Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!
Thanksgiving Day – CLOSED
Friday – Sunday (11/28-11/30) – 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. *
*Please note these extended hours are for Thanksgiving weekend only.
Friday, November 28
A troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape Earth and return to his home-world. Click here for tickets.
Holiday Trunk Show- Alexis Bittar
Saturday, November 29
12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Alexis Bittar is described as “one of the greatest jewelry designers of the 21st century.” His unique jewelry consists of hand-carved Lucite, crystals, semi-precious stones, and 18kt gold vermeil. Click here for more information on upcoming trunk shows.
Saturday, November 29
Fearless optimist Anna sets off on an epic journey-teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven-to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom. Click here for tickets.
Costumes are encouraged!
Loosen your belts boys and girls, because we are approaching Thanksgiving, the day where diets and portion control cease to exist. To make things a bit easier for you, I have compiled some tips on how to make your Thanksgiving dinner a winner. And how do we do this? With science of course!
When it comes to cooking turkey, the star of your Thanksgiving dinner, you have to make sure your bird comes out moist, tender, and flavorful. First thing to know is the cooking style and time depends on the parts of the turkey you are cooking. If you are going Ren-Fest style and just serving up turkey legs, a longer cooking time at a low temperature would be better to allow the tissue to break down slowly. However, if you are just serving up a turkey breast, it can be cooked at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time since there is not as much tissue as is in the legs.
Now I am going to assume that you are a Thanksgiving champion and are cooking the whole turkey. Here’s what you should do to make a winner winner turkey dinner:
- As mentioned above, the breast and legs have different cooking times, however if you are cooking the whole turkey, this isn’t really an option. However, there is a way you can help differentiate the cooking times before putting your turkey in the oven. “Take the bird out ahead of time and let the legs warm up a little bit while you keep the breasts covered with ice packs. That way, you keep the breasts cold. The legs warm up by maybe 10, 20 degrees, and that way, when you put the bird in the oven, you’ve already built in a temperature differential. The breasts are going to end up, at a given time, less-cooked than the legs.“ – NPR- “Delicious Turkey Tips From Food Scientists“
- We have all had that dry, chewy turkey before, and I don’t know about you, but I would rather not repeat that experience. To help your turkey maintain its moist deliciousness, soak your bird in a saltwater solution prior to cooking–aka brining. Brining helps loosen the structure of the muscle fibers and increases the turkey’s water weight, these steps combined result in tender and juicy meat. Check out Butterball’s brining guide to find the correct brining time for your turkey.
- If you are roasting the turkey, cook it on an elevated rack a few inches off the bottom of the pan to allow the heat to circulate evenly around the turkey. If your turkey is resting on the pan, the heat will not be able to fully circulate resulting in an unevenly cooked bird.
- Have ever cut your turkey (or steak, too) while it is hot and seen the juicy deliciousness seeping out? Well, sorry my friend, but you are watching the flavor leave your meat. When your meat is still hot, the juices are still flowing and have not rested into the fibers yet. Therefore, you should allow your turkey to rest prior to carving. The rest time depends on the size of your turkey and can be anywhere from 5-20 minutes. Letting your bird rest will also make for easier carving.
- Green beans
Blanching green beans brings out their vibrant green color, but you may have noticed that their color dulls over time. This is “a result of the chlorophyll molecules losing their magnesium ions in the heat.” To stop this, shock the beans with an ice bath immediately after they finish cooking.
Who knew the secret to a flaky, yet easy to work with crust was vodka? When rolling out pie dough, water is often added to form a more cohesive crust that is easier to place into the pan. This is fine up to a certain point. Adding too much water will activate the gluten development causing the dough to lose its flakiness. However, vodka will add the extra moisture you need without activating the gluten development. (Don’t worry your pie crust won’t taste like vodka.) Source – Live Science
While cooking stuffing in the turkey is tradition, you may want to rethink that. Most stuffing mixes contain eggs which need to be brought up to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit in order to kill the bacteria. In order for the stuffing temperature to reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit, you risk overcooking the turkey and drying out the meat – not cool. Instead cook the stuffing on its own and serve it on the side or add it to your turkey platter after the turkey has been cooked.
Rolls are one of the best parts of Thanksgiving in my opinion, but making it is not. If you’ve had homemade rolls you know there is nothing that you can get out of a box, carton, or frozen package that compares to the delicious fluffiness of homemade rolls. No one has the time, especially on Thanksgiving, to endlessly knead bread. Unfortunately, kneading is a necessary step in the break making process to “break down existing bonds and form stronger, straighter gluten sheets.” However, you can save your hands five minutes of kneading thanks to autolyse – i.e. let the dough rest before kneading (about 20 minutes). The resting time allows for the existing bonds to break down on their own.
Now get ready Thanksgiving, because we are coming for you!
The days just after Thanksgiving are always busy at the Museum. There are flurries of children on field trips, shoppers looking for that unusual and prefect gift and, my favorite, the annual installation of the holiday trees in the grand hall. The trees, which are decorated by local area non-profits, celebrate a variety of themes and causes and are not to be missed. My particular favorite each year is the tree decorated by the Houston Conchology Society. My department also gets to decorate a tree and it is always an ode to science. This year’s theme: Cephalopod Christmas. How can you go wrong there?
We know you will be out to visit the trees this year, and we assumed that you would want a cephalopod for yourself so I whipped up this little tutorial for your very own pet squid. He’s adorable. He’s a cephalopod. Most importantly, he doesn’t have to be fed, walked* or cleaned up after.
(*You might look really awkward trying to take your cephalopod for a walk.)
1 Paper towel tube
1 Toilet paper tube
Paint – color of your choice
String, yarn or thin ribbon – 2 to 3 feet.
Black permanent marker
- Color your tubes with the paint of your choice. (Don’t clean up the paint quite yet. You’ll need it again in a minute.)
- Set the tubes aside and let them dry.
- Pinch one end of the toilet paper tube shut.
- Use scissors to cut a 45 degree angle off each side of the tube so you now have two triangle pieces and a pointy tube.
- Use a stapler to keep the tube flat. I aligned my staple with the length of the tube so as to not get in the way of the next step.
- Use the scissors to cut 8 legs from the paper towel tubes. The legs should go up the tube about 2/3 of the way.
- Use the rest of the paint to color the pieces you cut off – both sides and the inside of the legs you just cut. The legs may get a little floppy when they are wet with paint, but don’t worry – they’ll firm up when dry. If you have some weird delaminated bits, you can always add a little bit of glue.
- Once everything is dry, cut one of the triangle pieces down the fold so you have two pieces. Cut the other triangle piece into two feeding tentacle pads.
- You are going to use the halved triangle pieces to make the fins of your squid. Apply a little bit of glue to the hypotenuse of the two triangles (opposite the 90 degree angle) and slide them in between the two pointy bits of the toilet paper tube – one on each side. The 90 degree angle should be the part sticking out and making the fin.
- Now grab the paper towel tube. Use the scissors to shape the legs as you see fit. I like mine a little bit more realistic but, really, you can leave them as is.
- If you so choose, you can also curl or shape the legs for more realistic appearance. For mine, I did this by rolling the legs over a round marker – switching from the inside of the leg to the outside of the leg every so often.
- Now, glue the feeding tentacles to the string. You can also staple or tape them on as you see fit. Go crazy.
- Tie the middle of the string into a small knot. This will give you a little bit more material when you attach the feeding tentacles.
- Holding onto the knot, drop the feeding tentacles down through the uncut end of the paper towel tube.
- Staple, glue or tape the end of the knot to the edge of the paper towel tube to secure it in place.
- Cut a 2 ½” to 3” slit in the uncut end of the paper towel tube. This will allow you to overlap these edges and fit the “legs” into the “head”.
- Now let’s make a siphon. Cut a straw slightly longer than your slit. Let’s say 3 ¼” just for fun.
- Flatten the straw a bit and then attach the straw to one of the edges of the slit you just made.
- Curl the side of the slit without the straw behind the side of the slit with the straw. Then, fit the “legs” into the “head. Push it all the way in.
- Once you know it fits, take the “legs” out, put a little glue on the top edge and fit it back into the “head”.
- Last step! We need to add some eyes! Using your black permanent marker, make two dime sized circles on your guy on the “leg” piece between the “head” and the legs. They should line up approximately with your fins.
- Done! Enjoy your pet squid and take him on lots of walks to the park. Squid love going on walks. Here’s the final product.I have named him Maurice.
Should I be concerned about the monarch butterfly?
Is it going extinct?
Will these cold temperatures kill the ones I’m raising?
What is “OE” and should I worry about it?
If you have questions about monarchs, you are in good company.
Thanks to the recent petition to US Fish and Wildlife by a number of conservation organizations to grant them “threatened” status, monarch butterflies have been in the news a lot this fall. Also, more and more people are hearing about the protozoan parasite that affects monarch health, the dreaded OE (short for the unpronounceable and unspellable “Ophryocystis elektroscirrha”). Finally, if you are in Houston, or other areas with monarch butterflies that do not migrate but spend the winter here, you may have questions about what this unusually early and unusually cold snap will have on the caterpillars and adults in your garden.
This is a quick response to all of those issues:
- Monarch butterflies are not in any sense endangered. The species is very widespread, found throughout the world, from Australia to southern Spain, Hawaii, etc., etc. What the groups petitioning for threatened status hope to achieve is to bring awareness to the possible end of the huge annual migration that takes place in the North American populations. Within the past decade or so, the number of individuals making the southern migration to overwintering grounds in Mexico has declined by about 90%. This is indeed worrying, and it would be a terrible loss if this unique and spectacular phenomenon ended. But there will still be monarchs – just not as many (millions instead of billions) and perhaps only non-migratory ones in areas where they can survive year-round. The decline in the North America population is thought to be due to a number of factors – the main one being loss of habitat. Genetically modified corn and soy beans have been bred to resist herbicides such as RoundUp, so farmers can spray their croplands for weeds (including milkweeds) and not affect these GMO crops. Until the widespread use of GMO crops, milkweed was abundant in the rows between plantings and in the highway right of ways. Thus the huge expanse of farmland in the central USA cornbelt was critical in building up their populations during the breeding season (summer). GMO crops, and subsidies for ethanol (which encourage corn farmers to plant every bit of their land, right up to the roadways) mean that this “cradle” of monarch populations is no longer available. There are other factors causing the huge decline in the migratory population – global climate change, urbanization, some habitat loss in Mexico – but this, i.e., habitat loss in the central USA, is the main factor. We do not know yet whether monarchs will be designated as “threatened” – such proposals take a long time to go through the various review processes. The good news is that this petition is raising awareness about this worrying loss of habitat – which affects not only monarchs, but bees, other butterflies, and many other organisms.
- “OE” is a naturally occurring protozoan parasite of monarch and queen butterflies (genus Danaus). This tiny organism multiplies inside the caterpillar stage, and is spread in a dormant spore form by the adult butterfly. Low levels of OE do not greatly affect their hosts, but parasite levels build up rapidly over successive generations of monarchs, and when infection levels are high, many detrimental effects (including death) are seen. Infected caterpillars may not pupate properly, or they may not be able to get out of the pupa, or the adults may be weak, malformed, or die early. Unfortunately, well-intentioned people raising successive generations of monarchs, especially on tropical milkweed (which does not have an annual dormant period) appear to be the main cause of OE buildup (via the very persistent spores).
In areas like Houston, where mild temperatures allow for resident, non-migratory populations year-round, researchers have found that most adult butterflies are carrying the spores (i.e., over 75% of the butterflies they test are infected). For more information, visit the Monarch Watch organization’s website or click here for more information from the University of Georgia.
You can also find plenty of information by doing an online search for Ophryocystis elektroscirrha.
- You raise monarchs and are concerned about whether they can survive the cold temperatures we’ve been having.
The whole “point” of the monarch migration is to avoid cold temperatures – monarchs are really tropical butterflies that, like many songbirds, take advantage of our summers. However, in our area where it seldom gets truly cold, and where there is now lots of tropical milkweed available, thanks to the butterfly gardening craze, some monarchs forego the migration and spend the winter here, where they continue to breed (the migrating monarchs do not mate or lay eggs until spring).
Cold enough temperatures can certainly kill or harm monarchs, especially in the caterpillar stage or if they are in the process of pupating. However, unless it freezes and/or the caterpillars, pupae, or butterflies are highly exposed, monarchs can survive temperatures in the 30s.
During a cold snap, caterpillars will often crawl to the base of the milkweed they are eating and curl up on the ground until it warms up again. Adult butterflies can hunker down in a sheltered area and will come out again when it’s warm enough to fly. But if it’s cold enough for long enough, they will die. Of course it’s hard to tell people to let nature take its course — but that is probably best — especially given the high levels of OE we see in most people’s home-grown monarchs. If you do want to save your babies, you can always bring them inside for a few days until it warms up.
Butterflies can be fed sugar water, Gatorade, or fruit juice (place them with their feet touching a sponge or paper towel moistened with one of these sweet fluids and they will probably extend their proboscis to get a meal. If you would like to test to see if your butterflies have OE (only the adults can be tested), click here to learn how to do it. We (at the Cockrell Butterfly Center) would be happy to look at your samples, or you can send them to the University of Georgia.
If you have questions that were not answered here, feel free to write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.