Reading may seem like a solitary pleasure, but we do not believe it is so. As we read, we intimately interact with writers, the worlds they create, and our own inner selves as well as the real world that surrounds us. Some of us are also blessed enough to have friends to share the experience with.

While discussing the idyllic village of Three Pines and the captivating characters author Louise Penny created in the Inspector Gamache books, we were aware of the sensory pleasure to be had in the meals described. Olivier’s Bistro, Gabri’s baking, and dinners at the Morrow’s can easily make us salivate while reading the books… Louise Penny's books, are a wonderful entrée into a sensual world, where each book is a season, capturing its mood and flavours, and contributing to the layers of meaning about the characters, who are marvellously revealed over the series.

At one point, a daydream of going through the series with a notebook in hand, writing down all these meals and later cooking them, took shape. This is our "notebook". We hope you enjoy this literary-culinary-sensory-philosophical journey.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Coffee and coming full circle

by Amy

Our first blog was about coffee, croissants, and friends who listen, encourage and empower us.

I wrote about croissants and promised to write about coffee at some other point in time.

It seems fit that as I feel the blog winding down, and am preparing to say goodbye, the coffee is what I have come back to.

When I wrote that first post, a year and a half ago, I didn't drink coffee. Now I do. Too much of it maybe.

I always thought coffee was for grownups. I'd drink soda, sparkly water, water, fruity teas... not coffee.

I may have grown up in more ways than one, then. I love coffee. And black tea with a splash of milk and maybe even a spoon of sugar when I'm indulging myself. And lattes. And cappuccinos. And... I'm sure you get the picture.

This blog has been a gift in finding my voice and in learning to listen to myself.

The first post has Clara and Jane sitting in a cafe and Jane is telling Clara about her aspirations, whispering, because telling another means she will no longer be able to hide it from herself. Confession of a dream or an aspiration brings both the joy of sharing a dream, but also the accountability inherent in having someone else know...

This blog has been a place where I have shared aspirations and dreams and goals. Lofty ones. Like:

"But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs." (Middlemarch - George Elliot)

It has been a place to stretch my muscles and seek my voice.

It has been a place I have come to to hear myself and to read myself and to try to reach into those recesses that I would rather pretend did not exist. I usually need to "think out loud". This blog was a place where I was allowed to think out loud and I very much appreciate it.

"I'd like to know your thoughts."
She said, "I'm still thinking. Maybe I'll tell you when I'm done."
He laughed. "I'll look forward to it. But you might never get done, you know. Thinking is endless." (Lila - Marilynne Robinson)

Thank you for sharing this journey.

I have learned SO much about food. I went from barely being able to cook and cooking only occasionally to now being competent in the kitchen (nothing like Libby, but I can feed people much better now!).

I have learned so much more about myself. I may like myself less sometimes (you can't un-know your darkness once you face it), but I think I love myself more. In coming to terms with my humanity, I have been learning to find the strength that comes from weakness, imperfection, and Grace.

Thank you for cheering me on throughout this journey... and for your encouragement and listening ear.

I think this is goodbye - at least for now.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Running Late...

Hi everyone!

I'm running late with the blog this week. I have a (very) full house this week (4 houseguests, among other things) and have not had time to make any of the (few) meals left in our list.

I will post the pictures of the chicken casserole which I made last night although this one was a little dryer than usual since I kind of ran out of cream and milk. It was still yummy and we had no leftovers as usual.
Before Baking

After baking. This one was slightly dryer since I had less cream and more breadcrumbs. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Chicken Casserole

by Amy

I unforgivably forgot to take pictures. THREE times. I make this casserole frequently and it's always a hit. I keep forgetting to take pictures, though, because it's just one of those "I'll-make-this-because-I-don't-know-what-else-I-should-make-tonight" meals. Do you have any of those?

Finally Gilles shook his head."People have been trying to get it for years. Legal or bootleg. It just can't be done. Désolé."
And that is how Gamache felt, as he thanked Gilles and walked away.
"Well?" asked Thérèse. 
"He says it can't be done."
"He just doesn't want to do it," said Superintendent Brunel. "We can find someone else."
Gamache explained about the wind, and saw her slowly accept the truth. Giles wasn't being willful, he was being realistic. 

Some things really can't be done.

It's a hard lesson to teach our children. It's a hard lesson to teach ourselves.

Some things simply won't work. Won't happen. No matter how much we will it to be true.

What they wanted of Gilles was impossible.

Giles started at her as though she'd suggested something disgusting. "Why these questions?"
"Just curious."
"Don't treat me like a fool, madame. You're more than just curious." He looked from the Brunels to Gamache.
"We'd never ask you to cut down a tree, or even hurt one," said the Chief. "We just want to know if the tallest trees up there can be climbed."
"Not by me, they can't." Gilles snapped. 

What they ask is impossible.

What they don't know is that they're asking for the wrong thing.

It's so easy, in fiction, to spot miscommunication. Countless novels are based on precisely that premise. One character says one thing, thinking the other understands what he means and the other construes a whole other meaning to it. Romance novels use it as a means to "keep characters apart" until they work through and beyond the big misunderstanding. Mysteries use them as red herrings or even ways to stall evidence from being used. It's there, but not understood by either character or reader.

In this particular book, HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN, it happens when Constance makes her revelation and no one understands what she has said. She believes she has unveiled the secret that has been kept hidden for decades. It remains a mystery until after her death. It was a hard one to crack.

If only that were limited to fiction.

Communication is not just about what we say. It's about what the other understands, interprets and answers (based on their understanding) and how we understand and interpret their answer based on what we think we said (which may not be what they heard), what we think they know (which they might not) and what we ourselves think.

Have I confused you, yet?

The trick to good communication is learning when to take a moment, step back, and reassess what we think we know. In talking to a friend yesterday, she relayed a conversation she'd had in the past weeks where she realized she was interpreting someone's words one way, when they could be meant another. This friend is mature enough to have approached the person to say, "When you said this, this is what I heard. Could you please just confirm or deny that I've understood what you meant so I don't misconstrue what we are talking about?"

Therese Brunel, in this scene, was unwilling to give Gilles much information at all. Based on her questions, he was feeling slightly offended and exposed and had no real reason to cooperate. Gamache, on the other hand, chose to share a little bit more of what he needed. While he didn't reveal more than he could or should, he gave Gilles enough information to tell him what he really needed (access to the Internet) as opposed to what he wanted from Gilles in order to put his own plan into action. Because Gamache was willing to share the bigger goal and not just "need to know" information, Gilles was able to come up with a solution.

Gamache felt a hand on his elbow and was drawn by Gilles into a far corner of the kitchen. "I think I know how to connect you to the Internet." The woodsman's eyes were bright."
Human interaction is fascinating, miraculous, beautiful and so fulfilling.

It's also frequently confusing and so easy to mess up.

I think that's part of being kind and empathetic and understanding and, I suppose, grown up. Giving ourselves - and those around us - a chance to rephrase or explain before we react. Listening to the meaning more than the words. Straining for that which is between the lines and unspoken. Giving others the benefit of the doubt when their words seem hurtful. Remembering that the meaning we give to words and interactions is tinted by the hue of our past interactions, our feelings, and our goals.

I hope you've all had a lovely Holiday season and are enjoying this new year.

The casserole was in the oven and they could smell the rosemary chicken. 
My casserole doesn't have rosemary in it... but I'm going to try to add some next time. I'm pretty sure it would end up well.

Chicken Casserole

Cubed or shredded chicken (quick boil/cook before placing in casserole dish or canned chicken works, too)
Cream Cheese
Onion Soup Mix (I use two packages)
Whipping Cream or Half and Half
Corn (1 can)
Milk, if needed

This isn't the original recipe. This is as close as I can get using American ingredients. If I don't have cream, I just add milk, but less of it. If I don't have cream cheese, I just add lots of shredded parmesan (cream cheese tastes better here, though). Sometimes I add breadcrumbs and/or grated parmesan over it all before baking.

Place chicken (about 4 breasts) in dish. Mix other ingredients in blender or food processor. Pour over chicken (it should be a thick mixture). Bake at about 375oF for about 30 to 40 minutes.

I serve it with rice and shoestring fries.

I have yet to find someone who doesn't enjoy it.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Soup & Writing your Soul

By Amy

Within moments they were eating soup, baguette and watching Les Canadiens slaughter New York.“Too salty,” snapped Gilbert. “I told Carole not to put so much salt in the food.”
“Tastes fine to me.”
“Then you have no taste. Raised on poutine and burgers.”
Beauvoir looked at Dr. Gilbert expecting to see a smile. Instead his handsome face was sour, angry. Entitled, petulant, petty.The asshole was back. Or, more likely, had been there all along in deceptively easy company with the saint.

Dr. Gilbert is such an interesting character. He is an example of how intelligence, sensitivity, knowledge, understanding, and kindness aren’t always enough.
Is it just me? Or does everyone snack while they cook? One of my favorites - a spread of Greek yogurt + mustard, tomato & a sprinkle of basil, then toasted in the oven for about 10 minutes. Mmmmmm...

And Beauvoir knew then the man was a saint. He’d been touched by any number of medical men and women. All healers, all well intentioned, some kind, some rough. All made it clear that they wanted him to live, but none had made him feel that his life was precious, was worth saving, was worth something.Vincent Gilbert did. His healing went beyond the flesh, beyond the blood. Beyond the bones.

He is a brilliant, genius, sensitive, and caring physician. He’s a saint.

He’s also arrogant, curt, irritated, difficult to please, rude, and probably impossible to live with. He’s an asshole.

I think he’s a fascinating character because he reminds me of all those people who, with the best of intentions, trod over everyone around them. He reminds me of all the people who are idealists, but oftentimes too egotistical to live up to those ideals in everyday life. He is a caricature, an exaggeration, of what most of us are. What I am. Wishing to be kind, empathetic, patient, and understanding. But frequently messing up because our own feelings and impulses and needs get in the way.

He’s FINE. Ruth’s FINE, that is (Fucked up, Insegure, Neurotic, and Egotistical).

(I still think I should make some kind of artsy sign with “I’m FINE” printed on it.)

Vincent Gilbert grew. He changed. We only hear of the “before”  version and see the “new and improved” one. Even the new and improved version is, frequently, more of an asshole than a saint. The difference, I think, is that he knows it.

In the books, we are told that Gilbert wrote about his process, his journey, and his insight. It was, according to Gamache, an inspired and inspiring book: BEING. Louise Penny mentions (somewhere, I can’t find it) that the inspiration came partly from Jean Vanier’s book BECOMING HUMAN which is, in fact, an inspiring book.

This post is our 80th post. The 80th attempt to blog (literally) through literature and food and try to contemplate questions of the soul. The 80th time we share our process, our journey, and our insight. And there’s really nothing new about any of what we have written…

I have become increasingly aware that one of the magical aspects of reading is its humbling power. No matter how brilliant I think an idea is, someone else has already thought of it before I did, written it or phrased it more eloquently, or lived it more intensely.

Reading has long been an addiction. Interpreting, learning, and understanding my own life and my thoughts using the books I have read or am reading has also been something I’ve done ever since I can remember. Writing about what I read and trying to elaborate, cohesive posts about my scattered thoughts is what has been new.

I began thinking it would be a way to explore the food. I quickly realized it would be a way to explore myself. I thank those who encouraged us. I thank Libby for joining me. I thank all of you who read and follow… And I’d like to confess that I think we might be reaching a phase where there is less to say without being overly repetitive. I’m not yet saying goodbye, but I am announcing that I’m not quite sure how long we will keep the blog going. I has been, to me, a sort of public form of journaling and has kept me accountable (if only to myself) to organize my thoughts at least once a week.

I hope that I have been more successful than Dr. Vincent at applying what I have been learning. I know there is still much to contemplate and to learn… and so much room for growth.

I made a soup which I’m sure Vincent Gilbert would not have appreciated it. He seems to always be irritated at something anyway, right? This one was a tortellini soup with Italian sausage meatballs. It could be made as a vegetarian soup by simply removing the meatballs, as the author of the original recipe suggested. I made minor changes to adjust to ingredients I had at hand, but basically stuck to her recipe, so I’ll just add the link (Tortellini Soup).

I thought it was so good I actually made it a second time within the week.

I wish you all a wonderful weekend and a wonderful year in 2017. May we all build on our past experiences, learn from our mistakes, emphasize our strengths and qualities, grasp opportunities, forgive our errors, find meaning in our sorrows, embrace our differences, cherish our loved ones, and listen.

My main goal for 2017 is to try to be the best version of myself that I can, to forgive myself for all the things I am not and learn to unconditionally love all that I am. My goal is to listen and try to place myself in others' shoes and to resist the urge to only see and tell things from my perspective and understanding. My goal is to allow myself words, but also to be wary of them and aware of their power and my power when I wield them so I take care to use them wisely. My goal is to change the world by focusing on changing myself. To love, starting with those who are closest (and frequently hardest to love). To listen. And to be kind.

Also, to eat lots of soup this winter. I do love soup.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Friday, December 23, 2016

Chocolate Truffles (kind of) and Overlooked Love

by Amy

Chef Véronique was putting hand-made truffles and chocolate-dipped candied fruit on small plates. Her sausage fingers instinctively placed the confections in an artistic pattern. She took a sprig of mint from the glass, shook the water from it and clipped a few leaves with her nails. Absently she chose some edible flowers from her vase and before long a few chocolates had become a lovely design on the white plate.

Some people have a talent for creating beautiful. Chef Véronique does. My sister does. She takes the simplest, most unassuming things and suddenly they’re art or decoration or magic.

I’m artistically challenged. I can tell when it’s good. I can sometimes imitate an idea. But my things never have that flair or “instinctive” placement that Chef Véronique manages effortlessly.

“He needs to know who’s in charge,” said Pierre firmly.“He does know. He just doesn’t like it.”The maître d’ had had a hard day, she could see. She took the largest truffle from the tray and handed it to him.
He ate it absently.”

He ate it absently.

That line kind of breaks my heart. The truffle itself wasn’t where her effort was. It was time-consuming, but she was good enough at what she did that it wasn’t really an effort or a hardship in and of itself. What is a little heartbreaking is that for years, decades, they’d worked together and she had offered him the best of her food, her listening ear, her support, her council, and her unrequited love. And he didn’t really seem to notice. Any of it.

Pierre sipped, and nodded. It was relaxing begin around Chef Véronique, though he knew she scared the crap out of the new employees. She was huge and beefy, her face like a pumpkin and her voice like a root vegetable. And she had knives. Lots of them. And cleavers and cast-iron pans.

And here’s why, sometimes, fiction is more soothing than real life. We know, because we glimpse into Pierre’s head, that he does appreciate her and consciously seeks her out as a relaxing and comforting safe place. I’m not sure she realizes how he feels. While he isn’t even close to being in love with her – or as selflessly dedicated to her as she would be to him – he does notice and value their friendship and working partnership. He just doesn’t always show it.

The world is full of Chef Véroniques. Full of them.

They are the amazing people who are in the background, making things beautiful and safe and soothing and comfortable. These are the people whose love and effort is frequently overlooked – although we are drawn to them and the havens they create. I know that all the Chef Véroniques have been doing overtime in the “backstage” of Holiday preparations. Communities, families, and friends will all benefit from their talents, their efforts, and the magical things they do. Individuals will be touched because these Véroniques care enough to pay attention to moods and needs and be attuned to big and small sufferings, and they will give of their time and shower those around them with their offerings. These things that are sometimes classified as superfluous or unimportant. They aren’t. Things like flowers and chocolates, decorations, extra hugs, cards that say I appreciate you, and smiles freely given are the little magical things that give us the comfort of feeling cherished and loved.

I’m sure many of you have been channeling your inner Véroniques this holiday season.

May we also appreciate the Véroniques in our lives and thank them for their tireless – and important – work.

These aren’t truffles. They’re Brazilian chocolate candies called brigadeiros.

The “original” is made with sweet chocolate powder like Nescau or Nesquick and rolled in chocolate sprinkles. I like making it with dark cacao powder. Usually mine isn’t rolled into balls unless it’s for company or gifting. I’d just spoon some off the plate like peanut butter.


Stir until bubbly like this. Then keep stirring until thick and kind of "loose" off bottom of pan.

Set aside to cool before rolling. Unless you're making it for yourself and want to just to eat a warm spoonful...

You can be creative with toppings. Sprinkles are traditional, but I like nuts best.

Preparing to spread holiday cheer. ;)

-          1 tablespoon of butter
-          2 tablespoons of dark chocolate powder
-          1 can of sweet condensed milk

Pour everything into a pan over medium heat. Stir until butter melts. Continue to stir occasionally until it starts bubbling. Then stir continuously until it starts thickening and loosening from bottom of pan. Let it cool. Roll into balls and roll on almond flour, crushed nuts, chocolate sprinkles or cacao nibs. Enjoy!

I made some as gifts for our new neighbors (we just moved to a new house in a great neighborhood) and to wish them Happy Holidays.