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, April 29, 2016

Pain Doré and the Art of Salvaging

by Amy

“Gamache tried the door to the bistro and was surprised to find it open. Earlier that morning, over breakfast of pain doré, sliced strawberries and bananas, maple syrup and back bacon, Gabri had admitted he didn’t know when Olivier might reopen the bistro.”
“Maybe never,” he said, “then where would we be? I’d have to start taking in paying guests.”
“Good thing then that you’re a B and B,” said Gamache.
 “You’d think that would be an advantage, wouldn’t you? But I’m handicapped by extreme laziness.”
And yet, when Gamache and Agent Morin walked into the bistro there was Gabri behind the bar, polishing it. And from the kitchen came the aroma of fine cooking.“Olivier,” Gabri called, coming around from behind the bar. “Our first customers since the murder are here,” he sang out.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Gabri,” they heard from the kitchen and a pot clanked down. A moment later Olivier punched through the swinging door. “Oh, it’s you.”

I went to the theater the other day. The stage had a piano and four cubicle-like apartment sets. There were five people in one crumbling building. The play is a collection of moments in their lives, their longings, frustrations, and issues. A siren goes off sometimes. To the public, it signals a new scene or short monologue. The idea is that the building is a crumbling hazard and the characters are supposed to react (evacuate?) when the siren sounds. Eventually, in the end, the place is demolished and the four inhabitants of the apartments die. The old building becomes a new ruin. The last character – the outside observer throughout the play – ends the show saying he was (or could have been) the three year old child who was the sole survivor.

His last words are a reflection on what ruins are and what can be salvaged from disaster. What do you do with what is left? How do you pick up the pieces? How do you give new meaning and new function to the bits and pieces you ransom? What is the use of a broken past? Is it possible to find opportunity in chaos?

Sometimes I wonder if Louise Penny chooses these meals on purpose (of course she does, but could she be aware of all the double meanings, too?) or if it’s just serendipity. Another name for pain doré is pain perdu. That could be translated into “lost bread”. Old bread. It’s lost already. It would be trash. It’s salvaged. A new opportunity for what had been a ruin.

Pain perdu. Lost bread. Pain doré. Golden bread.

Olivier was ruined. He believed the bistro, the business, could be ruined. His life, as he knew it, was threatened. His reputation was lost.

I do think, though, that the man who was salvaged was better than the original. Just as pain doré is coated with flavor and toasted into golden yumminess, the character’s hardships gave him a “coat” of flavor, depth, and growth. I wouldn’t have wished his pain on anyone, but he was better for it.

Once again, I start talking about a recipe by saying I’d never made it before. I had never made French toast, pain doré, pain perdu or whatever else you’d call it. I looked up quite a few recipes and when I read the word “creamy” in this recipe I decided that this would be my first choice. Click here for the link.

It was yummy. I shared some with my assistant (who is a fellow bread-lover) and the two of us oohed and aahed over our brunch. It was spicy and full of flavor and yes, it was creamy. And not too sweet. Perfect.

There were so many recipes to choose from I felt like Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride trying to figure out how she liked her eggs. I didn’t try all of them. I just made the one that seemed to be the best match for me.

Rabanada (the Brazilian version) is frequently served as a New Year’s treat. I know my mother in law loves them. I asked how she makes it. She soaks the bread in milk (and sugar), then in beaten eggs and cinnamon. She then fries the bread and, afterwards, coats the fried bread in sugar.

Do you like French toast? How do you make yours? Is there any trick to your recipe? I loved the nutmeg and ginger that complemented the cinnamon. What flavors do you add? Butter or oil to fry the bread? Do you use “lost” bread? Or fresh?

Friday, April 22, 2016

More Muffins, promise, potential, and mistakes

by Amy

 “The next morning dawned bright and fresh. There was some warmth in the sun again and Gamache soon took off his sweater as he walked around the village green before breakfast. A few children, up before parents and grandparents, did some last-minute frog hunting in the pond. They ignored him and he was happy to watch them from a distance then continue his solitary and peaceful stroll. He waved at Myrna, cresting the hill on her own solitary walk.
This was the last day of summer vacation, and while it had been decades since he’d gone to school, he still felt the tug. The mix of sadness at the end of summer, and excitement to see his chums again. The new clothes, bought after a summer’s growth. The new pencils, sharpened over and over, and the smell of the shavings. And the new notebooks. Always strangely thrilling. Unmarred. No mistakes yet. All they held was promise and potential.”

This paragraph from the Three Pines books is reminiscent of Anne of Green Gables and her conversation with her beloved teacher when they say that tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it – yet.

Do you feel it, too? The tug when it’s the time for a new school year? Or is it New Year’s Day that makes you feel like it’s time to start anew? Or spring? Or maybe it’s birthdays? Or Mondays? Or a new book? Are there other things that mark beginnings for you?

I love the idea of promise and potential. And the fact that there are no mistakes yet.

“A new murder investigation felt much the same. Had they marred their books yet? Made any mistakes?”

Isn’t that true for so many other things?

We begin – a year, a month, a class, an exercise program, a diet, a schedule, a course, a marriage, a family… - with the best of intentions. We have promise and potential. We aim for perfection. No mistakes have been made and we’re still looking at a blank page. Unmarred. No mistakes. Yet.

We make mistakes.

Many mistakes are catalysts for learning. Any good teacher will tell you that. It isn’t the kids who get all the answers right that learn the most. It’s usually the ones who know how to ask the right questions. It’s the ones who wonder at the mistakes and question the accuracy of any answer. (Sometimes, in an educational setting, that means they seem to be asking the “wrong” questions and not answering much of anything). Sometimes we need the mistakes to better grasp the process.

Promise and potential are wonderful things.

Accomplishment and achievement are even better.

Promise and potential are like blank new notebooks. I love new notebooks. They’re so pretty and clean and unscribbled on. They smell nice. They’re neat. A just bought a new one online – my cousin is an artist and some of her work is being marketed on T-shirts and sketchbooks. It’s gorgeous. 
Absolutely unneeded, but I succumbed to temptation.

I always have a notebook in my bag. I take notes, scribble information, add “to do” lists, copy out quotes, make more lists, and keep little summaries of important information. At least it seems important at the time. It isn’t always important later. By the time a couple of pages have been filled in, I’ve already forgotten to use my best handwriting (all first pages of notebooks merit best handwriting).

Old notebooks are evidence of accomplishment and achievement. They rarely look pretty once they’ve really been used. I’m sure some people manage to keep things neat all the way through, but my own notebooks – and planners – are usually full of doodles and little hearts and crossed out items on to do lists. I have sketches by my son (done in moments of boredom when we’re in places that lack entertainment), grocery lists (that seem to always have the same items on them), and reminders and phone numbers and one word reminders that make no sense a few weeks (or days) after being jotted down.

I will always love new notebooks. I recognize that used ones, while less pleasing to the eye, actually have better stories to tell.

Some mistakes should be fixed.

Some mistakes are opportunities.

Some mistakes are serendipity.

Some mistakes are charged with regret.

Some are inevitable.

Some are growing pains.

Some are relative – depending on who you ask, they’re not even mistakes at all.

 “As he slowly circled the village green, his hands clasped behind his back and his gaze far off, he thought about that. After a few leisurely circuits he went inside to breakfast.
Beauvoir and Lacoste were already down, with frothy café au lait in front of them. They stood up as he entered the room, and he motioned them down. The aroma of maple-cured back bacon and eggs and coffee came from the kitchen. He’d barely sat down when Gabri swept out of the kitchen with plates of eggs Benedict, fruit and muffins.”

Gabri once ate his sorrow in muffins (this post: eating my pain). Lacoste is contemplating the power of muffins to fill emotional gaps in this scene. I wonder if anyone else considers muffins to be a sort of comfort food.

“S’il vous plait,” said Isabelle Lacoste, taking one. They looked like nuclear explosions. Isabelle Lacoste missed her children and her husband. But it amazed her how this small village seemed able to heal even that hole. Of course, if you stuff in enough muffins even the largest hole is healed, for a while. She was willing to try.”

I rarely make muffins in my home. I love them. I like muffins that are fresh out of the oven and smoking hot. My favorite is a recipe of apple muffins that I first ate in Sweden. The Swedish friend who gave me that recipe called it “apple bread” (although that’s the translation, I don’t know what she called it in Swedish). Maybe it’s because muffins are kind of like bread. Right?

Maybe the only reason they’re my favorite is because it was such a fun and friendly meal. My friend and I talked and baked and then sat down and enjoyed an ENTIRE batch of muffins before going out sightseeing. I was in my late teens, on a “gap semester” and having some time alone, away from home and family and the boyfriend (who I eventually married) and listening to my own heart and mind for a couple of months. Apple muffins remind me of that time.

My son won’t touch them. The little slivers of apple are too gooey for him. My husband tolerates them. Or, I should say, he used to tolerate them. At this point in our lives he quite freely grimaces and says, “Isn’t there anything else to eat?”

I am no longer in my late teens, but I would happily eat an entire batch of apple muffins all by myself. So I don’t really make them. Why risk it?

Since the pistachio muffins were a hit when I made them for the earlier post, I decided to try some chocolate muffins and call them brownies to see if my son would eat them. It almost worked. He ate one. After that, he looked at the muffin plate and said, “Can I have an apple next?”. My husband ate half of one and started rummaging in the refrigerator. Yet another muffin recipe that was not approved by the males in the house.

Me? I ate the entire rest of the batch. I thought they were yummy. Sigh. I really shouldn’t make muffins. The good news is I had no emotional holes or homesickness or regretted mistakes to fill up with muffins, so I managed to make them last enough that I don’t feel guilty. They freeze really well and worked great as a snack to bake, freeze, and pull out one at a time to enjoy with coffee or cappuccino or tea. The best part (my son disagrees) was having hazelnuts in them.


·         1 cup of sugar (I used white sugar, but since I was the only one who ate it anyway, I’ll use brown next time)
·         ½ cup of vegetable oil
·         3 eggs – I beat them slightly before adding them
Mix these three ingredients until you have a creamy blend.
·         1 ½ cups flour
·         1 teaspoon baking powder
·         1 teaspoon baking soda
·         1 pinch of salt
      Mix these in, but not too smooth. Unbaked muffin batter is supposed to be a bit lumpy, right? Just mix the dry and wet ingredients enough.
·         ½ cup of chopped hazelnuts
·         ½ cup of cacao powder or unsweetened chocolate powder
·         1 pinch of salt
·         100g of semi-sweet chocolate chips
Add those last ingredients, then spoon about two spoonfuls into each muffin tin. Bake for about 20 minutes.

All quotes – unless stated otherwise – are from The Brutal Telling: page 69 and 70 in the paperback edition.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Gamache & Beauvoir

by Amy

“Sitting heavily in one of the leather wing chairs of the St-Laurent Bar, Chief Inspector Gamache asked for a glass of water […] getting to his feet and putting down a hundred dollars for the water and the use of the quiet table by the fireplace.”

Louise Penny wrote an elegant and delicately woven book in BURY YOUR DEAD.

In the early books, Gamache and Beauvoir are usually together. Beauvoir is Gamache’s right hand man and their different outlooks and styles compliment and contrast each other.

In BURY YOUR DEAD they are apart. Both are grieving. Both use cases as distractions and coping mechanisms while they deal with what happened. Both remember. We learn about the tragic outcome in the factory as they sort through their memories, share bits and pieces with others, or listen to the voices in their heads.

“Are you going to watch?” Beauvoir asked.Gamache thought. “Yes. You?”“Maybe.” He also paused. “Yes.” There was a silence as both men considered what that meant. “Oh, God,” sighed Beauvoir.“When you do, don’t be alone,” said Gamache.“I wish-““So do I,” said Gamache. They both wished the same thing. That if they had to relive it, they could at least be together.”

It is here, when they spend time away from each other, that the bond between them becomes even more evident. It is our awareness of their closeness that makes their estrangement, in the next books, so poignant.

The entire book goes back and forth between them. While they try to heal, we are allowed to peek into their memories and, slowly, we are shown what happened at the factory. In the meantime, we see Gamache help out in a new case, interacting with his mentor Émile, and we watch as Beauvoir reworks an old case, without his own mentor at his side.

Beauvoir is not Gamache. I don’t think any of us would like him to be.

In BURY YOUR DEAD Louise Penny shows us how important choices are. There is foreshadowing. We watch as the two men are faced with similar situations and, because of their backgrounds, personalities, and choices, they act differently.

Gamache once told Agent Nicole:

“We choose our thoughts. We choose our perceptions. We choose our attitudes. We may not think so. We may not believe it, but we do. I absolutely know we do. I’ve seen enough evidence, time after time, tragedy after tragedy. Triumph over triumph. It’s about choice.” (Still Life)

And so it is.

Thoughts. Perceptions. Attitudes.

“And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.” (MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING – Viktor Frankle)

Not long after their phone conversation and their admission that they would have liked to watch the video together, we are shown how hurt and betrayed Gamache feels because of the choice Émile, his mentor, made in the case at hand.

“What’s happened?” Émile asked, seeing the look on Gamache’s face.”Gamache hesitated. For the first time in his life he was tempted to lie to this man who had lied to him.”

It’s eerie. In the next book, it is the video that triggers a feeling of abandonment in Beauvoir. He has many opportunities to confront Gamache, to question him, to give him the chance to explain himself. He doesn’t choose to do any of those things in A BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY. Not that there was any accusation to be made, but our feelings don’t always align with facts and aren’t always reasonable. Beauvoir is no exception. While he knew Gamache had to find Morin, he still felt left behind.

“You lied to me,” said Gamache.“It was just half an hour.“It was more than that and you know it. You made a choice, chose a side.”“A side? Are you saying the Champlain Society is on a different side than you?”“I’m saying we all have loyalties. You’ve made yours clear.”Émile stared. “I’m sorry, I should never have lied to you. It won’t happen again.”

Thoughts. Perceptions. Actions.

Gamache and Émile interpreted things differently. When Gamache chose to explain his interpretation of Émile’s lie, he gave his mentor a glimpse into how he felt and what that half an hour, apparently insignificant, meant to him. Even as he confronts him about that – and other, worse lies – Gamache is giving his friend an opportunity to know how he feels.

In the next book, Beauvoir’s pain is palpable. He doesn’t make Gamache privy to his feelings. He doesn’t confront Gamache. He reminds me a bit of a teenager who cannot come to grips with the fact that their parents – who were once their heroes – are, in fact, only human. Beauvoir oscillates between justifying Gamache in his own mind, and feeling an enormous pain of abandonment. He sways back and forth from guilt to blame. He cannot find middle ground. I can’t help feeling that if he’d only just broken down and TOLD his mentor all would have been well... But then the story wouldn’t be half as good, would it?

“Émile stared, stricken, but said nothing.Gamache turned and strode down the long corridor, his phone buzzing again and his heart pounding.“Wait, Armand,” he heard behind him but kept walking, ignoring the calls. Then he remembered what Émile had meant to him and still did. Did this one bad thing wipe everything else out?”


Thoughts. Perceptions. Actions. Choices.

“That was the danger. Not that betrayals happened, not that cruel things happened, but that they could outweigh all the good. That we could forget the good and only remember the bad. But not today. Gamache stopped.”

Can’t you just see Beauvoir making a similar choice? What if, instead of getting on that helicopter with Francoeur (in The Beautiful Mystery), he had chosen to stay with Gamache? What if they had finally watched that video together? What if Gamache had confided his suspicions and his plans?

Again: Beauvoir is not Gamache. I wouldn’t want him to be. I have a soft spot for Beauvoir. Like the ladies eating their post-exercise scones, I too have a crush on him. While I would have liked for him to make the same kind of choice as Gamache, I realize Beauvoir’s actions are probably closer to what most of us would do in similar circumstances.

When Viktor Frankl tells of the experiences prisoners went through in concentration camps, he talks about choices and about those who rise above circumstances and are models of resilience. They are the exception. Not the rule. Just as Gamache is an exeption in behavior, time and again.

Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.” (MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING – VIKTOR FRANKL)

To rise above our outward fate. What a great goal.

Gamache is not naïve. He isn’t unaware of cruelty, betrayal, pain, or evil in the world. He couldn’t be. Not in his line of work. He has the strength of character necessary to rise above his outward circumstances, and the faith it takes to see and show grace and love and forgiveness in the light of suffering. That is why the Chief Inspector is such a wonderful role model.

“In his [Gamache] pocket he felt the bottle of pills. His hand went to it, closing over it.He closed his eyes.Then taking his empty hand from his pocket he started calling the officers who’d survived, and the families of those who hadn’t. He talked to their mothers, their fathers, their wives and a husband. In the background he could hear a young child asking for milk. Over and over he called and listened to their rage, their pain, that someone could release a video of this event. Not once did they blame him, though Armand Gamache knew they could.”
“Before he [Beauvoir] left he went into the washroom and splashed cold water onto his face. He looked into the reflection and saw there a man far older than his thirty-eight years. Drawn and tired. And not wanting to do what came next.He felt an ache deep down.Bringing the pill bottle out of his pocket he placed it on the counter and stared at it. Then pouring himself a glass of water he shook a pill into his palm. Carefully breaking it in half he swallowed it with a quick swig.”

These scenes echo in my mind. Time and again we see Beauvoir in a similar situation and succumbing where the Chief did not. It’s easy to judge and say he should have chosen differently. It isn’t hard to make excuses and say he didn’t have his mentor’s support system, maturity or wisdom. It's easy to justify that they had different wounds and different pain - both physical and emotional.

“Those who see the heart only as a place of weakness will be fearful of their own hearts. For them, the heart is a place of pain and anguish, of chaos and of transitory emotions.” (BECOMING HUMAN – Vanier)

It’s true. He should have chosen differently. While there are other factors involved, addiction involves a choice at some point. He didn't make the best choice. And it is also true that he had neither the self-assurance, nor the wisdom of his mentor. He didn’t have Gamache’s faith in grace. It doesn’t excuse his choice, but it might help explain it. Beauvoir still has a long road to travel before he learns to deal with his heart, his vulnerability, and, ultimately, his inner strength. It’s a beautiful journey, though. I’m glad we were invited to come along. “Things are strongest when they’re broken,” is a recurring phrase in the Chief Inspectors memories of Paul Morin. Beauvoir is a stronger – and better – man in the later books. And yes, I still have a crush on him.

“Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.” (MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING – Viktor Frankl)

Thoughts. Perceptions. Actions. Choices.

If we realize how much of an impact the interpretation we spin on life affects our actions, we might consciously learn to determine it. We have a choice in how we perceive the world around us. We have a choice regarding what we let our thoughts dwell on. We are not in complete control of our fate, but our choices help shape our lives and our future.

We cannot control what others do or say. We can choose how we react. We frequently cannot control the conditions in our lives. Sometimes we have a choice in promoting a change in our circumstances. Sometimes we can make a choice in how we change ourselves in order to handle what life has given us.

I am frequently teased about being a “Pollyanna”. I’m not an optimist. Far from it. I tend to be very critical and am not unaware of problems, pain, or sorrow. Pollyanna did have an impact in my life, though. Both the book and the movie are probably indelibly engraved in my psyche. As I grew up, I began to do it ever more consciously. It’s become a habit. A good one, I think. Although I’m still very much a work in progress.

“Merci.”Émile paused, taken by surprise. “What for?”“For not leaving me.”Émile reached out and touched Gamache on the arm, then clicked the button and the video started to play.”

Again there are echoes. Gamache chose to confront his mentor and, ultimately, to forgive a lie that he relegated to a small portion in the whole of who his mentor was to him. He had his old mentor at his side when he watched the video. The one thing he thanks Émile for is the one thing that Beauvoir later feels Gamache himself had once failed to do.

Thoughts. Perceptions. Actions. Choices.

I pray that we all are blessed with grace. I pray that we find the strength to change that which can be changed, to confront and forgive when needed, and to understand our plight or at least find meaning, so we can not only endure, but raise ourselves above our fate.

I should drink more water. We should probably all drink more water. I have a little bush in my backyard that has citrus-scented leaves. I like to add them to a water jug and it gives a faint citrus taste to my water.

Unless stated otherwise all quotes are from BURY YOUR DEAD

Friday, April 8, 2016

On fresh bread & being a good audience

By Amy

“They walked slowly the length of the buffet. Octopus balls, crab cakes, halibut. Potato salad; fresh bread, still warm. Juices and water. No alcohol.”

A few months ago Libby cooked and blogged about the feast. She’s so much braver than I am. When we first wrote out the list of meals for this project and I saw “octopus balls” I was so intimidated I thought of just leaving this on the “maybe someday” list of meals or hoping Libby would pick it so I wouldn’t have to. But then, the other day, I was skimming the list in search for the next meal I’d choose and bemoaning the fact that none of the characters ever baked bread (I love making bread). I wanted to post about my new yummy sourdough lemon rolls… That’s when fresh bread kind of popped up at me. Yes! Fresh bread.

I enjoy tasting new things. Bread is one of my alltime favorite things, though.

“Mais, c´est extraordinaire.”“Haw’aa.”Wide, gracious staircases led up to the balconies and at the far end of the room was a stage. Behind it a mural had been painted on the wall.
“That’s a Haida village,” she said, nodding toward it.“Incroyable,” whispered Gamache. The Chief Inspector was often surprised, astonished, by life. But he was rarely dumbfounded. He was now.”

I love how Gamache allows himself to be impressed and astonished. So many people, as they grow, lose the ability to feel childlike wonder. Gamache doesn’t.

“She then introduced him to everyone, one by one. He repeated their names and tried to keep them straight, though he was frankly lost after half a dozen.”

Louise Penny does a good job of keeping Gamache human. He’s courteous and he makes a point of treating people with respect and recognizing their individuality. But he's not perfect or an automaton. I can totally identify with his difficulty with names.

“Over dinner they all talked, but he noticed the Haida elders asked more questions than they answered. They were interested in his work, his life, his family. They asked about Quebec. They were informed and thoughtful. Kind, and guarded.”

I think this is one of the few times where we see Gamache in an environment where people have a similar approach to his own. If we read the description of the Haida elders, it sounds a lot like a description of Gamache himself. He asks more questions than he answers. He’s interested in people and in hearing about their lives, their work, their communities, their loved ones. He asks pertinent questions and he’s informed and thoughtful. He’s kind, and guarded. Maybe less guarded than the Haida elders, but he keeps many things to himself and doesn’t share with everyone. It’s not so much that he’s secretive; but that he’s respectful of the many secrets (of others) he carries in his head.

 “Gamache told them about the murder. The Hermit in the cabin buried deep in the forest. The elders, always attentive, grew even more still as he told them about the man, surrounded by treasure, but alone. A man whose life had been taken, his goods left behind. A man with no name, surrounded by history, but with none himself.”

Maybe it is because they are such good listeners that Gamache becomes talkative. While he is a sounding board for many, we don’t often see him think out loud. He takes walks. He listens to suspects, agents, and friends. He ponders. He’s frequently the one who summarizes and tells a story once the whole story is known. We don’t often see him “monologuing” for long periods of time. He found a respectful audience here. An audience much like he himself usually is. I wonder if, in a way, he recognized that?

“Hard to be both happy and afraid,” said Esther. “But fear can lead to courage.”“And courage can lead to peace,” said a young man in a suit.

Once again, the Haida remind me of Gamache. I think this scene is a bit like I imagine his inner dialogues are like. They listen. They read between the lines. They’re sensitive to tone of voice, unsaid words, and are more interested in the man the hermit was than in the gore of his death. And, like Gamache, they have grace and they have faith and they recognize the power of resilience. “Fear can lead to courage. And courage can lead to peace.”

It reminded Gamache of what the fisherman had written on the wall of the diner in Mutton Bay a few years earlier. He’d looked at Gamache across the room and smiled so fully it had taken the Chief Inspector’s breath away. Then the fisherman had scribbled something on the wall and left. Gamache had gone to the wall, and read: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.” “Gamache spoke the words, and there was silence in the hall. The Haida were good at silence. And so was Gamache.”

I would like to be really good at silence. That’s one of the things I’d love to be better at. Not “I’m-angrily-holding-words-in” silence. Or “I-couldn’t-care-less” silence. Or “I’ll-listen-to-a-book-or-a-show-or-a-song” silence. I would like to learn how to use silence to listen better. I think silence might help me to better listen to my own thoughts and my own feelings and my own intuition. I think silence, or gaps of silence in a conversation, might give me more of a chance to think about what I’m about to say before I actually burst it out. But, even more importantly: I think silence is crucial to give me time to not only hear what the other has said, but to absorb it, digest it, try to understand it, try to understand their point of view, and go beyond instinctive reaction… before I answer.

I think Gamache is an incredible role model. There are many things to learn from him. I’m close in age to Beauvoir and Lacoste and tend to, like them, read Gamache as a mentor and not so much a contemporary. There are many things to admire (and I’m glad we’ll have so many chances to talk about him). This is one of them.

The Haida are good listeners. They are respectful and empathetic. They are kind. They know the importance – and the power – of silence. And they serve fresh bread. What could be better?

Sourdough Rolls:

This recipe comes from a friend. Her recipe comes from a book. It’s no longer from the book and I have slightly modified the recipe the friend uses. So… here’s “modified” sourdough rolls (based on a sourdough bread recipe).

2 packages of active dry yeast
1 ¼ cups warm water
1 cup sourdough starter at room temperature (there are recipes on how to start your own)
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs (slightly beaten)
5 to 6 cups of flour
Melted butter

First combine the yeast and warm water and let stand for 5 minutes.

Combine the yeast mixture, sourdough starter, oil, sugar, salt, eggs and about half the flour in a bowl. 

Gradually add more flour until it’s a soft dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead. THIS IS THE BEST PART. I think kneading bread dough is one of the most therapeutic things ever. I love bread. I love making bread, eating bread… 
Knead it until it’s smooth and elastic, then place in a well-greased bowl and let rise 1 to 2 hours or until doubled.

Punch it down, divide in half (I sometimes make a double recipe, so I’d divide it in quarters) and place on floured surface. Roll into a rectangle – or just stretch it with your hands until it’s a rectangle.

You can just roll it up and place it in a loaf-pan, let rise for another hour, then bake.

You can roll it, cut the loaf every 1 ½ inches and bake them as rolls. Or you can make cinnamon rolls (butter and cinnamon) or lemon rolls (my favorite - butter and lemon zest) or sandwich rolls (husband’s favorite - sliced cheese and ham) or cheese rolls (this one is my son’s favorite – butter and parmesan) or maybe even pizza rolls (tomato sauce, cheese and basil)… I think the possibilities are endless.

And then, of course, I have to mention my favorite fresh bread. Mom’s recipe. Part of the fun is that there isn’t really a recipe. It’s a bit like life – you can never repeat a day and you can never eat the same loaf twice. Even if you add the same ingredients (and I never measure, so I don’t know how much of anything), there’s also the heat, the humidity of the day, and other factors you can’t control.

You start with the yeast. It’s one of those liquid yeasts that you “feed” and reproduce so you never run out. It’s not like sourdough starter. My mom gave me the first jar. Every time I only have one jar left, I mix the contents of that one jar of yeast, two jars of warm water, 1 tablespoon of salt, 4 of sugar and 5 of flour. You let it rest for 12 hours, then split it into 3 jars. One you use to make the bread. The other two you refrigerate for the next time you bake bread.

To make the actual bread, you add some kind of fat (cream, butter, oil, olive oil…), some kind of sugar (sugar, brown sugar), and some kind of flour until it reaches a consistency that’s softer than dough. Kind of gooey. You let that rise for 6 to 12 hours. Then you knead it with more flour and add anything else you want (nuts, cacao nibs, chia, etc). You divide it into three loaf pans and let rise for another 3 to 8 hours. Then bake for 40 minutes.

I’ve made it with herbs, with lemon zest, with nuts. With only wholewheat flour, only white flour, a mix of both. I add flax, chia, quinoa, seeds, oats. I add leftovers sometimes… This latest edition has cacao nibs, chia, flax, quinoa flakes, oats, the leftover liquid from a peach preserve, the leftovers of blueberry jam (I just added some water to the jar and shook it so it was jammy water), whole wheat flour, white flour, butter and a pinch of cinammon… It turned out so yummy. Some turn out better than others. Some are so good I try to rack my brain to remember what I put in there (I don’t have a scientific approach to it and usually don’t remember exactly what went into it). Some are just passable. The kneading the dough is therapeutic. Scent of fresh bread is lovely. And I’m sure that by now most of you know that I love eating bread!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Clotted Cream, Strawberry Jam and Scones...and Camaraderie

by Libby

They put on their coats and ran across the snowy road to the inn and spa for the regular post-exercise tea and scones. ... a plate of warm scones, clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. This was Clara’s favorite part of exercise class. (Bury Your Dead, Kindle, p.239)

It is six months since Olivier was imprisoned, and Jean-Guy Beauvoir has returned to Three Pines, at Gamache's request, to quietly review the evidence in the case against Olivier. Beauvoir needs Clara's help, for unlike Gamache, he has always been aloof with the Three Pines community. He figures she 'was the best of a bad lot' to take into his confidence. So very Beauvoir!

With Gamache's and Beauvoir's belief that they 'might have gotten it wrong', Clara undoubtedly feels a moral obligation to help Olivier, and support Gabri whose unstinting belief in him has led to this turn of events. But her decision to help Beauvoir by studying the case file and asking some questions within the community, places Clara in somewhat of a moral dilemma.
She didn’t like the idea of being a spy but if he was right then an innocent man was in prison and a murderer was among them. (Bury Your Dead, Kindle, p.156)

Clara uses the post-exercise class gathering of women, her friends, as an opportune time to raise the subject of Jean-Guy Beauvoir's visit and of murder, to suss out Dominique Gilbert, The Wife, and Hanna Para. She wonders if each is capable of murder or perhaps their husbands, or other family members.

As always, Louise Penny sheds a little light where there is darkness with her wonderful sense of humour, allowing us to so easily relate to her characters’ foibles...and of course, recognise our own.
"Ten more.” Clara groaned and lifted her legs in unison. “Keep your back flat!” Clara ignored the order. This wasn’t pretty. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but she was going to damn well do it. “One, grunt, two, groan, three...” ... Myrna turned to Clara. “If you hold her down, I’ll kill her.” (Bury Your Dead, Kindle, p.237)
Haven’t we all shared the ‘pain’ of such feats of endurance in an exercise class with incessant moaning and complaining, regardless of the perceived benefits? And doesn’t it make any after-class treat all the more worthwhile and less of a guilty pleasure. What a laugh!

As Clara tries to lead off her ‘investigation’ after the class, with a comment about Beauvoir's presence in Three Pines, there is more humour with the chorus of responses about him ranging from caring concern, to a need to fatten him up, to an appreciation of his 'cuteness', and his Mr. Spock 'coolness', as Clara explains, even though it was not where she was wanting to lead the discussion!
Everyone had a crush on Mr. Spock because he was so cool and distant. They wanted to be the one to break down his reserve, to get into that heart.”

“It’s not his heart we want to get into,” said Hanna and everyone laughed. (Bury Your Dead, Kindle, p.238)
Who doesn't recognise themselves somewhere amongst this group of women in their responses to Jean-Guy Beauvoir! There is such a wonderful sense of camaraderie in this exchange about him; women who are comfortable enough with each other to be quite frank, to joke, and probably talk about almost anything.

Once they settle down to their scones, clotted cream and jam, Clara turns the conversation towards Olivier and murder.
“He still insists he didn’t kill the Hermit,” said Clara, watching everyone closely. She felt a fraud, pretending to be a homicide investigator, play-acting. ... Had one of these women killed the Hermit after all? But why? What could have driven them to it? And what did she really know about them? (Bury Your Dead, Kindle, p.239-40)

I can recall feeling uncomfortable that Clara was in this position of resorting to 'investigating' her friends, to ascertain if they were anyway implicated.

Was it morally justifiable that she would take advantage of a gathering of friends in this way? Was it a betrayal of the trust and consideration or fairness these women would necessarily expect as part of this group? With such a dilemma Clara would have to weigh up her moral obligation to Olivier against the morality of her actions with her friends. And anyway, by her own admission, how well did Clara know these women? But given time...

From my experience a wonderful camaraderie can be forged in the company of women, a sense of good will and trust, that grows from shared experiences or activities with opportunities to relax, learn from each other, and just enjoy each others' company. And in the process we try each other on for size, seeing how well we fit, finding some boundaries or parameters for a friendship or friendship group. And it's the stuff on which closer friendships are founded...or not.

Loyalty, trust, commitment and honesty are at the heart of closer friendships that evolve over time as we learn more about each other, and shared values become explicit. This doesn't mean that those friends are necessarily a mirror image of yourself, but something about your core values and moral beliefs will be attuned. Ultimately the very closest of friendships are characterised by high levels of trust and commitment, a deep and genuine concern for each other's well-being, and intimate knowledge of each other through mutual self-disclosure. Clara has that with Myrna.

What we observe with the Three Pines’ exercise class and the women who gather at the morning tea is the taking of that opportunity to get to know each other more intimately and develop mutual respect as they share their opinions, their motivations, their confidences, and even some startling disclosures about murder!
The women in the room chatted about love, about childhood, about losing parents, about Mr. Spock, about good books they’d read. They mothered each other. And by lunch they were ready to meet the winter’s day. (Bury Your Dead, Kindle, p.242)
While Clara left that encounter with one or two observations for Beauvoir to pursue, she was possibly a little further along the pathway towards forging some closer friendships.

How often have you made a really meaningful connection to someone just by taking those opportunities to talk with them, ask each other questions and learn about your respective likes, desires and beliefs, fears and motivations, to share experiences and discover that there is something in each others' company to be enjoyed, pursued and cultivated, and truly valued? And what starts as a little spark, forges a friendship that offers mutual support and comfort and a safe, intimate and trusting place. And immeasurable joy! Life is full of possibilities.


Scones, clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam


What better to accompany camaraderie!
I've been drawn to the idea of a traditional cream tea (as it's known in Cornwall) or Devonshire tea (as it's known in Devon) ever since discovering a small book on clotted cream in a little bookshop in Fowey, Cornwall. What a delight! And more so, in discovering it being enjoyed in Three Pines! 

I couldn't resist the opportunity to make clotted cream and it really is quite easy. What a wonderful combination of flavours and textures in a cream tea, and how absolutely worthwhile doing everything from scratch, so that it's all homemade. The deep, rich flavour and thick sticky texture of clotted cream goes so well with the sweet acidity of the strawberries and the light, crumb of warm freshly-baked scones.

Lashings of clotted cream and jam (this is no time to be stingy!) on a warm scone is indeed a treat, and reward enough for a punishing exercise regimen. And just the thing to serve with a fragrant tea in the company of women friends, I think. 

Clotted cream

This cooked cream is traditionally made with creamy full fat, cow's milk that hasn't been homogenised. At home the easiest method is just to use pure cream and bake it a very slow oven for 10-12 hours until it thickens and a crust forms.

- 4 cups of pure cream (no thickeners), with a high fat content

- a ceramic or Pyrex baking dish with a largish surface area that allows the cream to be at least 2.5cm/1inch deep

1.  Pour the cream into the baking dish and cover with aluminium foil.

2.  Place in a low oven at 80C/180F for 10-12 hours or overnight.

3.  Remove from the oven and cool at room temperature.

4.  Spoon off the thick, crusty top layer. It has the consistency of sticky mud. This is the clotted cream.

5.  Spoon the clotted cream into a serving bowl and refrigerate the remainder.

6.  Approximately a cup of thin, runny cream will remain in the baking dish. This can be poured off and used as a base for sauces or in other dishes such as a creamy, pasta bake.

Strawberry jam

I prefer to make small amounts of strawberry jam so I can reduce the sugar content. With a third of the sugar normally used to preserve a jam, this one needs to be kept in the fridge. But it has the benefit of a more enhanced strawberry flavour and less sugary taste. It is still very sweet though. I like to keep the fruit whole so it's more like a preserve.

- 3 cups of whole, firm strawberries

- 1 cup of superfine (caster) sugar
juice of 1 lemon

- 1 tbsp Kirsch

1.  Wash and hull the strawberries and gently pat dry.

2.  Layer the strawberries with the sugar in a glass/ceramic bowl and pour over the lemon juice.

3.  Gently mix. Cover the bowl with a cloth and leave overnight. This helps to reduce the cooking time (to keep the fruit whole) as much of the sugar will dissolve overnight.

4.  Place the strawberry mixture in a heavy-based saucepan and gently heat to dissolve any remaining sugar.

5.  Once all sugar is dissolved, bring the mixture to the boil and stir continuously. After 10 minutes, start to check for setting point - mine was reached at 20 minutes.

6.  Stir in the tablespoon of Kirsch and remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to stand for 15 minutes.

7.  Pour into one or two warm, sterilised jars. Seal and refrigerate.


The trick to light scones is working with the dough quickly. A quick mix in a food processor helps with this. The use of buttermilk is also key for many, for lightness and a little bit of tang. I don't use sugar in my scones. Sweet toppings are enough.

- 4 cups of self-raising flour

- 2 teaspoons of baking powder

- 100g/3.5oz butter at room temperature, cut into small pieces

- 1.25 cups of buttermilk at room temperature (or whole milk with a squeeze of lemon juice)

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 220C/425F. Lightly grease a baking tray.

2.  Mix the flour, baking powder and butter in a food processor for barely 10 seconds, so it is like the texture of breadcrumbs.

3.  Pour into a bowl, and quickly and lightly mix in the buttermilk to form a dough.

4.  Gently roll or pat out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of 3cm/1.2inches and cut to shape.

5.  Place close together (it helps them rise) on the prepared tray and brush the tops with a little milk.

6.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes, depending on your oven.

7. Cool a little on a wire rack, before serving.