Saturday, December 25, 2010
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Photography by Kiyomi
I was treated to a sweet evening at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The Exploratorium (located in the Palace of Fine Arts) is a hand-on science museum where kids of all ages can roam through the exhibits and interact with clever experiments. It is truly a cool place. But, on the first Thursday of the month, everything changes. The museum becomes a playground for adults. They call it - After Dark.
If you drive by the museum on a After Dark night, the first thing you'll notice is that the parking lot is stacked. People know they can come to enjoy an evening of cocktails, live performances, films, art, and science while leaving the kids with a babysitter. On this Thursday eve, the topic of the night was "Sugar".
Everyone can relate to the gravitational pull of a sweet tooth. We are hard wired to crave sugar from birth. Given the right conditions, I believe it is one of the strongest addictions that can be developed. Our bodies reinforce sugar cravings by releasing powerful natural "feel-good" chemicals called opioids every time we eat something sweet. Sugar facilitates the addition to our own opioids. This might explain why a midnight snack generally won't include a tossed green salad or a a plate full of steamed vegetables. We would rather satisfy that craving with a creamy pint of vanilla bean ice cream, a box of ginger snaps, or homemade chocolate fudge.
Every After Dark guest experienced some type of confection with a scientific twist. Sugar investigations included taste experiments that block sugar receptors, light interactions with sugar, taste tests of 15 different Indian treats, Mexican hot chocolate (without milk), chubby bunny marshmallow contests and sugar sculpting. In fact, watching candy artist Shan Ichiyanagi practice the ancient art of Amezaiku was a delightful treat. Mr. Ichiyanagi crafts molten corn syrup into exquisite animal creatures.
The evening also included an interesting lecture by culinary historian Michael Krondl. Krondl discussed the "Need for Dessert". He took the audience back in time as he described an extravagant banquet that was served to French King Henri III. The tables, glasses, and serving utensils were all made out of pure sugar. The illusion was so impressive, even the King was not initially aware of this triumph. King Henri III picked up his napkin and it all fell apart in his lap. And, to think, this banquet was held in the late 1850's - not a small feat by any standard. Contemporary sugar work is a remarkable process that has turned into an art. Patissiers have become very competitive. You can see great examples of this in the film called - "Kings of Pastry".
If you are in San Francisco on the first Thursday of January, take the time to check out After Dark at the Exploratorium. They'll be exploring the science behind relaxing. And, isn't that appropriate after the holiday madness? Bars open at 6:00 p.m.