Laboratory Cooking

Genspace Molecular Gastronomy Class

My relationship with Genspace first began three years ago when I accompanied my fifteen year old daughter from New Jersey to downtown Brooklyn to interview for an internship with the United States’ first community biotech lab, Genspace. The lab is located in an old seven story building on Nevins Street that houses artists, architects, a tea company and many start-ups that are part of Brooklyn’s Tech Triangle. Over the years my daughter has put in hours of research in ongoing projects, such as making a chair from bacteria, and has fallen in love with Brooklyn, the lab and the building. Genspace has been such a positive force that I suggested that I go with her to one of the many lectures or courses that are offered to the public. Last week, we decided to take the  Molecular Gastronomy Class which would require less specific biology experience and the least commitment.

The quarters are small and we piled ourselves in front of the projected images on the wall while our instructor, Ann Yonetani, PhD. explained that molecular gastronomy is an art that alters food’s appearance, taste and texture using scientific technologies. Dr. Yonetani explained that as science is getting more involved with the principles of food preparation, the discoveries are myth busting generations of the folk-lore of cooking: such as how to most efficiently sear meat to minimize moisture loss (best done at the end after flipping every 30-50 seconds to keep a steady internal heat -not by an initial searing).

During this three-hour class, we would be making three basic structures that are standard in the genre known as molecular gastronomy: edible spheres, soil and foam . We would break up into groups of five to experience for hands on experimentation.  I am not a scientist by training so I relied heavily on my daughter to translate for me the processes that were to occur. I am also not very good at following recipes and hate to measure. So I was happy to have her do our part in the group while I could take my pictures.

While the group prepped by washing our hands, my daughter noted that the safety measures for a food project were not at the level that most of the lab’s community would use if they were working with bacteria. This was in essence a cooking class. I will try to describe the sphere project in the pictures that I took.

This is the  set up for the spheres project. Spheres are liquids that are contained by a gel- in this case, the gel will be  formed from the contact of Sodium Alginate with a Calcium Chloride solution.

Sodium Alginate
Calcium Chloride

We combined mango juice  with an equal part of the  Sodium Alginate solution. The combined mango/alginate solution needed to be tested for its Ph -it should be above 3.5 (we did not have to modify with sodium citrate).

Ph Strip

The Mango/ Alginate solution would be drawn by a pipette and ‘popped’ into the Calcium Chloride Solution. Upon contact with  the solution, spheres form . The longer they are in the Calcium Chloride solution, the harder they get. We then we bathed them in a water solution to remove the flavor of the Calcium Chloride.

We ate all of our Mango spheres  so we made pineapple ones.

These are beet juice spheres from another group

One of my classmates had once eaten a salad topped with  balsamic vinaigrette spheres. I am already planning the way that I can utilize spheres in my home cooked meals….maybe hot sauce spheres or  lime juice and simple syrup spheres  dropped  into a glass of Tequila. I just bought a kit on Amazon and hope to get started soon.

Also published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser

…Eloquence and Social Media…


typewriter keys
Photo by Caryn on

My ellipses have served me well, if I don’t know how to punctuate something, I just fill in the gaps with ellipses. My eighteen year old daughter recently told me that my use of ellipses ages me as someone over forty. She cited a conversation on reddit about old people’s use of ellipses. I am a curmudgeon, after all, so I decided to vent my literary grievances on Facebook to see if I could understand why the use of certain words/phrases like “shenanigans” and “pop of color” make me sick and feel as though I would not want to “hang out” with people who use these words. I was hoping for some kind of understanding or even a challenge to my assumption that the users of these words were sheep-like, common people who just couldn’t come up with original language. Perhaps the use of these fall-back phrases, like 24/7 or “that said”, are just products of an age barrier …like my generous use of ellipses…but as it turns out, my Facebook friends (and twitter feed) had more “latest buzzwords and catch phrases” that are overused and made them sick too. Here is the collective list:

Hilarity ensues,

At the end of the day






 No worries





Sex y(for stuff other than sex related)


To be honest (before anything)

So (before a sentence)

Fail Fast (sounds like the “freedom to fail” that corporate hatchet men used in the 80s)

Always be shipping

ecosystem (when it applies to corporations)

Soooo (uh oh that was one of the words on list) with all of these words swarming around the virtual and real office water coolers, just how am I supposed to come up with my own voice? Coincidentally this same week -on my twitter feed- I came across an Atlantic Monthly article about EDX offering free MOOCs  (massive open online course) taught by professors of many respected universities. Luckily I was in time to sign up for UC Berkeley’s College Writing class. My first week was spent doing a segment on Vocabulary.

A quick look at the discussion board showed me that many of the students enrolled were taking this course because English was not their first language and they wanted to be able to write better. Interestingly, since our family just took a “college tour’ of UC Berkeley, I knew that the real campus also had many international students and that this course was/is probably a virtual parallel to the real thing. MOOCs deserve a post and I may write that next but I am still working on my vocabulary and grammar. I hope to get rid of my ellipses soon….but in case you were wondering if a native English speaker could learn anything new …here are my new vocabulary words:




And I can now write that “a pop of color” is my least favorite collocation.

Published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser

The Pinball Zone-Can Pinball Playing Become as Much of an Addiction as Machine Gambling?

Play Boy

As someone who grew up in New York City, summertime in my youth was punctuated with short trips to the Jersey Shore’s Atlantic City. For me, summer time is a time to let go of routine and let the Id take over. I am not much of a gambler but the experience of the boardwalk was enough to make the drive worthwhile.  Three years ago, my husband discovered The Silverball Pinball museum on Asbury Park’s boardwalk and I knew that I had found my compulsion- my “low risk” Atlantic City.


The Silverball Museum on Asbury Park’s board walk offers hourly, daily, weekly and yearly admission. The museum’s vintage pinball machines are displayed by decade. All of the machines are refurbished and in working order. The price of admission allows unlimited playtime on these very special machines.  Last Saturday night, my husband, son and I stopped in- hoping to get an hour of pinball- only to realize that we hit the jack pot when the staff told us that since we came in after 6PM, we qualified for the museum’s unlimited playtime until 1 am. This is when I realized that pinball might qualify for an addiction.

There is a new research outlined in MIT’s Dr. Natasha Dow Schull’s new book, Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (Princeton University Press), which basically says that compulsive gamblers who use these fast paced machines are not gambling to win but to win enough so that they can keep playing and remain in the “zone”.  When asked to describe the “machine zone” a compulsive gambler named Mollie describes the experience like this:

It’s like being in the eye of the storm, is how I’d describe it. Your vision is clear on the machine in front of you, and you can’t really hear anything. You aren’t really there-you’re with the machine and that is all you’re with”

The “Zone” is what I experience when I am allowed to play unlimited pinball. I’m not that picky-any 70s era machine will do for me; my husband, however, likes to try out a few machines until he finds a “friend”. Once that connection to the machine is found, I think the experience of being “one with the machine” is the same.  The Who’s song, “Pinball Wizard” describes the wizard (Tommy) “He stands like a statue and becomes part of the machine”.

This zone is the cornerstone and driver for many people- whether it is sex, shopping, athletics, or work- being in the zone, is the feeling that keeps us doing the behavior and in many cases makes us expert. And yes (if you are wondering), I have very high scores in pinball and am very solvent.

Pinball Wizard

Published June 7, 2013 on Westfield Patch

A Middle-Aged Mom’s Guide to Gym Etiquette.

man carrying barbel
Photo by Victor Freitas


I’ve only been lifting free weights for the past five years, but  as an outsider to gym culture, I hope my list will be helpful to those neophytes who find that they have to share small workout facilities with people they would not normally associate. Sometimes it can be intimidating to be a woman in a male dominated place; there are lots of passive- aggressive ways that men use to make sure that you are aware that you have intruded on their sacred space and make you uncomfortable. I have provided some ways to help you fend them off.

  1. If the younger, off -duty firemen or police men talk about their exploits with “dancing girls” at their latest convention in Atlantic City (but slyly make a big deal about not wanting to talk about it in front of “a lady”), it is best to put on a maternal smile and encourage them “to expose” you to things that you don’t normally hear at “elementary school pick up,” however, be sure to remind them to wear condoms because you have heard about diseases from unprotected sex from watching Dr. Oz on TV.
  2. If the older retired guys start talking about their dandruff and how there are no longer as many dandruff commercials in their youth, suggest that they come to gym in the afternoon to hear the other guys talk about hookers. Also, if the 50 plus crowd start to talk about missing the cut-off for Happy Hour, it’s time to put the earphones in.
  3. Sometimes the teenagers forget to take off their heavy plates, because they are so used to mom picking up after them. If they do not respond when asked to remove them, I generally slam the plate on the floor and cry “These are just so heavy! I can’t possibly take these weights off by myself!”
  4. If a man has legs that have less hair than yours, do not even ask him if he waxes and do not suggest that he might be a cross dresser. I have discovered that men, who have hairless legs, make less testosterone (than me) and- let’s face it- making testosterone is what lifting is all about.
  5. If you see someone who scrupulously wipes his/her machine down prior to putting their sweaty body on it, but neglects to wipe down the machine after using- do not ask them if they are an attorney

In my experience, almost everyone in the gym appears to be more sexy, and interesting if they don’t talk too much. This is a unisex thing; I personally prefer to let my imagination fill in the gaps. I spent three years of watching a very fit man- who never, ever spoke, work out with these strange arm coverings. I imagined that it was some strange cure from the old country and that he spoke no English. When we finally did chat, I discovered that he had a very strong New York accent and the coverings were old sweat socks to soak up arm sweat.

After all, the gym is a place to concentrate on our bodies, improve our body image and feel sexy. There is nothing worse than learning that the cutie that you thought was stoic and tough, gossips as much as the mothers on their way to Zumba class. I know that this ALSO means that I WOULD DO BETTER TO STICK MY EARPHONES IN MY EARS AND SHUT UP.

PS: In the event of very hurt feelings or burned bridges, there are a lot of gyms out there- in fact- it might be wise to join more than one….

Gym Me

Me before cell phone cameras were banned at gym.

This was also published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser

Cicadas Sound Like Flying Saucers!

magicicada septemdicem close up photo
Photo by Michael Kropiewnicki on

When I first heard about “return of the 17-year Cicadas” here in Westfield, New Jersey, I told my husband that I was considering a very long vacation- far away- for the bug reunion. People warned me that our town is particularly populated with the red-eyed, fig shaped bugs. I am seriously bug phobic after growing up in New York City in a roach invested apartment building in the days before Combat. I don’t really mind bugs out doors as long as I can run away as needed. I was not sure that I could handle this with grace.

Three weeks ago, I walked my son home from school and saw a few. The middle school girls shrieked a lot behind me but it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone warned it would be. I did not know that that was the beginning. I think I was thrown off guard by all of the rainy days. I am not sure what cicadas do in the rain but they are not singing. It took me awhile to realize that this new strange high-pitched whirring sound was coming from the bugs. At first, I thought it was malfunctioning equipment from distant construction. As the volume got louder, it reminded me of the sound of a poorly maintained truck stuck in beach traffic two or three cars near me on a stopped highway. This past week, the sound has become a much louder -like a fleet of alien flying saucers hovering over me everywhere that I go (think Hitchcock’s Birds)!

In these past three weeks, I have had five cicadas in my house and I keep a Swiffer to “mop-poke” the bugs that I find on the front stairs to my house everyday.  My dog has started to look slightly traumatized when he comes in from the back yard and my son really did when he told me that the bugs were crawling up his legs when he was playing Frisbee. He has started wearing shoes in the house. I have learned to trade in my Fit Flops for covered shoes and to walk only on treeless streets.

The recommended action for phobias is slow and steady desensitization and I think it might be working. I saw several playful little sparrows flying in my backyard before it registered that they were cicadas flying up to eat all of my trees. I was emboldened enough to even take these pictures.

My neighbor put this aluminum barrier. It seems to work. The bugs get stuck here trying to claw their way up the tree. I just don’t understand how they manage to climb up my Car.

I had to walk through the cicada gauntlet when I dropped off car with local mechanic. I had sneakers on but the crunching sounds were disturbing.

I took these shots when it poured . Perhaps the cicadas may have drowned and got stuck on this fence.

This one is trapped under glass until a brave person will take him out of my house.

Cicada exoskeletons on sidewalk.

Also published under Snarkychaser on Open Salon.

Finding Comfort in Coffee-Home Roasting Green Beans

It was a hard month for our family. Hurricane Sandy taught us that no matter how much preparation is done, our lives are interdependent on the grid. We just can not survive without our infrastructure without making significant changes. Last week we were rear ended by a young driver who just did not see that we had stopped. Was she texting? In hind sight there was nothing we could have done to avoid the collision. It was out of our hands and the calculated risk that we all take when we drive is that we depend on the assumption that the drivers who surround us on the road are careful, skilled and aware of their surroundings.

As a control freak that is learning to let go, I can only cry at the randomness of catastrophe and try to stick to things that can get me closer to some sense of control over the end product and my surrounding. Since I am not crafter, cook or house cleaner (this week), I tried to roast my own coffee. Although I know that I will never actually grow my own coffee, it does give me pleasure to think that I can take back control over the roasting process that a few shop keepers and large companies now hold over us. Roasting coffee was historically in the hands of a few until the commercialization of the process in the early 20th century. Commercially roasted and ground coffee was considered to be a modern time saver and until the Folgerization of America, many families roasted their own brew.

Home coffee roasting is considered to be a kind of “oddball” hobby and if you look at the number of You Tube videos of people roasting coffee in their back yard air popcorn poppers, you will see what I mean. Through the internet I learned that roasting green coffee can be done inexpensively in a Whirley -Pop stove- top popcorn popper. I do not use a thermometer (although it is recommended). The beans can be ordered over the internet easily.  I chose Sumatra for my experiment.

whirly popper

Whirley- Pop

Green Coffee

Green Sumatra Coffee Beans

Coffee beans need to be roasted at temperatures ranging between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Gas burners should be turned lower than  electric burners and every source warns that when the beans roast, they release lots of moisture so open all of your windows. The smell of roasting beans is bread-y and grain-y at the start  and then becomes more recognizable as coffee as the beans become darker brown in color. I actually waited for my first batch to turn -what I thought was a coffee color-  a very dark brown and may have been scorched them. I subsequently read that one ideal color is the “brown of a monk’s robe”.

steaming beans

Scorched steaming beans

I have since learned to run with my pot of hot beans to the back door to let it steam away outside. I can only hope that my neighbors are very jealous. The beans must constantly be agitated. The agitation of the beans helps to even out the heat and remove the chaff that is still sticking on the beans. This is best facilitated by shaking the colander around.

Chaf from coffee beans


Home roasting may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I find that for me it is a very relaxing process that appeals to my sensual nature. I think that it may even be a slight aphrodisiac because I was propositioned by a workman while roasting coffee. It may be that I reminded him of his mother with my efforts in the kitchen. My house certainly has a better smell to obfuscate the fact that my efforts are not spent mopping and dusting.

The one major drawback to all of this, is that every batch tastes different. There are too many variants with roasting by smell and eye. So in my efforts to gain control over my universe, I have actually relinquished it ( unless I get a much more expensive automated home roaster). I am learning to take pleasure in the random nature of life.

Sandy- A Suburban Diary

Preparing for a hurricane Jersey Shore

Back to the routine two weeks after Sandy – today the weight room and the conversation was geared around generators. What was the best kind to get heat? Would the town permit a natural gas standby? Was the town responsible in part for their negligent maintenance of town trees prior to Sandy? 90% of our town lost power; many lost power for two weeks. This has been the third time in one year where our town has suffered from significant power outages.

Our family is a camping family and we have much of the equipment that we need to survive off the grid. The problem this time was heat- our house maintained a temperature of 55 degrees. It is hard to find safe ways to heat a house in cold weather. Many houses also depend on sump pumps. Last year, after Irene, we had no flooding in our basement- until the fourth day after a power outage. It was my birthday and my kids and I were using buckets to bail the water. I made everyone wear good rubber soles in case the power came back. My daughter took out the wall to wall carpet for my birthday present.

The Prep

This time we were prepared. The night of Sandy, we knew that we would lose power the question was when? That weekend, I bagged all of the lose leaves and took them away from the front curb. We made several trips to the conservation center. My husband thought that I was crazy but I explained that we did not need to have blockage of the gutter in front of the house or any obstacles for emergency workers in the event of heavy rains. We gassed up our cars and I had bought water and easy foods to cook by gas stove. I did all of the laundry, washed all dishes and cleaned the house. I have learned that a cluttered house is a safety issue. In a house without electricity, the low winter light and diminished daylight give us short periods to get out stuff in order for the long cold nights. I was the drill sergeant my husband confided to a neighbor that I was a “perfect storm”. I brought up my emergency box. The winds were strong and we lost power around 9:00 Monday the October the 29th. We made plans to have kids sleep in the least likely room to get hit by a tree.

I was not really prepared for how difficult it would be to be off the grid when most of the surrounding infrastructure was also affected. We are truly interdependent we don’t farm or have local food supplies that are not shipped via trucks. We need mass transit, we need traffic lights and we need gas. There have been predictions of a hurricane hitting the east coast of this magnitude. However, I have learned that no matter how much I prepare in life there is always something else that comes along to surprise. It seems to be human need to assign blame to explain away good luck or bad luck but sometimes there is just no rhyme or reason. We could be hit by solar storms, earth quakes or pandemics. The only thing we can do is prepare as best we can.

Here are some of the pictures that I managed to take when I had enough charge in my I Phone.

DAY ONE -October 30


Very few cars out. It is hard to get around due to closed roads where downed trees have cut power lines. There is only one gas station pumping gas and no lines- yet. This man is going for a gas run for his generator.


Street signs have blow off posts and stores are closed in downtown district


Streets have been closed down because traffic lights have lost power. There is some police presence to manage main streets. Getting around is too difficult and most people are not on the road yet. My son said our downtown looked like a zombie apocalypse.


A tree came through the roof of this neighborhood house

summit copy

Day Two- October 31


As I wrote earlier, 10% of the town kept power. Our local Walgreen’s was informally letting customers charge phones on first day. By the second day, they had put up two power strips to allow customers to charge up.

My husband was able to find WI-fi and charge in our favorite coffee/yogurt shop, Bohemian Raspberry to telecommute. There was no train service and buses limited bus service into Manhattan. His co workers thought that it was some warm hippy place. I should take a picture because it is actually not at all what it sounds like. The building was a former KFC takeout joint.

Day Five and Six- November 3& 4

Special trucks have been flown in on Military aircraft. We spoke to crews from Jefferson City and Boston who have been sent to help with the repair.My husband and I searched for a bagel shop to donate food for local crews.


In an effort to conserve gas, I walked two miles to Home Depot where I was looking for tape and caulk to seal up all of our drafts and some fencing to fix hole from downed tree limb. Gas cans were sold out as were Lantern and D batteries. Met up with people who I knew and heard stories of generators and gas being stolen from houses. One friend’s husband worked for Comcast and the generator was stolen from home he worked on (the thieves turned on the lawnmower so that the people would not hear that an engine kicked out). Our crossing guard’s generator was stolen; the thieves waited until they turned out the lights at night.  One neighbor was electrocuted by live wire that he moved. School was going to be out for another week since many roads were still closed and three schools did not have power.Temperatures are dropping. My 75-year-old mother with cancer got power in her apartment complex.She would not have been able to handle another drop.Got power Sunday night.


Slowly houses started getting power…ours was not one so we found one warm place within close driving distance to get cheese fries and hope that we would have power when we got home. Much disappointment when we could see lights all around us but not on our block.


Have discovered that old fireplaces like this actually are not heat efficient and take warm air out of the house.

 Day Seven , Eight and Nine-November6,7&8

We got power.School remained closed for the district it was estimated that 3,700 people still did not have power and 70-80 roads were still closed. We prepared for the ensuing Nor’easter.We invited everyone we knew to have a sleepover and warm dinner. My husband looked forward to the prospect of business trip. Apparently, getting to LA was easier than getting into Manhattan

Some people who had just gotten their power, lost it again in storm.

Day Fourteen- November 12

Here are some of the pictures. The town said that 13 houses were deemed uninhabitable and I think that these are two of them,

Tree house 14 days later

Same House as above on Day 14

2020 PS looking for all of my other Sandy photos. Mysteriously lost in the cloud.