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My new workspace at the office.

After a one-month hiatus, I’m back to blogging. Despite the lack of updates here, the past four weeks have been more story-worthy than usual. Below were the highlights:

  • I fell victim to the January Boston rhinovirus epidemic.
  • I made three trips to New York, including a visit to wd-50 and TEDxManhattan.
  • I’m back to experiments in the lab. I found out about the ProPraline project, which shows that scientific research into chocolate is legit. I’m also making videos of one aspect of the bacterial biofilm reproductive process.

In addition to the above, a steady stream of lab tours and other encounters has laid the foundation for future serendipity.

I spent more time observing (and eating) microbes over the several days than the past several months, which broke down my post-a-day routine. Here were some of the highlights:

  • Taking three-dimensional scanning electron microscope images of the fungal hyphae in soft cheese.
  • Eating more huitlacoche than I thought possible.
  • Realizing that the biological effects of ethanol (and people) are still a bit of a mystery. The microbiology of champagne production is fascinating.
  • Talking with biologists about the sex lives of bananas, the communal stomachs of ants, the ejaculations of whales, and the family trees of ant colonies.
  • Making mozzarella with curds from New York, since a more local importer was closed down due to mafia ties.
  • Taking a tour of a cheese microbiology lab, which is getting into the culinary consultancy business.

Inspired by a recent article about Jump Associates, a company “In Pursuit of the Perfect Brainstorm,” I’m sharing some ideas I’ve had for other food/science projects.

  • The Botany of Cooking: which parts of plants are edible and why (e.g. seeds, leaves, stems, roots and tubesr)? Much of this information is in On Food and Cooking, but there is the potential for an awesome infographic. Also, why are certain plants used in particular regions? The book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond covered some of this, but once again, I think there’s a way to show this visually on a map.
  • The Science of Fast Food: the wonderful assortment of hydrocolloids that we used in the Science and Cooking class (e.g. lecithin, maltodextrin, xanthan gum) was first used by large-scale food companies. Although these additives are now often vilified, each was developed as a response to a specific problem. I think this could could make a great general science course for undergrads.
  • Food Science from an Asian Perspective: many of the recent books about food and science focus on Italian pastas, classic French sauces, cheese-making, and other American or European dishes. I’m not aware of any readily-accessible resource that covers topics like flavor-balancing in Asian condiments, an explanation of the regional variations in rice preparation (e.g. sushi vs. basmati), the craft of noodle-making, etc. The closest example I could find was Asian Foods: Science and Technology, which is rather expensive and written for a specialist audience. I’d be interested to hear if anyone thinks there would be a market for this overseas.
  • Data-mining of recipes: It could be really interesting to collect the ingredient lists from a database of recipes and see how they match up to the values given in Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio.

Are there examples that I missed? I’d love to hear about any other ideas.