A Meal for Mandelbrot

I was sad to hear that Benoit Mandelbrot passed away last Thursday. A few years ago I asked myself where my obsession with physics came from and although it took a lot of thinking to remember, I finally recalled a day I was visiting the beautiful main branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, looking through the science section for a book on fractals. I did in fact find a beautiful book on the Mandelbrot set, but on my journey to it I also came across a book on string theory, and I was hooked. That’s sort of a roundabout way of expressing my love of fractals, but my point is, like string theory, fractals – and specifically the Mandelbrot set – are one of those things that sort of define me because I love them so much.

I was hoping to find romanesco – a fascinating fractal member of the cauliflower family – at the farmer’s market, as I did last year, all summer and autumn, to no avail. I’d given up, so it seemed like kismet when I found it at Wegmans tonight.

I knew immediately I’d dedicate our meal tonight to Mandelbrot. I don’t really have a recipe for you – I just steamed the romanesco and whisked together a quick sauce – but I took some photos for your geeky pleasure. I guess it’s dorky, but to me this had a lot of symbolism: I find an intense beauty and peace in mathematics and science, and when you combine it with something as simple and nourishing as a vegetable, well, I’m just supremely happy.

The sauce is just some soy sauce, tahini, Dragonfly’s Dry, Bulk Uncheese, water, and lemon juice, whisked and heated until a bit thickened.

In other news, tomorrow is my birthday, but Mark could not wait and made me open my present tonight. (He’s always been like this. He meant to propose to me on Valentine’s Day, but he picked the ring up three days before and ended up proposing that night because he couldn’t stand it.) Our house is rather dark – perhaps I should call it mood lighting – so this picture is lousy, but I got a much-desired iPod dock; this is it blasting my “All Nick (Cave) All the Time” playlist:

The kittens aren’t too sure how they feel about ole Nick (actually, having just read the wonderful Room, I don’t think I can refer to Nick in that manner, it being too close to “Old Nick”).

They’re both pulling some weird “I’m an owl!” thing, and I don’t know WHAT Torticia’s doing in that top picture.

I don’t know if it’s ever come up, but Mark is an amazing artist. This is the tag that was on my present:

I love the cartoons he does of himself, and I think this is the first time Gomez and Torticia have made it into one. (Since I’m sharing, this is my favorite.)

We just got back from Charleston. For any Stone Roses fans, I’ll describe the trip down in verse:
Driving south ’round midnight
Man, I must have been insane
Driving south ’round midnight
In a howling hurricane

It was not good. But once we got there, Charleston was warm, sunny, and full of delicious vegan pizza. And I got to see the following in a swamp!

Six minutes to my birthday, which means I’ll begin receiving a bunch of phone calls from friends singing

I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday
Because you’re evil and you lie
And if you should die
I may feel slightly sad but I won’t cry

…which, yes, is their way of saying they love me.


  1. Lisa Goldstein Kieda Said,

    October 19, 2010 @ 1:18 am

    Renae – what a most wonderful random blog post ever! First of all, Happy Birthday! May your day be filled with laughter & blessings. I have been hearing wonderful things about “Room” but the premise is just too much for me to think about right now. I’m glad it didn’t win the Booker Prize, since I am compelled to read all the Booker Prize winners.

    As you know, my husband is a physicist and I am inspired to find/cook some romanesco for our family. Love the kitten pics. We have four cats, three adult females, and a wonderful 5 month old “Snickers” who loves to fly through the air, mock-attacking her sisters.

    Be well. Enjoy the day. L’Chaim, etc. Lisa G/K

  2. renae Said,

    October 19, 2010 @ 8:05 am

    Lisa, thank you! How funny your kitten’s name is Snickers – that was Torticia’s name when we adopted her!

    The premise of Room is definitely disturbing, though the book is as charming as any book with that premise can be. It is a bit hard to reconcile the charming narrator with the horrible situation he’s in but I enjoyed the book. I also read Booker winners, and usually, leading up to it, some of the long- and short-listed books. (In addition to Room, this year I read Skippy Dies, which I also liked, but WHAT is with all the books written in the present tense this year?!) By the way, I read The Imperfectionists on your recommendation and enjoyed it.

  3. Jain Said,

    October 19, 2010 @ 8:30 am

    This is a great post!
    (especially since it’s recipe-less)

    I figured Torticia was getting blown away by Nick in that first picture.

    Have a wonderful birthday!

  4. Jes Said,

    October 19, 2010 @ 10:55 am

    First, happy happy happy happy birthday!!! I hope you’re having a fantastic day & eating some awesome vegan food for lunch & dinner.

    As for the turtles, le cute! I love them! Yay for a fun Charleston weekend. And the romanesco is perfectly fractalicious 🙂

  5. FoodFeud Said,

    October 19, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

    Hi Renae, I really like this post too – this is my first time stopping by your site (I found it from Shenandoh Vegan) but I decided to see your post because I too was upset at the news of Mandelbrot’s passing for your same reasons.
    The Romanesco looks beautiful; I think that’s always reason enough to buy food.
    I also love all the passing musical references – Stone Roses, The Smiths, and Nick Cave AND vegan food? AND cat photos??? I’ll be back.
    Happy birthday!

  6. susan Said,

    October 19, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

    Happy Happy,,,what sweet friends you have to sing you such a sweet song

    Torticia looks like she should be on the Bose commercial being blown away by Nick….(maybe it was something by the Birthday Party)

    and my cats get bothered when Nicks donkey song comes on…they run….

  7. Lisa Goldstein Kieda Said,

    October 19, 2010 @ 6:41 pm

    I can’t wait to read “The Finkler Question” by Howard Jacobson. Finally, a Jewish Booker Prize winner (I’m kvelling!). And, it seems to have some humor/levity, also atypical. Here’s the review in today’s NY Times:


    Take care, Lisa G/K

  8. Zoa Said,

    October 19, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

    You are so clever. I’ve never even heard of romanesco, but it is very fractal and now I want some. Lovely pictures, and happy birthday!

  9. allularpunk Said,

    October 20, 2010 @ 1:26 am

    happy birthday! i tried to grow romanesco a couple years back with no luck. i’ve never had it, but it just looks so darned neat! also neat: swamp photos. so cool.

  10. kibbles Said,

    October 20, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

    Happy Birthday! I love the kitty cartoon! It makes me smile a ton because I am the artist in my family, always drawing my boyfriend and our cats on everything. Such loving little mementos!

  11. Carolyn Said,

    October 21, 2010 @ 9:56 pm

    It just never ever occurred to me that veggies could be fractals but by golly, Romanesco most certainly is! I actually have purchased seeds for this in the past but never grew any to eating size. On the list for next year’s garden now though, thank you very much!

    And a most happy B-day to a former haunt of the Enoch Pratt Free Library! The last time I was there wasn’t to peruse the fractals section- more likely it was for some paper I didn’t have the slightest interest in writing, but it’s a fab place anyway. Let us pray for our libraries, that they will still be there for our grandchildren…

  12. Jeni Treehugger Said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 6:56 am

    I can’t believe Mandelbrot died and I’ve only just found out via your blog! I think I take the saying “living under a rock” too far….your black cat (Gomez right??) looks soooooo much like my Salem cat it’s ridiculous. I just had a little cry (Salem died 2 years ago).

  13. Josiane Said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

    Oh, I’m late to the party… Happy belated birthday, Renae! Best wishes for the year to come. 🙂
    I’m with you on the romanesco: edible fractals are awesome!

  14. Fanny Said,

    November 4, 2010 @ 6:46 am

    It’s my first time coming across your blog and I have to tell you it’s lovely! Your meals sounds great. And, the top picture of the cat is hilarious. It looks like it’s in heavy wind or something.

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