Saturday, June 5, 2010

Calling all chemists, philosophers and other brainy types

How long 'til dinner? And I don't think there's enough of last night's leftovers. Jim and Mercy are on their way here, so that means extra mouths to feed (love it!). Maybe if I placate them with chicken nuggets, they will let me clean up the rest of the --

Bow Tie Chicken Supper

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic by Daniel Harris. Harris reveals the choices advertisers make to appeal to our longings for cuteness, quaintness, coolness, cleanliness and so forth.

Harris also skewers us all for having such longings in the first place.

Are you into natural foods? Eating for the sake of your health? Then he will call you out for taking a vitamin, "one unobtrusive tablet, a deceptively small commodity that houses the entire farm within its fragile sucrose shell."

Do you love to be zany? "Zaniness," he says, "allows us to misbehave and yet minimizes our risk of being ostracized as eccentric." In other words, you're a chicken-hearted rebel.

Is glamour your thing? Well, the industry that sells it to us "turns women into malcontents always scheming against their wardrobes and thus keeps them returning to department stores." Translation: as soon as you buy that must-have pencil skirt, it will go out of style and they'll make you think you need an A-line instead.

While Harris reveals some interesting tidbits about the images thrust before us, he will surely burst the bubble on one or two of your favorite notions about yourself.

Contains a couple cow patties.

Next up, we have Mind-Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein. I really doubt anybody I know would like this novel. The heroine is struggling through a graduate degree in philosophy and she eventually marries a math genius. Their conversations are so dry and high-minded, it's kind of unreal. That's not to say that Goldstein forgot to put any humor in her book, but I'm gonna say the dryness is Strike One against the book.

She's quite candid about her sex life. That's Strike Two. (And this tale feels very autobiographical.)

She's preoccupied with the question of what our true essence is. Our mind? Our body? Some variation of the two? To me, that's a resolved question. Strike Three.

But it was set in Princeton. That's why I stuck with it. Goldstein explains the place. I ate that part up.

Next up, Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger. Ettlinger took his kids to the shore. Ettlinger bought them ice cream bars. Ettlinger's daughter read the label and said, "Daddy, what's polysorbate 60?"

So journalist Ettlinger embarked on a study of the ingredients in our foods, how they are formulated, and where they come from. Utterly fascinating. That fact that there is ground up bits of iron in the flour I eat didn't gross me out at all. Nor did the fact that shortening gets washed in hydrochloric acid (which is later washed out). An army of chemists out there have been experimenting with every conceivable element, peering under microscopes, perfecting one thing and another until they know just how to make a cake taste like its full of eggs and butter when it's not.

I wore out a little at the end when he got into the chapters on stuff like calcium caseinate and diglycerides (someone who has taken chemistry might follow it better) but I perked up again when he launched into food colors and flavors.

Let's just say that I now understand why I'm creaming the butter and sugar when I whip up a batch of cookies.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to try one of these salads. Subsititue slivered almonds for chashews.