Friday, January 22, 2010

DNA Barcoding

I tend to think that what I do is pretty hot science. Well, Science Friday on NPR thinks so too! Go here to see that even a high school kid can do this!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

earthquake drill

original post deleted due to spam comment. ugh!
Well, I am awake now. A 4.1 earthquake is not much as these things go, but when it is a few miles due east of the house, it does get your attention So I jumped out of my chair to get out from under my A/V receiver which sits smack over my computer. About the time I got to the hall, it quit shaking. I looked out the back window to see Fritz the cat twisted in a quarter turn, glaring into the house at me. It was, of course, my fault, as are all the loud human disturbances to his quiet universe. Nothing seems to have fallen, although I did hear stuff moving during the shaking. After inventorying all of the various cracks, we see the concrete next to the side of the house has moved another 1/2"away from the foundation, there are several new cracks, and all the existing ones are now bigger. But the important stuff, the retaining walls, all look to be the same as before. Yay!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Saturday Glen decided my Christmas present should instead be a wine-tasting course at Culinary Institute of America. The GrayStone building was built in 1889 as a cooperative winery for Behringer and some of the other locals in Napa. CIA has gutted the interior, put up earthquake reinforcements and is installing state of the art teaching kitchens. One of the stone outbuildings has been retrofitted to have a tasting lab, much like the one I saw in the UC Davis new food building. Each station has a chair, a flat workspace, a recessed light panel, a bitty sink, and a shelf above the table that is tiled with about 18 3" tiles that serve as a grid for, in this case, wine glasses. Very clever. Lots of flat screen monitors and white boards that slide around.

I kind of know the vocabulary of tasting wine, but have never been very organized about it except to read tasting notes at whatever winery I was visiting. Turns out there IS an organized way to do this and it is called the wine aroma wheel. This very useful concept will probably help me a lot in the future.

It was supposed to be a 2 hour course, but in this case, ran 3 hours, which of course no one complained about. We started with a single wine, and looked, smelled, described, and then tasted and described. I realized if my wine were in a black cup, I could not tell by smell alone what color, much less, what grape I had. Smelling is hard! Then after the break we had 4 pairs of wines to compare. We thought about old world (Europe) vs new world (anywhere else) origin, a single grape fermented in very different styles, two different grapes fermented in the same style, dry or not dry, oaked or not oaked, and terroir. The pairs were carefully selected to point out one or two such characteristics. We both learned a lot, but I can tell you by the end of the day, when we stopped at Franciscan Brothers, where we have a membership, I couldn't tell anything apart any more. So, along with not growing up to be President, I guess I won't grow up to be a sommelier either.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jury Duty - a long tale made shorter

I obediently showed up for jury duty when my group was called, and 90 of us were told to report to the trial of a young gentleman of mixed heritage who was being tried for murder after the dude shot up a house in gang-related activity. I decided 6-8 weeks off the job would do my short-term job performance no favor and decided to see if I could get out of it. Yes, I know, I am a civic shirker, and so be it.

So when my turn came I whined to the judge and was told, no, I had to report for seating. I asked if I could ask a question. Did I have to remain in 1-hour proximity between now and whenever they might get around to starting juror questioning? Can't get on an airplane or even make any customer visits? Judge called counsel up to his bench and after a short discussion, he said counsel decided I could leave. My best guess is after they heard what I did, neither of them would seat me in any case. Glad I found that out without having to wait a couple of weeks. OK, back to work.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

a replacement for those bad-boy trans fatty acids

Hydrogenated vegetable oil. Crisco. It was supposed to be so much better for you than lard, remember? Stable shelf life, takes a long time to turn rancid (oxidized), tasty in baked and fried foods. Then the cardiologists told us that trans fatty acids raise the bad cholesterol and lower the good cholesterol, thus increasing risk for coronary heart disease. Four years ago the FDA mandated labeling trans fatty acid content on food packaging, and the Dietary Advisory recommendations are less than 1% of total fat intake. This caused a mad scramble in the food industry to reformulate recipes, and I am still carefully reading labels to avoid foods on the market that still contain trans fatty acids.

So, no more hydrogenation of corn oil. Leaving those double bonds in place on the oil gives a reactive bond to be attacked by oxygen, causing rancidity. How now to extend shelf life of foods that contain vegetable oils?

Turns out some bright assistant professor has found that a nanoparticle starchlike substance that comes from sweet corn can be used to emulsify oils and act as a barrier to oxidation. It's early research, but a nice natural product like sweet corn to extend shelf life will be a blockbuster patent. for more chemistry speak.