This past week I've been thinking a lot about materials and fabrication.
I spent some time with a small company that is working on its flavor of 3d printing. They are doing some clever things, but many of these remind me either of specialized pieces of industrial kit or early pre-Apple II personal computers.
The promise of 3d printing is great - throw some raw materials in a machine along with a digital pattern, push a button, and an object emerges eventually - usually as a stack of thin layers of a plastic material. The printers have been falling in price and for the last ten years there have been forecasts that this will ignite just like desktop publishing in the eighties - just give it a few years.
Printers have dropped in cost and printing objects is much faster, but the process is still slow and expensive compared with normal manufacturing processes. The best uses to date are prototyping parts that ultimately will see conventional mass production and making models and jewelry for hobbyists. Its usefulness in prototyping can't be underestimated, but the jump to the mainstream is enormous.
A large problem is the limited palate of materials available. In the real world we have millions of materials available to us and people who make things are able to find the appropriate material for a task.
I like to use bicycles as an example as they are conceptually simple, but the engineering is anything but simple. Materials are a central issue with bikes. Modern frames can be made of steel, aluminum, titanium, steel, and carbon fiber - and each of these has man variations. Colleen's handmade bike has an extremely tall frame and the engineer in charge of the project quickly came to the conclusion that an exotic stainless steel was required. Exotic enough that only two speciality companies on the planet can make anything like it and it has only existed for five years. Paint hides the fancy steel, but conventional materials were not up to the task and its riding qualities would have been severely compromised. Your car, phone, soft drink can - almost everything you buy has seen some serious thought and hard material choices were made.
3d printing removes most material choices - it will work for some classes of objects, but the range is low. Very useful in niches, but ...
Later in the week I spent a few days doing a bit of amateur anthropology watching and listening to street fashion people at Fashion Week as well as talking to a few designers. Apparel that fits and is individually customized is possible with techniques techniques that are emerging and are adaptable to mass production. Critically this can be done with the current palate of materials as well as many that haven't been used. The industry is likely to see serious change - hence my interest in understanding a bit about fashion and especially its information flow. I was left with many more questions than I originally had - a very good sign!
While I was doing this, I saw a news piece noting progress in 3d food printing. Th author speculated about 3d food printers that would revolutionize commercial and home cooking.
Cooking strikes me as an artistic interplay of ingredients (materials) and technique that usually involves chemical reactions and phase changes. Printing food strikes me as an even more difficult problem than the objects that usually come to mind in a 3d printing conversation. Perhaps it can be used to shape some curious components that are used along with other techniques, but serious progress would have to be made to produce anything someone might say is "delicious..." It reminds me of the futurist forecasts that suggested by the year 2000 we would eat our food in the form of a few concentrated pills so we could avoid the time and efforts of preparing and consuming a meal. Sort of a painless version of an IV and about as appetizing.
On the way home from the city I found a nice celery root at the market. Celery root can rock a soup, so it found its way into the evening's main course. The result was spectacular and fairly simple. Since we're on the subject of making things, I offer what I did. Pardon the poorly lit phone photography... And if you see any improvements please add a comment or send an email!
There is no technology that can print a soup - hence this is an unprintable soup.
Mushroom Celeriac Vegetable Soup
The first trick was to make a vegetable broth using a pressure cooker for speed. The reasoning is soy sauce goes well with mushrooms and sherry is good in a broth - nothing like going for broke when you need umami.
The measurements are very approximate so use what makes sense and you have on hand.
a bit more than a pound of sliced button mushrooms
one sliced medium yellow onion
a bit more than a half cup of sherry (I used a dry sherry)
about six tablespoons of soy sauce - I used a low salt soy sauce as I was worried about being able to adjust the salt level later, but you should be able to use the regular blend
peel a boatload of garlic.about a dozen cloves .. don't worry about cutting them up
enough water - in my case a bit shy of five cups
These went into a six liter pressure cooker and were at high pressure (15 psi) for fifteen minutes. Take the pressure cooker off the heat and let it come to atmospheric pressure by itself. When it is ready, strain out the solids. The broth looks and smells incredible at this point. This is seriously better than any vegetable broth you can buy and is one of the best homemade broths I've tasted.
OK now on to the soup proper. Again the measurements are approximate and feel free to substitute.
sauté in a few tablespoons of olive oil:
one large yellow onion chopped
two finely minced cloves of garlic (given the broth this is not a soup for vampires)
one large carrot chopped
As this browns add sea salt , pepper and
one medium celeriac chopped - you have to cut off the ugly outer skin, but that is no big deal once you get into it. Just be sure you wash all of the dirt out.
about a half pound of sliced button mushrooms
When the mushrooms are well cooked, add the vegetable stock and adjust salt and pepper and season with thyme - I had fresh thyme.
Bring to a simmer and cover. Continue the simmer for about a half hour if you can - less time if the aroma gets to you first.
Cut the heat, stir in a quarter cup of heavy cream and serve. Depending on how civilized you are you may want to garnish it and serve it with a good crusty bread.
I tried some of it as is and another portion puréed with a blending stick. Both were excellent.