Sunday, 2 January 2011

Ice Cold in Nerdsville

So, what was the first thing in my mouth in 2011 (I hear you ask)? Well, it was a bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes with cold milk.

Now, the cold bit is important. Don’t you just get annoyed when the milk gets left out of the fridge in the morning, depriving you of the ice-cold cereal hit you crave?

There is a memorable passage in Neal Stephenson’s novel ‘Crytonomicon’ (1999) that sums it up brilliantly (page 475). The computer-geek character Randy Waterhouse is having breakfast, while, of course, doing some serious coding:

“He sets up his empty bowl, an exceptionally large soup spoon, … goes to the kitchen, opens the fridge, reaches deep into the back and finds an unopened pod-unit of UHT milk. UHT milk need not, technically, be refrigerated, but it is pivotal, in what is to follow, that the milk be only a few microdegrees above the point of freezing. The fridge in Randy’s apartment has louvers on the back where the cold air is blown in, straight from the Freon coils. Randy always stores his milk-pods directly in front of these louvers. Not too close, or else the pods will block the flow of air, and not too far away either. The cold air becomes visible as it rushes in and condenses moisture. What Randy would like to see, ideally, is the whole milk-pod enveloped in an even, jacket-like flow to produce better heart exchange. He would like the milk to be so cold that, were he to reach in and grab it, he feels the flexible squeezy pod stiffen between his fingers as ice crystals spring into existence, summoned out of nowhere simply by the disturbance of being squished. Today the milk is almost, but not quite, that cold. Randy goes into the living room with it. He has to wrap it in a towel because it is so cold it hurts his fingers… Golden cereal nuggets pelt the bottom of the bowl. Ideally, one wants the bone-dry cereal nuggets and the cryogenic milk to enter the mouth with the minimal contact and for the entire reaction between them to take place in the mouth.”

Personally, I would swap the UHT for full-fat milk, ideally from Jersey cows that have spent their lives grazing on the grassy slopes of The Channel Islands, but I know where this guy is coming from!

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