Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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When I was a kid, I enjoyed cooking and baking and I excelled at these activities since I regularly won all the blue ribbons in the pre-adult age divisions at the annual state fair. A little later, I expanded my kitchen-based activities to mixing drinks, a hobby that I pursue whenever possible to this very day. Later, when I began taking chemistry classes in school, my kitchen-based skills served me very well because I was a superb chemist. But I am not the only one to notice this close relationship between the kitchen and the lab: Patrick Buckley and Lily Binns also noticed this and they recorded their observations experiments in their book; The Hungry Scientist Handbook: Electric Birthday Cakes, Edible Origami, and Other DIY Projects for Techies, Tinkerers, and Foodies (NYC: Collins Living; 2008).


This interesting and entertaining book is, as its name suggests, a collection of a variety of projects that I refer to as “kitchen science”: kitchen-based projects where a particular scientific principle is tested. Written in a conversational tone, this book is a field guide to having fun in the kitchen by creating a variety of unusual contraptions like a glowing cake with LED candles powered by edible wiring and a lemon battery, and delicious foods such as bread made with your local wild yeast. Of course, there are other creations, such as edible origami made from fried wonton wrappers, home-made marshmallows and a beer-can stove made from an aluminum beer can that has been converted into a small stove. Additionally, there are some clever creations made from common kitchen items such as the iPod boom box made of Tupperware, a camera made out of a pumpkin, a stethoscope made from a measuring spoon, and glowing popsicles made with LEDs. But perhaps my favorite creations described in this book are the edible lingerie made of caramel, the fizzy lemonade drinks made from “Meyer lemons” (hybrids between oranges and lemons) and chilled with dry ice until they fizz (I suggest adding vodka before serving), the cryogenic ice cream made with single-malt scotch and frozen in liquid nitrogen and of course, making one’s own moonshine, which is probably the oldest of all do-it-yourself (DIY) professions (and was one of the experiments that I performed in one of my chemistry classes).

This 205-page paperback is filled with lots of black-and-white images and diagrams that detail the methods to use and the principles being tested. It has wide margins suitable for notes as you adapt these creations to your own kitchen. Lest we forget ourselves in our exuberance, the book also includes warnings against doing stupid things, such as eating dry ice or drinking liquid nitrogen. There is a 7-page index and a 7-page appendix and notes that provide further information at the back of the book. The Hungry Scientist Handbook will keep your friends gathered in the kitchen for many hours during your parties this holiday season as you all work through the many projects outlined in its pages — I recommend this book to families with young kids (whose parents are willing to help them with these projects), and for students of all ages, and as a useful guide for those ever-popular theme parties.

Patrick Buckley is a research scientist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. When he is not in the lab or the kitchen, he enjoys kiteboarding, paragliding, and training for Ironman triathalons. He lives in San Francisco.

Lily Binns is a former editor of Ten Speed Press and Saveur magazine who is an avid cook. She works as the writer and producer for the dance company Pilobolus. She lives in Brooklyn.

Comments

  1. #1 Callista
    December 21, 2008

    I JUST today posted my review of this book although I must say I wasn’t as into it as you. I found it very confusing and most of the projects not at all right for kids.

    Since we have such different opinions, I am going to link to your review from mine so my readers can get a different opinion.

  2. #2 Victoria
    January 5, 2009

    Thank you for submitting your post to the modern families blog carnival.

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