Fun science and mysterious cooking

>> Tuesday, December 08, 2015

TITLE: What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
AUTHOR: Randall Munroe

I loved the premise for this book. Basically, it does what it says on the tin. Munroe takes a reader's absurd (or maybe not so absurd!) hypothetical question (If humanity disappeared, what would be the last light to go off? Can you build a jetpack by strapping machine guns to your back and firing them downwards? What's the furthest a human being has been to any other human being?), and answers it seriously. With the help of stick figure cartoons.

Sometimes it's intuitive, sometimes it takes quite a bit of science. The delight of this, really, is seeing the approach Munroe takes to each question. My favourites are the ones where he takes a sideways approach, one that surprises the reader because it's so non-obvious. My least favourite ones were the chapters that were merely detailed working out of the physics. Those I found a bit boring.

I guess it's kind of pointless to do a review of this one. Go to If you like what you see, you'll like this book. If you don't, you won't like this book either. Simple. Me, I like both very much.


TITLE: The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For
AUTHOR: Kate White (ed)

This really is a cookbook. Each author provides a recipe and writes up a little intro, sometimes seriously, giving the history of the recipe, sometimes jokingly, from the point of view of their character. Those were fun to read and I did check out a few of the authors based on their voice in their little segments.

As a recipe book, however, it was mostly useless to me. Way too many recipes had ingredients that weren't really ingredients, but processed food, and even when there were proper ingredients, it was often stuff that's only available in the US. Often the problem was a combination of the two: ingredients that are processed food only available in the US. We're talking things like one of the authors listing "1 package Pillsbury Crescent dinner rolls" (I don't even know what that is!) and several recipes prescribing "Miracle Whip" (again, not sure I've ever seen that here). Other recipes have authors suggesting particular brands of things like "dry ranch dressing mix" (I have no idea what is special about brand X, so I can't really substitute it properly) or types of cheese I can't find here (e.g. Winsconsin red hoop cheese). Plus (and this is picky) all the measurements are in cups, which I can probably work with if necessary, but I find difficult to buy groceries for (if I need a half cup of grated carrot, how many carrots do I need to get?).

There were some recipes that were appetising and used ingredients I recognised, and I made a note of a couple of them, but on the whole, this was a bit of a waste of time.



Sun,  9 December 2015 at 00:31  

Oh I really liked What If, even though some of the numbers made my eyes glossed over. The one about soulmates was very funny.

Rosario 10 December 2015 at 13:10  

Oh, yes, that was a good one! I love Munroe's sense of humour!

Susan/DC,  11 December 2015 at 18:02  

What's odd about the mystery writers' cookbook is that it sounds like an American cookbook from the 1950's or 60's, one published by a food company so full of lots of references to their products or from the women's auxiliary of a church, than one written today. Most current cookbooks emphasize fresh rather than processed foods, although I suppose there still are cookbooks you can get from Kraft or Pillsbury or whatever.

Rosario 1 January 2016 at 11:25  

Susan: That's exactly it!In fact, some recipes reminded me of this:


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