How to Kick Ass and Take Names in the Spice Aisle

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There are a few standard ways to acquire spices. The usual involves buying a new spice now or then when you need it for some new recipe. Or perhaps acquiring a “set of spices” with a built in organizer system. These obviously work, but are prone to being expensive, disorganized, or subject to artificial limits. Obviously, a more optimal solution exists. We set out to create a better, backwards compatible, scalable spice organization system so that you don’t feel silly adding another 20 or 30 or 40 items to your palette.

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HP Sauce

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There. Fixed that for you.



HP Sauce is a popular condiment in the UK and Canada, though now made by Heinz (yes, that Heinz) in the Netherlands.


It says you can use it on pretty much anything– not sure that my printer will taste that much better with sauce on it, though.

Atomic Cookies!

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The basic picture of the atom that many of us grew up with– that of little electrons orbiting the nucleus like so many planets orbiting the sun –turns out to be a little misleading. Reality is somewhat more complicated: a matter of wave functions, spherical harmonics, and ultimately probability clouds.



The chart above shows the appearance of a single hydrogen atom in a few of its lowest excited states.
In each of those states, the electron is found in a different orbital, some of which have unfamiliar shapes. But even the term “shape” is a little funny for something that you can’t hold in your hand. These are actually probability density plots, which show the likelihood of observing the electron in any one position at a given time– and more correctly, 2D projections of 3D probability densities.



So even the humble hydrogen atom can be a bit complex. Fortunately, we have advanced technology that can help us cut though the quantum mechanical haze: Cookies!

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These are atomic spritz cookies, made by taking a fairly common cookie press and outfitting it with custom plates.

It’s not quite a trivial process, but the end result is pretty neat: you get to eat the atomic orbitals. Continue reading

Roasting coffee at home: a DIY coffee bean cooler

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I never really set out with the goal of roasting my own coffee beans, it just kind of happened.

It started a month ago when we got a coffee grinder. Naturally we started getting whole bean coffee, which we used at a rate of about one pound per week. While I’m not (by any standards) a coffee connoisseur, I found myself noticing that the first pot of coffee out of the new can really was just betterthan the last pot of coffee out of the old can– meaning that the coffee quality does actually decline noticeably after just a week.

Now, that’s a minor annoyance, and hardly cause for action. But, two weekends ago I happened to be browsing in a home brewing store (needed champagne yeast– that’s another story) where there were sealed bags of green coffee beans just sitting there on the shelf. Fair trade, organic, and in a number of varieites. Only 5 bucks a pound. So what the heck, right?

It turns out that there’s a common and cheap method of roasting coffee at home: using a regular air popcorn maker. You put the beans in the popper as though they were popcorn kernels, heat them for a few minutes until they’re properly roasted, and then cool them. (You can read the details of this process here, here, here, and here, amongst other places.) This is kind of neat because it doesn’t take much in the way of equipment and it roasts just enough for a big pot of coffee.

The weak point in the popper method is the cooling. The beans keep roasting as long as they are still hot, so many of the sites suggest pouring the beans back and forth between a couple of metal colanders until they cool down. We tried it, and while it did cool them faster than a cookie sheet, it was more tedious than fun. It also seemed a bit silly to use this nice semi-automatic roaster and then turn it over to a manual process for the next few minutes. So, here is our better (if somewhat obvious) solution: a dedicated coffee cooling tower, built from a second modified air popper. Continue reading

Marmalade is way easier than it looks

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While trying to figure out what to do with about 75 pounds of fruit that our citrus trees bestowed upon us in January, we came across an interesting fact: marmalade is really easy to make. People of older generations may know this already, but so far as we knew, marmalade was one of those mysterious things that strictly comes from a jar. It turns out that all you need is citrus fruit, water, sugar and some time on the stovetop.

 
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Everyday science: Litmus candy

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We picked up some of these blueberry/yogurt candies at Trader Joe’s, which didn’t really merit a mention until we looked at the ingredients list:

Ingredients

Well, now, that is interesting. The last ingredient in the list is red cabbage extract, “for color.” But… red cabbage is one of those pH-indicating substances (Link 1, Link 2), that happens to make a pretty good DIY version of litmus paper.

So… if these candies have red cabbage extract for color, do we really have litmus candy?
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