It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune (lots of wet food), must be in want of a wife. An unprecidented whirlwind romance has budded between Katniss and my neighbor’s cat. His name is Bandit, and true to his name, he has stolen Katniss’s heart.
Although it has been smooth sailing for them lately, they got off to a rocky start in true Elizabeth and Darcy style. When Bandit first started visiting he was only allowed to sit at the top of the stairs and admire Katniss from a distance.
Failure to comply meant he recieved a rebuke in the form of angry hissing and meowing. He was persistent though, and after a couple of months he was allowed to approach the door.
Their romance caused quite the scandal as Bandit is known to be unpropitious, visiting at all hours of the day and night without regard for decorum expected of a proper suitor.
There is hope for him yet though, as of late his manners have been improving vastly as he has learned how to knock on my door to get Katniss’s attention.
In the beginning Katniss met Bandit with pride and prejudice. Now she spends a lot of her time in my living room, waiting for him to visit.
It has come to my attention that it’s already February, which means CHOCOLATE. Every Valentine’s day, I prepare boxes of chocolate to give away to everyone in XWCL and my friends. It’s one of the Hallmark holidays I look forward to the most for chocolate making. Not that chocolate needs an excuse, of course.
Unfortunately, the pandemic discourages in-person meetings, including our weekly research meeting. With no avenue to give away chocolate I make, I’ve been in a bit of a chocolate confectionery slump. But, it’s February, the last time I made chocolate was a year ago, and I really want to make chocolate again. Instead, I’ve decided to share this unique chocolate making experience.
A few months ago, there was a phenomena where someone made rainbow chocolate without the use of food coloring painted on the surface. The secret is imprinting a diffraction grating on the surface. A diffraction grating produces a rainbow-like effect when light shines on it. At the correct lighting, the chocolate surface should produce a rainbow-shine effect. As an amateur chocolate confectioner, a few friends sent me video variations of this challenge. I forgot about this for a while, until I was reminded that this week is Prism Week at OpSci. I figured, why not celebrate Prism week with some diffraction rainbow chocolate?
MELTING TECHNIQUE: DOUBLE BOILER
The approach I take to melting chocolates is the double boiler (bain-marie) method. You can definitely use the microwave method; I have a friend who is the head pastry chef at a restaurant and her at-home chocolate melting technique is using the microwave. The double boiler method uses steam generated by the bottom pot to heat up the underside of the top pot, which transfers heat to whatever is in the top pot. The double boiler method technique requires a bit more setup, but I have found to enjoy it better than the microwave method.
Chocolate tempering: Epicurious Diffraction Chocolate tutorial: Ann Reardon Note: Melting chocolate goes very fast. Be diligent with the whole process.
STEP 1: Cut the diffraction grating film. The gratings will be at the bottom of the cups, where they will be molded onto the melted chocolate as it solidifies. Make sure it is diffraction side up, so the pattern is in contact with the chocolate. I put these on a tray, so when it’s time to cool, I can transfer them around easily in my kitchen.
STEP 2: Measure the chocolate. I set aside 2/3 for the first melt, then 1/3 for the seeding portion. I do the tempering method, which is when you heat up chocolate to a certain temperature, then you use the seeding chocolate to cool it down, then finish the tempering to a certain temperature. This helps the chocolate stay in liquid form for working with and produces a nice shine.
STEP 3: Boil water. Do not fill the pot with too much water. The water should not come in contact with the mixing bowl. This will otherwise burn the chocolate when we put it in for melting. When the steam is getting strong enough, lower the heat to a simmer and put the chocolate bowl over the pot.
CAUTION: Be VERY CAREFUL to not get water in contact with the chocolate. This will “seize” the chocolate, which makes it look grainy. The goal is to make the chocolate look smooth. This happened to me during my first chocolate making attempts when I used a wooden spatula not fully dry.
STEP 4: Melt the chocolate. Mix the chocolate with a rubber spatula and monitor the temperature. For dark chocolate, do not let it exceed 120F. When the chocolate is at temperature, remove the bowl from the pot and wipe the underside of condensation. Do not turn off the burner, we’ll need it for the next step.
STEP 5: Seed the chocolate. Add in the seeding chocolate, bit by bit, until the temperature reaches 82F. If you run out of chocolate for cooling, just keep mixing until it reaches temperature.
STEP 6: Temper the chocolate. I didn’t take a photo because things were moving very fast. Here, you would put the seeded chocolate back over the bottom pot and reheat the chocolate to between 88F – 91F. I went with 90F. It doesn’t take very long to do this. Remove the mixing bowl from the pot when temperature has been met.
STEP 7: Transfer the chocolate. Put the chocolate in the cup molds with the gratings. I use a spoon for quick application. A pastry bag is also really good to use, since the chocolate won’t be too hot to the touch.
STEP 8: Let the chocolate cool. You can put it in the refrigerator, which is why I had the tray for easy transfer. You can also let it cool in room temperature, if the weather is suitable. When the chocolate is hard to touch, then you can push them out of their molds.
STEP 9: Remove the film. The film is not edible. (If there is an edible film though, I’m interested!) The film acts like a mold, so the chocolate copies the grating pattern.
FIRST ATTEMPT RESULTS
I put the chocolate up against the sunlight, and you can see the diffraction rainbow patterns! It didn’t come out too well on the chocolate. The big circles are smudge marks from my fingers, since it’s very tricky to pry off the diffraction grating. But yay, I’m pretty excited this worked, even if only a little bit!
LET’S TRY IT ONE MORE TIME
The great thing about chocolate is that it can be melted again. I wanted to see if I can do better, so I did a remelt and tried again.
This round, I tried with a different mold pattern. I also tried to spread the chocolate over the grating itself, like what Ann Reardon did in her video. Back they went into the refrigerator to cool.
It looks like I did a little bit better the second attempt! It was already getting close to sunset, so the sunlight isn’t the same as the first attempt. The slab refraction came out very faint under the ring light. It was too difficult for me to take a photo with it in the sunset. But the block piece came out pleasantly well, despite the lighting! I’m very satisfied with these results.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE CHALLENGE?
I think it was a fun challenge. It was definitely a bit difficult. I’ve been very out of practice with chocolate making. I could have avoided all the finger smudges if I was a bit more patient. Choosing the correct side for the diffraction pattern was also a trial and error. I didn’t have a microscope available (rather, I didn’t want to drive to campus for this one thing), so I split my batch with one for the top side and the other for the bottom side. The results also did not yield much – for all the chocolate pieces I made, I only had maybe 3 or 4 successful attempts. Maybe with different setups, I could achieve a better yield.
I do recommend trying this out! Chocolate making is a very messy process though and it goes quick. It’s always satisfying to see fun results like this. It may be better to practice melting chocolate first before trying this challenge immediately.
SONG OF THE DAY
All this talk of dark chocolate made me think about black and white, like in chess. I binged watched all of The Queen’s Gambit over the winter holiday. It was the first show I managed to complete since The Mandelorian season 1 (I am very bad at watching shows). I originally came in expecting to drool over the fashion, but was rewarded with an excellent coming-of-age story.
On the topic of The Queen’s Gambit, I’d like to bring up Chess: The Musical. It also takes place during the Cold War, but in the late 1970’s as opposed to the 1960’s during The Queen’s Gambit. The musical was written by Tim Rice (famous for Evita, among other musical productions) and the music was by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA. The most famous song to come out from it was One Night in Bangkok, which was a chart topper in the mid-80’s. Wilfred and I sang parts of this song when we had an overnight layover in Bangkok with Olivier, on our way to Bhutan. Olivier was very confused, but we were also in hour 25 of our 34 hour travel and already had been on 3 different airplanes by that point.
The original version I listened to was the Chess in Concert performance from 2008, featuring Adam Pascal (famous for playing Roger in RENT), Idina Menzel (Maureen from RENT and Elsa from Frozen), and Josh Groban. I low-key became a Grobanite when I first listened through this musical.
It’s true- Flagstaff was this 🤏 close to being named Flagpole, which just doesn’t have the same ring if you ask me. Truth be told, this weather lately has me missing thin air and Ponderosa Pines so allow me to reminisce a bit and take you on a virtual tour through my “perfect day” in Flag. So get your Patagonia parka on, top up your Hydroflask and please, clean the snow off your car before you get back on I-17 southbound to go back home.
Flagstaffers love their coffee, and there’s no better place in town to start the day than Macy’s European Coffeehouse. Get there early though, the indoor seating capacity is notoriously limited and, consequently, the ordering line is often out-the-door. Want a lighter breakfast option? Try their vegetarian biscuits and gravy or one of the many pastry options prepared in-house or locally. Otherwise, let’s take a short walk over to Martanne’s. Just look both ways before crossing over the train tracks, Flagstaff gets ~100 trains that barrel through each day (about half & half eastbound and westbound).
Now that breakfast is over, it should be about 10 a.m. if we are making good time. Since we’re here, we might as well walk off all that delicious Mexican food and sightsee around historic downtown. You’ll notice in the picture that the hotel sign (and many other buildings in the area) has the aesthetic reminiscent of classic Hollywood; legend has it Flagstaff was destined to be what Hollywood was in the earlier half of the 20th century, but then people realized just how cold and snowy it can get so… that never happened. But! These old buildings remain to remind us of all this cool history.
For lunch, let’s head over to Karma sushi since we’re still in downtown, which is one of the more popular sushi spots in the city. Maybe it’s pricey (it is desert sushi after all), maybe the aesthetic catches your eye, but I like this spot because it’s in the building of the once famous Black Cat Café where Clyde Tombaugh (discoverer of Pluto) would visit twice a day from his office at Lowell Observatory to get some grub. It’s pretty surreal to nibble some edamame at the very booth Clyde would have been eating his lunch ~90 years prior on the day he noticed something fishy on the photographic plates containing Pluto.
We’re still in town, so look towards north to see the San Francisco peaks in all their glory. A little-known fact about Flagstaff is its proximity to the San Francisco volcano field containing ~600 extinct volcanos. If you look at the peaks, hold up your hands and align your two index fingers with the two outer mountain slopes, you’ll gain a sense of the approximate peak of the mountain before it went kablooey. Actually let’s start towards Snow Bowl and the peaks because what’s a visit to Flagstaff without some hiking under the cover of towering aspens? Let’s now head to Veit Springs Trail on Mt. Humphreys for a nice ~2 mile loop. Who knows, if luck is really on your side this day you might find the famed lost treasure. Anyways, now that the sun is setting let’s finish driving up Mt. Humphreys to watch the sunset at the top near the ski lodge with it’s fantastic westerly view at ~9,000 feet.
For dinner, we’ll head to one of Flagstaff’s true hidden restaurant gems: Black Bart’s Steakhouse. This old Western-themed restaurant is tucked away in the back of an RV park and the only form of advertising they do is word-of-mouth and a pretty inconspicuous sign visible from the adjacent freeway. It gets better- this restaurant is known for scooping up a lot of NAU music majors for their nightly musical theater. Many times has my server participated in grandiose acapella performances of musical classics or played live piano for the stage dancers in between drink refills!
To end this day in Flagstaff, we turn our attention to none other than Lowell Observatory to look through some seriously cool telescopes and see various historical objects, such as the Pluto telescope which has been decommissioned and is more of a museum exhibit now. The 24″ Clark refractor telescope and dome shown in the photographs is of particular interest because that’s the telescope Percival Lowell himself used to observe Mars and form his (sadly debunked) theory of Martian canal systems and waterways. Interestingly, the mechanics behind rotating this massive dome are none other than a bunch of original 1940’s Ford pickup truck wheels arranged along the circumference of the building that the dome sits on top of and spins. The tires have to be maintained and topped up with air otherwise the dome will scrape when rotating due to sinking too low in its recess.
Well that’s it! And writing this was certainly a nostalgic episode for me. Thank you for reading what I consider to be a pretty good day in Flagstaff having been a local for 5 years. Let me know if you ever decide to plan a trip (post Covid, of course) and want some pro tips! Now let’s hope for snow in Tucson today 🤞
The song of the day seems a bit out of season, but with the current winter storm sweeping over the state, may just be appropriate…!
To be sure, the new year looks much like the old. Pandemic still raging, all activities still online, etc etc.
Still, the days are getting longer again, and we have a few new lab members to add to the People page. Nationwide vaccination campaigns are underway, and who knows? Maybe we’ll all be vaccinated in time for observing in Chile in 2021A. (Or 2021B. Or… you know what? Let’s not jinx it.)
One of the last shows I went to last year was a triple feature: The Exbats, Tacocat, and AJJ. (AJJ played a rather grim song called Normalization Blues that seems oddly prescient considering it was only released in January of that year.)
However, in a more upbeat spirit, your song of the day / week / moment is “New World” by Tacocat.
Wow, it’s December already! As These Unprecedented Times continue, our 2020B telescope observation plans are sadly canceled. Still, how ever you celebrate the end of year holiday season, whether it’s winter (like us norteamericanos) or summer (like our colleagues in Chile), whether you observe religious traditions or merely a secular prayer to the S-I-R model this year, we wish you all the best.
Lab tradition dictates the hanging of stockings by the P.I.’s office, though after months of remote work I’ve heard doubts that he is real.
Let there be no doubt: he is real, and he knows if you’ve been bad or good.
As this is the only observational data in hand from MagAO-Xmas 2020B, I would like to share some observations of MagAO-Xmas 2019B. Last year, Jhen and Lauren placed the prints on Jared’s office door as ornaments for his return.
But until now these observations have been circulated internally as (Long, Lumbres, Schatz, in prep.). Finally, we can share them with a wider audience!
We present for your enjoyment some MagAO-Xmas holiday snaps from 2019B.
It’s been a strange and stressful year, but maybe the true meaning of MagAO-Xmas is not telescope time or conference presentations. Maybe MagAO-Xmas is really about the friends we share it with*!
*Over Zoom or whatever. We’re responsible that way.
Your song of the day
What could be more appropriate than a band called The Decemberists singing something called “Calamity Song”?