Long weekend Monday

Today I spent time with my wife again, since it was a holiday. We decided to go out for morning tea to a cafe we like that’s about an hour’s drive away, in the semi-rural outer suburbs of Sydney, called Geranium Cottage. (Yes, the website looks like it was designed in the 1990s.)

We like it there because they do a good plate of scones with strawberry jam and cream. We split one of those, and also a serve of the home made banana and walnut bread. Wife had coffee, but not being a caffeine drinker I stuck with water. The menu here is full of tempting treats, and they also had a chocolate brownie, which the menu annotated with “(very rich)”. So we sat for a while enjoying the rural ambience, and then ordered one of those too. I was so full after this that I didn’t bother having lunch at all, and ate nothing until dinner this evening.

On the way home we stopped at a small park where Scully could run around off lead and get some exercise. We park across the road in the yard of an historic church, St Jude’s Anglican of Dural. The original church building is a small sandstone structure completed in 1848, which now paints a picturesque scene:

St Jude's Anglican, Dural

And the rear:

St Jude's Anglican, Dural

It looks like it can only fit about a dozen people inside. It’s preserved now as a heritage listed building. On the grounds is also a larger, more modern building, which is presumably used for services these days.

We’ve just been watching some TV shows this evening. We’re getting into the second season of Lost in Space on Netflix, and we also watched some comedy shows on broadcast channels. It’s good to sit back and have a laugh every now and then.

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Golf and Ramen

Missed last night’s update, so I’m writing this on Thursday morning.

On Wednesday my friend Andrew suggested we play a short round of golf at my local course (where we’ve played before). We assembled there at 07:30, and teed off at the first hole. We both hit our first drives handsomely down the fairway, drifting a bit to the right near a clump of trees maybe 120-130 metres away. We chatted as we walked off to locate our balls. We found them:

Tee shot balls, hole 1

Over 100 metres from the tee, and the golf balls were within half a metre of each other! I hit first because I was about 5 cm further from the hole.

As our round continued, it became clear that it wasn’t going to be a good day, for either of us. We both struggled to hit later tee shots, with several dribbling just a few metres and necessitating trying to smash the ball 100 metres or more out of thick grass, or worse, leaf litter and sticks in close proximity to trees. I scored my worst score on this course for 9 holes: 66, my previous worst being 64. Oh well, at least we got out and had some exercise!

We returned to my place and played a few games: Fluttering Souls, Claim 2, and Codenames Duet. Then we headed up the street to get some lunch somewhere.

We didn’t have anywhere in mind, and walked past a tiny Japanese place that I’d seen before, but never gone inside. It had a hand-written sign outside advertising $12 ramen for lunch. That’s cheap for Sydney, so we poked our noses under the hanging cotton banners to have a look and the man behind the counter said, “Would you like some ramen?”

We said, “Sure!” and went in to grab a seat at the small bench.

Ramen Shimizu

The menu was simple. The hand-written sign stuck to the array of roughly a thousand different types of Japanese whisky read: “Lunch Menu: Mon-Wed. Tonkotsu Ramen $12 (this is the only option)”. So we had the tonkotsu ramen.

Tonkotsu Ramen

It was thick and rich and absolutely delicious. This is an absolute steal for $12.

Andrew headed off and I returned home. In the afternoon I dealt with some administrative stuff for ISO Photography standards, as well as trawling AirBnB for accommodation for a short Easter road trip that My wife and I are planning. We’re taking Scully with us, so we needed to find places that allow dogs to stay, which cuts down on the options a bit. We couldn’t even find affordable accommodation in Orange, where we’d planned to spend a couple of nights, so had to reconfigure our itinerary and instead decided to visit Singleton, where I found a suitable place to stay.

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Cheese results

This morning I took the drained feta cheese that my wife and I had made yesterday and put it into the brine solution:

Home made feta

It definitely looks like feta cheese. And it was nice and firm. The recipe said it had to soak in brine for at least five hours, so I tried a tiny bit at lunch…

It was salty. Really salty. Too salty to eat. By itself anyway. So this evening for dinner I tried crumbling some onto a pizza:

Pizza with home made feta

This worked reasonably well, with the salt diluted amongst all the other ingredients, and the result was pretty good. (Also on there: tomato paste, home grown basil leaves, mozzarella/cheddar cheese mix, zucchini flowers, pine nuts, and chilli flakes.)

I looked up online what to do with overly salty feta, and apparently this is a common problem. Several sites suggested soaking it in milk for an hour or two before eating it, which will draw out some of the salt. So tomorrow I’ll try that. And next time we make this, I’m going to reduce the amount of salt from what the recipe said. But salt aside, it looks and crumbles and tastes like feta, so that’s pretty good! I’m happy with my first ever batch of home-made cheese.

It was stormy in Sydney today. A lot of very heavy thunderstorms with large hailstones passed over the city, but they were small and localised, and where I live we barely got any rain. Some of the weather stations in the city suburbs recorded over 20 mm of rain, but the nearest one to me recorded only 2.8 mm (and another suburb only got 0.2 mm).

I kept an eye on the rain radar and it seemed like a clear window during the late afternoon to take Scully to the dog park:

Scully and the storm

This band of cloud came over, but didn’t drop any rain where we were:

Storm over Waverton Park

I was keeping an eye on the radar for incoming storms, in case I had to hurry back home to get the car safe from hailstones. But it stayed dry for a good hour or so, giving us enough time to walk along the harbour shore, where we have a view towards the city:

Storm over Sydney

It was a pretty dramatic day. We got back to the car just before a few fat drops of rain fell, but it petered out as we drove home, and overall didn’t deliver much, apart from some loud thunder rolls.

Scully is good with thunder – she’s not frightened at all by it. Our puppy school dog trainer suggested teaching to the class that we teach our dogs to be calm during storms by getting them used to sudden loud noises – by doing things like dropping pots and pans into the kitchen sink, and them immediately giving them yummy treats, to get them habituated that a sudden loud noise is good, not bad. We did this with Scully from a very early age, and she’s adapted very well. She has no problem at all with thunder, or the loud fireworks that go off here in Sydney on New Year’s Eve (not very far from where we live, so they’re very loud).

Today I also worked on some more Darths & Droids stuff, getting comics prepared in advance and queued up, so we can set them aside and start working on Episode VII.

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Cheesemaking!

Today I made three more Darths & Droids strips, which builds us up a nice buffer in the run-up to beginning Star Wars: Episode VII. I also discussed some of the aspects with the fellow writers online.

One of my friends decided to start a Google Docs spreadsheet listing all of the games that we have in our group, so we can know what’s available for Friday Night Games, and for borrowing from one another. So I spent some time going through my collection and filling in spreadsheet rows.

And the other thing I did today was make some cheese! I got my wife a cheesemaking kit for Christmas, and we decided to give it a go today. The kit makes a few different types of cheese, and we selected feta as our first attempt. It’s pretty easy, but it takes several hours of waiting around for the milk to curdle and the bacterial culture to start working. At the end of the waiting we had curds that could be scooped into cheese moulds:

Curd scooping

The cheese is now draining for a few more hours before being flipped upside down to drain even more overnight. And then tomorrow it goes into a brine solution, and voilĂ , we’ll have feta!

Curds in moulds

At least I hope we will. I’ll tell you what it tastes like when we try it…

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A nice dinner out

Today it was supposed to rain heavily here in Sydney. The forecast said up to 50 mm of rain. Which would have been welcome as we need the rain. However it turned out to be nothing more than an intermittent sprinkle all day, and as I type this now the official rainfall figure recorded for Sydney so far today is only 2.2 mm – less than 1/20th of the forecast. That’s kind of been the story for the past few days – forecast of heavy rain, and while we’ve had some heavy showers, the totals have been nowhere near the forecast figures.

Today I worked on Darths & Droids, assembling a couple of comics from completed scripts, and doing some background planning tasks.

And then this evening I had a nice dinner out with my wife, at one of our favourite fancy restaurants. We dropped Scully off with our neighbour for dogsitting, and drove about 20 minutes to Balmoral Beach. We had a lovely dinner, and the walk back to the car along the beach after dinner was beautiful.

Balmoral Beach night

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Rhino poaching

Today was the second last Ethics class of the year, and I started a new topic with my class this morning. It was about the dangers of false beliefs, and started with a story about rhinoceroses being endangered by poaching, driven by the trade in horn for traditional medicines. There was a sharp increase in rhino poaching after 2010, when a prominent Chinese politician declared publicly that rhino horn had cured him of cancer. The question put to the children was: Who is to blame for the rhinos being endangered?

There were several possible answers: The politician, practitioners of traditional medicine who push the “cures”, the masses of people who believe that rhino horn will help them, and the poachers. Most of the kids agreed that the poachers deserved most, or even all, of the blame, as the ones who are actively killing the animals.

There were a few other short questions on who is to blame for various things, such as a cricket player hitting a ball out of the field and damaging a car (the kids mostly agreed the player should not be blamed). And then we ended with some questions about various false beliefs, and if it matters whether people believe them or not. It doesn’t matter if a young child believes superheroes are real, but it does if an adult believes it, because they might be regarded as crazy. It matters if people believe smoking is not harmful. It matters if people believe rhino horn can cure cancer.

Back at home, I avoided going out again because of the ongoing smoke in the air around Sydney. There are now stories every day about the adverse health effects of this bushfire smoke hanging over Sydney. The air quality has been awful for days on end now, and it’s forecast to stay until at least Saturday. Today was warm and tomorrow will be hotter, and the fires continue to burn. I saw a story on the news today that said that in parts of Sydney the smoke is so heavy that being outdoors for eight hours is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes.

So I stayed indoors and assembled comics from the photos I took yesterday. I also briefly drove Scully to doggy daycare, so she could get some exercise and play time with other dogs, because it would be bad to take her out in the smoky air outdoors.

For dinner tonight I tried a new combination: mushrooms, broccolini, pine nuts, garlic, and a bit of basil pesto as a sauce for pasta. Normally when we do pesto we just have that, but throwing a couple of vegetables in added some nice body and texture to the dish.

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Proof 33/100 – almost a third done!

I finished off the next Proof that the Earth is a Globe, and have just posted it. It’s one of the more basic ones in my list, but it took a long time to write and make the diagrams for. And there’s a surprising corollary at the end of it. I completed it several hours ago, but wanted to wait until after dinner to post it.

My wife and I went out for pizza tonight at our favourite pizza place, a 15 minute walk or so from where we live. It’s a little suburban place run by a guy and his wife from Lipari, in the Aeolian Islands of Italy. He always greets us in Italian as we arrive, and she has a chat with us in between serving tables. They have checked tablecloths, and photos of Italy on the walls, and a giant poster of Sophia Loren eating a bowl of spaghetti on one wall. We’ve been going here for years, and always go back because the food is good and the atmosphere is casual and friendly – it feels like visiting relatives, not a restaurant.

Anyway, when you see the post, you’ll understand why I wanted to wait until after dinner to post it.

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Arts & Crafts Market

Sunday was cool and a bit rainy in the morning, but fined up during the day. My wife wanted to go check out a new market that we hadn’t been to before, dedicated to arts and crafts, at Gymea, a suburb in the south of Sydney. A friend of mine who used to live in the area told me that the venue used to be an old heritage estate, with a house and large grounds, but fenced off and inaccessible, with a bit of a spooky reputation. But in the 90s they opened it up to the public and turned the house into an arts centre. It has a gallery and studios where they hold classes in painting, pottery, and so on.

The market had stalls both inside the gallery and spilling out all over the lawn, with maybe a hundred or so different stalls. There was also a stage with a band playing live music, and a small cluster of food stalls. Several other people had brought small dogs, so Scully got to meet some of them.

Hazelhurst market

After browsing around all the stalls, we sought some lunch, heading a block over to Gymea’s shopping strip, where we found a place called The Portuguese Bakery. Figuring this was… wait for it… a Portuguese bakery, we grabbed a table and got some savoury pastries for lunch. Of course they had the well known Portuguese egg custard tarts, so I had to try one.

The Portuguese Bakery

But wait, there’s more! When we’d visited Portugal earlier this year, naturally we tried tarts in many places. All the bakeries there make them. But they make them all in the very traditional way – flaky pastry base, filled with custard. They were great, but quite similar to one another. But the great thing about a traditional baker emigrating to Australia is that they start to incorporate the local tastes into their products. They had not only traditional tarts, but also passionfruit, orange, raspberry, and fig custard tarts!

You would never see such sacrilege in Portugal, but here it makes sense. Passionfruit in particular is used a lot in baking and desserts, and marrying it with a custard tart turned out to be a genius level inspiration. Because I had one, and it had a layer of fresh passionfruit pulp under the custard, which added a pleasing fruity tang to complement the sweetness of the custard. The Portuguese may deny it, but I think this creation is even better than the traditional version. It was that good.

We got home in the mid afternoon and relaxed a bit, before taking Scully out for a run around the local park and chasing some tennis balls. And that about filled out the day!

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Caught in the rain

Housework this morning – cleaning the bathroom, shower cubicle, vacuuming the carpet. Then I spent the rest of the morning making tomorrow’s Darths & Droids strip, after last night’s writing session.

After lunch I took Scully for a walk while my wife went off to an appointment. We went for a longish walk around the neighbourhood, up and down several of the hills, through a park, past a favourite bakery, and then back along the harbour shore to complete a big loop. Unfortunately I hadn’t counted on the weather, as it began raining when we were most of the way outbound, and I hadn’t brought anything for wet weather. We sought shelter under someone’s carport for a while during the heaviest part, and I checked the rain radar on my phone to see how long it might last. But eventually we just had to push through it and walk in the rain, thankfully a bit lighter, but heavy enough to make us moderately wet.

But the good thing about this sort of weather is you can get dramatic photos:

Scully: rain mood

This was one shot of many – it’s hard to get Scully to pose and sit still for more than a few seconds!

Tonight for dinner my wife and I went out to Via Napoli, a pizza place a short drive away, one of only a handful of places in Australia certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana as making true Neapolitan pizzas. They are really good, and they had a special “10 cheeses” pizza tonight, which we had to try. It was amazing. (Unfortunatey we tucked into it before I thought to take a photo…)

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Bird photo walk

This morning I took a drive to Sydney’s northern beach suburbs, specifically to Narrabeen, where there is a large lagoon. There is a walking track all the way around the lagoon, over 8 km long. I didn’t walk the whole thing, but rather only a small section on the southern shore, passing through some bushland. I took my camera and longest lens, prepared to photograph birds.

Near the car park were several ducks. These are Pacific black ducks hybridised with introduced mallards. Mallards are much more aggressive breeders and hybridise readily with the native ducks. This is a concern for local wildlife experts, because it’s diluting the pure Pacific duck genotype, and may lead to the elimination of the Pacific black duck as a species.

Pacific black duck x Mallard

On the water were some black swans. Fortunately these don’t hybridise with the introduced mute swans that can be found in some places.

Black swans

The next bird I spotted was one I haven’t photographed before, a sacred kingfisher. Unfortunately I only saw it in the distance through dense foliage, and my camera refused to focus on it, so I had to fiddle with manual focus. This was the only photo I managed to get. Still, that’s another one added to my list!

Sacred kingfisher

Next is an Australian king parrot, this one a male, distinguished by the red head. The females look similar, but have a green head. These are moderately large parrots – larger than most species apart from the cockatoos. They are usually found in mated pairs, so there was probably a female hanging around somewhere out of sight. They’re very conspicuous. There’s a mated pair living in the park across the street from my home.

Australian king parrot, male

This is an Eastern yellow robin. These are fairly common, but tricky to photograph as they flit about a lot, and don’t sit in one spot very long. I have a few photos of these guys, but this might be the best shot I’ve achieved.

Eastern yellow robin

And finally, back at the water, were some little pied cormorants. These are pretty common and easy to photograph. I often see some around the harbour shore close to my home.

Little pied cormorant

After completing my bird trek, I drove to Broomfields Pies, a place I’d found by searching for pie shops, seeking a new meat pie experience for lunch. The place had a high Google reviews rating, and the menu on the website looked very intriguing. I was hungry after my walk and looking forward to it, but when I got there I found the place was in the middle of an industrial park, and it was just a wholesale bakery without any retail shopfront. The front door was locked, despite it being the middle of the day, and nobody answered the door buzzer. It looks like I have a habit of driving to places in industrial parks that aren’t open.

So instead I hopped back in the car and drove a few suburbs over to another pie place that I’d been to just once before, and wanted to go back to. I had a satay chicken and a Mexican beef pie – they were good!

This afternoon I spent going through my bird photos, processing, uploading, and entering them into my bird photo database, punctuated by taking Scully to the dog park for some exercise.

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