New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for October 2011

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment

From the Editor

Peter Salomon

Do you have photographs of New Orleans or the surrounding areas? Would you like to see them on the front page of La Plume de NOM? Email them to and share them with the rest of New Orleans Mensa! If no one submits, I can’t promise that next month’s picture will not be of Bart...

So The Story Goes Like This

Bart Geraci

One summer I was working as a used car dealer in a small town out in west Texas. One day, Sammy the Successful Snail (yes, a real snail; weird things happen out in west Texas) came by and wanted to get a real fast car.

Odd as it seems, I did have a Ferrari on the lot that was driven by a little old lady who used it only to go to church every Sunday. Sammy took a test drive, liked it, and asked if I could arrange a custom paint job. I said sure, and he explained that he wanted a big letter S on the car hood, trunk, and the doors.

We went over some paint colors, designed the letter, and within a few hours, it was ready for him to pick it up.

He said, “It's beautiful! And you know the best thing about it?”


“When I burn rubber taking off from a traffic light, everyone's going to say...”

“... look at that S car go!”

From the RVC

Roger Durham

AMC News: At the meeting of the American Mensa Committee in September, your Board of Directors voted to repeal the prohibition against emailing Local Group directories. Until now, local groups were not permitted to e-mail their group directories to members, due to privacy concerns regarding the ease of forwarding such communications to non-members, accidentally or otherwise. Modern scanning technology and other developments, however, have largely made this policy moot. Consequently, your group may now distribute a local directory by e-mail, either as part of your local newsletter or as a stand-alone document. Local officers are urged to remember, however, that they must not distribute the monthly membership list sent to your group by American Mensa, as these lists may contain information which your members may not have released for publication. Upon request, the National Office will be happy to provide your local group with a list specifically for local directory purposes, which has been redacted to eliminate non-public information.

The AMC also voted to engage an actuarial firm to review the calculations used to set life membership dues, in order to verify that we are maintaining adequate reserves to cover the future liabilities for services to life members. The current formula for determining the cost of a life membership was last reviewed in 1999, and the Finance Committee wishes to be sure the underlying assumptions are still valid.

The weekend before the AMC meeting, I was in Round Rock for Lone Star Mensa’s regional gathering, LoneStaRG XIII. The speakers were great, hospitality was bountiful, and I was pleased to see members there from North Texas, Gulf Coast, South Texas, Permian Basin, and New Mexico Mensa as well as the host Austin group.

While at the RG, I had the opportunity to look over the results of a survey taken of the membership by Lone Star Mensa. One of the questions asked members to identify anything they perceived as problem areas. Most of the responses were predictable, having to do with a lack of events in a particular area or involving a member’s particular interests. I was somewhat puzzled by one member, however, who replied that a problem facing the group was excessive bureaucratic requirements by American Mensa. Now, I’m the first to admit that the AMC has a long and unfortunate record of over-reacting to one-time events, or what I call the “killing flies with a cannon” approach, but I’m not aware of it happening in the last few years. If any of you have any concerns about an excess of bureaucracy creating problems for your local group, please let me know. As always, you can reach me at

Last but certainly not least, don’t forget North Texas Mensa’s upcoming RG in Dallas, Feast of Pleasures and Delights XXXII, over Thanksgiving weekend!


Bart Geraci

This month at the October NOM Night, we will have the Nominations meeting to serve on the executive committee (a.k.a. EXCOM) of New Orleans Mensa, for the next 2 years starting January 1, 2012. The four positions are LocSec, Assistant LocSec, Secretary, and Treasurer.

At the end of the Nominating meeting, we will publish the ballot in the November newsletter. If an office is unopposed, that candidate will be declared the winner. If you wish to run, please submit your intent to run, in writing or via email, to our Elections chairperson, Gerry Ward, or show up at the NOM Night.

Coming up over Thanksgiving Weekend is the Feast of Pleasures and Delights XXXII RG in Dallas TX, put on by North Texas Mensa. Wow, 32 years! So spend Black Friday at an RG instead of a mall, and do your holiday shopping online instead :-). More information at:

We also need someone to take over as assistant editor. Our Loretta Levene will be stepping down at the end of the year, and we thank her for all her hard work. The job entails folding the LaPlume, placing the address stickers on them, organizing them by whatever method the post office wants in preparation for mailing at the reduced rates, and other postal requirements. Now that we're no longer doing paper mailings to people with email addresses, our newsletter printings have gone down from about 160 to about 80, so there's less than before.

BRAINFORK: A Mensan writes about food

Bart Geraci

Brainfork: Roux

“Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make A Roux?”
- Marcelle Bienvenu cookbook title -

Down in South Louisiana, almost every recipe starts with “First you make a roux.” Thankfully, this doesn't apply to desserts. So let's take a look at the mysteries of roux, worth at least 11 points in a Scrabble game.

The Science of Starch-based Sauce Thickeners

“Science is for those who learn; poetry, for those who know.”
-Joseph Roux-

A starch contains long chains of glucose (C6-H12- O6) molecules. Two of these chains are (1) Amylose – which is described as a long (anywhere from 300 to many thousands) and straight chain and (2) Amylopectin – described as short and bushy, due to its many branching points. One major difference between the two is that amylose chains are more likely to tangle with each other and build a structure to hold liquids whereas amylopectin chains are soluble in water.

Among common foods, wheat and corn have a moderate amount of amylose, while potato starch has a high amount of amylose. So a smaller amount of potato starch will provide the same amount of thickening as a larger amount of wheat or cornstarch.

Now starch is insoluble in cold water and alcohol. In stir-fry cooking, when you mix in a cup some cold water and cornstarch, you will notice that it clumps up and resists even dispersion. To activate the thickening power of starch, you need to add heat to it – this is why this starch-water mixture, known as a “slurry”, is added at the end to the already hot stir-fry liquids.

When the starch is heated, the starch granules start to absorb the liquids, until it break up into pieces, releasing amylose and amylopectin. This state is called “gelatinization”. The amylose chains starts to trap the liquids and disperse evenly through the liquids. This is how the sauce can become both thicker and translucent.

But in terms of temperature, there is limit. At even higher temperatures, the molecules of the chains itself will break down, the longer chains break into smaller chains, and there is less structure to hold the liquids, so the sauce becomes thin again.

Starches come from a variety of foods. Wheat flour is only 75% starch, with about 10% protein (cake flour has about 8% protein, bread flour about 13%). Cornstarch is pure starch. Other starch sources include rice, potato, cassava (also called tapioca), yam, and even kudzu.

There exists pre-gelatinizated starch. This is created by cooking starch in water to release the molecules, create a thickened liquid, then dried and ground finely. It is called “instant flour” or “gravy flour”. This item can be added directly to gravy and sauces to thicken it up without the clumping you would find in regular flour.

Recipe: Roux

“I wanna roo you, want get through to you”
-Van Morrison “I Wanna Roo You”-

The earliest recorded version is from LaVarenne in 1653, where the roux was made by cooking flour in lard to begin a sauce. A Cajun roux is cooking flour in oil, which accomplishes several things: (1) cooking out the “cereal” flavor of the flour, (2) creating a color for the dish, (3) the heat will cause the starch chains to split and release the thickeners.

1 unit flour
1 unit fat (oil, butter, lard)

Typically, we use oil in place of butter since we want to bring this to a relatively high temperature and the butter solids would burn before our roux would be the color we want. If you are making a white roux for a white sauce, you can use butter since you won't need to get it that dark. If you have clarified butter or ghee, you can use it for Cajun roux.

You want to use a clean skillet and heat the oil before adding flour. Add flour a little bit at a time, since the moisture in the flour will create a burst of steam when it hits the oil. Keep stirring until you get the color you want. If it burns, it is not salvageable – throw it out and start over.

Warning: roux is called “Cajun napalm”; it is searing hot and will stick to your skin. Wear long sleeves and use long wooden spoons.

What color do you want? A lightcolor roux thickens more than darkcolor roux. Typically, Light to medium brown roux are used for heavier meats, dark brown and red roux are used for white meats, while black (not burnt) roux is used for gumbo.

Now you have the roux in the pan at the color you want, add your onions to it first. The onions throw off a lot of water and reduces the temperature to stop the cooking before the roux gets burnt. After a while, you can add your other vegetables.

Another technique is the oil-less roux, pioneered by Enola Prudhomme. You dump the flour into a cast-iron skillet and toast it dry, making sure to stir it around as you would a normal roux. Store it in a sealed jar, and use it like instant flour to thicken an existing liquid.

NOM semi-annual Treasurer's Report

Phil Therrein, Treasurer

Jan 1, 2011 - Jun 30, 2011

Prev Balance (12/31/2010): $9,101.65
  Income Expenses
National Wire Transfer $1,202.27  
Bank Account Interest $6.69  
NOM Night Intake $129.00  
NOM Night Host   $70.00
Science Fair Awards   $300.00
Newsletter Printing / Postage   $681.71
Proctor Expense   $50.00
Supplies   $240.65
Other Expense   $263.69
Period Total $1,337.96 $1,606.05
Period Net ($268.09)  
Current Balance (6/30/2011): $8,833.56

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These pages and all content Copyright (c) 2011 by New Orleans Mensa, all rights reserved. Mensa ® and the Mensa logo (as depicted for example in U.S. TM Reg. No. 1,405,381) are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by American Mensa, Ltd., and are registered in other countries by Mensa International  Limited and/or affiliated national Mensa organizations. Mensa does not hold any opinion or have, or express, any political or religious views.
Last edited: 01-Oct-2011 . Webmaster Bart J. Geraci can be reached at