APS News

August/September 2004 (Volume 13, Number 8)

Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science

When Physicists Cook, Watch Out!

By Gin Bell

Since our retirement in 1994, my husband, Dick, has taken an interest in helping me run our home, especially the kitchen. He found that an awful lot of haphazard, hit-or- miss methods were being used in the preparation of our daily meals.

Even the shopping seemed to need an overhaul, since I was not making maximum use of coupons and buy-one-get-one-free offers.

Our new stove has an elaborate timing mechanism, which I quit using when I noticed that the stove turned off when the time was up. I'll decide when to turn it off, thanks very much! Dick tends to time it precisely, look at his watch and say, "It's done!" I tend to look in the oven and say, "Not done yet!"

I, myself, have an MA in chemistry, but have been a schoolteacher most of my working life. I have also been cooking by the trial and error method for 55 years without any real disasters worth mentioning.

Dick has had a long career as a physicist specializing in material science. His approach is get out the cookbook, set the timer, measure everything, I'm sure you know the type.

Our first joint venture was to make cranberry sauce. We happen to have two archaic food grinders, one inherited from each Grandma. We picked the better one, keeping the other in case of a systems failure and a need for an equipment backup.

The cranberries were pulverized according to directions, then a quartered orange was added. The next ingredient was two cups of sugar. Juice was spraying everywhere, so I grabbed the sugar bowl and emptied it into the grinder.

Dick rolled his eyes, sighed, and started stirring and tasting the mixture. "It's pretty sour," he said. I next grabbed the sugar cannister standing nearby, and poured it all in. More stirring and tasting.

"Really good!", he exclaimed. "You know what I like about cooking with a chemist?" he asked. "It's the precision!"

What really works best, we've found, is to take turns cooking.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette