Saturday, November 29, 2008

Curiosity cultivated the cat.

When I was in tenth grade, I had an English teacher named Mrs. Zuzga. I will save the numerous wonderful things that came out of that class for another time (e.g.: Siddhartha, Brave New World, The Bridge Over the River Kwai) and get right to my point. One day during the school year, she made us promise that if we ever came across a word we did not know, we would look it up. I thought that was a pretty good promise - and so 17 years later, I not only remember that unofficial oath, I continue to uphold it. (Don't believe me? Check out the margins of any of my books!)

Somewhere along the way (probably with the advent of the Internet) this vow of mine developed into something more. In short, why stop at words? There are far too many things that make me say, "I wonder why," or, "I wonder how." And it is far too easy to discover the responses to let these questions simply go unanswered. So today's blog is not only to encourage you to go out and look for the answers to your burning curiosities, it is also to share with you the two things I found myself wondering about this Thanksgiving holiday:

Q: Why aren't turkey eggs available at the grocery store? Why is it mainly chicken eggs??

A: "Barnyard economics. Turkeys don't lay that many eggs, and the ones they do lay are used to produce more turkeys. The average egg-laying chicken lays 300 or so eggs per year, while the average turkey produces only 100 to 120. Chickens come into production at 19 to 20 weeks of age, but turkeys don't get going until 32 weeks. Turkeys are also much larger, averaging 16 to 17 pounds compared to 3.5 pounds for chickens. So you'd need a lot more room for a bird that would take a lot  longer to produce a lot fewer eggs. Another problem is that turkeys go 'broody' easily - they want to sit on their eggs and incubate them. In contrast, egg-producing white leghorn chickens have had the broodiness bred out of them. They lay and lay and have no desire to incubate their offspring or otherwise be maternal."


The other thing I wondered about, as Jamie stood crying in the kitchen while making homemade winter squash soup...

Q: Why do onions make us cry?

A: "As onions are sliced, cells are broken, allowing enzymes to break down amino acid sulphoxides and generate sulphenic acids. These acids are unstable and spontaneously rearrange into a volatile gas. The gas diffuses through the air and eventually reaches the eye where it reacts with the water to form a diluted solution of sulphuric acid [holy shit!]. This acid irritates the nerve endings in the eye making them sting. Tear glands produce tears to dilute and flush out the irritant."

Sometimes my initial searches lead to other searches... 

Q: How can I reduce the painful stinging when cutting onions in the future?

A: "Reduce tearing when cutting onions by first chilling the onions for 30 minutes. Cut off the top and peel the outer layers leaving the root end intact. (The root end has the largest concentration of sulphuric compounds.)


Obviously the Wikipedias of the world must be read with critical eyes but, that being said, they are wonderful tools for those nagging questions that just need superficial explanations. (Which brings me to another caveat: beware of talking about your new found knowledge with too much bravado...)

I'm pretty sure this path of curiosity I am on is why I love doing research, why I love my job ... and why I long to do it professionally in other fields. But it is Saturday, and I'm on vacation, so I will leave work at work and look into things I am thinking about today. Namely the disposition of french bulldogs and what exactly the 15 executive departments of a President's cabinet do.

(And by the way, I had been composing this blog in my head for days now, but was compelled to get my thoughts out today because... Mrs. Zuzga sent me an email this morning! How crazy is that?!?!)


Helen said...

We just looked up why cats purr! :)

Anonymous said...

This made me chuckle. Very earnest. Very Andy Rooney - except I like you much better.

I had one of those teachers in school. And after I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I began reading the dictionary. Words are so amazing....


Amy said...

Yay for Mrs. Zuzga! I had her too and she was awesome. And so cute.