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As a desperate strategy to fight insomnia, Th’ Gaussling often finds himself watching C-Span at 1 AM.  Congressional testimony or a televised speech at the International Museum Docent Convention by the Acting Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of the Stratosphere is often enough to initiate somnolence.

But early this morning was different. A panel of FDA administrators were before a House Committee on Commerce Chaired by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan. At issue was H.R. 4167, the National Uniformity for Food Act. Apparently, the proposed law will remove requirements for certain kinds of food labeling, in particular the presence of certain additives may not be part of manditory labeling.

What has come to light is the industrial practice of exposing meats and fish to an atmosphere of dilute carbon monoxide (CO, ca 0.4 %) in order to maintain a red color in the flesh.  Meat naturally turns brown on exposure to air over a short period. Industry has been wrestling with this for a long time, adopting and subsequently abandoning various schemes for maintaining the reassuring red color of meats and certain fish. Carbon monoxide coordinates with iron in haemoglobin to afford a complex that renders the tissues red in color. The FDA defines CO as a fixative in this application, rather than a preservative.

As a result of the use of this scheme, it is possible to keep meats and fish with a saleable red appearance for much longer. This reduces store losses due to the non-marketability of brown meat.

The House Commerce Committee was split down the isle in terms of its concern for this matter. Democratic committee members voiced considerable concern over the subterfuge of artificially reddening meat, allowing unwary consumers to falsely conclude that the meat could be fresher than it really is. Republican members seemed disinterested in the matter and several voiced concern that the FDA should spend it’s time with Salmonella rather than CO. The honorable Republican member from Kentucky tried to suggest that as a “simple country doctor”, he was having trouble understanding the issues and pronouncing the words (Rep. Elmer T. Bonehead, R-KY).

Whereas many of the members soft pedaled their questions, Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, offered no quarter to the FDA group. In particular he focused his attention of Director of Food Additive Safety, Laura Tarantino.  In earlier testimony, Tarantino was a picture of confidence. Her knowledge of the statutes and the Byzantine procedural details as well as her confidence and instant recall was impressive. However, when Dingell’s time for questions came along, he went after her with rapid fire questions, not allowing time for her to qualify her answers or fend off subtext.  “Just answer the question, yes or no”. It was interesting to see.  Dingell was obviously disgusted with the FDA.  The regulations and protocols that govern FDA movement are very complex and apparently even the administrators have faint grasp on much of it.

Director Tarantino stated that no specific rule-making concerning CO fixatives had been completed because it was still under study.  The working assumption was that CO was considered GRAS- Generally Recognized as Safe. These assumptions are often advanced by industry and accepted with scant examination by FDA.

When asked about the general safety of CO in the product, one FDA manager stated that the added CO posed no hazard. I have no reason to doubt this. But the real issue is consumer deception. I think even libertarians would have to agree that without disclosure of food additives, the market cannot rationally award its demand to preferred providers. You can bank on the notion that consumers are particular about meat and freshness. HR 4167 is a step backwards for consumers and we can only hope that good sense prevails in the House.

Of the great Pastry and Confectionary Nations of the World, few of them seem to be located in Asia. 

Thailand is not a member of the Organization of Chocolate Consuming States. Chocolate is scarce here. You can get it in small aliquots at the Hotel Gift shop.

Dim Sum is a good thing.

Travelling is fun and easy as long as you have money. Travelling without money is called “walking”.

Thailand is a Kingdom and the King is highly respected.

When greeting, put your hands together under your chin and say “Sawadee Khrap” if you are male and “Sawadee Kha” if a female. It is appropriate and appeciated.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopists have finally crawled down off their crosses and condescended to the application of their technology to something really useful- the study of wine NMR spectra. If you believe the attached article, a restaurant in NJ has purchased an NMR spectrometer for the purpose of determining the quality of wine.  Evidently, the contents of a cork-sealed bottle can be examined by proton and 13C NMR.

Jeepers.  I wonder if it is hard to get boxed wines to spin inside the magnet? \;-)

One question. Does the rotating frame turn the opposite direction for Australian wines? 

Th’ Gaussling has been a lazy blogger lately.  Life has been intruding into my blogging time. 

This weekend I’m gonna try ginnin’ up a batch of Rhubarbarita’s. Rhubarb is a good natural source of oxalic acid (for the uninitiated, that was a joke).

Being from the Iowegian belt of middle earth, I have a fondness for porkchops and rhubarb pie.  I know- it’ll kill me eventually. 

Rhubarbarita Update.  I prepared ca 500 mL of rhubarb juice for formulation experiments. To a stainless steel 2 quart pot was added ~500 g of rhubarb stalks cut into chunks ~2 cm in length and taken to a reflx in a 2:1 mixture of water:Karo corn syrup with a lid on the pot to help retain volatile flavorants.  The chunks were boiled for 10 minutes whereupon they began to disintegrate.  The stalks were crushed and the resulting slurry was separated via metal strainer. The greenish solids were discarded and the resulting cloudy pink extract was charged into a sealable container and refrigerated. 

The purpose was to obtain a rhubarb syrup suitable for formulation with various liquors, Tequila in particular. Corn syrup was chosen for sweetness and viscosity. Some observations from the organoleptic trials-

  • Rhubarb juice prepared in the fashion described (vide supra) has a low flavor potency with only a small amount of tartness. It has a distinct flavor and agreeable color, but does not jump out at you.
  • Rhubarb juice has little natural sweetness, so a sweetner must be added to provide the expected mouthfeel and sweet aspect worthy of a drink fitted with an umbrella.
  • The 2:1 ratio of water to syrup is not satisfactory in regard to sweetenss or viscosity.  A 1:1 ratio should be tried.
  • As the sole flavorant, the rhubarb extract is not flavor-intense enough or exotic enough to expect repeat consumption from foo-foo umbrella drink consumers when used for Margharita formulation.
  • A properly formulated Margharita on the rocks should have good mouthfeel with sweet and tart attributes as well as a jab of citrus in addition to the exotic agave flavor of the Tequila. 
  • The addition of lime juice was found to markedly improve the organoleptic test. 

In summary, the experimental Rhubarbarita described above was judged to have an acceptable flavor, though hardly exciting or memorable.  It was found empirically that the addition of fresh lime juice contributed substantially to the overall impact of the formulation. The impact of a “bottom shelf” Tequila for the experiment is unclear at this time.

This Wine Enthusiast link offers a small distillation unit for distilling the volatiles from wine or beer.  Your next shot of brandy is only minutes away.  Of course, the distillate may be flammable, so I’d be careful with that burner.

Check out the Museum of Lost Wonder. Pretty wild.  Then, there is the day that they foamed the fountain of the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia.  If you’re keen on learning the top 10 prejudices Germans have about the USA, check out this blog.  Hard to argue with it’s accuracy.  Had a nagging urge to hop in a submarine and go for a dive?  Check out U-Boat Worx. The specs say that it is limited to 50 meters depth.  I wonder what the crush depth is- 150 meters? I’d imagine that the seals would fail first and the thing would flood before it imploded.

A new restaurant opened in town and this evening we made our first visit.  It was started by a chef with actual culinary training.  It is easy to tell the difference.  The clue that this restaurant was started by someone with culinary training can be seen in how the staff were trained.  The staff understand decorum.  Decorum makes a big difference in the dining experience.

In far too many restaurants, the diner is met with a wait person who asks “What can I get for you guys”?  Now, I’m speaking to those over, say, 35 years.  Have you noticed this linguistic phenomenon? Wait staff at restaurants are only too keen on referring to adult persons as “you guys”. 

Am I the only one who bristles at this?? I do not care to be referred to as “you guys” by teenagers or 20-somethings. This is how 8th graders refer to each other.  Is it too much to ask of the adults who run these businesses to help their younger staff learn how to address people? It assumes a familiarity that hasn’t been earned.

Our town in northern Colorado is fortunate to have a 1000 ton/year trout farm within a few miles, so fresh trout is abundant.  My wife had trout and it was excellent.  I had a Minnesota Berkshire porkchop that was stuffed with a chanterelle sausage and covered with a standard sauce, all atop diced and baked sweet potato.  The chop was tasty, though slightly dry.  But I myself can only prepare a perfect porkchop perhaps 10 % of the time. 

My favorite porkchop experience was at Emeril Legasse’s Nola Restaurant in New Orleans back in 2000.  I refer to it as the “Pork Chop of the Century”.  My God, it was devine.  If you ever have the chance to visit Nola’s, do it. The service is first rate and the food is out of this world. 

Nola also has a Turtle soup that is worth trying.  I will say, though, that the flavor is a bit strong. Reptilian dishes have never been high on my list.

There has been a stunning outbreak of sensibility in the past few days. KFC has decided to move away from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and the unhealthy stereochemistry situated therein.  This is a good thing.  I’ve always been partial to cis-fats anyway … Now we can picnic with a clear conscience. One day, funnel cakes and corn dogs will be safe to eat.

The second hopeful news item is the decision by NASA to do another mission to refurbish Hubble.  This is one of the worlds great observatories and the notion of letting it expire while we have the capability to service it was just absurd.  Observations from this telescope have changed our understanding of the cosmos.  Good choice, NASA!


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