Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A “Conservation Luncheon” in 1918 featured whale meat

If you follow the restaurant scene and food events in your area, you will frequently see menus or special dinners concentrating on sustainable seafood, like local salmon, sardines, "trash fish", or the new harvest of dungeness crab.  Or, if you read recent Clover-Stornetta milk cartons, you'll see that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Cooking for Solutions event is happening this weekend, and one of the main themes will be how our dining choices can help or harm ocean life.

You won't see a menu like the one that appeared in February 1918, during World War One.  If you were part of the right crowd in New York City that year, you might have gotten an invitation to a "conservation luncheon" at the American Museum of Natural History, with cooking by the head chef of the legendary Delmonico’s Restaurant.  The featured ingredient:  whale meat.  Yes, whale meat, a food that is a “‘delicious a morsel’ as the most aesthetic or sophisticated palate could possibly yearn for,” according to Federal Food Administrator Arthur William, as reported in an article in the February 9, 1918 New York Times. (The full text of the article is included after the break.)

The luncheon menu featured whale meat prepared using several different methods, as well as the dishes of the day:
Hors d'Oeuvre -- Whale.
Whale pot au feu.
Celery. Olives. Radishes.
Corn pone. Nut butter. Delmonico war bread.
Boiled skate. Mustard sauce.
Parsley potatoes.
Planked whale steak, a la Vancouver.
Border of sanip. Onion sauce.
Vegetable salad.
Ice cream. Bisque of black bread,
a la Delmonico.
Ginger bread with raw sugar.  Coffee.

The guests were impressed, saying that it tasted like venison or beef pot roast.

(I’m a little intrigued by the bisque of black bread, a la Delmonico, which might be a sweet item since it is listed next to ice cream, possibly some kind of bread pudding?  Perhaps there is a Delmonico’s cookbook with the recipe somewhere...)

The 1918 Context for “Conservation”
It’s important to note that the word “conservation” doesn’t have the same meaning as it would today – the organizers weren’t so interested in conserving the wild population of whales, but rather in reducing the quantity of food needed in wartime America so that exports to Europe could be maximized.  To illustrate this point, the same page contained four short articles about the food saving:
  1. A member of the U.S. Food Administration “asks the rich to set an example in saving” because food production had dropped by 45-50% in England and by 60% in France.
  2. Senator Smoot (R-UT) suggested that all Americans observe a “fast day” during which two meals are skipped. Smoot said, “We have in our own country a food administration asking our people to observe meatless days, wheatless days, porkless days, and to stop the waste of all kinds of food…If every American citizen would abstain from eating two meals upon that fast day the health of one hundred million Americans would be benefited and, further, we would have more of the necessaries of life to send to the people of Europe, now compelled to live on the shortest of rations.”
  3. The Food Administration will be sending experts on tours to teach bakers and grain millers about “Victory Bread,” a family of loaves that use less wheat than a standard loaf via substitution of oats and other grains.  (Note the presence of "Delmonico war bread" in the menu above. Cooks.com has a recipe for War Bread that might fit into this category since it has plenty of oats.)
  4. Food Administrator (and future president) Herbert Hoover decrees that American soldiers en route by ship to the battlefields in France will need to comply with regulations that specify wheatless, meatless and porkless days.
The Food Administration was a government agency in charge of the national effort to save food and produced many booklets and posters, like the poster above, a poster calling on Americans to “Be patriotic – sign your country’s pledge to save food” and a list of six short rules for eating that are quite relevant to today’s food discussions (more on this poster at Vox and in links provided in the Twitterverse).

The Praises of Whale Meat
In the next day's edition, the Times published a rather skeptical review of the whale meat luncheon (full text is below the break). Sure, they write, these worldly and adventurous diners will rave about whale meat at a special luncheon prepared by an expert chef, but what about the average home cook (who they call Bridget -- perhaps this name had a meaning to readers)? And anyway, this wasn't anything really new: "There was the Ichthyaphagus Club, a generation ago, formed to promote the eating of inedible fishes. The Bureau of Fisheries began to boom whale last Summer, and it seems to be a fact that whale meat has been sold in the fish markets of Seattle and Portland." They conclude, "A little whale will probably go a long way until its merits are appreciated."

Another Meaning of "Conservation"
One major omission from both the article and the editorial was any consideration that popularizing whale meat might decimate their populations.  By the year 1918, whaling ships were mechanized, with powerful engines that enabled hunting of the fastest whales and extra-deadly explosive-tipped harpoons. With the rapid pace of technological development that was occurring between the wars -- bigger ships, more powerful engines, on-board refrigeration, to name a few -- whales wouldn't have had a chance if there was major market demand.  By 1931, the whalers were so numerous and effective that in that year alone, "the modern industry killed more than 10 percent as many whales as the American industry had destroyed in the entire nineteenth century. Well over 1,000,000 whales were captured between 1904 and 1978, compared with something over 350,000 during the nineteenth century." (quote from In Pursuit of Leviathan: Technology, Institutions, Productivity, and Profits in American Whaling, 1816-1906, chapter 15. Full text available from the National Bureau of Economic Research)

I haven't investigated how much additional effort the Food Administration put into their whale project, but whatever they tried it didn't make whale meat a mass-market food, as this quip from the July 22, 1918 "Pen Points" column in the Los Angeles Times hints:

What finally became of that scheme for everybody to eat whale meat?

I first read about the whale luncheon in Eric Jay Dolin’s Leviathan: The History of Whaling In America, a fascinating book about an industry that was critical to the United States becoming an industrial power. The chapters about the golden age of whaling are especially compelling.

Image credit:  United States Food Administration poster, 1918, public domain.  Downloaded from the University of North Texas Digital Library.

Random link from the archive: Introducing the depluminator

Thursday, July 04, 2013

A Less Successful Use of Arduino in Bread Making

The light-bulb-based dough chamber that I posted about a few months ago was a good design and worked well. However, it requires an input of electricity to provide the heat (i.e., to run the light bulb), while there is already an appliance in my kitchen that offers "free" heat:  my oven.

My old oven (a classic Wedgewood) has a pilot light that keeps the oven chamber at about 55 °C (≈ 130 °F), so I thought that I might be able to turn the oven into a dough chamber that would take advantage of the mostly wasted heat produced by the pilot light. With the air outside the oven being cool and the air inside the oven being hot, perhaps an exchange of air would obtain the right temperature in the oven.

I probably should have done some calculations to see if this was even feasible before I started building it, but that's not what I did. Instead, in a fever of building, I acquired a few new parts – two cheap computer fans from an office superstore and a small relay – and built the air exchange system using an Arduino Uno as the foundation of the system.  (Details about my far-too-late calculations are at the bottom of this post as an appendix.)

The system uses some of the equipment from the original dough chamber device – an Arduino Uno, a type-K thermocouple (a.k.a., TC), the thermocouple conditioning board – and adds three additional components – two computer fans and small surface-mount relay to switch the fans on and off (details about where I got the parts can be found in my first and second posts on kitchen uses of Arduino).  The fans are low-cost Antec Tricool models from an office superstore and the relay is a Omron G6K-2P-Y (5 V model). Also in the system – which is shown in the next two figures – is a terminal block, a small prototyping board, some screws, some wires, and a piece of foam core that holds the fans and covers the oven opening. The fan on the left pulls air out of the oven, and the fan on the right blows air into the oven.

Photograph of Arduino based air exchange system
Annotated photo of the air exchange system (TC = thermocouple)
Photo of the air exchange system in place on my oven.

The operation is fairly simple.  The thermocouple measures the temperature inside of the oven. The Arduino checks that temperature against the target temperature.  If the oven temperature is above the target, the Arduino provides power to the relay, which then turns on the two fans, and one blows warm air out of the oven, and the other blows cool air into the oven.

Alas, when the fans are running at full tilt (powered by about 5 V), my system can't get the oven temperature anywhere close to my target of 21 °C (≈ 70 °F).  The next figure shows this, with the blue line showing the temperature in the oven (39 °C ≈ 103 °F) and the orange line showing the target temperature (21 °C ≈ 70 °F). Note that I am powering the fans with only 5 V, whereas they are designed to operate at up to 12 V, so with much more air flow the results could be better (a 12 V test is on my to-do list).
Temperature evolution with fans running continuously (blue), and target (orange).

Although the system couldn't bring the temperature down to 21.1 °C (70 °F), it is able to control to a set point if that set point is appropriate for the oven (not above the steady-state temperature and not too low).  As a proof of concept, I picked a set point of 46.1 °C (115 °F) and let the system run for a while.  The figure below shows an initial rise in measured temperature after I installed the foam core piece into the front of the oven (with the fans disconnected), followed by a rapid temperature drop when the two fans were plugged into the system. Over the course of just a few minutes, the temperature drops from over 55 °C to below the set point of 46.1 °C, and then the temperature oscillates around the set point as the Arduino switches the relay on and off. 

Temperature evolution (blue) when target (orange) is 46.1 °C (115 °F).

I haven't explored the lower bound for this system in my oven, but doubt that it is much below 46 °C (115 °F), and therefore the air exchange system won't be useful for bread making.  But what other kitchen processes could use a chamber of this temperature?  Yogurt making might be one possibility.  Chocolate tempering might be a possibility if I can get more air flowing through the system. Bittersweet chocolate has a tempering temperature of about 32 °C (≈ 90 °F) and milk chocolate has a tempering temperature of about 30 °C (≈ 86 °F), so conceivably I could put a container of melted chocolate into an already-temperature controlled oven, and wait until everything reached the set point, then use the tempered chocolate for dipping or bar-making or whatever.
Appendix - Calculations of Steady State Temperature
Estimating the steady-state temperature in a "control volume" that has one inlet flow, one outlet flow, and a constant heat source is a fairly straightforward thermodynamic calculation using conservation of energy: energy flow out minus energy flow in equals the heat source (or sink). Making a few simplifying assumptions (the air is an incompressible ideal gas, flow in equals flow out, guessing the flow rate of the fan, etc.), I calculated the steady-state temperature that for a variety of pilot light powers and air flow rates. The figures below show the results, with Fahrenheit on the left, Celsius on the right. The x-axis is the power supplied by the pilot light minus the losses from the oven walls (i.e., the net energy flux into the system). The y-axis is the calculated steady-state temperature. Not surprisingly, more flow means a lower steady state temperature, as does a smaller pilot light, but it would take a small pilot or large heat losses, and large air flow to bring the temperature to my target of 21.1 °C (70 °F). Perhaps this is possible with 12 V driving the fans or some of the pilot light's energy diverted out of the oven, but probably not worth the extra work, given that the light bulb dough chamber system works so well.


Random link from the archive: Bitter Melon Greens

Friday, May 24, 2013

Okara sighting at Wa Dining OKAN restaurant in San Diego

As a follow-up to my piece on okara -- which is a by-product of tofu -- I'm happy to report that I have finally seen okara "in the wild" and gave it a try.

When I visit San Diego for work, I often stay in the Kearny Mesa area near the intersection of CA-163 and I-805, which is known for its concentration of Asian restaurants (and apparently also its car dealerships). One night, a colleague and I found Wa Dining OKAN in the back corner of a mini-mall at 3860 Convoy Road and decided to give it a try. It's a tiny place that specializes in Japanese cuisine, offering a selection of daily "tapas" (their word, not mine) set out on the dining bar in the middle of the room, along with daily specials and non-rotating menu items.

The night we visited, there was an intriguing sign next to a tapa near me: "Mixed Bean Curd Less" (and also in Japanese, as the photo below shows). I guessed that they meant to write "Lees" instead of "Less," and since the leftovers of a process are often called "lees", I deduced that the dish must be based on okara. A query to the waitstaff confirmed that deduction, and so I ordered a bowl.

Photo of a sign for okara dish at Wa Dining Okan in San Diego

It was a cold dish of okara with various vegetables (hijiki, fresh edamame, carrots, etc.) and seasoning (soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil). If you think tofu as fairly flavorless, well, tofu has nothing on okara, which I found to completely disappear into the background. While tofu has a slight sour flavor and sometimes a silky texture, the okara was somewhat "dusty" and anonymous. Overall, the dish wasn't bad, and I might order it again simply because it is the rarely sighted okara.

Photo of an okara dish at Wa Dining Okan in San Diego

Random link from the archive: Let Cookies Be Cookies

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Book Review: "The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America," by Stefanie Syman

People have been debating yoga’s purpose, its scope, and how to practice it for centuries. So not surprisingly, the history of yoga in America is also convoluted and complicated. Stefanie Syman, in "The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), makes a great effort to explain yoga's place in America by focusing on some of the principal practitioners. 

The title of the book refers to suksma-sarira (some of the letters in the Sanskrit words in this post should have accents, slashes and other marks that go with Sanskrit transliterations, but I can’t seem to find how to do them in HTML).  In Hatha Yoga, the “subtle body” is a network of invisible, internal channels (called nadis) and vortices (called chakras). By manipulating the physical body, you manipulate the subtle body.  The idea of the subtle body is somewhat esoteric, so for the sake of argument, let's use the term at a placeholder for parts of yoga that influence the invisible and/or the unconscious. And I must admit that this esoteric philosophy is the kind of thing in the book that makes my head spin a little bit.

With a few exceptions, each chapter focuses on one or two people, using their story to provide a framework to which other elements and supporting characters can be attached as needed.  The writing style is newspaper-like, with many short paragraphs, perhaps a result of Syman's long experience as a journalist writing for many publications, including Yoga Journal.

Two Pillars of American Letters Look to India 
Syman starts the story with a pillar of American Letters, Ralph Waldo Emerson, a literary giant whose writings are studied by most high school students in America. Emerson’s interest in Hinduism began with the Bhagavad Gita as early as 1845 (when his notebooks made mention of the Hindu epic) and culminated in his poem Brahma, which was published in the first issue of The Atlantic in 1857 (you can find the full text at Wikipedia). Most readers at the time, Syman writes, did not get the Eastern references in the poem.

The next character in the book was a colleague of Emerson, another pillar of American Letters:  Henry David Thoreau. It was Emerson who was exposed Thoreau to Indian literature and sacred texts, but Thoreau took the knowledge a few steps further.  Syman sees Thoreau as an authentic Yogi, because he "read these Indian books – and particularly a handful of Hindu ones – as instruction manuals," lived an ascetic life at Walden Pond, and even had a meditation practice.  Thoreau  described his practice in Walden: "Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness " (via Project Gutenberg)

Theo Bernard, the "White Lama"
Theos Bernard was the half nephew of the famous American yogi Pierre Bernard (who receives an entire chapter in the book) and found fame as an explorer. On numerous occasions, Bernard traveled in India and Tibet seeking yogis who could give him first-hand training in the fundamentals, and later wrote books about his travels. The exotic nature of his writing, and other factors brought him attention from the popular press in the late 1930s, including a few covers of Family Circle magazine (here’s one cover in an Ebay listing). Bernard earned a Ph.D. from Columbia in 1943 with a dissertation was called "Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience," a document that contained some of the first published photos of an American in yoga postures (several years later, his dissertation was adapted into a book with the same title, and it might be available in a university library or from a used book web service like Abebooks).

Kukkutasana, New York Herald, March 27, 1898
In the 1940s and 1950s, Bernard operated studios in several places, gave lectures, and wrote more books about yoga. His intensity and devotion to yoga might have been his downfall, however, as he married a rich woman in part for her money, but then spent so much time on his practice and teachings that his marriage fell apart, leaving him financially destroyed and wrecking his studios. (Pierre Bernard's downfall was also partially related to his overly intense devotion to his practice and search for enlightenment.)

Indra Devi Wows Hollywood 
In January 1947, Indra Devi opened the first serious Hatha Yoga studio in the Los Angeles area, at 8806 Sunset Blvd. Born Eugenie Peterson in Latvia in 1899, Devi used persistence and a connection with a local leader to secure a position with Krishnamacharya in India (Krishnamacharya also taught T.K.V. Desikachar, B.K.S. Iyengar, and K. Pattabhi Jois). At her studio and in other settings, Devi taught movie stars like Gloria Swanson ("Sunset Boulevard"), Greta Garbo, and Jennifer Jones. While discussing yoga’s popularity in Hollywood, Syman throws in some fun trivia, like that Gary Cooper liked the shoulder stand (always striving to keep his legs pointed to “High Noon,” I suppose) and that Marilyn Monroe made a short movie about working out, and her routine included some yoga-like postures, such as halasana (A few photos of Monroe in yoga-like postures can be found on this tumblr page by Yogabeautiful).

As a student of Krishnamacharya in India, it’s certain that Devi was exposed to the deeper elements of yogic philosophy, but her first book published in the U.S. was all about the health benefits of yoga. It is likely that she knew what Americans in the conservative and materialistic 1950s wanted, and her later works would address philosophy along with physical work.

Other Characters
The sixties was a rich decade for yogic philosophy and practice. Leading thinkers from the counterculture, including Timothy Leary, Alan Watts, and Richard Alpert (later Ram Dass) were engaged in deep discussions and a wide range of experimentation that included meditation, physical asana practice and psychedelic drugs. The leaders of the movement, Syman writes, “stole yoga from the health seekers and weight-conscious and they put it back in the temple, where they believed it belonged.”

In other chapters, Syman writes about quite a few other prominent figures, including Swami Vivekananda (see this post on my blog for a summary of his contributions), Sarah Chapman Bull and Sarah Jane Farmer, Pierre Bernard (originally Perry Baker), the Vedanta society Hollywood (whose members included Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood), and two recent luminaries, Bikram Choudhury and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. B.K.S. Iyengar, however, receives little attention, despite his major role in making yoga accessible to all through inventive use of props and through his many teaching and demonstration tours of the United States.
"Pachimasana," New York Herald, March 27, 1898
What is Yoga?
The question “What is yoga?” permeates the book, resulting in both a fascinating debate and a morass of confusing terminology. I was often baffled by the numerous prefixes – Raja, Tantrik, Hatha, etc. – and specialized terms, and so an appendix or glossary with summaries would have been helpful when I got lost.  A tablet version or eBook would be greatly enhanced by instant access to definitions of the yogic paths, as well as definitions for unfamiliar (or quickly forgotten) terms.

If you see yoga strictly as a series of postures, strictly as exercises that improve your posture or stop your aching back or calm your mind, The Subtle Body is a excellent introductory survey of the broad expanse of yogic philosophy and practice as it has been practiced in America. Through the lives of the characters, you’ll get a sense of how controlled breathing, chanting, meditation, postures, mantras, and other yogic elements fit – or don’t fit, depending on the practitioner – into a path to enlightenment or a better life.

Yoga and America
To conclude, let's go back to the introduction of Syman's book:
In a country as vast and diverse as ours, yoga has had this going for it: it's not a unified system, nor even a tree with many branches. It might be three or five trees of different species, each with many branches. Or it's a city, it's New York or Bombay, where the contrasts between neighborhoods are sharp, where you can get lost in its vastness, and which changes anyone who stays but not in the same way or for the same reasons.
Yoga is so massive and complicated, so contradictory and baroque, that American society has been able to assimilate any number of versions of it, more or less simultaneously.

The process hasn't been smooth or continuous. It has got caught up around a number of issues, often the same ones, over and over, as several generations of Americans have tried to make sense of yoga and put it to use in their lives.

Image Credits: Book cover downloaded from the publisher, drawings of yoga asanas from New York Herald, March 27, 1898 (public domain).

Random link from the archive:  From My Rasoi: Winter

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Maple Syrup Flavors in Two Wild Mushrooms

Some time ago I heard about a mushroom that smells like maple syrup, and given my interest in fenugreek’s maple aroma (1, 2), I had to find out more.

A quick search in the UC Berkeley libraries led me to papers about two fungi that are in the Lactarius genus that have maple syrup aromas or flavors. One is Lactarius helvus, which is native to Europe, and the other is Lactarius fragilis var. rubidus, which also known as “candy cap” and grows in northern California. (Full citations for the papers are at the bottom of this post)

1881 painting of L. helvus
Fungus 1: Lactarius helvus
Interestingly enough, the Encyclopedia of Life page for L. helvus gives “Fenugreek milkcap” as the common name, so there’s a long-standing connection between fenugreek and the mushroom. The mushroom is considered to be poisonous (see this page in the River Cottage Mushroom Book for details).

In the research article, the team describe a search for volatile components using solvent extraction and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). Dried, ground mushroom was rehydrated and treated with diethyl ether to stop enzymatic activity. A concentrate of the organic extract was fed into the GC/MS analyzer, whereupon thirty-eight volatile compounds were found. For a dry L. helvus sample that was described as smelling like fenugreek, the machines found sotolon, the chemical that is prominent in fenugreek and also used as an artificial maple syrup flavor. After a bunch of chemistry talk, the authors note that a previous article said that “the characteristic smell of fenugreek occurred during the dehydration process of [fenugreek] seeds. Thus, the drying process produced the fenugreek odor in both L. helvus (Basidiomycota) and T[rigonella] foenum graecum (Fabaceae).” The study might have practical implications, as this was the first identification of sotolon in Basidiomycota fungi, which could lead to using fungi to produce “natural” flavor compounds (i.e., perhaps someone can grow the fungus and extract the sotolon).

Photo of Lactarius rubidus from natashadak's Mushroom Observer collection
L. rubidus
Fungus 2: Lactarius fragilis var rubidus (Candy Cap)
The candy cap mushroom* has a sweet aroma that is reminiscent of maple syrup, butterscotch or burnt sugar, and consequently is used to flavor desserts, while also adding some novelty (“Wow! This ice cream is really made with mushrooms?”).  As with L. helvus, candy cap mushrooms do not have much odor when fresh, and drying is required to make their characteristic aromas appear.
For their analysis of L. fragilis var rubidus, the research team gathered the “headspace volatiles” from dried mushrooms*. The team used GC/MS to identify the compounds in the headspace, and did not find sotolon. They found other chemicals that have maple syrup odors, however, including quabalactone III. Of note is that the quabalactone III compound can form sotolon when it reacts with water, as would happen when candy cap mushrooms are cooked or when the volatiles meet moisture in the nasal cavity.

Unfortunately, the authors aren’t terribly specific about the practical or esoteric motivations behind the study, so this one was simply about expanding the range of knowledge.

Photo of Dessert containing candy cap mushroom from YVRBCbro's flickr collection
The "Blond Mystique" dessert contains candy cap mushroom
Candy Cap Mushrooms in Restaurants
To give some examples of how candy cap mushrooms are used in restaurants, I searched a few of my favorite food sites, and here are some of the results (in no particular order):
  • The Tablehopper’s 707 Scout from February 8, 2013 has a report on a candy cap ice cream in a blue corn crepe at Mateo’s Cocina Latina in Healdsburg, California (the 707 area code covers this area, hence the name).
  • Tablehopper has a photo of a candy cap mushroom ice cream sandwich at San Francisco’s Americano, with the recipe for said sandwich available at 7x7 magazine.
  • A description of a cocktail that uses candy cap mushrooms from the Tablehopper in 2008: “Or how about the Mushroom Hunter: Old Overholt Rye infused with locally foraged candy cap mushrooms, plus Cossart Gordon Rainwater Madeira, Aperol, orange bitters, thyme tincture, and flamed orange for garnish. Again, dude. The earthy note of the mushrooms was so funky-cool, reminded me of a truffle grappa I had in Venice when I was 20. (Yes, a while ago.) Talk about an intersection of culinary and cocktail! ”
  • An update by San Francisco Chronicle food editor and chief restaurant critic Michael Bauer at the Inside Scoop SF blog:  “At Fifth Floor I was impressed with the persimmon pain perdu ($12) with  kiwi sorbet (When was the last time you saw this fruit? Maybe it’s time for a comeback) and a cheesecake puree. Pastry chef Francis Ang always includes a savory ingredient in his desserts; this time it was the earthy candy cap mushrooms.”
  • A 2010 review of P-30 in Sebastapol, California by Carey Sweet in the San Francisco Chronicle starts with this: “They had me at candy cap mushroom ice cream. The fanciful fungus, plentiful across California's north coast, has a distinctive fragrance of maple syrup and is delicious in desserts, but is rarely seen on menus.” 

* The name “candy cap” is also used for several other species, including L. camphoratus and L. fragilis var. fragilis.
** Headspace volatiles are the gases that are emitted above from sample, like the aromas of a hot bowl of soup or fragrant bowl of strawberries. They are often collected by flavor chemists, so that they can isolate the key chemicals and synthesize them in the lab for use in their products. An interesting 2009 article in the New Yorker explained how they do it (subscription required).

“The Fenugreek Odor of Lactarius helvus”, by Sylvie Rapior, Françoise Fons and Jean-Marie Bessière, Mycologia, Vol. 92, No. 2 (Mar. - Apr., 2000), pp. 305-308.  Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3761565

“The maple syrup odour of the ‘candy cap’ mushroom, Lactarius fragilis var. rubidus”, by William F. Wood, Jay A. Brandes, Brian D. Foy, Christopher G. Morgan, Thierry D. Manna, Darvin A. DeShazer, Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 43 (2012) 51–53. DOI: 10.1016/j.bse.2012.02.027.

Image Credits
Drawing of Lactarius helvus from Wikimedia Commons, extracted from "Handbook of British Fungi," by Mordecai Cubitt Cooke; published 1881, in public domain.  Photo of Lactarius rubidus from natashadak's Mushroom Observer collection, subject to a Creative Commons License, downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.  Photo of "blond mystique" dessert containing candy cap mushroom from YVRBCbro's flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.

Random link from the archive:  Sponge or Vegetable? The Ridged Gourd

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Using Arduino in Bread Making at Home

Photo of sourdough bread loaves rising
“Let rise at room temperature” is a common instruction in bread recipes, with “room temperature” being about 70 F (21.1 C)*. For various reasons, however, this temperature can be hard to find in my apartment in Berkeley, California, and so my bread doughs sometimes rise far too slowly.

One day, I realized that my Arduino Uno microcontroller could help solve this problem.  I had earlier configured it to measure milk temperature during yogurt making, and realized that would be a short leap to use it to control the air temperature inside a container, thereby creating a stable and warm location for dough fermentation and proofing (a "proofing box").  My idea was simple: an incandescent light bulb in a clip-on lamp as the heat source, a temperature sensor, a switch that turns the light bulb on and off, and the Arduino to control the switch. Basically, as one person who heard my plan put it, “It’s an Easy-Bake Oven!”

But how would I switch the light bulb on and off using the low voltage, low current digital outputs on the Arduino? A relay could be wired in and the lamp could be hacked, but that would be bothersome and potentially dangerous.  Then I learned about the Powerswitch Tail II. This easy-to-use device allows your Arduino or other controller to switch on and off an A/C powered device, like a lamp, coffee maker, hot plate, and so on. By connecting a digital output line and ground from the Arduino to the + and – inputs of the Powerswitch Tail, the connected device can be switched on and off. No cutting, soldering or taping required, just connect and go.

After the jump, I'll detail the parts that make up my air temperature controller and show some results from two batches of bread.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Recipe: Kale and bean soup

With a thick broth, plump beans, and pleasingly bitter kale, this Tuscan classic is one of my favorite soups. And it’s probably one of the most nutritious dishes that I make, full of healthy ingredients like beans and kale, light on fat, heavy on fiber. Although I’ve been making Italian vegetable soups of various types for a long time, I ran across this particular preparation in Paula Wolfert’s excellent Mediterranean Grains and Greens.

The featured vegetable is Lacinato kale (a.k.a. dinosaur kale), which might be expanding its range from farmers markets to grocery stores all over, as it’s a pretty hot vegetable right now – I hear of kale salads making the menu of some of the hottest restaurants in S.F. and L.A.  If you can’t find it, Wolfert recommends using one-half chard leaves and one-half savoy cabbage. The soup would be different, to be sure, but I expect that it would still be quite tasty.

A first glance at the recipe looks like a fairly standard vegetable soup. But one line – the pinch of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg  – makes this soup distinctive. The warm spices bring some exotic flavors and high notes to an otherwise earthy soup.

Wolfert calls this “Tuscan Bread and Kale Soup,” with the bread part referring to the serving method, in which a slice of garlic-rubbed toasted or grilled country bread is placed in the bottom of the bowl before the soup is ladled on top. The broth breaks down the bread, further enriching the soup.

Recipe:  Kale and Bean Soup  
Adapted from Mediterranean Grains and Greens by Paula Wolfert

The Beans
1 T. olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced fine
1 cup dried cannellini or borlotti beans
3 cups water
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1/2 T. salt

The Soup Base
1/4 oz. dried porcini mushroom (optional)
1/2 c. tomato puree (about 125 g)
1/3 pinch each: ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, ground cloves
1/4 c. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 bunch Lacinato kale, stems removed, leaves cut into bite-size pieces
3 medium carrots, sliced 1/4" thick
4 medium potatoes, in 3/8" cubes
A few cups of water or stock
2 t. salt, or to taste

To serve (optional)
Slices of dense bread, grilled or toasted, then rubbed with a garlic clove
Grated Parmesan cheese

(unit conversion page)


Prepare the beans:
Soak the beans if you like, and drain the water before cooking.  Sauté the minced onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Pour in the beans, water, rosemary sprig and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, let boil for one minute, then reduce heat so beans are at a very gentle simmer (or put them in a slow cooker or solar oven).  Cook, partially covered. When beans are tender, add the salt. Remove the bay leaf and rosemary branch. Put half of the cooked beans into a bowl, and puree the remaining beans to give the broth extra body. (Or, if you are skilled with an immersion blender, just use that to puree about half of the cooked beans.)

Prepare the soup base:
Put the dried mushrooms in about 1 cup of hot water, and let them rehydrate for 10 minutes or so. Fish out the mushroom pieces with a fork or slotted spoon, then give them a quick rinse to dislodge any grit that remains.  Pour the soaking liquid through a coffee filter. Add the liquid to the tomato puree.  Chop the rehydrated mushrooms into small pieces (~1/8”) and add to the tomato puree.  Add the spices to the tomato puree.

In a large sauce pan or Dutch oven, heat 1/4 c. olive oil over medium heat.  Cook the onions until soft, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so, being careful not to burn it. Add the kale and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the carrots and potatoes, stir a few times, and then pour in some water to slow down the cooking. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, until the potatoes and carrots are just about tender.

Add the tomato-mushroom-spice mixture and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the beans, pureed beans, and cooking liquid.  Add the salt. Adjust the thickness of the soup with more water or stock as needed. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes, covered (or uncovered, if you think the soup is too thin).

To serve with bread, place a piece of bread in a bowl and ladle the soup on top. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.

Image Credit: Photo of lacinato kale from Wayne Surber's flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.

Random link from the archive:  A Mound of Soup -- Sopa Seca