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 19, 2016

Lemon Meringue Pie and seeing God

by Amy

“’I have a question for you,’ Gamache said, his change of tone alerting Reine-Marie. ‘Did I do the right thing with Arnot?’
Reine-Marie’s heart broke, hearing Armand ask that. Only she knew the price he’d paid. He’d put on a brave and firm public face. Not Jean Guy, not Michel Brébeuf, not even their best friends had known the agony he’d gone through. But she knew.
But he’d known all along what he had to do. And the fisherman had put it beyond doubt.”

We all need validation sometimes.

There is comfort in the certainty that someone, preferably someone who is an authority in any given subject, endorses us.

Little signs. Serendipity. Coincidences. Proof. The writing on the wall.

Where there is love, there is courage
Where there is courage, there is peace
Where there is peace, there is God.
And when you have God, you have everything.”
Omniscient. Omnipresent. Who could be better to assure us that we’re on the right track than God himself? There is no greater authority. Be it in the guise of a fisherman or a homeless woman, He can give us the love, courage, and peace we need.

“You don’t know either,” said Myrna. “You want to believe it was God. I have to tell you, people are locked up for less.”

I suppose faith can seem like a form of insanity when you don't believe.

“I tell them there are certain attributes our faith assigns to God: omniscience, omnipotence, justice, and grace. We human beings have such a slight acquaintance with power and knowledge, so little conception of justice, and so slight a capacity for grace, that the workings of these great attributes together is a mystery we cannot hope to penetrate.” (Gilead – Marilynne Robinson)

One of the things I love about Louise Penny’s books is Gamache’s faith. He respects religion, he respects symbols and ritual and tradition. He even respects those who have no religion and/or no faith in the existence of a God. He isn’t preachy. But he has faith.  He believes in God – although he does not always condone or agree with all the man-made rules and traditions and rituals that have sprung from the interpretation of Scriptures.

I do not intend to turn this into a religious discussion. I certainly do not intend to preach. I don’t think faith can be explained into existence – nor can any explanation dissuade you from it if you believe. I do believe that God is bigger than doubts – anyone’s doubts. Including my own.

One of my favorite scenes with a clergyman was the answer given to the main character by a local priest in Andrew Davidson’s THE GARGOYLE. When the main character is found admiring statues in the church, he promptly tells the priest that he is an atheist. The priest doesn't hesitate:

“‘Well, God believes in you,’ he said. ‘May I offer you a cup of tea?’”

In A FATAL GRACE, both Clara and Gamache believe they met with God. Both are blessed with encounters that edify them and give them the validation they need.

“There was no movement. Clara grew concerned. Was she even alive? Clara reached out and gently lifted the grime-caked chin.
“Are you all right?”
A mitten shot out, black with muck, and cupped itself round Clara’s wrist. The head lifted. Weary, runny eyes met Clara’s and held them for a long moment.
“I have always loved your art, Clara.”
“But that’s incredible,” Myrna didn’t want to sound as though she doubted her friend, but really, ‘incredible’ was charitable. It was unbelievable. And yet despite the cup of tea and fire in the grate her forearms broke out in goosebumps.”

It was unbelievable.

If you don’t believe in God, it’s just an interesting coincidence and wishful thinking. If you do, a homeless woman probably wouldn’t the first image that pops into your head when you think of Him.

Well, I do believe in God. I also believe that God isn’t a homeless woman or a fisherman. But I believe God has a sense of humor and endless creativity. Just as the “heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1), I think the men and women he created in his image are also capable of, at times, being His emissaries.

I may be wrong, but I think that is how Gamache interprets it. He does believe the writing on the wall is a message from God. It doesn’t necessarily mean he believes Billie is God.

“He asked me to give you this.” She held up the small paper bag on her lap, protecting it from their latest family member. Henri sat in the back seat, listening alertly to their conversation and wagging his tail. Reine-Marie opened the bag to show Gamache a slice of lemon meringue pie.”

When Gamache was given the message from God he was eating lemon meringue pie. Don’t you love how there’s an olfactory and savory memory associated with the message? Isn’t it wonderful that, from then on, lemon meringue pie would be a reminder that God not only cared about his worries, but was willing to send him comfort in the person of a stranger?

My family recently went through a phase where doubts and questions abounded and decisions had to be made. There were no right or wrong answers, but one choice precluded others and had rippling effects on our lives. My husband and I talked, weighed alternatives, engaged in “what if” conversations… and prayed.

One day my husband came home and said, “You know what? This happened. It must be a sign for us to choose plan A.” If you knew my husband, you'd understand when I say he is not the type to look for signs - or to give them credence even if they come knocking. The next day he called me mid-morning and said, “You know what? This OTHER thing just happened. I think it’s a sign that God is saying that He isn’t really sending signs.”

We laughed.

But there were more of them. Little signs. Serendipity. Coincidences. The writing on the wall.

Like Gamache, we knew what we had to do. It still made us feel blessed and comforted that God was willing to send us "writing on the wall" and the memory of those moments – like the memory of the lemon meringue pie – to assure us that we’re making the right decision.

Where there is love, there is courage
Where there is courage, there is peace
Where there is peace, there is God.
And when you have God, you have everything.”

Lemon meringue pie is actually a VERY frequent dessert in our home. Lime meringue pie, actually. It’s one of my husband’s favorites and we make it often. I don’t even think we have a recipe!

The dough for the pie crust is usually made with flour, butter, an egg and a splash of water (if needed). I’m not sure about amounts. Sometimes I use butter and an equivalent of graham crackers to make a cookie crust. I’ve been known to buy ready-made pie crusts when we’re in the US and I’m being lazy.

The creamy filling is the same (see? I have so few recipes!) lime filling that we use on every dessert apparently. Just mix the juice from two limes or two lemons with 1 can of condensed milk.

Then we add meringue. It’s supposed to be beaten egg whites and then you add a couple of tablespoons of refined sugar and keep beating the egg whites until they make peaks. Then bake for a few minutes just until the tips of the peaks start to brown.

One day we didn’t have refined sugar in the house. Or white sugar at all. We just added brown cane sugar, crossed our fingers and hoped it wouldn’t turn out too weird. It did turn out a bit odd. In a good way, according to my husband.

Now my husband has a new favorite pie. It doesn’t look as beautiful. The meringue is flatter and it tends to have this caramel-like gooey layer between the cream and the meringue. He says it’s the best thing EVER, though.

Since then, that’s how the pie has been made here. One day we didn't have brown sugar... He was terribly disappointed with the beautiful white peaks of meringue that didn't have the caramel-gooeyness he loves. Not that it stopped him from eating it...


  1. Maybe the fisherman wasn't God but a messenger from God. A message given to someone who needed to hear it.
    The pie looks divine!
    Thank you for the thoughtful post.

    1. Hi Nancy,
      I agree with you. I think God sends messengers and messages. And I think Gamache really needed the reaffirmation, don't you?
      I sometimes used to wish the messages I received were as direct as the ones Gamache & Clara did. The past few months there have been pretty direct.
      As always, thanks for being such a faithful reader. :)
      I love hearing from you!

  2. Thank you. You have know idea how much I needed to hear these words today! I am in the midst of making some huge decisions in my life and have been agonizing over them. Trying to pray and listen. But the control freak in me isn't very patient. Funny how a message to take a breath and wait for the "writing on the wall" can come in the most unexpected place.

    As always, I love your insights and the food is amazing!(oh, I want pie so much now)
    Thanks again,

    1. Hi Janell,
      Oh! I'm so glad! Maybe the post was a bit of a sign for you, too! Thank you for the feedback!
      I'll pray you reach the best decision and find peace with it!

  3. Amy, thanks for your wonderful thoughts. How could I savor a bit of the dishes you are preparing? Have a good day!