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Winter 2014 Reads


Time for this winter's collection. What's on your bookstand?

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Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking

The rudiments of chemistry in cooking I learned along the way- substances that create gas, substances that retard spoilage, substances that bind, the effects of heat, etc. But learning it from a scientist's view, molecule by molecule, is a different matter. ;)

The author, Simon Field, explains food on elementary levels. A range of subjects are covered, including gluten intolerance and digestion. From why some bacteria won't die when frozen to why fats and acids separate, there is a lot of information.

Still, Mr. Field is no cook. He loses my interest when he opines on cooking and adds recipes that are clearly dull and somewhat wrong (he's wrong a couple of times when talking about proofing yeast, for example). But the chemistry information is really priceless, and I wish I'd had this book 30+ years ago for that reason.

 
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cool

I have a similar book about baking chemistry that completely changed the way I think about things in the kitchen. It's one thing to add some eggs to your flour, sugar, and butter and end up with something like a cake, but to know why you are adding them… that's fun.

It changes cooking to be more like… "now I will add some structure and lift," or, "let's incorporate air!"

I saw a recent episode of Ming's cooking show with a food scientist/chef. They prepared some seared cubes of wagyu (expensive, fatty japanese beef), thyme sprigs, some lichen, some fermented morels, some hydrogen-frozen soy-suce mushroom gel balls, fried garlic, fried shallots, and it was all served on a dish placed on a pillow filled with vaporized pacific northwest pine needles.

 
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Science!

I recently finished the Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, and am just about to the end of Seeing in the Dark by Timothy Ferris.

Elegant Universe is about string theory. Everything, most physicists think, may be made of tiny vibrating strings. The frequency of their vibrations determines what they become - some can become photons, others gravity, and others start down the direction of electrons, protons, and the things we see in our 3 dimensions. Of course, there are probably 11 dimensions, and they could be tiny, folded up into Calabi Yau shapes.

Greene does a great job translating high level physics into relatively plain English (you may know him from PBS shows with similar topics), but it did require some rereading of parts to fully follow certain concepts.

Seeing in the Dark is a book about amateurs and astronomy. Amateurs have made significant and ongoing discoveries of planets, comets, moons, weird weather on Mars, and other astronomical sights for thousands of years. This book traces their contributions, encourages the reader that "you can do it, too," and provides details of what to look for, when and where they appear, and what sort of equipment (or not) is needed.

Chapters are arranged much like a field guide to where we are in the universe. We start with stories and descriptions of the Sun, moon, and inner planets, then the asteroid belt, then the gas planets, and so on out into constellations and galaxies.

 
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The Good Lord Bird

Starting this novel by James McBride today. Looking forward to cozying up with it in front of a fire once I get just a few items crossed off the ol' 'to do' list. I am fascinated by abolitionist John Brown, and decided to get this book after hearing an NPR interview w/ McBride.

 
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Finishing Doctor Sleep now

Behind that is a mound I got over the holidays. Pat Phoenix' autobio, The Chemistry of Cooking, a 4th edition Winnie the Pooh, a Ghost Guide I've never seen before, the new Robert Plant bio, multiple sci-fi and fantasy books from my brother. I'm set.

 
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On The Road, Celebration USA

I just finished reading 'On The Road' by Jack Kerouac. It wasn't what I expected.

This book comes with a lot of baggage, so to speak. Everyone's read it, it's famous, it defined a generation, and so on. I tried to keep my expectations low.

The first thing that struck me was that I had a mistaken impression that it was about traveling on Route 66. Sal mentions trying to go on Rt 6, but abandons it quickly, before the story really starts. There's nothing about Route 66 here, but Sal and friends criss cross the USA multiple times, with a visit to Mexico thrown in.

The book didn't inspire me to become a member of the beat generation. It did make me long for cheap gas, a big car, and nothing to do.

I did enjoy Kerouac's capturing the essence of long drives, the timing of the drives, the language of the time, and the mixture of freedom and pointlessness that accompanies young adventures.

Where he really shines, I think, is in letting Dean ramble on about jazz. Still ahead of its time, I'd say.

For contrast, I've just started up a book about Celebration, USA. It's an insider account of moving to and living in the Disney built town in Florida. I'm just getting started, but it is clear that it will be a mix of modern urban planning, advertising and marketing swampland as a top place to live, and managing expectations of those moving there to live in a Disney world when it is not a park but a real place.

 

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