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, September 30, 2016

Ham & Brie Sandwich, Houses & Homes

By Amy

Gamache pulled up a chair, grabbed a baguette filled with thick sliced maple cured ham, brie and arugula and took a beer.

I had a really hard time choosing what to make this week. Quite a bit of coffee, tea, and café au lait is drunk in Bury Your Dead and The Nature of the Beast… and I seem to be gravitating towards those lately. I didn’t think it would be fair to go back to making coffee and tea since I’m already moved in and have a functional kitchen. I’m not sure I’d be forgiven for that at this point.

I ended up choosing a sandwich.

I rarely buy ham. Hardly ever, really. I love brie, though. I love arugula… although I ended up using baby spinach instead. It was a delicious sandwich, written after visiting a new friend in her delightful house.

“I’m just over at Augustin Reunaud’s home.” He hesitated. “You wouldn’t want to come, would you? It’s not far from where you are.”
“I’d love to see it.”
“Bring your reading glasses and a sandwich. And a couple of beers.”
[…]… pausing to check the address he’d been given, unconvinced he had it right.But no. there it was. 9 ¾ rue Ste-Ursule. He shook his head. 9 ¾.
It would figure that Augustin Renaud would live there. He lived a marginal life, why not in a fractional home?

That is one of my absolute FAVORITE lines in the books. Marginal life. Fractional home. Isn`t that a brilliant piece of writing?

Houses have personalities.

Some are very authentic and unique and make bold statements. Some are discrete and unassuming, but contain surprising depths and hidden corners. Some are nice to look at, but can be uncomfortable, formal, and intimidating. Some are homey and seem to welcome you like a familiar and warm embrace. Some are conventional and almost interchangeable.

Houses have personalities.

Homes tend to reflect their owners.

I don’t think those statements are the same.  

Houses have personalities. They do; regardless of the people who inhabit them. Their architecture and layout, location, lighting, view, and surroundings contribute to that. Home buyers unconsciously tap into that and sometimes cannot quite explain why they like this and not that house. There is something that is built into the house that goes beyond the structure, materials, and paint scheme. 
There’s something impalpable that speaks to us and says: sturdy, reliable, conformist, quirky, relaxing, safe, comfortable, private, open, trustworthy… and any other traits we look for in homes – and people.

And then there’s the part that we bring with us. When we make a house a home, wherever the home is and regardless of the traits the house brings with it, we make it our own. It slowly starts to reflect us, the owners. Some things are intentional – the things we choose to hang on our walls, the furniture we buy, the colors we choose. They are an attempt to surround ourselves with things that make us comfortable, bring us joy, fulfill our needs, feed our desires, and please us. Others are almost an accident. The best homes are “lived in”, but everyone “lives in” a house differently. Even that reflects us.

This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about homes and how they reflect their owners. We blogged about Hanna’s cookies and the Parra home: HERE. The Parra home was an opportunity to revisit first impressions and contrast expectation with reality and realize that people aren’t “just” what they seem. They are usually more and layered and can contain multitudes within them. They can be, like their homes, a study of contrasts and the conciliation and union of things that perhaps, in another context or to another person, would clash.

And we talked about Jane in our very first post: HERE. Jane was an extreme example. She was a welcoming and warm woman. She knew everyone in town, had taught most of those middle-aged and younger, and was well loved and respected in the community. However, no one, not even her closest friends, were allowed past her kitchen. Her home was revealing. Her art was literally on the walls.
If these walls could speak. Her walls did. They told a story. An incredible story. A story she hadn’t been willing to share.

He’d been in homes of every description in his thirty years of investigating crime. Hovels, glass and marble trophy homes, caves even. He’d seen hideous conditions, and uncovered hideous things and yet he was constantly surprised by how people lived.But Augustin Renaud’s home was exactly as Armand Gamache had imagined it would be. Small, cluttered, papers, journals, books piled everywhere. It was certainly a fire hazard, and yet the Chief had to admit he felt more at home here than in the glass and marble wonders.

I am between homes.

While I feel like I am “at home”, this house isn’t quite our home yet. The house is still revealing itself to us and we’re still figuring out how we get along and whether or not this will be an intimate long term relationship or if we will seek some other structure. While it is a nice house, it’s still bare and not quite “us” yet. It still has unrecognizable smells and mysterious creaks that we’re unfamiliar with.

It's funny that I only really realized that this week when visiting new friends.

The minute we parked in front of their house, my son said, “Is it the triangle house?”

It was.

What a great house! Even better: a wonderful home.

The house was surprising and fun and creative and open and warm and welcoming. It was simple and honest and full of little details that the family probably takes for granted, but were wonderful to us. It was functional and practical – but whimsical and magical. Just being there made me feel like I could potentially be more creative than I actually am. It made me feel like the coolest kid at school had invited me over to their home and whispered that the Narnia Wardrobe was in their spare room.

It didn’t feel like my home. But I felt “at home”.

Have you ever felt that? Have you ever walked into a place and felt like it was a place where you could safely be yourself? Have you ever felt like you belonged?

My son and I weren’t the only ones. When I mentioned how much I loved the house, the family told me about how they’d bought it. It was fascinating to hear their story and confirm that they too understood the house’s personality and realized it was a good fit.

When I went home, I reassessed. I feel at home in my current abode. The house and I haven’t quite forged a deep relationship, though.

The home we visited this week was inspiring. It has awakened dreams of a new home. A place where we not only feel at home, but where the walls speak – and when they do, it resonates with our own view of the world and of ourselves. Their home reminded me that houses have personalities. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find a house that reflects ours.

I’m hopeful.

And grateful.

Ham and Brie Sandwich

As usual I used what I had and adapted the recipe. All I bought was some ham. Since I’m not a huge fan, I used a thin sliced ham, not a thick slice as the scene described. The brie was herb brie with a hint of garlic and I toasted the sourdough with some olive oil in a skillet. I added some mustard. That works, right? Because… it seemed to need a little extra taste and color.

What’s your favorite sandwich? Do you even have one?

All quotes are from Bury Your Dead.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Quinoa, Apple, and Cilantro Salad & Eulogies... a Tribute to Michael

by Amy

“He was a strange little kid,” said Ruth. “I liked him.”
And there was Laurent Lepage’s real eulogy. Stories of his stories. Of the funny little kid with the stick, causing havoc. Creating chaos and monsters and aliens and guns and bombs and walking trees.

A eulogy is an accolade to the recently dead. Usually. A eulogy is a written or spoken statement that celebrates the life, summarizes accomplishments, or praises someone – usually soon after they have passed. It’s memory put into words. It is how someone is remembered.

I have read that some tribes used to sing a person’s song when they died. Or right before they died. I’m not sure. Sing their song, tell their story, praise their accomplishments. They are rituals that facilitate closure. They are also a reminder, to those who are still living, that the things one is remembered for aren’t necessarily the things we frequently judge as measures of success.

[…] Gabri, walking over with a plate filled with apple pie while Olivier’s was stacked with quinoa, cilantro, and apple salad.

This week Louise Penny’s husband, Michael, passed away.

Unlike Laurent Lapage, he lived a long life and his death was not wholly unexpected or violent. I was touched – and moved to tears – when reading the words written about him. His eulogies.

On her Facebook Page, Louise Penny shared the news with us by saying:

“Michael passed away last night, at home, at peace, with love. ‘It’s not so much that his heart stopped, as that he’d finally given it all away’. Surprised by joy…”

I did not know Michael personally, but I think many of us feel as if we know him, at least a little bit, through their openness in sharing their journey the past few years. Louise Penny is gracious in calling her fans her friends. She starts and concludes many of her newsletters by thanking us, as friends, for being part of her journey. She has been so welcoming and inclusive in sharing not only her literary journey, but Michael’s diagnosis, that I think we all felt like he was not a stranger to us.

I was especially moved by the tribute written by the CBC news: Link to article. Michael was an accomplished man. He was successful in many of the ways society traditionally classifies success. I thought it was lovely that the article emphasized that while he was a recognized and highly competent professional, “it is his kindness and gentleness that stand out”.

What a wonderful way to be remembered.

Surprised by Joy.

He’d given all of his heart away.



What a beautiful human being.

As I said, I did not know him personally. Most of us didn’t. And I’m sure that, as for Laurent Lepage, his real eulogy is in the “stories of his stories” and those who knew him best are the ones who will eventually move past the pain of loss and into that realm of contentment at having known him and at having had the privilege of having his stories interwoven in their own stories.

In a sense, though, Michael is part of the stories Louise Penny chose to share with us.

Dominique Aury, in a spoken interview, said that:

“When one writes one never lies. What I mean is, one can recount things that are not true, but it’s not possible to disguise oneself when writing. That doesn’t exist. You give yourself away.”

Louise Penny gives herself away. Her writing is honest. Beautiful. Full of courage and grace. In both her fiction and her interviews and posts and newsletters there are tributes and nods to this wonderful man she loved so well.

While we may not be personal friends, through her art she has given us a glimpse of herself and those around her. We have been gifted with insight she has sprinkled throughout her books.

“It is not enough to devote all one’s reading time to nonfiction, on the theory that one will find useful facts. Feelings, too, are facts. Emotion is a fact. Human experience is a fact. It is often possible to gain more real insight into human beings and their motivations by reading great fiction than by personal acquaintance. People reveal comparatively little about their inmost natures even to their closest friends.”  (Eleonor Roosevelt in TOMORROW IS NOW).

Louise Penny’s books are full of emotions, human experience, motivations and inner natures. She has a gift for weaving the workings of the brain and the heart into her stories. She shares so much of herself. It takes incredible courage and honesty.

I confess that I am in awe of her.

Gabri had apple pie (my husband’s favorite). I probably would have chosen the salad, just as Olivier did.

I made this salad this week on the day we learned about Michael’s death. I shared it with a friend and it was a joyous occasion. As I made and ate it, though, I offered up a prayer for Louise Penny. I prayed (and pray) that she finds comfort and solace in her wonderful memories of Michael. I pray that she continues to be supported by friends and family and to find her new normal, without him.

I think that, like Clara, she has painted “self-portraits” in her books. Because she is willing to look honestly into herself, she has also gained insight into other people’s hearts. I think there are clues, in the latest books, that she was preparing herself for this moment. Like Clara in THE LONG WAY HOME, she too faced the possible loss of her husband and watched him trail a path where she couldn’t always follow.

Michael seems to have been a brave man in a brave country (reference to Marilynne Robinson’s GILEAD). And Louise Penny is an admirable woman for how she has chosen to share this journey with us.

I am in awe.

I am also challenged in how I choose to live my own life.

Michael is an inspiration.

I have said before that George Elliot’s words from MIDDLEMARCH summarize, in a sense, what my goal is as a person… Michael seems to have lived a life that merited words similar to that quote as his eulogy:

But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. (George Elliot – MIDDLEMARCH)

He will be remembered fondly. Even by those of us who only knew him through Louise Penny’s words.

I pray that, when my own time comes, the fruits I leave behind, the seeds I have planted, and the life I lived are as worthy of fond memories. To be remembered, by professional colleagues, for his kindness and gentleness? That was the biggest takeaway of my week. Beautiful human being.

Quinoa, Apple and Cilantro Salad

This salad was very (VERY) easy to make, chills beautifully, looks fancier than it should (since it’s so wonderfully easy), and tastes even better the next day. I used red quinoa, but I’m sure you can use any kind.

Preparing the quinoa: I cooked one cup of quinoa in 2 cups of organic chicken broth. You could use vegetable broth if you’re a vegetarian.

I diced two Fuji apples and chopped one big bunch of cilantro (I know that’s not very precise… we’ll just say lots of cilantro).

As soon as the quinoa had chilled a bit, I tossed the three ingredients with the juice of about one lemon and a splash (a big generous spash) of olive oil. I then added a handful of sliced raw almonds.

It was delicious.

All quotes, unless otherwise stated, are from Louise Penny's THE NATURE OF THE BEAST

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How could we?!!!

I cannot believe we missed our one year anniversary and didn't celebrate properly.

What with my move, the new book coming out, and settling in, I missed it.

Thank you all for joining us on this journey. It's incredible that we have been posting for a year and there are so many recipes still ahead of us.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Salad and a Home Full of Beloved Guests

by Amy

It had become a sort of tradition, these informal Friday evening barbeques at the Gamache place.”

Don’t you love those?

In these gatherings, friends and family mingle informally. Friends that are like family and the family that comes is the family that counts as the best of friends.

These are the gatherings where people are in and out of the kitchen and an outsider might have a hard time telling, for sure, who the hosts of the “party” are. It’s the kind of get together where the invitation sounds like an afterthought, when it is voiced at all, but everyone feels at home and invited.

This is such a wonderfully written scene. If you’re in a mood for a reread, grab your copy of The Long Way Home and read Chapter 3. Part of the power in the scene resides in the fact that we know these characters, too, and we feel close to them. The magic is that we are part of the scene. We, too, are invited into the Gamache’s home and are privy to these wonderful interactions.

Part of why I love this scene is because I can relate. I like having people over, but am not the kind of hostess who sets a beautiful fancy table with amazing dishes. I tend to be the kind of hostess who adopts guests and soon treats them like family. They are spoiled – when I can spoil them – and left to their own devices when I cannot.

I have said before that I can very much relate to Reine-Marie as a character. I see similarities to myself – although I wish I had all her wisdom and grace as well. She is just my kind of hostess. Always willing to add one more plate to the table or make an extra bed for a guest; but also perfectly content to be served at the bistro or enjoy someone else’s hospitality.

One of the joys in this scene is that Louise Penny scattered gems all over the scene. The bit where Gamache pretending to want to man the barbeque, although Monsieur Beliveau was more interested and probably more qualified for the job. Gabri flaunting his designer outfit. Ruth’s endearments… and Rosa’s disdain for Henri’s puppy love. Only Louise Penny would find a way to turn dog fart into poetry – and a philosophical reflection on steadfastness and courage.

Ruth and Rosa were now looking at the shepherd with something close to awe. The old poet took a deep breath, the exhaled, turning the toxic gas into poetry.“You forced me to give you poisonous gifts,”  she quoted from her famous work.I can put this no other way.Everything I gave was to get rid of youAs one gives to a beggar: There. Go Away.But Henri, the brave and gaseous shepherd, did not go away. Ruth looked at him in disgust, but offered one withered hand to Henri, to lick.And he did.

One of my own favorite gems, though, is the glimpse into Reine-Marie and Gamache’s marriage:

Reine-Marie moved among their friends, who were scattered around the garden, catching bits of conversations in French, in English, most in a mélange of the two languages.She looked over and saw Armand listening attentively as Vincent Gilbert told a story. It must have been funny, probably self-deprecating, because Armand was smiling. Then he talked, gesturing with his beer as he spoke.When he finished the Gilberts laughed, as did Armand. Then he caught her eye, and his smile broadened.

The intimacy isn’t in doing everything together. They rarely do, in fact. The closeness of their tie lies in their ability to connect, even when they are doing their own work, carrying on a separate conversation, living their own life. They have a rich and incredible relationship where they are both independent and full of life and dreams and plans, and they support each other, but don’t necessarily always walk side by side in every project.

Again, I can relate.

And then there’s Myrna.

“I left a bag of books for you in the living room,” Myrna said to Reine-Marie.

Really?! Isn’t that the best dinner guest EVER? Forget bringing wine or dessert. A bag of curated books?! Perfect.

Which reminds me. Yesterday I mentioned to my husband that although I am not working and still trying to figure out what our new budget is in a new country, I cannot live without buying books. He laughed and said, “I don’t care. If we run out of food we’ll just eat your books.” I think I fell a little bit more in love with him right then.

Myrna poured herself a white wine and noticed the bouquet in the center of the table. Tall, effusive, crammed with blooms and foliage.
Myrna wasn’t sure she should tell Reine-Marie they were mostly weeds. […] She’d been through the flower beds with Armand and Reine-Marie many times, helping to bring order to the tangled mess. She thought she’d been clear about the difference between the flowers and the weeds. Another lesson was in order.“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Reine-Marie said, offering Myrna a morsel of smoked trout on rye.Myrna smiled. City folk.[…]Myrna smiled at the weed centerpiece, still amused. And then she stopped smiling and noticed something. It was really beautiful.

Isn't this scene just sprinkled with inspiring interactions? This week I’d been thinking about how, as a parent, it’s sometimes a challenge to ignore the things that “need to be done” or taught or fixed, in order to allow time for the things that should be done. Things like cloud watching, snuggling, hearing (in detail) the ramblings on Minecraft or Pokemon… And, sometimes, in trying to teach children – or grown friends – the distinction between the flowers and the weeds, we miss the chance to see the beauty in the weeds. Reine-Marie was right. Who cares if they’re weeds? They were beautiful!

I recently had an impromptu dinner party. I wasn`t sure who was coming and when they would get here. There was a broad spectrum in food preferences and palates, but I had a little bit of everything so everyone was happy – I hope. The one thing I made with myself in mind (although there were no leftovers) was the salad.

Bowls of salad were passed around and Sarah gave Monsieur Beliveau the largest of the dinner rolls she’d made that afternoon, while he gave her the tenderest piece of steak. They leaned toward each other, not quite touching.

In this scene, they do eat salad, but we’re not told which kind. I thought that was a perfect opening for me to share my current favorite!

And Louise Penny closes the dinner scene with Henri’s reflections. It’s beautiful and poignant and such a wonderful definition of home and family. Considering that I am in the process of creating a new home here, having friends – like family – crowd in my kitchen and eat salad – among other things – and help build the bonds that make a house a home… This scene was especially apt.

Emilie.The elderly woman who’d found him at the shelter when he was a puppy. Who’d brought him home. Who’d named him and loved him and raised him, until the day she was no longer there and the Gamaches had come and taken him away. He’d spent months searching for her. Sniffing for her scent. Perking up his ears at the sound of every car arriving. Every door opening. Waiting for Emilie to find him again. To rescue him again, and take him home. Until one day he no longer watched. No longer waited. No longer needed rescuing.[…] The balm, he wanted to tell [Rosa] wasn’t anger or fear or isolation. He’d tried those. They hadn’t worked.Finally, into that terrible hole Henri had poured the only thing left. What Emilie had given him.
[…] Until one day the pain and loneliness and sorrow were no longer the biggest thing in his heart.
He still loved Emilie, but now he also loved Armand and Reine-Marie.And they loved him.That was home. He’d found it again.


I am grateful because there are people to love – and be loved by – in so many parts of the world. Because of that, there will always be homes far away from home that will be missed. There will also always be a chance to find home again. And again. And again, if needed.

Chickpea Salad

No secret to it.
1 can of chickpea beans
Grape tomatoes
Shredded carrots
Fresh basil – if you have it
Quartered cucumber or celery slices – I’m sure summer zucchini would be great, too
A few tablespoons of olive oil
A generous squeeze of lemon juice
A sprinkle of chopped parsley
About half a cup of crumbled feta - when I ran out of feta I just added parmesan or cottage cheese
Toss and enjoy.

I’ve made this quite a few times the past few weeks. With slight variations. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Éclairs and Growing Apart

by Libby

“Do you think people change?” Myrna, the éclair on its way to her mouth, paused. Lowering the pastry she looked at the Chief Inspector with clear, searching eyes. (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.244)

Gamache has just had a conversation with Beauvoir about the breakdown of Annie's marriage. He is trying to understand it. And given Jean-Guy's personal circumstances, it was inevitable Gamache would seek his counsel, trying to make some sense of it.

So what happened?” Gamache asked. “Did you change? Did Enid? Something changed.” Beauvoir looked at Gamache with surprise. The Chief was genuinely perturbed. (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.237)

How easy is it to grow apart in a relationship, particularly a long-term one? Pretty easy I think without some effort. Who isn't familiar with the old adages, 'relationships aren't easy', 'you have to work at relationships, nurture them'?

I think most couples struggle with 'compatibility' at some stage/s in their relationship. Feelings of 'not quite fitting with each other' are inevitable over the years as we change and grow, and not always at the same times and in the same ways. Sometimes a spouse can be left behind. It can be a temporary transition or a symptom of growing distance in a relationship. Over time feelings of being stifled or resentful can emerge. Loneliness and distance can ensue.

Living with another person can be very hard and demands commitment by both to keep balance and fairness and joy in the mix. The commitments and responsibilities and changing dynamics of our busy lives, taking the other one for granted and even complacency can get in the way and at times create distance in a relationship. And then there's the niggling and arguments over inconsequential things that fuel frustration and resentment. There is the inevitable tension between your self-identity and theirs, and perhaps times of tip-toeing around the other person's ego and needs. It can all contribute to changing perspectives, losing interest in each other and an emotional disconnection, a loss of intimacy, closeness. It makes me think of a detached Beauvoir retreating to his basement, away from Enid.

When you drift apart, you either want to commit to closing the gap, do nothing about it, or end the relationship.
Acknowledging that there is a problem, the changes you see in your relationship and yourselves, is an obvious start. It's a desire to change, a commitment to persist, get closer, have deeper conversations (which may have become superficial dealing with the daily mechanics of life), about your innermost thought feelings and aspirations. How to reconnect where there is an emotional disconnection? Easier said than done at times!!! It can be difficult expressing your deepest feelings and needs when you've grown apart.

How easy is it to lose the ‘spark’ in a relationship when we take the other one for granted, and lose sight of each other's unique qualities? It’s a matter of striking a balance between your individual interests and those which you have in common, making some effort to nurture your individuality but also invest time and effort in each other.
And you just have to find the laughter, the fun, the lightness of being. Gamache and Reine-Marie's relationship throughout the series is epitomised by their ability to do this. Even as they consider the thought that Annie has perhaps found someone else they are naturally playful with each other.

Armand,” she’d asked, ... “What would you have done if you’d been married when we met?” ... “God help me,” he finally said, turning to her. “I’d have left her. A terrible, selfish decision, but I’d have made a rotten husband after that. All your fault, you hussy.” Reine-Marie had nodded. “I’d have done the same thing. Brought little Julio Jr. and Francesca with me, of course.” “Julio and Francesca?” “My children by Julio Iglesias.” “Poor man, no wonder he sings so many sad songs. You broke his heart.” “He’s never recovered.” She smiled. “Perhaps we can introduce him to my ex,” said Gamache. “Isabella Rossellini. (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.242)

Where such a commitment can't be made, where there is no point in trying to work at or salvage a relationship, where you no longer fit with the other in any meaningful way, the relationship will invariably have run its course.

“Suppose you and Dad had been married to different people when you met,” Annie finally asked, looking them square in the face. “What would you have done?” They were silent, staring at their daughter. It had been, thought Gamache, exactly the same question Beauvoir had recently asked. “Are you saying you’ve met someone else?” Reine-Marie asked. “No,” Annie shook her head. “I’m saying the right person is out there for David and for me. And holding on to something wrong isn’t going to fix it. This will never be right.” (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.241)

You can't help holding up a mirror at different times, maybe when you turn 30, 40, 50, 60, retire ... and take stock of your life, and how things fit. Whether this is the life you imagined for yourself, weighing up the positive and negative aspects of a relationship and all those questions of compatibility, and even fundamental differences that may have become more obvious over time. And when things are insurmountable, sometimes it's an event or emotional trigger that hastens the ending of a relationship as in the case of Beauvoir and Enid. Do you wonder if Enid was also taking stock of her relationship with Beauvoir or whether she was taken by surprise? Regardless, there is always pain when a relationship ends.
“You said the raid on the factory was what finally made you decide to separate from Enid.” Beauvoir nodded. That much was the truth. “I wonder if it had the same effect on Annie.” “How so?” “It was a shattering experience, for everyone,” said the Chief. “Not just us. But our families too. Maybe, like you, it made Annie reexamine her life.” (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.242)

Then this:
“Are Annie and David growing apart?” “She didn’t say anything to you?” Beauvoir shook his head. His brain sloshing about in there. With only one thought now. Annie and David were growing apart. (A Trick of the Light, Kindle, p.237)

I've got to admit to being quite excited at the prospect and laughed at the thought of Beauvoir's sloshing brain! This was rather a favourite part of the book for me. So many revelations in this one exchange between Gamache and Beauvoir, including the fact that Beauvoir had loved Annie since three years previously. Didn't we all want this to end well for him?

Orange and ruby grapefruit éclairs


Myrna's eclair was never described but this is my take on it.

I've made choux pastry many times before but never éclairs. I actually had to buy a pastry bag and  a larger size piping nozzle for the pastry shapes. But I'm glad I did as these éclairs were easy to make and I ended up with quite a scrumptious dessert to take to a friend's dinner party.

Éclairs can  simply be filled with cream and topped with icing. But for dessert a filling of orange crème pâtissière (pastry cream) made even more tangy with orange and ruby grapefruit curd, some whipped cream and a sprinkling of walnut praline is a nice indulgence. Particularly since the top of the eclairs were dipped in chocolate ganache. Double yum!! The crème pâtissière, curd and ganache can be made a day or two before you bake the pastries.

I chose oranges and ruby grapefruit (sweeter tasting than the yellow grapefruit) for the flavouring as they were at peak ripeness in my garden.

This recipe made twelve éclairs.

Choux pastry


I find it easier to make this pastry by hand but you can also use a food processor when it comes to adding the eggs to the dough. The baking process is about getting a good rise and colour, and then drying them out for a crisp shell.

60g/2.5oz unsalted butter

3/4 cup of water

pinch of salt

130g/4.5oz plain flour, sifted

3 large free range eggs, lightly whisked

1.  Preheat the oven to 220C/430F

2.  Put the butter, salt and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil, ensuring the butter melts before boiling point is reached.

3.  Remove from the heat and add all of the sifted flour. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to combine.

4.  Return the saucepan to the stove and medium heat and cook the dough for a couple of minutes, stirring continuously until it comes together.

5.  Remove the saucepan from the stove and beat in a third of the whisked eggs until completely absorbed into the dough.

6.  Add another third of the eggs and beat into the dough until absorbed.

7.  Add as much of the remaining whisked egg to ensure a soft glossy dough that holds its shape.

8.  Allow the dough to cool and then spoon into a pastry bag with a 15mm/0.6 inch piping nozzle.

9. Line a baking sheet with baking paper securing the sides with a smear of butter.

10.  Pipe 12x10cm/4 inch lengths, spaced generously apart.

11.  Bake for 10mins at 220C/430F, then reduce the oven to 180C/350F for another 20-25 mins.
The choux pastries are ready when they are puffed and brown.Switch off the oven, and open the door a third of the way. Leave the pastries to dry out for 15 mins. You can aid the drying out by making a small incision with a knife at the end of each pastry. 

12.  Cool on a wire rack.

Orange and ruby grapefruit curd


This is a rich citrusy curd with a buttery, soft texture that can be cooked quickly on the stove top. It makes about 2 cups of curd. I store it in a lidded glass container in the fridge. It's usually gone within a week!

4 large egg yolks, free range

2/3 cup of caster/superfine sugar

60g/2.5oz unsalted butter, diced

1tbsp of orange and ruby grapefruit zest

100ml/3.5fl oz of freshly squeezed orange and ruby grapefruit juice, strained

1.  Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy.

2.  Combine with the butter, juice and zest in a saucepan over medium heat.

3.  Stir continuously and bring to a simmer.

4.  When it starts to bubble remove from the heat. Continue to stir.

5. Cool and store in sterilised jars in the fridge.

Orange crème pâtissière


Crème pâtissière is a traditional filling for many sweet pastries. I added orange zest and a little orange liqueur to ramp up the citrus flavours in the éclairs.

1 cup of full cream milk

2tbsp of orange zest

3 egg yolks, free range

50g/1.75oz caster/superfine sugar

20g/0.75oz cornflour/cornstarch

2 tbsp Grand Marnier

1.  Combine the milk and orange zest in a saucepan over medium heat and slowly bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat.

2.  In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and cornflour/cornstarch until thick and creamy.

3.  Pour on the hot milk and zest and whisk all the ingredients until smooth.

4.  Transfer the mixture to the saucepan and cook over a medium heat. Stir continuously as it thickens and comes to the boil.

5.  Remove from the heat and continue to stir until it cools down. 
Note: If your crème pâtissière is a little lumpy don't worry. Just blitz it in a food processor or blender and it will be silky smooth in seconds.

6. Scrape into a glass bowl, and cover and refrigerate when cool.

Cream and walnut praline


A little bit of cream adds a lighter note to the éclair filling. And the walnut praline packs a bit of crunch and flavour punch. Follow the recipe for pecan praline in this earlier post:

3/4 cup pure cream, lightly whipped to hold its shape, and unsweetened
2/3 cup of chopped walnut praline

Chocolate ganache

This deep rich chocolate, not-overly-sweet topping is the perfect companion, I think to the éclair fillings. 

This recipe will provide you with plenty of left over ganache to cover a cake or fill little tartlets, topped with crème fraîche and a sprinkle of praline. 

So many possibilities, including eating it by the spoonful for a chocolate hit!!

160g/5.5oz couverture chocolate* -- I used Valrhona (66% cocoa mass)

125ml/4fl oz of pure cream

*You can find out more about couverture chocolate in this post: Hot Chocolate and Regret

1.  Chop the chocolate into small pieces.

2.  Heat the chocolate and cream together over gentle heat until the chocolate melts, stirring continuously.

3.  Remove from the heat and beat until it thickens and is cool.

4.  Store in the fridge until ready to use. Warm very slightly to soften for dipping the pastry tops.



I love to make glacé oranges and cumquats using fruit from the garden. They last for many months stored in the fridge in their syrup. They are great for flavour and decoration. 

I also often pick flowers from the garden to use in salads or to decorate sweets. For the éclairs, in keeping with the orange theme, I used glacé orange and calendula (pot marigold) petals.

small wedges of glacé orange
petals from an edible flower (eg calendula)

Assembling the éclairs


1.Fold one cup of the orange and grapefruit curd into the orange crème pâtissière until well blended.

2.  Cut the éclairs in half lengthways with a sharp knife. Gently scrape out any soft dough inside.

3.  Fill the bottom half of each pastry, generously with the crème pâtissière and curd mixture.

4.  Spoon on a layer of whipped cream.

5.  Sprinkle walnut praline over the cream.

6.  Dip each pastry top into a small bowl of soft chocolate ganache, to form a smooth even layer.

7. Place each top on its bottom.

8.  Top with glacé orange, calendula petals or whatever you choose.

9.  Refrigerate until required. Serve slightly chilled

Don't even bother with a cake spoon and fork. Fingers and a napkin do these éclairs far more justice!

Bon appetit!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Tomato Sandwiches and @sshole saints

by Amy

Dr. Gilbert poured them glasses of spring water and made sandwiches with tomatoes still warm from his garden.

I wanted to start off by saying that I haven’t read it yet. I just received my copy today and am looking forward to sinking into it this weekend. I think we should have a no spoiler policy for a few weeks (a month or two?) before we begin to talk about the new book. We don’t want to ruin it for anyone, right?

Dr. Vincent Gilbert lived in the heart of the forest. Away from human conflict, but also away from human contact. It was a compromise he was more than happy to make. As was the rest of humanity.[...]“What do you want?” Dr. Gilbert repeated, straightening up and walking toward them.“Drop the act, Vincent,” said Gamache with a laugh. “I know you’re happy to see me.”
“Did you bring me anything?”
Gamache gestured toward Beauvoir, whose eyes widened.“You know I’m a vegetarian,” said Gilbert. “Anything else?”

There’s something liberating about Dr. Gilbert and Ruth. They’re both so obviously assholes, that you always know where you stand. No filter. They’re also both capable of great kindness and insight – when they choose to use it.

I hadn’t noticed this line, “You know I’m a vegetarian”, until just now. I love how we find these brilliant little tidbits in the books. Wonderful humor. Poor Beauvoir. He seems to be targeted by the two assholes in these books. He’s also the recipient of their amazing kindness and gentleness.

Gamache reached into his saddlebags and pulled out a brown paper bag and the map.“Welcome stranger,” said Gilbert. He grabbed the paper bag, opened it, and inhaled the aroma of the croissants.Tossing one precious pastry into the woods, without explanation, he took the rest into his log cabin, followed by Gamache and Beauvoir.

Why did he do that?

I wish we knew.

Is he taming some wild animal? Is it in honor of the hermit’s spirit or something? I wonder.

Some considered Vincent Gilbert a saint. Some, like Beauvoir, considered him an asshole. The residents of Three Pines had compromised and called him the “asshole saint.”“But that doesn’t mean he isn’t still a saint,” Gamache had said. “Most saints were assholes. In fact, if he wasn’t one that would disqualify him completely.”
The Chief had walked away with a smile, knowing he’d completely messed with Beauvoir’s mind.“Asshole,” Beauvoir had hissed.[…]Jean-Guy Beauvoir had seen great kindness in Gilbert, and ruthlessness in Gamache. Neither man, Beauvoir was pretty sure, was a saint.

I think our greatest qualities can also be our worst faults. Most things, in extremes, can be inconvenient, if not outright negative. I think that is one interpretation of what Gamache said.

Just as it is difficult to become great at anything without being slightly fixated on it (to the point of at least relative exclusion of other things), it is hard to be intense at anything without it sometimes backfiring.

Sometimes a good quality, a good characteristic, can become too much… or can be badly used.

I picked my child up from a gym class the other day. A friend was with me. She’s a teacher and we ran into one of her students’ moms. The mom was picking up her younger son who is in the same gym class as my son. She and my friend were talking about her eldest child and how neat and intelligent and well behaved and … all good things in an academic setting. A few minutes later she put an apologetic look on her face and mentioned that her son (a 7-year-old) was the polar opposite. 

She went on to say how he’s in trouble already at school and she’s told people at the school that she wants to “nip it in the bud”. As she was talking about how “unruly” he is, always in a school setting, I couldn’t help but answer.

I smiled and said, “Yeah… well… he’ll have to survive school. But we need people in the world with that kind of energy and creativity and ability to lead and inspire. The hard part in parenting and teaching children like your boy is finding a way to channel all those amazing qualities into good things. He’s probably amazing! He just has to learn how to use it in a good way.”

She looked slightly surprised. Then, “You’re the first person who’s ever said it like that. Usually it’s all bad. Yeah. He’s a good kid.”

It’s not easy to love the assholes. Or the prickly people. Or the tremendously honest. Or the ones with no filter between their brain and their mouth.

It’s not easy to find the good in the messy, maladjusted, unruly, dirty, annoying, non-conformists.

Sometimes, though, it’s worth it.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky (or blessed, I should say), you’ll meet the saint or the genius or the soft hearted, sensitive, brilliant, wonderful person that lives beyond the tough shell.

Or so I tell myself as I continue on my road to learning kindness.

Louise Penny’s books have grace in them.

Vincent Gilbert is redeemed.

Olivier is redeemed.

Beauvoir is redeemed.

Peter is redeemed.

Ruth seems to be on a path to redemption as well (although I hope she doesn’t change too much).
So many asshole saints. And we love them.

Tomato Sandwiches

Who knew?

I had a feeling of déjà vu when reading about tomato sandwiches. It was just like when I prepared to make oatmeal for the oatmeal post. Who knew there was a “right” way to make tomato sandwiches? 

Or that it’s even considered a “thing”. There are purists!

To all the purists out there – especially the “Southern Tomato Sandwich” purist group? Please do not read what I did. I completely blotched the “proper” sandwich.

From what I researched (I find it funny that so much has been written about tomato sandwiches), the “proper” tomato sandwich consist of cheap white bread – preferably the store brand kind, mayo spread on said bread, a thick slice of a big summer-fresh tomato – preferably picked from your own garden, but a farmer’s market tomato will do (store-bought, in this case, is a no-no), and some salt and pepper on the tomato. Period. Nothing else. Anything else will spoil the effect.

So… I can live with white bread. But I LOVE bread. Why does it have to be the kind I don’t care for? Why can’t I have yummy bread? I haven’t yet begun to make my own bread here, but there is a bakery in town that makes good bread. I decided on a fresh sourdough one. It’s white, right?

I never eat mayonnaise. My son won’t touch it. My husband doesn’t care for it. I love this blog, but not enough to buy mayonnaise for a “recipe” I’m pretty sure I would enjoy more if I tweaked it. So I used olive oil. Also… I toasted my bread with the olive oil. So wrong. I know. I read in more than once place that the bread should not be toasted in a tomato sandwich. I decided to be a rule-breaker here.

I don’t have a garden here. But a friend does. I’d gone through all the tomatoes she gave me. But I got a perfect one from the Farmer’s Market in town. So I did a good job with the most important ingredient, I think. I added a sprinkle of pepper, but no salt. It didn’t need the salt.

Doesn’t it look like a summery-fresh meal?

So... what's your version of a tomato sandwich?