Monthly Archives: October 2015

Grape Juice

Thanks to the wonderful children’s author Laura Numeroff and illustrator Felicia Bond, we all know what happens when you give a mouse a cookie. We even know what happens when you give a pig a pancake, or if you give a moose a muffin. We’ve got those totally plausible every day scenarios down pat. But we know very little about when life gives someone a lemon. Ms. Numeroff and Ms. Bond have not graced society with a children’s book on the subject, although if they where to write a children’s book explaining what to do with lemons I’m sure we’d all have had…um…sweeter childhoods. The thing is there are several ways to deal with lemons, which is good, because life is littered of lots of lemons left lurking in low lonely lairs only to leap out literally when we least expect it. What do you do when life gives you lemons?

Now, there are several things to do with lemons. Make lemon chicken. Season some fish. Or, if you’re a traditionalist, you could make lemonade. This, though, is boring, so I’m not going to talk about it any more. The truth is, as it turns out, there are quite a few options after life hands you lemons.

Let’s start with lemon chicken. Wikipedia helpfully tells us that lemon chicken is the name of several dishes found in many cultures that include both chicken and lemons. From this, we can deduce that it is not only your culture that gets handed many lemons, but rather, many cultures. As an aside, if you find one day that life gives you oranges instead of lemons, you can make orange chicken and still have a tasty dinner. This recipe which is provided to us by Ina Garten (there is no possible way that can be what it says on her birth certificate, because parents who would name their child that should either not be allowed to have children, or are so awesome that they ascended into a higher life form made of pure energy) takes one hour to make, and serves four people. This is useful, because if you are handed some lemons and are with friends, then your friends can eat dinner too. It has 393 calories per serving and only 19 and a half grams of fat, so you can handle life’s lemons without worrying about your figure. It is also high in protein, so that’s good. Ms. Garten’s lemon chicken recipe is a great thing to do with life’s lemons. But what if you are a pescatarian?

Fear not, pescatarians. There is hope. For those of you wondering what a pescatarian is, it is not a religious sect, but rather someone who does not eat any meat except fish. Once again going to Wikipedia, a fairly comprehensive list of raw fish dishes reveals at least one ,from Tonga, that is made with lemon as a garnish. Several others use citrus, a category in which lemons fall. Incidentally, oranges also fall into this category, so if you are a pescatarian that has just received some oranges from life, you are in luck. This website of unquestionable character informs its readers that Aioli was a sauce originally intended to pair with Cod, a type of fish, and then mentions Provencal dishes, which could date back to the 12th – 14th centuries, which means people have been dealing with lemons for quite some time. Aioli does include a fair amount of lemon juice, so this is relevant. Another aside, that aforementioned food website contains the words, “Mustard was known to the ancients. Ketchup surfaces in the early 18th century.” So, some good stuff on that website. At least it’s not Vicodin crusted potatoes. Now back to the lemons.

Let’s say you’re not into fish. Or, you live in the middle of nowhere where all the fish has to come on trucks from the sea, and none of it is any good. Luckily, there are many more things that you can do with lemons. For instance, you can make lemon ice cream. That recipe makes enough ice cream for 12 sandwiches, which at first is confusing, until you realize they mean ice cream sandwiches. (Note: You should probably use cookies instead of bread for these sandwiches, but I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.)

What if you don’t want to eat your lemons? Good news! You don’t have to! You can use your lemon to play baseball with. (Incidentally, there is a thing called a lemon peel baseball, which is made out of leather and not lemons, but can be used to pelt runners as they try and make the base without the additional hassle of throwing the ball to the appropriate baseman.) WolframAlpha tells us all sorts of useful things about lemons, such as: they have about 6% of your daily value of copper (about 124 micrograms); they grow on shrubs and trees and are possibly naturally occurring in Florida; there are less than 5 people with the given name Lemon in the US, based on birth data from the year 2014. You can also use lemons for a number of other things, as explains. You can keep cauliflower from turning brown, soften dry, scaly elbows, use it as a vaccine for Diphtheria instead of the actual vaccine for Diphtheria (don’t really do that), use it for vaginal hygiene, or just freshen your refrigerator.

You could always take the lemon and throw it back at life’s face. After some searching on the internet to find out what the terminal velocity of a lemon is, I only came close. This person claimed to be purchasing a lemon to find out what it’s terminal velocity is, and if they ever found out, I would love to know. I also found a Quara page where someone inquired about the speed a lemon would have to go before it would ignite into flames, which is about 16,500 m/s (about Mach 48), but that doesn’t really help me. This website compares lemons to hailstones, and gives an estimate for a lemon sized hailstone at about 200 kph, which is 55 m/s or 124 miles an hour. According to this Wikipedia article, and the blurb under a google search result for the Guinness book of records which subsequently would not open due to an unending string of redirects, Aroldis Chapman holds the MLB record for fastest pitch ever at 105.1 mph (169 kph, or 47 m/s). This means that he would be able to throw your lemon as fast as he could without bumping up against the aerodynamic limits of lemon flight in Earth’s atmosphere, and give life one hell of a black eye.

I originally started writing this post a little while ago, because I liked the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make grape juice, then sit back and watch the world wonder how you did it.” Now, though, I don’t really like that saying any more, for several reasons. Life doesn’t give you lemons. Bad things just happen. When they do, you can complain about it and muck about for a while, or you can get to work. I choose the complaining option quite often, and it gets me nowhere. Also, if so called life has given you lemons, and you make grape juice, there are many unanswered questions. Did life also give you grapes? Did you go find grapes, or grow them on vines? If you had the time and energy to go find your own grapes, why are you still caring about the lemons from earlier? My final gripe, as if all that stuff isn’t enough, is this: There are, as we’ve seen throughout this post, many useful things to do with lemons. So if you have some lemons, forget about grape juice and do one of those instead, because you can’t make grape juice with lemons. (Some grape juice actually does have citric acid in it, “for tartness”, but mostly, to make grape juice, you need grapes.) So now, you have what is sure to be the start of a comprehensive list of what to do with lemons, that you either find, possibly in Florida, or that you buy from the store or farmer’s market. If all else fails, take your lemons, go find Aroldis Chapman, make a video, and get probably at least 14 hits on YouTube.

Everything I wanted to know about earwax, but no more

Do you ever get those certain subjects that remain stuck in your brain for a time, and you just can’t help but wonder about them? Yeah, me too. One of them, that I’ve been meaning to research for some time now, is this: earwax. As it turns out, earwax is one of those weird, slightly gross things that everybody is actually at some level interested in, because we all have ears. Well, most of us have them.

In any event, earwax is a bit intriguing. The weirdness of it kind of gives it an allure. When you’re learning about it you get a sort of funny look on your face, a sort of disgusted grimace, and yet, you just can’t look away. (As an aside, I get this way when observing all sorts of weird things that I find around me during my daily goings on, such as young men wearing shorts and long socks, John Travolta’s face, and general mannerisms of youths involved with greek life on college campuses.) Another thing that makes it somewhat interesting is that it comes out of your ear. Ears are actually just weird in general when you consider them. They’re all scrunched up, and you use them to sense sound, which is cool…ears are sort of like human antennae to “see” things we can’t actually see. Ears may be weird, but earwax is weirder still.

So what is earwax? Well, it is a substance secreted from your body, so it’s wholly organic in nature. (Unless you regularly take pesticide baths…) A quick search on Wolframalpha will tell you that as a word, its use started around 1800, and went up dramatically halfway through the 20th century. Also, it has a scrabble score of 16. As the Earwax Wikipedia article explains, earwax is a yellowish waxy substance secreted in the ear canal of humans and other mammals. Which is great, but we already knew that. Or, at least, those of us who didn’t are off to buy some quetips now. It’s purpose is to provide protection against all sorts of stuff, like insects. It is also known in the scientific, medical, and uber-extreme nerd communities as cerumen, and comes in two main flavors, wet and dry.

This very interesting paper actually goes on about earwax in a way that is both commendable and slightly creepy, and tells the inquiring mind that earwax is made up of keratin(a lot of this), saturated and unsaturated long-chain fatty acids, alcohols(not a lot of those two), squalene(12%), and cholesterol(6% to 9%). So, like most organic things, a bunch of chemistry and biology words that you wish you’d paid attention to in high school.

The really cool bit of that paper, though, has to do with what your earwax says about you. (In the strictest sense, well, nothing, because it is earwax, and therefor cannot actually speak. But you can convey a great deal of information without actually speaking, so don’t relax just yet.) Based on the amount of certain chemicals that are found in your earwax, earwax experts (cerumenologists) can actually figure out where on the earth your ancestors came from. In this super cool Popular Science article the details of where your earwax says you are from are laid out in more or less layman’s terms. It also contains the bit of information that there is one single gene in the human genome that determines whether you have wet or dry earwax. Also, it turns out, if you have wet earwax, you are in general more smelly as a person. This paper (which, unfortunately you must pay to read in full) goes even further into earwax types, and correlates specific types of the earwax gene with locations on the Earth. It also has 39 authors, which is interesting, because I would not have guessed there were 39 people who cared enough about earwax enough to publish a paper about it. As it turns out, I would have guessed wrong.

As I scoured the Internet looking for earwaxy things, I came across a page on the Stack Exchange for Biology, which has hitherto evaded my knowledge of things that are on the Internet. Someone named “J underscore mie6” asked a question to the people who answer things on Biology Stack Exchange about the difference between earwax and mucus, since both perform a similar function: to protect places where stuff can enter the body. J underscore mie6 was slightly wrong in the original question, because technically the ears are not an entry point to your ooey gooey insides, because of the tympanic membrane. (Imagine a little man doing the intro to 2001: A Space Odyssey on your ear.) Also, earwax, for the record, is not mucus. Mucus is created by creatively named mucus glands, and earwax is produced by sweat and oil glands. This next bit is a thought that has the potential to fester, so consider this a warning before reading on. If our bodies used mucus to protect the ears, then we would be “constantly weeping mucus from our ears unless there were a drainage system into our sinus passageways [sic]”. So good thing we actually produce earwax in our ears, and not just the same old mucus that fills our noses.

Finally, before we go, here is an article about earwax from the ever insightful BBC. They have a decidedly British knack for covering science news (as well as American politics), and they do not disappoint with this bit of journalism. It includes the phrases, “jungle of hair”, “the most notable earwax scientific discovery”, and starts with the magnificent sentence, “Like other secretions, it is something that most of us deal with in private.” Which begs the question: Who are the people in the not most of us group? The article contains five bits about earwax that you probably did not know. Unless, that is, you got here by reading all the preceding text on this page.

The BBC article ends with thismajestic piece of earwax which was secreted by a blue whale. The sample is some 25cm (about 10 inches) long, and was produced over a period of 12 years. Also, yes, it is the aforementioned “most notable earwax scientific discovery”.

So there is really no point to this other than this: I wondered what earwax was, and looked it up, and thought it was interesting. Hopefully, you found it interesting as well. Oh yeah, and don’t click the whale earwax link if you’re reading this during lunch. Or really any of the links, because they’re all kinda gross. Thanks for reading!