Thursday, November 21, 2013

A good use for Halloween candy

If you are like my family, we always end up with too much Halloween candy.  So I was thrilled when my kids decided to explore what happens to candy in the microwave.  The results surprised me, and it turned into a great science experiment.

First, we picked out several different types of candy: chocolate, twizzlers, candy corn, bubble gum, lifesavers, and tootsie rolls.  Then we put them one at a time on a plate and microwaved them for up to 1 minute.  We observed what changes took place in the microwave, the time it took in the microwave for something to happen, the texture after it came out of the microwave, and the texture after it cooled.  Then using the information below and the ingredients in the candy we tried to explain what had happened.

Before we go any further, let me point out some safety issues:
The boiling candy is HOT, hotter than boiling water.  DO NOT let your kids touch or taste it.  Use a knife to poke at it to see what the texture is like.
Microwaves are electromagnetic waves that are strongly absorbed by water, less so by oil, and even less by starches/sugars or polymers.  If you continue to run a microwave without something in it to absorb the electromagnetic waves it can eventually damage your microwave.  So do not let your microwave run for 10 minutes or so if your candy does not seem to be doing anything.  At 1-2 minutes though, your microwave will not be damaged.
As sugars are heated to high temperatures, they will start to burn.  Watch your candy carefully!  If you start to see smoke coming from it stop the microwave and check on the candy.  If it is turning a dark brown or black, don't keep microwaving it.  None of the candies we tried produced a flame, but several did start to smoke before a minute was up (we carried the results outside to prevent the fire alarm from starting).
One other note: all of our "experiments" were easily cleaned off dishes after soaking the dishes for a while.  However I would recommend you do not use your priceless china for this.

So now that we know how to avoid accidents, lets get to the chemistry!

The three main ingredients you will find in candy are sugar, corn syrup, and a form of fat.

Sugar is what is called a simple carbohydrate.  Picture a small ring made of six carbons, with oxygens and hydrogens attached to the carbons.  A simple sugar can be made of one ring or two of those rings connected together.  When sugar is heated it starts to carmalize: the sugar molecules rearrange and combine with each other in such a way that water is given off and large chains of carbon/oxygen molecules are formed.  These chains have a brown color and are what give carmel interesting flavors.  As the sugar continues to be heated it will eventually give off so much water that what is left is the carbon, which is black and flaky (think of the ash left after you burn firewood).
The remains of a lifesaver.

Corn Syrup is essentially a sugar syrup.  It contains many of the sugar rings connected together.  It will also carmalize.

Fat, when heated, will first liquify.  This is what we saw with pure chocolate.  If the fat continues to be heated it will also brown but in a different way from sugar.  Probably what is happening is that the milk solids that accompany the fat in most candies is undergoing a Maillard browning reaction with the sugar that is also present.
Pure chocolate got soft, but otherwise didn't change.

Gum is made of an artifical petroleum polymer.  It did not seem to react at the temperatures a microwave can produce.

Here are a few more websites that explain heating/burning of foods. is similar to what I suggested above, but dealing with only pure sugar. explains carmalization. explains the Maillard reactions.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Integrated Listening

We are now in the second quarter of school and it has been AWESOME!  H is doing great.  She is taking control of her studying and is getting good grades.  And best of all she cares about her grades.  I have hardly had to do anything.  I have been totally amazed.  Even her teacher from last year has noticed her maturity from her actions in the hallway and at lunch.
We are still doing the integrated listening.  We did "sensory and motor" last year and "concentration and attention" this summer.  I can't say for sure integrated listening is responsible for her maturity; it could have just been part of a normal growth.  But there has been such a huge change that I would be surprised if integrated listening hasn't helped at least a little.
I hope your year is going as well as ours!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Eight Below

We watched Disney's "Eight Below" the other night and loved it.  Though I love animals, I usually don't care for how Disney handles animal movies (like "Air Bud", "Snow Dogs" or "Shaggy Dog").  "Eight Below" was different.  It is the story of the survival of eight sled dogs in Antartica, and their trainer's attempts to rescue them.  The scenery is spectacular, the dogs well trained, and minimum anthropomorphism is thrown into the movie.  The way the movie handles scientific research is a bit shaky, but not too syrupy.  The best part was the maturity of the characters.  Unlike alot of Disney films, you don't see the characters throwing fits, repenting and then changing later in the movie. 
So I obviously liked it.  But what about the kids?  The 10yr old was glued to the movie, the 8 year old fairly interested, the 5 yr old not at all.  Oh well.  I guess that means we will just have to see it again in 5 years when he is ready for it!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lego creations!


I am constantly amazed at the creativity my kids display.  Here are a couple of their recent lego creations:
This is H's "Shark Mobile".  Notice the clear compartment in which the shark-man can ride.

This is my middle son's "Roman villa" complete with a patio on which he can grill dinner.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gluten Free Lunches/Snacks

A while ago Kate at Gluten-Free Gobsmacked asked about the type of gluten free lunches people take to work, being tired of mainly salads herself.  I sympathize with her plight as there are many times I would LOVE to be able to just grab something as I run out of the house and not have to plan ahead.  So I was thrilled to see these GOPICNIC boxes at my local Target. 
I first encountered GOPICNIC at a small airport when I was desperate for anything gluten-free.  The GOPICNIC box I found was fun, delicious, and safe.  Since then I have been asking all of the local grocery stores to carry them and I guess Target finally listened!  I bought as many gluten free GOPICNIC varieties as they had in stock.

At this point I should qualify that I am only planning to use these in an emergency.  At $4 a box, they are too expensive for me to use very often.  But just knowing they are in the pantry makes it easier to plan a regular lunch-to-go.

And that brings me back to Kate's request: what do I plan for lunches?  Here is a picture of some of my regular supplies:
The one I turn to most often is peanut-butter rice cake sandwiches (do not add jelly or honey to these; however nutella works well).  A close second (not shown) is a scrambled egg-and cheese quasadilla.  I also like to freeze fruit like peaches and berries when they are in season in muffin tins.  Then I store them in gallon bags, for an easy addition to some homemade yogurt (the frozen fruit keeps the yogurt cool until lunchtime).  My protein muffins are a favorite as well, but there are rarely enought leftover from breakfast to take for lunch.  I also love to bring some soup or casserole in a thermos if there is any available.  And with any lunch I add either some fresh or dried fruit, and maybe some nuts, cheese or pepperoni for an extra bit of protein if I am famished.  If it is going to be an extra-long day I might throw in some chocolate milk or pineapple juice for a pick-me-up.

There are some occasions where I need to travel for a few days and I like to bring along a meal as a "just-in-case" provision.  My favorites in those situations are Pacific's soups and ready rice, rice cakes and individual packages of peanut butter, and oatmeal with nuts/dried fruit.
As a final note I want to mention desserts.  The longer I have been gluten-free and eating healthy, the less satisfied I am with the typical M&Ms or candy bars.  So for a small bite of something sweet I take along a piece of quality dark chocolate or one of these fortune cookies.  There is something about a ridiculous fortune that tops off a meal perfectly.

Happy gluten-free eating!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Progress (or not) with Integrated Listening

On the advice of H's therapist we started a program called "Integrated Listening".  We have been doing the 1 hr of listening and the 15 minutes of exercise every day for the past three months.  I had noticed some signs of maturity in H lately, but also times of high emotions.  During the latest parent-teacher conference we were told that H's attention span in class is no better, and she has started to act out a bit more.  Unfortunately all the news is bad this time.

So is the Integrated Listening not working?  It is hard to say.  First of all, the company says it takes 6 months before there are benefits.  Second, we haven't actually been doing it every day, or doing the exercises every time we listen.  It has taken us 2 months to get through 40 sessions because every time you miss a day you have to repeat a lesson (some lessons we repeated 4 times because we kept forgetting a day).  Third, H is almost a preteen and might be experiencing some hormonal swings.

Our plan for now is to continue the listening program and the exercises.  We will try to become more disciplined and do it exactly according to the instructions.  We will continue to encourage H and help her the best we can with school.  And we will pray, pray, and pray some more. 

If anyone else has experience with Integrated Listening, good or bad, I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Science (Physics) Valentines

I created these valentines for my physics class.  You are welcome to print them off and use them as well.  Please just link back to this site if you repost them elsewhere.  The inspiration for these are the valentines cards at the  However some of those were a bit much for high school students!