Monday, November 25, 2013

Pei Mei's Home Style Chinese Cooking by Fu Pei Mei and Angela Cheng.

Pei Mei's Home Style Chinese Cooking by Fu Pei Mei and Angela Cheng.  Hardcover book published by Fu Pei Mei, Taiwan (no date), 135 pages with colour photographs.

“In this book we use the term “Home-Style” cooking. In home-style cooking, one is not as concerned about the appearance of the food and fancy garnishes as we are about the taste and nutritional value of the dishes. Although specific amounts of ingredients are stated in these recipes, you are allowed to vary the measurements according to your individual taste. Flavors of foods in home-style cooking vary depending upon the cooking technique used. If you cook the same food using a different technique, the taste will change. The recipes included in this cookbook are completely different from those found in Pei Mei’s cookbooks Vol. I, II, and III. The 120 recipes included in this book are divided according to the type of ingredients used. Dishes included are simple and economical to prepare. Taste is not too spicy, not too mild.”

Finding this book was one of those moments in this booksellers journey where the discovery of a new title truly excited and invigorated.  When I pulled this book off the shelf and confirmed that it was another title by Pei Mei other than Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book Volume 1, I could barely control my excitement.  I’ve been on the lookout for anything by Pei Mei for a number of years now and have only managed to find many copies of Volume 1… and one other book which from memory was full of Yum Cha recipes… and that’s it.  People that know Pei Mei’s work are always on the look out for Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book Volumes 2 and 3… Good luck.  I’ve been actively looking for years to no avail, which is probably why I got so excited to find this title… or any title other than Volume 1.

So who was Fu Pei Mei?  Besides authoring elusive cook books, she was a celebrity TV chef in Taiwan who managed to clock up 40 years on the telly before retiring and then passing away (2002 and 2004).  I’ve been assured by Chinese speakers and eaters that she was/is a superstar across the Chinese world including it’s diaspora, which is probably why I find so many copies of Volume 1 of the trilogy here is Australia.  Why I don’t find the other volumes is a bit of mystery that I don’t really understand... a bit like most of this youtube clip: 

I’ve attempted a few Pei Mei recipes despite the unappealing photographs that accompany some of the dishes.  This one from Volume 1 was particularly tasty:

I write quite a bit about cookbooks as they are something that I like, particularly anything unusual, appetizing or of interest.  As most of you are probably aware cookbooks can be a can of worms as they often look great whilst being incredibly unpopular with the book buying public.  Finding a new (to me) Pei Mei title is something that does excite me and fulfills my cookbook criteria (unusual, appetizing or of interest)… and it gives me hope in my search for Volumes 2 and 3.  One day.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Select Extra-Tropical Plants, Readily Eligible for Industrial Culture or Naturalisation, with Indications of Their Native Countries and Some of Their Uses by Baron Ferd. Von Mueller, Government Botanist of Victoria.

Select Extra-Tropical Plants, Readily Eligible for Industrial Culture or Naturalisation, with Indications of Their Native Countries and Some of Their Uses by Baron Ferd. Von Mueller, Government Botanist of Victoria. (Baron Sir Ferdinand Jacob Heinrich von Mueller).  Hardcover book (leather binding, gilt edges)(no dust jacket) published by Robt S. Brain Government Printer 1888 Seventh edition revised and enlarged, 517 pages.

Most people here in Victoria know the name Ferdinand von Mueller through his work with The Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, as he had the distinguished honour of being appointed it’s first director in 1857.  This is what I knew him about him when I saw his shiny gold name on the spine… and what a spine it is.  Leather bindings are a real eye catcher and this one practically jumped into my hands before I had even fully digested what it was that I had.  My next step of course was to look around the same location for any other fine leather bindings of any sort.  Unfortunately Mr Mueller was definitely on his lonesome.

Front Cover

I have seen this sort of binding before, mainly when I worked at the Baillieu library at Melbourne University.  They had rooms full of books bound in this and similar styles.  From what I know these sorts of books from this era were often issued in paperback format (there are copies of this title and edition in paperback, floating around the www), and then bound as per the owners wishes.  I think this was to keep a library including personal libraries, uniform in appearance and I guess that’s why the Baillieu has rooms full of books bound like this.  

Baron Sir Ferdinand Jacob Heinrich von Mueller was into his plants.  So into them, that he was able to slap together this compendium of useful information about Extra-Tropical Plants, probably with one hand tied behind his back and the other hand busy weeding his own garden, whilst overseeing the Botanical Garden.  You wonder where he got the time, but I guess if someone isn’t updating their facebook profile or watching cat videos on youtube, then there is plenty of time to write a book.

Von Muellers busy, facebook free, schedule also lead him to Clunes where he “aided the establishment of the plantings” in the park (I can see some of his “plantings” from where I now sit).   I don’t know if he made it here personally or just sent some plants, but what I do know is that Clunes is not “Extra Tropical” in climate* which is what the plants in this book are.  

* Global warming may change this.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pizza Modo Mio by John Lanzafame.

Pizza Modo Mio by John Lanzafame.  Paperback book published by Murdoch Books 2008, 192 pages with colour photographs.

“From traditional toppings and extraordinary bases, calzone and foot-longs, kids’ pizzas and even desserts, John Lanzafame has the pizza world covered. With instructions for all the pizza techniques you need to know, plus a variety of bases, sauces and delicious, sometimes unusual, toppings, Pizza modo mio — ‘my style’ — is the perfect cook’s companion for pizza lovers.”

I love Pizza.  This heartfelt and passionate passion of mine is a recent acquisition.  Before I moved to Clunes, Pizza was not something that I felt strongly about.  I liked Pizza.  It was even something that I enjoyed on a casual infrequent basis, but now that I’m living in a town without Pizza* (takeaway or restaurants), I love it.  Is this because I can’t get it that easily, or is it because I’ve started making my own Pizzas on a more regular basis?

I’m not the world’s greatest cook, but I do enjoy eating things that I’ve managed to slap together and when the taste is vaguely the way it should be, I love it even more.  I’ve have been known to cheat when cooking various dishes by using premixed ingredients such as pastes or ready made pastry, but I think most of us do this to varying degrees.  A good example is Indian food.  As nice as home made curry paste is, I find that many of the ready made, Indian made pastes, are more than up to standard.  Pizza on the other hand is something that I make from scratch.  Yes, I’m a dough man and recently I’ve become a reduced Tomato man as apposed to tomato paste, which is something I’ve used for as long as I can remember.  My dough recipe is something I picked up from some well known cookbooks and is something that works well for me… even when it doesn’t work exactly to plan, it still works.  Toppings vary depending on my mood and tastes… and what’s in the fridge.  Because I eat what I make, I think I’m entitled to add that my Pizza making skills have improved over the last year or two.  I love it.

My spiel here has very little to do with Pizza Modo Mio.  I figured that what I want to convey to you, the reader, is how lovely it is to make your own pizza from scratch which is exactly what this book will show any budding Pizza Chef how to do.  I find it extremely satisfying to put down a large tray of gourmet Pizza in front of unsuspecting guests and watch their surprise when they realise that yours truly has made what’s on offer and Pizza Modo Mio will demonstrate how to achieve this.

* Clunes Population = 1656

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander.

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander.  Hardcover book published by Bloomsbury 1998, 213 pages with black and white photographs.

en·dur·ance - noun : the ability to do something difficult for a long time

I wonder if “The Endurance” was deliberately chosen for Shackleton’s expedition because of it’s name.  You can’t really get a name of a ship to be as apt as this by accident, although I guess any sailing ship was a test of “endurance” back in the early 1900s.

Shackleton was no ice novice when he went to the Antarctic in 1914.  He had visited before, most famously as a member of the Discovery Expedition (1901–03).  Unfortunately he was sent home early due to illness.  This is the sort of thing that could bother you a bit and by all accounts it bothered Shackleton.  So he went back, again and again trying to prove a point (?).  This book looks at what is probably his most famous point seeking adventure, The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914–17).  What it is famous for is that the members endured incredible hardship after their ship got stuck in ice and then got crushed leaving Shackleton and his fellow adventurers stranded in what I’m sure you’re aware, is not a very friendly place… unless you’re a penguin… and even then it’s not that friendly.  So there they were, a long way from home, cold and probably hungry.  After quite a bit more cold and hunger, Shackleton was able to get everyone home alive… that is everyone except for the dogs and cat(s?).  

One of the reasons this expedition has endured in our history, is the incredible images that Australian photographer Frank Hurley managed to snap amidst all the enduring difficulties.  To me they are icons of an age gone by, of an adventure that went horribly wrong and then miraculously sort of fixed itself.  I find it amazing that the ship was breaking apart, they were in the middle of a massive ice flow, a long, long, long way from home, cold and probably hungry and Hurley breaks out his camera (a 1914 camera) and takes some photos of the event.  Amazing.

A number of years ago I went and saw an Imax movie about this expedition.  I enjoyed it a lot.  They used original film footage, photographs and contemporary footage to tell the story.  I think I was a bit dubious before hand, but afterwards I was pleasantly impressed.  It did occur to me though that they had quite a bit of information about the dogs that were with the expedition early in the film and then all of a sudden, the dogs were gone.  The film had a G rating.

One of the dogs that didn't make it.

Finally I want to mention the subject matter of this book in relation to bookshops.  Many years ago Arctic/Antarctic books were much sought after.  Even this bookseller went out searching for books on Antarctica… not to sell… to read.  All of the secondhand bookshops I knew of had small sections entitled Polar Exploration or something like that.  There are a few shops that have hung on to this great tradition, but most of the newer wave of booksellers seem to have discarded the Polar section… at least that’s my observation.  I know from personal experience that in the last few years, no one has asked me for Polar books and therefore a separate section seems superfluous to me.  It could be that people are now less interested in the Poles than they once were.  I could be wrong.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Charging Against Napoleon: Diaries and Letters of Three Hussars 1808-1815 by Eric Hunt. Napoleon Bonaparte: England's Prisoner by Frank Giles.

Charging Against Napoleon: Diaries and Letters of Three Hussars 1808-1815 by Eric Hunt.  Hardcover book published by Leo Cooper 2001, 290 pages with a few black and white photographs, illustrations and maps.

Napoleon Bonaparte: England's Prisoner by Frank Giles.  Hardcover book published by Carroll & Graf 2001, 206 pages with some black and white illustrations.  

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Napoleon (click here) and it probably wont be my last.  I’m sitting here wondering how much do I really know about the short bloke with the funny hat (not pictured above)? Not a lot.  At a few points in my life, I have crossed paths with Napoleon… not him personally, but more his legacy and the memory of his achievements and failures.  I’ll start off with a visit to the V√∂lkerschlachtdenkmal in Leipzig, East Germany (now Germany).

My father was from a small village in Germany and on my first visit to Europe I took it upon myself to visit my ancestral homeland.  Leipzig, being the closest big city, was the starting point for my explorations and any visit to Leipzig wasn’t and isn’t complete with a visit to the V√∂lkerschlachtdenkmal.  It’s a large imposing memorial to the 1813 Battle of Leipzig and commemorates Napoleon's defeat.  In a park nearby there was a small museum (it might still be there) containing a large replica battlefield… sort of like toy soldiers on a large table.  Personally I found the V√∂lkerschlachtdenkmal and it’s dramatic appearance impressive, the little museum was a little boring although I guess it did serve a purpose.  There is something about standing on a former Napoleonic battle field that is a little strange to someone born in Australia.  I guess it has to do with the lack of large scale warfare on Australian soil.*  Needless to say, I did get the point that Napoleon had been there and it’s obviously something I haven’t forgotten.  (I had lunch at a nearby East German workers cafeteria after the visit… which is also something I haven’t forgotten.)

Now for the absurd.  A few years after this visit and I was working in a disturbingly quiet retail business where things at times got incredibly boring during the disturbing quietness.  One of my co workers decided that we needed to spice up our lives and bring a little bit of history to work.  So, he suggested that we each bring a Napoleonic fact to work once a week and discuss.  Looking back, I can’t believe that I agreed on something as stupid as this, although at the time I thought it was a crazy enough idea to go along with it.  This is the sort of thing that you don’t forget about a job and the people you work with.  What I have forgotten is all the Napoleonic facts that we discussed.  They must have been good.

From experience there are quite a few books about the Little Corsican (… less books about East German workers cafeterias). Of the two books that I’m meant to be writing about here, one is directly about him and his time as a prisoner of the British on St Helena which is not the St Helena prison island off the coast of Queensland but rather the Volcanic island in the South Atlantic (… I’m sure the South Atlantic weather is not as nice as Queensland).  Apparently Boney thought he was going to be living peacefully in the English countryside.  Boy, was he in for a shock.  From the minimal Napoleonic facts that I know (or remember), this time that he spent on St Helena is an important part of the Napoleonic legend and I guess that’s why Frank Giles decided to write a book about it.

“Charging Against Napoleon” is a look at Napoleon from the other side of the battlefield and is historically a little bit earlier than the other book. Three officers of the 18th Hussars (British) wrote letters and kept diaries that Eric Hunt has carefully compiled into one readable volume. These guys (excluding Eric Hunt) were there at Waterloo and at the occupation of Paris of which the significance is fairly obvious.  Even if like myself you don’t have all the Napoleonic facts, this is impressive.  I like the fact that this book is based on first hand accounts and if a near Napoleonic virgin like myself is impressed, one can only assume that any au fait Napoleonic reader will get excited by it.

I enjoyed finding these books, they are a nice thing to sell… when they sell.  Based on my past experience they will sell but possibly not on line.

* Excluding the conflict with our indigenous people and brief attacks against Australia during WWII.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Records of the Castlemaine Pioneers.

Records of the Castlemaine Pioneers.  Hardcover book published by Rigby 1972, 236 pages with some black and white photographs and illustrations.

“Every chapter in this book is a true and colourful picture of the uproarious days when Australia was like a great golden magnet. It consists of the recollections of pioneers on the central goldfields of Victoria assembled from the 1880s onwards and here published for the first time.”

Victoria (Australia) was the scene of one of the world’s major goldrushes.  Between 1851 and the late 1860s people came from all over the world to try their hands at gold mining.  An interesting figure is the increase in Melbourne’s population between 1851 and 1854 from 29,000 to 123,000. That’s a big increase in a short amount of time for what was then a small town.  What is even more interesting is that there was no gold in Melbourne (?), Melbourne was just the nearest metropolis to the goldfields… which included Castlemaine.

Not far from where I sit (Clunes), is where the first minute pieces of gold were discovered in 1850 by a Mr. W. Campbell.  He kept this quiet for a while (as you would) but made it public in early 1851 and soon after this there was major mining going on all over Victoria… including Castlemaine, which is not really that far from here.  Any history of any town in this area, usually begins with gold, which is also the reason why you get all those great nineteenth century town halls, banks and post offices in what appear to be sleepy little townships in the middle of nowhere.  Castlemaine is slightly different in that it has maintained a population and size to varying degrees and is still a thriving metropolis compared to many of the smaller less habited towns in the area. 

This book is full of first hand accounts of the goldrush and afterwards.  From experience any local history books of this period are popular and Castlemaine being the historic gold town that is, is no exception.  As soon as I saw this book I figured it would be a seller, if not on line, then definitely in store.  Other books and booklets on Castlemaine have done well for me in the past and this one, whilst not rare, is one that I have not found on a regular basis.