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, February 12, 2016

A Dinner of Interactions - Fettuccine with Basil, Tomatoes, and Brie

by Amy

“What does that piece of wood mean?” Gamache asked his team as they ate.“Well, it was just about the only thing in the cabin that wasn’t an antique,” said Lacoste. “And what with the whittling tools I’m guessing he made it himself.”
Gamache nodded. It was his guess as well.”
“Why would someone carve that for himself?” Gamache put down his knife and fork. “And you found nothing else in the cabin that looked as though it had been whittled?” (The Brutal Telling)

I love watching Gamache and his team interact. I love how they share the evidence that they’ve uncovered and then they speculate, interpret, and add to each other’s ideas. They seem to talk their way towards conclusions.

They all feel free to share ideas – even when they turn out to be far-fetched ones like going to the Charlotte Islands. Sometimes they fill in the gaps in the other’s line of thought with evidence that supports it. Sometimes they question a conjecture and will add their own reasoning and why they disagree. As a team, they complement each other.

These conversations might be a writer’s strategy to give us, the reader, important information regarding the mystery itself. Usually we move forward in the investigation by “listening in” on the team’s conversations as well as their interviews with suspects and witnesses. Louise Penny has mastered the craft. The conversations don’t read like information dump. You don’t have people monologuing about their findings. Even in these conversations, which could be a plot-advancing strategy, we are given a wealth of feeling and deep interactions.

“He liked the food, but what he mostly loved were the conversations with the Chief. Just the two of them.” (A Trick of the Light)

We can all empathize with Beauvoir here. That’s what this blog is all about, in fact. We all love the food. The mention of their menus frequently has me salivating (except for Beauvoir's meals in the earlier books – I’m not much of a meat eater). But what we really love most are the conversations interactions between the characters. The menu is less important than the company. Or is it just me (and Beauvoir)?

Some people think out loud. Others need time to process their ideas alone, and then they share them. Some people can easily switch from one train of thought to another and can go back and forth between ideas and contradict themselves and question themselves and easily incorporate other people’s ideas. Others have to follow a straight line and need time to digest and ponder over new lines of thought before they are ready to modify their own.

Gamache not only allows himself to use both strategies, he also encourages other to use either or both. Time and again he takes long walks after an interview with a suspect. I believe he uses that time to silently gather his thoughts. He organizes his ideas, but he doesn’t cement them. He values interactions with his team and is open to reordering his initial conclusions. I believe he asks his agents the questions he has asked himself already. He listens to their answers and adds their thoughts and impressions to his own. It is in this interaction that he gains a broader view. He is a better Chief and investigator because he is willing to listen. I think that's one of the things that makes Lacoste a good successor - she's a bit like Gamache that way. (Although  I think Beauvoir, in his own way, would have been just as great.)

On a tangent here, I'm kind of glad Gamache as the chief (and Louise Penny, as the author) had such a solid reason not to have Jean-Guy as the next chief. Beauvoir is still kind of growing up as a character. It's the growing up that makes him interesting... and I like that there's still so much that could happen to him! So many roads he could follow. That kind of potential is attractive in a character (in real people, too).

“It struck Gamache like a ton of bricks. Why hadn’t he thought of that? He’d been so overwhelmed by what was there, he’d never even considered what might be missing.”

I know exactly how he feels! Time and again someone will say something and I think, “WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?” Of course, once it’s been pointed out, it seems so obvious!

Isn't it great how one comment prompts another? This is true not only of this scene. It’s not really an argument or a discussion. It’s more like they’re trying to find a path and it is in their wording and working through their impressions – out loud, sharing – that they slowly find their way together.

I understand Gamache’s need for alone time because I, too, need time by myself (preferably in silence, which is why running or walking is a good option) to process and organize thoughts. Once I do, they’re still kind of spread out and confusing even to me. It is in trying to verbalize them that I am able to actually explain things to myself.

There are few things I enjoy more than talking to someone who contributes to the process. I value the colleagues and friends that are able and willing to converse like this. Professionally, it is a blessing to have people to “think out loud” with. Frequently it is in interacting with other professionals, particularly those with different backgrounds, that we reach a better understanding of a patient’s needs. And in any role - personal or professional - it is always enriching to broaden my ideas through contrasting and complementing my perceptions with other points of view.

Books can play a role in this. In my life, at least, they do. Like I said in the Myrna post, I believe in the magic and therapeutic power in books and stories. However, there is a different (not better or worse) power in the interaction between people.

A friend told me recently that one of his two criteria for finding a life partner is “good conversation”. I think he has a point.

“The main courses had arrived. A fruit-stuffed Rock Cornish game hen, done on the spit, for Gamache; melted Brie, fresh tomato and basil fettuccine for Lacoste; and a lamb and prune tagine for Beauvoir.”

Lacoste and I make similar food choices. Sometimes it's the same choice because she is choosing a lighter meal (although there have been a few times where she’s drooled over Gamache’s dish while eating a salad). Usually because it is truly the one that most agrees with my own taste buds. This is one of those times. It didn't hurt that it was also the easiest of the three to make.

Versions of this meal are a staple in my home. Pasta is usually quick to put together and pleases most people. I have two versions here. One is the way I usually make it (the spaghetti pictures) and the other is from I think I like my own version better – it’s less oily and I prefer the brie on the side. But then, the reheated left-overs of the allrecipes version tasted awesome. I think it has to do with it absorbing the tastes longer. I'll have to keep making them to reach a decision...

This is one of the recipes: If I were to make it again, I’d keep the brie, but I’d probably use grape tomatoes and leave in the seeds. I’d also use half the amount of olive oil they recommended.  I did enjoy the touch of red wine vinegar. 

My own version involves chopping fresh basil and halving grape tomatoes. I cook the pasta (whichever one I have in the house) and once it’s cooked, I drain it. In a large pan I add a few tablespoons of olive oil and throw in the tomatoes and the basil and usually a squeeze of lemon juice (a couple of tablespoons, probably). Then I add the pasta. If necessary I add a bit more olive oil. I don’t like it too oily which is probably why I didn’t enjoy the other recipe as much. I sometimes add garlic and fry it a bit in the olive oil. Usually not. I prefer the lemon taste. I usually add some cheese. Sometimes on the side, sometimes mixed in. Usually Parmesan.

Which of the three main courses would be your choice if you were at Olivier’s Bistro?

In your line of work is conversation and interaction and important tool for problem solving?


  1. A very thoughtful entry today. I agree that Beauvoir is not quite ready to be a chief,but he will get there. Being with Annie, becoming a parent and his continued AA meetings and therapy will help. His style still would not be exactly like Gamache or Lacoste but he would take some of it to make his own. As for the meal I would try the lamb.
    Conversation and interaction are important in life for problem solving, including marriage!

    1. Dear Nancy, I think he'll make an exceptional Chief when he's ready. He'll be exceptional. He's so different from Gamache - but Gamache has also rubbed off on him. So he is now a combination. More, in a way. But then, I'm partial to Beauvoir. HUGE fan.

      You are so right. A marriage with good conversation is awesome.

    2. I too am very partial to Beauvoir.

  2. I should say that I would choose the lamb because the fettuccine is the dish I would always order. I don't cook lamb so it is a treat to have it out. Pasta I often make.

  3. Lovely discussion and wonderful looking dishes! I could taste the Brie and tomato mingling with the garlic... I would prefer your version, too - the oily ones are hard for me to see what I'm supposed to like about them, but I'm probably not buying good enough olive oil, hahaha. I would add the brie in to melt in the cooking, though, as I'd like its flavor to be infused throughout...

    Of course, I'd also love the fruit-stuffed Rock Cornish Game Hen - I wonder what fruits - does the book say? I'll have to go back and read it again... I love game hens, though, and not much could be easier to cook... the fruit would be a nice change, though I'd probably have to do something different for my hubby - he thinks there should never be anything inside a game hen but wild rice!

    1. Hi Julie,

      I'll have to try making game hen sometime. I don't even know where I'd buy it here... So maybe next time I'm in the US?! My husband loves fruit cooked with meat. He'd definitely choose the lamb or the hen. It doesn't specify what fruits. Dates might be nice... Pineapple?

      The brie and garlic did blend in well. I think maybe I'd let the marinade stand longer than I did. And I like the idea of reheating leftovers. By then, the flavor was SOOOOO much better.