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Yes, I admit that I’m a sucker for good writing. I love it. Good wordsmithing can give me goosebumps like good music. Shakespeare and Mark Twain are two of my favorites. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is superb and considered by some to be the finest bit of wordsmithing in all the English language.
One fine example I ran across recently is an eloquent summation of my own sense and observations of Donald Trump and his followers. It’s so good I’ll just quote it (without permission) along with a link to where you can find more writings of this caliber.
Talented and well-practiced in every vice, a stranger to compassion or empathy, a liar and a cheat so complete in perfidy that he has elevated his dishonesty to hold it up as an ersatz oral principle, violent, so long as he can order someone else to do the dirty work, grotesque in body, graceless in action, in possession of a wounded self-regard so colossal as to smother any spark of grace, treasonous, not only to country, but to every ally he has ever had, the poisoned fruit and rankest flower of racism and contempt for women, and utterly devoid of shame for his oral and spiritual bankruptcy.
That is your leader. That is to whom you give your money. That is who you follow and laud. That is whose banner you willingly carry. Why? Because he is a mirror, not a lighthouse. You see yourselves in him. He is what you would be if you had inherited money and could shed the last vestiges of conscience and shame.
No, I do not “respect your choices,” nor do I admire your loyalty and dedication to this miserific, demoniac vision. You have demonstrated not only a lack of civic virtue, loyalty to the Republic and to the rule of law, but a willingness to engage in violence and sedition at his slightest expressed wish. And you will never, ever admit you were wrong. Because you see your dark, twisted, resentful dreams in him. And to renounce him is to renounce yourselves.
More writings from the same pen, writings of many kinds, and from different authors can be found here:
Aldehydes are so common and important in our lives that it’s good to know something about them. The flavor of vanilla, almond, cinnamon, and many others result from aldehydes. Aldehydes are a family of chemicals that are common in nature and foods, and important in industry. I knew that artificial vanilla and almond flavorings posed little danger to people with nut allergies. But the question came up in a discussion and I decided to find out if what I knew was, in fact, correct. (It is.) In the process of researching this, I fell down a rabbit hole of fascinating information, learned a number of interesting things related to chemistry and food chemistry, and collected it here in this article.
There is a family of chemicals called aldehydes that are extremely useful to plants and industry. It’s called a “family” because aldehydes have a common core molecular structure with an open bond to which various molecules can be attached that give various effects.
One thing aldehydes have in common is strong and distinctive odors. Another characteristic of aldehydes is that most of them are toxic in sufficient concentration. (Concentration is key here. At low concentrations, most of them are harmless.) I expect you are already familiar with or have heard of several of the aldehydes I’ll mention.
The one I’ll mention first is not closely related to foods but is one you’ve almost certainly heard of. Formaldehyde1 is a critically important chemical in many industries including plastics manufacturing, fibers, and adhesives. Some of the best and strongest waterproof glues are based on formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a disinfectant and is used to preserve biological specimens. In biology class you may have seen specimens or body parts preserved in jars. Those were likely filled with formaldehyde as a preservative. Formaldehyde is toxic2 and carcinogenic in sufficient concentration. It’s produced in small amounts by most organisms, including humans.
You’ve all smelled it. It’s a key ingredient in “new car smell”, “new carpet smell”, and “newly constructed house smell”. Our noses are sensitive to aldehydes so very low concentrations are detectable.
The next one is acetaldehyde.3 This one is produced by plants and occurs in bread, coffee, and ripe or overripe fruit, and is a component in the fragrance of wine and the smell of smoke. Acetaldehyde has a strong suffocating odor but at low-concentrations smells pleasant and fruity. Humans can detect acetaldehyde at 0.05 ppm. Diacetyl at a concentration of about 2 ppm with acetaldehyde at about 0.5 ppm are what give cottage cheese its flavor.
Acetaldehyde4 is formed from the oxidation of ethanol. It forms in the bloodstream after drinking alcohol and is partly responsible for hangovers.
Plants discovered the value of aldehydes a long time ago. When nature discovers a chemical that provides two unrelated benefits for the price of one, it’s a definite keeper. Aldehydes are such chemicals. Some of the most important flavors in foods result from aldehydes.
Vanillin5 is a member of the benzaldehyde family of aldehydes and is the chemical responsible for the flavor and fragrance of vanilla. It makes the seed pod of the vanilla orchid attractive to birds and animals and is an insecticide. Two functions for the price of one. Unlike most aldehydes, vanillin has low toxicity and is classed as merely an irritant.6
Vanilla has been in use in the Americas for at least 4,000 years. It was brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.
The odor and flavor of cinnamon comes from an aldehyde that’s found in the bark of the cinnamon tree and various others where it serves as an insecticide. Cinnamaldehyde7 is a pale viscous liquid that functions as an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and is a potent repellent and killer of Aedes mosquitos. Like vanillin, cinnamaldehyde has low toxicity and is classed as merely an irritant.8
At high humidity and temperature, cinnamaldehyde decomposes to styrene. This is why cinnamon always contains a small amount of styrene.
This is the aldehyde that gives almonds their flavor.
It also occurs in certain fruits and the pits of peaches, apricots, apples, and cherries. It makes the fruit more attractive to animals and is an insecticide. It’s frequently used by bee keepers as a bee repellent. The odor causes bees to leave the hive while honey is collected after which they return to the hive.
Benzaldehyde is the simplest of all the aldehydes consisting of a benzene ring attached to the open bond of the aldehyde molecule. Benzaldehyde is classed as an irritant.10
Vanillin, cinnamaldehyde, and benzaldehyde are chemically classed as merely irritants. Technically all three are toxic in sufficient concentration, but so is water. To reach dangerous levels you’d have to consume absurdly large amounts. In the case of almond extract, you’d die of alcohol poisoning long before reaching dangerous levels of benzaldehyde.
The key here is concentration. Human noses are quite sensitive to aldehydes so for flavoring only a tiny amount is needed. Since most kitchens lack the ability to measure microgram quantities, these extracts are heavily diluted with alcohol so useful amounts can be measured with a teaspoon. At levels used for food flavoring there is some evidence these compounds provide anticarcinogenic effects.11
These aldehydes can all be synthesized in the laboratory or made inexpensively at industrial scale. There is no difference between vanillin made by an orchid and chemically produced vanillin. The same is true for benzaldehyde. If anything, the synthetic version gives a purer more consistent flavor note because it’s pure and not complicated by myriad other chemicals that vary from plant to plant.
The flavor of cilantro derives from several substances, some of which are aldehydes. Some people perceive the flavor of cilantro as a refreshing lemony-lime but some perceive it as tasting like soap or something rotten. It was found that 80 percent of identical twins had the same perception of cilantro but only 50 percent of fraternal twins did. This implied a genetic cause. Today the gene(s)12 have been identified. It’s believed that those who like cilantro are unable to detect one or more of the aldehydes in cilantro.
Furfural is an aldehyde that results from the dehydration of sugars. It occurs in agricultural by-products like corncobs, oat bran, oat hulls, wheat bran, and sugarcane bagasse. It’s a common ingredient in processed foods and beverages. It commonly appears in many cooked or heated foods.
Furfural13 is classed as acutely toxic, an irritant, and health hazard.14
It’s dangerous to the skin. NIOSH permissible level is 5 ppm. 100 ppm is considered an immediate danger. Furfural is lethal to rats and dogs at concentrations of 200 to 1000 ppm. It’s flammable and explosive when mixed with air. It has a penetrating odor reminiscent of almonds. There is no data on human subjects.
The importance of aldehydes cannot be overstated. Retinaldehyde15 is found in meats and is the chemical basis of our eye’s ability to sense light. Another name for it is Vitamin A aldehyde. Vertebrates acquire it directly from eating meat or can also synthesize it from carotenoids. In higher concentrations it’s classed as an irritant and a health hazard.16
This aldehyde is believed to play an important role in the formation of the chemical building blocks of life.17
Interestingly, radio astronomy has detected glycolaldehyde in interstellar space. It’s also been identified in Comet Lovejoy, along with ethanol. This aldehyde is classed as an irritant, highly reactive, and is a common metabolite produced by living things ranging from bacteria to humans.
Lily Aldehyde / Lysmeral / Lilial
Lily aldehyde18 has a strong floral odor reminiscent of lily of the valley. Thousands of tons are produced each year for use in perfumes and detergents.
It’s classed as a health hazard,19 found to be harmful to fertility, and is banned in the EU since March 2022.
If you’ve made it this far in this article, you can probably guess from the name that citral20 is the aldehyde primarily responsible for the fragrance of citrus fruits like lemon, lime, etc.
Citral is found to have a pheromonal effect on acari and insects. Chemically, it’s classified as an irritant.21
It’s a component in the oils of several plants, as follows.
Citronellal is the aldehyde that gives citronella its lemony scent. Citronella22 is an insect repellent. Research has shown it to be highly effective at repelling mosquitos and is a strong antifungal.
Chemically, it’s classed as corrosive, an irritant, a health hazard, and environmental hazard.23
Lastly, we come to allergies, specifically allergies to benzaldehyde or vanillin. It’s possible for a human to develop an allergy to almost anything, even metals like nickel. The good news is that it’s rare for someone to be allergic to these two aldehydes that are such important flavors.
The vast majority of allergies, whether it’s to pollen, animal dander, fish, shellfish, bee stings, whatever, are allergic reactions to proteins found in those things.
Natural almond extract is made by steaming almonds in a pressurized vat, then extracting the almond oil. This liquid includes not just benzaldehyde but many other chemicals including proteins. These proteins are usually what a person with a nut allergy reacts to. Genuine vanilla also contains many chemicals from the plant besides vanillin.
Artificial almond extract consists of a small amount of synthetic benzaldehyde diluted with ethanol. Neither has been anywhere near an almond tree and it contains no proteins or anything else. The same is true for artificial vanilla.
The concentration is chosen to match the flavoring power of genuine almond or genuine vanilla extract so the artificial is interchangeable with the genuine in recipes.
Fortunately, this means that those with nut allergies are almost sure to be safe with artificial almond or vanilla flavoring. Even so, if you have a nut allergy, especially a bad case, you should check with your doctor / allergist. They will be able to specifically test whether you are allergic to benzaldehyde (unlikely) or to the dozens of other compounds in nuts.
As a final note, a significant number of children and adults test positive for allergy to cilantro but only a few exhibit symptoms. For those who do, the symptoms can be severe.
Are you planning to host a Thanksgiving dinner? Do you know how much food to buy? Planning out a Thanksgiving dinner can be challenging. Since the Thanksgiving holiday is about plenty, you want to avoid running short. This can lead to making way too much food and eating leftovers for two weeks. Below are a few tips to help you.
I’m a retired engineer. I switched to the food preparation business ten years ago and can’t help but bring my engineering mindset with me. I study and learn every technique I can and study the chemistry of cooking. While I frequently cook things that I make up on the spot, for anything serious I like to have numbers and measurements. Below are some numbers you can use.
A Thanksgiving Spread
Turkey: 1 pound of bird (uncooked) per person, and you will have leftovers.
Dry mix stuffing like Stove-Top: 1 ounce dry mix per person
Potatoes for mashing: 6 oz (raw) per person or 3/4 of a large potato
Sweet potatoes: 6 oz (raw) per person
Canned cranberry sauce: 4 oz per person
Pie: 1 piece per person
Butternut squash: 7 oz (raw whole squash) per person
Brussels sprouts: 2.5 oz (raw) per person
Green beans: 4 oz (canned) per person
Extending the Above to 40 Persons
To extend the above numbers, multiply by the number of guests and round up to the next package size. Thanksgiving usually involves a lot of baking. If you try to prepare all the food on Thanksgiving day, you’ll need several ovens. Remember that cooking the turkeys will occupy your oven(s) for much of the day. Prepare as much as you can the day(s) before and reheat it.
Of course, you don’t have to do all of the items below. Just pick the items you think your guests will like. You don’t have to do squash and sweet potatoes, or offer three different vegetables. These are just examples.
Turkey: 40 pounds. So four 10 pounders, three 14 pounders, etc.
Dry mix stuffing: 40 ounces dry, so seven boxes. A lot of people go heavy on stuffing and it’s cheap and easy, so having extra won’t hurt. I’ve found the in-house brands like Walmart are just as good as the big name product and cost half as much.
Potatoes for mashing: 240 ounces raw. So 15 pounds of russets, peeled, cooked, mashed, and prepared as you like with milk, butter, salt, pepper, garlic, etc.
Sweet potatoes: 240 raw ounces. So 15 pounds prepared as you prefer.
Canned cranberry sauce: 160 ounces, so ten or twelve 14 oz cans. These could be split between cranberry jelly and whole cranberry sauce. Some people like one and not the other.
Pie: 40 pieces. For big pieces you’ll need seven pies, smaller pieces, 5 pies.
Butternut squash: 280 oz raw whole squash (17 pounds)
Brussels sprouts: 100 oz raw (6-1/4 pounds)
Green beans: 160 oz (canned), so ten or twelve 14 oz cans. When cooking raw whole beans, I figure six beans per person. A pound of raw beans is 35 to 40 beans. For 40 guests you need to cook about six pounds.
You can save money by buying larger cans. In supermarkets, verify that the larger container is actually cheaper. Many times I’ve seen a gallon jar of mayonnaise or other product priced higher than buying the same amount in several smaller jars.
Larger towns have stores that sell wholesale foods to churches and other organizations, and sometimes to the public. Here you can buy Number 10 cans (institutional size) that contain around 115 ounces, and save even more money.