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, June 24, 2016

Chocolate Cake & How the Light Gets In

by Amy

“I brought dessert.” Gabri pointed to a cardboard box on the counter. “Chocolate fudge cake.”

I love Gabri. Who wouldn't?

“Could you show me your studio?” Gamache asked Clara, hoping to get far enough away from the cake to overcome the temptation to put his finger in it. “I realize I’ve never seen your art.”

So far in the series, we hadn’t seen much of Clara’s art either. Not in this depth. And no, I wasn’t as controlled as Gamache. I’m writing while eating (yet another) slice of cake and some Earl Grey tea.  (Shhhh… don’t tell Libby. My tea came from a bag.)

Gamache stood in front of an image of three elderly women, arms entwined, cradling each other. It was an amazingly complex work, with layers of photographs and paintings and even some writing. Em, the woman in the middle, was leaning back precipitously, laughing with abandon, and the other two were supporting her and also laughing. It ached of intimacy, of a private moment caught in women’s lives. It captured their friendship and their dependence on each other. It sang of love and a caring that went beyond pleasant lunches and the remembrance of birthdays. Gamache felt as though he was looking into each of their souls, and the combination of the three was almost too much to bear.

This is the one painting – of all the art described in the books – that I would love to own. It wouldn’t even need to be the original. I’d be happy to own a copy. I’d probably settle for a shot taken with my phone, if I’m honest. I just wish I could see it. I wish I could have this image somewhere nearby.

“I call it The Three Graces,” said Clara.
“Perfect,” Gamache whispered.
“Mother is Faith, Em is Hope and Kaye is Charity. I was tired of seeing the Graces always depicted as beautiful young things. I think wisdom comes with age and life and pain. And knowing what matters.”

This is one of my favorite Clara-quotes. “I think wisdom comes with age and life and pain. And knowing what matters.” Isn’t that brilliant?

“Is it finished? It looks as though there’s space for another.”
That’s very perceptive of you. It is finished, but in each of my works I try to leave a little space, a kind of crack.” 
“Can you make out the writing on the wall behind them?” She nodded toward her painting. 
Gamache leaned in and put on his reading glasses.‘Ring the bells that still can ring//Forget your perfect offering,//There’s a crack in everything,//That’s how the light gets in.’

And this is why this is the one piece of art I’d love to have. I’m pretty much illiterate when it comes to visual arts. Whatever it is that moves people and speaks to them in color and shape and design has limited impact on me. It’s not that I don’t see it, but I’ve come to realize that I’m probably visually challenged. It makes more sense once I know the history behind it, the goal of the artist, the stories of those who have felt its impact… I suppose that means I need words to go with the images before their full impact is felt. Clara made this painting for people like me. She added the words! She explained it. That’s how the light gets in.

He read it out loud. “Beautiful. Madame Zardo?” he asked. 
No, Leonard Cohen. All my works have vessels of some sort. Containers. Sometimes it’s in the negative space, sometimes it’s more obvious. In The Three Graces it’s more obvious.” 
It wasn’t obvious to Gamache. He stepped back from the work, then he saw what she meant. The vessel, like a vase, was formed by their bodies, and the space he’d noticed was the crack, to let the light in. 
“I do it for Peter,” she said quietly. At first Gamache thought he might have misheard, but she continued as though speaking to herself. “He’s like a dog, like Lucy. He’s very loyal. He puts everything he has into one thing. One interest, one hobby, one friend, one love. I’m his love and it scares the shit out of me.” She turned now to look in Gamache’s thoughtful brown eyes. “He’s poured all his love into me. I’m his vessel. But suppose I crack? Suppose I break? Suppose I die? What would he do?”

I think there are many people who feel like this. The weight of being someone’s everything or even of being their one-something can be crippling in a sense. Early parenthood is a temporary foray into that kind of relationship. Every parent knows the feeling. In other relationships, an emotionally stunted person (like Peter) lays all their hopes and dreams and trust on another. In some cases, there is a palpable physical or emotional impairment. Sometimes it has to do with a relationship dynamic where one person loses some of their autonomy and relies too heavily on another. Parents of children with disabilities come to mind. A mother of a non-verbal autistic child once said that the foremost thought on her mind on bad days is his dependency. Suppose I die? What would he do?

No one is irreplaceable. Or everyone is irreplaceable, depending on how you look at it. While we are all unique and no one can quite fill your shoes, in your absence things will shift and somehow life will go on without you – whether it’s for a few days or for life. The movie My Life Without Me comes to mind.

But suppose I crack? Suppose I break? Suppose I die?

I’ve thought it, too. More than once. I still do. I probably always will. I have better answers to the questions than I used to, though. Whenever I ask myself these questions, I know what to tell myself.
Life will go on. It’s too big a burden to carry. It’s an impossible task. You have to be allowed to have cracks. To break. To be the one who needs help and support and care.

When we are in a position where we seem irreplaceable and it feels like those around us would not survive without us, maybe it’s time to step back. Reassess. In parenthood it’s a transitory process. You know your job is to make sure your children grow into their autonomy and independence. Your job is to teach them how to walk on their own two feet. Hopefully you can do that and end up with grown children who still enjoy your company. But, ultimately, the goal is to know that you can crack or break or die – and they’ll be okay.

Apparently, in my family, four years of age is the magical moment in which the child realizes that a parent could possibly crack or break or die. My mom tells the story that, at four, I asked her to promise not to die until I was married (which was my definition of being a grown-up).  The same promise was demanded by my own son when he turned four. “Mommy, you won’t die before I’m a grown-up, will you?” How do you answer that? Who can make that kind of a promise? Then again, why would I leave him with the insecurity of possibly becoming a motherless child? I wound up inviting him to talk to God and asking Him to make sure to remember not to let me die before he was ready to be on his own. He was satisfied with that solution.

Our job, as parents, is to make sure we raise him so someday he can know, deep down, that he’ll be okay. His parents can (probably more frequently than he imagines) crack or break and even die. He may hurt and grieve and feel gaps and cracks in his own life if that happens, but he’ll be okay.

I feel for those who have people in their lives that may never become fully independent. Some parents raise children who will forever depend on someone to change them, feed them or care for them. Some caretakers deal with emotional or psychological needs that can be draining. Some have spouses or family members that depend on them for so much. Maybe too much sometimes. Some have few resources to delegate or share the responsibility. My heart goes out to those caretakers, too.  It’s still their job to ensure autonomy, to the extent that it is possible, as well as a network of help. Some help. Even if it’s minimal.

“So all your art is exploring that theme?” 
“Mostly it’s about imperfection and impermanence. There’s a crack in everything.”

And that’s part of Clara’s genius. It is because she is willing to see her own fragility and the cracks and imperfection in her own person that she is brilliant, radiant, and filled with the light that gets in through the crack.

While it can be intimidating and daunting to care for those who are (seemingly) less capable than we are, including the children, the sick, and those with emotional or physical impairments, it can be a brilliant opportunity for growth. Those who have read Becoming Human, by Jean Vanier (the inspiration behind the idea of the fictional book BEING) will recognize the thought that interaction with those who are weaker (apparently) than ourselves may help us learn to see and acknowledge our own vulnerability and our common humanity and worthiness, despite our brokenness.

We are worthy. Our worth is not diminished because of our cracks. That’s how the light gets in.

“That’s how the light gets in, said Gamache. He thought of CC who’d written so much about light and enlightenment and illumination, and thought it came from perfection. But she couldn’t hold a candle to this bright woman beside him. 
“Peter doesn’t get it. Probably never will.” 
“Have you ever painted Ruth?” 
“Why do you ask?” 
“Well, frankly, if anyone’s cracked…” He laughed and Clara joined him. 
“No, and you know why? I’m afraid to. I think she could be my masterpiece and I’m afraid to try.” 
“In case you can’t do it?” 
“Got it in one. There’s also something scary about Ruth. I’m not sure I want to look that deeply into her.” 
“You will,” he said, and she believed him.

Fear is a crack. It’s a weakness. It can paralyze us. It almost kept Clara from attempting what was her masterpiece. She was probably right to be afraid. Ruth is scary. I am totally intimidated by her. I can sympathize with Beauvoir. I love her, but... She grows on us. I’m hoping the next book will look a little bit deeper into her, too. She still scares me a little bit. I'm pretty sure I'd be completely tongue-tied if I had to meet her face to face (and there we go again, treating these characters as real people).

Louise Penny frequently writes that Gamache’s power as an investigator lies in his willingness to go into those hidden depths and locked chambers of people’s souls. She writes that he is only able to do so because he has faced his own. I think Clara is on a similar journey. She is a great artist because she looks deeply. Into the darkness. She forays into the cracks and finds the light.

“They’re marvelous, Clara. They radiate.” He turned to look at her in astonishment, as though meeting the woman for the first time. He’d known she was insightful, and courageous and compassionate. But he hadn’t appreciated that she was this gifted.

I have written before that I am jealous of Clara’s ability to paint souls. The scene I was posting about then was the one where she unveils her masterpiece: Ruth. Hope.

I love this scene. I love this conversation between Gamache and Clara. I love the concept of cracks being an opportunity for light to come in. I think it’s a beacon of hope.

‘Ring the bells that still can ring//Forget your perfect offering,//There’s a crack in everything,//That’s how the light gets in.’

Chocolate Cake

I didn’t make fudge cake. I followed a new recipe (for me, anyway). I wanted a moist simple cake that was heavy on the chocolate, not on the sugar. This one was perfect. My only tweak to the original recipe (I cannot seem to follow any recipe with precision) is that I only put in 2/3 cup of sugar instead of 1 full cup. Here’s the link to Nigella's Olive Oil Chocolate Cake. I made the version with regular flour and it was absolutely delicious!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Cucumber Soup with Mint and Melon...and the frog in the frying pan

by Libby

... Olivier had prepared something special for Beauvoir to take back for the four of them. And so the Inspector had returned with a chilled cucumber soup with mint and melon, a sliced tomato and basil salad drizzled with balsamic, and cold poached salmon. (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.51)

In the midst of this bucolic setting of Clara Morrow's garden with the river and forest beyond, a murder has been committed. Twenty feet from where Gamache, Beauvoir and the Morrows sit having an alfresco lunch, a forensic team investigates the site where Lillian Dyson, a former friend of Clara's, has been murdered. It is a bizarre juxtaposition.

And it's little wonder at Clara's contrary reaction when she is forced to dredge up the details of a painful episode in her life, a captive once again in her relationship with Lillian.

She took a sip of the cold, refreshing soup. She wondered if she really should be quite this hungry. And, oddly, when the body had been an anonymous woman Clara had lost her appetite. Now that it was Lillian she was ravenous. (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.51)

In Still Life we first learn of Clara's vulnerability, how her experiences of being intimidated and excluded as a child left her feeling inadequate and powerless. Now we learn that into that void had come Lillian, to champion Clara, support her. But it eventually came at a cost. Clara's need for approval and acceptance, the promise of Lillian's friendship and fear of losing it was a seedbed for Lillian's control. She was a grade 'A' manipulator and Clara a prime target with her self-worth being so dependent on Lillian. Though the relationship seemed to start well for Clara, over time it became one-sided, troubled and eventually toxic.

Some of this struck a chord with me, particularly thinking back to those adolescent years when so much was invested in the approval of friends and peers, at the same ghastly time as trying to grow into your headspace and body. I can think of instances of dancing to someone else's tune to be accepted as part of the group, or as a favoured companion. Cringe worthy when you look back, wanting to be one of the 'cool kids' but lacking a bit of self-esteem, so unable at times to resist currying favour of those with a seemingly strong power base. Fortunately it was a relatively short-lived thing. Somehow I matured enough to see through a friendship that was essentially on one person's terms with questionable motives. I guess my investment in any friendships at that time was quite insignificant compared to the worthwhile capital invested in some later friendships that have returned it in kind.

Clara, however, had very early on made a big investment in her friendship with Lillian. By the time she realised the imbalance in it, the deception and coercion, her behaviour and actions were already largely in response to Lillian's wants and needs. At the mercy of Lillian's emotional blackmail, Clara was variously made to feel shame and guilt, and subjected to blame, anger and threats.

Lillian's greatest retaliation (because her control was under threat) was in response to Clara starting to find her voice and becoming empowered through the creativity in her artwork. Surely it was Clara's need to please and her own fear of conflict, rejection and abandonment that remarkably led her to change her style of art at Lillian's insistence. Clara's self doubt and therefore inability to trust her own judgement played straight into Lillian's hands. And somewhere beneath the facade were Lillian's own insecurities. This is, sadly, the story of manipulation. Eventually a brutal act of betrayal, Lillian publicly and scathingly criticising Clara's art, brought an end to the toxic relationship.

Clara could still feel the quaking, the rumbling, volcanic fury. Their friendship had been blown to smithereens. No piece large enough to even examine. Impossible to mend. But what did rise from the rubble was a deep, deep enmity. A hatred. Mutual, it seemed. (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.47)

Fortunately she was finally able to assert some control and be true to herself. But is it little wonder all these years later, given Lillian's intrusion on her life again, that Clara still feels enmity towards her?
In spite of her well-earned success and acclaim as an artist, Clara is reduced to bitter feelings of resentment that Lillian has once again been a 'despoiler', robbing her of the triumph of her professional success, forcing her to relive the calculated betrayal that destroyed their friendship.

Perhaps in some cases distance doesn't give perspective. After a twenty year hiatus, Clara's judgement of Lillian and her intentions, remains unchanged, suspended in time. And now Lillian lies in her garden.

Ding, dong, thought Clara. The witch is dead. (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.53)

After such an arduous journey to artistic success, Clara's feelings of resentment, and even rage towards Lillian and what she has yet again stolen from her, are understandable. Myrna knows this -- Myrna, who is the friend that friendships can be judged by, where there is balance and openness, a sense of affinity and mutual respect and support. Why settle for less? We all need a Myrna in our life!

“...she ruined your big day.” It was a statement. And it was true. She had. Lillian herself, it must be admitted, had not had a great day either. (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.80)

While Clara tries to explain her bitterness based on her manipulated relationship with Lillian, Myrna provides wise counsel likening it to 'the frog in the frying pan', and acknowledging her eventual assertiveness.

"... if you put one into a pan at room temperature then slowly raise the heat, what happens?” Clara thought about it. “It’ll jump out when it gets too hot?” Myrna shook her head. “No.” She ... leaned forward again, her eyes intense. “The frog just sits there. It gets hotter and hotter but it never moves. It adjusts and adjusts. Never leaves.” ... “You stood up for yourself. For your art. You left. And she hated you for it.” (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.81)

To complete the episode Louise Penny helps to assuage our feelings of hurt and disappointment for Clara's situation with Myrna's heartwarming, albeit cryptic, quoting of the headlines from the New York and London Times' art reviews to her, lauding her work.

“Hope takes its place among the modern masters.” ... “Clara Morrow’s art makes rejoicing cool again.”

Balance is restored. Aren't true friends more than not the bearers of good news, and regardless, leave us feeling better?

There's much to value in this episode, not least Louise Penny's use of humour as counterpoint to  the grim reality of traumatic events. I suppose from Clara's perspective it seems pretty black and white. But Louise Penny reminds us, as the story evolves, that people are capable of change, or at least can learn how to get back in touch with that better part of themselves. Clara comes to appreciate this, too.

The delicate, summery flavours of the lunch at the crime scene are a stark contrast to the dark feelings of turmoil experienced by Clara. I chose to make the soup as I was curious about what flavours would work well together and how best to judge the right balance between them. It's always enjoyable experimenting with ingredients and exploring flavour possibilities. Cucumber and honey dew melon blitzed together make quite a refreshing drink, but to put them together in a soup a few other key ingredients are needed to lift flavours from the bland to more interesting and tasty heights.

Cucumber Soup with Mint and Melon


This delicate, tangy soup, served at room temperature or slightly chilled, is perfect for a warm day and is all about fresh seasonal ingredients. It is quite delicious and reaches more complex heights with a lime and cardamom yoghurt topping and a little 'quick' cucumber pickle.

Simply made in a blender until it has a silky-smooth consistency, the trick to this soup is to balance the flavours as you make it. A very sweet melon, for example, might mean that you need a little more acidity so add more lime juice or rice wine vinegar. Extra ginger or a little more white pepper brings a more spicy note to the soup. The flavour of the soup will come alive by getting a balance between spiciness, sweetness, sourness and saltiness.  That is why tasting it, as your make it, is so important.

The thicker consistency and stronger flavour of Greek yoghurt adds a creamy texture to the soup and contributes to a more savoury flavour. If you prefer a creamier, thicker soup, then add more yoghurt. All the liquid you need in the soup comes from a thorough blending of the ingredients. Don't be tempted to add water as this will dilute the flavours considerably.

This recipe will serve four for lunch, or six as a starter for dinner.

1 long Lebanese cucumber
1 honeydew melon
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
several sprigs of mint, stems removed
1tsp of finely grated root ginger

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup Greek natural yoghurt (creme fraiche can be substituted)
1/2 tsp sea salt flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1. Peel and deseed the cucumber and melon and chop into small pieces.

2. Blend the cucumber and melon together until liquified. Taste for sweetness.

3. Blend in 8-10 small mint leaves and taste.

4. Add the ginger and lime juice and blend.

5. Add the rice wine vinegar. Blend and taste. Add a little more rice wine vinegar, if required, to add a sharper note to the soup.

6. Blend in the Greek yoghurt and check the soup for a light creaminess. Add more if desired.

7. Bit by bit, season the soup with salt and white pepper and taste.

Lime and cardamom yoghurt 

This provides a zingy, aromatic and creamy topping for the soup. Generous dollops of this are a nice contrast with the thinner, silky consistency of the soup.

2/3 cup Greek natural yoghurt
1-2 tbsps of fresh lime juice
finely grated zest of 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom

1. Sprinkle the lime zest and cardamom over the yoghurt and mix in. I cracked open half a dozen green cardamom pods in a mortar, removed the husks and then finely ground the seeds. This releases a wonderfully fresh and warm, aromatic flavour.

2. Mix in the lime juice, one tablespoon at a time, until the yoghurt has a slightly softer consistency. Taste and adjust the balance of flavours if required.

Quick cucumber pickle

This is a surprising sweet and sour addition to the soup that lifts it an extra notch, and is made in no time at all. So don't leave it out.

8-12 paper-thin slices of Lebanese cucumber
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
scant tsp of sugar

1. In a small bowl dissolve the sugar into the vinegar.

2. Add the cucumber slices and mix in well. Set aside.

Serving the soup

Pour the soup into bowls. I prefer serving it at room temperature as chilling it tends to mask some of the more subtle flavours. Top each bowl with a generous tablespoon or two of the lime cardamom yoghurt, and slices of cucumber pickle. Finish with a small sprig of fresh mint.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Porrige, Forgiveness & Reconciliation

by Amy

A bowl of porridge with raisins, cream and brown sugar was placed in front of the Chief. When they’d finished breakfast Beauvoir and Lacoste went back to the Incident Room. But Gamache had something he still needed to do in the bistro.

Pushing open the swinging door to the kitchen he found Olivier standing by the counter, chopping strawberries and cantaloupe.


Olivier startled and dropped the knife. “For God’s sake, don’t you know enough not to do that to someone with a sharp knife?”

“I came to talk to you.”

All through BURY YOUR DEAD and most of A TRICK OF THE LIGHT Gamache has kept a respectful distance from Olivier. He understands that Olivier is still hurt, still blames him, and still isn’t ready to talk, much less forgive him. He doesn’t press, doesn’t crowd, and isn’t overly solicitous.

He’s decided it’s time to move on to the next step.

The Chief Inspector closed the door behind him.“I’m busy.”“So am I, Olivier. But we still need to talk.”The knife sliced through the strawberries, leaving thin wafers of fruit and a small stain of red juice on the chopping block.“I know you’re angry at me, and I know you have every right to be. What happened was unforgivable, and my only defense is that it wasn’t malicious, it wasn’t done to harm you –“

Asking for forgiveness is never easy. It doesn’t get any easier. Especially when you’re expecting the answer to be “no”. It’s not about being forgiven, though. It’s about being prepared to admit your fault, your regret, and your understanding of the other person’s right to be angry and upset.

“But it did.” Olivier slammed the knife down. “Do you think prison is less horrible because you didn’t do it maliciously? Do you think, when those men surrounded me in the yard that I thought, Oh, well, this’ll be OK because that nice Chief Inspector Gamache didn’t wish me harm? Olivier’s hands shook so badly he had to grip the edges of the counter.“You have no idea what it feels like to know the truth will come out. To trust the lawyers, the judges. You. That I’ll be let go. And then to hear the verdict. Guilty.”For a moment Olivier’s rage disappeared, to be replaced by wonder, shock. That single word, that judgement. “I was guilty, of course, of many things. I know that. I’ve tried to make it up to people. But-“

Olivier knew. He was guilty of many things. I think it is because he still feels guilty and judged and unredeemed – albeit not from murder – that he is also unforgiving. He hasn’t forgiven himself. He isn’t yet comfortable in his own skin. He understands himself. He is realizing people still love him despite his faults… He admits to trying to make it up to people, but penance is not the same thing as requesting and being granted forgiveness. He’s doing self-imposed penance. He’s making sure Gamache does his – to the extent that he is able to inflict it.

“Give them time,” said Gamache quietly. He stood across the counter from Olivier, his shoulders square, his back straight. But he too grasped the wooden counter. His knuckles were white. “They love you. It would be a shame not to see that.”“Don’t lecture me about shame, Chief Inspector,” snarled Olivier. Gamache stared at Olivier, then nodded. “I am sorry. I just wanted you to know that.”“So that I could forgive you? Let you off the hook? Well maybe this is your prison, Chief Inspector. Your punishment.”Gamache considered. “Perhaps.”“Is that it?” Olivier asked. “Are you finished?”

Gamache is reminding Olivier that he is loved. That his friends need time. He might be reminding himself, too. Olivier still needs time. Gamache has given him time. It wasn’t yet enough.

 “Do you think, maybe, we’ve ended up in the same cell?” asked Gamache. When Olivier didn’t respond, Gamache walked toward the door then hesitated. “But I wonder who the guards are. And who has the key." Gamache watched him for a moment, then left.

I think Olivier is wrong. Forgiveness doesn’t let the other person off the hook. Regret, remorse, reparation, and reconciliation might. What forgiveness does is free the victim.

Forgiveness doesn’t imply forgetting, pardoning consequences, covering up for mistakes, or ignoring past hurts. It is being aware without being wary, merciful without being inconsequential. It means understanding why you are hurt, but not becoming bitter.

Forgiveness allows to victim to become more than a victim. It empowers them.

You can forgive without being asked. You can forgive even if the guilty party is not remorseful or even trying to make amends. Jean Vanier said it better than I ever could in his book BECOMING HUMAN:

“Forgiveness is unilateral. It begins as the victim, with new found strength, refuses to seek revenge, or, as in the case of the woman in prison, prays that the oppressor may change, refind truth, and admit his evil ways. Forgiveness is then to have hope for the oppressors, to believe in their humanity hidden under all their brokenness. It becomes reconciliation and a moment of communion of hearts if and when they seek forgiveness.”

In answer to Gamache’s question, it is Olivier who holds the key to the prison. It does imprison them both, but Olivier is the one with the power. He doesn’t need Gamache to get out of the prison that is an unforgiving desire for revenge – even if the revenge is limited to withholding forgiveness and friendship. He doesn’t need Gamache’s willingness to make amends or admit his guilt in order to choose to free his own heart from the burden that is hate and rage.

Forgiveness is not the same thing as atonement. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are ready (or willing) to trust the person who hurt you. It doesn't mean there is no price to be paid. It does mean you’re ready to shift from the place you’re in.

While guilt and remorse can be devastating, hatred and blame-placing can be just as difficult to bear. 

Both are useful. Without consciousness of guilt and true regret, there can be no change and no growth. It is essential to recognize when you’re wrong and be willing to do something about it or, if that isn’t possible, to at least express your regret and willingly chose to tread a different path in order to not repeat your mistakes. But that’s not the victim’s job.

Anger and accusation have their place. It is not uncommon for people to blame themselves and feel ashamed for things that are not their fault. It is important to recognize and understand justified anger. It is healthy to feel it. But at some point, it is necessary to let it go. Holding on to anger and casting blame might hurt the oppressor – if they’re conscientious enough to recognize and regret their behavior (as was Gamache) - but, ultimately, the one who is most hurt is the one who is withholding forgiveness. Olivier held the key to his own freedom from this prison.

Forgiveness is not reconciliation. It is not a willingness to submit to further hurt. It is not naïve or blind placement of trust. It is not ignoring what happened. Forgiveness is willingness to believe that while there is evil in the world, there is also grace. Forgiveness is choosing to believe that maybe, just maybe, the person who hurt you may learn their lesson. They may change. They may do better next time. Forgiveness is letting yourself know that while it hurt (and, depending on the hurt it may leave a scar) it doesn’t have to remain a gaping wound. Or, as a friend said in an email, “while it will mark you, it doesn’t have to define you”.

And, again, I will quote Vanier. He says there are steps to forgiveness. He describes them as: “(1) refusal to seek revenge; (2) genuine, heartfelt hope that the oppressor be liberated; (3) the desire to understand the oppressors: how and why their indifference or hardness of heart has developed, and how they might be liberated; (4) recognition of our own darkness. We, too, have hurt people and perhaps have contributed to the hardness of the oppressors; (5) patience.”

It sounds hard.

It is hard.

Forgiving isn’t easy.

It isn’t easy to forgive ourselves. It’s not easy to forgive those who ask for forgiveness. It’s even harder to forgive those who don’t.

“But I wonder who the guards are. And who has the key.”

Olivier had the keys to forgiveness. It was his to give. But the key for reconciliation was in Gamache's hands.

“Reconciliation is a bilateral affair; it is the completion of the forgiveness process, the coming together of the oppressed and the oppressor, each one accepting the other, each acknowledging their fears and hatreds, each accepting that the pact of mutual love is the only way out of a world of conflict.” (Becoming Human – Jean Vanier)

If Gamache hadn’t been humble enough to acknowledge that he may have made a mistake. If he hadn’t been willing to try to repair his mistake (by asking Beauvoir to reopen the investigation). If he hadn’t tried to make amends. If he hadn’t recognized Olivier’s right to anger and apologized for his part in contributing to his pain. If... Reconciliation was only possible because Gamache was willing to do his part.

In this story, things end up working out well. Gamache forgives himself – although he does have relapses and will probably forever be haunted, to some extent, by his perceived mistakes (some of which no one else blames him but himself). Olivier forgives Gamache and, in doing so, opens the way for reconciliation. A slow, careful, tentative approach, but reconciliation nonetheless.

And, as Olivier slowly forgives himself, he allows others to forgive him, too. He is enfolded back into the community. Changed. Scarred. Different. While I do not wish his pain on anyone, I think he is ultimately better for having overcome it. I think he is stronger, more empathetic, and a better friend afterwards.  I do know, as he does, how painful it is to come to terms with the parts of yourself you wish weren't you. Forgiving yourself can be a painful process of self discovery.

I do not know your pain. I only know my own. But I doubt anyone has lived any amount of time without something to forgive. I don’t know who hurt you, how much, or how close the hurt is to you right now. I do not know if those who hurt you are repentant or even willing to nominally ask for forgiveness. I do not know if reconciliation is even a possibility.

There’s a little bit of Tinker-Bell in all of us, isn’t there? I cannot find the quote, but in the original Peter Pan, Barrie wrote that Tinker was so small that only one emotion fit her at a time. Kind of like a toddler. If she felt anger, it took over her entire self. She couldn’t fit anything else.  Or, as Frankl put it in MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING:

“To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.”

I pray that any hurt or pain we have doesn't become the entirety of our soul. I pray that we allow ourselves to feel, to hurt, to rage, to grieve... and we manage to let go, eventually, and regain other emotions.

I pray that we all find a way to use the keys we hold. May we learn to forgive – even if we do not forget. May we find grace so bitterness doesn’t take over our hearts.

And I pray that when we have hurt another, we face our own darkness. I pray that we find the humility needed to admit our fault and try to make amends. I pray we forgive ourselves and don't let those mistakes become the sum total of our lives.

As I wrote this, there were incidences piling up in my mind. Mistakes of my own that I have been granted forgiveness for. Hurts inflicted on me that I have learned to forgive. Helping my son journey through school bullying and even minor, unintentional hurts. Teaching (and learning) compassion and understanding.

I was also thinking of people I have never seen. People with hurts that are more far-reaching than mine. People whose lives, like Olivier's, changed much more drastically and publicly than mine ever has. People who might be stuck in this kind of prison. People who are role models.

I've been contemplating this post for awhile. I didn't think I was ready to write it. Maybe I was. One of the things that triggered writing it was finalizing my son's book (more below). He managed to explain forgiveness and boundaries. Another was a series of sexual assault stories that have come to my attention the past couple of weeks. Some of these stories are closer to me, personally. Some happened geographically close and have been all over the news with devastating ripple effects. One has been very public in North America. As I read the victim's statement, I was awed by her strength and by her grace. After reading her words, I have a hard time thinking of her as "victim". She's a survivor. She's a warrior. She's incredible. Admirable. I'm not denying her strength. I'm applauding her bravery. In her own words:

Right now your name is tainted, so I challenge you to make a new name for yourself, to do something so good for the world, it blows everyone away. You have the brain and a voice and a heart. Use them wisely. You possess immense love from your family. That alone can pull you out of anything. Mine has held me up through all of this. Yours will hold you and you will go on. 
I believe, that one day, you will understand all of this better. I hope you will become a better more honest person who can properly use this story to prevent another story like this from ever happening again. I fully support your journey to healing, to rebuilding your life, because that is the only way you'll begin to help others. 
Link to full statement 

Her words are powerful. I pray I have her grace and wisdom when facing those who hurt me. I pray I take these words to heart whenever I hurt someone else. If the hurts are apparently smaller and less significant, they can be lessons. Stepping stones. A chance to be faithful in little.


It might be fitting that porridge is the meal that precedes this conversation between Gamache and Olivier. When I started reading about porridge I was SHOCKED! Apparently porridge is a “thing” now and there’s even a porridge club! Who knew? The internet is full of gourmet porridge options as well as people saying “true” porridge is made with water, oats and salt.

Porridge is a forgiving dish. It accepts plenty of different ideas and options and modes of preparation. I made a very “basic” (although not purist as in water, oats, and salt) recipe of oats and skim milk (1:2 ratio) with a tiny tiny sprinkle of salt halfway into cooking it (I had NEVER added salt to my porridge, but after reading about it and realizing almost everyone did – with many variations regarding when and how and how much salt was added – I decided to try it. I realize the Gamache’s porridge had raisins. I like raisins while they’re dry. I can’t stand "re-hydrated" raisins. I added some grated apple and some sliced raw almonds to mine. I hope I won’t be condemned for adding a bit of cinnamon and a sprinkle of brown sugar as well.

Now that I know there are almost as many recipes of porridge as there are people in the world, how do you make YOUR porridge?

And… for those of you who aren’t on Facebook and aren’t aware of my not at all subtle mentioning of my son’s first book, I’ll add the link to the end of this post. His book is about feelings, about being hurt, about forgiveness… but also about boundaries and standing up for yourself. I’ve said before in this blog that being his mom has taught me a lot. The wisdom in his little book awes me.

Link to the book, in case anyone is interested: Heart & Brain

All quotes – unless stated otherwise – are from A Trick of The Light.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

File Mignon & Baked Potatoes with Blue Cheese - Second Attempt

by Amy

So... the last post was a failed meal. I almost didn't post it. I actually had another post drafted and was planning on using that. I'm glad I did, though. Honesty is therapeutic. And spectacular mistakes can be inspiring.

As Julie (reader) pointed out in the comments, it was colorless. A veggie lover like me doesn't really do colorless. Usually. I was focused on the meat. I was trying to make ingredients that aren't loved by various family members blend into something palatable for all. As I was reading Nancy's comment (see previous post) and reminded of Enid & Beauvoir, I realized I was also in Enid-mode.

So I stopped.


I remembered that the point was remaking meals so they were a bit our own.

I'm in a better place now than I was the day I made the ugly colorless meal.

So, after an impromptu wonderful fifteen minute conversation with a friend I hadn't expected to run into today, some time spent in nature while son was horseback riding, and wearing yoga pants and very frizzy hair (it's been raining a lot lately), I looked ridiculous enough and comfortable enough to look perfect for cooking the pajama-day meal. Yey! That probably helped.

I stopped at the grocery store on my way home and grabbed some potatoes and German blue cheese... Went to the garden in the rain (gardens prefer rain to human watering, I'm sure)... And cooked myself a better meal.

I think it looks better AND tastes better than the previous one.

I seared the meat (little bit of butter), then used the same pan for the carrots and tomatoes and greens. The potatoes I sliced through (a little over halfway deep), added a sprinkle of salt and a bit of melted butter and baked for about 25 minutes, then added the cheese and baked for another 20. A bit of white wine (I know... probably should have been red, but I had a bottle of "green" Portuguese wine and no one to please but myself). Husband wasn't home. Son loved the meat, didn't have potatoes and tolerated the veggies. I thought it was perfect.

Much better. Sigh.

And thank you Lori (on facebook) & Julie (comments in previous post) for ideas on how they'd do it (or would have or have before). It gave me the push I needed to go back and redo the meal. Also, thanks to Nancy, I spent quite some time imagining Enid's ex-hockey-player's new husband. LOL!

Love you guys! And, because of you, I had a much better meal than I would have otherwise...

Friday, June 3, 2016

Filet Mignon & Blue Cheese Sauce and Random Miscellaneous Musings

by Amy

“He looked at Clara Morrow. She was also in pajamas and a dressing gown and, he glanced down, slippers. Could this be a new, and nightmarish, fashion trend? How long had he slept? While he knew flannel was an aphrodisiac to Anglos, it did nothing for Beauvoir. He’d never, ever worn it and didn’t plan to start.”

I love this scene. I love, love, love their pajama day idea! I think that it is the very definition of a lazy day - even if you get bucket loads of things done. Actually, it’s one of my favorite things about hospital work. Scrubs are as comfortable as pajamas. Doctors (and other healthcare professionals) don’t really wear scrubs here in Brazil unless it’s hospital work that involves operating rooms. Since I work in neonatal care and delivery rooms, I get to wear scrubs when I’m in the hospital. At the office the white coat is more appropriate. I consider scrubs to be glorified pajamas.

 “It’s very relaxing. I stay in them all day.”

“Beauvoir tried to look disapproving but had to admit, she did look comfortable. She completed the look by having bed-head, though that was nothing new. Her hair always stuck out in all directions, probably where she ran her hands through it. And that would also account for the crumbs in there, and the flecks of paint.”

I know. Not the same. But this scene gives me flashbacks to my residency years. Beauvoir was so tired he crashed. Then he wasn’t sure if it was early morning or evening. He wasn’t sure if he wanted breakfast or dinner. The people around him were wearing comfortable – although not very elegant – clothing (what could be worse than scrubs and crocs?). And bed-head? Yeah. Flashbacks.

“He laughed, surprising himself. He’d never had an actual conversation with Clara. With any of them. The Chief had. Somehow he’d managed to become friends with most of them but Beauvoir had never been able to pass through that membrane, to see people as both suspects and human. He’d never wanted to. The idea repulsed him.”

I love Beauvoir. And I love watching him mature through the series. This is a huge milestone. He’s
started to blur the distinction between “them” and “us”. Although the idea still “repulses him” to an extent, he’s already started to see people as human. One of the things I love in The Long Way Home is when Gamache asks him what it is with him and the elderly. He answers that he just treats them like people. This is one of the scenes where he begins to see people as human – even if they are suspects.

“Clara hesitated. 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. Almost certainly in the room with them at that moment.”

Clara, on the other hand, had no difficulty in seeing people as human. The hard part here, for her, was seeing them as suspects. In an earlier post we talked about how hard it is to let go of those we love and remember grace when we are constantly made aware of the evil that is in the world ( Clara is made uncomfortably aware of the fact that, even in idyllic Three Pines, a murderer was – or is – among them.

I once read an interview in which Louise Penny said she had originally thought Peter and Clara would be amateur sleuths who would assist Gamache. I think this book (BURY YOUR DEAD) has Clara playing that role. She isn’t always discreet. Beauvoir frequently cringes in his interactions with her. But, all in all, he’s both impressed and grateful. And it is in this book that his own bonds of friendship are established with Three Pines. Up until now he'd investigated them. He now befriends them.

 “Myrna and Peter arrived and Beauvoir joined them for a bistrô dinner, ordering the filet mignon with cognac blue cheese sauce. They chatted about various events in the village, the ski conditions at Mont Saitn-Rémy, the Canadiens game the night before.”

I was looking forward to the sauce. I’m not much of a meat eater, but my husband loves filet mignon, so I thought this meal might possibly please us both. I’d eat potatoes and blue cheese sauce. He’d have the filet. In the end, he was happy with the filet. He tolerated the sauce. He ate a couple of potatoes, but preferred rice. My son gags with baked potatoes – even when they’re on the firm side – and can’t stand most sauces. He tried it. But stuck to filet and rice. I thought the sauce was a bit too rich for my tastes, but happily ate potatoes.

So… I think this meal was a bit of a failure. I’m having a hard time writing about it because it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable meal. It was okay. I also consider the presentation to be flawed. But then, I think meat is always kind of ugly. It’s easy to see I’m not a meat lover.  Although I wasn't pleased with it, I must concede that the only thing left over was the sauce. So I guess it was okay.

Part of me wants to start over and try a different recipe. The other part thinks that part of being a non-cook posting about cooking is posting failed attempts – or less than stellar meals. So voilá!

Filet Mignon with Potatoes and Blue Cheese Sauce

Quarter the potatoes and boil them in water until they’re al dente. Dip in cold water and then flavor with salt, olive oil, rosemary and garlic and bake in oven until “ready”. Mine were on the undercooked side this time.

Filet Mignon:
Season with pepper and garlic and sear on both sides (I used olive oil).

Blue Cheese Sauce:
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a pan. Add 1 tablespoon of flour. Whisk in 400ml of milk. Once it’s creamy (or doesn't drip from the spoon), add 60g of blue cheese and some nutmeg. Allow cheese to melt. Sauce is done.

If I were to make this again (and I don’t plan to), I’d bake the potatoes whole, I’d make the filets in strips and add them to the sauce – kind of like a stroganoff. Or serve it on pasta.  

I do recommend we all grow and mature and mellow as did Beauvoir. His choice in meals? Nowhere near my own tastes.