Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Little Bit of Fizz

I ate too much at lunch.  My stomach is like a rock in my mid-section and I have a food baby.

Enter the carbonated beverage.  Thank heavens for those tiny bubbles.  They're my go-to whenever I've consumed more than my good sense should allow me to.

My entry into the 2012 Quilting Arts "Coffee or Tea" challenge.

I don't drink soda anymore, but I almost always prefer cold and fizzy drinks to something warm.  (And let me stop you right there.  No, I don't drink tea or coffee.)  As I sipped my "tonic" this afternoon, I wondered about carbonation.  So I did a bit of digging.

Here's some of what I learned:

* "Impregnating Water with Fixed Air" was the name of the 1772 scientific pamphlet written by scientist Joseph Priestly, describing the apparatus he designed to instill water with carbon dioxide bubbles.  (Fixed air = carbon dioxide) His initial intent was to discover a way to limit meat putrefaction aboard ships and combat scurvy.

* Joseph Priestly, it turns out, was a very important scientist.   He's credited with identifying eight different gases including oxygen, which was named by someone else.

* Priestly described the carbonated water he created as "an exceedingly pleasant sparkling water, resembling Seltzer water." To be clear, Priestly wasn't referring to what we know as seltzer water.  Instead, he was referencing the properties of the waters found in the springs around Seltzer, Germany. Many historians consider this discovery to be critical to the development of pneumatic chemistry.  ("Powerful Effervescence," Science History, 2008)

* Jacob Schweppe, an amateur scientist and an acquaintance of Priestly's, expanded on Priestly's work. In the 1780s, Schweppe introduced artificially created sparkling mineral water.  It was the precursor to today's carbonated beverage industry and, with the introduction of some flavored syrups, evolved into Schweppe's Ginger Ale.

* Some sources say that Thomas Jefferson sought Priestly's advice as Jefferson planned University of Virginia.

* Priestly was a highly regarded polymath and his scientific books were best sellers. 

Sorry that I didn't recognize your name, Mr. Priestly, or your accomplishments.

Joseph Priestly
© Royal Society of Chemistry, Library

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Wall Street Journal Praises Tim Gunn

I've enjoyed watching Project Runway over the years.  Some years there are designers I root for.  Other years I get especially annoyed by the drama.   Every season I'm fascinated by the creative process.  And I'm a bit smitten with Tim Gunn.  He such a wonderful mentor and I'm always impressed by his guidance.  He's one of the reasons I watch the show, season after season.  

It appears I'm not alone.

In October of 2017, The Wall Street Journal published an article called, "Seven TV Shows Every Executive Should Watch" by Alexandra Samuel.   The subtitle was "What you can learn from Tim Gunn, 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine', 'The Young Pope' and more."

You can access the article through this link.   Since I'm not certain how many of you have a subscription to the WSJ, I thought I'd transcribe the section about Tim Gunn here on my blog.  I think the author was spot-on in describing what is so special and effective about Tim Gunn's help in the work room.  (She also makes an interesting observation about the creative process. too.)  We could all benefit from Tim Gunn's critical review and feedback process in our lives.  (The excerpt, photo and image caption below were all taken from the article updated on October 27, 2017.)

Tim Gunn offers a master class in giving feedback on 'Project Runway'. PHOTO: BRAVO TV/EVERETT COLLECTION
Project Runway:  This long-running reality show is a laboratory for the creative process, since each season challenges a group of fashion designers to create a new outfit every single week.  One week they might be asked to create a ready-to-wear ensemble for a working woman, while the next week they have to assemble an outfit out of materials they collect at a hardware store.  Each week's aesthetic mandate and materials list offers a reminder of the value of constraints in fostering creativity: The best designs often emerge from the challenges that offer the least flexibility.  The other key ingredient? Skilled mentorship.

The mentorship comes from Tim Gunn, who provides feedback on each designer's work in progress -- and can teach any executive how to give better feedback.

Step 1: Before providing feedback on someone's work, check in on their goals.  Mr. Gunn always begins by asking what the designer is trying to achieve, so that his feedback is keyed to supporting their vision, rather than his own.

Step 2: Share your most important resource -- your professional history and experience.  Mr. Gunn's feedback often consists of pointing out when someone is echoing the work of a designer they may not know about, or if they're trying to execute a design that won't be feasible with their chosen fabric.

Step 3: If you've got negative feedback, articulate the problem directly, and then invite -- but don't impose -- a solution.  When Mr. Gunn sees that someone's in trouble, he tells them exactly what the issue is, and then points them in a direction to find their own solution.  If you want to deliver feedback that is candid and effective -- without being unkind -- this show is a master class.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Oil and Vinegar

Olive oils and wine vinegars, that is.

When I did a ride-along on my husband's recent business trip to Napa, I had a day to myself to explore.  The typical Napa activity is wine tasting, hopping from vineyard to vineyard sampling their wares.  That seemed a bit irresponsible for me.  I was on my own and didn't want to drink and drive.

Instead, I headed to Round Pond Estate to sample their olive oils and wine vinegars.  I hadn't even known that was something to do.

A few things I learned about olives:
1) Many vineyards will plant rosebushes at the row ends of their vineyards.  If there's something wrong with the soil, rose bushes will falter or exhibit signs of the problems pretty early.  I was told, "They shout pretty loudly when they're unhappy." On the other hand, grape vines don't let you know something's amiss until it's too late.  Because the roses will broadcast the news loud and clear, a vintner can address an issue before it becomes a crisis.  Interestingly, olive trees are also an "indicator" species of plant.  They're planted along the perimeter of the fields.  They share the news differently, but just as thoroughly.

2) All olives are green..... and black.  Green olives will mature into black olives.  There's not a varietal that starts off black and stays black.

3) There's about a six week window for harvesting olives in Napa: November through mid-December.  The "greener" the olive oil tastes, the "thicker" it feels on your tongue, the more likely it is that the olives in the oil were harvested earlier in the season.  Milder, smoother, "lighter", more buttery oils are made from more mature olives.

4) The proper way to sample olive oil is to taste it straight from a cup.  Just sip it, hold it on your tongue for a few seconds and swallow.  Bread is not involved.

CONFESSION: I don't eat olives on their own.  I don't particularly care for tapenade.  I like to dip bread in olive oil and balsamic vinegar in moderation.  Olives on their own don't have a flavor that's on my top-10 list.

You can imagine my surprise at how much I enjoyed tasting the different oils, how intriguing it was to discover how the various olive oils felt on my tongue.  How, in some cases, a lovely aftertaste lingered, and strengthened, after swallowing.  It was all very good.  I also enjoyed adding a bit of garlic and chili powder flavored olive oil to one of my samples.  (That's the orange-ish one.) Yum!


5) Olive trees don't start producing fruit for about five years.  Most producers will wait about eight years before they use the fruit in their oils.

6) Unlike a wine grape, the composition of the soil doesn't really impact the flavor of an olive.

7) Olive trees live and bear fruit for centuries. Apparently, there's a 2,000 year old olive tree in Jordan that's still bearing fruit.

A few things I learned about wine vinegars:
1) Specialty wine vinegars are made from the same grapes as the wines.  The end result is just very different.

2) The proper way to sample wine vinegar is with sugar cubes.  Yes, sugar cubes.  Dip a sugar cube into the sample cup to soak up a bit of the vinegar and then suck out the fluid.  The sugar will neutralize the acid of the vinegar and enable you to taste the flavor of the vinegar.  Until I tried this, I didn't have a sense of the variety of flavors. I responded, more or less, to the acidity of the vinegar.

3) Sugar cubes soaked in white wine vinegar can, if you can get it into your mouth before it crumbles, taste like candy.  Wonderful candy.

4) It's not a given that the grapes used to make a wine, will also work successfully as a vinegar blend.  The winemaker will assess the varietals and percentages that work best in both compositions.  Organic chemistry is a plus here.

I highly recommend this sort of outing to anyone heading to Napa.  It's a bit of fun off the beaten path.  Let me know what you discover!