Another Book I’m Reading

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, by Mary Roach

I just started reading this, and asterisks twinkle sporadically throughout the text. Because the content is so interesting and the style is so quirky, it’s actually quite hard to not look toward the bottom of the page to see what the asterisks mean.

So far, the book is about eating. Later on, I’m sure the book will also be about pooping, because that’s a part of the “adventures” in the title. I’m currently in a chapter about how organs are very, very nutritious and American culture grimaces at the thought of eating narwhal skin, for example.

But, footnotes. Chapter 3–entitled “Liver and Opinions”–describes an experiment where scientists served children 16- to 29-months different things to taste, for “until kids are around two, you can get them to try pretty much anything.” Among the lowest-accepted items was human hair. An asterisk bedazzled the word hair, so I rushed to read the corresponding footnote and now I have to share it with you. If you’re squeamish, I suggest you ignore it, but if you can detach, here you go:

Compulsive hair-eaters wind up with trichobezoars–human hairballs. The biggest ones extend from stomach into intestine and look like otters or big hairy turds and require removal by stunned surgeons who run for their cameras and publish the pictures in medical journal articles about “Rapunzel Syndrome.” Bonus points for reading this footnote on April 27, National Hairball Awareness Day.

I read that last sentence and felt I’d missed out on serious bonus points. Still, I feel that I shouldn’t be giving myself so much credit for reading a book with so much  gross-out potential, because it’s actually a lot of fun to read. If you’re in the mood for some fun science writing and need a break from dense literature (like I do), check out this book.

Back to reading before dinner.


Well, some questions have crept up among friends in the time I’ve lived here. It’s kind of pointless posting polls, considering my readership is almost solely friends that I know here in the city. The same four friends. But maybe you’ll pass the questions along, because I’m trying to gather enough data for … something.

You’ll be able to tell right off how important these questions are. Just trying to see exactly how strong your opinions are. If you want, justify your votes in the comments.

Have you ever had the Oreo cookie conversation with me? How do you feel about the cream (creme) in the middle? What do you prefer, the perfect proportions of the regular, or peeling a layer of wax and/or lard from your tongue from the Double Stuf? Also, how do you dunk your cookies? Discuss.


Periodic Table of Girl Scout Cookies

Scene: My cubicle. Afternoon. Various papers and files lying in piles, some neat, some not so neat. Computer. Two monitors. Keyboard. Mouse. An old color copy of the periodic table hangs from two clips stuck in the fabric walls.

Hey, May. So, you wanna order Girl Scout Cookies?

Without a moment’s hesitation and with a slight smirk, Yes, please.


You have a periodic table?

Yes, but I haven’t looked at it in a long time.

I look at the order form. They have new dulce de leche cookies.

What’s the symbol for …

Come on, it’s been since high school.

… gold?


… silver?


… copper?

Cu, as I check off a box of Samoas

… iron?


… tungsten?

I roll my eyes. W. I want tagalongs, too.

… lead?


… tin?

Sn. I check off 1 box of the classic Thin Mints.


Okay, I’m done with my order. Three boxes.



I appreciate that he tried asking me the “hard” ones, where the letters of the symbols don’t exactly correspond to the English names of the elements.

The periodic table has nice, straight lines, a neat, orderly structure according to valance shells. Especially reactive elements on the sides, the inert gases on the far right side. Hi, noble gases!

The Girl Scout Cookie order form wasn’t too dissimilar. A lot of the same colors as the periodic table. Beautiful pictures of the cookies to the left with perfect descriptions beneath them. The ordering grid on the right: write your name on the blank , write the number of boxes you want under the cookie names, and try not to have that number greater than 1, or maybe two. I held it to one box each of three kinds of cookies. Restraint, people.

Mendeleev. He or his people probably created the Girl Scout Cookie order form. And I couldn’t help but order three boxes of cookies WHILE rattling off the correct symbols of elements from the periodic table. Brilliant, I tell you. Simply brilliant.

Good Enough for Me

It is a fairly well-known fact that cookies are one of my all-time favorite foods. I’m not a cookie expert or a cookie connoisseur; I’m probably at the bottom rung of cookie enthusiasts. But I love cookies. For the most part, I haven’t met a cookie I didn’t like. What’s not to like about them, first of all. Sugar and butter and flour, a pinch of salt and some vanilla, then whatever else you want. Then they’re portable. Then just one can be a single serving, or a few, or dozens. Whatever satisfies you in one sitting. Whatever your mood.

Like I said, for the most part, I haven’t met a cookie I didn’t like, with the exception being a couple of weeks ago. It was in the shape of a candy cane. Two strips of dough twisted together, with one of the strips dyed red for effect and then the whole braid bent like a crook. When the cookie was in the oven, I assume it flattened and the cane took on a certain thick, squatty cuteness.

It was part of a pile of cookies of similar coloration and shape. This pile was on a cookie tray, and the cookie tray was on a table of at least a dozen other types of desserts and an assortment of cookies. The dessert table was the centerpiece of a party. The party was about to end, and the host encouraged everyone to pack a goody bag.

The goody bags were blue cellophane. I took a couple of red velvet mini cupcakes, a couple of peanut butter cookies with a chocolate kiss on top, a couple of Christmas tree shaped sugar cookies, and the candy cane cookie.

The bag made it home. But I dug into it within a few minutes of closing the door behind me. All the other cookies were good. Quite good. Then came the offense to my palate I can never forgive. It was a crime against cookies I’d never expected in my life’s experience with cookies. It didn’t taste right. It was bitter. Then the aftertaste was worse. It made me a little sad.

To be fair, it wasn’t the cookie’s fault it tasted weird. It would have been fine as a regular sugar cookie, but it also had a slight mint flavor. It could have been the food coloring that reacted with the mint extract that made a poor cookie, or because it wasn’t a chocolate cookie the mint was an unwise choice from the beginning. A simple frosting would have done the trick.

All I know is I couldn’t finish the cookie. A single cookie. That’s just wrong. I’ve never not finished a single cookie. I’ve turned down more cookies, but I’ve always been able to eat an entire cookie. A. One. Singular. How traumatic. How shameful.

It’s a shame that my first truly negative cookie experience was a Christmas cookie. All the gingersnaps and chocolate peppermint chocolate chip and decorated sugar cookies and lemon bars and fudge come out of hibernation and into their full glory during the holidays. It’s as if maybe someone tried sneaking the candy cane cookie travesty into the mix of awesome cookies, thinking no one would know the difference. Or maybe someone thought they’d give that cookie a second chance to fulfill its purpose. Or maybe someone thought those cookies were actually quite good and maybe I’m just a cookie snob.

I doubt it.

Oh, cookie that looks like a candy cane and wants to taste like a candy cane but cannot succeed because it tastes like dirt or minty sweatsocks, I’m sorry, but it’s time to retire.