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Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Food triggers memories and marks transitions. At some point last October, I realized that my mind was in autumn mode when rather than ordering white wine, I went for red. Shortly thereafter I went on the pumpkin/gourd spree. That was followed by my foray into German and Austrian cuisine, which seemed winter appropriate, but quickly became fried food overkill.

In case it wasn’t already apparent, Hannah and I both love food, which is why we started Food Fridays. Hannah takes joy in creating new dishes and baking sweets. I fail in the food prep department, but excel in savoring new flavor combinations. It’s a win-win, or so I like to think.

This past year I’ve started to fancy myself a food explorer—even if that’s a bit of a stretch. This is not a totally new thought, though. There was that time many (many!) years ago when I ordered sweetbreads expecting something akin to french toast. And that time in Israel I accepted a dish that had been described as “charif”, or spicy. It turned out to be brain. Or, while in Greece, that time when I put my stomach to the test by eating a single, daring bite of kokoretsi, which the EU banned in the 90s. I survived without incident.

Recently, though, I’ve focused on flavors that don’t make people cringe. So this past Saturday I ventured to Gargoyles on the Square in Somerville for a 10-course molecular gastronomy experience. (Of note: it was nearly impossible to find a molecular gastronomy menu in Boston, but the chef, Jason Santos, rose to the challenge.) My father, brother, and I stared slack jawed as course after course arrived. We even took photos.

 

Clarified Tomato Juice Cocktail

Shrimp Chips and Cocktail Sauce

 

 

Lamb Bacon with Coconut and Mango "Egg"

Beet Salad with Vinaigrette in a Pipette and Boursin

Foie Gras. Sadly, I can't remember what else is on the plate.

Pork Belly Soup "Cappuccino"

Calamari Spaghetti Bolognese

Hanger Steak with Dehydrated Mac and Cheese

Ice Cream "Popcorn" with Caramel Snifter

Glazed Donut Pancakes with Oreo Ice Cream

 

Hannah has discussed seasonal dissonance—that out-of-step feeling when your expectations don’t match up with the weather, like the 60-something degree weather we had today. Now imagine that feeling with food. You eat a bite of something that your mind says is an egg. Instead, you taste mango and coconut. It’s bizarre. And it’s delicious, whether or not you’re expecting the twist. Far, far better than one of those surprise snowstorms in May. And just as good as a spring day in February.

Weather: Unseasonably warm today. 62 degrees.

Moods:

Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. A beautiful Friday.

Hannah – 7 out of 10. February thaw!

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Happy End-Of-Daylight-Saving-Time!

Here are some reasons why DST (as we like to call it) matters:

Historically DST was designed to, as Wikipedia puts it, “exploit sunlight hours.” In researching for The Emotional Calendar I learned that the Wikipedia article on DST is actually heavily based in myth – but you’ll have to read the book to find out the truth 🙂

Physiologically DST has been linked to everything from increased rates of heart attacks to increased traffic fatalities. I just read an article in Scientific American about a new research method which allows scientists to track our circadian rhythms by looking at our hair follicles. Since DST disturbs our circadian rhythm (the approximately 24 hour cycle that our bodies run on), this should help scientists understand how – and why – DST messes up our health.

Personally the end of DST (that’s yesterday) marks the end of time, at least temporarily. When I was in high school, I was in school or commuting from 715am to 5pm. In a comic twist, my school was located in the windowless basement of a converted office building. In the winter months, I didn’t see sunlight at all! But now, DST means that for a few more weeks (until the ice sets in) I’ll be able to go running before I go to work. Hooray.

Culturally we all have feelings about the way sunlight shifts. The New York Times collected DST poems from some great contemporary poets, all of whom happen to be Pulitzer Prize winners (what does that mean about the state of poetry today?). One of them, Louise Gluck, is even featured in The Emotional Calendar! Cool.

“I sat at home and began to cheer up. What if none of this happened? I thought. What if there was nothing to be sad about?”

– James Tate

 

Weather: Cloudy and 40 degrees. Fortunately I haven’t been outside yet.

Mood:

Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. I had a wonderfully relaxing weekend.

Anna: 6. Strange, vivid dreams last night mean I feel a little off this morning.

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This just in from my favorite science blog: “snot is mostly comprised of mucous secreted by the inflamed tissues of the nose, and dead neutrophils that swarmed in kamikazi-style to gobble up whatever bacteria or virus they could find.”

Sad but true: in the past seven days the temperature has dropped from an appalling seventy degrees to an equally appalling thirty-two. With the temperature drop has come a corresponding drop in physical well-being. I spent the whole weekend sneezing (although it didn’t keep me from loving Halloween) and Anna’s voice has been reduced to a croak. Flu season has begun.

Cold & flu season is exciting because it’s an opportunity to talk about the immune system, which I studied for The Emotional Calendar and which is actually really neat. Kevin – an immunologist, science blogger, and (full disclosure) friend – explains it better than I ever could here: it’s all T-Cells and Macrophages and suicide cells and other cool stuff.

But it’s hard to get excited about immunology when it’s 3 am, your head hurts, and you can’t breathe through your nose. November is the ugliest phase of fall. The leaves are off the trees, the sky is gray, it’s cold out, and everyone is sick. October may be a good month to channel Love Story – in November it’s all about fleeces, the world’s ugliest sweater. And of course there is the heavy anticipation of impending doom – by which I mean the rapid approach of the holiday the season.

November is a good month to stay inside and focus on something small and cozy. Like cellular biology, perhaps?

Weather: cold and cloudy. 43 degrees.

Mood:
Hannah: cold and cloudy but no longer sneezing, thank you. 5 out of 10 on the “I’m so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.
Anna: 7. She already voted and two people want to be her roommate!

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