• 05 Apr 2015 /  Parenting

    My daughter was recently pursuing a Girl Scout badge and the project she decided on was to learn how to make bubble tea at home. If you’re not familiar, bubble tea is basically iced tea with little pearls or “bubbles” in it. They can either be a tapioca pearl or a fruit flavored, juicy pearl. She chose the latter, they add a fun snap and burst of complementary flavor to the drink.

    We set out to find out how to make these pearls, which turned out to be a rather interesting chemical process and a popular item in “Molecular Gastronomy”. The process is referred to as “spherification” and involves a reaction between Sodium Alginate, which is a seaweed extract, and Calcium Chloride, which is commonly found as pickle juice. When these 2 solutions meet polymerization occurs at the interface between them. When drops of the Sodium Alginate solution are dropped into the Calcium Chloride bath, you get round(ish) pearls with a firm outer shell and a liquid center.

    We found many references that turned out to be pretty complex and varied, so we wanted to document our end result in a simple way. The main document we drew from is this one from molecularrecipes.com. The process illustrated here is “Basic Spherification” and is specifically tailored to flavorings with a watery consistency.

    You’ll need to gather a few ingredients and items:

    • Sodium Alginate
    • Calcium Chloride (both are available here)
    • Flavoring (we used KoolAid powder) and sugar if needed
    • A kitchen or other high precision scale (.1+ gram precision)
    • perforated spoon
    • A blender or immersion blender
    • An eye dropper or large syringe
    • Some bowls and measuring cups
    • Any sort of iced tea

    The first step is making the flavored liquid. You’ll need to mix your KoolAid, sugar, and water (we used half the directed water for more concentrated flavor) and then add enough Sodium Alginate to make a .5% solution. That is, for every 100g of flavored liquid, you’ll add .5g of Sodium Alginate. In our case we mixed one cup of the prepared KoolAid and 1.2g of Sodium Alginate. This needs to be mixed thoroughly so a blender comes in handy here. Transfer to a cup or bowl and let this sit in the fridge for an hour to dissipate the air bubbles.

    The next step is making the Calcium Chloride bath. This is much simpler as the Calcium Chloride is very happy to dissolve in the water. You need the same .5% solution, but will want more of the final solution. We used 4 cups of water and 4.8g of Calcium Chloride. Mix this up with a spoon or whisk until it’s dissolved. You’ll also want to have another bowl of plain water to rinse the bubbles and stop the polymerization.

    Finally, you’ll make the bubbles. Using your dropper, drip the flavored liquid into the Calcium Chloride bath. Be gentle and try to space them out. You’ll have to experiment with various pressures and heights to get the best spheres. You can also try different tools and methods to drip the liquid into the bath. You can even make worms! Let the bubbles sit in the bath for about a minute while gently stirring to keep them moving and to avoid flattening.

    After a minute, use the perforated spoon to move the bubbles to the water bath. After a rinse in the water, just drop them in your tea and enjoy!

    Here’s a closeup of the actual process:

    We hope this will help anyone who wants to try making their own. There are many more factors that are discussed in the Molecular Recipes link above, so if you want to try different liquids or processes, check that out. Good Luck!

  • 28 Oct 2010 /  Parenting, Things I Like

    Declan recently wrote a Halloween story for a local homeschooler group. They decided not to publish his story on their site because it referenced weapons (no restrictions were stated up front), so I’m publishing it here:

    by Declan Chase-Salerno, age 7

    A guy in black with another guy gave the man in black some dynamite in a bush, but he didn’t blow anything up with it yet, and then one of the good guys said, We have to take the man in black to the statue factory, (“His name isn’t important!”).  None of the other guys knew what that would do.  When you move, he disappears.  Then we stood still, and he shot wooden carts with weapons at us, and my mom grabbed on to me and jumped over all the carts.  And then we dodged the carts, which led us to our barn, and then we hid in there for a while.  And then we found the guys that gave the man in black some dynamite, and we asked if it was fake dynamite, and he said no, and we said why did you give him real dynamite, and the man in black hypnotized him to do it, because he owns a dynamite factory.  Then, he wanted to help us get the man in black, but we still couldn’t catch him, we didn’t have enough guys, And then we got our dog, Casey, to help us find him.  She barks a lot when she sees someone.  And then we found him, but he disappeared when we even moved a step.  So we went to upstairs in my house, and we got some guns to get him to surrender, but they still didn’t work.  He had a machine gun.  And then they got the police to help them, and the police got the sheriff’s department, the army, and that still wasn’t enough, until the army invented a new weapon, the disintegrator, but that still didn’t work, because his armor was stronger than anything.  Then we got him to a statue factory, but that didn’t stop him because he broke out of the steel case.  Because he was so strong, he broke out, and he also had fists made of pointy steel.  Then the army got the military that invented a new gun called the Hypnotizer but he had hypnotizing-proof glasses, that still didn’t stop him, so they had to set off the dynamite while he was still holding it, like in cartoons.  Until a good ghost came to help us and called all of his ghost friends, and they wanted to help, and the military called a weapons specialist, Agent G, and he invented a gadget that could read people’s minds and we could know his plan and stop it, and we would know where his base is.  And the ghosts called a ninja force, and they helped them, until they met the Super Penguin.  Which could peck people’s heads off.  But he had an indestructible helmet that the Super Penguin couldn’t peck.  Until they chased him to Canada and his armor fell off while he was running, all his armor, it turned out he was very skinny and weak, and they destroyed his base, and then they had a campfire and roasted weenies.
    The End.

    Quinny also wrote one, but hers was deemed OK:

    Last Night There Was 3 Girls And 2 Puppies Who Woke Up
    by Quinn Chase-Salerno, age 4

    Last night, three little girls woke up, and then the serious one said, “What happened?”  And then the three little puppies woke up, and one barked at someone, and then they saw a little spooky thing, then they turned into spies, then killed him, and then they all went in the dark and brought a flashlight and then the 3 little girls weren’t scared except the serious girl wasn’t scared, and the 2 little puppies weren’t scared either, then they saw something that was creeping slow and had a shell on top and it was a turtle.  And then they put their flashlight in their pocket then it was daytime then they weren’t scared again.  Then they went back home and saw a little black thing it was their brother.  And then there was a kitty that went back.  And the kitty wasn’t scared either.
    The End.

    Great stories Guys!


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  • 22 May 2008 /  Parenting, Tech, Work

    National Engineer’s Week is this week and I was asked to do a presentation on software engineering to about 40 local middle school students. I was a bit unsure how to approach this as it’s not the audience I’m used to dealing with. I’ve presented to rooms full of executives before, but I was more nervous about this. I’ll leave the obvious jokes about maturity levels as an exercise for the reader.

    Now that it’s over, I’d say it went very well (thanks to advice from my lovely wife). I was last on the agenda, so the kids were a bit drained and antsy, but I managed to keep them occupied and interested. I had an activity planned in which some volunteers represented parts of a very simple program, a bubble sort. I had them physically act out the operation of the algorithm and when it was completed they could see the results (the volunteers were now in alphabetical order). They were actually enthusiastic about participating in this little exercise, which was probably my biggest fear. It would have gone much differently if I had to drag kids up, or bribe them with the M&Ms that a certain someone suggested I bring. It was inspiring to see some of the kids watch the process, expressing confusion as it wasn’t immediately obvious what was happening, but then as it progressed, they got what was going on. I think they really enjoyed it.

    The blatant pandering of using a screenshot of Super Mario Galaxy and one of the Google map to their school actually resulted in cheers. So I’ll keep that in the toolbox for the future.

    One thing that didn’t work was sarcasm. If you know me, you know how integral that is to my daily life and the kids mostly just didn’t get it. I guess I should have seen that up front, but at least some of the teachers got some chuckles out of it.

    Overall, I really enjoyed the experience, the kids asked a lot of good questions, though several were about salary. I hope they all got something from it.

    Here’s my presentation, if you’d like to see it.


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  • 08 Jan 2008 /  Parenting, Rants

    The other day, out of nowhere (which is where most things actually come from), Declan fires this at me:

    Dad? Do you get a new computer when you die?

    That got me wondering, assuming that there is some sort of afterlife, is there even a need for computers? What about the Internet? Does some sort of perfect awareness of all things make it unnecessary?

    If there an internet there, what’s on it? Is there a huge iTunes Music Store where everything is free and without DRM? Is there any porn? Can you get spyware on your PC? Is there a fallen angel that just needs my account number to transfer his vast wealth, paying me a “modest” fee in the process?

    Are the PCs any better than what we have here? Do they crash randomly and require reboots to stay running? How often do you have to upgrade, if at all? Is there a Blue Screen of …. umm… Death? Can you get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

    All tough questions which will likely never be answered. All those near death and death returnees talk about is the white light and their deceased relatives welcoming them. Not one of them noticed the really important things, like were they Macs or PCs? (Though I know they’re Linux boxes)


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