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 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.


  1. Sounds great - I'm going to try this - with the rosemary, I think, as I love the aroma of rosemary cooking! A year or so ago, I thought that the idea of canned chicken to have on hand all the time was a good one - but it turned out my husband thought it was "vile", so there it sits. I've used it a couple of times for casseroles, or pot pies, and it works if cooked, but not for what I wanted, which was to add to a salad for a quick summer meal. I have two cans left - and I think this will be perfect!

    Misunderstandings - the bedrock upon which most fiction sits! Have you ever had long discussions with the characters in a book, explaining (AGAIN) why they should talk to so-and-so and tell what they've been leaving out? Sometimes, I shout - all to no avail.

    1. Hi Julie,

      As for misunderstandings. Oh. Yes. I HAVE had those long discussions. Why don't they listen to us? I've also had similar discussions with real people. I usually don't insist. But it's been known to help. LOL!

      As for canned chicken, I'd never heard of it before. Honest. This time around in the US I saw some and thought it would be a good shortcut for this recipe. It was. I sometimes (like later this weekend) will put it together (the casserole) ahead of time and either freeze or refrigerate it until I need it. If I'm going to be making a mess in the kitchen anyway, I go ahead and make it, then it's an easy well loved meal for later in the week. That's ANOTHER thing I love about it.

  2. Accurate communication, is that an oxymoron? Like military intelligence? But seriously, the by-play between Gilles and Thérèse was interesting in that I thought it was strange that she had to play everything so close to the vest. Just tell the man my mind was shouting!
    I just might try that chicken recipe too! Sounds fast and yummy. I have an egg/cream cheese breakfast pancake that uses the blender too.

    1. Haha! Right?! And the way she started, asking him about his days cutting trees, was offensive to him so neither of them was in a good mood or very nice to the other.

      and it IS fast and yummy. About as much trouble as making mac&cheese from a box. Haha!

      Oh! Could you share your egg/cream cheese pancake recipe?

    2. Baked Pancake-----7 eggs, 1C 1/2 1/2, 3T honey, 3oz softened cream cheese, 1C flour, 1/2t salt, 1/2t baking powder. add all to blender, mix
      400deg f oven spray frypan, then melt 3T butter in 9 to 10inch cast iron frypan.
      blend contents in blender for 1 min. more, pour into hot frypan, bake for 20 to 25 min. serve with sprinkle of powdered sugar, maple syrup and fruit.