Saturday, January 24, 2015

Micro-round-up on news about insects as food (entomophagy)

One of my favorite posts at Mental Masala looks at the history and psychology of "insects as food" in European and closely-related cultures and U.S., Canada, and Australia. (A quick summary:  These cultures have a long history of associating insects with disease and filth, which makes them unappetizing.  In addition, not many large insects that are good for eating are endemic to the temperate climates.)

Though Americans in general aren't too excited about eating insects (entomophagy), people who write and talk about food -- journalists, bloggers, radio show producers -- are certainly excited by the idea and so quite a bit of writing about insects as foods appears across the media landscape.  Generally, the pieces are enthusiastic and forward looking, and I have spotted three basic themes:  1) an entrepreneur has a new insect-containing product (like protein bars made containing cricket flour), 2) insects can feed the world (sustainable, easy to raise, nutritious, etc.), 3)  attempts to make insects more palatable to Western eaters. (Note that I wrote one piece about the attraction of insects to editors and writers in 2012.)

I have been haphazardly keeping a collection of articles for many months now, and thought a round up and commentary would be worthwhile (if for no other purpose than to help me organize them).

"Lovely Grub: Are Insects the Future of Food?" by Emily Anthes is one of the best overviews of recent developments and future prospects for insects as food that I have seen. She covers the areas of sustainability and eater psychology, of course, but then takes the article into the often ignored areas of food safety and regulatory approval.  mosaic (10/14/14)

New Products that Contain Insects (and Related Initiatives)
A short profile of two companies that are using crickets in their products: Bitty Foods and Exo.  Crickets have an relatively high level of protein, about 13 grams of protein per 100 grams of crickets vs. 25 grams of protein per 100 grams of chicken or beef, but can be farmed on less land with lower greenhouse gas emissions.  Bitty sells baking blends that contain cricket meal, as well as cookies that use the insect-fortified flour.  Exo uses cricket flour as way to stand out in the crowded energy bar field.  A bar has about 300 calories and contains the equivalent of 40 crickets.  The Salt at NPR (8/15/14)

The airline JetBlue and the food company incubator AccelFoods formed a partnership to offer some edgy snacks on certain flights, including cricket protein bars, at Quartz (10/9/14)

Designers from Sweden's Belatchew Arkitekter propose insect farms called "Buzz Buildings" for major intersections to provide sustainable protein production. CITYLAB at The Atlantic.  (6/13/14)

Massachusetts' contribution to the United States of Sustainable Food is an insects as food company.  Six Foods is producing "Chirps," chips that include cricket flour for a protein and sustainability boost. The company is also connected to the cricket farm in Ohio that is the subject of the New Yorker’s “Big Cricket” (see below).  Grist.   (9/8/14)

The Insect Economy
Big Cricket Farms, a new venture in the Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio is trying to figure out how to raise crickets on a large scale so they can used in foods for people.  The 'mini-livestock' doesn't need much:  80-90 F ambient temperature, about 90% relative humidity, water, and a diet based on grain and vegetables.  At the time of the article, Big Cricket Farms was raising almost six million crickets, with a potential population of twenty-million (which would provide about six tons of protein powder each month).  The New Yorker (9/16/14)

After taking a bite, contributor Elettra Wiedemann discovered that some of the delicious cookies she sampled at a food conference contained crickets (from Bitty Foods). Her curiosity takes over and she digs into the subject.  One of her resources is Kevin Bachhuber of Big Cricket Farms. Bachhuber says that aversion to insects as food is part of the "depersonalization of our food supply," and most of the meat we buy doesn't look at all like an animal. [ed. note: This is true to some extent, but countered by the prevalence of cricket flour as a leading ingredient.  Another counter might be the popularity of ribs and chicken wings, which have plenty of bone and clearly comes from an animal.]  Munchies at Vice (8/14/14)

Demand for insects for human consumption in Thailand has created a boom for the insect farmers.  Over 20,000 farms are registered with the government, primarily small family farms, with combined revenues in the multimillion-dollar range.  Some farmers are finding crickets less risky than rice farming: rice provides just one harvest a year while crickets provide six, and cricket farming is less reliant on the weather. Insect farmers share with and learn from a local  cooperative and experts from Khon Kaen University.  Exports to Europe and North America are starting to grow, mostly for cricket powder, though the best sellers are novelty items.  AP at Huffington Post (8/25/14)

Raising Insects to be Animal Feed
Ed. note:  This sector of the insect innovation industry has a lot of sustainability potential. Fish farming isn’t going away, so imagine if instead of draining the oceans of forage fish so they can be ground into fish meal for aquaculture, we could supply fish farms with some sort of insect-based food, with the insects raised in a sustainable way. (One of my pieces at Ethicurean has more details about forage fish and aquaculture.)

EnviroFlight is trying to raise black soldier fly as a sustainable source of animal feed (especially for aquaculture).  The fly larvae increase in weight by a factor of 5,000 in a few weeks, and they can be fed "pre-consumer" waste, e.g., cast-offs from food manufacturing facilities like chicken-nugget breading or spent brewing grains.   I first discovered this on KQED's Quest TV program, but unfortunately I haven't found the video on-line, only a short write-up of the piece at QUEST. And that's too bad, because the section showing the mating house with Barry White playing to set the mood was amusing. (04/1/14)

The PROteINSECT project is a team of researchers from around the world that is investigating whether fly larvae could be a suitable component of pig, poultry and fish feed. Larvae are high in protein and can be grown on waste products like food scraps or animal manure. The project is looking at methods of raising insects, their nutritional characteristics, and safety (e.g., heavy-metal residues, veterinary medicine residue, allergenicity).    Munchies at Vice. (9/15/14)

Raising black soldier fly larvae on fruit and vegetable scraps as a source of animal feed. The Regina Leader-Post (12/3/14)

Behavior Modification
SexyFood makes eating weird edible bugs, like rhino beetles and black scorpions, a desirable luxury "experience."  Co.Exist (11/3/14)

Insects as the Food of the Future
Stephen Colbert on a United Nations report about insects as food (warning: autoplay on some browsers) (5/15/13)

Grist on the same U.N. report (5/15/13)

Random link from the archive: Recipe: Ersatz South Indian rice with yogurt

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A War Bread in a Modern Cookbook: Oat Bread

WW1 poster: Little Americans. Do your bit.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been baking a "war bread" for quite a while.  My long-time favorite one-day bread is the oat bread in Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The original recipe is simple, delicious and nutritious, being a single-day bread that is enriched with rolled oats and oat bran.  By weight, the dry ingredients are 53% white flour, 20% whole wheat flour, 26% rolled oats and oat bran, a composition that would probably be considered "war bread." 

Polishing the Recipe with a Poolish
For a while, I used the recipe in Madison's book as written, and although it usually resulted in a decent loaf, it could be undesirably crumbly and dense (characteristics not uncommon for simple breads containing whole grains).  To reduce the brick factor, I added a trick from Emily Buehler's Bread Science book:  beginning with a "preferment," a mixture of flour, water and yeast called a poolish (its relatives include the sponge and the biga).  This mixture rests at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours, building flavor and structure.

As the poolish rests, good things happen:  the flour starts to hydrate, flavor-producing fermentation begins, gluten starts to develop (even as the poolish sits still), enzymes called proteases start breaking down the proteins in the flour, and the acidity level increases (this makes mixing easier). More details on these effects are in the Preferments chapter in Bread Science.  

Ad for Lincoln Oat.Buehler says that a basic dough recipe that doesn't have a pre-ferment can be modified to start with a poolish using the following formula:  combine one-third of the recipe's flour, an equal weight of water (not volume), and a small amount of yeast (~1/8 t.) in a bowl and mix thoroughly (I usually use the mixing bowl from my KitchenAid stand mixer to reduce the number of dirty dishes by one).  It will be quite wet, a little thicker than pancake batter.  Cover the bowl and set aside for 8-24 hours. After this fermentation, the poolish will be bubbly and fragrant. Then, when mixing the dough, reduce the water and flour to account for the amount in the poolish and also use 2/3 the amount of yeast.  For example, the original oat bread recipe had 125 g whole wheat flour, 325 g white flour and 365 g water, so the poolish should consist of 42 g whole wheat flour (1/3 * 125), 108 g white flour (1/3 * 325), and 150 g water (42 + 108).  During the final mix, you add 83 g whole wheat flour (= 125 - 42), 217 g white flour (= 325 - 108) and 215 g water (= 365 - 150). 

Recipe:  Oat Bread
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison, with help from Bread Science by Emily Buehler.


110 g Whole-wheat flour
90 g bread or all-purpose white flour
200 g room temperature water
1/8 t. yeast

Poolish (recipe above)
300 g warm water
2 1/4 t yeast
60 g honey
33 g soft butter or oil
2 t salt
60 g Whole-wheat flour
130 g rolled oats
80 g oat or wheat bran
340 g bread or all-purpose white flour (plus a little more if needed)
Optional:  about 100 g pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds

Makes two standard loaves

Make the poolish:  combine the ingredients in the mixing bowl you will use for the dough  (e.g., a KitchenAid bowl) and mix with a spoon until thoroughly combined.  Cover and let sit for 12-24 hours.

Make the dough:  If you are using instant yeast (the kind that doesn't need to be dissolved in liquid), you will add it with the first batch of dry ingredients.  If you are using regular active dry yeast, you will mix it into the wet ingredients at the beginning.

To the fermented poolish, add the water, honey, butter or oil, and salt (and non-instant yeast).  Stir to combine.

Add the whole-wheat flour, rolled oats, and bran (and instant yeast).  Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until thoroughly combined.

Add the white flour, and knead for 4 to 5 minutes (using medium setting on a stand mixer).  The dough should be a little sticky, but hold together as a mass.  Add a little more flour if it is really sticking to the walls of the bowl. If adding pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, add them to the dough and knead for until combined.

Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover.  Let rise for about 1 hour or until doubled.

Grease two standard loaf pans (5" x 9").

Punch down the dough and shape into two loaves.  Place them in the prepared loaf pans.  Cover and let rise for 45-60 minutes.  Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven.  During the last 30 minutes (45 minutes if using a pizza stone or bricks), preheat the oven to 375 F.

Make 2-3 cross-slashes or one longitudinal slash on the loaf just before baking.

Place the loaf pan on the rack.  If using a pizza stone or brick, place the loaf pan directly on the stone.  Bake for about 45 minutes, rotating the pans half-way through.

Image Credits:  Little Americans poster from the U.S. National Archives in the Flickr Commons, ca. 1918, public domain;  Lincoln Oat advertisement from "Garden flower and field seeds 1902" viaInternet Archive Book Images in the Flickr Commons, public domain.

Random link from the archive:  Coffee Storage:  Which Method is Best?

Sunday, November 02, 2014

World War 1 Cookbooks that Supported Efforts on the Homefront

WW1 poster: Defeat the Kaiser and His U-Boats
U.S. War Administration poster
One of the items on the special whale meat luncheon from 1918 was "Delmonico War Bread." It was not defined in the newspaper article because most readers in 1918 were quite familiar with the concept of "war bread."  The massive destruction in lands of the United States' allies — the Triple Entente of France, Russia and the United Kingdom — created major agricultural shortfalls, and so the U.S. made it a national priority to export more grain, which meant eating less wheat at home.

While working on the whale meat post I happened upon a few cookbooks from the era that show food and cooking attitudes of the time.  Two of the books were produced by commercial enterprises (coincidentally helping the war effort and possibly improving their bottom line) and a third was written by a local service organization. Each book lays out the goals of the war effort and presents recipes that can fulfill those goals. The category of "war bread" receives a lot of attention, as home bread baking was much more popular in those days.  

Cover of Forty-Four Ways to Win the War: Marshall Field & CompanyA Department Store Shows 44 Ways (and Products that Can Help)
Chicago's legendary (but now gone) Marshall Field and Company produced Forty-Four Ways to Win the War (full text at the Hathi Trust) to help the domestic war effort.  They also had an office on the third floor of the main store in Chicago that was called "Our War Service Bureau."  In this office, staff would help those who wished to offer civilian service to their country, basically connecting enthusiastic people with organizations that needed help (I wonder if they also had a similar office during World War 2?).

Each page of the book is headed by recommendation and some relevant facts, The middle of the page has one or more recipes, and bottom of the page has a product available at Marshall Field that can help, like a bread mixer, toaster, or waffle maker ("For those Sunday morning waffles, deliciously crisp and golden, made from truly patriotic barley flour").  Here are few that I liked or thought relevant to today's situation (these are direct quotes, with quotation marks omitted for clarity):
  • Have one wheatless meal each day — Our normal export of 88,000,000 bushels of wheat must be increased to 220,000,000 bushels. It can only be done in one way: economizing and substituting.
  • Mix other grains with wheat in bread — we have play of corn, but only Italy has corn mills and corn meal can't be shipped as well as wheat
  • Use less fried foods and save fats — Fats have become very scarce. The importation of oils from Africa, South America and Asia has almost entirely ceased
  • Local Foods Avoid Transportation — We must export more
  • Study New Dishes from Plentiful Foods — If we will save one ounce of meat per person per day we can send our Allies and our own Army what they need 
  • Use Tact in Suggesting Table Changes — Daily service in 20,000,000 kitchens, multiplied by 100,000,000 individuals will save that total quantity necessary
  • Preach the 'Gospel of the Clean Plate' — Patriotism and food! Winning a world war by eating corn and chicken instead of wheat and beef!
I'm certainly not the only one to see the relevance of WW1 posters in today's food system.  Two recent posts with the same idea are one from Lloyd Alter at Treehugger (especially posters 3, 21 and 24) and another from the Grist staff at Grist.

Detail from Forty-Four Ways to Win the War
Detail from Forty-Four Ways to Win the War
Many pages in the book call out cookware that would be useful in the recipes in the book — like the image to the right — and, of course, mention that it can be found at Marshall Field  Being someone who believes in "scale power" in the kitchen, I'm particularly taken by the connection between waste reduction and weighing:  "Never have we so much needed weights and measures in the kitchen as in these thrifty war days, when an ounce of waste equals a pound of sacrifice..."

Civilians with War Breads and Meat Replacements
The "Win the War" Cook Book was a collaborative effort by a civilian group, the St. Louis county unit, Woman's Committee, of the Council of National Defense (1918, full text at Hathi Trust).  It has some interesting ideas and notes.

Detail from the "Win the War" Cook Book, St. Louis County Council of National Defense
Detail from the "Win the War" Cook Book
The book has a few war breads:  
  • A barley bread with 33% substitution (by volume):  2 1/3 cups white flour and 1 1/6 cups barley flour
  • A buckwheat bread with 62.5% substitution: 1 1/2 cups white and 2 1/2 cups buckwheat flour.  On a whim, I tried this and was not happy with the results.  It was an exceptionally wet dough — almost like a cake batter — and turned out to be quite dense and with an unpleasant bitterness
  • A corn meal yeast bread with 22% substitution:  2 1/2 cups white flour and 2/3 cup corn meal
  • An oatmeal bread with somewhat more than 26%:  7 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup corn meal, and "3 cups hot oatmeal mush" 
Many of the bread recipes are written for home bakers with solid grasp of bread baking technique because they don't have wheat flour in the ingredient list, but instead specify "whole wheat flour to make a soft dough," "enough flour to make a sponge," "flour to make dough."  In other words, if you are using this recipe, you should know what a proper bread dough looks like.  Although that might be useful advice for your peace-time bread that contains solely white flour, a dough made with that contains steamed squash might behave quite differently, so the instruction might not be sufficient.  

After the baked goods section, the book focuses on reducing meat consumption (note that meat = beef, mutton and pork), with a progression through legumes, nuts, dairy, fish and fish, finally ending up with recipes that stretch meat or use scraps.The recipe collection includes some items that seem quite more modern than 1918 — more like 1968 — such as soy bean croquettes (soy beans, cooked rice, onions, pickle, egg), soy bean souffle (soy beans, milk, egg yolks, stiff egg whites), peanut loaf (bean pulp, tomato, eggs, peanuts, bread crumbs), and mock chickens (mashed beans alternated with a "stuffing of bread crumbs, melted fat, sage and seasoning"), and a "horticultural loaf" (beans with pimentos, bread crumbs, tomato puree, egg yolks, stiffly beaten egg whites, baked in a bread tin).

A Baking Powder Company Offers Recipes
In How to Use Corn Meal, Oat Meal, Barley, Buckwheat, Potatoes, Rice, etc., and Save Wheat Flour:  Best War Time Recipes (full text at the Hathi Trust), the Royal Baking Powder Company wanted to showcase recipes for quick breads that have reduced levels of white flour, and of course, baking powder as the leavening agent.  There are only a few recipes called "bread," with the most normal-looking recipes using white flour to make up only 1/4 or 1/3 of the dry ingredients.  For example, the Oatmeal Bread has 1 cup white flour, 1 1/2 cups corn meal, and 1 1/2 cups cooked rolled oats as the main dry ingredients.  There are a few breads that don't look very promising to me, like a Prune Bread with 2 1/2 cups wheat, rye or barley flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 cup milk, 1 cup prunes (rehydrated and chopped fine), 1 tablespoon shortening, 1 teaspoon salt, and 4 teaspoons baking powder (Royal brand, of course).  I'm guessing that it's very dense.

A War Bread in a Modern Cookbook
It turns out that one of my favorite one-day breads from a modern cookbook could be called a war bread, as it has a substitution rate of more than 25% (by weight) through use of rolled oats, oat bran, and whole wheat flour (the Oat Bread in Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone.  In a future post, I'll provide my current recipe, which has some improvements over the original.

WW1 Education through Audio
If you want an in-depth explanation of what was happening in the royal palaces, in parliaments, and on the battlefield and during World War 1, I highly recommend Dan Carlin's Hardcore History series "Blueprint for Armageddon."  It's detailed, delivered with enthusiasm, and very informative.  Parts I through IV have been released and reach up to late 1916 (the Battle of the Somme), with a running time of 3 - 4 hours per episode.  BBC Radio Ulster/Foyle has a collection of short programs (~6 minutes each) about the home front in the UK and Ireland that are available from iTunes and other podcast services. 

Image credits
First:  "Defeat the Kaiser..." poster, United States Food Administration, ca. 1914-1918, public domain.  Downloaded from the University of North Texas Digital Library.  Second:  cover of Forty-Four Ways to Win the War, Marshall Field & Co., ca. 1918, public domain, downloaded from Hathi Trust.  Third:  detail from bottom of page 9 of Forty-Four Ways to Win the War.  Fourth:  page 6 from "Win the War" Cook Book, St. Louis county unit, Woman's Committee, Council of National Defense, Missouri division, 1918, public domain, downloaded from Hathi Trust.

Random link from the archive:   Introducing the depluminator

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A “Conservation Luncheon” in 1918 featured whale meat

If you follow the restaurant scene and food events in your area, you will frequently see menus or special dinners concentrating on sustainable seafood, like local salmon, sardines, "trash fish", or the new harvest of dungeness crab.  Or, if you read recent Clover-Stornetta milk cartons, you'll see that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Cooking for Solutions event is happening this weekend, and one of the main themes will be how our dining choices can help or harm ocean life.

You won't see a menu like the one that appeared in February 1918, during World War One.  If you were part of the right crowd in New York City that year, you might have gotten an invitation to a "conservation luncheon" at the American Museum of Natural History, with cooking by the head chef of the legendary Delmonico’s Restaurant.  The featured ingredient:  whale meat.  Yes, whale meat, a food that is a “‘delicious a morsel’ as the most aesthetic or sophisticated palate could possibly yearn for,” according to Federal Food Administrator Arthur William, as reported in an article in the February 9, 1918 New York Times. (The full text of the article is included after the break.)

The luncheon menu featured whale meat prepared using several different methods, as well as the dishes of the day:
Hors d'Oeuvre -- Whale.
Whale pot au feu.
Celery. Olives. Radishes.
Corn pone. Nut butter. Delmonico war bread.
Boiled skate. Mustard sauce.
Parsley potatoes.
Planked whale steak, a la Vancouver.
Border of sanip. Onion sauce.
Vegetable salad.
Ice cream. Bisque of black bread,
a la Delmonico.
Ginger bread with raw sugar.  Coffee.

The guests were impressed, saying that it tasted like venison or beef pot roast.

(I’m a little intrigued by the bisque of black bread, a la Delmonico, which might be a sweet item since it is listed next to ice cream, possibly some kind of bread pudding?  Perhaps there is a Delmonico’s cookbook with the recipe somewhere...)

The 1918 Context for “Conservation”
It’s important to note that the word “conservation” doesn’t have the same meaning as it would today – the organizers weren’t so interested in conserving the wild population of whales, but rather in reducing the quantity of food needed in wartime America so that exports to Europe could be maximized.  To illustrate this point, the same page contained four short articles about the food saving:
  1. A member of the U.S. Food Administration “asks the rich to set an example in saving” because food production had dropped by 45-50% in England and by 60% in France.
  2. Senator Smoot (R-UT) suggested that all Americans observe a “fast day” during which two meals are skipped. Smoot said, “We have in our own country a food administration asking our people to observe meatless days, wheatless days, porkless days, and to stop the waste of all kinds of food…If every American citizen would abstain from eating two meals upon that fast day the health of one hundred million Americans would be benefited and, further, we would have more of the necessaries of life to send to the people of Europe, now compelled to live on the shortest of rations.”
  3. The Food Administration will be sending experts on tours to teach bakers and grain millers about “Victory Bread,” a family of loaves that use less wheat than a standard loaf via substitution of oats and other grains.  (Note the presence of "Delmonico war bread" in the menu above. has a recipe for War Bread that might fit into this category since it has plenty of oats.)
  4. Food Administrator (and future president) Herbert Hoover decrees that American soldiers en route by ship to the battlefields in France will need to comply with regulations that specify wheatless, meatless and porkless days.
The Food Administration was a government agency in charge of the national effort to save food and produced many booklets and posters, like the poster above, a poster calling on Americans to “Be patriotic – sign your country’s pledge to save food” and a list of six short rules for eating that are quite relevant to today’s food discussions (more on this poster at Vox and in links provided in the Twitterverse).

The Praises of Whale Meat
In the next day's edition, the Times published a rather skeptical review of the whale meat luncheon (full text is below the break). Sure, they write, these worldly and adventurous diners will rave about whale meat at a special luncheon prepared by an expert chef, but what about the average home cook (who they call Bridget -- perhaps this name had a meaning to readers)? And anyway, this wasn't anything really new: "There was the Ichthyaphagus Club, a generation ago, formed to promote the eating of inedible fishes. The Bureau of Fisheries began to boom whale last Summer, and it seems to be a fact that whale meat has been sold in the fish markets of Seattle and Portland." They conclude, "A little whale will probably go a long way until its merits are appreciated."

Another Meaning of "Conservation"
One major omission from both the article and the editorial was any consideration that popularizing whale meat might decimate their populations.  By the year 1918, whaling ships were mechanized, with powerful engines that enabled hunting of the fastest whales and extra-deadly explosive-tipped harpoons. With the rapid pace of technological development that was occurring between the wars -- bigger ships, more powerful engines, on-board refrigeration, to name a few -- whales wouldn't have had a chance if there was major market demand.  By 1931, the whalers were so numerous and effective that in that year alone, "the modern industry killed more than 10 percent as many whales as the American industry had destroyed in the entire nineteenth century. Well over 1,000,000 whales were captured between 1904 and 1978, compared with something over 350,000 during the nineteenth century." (quote from In Pursuit of Leviathan: Technology, Institutions, Productivity, and Profits in American Whaling, 1816-1906, chapter 15. Full text available from the National Bureau of Economic Research)

I haven't investigated how much additional effort the Food Administration put into their whale project, but whatever they tried it didn't make whale meat a mass-market food, as this quip from the July 22, 1918 "Pen Points" column in the Los Angeles Times hints:

What finally became of that scheme for everybody to eat whale meat?

I first read about the whale luncheon in Eric Jay Dolin’s Leviathan: The History of Whaling In America, a fascinating book about an industry that was critical to the United States becoming an industrial power. The chapters about the golden age of whaling are especially compelling.

Image credit:  United States Food Administration poster, 1918, public domain.  Downloaded from the University of North Texas Digital Library.

Random link from the archive: Introducing the depluminator

Thursday, July 04, 2013

A Less Successful Use of Arduino in Bread Making

The light-bulb-based dough chamber that I posted about a few months ago was a good design and worked well. However, it requires an input of electricity to provide the heat (i.e., to run the light bulb), while there is already an appliance in my kitchen that offers "free" heat:  my oven.

My old oven (a classic Wedgewood) has a pilot light that keeps the oven chamber at about 55 °C (≈ 130 °F), so I thought that I might be able to turn the oven into a dough chamber that would take advantage of the mostly wasted heat produced by the pilot light. With the air outside the oven being cool and the air inside the oven being hot, perhaps an exchange of air would obtain the right temperature in the oven.

I probably should have done some calculations to see if this was even feasible before I started building it, but that's not what I did. Instead, in a fever of building, I acquired a few new parts – two cheap computer fans from an office superstore and a small relay – and built the air exchange system using an Arduino Uno as the foundation of the system.  (Details about my far-too-late calculations are at the bottom of this post as an appendix.)

The system uses some of the equipment from the original dough chamber device – an Arduino Uno, a type-K thermocouple (a.k.a., TC), the thermocouple conditioning board – and adds three additional components – two computer fans and small surface-mount relay to switch the fans on and off (details about where I got the parts can be found in my first and second posts on kitchen uses of Arduino).  The fans are low-cost Antec Tricool models from an office superstore and the relay is a Omron G6K-2P-Y (5 V model). Also in the system – which is shown in the next two figures – is a terminal block, a small prototyping board, some screws, some wires, and a piece of foam core that holds the fans and covers the oven opening. The fan on the left pulls air out of the oven, and the fan on the right blows air into the oven.

Photograph of Arduino based air exchange system
Annotated photo of the air exchange system (TC = thermocouple)
Photo of the air exchange system in place on my oven.

The operation is fairly simple.  The thermocouple measures the temperature inside of the oven. The Arduino checks that temperature against the target temperature.  If the oven temperature is above the target, the Arduino provides power to the relay, which then turns on the two fans, and one blows warm air out of the oven, and the other blows cool air into the oven.

Alas, when the fans are running at full tilt (powered by about 5 V), my system can't get the oven temperature anywhere close to my target of 21 °C (≈ 70 °F).  The next figure shows this, with the blue line showing the temperature in the oven (39 °C ≈ 103 °F) and the orange line showing the target temperature (21 °C ≈ 70 °F). Note that I am powering the fans with only 5 V, whereas they are designed to operate at up to 12 V, so with much more air flow the results could be better (a 12 V test is on my to-do list).
Temperature evolution with fans running continuously (blue), and target (orange).

Although the system couldn't bring the temperature down to 21.1 °C (70 °F), it is able to control to a set point if that set point is appropriate for the oven (not above the steady-state temperature and not too low).  As a proof of concept, I picked a set point of 46.1 °C (115 °F) and let the system run for a while.  The figure below shows an initial rise in measured temperature after I installed the foam core piece into the front of the oven (with the fans disconnected), followed by a rapid temperature drop when the two fans were plugged into the system. Over the course of just a few minutes, the temperature drops from over 55 °C to below the set point of 46.1 °C, and then the temperature oscillates around the set point as the Arduino switches the relay on and off. 

Temperature evolution (blue) when target (orange) is 46.1 °C (115 °F).

I haven't explored the lower bound for this system in my oven, but doubt that it is much below 46 °C (115 °F), and therefore the air exchange system won't be useful for bread making.  But what other kitchen processes could use a chamber of this temperature?  Yogurt making might be one possibility.  Chocolate tempering might be a possibility if I can get more air flowing through the system. Bittersweet chocolate has a tempering temperature of about 32 °C (≈ 90 °F) and milk chocolate has a tempering temperature of about 30 °C (≈ 86 °F), so conceivably I could put a container of melted chocolate into an already-temperature controlled oven, and wait until everything reached the set point, then use the tempered chocolate for dipping or bar-making or whatever.
Appendix - Calculations of Steady State Temperature
Estimating the steady-state temperature in a "control volume" that has one inlet flow, one outlet flow, and a constant heat source is a fairly straightforward thermodynamic calculation using conservation of energy: energy flow out minus energy flow in equals the heat source (or sink). Making a few simplifying assumptions (the air is an incompressible ideal gas, flow in equals flow out, guessing the flow rate of the fan, etc.), I calculated the steady-state temperature that for a variety of pilot light powers and air flow rates. The figures below show the results, with Fahrenheit on the left, Celsius on the right. The x-axis is the power supplied by the pilot light minus the losses from the oven walls (i.e., the net energy flux into the system). The y-axis is the calculated steady-state temperature. Not surprisingly, more flow means a lower steady state temperature, as does a smaller pilot light, but it would take a small pilot or large heat losses, and large air flow to bring the temperature to my target of 21.1 °C (70 °F). Perhaps this is possible with 12 V driving the fans or some of the pilot light's energy diverted out of the oven, but probably not worth the extra work, given that the light bulb dough chamber system works so well.


Random link from the archive: Bitter Melon Greens

Friday, May 24, 2013

Okara sighting at Wa Dining OKAN restaurant in San Diego

As a follow-up to my piece on okara -- which is a by-product of tofu -- I'm happy to report that I have finally seen okara "in the wild" and gave it a try.

When I visit San Diego for work, I often stay in the Kearny Mesa area near the intersection of CA-163 and I-805, which is known for its concentration of Asian restaurants (and apparently also its car dealerships). One night, a colleague and I found Wa Dining OKAN in the back corner of a mini-mall at 3860 Convoy Road and decided to give it a try. It's a tiny place that specializes in Japanese cuisine, offering a selection of daily "tapas" (their word, not mine) set out on the dining bar in the middle of the room, along with daily specials and non-rotating menu items.

The night we visited, there was an intriguing sign next to a tapa near me: "Mixed Bean Curd Less" (and also in Japanese, as the photo below shows). I guessed that they meant to write "Lees" instead of "Less," and since the leftovers of a process are often called "lees", I deduced that the dish must be based on okara. A query to the waitstaff confirmed that deduction, and so I ordered a bowl.

Photo of a sign for okara dish at Wa Dining Okan in San Diego

It was a cold dish of okara with various vegetables (hijiki, fresh edamame, carrots, etc.) and seasoning (soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil). If you think tofu as fairly flavorless, well, tofu has nothing on okara, which I found to completely disappear into the background. While tofu has a slight sour flavor and sometimes a silky texture, the okara was somewhat "dusty" and anonymous. Overall, the dish wasn't bad, and I might order it again simply because it is the rarely sighted okara.

Photo of an okara dish at Wa Dining Okan in San Diego

Random link from the archive: Let Cookies Be Cookies

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Book Review: "The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America," by Stefanie Syman

People have been debating yoga’s purpose, its scope, and how to practice it for centuries. So not surprisingly, the history of yoga in America is also convoluted and complicated. Stefanie Syman, in "The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), makes a great effort to explain yoga's place in America by focusing on some of the principal practitioners. 

The title of the book refers to suksma-sarira (some of the letters in the Sanskrit words in this post should have accents, slashes and other marks that go with Sanskrit transliterations, but I can’t seem to find how to do them in HTML).  In Hatha Yoga, the “subtle body” is a network of invisible, internal channels (called nadis) and vortices (called chakras). By manipulating the physical body, you manipulate the subtle body.  The idea of the subtle body is somewhat esoteric, so for the sake of argument, let's use the term at a placeholder for parts of yoga that influence the invisible and/or the unconscious. And I must admit that this esoteric philosophy is the kind of thing in the book that makes my head spin a little bit.

With a few exceptions, each chapter focuses on one or two people, using their story to provide a framework to which other elements and supporting characters can be attached as needed.  The writing style is newspaper-like, with many short paragraphs, perhaps a result of Syman's long experience as a journalist writing for many publications, including Yoga Journal.

Two Pillars of American Letters Look to India 
Syman starts the story with a pillar of American Letters, Ralph Waldo Emerson, a literary giant whose writings are studied by most high school students in America. Emerson’s interest in Hinduism began with the Bhagavad Gita as early as 1845 (when his notebooks made mention of the Hindu epic) and culminated in his poem Brahma, which was published in the first issue of The Atlantic in 1857 (you can find the full text at Wikipedia). Most readers at the time, Syman writes, did not get the Eastern references in the poem.

The next character in the book was a colleague of Emerson, another pillar of American Letters:  Henry David Thoreau. It was Emerson who was exposed Thoreau to Indian literature and sacred texts, but Thoreau took the knowledge a few steps further.  Syman sees Thoreau as an authentic Yogi, because he "read these Indian books – and particularly a handful of Hindu ones – as instruction manuals," lived an ascetic life at Walden Pond, and even had a meditation practice.  Thoreau  described his practice in Walden: "Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness " (via Project Gutenberg)

Theo Bernard, the "White Lama"
Theos Bernard was the half nephew of the famous American yogi Pierre Bernard (who receives an entire chapter in the book) and found fame as an explorer. On numerous occasions, Bernard traveled in India and Tibet seeking yogis who could give him first-hand training in the fundamentals, and later wrote books about his travels. The exotic nature of his writing, and other factors brought him attention from the popular press in the late 1930s, including a few covers of Family Circle magazine (here’s one cover in an Ebay listing). Bernard earned a Ph.D. from Columbia in 1943 with a dissertation was called "Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience," a document that contained some of the first published photos of an American in yoga postures (several years later, his dissertation was adapted into a book with the same title, and it might be available in a university library or from a used book web service like Abebooks).

Kukkutasana, New York Herald, March 27, 1898
In the 1940s and 1950s, Bernard operated studios in several places, gave lectures, and wrote more books about yoga. His intensity and devotion to yoga might have been his downfall, however, as he married a rich woman in part for her money, but then spent so much time on his practice and teachings that his marriage fell apart, leaving him financially destroyed and wrecking his studios. (Pierre Bernard's downfall was also partially related to his overly intense devotion to his practice and search for enlightenment.)

Indra Devi Wows Hollywood 
In January 1947, Indra Devi opened the first serious Hatha Yoga studio in the Los Angeles area, at 8806 Sunset Blvd. Born Eugenie Peterson in Latvia in 1899, Devi used persistence and a connection with a local leader to secure a position with Krishnamacharya in India (Krishnamacharya also taught T.K.V. Desikachar, B.K.S. Iyengar, and K. Pattabhi Jois). At her studio and in other settings, Devi taught movie stars like Gloria Swanson ("Sunset Boulevard"), Greta Garbo, and Jennifer Jones. While discussing yoga’s popularity in Hollywood, Syman throws in some fun trivia, like that Gary Cooper liked the shoulder stand (always striving to keep his legs pointed to “High Noon,” I suppose) and that Marilyn Monroe made a short movie about working out, and her routine included some yoga-like postures, such as halasana (A few photos of Monroe in yoga-like postures can be found on this tumblr page by Yogabeautiful).

As a student of Krishnamacharya in India, it’s certain that Devi was exposed to the deeper elements of yogic philosophy, but her first book published in the U.S. was all about the health benefits of yoga. It is likely that she knew what Americans in the conservative and materialistic 1950s wanted, and her later works would address philosophy along with physical work.

Other Characters
The sixties was a rich decade for yogic philosophy and practice. Leading thinkers from the counterculture, including Timothy Leary, Alan Watts, and Richard Alpert (later Ram Dass) were engaged in deep discussions and a wide range of experimentation that included meditation, physical asana practice and psychedelic drugs. The leaders of the movement, Syman writes, “stole yoga from the health seekers and weight-conscious and they put it back in the temple, where they believed it belonged.”

In other chapters, Syman writes about quite a few other prominent figures, including Swami Vivekananda (see this post on my blog for a summary of his contributions), Sarah Chapman Bull and Sarah Jane Farmer, Pierre Bernard (originally Perry Baker), the Vedanta society Hollywood (whose members included Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood), and two recent luminaries, Bikram Choudhury and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. B.K.S. Iyengar, however, receives little attention, despite his major role in making yoga accessible to all through inventive use of props and through his many teaching and demonstration tours of the United States.
"Pachimasana," New York Herald, March 27, 1898
What is Yoga?
The question “What is yoga?” permeates the book, resulting in both a fascinating debate and a morass of confusing terminology. I was often baffled by the numerous prefixes – Raja, Tantrik, Hatha, etc. – and specialized terms, and so an appendix or glossary with summaries would have been helpful when I got lost.  A tablet version or eBook would be greatly enhanced by instant access to definitions of the yogic paths, as well as definitions for unfamiliar (or quickly forgotten) terms.

If you see yoga strictly as a series of postures, strictly as exercises that improve your posture or stop your aching back or calm your mind, The Subtle Body is a excellent introductory survey of the broad expanse of yogic philosophy and practice as it has been practiced in America. Through the lives of the characters, you’ll get a sense of how controlled breathing, chanting, meditation, postures, mantras, and other yogic elements fit – or don’t fit, depending on the practitioner – into a path to enlightenment or a better life.

Yoga and America
To conclude, let's go back to the introduction of Syman's book:
In a country as vast and diverse as ours, yoga has had this going for it: it's not a unified system, nor even a tree with many branches. It might be three or five trees of different species, each with many branches. Or it's a city, it's New York or Bombay, where the contrasts between neighborhoods are sharp, where you can get lost in its vastness, and which changes anyone who stays but not in the same way or for the same reasons.
Yoga is so massive and complicated, so contradictory and baroque, that American society has been able to assimilate any number of versions of it, more or less simultaneously.

The process hasn't been smooth or continuous. It has got caught up around a number of issues, often the same ones, over and over, as several generations of Americans have tried to make sense of yoga and put it to use in their lives.

Image Credits: Book cover downloaded from the publisher, drawings of yoga asanas from New York Herald, March 27, 1898 (public domain).

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