Posts Tagged ‘experiment’

Experimenting with food

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I like cooking. I like eating. I like experimenting.

As part of my interest to experiment with materials and processes, I thought about making a session with food. I commented the idea to Martina Pagura – italian, cooks amazingly and loves food too. She had in mind to experiment with food also, so we set a day in our calendar, and we did it.

We agreed on cooking small different things, just to taste, combining ingredients that are not usually connected in our gastronomic culture, or using processes that are not usual for these ingredients. We tried also to combine different textures and temperatures. Taking a look at the outcome, it seems we had a preference to give more importance to fruits, cooking them with vegetables for example.

We started the journey going to the supermarket and a vegetable shop. We spent around one hour, selecting ingredients and creating crazy combinations while picking them.

So that’s what we bought:

Having all the ingredients on the table, we elaborated a list of combinations we wanted to try.

To start, we made tea and coffee to freeze it, in case we feel like using with someting. We also put some sparkling water on the freezer.

Once frozen, the sparkling water was separated in water and gas, so it could be nice to use it with some container that could be eaten, creating a nice little explosion on your mouth.

We used the tea ice cube for the white wine. It kept it cold, and provided an evolving taste, as more tea was melted into the wine.

As a starter, Martina prepared ham rolls with ricotta, soy bean sprouts and curcuma.

We were not totally convinced about the bitterness of the raw soy sprouts combined with the other ingredients, but it was an interesting combination. The crispy sprouts added a nice texture to the smoothness of the ricotta and the elasticity of the ham. A good start for our menu!

Then I prepared a melon with cream and rigatino, a spiced bacon Elena brought me from Arezzo (Italy). I made melon balls with a spoon and whipped the cream until it had a good consistency. I fried the rigatino with really hot oil and dried it using kitchen roll.

Wow, not bad. The crispy and tasty rigatino dancing with the sweet melon, and the cream as a referee bringing them together. The fried rigatino, eaten alone, has a strong flavor, that is toned down because the cream, that absorbs the salty taste. For that dish, we opened a nice Italian wine Martina brought.

Next! Martina cooked a very interesting pasta (of course, pasta had to be in our menu!). Brown pasta, grapes, pecorino, pine nuts, yogurt and pepper. And to the oven.

Really interesting. We looked each other without knowing what to say, how to define it. After some trials, we decided to define it as “complex”. And maybe too much – ingredients, tastes, textures, even sizes and shapes. It’s not a matter that it wasn’t good enough (I thing it really was), but we are not use to that complexity. We could detect all the ingredients, but the mouth had a hard work to understand what was happening with them.

The small pine nuts were asking for attention – each time you found one, it killed the other ingredients’ taste for a while. The grapes, a bit cooked, brought the sweet side of the dish, while the cheese added some salty taste. But it wasn’t a smooth transition, it was a dish of independent and revolutionary flavors. Probably the most interesting dish we made this night from a taste challenge point of view.

Then we went for small bundles of puff pastry, filled with different stuff.

Martina cooked aubergines with pear, in which she put different spices on it – curry, curcuma or turmeric. Pear and aubergine combined perfectly, it was difficult to distinguish between them since they got the same texture and exchanged their juice. We made a couple without any spice and they were really good. The spices added an exotic touch.

I boiled leaks for 5 minutes, and then I added orange juice, with a higher temperature so it fried a little bit. Then I added a bit of cinnamon. And it tasted super good! Leaks are amazing, they get on well with everything, it’s an easy vegetable. Cinnamon and orange tend to go well also, but never tried with vegetables. This one tasted really simple, just a pleasure.

We also made avocados with ricotta and a bit of paprika powder. That one was simple too, but a bit less surprising.

The small portions allowed us to try different things, or variations of the same recipe. We enjoyed a lot our last dish!

And for dessert, I made something I used to do but Martina didn’t taste and has a strange combination also: strawberries with sugar (ok until here) and a bit of vinegar. The vinegar soaks the strawberries that release part of the juice, that dissolves the sugar. And tastes amazing!

After more than 4 hours cooking, we only used a few ingredients from what we bought, and we left many combinations for the next session – I hope it comes soon. It was really interesting to challenge the senses with new combinations, and try to identify why they were good or not.

There is more and more interest about creating experiences with food, combining different ingredients and transform them with unusal processes. Science is also taking an important role on diet, both on the artistic/experiential and the everyday meal/health side. A couple of references about that:

Ferran Adrià (pioneer of molecular cookery) and his restaurant El Bulli, which closes 6 months a year to dedicate time for experimenting on his lab in Barcelona, el BulliTaller.

Fundació Alicia (from the words AlimentacióCiencia in Catalan) is a foundation which aims to investigate diet processes, health and gastronomy from a social point of view, with scientific methods. I saw some of their methods and machinery they use at the exhibition center Arts Santa Monica in Barcelona. It’s difficult to distinguish their lab from a chemical lab, but the things they create are amazing experiences for the senses!

Be wild, also while cooking. We know how spaghetti al pesto or yogurt with muesli taste. But how do they taste together?

Bon áppetit!

(more pictures here)

Animation experiments

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

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Size, shape, position and add/substract are the main topics to learn in animation, in this order.

Brainstorming on this idea and trying to incorporate also other educational content areas, such as physics or maths, I listed some potential tutorials:

- Appear / disappear

- Elastic bodies

- Physical kinetics

- Morphing

- Walking cycle

- Color mix

- Light mix

- Finger animation

- Lip-sync

- …

Escher could be a good example for morphing experiments:

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Color mix is also a good topic where stop motion can help, both for additive and sustractive colors.

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Which frame rate would be needed to have the effect on the Newton’s disc using the color palette in different frames?

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On the other hand, there are also some experiments that I’d like to carry to reduce the possibilities  and to test possible games or experiences for the children:

- Setup camera+projector

- Light + play-dough combined: let the children follow some shapes projected with play-dough for example

- Collaborative stop-motion: one child starts and another continues the animation where the other has left it

- Choreography with objects

- Hand animation

- Experiment with other spaces / camera positions for shooting

To put things in practise and also to get more experience on stop motion, I built a set of wooden pieces to animate a tower growing and disappearing. I designed two sets, one easing the bottom and another easing the top, following a sinusoid.

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Following a movie that shows the effect of:

1- Easing the bottom

2- Easing the top

3- Independent movement: combine two movements easing the top. The feeling is that the movements are independent, since the variations from one frame to the next doesn’t match from one tower to the other.

4- Connected movement: combine two movements, one easing the top and the other easing the bottom. Now the variations from one frame to the next match in both towers, having the feeling that they are connected under the table.

A problem I realised with this experiment is that the auto-brightness on the camera changes on each frame since the average light changes on each frame. So far I haven’t found any way to disable this feature on any camera connected to a Mac. Bad news because this will be needed.

Another known issue is the interlacing. I was shooting using a light bulb and the camera gets the frequency producing these horizontal lines. To take into account.

It’s really easy to mess up the pieces, so from the very beginning, I tried to apply one of the main rules for animation: organisation!

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Perceptions & Assumptions

Monday, June 14th, 2010

We know how to use almost all the objects that surround us. Our ability to learn and retain memories from past experiences, together with our perception of reality, build a set of assumptions over the objects, shaping our behavior while using them. As David Rockeby wrote in his interesting article The Construction of Experience, “the interface itself, by defining how we perceive and navigate content, shapes our experience of that content”. We experience the reality through our sensory system. From Rockeby’s article, “there is the reality out there – raw sensuality. The base of human-reality interface is raw and uncoded. We decode with perceptual filters”.

A repeated experience with an object tends to build a standard in our mind. We (designers) use these standards as metaphors to facilitate the comprehension and use of a complex or new concept.

And there is intuition, that is also constructed and being modified based on our experience and sensory perception.

But what happen when we don’t know anything about an object?

I’m interested on how an unknown object can challenge us, how is the process of discovering its functionality, its features, how to operate it. And the feelings that can arise on the user: frustration, disappointment, curiosity, surprise, addiction, etc.

Is it possible to have a new, pure relationship with an object with no assumptions? How many levels of content can we access though our senses? How many other levels are we missing if we only rely in our senses?

Is the intuition a result of our sensory perception and assumptions from our past experiences? Or is an independent dimension?

I started exploring some of these questions with a small experiment as part of an open exploration with the aim to have a better understanding of the essence of the interaction between humans and objects.

The experiment consisted of giving a wood cube to different people and let them interact with it, with no instructions. The cube has a labyrinth inside, with a ball in it. It has also a hole.

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The purpose of the experiment is to generate an instant assumption that drives the interaction with the object. However, during the experiment, the object seems to challenge the assumption, generating doubt about the real goal, addiction or frustration. Here a video of the experiment.

Without any instructions, only by seeing the hole and hearing a ball trapped inside, the goal seems clear. It’s interesting to see the reactions and the evolution of the exploration of the object by different people.

Jacek spent twenty minutes. He found the hole was a problem, as it was setting up a challenge an offering a goal without assuring it – “this hole makes everything complicated”. The curiosity to know what was inside make him thing about other ways to open the box, even break it – which could actually have been the goal, why not?

In other cases there were ups & downs on the motivation to pursue a goal that wasn’t clear. For example during the experiment with Shruti, there is two moments where she seems to give up, but continues for some more minutes. Is the assumption that makes her continue exploring? Maybe the possibility to find another goal? When is it “enough”?

It seemed to be a cycle in all the experiments: exploration, (assumption of the goal), motivation, try understand the inside, query the goal, frustration, (something that made continue exploring or giving up), motivation, and so on.

A bit more analytical, Mayo made some questions to narrow down the possibilities of the purpose of the object, and the experiment. As he explained me later, he spent a some time trying to mentally draw the labyrinth to get the ball out. “It seems that is why it was build for. Or for making music”.

At some point the ball gets stuck on the labyrinth, and needs to be shaken to be released. That added some confusion.

Some other people tried to put stuff inside through the hole to see if it could come out later on.

Laura proposed me to put different materials on the labyrinth’s walls in order to facilitate to find the way out for the ball. She’s always constructive, even building over the assumption that the goal was getting the ball out :).

Actually there was no way out for the ball. The labyrinth was build to keep the ball inside. Some people considered this option but they continued trying, probably because a) there is no way to prove that you cannot take the ball out. b) it’s hard to look down on the obvious goal (a reasoned assumption) and spend time on finding a new uncertain goal.

That experiment has to be considered within a frame of an experiment, since the participants knew that there was a hidden purpose, not just playing. Although they were free to play as much time as they wanted, I’d like to repeat the experiment without asking to participate – leaving the cube on the street maybe. Also I’d like to test it with children, and see in which age they don’t build assumptions with a labyrinth, a ball and a hole.

Here some pictures of the inside:

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More pictures here.

Thanks to Jacek, Jennifer, Dean, Elena, Shruti, Laura and Mayo.