Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I am now resident in Beijing, where to my horror I found that all Blogger/ blogs are blocked - as is Facebook and You Tube.  This was certainly not the case back in 2008 and though I know Google and the PRC powers-that-be had a massive falling out back in mid 2009, I can still get gmail and Google ok. Its just the blogs that are blocked. I have not been able to discover why, so the past fortnight has been horribly frustrating. 
Fortunately the DH and I were invited to a party here in BJ last weekend and lots of young computer geeks from the west were there, they are all working for a big computer manufacturer here in China. I asked them about my problem, and they gave me sound advice about acquiring something called a VPN, and recommended various on-line companies. 

The next day I started on my quest to break through the Great Firewall of China, and with a phone-a-friend helping me, I got a VPN all set up and here I am.  Thank god I know El Tel though as it is not as straightforward as it seems and I am not exactly the most technologically adept person.

It is just so bloody frustrating that they blocked Blogger in the first place.


I've read so many books since I last posted on the blog that I scarcely know where to begin. The book that kept me sane when the final days of packing and moving were driving me demented was a book I first read when I was a teenager, and I discovered a copy amongst my late mother-in-law's things when sorting through boxes that were going to be stored.

Desiree by Austrian writer Annemarie Selinko was originaly published in German in 1951. It was translated into English by Arnold Bender and E.W.Dikes and published by the Reprint Society in 1954
Desiree is a romance, and all the more romantic for being based on a true story, and although it is not exactly what one would describe as a great book, it captures the attention and one learns a huge chunk of European history without really trying.
Bernadine Eugenie Desiree Clary was born in 1777. She was the younger daughter of a prosperous silk merchant in Marseille. When she was 16 or 17, after the death of her father, her older brother was arrested by the local branch of the Revolutionary Government, and the good offices of a young Corsican clerk called Joseph Bonaparte helped to secure his release. As a result, Joseph and his brother Napoleon met the Clary family, and quite soon Joseph married Desiree's sister Julie; Napoleon and Desiree fell for one another and when she turned 18 they became formally engaged. Napoleon then went north to Paris where he met and became involved with the charming and sophisticated widow Josephine de Beauharnais. Josephine's husband had been sent to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. Napoleon jilted Desiree and married Josephine.

Some years later Desiree married one of Napoleon's fellow generals, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, and they had a son, Oscar. Napoleon appointed Bernadotte as a Marshal of France, a move he later came to regret. Bernadotte was an inspired military leader, but it meant that he and Desiree spent much of their married lives apart as he was always away on campaign. In 1809 the Swedish parliament offered him the role of heir-presumptive to the Swedish king who was old and childless. He and Desiree renounced their French citizenship and became Crown Prince and Princess of Sweden, though for many years Desiree continued to live in Paris. Eventually when the old King of Sweden died, they became the King and Queen, thus establishing the Royal house of Bernadotte who are the Royal Family of Sweden to this day.

The book which was hugely popular when it came out, was made into a movie starring Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons, which I would now like to track down on DVD. As a teenage girl I just revelled in the romance of it all and paid scant attention to the history, but I found that re-reading the book made me realise how patchy my knowledge of the Napoleonic Empire is, most of what I knew was from a British perspective. As a result I now have a biography of Napoleon and some other books about the period on my 'Must Read' list.



As I am in Beijing and not doing much cooking as yet it seems a bit of a cheek to post a recipe, but I made this for a lunch we had just before we left London. It is always so popular with people who have a sweet tooth. I am told that the concept/recipe originated in a pub in East Sussex called The Hungry Monk back in 1972, though it is so ubiquitous it seems to have been around for ever. I you have some ready-rolled puff pastry in the freezer, and a jar of Dulce de Leche (or a can of condensed milk) you only need a few bananas and some double cream and you can have the whole thing assembled in half an hour.


Serves 6

1 pack (220-250g) ready rolled puff pastry - fresh or frozen
4 or 5 large bananas
1 can/jar of Dulche de Leche (Merchant Gourmet make a good one, and so do Nestles Carnation - look for the tins marked 'Caramel')**
300ml double or whipping cream.
1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Pre-heat the oven to 200C

Lightly grease a 21cm loose bottomed cake tin, press the rolled puff-pastry into the tin so that it comes at least 2cms up the sides, cut off any excess. Prick the base all over with a fork. Line the pastry with some baking parchment or greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for about 20 minutes til the pastry is golden and crisp.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

When cool, place on a serving dish and spread the whole tine of Dulche de Leche over the base of the pie. Slice the bananas and put a double layer over the caramel. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks and spread over the bananas, be generous!
Use a small seive to sprinkle the cocoa powder over the cream to garnish. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Now, how easy was that?!

** If you can't find ready-made Dulche de Leche you can make your own quite easily, but you will have to make it the day before you want to make the pie.
 Put an unopened tin of condensed milk ( NOT evaporated milk) into a saucepan and cover with cold water; bring to the boil and then simmer gently for about 1.5 hours, making sure the water doesn't boil dry.  Remove the tin from the pan and allow to cool completely. It can now be kept in a cupboard until you want to use it. It is  always a good idea to make two tins at the same time, then you have one ready at all times, it keeps virtually indefinately.


Charlotte said...

Glad to have you back! And well done for getting through the firewall.

Judy said...

Glad to see you back on the blogosphere! Have missed your good reviews and recipes--can't wait to check out your latest.