Caught in a Supermarket Avalanche

It started slowly, as the most horrific incidents in life so often do.

My mind would not accept what my eyes were seeing, but before this cognitive dilemma could be resolved, events snowballed into chaos.

Einida threw her body against the glass freezer door in an heroic attempt to check the violent collapse.

Frozen pizzas were shooting out rapid-fire like so many playing cards from the hand of a veteran croupier.

The four-cheese pizzas tipped forward and knocked the thin crust pepperoni pizzas against the vegetarian pizzas. One column collapsed against the next, and all were momentarily held in check by Einida, the human wedge.

With stealthy step, she slowly backed away from the door to see if the avalanche had stopped. The pizzas were perfectly balanced in a jagged heap. The DiGiornos™ supported the Totinos™ and vice versa…but only barely.

The pizza trap waiting to be sprung.

It occurred to me that we were in over our heads, that we might best leave the matter to store employees who were more experienced in the handling the vicissitudes of food storage and display.

I recalled the occasion when Einida and I openly stared and giggled at a lady in the produce department of that very store who had not completely detached her vegetable bag from its fellows on the metal spindle, with the result that as she wandered about the store, she dragged behind her a line of still-attached vegetable bags, stretched taut, to the amusement and amazement of the other shoppers. She continued for a not-inconsiderable distance before someone pointed out her dilemma.

This amusing scene was playing across the screen of my memory when I was suddenly jolted–by what force I have no idea–back into the present. I called, “Einida, we must disable this trap before some unsuspecting shopper comes along, opens the door, and is buried under an undignified mountain of frozen dough and tomato sauce.”

And so, as she leaned back against the door, I reached in from an adjoining freezer bay. I gingerly moved some of the topmost pizzas from the heap, in an attempt to lessen the pressure of the stacks of pizzas pushing against the door. It was rather like playing a game of Pick-Up Sticks, but with pizzas.

(Again, my mind digressed, as I contemplated the development of a new version of that beloved childhood game….)

The pizzas began to shift.

Einida urged, “Viktor, hurry! I can’t hold the pizzas back much longer!”

Blame for this disaster rests solely upon the shoulders of the grocers who insist on stacking plastic-wrapped pizzas, on their tiny edge. Such a configuration in inherently unstable.

I had apparently triggered the trap while searching for the freshest DiGiorno™ four-cheese pizza.

At any rate, I finally removed the last pizza from this Mountain of Woe, and stacked it with its brothers horizontally, in a thumbing of the nose to the careless grocer, in hopes that he might at least dimly perceive the danger to which he had exposed his customers through his arrogant attempts to defy the basic laws of engineering.

How to locate the freshest frozen pizza:

1. Examine the plastic seal. If the plastic is tight and conforms to the ridges of the face of the pizza, and looks vacuum-packed, it is fresh.

2. Avoid pizzas that have a loose plastic seal.

This seal is loose.  Avoid selecting this sub par pie.
This seal is loose. Avoid selecting this sub par pie.

Tales of Soup and Fiber

Fiber_soup2

“Oh, I do so love soup,” Einida exclaimed. “But how difficult it is to find one that is delicious, nutritious, and also filling.”

What was it, I asked myself, that made my Lab Partner such an advocate for soup? Which of its qualities did she most highly prize?–the taste? the fluidity? the texture? the temperature? What was it that so inspired her passion?

I had, years ago, devoted a not-inconsiderable amount of time to the study of soup and its making. It was an engaging subject that required many experiments. It lead to my discovery of “souponification,” that magic alchemical moment at which vegetables and water join together and metamorphose into actual soup.

I once developed an onion soup recipe that was delightful to taste, but it was dreadfully time-consuming to execute. Most onion soups done in the classic style of “Soupe a l’Oignon au Fromage” start with a beef base. I, determined to not be outdone by the French, decided to make an onion soup that was as tasty as the Gallic original, but without that bovine taint. So by taking a standard recipe and carefully modifying it over about ten iterations I finally came up with a recipe that satisfied me:

Viktor’s Vegetable Onion Soup

6 Large onions thinly sliced
6 T butter
1.5 t salt
1.5 t ground mustard
.5 t Thyme

3 T soy sauce
3 T burgundy cooking wine
0.5 t White Pepper
6 cups Vegetable stock (3 cubes of Vegetable bullion)

Stale Baguette
Cheese (provolone, Gruyère, or Swiss)

Cook onions, butter, salt for 40 minutes on medium heat. Stirring frequently.

Add Thyme & Mustard and cook additional 10 minutes

Prepare stock. Using 3 cubes of vegetable bullion.
Lower stock to a simmer. Add Soy, Wine, white pepper, and Onions.

Simmer for 1hr on low heat or until “souponification” happens. Stirring occasionally.

Fill a proper Onion Soup Bowl (must have a handle) to 0.75% full.

Serve soup with stale baguette cut into 1/4” tall medallions floating on top of soup covered in cheese.

Finish the Crust of the cheese with a flame thrower or a few seconds in a broiler.
————

In seeking the key to Einida’s happiness I had no time to indulge in the time-consuming preparation of my “11 Ingredient Vegetable Onion Soup.” Instead, I decided to explore, by means of experimentation, the effects of temperature on feelings of satiety. Could temperature, I wondered, make substances more palatable and induce the mental state of well-being? (I’d noticed that when I ingest liquids heated over a certain temperature, I have experienced long-lasting feelings of comfort.)

And so I hurried to the Biology Lab and started mixing.

I combined chicken-flavored bouillon cubes with psyllium husk formula. I heated the water to a temperature that would melt the bouillon. Then I mixed in the bouillon, and after that slowly stirred in the fiber.

The final stage of the experiment was to taste the oddly-colored soup. I bravely placed my straw into the brew and sipped.

I winced. The psyllium husk formula was orange flavored! As a result, the soup was unexpectedly flavored like a Chinese chicken or duck dish. Not unpleasant, but not quite comforting, and certainly too metropolitan for taste buds seeking simplicity.

Undeterred, I tried again, mixing unflavored psyllium husk fiber with the bouillon. This time I learned the painful lesson that using a straw to consume soup tends to distort one’s sense of the soup’s temperature. I singed my tongue.

“Einithaa! I neeth you to tathe thith enchanthing elixther.”

She, with great hesitation, took a sip. Her eyebrows rose in surprise, and she said, with enthusiasm, “It’s not bad at all. It’s actually much better than I expected. A little thick, perhaps. But with a lovely chicken flavor.”

And so ended my second experiment with fiber soup. The concoction failed to satiate me. I must find the balance between a soup that is too hot to drink, and one that has become a cold, gelatinous sludge. I will seek what in Middle English was called “lukewarme,” which is not, as most would believe, the state somewhere between hot and cold, but rather the state of a substance that was once hot and has since cooled down. It is only a “lukewarme” soup that can be both hot enough to dissolve bouillon and cool enough to drink through a straw.

The Holy Grail of PVC pipe fittings!

PVC03

*While rummaging through the dank bowels of the plumbing section of a major big-box hardware store the other day, my eyes widened as my hand fell upon something amazing. I raised my hand in victory, holding the object up toward the ceiling. I gaped, I gasped, “This is indeed the Holy Grail! This is what we’ve spent all those years waiting for! We’ve finally found it.” A ray of light shone down onto the small, plastic object–a one-half inch three-way Elbow PVC Fitting Connector.

I handed the white plastic item to Einida for inspection.”Oh my,” she exclaimed. “It is as you say. It really is the Holy Grail of PVC pipe fittings.”

So many questions flitted through my mind: “When did they start making these fantastic joints? How could I not have known about this astonishing product earlier?  What finally convinced the pipe fitting manufacturers to give the world the one shape that it’s been so desperately missing?”

Manically, I wheeled around and machine-gunned a nervous and pimply stock boy with more questions: “How many of these do you have in stock? When did you start carrying this product? Where did it come from? Where can we get more?”

The frightened lad was overwhelmed as he became aware of the full extent of his ignorance. His brain shut down and he was rendered mute.

Ah, but never mind him, I thought. He is but collateral damage in this long war which I have been waging.

Holy PVC!

The long wait for this particular plumbing joint is finally over. This discovery will radically change the construction methods of the Laboratory’s PVC-related projects. My hands fidgeted in excitement as I fantasized about all the PVC cubes I could now build.

 

In times past PVC cubes were built with sixteen PVC joints. In order to make a single corner, you had to undergo the laborious and maddening process of cutting up tiny pieces of PVC pipe just to join two joints together.

Now, with my discovery of this new pipe fitting, it will take a mere eight corner joints to do the job. No more fussing with little pieces, no more running out of parts in the middle of a project, and no more complicated, unstable, multi-piece frames.

PVC02

Inventors have long used PVC piping. The variety of joints and pipes in all sorts of shapes and sizes make plumbing PVC similar to such old-time connector toys as “Tinkertoys.” They’re used to build lightweight structures, furniture, stands, and cubes, and there are few limitations as to what you can do with these materials. My discovery of this particular joint greatly expands the possibilities of what can be done in this field.

Sadly, this store had only four joints in stock, so I wasn’t able to buy enough of them to actually build the simple cube of which I had dreamed.  But I am already planning my next PVC hunting expeditions to other hardware stores.

Observational Exercise: Tracking the Walnut Treasure

 

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
–William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence.”

 

Observational Exercise: Tracking the Walnut Treasure

A scientist is nothing without the power of observation, because the scientific method is built upon the foundation of performing experiments and then observing the results.

At our lab we place a high value on the humble walnut. It is small, inexpensive, easily stored, and is an ideal tool in our observational training program. A walnut can teach the scientific novice how to observe.

During walnut season, our laboratory employees carefully split walnuts into halves, scoop out the contents, refill the shells with small trinkets, then seal the two halves back up again. Then the modified walnuts are carefully and deliberately hidden outdoors, after which the lab trainees go out and search for them.

The trainees are instructed to study the environment for clues that will reveal the locations of the walnuts. If a trainee finds a walnut, he quickly opens it, and claims the small treasure hidden within.

The treasures include coins, statuettes, fortune cookie scrolls, stamps, such electronic components as capacitors and resistors–really anything that can be fitted into such a small space.

Of course, we do pity the unfortunate squirrel who takes a fake walnut back to her nest and is rewarded with a shiny trinket rather than nourishing food. Mother Nature, we have learned, has little use for bling.

At any rate, we recommend this small, exciting project as a method of teaching observation skills as well as a love for the outdoors.

Sometimes, mysterious faces will appear on the unfilled walnuts.

Sometimes, mysterious faces will appear on the unfilled walnuts.