Hello! It’s me, Boop! I’m the Discovery World spokesturtle. How are you? All the animals are doing fine. We miss you terribly, and we can’t wait to open our doors so we can see you again. Obviously everyone needs to stay home and keep safe. It’s definitely a challenge, but we can do this. We will all get through this. You are awesome.
Beep and I have been busy! As you know, we put on a production of Boop’s King Lear. It went okay. The poisonous dart frog that played Edmund did a great job. The fish had a tough time remembering their lines, though. They also had a tough time saying their lines. And wearing their costumes. And knowing they were in a production of Boop’s King Lear.
The volcano, however, was amazing!
For a truly successful volcano, you need lava. That’s just science. We didn’t have lava. And we could not get lava delivered to the aquarium because apparently lava is too dangerous. Did you know that turtles can roll their eyes? We can!
Anyway, Beep and I did the next best thing. We made our own volcano with vinegar and baking soda!
To make our baking soda and vinegar volcano, we poured four parts vinegar (acetic acid or C2H4O2) into the beautiful paper mache volcano that Beep made.
We prepared one part baking soda (sodium bicarbonate or NaHCO3) by mixing it with a little water until it formed a slurry. I don’t have a precise definition of a slurry, but you’ll know it when you see it. Then we mixed in some dish soap and some food coloring. Red and orange for lava! You can use washable paint. We didn’t try that, but it might be less messy.
And then, just as I, King Lear, threw myself into the volcano, Beep added the baking soda mixture to the vinegar. And there was an eruption of soapy foam!
The acetic acid and sodium carbonate tore each other apart. New molecules formed, including sodium acetate and carbonic acid. The carbonic acid decomposed and we were left with sodium acetate, carbon dioxide, and water. The carbon dioxide gas got trapped in the dish soap making orange and red foam.
It was so dramatic! And messy! Foam went everywhere! So much foam! So much mess!
(If you try this, you can use an empty two liter soda bottle. HELPFUL HINT: Do this outside. The cleanup is so much easier. Ask me how I know.)
The thing about a chemical reaction is that you start with stuff. You mix that stuff together. A special kind of change called a reaction happens (two reactions in this case). And you end up with new stuff. You end up with the same amount of stuff that you started with. But the old stuff rearranges itself into new stuff. Pretty cool, right?
FUN FACT! The vinegar + baking soda reaction is also an endothermic reaction. That means it absorbs heat energy and gets cold. An exothermic reaction releases heat and gets hot.
So that was fun. Now I’m learning to cook! I have a very patient and kind aquarist to help me because I’m only five-years old, and I’m too young to use the oven and stove by myself. She’s teaching me all kinds of fun things about cooking!
Yesterday, I made a warm rice salad with grilled lettuce (I had no idea that you can grill lettuce, but you can totally grill lettuce!) and other vegetables. I made a simple vinaigrette with three parts vegetable oil and one part lemon juice with a little salt, pepper, and some other spices. The oil and lemon juice kept separating, so I did some kitchen chemistry and added some mustard.
Normally oil and water don’t mix (lemon juice is citric acid and water). Water molecules are polar. So are citric acid molecules. This just means that the molecules are attracted to each other like little magnets. It means a lot more than that, of course, but it means that, too. Oil molecules, on the other hand, are not polar.
You can bring oil and lemon juice together by adding an emulsifier like mustard. One end of the “mustard molecules” is attracted to oil and one end is attracted to water. Soap works the same way, though you don’t put soap in salad dressing.
For dinner I made mealworms sautéed with garlic, raisins, and Calabrian chilies. Well, I was going to add Calabrian chilies (I got the idea for Calabrian chilies from watching Bobby Flay), but we didn’t have any. If you don’t have Calabrian chilies, don’t worry about it. The important and delicious part is the sautéed mealworms. They get all nice and golden brown. Yum!
Anyway, did you know that the browning that happens when you cook food is a chemical reaction? It totally is! It’s called the Maillard reaction. It’s named for Louis-Camille Maillard, a French chemist who figured it out when he was working on protein synthesis. The Maillard reaction is a reaction between carbohydrates (sugars and starches and stuff) and amino acids (what proteins are made of) and heat. And it forms all kinds of awesome aromas and flavors!
The Maillard reaction happens when you toast marshmallows and when you roast vegetables. It happens when you roast coffee and cocoa beans and when you make dulce de leche and toast and when you bake bread.
Bread! Everyone is making bread now, and I am, too. I have a super easy and fun recipe for beer bread that I hope you like.
The best part is that it involves the Maillard reaction and a neutralization reaction. So it’s full of science! And unlike Calabrian chilies, you may already have these ingredients at home.
- 3 cups of self-rising flour
- (If you don’t have self-rising flour, you can mix your own. You’ll need 3 cups of all-purpose flour, 4 ½ teaspoons of baking powder, and ¾ tsp of fine salt.)
- ½ cups of sugar
- 12oz of beer. Whatever beer you like. I’m too young to drink beer so I don’t know what beer I like. I not sure if turtles even drink beer. Anyway, we used a lager, whatever that is, but you can use anything you want.
- 1 cup of mealworms. Fresh and wriggling are better, but freeze dried are fine.
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Spray a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.
In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and mealworms together. Then add the beer.
Mix that all together until everything is incorporated. Pour the (very thick) dough into the loaf pan. Whack it the oven for 40 minutes. Take it out. Let it cool. Eat!
If mealworms aren’t your thing (though I can’t imagine how they wouldn’t be your thing), leave ’em out. The bread will still be great.
That wonderful smell (and taste) of baking bread is the Maillard reaction happening! It’s the most delicious kitchen chemistry experiment ever! Well, it’s one of them.
And cooking and baking has been a really fun way to spend time together with the Aquarists. They’re awesome! They even helped Beep and me clean up our volcano mess.
Experiment and enjoy. Have fun!