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, 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.

Brigadeiro

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. ;)


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

Instructions:
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. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Salmon en Croute -- The Abuses of Power

by Libby



Francoeur cut through the puff pastry of his salmon en croute and saw the flaky pink fish, with watercress on top. Lemon and tarragon butter dripped out of the pastry. (How the Light Gets In, Kindle, p. 258)

Sylvain Francoeur is dining with a companion whose identity is not revealed. It is someone in a position of power to whom Francoeur reports, and who is even more dangerous. I can remember thinking how wrong it seemed that such fine food, so evocatively described, should be savoured by such odious characters. The fine food and fine dining experience contrasts starkly with the corrupt and sinister air surrounding the two diners.

In the brief snapshot of this meal we learn that the two men are anticipating the culmination of a conspiracy hatched thirty years earlier. Any possible threat to their ambitions is ruthlessly and cold-bloodedly dispensed with. The demise of Armand Gamache is a necessary event.

They eat their fine food in a fine restaurant and lead their lives, with rottenness at the core, a long, slow ruthless pursuit of power, at any cost, leaving a staggering trail of death and destruction. We learn later that the separation of Québec from Canada is the intended result. It exemplifies where greed for power or money, or opportunity at the expense of others has no limits. There are no morals, only expedience. These are people already with considerable power, whose frightening ambition for more has no boundaries. At their core is a moral vacuum.

It's not hard to extrapolate some of this to the behaviour of individuals, groups, corporations and governments that will do almost anything to shore up power, wealth and vested interests; protect or advance their ambitions, meet their targets and bottom lines, behave corruptly, exploit others and often the people and the environments that they should be serving or protecting. Certain interests and groups are served at the expense of others and ethical arguments about rights and responsibilities are of little consideration.

We see it in individuals who are intoxicated by power and wealth, who take what they want with an unerring belief in entitlement, and need for self-aggrandisement. It robs them of any real sense of fairness, empathy and generosity, leaving them to pay only lip service to the fact that others exist, with perhaps less fortunate lives than they. We see it in the way power and wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few at the expense of many, a wealth divide that continues to increase alarmingly.

How the Light Gets In is a study of two types of leaders whose power and influence is in marked contrast. Francoeur and Renard, the Premier of Québec, wield power with no moral or ethical considerations, no constraints to their intended goal. They do what they do because they can get away with it.

Contrasted with this is a man of conscience, Armand Gamache, whose moral duty to those he serves is at the heart of him. His clarity of purpose, his moral compass makes him nothing but tenacious in finding and dealing with the Sûreté's rotten core. But even he is overwhelmed at how brutally deep it festers.
He believed that light would banish the shadows. That kindness was more powerful than cruelty, and that goodness existed, even in the most desperate places. He believed that evil had its limits. ... Chief Inspector Gamache wondered if he could have been wrong all this time. Maybe the darkness sometimes won. Maybe evil had no limits. (How the Light Gets In, Kindle, p. 271)
We wonder at Francoeur and Renard. How could they abuse their power so completely, corrupt the very instrument in place to protect communities over all Québec through law enforcement, the Sûreté, with no moral conscience? 

Abraham Lincoln said:
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Well it seems that power is freeing.
'What power does is that it liberates the true self to emerge. ... More of us walk around with kinds of social norms; we work in groups that exert all pressures on us to conform. Once you get into a position of power, then you can be whoever you are.' (Joe Magee, power researcher and professor of management, New York University)
And it might unleash a beast.

In How the Light Gets In we are reminded of the power of those people of conscience with a moral sense and duty, a social responsibility, who are principled, who are community-minded, who don't just watch but are prepared to intervene, make sacrifices and take risks to defend and protect what they believe in, or those in whom they believe. Motivated by goodness. We have a snapshot of the Three Pine's community as they put aside their fears and band together to help Gamache, the Brunels and Yvette Nichol in their time of greatest need. Their moral fortitude is steadfast.
“Do you know what you’re offering?” Thérèse asked. “A safe place,” said Myrna. “Who doesn’t need that at least once in their lives?” “The people who’re looking for us don’t want a simple chat,” said Thérèse, holding Myrna’s eyes. “They don’t want to negotiate, they don’t even want to threaten us. They want to kill us. And they’ll kill you too, if we’re found in your home. There is no safe place, I’m afraid.” She needed Myrna to understand. Myrna stood before her, clearly frightened, but determined. ... “Armand wouldn’t have brought you here if he didn’t think we’d protect you. “But they’ll still come looking for us.” “We thought so.” “We?” Myrna turned to look at the road and Thérèse followed her glance. Standing on the snow-covered path were Clara, Gabri, Olivier, and Ruth and Rosa. (How the Light Gets In, Kindle, p.339-40)
Viet Thanh Nguyen the American Pulitzer Prize winning novelist (2016 prize for fiction for his debut novel, The Sympathiser) recently wrote about understanding 'the basic paradox at the heart of literature and philosophy'. 'Even as each of us is solitary as a reader or a writer, we are reminded of our shared humanity and our inhumanity.'

Could this not be more evident in Louise Penny's How the Light Gets In?


Salmon en Croute

 


This is rather a special occasion/festive dish, with wonderful contrasts of flavour and texture. It's seriously delicious! Fish baked in an envelope of light, buttery pastry and made succulent with a fragrant herb butter is something worth experiencing. Seriously, there are moments of rapture as it all comes together in a mouthful! And it is really worth making your own pastry, particularly as there are some shortcuts to a brilliant result. This recipe feeds four. And it's not as complicated as it might first seem. Lots can be done ahead of time, including making the pastry and herb butter. I hope my step-by-step descriptions are not too tedious. The photos are meant to be the key to it all!

- 600-700g/1lb5oz-1lb8oz of fresh Atlantic salmon, skinned and pin-boned (I get my fishmonger to do this)
- puff pastry
- watercress or spinach filling
- herb butter
- 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
- sea salt
- cracked black pepper


Rough Puff Pastry

 

This pastry is an easy, shortened version of conventional puff pastry, but I think the result is just as good. It's very easy to make and can be done a day or two ahead of time. It uses equal measures of flour and butter. It's best to work in a cool kitchen as you don't want the butter to melt into the flour as you work. That will reduce the puff and lightness of the pastry.


- 250g/9oz plain flour

- 250g/9oz unsalted cold butter, cut into small cubes

- 125 ml/4fl oz of ice cold water

- 1/2 tbsp fine sea salt









1.  Sieve the flour and salt into a mound on the bench or pastry mat and add the butter.








2.  Lightly work the butter into the flour using your finger tips, ensuring that the pieces of butter stay relatively large.





 

3.  Make a well, add the water and mix in with your hands, to bring all the ingredients together. The flecks of butter should still be obvious.


4.  Wrap in plastic film and chill in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.








5.  Lightly dust the surface with flour and roll out the dough into a rectangle (approx 40x25cm/15x10"). 

Dust with a little flour as you work to prevent sticking. You should still be able to see the pieces of butter in the rolled out dough.







6.  Fold over one end of the dough a third of the way. 

Fold over the other end of the dough on top of that. This is called the first turn.











7.  Turn the dough 90 degrees and then roll it out again into a rectangle (the same size as before) and fold it exactly as for the first turn. This is now the second turn.

8.  Wrap in plastic film and chill for 20-30 minutes.

9. Roll the dough again for two turns, repeating the process just as before. Rest in the fridge once again and then it is ready to use.


Watercress filling

 


This adds a nice succulence to the salmon en croute and cuts through the richness of the herb butter. If watercress is not available, baby spinach leaves are a good substitute.

- generous bunch of watercress, thicker stems discarded
- 2-3 spring onions, finely sliced
- clove of garlic, finely chopped
- unsalted butter



1.  Gently sauté the spring onion and garlic in a little unsalted butter until soft.




2.  Add the watercress and stir until wilted, but so it still has some crunch. Season very lightly with salt and cracked black pepper. 



3. Allow to cool and then place in a sieve and press on it to extract as much moisture as possible. This is an important step to ensure that the pastry doesn't get soggy from excess moisture. Set aside.






Herb butter

 


I used dill and basil, instead of tarragon, in this butter. They work beautifully with the lemon zest. And the addition of salty, fragrant capers and Dijon mustard lifts the flavours a notch. This butter would also be a nice addition to a piece of fried or poached fish.

- fresh dill, chopped
- fresh basil leaves,finely sliced
- fine zest from one lemon
- 1 tbsp of salted capers, soaked in water to remove the salt, drained and chopped
- 60g/2oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
- sea salt
- cracked black pepper


1.  Mash the butter with a spoon and stir in the lemon zest.
2. Add the dill, basil and capers.
3. Very lightly season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. 
4. Refrigerate if made ahead of time. Bring to room temperature before using.


Bringing it all together

 



1.  Place a baking sheet in the oven and preheat it to 220C/430F.




2.  Trim the piece of fish to an even rectangular shape.



3.  Spread the herb butter in a thick even layer on the upper side of the fish. Refrigerate.








4.  Dust the bench/pastry mat with flour and roll out the pastry into a rectangle of 3-4mm/ 1/8in thickness. 

Work quickly while the pastry is still cold.


5.  Spread the watercress mixture in the centre of the pastry.


6.  Place the herb butter side of the fish down on the watercress.


7. Trim the pastry to a size where it will fold over the fish and enclose it like a parcel.





8.  Fold the pastry tightly over the salmon, sealing it with egg wash where it meets.   

Repeat this with each end, trimming off any excess pastry.

9.  Place the salmon parcel, seam side down, on a length of baking parchment that will fit the baking sheet in the oven. 

At this stage if the pastry is getting quite sticky place the parcel in the fridge for 15 mins.





10.  Score the surface of the pastry with the back of a knife but don't cut through it. Brush the top, sides and ends with egg wash and sprinkle sea salt and cracked black pepper over it.
11.  Transfer the salmon en croute to the fridge on the baking/parchment paper and let it chill for at least 15 minutes, or longer if you've made it ahead of time.

12.  Place the parcel and the paper onto the hot oven tray straight from the fridge. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown on both the top and the bottom.

13.  Remove from the oven and rest for 15 minutes. Slice into servings using a sharp serrated knife.


The salmon en croute is delicious served with a little salad that has simply been dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice and a grinding of black pepper. This is a nice foil to the rich, buttery flavours of the fish and pastry.





Friday, December 9, 2016

Cake and Tea - And the Business of Putting People Back Together

by Amy


It wasn’t servile work they did at the Manoir Bellechasse, Pierre knew. It was noble and crucial. They put people back together. Though some, he knew, were more broken than others.
 
I love this paragraph.

I’ve loved it since the first time I read it.

I remember thinking, how very true…

How someone does a job is as important as what job a person has. Every interaction with another human being, especially one who is fragile, vulnerable or hurting, can be decisive and essential. We may unknowingly be the agent of change in someone else’s life.

I recently heard a testimony about a wonderful man. He wanted to be a minister, but he was unable to attend ministry school. He became a janitor. He dedicated his life to serve and help anyone he could. As a janitor. It wasn’t servile work, just as the work at Manoir Bellechasse wasn’t.

It was noble and crucial. They put people back together.

When he died (and his son, a minister, choked back tears as he told the story), there was a seemingly never-ending line of people who came to pay their respects. Each and every one had a story to tell about the janitor who had counseled them, ministered to them, listened to them, guided them, taught them… put them back together.


Not everyone was made for this work.

Not everyone is in the business of putting people back together.

I am. At least I think I am. If I’m not, it’s where I want to be. It’s who I yearn to be remembered as.

Months ago, I posted about my “in between” cocoon phase. Much like Gamache’s “time of stillness”, in which he was interrupted and sucked into the frenzy of Clara’s quest, I too have been living a time of “stillness” and reflection and soul searching amidst a whirlwind of events and craziness and never-ending to do lists. In my post (HERE) I posed a series of questions to myself.

That’s one of my answers: regardless of what my “job” is, regardless of whether it’s apparently menial or servile, I am in the business of putting people back together. And, like Pierre, like the janitor in the minister’s story, it doesn’t very much matter what form it takes, any task can be performed with an overreaching goal that is noble and essential.



Elliot wasn’t. 
"I was just having some fun.”

Elliot said it was though it were reasonable to stand in the middle of the crowded, busy kitchen mocking the guests, and the maître d’ was the unreasonable one. Pierre could feel his rage rising. He looked around.

The large old kitchen was the natural gathering place for the staff. Even the gardeners were there, eating cakes and drinking tea and coffee. And watching his humiliation at the hands of a nineteen-year-old. He’s young, Pierre said to himself. He’s young. But he’d said it so often it had become meaningless.
He knew he should let it go. 
“You were making fun of the guests.”
“Only one. Oh, come on, she’s ridiculous. Excusez-moi, but I think he got more coffee than I did. Excusez-moi, but is this the best seat? I asked for the best seat. Excusez-moi, I don’t mean to be difficult, but I did order before they did. Where’s my celery stick?” 
Titters, quickly stifled, filled the warm kitchen. 
It was a good imitation. Even in his anger the maître d’ recognized Sandra’s smooth, cool whine. Always asking for a little bit more. Elliot might not be a natural waiter, but he had an uncanny ability to see people’s faults. And magnify them. And mock them. It was a gift not everyone would find attractive.

Two things strike me about this scene.

One is that Pierre is much less mature and sure of himself than Gamache. We have seen similar instances where agents ridiculed suspects or witnesses and Gamache summarily stopped them. He didn’t even feel humiliated when young agents intentionally ridiculed him. He was a bigger man than that. He was sure of his ground.

Pierre has the right idea, but he’s more vulnerable and less self-assured than Gamache.

The second is that it’s not enough to see people. Elliot saw. He saw people’s faults. He magnified them. To be in the business of building up you can’t be unaware. It’s not a lack of perception or insight. It’s the ability to see beyond the faults. 

It isn’t enough to see people.



We have to see beyond the faults. We have to decode faults and find reasons. We have to reach understanding or acceptance.

It wasn’t servile work they did at the Manoir Bellechasse, Pierre knew. It was noble and crucial. They put people back together. Though some, he knew, were more broken than others.

Let us all bear in mind that all interaction with others is noble and crucial and can change someone’s day. Little things that add up. Or, as in this post (HERE), it is about faithfulness in little things.

I tried out a new recipe. It’s from (HERE). I’d been meaning to try it for some time. Hints of rosemary, apple and lemon? What could go wrong? Mine wasn’t half as lovely looking as hers is, but it was delicious all the same. I made two. One for my own home and one for a lovely friend who is spectacular at all the little things and makes everyone feel special and loved.




All quotes are from A RULE AGAINST MURDER by Louise Penny

Friday, December 2, 2016

Green Pea and Mint Soup..."Some Malady is Coming Upon Us"

by Libby



Tureens filled with brilliant pea and mint soup sat on the table, next to baskets of fresh, warm baguette. (The Beautiful Mystery, Kindle, p.290)

By the time this meal is served Beauvoir has lost his appetite, and resonating in Gamache's head is the line, "Some malady is coming upon us", (from TS Eliot's play, Murder in the Cathedral). It is indeed a harbinger.

I think the food in The Beautiful Mystery, more than in any other book in the series, drew me in with its fresh seasonal produce. Its gentle nurturing and cultivation and the nutritious meals prepared from it by the monks are strikingly juxtaposed with the tension, simmering conflict and stark rage played out within the monastery walls.

Preparing food from new season produce, more than at any other time, is always a delight to me. Young vegetables and fresh herbs and flowers make for quite a delicious meal. There's little you need to do but savour the delicate, juicy flavours and crisp textures when vegetables are young. Recently I made a vegetable salad (served at room temperature) with young vegetables from the market and my garden. It was part of the vegetable course of a meal I prepared for friends.  As I put it together I couldn't help thinking of The Beautiful Mystery and imagining this salad on the refectory table.


It can be made a little ahead of time (always handy) and kept at room temperature. I loved foraging for all the herbs and flowers that added little punches of flavour to the salad. The vegetables were all quickly poached (to keep some crispness) in lightly salted water. I poached each vegetable separately, so as not to mask their individual flavours or colours by cooking them all together. By quickly transferring them to an ice bath you halt the cooking and preserve the colour.

I used different coloured baby carrots, radishes (which turn a delightful pink colour), asparagus, broad beans (I peeled them down to the heart), shelled peas, spring onions and cloves of garlic. After arranging the cooked vegetables on a large platter I scattered fresh nasturtium, borage, rocket and chive flowers, elderflower and lemon flower buds, fennel fronds and nasturtium, baby sorrel and rocket leaves amongst them. It was just a delightful, aesthetic experience watching it all come together. I love that! And I couldn't help taking a photo! A drizzle with good extra-virgin olive oil was all that was needed. I served the vegetables with a lemon confit, made with the zest and juicy flesh (all the membranes removed) of lemons from my garden. Cooked with sugar and reduced to a jam consistency it provides a lovely bitter-sweet contrast.

The Beautiful Mystery was a difficult one to read with Beauvoir's internal drug-fuelled crisis and loss of control, and Gamache's fight to save him which leaves him isolated and steeling himself for future confrontation. Never had both been so vulnerable. And never had the foundations of their relationship been so undermined and shockingly rocked.
Gamache grabbed at Beauvoir’s hand, trying to loosen the gun. From Jean-Guy’s throat came a wail, a cry of desperation. He fought wildly, flailing and kicking and bucking but finally Gamache twisted Beauvoir’s arm behind his back and the firearm clattered to the floor. Both men were gasping for breath. Gamache held Jean-Guy’s face against the rough stone wall. Beauvoir bucked and sidled but Gamache held firm. “Let go,” Beauvoir screamed into the stone. “Those pills are mine. My property.” (The Beautiful Mystery, Kindle, p.364)
There seems a striking parallel with the foundations of the monastery which, too, are collapsing.

Amidst all the dissent and internal conflict, a terrible rage emerges which has caused death amongst the monks, and threatens death amongst the Surete officers.
Gamache put his face against Francoeur’s. “You could’ve killed him,” Gamache snarled. “You almost killed him. How can you do this to one of your own?” Gamache had Francoeur’s shirt in his fist, yanking it. He felt the man’s warm breath on his face, in short, terrified puffs. And Gamache knew. Just a little more pressure. Just a few moments more, and this problem would disappear. This man would disappear. One more twist. And who would blame him? (The Beautiful Mystery, Kindle, p.366)
The enmity between Gamache and Francoeur is fully exposed. Gamache's rage is both shocking and buoying. Who would blame him, indeed!!

The conflict amongst the monks to embrace 'modern times', the way that Francoeur 'had gotten into Jean-Guy', the corruption deep within the Surete and the evidence that Gamache uncovers to reveal that it goes beyond Francoeur, give substance to "some malady is coming upon us".
The last chapter is shattering with its volatility, uncertainty and ominous ending.
The Chief Inspector looked into the sky and felt the north wind on his upturned face. Some malady is coming upon us. (The Beautiful Mystery, Kindle, p.372)
We are confronted with the prospect of what Gamache must face next. But nonetheless we feel his quiet strength and steely determination.

It's not hard to make parallels to recent events that have left many feeling degrees of uncertainty, isolation, some trepidation and fear, and even rage about what the time ahead might hold. Finding positive means to deal with uncertainty and adversity, clear and respectful ways of expressing our feelings and responding to others, steeling our strengths and sighting the cracks that let the light in, challenges us all.

Green Pea and Mint Soup

This is a tasty, brilliantly coloured soup with the fresh flavour of peas dominating but greatly enhanced with a few additions, particularly fresh mint. It's perfect for a light meal, served with crusty bread. I rather enjoyed making it as there is something very therapeutic about shelling peas. Though I have to admit, after all the shelling I was a bit short on peas so I made up the difference with some frozen baby ones. A tasty, nutritious stock, which can be made well ahead of time, is the basis for this recipe. I made a chicken stock but a vegetable one would work well too.

The Stock

A little more body or thickness is given to this stock with the addition of a small amount of glutinous/sweet rice. The recipe makes approximately 1.5 litres/quarts, but you'll only need half of this amount. 


700g / 1.5lbs of chicken wings, each wing chopped into 3 pieces (I got the butcher to do this.)
2 tablespoons of light oil (I used grapeseed oil.)
2 litres / 2 quarts of water
2 small inner stalks of celery, finely chopped
6 spring onions, white part only, finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons of chopped root ginger
100ml / 3.5fl oz of dry white wine, sake or verjuice (I used sake.)
30g / 1oz glutinous rice (also known as sweet rice or sticky rice)sea salt

1.  Heat the oil in a pot and sauté the chicken wing pieces until lightly coloured all over.
2.  Add the celery, spring onion, garlic and ginger and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring continuously.
3.  Pour in the wine, sake or verjuice to deglaze and reduce it until almost evaporated.
4.  Add the water, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
5.  Skim the surface to remove any foam.
6.  Add the glutinous/sweet rice.
7.  Periodically taste the stock and add a little salt to help bring out the flavours.
8.  Allow the stock to simmer away for 1-2 hrs.
9.  Pour through a fine sieve and discard the solids.
10.  Cool the stock and refrigerate. It cools into a soft jelly.
11.  Decant 3/4 litre / 3/4 quart for the soup and freeze the remainder.

The Soup

This recipe will serve four as a starter, or two as a meal. It's really quite a simple soup but the addition of crème fraîche, lightly sautéed pea sprouts and fresh mint as a topping provides an enhancing burst of flavours and textures. They all go so well together in this soup.


3/4 litre / 3/4 quart of chicken stock
500g / 18oz fresh shelled or frozen green peas
2 tbsp unsalted butter
5 spring onions, finely sliced
sea salt





1.  Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat and gently sauté the spring onions for several minutes until soft.











2.  Add the peas and continue to gently sauté, stirring them well together.







3.  Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook until the peas are tender.

4.  Allow the soup to cool a little, then blend for a smooth texture. I used a stick blender which is so much more convenient than having to transfer the soup to a bench top blender.

5.  Add a little sea salt to taste.



Finishing and Serving the Soup

 


half a lemon
handful of fresh pea sprouts
unsalted butter
crème fraîche
mint leaves, finely sliced
cracked black pepper



1.  Stir a squeeze of lemon juice into the soup. Add more to taste.

2.  Lightly sauté the pea sprouts in a little unsalted butter until they wilt but still have their crunch. Season very lightly with sea salt flakes.




3. Ladle the soup into bowls. 

4. Swirl a generous dob of crème fraîche onto the surface. Add some pea sprouts and a generous sprinkle of mint. Finish with cracked black pepper.





After reading The Beautiful Mystery I remember devouring How the Light Gets In, with my heart in my mouth, to find out how it was all going to play out. Fortunately I came late to the series so was able to binge read the books in quick succession. Louise Penny did not disappoint.



Friday, November 25, 2016

Milk (kind of - Lassis, really)... and Facing Ourselves

by Amy


She picked up Rosa and walked over to Clara’s cottage. Letting herself in, she found Clara where she knew she’d be. Ruth sat on the sprung and lumpy sofa that smelled of banana peels and apple cores and watched Clara at the easel, staring at Peter’s portrait.“Who hurt you once, so far beyond repair?” said Ruth.“The line from your poem,” said Clara, turning on the stool to look at Ruth.“I was asking you, Clara. Who hurt you once?” Ruth gestured to the easel. “What are you waiting for?”
“Then why’re you stuck? Like the characters in that goddamned play. Are you waiting for someone, something to save you? Waiting for Peter to tell you it’s okay to get on without him? You’re looking for milk in the wrong place.”“I just want to paint,” said Clara. “I don’t want to be saved, I don’t want to be forgiven. I don’t even want milk. I just want to paint.”

I don’t really believe her. We all want to be saved sometimes. We all want to be forgiven. We all, at least sometimes, want metaphorical milk. We all want to have someone to blame. We all enjoy the idea of right and wrong and the good guy winning in the “end”. There is comfort in “it’s not my fault”, “he started it”, and “I was just following rules”.

That’s milk.

The food of infants.

Ruth struggled out of the sofa. “I did.”
“You did what?” asked Clara.“The answer to that question. All those years when I couldn’t write, I blamed John Fleming. But I was wrong.”
Clara watched Ruth and Rosa waddle away. She had no idea what the crazy old woman was talking about. But sitting in front of the canvas, it slowly sank in.Who could do such damage? Who knew where the weaknesses, the fault lines lay? Who could cause all that internal bleeding?

One of the hard things about growing up (at any age) is that it can be disorienting. Babies and toddlers are so convinced that they are the center of the universe and that their wishes should be commands to all those around them, that they feel righteous anger and entitlement when they are contradicted or impeded.

As we grow, we realize that life, relationships, and interactions are dynamic. There’s give and take. Action and reaction. It’s so terribly easy to shift the blame. Like sibling squabbles. Most of us can relate. Even those who have no blood siblings know what that’s like in a classroom, a sports team, or something of the like. He did it first… But did you see what so and so did? Everyone is doing it… She’s breathing my air... Took my things… Messed up my concentration…

For those of you who are parents, you’re aware that one of the fascinating and magical aspects of childhood is that we are invited to “relive” these lessons as we teach them to our children. For years now I have found myself telling my son (again and again) that we cannot change other people or let our behavior be defined by reaction. We must own our mistakes. They can be explained, justified, or understood in light of what might have prompted or triggered our behavior. But, ultimately, the choice is ours and two wrongs do not make a right. Isn’t that the adage?

Viktor Frankl speaks of this when talking about his experience as a concentration camp prisoner.

During this psychological phase one observed that people with natures of a more primitive kind could not escape the influences of the brutality which had surrounded them in camp life. Now, being free, they thought they could use their freedom licentiously and ruthlessly. The only thing that had changed for them was that they were now the oppressors instead of the oppressed. They became instigators, not objects, of willful force and injustice. They justified their behavior by their own terrible experiences.” (Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl)

Some, Frankl included, didn’t become enslaved to brutal behavior. Easier said than done.

I have found myself feeling like a hypocrite, time and again. As I counsel my child, I am faced with my own shortcomings. My own childishness, as it were. I like that he absorbs lessons and ideals. I like that he holds me accountable. I like that sometimes he’ll (almost always) respectfully challenge me or question my own behavior. But mom, you always say that…

Because it’s so, so easy to blame someone else for our choices. I am not saying our backgrounds, baggage, environment, context, preconceived notions, and experience aren’t part of us. They are. Our choices and behavior are, to an extent, a reflection of that. But we need not be limited to that!

When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.” (Gilead – Marilynne Robinson)

Easier said than done.

It takes a big person. A grownup.

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.” (The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman)

I’m not a grown-up yet. If these are the stakes, I’m not sure I ever will be. But since we’ve talked about setting high standards and being works in progress, I’m sharing aspirations. I’d like to go beyond the drinking (metaphorical) milk phase. I would like the toddler in me to step back, even during emotionally charged moments and interactions, and let a more mature version of me take over.

I’d like to learn to listen to intent, not just the words. I’d like to understand motivation, not just actions. I’d like to be able to feel the love, even when someone is muddling through the expression of it. I’d like to understand people’s gifts of their time and the things they value, even when it isn’t what I’d have otherwise valued myself. I’d like to read between the lines and grasp all the things we have in common, instead of letting my mind snag on points of discord and formulate answers and rebuttals. I’d like to grow in my quest for questioning my own ideas and beliefs. If they aren’t strong enough to withstand attack, they probably aren’t well rooted enough and they need to be fortified.

I would like to judge less and empathize more.

No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same. (Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl)

In many ways, I am a coward. I frequently choose to remain ignorant of pain and suffering that is too far away for me to be of any help, and yet too close to my own fears of pain and suffering.

We are all frightened of the ugly, the dirty. We all want to turn away from anything that reveals the failure, pain, sickness, and death beneath the brightly painted surface of our ordered lives. Civilization is, at least in part, about pretending that things are better than they are. (Becoming Human – Jean Vanier)

My true cowardice, though, was in facing myself. I do think I’ve grown. And learned. And become braver.

I, like Beauvoir, have watched Gamache bravely dive into himself and, in facing himself, become a man who can see the ugly and the dirty… and still find beauty. Like Clara, I have learned from Ruth and learned that the lump in the throat has to come out somehow. It demands that I smooth out the folds and questions and doubts in my own soul. I think I’m learning. I’m growing.

How difficult it is to accept our limits and our handicaps as well as our gifts and capacities. We feel that if others see us as we really are they might reject us. So we cover our weaknesses. (Becoming Human – Jean Vanier)

In my last post I spoke of how, before reaching competence, we have a phase of conscious incompetence. Before becoming a butterfly, there is a phase of self-digestion and cocooning meditation. Before getting better, we must admit how broken we are. Before we can truly be kind and forgiving to others, we must be willing to face our own humanity.

But then I began to realize that in order to accept other people’s disabilities and to help them grow, it was fundamental for me to accept my own. (Becoming Human – Jean Vanier)

In order to become the person I would like to be, I have to understand the person I am. Regardless of the context where I am in. 

IfIf you can keep your head when all about you// are losing theirs and blaming you, // If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, // But make allowance for their doubting too; // If you can wait and not be tired of waiting, // or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, // or being hated, don’t give way to hating…(Rudyard Kipling)

I am so, so very far from my ideals.

I am such a child, an infant, when it comes to my aspirations.

Clara picked up her brush and contemplated the empty canvas. She would do a portrait of the person who had hurt her once, beyond repair.With one bold stroke after another she painted. Capturing the rage, the sorrow, the doubt, the fear, the guilt, the joy, the love, and finally, the forgiveness.It would be her most intimate, most difficult painting yet.It would be a self-portrait.

And that’s where I propose to start. First to understand and capture, then to be thankful and forgiving.



Milk

I’m not a milk drinker.

Recently I reintroduced milk to my diet (by that I mean splashes in my black tea or coffee)...

Does anyone here still drink pure milk? Almond milk? Is milk something you only use as an ingredient for other recipes? Do you take milk in your tea or coffee? Or is it half and half? Does anyone make smoothies with milk? Or milkshakes? Do any of you not use any dairy at all?

I actually googled “milk for grown-ups” and discovered lassis. As far as I can tell, they’re basically milkshakes with yogurt. Kind of. There were many recipes with variations. The basic rule was having ice, water, and yogurt – about the same amount of each (although recipes varied). The salty and spicy ones added things like all spice, cardamom, mint, etc. The sweet ones (most common was mango) usually had fruit and sugar.



I made a lemon/peach version. Equal parts yogurt, water, and ice. A bit of lemon zest and one slice of leftover canned peach. I added ½ a tablespoon of sugar. Turn on the blender for a few seconds. Done. It was delicious, although wholly unsuitable for the cold rainy weather.


Later in the day I went back to my usual splash of milk in tea. Grown-up milk.

All quotes - unless stated otherwise - are from The Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny