Friday, August 11, 2006

Thank God I am not flying anywhere for the next few weeks
Don't get me wrong, I am not afraid of Islamic fanatics blowing up a plane I'm on, frankly I think even with this security scare airline travel is one of the safest methods of transport; whereas every time I get in my car for a local journey I am at major risk of accident, injury or death - no, what terrifies me is the thought of having to go to an airport or on to a plane without a book to read.

I've always been partial to a good police procedural crime novel. I first read one of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct books when I was 13 (It was 'Cop Hater' in case you are interested). Almost as soon as she started writing I fell upon Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford series, and the same was true of Ian Rankin's Regan books set in Edinburgh where the city is as much a character as the goodies and badies. Since then I have enjoyed so many other police procedurals especially those which are set in far-flung places: Barbara Nadel's books set in Istanbul featuring Inspector Ikman, Donna Leon whose protagonist Commissario Brunetti lives and works in Venice, and Henning Mankell, whose lugubrious hero Inspector Kurt Wallender covers murder and mayhem in southern Sweden. Part of the attraction of these books is that not only are they well written (and well translated when necessary) with a cracking crime tale as their backbone, they also transport me into another country and way of life.
Today I introduce to you - with some excitement - my latest discovery in this genre....roll on drums....Inspector Chen Cao, in 'Death of a Red Heroine' by Qiu Xiaolong. This is the first of the Inspector Chen novels, and I am looking forward to reading the others. Set in in the People's Republic of China in 1990, Chen who is head of the Special Investigations Department in the Shanghai Police has to solve the murder of a young woman who was a "People's Model Worker", is he dealing with a straight forward homicide, or something much more political? China is moving from the restrictions of the Maoist era and post Tiananmen, change is on the way. As someone who has been priviledged to visit China several times since the mid 90s I found it incredibly evocative, and Chen, a poet manqué, plus his side-kick Detective Yu were really well rounded characters who engaged my interest. This book won the Anthony Award for Best First Crime Novel.

What a ghastly, frightening,two days air passengers in the UK have had. I could rant for hours but it would not make me feel any better, and it wouldn't add anything to the acres of printed rants the newspapers have produced. So, inspired by the book I have just finished reading (see above) let me introduce you to an entirely novel ranting concept. In the ancient former southern capital of China, Nanjing, a new bar/restaurant has opened.
The Rising Anger Bar

Wu Gong, the owner was a migrant worker in China (presumably he migrated from the countryside to the city) and knew of the pent up frustration people have. Customers of the bar(a huge proportion are women who work in the "entertainment sector")are encouraged to rant, smash glasses, beat up waiting staff and generally vent their rage. Employees can be paid to dress up as the object of hate - boss, ex-wife, party official. Wow, this is something we need in London, and I suspect New York and L.A. would take it to their hearts!

This weekend my son is going to a Sopranos
supper party, the guests are each taking one course of food to fit the Italian Mafia theme and he has opted to make the ubiquitous dessert, Tiramisu - which means means "Pick me up" in Italian. I have made it many times for special occasion dinners and he loves it. There are many recipes for Tiramisu, but I think the one from the Sainsbury Cookbook by Patricia Lousada to be the most authentic, and it is the recipe I will be giving him to use:

Make a day in advance Serves 8-10

125ml Brandy
125ml Marsala
250ml very strong coffee
32 Savoyard sponge fingers (approx)
3 eggs, separated
3 Tablespoons caster sugar
325g Mascarpone
65g plain dark chocolate, refrigerated

Mix the Brandy and Marsala together and add half of this mixture to the coffee. Place 16 sponge fingers* in the bottom of a large (1.75litre) shallow dish and sprinkle them with half of the coffee mixture.
Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale, and then blend in the Mascarpone and stir in the remaining Brandy/Marsala mix.
Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form and fold them into the Mascarpone mixture.
Spoon half this mixture over the sponge fingers in the dish.
Dip the remaining sponge fingers into the rest of the coffee mixture and place them carefully over the Mascarpone layer in the dish. (Dip them very quickly, as they become soggy and crumbly very easily). Now spread the remaining Mascarpone mixture over them.
Grate the cold chocolate over the top of the dish, covering all the Mascarpone mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

*Buy the big Italian sponge fingers, called Savoy Biscuits.

BTW Tiramisu is about a milllion, zillion calories per portion - unless you've had two or three glasses of white wine in which case the calories don't count and you won't care!

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