Okra and Tomatoes


Okra, photo courtesy of Swallowtail Garden Seeds

As Julia mentioned in our last okra blog, cooking with okra can be a bit slimy. One of the tricks to combat the slime, is to cook it at high heat and really fast. Usually, this means frying okra, but there are other ways to cook it quick! Today’s recipe is okra and tomatoes. The trick, in this recipe, is to sauté the okra in a hot pan for only 3 to 4 minutes. Add some tomatoes and voilà, we have a recipe jam packed with vegetables and a kick of spice!



Photo courtesy of Vodeck

• 3 medium tomatoes, diced
• 1 onion, chopped
• 3 cups Okra, cut into 1 inch pieces
• 2 cloves garlic
• Pinch of cayenne pepper
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Bacon or Andouille sausage (optional)
• Vegetable oil



Photo courtesy of Kim Siever

Putting it all together:
1. In a large skillet, cook the bacon (or andouille sausage) until crispy. Remove bacon from pan and place it on a paper towel lined plate.
2. Pour all but 3 tablespoons of grease into a grease jar. We will be using the remaining grease to cook our onions and garlic.
a. Vegetarian option: use vegetable oil instead of bacon or andouille sausage grease
3. Put the onions and garlic into the pan with the grease. Cook on medium-high heat until the onions are translucent. Add a pinch of cayenne to add some spice.
4. In a separate pan, add vegetable oil and heat on high for about a minute. When pan is hot, add okra pieces in a single layer. Let brown for a minute, and then stir to allow the other side to cook. Sear for about 3 to 4 minutes and remove from heat.
5. Add the okra and tomatoes to the pan with the garlic and the onions. Cook about 4 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Remove from heat, add bacon (or sausage) and enjoy!
If this type of okra isn’t for you, join us at OKRA Charity Saloon this month! The Houston Museum of Natural Science is one of four featured charities. You won’t have to eat okra (unless you want to) and you have the opportunity to vote for HMNS!

Cocktail Chemistry: A Balancing Act

Since HMNS is one of the featured charities at Okra Charity Saloon in September (read about it here), we’re doing a series of blog posts about cocktail chemistry this month. Get to know your drinks on a more molecular level. We’ll explore acids and bases, surface area, density, and fluorescence. It’s going to be elemental.

Life is all about balance. Sorry, did I say life? I meant cocktails. As any experienced bartender will tell you, concocting the perfect drink has everything to do with balance. Bartenders are charged with making sure the basic components of their drinks will play well together in the glass and dance on your taste buds. Understanding and balancing flavors is a critical part of being a cocktail chemist.
When you’re talking about the fundamentals of chemistry, you turn to the periodic table.


Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Periodic_table#/media/File:14LaAc_periodic_table_IIb.jpg

Every element is neatly organized and laid out according to their atomic number, electron configurations, and chemical properties. There are currently 118 elements that make up our entire universe. The periodic table of cocktail chemistry would look a little different, a little more basic (not literally). Instead of 118 elements, the world of cocktail chemistry has only four: alcohol, sugar, acidity, and bitterness. We’re going to focus on the acidity element.

Let’s revisit high school chemistry for a moment with Acids and Bases: 101. When molecules break down in water, some release hydrogen ions (H+), while others release hydroxide ions (OH-). The pH scale measures the concentration of these hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions and tells us how acidic or basic a liquid is. Acids fall between 0 and 7, and bases fall between 7 and 14. The more acidic a liquid is, the lower its pH; the more basic a liquid is, the higher its pH. When acids and bases are mixed, they react with one another in what’s called a neutralization reaction. Think back to when you made your first science fair volcano. The combination of baking soda and vinegar was an explosive, bubbling demonstration of an acid-base reaction.

When we’re talking about cocktail chemistry, we’re more concerned with the way these solutions taste. Acids are characteristically sour, while bases are bitter. Remember the whole balance thing? This is where it comes into play.

Bartenders typically rely on the citrus genus for the acidic component of a cocktail. Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit are frequently used to counteract the sugars and bitters in their concoctions. Understanding the chemical composition of these citric elements is critical.


cocktail 2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citrus#/media/File:Citrus_fruits.jpg

Lemons and limes are the most acidic with a pH between 2.0-2.6. Limes have slightly less sugar than lemons. This is why lemons pair well with gins and rye whiskies, while limes pair well with rum and tequila. Grapefruit and orange both have a higher sugar content and slightly lower pH than their citrus cousins. With this knowledge, you can figure how much citric acid you need to counteract the sugar in a cocktail. Since grapefruit and orange have an inherently higher sugar content, they don’t require as much sugar to counter their acidity. Not too sweet, not too sour. You can use science to make sure it’s just right.
Chemists have also found that acids help the flavors of a cocktail combine more evenly, so each sip contains the full flavors of the drink. (We’ll talk more about density and separation of liquids in one of our upcoming cocktail chemistry blog posts, but there’s no separation here!)

If you’re looking to try out a few acidic cocktails, try ordering sours, smashes, or any citric-based drink. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) Screwdriver: A classic combination of orange juice and vodka. Since orange has a high sugar content compared to its acidity, it acts as both the sugar and acid. Paired with vodka, this is a simple, refreshing drink.
2) Lemon drop martini: Lemon drops use fresh lemon juice for a strong, tart acidic component. The intense acidity is balanced with simple syrup and triple sec. These flavors pair well with vodka for a crisp, refined cocktail.

cocktail 3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lemon_Drop_cocktails.jpg

3) Paloma: This drink balances two acidic components with both grapefruit juice and lime juice. Since limes have an extremely low sugar content, palomas contain additional sugar or simple syrup to balance their intense tartness. This combination goes perfectly with mescal or tequila. It’s topped off with club soda for a cool, bubbly finish.


Stop by Okra Charity Saloon to try one of these acidic cocktails during the month of September, and support your Museum! Don’t forget to check back next week when we explore the surface area of cocktails.

Legacy Donors Help Fund the Future of HMNS

You explored the solar system. You had butterflies land on your shoulder. You were dazzled by the beauty of the best gems and minerals from around the world. You climbed mountains and swam in the ocean depths. You celebrated your grandson’s sixth birthday with the dinosaurs and inspired fourth-graders to like science. You’ve grown alongside the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and now you’re wondering how to help HMNS keep growing.

DSC05484If the museum has enriched your life, you may wish to consider a planned gift to create a legacy that will help secure its future. The museum depends on the generosity of its biggest fans to provide high-quality exhibitions and programs that keep pace with technology and scientific discovery. What better way to thank the museum than to donate a lasting gift through the Legacy Society like members Eleanor and Chuck Asaud? 

Chuck Asaud

Valued volunteers for the past 14 years, the Asauds share their considerable knowledge, experience and enthusiasm with the museum’s visitors on a regular basis and decided to deepen their commitment by generously including the museum in their estate planning.

“The museum is an important and rewarding chapter in our lives. We have made friends here, continued to learn and take part in meaningful work,” said Chuck. “The fact that we are able to work together at the museum is a nice benefit,” said Eleanor.


Chuck and Eleanor met at college in 1954 and have been partners in life since that time, raising three children and enjoying fulfilling careers. Eleanor spent 30 years as an elementary and preschool teacher, giving youngsters a solid and caring foundation for future learning. Chuck, a dedicated scientist, made significant contributions in the aerospace and energy industries as a metallurgist, developing special products and exotic materials. Much of his work was highly classified.

Retirement brought Chuck and Eleanor to HMNS where they give freely of their time. Both are Master Docents and like to volunteer in the Cockrell Butterfly Center and the Morian Hall of Paleontology. “We enjoy learning new things, and working with the curators and other volunteers,” said Eleanor. They are also regular volunteers at fundraising events where they greet guests and make everyone feel welcome.


Like most important aspects in the Asauds’ life, the decision to join the HMNS Legacy Society was a joint one. “We decided that there was no longer a need for me to be named as beneficiary in Chuck’s life insurance policy; I really don’t need it,” said Eleanor. “We know that the museum will put it to good use and that makes us happy,” said Chuck.

Mary Tour

Planned gifts can include bequests, retirement assets, life insurance policies, artifacts or the establishment of a charitable trust with the museum. Individuals who make these donations are eligible to join the HMNS Legacy Society and receive invitations to exclusive events, recognition in selected publications and are honored at our annual luncheon.

The process to sign up as a Legacy donor is simple and confidential. Once you’ve discussed your estate with your attorney or financial planner, visit our web site to sign up to donate.

Generic GEMS

You’ve lived a lifetime with the museum. Help secure its future for generations to come. Join the Legacy Society today.

These students are real GEMS: Girls Exploring Math and Science

On February 21, 2015, The Houston Museum of Natural Science will celebrate our tenth year hosting Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS)!

GEMS highlights student projects covering science, technology, engineering and math. It aims to increase interest in STEM through student presented projects, and highlight possible STEM careers as represented by our Community Booths.

We had quite a turn out last year, and we are lucky enough to offer awards to the top student projects as selected by STEM professionals. Here’s a story from two groups that won prizes at GEMS 2014!

GEMS winners 3Girl Scout Troop 21318 represented two booths in GEMS – “Any way the wind blows” and “A look into Optics.” The girls were excellent at explaining their projects to both young visitors as well as professionals visiting their booths. “Any way the wind blows” was presented by Josie Blackburn and Tiffany Bridges, and they took a look at wind energy and its effects on the environment. They discussed the many ways that wind energy is used from wind mills to paragliding, and they even had a windmill generator to demonstrate wind power in action! Hannah Cox, Hanna Gano and Qiwei Li also presented at GEMS last year, but their project took on a different focus! In their project, “A look into Optics,” the girls used a laser to show how different lenses affect the focus on the retina of the eye. The girls showed other ways lenses are used outside of our eye, like with telescopes and binoculars. It was a really eye-opening project!

GEMS winners 1 GEMS winners 2

Both groups from Girl Scout Troop 21318 won prizes for their STEM projects! We caught up with them a few months after GEMS to see how they used their winnings. Blackburn, Bridges, Li, Gano and Cox chose to give half of their winnings back to their school, Glenda Dawson High School. They wanted to give back to the people who had helped them with ideas and supplies – a great way to continue STEM education!

They used the rest of their winnings to take an educational trip to HMNS! They went on a docent tour of the Magna Carta Exhibit to see the infamous document on its only journey outside of the United Kingdom. The rest of the day was spent visiting the special exhibition Bulgari: 130 Years of Masterpieces, the Cockrell Butterfly Center and watching a film in our Giant Screen Theater. Of course a trip to the museum wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Moran Hall of Paleontology! All in all, it was a fun-filled day of Science!

GEMS winners 4

Troop 21318 has participated in GEMS for many years, and we wish them all luck as they graduate and go on to their next STEM adventures! We hope to have more projects like these at GEMS 2015!

You have the opportunity to win prize money just like these girls! If you would like to participate in GEMS 2015, you can apply here. All it takes is a group of enthusiastic students, an adult chaperone and a project exploring science, technology, engineering or math. For more information, check out our GEMS page and download the application!