Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘food’

12 MAY, 2008

Incredible Edibles


What Skoda has to do with Chinese monkeys and Salvador Dalí.

Apart from air, there’s hardly anything more integral to our existence than food. Which makes it easy to overlook as utilitarian fuel for ordinary life. But there’s a whole crazy world of extraordinary food-related coolness out there, and we’ve gone and digested it all for you: Here are our top 5 picks for goodies that satisfy both stomach and brain.


Rarely would a company have trouble doing business under any other name. But sometimes the need to convey the nature of your product with utter conviction has such a sense of urgency that it has to start as early as possible: at the name.

This seems to be the case for Edible. — an uber-gourmet virtual shop that caters to the most gastronomically adventurous of us. A delicacy heaven for the foodiest of foodies and a Fear-Factoresque hell for the mere mortals, the online store offers unusual edibles from around the world, all falling outside the realm of ordinary, everyday food and all likely to elicit anything from a raised eyebrow to an uncontrollable gag reflex.

Edible. (whose name actually includes the period that follows it, as in “Trust us, this is edible, period.”) includes an array of foods rarely seen in the Western world but regarded for centuries as delicacies in more exotic cultures.

Chocoholic? They’ve got you covered — with chocolate- covered giant ants from Colombia. Party animal? Scorpion vodka is your thing. Snack junkie? Salted and read-to-eat mopani worms from Africa are calling your name. An all-natural, organic-only eco-nut? It doesn’t get better than monkey-picked tea from China.

And if you feel your confidence in the whole thing begin to shake at any given moment, remind yourself they’ve got that all-convincing period.


Oh, the ways in which food can seem inedible. Just like you may have reservations about eating stuff that looks gross, you could have just as hard a time eating something that looks so perfect it might as well belong in a museum.

That’s exactly how we feel about the edibles of Eugene and Louise Bakery. Their cute-as-a-button marzipan treats look like the adorable lovechild of LEGO figurines and those trendy anime-inspired vinyl toys.

The sweet enterprise is the brainchild of three Belgian friends: Glenn D’Hondt and Sylvia Meert (a.k.a. Eugene and Louise) and Tinne Mermans. From the too-sweet-to-eat marzipan treats, to the in-your-face,-Charlie chocolate factory, to their fairytale-like journal, the entire thing tickles our inner child and takes us back to those precious Hansel-and-Gretelesque times when food was full of magic and fun.


There’s long been an intersection between food and art — heck, most chefs would be offended if regarded as anything less than artists. But when one of history’s greatest surrealists lays his art on food, it’s something else entirely.

Melting clocks and table-dripping eggs notwithstanding, Salvador Dali actually illustrated the complex relationship between art and food — literally. In between redefining modern art and stirring up political controversy, the mustached Spaniard wrote and illustrated Les Diners de Gala — a spectacular cookbook that features 136 recipes across 12 categories of supreme European deliciousness, stunningly illustrated and bound with color-illustrated cloth boards in a dustjacket embossed with gold foil.

To our utter befuddlement, the book is now out of print. But you can get your art-hungry hands on a copy for a few hundred bucks and serve a piece of art history at your next dinner party.

>>> via GOOD Magazine


The real art of food starts at the production level. We’re not talking about your basic eat-organic, buy-local, humane-farming credo. We’re talking about the deeper, incredibly complex agricultural ecosystem that feeds our food supply.

And no one understands, or utilizes, that ecosystem better than Polyface Farms — a revolutionary Virginia-based farm that works with the ecological, economical and emotional aspects of agriculture, truly brightening our relationship to nature. Founder Joel Salatin says the farm is “in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.”

Polyface has six different species of animals growing in an elaborate symbiotic ecosystem of sustainable agriculture, or permaculture. They’re all engaged in a fascinating bio-ecological dance where they keep each other free of parasites and the manure of one species makes for the grub of another. (Oh man up, this is world-changing stuff here, save the “poop” giggles for 30 Rock.)

Here’s one in-action example: a heard of cows spends a full day grazing a grass area clean. Salatin waits 3 days, then takes the “eggmobile” — a dingy cart full of 350 chickens — onto the grazed land. The hens then cluck their way straight to the cow manure and start digging for their favorite food: maggots. These are the larvae of flies, which would’ve hatched on the 4th day, creating a huge fly problem. (Salatin has waited until they’re as juicy and nutritious as possible to give the chickens maximum protein.)

Meanwhile, the hens are not only spreading the cow manure onto the field, but also contributing their own highly nitrogenous kind. The result? The entire cycle has both the cows and the chickens all happy and full, but it’s also fed the grass: thanks to the brilliant fertilization mechanism, it starts growing madly — 4 weeks later, the entire cycle can repeat itself.

And the only man-made equipment involved in the whole process is the fence surrounding the grass area.

To truly appreciate the incredible importance of such permaculture, check out food ecologist Michael Pollan’s brilliant TED talk and read his eye-opening book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Now that’s food for thought.


Sure, food is a serious thing these days. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with it. And it’s all the more indulgent when it’s scored to one of the most classically elating and playful songs of all time.

Plus, the word “schnitzel” just makes anything exponentially more fun.

Courtesy of Fallon, London. Yum.

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25 JANUARY, 2008

Geography, Topography, and Everythingography


Google vs. Hitler, underwear peninsulas, Hansel and Gretel, global black holes, 18th century German lovescapes, how Holland’s streets are finally becoming rivers, why Philly is reinventing the wheel, and what Joan Miró has to do with NASA. We’re exorcising our maps obsession.


conspiracy.gifAlright, folks. It’s happening: Google has officially begun its world conquest. Starting with New York City.  Or so venture capitalist John Ellis of Real Clear Markets thinks as he speculates that it’s only a matter of time until Google buys The New York Times. And it makes a lot of sense — it’s no secret that NYT has been on a steady decline of value (down 70% over the past 5 years, actually) and, if the New England properties got sold off, it would only be worth under $3 billion. Which is lunch money for the big G. It’s also no secret that Google is going hard after the mobile market, readying to launch Google Mobile. The only trouble: Washington. And owning a major media outlet is bound to score them major points in the lobbying game.

We’ll leave it to the pros to elaborate on the details, but we’ll just say that if the Nazis were able to re-imagine New York in their own world domination schemes…

…why shouldn’t Google? At least this time there’s a do-no-evil take on it.


Fashion: it’s a global thing. Dutch artist Coriette Schoenaerts seems to be feeling our little maps theme here with her fashion cartography: high-end clothing laid out to represent the geographic and political maps of various regions. Check out South America, The Netherlands, and Europe.

South America

The work was commissioned by Rails Magazine and aims to boycott the human body ideal traditionally used to sell fashion.

Meanwhile, global fashion is taking it to the streets: literally. Street Clash is an innovative contest that recruits bloggers and photographers to stage a virtual face-off between the street styles of cities from Paris to Perth.

Last year, 118 fashion “fights” ensued brackets- elimination-style, finally yielding the best-dressed city of 2007: Tel Aviv.

A retrospective of the catwalk catfight is taking place as we speak at Berlin Fashion Week.


It started without a name. Kind of: some poking around the East Village and the blogasphere would reveal it had a codename: “Birdbath.” Which sounds more creepy than crepe — not a surprising approach given the operation is the doing of legendary New York chef and prankster Maury Rubin. What is it?

Today, the revolutionary neighborhood “green” bakery has fully embraced its codename and, after Rubin’s City Bakery success, Birdbath is taking the love of sugar and dough to new levels. It features Rubin’s famed gigantic cookies. But this one is as green as it gets, using top-notch organic ingredients in both the food itself and the shop’s marvelous architecture, making for a bakery Hansel and Gretel would love. We’re pretty sure you can even eat the whole place, including — and we mean this in the least cannibalistic way possible — the staff: Birdbath‘s walls are made of wheat and sunflower seeds, covered with milk-based beets-pigmented paint, the floor comes from a cork by-product, the counter from bamboo, and the baristas’ vests from linen and hemp. Yum.

Rubin’s idea is to inspire people to make the connection between organic foods (which, by the way, more than half of Americans buy regularly these days, spending over $14 billion annually) and a broader appreciation of organic, sustainable materials.

No green bakery in your ‘hood? No problem. Now you can get delish, do-good foods wherever you are. (Plus, we’re big proponents of locally grown over organic.) And the fine folks at LocalHarvest, the online community for farmers and foodies alike, are making it super easy with their nifty map-based search feature.


Go ahead, trade a Whole Foods trip or two for a farmers market one — it’s an experience of its very own.


You may remember the heads-up from a while ago to keep an eye out for Nokia because the progressive underdog is creeping up on everyone from Apple to Google to MySpace. Well, turns out we were on to something.

Nokia + FacebookThe guys at Paid Content report Nokia is now foraging big-time into the world of social networking via a hush-hush pact with Facebook. Seems like the idea is to make Facebook the default social net of Nokia headsets (much like YouTube is for iPhone video) in exchange for a Nokia stake in the Zuckerberg empire. Not a bad idea for a mobile company in the business of “Connecting People.”

If you’re getting the so-what shrugs, consider the deal in light of Nokia’s aforementioned recent acquisitions — especially the Universal-catalog- backed music store, the Ticket Rush concert ticketing partnership with Live Nation and the Enpocket mobile advertising platform. (Plus the steady 58% stock increase over the past year.) And while social networking as a way to relate to friends is great and all, these powerful tools have the potential to make it much bigger — it can be a way, a monetizable way, for people not just to list their interests and connect with friends, but to act on those interests and relate to products they’re passionate about.

This underdog is barking loud and clear.

Meanwhile, and because this is the maps issue, we feel compelled to point out where the Nokia/Facebook partnership just won’t happen: in the international “black holes” of the Internet.

That’s right, these 15 countries are all Big-Brother-on-steroids about their citizens’ access to and use of the Internet. Doesn’t it just make you rejoice in democracy and the ability to Facebook away any time of day?


It’s a crazy world out there on the singles scene. You’ve got blind dates, pity dates, online dating, speed dating…it all makes us wanna say “Oy!” (But we won’t. Because we’re not 60 or Canadian.) Well, you can now multitask your way around that jungle with a new hybrid: online speed dating.

WooMe, the online speed introduction platform cooked up by the folks behind PayPal, has finally launched in alpha.

It takes 30 seconds to register, then you’re on your way to all the 5-minute video chat sessions your heart desires. After each, you’re asked (thankfully, not by the datee) whether or not the person wooed you.

If the answer is yes, you chip in $1 to get each other’s real contact info. Which seems to us like a much better deal than the traditional dinner-movie-drinks scenarios that often have thanks-but-no-thanks endings. (Plus, it makes it so much easier to “go to the restroom” if things start going awry.)

And if things do go right, perhaps you’ll get to move your personal pin on this 1777 German map of the Empire of Love.

If you don’t sprechen Sie Deutch, here’s the gist:

  • GEBIET DER JUGEND = Land of Youth (Forest of Love, Kiss Field, Flirting Game, Charm Castle, Stream of Wishes, Worry-Free, Joy’s Home, Beautiful House, Source of Joy, Sweet Look, Wisecrack Place, Rich River, Warning Castle)
  • GEBIET DER RUHE = Land of Rest (Nightcap, Grandfather City, Equanimity, Manly Place)
  • GEBIET DER TRAURENDEN LIEBE = Land of Mourning Love (Anger’s Home, Flood of Tears, Whim Mountain,  Complaint Place, Hopeless Mountains, Loathing, Strict Place, Swamp of Profanity,  Desert of Melancholy)
  • GEBIET DER LUSTE = Land of Lust (Illness Valley, Weak Home, Intoxication Field, Lechery, Hospital)
  • GEBIET DER GLUCKLICHEN LIEBE = Land of Happy Love (Lust Wood, Answered Prayers, Pleasant View, Enjoyment, Tenderness, Good Times, Affection Farm, Satisfaction, Compliance Mountain, Fountain of Joy, Marriage Harbor, Reward City, Peace of Mind, Bliss Town)
  • GEBIET DER HAGESTOLZE = Bachelor Country (Stupidity Town, Rejection Place, Irritation, Indifference, Place of Contempt, Reprehensibility, Old Age Mountains, Separation, Hat, Obstinacy, Wrangler Hall, Exasperation Heath, Hamlet of Death, Sea of Doubt)
  • GEBIET DER FIXEN IDEEN = Land of Obsessions (Place of Sighs, Desire Town, Unrest, City of Dreams, Bridge of Hope, Disloyalty, Sweet River of Tears, Little Town of Instincts)

And while we’re dealing with all sorts of cartographic representations of stuff, let us pay tribute to a brave effort to change the stuff in order to change the reprsentation. Dutch artist Henk Hoftstra‘s latest outdoor art project takes Google Earth head-on with 4000 liters of blue paint poured onto the streets of Drachten, Holland. The goal: an “urban river” visible from Google Earth, with the words “WATER IS LIFE” stretched across it.


Although the installation hasn’t shown up on Google Earth yet, the current Drachten view seems to have been snapped earlier in 2007, so it’s a matter of waiting for the satellites to come ’round — because we know Google stuff always does.


bikeshare.pngAnd while checking out other people’s streets is cool, why don’t we selfishly turn focus inwards and talk about the streets of Philadelphia for a second. Namely, about the amazingly bikeable streets of Philadelphia. Which is why an ambitious new collective, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, is trying to break Philly’s car habit and take urban sustainability to new heights.

Enter Philly Bike Share — a public use bicycle program that aims to do for Philly what similar efforts have already done for many European cities: provide low-cost alternative transportation, reduce traffic congestion and increase the overall livability of the city. Which jives rather nicely with a few of our big urban gripes: people who live 15 minutes from work but choose to drive, foot-wide cobblestone Old City alleys clogged with SUV’s, and $20 cab rides. Hey, it may even help with our standing on the 25 Fattest Cities in America ranking.

But, in all seriousness, it’s a great idea — not only do we have the largest connected park trail system in the country, but we also have a highly sophisticated urban biking system (download the map here) with over 150 miles of bike lanes, a ton more off-road routes, 1,800 street-side parking racks and even buses equipped with bike racks.


Turns out, if we only replaced 5% of Philly’s short-distance car trips (under 5 miles) with bikes, we’d be reducing our carbon footprint by 98 tons of emissions per year. Clearly, we could say that’s a ton — but it would be an obvious understatement. So even if you’re not quite ready to commit for some reason (or if you already have a two-wheeler of your very own), you can help simply by dropping Mayor Nutter this quick email asking him to authorize and fund the program.

Besides, there’s the Dasani Blue Bike program in Pittsburgh — and if Pittsburgh can do something, what exactly are we waiting for?


We’ll sign off with one of our absolute favorite maps — which looks more like Joan Miró on psychedelic drugs than a real map. (Nice find, Wired.) Except it is an honest-to-NASA map of the dark side of the moon, with the different colors corresponding to geological materials and phenomena.

It’s part of a series done under the Astrological Research Program, a 1971-1998 partnership between NASA and the United States Geological Survey. And we think it’s geeky-artsy-cool — our kinda stuff.

Way to go downhill, NASA.

(Finally, special thanks to our new favorite blog, Strange Maps, for further inspiring and fueling our pre-existing map obsession.)

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