Sunday, November 23, 2014

Apple #690: Bobby Pins & the Bob

Thanksgiving is this week, so I'm sure you'd expect me to do a post about something to do with Thanksgiving.  I've already done a lot of Thanksgiving entries (see Ripe Apples at right).  So instead, I'm going to talk about something else that is currently of interest to me: the bobby pin.

Bobby pins fanned decoratively from a messy bun. What do you think, yea or nay?
(Photo from Free People Blog)

I got my hair cut recently, and I am not a fan.  One of the things that I let the hairdresser do was give me more bangs.  I have bangs already, but not a huge honking hunk of them.  My goal is to cover my large forehead, not to accentuate it and make a great big flashing sign that shouts in bang-speak, "HEY, BIG FOREHEAD HERE!"

But every hairdresser I have encountered who lays eyes on my rather minimal bangs sees them as some sort of Wrong That Must Be Corrected.  They immediately want to carve out a big V-shape's worth of hair and turn this into bangs and thereby plop a huge hunk of heavy hair on top of my face.

This enormous amount of bangs looks good on some people, but not on me. See how she's got a long, thin face?  (This woman's name is Carly Rae Jepsen, by the way.)  Let's just say my face is not shaped like that.  I also have thicker hair than she does.  So big honkin' bangs like this do not look good on me.
(Photo from Become Gorgeous)

This sort of thing -- minimal bangs that are not so heavy and that don't start all the way back at the crown of my head -- looks better on me.  This is Mariska Hargitay, who plays probably the only sex crimes detective whose hairstyle changes almost as often as her caseload. Note that her face is not long and slender but wider and more round.
(Photo from somewhere on this person's Pinterest page

The one hairdresser I was going to for several years learned that I hated this and did not try to give me the Big Bang Treatment.  But recently I went to a new person -- referral discount, close to my house, thought I'd try a change -- and when she suggested making more bangs, I forgot how much I hated that and said, "Sure, whatever you want."  Because, you know, you're supposed to trust a hairdresser to make you look better, not worse, right?  The unfortunate result: a ton of thick heavy bangs pouffing up at the top of my head, making my big head look even bigger.  Ugh.

Immediately I resolved to allow the extra baggage of bangs to grow out.  I have sectioned off the undesirable hunk, and to make them look as if they're part of the main, full-length mane, I've started keeping those bangs tucked down with the aid of that most crucial instrument, the bobby pin.

I haven't had to do this trick since high school, when another overzealous hairdresser pulled this same too-much-bangs fiasco on me, and I had to let those grow out.  Took about a year, actually, given how long my hair was at the time.  Anyway, I haven't forgotten that bobby pin trick after all this time, so I put it to use immediately.

Having now become so dependent on this long-unused beauty essential, I've started thinking about it.  Every time I insert one, I think, Bobby pin.  That's a weird phrase.  Bobby pin.  So of course I had to find out why we call these handy gizmos "bobby pins."

Bobby pins
(Photo from Sam the Bear)

The Pins

  • Bobby pins got their name when they became popular, which was during the hey-day of the bob haircut, in the 1920s.  Women used these pins to keep their bob haircut out of the face.

An exemplary bob from the 1920s, worn here by Louise Brooks.  You can imagine how the hair on either side of her face might slide easily and often into her eyes.  Ah, but not with the aid of the ever-discreet bobby pin!
(Photo from MrsKHistory)

Note the vintage Bob Clips at right.  They have a shape similar to the bobby pins we use today.
(Photo from Hair Archives)

The Gayla Hold-Bob Bobby Pins name says it all: these pins will hold your bob in place.
(Photo from Michelle Shepherd NZ)

And this ad explains it fully: "Bobbed Heads Want the Bobbie Pin: Keeps Hair Tidy."  I'm sure there was some very scientific research behind that 7 out of 11 heads statistic.
(Image from Michelle Shepherd NZ)

  • Unlike waving pins, which were used to keep your Marcel wave wavy, or hair clips, or bandeaux, or other decorative hair ornaments, the bobby pins were supposed to be discreet.  Blend in with your hair.  Be mostly invisible.
  • Of course, decorative bobby pins were also made.  Kind of like how dresses with very visible zippers are the rage these days: let's not hide the pins that hold up the works, let's bring those underpins to the outer light and show them off.  

I had a pair of decorative bobby pins that looked something like this, which I think belonged to my Great Aunt Ceil.  I unfortunately lost one at a particularly fun Halloween party.
(Photo from Amazon, pins from Beadaholique. A 6-piece set of these pins can be yours from Amazon for about $5: Beadaholique 6-Piece Metal Bobby Pins with Pad for Gluing, 10mm, Silver

  • A lot of people say that the way you're really supposed to use bobby pins is to put the wavy side down. They say this as if it's a fact everyone, duh, should know.  They say the pins grip better that way. 
  • OK, maybe they do work better that way. But if this is something that everyone, duh, should know, then whey are all those decorative bobby pins made so that the jiggy side goes up. Riddle me that one, smarty-pants fashion magazine people.
  • I would further like to point out that bobby pins are useful for all sorts of lock-picking and safe-cracking applications, as referenced in countless noir movies and TV detective shows, most notably in Charlie's Angels.  Any good detective worth her salt would have a bobby pin on hand in the event of just such an emergency.  The Charlie's Angels detectives were so savvy, they even carried little plastic containers that held a selection of bobby pins of various widths and lengths.

Cosmo magazine, in an article fantastically titled "20 Life-Changing Ways to Use Bobby Pins" recommends using an empty Tic Tac box to hold your bobby pins.  I can't show you their photo since it has the bugbear (c) over it, but here is someone else's picture of the same thing.
(Photo from The Burlap Bag)

  • I wonder if Cosmo et al. saw those same Charlie's Angels episodes where they carry their bobby pins in a little container and got the idea to use the Tic Tac box from that.

The Haircut

  • So if bobby pins are named for the bob, why is the bob called the bob?
  • Answer: because a woman getting her hair cut that short is much like the way they bob a horse's tail.
  • No, really.  The verb to bob in the sense of cutting hair short was originally applied to bobbing horses' tails.  
    • You know, like the name of the horse in "Jingle Bells:" "Bells on Bobtail ring / Making spirits bright."

Horse with a bobbed tail
(Burlap decorated towel available on Etsy for $1)

  • Imagine, if you will, the barber taking hold of a woman's pony tail and chopping it off right above where the pony tail is secured.  That would give you essentially a bob haircut--with a little more shaping, of course.

The barber lops off the ponytail, like this, and gives you a bob.
(Image from The Hourglass Files)

  • It really was the barber, by the way, who gave most women their bobs in the early part of the 1920s. Hairdressers, used to coiffing women's long hair into complicated up-dos, were at a loss when women came asking them to chop it all off into a short style.  So women in want of a bob went to men's barbers, who were used to cutting short hair.  And they did as the women asked, shocking though so many of them found the haircuts to be.
  • When did the bob originate?  There are a lot of sites out there that give histories of the bob, but for my money, the best and most complete history is given here, at V is for Vintage.
  • This blog points out that the first woman known to wear a bob is none other than -- I don't think you'll guess this -- Joan of Arc.

Jeanne d'Arc. The bob looks good on her in this depiction, don't you think?
(Image from Catholic Tradition)

  • Brief biography: French peasant girl Jeanne d'Arc believed God had chosen her to lead the French army in its battles against the English (Burgundians) in the early 1400s.  A teen-ager, she cut off her hair to disguise her gender and with no military training, told the French crown prince information about troop positions that no one else could have known and which she said God had told her about. So the crown prince agreed to allow her to lead the French troops in a battle at Orléans, which they won.  However, after some later battles that the prince undertook against Jeanne's advice, and which they lost, the English troops (Burgundians) captured her and put her on trial for heresy and witchcraft and for dressing like a man and some 67 other charges.  They decided she was a heretic and a witch, and after keeping her imprisoned for a year, burned her at the stake.  It was her insistence on dressing like a man that really put them over the top.  She was 19 years old when she was burned to death.
  • Fast forward to 1909.  Then-Pope Benedict XV beatified Jeanne d'Arc.  In 1920, she was  canonized to full-on saint, and was made the patron saint of France. All of this brought her into the forefront of the popular eye, even after centuries' worth of paintings and stories had been made and told about her.
  • Also in 1909, a French hairdresser to celebrities named Antoine began cutting his female customers' hair in a bob, a la Jeanne d'Arc.  In France, the bob is still referred to as "coupe a la Jeanne D’Arc."
  • Americans like to think the bob was invented when an American ballroom dancer named Irene Castle had her hair bobbed in 1915 for the sake of convenience.  Or else they say it was the influence of F. Scott Fitzgerald's story "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1920. But really, it started with Joan of Arc and Antoine.  Who was originally from Poland.

Irene Castle, sporting her famous bob. Notice she has some of her hair pinned back -- with bobby pins, no doubt.
(Photo sourced from the Hair Archives)

French actress Polaire cut her hair short well before the bob became popular -- as early as the 1890s. But she was considered too scandalous for everyone else to adopt her style, at least, not until a few decades had passed.
(Photo sourced from Photographs, Films, Literature & Quotes from the Bygone Era)

Final Thoughts

  • So, where does this leave us?  Bobby pins, which sounds like a very British phrase, were named for the haircut called the bob, which originated in France. Popularized by a French hairdresser.  Who was originally from Poland.
  • Also, I would like to point out that many people now use bobby pins to secure hairdos which are achievable only with long hair.  See for example, 20 Life-Changing Ways to Use Bobby Pins. Read and do come back to tell me if your life has changed.

V is for Vintage, The Bob: history of a hairstyle
Smithsonian, The History of the Flapper, Part 4: Emboldened by the Bob
Hair Archives, The Bob
Online Etymology Dictionary, bob, Joan of Arc

Monday, November 17, 2014

Apple #689: How the Body Adjusts to Cold Weather

The temperatures are starting to drop, some parts of the country have already gotten snow.  But it struck me last week, when temperatures fell from a surprising 70 degrees down to 45, how different 45 degrees feels at the end of fall versus what it feels like at the beginning of spring.

This time of year, when it hits 45, everybody starts pulling out their heavy coats and winter sweaters, putting on gloves and hats, blowing on their hands to keep them warm.  In the spring, that same 45 degrees feels luscious.  Everything's melting, the sun is out, the air feels balmy, everyone's unzipping their coats, going bare-headed and without gloves.  So what's the deal?

Like it or not, cold weather is coming.  Are you ready?
(Photo from Ask Bob Carr)

I've always thought the fact that we react to the same temperature so differently depending on the time of year was all a matter of perspective.  Context.  It's been warm, now it feels colder, and ooh boy, we don't like it.  Or, it's been cold, now it's warming up, and ooh boy, that's nice.

I looked this up (as your fearless Apple Lady is wont to do) and it turns out, it is not just in our heads.  It is in our bodies, too.

  • Scientists estimate that it takes our bodies somewhere between one and two weeks to adjust to a major change in temperature.  This could be cold weather becoming warm, or warm weather becoming cold.
  • But we are better at adjusting warming temperatures rather than warm temperatures becoming cold.  As one anthropologist says, our bodies are better adapted to warm weather and "Our bodies are just not as good at dealing with cold."
  • But our bodies do make some adjustments.
  • First, you get goose bumps.  This doesn't actually do all that much for us anymore now that we humans aren't covered with a coat of fur.  But if we were still furry like our animal relatives are, the constriction of the hair follicles would lift the individual hairs slightly above the skin, trapping warm air beneath the fur and giving us an extra layer of insulation.  As I said, we don't have fur anymore, so even though we still get goosebumps, they don't do us that much good.

See how the goose bumps make the hair stand up?  Now, if this were long and densely packed animal fur instead of sparse and thin body hair, you can imagine the warm air that would be kept all nice and cozy under there.
(Photo from Beliefnet)

    • By the way, the big scientific word for goosebumps is "horripilation." This is because animals' fur stands up not just when they're cold but also when they are threatened and want to scare the heck out of any would-be attackers, a.k.a. they want to make themselves look horrifying. 
  • The next cold weather response is that our muscles shiver.  This is a fast way of producing a lot of heat -- 5x the amount of body heat prior to shivering.  When we shiver, our muscles contract rapidly over and over.  But since shivering expends a lot of energy and it doesn't do much else for us, shivering is typically a short-term solution, one that our bodies abandon if the cold persists for too long.

Yes, this is bad clip art, but it gets the idea of shivering across.  Also, see how he's got his arms crossed in front of his chest?  This is another unconscious response to the cold that we often have.  We are trying to warm up and protect the most important part of our body: the core.  So this guy may look cold, but his body is trying its best to keep him warm in spite of the cold.
(Image from Clipart Panda)

  • The next thing, and the longer-term solution, is our blood vessels constrict.  Your body is trying to manage blood flow, and since blood carries heat with it, it's trying to be judicious about how much heat it's sending where.  It doesn't want to send too much blood/heat to the extremities like fingertips, toes, end of the nose because those parts of the body are not as essential as things like the internal organs and the brain.  
    • I don't know about you, but I have noticed when I'm out walking in the winter for any length of time that I might feel chilly in my hands and face, but I'm snug as a bug in my torso.  This is the blood vessel constriction plan working very well.

Cross-section diagrams of blood vessels. At the left is what the blood vessels normally look like, in the middle is what blood vessel constriction looks like, and finally at the right, what blood vessel dilation looks like.  It's not that the blood vessels themselves get bigger or smaller, but rather that the muscle cells in the blood vessels expand or constrict, allowing more or less space in the vessel for blood to pass through.
(Diagram from Wikipedia)

  • But your body is not so draconian that it believes it can entirely abandon your fingertips, toes, and end of your nose.  Those things are pretty helpful.  So it will periodically stop doing the constriction thing and switch to dilation -- expanding the blood vessels to allow blood flow back to the extremities to keep them nourished and from getting so cold they get frostbite.  
    • When your cheeks turn red from cold and your nose turns pink, that's blood vessel dilation happening.  The pink in your cheeks is the extra blood flow going to your face.

These people's faces have turned pink because their bodies are trying to keep their faces warm, even as it's cold outside.  Blood vessel dilation in the face at work.  (These people are in Iceland, by the way.)
(Photo from TripAdvisor)

  • If you stay out in the cold and your body has to continue to deal with it, your body will switch  again from dilation back to constriction.  Because really, those internal organs are pretty important.  After enough time in the cold, your body will make that brutal decision to sacrifice your fingertips, your toes, or the end of your nose if it has to.  This isn't some namby-pamby parlor game, after all.  This is the preservation of your life we're talking about here.
  • Something else that happens along with blood vessel constriction is an increase in blood pressure.  Less room for the blood to move around in, the higher the pressure on the blood vessels.  This is why, for example, people are more prone to getting heart attacks while shoveling snow.  
  • But what's more likely to happen before you have a heart attack from elevated blood pressure is that your body will try to reduce the pressure by reducing the amount of fluid in your system.  Which means your body will decide it's got to get rid of that excess urine, and you'll have to go to the bathroom.  
    • That's right, when you've gotten your kid all bundled up like Ralphie's little brother and you've sent him outside, don't be surprised if he runs back in half an hour later, saying he's got to go to the bathroom.  His not trying to be annoying, it's just his body helping him to survive the cold.

Yes, right about now is when he'll have to go to the bathroom.  Thank the cold air for that.
(Screen shot sourced from SpartanTailgate)

  • Sidenote: You might be wondering, how does the nose running fit into all this?  Is that another blood vessel construction/fluid expelling thing at work?  Well, no.  That is just your nose doing its own thing.
  • Your nose's job is to warm, moisten, and filter the air your breathe in so it doesn't hit your lungs all dirty and cold and dry.  Hack, hack, just the idea of that makes me want to cough.  That's what your nose does all the time, courtesy of the nose hairs and mucus in there.  
  • But when it's really cold out, that cold air is also especially dry.  So your nose has to work extra hard to add more moisture to that air to keep everything nicely humidified for you.  Then, when you exhale through your nose, that extra moisture is going to get pushed back out toward the end of your nose, which because of the cold outside is getting a little chilly.  The cooler temperature at the end of your nose will make the moisture condense there, and so you get a runny nose. 

[I don't think you really want to see a picture of a runny nose, so we'll pass on this image opportunity.]

  • OK, so we've got blood vessel constriction and blood vessel dilation going on, with maybe a need to urinate more frequently and perhaps a runny nose thrown in for good measure.  Now, if I go inside, all those anti-cold-weather reactions will settle down and relax in the warmer inside air.  But the key is, over the course of a couple of weeks' worth of going outside to the cold and coming back in, your body gets better and better at managing that trade-off between constriction and dilation.  So when you go outside, your body is already kind of prepared to go into cold-weather-response mode.  You don't feel the cold as much on Week 2 as your did on Week 1.
  • "Physically, you never get used to the cold. It's cold! If it's cold, it's cold! And you go out there and your body feels it, but I think mentally, living in it, it's not such a shock to you. I took the dog out last night, it was 20-something degrees and I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm in my shorts, but I did this the day before, and the day before …'"

Clay Matthews takes his dog out in 20-degree weather while wearing his shorts.  I think that means his body has gotten used to cold weather.
(AP Photo from the Courier-Journal)

  • After a very long time of being exposed to very cold temperatures, you body will also change its rate of metabolism--that is, the process by which your body converts food into energy.  This is something that happens to deep-sea pearl divers, or to researchers who stay in the Arctic for a year or more.  But after that amount of time having been exposed to such cold temperatures, their bodies will speed up metabolism in order to generate more heat.  So after several months of this hardy-cold living, they will be able to tolerate diving in 50 degree water without a wet suit, or walking around the Arctic camp in T-shirts.
  • For the rest of us who merely have to adjust to the change in seasons in more moderate climates, there are some things we can do to help our bodies make the transition:
    • Layer your clothes -- For example, wear a warm sweater over a short-sleeve shirt over a long-sleeve shirt.  The extra layers will help your body when it first encounters the cold -- and believe me, it will know it's cold out from the cold air that hits your face.  Once your body's made its adjustments and is warming up, you can open your coat or take off a layer.
    • Stay hydrated -- even though your body will try to respond to the higher pressure by getting rid of excess fluid, everything will work better with moisture.  Especially if you are exercising (e.g. running) in the cold, you'll want to keep hydrated so your nose can continue its essential humidifying activities and so you can keep your muscles from cramping.
    • Take off your cold clothes when you get inside -- cold air will be trapped in your clothes, though you may not have noticed that while your extremities weren't getting much blood flow.  But once you get back inside where it's warmer, your body will try to warm up those fingertips and ankles and feet again, and it will also realize, hey, I've got to try to fight against the cold air stuck in the pants cuffs and sock wrinkles and whatnot.  Do your body a favor and shuck off all those cold clothes when you get inside and change into snuggly warm things.
    • If you want to try to speed up your body's acclimation to winter weather, you could try taking cool showers or cool baths.  Many people say this does help speed up your body's response mechanisms to cold weather, so you become better-acclimated sooner.  Do not immediately plunge your body into a bathtub full of ice and sit there for 15 minutes.  Also do not try this if you have an existing hearth condition.  Be judicious about this.  Take a cool shower for 5 minutes, get out, towel off thoroughly, and warm up.  Remember, your goal is to speed up the process, emphasis on that word process.  Your body is not a light switch that turns off and on suddenly, but rather a serious of interconnected mechanisms that work best when they work together.  You want to help your body, not punish it.

Once you've done all that, then have a cup of hot chocolate. Specially recommended by your Apple Lady!

Emily Sohn, Cold Weather's Coming: Is Your Body Ready? Discovery News, September 19, 2013
Cool Antarctica, How humans deal with and survive extreme cold
Laura McMullen, 6 rules for working out in cold weather, NY Daily News, December 5, 2013
Mich Smith and Lolly Bowean, As winter wears on, bodies adjust to the chill, scientists say, Chicago Tribune, February 8, 2014
Medicine.Net, Goose Bumps
NPR, Why Does Cold Weather Cause Runny Noses? January 24, 2009
Cold Showers, Ice Bath Benefits and Considerations

Monday, November 10, 2014

Apple #688: The Magic That Is Garlic

Let's talk about garlic.

It makes our breath stink to high heaven, yet we love to eat it.  Some cultures have denigrated others for being "garlic eaters," yet studies show time and again, the savory foods the majority of us like best are those with garlic in them.  The bulb is a great big knobby thing that doesn't look at all enticing or even edible, but we eat so much of it that 500 million pounds of garlic are planted each year in the United States alone.

Such a miraculous plant deserves an Apple.

What do you think when you see garlic? Pew, that stinks?  Or Mmm, delicious?
(Photo from Care2)

What Is It?

  • Garlic is first of all an herb.  
  • Herbs are plants used for their flavor, but usually herbs (as distinct from spices) are those whose leaves we use.  Think of basil or oregano or rosemary.  
  • But with garlic, we usually don't use the leafy parts (though you can) but rather the bulbs. 
  • Still, this bulb is considered an herb.

This image is a bit blurry, but the parts of the garlic plant are labeled with general terms. The stalk is more officially known as the scape.  Usually farmers cut this off and throw it away, but some are starting to sell the scape at farmers' markets. You can use scapes as you might use chives.
(Diagram from Rickertville Farm)

  • Garlic is a member of the lily family, and within that, in the genus Allium.  It lives there with its fellow stinky relatives -- the onion, the leek, the wild ramps.

The Stink

  • Everyone knows garlic is stinky.  But actually, garlic has no smell at all -- until it is cut into or damaged.
  • Left whole, allowed to grow merrily and do its thing in the soil, garlic would be offensive to no one.  But once its cells are damaged, a key compound called alliin morphs into its evil twin allicin, and that seeks out its best friend sulfur, and then everything gets really stinky really fast.

Garlic intact in the bulb: not stinky at all.  Garlic smashed and chopped into tiny pieces: very stinky.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • In fact, 4 sulfur-containing compounds are created when garlic is cut or crushed or smashed or bitten into or otherwise damaged: 
    • diallyl disulfide
    • allyl methyl sulfide
    • allyl mercaptan
    • allyl methyl sulfide
  • 3 of these 4 compounds your body can digest and get rid of pretty quickly.  The 4th, allyl methyl sulfide, lingers.  For as long as 2 whole days, in some people.  Some sources say it even gets into the lung tissue and that's why it takes so long to go away.
  • So that's what you're smelling on your partner's breath 2 days after you shared that delicious dish of really garlicky spaghetti: the old allyl methyl sulfide, who never knows when it's time to leave a party.

(Image from Healthy Fellow)

  • Side note: the fact that garlic doesn't stink until you break it open makes me wonder if ropes of garlic would really be all that effective against vampires.  Probably a better vampire repellant would be crushing and smearing fresh garlic all over yourself. Of course, you'd probably be repelling everybody else for a half-mile radius, too.
  • By the way, there are lots of suggestions for getting rid of garlic breath.  Such suggestions include:
    • eating parsley
    • drinking a glass of milk
    • drinking green tea
    • eating button mushrooms (cooked or uncooked, I'm not sure)
    • eating raw kiwi
    • eating eggplant
    • mixing your garlic-laden foods with lemon juice or other citric acid beforehand
  • But based on what I've read, these suggestions seem to provide minimal benefits, if any.
  • One thing I do know from experience is how to get the garlic smell off your hands: wipe your stinky garlic fingers on stainless steel.  This could be a butter knife, your kitchen faucet, whatever is handy.  Neutralizes the smell better than soap & water alone. 

This person is sort of caressing her water faucet. If you've got garlic stink on your hands, you won't want to caress the faucet, you'll want to rub your fingers & hands all over it.  That will remove the smell very well. No need to be coy about it.
(Photo from Delta Lahara Single Handle Lavatory Faucet available on Amazon)

The Reason for the Stink, and How to Grow Your Own

  • Why does garlic stink? Because it's a defense mechanism.  It's not only people who experience garlic's pungent smell when breaking into it -- animals and insects do, too.
  • In fact, the sink factor in garlic is considered to be the plant's own built-in pesticide.
  • In double fact, pesticide manufacturers have sometimes used garlic in their products to repel bugs.
  • Because it naturally repels many bugs, it's relatively easy to grow.  
  • Garlic is also frost-tolerant.  It produces best results if you plant it in the fall and it's in the ground a few weeks before the first frost.
  • It reproduces asexually, which means you don't need to start the plant from seeds.  You can pop a garlic clove in the ground, papery husk & all, and it will grow into a plant.
  • However, you probably don't want to plant the cloves from bulbs you get at the grocery store.  Those bulbs were most likely grown in some other part of the country, and there are enough varieties of garlic that you can buy a bulb that is best suited to your climate.
  • Garlic is such a not-fussy plant, it PREFERS to grow outside.  It won't do well if you plant it in a container indoors because it likes all the vagaries of sun and rain and temperature.  If you've got an apartment, stick a clove in a pot with dirt and put it on your balcony.  Give it some straw for mulch and water it now and then and in the spring, you'll have your very own garlic plant.

If you're going to plant several cloves, make sure they are well-spaced apart like this.  If you're planting in open ground, you may also want to keep track of where you've planted them because garlic has a tendency to split off new cloves and start new shoots where you least expect them.  These tend to grow up smaller and with less flavor, though.
(Photo from 99 Roots)

Garden Betty says when your garlic plants look like this, it's time to dig up those bulbs.
(Photo from Garden Betty)

  • Harvest when about half of the leaves turn yellow and start to droop.
  • After you pull up the bulbs, brush off the soil and put them in a well-aired shady place for 2 weeks.  The outer husk will dry and turn papery.  This is called "curing" the garlic.  Now you can store the bulbs in a cool, dry place for several months and they won't go bad.
  • The only thing that garlic plants don't like are various forms of fungus, mildew, or rot.  If you get fungus on your bulbs (not a pleasant thing), it's probably also in your soil, and it will contaminate your next crop too.  Plant something else in that place for a few rotations and monitor your soil's pH.  If necessary, don't plant anything in the soil and give the sun a chance to blast the bad things out of there for about 4-6 weeks.
  • Some scientists think that garlic may be the first plant cultivated by humans.  That's how long it's been around.  That's how much we like it, that for all this time, we've kept growing it and kept eating it.

From Stinky to Delicious?

  • Most of the time, we tend to avoid eating foods that smell bad to us.  So why, when it comes to this plant that smells so bad, do we love to eat it?
  • Answer: just as cutting garlic changes its chemical composition, so also does cooking.  In other words, cooking it makes it taste a million times better than it smells.
  • As garlic is cooked, various compounds in it break down into different aromatics (the smell improves).  The heat also breaks down the more complex sugars and carbohydrates into simpler sugars like glucose and fructose, which we always love to eat.
  • In short, cooking it makes it get sweeter and smell better.
  • But it still retains some of that savory flavor.  Think of how roasted-in-the-bulb garlic tastes, smeared over crusty bread with olive oil.  There's definitely some sweetness there, but there's also a funky roasted flavor that you just can't get with anything else.
  • The thing is, the amount of heat, or the length of time that you heat garlic can yield very different results in terms of flavor.  Cook it only a short amount of time, and it keeps its pungent, sharp flavor.  Sear it at too high a heat or cook it for too long, and it will pass that lovely savory place and enter into the burned, acrid, almost sour place.
  • Actually, there are all sorts of factors that affect the flavor of garlic.  Here are some of them:
    • Don't smash it -- peel off the papery skin, but put the garlic in the food whole. Some of the garlic flavor will come through, but it will be mild.  Because you haven't released very many of those stinky sulfur compounds, you won't have that pungent aroma to overcome.  But then again, those flavors won't be there to turn into a bevy of delicious flavors, either.  No pain no gain.
    • Cut the clove into a few pieces and rinse it first -- the water will wash away some of the sulfurous compounds.  This is especially recommended if you're using fresh, raw garlic in something like salsa or a dip.  Rinsing it first will keep the sulfur scents to a minimum, and since those compounds also tend to get more potent with time, you'll want to add the garlic shortly before serving.
    • Use a milder variety of garlic -- the plain white garlic has the strongest flavor.  Garlic bulbs that have a purplish tinge (these are Italian or Mexican varieties) have a milder flavor.  Elephant garlic, which isn't even really garlic and which is the size of a small grapefruit, is white but it has the mildest flavor of all.

These are just some of the different varieties of garlic.  In general, the whiter the papery outside, the stronger the garlic.  Purple garlics are milder.
(Photo from Penny Woodward
    • Roast it -- roasting the garlic slowly will soften the pungent notes and let the more buttery, savory flavors develop.  The best way to do this is to take a whole bulb, lop off the pointy ends so that the innards are exposed, but the whole thing is still encased in its papery coatings. Cover it liberally with your favorite olive oil, wrap it all up in foil, and put it in a preheated 400º F oven for about 35 to 40 minutes.  When it's nicely softened, you'll be able to squeeze the now gooshy cloves out of the bulb and use it like a spread. Yum.

This is what your roasted garlic should look like when it's done. Like a little honeycomb of softened brown and squooshy goodness.
(Photo from Second Helpings)

    • Marinate with it -- this is going toward the less mild, slightly stronger flavor.  If you put cloves (diced or undiced as you prefer) in a marinade with salt or some kind of salty liquid like soy sauce, the salt will draw some of the flavor out of the garlic.  Once you cook your marinated whatever, that garlic flavor will tone down a bit, but some of those raw garlic compounds will be in your marinated whatever.
    • Infuse with it -- by this I mean your oil.  Usually people put cloves of garlic into olive oil, but you could do it with whatever your favorite oil happens to be. Some people put the cloves in the bottle of oil and keep it that way.  Be careful not to keep this more than a week or two because it is possible for botulism to develop.  A safer way of infusing is to sauté some garlic in your oil, heat it up and get those flavors going, then toss out the garlic and use the oil to cook the rest of your dish.  You'll have the flavor of developed garlic, but you won't have any actual garlic pieces to bite into.
    • If you want a whole lot of that bright garlic flavor, purée it and sauté it -- Pureeing the garlic is doing the most damage to those garlic cells as possible, and thus creating the greatest amount of those sulfur compounds as possible.  Sautéing it cooks away some of the sharpness but also allows some of the savory notes to develop.  Be careful not to let your pan get to hot or to allow your garlic to sit in one place very long or it will start to turn brown/burn/taste bad.

Health Benefits?

  • A lot of people maintain that garlic can do everything from being an aphrodisiac to fighting off influenza to curing cancer.
  • Researchers are still studying the effects of garlic in rigorous, controlled studies, so they can't say much definitively at the moment.  
  • But they have noticed that people who tend to have quite a bit of garlic in their diets tend to have lower rates of certain types of cancer: mouth and throat, stomach, kidney, colorectal, and prostate.  Other types of cancer such as breast, ovarian, bladder, lung, etc., they're not sure whether garlic plays any role or not.
  • Some studies suggest that garlic prohibits the formation of blood clots, so that makes people say it would be helpful in preventing embolisms or strokes or heart disease.  But that also means that if you're taking some type of blood thinner, you may not want to eat a lot of garlic, because it might overdo the blood thinning.  Again, this is all still very guessy.
  • Other people say it has anti-inflammatory properties and so therefore it might be beneficial to people with rheumatoid arthritis.  Again, a few very small studies have been conducted with some positive results, but it's not enough to make any sweeping, definitive generalizations.
  • A few studies have shown that garlic supplements do have an effect on cold & flu viruses.  They do not reduce the incidence -- that is, garlic won't keep you from getting a cold or flu, but it does seem to reduce the amount of time people are sick.  So if you get a cold or the flu, you might try putting some garlic in your chicken noodle soup.  Might make the ickies go away faster. 

This roasted garlic & shallot soup might be just the thing if you've got a cold.
(Photo and recipe available from Once Upon a Cutting Board)

  • Garlic also seems to interfere with anaesthesia.  So if you're going to have surgery -- well, they tell you to fast for 12 hours beforehand anyway -- or if you're going to have some sort of dental procedure, you may want to avoid eating garlic ahead of time.  I would guess, since some of those compounds can stay in your system for 2 days, that you might want to avoid garlic for up to 2 days before such a procedure.
  • Again, this is all pretty speculative at this point, I am not a doctor, consult your physician for any definitive advice tailored to your specific situation.


  • Let me list all the properties of garlic I've covered here, to show you what I mean:
    • stinks but only when necessary
    • changes flavor dramatically when cooked
    • can be manipulated to produce a variety of flavors
    • contains its own pesticide
    • frost-resistant
    • easy to grow in many climates
    • may generate additional sprouts all on its own
    • may be anti-inflammatory
    • may have anti-clotting properties
    • interferes with anaesthesia
    • may reduce the severity of colds & flu
    • may help prevent cancer
  • Pretty cool, huh?

Garlic has about as many properties are there are garlic bulbs in this photo.
(Photo from Care2)

The Herb Society of America, Garlic, 2004, 2006
Penn State Extension, Garlic Production
Integrated Taxonomic Information System, Allium L.
Compound Interest, What Compounds Cause Garlic Breath? May 5, 2014
Maanvi Singh, Science of Stink: Blame Sulfur Compounds for Your Garlic Breath, NPR, June 21, 2014
Harold McGee, The Chemical Weapons of Onion and Garlic, The New York Times, June 8, 2010 
Healthy Fellow, Garlic Breath Remedies, December 7, 2010
Melissa Clark, "A Garlic Festival Without a Single Clove," [how to use scapes in cooking] The New York Times, June 18, 2008
Rickertville Farm, How to Grow Garlic
The Old Farmer's Almanac, Garlic
Organic Gardening, Disease Defense
J. Kenji López-Alt, Ask The Food Lab: On Developing Garlic Flavor, Serious Eats, January 24, 2013
Food Network, Food Encyclopedia, Garlic
American Cancer Society, Garlic
South Beach Diet, Get the Most from Garlic
Nantz M P et al., Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function [. . .] Clin. Nutr, June 2012
Denisov L N et al., Garlic effectiveness in rheumatoid arthritis, Ter Arkh, abstract, 1999

Monday, November 3, 2014

Apple #687: Bubble Wrap

After those intense posts about 9/11, I thought it would be good to talk about something that is especially soothing: bubble wrap.

It turns out, the company that makes a ton of bubble wrap (Sealed Air) recently posted a video showing how bubble wrap is made.  It got a ton of hits and was picked up by all sorts of websites.  But already the company has taken down the video.  Maybe they revealed too many production secrets.

But the good news is, your Apple Lady is here.  I've got other videos about how bubble wrap is made, and some handy facts as well.

Just looking at this photo makes you want to get your hands on some, doesn't it?
(Photo from Techno-Geek Nerd Princess

How Bubble Wrap Came to Be

  • Bubble wrap was one of those invention mistakes.  Meaning the person who invented it was trying to invent something else.  The thing he was trying to invent?   Textured wallpaper.
    • Can you imagine, your walls covered in bubble wrap?  You wouldn't want to hang any pictures or put any furniture next to your walls, because they would only be obstructions getting in your way as you rolled yourself around your bubble wrap walls.
  • It didn't become wallpaper because when Alfred W. Fielding and his inventing partner Marc Chavannes tested this material that they made by sealing two shower curtains together to trap air between them, it wasn't a hit as wallpaper.  It was 1957, and I guess people weren't into that much texture in their wallpapers.  So Fielding & Chavannes tried to think of something else they could use it for.
  • Their next idea was to sell it as insulating material for greenhouses.  That didn't go over too well, either.
    • By the way, you can insulate your windows with bubble wrap.  Cut wrap to fit the shape of the glass, wet the glass with a solution of water, some sort of liquid soap -- dish soap or shampoo will work fine -- and a touch of bleach. With the bubbles facing the glass, press the bubble wrap against the moistened glass, and it will stick there and keep some of the cold from getting in through the glass. 
  • The sealed shower curtain material languished for three years, and then a guy named Frederick Bowers at another company got an idea.  The year was 1959, and the company he worked for sold packing material.  He heard that IBM had just announced the release of their brand-new variable word-length computer.  He thought this sealed-shower-curtain stuff would make good packing material for those new computers.  So he went to IBM, pitched the idea, and the rest, as they say, is how it all got to be the way it is now.
  • The company Bowers worked for was called Sealed Air.  And today, Sealed Air is the primary manufacturer of bubble wrap -- though they do sell lots of other kinds of packing materials and related products.

The funny thing is, you can buy shower curtains made to look like bubble wrap, such as this Maytex Cubitz PEVA Shower Curtain, Clear, available on Amazon for about $15

or you can make your own shower curtains out of bubble wrap:
(Photo and instructions from Sparkle with everything you are)

Make Your Own Bubble Wrap

  • Say you not only want to make stuff out of bubble wrap, you want to make the bubble wrap itself for your very own.  Well, Sealed Air, the company that makes bubble wrap, now also makes a machine that makes bubble wrap for you. 
  • This machine is really intended for companies that don't have room to store rolls & rolls of bubble wrap.  So they can make the size & amount of wrap they want, as they need it.  But if you wanted to fork over the cash, you could buy one for yourself, too.
  • This video is pretty cool to watch because it gives you a good idea of how bubble wrap is made, not just in this one-off way, but also on the large scale.

  • The bad news is, this kind of bubble wrap isn't poppable.  The way this wrap is made, the bubbles are connected across the width of the plastic by an open channel so that when you apply pressure to the wrap, the bubbles won't pop, but rather the air will be pushed into nearby bubbles.  This makes the bubble wrap better at providing a cushion, but it does not give you the satisfaction of popping the bubbles.

If you were going to make a wedding dress out of bubble wrap, you might want the unpoppable kind.  Or, wait.  Maybe not.  Maybe you would totally want the poppable kind.
(Photo from Odd Loves Company)

Why Do We Like to Pop Bubble Wrap?

  • This is one of those very important "why" questions that are central to our experience as human beings, but which science has not gotten around to answering yet.  
  • But people do have their theories, including me, so I will share my theories with you.
    • It's tactile in a playful way -- the little bubbles just beg you to push them and squeeze them and poke them
    • You get a little surprise -- the first time you pop a bubble, there's a little surprise factor. But it's nothing loud or overwhelming, something small and contained within your hands.
    • The sound is pleasant -- can you imagine, if the gentle "pop" were instead a harpy's shriek or nails on a chalkboard or a car alarm or a dentist's drill?  People would not pop those bubbles for very long.
    • As soon as you've popped one bubble, the combination of all these elements, which are each pleasurable, makes you want to pop another one.  And then you discover yet another pleasure, which is the feeling that you are eradicating some problem -- little pockets of air that need to be popped -- so as you progress across a row or along an entire sheet, you feel you are accomplishing something, doing a favor for the world by cleaning up those little pockets of air.
    • The only disappointing part is when you've popped all the bubbles on the sheet, and you want to pop more.
    • Or, actually, there's another disappointing thing: when one of the bubbles has a leak, so instead of making the satisfying POP, it just goes Ffff.  Augh!  Then you really must pop another one. 

There is also this technique, which is the equivalent of slash-and-burn bubble wrap popping.  Satisfying on a larger scale, but also over much faster.
(Photo from liz lemon)

  • These are my totally and completely unscientific theories.  I invite you to quote me liberally on these.

Bubble Wrap, How Do We Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

  • But it does seem to be universally true that we love to pop bubble wrap.  
  • People have stretched bubble wrap across a public walkway:

  • A guy has equipped his bike so it will pop bubble wrap as he rides it:

  • Naturally, many people have wrapped themselves in bubble wrap and rolled down a hill. In this attempt, you can hear the bubbles popping.

  • 336 students at a school in New Jersey got together to break the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest group bubble-wrap-popping event.  They did this to raise money for Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children were killed in a mass shooting by another student.  But they also had a lot of fun doing it. (From The Telegraph)

  • People have even held a soccer match where the players were encased in giant bubbles. (It isn't really bubble wrap, but it is really funny. The good stuff starts around 1 minute in.)

  • We humans are not alone in our delight in popping the bubble wrap.
  • Cats like to pop it:

  • Dogs like to pop it:

(Photo from Scott Spinelli)

  • Pet pigs go berserk when they pop it:

  • Even Russian raccoons like to pop it.

  • Maybe when people are having tense negotiations, they ought to give them sheets of bubble wrap.  Like, let's get some Palestinian leaders and some Israeli leaders to sit down, and they give everybody a whole lot of bubble wrap to play with.  Enough for, like, the whole day.  No talking allowed, only bubble wrap popping.  At the end of the day, they would say, "That was great.  What do we need to bomb each other for?  I don't know." And that would be the end of that.  There.  Middle East conflict resolved.

Faux Bubble Wrap?  Phooey

  • But because the tactile part of the experience is absent, in my opinion, it does not come close to the real thing.
  • You could say that about a lot of things, I suppose.  Ahem.

Stevens Institute of Technology, Alfred W. Fielding '39 Co-Invented Bubble Wrap
Daven Hiskey, Bubble Wrap Was Originally Supposed to be Wallpaper, Mental Floss, November 16, 2012
Daven Hiskey, Today I Found Out, Bubble Wrap Was Originally Designed to be Used as Wallpaper, November 2011
Daily Mail, How was bubble wrap invented? November 9, 2011
NBCNews, Bubble Wrap celebrating its 50th birthday, January 24, 2010
The Telegraph, School children set bubble wrap popping record, January 29, 2013