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5 Cross-Disciplinary Cookbooks

What Dracula, liquid nitrogen and hackers have to do with IKEA furniture.

Cookbooks are no longer the fascination of foodies alone. After featuring the designerly The Geometry of Pasta, we began noticing the deluge of incredibly exciting and cross-disciplinary treats disguised as cookbooks being released this season, spanning domains as diverse as art, molecular science, travel photography, hisotry, classical literature, and geek culture. Here are 5 of our favorite new cookbooks inspired by more than just food.

RECIPE FOR MURDER

From culinary journalist Estérelle Payany comes Recipe for Murder: Frightfully Good Food Inspired by Fiction — an absolutely delightful anthology of signature recipes delivered by 32 of literature’s greatest hero-villains.

The book features original artwork by illustrator Jean-François Martin, whose work has graced the pages of The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, The Los Angeles Times, and a slew of other beacons of modern journalism.

From caramel apples from Snow White’s stepmother to The Big Bad Wolf’s pig-in-the-blanket special to Brutus’ Caesar salad, this scrumptious gem of a book, fresh out of the Flammarion & Rizzoli publishing oven, delivers unexpected home-style recipes by way of your favorite fairy tales and literary classics.

Images © Jean-François Martin; courtesy of Flammarion & Rizzoli via Artslope

via @AmritRichmond

COOKING FOR GEEKS

If curiosity is your favorite ingredient and you’re more interested in the science of what happens to food beyond the blind following of recipe instructions, then Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food is your new favorite pastime. Part science book, part playground for culinary experimentation, the book offers more than 400 pages of recipes, tips and — our favorite part — interviews with some of today’s most iconic geeks across all disciplines: Writers, hackers, food scientists, knife experts, chefs, researchers and more.

Not surprisingly, this treat comes from an author with a fittingly cross-disciplinary background and indiscriminate curiosity — Jeff Potter, who studied computer science and visual art at Brown University, has used cooking with friends as a sanity anchor throughout his prolific career as an entrepreneur.

THAI STREET FOOD

Thai Street Food from scholar David Thompson takes us on an exciting journey into one of the Far East’s most widely adored cuisines with recipes that are both authentic and approachable.

It also doesn’t hurt that the book features some of the best food photography we’ve seen in years, making it as much a self-standing photography coffeetable book as it is a practical cookbook.

OAXACA AL GUSTO

Legendary British writer and researcher Diana Kennedy may be best-known as the Julia Childs of Mexican cuisine and in her latest book offers an ambitious exploration of one of the world’s most colorful cuisines. Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy features over 300 rare recipes and exclusive photographs of Oxaca’s little-known yet outstanding foods and their preparation, often guarded for centuries in family recipe books.

Among the highlights is a special chapter devoted to the three pillars of the Oaxacan regional cuisines — chocolate, corn, and chiles.

MODERNIST CUISINE

Nathan Myhrvold may be better-known as Microsoft’s former Chief Technology Officer, who studied quantum science alongside legendary physicist Stephen Hawking, but his true passion lies at the intersection of science and food. Myhrvold trained as a chef at LaVarenne in Burgundy, France, and has spent the past three years in a laboratory in Bellevue, Washington, perfecting — with his seven full-time chefs — the elaborate cooking techniques of gastronomy’s recent mega-obsession: molecular cuisine.

Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking is the pinnacle of his experimentation, a 2,400-page, six-volume behemoth with over 1,000 recipes that transform the kitchen into a lab. Needless to say, expectations for the ambitious undertaking have been gargantuan, which made gastronomers all the more unsettled by the recent announcement that due to packaging concerns, the book — which weighs over 48 pounds — won’t be available until March, nearly four months past the publication date originally promised.

Modernist Cuisine isn’t for everyone — besides the hardcore foray into ingredients like methylcellulose and agar approached with cooking techniques that involve liquid nitrogen and rotary evaporators, the book comes with a hefty $625 price tag. (Though Amazon is currently running a preorder discount of 20%, which clocks in at the non-negligible sum of $125 in savings.)

BONUS

Granted, this book isn’t for sale yet, but it’s too cool for us not to mention — IKEA has recently partnered with legendary art photographer Carl Kleiner to produce Hembakat är Bäst (Homemade Is Best), a new baking book featuring absurdly beautiful, artful photographs of deconstructed ingredients accompanying the recipes. Arranged by color and touched with the magical art direction wand of brilliant minimalism, the ingredients are photographed before their preparation into pastries, presenting a peculiar retroappreciative approach to food as art.

No word yet on when and where the book will be available, but it’s now firmly planted on our to-hunt-down-and-devour list.

BP

Books for Dad: 7 Esoteric Father’s Day Gift Ideas

Film neverland, copper, maps, and how to save dad from having a midlife affair.

With Father’s Day just around the corner, what better way to show dad some love than with a good book? We’re not talking your usual grilling/home-improvement/business books that are right up there with ties and bluetooth accessories on the scale of gift unoriginality. We’re talking smart, thoughtfully curated reads that are bound to inspire, delight, enrich and tickle dad’s curiosity. Here are seven we promise will do at least one of those.

THE ELEMENTS

If there ever was a perfect intersection of geekery, curiosity and artfulness, look no further than Theodore Gray’s superb The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe — a marvelous, beautifully photographed compendium of everything you could drop on your foot.

We couldn’t praise the book enough — it’s a handsome, lush volume of never-before-seen photographs of the 118 elements.

But it gets better: Depending on where dad falls on the tech adoption spectrum, you may also want to consider the fantastic accompanying iPad/iPhone app, which takes things to a whole new level with multitouch 3D. Though certainly on the priciest end, it’s wroth every gram of copper in every penny:

For the dad who: Loves the intersection of art and science and/or treasures gorgeously produced encyclopedic volumes

KUBRICK’S NAPOLEON

Speaking of epically beautiful volumes and equally epic price points, we aren’t saying this is an option for everyone, but if you’re feeling particularly fond of your dad this year, here’s something to put you on the favorite child list forever: Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made — a remarkable 10-books-in-one tome about the Napoleon biopic Stanley Kubrick spent years crafting but never materialized, including Kubrrick’s correspondence, research material, costume studies, casting considerations, location scouting photographs, sketches, and even the final draft of the screenplay reproduced in facsimile.

For a closer look at we can assure you is of the most ambitious books ever produced in the history of human civilization, see our full review from last year.

For the dad who: Worships Kubrick and/or is a general film nut and/or has expensive culture taste

THE MEANING OF TINGO

Traditional travel books, with their expected exotic photography and mainstream tourist to-do’s, are not only contrived, but often backfire: Rather than allowing us to live vicariously through the lens of the photographer and the pen of the travel writer, they make us drool over all the places we’ll never get to see and leave us with little gratification. Enter The Meaning of Tingo: and Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World — an entirely new way to explore the world in all its cultural diversity and interestingness, one that leaves you with something more than a lingering image of the Taj Mahal at sunset. Something you can drop at a dinner party and impress with your knowledge of the esoteric.

From BBC researcher Adam Jacot de Boinod, who swallowed some 200 dictionaries, The Meaning of Tingo finds words that the English language doesn’t have but needs. And because we know you’re itching to know: “Tingo” itself comes from the Pascuense language of Easter Island and means “to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by borrowing them.”

For the dad who: Loves language and/or is curious about the world and/or likes to impress his friends with his knowledge of the obscure.

THIS BOOK WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE

If dad is headed for a midlife crisis (and, let’s face it, who isn’t?), there are better ways to jolt him out of than wtih a Ferrari and a mistress. Enter This Book Will Change Your Life — a compendium of 365 quirky, creative, comfort-zone-cracking daily exercises and mini-projects designed to turn your humdrum existence into an exhilarating free-fall into serendipity. Bonus points for the superb art direction, which transforms each daily idea into a visually indulgent mini-poster and makes the entire book a complete design treat.

Also worth checking out is the sequel, appropriately titled This Book Will Change Your Life, Again.

For the dad who: Is headed for that midlife crisis and/or has a penchant for creativity and quirk

STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS

More than three years after its publication, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness remains one of the best, most well-researched yet captivatingly digestible books on the art and science of what makes us happy, delivering a powerful punch of empowerment through enlightenment without ever stepping even remotely into self-help territory.

The book is an essential must-have without which no culturally-grounded contemporary home library is complete.

For the dad who: Resents self-help books but appreciates smart self-improvement with an intellectual edge

THE VISUAL MISCELLANEUM

Staying with the design-and-fascination theme, we reviewed David McCandless’ excellent anthology of infographic brilliance, The Visual Miscellaneum, when it came out last fall and we still maintain it’s one of the most beautiful, fascinating, multiplicitously engaging books in existence. While it’s essentially a homage to infographics and data visualization as a visual storytelling medium, it is also relentlessly interesting in terms of the actual information being depicted — from the most pleasurable guilty pleasures, to how long it takes different condiments to spoil, to the creationism-evolution spectrum.

Read our full review for a sneak peek inside this treasure trove of interestingness and a closer look at what makes it so special.

For the dad who: Is endlessly curious about, well, everything and/or has a soft spot for feats of graphic design

STRANGE MAPS

As the stereotype goes, men may hate asking for directions, but they love poring over interesting maps. And nothing offers a more curious, esoteric, eclectically interesting treasure chest of fascinating maps than the blog-turned-book success story of Strange Maps, also previously reviewed.

From the world as depicted in Orwell’s 1984, to a color map of Thomas More’s Utopia, to the 16th-century portrayal of California as an island where people live like the Amazons, the book features 138 priceless anecdotes from our collective conception of the world over the centuries.

See our full review for a sneak peek of some of the book’s remarkable maps.

For the dad who: Loves history and the obscure, especially a history of the obscure

BP

What Everyday Objects Tell Us About the Universe

Why your reflection is a matter of chance, or how to fit everything that ever existed on a USB stick.

We recently raved about an excellent article about the early history of the universe, quantum reality and the origins of information. Turns out its author, California Institute of Technology astronomer and New Scientist cosmology consultant Marcus Chown, didn’t stop there.

His new book, The Matchbox That Ate a Forty-Ton Truck, offers a fascinating anthology of wisdom bites about the universe gleaned from everyday objects.

Today, we sit down with Marcus to probe into some of the book’s peculiar contentions and quench our curiosity about just how one comes to see quantum theory in bananas.

If the Sun were made of bananas it wouldn’t make much difference

q1

How did the inspiration for the book come? Was it a single “a-ha!” moment, an encounter with a particular mundane object that gleaned surprising revelation about something much larger, or was it more of a buildup of insights?

Marcus Chown: While doing publicity, I tend to latch onto everyday observations and relate them to deep physics. Recently, I wanted to highlight the paradox that spawned quantum theory. So I drew people’s attention to a light bulb and pointed out the light waves coming out are about 5000 times bigger than the atoms. “Say, I opened this matchbox”, I said, “and out drove a 40-tonne truck. That’s what it’s like for light streaming out of that light bulb.” And one day, a light bulb did go on in my head. I thought, why don’t I write a book about what everyday things tell us about the Universe?

Tea cups break rather than unbreak because the universe is expanding in the aftermath of the big bang

q2

What’s your favorite mundane-object-turned-quantum-oracle?

MC: It still amazes me that something as mundane and everyday as your face reflected in a window tells you about the most shocking discovery in the history of science — that the universe is founded on random chance, the roll of a quantum dice, that ultimately things happen for no reason at all. Einstein was so appalled by this that he famously declared “God does not play dice with the Universe”.

The irony is that not only does God play dice but, if He did not, there would be no universe of the beauty and complexity we find ourselves in.

Reflection in a window shows that universe based on random chance
Marcus Chown, Serpentine, London, January 2007. Image by Jorn Tomter

q3

Historically, humanity’s beliefs about the universe have regularly turned out to be tragicomically misguided. With what degree of certainty do you foresee the ideas outlined in your book surviving the test of time and scientific evolution?

MC: Well, of course, science is provisional. It is the best description we have of the world at this moment in time. Scientists are always looking for observations that will falsify their theories in their quest to lay bare ever deeper layers of reality. But, even though we know Einstein’s theory of gravity, for instance, is not the last word – because it breaks down inside black holes and in the big bang — we know it contains profound truth. And that’s what I think about the ideas in my book. Most are likely to be modified and extended in the fullness of time but they nevertheless contain a large amount of truth.

You could fit the information for a million universes on a 1Gb flash memory

q4

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is a favorite here at Brain Pickings, and a recent New York Times article outlined a similar theory of differences in creative capacity. Do you think this associative ability to look at the mundane and extrapolate the omnipotent is a unique kind of mental wiring, a mark of scientific genius shared necessary for groundbreaking discovery and shared by history’s most iconic scientists? Or is it something we can learn to do?

MC: Of course, this is what scientists do. They try to tease out the general, unifying principles which underlie as wide a range of phenomena as possible. Darwin, for instance, in one of the greatest strokes of genius in history, saw the driving principle — evolution by natural selection – that was generating the bewildering complexity of the natural world. This kind of thing – extrapolating from the specific to the general — is very hard. But I don’t believe it is special to geniuses (I don’t think much is special to geniuses!). Anyone can learn. It’s just that most of us don’t practice much!

The iron in your blood was created in stellar explosions like this one, NASA

To test yourself against some of the surprising factoids and curiosities in The Matchbox That Ate a Forty-Ton Truck, take a stab at this quiz, answers below. For more about the how’s and why’s of the answers, do grab a copy of the book — we guarnatee you won’t be disappointed.

1. If all the empty space were squeezed out of matter, the human race could fit in:

  1. Wembley Stadium?
  2. The area of the Isle of Wight?
  3. The volume of a sugar cube?

2. Einstein famously said:

  1. God does not play roulette with the Universe
  2. God does not play dice with the Universe
  3. God does not play poker with the Universe

3. The faster you travel:

  1. The taller you get
  2. The slimmer you get
  3. The lighter you get

4. The best place to look for evidence of the big bang in which the Universe was born is:

  1. On your TV
  2. In your washing machine
  3. At the Greenwich Meridian

5. Most of the Universe gives is currently invisible to our telescopes – but how much?

  1. 1%
  2. 50%
  3. 98%

6. The scientists who won the Nobel prize for detecting the faint “afterglow” of the big bang thought they had found:

  1. the glow of pigeon droppings
  2. the glow of street lights
  3. the glow of glow worms

7. Einstein’s mathematics professor called him a:

  1. lazy possum
  2. lazy dingo
  3. lazy dog

8. Today’s sunlight was made:

  1. 30,000 years ago
  2. 300 minutes ago
  3. 3 seconds ago

9. Aged 16, Einstein came up with the idea of relativity after wondering what it might be like to travel on a:

  1. sound wave
  2. light wave
  3. steam train

9. The first time anyone eve saw an atom was in:

  1. 1980
  2. 1880
  3. 5 BC

Answers: 1C, 2B, 3B, 4A, 5C, 6A, 7C, 8A, 9B, 10A

BP

authors & contributors

Founder and editor Maria Popova has gotten occasional contribution from these fine guest writers.

Michelle Legro is an associate editor at Lapham’s Quarterly. You can find her on Twitter.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, free audio books, free movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University, and you can also find him on Twitter.

Kirstin Butler currently lives in Cambridge, MA but still identifies as a Brooklynite. She’s writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time Twitter.

Brian W. Jones is a designer, etc. who moves often to embrace the inspiration found in new places. Last year Brian helped open PieLab, a pie shop and community space in rural Alabama, and now lives in coastal Maine helping organize Project M sessions, riding his bike, and writing about his love of coffee.

Len Kendall is the cofounder of the3six5 project. (Featured on Brain Pickings here.) He enjoys being clever, quippy, and constructively grumpy.

Filip Matous hosts a pop-philosophy video show at standstrong.tv. He currently lives in London and is always seeking to find the next interesting person to interview.

Meghan Walsh has a degree in Anglo-Irish Literature from Trinity College, Dublin and is finishing her thesis on J.P. Donleavy at NYU. She is currently working on two art exhibitions in New York City. For more of her writing check out her cooking blog.

Spaceweaver is a thinker, futurist and writer living in future tense, mostly on the web. Check out his blogs at Space Collective and K21st, and follow him on Friendfeed and Twitter.

Simon Mainwaring is a former Nike creative, worldwide creative director for Ogilvy, author, speaker and general idea junkie. For more of and about him, check out his blog and follow him on Twitter.

Julian Dominic carries a pocket notebook and 0.3 pen everywhere; continuing to record, research and repeat almost everything he sees, hears and tastes on the road.

Teddy Zareva is a young filmmaker and photographer currently located in Sofia, Bulgaria. She is prone to excessive dancing and impulsive traveling. Her favorite activities are eating chocolate, hunting for music, and shooting humans.

Mark Armstrong is a digital strategist, writer and founder of Longreads, a community and Twitter service highlighting the best long-form stories on the web. His thoughts about the future of publishing and content can be found here.

Max Linsky is a journalist, the co-founder of Longform.org, and an enthusiastic supporter of Jewish professional athletes.

Vikas Shah writes Thought Economics, where he interviews some of the world’s most influential thinkers, from CEO’s to astronauts to artists and more. By day, Vikas is founder and CEO of strategy consultancy Thought Strategy. You can follow him on Twitter.

Mell Perling is a community manager at Behance where she writes about creative work at the Behance team blog and @TheServed on Twitter. She currently lives in Brooklyn.

Lexi Lewtan is an avid reader, writer, and technology nerd. You can find her on geeking out on Twitter and Quora.

BP

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