Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Making Truffles

Many years ago, if memory serves me right, my mother-in-law sent me a link to an easy truffle recipe. My oldest kids were pretty young at the time, so this may have been eight or ten years ago. I've used that recipe for years to intermittently make simple chocolate truffles. My two favorite flavors are orange cardamom and mocha. Both are a simple matter of simmering flavorings in the cream, the former using decorticated cardamom and fresh or dried orange peel, and the latter using ground decaf coffee.

I used that recipe for years. For a long time, I could Google for "easy truffle recipe," and there it was. A few years ago, it became a little harder to find, as more and more similar pages and videos showed up in my search results. At this point, I think the original page is simply gone. I could never remember who hosted it; I would recognize it by the prose, layout, and images.

It's really not that complicated, though, and I realize the main thing I needed the recipe for was ratio between cream and chocolate. Last night's searching resulted in my reading more about this ratio. Hungry Happenings has a good explanation, and I'll just summarize here, for my future recollection, this idea:

2:1 Chocolate to Cream Ratio

That's really all I need to know. My old recipe used volumetric measurements of cream and weight measurements of chocolate, which made it harder to remember. The weight ratio is much easier to remember as well as being easy to execute with the kitchen scale.

How do I do it? Heat up the cream, but don't let it boil. Put flavorings in. If they need to simmer, let them simmer for 10-20 minutes. Weigh chocolate chips into a measuring cup. (Yes, the fancy people say not to use chocolate chips, but you know what? It's easy. My truffles are not silky smooth, but I don't mind a rustic truffle.) Pour the cream over the chips and stir it up to make the ganache. Pour it into a broad, flat container, and put this in the freezer for 20-30 minutes to cool. Prep some kind of toppings, like cocoa powder or chopped nuts. Gather children with nominally clean hands. Use a little spoon or scooper to portion out roundish blobs of chocolate, drop into the topping bowls, and let the kids roll them around to coat. Family fun!

Last night, the younger boys and I made a batch for my wife's birthday week. We made a wonderful discovery. One of the recipes I found suggested trying vanilla or almond extract as a flavoring agent, so I looked around the baking supplies. I came across something I don't remember seeing before: a flavoring called fiori di Sicilia. We popped off the top to check it out, and we were wowed by the wonder smell. We put a teaspoon into our 4 oz. of cream. For toppings, we used cocoa powder and crushed pecans. They turned out amazing. The fiori di Sicilia gives a complex citrus flavor, just the right amount for chocolate.

So there you go. It's all story and only an implicit recipe, but I do feel like I leveled up in my trufflemaking last night. No longer bound to an arcane combination of cups and ounces, nor to others' recommendations for flavorings, I am now free to truffle away.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Students' Analog vs Video Game Critical Analyses: A matter of experience and vocabulary... or perhaps of pride?

The students in my game design class just finished studying MDA as an analytical lens and then writing critical analyses of games following Schreiber's recommendations. I advised them, for both exercises, to choose small, simple, analog games, cautioning them that contemporary videogames are games-of-games that are hard to analyze this way when you are just getting started. As one might expect, many students disregarded my caution, although I did not know that at the time of our last class meeting. During that meeting, I had them get into small groups to talk about their analyses and then to share some highlights with the whole group. 

One of small groups happened to have two people who analyzed digital games and one who analyzed an analog game. The interesting finding they shared with the group was that it was easier to analyze the video game than the analog game. This surprised me, in part because at the time I didn't realize how many people had failed to take my advice. I pointed out that there were at least two possible interpretations of their experience: one is that there is an inherent difference between video games and analog games in this regard, and the other is that they have less vocabulary for analyzing analog games. Either one is interesting from a scholarly point of view, and even at the time, I hypothesized that the latter was the case. Two students' hands shot up to further this discussion, but we had to move on: we were veering off topic on a day that had already been way out in the weeds.

After having read all of their analyses, I see that there's a third option: that they simply did a bad job. Turns out that this is the case. Almost none of the students who analyzed video games performed anything like a successful analysis, not in the format they were given. They woefully underestimated such aspects as the resources being used, the state of the game, and the way it is played. For example, none of the students who analyzed video games talked about what players actually do, what actions they perform as part of the core game loop. Rather, they painted with broad brushes, saying things like, to fabricate an example, "The player moves Mario to the end of the level." While that is true, it is hardly an analysis. The state issue struck me as particularly interesting since so many of my students are Computer Science majors. I pointed out to them in my comments that the state of the game consists of those data that you would have to save so that you could load the game later. None of them came close to this understanding, many talking about "state" as if it dealt with the screens of the game: you're either choosing a level or playing a level, to continue the example.

When this kind of thing happens, I am left wondering, "What happened?" and "What now?" A majority of students did not follow my advice and then did a substandard job. I hope that they can learn something from this experience. However, what they learn is about hubris rather than about critical analysis, and I would ideally like them to learn both. This particular class does not have a resubmission policy, and I'm wondering if that is a reasonable thing to add. Resbumissions are convenient for the students, but they lead to more work for the professor and, every time I've used them, worse work by the students. That is, a student who knows they can resubmit later can just submit something poorly the first time, which the professor then still has to grade. The ideal thing would be for a student who did badly on the assignment the first time to recognize this as a deficit and then dedicate themselves to learning the content anyway, but alas, our university systems seem set up contrary to endorsing such virtue.