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Grandma, Molecular Gastronomy, and Scottish Teachers - The Mad Schemes of Dr. Tectonic [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Grandma, Molecular Gastronomy, and Scottish Teachers [Aug. 7th, 2007|12:07 am]
I got my contribution to the annoying OMG-DEADLINE! thing done on Friday, so although it all needs to be done by Wednesday, it's mostly Other People's Crisis now. Which is nice, because my day was eaten by meetings today and I wouldn't have been able to get anything productive done anyway.

I went and visited my grandmother on Saturday. She made me dinner, I took her pictures to show from the big box that my mom brought. There was Visiting. It was really nice. Not having anyone to socialize with, she get kind of filled up with words and does most of the talking when I visit, but I don't mind. I really enjoyed it.

I also went out and looked through the room attached to the garage at her place that my dad was using as an office. An awful lot of stuff that seems like it ought to be of value to someone, but I don't know who. It did reinforce that I come by my packrat genes honestly. Got a couple keepsakes, including some audio tapes that I will have to listen to, but that I suspect will probably have my dad's voice on them, which would be cool. A mountain goat hide that he shot in his late teens / early 20s. And then I found two whole drawers in one of the filing cabinets that were just filled with photos and other memorabilia, so I'll have to go back on another weekend and we can go through it and see what should go to whom.

Sunday I did some experiments in molecular gastronomy. See, I found this "food blogging event" called They Go Really Well Together and read a bunch of blog posts about it. The idea is that you can pair foods by looking at the volatile flavoring chemicals and finding profiles with a lot of overlap. This sometimes gives you unusual pairings that, theoretically, should go well together. Some of the ones they've done so far include strawberries with cilantro/coriander and bananas with parsley. So I decided to try the combination of garlic, coffee, and chocolate.

I wouldn't quite call it a failure, but it certainly wasn't a success. I roasted a bunch of garlic on Saturday, and Greg & Jerry picked me up a coffee while they were out, so Sunday afternoon I sat down to experiment. The first thing I noticed was that if you just smelled them, the coffee, the roasted garlic, and the dark chocolate had a whole lot more in common scent-wise than I would have expected. I wanted to do a savory mousse kind of thing, so I mixed things up with some heavy cream (which also smoothed out the bitterness) and tried various combinations, also adding in a little salt, white pepper, and cumin.

I got a couple mixtures that were surprisingly not-bad. They just weren't actively good. The flavors mixed quite well, but they didn't really make anything. So I'm thinking that you could pair any two of the three, but all three doesn't quite work. (coffee + chocolate = mocha, of course, chocolate + garlic + other stuff = mole sauce, and I think you could do something quite interesting with adding coffee to roasted garlic. But not all three together.)

Fortunately, we had prepared for this eventuality and Greg made tasty fried chicken for potluck. We watched The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which is the movie that Maggie Smith won and Oscar for and that really made her career. It was quite good. There were two aspects of it that I thought were especially noteworthy. The first is that they did this clever bait-and-switch where it turns out that some of the characters turn out not to be who you thought they were. That's in a functional sense, not a literal sense. As in, who the story is about and who's the protagonist is arguably not who you first think it is.

And the second is that there are a number of scenes where there's a whole nother conversation going on entirely separate from what the characters are actually saying to one another. It's always impressive when actors can convey something so clearly without actually saying it, and they did that really well here. Maggie Smith totally deserved her Academy Award.

Also, and I know that some folks will disagree with me, but I am now totally convinced that the character of Mr. Humphries in 70s brit-com Are You Being Served? is based on Jean Brodie. About the middle of the film, vocal and gestural mannerisms just perfectly the same.

And that was MY weekend.

[User Picture]From: dcseain
2007-08-07 12:36 pm (UTC)


As an ice cream, i would:
  • Make a chocolate egg custard with chocolate and cocoa in it, and cook the garlic into the custard.
  • Remove garlic from custard.
  • To the custard, add 1C coffee.
  • Chill all, then freeze.
I think that, with some black pepper and cardamom, could be a very nice ice cream. If adding the spices, cook them into the custard.
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2007-08-07 12:50 pm (UTC)
It turns out the book has a lot to do with religion, specifically Calvinism vs. Catholicism. It also has a larger 'Brodie set,' six girls instead of four. I'm thinking about reading it; but not sure I'm prepared to cope with it all just yet.
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[User Picture]From: jofish22
2007-08-07 04:49 pm (UTC)
Just to be whiny:

The molecular inspiration idea is interesting, and it does make a good place for inspiration, but I'm not sure it's intrinsically any better than matching colours or whether foods have a vowel at the end or whatever. Very, very few of the people doing molecular gastronomy have any chemistry background whatsoever (and that includes the big players). It's probably a good thing, in that it gets people thinking about and understanding the things they put in their mouths, but, as you found out, it sort of stops there.

For me, probably the quintessential example of this is the molecule carvone. Carvone is a chiral molecule, with two forms, l-carvone and d-carvone. L-carvone is spearmint; d-carvone is caraway. When you smell the two of them next to each other, you realize that the two smells are very close: one of them just has an extra 'thing' on top, but they have the same base smell. That's a nifty realization, and a really nice example (that's underused) about what chirality actually means. But spearmint/caraway don't do *shit* as a flavour, trust me.


That was one of those comments with too much information and little content, eh?
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-08-07 06:12 pm (UTC)
I think it's better than vowel-matching in this case. The guy organizing it does have a PhD in organometallic chemistry.

He points out that they aren't hypothesizing that one volatile organic in common means a pair matches; after all, nearly every pairing is going to have something in common. Instead, the idea is that if there are several components in common with high OAV (odor activity values), that's a good pairing to try because it may match. They won't all work, but it's a search technique more likely to bear fruit than just pairing things up at random. It's not really even a scientific hypothesis, it's more of a heuristic for finding unusual combinations that work.

These two pages probably explain it better than the one I initially linked to. He's got an interesting case study where he compares coffee/cocoa and mango/parmesan.

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