Jun 22, 2010

yogurt is a happy culture

mac invited me to help host tonight's diybio meeting, which was an informal chat about making yogurt, why we might prefer mixed cultures over monocultures (on which, more soon), and other issues pertaining to folk microbiology. i brought some yogurt culture to share, to guard against the day when i accidentally eat the last of it. i got the original culture from the google kitchens back in 2008, and that in turn came from harold mcgee's very old indian strain (referenced here).

the mixed culture and fermentation method i use produces a thick, pleasantly-tangy yogurt without the complications (and equipment) involved in maintaining a constant incubation temperature for many hours. i just wrap a bunch of towels around the warm containers to slow down the cooling rate and leave them undisturbed for 6-9 hours. since the culture probably contains multiple types of bacteria with different temperature and ph preferences, fermenting at a range of different temperatures as the containers cool down might even be preferable to fermenting at just one constant temperature over time (which would probably be great for a pure monoculture). some work using genetic algorithms to optimize yogurt culturing seems to support this hypothesis.

and for those of you who were at diybio tonight, here's a more comprehensive, printer-friendly yogurt culturing protocol.

Jun 14, 2010

swarm light

another light installation by rAndom, showing light moving in swarms through three LED matrices. it's pretty neat. they also did radius, which is distinguished by a catchy but tacky soundtrack.

Posted via web from flavourcountry

Jun 11, 2010

complex, fluid, collective

Confusion as an indicator of validity is a crucial nuance [if organizations are conceived of] as superimposed structures. This imagery implies that there is not an underlying "reality" waiting to be discovered. Rather, organizations are viewed as the inventions of people, inventions superimposed on flows of experience and momentarily imposing some order on these streams. Notice, however, that many portions of the streams of experience will remain unorganized, and those portions being temporarily organized by imposed ideologies will remain equivocal. These enduring equivocalities should be detected by scrupulous observers, but since that which is noticed is partially indescribable and partially incomprehensible, the efforts at description will appear flawed. Such are the dilemmas that face those who choose as their topic of interest phenomena that are complex, fluid, collective.
from this, and from many other bits of weick's writing i've read, i get the sense that he would agree that form, the shape an organization takes, while itself complex is only the tangible instantiation of processes that are much more complex, interesting, and organizational.

the analogy i've recently taken to using is this: studying organizations identified through recognizable organizational forms as analogous to studying a bunch of concrete objects or fixed points (using the formal mathematical definition), while studying organizational processes is analogous to studying the fixed point combinators—higher order functions or processes—that give rise to those fixed points. why does organizational analysis (whether at the micro or macro levels) remain so rooted in studying organization as a noun/object and resistant to studying organization as a verb/process?

weick's book prompted that question by acknowledging that organizations are complex accumulations of processes of sensemaking. but the hat tip to complex, non-deterministic models of social behaviour also reminded me of some thoughts about social theory and model robustness i had after going to a SALT lecture nassim nicholas taleb gave in san francisco a few years ago.

i ended then with the question of whether we might develop a theory of organization that is essentially scale-invariant and which therefore describes behaviors and processes that exist within and between groups of entities generally, rather than those that exist for particular types of entities (e.g. individuals, small groups, firms, and the like). the field of organization studies seems to think this is a bootless inquiry, but then you run across weick and suddenly everything seems possible again.

Jun 7, 2010

the gate in the gorge

this was on the grounds at louisiana. serra's cor-ten sheets blend in while still dividing the landscape, and they are all but invisible until you stumble onto them.

pigs in mugs

Jun 6, 2010

frederiks have

[clearing out the backlog from denmark—i had remarkably good luck eating in copenhagen.]

so, you never go to a conference expecting a really nice dinner. at least, i don't. but surprises are sometimes pleasant. we finished the first day of papers early and were instructed to reassemble at frederiks have, smallegade 41 at 7pm. i left for the restaurant 30 minutes earlier than i had to so i could see what the neighbourhood was like, immediately took a wrong turn, and wound up on a completely residential side street innocent of all but the most mundane charms. i popped out eventually, by sheer chance, on the cross street the restaurant is on and was puzzled by the shutters on the shopfront until i heard a piercing whistle from the people assembled in the outdoor garden around the corner. we sat outside with beers until the rest of the contingent showed up.

the first good sign was an enormous lozenge-shaped carved wood bowl filled with the kind of heavily-caramelized baguette that you know will have a crisp, resilient (yet tender) crust, and a soft, gelatinised crumb. some of these showed up on the table shortly, accompanied by a remarkable, crusty sourdough bread rich with olive oil and sea salt and baked in tiny rounds the size of a small biscuit. they required no butter, but i put some on anyway. at this point, i allowed myself a tiny, pre-emptive chuckle at my luck. a good bread basket is almost always a good sign.

then the first wine of the night emerged, one of three selected by the owner to go with dinner. it was a 2009 natural yeast fermented pinot gris from alsace, from a biodynamic producer called josmeyer. this was richly-flavoured with the flavour (but not much of the fragrance) of soft stone fruit and sweet, but also crisp with acidity. having the owner choose and pour a good biodynamic wine from a relatively unfashionable grape/region combination is a good sign (on which, also see chapeau!). the restaurant was full and the kitchen was open and quiet: a very good sign.

as it turned out, frederiks have is one of the small but growing number of restaurants in copenhagen informed by the manifesto of the new nordic cuisine. the food was consciously seasonal, simple yet complex (you'll see in a minute), competent while concealing its technical refinement, and the staff were serious but weren't taking themselves seriously. awesome. the crockery was white, graciously proportioned, not oddly shaped, and didn't call attention to itself.

dinner was:
  • a perfectly poached egg, fat spears of poached green and white asparagus, tiny boiled fjord shrimp, a sharpish foamed custard hollandaise of stinging nettle and shellfish fumet (probably made with the shells and boiling liquid from the fjord shrimp). [mise du printemps, 2009, jos meyer, alsace]
  • lamb loin cooked sous-vide to a perfect rareness, then seared quickly to crisp the binding of fat, served with a rectangle of lamb rillettes, fried green cabbage, roasted golden beet, golden beet and sherry vinegar puree, dill, and roasted new yellow potatoes. [avan tempranillo, 2008, nascimento, ribera del dueroa tempranillo with smooth tannins, purple tasting, dry finish, violets]
  • a rhubarb soda, pacojet rhubarb ice cream, (green) rhubarb preserve with (green) rhubarb brunoise, white chocolate mousse, cardamom crumbs. [a sparkling gamay FRV jean-paul brun, beaujolais]
at 8.30pm, the kitchen was halfway broken down and ole, the owner, let me poke my head inside. while i talked with mattias the chef (who was passing a heavily reduced stock through some flannel), ole mopped up the floor.* they serve 40-50 covers with a cvap, an immersion circulating heater, a pacojet, and a 4-burner stove and flat-top. 

together with great conversation, mark this down as another perfect meal.

* a nicely democratic touch. they also list every major employee, including the waitstaff, on their website