A vividly told story of a common spice’s uncommon history.

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PEPPER

A HISTORY OF THE WORLD'S MOST INFLUENTIAL SPICE

Science writer and former business reporter Shaffer traces the action-packed, often bloody trail of black pepper from its uses in ancient times as a cure-all to the intense rivalries among the Portuguese, Dutch and English to control the pepper trade in Indonesia to the rise of 19th-century American pepper merchants.

This is not so much a culinary history as it is a compelling account of commerce and power that laid the groundwork for empire building. Common on every household table today, pepper was more valuable than gold or silver in the Middle Ages. Europeans loved it, but only the wealthy could afford the pungent seasoning. It wasn’t until the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498 that a sea route to India and China opened up the pepper trade to Europeans, leading to what Shaffer describes as the “pernicious twined branches, colonialism and imperialism,” perpetuated by the English and Dutch East India companies. Using first-person accounts from journals and ships’ logs, Shaffer crafts a textured story of exploration, danger, wealth and greed. Readers will find adventures on the high seas, pirates, ambitious Jesuits, sultans living in opulence and the plunder of what was once considered a “Garden of Eden.” Like all good stories, Shaffer’s has its honorable and dishonorable characters, including the English pirate William Dampier, who couldn’t stomach the cruel treatment of the “Malayans” by the British; Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the “brutal governor-general” of the Dutch trading company; and the English traveler Peter Mundy, whose journals and drawings captured the people and exotic beauty of Sumatra. The author also discusses the botanical and medicinal characteristics of the pepper plant. The included maps are most welcome, but some readers may also want a current world map at hand for reference.

A vividly told story of a common spice’s uncommon history.

Pub Date: April 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-56989-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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