In the long-standing CV tradition of love for cured pork products, may we suggest the giant bag of pre-cooked bacon from Costco?
Our holiday season is filled with the joyful noise of loved ones asking “Would you like some bacon with that?”
One of the great things about being a physicist, it turns out, is the travel. I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world, including to some destinations that I might not otherwise have put on the must-see list. In fact I am at one right now, along with Robin and our five month old, Ian.
We’re in Taipei, Taiwan, at a joint UC Davis – Taiwan workshop somewhat grandly titled “From the LHC to the Universe”. The participants are just from UC Davis and Taiwan universities including National Taiwan University, Academia Sinica, and National Tsing Hua University. The workshop grew out of the fact that there are strong ties between the Davis faculty and that of NTU, especially in the area of particle theory. Our present dean, Winston Ko, a particle experimentalist, is from Taiwan, as is one of our recently retired but still very active particle theorists, Ling-Lie Chau. A number of the former postdocs and students of our theory group leader Jack Gunion are now at NTU, as is one of his close collaborators George Hou. And so the idea for this workshop was born, to further strengthen the ties between the particle phyiscs and cosmology groups at the two institutions, hopefully leading to more collaboration.
Perhaps the most striking thing I’ve found about Taiwan is the absolutely amazing friendliness, generosity, and hospitality of the people. Our NTU hosts have set the bar very high in terms of the organization of the meeting, our local accomodations, and events like the fantastic 10-course banquet we had last night atop Taipei 101, presently the tallest building in the world.
Wherever we travel, we love to eat, and the food here in Taiwan is superb. On Saturday we ate at the unpretentious but world-famous dumpling restaurant, Din Tai Fung. The service was amazing – for example, when I went to change little Ian’s diaper they set up a special changing station for me and stood there to assist me! For a battle-hardened parent of a five month old, this was incredible,
but it happened at the next restaurant at which we ate too!
Later in the day Saturday we ate on the street at the Shilin Night Market. It was a tough choice, and very inexpensive. We found a stall where you take a basket, and put into it lots of different food items on skewers, which they subsequently grill for you with a delicious garlicky sauce. Just grab a couple of what we call “walking around beers” and you are set.
Wherever we go, the sight of little Ian in the front pack inevitably brings smiles to people’s faces, who, with little hesitation, come straight over to coo at him and elicit smiles (and mostly he obliges). Clearly the sight of a western baby is a novelty here, and, of course, he’s pretty cute anyway.
Traveling with a five-month-old is a challenge: probably most of you reading this think we’re nuts to take him half way around the world…and you are probably right. But we’ve gotten along fairly well, hiring a baby sitter here who watches him in a back room of the physics department library. He’s gotten pretty fussy a lot of the time, partly due to jet lag, but he does that at home too!
Taiwan has a rich and turbulent history, right up to the present day. In fact, the day we arrived, the first non-Kuomintang president of the country, Chen Shui-bian (elected in 2000 and re-elected by a slim margin in 2004), was indicted for embezzling millions of dollars. A few days later, for the first time in decades, direct flights and shipments began between Taiwan and the mainland. The economic crisis is taking its toll on industry here, with people debating the relative merits of reducing pay or reducing hours (furloughs).
Our only regret is that we don’t have more time to see all there is to see on this beautiful island! We return home tomorrow, but hope to be back here some day.
Now, we all know this is not a martini at all. But it looks pretty good.
I’ve never been a big fan of those book-memes where you are supposed to highlight the ones you’ve read, etc. But here’s a list that I can’t resist — food! Very Good Taste (via Postbourgie and Ezra Klein) has a list of food items, plus the following instructions:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.
The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
10. Baba ghanoush
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
47. Chicken tikka masala
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
60. Carob chips
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
79. Lapsang souchong
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
90. Criollo chocolate
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
Apparently I have eaten quite a bit, but still have a ways to go! No cross-outs; that would be a sign of weakness.
Suggested soundtrack: Bhindi Bagee.
While deeply held feelings about string theory (“Genius!” “Total Bunk!”) may sometimes drive us apart, all of us can certainly get behind the theory that chocolate is a net good. However, in spite of its appeal as a tasty eatable (with or without bacon), it’s actually a bit of a pain to work with. If you’ve ever tried to use chocolate in its melted form, you’ve probably discovered that chocolate has a number of peculiarities that frequently thwart your best culinary efforts. For example, if your melted chocolate becomes contaminated with an errant drop of water, the chocolate siezes up. If you try to reharden chocolate that’s been melted (say, in making chocolate covered strawberries), you’re frequently left with a matte finish and crumbly texture that in no way resembles the dark glossy chocolate you began with.
The reasons for this should be familiar to any solid state physicist (or at least, they were to the one who made my wedding cake and first clued me in). Cocoa butter, one of the dominant ingredients in chocolate, contains several triglycerides that lock into a crystal form when cooled. However, there is not just one form that the triglycerides can lock into, but six of them (β(I) through β(VI)). Each successive form is more stable and has a higher melting point. Almost all commercial chocolate is in the β(V) form — from what I can tell, you only get to sample β(VI) in the afterlife, if you’ve been very, very good. When chocolate goes all wrong, it is usually a failure of the melted and cooled chocolate to recrystallize into the β(V) state. Similar problems can affect commercial chocolate suppliers as well, leading to chocolate that develops that unsightly chalky film we associate with old chocolate. Even previously stable β(V) chocolate can wind up with the same unsightly film after temperature fluctuations break down the crystal structure, or melt and reharden a thin layer on the surface. Given the commercial implications, there’s been some solid technical work on the structure of the magical β(V) form, which has been studied with x-ray diffraction using synchrotron radiation (more technical data here).
Given the above, when cooking with chocolate, one’s goal is to coax the cooled chocolate back into the β(V) form if one wants the end product to look glossy, be solid at room temperature, and have a nice crisp snap when bitten. The traditional mechanism for this is known as tempering (video here). Traditional tempering involves carefully controlling the temperature of the chocolate as it cools, so that the chocolate favors the preferred crystalline state. However, there is a vastly simpler mechanism, namely, seeding the crystal. If you take a lump of unmelted commercial chocolate, toss it into your bowl of melted chocolate, and stir for a bit, you’ll melt the new lump while cooling the melted chocolate. The cooling chocolate will then prefer the same crystal structure as the melting lump, such that when it hardens completely, you’ll find it in the luscious β(V) state.
PS. I can verify that the above works exactly as advertised. Last weekend I made the wedding cake above for the same solid state physicist who made mine a decade ago. (The cake was alternately described as looking like the Heatmiser‘s hair, Mordor, and Garrett Lisi’s E8 symmetry group, so you can imagine it was a pretty techie crowd). Making the thin chocolate sheets from which I cut the decorations, I got huge swaths of perfectly glossy chocolate. Occasionally, though, there’d be a small section with a matte surface, that was clearly a different crystalline form. Science. It works, bitches.
In case anyone is wondering what to get me for Presidents’ Day, I’d be interested in a nice bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc. Not necessarily a whole case, or even a magnum; an ordinary bottle would be fine. In Slate, Mike Steinberger explains:
[T]he ’47 Cheval I drank that night now ranks as the greatest wine of my life, a title I doubt it will relinquish. The moment I lifted the glass to my nose and took in that sweet, spicy, arresting perfume, my notion of excellence in wine, and my understanding of what wine was capable of, was instantly transformed—I could almost hear the scales recalibrating in my head. The ’47 was the warmest, richest, most decadent wine I’d ever encountered. Even more striking than its opulence was its freshness. The flavors were redolent of stewed fruits and dead flowers, yet the wine tasted alive; it bristled with energy and purpose. The ’47s signature flaws—the residual sugar and volatile acidity—were readily apparent, but it was just as Lurton had said: In this wine, the flaws inexplicably became virtues….
I realized that it was silly even to try to place the ’47 in the context of other wines; it defied comparison, a point underscored when I tasted another legend, the 1945 Château Latour, later that night (yeah, it was a nice evening). The Latour was stunning—probably the second-best wine I’ve ever had—but it at least fell within my frame of reference: It was a classically proportioned Bordeaux that just happened to be achingly good. The ’47 Cheval, by contrast, was an otherworldly wine—a claret from another planet. And it was amazing.
What is the sound of scales recalibrating? I’d like to find out.
I’m off to the American Astronomical Meeting in Austin shortly, but had a few links and bullets to get out of my head before hitting the road.
One summer I worked in the kitchen of a restaurant that was run by a man with a really bad temper and questionable rules to increase worker efficiency. For example, he decided that it would save time if we removed burgers from the grill with our hands instead of using implements.
The New York Times (via Marginal Revolution) reports on what I hope does become a trend: the diminution of the role of the entree in American restaurant cuisine. That is, what Americans call an entree, which is really the main course. The French, who apparently invented the concept of the main course (plat principal) (and who would think that something like that needed to be “invented”?), use the word “entree” to mean what you might guess, namely a starter. But Americans like to be different.
Anyway, apparently the concept of the main course dominated by a single large item is, in advanced food circles, losing ground to the increasing popularity of smaller plates. From the consumer’s point of view, it just makes perfect sense — isn’t it more fun to design your own dinner from a variety of options, than to have the kitchen make all those choices for you? And isn’t it more interesting to sample several different options, than to focus on a single oversized dish? Takami, my favorite new local restaurant, features not only small plates, but dishes from three different kitchens with different specialties (sushi, robata, and everything else). If you savor the meal as a multi-level sensory experience rather than a obligatory intake of calories, it’s definitely the way to go.
Small plates mean extra work for the restaurant, of course — customization on the consumer side works against standardization and economy of scale on the producer side. So I doubt that the trend will soon be penetrating to the Bennigans and Applebees of the world. I suspect the true food snobs wouldn’t have it any other way.
From the description:
Bacon Exotic Candy Bar – New
Applewood smoked bacon + Alder smoked salt + deep milk chocolate
Deep milk chocolate coats your mouth and leads to the crunch of smoked bacon pieces. Surprise your mouth with the smoked salt and sweet milk chocolate combination.
Crisp, buttery, compulsively irresistible bacon and milk chocolate combination has long been a favorite of mine. I started playing with this combination at the tender age of six while eating chocolate chip pancakes drenched in maple syrup. Beside my chocolate-laden cakes laid three strips of fried bacon, just barely touching a sweet pool of maple syrup. Just a bite of the bacon was too salty and yearned for the sweet kiss of chocolate syrup. In retrospect, perhaps this was a turning point, for on that plate something magical happened: the beginnings of a combination so ethereal and delicious that it would haunt my thoughts until I found the medium to express it–chocolate.
Vosges is my favorite chocolatier (if you know what I mean). Not only do they blend excellent chocolate with a wide variety of exotic spices to create uniformly interesting and delicious combinations, but I stumbled upon them when they were just a tiny one-shop operation in Chicago, before their blossoming into international success. And a friend of mine once claimed that every type of food is enhanced by the addition of bacon, including ice cream. (Although I did manage to give her pause with my suggestion of bacon-flavored water.) So I’m thinking I’m going to have to give the new experiment a try. You only live once.