Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Copenhagen

Monday, October 28th, 2019 | Books, Food

Copenhagen Food is a cookbook by Trine Hahnemann. This book looks beautiful and demonstrates a lot of plain but tasty Nordic cuisine. But that said, I have only made a couple of recipes from it, even though I went through and indexed all of the ones I wanted to try.

Prawns will and homemade mayo is the only recipe I regularly use, which is like twice a year. The only modification to the mayo I have made is to add a little bit of lemon.

Since then, it has languished on my sideboard waiting for a review, which I have not written because I did not really know what to say. So, this is me saying very little.

In fairness, it is titled Copenhagen Food: Stories, traditions and recipes, so the sparsity of recipes is clear from the title.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sunday, June 2nd, 2019 | Books

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is a non-fiction book by Yuval Noah Harari.

It is the most interesting book I have read in a long time. I was ignorant of a lot of early human history. For example, I thought that homo erectus was an earlier stage of human evolution, rather than a different species of humans that sapiens killed off (or possibly interbred with).

Much of it I kind of had an idea about but it was fascinating to see it all laid out. Humans used to be in the middle of the food chain. But, 100,00 years ago, we began to hunt large game. Around 30,000-70,000 is what Harari calls the cognitive revolution. Language developed in humans alone, despite other species (parrots, whales, elephants) being able to make a large variety of sounds, too.

15,000 years ago we domesticated dogs, which is the only real evidence you need in the dogs vs cats debate. Dogs are our friends.

Whether sapiens went, we caused destruction. Australia and North America had a large variety of large mammals, for example. We killed and ate them all. This wasn’t modern man: this was the first peoples of these continents. In comparison, horses, which are often seen as an integral part of Native American life, were only introduced to America by European settlers.

The next milestone was the agricultural revolution. This wasn’t the first time we saw permanent settlements: fishing villages existed before this. But the change to agriculture meant an end of the hunter-gatherer way of life. It wasn’t a happy one: gathering is easy and produces a rich diet. Agriculture produces a poor monotonous diet and increases our workload from 30 hours per week to 40+. But it also supports more people and so the trap quickly closed shut.

Harari argues that much of culture is arbitrary: why did one religion win out, or one group of people come to dominate another? Luck, mostly. The only thing that seems to recur independently is patriarchy. We don’t know why this, but many of the reasons you may think of are deconstructed and thrown out in the book.

The author also argues that almost everything is a religion. Religions, of course, but also Humanism, and Communism, and Capitalism.

The third milestone was the scientific revolution. Although technology occasionally improved in the ancient and classical worlds, it was mostly by luck. The Romans did not have amazing technology: they were just better organised. It was only in the 16th century that the idea of experimentation and improving things just to see what was possible sprung up in Western Europe. For the first time, we started drawing maps with blank spaces in. Until then, it was assumed we already knew everything.

Until this point, Western Europe was entirely unimportant. The Middle East had been the centre of civilization for thousands of years and the economic powerhouses of the world were China and India. But embracing science and technology gave the West a huge leg up. In just a few hundred years, Western Europe came to dominate the world, and to become much richer than Asia.

Harari then turns his attention to capitalism, describing the way that states and markets have replaced families and communities. Arguably, capitalism has caused more depths than any other ideology: National Socialism and Communism killed people on purpose. But capitalism, with the slave trade, Bengal famine, etc, has killed far, far more people due to cold indifference.

All in all, this is a fascinating read. Drop what you are doing and go read it now.

Rick Stein: The Road to Mexico

Sunday, May 19th, 2019 | Books, Food

Rick Stein: The Road to Mexico is a cookbook by Rick Stein that draws on recipes from the Southern United States (California area) and Mexico.

There are a lot of good recipes in here. That said, I never found the motivation to make a lot of the seafood dishes, instead opting for the easy taco options that I could make by marinating a meat of my choice and wrapping it up in tortillas.

I also made some salsa and guacamole, so we tended to do several days of tacos in a row so that I could make one big batch and enjoy it while it was still fresh.

12 Rules for Life

Friday, May 17th, 2019 | Books

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is a book by Jordan B. Peterson.

He’s a controversial figure and I’ve written about this before. I can’t really work him out. He says some thought-provoking things and a lot of people who I respect have a lot of time for him. However, he also says a lot of silly things and digs himself into holes. Some would argue that people are misinterpreting him. But he makes a huge deal out of picking your words carefully, so saying he has been misinterpreted seems a feeble defence.

In any case, I read the book. He wrote a more academic book, Maps of Meaning and openly talks about the lessons he learnt from that, making this one a more popular and accessible read. That said, it’s not for those with a lack of concentration. There is a lot of philosophy in here and he doesn’t always do a good job of explaining what he means. Other parts are just a ramble.

He talks about hierarchies and how they are inescapable. Why? Because lobsters have them. And we’re only very distantly related to lobsters. Which is true. But then we also see a lot of rape and killing in the animal kingdom. Should we also accept these things are inevitable and just live with it? I see no such reason to be pessimistic. Society has been an incredibly powerful tool in overcoming these evils. Of course, we should strive to find a way that is compatible with human nature rather than fighting against it. But we often already do this.

Many of his rules I am on board with. Telling the truth, even when hard, is something I strive for. Sam Harris makes a similar argument in Lying. Pursuing what is meaningful in the long-term is another great rule. And assuming the person you are talking to knows something you don’t is good advice for anyone who doesn’t want to look really stupid at a later point in the conversation.

I think this is a book for fans. Peterson rose to prominence because he sticks by the evidence, even when the left tried to make that politically unsayable. And he continues to do that in this book. But he goes beyond that into ideology. And in a way so complicated that you have to like him to bother to keep reading.

Dietland

Thursday, May 16th, 2019 | Books

Dietland is a novel by Sarai Walker. It follows the adventure of an overweight protagonist as she explores the weight loss industry and has since been made into a TV series.

I tried to give it a good go but ultimately I couldn’t get into it. As an observational piece on the way society treats overweight people, it is very astute. However, as a piece of storytelling, it’s not so good and seemed to walk the line between a real-world novel and fantasy reality in a way that really jarred with me. I couldn’t quite suspend my disbelief.

Slow Cook Book

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018 | Books, Food

The Slow Cook Book is a cookbook by Heather Whinney. It contains hundreds of recipes and all of them come with instructions for how to do it in a slow cooker, or using a more traditional method. This feature is great when you forget to put your slow cooker on and need to cook your dinner in a lot less time.

Some of the recipes are a little involved: there is 15-20 minutes of prep and pre-cooking in a pan before you put it into the cooker. However, once you get used to this and plan for it, it’s not too much hassle and comes in a predictable format.

The recipes are tasty. However, as is a problem with most slow cooker recipes, they tend to be very liquidy. And there is a lot of them. We’ve been doing one a week for probably over a year and still haven’t got the end.

Shoe Dog

Sunday, July 1st, 2018 | Books

Shoe Dog is a 2016 memoir by Phil Knight, founder of Nike.

Most of the story focuses on the early days, from just before he founded Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964 to when he took Nike public in 1980. It feels like a true entrepreneurs story, grinding it out from selling trainers out of the back of his car, through the almost-bankruptcies and endless crises and eventual triumph.

It paints Nike in a good picture. They innovated, brought new shoes to the market, changed the industry. But then, any memoir is likely to do that. If you read Grinding It Out, Ray Kroc comes over as lovely guy. But I guess I want to believe because I genuinely love the stuff Nike makes. I’ve tried running in other people’s shoes and they’re not as comfortable.

When I bought my Nike holdall, it came with a label saying “we’ve been there since the beginning. For as long as we’ve been making shoes, we’ve been making bags.” I’m sure this is 100% true and not just a strategy to ward off buyer’s remorse. But it is weird that Knight didn’t mention bags anywhere in his book, even though he did talk about the launch of their apparel launch long after he had started selling shoes.

If you’re interested in the story of Nike, or you like tales of entrepreneurship, this is a good read. Otherwise, you’re probably not going to get much out of it.

Orange Is the New Black (book)

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018 | Books

I recently wrote about the TV show Orange Is the New Black. It’s based on a book by Piper Kerman, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, which is a memoir of the time she served at Danbury prison camp.

Her memoir is way less exciting than the TV series. There is no starving out, no trips to the SHU and no riots. That’s no surprise, of course, as the show is a drama and not a documentary. However, many of the shows features are easy to connect back to the book.

You don’t get long detailed descriptions of what happened. You do get character development though, as Kerman comes to terms with the harm caused to so many communities by the drug trade. Overall, its an okay read. It maintained my interest throughout, but I wasn’t desperate to read the next chapter so I wouldn’t recommend it as a “must read”.

Ken Hom’s Complete Chinese Cookbook

Sunday, June 10th, 2018 | Books, Food

We’ve really enjoyed Ken Hom’s cookbook. We’ve been working our way through the 60-odd recipes we thought looked tasty over the past three or fours months and can now conclusively say that it is a winner.

All of the recipes have been easy to follow. A lot of them start the same way: by chopping up some meat and marinating it in a mixture of sesame oil, rice wine, soy sauce and corn flour. Then typically stir-fried with a variety of other ingredients.

If you’re looking for authentic Chinese food, this isn’t the book for you. The recipes are Westernised, which makes them both easy to cook and very tasty.

Sweet and sour pork.

Chicken and sweetcorn soup. It should have been chicken and spinach soup, but I cooked all of the spinach the day before and had to rely on stereotypes to fill in the blank.

Chicken with sesame seeds.

Braised fish.

The 50 Best Tips Ever for Triathlon

Saturday, June 9th, 2018 | Books

The 50 Best Tips EVER for Triathlon Swimming, Biking and Running is a book by Scott Welle. Welle is a motivational speaker and has completed half a dozen Ironman triathlon as well as ultramarathons and many other events.

I took some useful advice away from this book.

Welle argues that you should take it really easy up a hill and go as fast as you can down. Typically, you would think of climbing as hard and descending as some recovery time. But he points out that going 10% faster up a hill is not much faster, whereas 10% faster when descending makes a big difference.

He also argues that transition is not that important because it is so little of your time overall. It’s not that he suggests you ignore it: he does suggest some planning and rehearsal. But he argues you aren’t going to make big gains here because it’s such a small percentage of your race overall.

He shuns all the fancy bike accessories you can buy, except for some wheels and an aero helmet. The only essential you need after buying a good bike is a proper bike fit. And he shuns junk miles: everything should be really easy or really hard. Ideally, some of it should be on grass to be easier on the body.

Nutrition wise, he suggests eating 200-300 kcals per hour you will be racing. So, two hours before, take on 400-600 kcals of carbs, no protein, fibre or fat. During exercise, 200-400 kcals per hour depending on your body weight. And for recovery, use a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein.