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, July 29, 2016

Shandies and Friendships with Special Obligations

by Libby

Olivier was standing within inches of her, holding two glasses. ... “Shandies,” he said. “Made with ginger beer and pale ale, as you like them.” Clara looked from him to the glasses then back to Olivier ... remember(ing) the look they’d exchanged while kneeling in the corridor of the Musée d’Art Contemporain. (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.56)

Once again Olivier has come to Clara's aid, a filter for the turmoil and angst she is experiencing. He's quietly there.

Olivier, more than any other of her Three Pines 'family', empathises with those feelings of being shaken to the core, feeling alone and isolated by an experience amidst confusion, anger and powerlessness. Clara is isolated by circumstances not of her own making. The murder of a former friend just as her art is hitting dizzy heights has stolen attention away from her. Olivier on the other hand feels isolated by circumstances of his own making, having compromised his close friendships through deceit and betrayal. But he's working hard on fixing that and so are his friends...well maybe except for Ruth!

“What makes you think we haven’t forgiven you?” asked Clara. “Well, Ruth for one.” “Oh, come on,” laughed Clara. “She’s always called you a dick-head.” “True. But you know what she calls me now?” “What?” she asked with a grin. “Olivier.” Clara’s grin slowly faded. (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.56)

As both Clara and Olivier try to reassure each other, it made me think of the unspoken bond that lies in certain friendships. These are the ones that go beyond shared experiences and pleasure in others' company. Louise Penny always leaves me considering the power and security of friendships, the qualities in relationships, and notions of belonging. And I seem to write about it quite a bit.

But I was also a tad distracted by the ginger beer shandies. It took me by surprise as I've only ever known a shandy to be a mix of beer and lemonade. So loving all things 'ginger', I had to give it a try. Bitter, sweet and warm and spicy notes come together in this shandy. So it was an apt accompaniment for this scene...given the feelings and emotions in Clara's and Olivier's conversation about anger, isolation, fear of not being wanted, letting go, forgiveness, and friendship.

So many themes at work here! But the thing that struck me most about Clara and Olivier in this scene was a friendship where there was truth and honesty and a level of self disclosure underpinned by a bond of trust (well, Olivier is working hard to regain it) and intimacy. Olivier was able to confide in Clara, like no other.

“I haven’t even told Gabri this, I didn’t want to hurt him, didn’t want him to take it the wrong way. When we were walking toward the bistro I almost stopped. Almost asked them to drive me somewhere else, anywhere else.” “Why?” Clara’s voice had dropped to a whisper. “Because I was terrified. More afraid than I’d ever been in my life. More afraid even than in prison.” “Afraid of what?” ... “I was afraid you wouldn’t want me back. That I wouldn’t belong anymore.” Olivier sighed and dropped his head. His eyes stared at the ground, taking in each blade of grass. “Oh, God, Olivier,” said Clara, dropping her shandy onto the newspapers, where it fell over, soaking the pages. “Never.” “Are you sure?” he asked, turning to her. Searching her face for reassurance. “Absolutely. We really have let it go.” (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.58)

Anyway, it made me think about friendships and consider those deeper friendships where special obligations are implicit. I don't mean obligations that are an explicit promise to a friend (although that might apply) but rather a deep and genuine commitment in the relationship, that goes beyond mutual care and affection and a desire to help each other. It's being bound to and loving a friend for their own sake, their goodness, and having a deep caring for and identification with them. 

These are the friends, even with our differences, with whom we mirror each other, and extend each other, where we are loved for our own sake and do so in return, where we give and forgive. These are the ones in whom we can confide, and pretty much share our innermost thoughts and fears, and offer the same in return. While they are small in number they are large in impact in our lives. And you wouldn't think twice about putting their interests ahead of your own when needed, pretty well dropping everything or changing your schedule or taking a detour to be there for them, whether it is to provide support or comfort, or just the need for each other's company. Belonging.

I've come to appreciate this so much more as I've got older and the noise in my life has lessened. Lives can be so noisy and episodic, so full of family and work and even struggle that friendships sometimes get ignored in the mix or put in the background, or are just transient. Deep and caring friendships where there are those special obligations, are the product of time and commitment, and intimacy. You have to be open to them. But the rewards are so life-affirming! And I'm grateful and very comforted that I have come to realise such friendships, few though they may be. It's enough...and it's everything.

Ginger beer shandies


Well, I've got to applaud Clara's good taste in shandies! Ginger beer and pale ale are a perfect match. Talk about a  balance of flavours -- the light sweetness of the malt and bitter aftertaste from the hops in the ale with the spicy warmth of the ginger beer. I like a 'bitter' taste. It adds so much complexity to a cocktail of flavours. It's that bitter note through a range of fruits and herbs that is found in so many Italian aperitifs that use Campari or Aperol, vermouths or amari. I love 'mixing' with them all!

I think Clara and Olivier's relationship is a bit like this shandy. Coming together, each bringing something different, but together finding a balance.

This recipe makes two large shandies, with a 50/50 mixture. The pale ale is poured first so that a foamy head will form. A head helps to release the flavours in the ale. If the ginger beer is poured first, a head doesn't form, so I discovered! When making this shandy it's worth noting that ginger beer is a brewed (fermented) product and not to be substituted with ginger ale, which is just carbonated water flavoured with ginger.

375ml/12.5 fl oz of chilled pale ale
375 ml/12.5 fl oz of chilled ginger beer

1. Chill two large glasses in the fridge or freezer, ahead of time.
2. Pour cold pale ale into each glass, dividing it equally between them.
3. Add the ginger beer equally to each glass.


What to eat with shandies?


I always need to accompany an alcoholic beverage with a bit of food. Ginger beer shandies go perfectly with Asian-inspired food. So prawn balls were the go! Although with less time on my hands I probably would have served some spicy nuts.

Prawn balls and snow peas (mangetout)


These prawn balls are really quite versatile and convenient. I serve them as a snack or starter with one or two dipping sauces. They are also great in a broth with noodles, fresh Asian herbs and flavourings. The prawn mixture can also be used to fill wonton wrappers, then steamed, poached or deep fried and served with a dipping sauce. The prawn balls can be prepared the day before and cooked just before serving or cooked earlier and served at room temperature.

Prawn balls 

300g uncooked prawns, shelled and deveined
1 tbsp finely chopped root ginger
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
a few sprigs of fresh coriander/cilantro, finely chopped
1 spring onion, finely sliced and chopped
1 tsp oyster sauce
½ tsp sesame oil
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup soft breadcrumbs

peanut oil for frying

1. Soak up any moisture on the prawns with paper towel.

2. Chop the prawns into small pieces or briefly pulse them in a food processor (the texture should not be smooth) and place in a bowl.

3. Add all the other ingredients, except the peanut oil, and combine well.

4. Shape spoonfuls of the mixture into bite-sized balls and place on baking paper on a plate or tray. Makes 16 balls.

5. Refrigerate covered until required.

6. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of peanut oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When hot add half of the prawn balls and fry, turning them until golden and cooked through. Takes 3-4 minutes.

7. Place on a plate lined with paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Cover with a piece of foil and keep warm.

8. Add more oil to the pan, heat and then cook the remaining prawn balls.

Stir fried snow peas (mangetout)

generous handful of snow peas (mangetout)
1 tbsp of peanut oil
3 tbsp of chicken stock

1. Heat the oil in a frypan over medium heat

2. Toss in the snow peas and stir fry.

3. Add the chicken stock and stir the peas until the stock has reduced and the peas are cooked but with a crunchy texture.

Dipping sauce

3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp water
a little finely sliced red chilli 

1. Prepare the dipping sauce by combining all ingredients. Taste and adjust the balance of flavours. 

2. Pour into a serving dish and set aside.

Spoon the prawn balls onto a serving plate with the snow peas. Scatter sprigs of fresh coriander (cilantro). Serve with the dipping sauce.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Veggies & Herbal Butter... And Speaking Up

by Amy

Clara chopped the ends off the fresh carrots and watched Peter toss the tiny new potatoes into boiling water. They’d have a simple dinner tonight of vegetables from the garden with herbs and sweet butter. It was one of their favorite meals in late summer.

I didn’t really make this meal, did I? I started to… I thought herbs and sweet butter? Maybe I’ll try making herbal butter! I’ll take fresh herbs from the garden and smash them into some melted butter and then smear that on some vegetables… I didn’t really have fresh garden vegetables, though. And I made meat for the husband… and I couldn’t resist adding some tomatoes and carrot slices to the skillet afterwards…  The butter ended up being only for the potatoes and a sprinkle on the broccoli. I did enjoy the flavored butter! I used the leftover butter on some pasta for my son the next day. He loved it.

 “So,” she concluded, her plate almost untouched, “I don’t know what to do about Fortin. Should I go into Montreal and speak to him directly about this, or just let it go?”

I totally felt for Clara here. I think that’s the type of question many of us ask ourselves frequently. When should we make our views known? When should we take a stand? When should we confront someone doing something we disagree with? And when should we just let it go?

Peter took another slice of baguette, soft on the inside with a crispy crust. He smeared the butter to the edges, covering every millimeter, evenly. Methodically.Watching him Clara felt she’d surely scream or explode, or at the very least grab the fucking baguette and toss it until it was a grease stain on the wall.Still Peter smoothed the knife over the bread. Making sure the butter was perfect.

Sometimes it’s hard to decide because some things, while important to us, might not really matter in the long run. Like how butter “should” be spread on a slice of baguette. I’m with Clara. I’m sure some people would agree with Peter. No one is really “right”.

A couple of months ago I saw a Facebook rant (I won’t name names) where someone was very bothered because, when flying, the person on the seat in front of her had leaned the seat back. She was angry and posted about how the flier in the seat in front of her had no common courtesy. I mean, how could he? He’d taken up space that was hers… Hilariously enough, the sheer number of antagonistic comments proved that there were passionate people on both sides of the “to-lean-or-not-to-lean” debate. I had a chuckle and moved on.

A few weeks later, my husband was on a plane to England. As soon as he landed, he sent me a shocked (and infuriated) text saying the man seated behind him had ranted and raved and accused him of being an inconsiderate and uncivilized human being because he’d inclined his airplane seat. My husband is 6’5’’. A 10+ hour flight in the upright position (with the seat in front of him inclined, by the way) wasn’t exactly a comfortable flight. He said the guy was spewing such venom that it wasn’t worth arguing over, though. He was shocked. He was even MORE shocked when he heard that a couple of weeks earlier I’d seen a number of people who agreed with angry upright position passenger.

Sorry for the tangent. The point is, if it’s hard to agree on something like inclining seats… imagine how hard it is to agree on other issues that have more cultural or generational biases?

What should he tell her? To forget it? That what Fortin said wasn’t that bad? Certainly not worth risking her career. Just let it go. Besides, saying something almost certainly wouldn’t change Fortin’s mind about gays, and might just turn him against Clara. And this wasn’t some tiny show Fortin was giving her. This was everything Clara had dreamed of. Every artist dreamed of. Everyone from the art world would be there. Clara’s career would be made.

I can understand Peter’s point. It isn’t like anything Clara will say will actually change Fortin’s mind. We rarely do change anyone’s mind just because we preach our own moral code to them. If ever, really.

But that’s not the point, is it? Why would Clara speak to Fortin? Would it be to change him? Or to not allow him to change her?

Should he tell her to let it go, or tell Clara she had to speak to Fortin? For Gabri and Olivier and all their gay friends. But mostly for herself.

And I think that’s the point. But mostly for herself. It is for herself. Ultimately, she speaks to Fortin not because she’s trying to change his behavior, but because her response (or lack of it) defines her own.

Peter dug the tip of the knife into a hole in the bread to get the butter out.He knew what he wanted to say, but he didn’t know if he’d be saying it for his sake, or for Clara’s.

It’s easy, especially in hindsight, to accuse Peter of self-centeredness and jealousy. I think this is one of his redeeming moments. One of those times where we see the potential for the Peter he eventually becomes. He’s sorely tempted to give an answer to benefit himself. He is incredibly self-aware. I think the first step towards change is awareness. The fact that he acknowledges that his motives may not be the best and holds himself back makes me hopeful for his character.

“Well?” she asked, and heard the impatience in her voice. “Well?” she asked more softly. “What do you think?”

When we decide to speak up, we don’t do it to change the world. At least I don’t think so. When we speak up, we do so in order to take care so the world doesn’t change us. Not that any of us should be immutable. On the contrary, I think growth always involves change. But in which direction? And why? Conformism is dangerously easy. Staying true to yourself and your beliefs isn’t as comfortable. And consciously changing for the better – despite the context and setting – is harder yet.

When we speak up, I don’t think we should expect others to change. We should expect to be challenged, questioned, sometimes ridiculed and confronted. Speaking up should imply a willingness to engage in reflection and debate. It should mean we are sure enough of where we stand that we are ready to defend our point of view, but respectful enough of the other person that we’re willing to listen to their opinion and concede their points. We might even shift our stand, if needed, to accommodate our growing understanding of the issue at hand.

It is not unusual for our discourse to be directed at ourselves. We speak up in order to remind ourselves of what we think and believe and value. We speak up so we do not condone unseemly behavior with our silence.

Peter was right. The likelihood of Fortin changing his opinions or his behavior because an as-yet-unknown artist disagreed with his attitude was slim at best. He was also right in that the reason Clara should speak up was for her own sake.

I frequently tell my son that we cannot change others. We cannot control their behavior. We can only control how we react. It is a valid lesson at any age.

When we talk about setting limits and boundaries, it doesn’t mean controlling what others do. It means establishing what your own limits are and what you will do when someone crosses the line.

Clara couldn’t change Fortin. She couldn’t make him respect Gabri – or anyone else. She could choose and control how she would respond, though.

We cannot demand respect. We cannot demand equality. We cannot demand certain standards of behavior. We cannot demand love. I’m wrong. We can, but that doesn’t mean we’ll get what we ask for. We can determine consequences and make our expectations and beliefs clear. We can establish boundaries and follow through with proper reactions when those boundaries are crossed. We cannot control others, but we can control our own responses. And, in doing so, we can ultimately influence others because we tend to gauge our actions according to expected reactions.

When we speak up we don’t do so to change the world. We do so in an attempt to avoid conformity, to stand our ground so the world doesn’t change us into an unrecognizable version of ourselves. But, in doing so, we become a beacon. Others who think like us are attracted to our stand, to our strength. We influence those around us, slowly and surely. We become an inspiration. When we speak up, we don’t do so to change the world. But, when we speak up, the world changes. A little bit. A drop in the ocean. A little light in the dark. A whisper. It is enough.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Parsnip and Apple Soup - A Time of Stillness

by Amy

Dinner was served, starting with parsnip and apple soup, with a drizzle of walnut infused oil on top.
“Olivier gave me the recipe,” said Reine-Marie, turning down the light in the kitchen.
Gamache took a couple of spoonfuls of soup. It was smooth and earthy and just a touch sweet.
“Delicious,” he said to Reine-Marie, but his mind was elsewhere.

A meal that is a bit unusual (at least to me), served twice in one book, enticing enough that Reine-Marie asks Olivier for the recipe, AND gets complimented by a character? I had absolutely no trouble picking which THE NATURE OF THE BEAST recipe to start with!

Reine-Marie eats this soup at the Bistro earlier in the book during a memorable conversation with Gamache. She later serves it to Gamache, Agent Cohen, Chief Inspector Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir during a cozy candlelit dinner.

I think Reine-Marie is a wise woman. In the Supporting Spouses and Peppermint Tisane Post we talked a bit about her relationship with Gamache and how she was aware of who and what he was and was willing to respect that. In THE LONG WAY HOME Gamache was still healing. He was in a place of reflection and reassessment, and he was still reeling from all that had come before. Now he’s begun to ask What next? So has everybody else. Including the readers.

I think that’s the big question for the next book. What’s next?

Sitting in the warm and cheerful bistro, with fresh warm bread and parsnip and apple soup in front of them…
“I was threatened yesterday by a young agent. […] Fresh out of the academy. He knew I was once a cop and he didn’t care. If he’d treat a former cop like that, how’s he going to treat citizens?”
“You look shaken.”
“I am. I’d hoped by getting rid of the corruption the worst was over, but now…” He shrugged and smiled thinly. “Is he alone, or is there a whole class of thugs entering the Sûreté? Armed with clubs and guns.”

I think Gamache knows the department is in good hands. He’s just told Reine-Marie what a good job Chief Inspector Lacoste has been doing. He might sometimes miss it, but it’s no longer his job and he seems to be okay with that.

“Not just a good job, a remarkable job. She’s completely taken control of the department. Made it her own.”
Reine-Marie watched him for signs of regret hiding beneath the obvious relief. But there was only admiration for his young protégé.

I think he’s wondering if maybe there’s another job that he is supposed to do. Another mission. Not the murders themselves, I don't think. Lacoste and Jean-Guy are perfectly capable of handling those and Lacoste is doing beautifully with the department. But maybe he’s to be involved in the shaping of a new “ideology” for the Sûreté? He’s outrooted corruption, but someone has to help ensure a new mentality is installed in its place. Maybe Gamache is feeling called to do that?

“I’m sorry, Armand.”
She reached across the table and placed her hand on his.
He looked down at her hand, then up into her eyes, and smiled.
“It’s a place I no longer recognize. To everything there is a season. I’m thinking of talking to Professor Rosenblatt about his job at McGill.”

He seems to be shying away from it, though. He’s been invited to take over as Superintendent. It’s a legitimate offer. He doesn’t answer anyone who questions him about it in this book. I don’t think he knows the answer himself. I think he’s still considering his options. Wondering. Trying to figure out what he wants to do. What he’s meant to do.

She knew he wasn’t considering studying science, but now she understood what he was considering.
If the big question facing both of them was, What next? could the answer be, University?
Would that interest you?” he asked.
“Going back to school?”
She hadn’t really thought about it, but now that she did she realized there was a world of knowledge out there she’d love to dive into. History, archeology, languages, art.
And she could see Armand there. In fact, it was a far more natural fit than the Sûreté ever seemed. She could see him walking through the hallways, a student. Or a professor.
But either way, he belonged in the corridors of academe. And so did she. She wondered if the killing of young Laurent had finally, completely, put paid to any interest he had in the disgrace that was murder.
“You like the professor?” she asked, going back to her soup.
“I do, though there seems a strange disconnect between the man and what he did for a living. His field was trajectory and ballistics. The main people who’d benefit from his research would be weapons designers. And yet he seems so, so, gentle. Scholarly. It just doesn’t seem to fit.”
“Really?” she asked, trying not to smile. It was what she’d just been thinking about him. A scholarly man who pursued murderers. “I guess we’re not all what we seem.”

We aren’t all what we seem. We rarely are. And there's usually more to us (everyone) than meets the eye.

Some people seem to have been meant to do one thing. Or one type of thing. Or one line of work. Others are more flexible – or more versatile. Some people, by choice or circumstance, spend a lifetime doing the same things. Others seem to live many lives.

I think everyone thinks Armand Gamache still has much to give and much to contribute. No one – probably not even he – knows what that is, but everyone is asking What next?

She’d held his hand tightly. It was covered in his own blood and that of others. And it mingled with the blood on her hands. Her own, and others.
And now catching killers was in their blood.
Chief Inspector Gamache hadn’t died. And he’d continued to lead them for many investigations. Until the time had come to come here.
He’d done enough. It was someone else’s turn.
“You and Madame Gamache seem happy here.”
“We are. Happier than I ever thought possible.”
“But are you content?” Isabelle probed.
Gamache smiled again. How different she was from Jean-Guy, who’d come right out and demanded, Are you going to stay here doing nothing, or what, patron?”
He’d tried to explain to Jean-Guy that stillness wasn’t nothing. But the taut younger man just didn’t understand. And neither would he have, Gamache knew, in his thirties. But in his fifties Armand Gamache knew that sitting still was far more difficult, and frightening, than running around.
No, this wasn’t nothing. But the time was coming when this stillness would allow him to know what to do. Next.
What next?

And he’s right. Being still isn’t nothing. It may be the listening and meditating time necessary for further action.

I can empathize. I am going through a transition time in my own life. Big changes are coming my way. Maybe a move. Maybe a sabbatical. Very likely a career shift. Right now I’m in a whirlwind much like the one Gamache was in during HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN. Lots of plans and preparations being set in place in readiness for a moment when it will all have to come together – fast.

After the whirlwind, I’ll have to deal with the “What next?” period. While it is tempting to already try to make decision, I know answers given now would be impetuous and precipitous.

Although I am not yet in my fifties and can certainly empathize with my contemporary, Jean-Guy, I agree with Gamache. Stillness is not nothing. It is hard. It means self-assessment. It demands answers to hard questions.

I am looking forward to stillness, though. I’m looking forward to a time between times. A time for listening to the silence and the space between the words. A time of reflection and questioning.

A butterfly landed on my foot the other day. It slowly climbed up my pant leg. It looked so pretty there that I took a picture. This was a few days ago. Since then, butterflies have been on my mind. I realized that I'm probably in the caterpillar stage. "A big fat caterpillar", (The Very Hungry Caterpillar).

Maybe I can become a butterfly. To do so, I have to be willing to face the cocoon stage. Stillness. A time between times. While outwardly nothing seems to be happening, metamorphosis is hard work. A caterpillar actually digests itself before sleeping cells are awakened in order to grow into a butterfly. What a metaphor!

I look forward to my time of stillness. To my own "cocoon".

I am preparing myself to reassess and "digest" who I am in order to awaken the person I can become. I'd like to cultivate stillness. Sometimes it is a big obvious moment - like the one I am soon to face. Other times it's a little epiphany. A few minutes or hours of introspection. We all have cocoons in our lives.

I look forward to trying to answer the questions I ask myself. Who am I? What do I enjoy? Why am I the way I am? What do I like to do? Why do I like to do it? What are the things that make me feel like a day was productive? What are the things I miss? What are the things that I could live without? What makes me feel useful? What kind of social interaction nurtures my soul? What makes me want to jump out of bed in the morning? What are some things I keep in the back drawer of dreams and plans, and that I should put on the top of the list?

I look forward to my time of stillness.

It is coming. Soon. It is just around the corner.

I know I need it because I, like Gamache, am not ready to answer when people ask me What next?

I didn’t really know what parsnips were. That’s not quite true. I knew, but I didn’t know they were called parsnips. To me they were only cenoura baroa or mandioquinha, Brazilian names for the vegetable. I don’t even know if they taste exactly the same (most fruits and vegetables are slightly different in taste in different parts of the world), but I’m sure they’re close enough. I was a bit skeptical of adding apples to the soup… but it was lovely! I’m so glad I made it. Even my son (who absolutely HATES any and all kinds of soup) ate his obligatory two spoons to taste with little complaint and said it was “okay” (very high praise for soup coming from this particular 8-year-old).

I made a version of this recipe: Creamy Parsnip and Apple Soup

Of course there were slight modifications because… well, I cannot seem to make things precisely as the recipe says. I like my soups a bit thicker, so I added less broth. Also, I added a wee bit of parsley to it. I thought it was a good addition. Other than that, I basically followed the recipe. Madame Gamache has great taste.

In fact, I had a soup party this week! It was so much fun! I invited some friends who like to cook – but aren’t snobs about it. The idea was that each person would bring a pan of soup or chowder. We had bread and croutons and grated cheese and cheeses and fresh parsley and nuts and wine… And we had to chance to share our own soup – and the recipe – and to taste other soups. So much fun. We spent hours nibbling and eating and tasting and trying to figure out what spices and tricks each person had up their sleeve. 

We took turns serving our soups, so everyone spent some time in the kitchen reheating and adding final touches. Everything was served in the pan it came in, so it was informal, not at all fancy, and felt like an impromptu improvised family meal. 

Then we split the leftovers between us. Perfect. I had enough for dinner the next day. Although dinner was a whole new version, since I did some mix and matching with my leftovers! 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Hamburgers & Bad Parenting

by Amy

The child sat at the next picnic table and immediately spilled a Coke in one direction and knocked over the salt shaker in the other. His mother made Number Five take a pinch of salt and toss it over his shoulder. Gamache watched with interest. Peter brought over a platter of hamburgers, slices of barbecued lamb and a pyramid of corn on the cob while Olivier put down a tray of beers and bright pink lemonades.
“For God’s sake, qu’est-ce que tu fais? There’re ants everywhere, and just wait. Wasps’ll come and sting you.”
Mom grabbed the boy’s arm and yanked Number Five to another table, leaving the mess for someone else to clean up.

We’ve all been there. I don’t mean that we’ve all been that mom. I mean we’ve all been the person watching a parent blotch parenting. And we’ve all, at some point, been that kid. We’ve all made a mess at some point in our lives. And I’m pretty sure no one has lived any significant amount of time without ever being smack in the middle of a mess and hearing a scolding. We’ve all been there.

They all watched as Shithead [aka Number Five] took a lick of his Coaticook ice cream, spilled more salt and again shot the Coke can across the table. It skidded over the salt, hit a bump and fell over. 
He started crying. Mom, after soothing him, took a pinch of spilled salt and tossed it over his shoulder. For luck. Gamache thought the only luck Number Five would have would be if his mother made him clean up after himself instead of moving each time he made a mess.

It’s all too common, isn’t it?

I can’t help but think that this might have been Louise Penny’s revenge after watching one parent too many. I wonder if she felt like Gamache, watching with interest and thinking the child should be so lucky as to have someone teach him or her to clean up.

We’ve all been there. Watching the imminent mess and shaking our heads at the one who wasn’t able to prevent it or didn’t fix it once it happened.

She’s a double offender, isn’t she? She not only doesn’t make him clean up his own mess, she doesn’t even set an example by cleaning it herself.

I can empathize with mom. There’s an age where mess follows you around ALL-THE-TIME. I remember packing for a trip once and my mom questioning whether I really needed a clean pair of jeans for each day of the weekend trip. Couldn’t I just have one pair and change tops? Um… no. 

There were always dirty feet bumping into my legs, occasionally a dirty diaper leaking on my lap, and all too frequently sticky handprints everywhere.

It’s tiring to clean up after yourself at any age.

It’s utterly exhausting to teach someone else to clean up after themselves.

It’s oh!-so-very rewarding when they learn to do so.

It is true, though, that teaching someone how to do anything involves the willingness to do it yourself. 

The best teachers are those who set an example. First you show… then you do it together… and then you supervise. If you’ve done your job right as a mentor and the disciple is willing, the expectation is that they will not only do it themselves, but perhaps even do it better.

I kind of feel sorry for the kid in the story. He probably drives people crazy. I mean… Number Five and Shithead aren’t exactly endearing nicknames. It’s not all his fault though, right? The person who’s supposed to be taking the time to educate him into becoming a better person and a more acceptable social being oscillates between pampering and scolding – neither of which seem to be very effective.

Gamache looked over at the first picnic table. Sure enough, ants and wasps swarmed over the sweet puddles of Coke.
“Hamburger, Armand?” Reine-Marie held out the burger, then lowered it. She recognized the look on her husband’s face. He’d seen something. She looked over but saw only an empty picnic table and a few wasps.

But he saw murder.
He saw ants and bees, the statue, the black walnut, Canada Day and its counterpart Saint-Jean-Baptiste. He saw summer jobs and greed and the wickedness that would wait decades to crush Julia Morrow.
And he finally had something to write it that last column.
How a father had walked off his pedestal and crushed his daughter.

Don’t you just love that? The “aha” moment?

Life is full of those – when we care to look. If we pay attention, life gives us opportunities and clues to unlock mysteries and find answers to our questions. Gamache pays attention. He’s always open to listening and learning from his surroundings.

I had a tiny “aha” moment when I realized this scene would be the perfect opportunity to try making my own veggie patties. I had never made them. We don’t frequently eat hamburgers at home. And I rarely eat them anywhere, really. I have had some veggie burgers in the past few years and I enjoyed them.

They were a bit messy to make. If I’m honest, they looked gross in the process. I knew they’d probably taste good because every single ingredient was something I liked and they would have gone well together anyway, so I couldn’t see what could go wrong. But it looked like a mess.

The end result was yummy, though. Very yummy. If you’re not a big meat fan, that is.

In a bit of olive oil I sautéed about two cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons of chopped onion, 1 tablespoon of chopped olives, and 2 tablespoons of yellow pepper (because that’s what I had, but I’m sure others would work just as well) and let that cool.

In a big bowl I mixed about 1 cup of chickpeas, 1 cup of black beans, 1 cup of oats, 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs, 1 egg, and lots of spices – what I had at hand and knew I liked. Nothing special. And I’d be hard-pressed to tell you how much of anything, since I was just kind of throwing it in. I have made this again and added varied quantities of similar ingredients with successful results.

I added the sautéed vegetables to the mix and then made the patties. I refrigerated them for a few hours and then I cooked them in a saute pan with a little bit of olive oil.

I’m the worse food blogger EVER. It’s a good thing I’m not really blogging about food, right? This is an unfollowable recipe, I suppose. Not at all precise. Maybe Libby can make some veggie patties and post an actual “followable” recipe some other time.

Since I was probably messing up the original burger idea anyway (I don’t think Reine-Marie or Gamache were eating veggie burgers), I went ahead and used this soft flat bread they sell close to my home that I love and rarely buy, I smeared Djon mustard on the bottom, placed the pattie on top, and added a dollop of ketchup. I had a bit of cottage cheese on the side and some greens.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Cheese, Bread, Wine & The Best Kind of Friends

by Amy

 “Gamache carried the evening tray of baguette, cheeses and pâté into the living room, placing it on the table before the fire while Émile brought in their wine.”“Santé.”“The two men sat facing the fireplace and toasted. When they each had something to eat they discussed their days.”

I love this image. Little nibbles. No formality. A drink. Familiarity with a friend’s home.

I had a friend over the other day. She came for lunch and I was making some pasta for our sons and preparing our slightly more grownup meal. I mentioned that I’d love for her to teach me a tomato sauce recipe she makes. So she joined me in the kitchen. We chatted, cooked, and occasionally bumped into each other in my kitchen. There is an intimacy implied in a friendship that easily shares a kitchen. It’s a special kind of familiarity.

Gamache and Émile have that.

I have a few friends like that. They’re precious.

It’s wonderful to have company while you cook, to nibble and maybe share some wine as you finish making a meal… It’s lovely to have friends you can talk about your day to.

“Émile Comeau nodded. It was a relief to see his friend so interested. When Armand and Reine-Marie had arrived a week before it took Émile a day to adjust to the changes in Gamache. And not just the beard, and the scars, but he seemed weighed down, leaden and laden by the recent past. Now, Gamache was still thinking of the past, but at least it was someone else’s, not his own.”

This is an insightful passage. It shows us how much Émile understands and cares for Gamache. When you care for someone, their successes and well-being brings you happiness. Émile is relieved because he was worried for Gamache. He knows that while far from well, the Chief is healing. He even seems to understand the therapeutic function of digging around in and analyzing someone else’s past.

There are friends (barely deserving of the title) who are only around when all is well. Then there are those who are truer friends and who stick by you when you’re going through a rough patch. The best of friends go beyond that. They are those who keep you company at the worst of times, but cheer you on and are excited for you when you overcome.

Those friends are priceless. They are the Myrnas who not only “whisper in the darkness”, but open the bottle of champagne to toast your achievements.   

“Who hurt you, once/ so far beyond repair/ that you would meet each overture/ with curling lip?/ While we, who knew you well,/ your friends, (the focus of your scorn)/ could see your courage in the face of fear,/ your wit, and thoughtfulness,/ and will remember you/ with something close to love.”

Oftentimes true friends are the most deserving of our time and affection, but they aren’t always appreciated. This series has a number of steadfast friends who see courage in the face of fear… Myrna, Reine-Marie, Annie, the Brunels, Lacoste…

“Finally Gamache looked at Émile. “ 
Gabri asks a good question.” 
“Are they partners?”Gamache nodded.“Well, he just doesn’t want to believe Olivier did it. That’s all.” 
“That’s true, he doesn’t. But the question is still good. If Olivier murdered the Hermit in a remote cabin, why move the body to a place it would be found?”

These friends are frequently those we’re close enough to that they’ve seen more than one version of us. They’ve seen our public face, but they’ve also seen us vulnerable and teary eyed. Sometimes they’ve seen us sobbing and broken. They’ve seen us gleeful and ecstatic. They know our dreams. Some they guess at because they’re too close to the heart to be spoken out loud (the kind we’re afraid to admit lest they never come true). These friends are the ones who hold our hands when we feel like we’re at the bottom.

“Why did Olivier move the body, Armand?”

But while these incredibly precious friends are the ones we know will keep us company when we’re at the bottom, they’re also the ones who don’t leave us there. They let us mourn, grieve, and wallow. For a while. Then they help us face the hard questions. They help us face the monsters. They comfort us with the security that we have someone to lean on, but they believe in us. Because they do, we are strong enough to believe in ourselves.

"Gamache steeled himself against the thrashing explosions, the bursts of light, the people crowding all around, shoving and shrieking.Across the abandoned factory he saw Jean-Guy Beauvoir fall, hit. He saw the gunman above them, shooting, in a place that was supposed to be almost undefended.He’d made a mistake. A terrible, terrible mistake.”

Friends like these are rare for many reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that while sharing a kitchen is a symbol of a kind of familiarity and intimacy in friendship, sharing our fears and inadequacies and mistakes is a far deeper one.

I wish you all the kind of friend who opens drawers in your kitchen, listens to your dreams and your fears, and stands by you. I hope you have someone who will be genuinely happy for you when you succeed and will be equally willing to give you a shoulder to cry on. I pray that there’s at least one person in your life who “whispers in the darkness” and believes in you even when you don’t fully believe in yourself.

Both the friend who first made me this cheese recipe and the friends who shared the first batch I made myself are blessings. If there are such people in your life, make sure to get together. Maybe for coffee. Or tea. Or wine. Maybe make some marinated cheese that you can nibble on while you talk about your day and your dreams.

Marinated Cheese

I didn’t make the wine.

I did try out Libby’s baked ricotta – which was lovely. The recipe is in this post, in case any of you missed it: Libby's Baked Ricota 

I’ve eaten the marinated cheese chunks in salads, plain, with toast, with rolls… I could go on. I had a few bits leftover… I hadn’t really planned on this for the blog, but as I sat down with a roll, the few leftover chunks of marinated cheese and some of the ricotta, I realized I’d inadvertently put together (parts of) one of the blog meals. So while it isn’t a great picture, the marinated cheese is a great recipe!


Cheese - The original recipe she gave me called for cheddar cheese, but I didn’t really follow the recipe, just the idea of it. I cut chunks of parmesan, ricotta, and a local cheese (about the consistency of cheddar, but tastes more like a salty ricotta?). About 16 ounces of cheese either sliced or in squares (which is what I did).
1 teaspoon of sugar
¾ teaspoon dried basil
1 dash salt
1 dash black pepper
½ cup olive oil
½ cup white wine vinegar
1 jar diced pimentos drained (I didn’t have any and didn’t add them)
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 Tablespoons minced green onions
3 pressed garlic cloves
Pour the marinade over the cheese, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Original recipe here:Marinated Cheese