August. Let’s hope that’s enough to get the cases back close to zero.

In other news, I started working on this week’s ethics lesson, which will be on the topic of peer pressure. Like prejudice last week, it may be eye opening to the kids to consider that peer pressure isn’t automatically a bad thing. I’m partway through writing the lesson, and will have to finish it tomorrow.

I took a very long walk with Scully today, while my wife was out getting her second COVID vaccination. I used the K9 Sport-Sack to carry Scully on my back outbound. She really seems to enjoy being in the backpack, getting a nice high view of everything. I took a route to a nearby suburb that I usually don’t walk to, after noticing on Google Maps that it’s about the same distance as some of the other places I walk to, just in a slightly less appealing direction as it’s along a major road. But I walked along some back streets more or less parallel to the road, and passing through a large park, which made it more pleasant.

I had lunch out, and then let Scully walk all the way home. And one the way we took a detour to the Italian cake shop to pick up some treats for my wife to celebrate her full vaccination, so the way home was significantly longer than the trip out. The total was 8.2 km, so Scully walked probably at least 4.5 km, and bot was she worn out when we got home! She’s been asleep for most of the afternoon. 🙂

For dinner tonight I tried an experiment:

Sourdough spätzle

That’s sourdough starter and an egg.

Sourdough spätzle

I added a bit of milk, and then flour until I had a runny dough, or a very stiff pancake batter consistency.

Sourdough spätzle

I put a big scoop of the dough onto a small cutting board, and used a knife to scrape off lumps into boiling water. Meanwhile I made a mushroom sauce in a frying pan.

Sourdough spätzle

The dough blobs sink initially, but float to the surface as they cook. I scooped them out and into a colander to drain while I continued adding more batches of dough to cook.

Sourdough spätzle

I finished the mushroom sauce with some crème fraîche.

Sourdough spätzle

And served! Sourdough spätzle with creamy mushroom sauce and broccolini. It turned out really good! I’ve been thinking about trying spätzle with sourdough starter for a while, and I’m glad I tried it.

New content today:

Expedition to the Hardware Store

98 new COVID cases in NSW today. The numbers are holding steady, which is not great, but not terrible. Hopefully in a few days we’ll start to see the numbers dropping as the current lockdown rules impact the spread.

We were a bit concerned that the dog groomer hadn’t shaved the hair inside Scully’s ears on Friday when they gave Scully her haircut. The vet on Saturday said that she had a lot of hair in there, which isn’t good because it traps moisture and can lead to infections. So my wife called the groomer to ask about the ear hair, and the groomer said to bring Scully in again today for a few minutes and they’d do her ears. (Some people pluck the hair out of their dog’s ears, but our groomer doesn’t do that and the vet doesn’t recommend it because it’s painful for the dog.)

So I had to venture out to drop Scully off and then wait outside for them to bring her back out. The dog groomer is now also doing contact-free drop-offs – no customers are allowed into the premises; you have to hand your dog over at the front door.

Earlier I’d looked at the hardware store website, intending to order some necessary items for pick-up collection, but I saw that it was still open for normal business. And now I was out with Scully just around the block form the hardware store, so I decided to pop in very quickly and grab the things I needed. It was spookily empty – I have never ever seen the hardware store car park, or the store itself that empty. Which was good, because the fewer people around the less chance of anyone infectious with COVID. I was in and out in about 2 minutes.

I ran into our neighbour outside with her poodle Luna, at the grassy patch across the street where we take the dogs for toilets. We’re all wearing masks for stuff like this now, because of the government rules about masks in shared spaces of apartment blocks. I asked how she and her partner were going, and she sounded a bit resigned, but managing okay. I asked if they’d be interested in some sourdough bread, since I’m baking it and I need to bake every couple of days to keep the starter in good condition. She said they’d love that, but just bought two loaves of bread yesterday, so maybe in a few days. So maybe at the end of the week I’ll bake a loaf to give to them.

For dinner tonight I made some red curry vegetables with rice, and I decided to add some protein in the form of hard boiled eggs. Unfortunately I simmered the eggs at too low a temperature, or maybe started the timer too early, and they were still very soft when I started peeling one. Fortunately it was just hard enough that I could pop them back into the hot water and the partly peeled one kept its shape. In the end I eventually had two hard boiled eggs to add to the curry, and that worked really well.

Finally, a couple of photos I took on the weekend and forgot to share:

View from Berry Island

The view looking towards the city from the park by the water where we took Scully for a run around.

Midwinter magnolia

And a magnolia tree in full flower! In the very middle of winter! I’ve been watching magnolias blooming earlier and earlier over the past several years, but I’ve never seen one so full of flowers this early.

New content today:

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.

New content today:

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!

New content today:

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!

New content today: