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, November 25, 2016

Milk (kind of - Lassis, really)... and Facing Ourselves

by Amy

She picked up Rosa and walked over to Clara’s cottage. Letting herself in, she found Clara where she knew she’d be. Ruth sat on the sprung and lumpy sofa that smelled of banana peels and apple cores and watched Clara at the easel, staring at Peter’s portrait.“Who hurt you once, so far beyond repair?” said Ruth.“The line from your poem,” said Clara, turning on the stool to look at Ruth.“I was asking you, Clara. Who hurt you once?” Ruth gestured to the easel. “What are you waiting for?”
“Then why’re you stuck? Like the characters in that goddamned play. Are you waiting for someone, something to save you? Waiting for Peter to tell you it’s okay to get on without him? You’re looking for milk in the wrong place.”“I just want to paint,” said Clara. “I don’t want to be saved, I don’t want to be forgiven. I don’t even want milk. I just want to paint.”

I don’t really believe her. We all want to be saved sometimes. We all want to be forgiven. We all, at least sometimes, want metaphorical milk. We all want to have someone to blame. We all enjoy the idea of right and wrong and the good guy winning in the “end”. There is comfort in “it’s not my fault”, “he started it”, and “I was just following rules”.

That’s milk.

The food of infants.

Ruth struggled out of the sofa. “I did.”
“You did what?” asked Clara.“The answer to that question. All those years when I couldn’t write, I blamed John Fleming. But I was wrong.”
Clara watched Ruth and Rosa waddle away. She had no idea what the crazy old woman was talking about. But sitting in front of the canvas, it slowly sank in.Who could do such damage? Who knew where the weaknesses, the fault lines lay? Who could cause all that internal bleeding?

One of the hard things about growing up (at any age) is that it can be disorienting. Babies and toddlers are so convinced that they are the center of the universe and that their wishes should be commands to all those around them, that they feel righteous anger and entitlement when they are contradicted or impeded.

As we grow, we realize that life, relationships, and interactions are dynamic. There’s give and take. Action and reaction. It’s so terribly easy to shift the blame. Like sibling squabbles. Most of us can relate. Even those who have no blood siblings know what that’s like in a classroom, a sports team, or something of the like. He did it first… But did you see what so and so did? Everyone is doing it… She’s breathing my air... Took my things… Messed up my concentration…

For those of you who are parents, you’re aware that one of the fascinating and magical aspects of childhood is that we are invited to “relive” these lessons as we teach them to our children. For years now I have found myself telling my son (again and again) that we cannot change other people or let our behavior be defined by reaction. We must own our mistakes. They can be explained, justified, or understood in light of what might have prompted or triggered our behavior. But, ultimately, the choice is ours and two wrongs do not make a right. Isn’t that the adage?

Viktor Frankl speaks of this when talking about his experience as a concentration camp prisoner.

During this psychological phase one observed that people with natures of a more primitive kind could not escape the influences of the brutality which had surrounded them in camp life. Now, being free, they thought they could use their freedom licentiously and ruthlessly. The only thing that had changed for them was that they were now the oppressors instead of the oppressed. They became instigators, not objects, of willful force and injustice. They justified their behavior by their own terrible experiences.” (Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl)

Some, Frankl included, didn’t become enslaved to brutal behavior. Easier said than done.

I have found myself feeling like a hypocrite, time and again. As I counsel my child, I am faced with my own shortcomings. My own childishness, as it were. I like that he absorbs lessons and ideals. I like that he holds me accountable. I like that sometimes he’ll (almost always) respectfully challenge me or question my own behavior. But mom, you always say that…

Because it’s so, so easy to blame someone else for our choices. I am not saying our backgrounds, baggage, environment, context, preconceived notions, and experience aren’t part of us. They are. Our choices and behavior are, to an extent, a reflection of that. But we need not be limited to that!

When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.” (Gilead – Marilynne Robinson)

Easier said than done.

It takes a big person. A grownup.

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.” (The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman)

I’m not a grown-up yet. If these are the stakes, I’m not sure I ever will be. But since we’ve talked about setting high standards and being works in progress, I’m sharing aspirations. I’d like to go beyond the drinking (metaphorical) milk phase. I would like the toddler in me to step back, even during emotionally charged moments and interactions, and let a more mature version of me take over.

I’d like to learn to listen to intent, not just the words. I’d like to understand motivation, not just actions. I’d like to be able to feel the love, even when someone is muddling through the expression of it. I’d like to understand people’s gifts of their time and the things they value, even when it isn’t what I’d have otherwise valued myself. I’d like to read between the lines and grasp all the things we have in common, instead of letting my mind snag on points of discord and formulate answers and rebuttals. I’d like to grow in my quest for questioning my own ideas and beliefs. If they aren’t strong enough to withstand attack, they probably aren’t well rooted enough and they need to be fortified.

I would like to judge less and empathize more.

No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same. (Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl)

In many ways, I am a coward. I frequently choose to remain ignorant of pain and suffering that is too far away for me to be of any help, and yet too close to my own fears of pain and suffering.

We are all frightened of the ugly, the dirty. We all want to turn away from anything that reveals the failure, pain, sickness, and death beneath the brightly painted surface of our ordered lives. Civilization is, at least in part, about pretending that things are better than they are. (Becoming Human – Jean Vanier)

My true cowardice, though, was in facing myself. I do think I’ve grown. And learned. And become braver.

I, like Beauvoir, have watched Gamache bravely dive into himself and, in facing himself, become a man who can see the ugly and the dirty… and still find beauty. Like Clara, I have learned from Ruth and learned that the lump in the throat has to come out somehow. It demands that I smooth out the folds and questions and doubts in my own soul. I think I’m learning. I’m growing.

How difficult it is to accept our limits and our handicaps as well as our gifts and capacities. We feel that if others see us as we really are they might reject us. So we cover our weaknesses. (Becoming Human – Jean Vanier)

In my last post I spoke of how, before reaching competence, we have a phase of conscious incompetence. Before becoming a butterfly, there is a phase of self-digestion and cocooning meditation. Before getting better, we must admit how broken we are. Before we can truly be kind and forgiving to others, we must be willing to face our own humanity.

But then I began to realize that in order to accept other people’s disabilities and to help them grow, it was fundamental for me to accept my own. (Becoming Human – Jean Vanier)

In order to become the person I would like to be, I have to understand the person I am. Regardless of the context where I am in. 

IfIf you can keep your head when all about you// are losing theirs and blaming you, // If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, // But make allowance for their doubting too; // If you can wait and not be tired of waiting, // or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, // or being hated, don’t give way to hating…(Rudyard Kipling)

I am so, so very far from my ideals.

I am such a child, an infant, when it comes to my aspirations.

Clara picked up her brush and contemplated the empty canvas. She would do a portrait of the person who had hurt her once, beyond repair.With one bold stroke after another she painted. Capturing the rage, the sorrow, the doubt, the fear, the guilt, the joy, the love, and finally, the forgiveness.It would be her most intimate, most difficult painting yet.It would be a self-portrait.

And that’s where I propose to start. First to understand and capture, then to be thankful and forgiving.


I’m not a milk drinker.

Recently I reintroduced milk to my diet (by that I mean splashes in my black tea or coffee)...

Does anyone here still drink pure milk? Almond milk? Is milk something you only use as an ingredient for other recipes? Do you take milk in your tea or coffee? Or is it half and half? Does anyone make smoothies with milk? Or milkshakes? Do any of you not use any dairy at all?

I actually googled “milk for grown-ups” and discovered lassis. As far as I can tell, they’re basically milkshakes with yogurt. Kind of. There were many recipes with variations. The basic rule was having ice, water, and yogurt – about the same amount of each (although recipes varied). The salty and spicy ones added things like all spice, cardamom, mint, etc. The sweet ones (most common was mango) usually had fruit and sugar.

I made a lemon/peach version. Equal parts yogurt, water, and ice. A bit of lemon zest and one slice of leftover canned peach. I added ½ a tablespoon of sugar. Turn on the blender for a few seconds. Done. It was delicious, although wholly unsuitable for the cold rainy weather.

Later in the day I went back to my usual splash of milk in tea. Grown-up milk.

All quotes - unless stated otherwise - are from The Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Extra! Extra! Julie's Mom's Lavender Shortbread Recipe

Hi everyone!

When I wrote about Cookies and Failing to Act (HERE), Julie commented and added her mom's shortbread recipe, which is the cookie she imagined when reading the scene. I now think she is so absolutely right and that MUST be the cookie in the scene. I just made it, and it's wonderful! Mine didn't really turn out pretty because I messed them up when I pressed down with a fork. Not pretty, but sooooo yummy!

Here's what she posted (and Julie, thank you for the recipe!)

MOM'S SHORTBREAD (Julie's mom, that is)

1 cup butter (2 1/4-lb sticks) at room temp. 
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup icing sugar 
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sifted, all-purpose flour

Sift the dry ingredients together. Mix in the butter with your hands (the heat from your hands melts the butter and makes the batter hold together better than if you mix with a spoon.) Roll into walnut sized balls and place on shiny, ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with a fork or cookie press dipped in flour. (You can crowd them on the cookie sheet - they don't spread). 

Bake at 325 for 20 minutes, or until they're as golden brown as you like them. 
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen. Can easily be doubled. 

To make the Lavender Shortbread, just crumble in a small handful of cooking-grade lavender (I buy mine at Whole Foods) before you start mixing in the butter.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Steak Frites & High Standards

by Amy

Peter had been here. He’d committed this sight to canvas, as best he could. Trying to record wonder. Awe. Not just beauty, but glory.

And he’d mailed it off. Away from here. Why?
And where was he now? Had he moved on, heading deeper into his own wound? Still searching?
Or – Gamache stared into the crater. Had Peter never left? Was he with them now, lying in the woods at the bottom of the cliff? Becoming part of the landscape? His silence profound because it was now unending?
Beside him, Clara stared at the river Peter had painted, and let the emotions roll over her. Her own, and his. She felt Peter very keenly.
Not his presence but his absence.

They’re walking in Peter’s footsteps. Retracing his steps. Trying to understand the path he trailed in search of himself. It was a very long way home. He made it, though. Part of the process was recognizing greatness, recognizing potential and not settling or conforming with mediocrity. It wasn’t about competing with other artists or being famous (although I’m sure that wouldn’t hurt). It was about facing himself and trying to fearlessly find his own own greatness.

Throughout the book, art is used as a metaphor for self-knowledge. Both Ruth and Clara expound on the theme of finding your place as an artist by expressing things that cannot be contained (Ruth’s lump in the throat), starting off with a mess, and growing from there.

Peter was a master. A safe, mediocre, playing by the rules, blanched-out, emotionally stunted master. What he did on his journey was hard. He divested himself of his expertise and started over. He went back to the basics and he learned to feel again. He used painting as a means of expression and relearned how to feel through his art.

Beuvoir got up and wandered around the brasserie. There were paintings on the walls, with price tags slightly askew. From years of dusting. They were pretty landscapes, but in Charlevoix a painting needed to be more than that to sell.

If he hadn’t looked into the windows of the Galerie Gagnon, Jean-Guy might have thought these were quite good. But he had looked. And now he knew the difference. Part of him regretted that. He might now like better things, but he also liked fewer.

Like Beauvoir, Peter might have continued to ignore the difference. But he was married to someone with a fearlessness and faith he lacked. He had lived with an artist who threw herself recklessly into exploration of her soul. He had seen a true master’s work evolve and take root and bloom.

Like Beauvoir, Peter had looked. And now he knew the difference.

That might be one of the hard things about coming face to face with greatness. Be it a wonderful piece of literature, a beautiful painting, a flawless dance, a perfectly cooked meal, or a person with genuine kindness and goodness? We are drawn in.

We are also challenged in our humanity.

It is easier to be contented with mediocre accomplishments when we do not have greatness to compare it to.

I don’t mean that we are all to be masters at everything. That would be impossible anyway. What I do mean is that we should, I believe, have high standards for the things we set out to accomplish. Isn’t there an old saying that ‘Any job worth doing is worth doing well’?

While we need not be masters at everything, we can all strive to be masters at being our own unique selves. We can strive for authenticity, honesty, integrity, kindness, and love. We can invest in giving our best in the things we propose to do.

It does not mean we will be brilliant. Sometimes the process to greatness starts with a dog’s breakfast, Isn't that how Ruth described it? Sometimes it looks like crazy paintings with upside-down smiles. Sometimes it’s a hand that trembles or a part-time recovering addict Surete officer.

And we’re all works in progress. We aren’t finished.

There are levels of competence. I think it works for anything we try to master: reading, writing, math facts, cooking, playing tennis, and our own characters. (Link: Four Stages of Competence).

Making mistakes is part of the process of learning competence. It is part of the humanity and slip-ups of maintaining competence.

I have written about kindness lately. In consciously trying to exercise more kindness I have become increasingly aware of my incompetence, my prejudices, my resentments, my sense of entitlement, my selfishness. Like Beauvoir, my standard is now higher, so I am more conscious of my shortcomings.

“What is a soul?”
He looked up, smiled, studied her face. “Why ask me?”
“It just seems to me that you would know.”He shrugged. “On the basis of my vast learning and experience, I would say – it is what you can’t get rid of. Insult, deprivation, outright violence – ‘If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there,’ and so on…”(Home – Marilynne Robinson)

Recognizing a greater standard for greatness and embarking on a journey into oneself to try to reach it means we first run into incompetence. Before we begin to learn anything, we become aware of how very little we do know, how very incapable we are.

Over the years I have done an archaeology of my own thinking, mainly to attempt an escape from assumptions that would embarrass me if I understood their origins. (When I Was A Child I Read Books – Marilynne Robinson)

Poor Peter.

He tried to run. He tried to find the magic “place” or muse or secret key to unlock the magic that shone in Clara.

You can’t run from yourself, though.

“It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.” (The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman)

But while it is true that we cannot outrun ourselves and we cannot outrun our incompetence, we can grow. We can learn. We can strive to be better versions of ourselves. We can become masters at our crafts. We can gain competence. We can be brilliant.

“You’re always you, and that don’t change, and you’re always changing, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” (The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman)

While THE LONG WAY HOME centers around Clara’s search for Peter and Peter’s search of himself, one of my favorite threads in this book is the “new and improved Beauvoir”. In this book we see him a bit more mature and open-minded. Art is used as a metaphor for this as well. Where Jean-Guy once disdained most art and poetry, he slowly starts to realize his lack of knowledge… and slowly, slowly comes to appreciate art more as he learns (not always willingly or consciously) more.

He might now like better things, but he also liked fewer.

This is also a book where he regains his appetite. While I rarely share his taste (I’m not much of a meat eater), he’s one of those people I’d enjoy cooking for. Even through the books I can just picture how much he relishes his meals. Aren’t those the best guests?!

Steak frites all around, the steaks char-grilled and thick. The fries thin and seasoned.

I did make steak frites. Not quite like the ones described, though. The only judge of the steak was my husband. He said it was good. I confess that I didn’t eat any. It looked okay, though. The fries were oven baked potatoes. My son said the very, very thin ones were okay. The thick ones were “soft” (this is a child that loves French fries, but gags with mashed potatoes, so texture is an issue). I thought the potatoes were blissfully perfect. Especially the thick ones!

So… there’s another consideration. Even masters cannot please everyone. Also, perfection is subjective and dependent on the judge.


I used flank steak – I’m still learning about the types of cuts here. I marinated it overnight in lemon juice (about 4 tablespoons), olive oil (a splash… maybe 1-2 tablespoons), salt (about ¾ teaspoon), and I was going to add a bit of brown sugar, but I had the left-over juices from canned peaches, so I just threw that in. I popped it into the oven for about half an hour along with the juices from the marinade. It’s probably a bit more well done than most meat lovers would like, it’s still red enough to make me uncomfortable, and for the husband to eat happily.


Oven was preheated to 475 degrees (Fahrenheit) I used russet potatoes and peeled and sliced them. I made thick wedges, but about 1/3 of them I sliced thinner to make my son happy. I let them soak in warm tap water for about 10 minutes, then patted them dry. I covered a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spread 4 tablespoons of olive oil and about 1 teaspoon of coarse salt onto the sheet. I added one tablespoon of olive oil to the potatoes and tossed those before spreading them out onto the cookie sheet. For the first 5 minutes, I baked them covered in aluminum foil. After that, uncovered for 30 minutes (flippling them at the 15 minute mark).

Son had his very thin, crispy potatoes plain.

I had mine (the thickest wedges) with a roasted tomato (with salt and fresh thyme) and sour cream and mustard dip.

My husband had his with steak.

We obviously cannot agree to all eat the same meal. Ever.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Cookies and Failing to Act

by Amy

He yanked open the heavy wooden door and entered the Literary and Historical Society, where the Anglos kept and filed and numbered all their ghosts.In the library Mr. Blake was just pouring himself a cup of tea and taking a cookie from the blue and white china plate on the long wooden table. He looked at Gamache and indicated the pot. Gamache nodded and by the time he’d taken off his coat and rubbed Henri’s feet warm and dry there was a cup of tea and a cookie on the table for him.

Gamache was reading about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. He was trying to reconstruct the events leading up to the battle and the actions (or lack of action) of those involved. One would think strategy and brave deeds would determine the outcome. It’s easy to overlook inaction and words left unspoken. However, that’s where the key to this particular battle seems to be.

“In my line of work you grow suspicious of coincidences. They happen, but not often. And when you see one you ask questions.”
“And this is a big one,” agreed Mr. Blake. “Two world-famous mapmakers fighting on opposite sides of the same battle in a far-flung colony.”
“And one of them hesitates, perhaps disastrously.”
“You think he did it on purpose, don’t you.” It wasn’t a question.“I think it’s possible they knew each other, had communicated. I think it’s possible Captain Cook, who was the more senior of the men, made a promise to Bougainville in exchange for a favor.”
“A hesitation. A pause,” said Mr. Blake. “It wouldn’t seem much, but it cost the colony.”

A hesitation. A pause.

There was a maliciousness involved in the delay. At least there was in Gamache’s as yet unproven theory. And Mr. Blake is right. It doesn’t seem like much.

If a “true” act of treason or betrayal had been proposed, I doubt they would have agreed to it. To actively kill your countrymen? Not likely. On the other hand, a subtle delay might have been easier to stomach.

Old does something similar. He never pointed to anyone else as the murderer. He never condemned anyone. He, unlike both Olivier and David, didn’t intentionally try to lay the blame at someone else’s doorstep. All he did was not take action. He stood back and let them blame his friend. He allowed suspicion to take hold, he allowed evidence to mount up, ultimately he allowed his friend to be tried and convicted of a crime Old knew Olivier hadn’t committed. He was the only one, aside from Olivier, who truly knew.

As I listened to this scene the other day, I was struck by how easy it is to not act and not speak up and to just let things happen. Things we might have avoided.

As the mother of a school-aged-super-hero-loving-boy, I have been subjected to the Marvel universe frequently lately. Just yesterday he was watching Civil War (yet again) and I overheard (yet again) Spiderman explain his motivation to Ironman. He said something like (paraphrasing), “When you can do what I do and you don’t and bad things happen anyway, then it’s your fault”.

Lack of action isn’t always innocent. Once you know you cannot “un-know”. And when you know for sure that your action could have changed things, it’s harder to forgive yourself for not acting.

If you have the means to act and choose not to and bad things happen, then I suppose Spiderman is right. It’s your fault.


I might be accused of failing to act here. I did bake cookies, but I wasn't actively trying for a new recipe here...

We’re starting to run out of very different – or very inspiring – recipes. Both Libby and I are having a harder time choosing what to make and write about. Some are very similar to what we’ve already done. Some we’re not yet inspired to tackle. Some are, in fact, repeats.

This scene doesn’t specify the kind of cookies and I’ve posted HERE about chocolate chip cookies in general. In this recipe I included almonds (lots and lots and lots), oatmeal, and dark chocolate chips. 

As usual I added ginger and cinnamon.

I wish I had Gamache’s self-control and could say I nibbled on a single cookie while I read. The truth is I ate quite a few cookieS...

All quotes from Louise Penny's BURY YOUR DEAD

Friday, November 4, 2016

Apples & Ruth's Core

by Amy

 “I sent them over to Ruth.” [Monsieur Béliveau] placed his large hand on her tiny one. “I was afraid, and I just wanted to get rid of them. Of him.” He squeezed Ruth’s hand. “I’ve never forgiven myself that cowardice.” [...]
“Would I meet your eyes, and stand,/rooted and speechless,” said Ruth. “While the pavement cracked to pieces/and the sky fell down.”

Gamache looked at her.
“I wrote it after he left.” She gestured to the photograph. “After I sent him on. I did the same thing, Clément. I threw them Al Lapage, in hopes they’d take him and leave me. I’d have done anything to get rid of him. After Gerald Bull left, the project manager returned. Alone. He knocked on the door and that’s when he asked if I could write a few lines to accompany the drawing of the Whore of Babylon. I told him I couldn’t. I told him I wasn’t really a poet. That it was just a lie I told myself.”
Her hands were trembling now, and while Monsieur Béliveau held one, Armand took the other.
“When we left I went up to St. Thomas’s,” she said, looking at the small clapboard chapel. “I prayed he’d never come calling again. I sat there and cried for shame. For what I’d done. Then I wrote those words, sitting in the pew, and didn’t write again for a decade.”
[…]“So when it came time to throw someone to the wolf you chose him?” asked Armand.
“Is that really necessary, monsieur?” asked Monsieur Béliveau.
“It’s all right, Clément. He’s just speaking the truth.” She turned back to Armand. “Al Lepage or Frederick Lawson or whatever he chose to call himself was already damned. What I hadn’t counted on was that in doing it, I was too.”
“That’s not true, Ruth,” said Monsieur Béliveau.
“But it is. We both know it. I sacrificed him to save myself.”

In Middlemarch, by George Elliot, there is a scene where a young girl, a poor relation hired by a stingy old man, is with him in his last hours. The house is full of relatives who, like vultures, await his death. Everyone hopes to be in his will and think themselves more deserving than the others. He is on his deathbed. Alone. The only people there are hired, including Mary, or relatives who care not a bit for the man, only for his money. His last will (still a mystery) is vindictive, dark humored, and intending to hurt. At the last, he urges Mary to take some money and burn his last will so the one that came before would prevail. If she had done so, she would have had a little to herself and the man she loved would have as well. She didn’t know what she was giving up. All she knew was that he was a man not known for integrity or kindness and his request required secrecy and subterfuge.

“No, sir,” said Mary, in a firm voice, “I cannot do that.”
“Not do it? I tell you, you must,” said the old man, his voice beginning to shake under the shock of this resistance.”
“I cannot touch your iron chest or your will. I must refuse to do anything that might lay me open to suspicion.”
“I tell you, I’m in my right mind. Shan’t I do as I like at the last? I made two wills on purpose. Take the key, I say.”
“No sir, I will not,” said Mary, more resolutely still. Her repulsion was getting stronger.
“I tell you, there’s no time to lose.”
“I cannot help that, sir. I will not let the close of your life soil the beginning of mine. I will not touch your iron chest or your will.” She moved to a little distance from the bedside. (MIDDLEMARCH - George Elliot)

Mary Barlow managed to keep her life unsoiled by old Peter Featherstone’s filth. She received no money, but I doubt she would have traded the money – and heavy conscious – for the life she went on to create. I wish I were always so wise. Some things seem minor, but they may become big regrets.

Ruth, unlike Mary, only managed to escape halfway. She didn’t give Fleming what he wanted. But she feels wretched for having passed him on to someone else.

I don’t think she would feel half so bad if she weren’t, at her core, a highly sensitive, caring, perceptive, and kind person. She suffered and hurt because she is a deeper thinker than most.

Last week’s post was about Ruth… this one is the scene where she reveals what she believes is the root of her bitterness.

“Who hurt you once so far beyond repair,” said Gamache, quoting her most famous poem.
“So far beyond repair,” Ruth repeated. She looked at Gamache and almost smiled. “I was nice once, you know. And kind. Perhaps not the most kind, or the nicest, but it was there.”
“And it still is, madame,” said Armand, stroking Rosa. “At your core.” 
Her core.

Ruth’s core is nice, and kind, and humorous, and sensitive, and perceptive, and full of grace and love and hope and the kind of intelligence that is rare. She is creative and brilliant and giving and understanding. She is forgiving. But not of herself.

It is her self-loathing that hurts her far beyond repair. That’s what she teaches Clara. That’s what Beauvoir realizes – and teaches Jacques. I think, in helping Olivier, Clara, Jean-Guy, and even Gamache (by blaming him and criticizing him for things that obviously aren’t under his control) forgive themselves, Ruth may slowly, slowly be starting to heal.

At the core.

I hope I learn from Ruth, too. I hope I learn to forgive myself because I don’t think there should be hurts that are that far beyond repair. If we are to love others as we love ourselves and forgive others as we have been forgiven, that means we have to learn to accept Grace in our own lives, not just extend it to others.

“He picked up an apple from the grass. With an expert twist of his hands, the apple split in two. He offered one half to Armand.
The outer flesh was white and moist. Perfect. But the core was dark, decayed.
“After a while, in my profession, you can tell when something’s gone rotten,” said the elderly grocer. 
“Even if it’s not obvious from the outside.” 
It’s apple season!

I now have not only a greater, but different, variety of apples here than I did when I was in Brazil. Even the same Fuji (old favorite) doesn’t taste the same. My son and I went on an apple tasting adventure. I bought EVERY kind of apple I could find, then we washed them (saving the labels to make it easier to remember which was which), and tasted them with a non-scientific method of tasting and commenting. His comments were so much fun that I wrote them down.

I’m sure not everyone would agree. In fact, my sister’s favorite (Red Delicious) brought forth comments of how the name was ironic and maybe trying to overcompensate because it was anything BUT delicious! We enjoyed the process.

Some people – both on the blog’s Facebook page and on my personal one – commented on their favorites and I tried to find them all. Some add salt to their apples (I didn’t enjoy that) or lemon juice (I’ve always liked that). Some of the less tasty apples (in my opinion, of course… this is a terribly controversial subject, I find) can be “fixed” with peanut butter or almond butter… Cheese between slices helped “cleanse the palate” (and just add the joy of eating cheese, which was the real reason I had it).

All of quotes, unless stated otherwise, are from Louise Penny’s Nature of the Beast