Water to Whiskey

During my McKinsey consultant days, I would often frequent hotel bars in the evenings, hoping at least to take the edge off, at most to meet the cast of the next blockbuster movie.  (You see, one of the consultants I idolized had met the entire cast of Ocean’s 12 at the Amsterdam Four Seasons hotel bar, so I was gunning for my chance, though doubtful I’d find them at places like the Westin hotel bar in Princeton, New Jersey, where I was stationed).

I elevated my taste from my graduate school Jameson to the slew of single malts I could now afford . . . with Lagavulin and Oban as my favorites.  (As I write this, I’m salivating, but it’s only 4 PM! Must make it until the kids are in bed.)  Another consultant taught me to add just the tiniest amount — about 1/2 of a standard straw — of water to my scotch, and revel in the torrent of scents and flavors unleashed.

I’ve always wondered about this significant before- and after-water difference with scotch tasting.  Could it have something to do with hydrogen bonding?  But my inquiry joined the long list of Things to Look Up Someday, until last week, when I saw this headline in the Washington Post: “The best way to drink whiskey, according to science.”

Björn Karlsson and Ran Friedman from the Linnaeus University Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry in Sweden (of course), undertook computer simulations, modeling the molecular composition of whiskey, to investigate why water made it taste better.  The results were published here in Nature last week.

In the Linnaeus University news article, Karlsson explains the taste of whiskey is linked to molecules with a “water-loving” (hydrophilic) and “water-hating” (hydrophobic) part (soap and mustard have these features as well, fyi), such as guaiacol, a compound that forms when the malt grain is dried over peat smoke during whiskey production.

Figure 1
Figure 1 from Karlsson’s and Friedman’s paper, an image of 2-methoxy-phenol, aka guaiacol.  The OH part on the bottom is water loving, since water is also made from H (hydrogen) and O (oxygen).


The scientists studied simulations of a water/ethanol mixture in the presence of guaiacol, and determined that in mixtures containing 45% or less ethanol, the guaiacol was more likely to be found at the liquid-air interface, rather than deep in the liquid.  The presence of majority water seems to “release” that flavor compound.

Now, when whiskey is bottled, it is typically already diluted with water so the mixture is 40% ethanol.  The authors suggest the few additional drops of water added just before consumption must further enhance the release of the flavor compounds to the surface.

In the wake of the eclipse, I’ve seen a number of people on social media taking their hats off to SCIENCE.  I think this study is almost as important!


“Someone is Eating the Sun”, and other Eclipse things . . .

The Great American Solar Eclipse is nearly upon us.  On Monday, August 21, a swath of “totality” (complete coverage of sun by moon) will stretch from South Carolina in the South up to Oregon in the West, with all of North America, and some parts of South America, Europe, and Africa in partial eclipse viewing range.  

Total solar eclipses occur about every 18 months, when the Earth, moon, and sun align perfectly and the moon blocks out the sun’s rays.  Most of these eclipses are visible from only some place out in the ocean, making Monday’s land-based viewing opportunity all the more special.

We’ve been reading a few books on the eclipse at home, even though I’m not sure we trust BRK with eclipse glasses and may just wait until the 2024 eclipse, with a path of totality stretching from Texas to Maine, to make this a full family experience.


BRK has fallen in love with “Someone is Eating the Sun”, a lovely picture book published in 1974 by Ruth Sonneborn and illustrated by Eric Gurney.  Several farm animals conclude someone is taking bites of the sun, as it takes on its crescent shape during an eclipse.  A wise turtle explains it is merely an eclipse, and after totality, the animals are relieved the sun has returned.  We also read Eddie’s Eclipse, published this year, by Becky Newsom and Pam Tucker and illustrated by Pam Tucker.  BRK is a bit young for this book and I had to severely live edit as we moved through the pages.  The book had a clear, bright diagram of an eclipse that was helpful in explaining to BRK what an eclipse is.

A page from Eddie’s Eclipse

Meanwhile, Eric and I attended a Solar Eclipse class at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, taught by Joe Patterson, a professor of Physics at Columbia University.

On the first night, he shared a compelling story he wrote about his experience of totality in 1970, during an eclipse in Virginia Beach.  He shared his skepticism that totality would be “worth it”, as he had already experienced a 90% solar eclipse.  He writes:

“As late as 1:30 PM, at about 96%, there was just no hint of the drama yet to come.  I started looking through my binoculars with about 1.5 minutes to go, when Cal warned, “It’s coming fast now.”  At about 15 seconds before totality, he yelled, “Joe — the fringes!”, and I turned to see light and dark bans moving across the sand at 5 mph.  The bands were 2 – 4 inches wide.  I don’t recall if the light bands were any lighter than the sand before the fringes appeared — it would have been very difficult to to tell anyway since the light intensity was changing very rapidly now.  I watched the fringes for a few seconds, yelling, “The fringes! There they are! The fringes!” or something like that.  Then I ripped off one filter and looked back at the Sun.  In a few seconds the diamond ring effect appeared, the last burst of light from the photosphere.  Then Bailey’s Beads flashed into view, and I lowered the binoculars to rip the last filter off.  I had been lying down to view it comfortably, but by this time I was standing up, though I don’t remember getting up.  In my haste to remove the filter I lost my balance and fell, and in a kneeling position I glanced up to see the corona.  All this took at most three seconds, so the corona must have appeared very suddenly.  I looked around me and saw — if that’s the word — the darkness that had enveloped everything.  I heard myself yelling incoherently, “My God! It’s incredible! Fantastic!” and so on.  I heard Bill yelling similar things and I think I heard Cal, but I had no awareness that anyone else was present — except that I clearly recall wondering why nobody else was reacting to the spectacle, so I must have been aware of their presence.  Later Bill and Cal told me that everyone had reacted with the the same hysteria . . . “

Joe also shared with us Annie Dillard’s account of her experience with the 1979 total solar eclipse.  She wrote:

“I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970.  A partial eclipse is very interesting.  It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse.  Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying an airplane does to falling out an airplane.”

(How badly do you wish you were going to totality? If you aren’t going to make it for this one, make your 2024 plans now!)


Beyond the awe and spectacle, eclipses also generate discoveries.  Science magazine did a great piece on what past eclipses have helped us learn.  For example, around 150 BC, a Greek astronomer named Hipparchus of Nicaea used a solar eclipse to calculate the distance from the Earth to the moon.

Finally, there have been some reports of faulty viewing glasses.  If you are in doubt about yours, you can check your brand here.  If you find yourself without protective glasses, here’s a cool workaround from Neil deGrasse Tyson involving a colander.

Happy Eclipse Viewing!

Family Beach Trip Best Practices

We just returned from a beach vacation trip to the Jersey Shore with two kids — our 3-year-old daughter (BRK), and her 9-month-old brother (Owl).

This morning I ran into a Mom Friend when dropping BRK off at camp.  Mom Friend asked, “So, how was the beach? Was it an actual vacation?”

“YES!” I screamed.

Although it had such elements of a trip such as obstructed views out the back car windows and a final destination with a kitchen, it also had aspects of a vacation which would not have been possible without our incredible Beach Babysitter, whom I found on care.com.

There were a number of other Best Practices, identified either because we did them, or did the opposite, leading me to identify a Best Practice to target next year.

Without further adieu:

Our Family Beach Trip Best Practices For When You Have a Toddler and Baby

1) Ensure there is an extra adult.  As stated above, we found a truly amazing babysitter on care.com.  She just graduated from high school (tons of energy), is one of five siblings (can deal with kid chaos), and is a lifeguard (sigh of relief in re kids and the ocean).  As a bonus, she is a prospective science major so we had several interesting conversations about medical history.  We rarely left both kids with her — typically she would stay in the house with Owl while he napped or slept, so BRK and Eric and I could go to the beach during the day or go out to the boardwalk and rides at night.  (Owl currently naps from 9 AM to 11 AM, and then from 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM, and then goes to sleep around 6 PM, so without another adult to stay with him during naps/sleep, we would have been more constrained in our activities, or would have spent a lot of time in a one-parent-with-one-kid situation, or would have been dragging a non-napping demon baby around.)  If a babysitter isn’t in the cards, perhaps a willing relative can come along.

Me with Owl, Extra Adult with BRK.

2) Rent a house where everything is on one level.  Two years ago we rented a gorgeous house with stairs.  We thought this year about how difficult that would have been with an active toddler and a baby who wants only to pull up on furniture and attempt to climb.  Just imagine packing the baby gates  . . . .  One level simplified everything.

3) Prioritize beach access over perks of the house.  The house we rented was not my beach dream house.  My dream house would have a grill, non-rusting and non-ripped deck furniture, and would have quaint and charming New England decorative elements.  However, the house is a 2-minute easy walk to the beach.  At this stage in life, easy beach access trumps all.


4) USE ALL THE ROOMS.  At home, BRK and Owl share a room in our 2-bedroom apartment.  The house we rented had 4 bedrooms.  I was nervous to give each kid a room, worried that BRK might refuse to share when we got home.  But finally on Day 2 we broke down and let each kid have their own room.  And it was glorious.  It was so freeing to not worry about them waking each other up, and they both slept later in the morning.  And when we got home, there were no protests about returning to the shared room.

5) Make a grocery gameplan before you arrive.  Fresh Direct now delivers to the Jersey Shore, but would not deliver alcohol.  So, I placed a small order to arrive at home the day before we left to take with us in the car — namely, beer and canned bubbly, critical snacks, and breakfast food — and another order to arrive the day after we arrived, in case we encountered any delays getting down there.  We did however order too much food.  Next time we will order less food, and make it of the nonperishable type (eg, more peanut butter and less chicken salad).  Having groceries delivered is much nicer than spending at least a half-day grocery shopping with children and fighting beach traffic to and from the grocery store.

6) Schedule a parents’ night out.  This definitely made it more like a vacation.  On Tuesday night Eric and I went out, to a real dinner, over the bridge to a place where restaurants serve alcohol.  We wore normal adult clothes that didn’t have magic marker or baby food stains, and had a relaxed conversation overlooking the setting sun.

7) Dress the baby in a full-body SPF 50 lycra suit.  The jury may be out on what is more difficult — slathering the baby with sunscreen or cramming his little body into head-to-toe lycra, but I found head-to-toe lycra a lot easier to deal with once on the beach.  His little belly was better protected from the sun, and it’s less invasive than huge loads of sunscreen on baby skin.


8) Baths immediately after the beach.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, do not allow them to take one step into the rental house upon returning from the beach.  Carry them into the house and directly to the bath tub, to dispense the 3 – 5 pounds of sand now stuck to their bodies.

9) Pirate’s Booty.  So many problems were solved by Pirate’s Booty beyond low blood sugar.  Such as calming BRK down from her screaming tantrum when Eric and I left for our dinner out, and bribing BRK to eat things like tomatoes and avocados or to leave the beach.

10) You can’t have enough towels — both cloth and paper.  We did NOT bring enough towels, not by a longshot.  We severely underestimated the number of baths and showers and spills and messes 2 small people can generate over the course of a day.  (Note: it is double to triple that of what is generated at home).  We were washing towels every single day!

Overall, it was a great time and I like how we are getting better at traveling with kids each year.  More organized and more relaxed at the same time.  Some favorite moments for the family:

Me — drinking summer ales on the deck in the afternoon and jogging in the morning along the beach.


Eric — taking the kids in water and setting off fireworks on the beach.


BRK — ice cream and carnival rides.


Owl — tiny waves and a new measuring spoons set to chew on.


Note: I have no commercial affiliation with care.com or Pirate’s Booty.  

How Many Kids Could Pee in the Sprinkler?


Me and BRK at the pool at Grammie’s retirement community. Neither of us peed in it.

A few weeks ago BRK and I met up with another mom friend and her son at the park.  It was a hot day.  The kids played in the sprinkler setup — a 400-square-foot area with small sprinklers, large sprinklers, jets, fountains, even a rotatable water cannon.  The mom and I chatted, and watched.

“Mommy I have to use the potty!” Every mom knows those words, and I think every mom hopes it’s not her kid (unless, of course, one is engaged in potty-training).

It was BRK, and, as if scripted, I forgot to pack the portable potty.  Our toilet options were to go back home, a 10-minute walk and then an elevator ride up to the 14th floor, or a public bathroom a 15-minute walk away.  I wasn’t up for either of these options, especially with Baby Owl in tow.

“BRK,” I crouched down, “you know what? You can just go in the sprinkler.”

She looked up at me, unsure.

“Really, you can just go in your bathing suit, in the sprinkler, it’s fine.”

This is the chemist in me speaking.  I’m looking at the volumes of water gushing in this park, and thinking about the volume of a three-year-old pee event, and doing the dilution math.

Don’t worry, readers — my mom friend discouraged this.  “No, no, no,” she said, “don’t do that.”

I then felt self-conscious, realizing that not everyone sees the world as a collection of molecules, where the identity doesn’t matter as much as the dose.

She volunteered to keep an eye on Owl while I took BRK to the bushes behind the park and led her through her first squat.

I relayed this story to Eric the next night, and he asked mischievously, “The real question is, how many kids would it take to pee in the sprinkler before it’s contaminated?”

I’ve been tossing this question around in my mind, and so was delighted when some related calculations appeared in an article the WSJ last week.  The article is entitled, “Is That Pool Really Sanitary? New Chemical Approach Has Answers.

The article opens with a disturbing picture, stating that an artificial sweetener (acesulfame potassium) has been found in oddly high concentrations in Canadian swimming pools.  How did it get there? Pee.  The sweetener isn’t broken down in the body, and so is excreted through urine, and, when someone pees in a pool, into the pool.  Turns out acesulfame potassium is a star indicator of the prevalence of pool peeing.  Researchers were able to estimate that 0.01% of total pool volume studied (31 pools and hot tubs in recreational facilities and hotels in Canada) was contaminated by urine.  To put it a different way, about a half-teaspoon for every one hundred cups of water.  It’s nice to have some data on this, even if from only 31 Canadian pools, and moreover, to have a method.

The article then takes a darker turn, pointing out it’s not urine that should concern us, but feces.  The authors state:

“At any time, Dr. Hlavsa said, adults have about 0.14 grams of poop on their bottoms and children have as much as 10 grams.  ‘When you’re talking about bigger water parks with 1,000 children in a given day, you’re now talking about 10 kilograms or 22 pounds of poop.’ “

Pause for gagging.

This number definitely had an impact on me.  While my adult-onset swing nausea likely already ruled out future flume rides, this statement was the final nail in the coffin.

Coming back to the pools — researchers are concerned because since chlorine reacts with urine, less of it becomes available where needed: to disinfect poop that contains bacteria that can actually make one sick.

The article concludes with some best practices for pool use I am likely to follow. 1) The smell test.  Chlorinated pools give off a strong odor when urine is present, reacting with the chlorine.  A pool free from urine, and thus with chlorine able to do its job, should not smell.  2) Everyone should “shower for about one minute before swimming to remove personal care products and traces of feces.”

While this article did not answer my question on how many kids can pee in the sprinkler, it certainly got me thinking.  The feces bit becomes especially disturbing when we are talking sprinklers — is the sprinkler water chemically treated for that kind of contamination?

Here’s wishing you happy and human-waste-free summer water fun!

The Greatest Thing

Today while walking across East 12th Street, from Broadway to University, I spotted The Greatest Thing.  It was a red Economist truck, serving free burgers.

The red Economist food truck


The truck was not serving just any kind of burger.  Rather, it was a juicy, tender, flavorful, falling-apart-as-you-sink-your-teeth-into-it VEGAN BURGER.  I know, I know.  How could this possibly even exist?

Perhaps you aren’t like me, and haven’t ranged from disinterested to disgusted upon trying meat alternatives in the past.  But if this has been your experience, I encourage you to run, not walk, to the nearest red Economist food truck in your neighborhood.  You can taste this miracle for yourself, for $12, the price of a starter Economist subscription.  (I got one for my Mom.)

What’s that you say? No Economist food truck? Oh dear.  Do not be alarmed.  A little research brought me to the website of the manufacturer of this delectable vegetable-based nugget, an outfit known as Beyond Meat.

Here is the vision of Beyond Meat, as told in their About section:

“At Beyond Meat, we want all of the good and none of the bad. We want to eat delicious meat but we don’t want any of the bad stuff that goes along with it. Is that too much to ask? Well no, actually. Not since we created meat from plants. Brilliant, right? Replacing animal protein with meat made from plants would do wonders for human health, for the environment, for conservation of natural resources and for animals. It’s worth a fight. This is where you come in. Reduce your meat consumption and tell the world. Even if you’re already eating less meat, you can help us spread the word and make a real difference. Together we can build a world that’s zero downside and all delicious upside.”

Before tasting, I asked the friendly Economist rep, on whose iPad I tapped my gift order, what was in this burger.  I wasn’t interested in soy.

“Uh, pea protein, potato, and beets.”  He seemed relieved to have known.

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 5.29.02 PM
Nutritional information for a Beyond Meat burger

And then I had my first magical bite.  It was truly so delicious, I scarfed it down in record time, pausing only at the end to take a picture of the last bite.  I hope my picture can do it’s medium-rare beef-like texture justice.


I think this is the major problem for me with other meat substitutes — the texture just isn’t right.  Now, I feel my search is over!  Don’t get me wrong — I’m not anti-meat, but I do believe a lot of the meat in our marketplace could use an upgrade.  Especially when a well-sourced grass-fed burger isn’t within reach.  With 20 grams of protein per patty, perhaps the Beyond Meat burger is it.

For more on the current crop of next generation meat products, click here.  And go get yourself a Beyond Meat burger!

Post Script:

a) I wrote this nine days ago but didn’t post until now (welcome to life with a baby and toddler), so not sure the truck is out in NYC anymore and b) I have no affiliation with the The Economist or Beyond Meat.)

What Were You Doing A Year Ago?

Or two? Or four? Or ten?

I love this kind of reflection.  In the past, I’ve relied on memory alone to answer this question.

But since I bought a five-year journal last year, now I can read exactly what I was doing last year, on the same page I enter what I did today.  Genius.

A five-year journal — you write in the year.

I always fantasized about keeping journals, but felt intimidated by the large blank page awaiting my entry at 11 PM when I’m about to go to sleep.  This journal gives you six lines to enter something for the day — just enough to capture what you did, or felt, but not enough to take longer than a few minutes.

I tested the waters last summer and then began to fill it out religiously after Owl was born.  I love looking back through the pages and looking at what was happening 3 months ago on this day, 6 months ago, 9 month ago . . .

I was doing the same thing with pictures the other day — on July 9.  And then I found this gem.


This was the second-to-last night of our honeymoon.  It was only four years ago but it feels like a hundred.  We basically look the same, but there are more gray hairs (me), more lines on our faces, and some sagging skin here and there (me also).  Those physical relics are our evidence of all the has happened — new life, loss, needing to be stronger, more energetic, more patient, more creative, more forgiving, and more loving than we sometimes think we can be.  I look into these faces and see children, even though I was 35, and Eric was 39.  Though we did not know it, nine months later we would be parents.

On July 9 of this year, BRK and Eric’s mom and I returned home from a trip to Florida to see my mom.  This was BRK’s first flight as a toddler.

“Look, look out the window!” I urged,  “We’re inside a cloud!”

“Can I watch Shrek now?” BRK was laser-focused on the TV screen embedded in the seat in front of her.


“I want to watch Shrek.”


Seamless logistics, and Shrek on demand, returned us home without a scratch or a tantrum.

That night I wrote the following in the five-year diary: “Flew back home.  Was so good to see Mom, to see BRK to with Mom.”  I was tired and even those 6 little lines seemed to vast to fill.

I looked up, to last year’s entry, and then across the page, to the next entry, July 10, 2016:

“ . . . took Dad downtown . . . we went to Starbucks.  Told him I hate that he has to go through this, and that I have so many good memories and that I love him . . .”


The sensations of that day washed over me.  The smell of Starbucks coffee permeating the car, the gray dress I wore, my belly grazing the steering wheel because it was full of 20-week-old Owl, that conversation.

Would I remember this if I hadn’t written it down?  Of course.  But there is something magical about getting to experience it again, on that day, one year later.  And on the future July 10ths when I write in these journals.

Don’t Ask For Too Many Things

A page from A Fish Out of Water, by Helen Palmer and illustrated by P.D. Eastman

“Mommy, I want to ask for The Door, The Cymbal, and  The Train.”

BRK named the activities she would ask the teacher to do that day in our weekly music class.

“Well, maybe just ask for one thing.” I replied.

Then, I wondered about those words, hanging in the air.

BRK asked, “Why?”

Good question.

Why?  Why not ask for as many things as she wants?  I had discouraged her because when she rattled off all the things she wanted, my mind raced ahead to a place called Must Prevent Disappointment, and then shot to another place, called My Child Must Not Come Across As Demanding.

And I realized how problematic both of these ideas are.

I understand, intellectually, that my children must encounter and experience disappointment.  Yet, despite firmly embracing Cry It Out when she was a baby, and Time Outs when she was 2, now that she is 3, my emotional white knuckles feel arthritically stuck, unable to to let go, to let her be disappointed.  I think of a recent disappointment, when she asked another little girl to play and the little girl said no, and BRK kept bringing different toys over to the little girl, simply not understanding that no matter what she did, that little girl wasn’t going to play with her.  I watched the confusion on her face give way to her first inklings of rejection.  I needed a mop for the pieces of my heart.

My second line of reasoning, about coming across as demanding, bothered me even more.  I asked myself, would I worry about this if BRK were a boy?  Would I worry about this with Owl, who is a boy?  And I think my answer is, “I would worry about it less”.  I might see it more as “knowing what he wants” and “just being a boy”.  I would worry less about him seeming selfish or demanding.

I was reading a childhood classic to both kids last night, A Fish Out of Water.  There is the part when the boy breaks the news to the man at the fish store, Mr. Carp, that he didn’t follow the directions to “feed the fish just this much and no more”, and instead, fed him way too much.

And Mr. Carp replies, “Oh, dear! So you fed him too much! I knew you would.  I always say ‘don’t’ but you boys always do. Yes, I will come.”


And I wondered about the girls.  Did THEY ever go against what Mr Carp said?  And if they did, what happened? Was it just no big deal, like in this case?  No scolding, just a gentle lesson learned?

Later I said, “You know, BRK, go ahead and ask for all the things you want to do in music class.”  My mind did race ahead to the possible tantrum that could occur, because it was unlikely the teacher would grant all the requests.  But it also reached ahead to BRK being just fine with it, which is what happened, and it was a gentle and real way to learn the lesson of Most Disappointments Are Not That Big Of A Deal.  And, I thought to my own life.  How many times have I amended my requests, making them smaller, in efforts to minimize future disappointment?  I noticed that when I invited people to things, I would say something like, “If you can’t make it I TOTALLY understand.”  I decided to stop saying that.  Why anticipate the No before it happens?  Why not wholeheartedly bound into the invitation, letting the person know how much their presence is desired?  A rejection might sting, but it won’t irreversibly harm.

I thought about all of these things, and especially thought about the messages I want and don’t want to send to BRK and Owl, about what is OK to ask for, and how it is OK to be.

**** I cannot believe it has been nearly 3 weeks since I last posted!  Tear.  It’s been an irregular 3 weeks of new summer schedules, lots of trips, etc.  We have one more week of schedule irregularity but then hoping to get my back to my standard Tuesday and Friday posts.  Thank you, readers, for staying with this blog! ****