"The Only Difference Between Screwing Around and Science"
After Tony had agreed to let
Bruce help figure out what was
going on with Tony and caffeine --
as suspected, when already alert,
Tony didn't need the caffeine so it
tasted wrong -- Bruce held up
his end of their bargain.
The two of them had claimed
one of the Tower's culinary labs
to set the stage for a new episode of
Kitchen Chemistry with Dr. Banner
for the Starklings, and Phil had
tagged along out of curiosity.
Now the space was full of
two dozen kids ranging
from seven to seventeen,
all offspring of employees
who worked in the Tower.
They were dressed like
the junior nerds they were.
Half of the boys were wearing
bow ties. So were two of the girls.
"Log books?" said Mr. Stark.
Most of the Starklings held up
either a paper notebook or
a Stark tablet in log mode,
but a couple had forgotten.
Mr. Stark produced spares.
"Remember, kids," he said,
"the only difference between
screwing around and science is
writing it down. So write it down."
"Safety equipment?" said Dr. Banner.
The kids showed off their goggles
and their miniature lab coats.
"Okay, today we're studying
the interactions between acids
and bases," said Dr. Banner.
"Mixing the two creates
a foaming reaction used
to leaven baked goods and
make other exciting effects."
"Speaking as your mixologist, you
can use that chemistry to make
volcano drinks and cakes that
really erupt," said Mr. Stark.
"Do not use liquid nitrogen
or dry ice, because that stuff
is pretty risky," said Dr. Banner.
"You don't want to lose a fingertip,
or worse, somebody's stomach."
Phil cleared his throat. "That's
not an exaggeration. A SWAT team
broke into a supervillain lair and unwisely
decided to play around with what they
thought were familiar ingredients.
There were some serious injuries."
That was one reason SHIELD
existed, so untrained police didn't
have to deal with things like that.
"We'll be careful," the Starklings said.
"Okay," said Dr. Banner. "Here we
have some common cooking ingredients
listed by their acidity, so we can experiment
to find out which ones work best and give
the best flavors in different dishes."
Phil recognized the cream of tartar,
yogurt, honey, and vinegar.
"Why is honey here?" a girl said.
"It's sweet, and acids are sour!"
"Let's check to make sure,"
Dr. Banner said. "Test strips
are in this box, and there are
several types of meter available
depending on your lab skills."
The Starklings looked at
their phones to see which
equipment they could use,
then hurried to the stations.
Two of the oldest boys and
a girl who looked about nine
headed for the benchtop meter.
"So this is one of my new models,
it's a smart meter with tolerances
way finer than we really need today,
but hey, it's fun!" said Mr. Stark.
He showed them how to set up
the test, then stepped back.
"3.91," the girl read. "Wow,
that's more acidic than buttermilk!
Why doesn't it taste more sour?"
"Honey is mostly sugar, so that
hides the acid," said Mr. Stark.
A screen lit with the formula
and an explanation of how
chemistry affected flavor.
"Thanks, Professor Jarvis!"
the girl said, taking notes.
Having confirmed the pH
of the honey, the Starklings
moved on to test the acidity
of other samples and compare
how that influenced flavors.
Dr. Banner did his presentation
on common acids in cooking
and their culinary uses.
Later on, the footage from
the lab cameras would all get
edited to make an episode
that could be replayed for
viewers in home kitchens.
Then the kids got to talking
about acids that were on the list
but not set up in the culinary lab.
"Dill pickles are 3.4," said a boy.
"That would make great dilly bread."
"Yeah, and I made a volcano cake
for my birthday last year, but it
didn't taste very good -- it was
too sour and salty," said a girl.
"You have to be careful with flavors,"
Dr. Banner reminded them. "Acids
are sour. Bases are more bitter,
and some of them taste salty. You
want something that works well
in tiny amounts for best results."
"What about balsamic vinegar?"
someone said. "Vinegar is 2,
but balsamic also tastes sweet."
"And it's often reddish, so it would
look more like lava without needing
food coloring," another girl added.
"Yeah, but that would make
savory lava," a boy argued.
They looked at each other.
"Meat volcano!" they squealed.
"Balsamic vinegar is used to make
sauces for steak and mushrooms,"
JARVIS said. "If you made meatloaf
in a bundt cake pan, then you could
make trees out of mushrooms."
More squealing ensued. "Can
we make a meat volcano now?"
"Well, we don't have all the ingredients
here in the lab --" Dr. Banner said.
"No problem," said Mr. Stark.
"There's plenty of balsamic vinegar
in the common kitchen, and I know
Steve has a giant jar of dill pickles
fermenting on his countertop."
"That's my cue," Phil said.
"I'll fetch the balsamic vinegar
and ask Steve if we can borrow
a cup of his dill pickle brine."
One of the girls raised her hand.
"Borrow in Mr. Rogers' time meant
you're supposed to bring back
a serving of what you make."
"Then we'll send him a loaf
of dilly bread," said Dr. Banner.
So Phil went to elevator.
"Professor Jarvis?" he said,
curious about the connection.
"I have been helping Sir with
materials for the Starkling program
for years," JARVIS explained. "They
think of me as a college professor."
"It fits you," Phil said. He headed
to the common kitchen to find
the balsamic vinegar, then
he went to Steve's apartment.
"Hey, Phil, what's up?" Steve said.
"I would like to borrow a cup of
your dill pickle brine," said Phil.
"The Starklings want to cook with it."
"Sure, come on into the kitchen,"
Steve said, leading the way there.
The dill pickles were curing in
a massive glass jar that had
probably been salvaged from
a convenience store's counter.
"My 'borrow' or your 'borrow' though?"
Steve said dryly as he filled a container.
"Yours, and one of the kids made
that connection," Phil said. "You're
getting a loaf of dilly bread later."
Steve wriggled like a puppy
hearing the word "biscuit."
"I love dilly bread," he said.
"It makes the best sandwiches."
"I'm sure the Starklings will
appreciate feedback," Phil said
as he accepted the container.
He went back to the culinary lab
and turned over the ingredients.
A large screen was covered with
formulae showing how the acids
and bases affected different recipes.
"All right, I'm handling the dilly bread
and Mr. Stark is doing meat volcanoes,"
said Dr. Banner. "The lab pantry has
all the other ingredients we'll need.
Pick a project and sort yourselves."
The Starklings divided with about
two thirds sticking with Dr. Banner
and the remainder with Mr. Stark.
"We have enough pickle brine here
to make several loaves, so we can
test different amounts," Dr. Banner said.
"Set up your log book pages like this ..."
"With a whole bottle of balsamic vinegar,
we're going to test lava recipes first, then
make volcanoes with different kinds of meat
to learn which tastes best," said Mr. Stark.
"We need a scientific method worksheet ..."
Phil sat back and watched happily
as the art and science of cooking
unfolded right in front of him.
Several girls were carefully
measuring out the brine
to make the dilly bread.
On the other side, one boy
had taken a scalpel to carve
mushrooms so they would stack,
making them more treelike.
It felt good to see Dr. Banner
just as comfortable with leadership
as Mr. Stark for a change, showing
that Dr. Banner only needed to find
the right environment to thrive.
From the look of the big screens,
JARVIS was taking this opportunity
to explore his growing culinary interests too.
Phil could hardly wait to sample the results.
* * *
[From "Coming in from the Cold: Wednesday: Coping Techniques" Part 6]
"Come to my lab later and let me run a few tests," Bruce said to Tony. "I can probably confirm the caffeine theory."
"Not a guinea pig," Tony grumbled.
"If you let me test the theory in the lab, I'll give you another episode of Kitchen Chemistry with Dr. Banner for the Starklings. I'll even let you pick the topic; I know the kids have given you a wishlist," Bruce bargained.
"Done," Tony said, pouncing on the rare offer before Bruce could back out. He hugged all over Bruce again and then scampered away. Bruce looked quietly, deeply pleased at Tony's response to his problem-solving skills.
Acids and bases play a major role in cooking. Here are some culinary acids and acidic ingredients to explore.
Testing equipment for pH comes in various styles, from cheap and simple to expensive and complicated. The Starklings have a rating for what complexity of lab equipment they can use, which is based on individual skill rather than age.
Dilly bread recipes can make yeast bread or quick bread, and there's even a vegan version. Adding a small amount of dill pickle brine can greatly enhance the dill flavor of the bread. You may need to adjust other ingredients to account for the wetness and saltiness.
Made from red grape must, balsamic vinegar can be dark red, brown, or purplish. It goes well with steak and mushrooms.
Here is one way to make an Erupting Volcano Cake.
Don't mix nitrogen with food or beverages. Some things should really stay in a lab.
Countertop Pickles ferment at room temperature for several days, then move to the refrigerator.
The scientific method describes a process for making reliable discoveries. Know how to teach it to young scientists. Here are some exercises. There are worksheets for children, tweens, and teens.