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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stale Bread

Besides food, I store all sorts of other things in my refrigerator –medications, seeds, open printer ink cartridges – anything that may deteriorate at room temperature – but never bread. Bread is a special case and, since it is a staple in our household as it is in most, I decided it was worthwhile to look into why it is that bread actually gets stale six times faster when you put it in the refrigerator!

Hot and cold are nothing more than the speed at which molecules are moving – they move faster when they are hot, and more slowly when you cool them down. When things get hot, their molecules often bump into each other so hard that they cause bonds between atoms holding them together to break. That can cause a chemical reaction between molecules to occur.

It so happens that food ‘going bad’ is caused by both chemical reactions and by bacteria from the air that can get on it and start multiplying. When it’s cold the rate at which these things happen slows way down. So that gives us a big clue that bread going stale has nothing to do with chemical reactions or bacteria and that it’s just something physical that’s happening especially when it’s cooled down.

Bread has a lot of starch in it and those big starch molecules have little electrostatic charges all over them. That makes them attract and hold little charged water molecules that are free in the bread and also in the air. Trouble is that as water molecules stick, the starch molecules get more and more rigid. That’s why bread goes stale. At room temperature it takes a while for bread to go stale because all the molecules are moving quite quickly and the attraction between them is not strong enough, so water molecules can often shake loose.

Put stale bread in the toaster for a minute or so and the water wriggles free from the starch and the bread gets nice and soft. Put the bread in the refrigerator and the temperature is just right for everything to slow down and stick together better – the starch molecules all become very stiff and of course that means the bread has gone stale.

So – what to do?

- Keep bread in an airtight container. That at least keeps water from the air getting trapped by the starch and - it has the added advantage of keeping fungi floating around in the air getting on it and causing mold. Plastic bags work well and, if you’re careful closing them up, almost no air or fungi can get at the bread so it lasts!

- Buy commercial bread – they put some agent in it that keeps it from going stale as quickly as homemade bread.

- If you make your own bread, put a little honey or sugar in it. Cakes don’t go stale nearly so fast because the small sugar molecules attract water better than starch does, and the sugar molecules don’t go rigid.

- Freeze bread quickly so water molecules are slowed down fast and they don’t have a chance to move into the ‘attractive’ positions on the starch.

May your bread never be stale!! Rie

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Faith is something one believes in, in spite of the fact there may no direct evidence to support it.

I was brought up in the ‘30’s in a small town and everyone I knew was a Christian. I went to church with my family Sunday mornings. I really couldn’t make much sense of some of it, but I tried and I remember how comforting it was to have ‘Faith’ that there was an all-knowing all-powerful heavenly father who watched over me and to whom I could turn for support. Along with a Faith in God, the church answered basic questions like how we humans came to be here on Earth, and what our purpose is. It also gave us a moral code to live by.

In my teens, as I began to learn scientific explanations and how they had been reached, I saw that to accept an irrational belief in the supernatural God would mean having to close down part of my mind even to myself and I just could not go there. That meant facing the reality that I no longer could trust in the support of a loving God, I had no answers to the big questions and that when I died there was no hereafter.

Still, I was young and, as I look back, I had Faith I could find a better philosophy to live by; Faith in the methods of science; Faith that the laws of nature governing what transpired on our planet would be recognized; and Faith that in understanding them, that all the variety and complexity and beauty on Earth could be revealed.

I have lived a long life and realize that the faith I had at 20 has been vindicated many times over. We are all living in an extraordinarily and momentous time in the long history of the world. Many many answers are now available that reveal the fascinating path that nature has taken to bring about the emergence of life in all its manifestations on Earth, finally culminating in human consciousness.

I am an optimist and I have Faith that enough cooperative, environmentally responsible and intelligent humans will become interconnected, that they will find ways to work together to stop the short sighted greed and insanity that is doing the most to destroy our planet. I have Faith a self-sustaining, more equitable human condition will emerge. I don't expect this will happen in my lifetime. Rie

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring Thaw

We live in northern climes and we’ve had lots of snow this winter so it’s going to be a long cold spring while it thaws. The very word ‘thaw’ sends a chill through me.

The reason is that, snow is just water in the solid state and it takes a lot of heat energy to release the bonds that keep the water molecules stuck to one another. To heat a gram of water up 1 degree takes only 1 calorie but it takes 80 calories for one gram of snow to melt. Doing my sums I find it requires a whopping 36,000 calories to melt a single pound of snow. That’s enough calories to keep an average person alive and kicking for 18 days!

So where does all that energy come from? Even if the sun shines and you feel its lovely warmth, the gleaming white snow just reflects the sun’s rays away so it doesn’t absorb much if any heat that way. The enormous amount of heat needed to melt our snow in the spring must come directly out of the surrounding air and from us if we don’t dress warmly enough. The spring air will be cold and 'raw' and we’ll have to wait until all the ice and snow thaw before we get the warmth we so eagerly await!

If you have ever wondered why global warming doesn’t seem to be really affecting the temperature much yet, you’ll understand now that it’s because so much heat is absorbed in the melting of the ice caps that we are literally being buffered from the full effects of temperature rise until all the ice is gone. Rie

Click on image to enlarge

Saturday, March 5, 2011

On Being Female

So you're going through the change dear,
how bad can it be?
As you get as old as I am, you get some broad perspectives about the totality of your life and I thought I would write this post on my experience being a female.
A couple of things about females immediately stand out:
1. We have evolved over millions of years for one very specific and important biological role - to bear and take care of the children of our species.
2. Nature has seen to it that we have a natural hormonal system over which we have no control that makes us ready both physically and mentally to fill this biological role.
When I was a young kid, I was a tomboy, feisty and competitive, more interested in sports than dolls. However, much to my surprise as puberty got its grip on me I became subdued, my fantasies were of being overcome by a strong ‘prince charming’. I was ready to marry at 24. It was 1949 and so I did in spite of the real possibility of having to give up a big love of my life – a career in science.
As expected, I soon became pregnant. I wanted children but did not like the process or think much about the reality of the baby. I was so sick with ‘toxemia’ that a premature birth was induced. In retrospect, it was a relatively easy delivery and I was awake and aware through the whole process. Some maternal hormones must have been produced during the labour because I’ll never forget the incredibly powerful feelings that overcame me as my daughter was born - intense love for and protective instincts toward my wee babe. Nothing had prepared me for becoming a full-blown mother emotionally!
As females we are born with all the precious eggs that will be released and have the potential to become a child during our reproductive years. As we age, unlike other cells in our body that are replaced at least every two years, our egg cells are not, so as time passes they are more and more likely to undergo a mutation and the probability of child defects increases.
So, Nature steps in again and new hormonal changes occur, starting usually in the mid to late 40’s, that gradually shut down the menstrual cycle that had been draining energies all those years. Menopause is not pleasant at first but the wonderful compensation is, you gradually begin to feel a new vitality, stamina and drive. You get Post Menopausal Zest [PMZ] - I felt ready for new challenges! My children had their own lives, I was near a good university and I went after that career in science I had given up and it was the best thing I ever did because at 86 my joy in learning are still there.
In this final stage of my life, my competitive spirit is still there too, and I’m fighting old age by exercising, reading and writing. I'm not ready yet to be looked on as the poor old thing who needs taking care of. Maybe that will be the next step I don’t have control over!    Rie