Review: Glass Houses by Louise Penny

33602101Glass Houses is one of Louise Penny’s best novels in her Armand Gamache series. What drew me to the first book I picked up (A Great Reckoning) was the distinct humanness of all her characters, but in particular, Gamache.

Oftentimes I feel that protagonists lack a bit of humanity. Something is missing, not large, but enough to elevate them above an average human. (At least, that’s what’s happening in the books I’m reading.) They are often characters we can aspire towards or admire. But they are never quite vulnerable enough to make me think deeply.

The quality that elevates Gamache over the host of other characters I’ve gotten know across many, many books is his vulnerability. Penny crafts a character who is at the same time thoughtful, brilliant, and kind with one who is flawed, who doubts himself and his choices, and is at times haunted by his past. Gamache is someone we can both aspire to be and relate to, because he faces his troubles with an unnerving honesty, clarity, and transparency.

All of these qualities were highlighted to their full extent in Penny’s most recent novel, with an interesting delivery. Glass Houses brings us back to three pines with the murder of a mysterious figure. Penny uses flashback to weave the past and present, bringing the reader from the trial in the courtroom to the investigation in the village. Far from being confusing, the back-and-forth gave clarity to both plots. The murder is one, but there is a (slightly) lesser sub-plot with Gamache, now the new head of the Sûreté du Québec, and his new task force working on an operation to bring down the bourgeoning drug trade in the city. We soon find that the murder and the operation are more closely intertwined than could have been imagined, inviting some delightful and unexpected twists that make the novel a page-turner. (I’ve been known to marathon Penny’s books, not sleeping ’till I’ve finished!)

With decisions that toe the line at morality, Penny puts beloved characters in the interesting position of potentially being portrayed as “the bad guy.” The situations ask the reader to question right from wrong, and at what point power is abused. Speaking poignantly to present issues, Penny’s novel questions how we define what is moral and the authority and integrity of the judicial system.

 

The Hard Places Aren’t Wasted.

This last post has a lil’ to do with Reality SF’s Deliverance series and lil’ bit to do with what I learned spring semester.

First let’s go with the podcast. Hard places. Like Horeb, the desert-mountain place where Moses meets God. Are you in a season of dryness? Perhaps, with your sheep? I’ve been there. Sometimes it feels like I am there. And get this. I never new that Moses was probably around 80 years old when God tells him to go back to Egypt. He was 40~ when he left so…that’s 40 years of desert. Can you image 40 years of (figurative) desert? I would not survive. I’m flattering myself to think that I would.

But, I am super super thankful that our story isn’t wasted in the hard places. It’s not like the author is scribbling over our finite number of blank pages for 40 of them. Nope. God’s building our character so that when he asks us to leap, we can say yes.

This is the final post in my longest (5? parts) series. So I’m going to wrap it up with this.

When I arrived at BU (Boston University, if you’re wondering), I didn’t realize (I suppose, how could anyone) that I was going to enter a season of desert. And, yep, I did cry a lot. But now that I’m looking back (hindsight is 20/20, after all), I think I was being gently chiseled so that starting in January of this year, I could start saying yes to God. It was stressful. I prayed a lot. Barely anything went according to plan. Sometimes, I don’t know how I kept myself from screaming at God and everyone around me. At the end, though, I learned an open hand is essential to approaching God, because we need to be ready to receive what he gives.

Starting in January, God really began asking me to trust him. I didn’t feel ready. I definitely felt unqualified. I was even afraid. But I was willing. And I am so glad I was.

So, my friend, I hope that wherever you are right now, you are encouraged that each page of your story matters; that you see the pressure’s off; that you understand that God is sufficient where we are deficient; and that all we have to do is say yes.

Mini Vanilla French Madeleines

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A new cookbook is rocking the food world right now, written by the women behind The Cook’s Atelier in Beaune, Burgundy (France)! After perusing this gorgeous gastronome tome, I quickly found their Instagram and found myself signing up for their newsletter.

One week later, voilà! A newsletter + recipe for mini madeleines pop into my inbox. The recipe is savory, but I was in a pinch, didn’t have the necessary parmesan, and wanted to try out my new mini pans ASAP. I made my go-to recipe for regular madeleines, found ing—you guessed it—Patisserie Made Simple.

I’m planning on trying out the savory recipe soon (it features chives and parm, yum!), but for now, here’s the recipe for plain madeleines that I love. Bonus to minis? Pop-able like potato chips! May be a minus, depending on how you look at it.

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Mini madeline molds are only 1 to 1.5 inches wide…not much space! I found it easiest to scoop the batter into a plastic bag or piping bag and pipe the batter into the molds. You don’t need much! A teaspoon or less per cavity should do it.

Happy baking, friends! And if you make a different flavor, let me know! Looking for inspiration 🙂

xxx


Mini Madeleines

Recipe can be found in Patisserie Made Simple. Also check out The Boy Who Bakes: blog and Insta! I love Ed 🙂

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Disrupting Comfortable.

So, remember the post about the danger of comfortable? Welp, on that same vein, my friend also talked about how God disrupts comfortable. Specifically, we talked about Reality SF’s podcast “The Call,” part of the Deliverance series. If you listen to it first, this will at the very least have more context, and at best, make more sense.

Anyways, so we know that we love being comfortable. I’ll shout it, even. I LOVE BEING COMFORTABLE!! I AM A CONTROL FREAK!! But here’s the thing. In “The Call,” we’re talking about how Moses has reached perhaps the epitome of comfortability. He’s hanging out with his sheep; nothing too big is expected of him; life is chill, fine, and dandy.

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I guess the first thing is, what’s your sheep? Like, what’s your comfortable place? I’ll list a few of mine. But, don’t worry, you don’t have to put yourself on the chopping block if you don’t want to.

  • I love being at home alone ignoring the world. Probably reading a book.
  • I love routines so I know what to expect.
  • I squeeze myself onto paths I don’t want to be on, because they look safer than what I really want and am too scared to reach for.
  • My biggest comfortable place? Getting myself into environments I believe I can control well, so that I am not dependent on God but rather can relegate him a conciliatory role while I take care of everything.

The next thing we talked about was the burning bush. That’s Moses’ call away from his old, comfortable life; it’s thrusting him into the unknowns, pushing him into a role he feels he is ill-prepared to accept. And you know what he does? Tries to talk God out of giving him the gig. How many times have you done that? I do it pretty much every day. I’m not ready. I don’t know enough. I’m not prepared. That other person has so many more resources. I’ll never make it. Why me? 

But tell me, friend, what do you feel you’ve been called to do? Have you thought of it? And I’m not talking about the thing you want to be called to do. I’m talking about the thing that maybe makes your stomach drop because you want it or know you need to be there but you just can’t bring yourself to step into that place.

As the podcast notes, this is Moses. He questions God. So. Much. Says someone else should go instead of him. I think every excuse and insecure thought that could be given and had, Moses gave and had. And honestly, that’s me, too.

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But you know what the good, good, encouraging news is? God is not looking for the most over-qualified, capable, prepared, smartest person. Here’s the thing that knocked my socks off. God just wants you to be willing. Yep. All you gotta do is volunteer. Because if you think about it, was Israel freed by by Moses’ might, brains, and ingenuity? NOPE. Literally, one of the things that saved them was a plague of frogs. #godsplan

What does this mean for us? We don’t even need to be prepared. Leave the safety goggles at home. As long as you’re willing, God’s going to use you. But here’s the catch. It’s hard to leave behind what we’ve known. Why do you think it’s so hard to start a new project? We’re too comfy on cruise control. The big question is, are we going to trust God is going to be sufficient in our deficiencies? Because like it or not, sometimes he’s just going to blow through like a tornado and disrupt! The only way to be ready? Holding on to him.

French Sablé Cookies

I was first introduced to the sablé by Dorie Greenspan. They appeared in one of her books…which one, I can’t remember. But I do remember that they were easy. And involved a lot of butter. Sablés were the base for Millionaire’s Shortbread, a glorified, homemade twix bar. Caramel, chocolate, and crumbly cookie? It looked very divine.

If I have made sablés, it’s been a while and I have no recollection. So while rifting through my current favorite cookbook of the moment, Patisserie Made Simple, I found a recipe and decided to give it a go. My decision was helped immensely by a photo I saw of a chocolate chip sablé. I still have dough left over and I’ll be studding it with Guittard chocolate chips!

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Sablé dough is very crumbly, but fear not! You just have to work it a bit and it really helps if you roll out the log in some plastic wrap or—in a less ideal situation, like mine—foil. It helps keep everything together and in a somewhat uniform shape. I think Dorie Greenspan recommends using a paper towel tube.

Have fun with this! Add-ins optional and a great way to get creative. Someone mentioned she was going to do a cinnamon version! Dark chocolate; sprinkles or turbinado sugar for the edges; citrus…if you make something wild, let me know! I’d love to add it to my notes.


Recipe (from Patisserie Made Simple by Edd Kimber) [40~ cookies]

2 tsp vanilla extract

1.75 (200g) sticks butter, room temp

heaping 0.75 cup (175g) sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2 egg yolks

scant 3 cups (400g) flour

turbinado sugar (or whatever you please) for the edges

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Beat butter, sugar, and salt until fluffy and pale. Add egg yolks and beat again until nicely whipped. Dump the flower in, all at once, and mix on low speed or pulse. The dough should be very crumbly—you don’t want to mix it into a cohesive ball. Use your hands for that and dump it onto plastic wrap. Shape it roughly into a log and wrap it up, elongating and rolling as you go. The log should have a 1.5” diameter (or however big/small you want it to be).

Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. It should be firm.

Preheat the oven to 325˚F and put parchment on two baking sheets. Roll logs in sugar or your topping of choice. Slice just under an inch thick and place on baking sheet—they don’t expand nor spread, so you can make them cozy. Bake, 20-25 minutes until lightly browned on edges. They should look kind of pale.

Cool for 10 minutes, and then eat them warm (what I would do) or cool completely.

Happy baking!!

xxx

I (Don’t) Have a Dream.

To follow up with the last Agápē post, here we are with dreams. And, yes, this post is following the same conversation referenced in the last one, because this conversation was long. The car ride was two hours.

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Anyways, on to dreams. Do you have one? I do. Actually, I have many, and if you know me, you probably know one of my big dreams—living in France! Forever. My friend, on the other hand, says she’s not a dreamer. And you know what? I think that is ok, too. To dream or not to dream; you have a choice.

There are merits to dreaming. You always want to see what’s next. But there are downsides, too. It’s hard to let dreams die. Same goes for not being a dreamer. I think one of the upsides is that you are more moldable. Dreamers can have tunnel vision and/or an iron grip on what they want. But being moldable gives God the ability to shape you into who he wants you to be. On the downside, it’s easier to be complacent, or maybe resistant to change from “going with the flow.”

Whether you’ve got a dream or not, I think both camps fall into the trap of not expecting God’s best. The dreamers are so white-knuckled on the steering wheel, they forget they shouldn’t be driving; the non-dreamers may have fallen asleep in the back seat. Either you remove God from the equation, or aren’t alert for the next thing he’s up to! I admit, I’m usually white-knuckled on the steering wheel (I also hate driving in real life), but I’ve fallen asleep in the backseat, too.

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Why should we expect God’s best? Because he wants it for us. Although, keep in mind that best doesn’t mean “OMG I’m going to love everything God does and it’s going to be a picnic!” Sometimes, what’s best is really hard. But the good news? God’s going to pull you out of that valley.

That segues into the next post: God will disrupt comfortable.

In the mean time, my goal with these posts is to foster a kind, healthy discussion about what you think about these topics. As long as you are polite and constructive, I would love for you to drop a comment. Do you agree? Disagree? Think I’m missing something? Let me know!

Brioche Pain aux Chocolat

If I were the expert on all things pastry (which I definitely and not), bread would be the ultimate MVP. You can do so much with it, sweet and savory. Pain aux chocolat is an excellent example. I made one batch of brioche, but two desserts- the brioche creams and these. You could also noodle cinnamon rolls, monkey bread, brioche nature, and a ton of other stuff out of one recipe.

Winner in my book!

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Traditionally, pain aux chocolat is made with chocolate batons—literally sticks of chocolate. Alas, I had none, but I did have some Guittard dark chocolate chips, which I’d say worked just as well, as my picky brother scarfed a bun down.

Again, this is Huck’s brioche recipe, but use whichever one you please. I’ve simply found that after testing out a few recipes, this one gives me the texture I’m looking for. It’s soft and airy; light and feathery; other brioche recipes I’ve tried have been a bit dry. France also had its share of dry brioche. I went to a market in Arles where they were selling pain aux chocolat, 3 euros for 10. And gosh golly, it was DRY. I did not finish it.

As for the chocolate, batons are tradition, but chocolate chips are fine if that’s what you have. Dark, milk, in-between; it’s up to you.

Notes

  • As you can tell, I didn’t egg wash these, either. I highly recommend that you do. Glossy buns are just more fun—and definitely prettier!

Happy baking!!

xxx

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