4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

In the Lab

Caviar spherification (the way it's supposed to look)
Caviar spherification (the way it's supposed to look)

I squeezed the plastic dropper and watched the first tiny glob break away and plummet into the big bowl. The droplet was supposed to slip through the surface of the liquid and end up at the bottom of the bowl as a tiny, perfect sphere. Instead, the amber droplet smashed against the water’s surface like a bug on a windshield and just floated there.

“Ugh. Why didn’t it work? I bet it’s the air bubbles from the hand-mixer. I read something about that being a problem,” I said.

“Why don’t you watch the DVD again?” asked David. “Your laptop is right here. Just pop it in and — ”

“No. I just want to do it and have it work,” I snapped. I squeezed again. This time, the droplet did what it was supposed to do. I had created an orb of peach schnapps liqueur inside a bowl of water. But I soon realized my perfect circle was a fluke. The next and the next and the dozen or so droplets after that, all splattered on the surface of the water, just like the first. My experiment was a failure.

Sponsored
Sponsored

“Well, I guess I’ll start cleaning up this huge mess I made,” I said, my head hung low.

“Chemistry is an exact science,” David said.

“Who said anything about chemistry? This is molecular gastronomy.” I paused as I felt the epiphany burst like a bubble in my brain. I thought I had been playing with my food — but all those measurements and mixtures... “Oh,” I said. “Well, if I’d thought about it that way, I wouldn’t have even tried. I hate chemistry. The only reason I skated by with a C-minus in my high school chemistry class was because I made a deal with my lab partners that I would handle all the paperwork if they would take care of the boring stuff. I wanted to do this because it looked so pretty and easy in that video. And, you have to admit, my idea was innovative — they don’t even have it in their recipe pamphlet — little red balls of Chambord floating around in a glass of champagne? Pretty and tasty.”

David smiled a knowing smile. “This was not an unexpected outcome,” he said.

“So, you knew as you were over there watching me all this time that I was going to eff it up? Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I’ve never seen you so excited about a project,” he said. “I didn’t want to discourage you.”

“I guess I should have realized this wasn’t going to work out the moment I decided a ‘pinch’ of sodium alginate was probably ‘close enough’ to 1.6 grams.”

Sodium Alginate on the scale

“Like I said, it’s an exact science,” David said. “You can’t guess at chemistry. You know how I’m always saying there’s room for error with cooking, but not with baking? That’s because baking is more like chemistry. Well, cooking is also chemistry — however, with cooking, there’s more flexibility; you can rescue things if they’re going wrong. Whereas, with baking, once things are set in motion, it’s all over. Certain ingredients react with other ingredients in a very specific way.”

“Well, I’m happy I used the peach schnapps as a tester. Imagine if I’d just wasted a whole cup of Chambord — that stuff’s not cheap. Okay, well, back to plan A. It’s your job to take all this and create something magnificent both to look at and to taste.”

“No pressure,” David joked. But it was his own damn fault my expectations were so high. He’s spent years demonstrating his aptitude for both cooking and baking. So of course when I learned about the artistic possibilities provided by the latest trend in food science, I wanted to see what kinds of avant-garde creations my live-in chef could devise. That was why I’d bought him the kits (one for cocktails, one for cuisine) — so that he’d come up with crazy and cool concoctions. For me.

Each kit included some tools, packets of strange powders, and a DVD with simple instructions about a process that is anything but. For my first and last stab at kitchen chemistry, I probably should have chosen one of the recipes that had been provided, rather than attempting to wing it. As David continued to tell me, you can’t “wing” chemistry. But I’d had no choice — our kitchen scale wasn’t sensitive enough to parse out exactly 1.6 grams of sodium alginate, a binding chemical derived from seaweed.

If I’d done more studying, I could have created something beautiful. In my mind’s eye, the Chambord caviar (balls of liquid floating around in a thin gel casing that dissolves in the mouth) would be vibrant, scarlet balls of the raspberry liqueur dancing on the bubbles of the golden champagne. Gorgeous, decadent; a way to surprise and delight cocktail-party guests or to enjoy ourselves.

“You have to make this happen,” I said. My failed experiment couldn’t be the end. David had to make things right. He was the only person who could — he’s patient, experienced, and, most importantly, he would be willing to take the time to do all the necessary research. I’m the kind of person who bitches when something takes longer than four minutes to microwave.

As I rinsed the gelatinous peach schnapps from the giant glass bowl, I turned to catch David’s eye over my shoulder. “Do you think I’m stupid? I mean, because I never really ‘got’ chemistry? Because I don’t have the patience for this kind of thing? I mean...what I mean is, are you disappointed in me?”

“Look,” David said (the way he always does when he wants to pave the way for a big delivery). “There are some things that you’re good at and some things that I’m good at.”

“So, what you’re saying is I should go sit over there and sip my wine so you can have your kitchen back and finish making dinner?” David nodded. “I’m cool with that,” I said.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Not California Dates, Clear Air for Hiking, December’s Cold Moon

Date Palm's can be found in Anza Borrego
Next Article

The discreet charms of Secret Sister

The South Park sourdough bakery dabbles in the unfamiliar
Caviar spherification (the way it's supposed to look)
Caviar spherification (the way it's supposed to look)

I squeezed the plastic dropper and watched the first tiny glob break away and plummet into the big bowl. The droplet was supposed to slip through the surface of the liquid and end up at the bottom of the bowl as a tiny, perfect sphere. Instead, the amber droplet smashed against the water’s surface like a bug on a windshield and just floated there.

“Ugh. Why didn’t it work? I bet it’s the air bubbles from the hand-mixer. I read something about that being a problem,” I said.

“Why don’t you watch the DVD again?” asked David. “Your laptop is right here. Just pop it in and — ”

“No. I just want to do it and have it work,” I snapped. I squeezed again. This time, the droplet did what it was supposed to do. I had created an orb of peach schnapps liqueur inside a bowl of water. But I soon realized my perfect circle was a fluke. The next and the next and the dozen or so droplets after that, all splattered on the surface of the water, just like the first. My experiment was a failure.

Sponsored
Sponsored

“Well, I guess I’ll start cleaning up this huge mess I made,” I said, my head hung low.

“Chemistry is an exact science,” David said.

“Who said anything about chemistry? This is molecular gastronomy.” I paused as I felt the epiphany burst like a bubble in my brain. I thought I had been playing with my food — but all those measurements and mixtures... “Oh,” I said. “Well, if I’d thought about it that way, I wouldn’t have even tried. I hate chemistry. The only reason I skated by with a C-minus in my high school chemistry class was because I made a deal with my lab partners that I would handle all the paperwork if they would take care of the boring stuff. I wanted to do this because it looked so pretty and easy in that video. And, you have to admit, my idea was innovative — they don’t even have it in their recipe pamphlet — little red balls of Chambord floating around in a glass of champagne? Pretty and tasty.”

David smiled a knowing smile. “This was not an unexpected outcome,” he said.

“So, you knew as you were over there watching me all this time that I was going to eff it up? Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I’ve never seen you so excited about a project,” he said. “I didn’t want to discourage you.”

“I guess I should have realized this wasn’t going to work out the moment I decided a ‘pinch’ of sodium alginate was probably ‘close enough’ to 1.6 grams.”

Sodium Alginate on the scale

“Like I said, it’s an exact science,” David said. “You can’t guess at chemistry. You know how I’m always saying there’s room for error with cooking, but not with baking? That’s because baking is more like chemistry. Well, cooking is also chemistry — however, with cooking, there’s more flexibility; you can rescue things if they’re going wrong. Whereas, with baking, once things are set in motion, it’s all over. Certain ingredients react with other ingredients in a very specific way.”

“Well, I’m happy I used the peach schnapps as a tester. Imagine if I’d just wasted a whole cup of Chambord — that stuff’s not cheap. Okay, well, back to plan A. It’s your job to take all this and create something magnificent both to look at and to taste.”

“No pressure,” David joked. But it was his own damn fault my expectations were so high. He’s spent years demonstrating his aptitude for both cooking and baking. So of course when I learned about the artistic possibilities provided by the latest trend in food science, I wanted to see what kinds of avant-garde creations my live-in chef could devise. That was why I’d bought him the kits (one for cocktails, one for cuisine) — so that he’d come up with crazy and cool concoctions. For me.

Each kit included some tools, packets of strange powders, and a DVD with simple instructions about a process that is anything but. For my first and last stab at kitchen chemistry, I probably should have chosen one of the recipes that had been provided, rather than attempting to wing it. As David continued to tell me, you can’t “wing” chemistry. But I’d had no choice — our kitchen scale wasn’t sensitive enough to parse out exactly 1.6 grams of sodium alginate, a binding chemical derived from seaweed.

If I’d done more studying, I could have created something beautiful. In my mind’s eye, the Chambord caviar (balls of liquid floating around in a thin gel casing that dissolves in the mouth) would be vibrant, scarlet balls of the raspberry liqueur dancing on the bubbles of the golden champagne. Gorgeous, decadent; a way to surprise and delight cocktail-party guests or to enjoy ourselves.

“You have to make this happen,” I said. My failed experiment couldn’t be the end. David had to make things right. He was the only person who could — he’s patient, experienced, and, most importantly, he would be willing to take the time to do all the necessary research. I’m the kind of person who bitches when something takes longer than four minutes to microwave.

As I rinsed the gelatinous peach schnapps from the giant glass bowl, I turned to catch David’s eye over my shoulder. “Do you think I’m stupid? I mean, because I never really ‘got’ chemistry? Because I don’t have the patience for this kind of thing? I mean...what I mean is, are you disappointed in me?”

“Look,” David said (the way he always does when he wants to pave the way for a big delivery). “There are some things that you’re good at and some things that I’m good at.”

“So, what you’re saying is I should go sit over there and sip my wine so you can have your kitchen back and finish making dinner?” David nodded. “I’m cool with that,” I said.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Marche De Noel Winter Fair, Banksyland, Snowside Winter Festival

Events December 9-December 10, 2022
Next Article

Polite Provisions’ Christmas Cricket: a creamy, vegan Grasshopper

“Like a peppermint patty with warm notes of coconut.”
Comments

this story reminded me of a loose definition for addiction: studied as a science, practiced as an art, performed like a sport...

Jan. 10, 2013

I never heard that one before. But I like it. Thank you!

Jan. 11, 2013
Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town The Gonzo Report — Making the musical scene, or at least reporting from it Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close