New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for October 2014

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment


By Bart Geraci

This month is Mensa Testing month, and like many other groups, we’ll be participating. The test will be held on October 18th and will be only $20 (instead of the usual $40).

We are going to change things up this month by having the NOM Night over at the Landmark Hotel (instead of the Chateau Coffee Cafe).

October marks the last Celebration SIG event of the year. This year it will fall on Halloween night, so we are having a Costume Contest as well.

Coming on December 13th, Lovie and I will again be hosting the special End-of-the-Year NOM Night party. We will have the usual large spread of food (including cheeses I purchase from the St James Cheese Company on Prytania). We welcome everyone to join us and we encourage people to dress up for the occasion.

April and October are the best months of the year to be in New Orleans, due to the weather. There are a lot of conventions in town and a lot of events on the weekends. Many of the events that are held in the fall will have their times and dates moved due to the weekend football games. If the date can’t be moved, then there’s usually a TV set in the area so the people won’t miss the game.

Let’s go Saints!

So the Story Goes Like This

By Bart Geraci

So one year I was working out in West Texas with a farmer who wanted to grow some exotic foodstuff.

So we drove off into a nearby large city to go to a specialized nursery (the plant kind, not the baby kind).

After talking a bit with the owner, the farmer said that he’d like to buy some carambola trees - the other name for the carambola fruit is the starfruit because the crosswise slices of the fruit are star-shaped.

So along with the trees, we got some specialized tools and other materials and the cost were really adding up. The nursery owner said, “One thing that would help you would be a hive of carambola pollinators.”

We looked at the owner wearily and said “How much more is this going cost?”

He said “Well, you’ve spent a bit of money already, so it’s on the house.”

I said “Oh, good …”

“... we really like free bees.”

News & Notes for Young Mensans

Lisa Van Gemert

Happenings & Celebrations:


World Animal Day is celebrated on the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. If you’re an animal lover, explore these fun animal sites:

Teen Read Week is a great time to explore these sites for teen readers:

Dictionary Day: Test and then build your vocabulary skills at If you want to learn more about the history of dictionaries, the British Library is happy to share that with you at

If you’re looking for some healthier Halloween snacks, check out this list of 65 different ideas at


Even though October is the tenth month in the calendar, its name is from the Latin “octo” meaning "eight" because in the original Roman calendar it was the eighth month. We can’t change to the Latin for “ten,” because that’s taken – by December.

The second Monday in October is the Canadian Thanksgiving. They eat turkey and pumpkin pie, just like their neighbors to the south do a month later.

Benefit Highlight:

Young Mensan Magazine (YM2) is looking for contributors like you! The deadline for the next issue is October 25th, so check it out at You, too, could be published!


Lisa Van Gemert Youth & Education Ambassador |

get resources:

find more:

From the RVC

By Roger Durham, Region 6 Vice Chair

The last weekend in August I attended the 2014 version of LoneStaRG in Round Rock. As usual, the Austin group did a great job, with a variety of speakers, sumptuous hospitality, a really outstanding cheese taste and a “redneck” wine taste, plus a banquet and dance, among other things. Unfortunately, both of the co-chairs had to leave in the middle of the RG, for personal reasons, but others stepped up and the RG went on without interruption. Now I’m looking forward to the Region’s next big party, North Texas Mensa’s Feast of Pleasures and Delights, to be held over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The next weekend was spent in Grapevine, at the fall meeting of your Board of Directors. I was pleased to see several of the folks I had just partied with the previous weekend, as a number of our region’s members made the trek to the Metroplex to watch the Board in action. I’m happy to report that the proposed dues increase was defeated, but I must warn you that the battle is not yet over. Notice has already been given that a new dues increase motion will be on the agenda at our December meeting in San Diego, although I hope that our Treasurer will ask for a more moderate amount next time, rather than the inordinate increase we just rejected.

Two reports from outside consultants were reviewed by the Board at this meeting; the first was a technology assessment of our national office data processing capabilities, and we were disconcerted to hear a rather unflattering description of a system on the verge of collapse. Old and overworked hardware, obsolete and unsupported software, inadequate backup systems and totally insufficient network security were among the problems found by our consultant. Our system was state-of-the-art fifteen years ago, but has not been kept up over time. We are continuing to work with the assessment firm to develop a plan for upgrading our facilities to 21st century standards, but the cure for these problems will be neither quick nor inexpensive.

The other report was on the recent personnel turnover at the national office. Dealing as it does with personnel matters, the report itself is confidential, but although the contents were generally reassuring, a few of the conclusions were concerning to the Board and corrective measures are being instituted to deal with the problems our consultants identified.

As always, if you have any suggestions, complaints, or questions you would like to share with me, please feel free to contact me at

BrainFork: A Mensan Talks About Food

By Bart Geraci


“I'm just mad about saffron
A-saffron's mad about me”
- Donovan, “Mellow Yellow”-

Saffron is the spice derived from Crocus Sativus plant. The name comes from the Arabic word for ‘thread’. It was first cultivated in Greece and Crete.

The taxonomy of the plant is:

Kingdom Plantae
(unranked) Angiosperms
(unranked) Monocots
Order Asparagales
Family Iridaceae
SubFamily Crocoideae
Genus Crocus
Species Sativus

The Family Iridaceae is the Iris family which is also the plant family of Freesias and Gladiolus.

We’ve Got Style (and Stigma Too)

“I like being in love, but loving is what is crucial to me. Loving is the reason to live.”
- Saffron Burrows -

When we look at a thread of saffron, we’re looking at the parts of the flower which contain a style (which comes from a Greek word meaning “pillar”) which has at one end a stigma (from the Greek word “puncture”). The stigma is the tip of the style that receives the male pollen needed for fertilization. For instance, in an ear of corn, the silk that comes out of the husk is the stigma.

Looking closer, we can distinguish the two parts by color: the stigma is bright red and the style is yellow.

Each crocus plant has a 3-pronged style, each prong topped with a vivid red stigma. When a stigma is plucked, the style comes with it as well. But only the stigma portions contain both the color and flavor component that we associate with saffron. A thread that is half style will be half as strong than a stigma-only thread.

The crocus is triploid (3 sets of chromosomes) and sterile (meaning it fails to produce seeds). The sterility also means that it depends on humans to reproduce. So a single bulb (corm) is dug up and redivided into 10 smaller corms, each one growing a new plant. The final height of the plant is usually a foot or less. Corms only last for one season.


“We have been careless with our pie repertoire. The demise of apple-pear pie with figs and saffron and orengeado pies are tragic losses.”
- Janet Clarkson “Pie: A Global History” -

There’s two powerful effects on a final dish with saffron: color and taste.

The color comes from a carotenoid called crocin. The carotenoid is a pigment that absorbs the blue and green light wavelengths, thus taking on a yellow/orange color. The category name ‘carotenoids’ comes from the fact that they were first derived from carrots. The crocin pigment is oil-soluble, but the pigment is surrounded by two sugar molecules at each end, which allows the crocin to release its dye into a water-based sauce. The dye is so powerful, it has been known to provide a tint to water in a 1 part per million ratio.

Part of the taste comes from picrocrocin found in the thread. When harvested, it provides a quite bitter taste. But the harvest is dried out before it is sold, and in the process, the picrocrocin breaks down, it loses its bitterness, and yields a volatile oil called safranal, which is the main chemical that is responsible for the taste and especially aromas.


“A man who is stingy with saffron is capable of seducing his own grandmother.”
- Norman Douglas -

Saffron is so expensive because:

  1. It needs human intervention to reproduce the crocus plants
  2. It needs humans to harvest by carefully picking out 3 threads from a flower less than a foot high.

So let’s consider what a one pound bag of (...what? - sugar? salt? flour?) looks like. To get a pound of dry saffron, you would need to harvest around 50,000 to 75,000 individual flowers. A person who is proficient in picking the threads can do about 150,000 in a 40-hour week. So a pound translates into 20 hours; an ounce will take a proficient picker a little over an hour and require about 3,000 to 5,000 flowers.

Cost also depends on the quality of the saffron. There is a standard (ISO 3632) that categorizes 3 levels of saffron, where 1 is the highest quality and 3 is the lowest quality. A larger percentage of stigma (and a smaller percentage of style) will be of a higher quality. Beyond that, there are tests that can be performed to measure the levels of desired molecules for taste and color.

The “La Mancha” name is a protected status region, located in Spain, that is noted for their quality saffron. The protected status region works in the same way as the word “Champagne” can only be applied if it comes from a particular region in France.


“I must have saffron to colour the warden pies; mace; dates? - none, that's out of my note; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, but that I may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many of raisins o' the sun.”
- William Shakespeare “The Winter's Tale” -

Most saffron recipes I came across are for savory dishes. But I did come across this one and I liked it because it really lets the color and flavor shine through.

Saffron Cupcakes with Saffron Frosting (using Saffron butter)

Warning: do not spill saffron infused liquids on clothes: it stains quite readily.

Saffron-Infused Butter

The night before you make the cupcakes, you will need to prepare the saffron-infused butter for the frosting. Melt 1 stick of butter (1/2 C) and mix in two large pinches of saffron threads. The saffron will not fully dissolve in the butter (you will still be able to see the thread). However, make sure that it is well integrated. The butter should turn a nice bright yellow color. Let the butter steep for a while, then refrigerate.

Saffron Cupcake

Dry ingredients:

Saffron infusion:

Wet Ingredients:

Vanilla syrup:

Preheat oven to 350.

In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder and baking soda) with a whisk. Set aside.

Heat just two tablespoons of milk in small saucepan or microwave in a measuring cup to a medium low temperature then add saffron threads to it, stir to combine and let it steep.

In a small bowl, combine wet ingredients: 2/3 cup milk, egg, and one teaspoon vanilla. Add cooled saffron infusion and whisk well to incorporate. Pour the wet mixture over the flour mixture and whisk gently to combine. Resist over-mixing -- whisk only until ingredients are well-incorporated. Pour into cupcake wrappers and bake for 20 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in cake comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool for 15 minutes.

While the cupcakes cool, stir water and remaining 3/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes, then stir in remaining teaspoon vanilla. Poke holes evenly in the cupcakes with a wooden skewer. Spoon the vanilla syrup over the top of the cupcakes. Let cool to room temperature.

Saffron Frosting



In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla and milk and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream/sugar if needed for spreading consistency.

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Last edited: 5-Oct-2014. Webmaster Bart J. Geraci can be reached at