Great Balls of Fire Exhibit, Bean Science and French Soup


The last few weeks have been jam-packed. Adrian’s birthday, then parent-teacher conferences immediately followed by my brother in law’s wedding in Vermont, come home to preparations for the bishop’s visit for our parish’s 60th anniversary, and finally the fall ISAAPT meeting. All good things, but it has sure been a whirlwind! Somewhere in the middle of that is meal prep and laundry and house cleaning.

So I am relishing in today more than usual. Adrian is up at 5:30am regardless (I am dreading the arrival daylight savings!) so after grocery shopping, cleaning and laundry it was finally 10am and we went to the Discovery Center science museum, where my sister works, to visit the new traveling exhibit, “Great Balls of Fire”.

A disk of mass M and radius R is positioned on a rotating turntable with a coefficient of friction 0.2 such that its tangential velocity with respect to an observer is zero…or so we attempted…

The exhibit was pretty awesome. My favorite was the solar system simulator. You could add any component. Putting suns on top of each other generated larger suns, which progressed from red dwarfs all the way through to black holes. I was really excited about creating a binary star system that eventually collapsed, but alas, the simulation was made prior to the detection of gravitational waves so they were not modeled. Major bummer!

My binary star system. My sister kept adding elements to my system. We may have been acting like 10-year-olds, but we don’t discuss this. 

When we came home I made one of our favorite French soups. It’s filled with creamy white beans and flavorful andouille sausage. I mixed in our recently harvested garden herbs and served it up with a slice of chewy baked ciabatta…heaven!

Unfortunately, when I opened the bean cans I found that nearly all of the beans were already split. Sadly this was because I didn’t bother to soak dried beans the night before.

But what is really the best way to soak beans?

Guess what…it’s not in your tap water! And DEFINITELY not in our super-hard Northern Ilinois tap water.

You see the beans’ pectin molecules are bound tightly together by calcium and magnesium ions. When the beans are soaked, the skins break apart.

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 2.24.14 PMAdding salt to the soaking and cooking water causes a replacement reaction, the sodium replacing the Ca and Mg, and this results in the pectin becoming far more flexible and the skins become elastic and soft allowing them to swell without breaking! You can read more about the science behind beans and some other tests here! (My favorite cookbook!)

And now, without further ado… my lunch for today!



  • 8 ounces flageolets or any white bean (or 3 cans)
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 pound andouille sausage, sliced
  • 3/4 cup, chopped leeks
  • 3/4 cup, chopped shallots
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons thyme, minced
  • 1 teaspoon herbs de Provence (who do you think I am? I don’t have this on hand, I add a pinch of sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano)
  • 1 cup sliced carrot
  • 1 can, diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 lb baby spinach
  • 5-6 cups chicken broth


If Using Dried Beans:
The night before, soak the beans in a bowl of water (with a teaspoon of salt!) with about 3 inches water over the beans.

The next day, drain the beans and transfer to a pot.  Add the smashed garlic, bay leaf and 6 cups of water and more salt! Partially cover and simmer for an hour and a half, or until tender. You may need to add more water depending on how the beans absorb the liquid.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Cook sausage until browned. Transfer to a plate and remove the majority of the fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon. Add the leeks, shallot and season with salt and pepper. Once they have started to soften, add tomato paste, garlic, thyme and herbs de Provence.

Then add carrot, tomatoes, canned beans (if using), sausage and chicken broth. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the veggies are just tender. Add the cooked, formally dry beans to the soup. Stir, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.


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