The Oxford Companion to Food (2nd edition, Oxford) is an extremely dangerous book. Imagine that you are preparing an Indian-themed dinner for a group of friends, inspired by recipes in Vij’s, Vikram Vij’s new cookbook. The recipe for Sautéed Brussels Sprouts, Red Bell Peppers, Paneer and Cashews on page 50 calls for 3/4 tsp of asafoetida, a small tin of which you’ve managed to secure. But with your culinary reputation on the line you start to wonder just what asafoetida is, and what effect an accidental excess of it might have upon your guests. So you turn to the Companion and discover that asafoetida is “a dried gum resin which is obtained from the rhizome or taproots of some of the species of the giant fennels.” This leads—naturally—to the article on fennel itself; a chain of references leads you even further astray: to articles on anise, dragées, marzipan and simnel cakes. And then the doorbell rings to announce your guests, who are downcast to learn that dinner will now be served at 10:00 instead of 8:00. Or perhaps you’re racing to finish Timothy Taylor’s novel, Stanley Park, the day before your book club meets, and you come upon a reference to an obscure recipe ingredient in Chapter 7. Perplexed, you consult the Companion. When you finally look up you are aghast to find that four hours have passed and that you will—again—be going to work tomorrow with bags beneath your eyes. Endlessly digressive, jammed with fascinating information, leading inevitably to procrastination. Dangerous, yes; but a resource like this is worth the risk.