Thursday, July 27, 2017
My husband and I both enjoy warm summer evening on the patio. Fresh cheeses, berries, a variety of crackers, and a bottle of wine create a delightful summer atmosphere, even when the temperatures are soaring. Summer is our season, when we may ache from too much golf or gardening, but our muscles are not stiff, tight, or sore from the cold.
Lately, I’ve been coming home from La Baquette with fresh light croissants filled with buttered calories that bring a smile to my lips or a fresh baguette. Finally, my husband asked me, “Why the sudden interest in croissants and baguettes?”
Without a moment of reflection I laughed, “Hah! Blame it on Louise Penny and Inspector Gamache.”
“Oh, is this another French or Canadian mystery you’ve been devouring like chocolate mints?”
I smiled sheepishly. “Yes, the rich meals served by Gabri and Olivier at the Bistro in Three Pines are described like fresh honey from the hive. I can nearly taste the crisp baguette, smeared thickly with pate, as the characters indulge themselves in the foods.”
Later that evening I interrupted Jack’s television viewing to read from Louise Penny’s The Cruelest Month. Standing in the doorway to his computer room, I announced, “Here is the type of description I’ve been reading for the last six months.” Placing his computer on the floor and smiling at me, like do I have a choice, I began to read.
Just then Olivier appeared with their dinner…Gamache’s coq au vin filled the table with a rich, earthy aroma and an unexpected hint of maple. Delicate young beans and glazed baby carrots sat on their own white serving dish. A massive charbroiled steak smothered in pan-fried onions was placed in front of Beauvoir. A mound of frites sat on his serving dish.
Beauvoir could have died happily right there and then, but he’d have missed the crème brulee for dessert.
“Sounds rather heavy for a summer meal.”
“It’s not summer in this story it is during a blizzard in Three Pines, near Montreal, Canada.” I explained still standing in the doorway to his man cave.
“It does sound like meal Pat French would prepare for us in her restaurant in Eau Claire.”
“Yes, it does. I think she’d like these books, too.” I stepped back out of the doorway and reached for the phone to text her, but instead ended up on my computer writing about the foods and good reads.
Louise Penny touches our senses with emotions and teases our intellect, as we listen to Inspector Gamache question then listen as the characters share their stories. Always showing patience, always attentive Gamache listens for what others might miss. He gets to know each character surrounding the mystery, while the reader seems to be listening and looking over his shoulder. When he trips in the dark, the reader stumbles too. Just as the mystery begins to unfold for me, there’s another twist, and I’m sent back to rethink the clues over and over.
I’ve skipped around reading Penny’s books, beginning with the A Great Reckoning. Each book is a standalone, but after reading several out of sequence I decided to go the beginning and start through the series correctly. I’m so glad I did because now I know more about the poet, Ruth Zardo, and her pet duck. Her poetry is blunt, rough, and painful to read sometimes, but she is such a powerful character I can’t help but want to get to know her better.
Then last week I picked up a new book by mystery writer Donna Leon called Earthly Remains. It is book twenty-six in her mystery stories about Commissario Guido Brunetti set in Venice and the surrounding islands. As I’ve read today I felt myself carried to the luguna where Davide, a caretaker keeps his bees. Over a two week period, as Brunetti relaxes away from his demanding job as a detective, he and Davide row daily in the fresh air and waters around Venice. Like Inspector Gamache, Brunetti is served fresh summer meals from the Mediterranean Sea. A platter of fresh shrimp, baby octopus, mussel, clam, canocchie (mantis shrimp), latticini de sepia (cuttlefish eggs) is served with olive oil, fresh baked breads and a bottle of wine.
Then Davide, who has become a friend to Brunetti goes missing, and the clues begin to fall in place, as the mystery unfolds.
Reading makes it so simple to escape my surroundings, and imagine another moment in time. After spending a day or two rowing near Venice on the Mediterranean, I plan to serve boiled shrimp, melted butter, fresh garden tomatoes, and a buttered croissant for dinner tonight.
I find that books are simply delightful, fresh foods delicious, and so much more fun when served with intrigue, danger, and mystery.