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, January 20, 2017

Coffee and coming full circle

by Amy

Our first blog was about coffee, croissants, and friends who listen, encourage and empower us.

I wrote about croissants and promised to write about coffee at some other point in time.

It seems fit that as I feel the blog winding down, and am preparing to say goodbye, the coffee is what I have come back to.

When I wrote that first post, a year and a half ago, I didn't drink coffee. Now I do. Too much of it maybe.

I always thought coffee was for grownups. I'd drink soda, sparkly water, water, fruity teas... not coffee.

I may have grown up in more ways than one, then. I love coffee. And black tea with a splash of milk and maybe even a spoon of sugar when I'm indulging myself. And lattes. And cappuccinos. And... I'm sure you get the picture.

This blog has been a gift in finding my voice and in learning to listen to myself.

The first post has Clara and Jane sitting in a cafe and Jane is telling Clara about her aspirations, whispering, because telling another means she will no longer be able to hide it from herself. Confession of a dream or an aspiration brings both the joy of sharing a dream, but also the accountability inherent in having someone else know...

This blog has been a place where I have shared aspirations and dreams and goals. Lofty ones. Like:

"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." (Middlemarch - George Elliot)

It has been a place to stretch my muscles and seek my voice.

It has been a place I have come to to hear myself and to read myself and to try to reach into those recesses that I would rather pretend did not exist. I usually need to "think out loud". This blog was a place where I was allowed to think out loud and I very much appreciate it.

"I'd like to know your thoughts."
She said, "I'm still thinking. Maybe I'll tell you when I'm done."
He laughed. "I'll look forward to it. But you might never get done, you know. Thinking is endless." (Lila - Marilynne Robinson)

Thank you for sharing this journey.

I have learned SO much about food. I went from barely being able to cook and cooking only occasionally to now being competent in the kitchen (nothing like Libby, but I can feed people much better now!).

I have learned so much more about myself. I may like myself less sometimes (you can't un-know your darkness once you face it), but I think I love myself more. In coming to terms with my humanity, I have been learning to find the strength that comes from weakness, imperfection, and Grace.

Thank you for cheering me on throughout this journey... and for your encouragement and listening ear.

I think this is goodbye - at least for now.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Running Late...

Hi everyone!

I'm running late with the blog this week. I have a (very) full house this week (4 houseguests, among other things) and have not had time to make any of the (few) meals left in our list.

I will post the pictures of the chicken casserole which I made last night although this one was a little dryer than usual since I kind of ran out of cream and milk. It was still yummy and we had no leftovers as usual.
Before Baking

After baking. This one was slightly dryer since I had less cream and more breadcrumbs. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Chicken Casserole

by Amy

I unforgivably forgot to take pictures. THREE times. I make this casserole frequently and it's always a hit. I keep forgetting to take pictures, though, because it's just one of those "I'll-make-this-because-I-don't-know-what-else-I-should-make-tonight" meals. Do you have any of those?

Finally Gilles shook his head."People have been trying to get it for years. Legal or bootleg. It just can't be done. Désolé."
And that is how Gamache felt, as he thanked Gilles and walked away.
"Well?" asked Thérèse. 
"He says it can't be done."
"He just doesn't want to do it," said Superintendent Brunel. "We can find someone else."
Gamache explained about the wind, and saw her slowly accept the truth. Giles wasn't being willful, he was being realistic. 

Some things really can't be done.

It's a hard lesson to teach our children. It's a hard lesson to teach ourselves.

Some things simply won't work. Won't happen. No matter how much we will it to be true.

What they wanted of Gilles was impossible.

Giles started at her as though she'd suggested something disgusting. "Why these questions?"
"Just curious."
"Don't treat me like a fool, madame. You're more than just curious." He looked from the Brunels to Gamache.
"We'd never ask you to cut down a tree, or even hurt one," said the Chief. "We just want to know if the tallest trees up there can be climbed."
"Not by me, they can't." Gilles snapped. 

What they ask is impossible.

What they don't know is that they're asking for the wrong thing.

It's so easy, in fiction, to spot miscommunication. Countless novels are based on precisely that premise. One character says one thing, thinking the other understands what he means and the other construes a whole other meaning to it. Romance novels use it as a means to "keep characters apart" until they work through and beyond the big misunderstanding. Mysteries use them as red herrings or even ways to stall evidence from being used. It's there, but not understood by either character or reader.

In this particular book, HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN, it happens when Constance makes her revelation and no one understands what she has said. She believes she has unveiled the secret that has been kept hidden for decades. It remains a mystery until after her death. It was a hard one to crack.

If only that were limited to fiction.

Communication is not just about what we say. It's about what the other understands, interprets and answers (based on their understanding) and how we understand and interpret their answer based on what we think we said (which may not be what they heard), what we think they know (which they might not) and what we ourselves think.

Have I confused you, yet?

The trick to good communication is learning when to take a moment, step back, and reassess what we think we know. In talking to a friend yesterday, she relayed a conversation she'd had in the past weeks where she realized she was interpreting someone's words one way, when they could be meant another. This friend is mature enough to have approached the person to say, "When you said this, this is what I heard. Could you please just confirm or deny that I've understood what you meant so I don't misconstrue what we are talking about?"

Therese Brunel, in this scene, was unwilling to give Gilles much information at all. Based on her questions, he was feeling slightly offended and exposed and had no real reason to cooperate. Gamache, on the other hand, chose to share a little bit more of what he needed. While he didn't reveal more than he could or should, he gave Gilles enough information to tell him what he really needed (access to the Internet) as opposed to what he wanted from Gilles in order to put his own plan into action. Because Gamache was willing to share the bigger goal and not just "need to know" information, Gilles was able to come up with a solution.

Gamache felt a hand on his elbow and was drawn by Gilles into a far corner of the kitchen. "I think I know how to connect you to the Internet." The woodsman's eyes were bright."
Human interaction is fascinating, miraculous, beautiful and so fulfilling.

It's also frequently confusing and so easy to mess up.

I think that's part of being kind and empathetic and understanding and, I suppose, grown up. Giving ourselves - and those around us - a chance to rephrase or explain before we react. Listening to the meaning more than the words. Straining for that which is between the lines and unspoken. Giving others the benefit of the doubt when their words seem hurtful. Remembering that the meaning we give to words and interactions is tinted by the hue of our past interactions, our feelings, and our goals.

I hope you've all had a lovely Holiday season and are enjoying this new year.

The casserole was in the oven and they could smell the rosemary chicken. 
My casserole doesn't have rosemary in it... but I'm going to try to add some next time. I'm pretty sure it would end up well.

Chicken Casserole

Cubed or shredded chicken (quick boil/cook before placing in casserole dish or canned chicken works, too)
Cream Cheese
Onion Soup Mix (I use two packages)
Whipping Cream or Half and Half
Corn (1 can)
Milk, if needed

This isn't the original recipe. This is as close as I can get using American ingredients. If I don't have cream, I just add milk, but less of it. If I don't have cream cheese, I just add lots of shredded parmesan (cream cheese tastes better here, though). Sometimes I add breadcrumbs and/or grated parmesan over it all before baking.

Place chicken (about 4 breasts) in dish. Mix other ingredients in blender or food processor. Pour over chicken (it should be a thick mixture). Bake at about 375oF for about 30 to 40 minutes.

I serve it with rice and shoestring fries.

I have yet to find someone who doesn't enjoy it.