Super busy day

  • Took Scully for a super early morning walk, because my wife was busy with an appointment this morning, so she couldn’t do their usual morning walk.
  • Took Scully in to my wife’s work to drop her off there for the day.
  • Mixed together ingredients to make sourdough challah and kneaded it into dough, which then had to rise for four hours.
  • Did the weekly grocery shopping.
  • Went out to drive my mother-in-law home from an errand she had to run.
  • Rolled out the challah dough and shaped the loaves by braiding, then left to rise another five hours.
  • Worked on some comics, once I had a few spare minutes.
  • Made minestrone for dinner
  • Baked the challah.
  • Played online board games with friends.

Here’s some photos of the challah being made.

1. Ingredients: water, flour+salt, egg+oil+honey, sourdough levain.

Making sourdough challah

2. Mixing the levain and water.

Making sourdough challah

3. Mixing wet ingredients.

Making sourdough challah

4. Ragged dough.

Making sourdough challah

5. Kneaded dough.

Making sourdough challah

6. Rolling the dough.

Making sourdough challah

7. Plaiting the dough.

Making sourdough challah

8. Plaited loaves ready to rise.

Making sourdough challah

9. Risen loaves ready to bake.

Making sourdough challah

10. Finished loaves! Yum!

Making sourdough challah

New content today:

Virtual Sydney meeting day 3

It’s day 3 of my ISO Photography Standards meeting. Today we had technical sessions on image noise, image flare, and image stabilisation. Image noise is about coming up with some sort of number that you can measure from the pixel values of an image to characterise how noisy the image looks to a human observer. Naively you might think taking a small region of pixels and calculating a standard deviation would be reasonable, and it is, but there are complications because of the different perceptual relationships of contrast in the bright-dark, red-green, and blue-yellow axes, and how these combine relative to one another to produce the perception of graininess in an image. So it’s far from straightforward, and this work is actually a revision of the previously published standard, which has since proven to be less robust than we’d like.

Image flare is about measuring the glare from bright light sources in a photo, such as the sun. This produces the characteristic “lens flare” effect that some directors sometimes artificially add to movies. In a digital camera, image flare is considered a fault, so if it’s present you want to measure it so you can compare which cameras perform better than others. This is the first time ISO has worked on a standard for this, and the project leaders are doing a lot of experimental work to try and develop a workable system for measuring and quantitatively characterising lens flare and its perceptual effect on the quality of photography.

And the current image stabilisation work is about measuring the effectiveness of non-optical image stabilisation methods, which means image processing to remove motion blur (as opposed to physical image stabilisation by moving the lens to compensate for unsteadiness in the camera). This is very tricky to measure for many cameras, particularly fully automatic cameras such as phones, because it’s actually impossible to take a photo with image stabilisation processing turned off, so you can’t just take a with and without shot and compare them. So we’ve had to come up with other methods of testing the cameras.

After the meeting adjourned for the day, I unwound a bit and then worked on some comics a bit, and took Scully for a bit of a walk and play in the park:

Scully and rope

For dinner tonight I walked up the street to the local restaurant strip to have something by myself, since my wife had decided to do an evening yoga class (and she takes Scully with her).

I decided to have some pasta from an Italian place called Bravo. This used to be one of our favourite restaurants, many years ago. The owner was friendly and said hello every time we came in. The menu featured “101 pasta dishes”. Basically they had about 15 different shapes of pasta and 15 or so different sauces, and they just mixed them until they had 100 different combinations listed in the menu, and 101 was lasagne. But you could just order whatever pasta with whatever sauce, and they never checked to see if it was officially listed on the menu or not. They did pizzas too, which were okay, but I preferred their pasta. And they made their own gelato! They always had 8 permanent flavours and 8 rotating flavours which changed every week. It was absolutely delicious, and the serves were very generous and pretty cheap. The servers used those broad flat palette-knife style utensils rather than ice cream scoops, and slathered the gelato into huge mounds on your cone or into the paper cup. After going out for dinner at nearly any other restaurant in the area, we would skip dessert and pick up some gelato on the way home instead. It was the best Italian place.

Until one day in 2007, when one of the kitchen staff had a psychotic episode and stabbed the owner to death in the alley outside the restaurant. I remember hearing about it on the news and being shocked. Bravo closed for a while, but reopened, obviously under new management. When it reopened, things had changed. The gelato servers now used rounded scoops and served precisely measured balls of gelato, each serve being maybe half what you used to get. And the prices went up, almost double. Soon the pasta menu changed too… no longer 101 pastas, or whatever mix and match dish you wanted, they cut it down to 8 or so fixed combinations, and again raised the prices. What used to be a cheap, cheerful, friendly local Italian place had turned into a more upmarket place with a smaller menu and higher prices. And the gelato changed too… it just didn’t taste as good any more.

I’ve been back a few times, particularly late at night a few years ago when I was waiting to pick up my wife from her singing lessons nearby and it was the only place open for me to sit in. And, well, honestly the food is perfectly fine, but it just lacks the atmosphere and the bargain basement prices it used to have. Today I really felt like I wanted some good pasta, so I went back. And it was good. But it still felt a little hollow.

Over the years we’ve lost many of our favourite restaurants in the area. We had a Thai place we really liked, but at one point it changed owners. We used to go there every few weeks, but since it’s changed owners, maybe 10 years ago, we’ve been back in there exactly once, and found the food wasn’t as good. We found a different Thai place instead, a few blocks away, which was really good. But that too closed down a couple of years ago. Our original favourite Indian place closed a long time ago. One of the pizza places we frequented has closed (although it wasn’t our favourite one, which is still going strong, thankfully).

A Japanese place we used to go to closed recently, and we were shocked. But tonight I walked past it and saw it was boarded up. At first I thought they were going to renovate and open something new there, but then I saw the development plan posted on the boarding… and it turns out the building is going to be demolished to build a new pedestrian plaza through from the street to the street behind! I’m pretty sure this is part of the planning to provide access routes to the new Metro station that they’re currently building a block behind that location. So that’s interesting.

New content today:

Pumpkin seed sourdough

Today was another baking day. This time i tried adding some pumpkin seeds on top of the sourdough loaf.

Pumpkin seed sourdough

I used all of the seeds I had handy without opening a new packet. I think it needs a bit more than that to be really effective, and I probably need to roll the shaped loaf in the seeds to embed them and get them to stick a bit better. Live and learn! But it tastes good.

Apart from that and taking Scully on a long walk with my wife, it was a pretty easy day. We also watched some more Doctor Who, working our way through the new series 11, Jodie Whittaker’s first episodes. I must say I was very surprised when I first heard Whittaker’s accent – I had not expected that at all. The stories so far don’t seem quite as good as previous seasons, but hopefully they’ll hit their stride soon.

I’m also getting through Neon Genesis Evangelion. I’m a bit more than halfway through the episodes, and things are starting to get… very interesting.

New content today:

Ouch

Welp. 99.9% sure I have tonsillitis. All the right symptoms, including one alarmingly swollen tonsil. I’ll go to my doctor in the morning to confirm, and maybe get some antibiotics if he thinks it’s bacterial. I’ve never had this before, so it’s a learning experience. I’m confident it’s not anything COVID related, since Australia reached 14 days with no new local cases today (there are always a few cases newly arrived from overseas, automatically in quarantine). But unfortunately Western Australia later reported a new case, in a quarantine hotel worker, so almost certainly caught from one of those quarantined people. Hopefully that person won’t cause any further infection spread and we can start counting zero-case days again.

In other news, this morning I cooked sourdough crumpets!

Home made sourdough crumpets

My sourdough-starter-gifting friend has been making these and shared the recipe with me. It’s pretty easy, but they take a long time to cook, because you need to fry them over a really low heat to avoid burning the bottom. You pour the batter into egg rings to make them nice and circular. The first few I didn’t cook long enough and they were doughy in the middle, so I cooked the rest a lot longer, until the bottom and top were golden brown.

Home made sourdough crumpets

I had a couple with butter, and then one with honey, and that was enough for a filling breakfast. Not bad, but a lot more labour intensive than baking a sourdough loaf. I’ll make them again, but not every week.

Recipe:

  • 150 g sourdough starter
  • 300 g water
  • 300 g flour

Leave overnight. In the morning add:

  • 8 g sugar
  • 6 g salt
  • 4 g baking powder

Fry in rings over low heat to avoid burning bottom.

New content today:

Grooming and crepes

Scully went in for a haircut and groom today. She was getting a bit shaggy, as she does in the last week or two before her next grooming appointment. Being a poodle, her hair doesn’t shed, it just grows longer like human hair, so it’s necessary to have it cut every so often. The dog groomer washes her first and gets her nice and clean, then trims her coat. Now she’s all soft and velvety. We just have a basic puppy cut, which is basically the same length all over, not one of those fancy-shmancy French poodle type cuts.

During the day I wrote some comics for the next batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips that I’ll be making next week.

And tonight for dinner I went out with my wife and Scully to a French creperie a couple of suburbs over. It’s run by some guys who emigrated from France and decided they missed good crepes so much that they should start a restaurant. And the crepes are very good indeed, accompanied by imported French cider. Tonight I tried the peri peri chicken galette – which is no doubt not very traditional, but I felt like it. Most of the rest of the menu is probably more traditionally French.

New content today:

Long weekend day 2

The heatwave has really hit today. Yesterday was hot, but today was hotter, and also more humid. Fortunately near the coast we had a sea breeze keeping things somewhat cool, and the CBD registered only 34°C, but some outer suburbs reached above 40°C. Over in South Australia Adelaide city reached 43°C and some suburbs got as high as 45°C.

So mostly today we rested indoors, trying to keep Scully from wanting to go outside too much. She has a weird thing she does when she goes outside in very hot weather. As soon as she leaves the shade and enters the sunlight, she lies down on the ground. I’m not sure if she likes sunbaking, or if it’s just suddenly all too much and all she can think to do is collapse. She doesn’t lie in the sun in cooler weather.

My wife and I made three more attempts at Codenames Duet Vatican City in our ongoing campaign. The first two games ended quickly as we picked assassins in early turns. But the third game was a nailbiter, and we got down to sudden death time with only one spy left to guess, and I had a clue, but it was very loose, because she’d had to indicate three words with her final clue. Unfortunately I chose the wrong word, and we lost by the closest margin possible. We shall have to give it another go another day.

We also watched the Doctor Who special “Twice Upon a Time” – the one which ends Peter Capaldi’s tenure as The Doctor and begins Jodie Whitaker’s. Yes, we’re a few seasons behind still – this is the first time we’ve watched up to this point.

And… for dinner I made potato salad. With purple potatoes. The local supermarket recently renovated a bit and now they have fancy potatoes, so I thought I’d try the purples one. They taste… just like potatoes. But they do look cool!

New content today:

Sourdough #4

Following on from yesterday’s sourdough dough making, this morning I formed the chilled dough into a loaf, let it rise a couple more hours and come to room temperature, then scored the top ready for baking:

Sourdough before baking

35 minutes later it looked like this:

Sourdough bread!

It turned out really good, and the best of the four sourdough loaves I’ve made so far since getting the starter just before Christmas. So kneading the dough was a good idea, and I’ll definitely be doing that from now on.

In other news, yesterday (Saturday 9 January) was the first day with no rainfall recorded in Sydney since 28 December, and only the 5th dry day since 12 December. So basically we’ve had four whole weeks with only 5 days with no rain. It really has been a cool, wet summer so far, as predicted from the current La Niña phase in the Pacific.

Apart form baking bread, and cooking soup for dinner, and helping with the laundry and stuff, it was a pretty relaxing day. It’s good to have a bit of a break sometimes.

New content today:

Pies are squared (away)

This morning I prepared some sourdough, to rise in the afternoon, then sit in the fridge overnight before baking in the morning. I’ve been using a simple “no knead” recipe that my sourdough friend pointed me to on YouTube. But after I’d prepared the dough he shared some photos of his latest dough, and it looked a lot nicer than mine. Smooth and clean, whereas mine looked… well, like this:

Sourdough before kneading

So I mentioned that I’m not kneading the dough, like the recipe he showed me, and asked if sourdough should not be kneaded. He said no, kneading it is fine and in fact good – he only showed me a “no knead” recipe because it was the simplest thing. I’ve been making bread from pre-mixed packets for months, so I’m familiar with kneading and how it changes the texture of the dough, so I was excited and went back and gave it a good 10 minutes of kneading. And then it looked and felt much, much better:

Sourdough after kneading

So this will be another experiment in my sourdough journey. But I’m confident and excited, hoping this will again be better than the previous one, in a steadily improving series of loaves.

In other food news, I went out for lunch with my wife and Scully, driving over to my favourite pie shop. It’s in the Northern Beaches region which has been under COVID travel restrictions for the past couple of weeks, but they’ve been relaxed now, so it was a good chance to go and get some pies. I had a butter chicken pie and a Mexican vegetable pie, both of which were delicious.

While there I added some masked lapwings to my eBird sighting list. That takes my eBird tally to 29 species spotted since 24 December. You can also add species you identify from their calls, but unfortunately I don’t know all of the bird calls that I hear around the region. I can identify several, but there are a few that I have no idea what bird they are, so unfortunately I can’t add them. Today I listened to 40 different Sydney bird call recordings from Birds in Backyards, but they didn’t include two of the most frequent ones I hear around here. I’ll have to find another site with more bird call recordings to learn what they are. One in particular is a distinct series of three descending whistling notes, which the repeats after a few seconds. I haven’t been successful in searching for that specific one.

To complete the food listing, this evening I made a spicy lentil dhal with potato chunks for dinner, served over rice. Very quick and easy, and delicious!

New content today:

Listing things to write

Several times in the past weeks I’ve sat down to write my daily blog entry and thought, “There was a thing I wanted to write about today, but what was it?” And I’ve been unable to remember what it was. So I’ve started writing down brief notes to remind myself. Let’s see how we go today…

I’m overdue for a haircut. I’ve avoided going for the past few weeks because of the current COVID outbreak here in Sydney, but now it’s getting long enough that I think I really need to get a haircut soon. The NSW Government has ordered mandatory wearing of masks in places specifically including hairdressers and beauty salons. At first I thought okay, I can just go to the barber and wear a mask… but then today I realised that there’s no way they can cut my hair normally with a mask on, as the barber trims sideburns and around the ears and stuff where the mask straps are. So I don’t know how that works. (Some searching now reveals on the NSW Government site that “You may also remove your mask for the proper provision of goods or services, for example, if you are having a facial or beard trim.” So I suppose that applies.)

Secondly, I had my first ever peanut butter and jelly sandwich today. In the USA food package that I received the other day was a jar of Smucker’s Goober Grape PB&J. Peanut butter and jelly is a very American food. We don’t really have “jelly” like in the US here in Australia, so it’s actually not easy to replicate the effect, except by using jam, which usually has at least small chunks of fruit in it. Indeed, to most Australians, the very idea of mixing peanut butter with jam/jelly sounds disgusting, so it’s not something that most of us would try to experiment with, either. So yeah, I’ve never had it before. I do enjoy making a sandwich with peanut butter, honey, and cinnamon, so I’m not averse to mixing PB with something sweet. And I like jam. But I still approached this PB&J with a bit of trepidation.

PB&J prep

I took some photos of the preparation. I’m guessing that traditionally in the US PB&J is probably made with plain white bread, but I never buy plain white bread – I always get wholemeal or something with lots of seeds in it. But today the only bread I had was my home-made sourdough. So I spread the PB&J on a slice of sourdough.

The verdict: Well, it was mostly PB since the top of the jar seems to have a lower proportion of jelly in it than further down. It tasted fine, PB with a bit of sweetness mixed in, not disgusting at all. I’m interested to see how it goes when I get further down the jar, where the jelly ratio looks higher. I expect it’ll be perfectly fine, even yummy.

In market news today, I received an email from Kirribilli Markets, where I’m supposed to have a stall this Sunday. I thought it might be notice of cancellation due to COVID, but no. It said that they’d been informed that the current railway sleeper replacement work being done on the Harbour Bridge was behind schedule, so instead of finishing this Friday, it would extend over the weekend. Which means no trains running to the station where the markets are located. They figured this would reduce shopper turnout enough that they felt the need to postpone the market for a week, moving it to Sunday 17 January. At first I thought this would conflict with my other market, which is on the third Sunday of each month, but then I realised that that market had already cancelled for January. So there’s no conflict – it just means this weekend’s market is moved to a week later.

Workwise today I had planned to complete all of the Irregular Webcomic! annotation writing by lunchtime, and then move on to writing new Darths & Droids strips. As it turns out, I had so many distractions that I still haven’t completed the IWC annotations, and probably won’t until tomorrow. I try to schedule a certain amount of “worklike” stuff each day, but it’s often amazing how long it ends up taking.

And I reached a milestone in my Italian practice today. I’ve been using Duolingo every day for a practice session for 183 days, more than half a year as of today. I’ve had longer streaks before, but I was interrupted by travel towards the end of 2019 and took a while to get restarted. But I’m pleased to have made it six full months of practice again.

Oh, and finally I got a photo of some rainbow lorikeets while taking Scully for a walk today.

Rainbow lorikeets

New content today:

Deconstruction for renovation

The construction noise started before 9 o’clock. One of the apartments downstairs is apparently ripping their entire kitchen out. There was pretty much continuous mini jackhammering noises all day, sounding like they’re chipping away tiles or bricks or something. It only stopped at 5 pm.

To get out of the house a bit, I took the wife and Scully for a drive to a bakery partway across the city. I was looking forward to getting one of their Mexican pies for lunch, a spicy concoction with beef, kidney beans, Mexican spices, sour cream, and cheese. I think it’s the best pie they do at this particular bakery. But unfortunately they were sold out! So I had to make do with a chilli beef, which is basically just a beef pie with some chilli pepper – no other spices to make the flavour more complex. Oh well. At least we got out for a bit, and it didn’t even rain.

Tonight for dinner my wife organised a table at a local bar, where we had cocktails and some share platters of sliders, tacos, arancini, etc. This was kind of our New Year’s Eve a day early, so we can avoid any crowds tomorrow night.

Otherwise today I mostly worked on Darths & Droids. The story is getting up to an exciting part in the writing, so I was keen to get more done today. I think tomorrow I need to start work on a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! scripts, for shooting photos next week.

New content today: