Monday, April 11, 2016

Beautiful French-Canadian Meals with Inspector Gamache

A pudding du chômeur à l’érable from the blog FoodNouveau.
"The guests watched the sun set ... and enjoyed course after course, beginning with the chef’s amuse-bouche of local caribou. Reine-Marie had the escargots à l’ail, followed by seared duck breast with confit of wild ginger, mandarin and kumquat. Gamache started with fresh roquette from the garden and shaved parmesan then ordered the organic salmon with sorrel yogurt. ... 'And for dessert?'...'For Madame, we have fresh mint ice cream on an éclair filled with creamy dark organic chocolate, and for Monsieur a pudding du chômeur à l’érable avec crème chantilly.'*... Finally, when they could eat no more, the cheese cart arrived burdened with a selection of local cheeses made by the monks in the nearby Benedictine abbey of Saint-Benoit-du-Lac." Louise Penny, A Rule Against Murder, pages 21-22)
That's just the first meal in over 400 pages of country living, detecting, and dining by Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie. It's a rather long-winded, description-heavy book -- the murder doesn't happen until page 111. Though the plot is fairly tight and the suspense relatively good, I'm tempted to say that food descriptions are my favorite part.

Here few more of MANY food descriptions, which I'm citing without explaining at just which point in the investigation breakfasts, dinners, snacks, and lunches appeared:
"Gamache looked down at a tray of frothy cold soups with delicate mint leaves and curled lemon rind floating on the top. Another tray held platters of open-faced sandwiches, roast beef, smoked salmon, tomato and Brie. The final tray held bottles of ginger beer, spruce beer, ginger ale, beer and a bucket with a light white wine on ice." (p. 146) 
"... sipping his cold cucumber and raspberry soup. There was a bit of dill in it, a hint of lemon and something sweet. Honey, he realized." (p. 204)
"He put a lobster salad in front of her. And Beauvoir got a hamburger and string fries. For the last twenty minutes they’d smelled the charcoals warming up in the huge barbecue in the garden, with the unmistakable summer scents of hot coals and lighter fluid. Beauvoir hadn’t stopped salivating. Between that and the sweating he thought he should order a cold beer. Just to prevent dehydration. The chief thought that sounded good, as did Lacoste, and before long each had a beer in a tall frosted glass." (p. 300)
"... on the village green, waving to the people tending the glowing embers around the stuffed lamb au jus wrapped in herbs and foil and buried before dawn. The meshoui, the traditional Québécois celebratory meal. For Canada Day." (p. 356)
The meals contribute to the Québécois atmosphere which the book works very hard to create. Though the descriptions are very enjoyable, in a way I feel as if all these details, including descriptions of the Auberge where the murder and investigation take place, are a bit forced. I think I like my mystery stories to keep the focus more thoroughly on the detecting.

I'm resisting the urge to compare the way Agatha Christie only suggests and sketches the surroundings, and gives details mainly when they show how time is advancing or when they will turn out to be clues. That said, I enjoyed this and one other of author Louise Penny's Armand Gamache detective stories, and most likely will read a few more.

Author Louise Penny with British actor Nathaniel Parker, who played
Insptector Gamache in the one and only TV movie of a book from the Gamache series.
I'll probably watch it soon, though the reviews were not superb.
UPDATE: Have watched & liked it.

*Chômeur à l’érable avec crème chantilly is a classic Quebec dessert -- in English, called poor man's maple pudding. It's a cake with a thick sauce made from maple syrup, garnished with whipped cream. And yes, maple syrup plays a large role in the cuisine in this book!


Pattie @ Olla-Podrida said...

Fun post! No, the reviews were not fabulous, but I happen to love Nathaniel Parker, so am willing to forgive pretty much anything. Parker is one from whom I received a handwritten recipe for a mystery cookbook that I began working on years ago, adding to my fondness.

Jeanie said...

Louise Penny is on my list to read before I go drag Rick's sorry bones home from Montreal or Quebec next summer after his cycling trip. Now I'm more excited. I would LOVE to see Nathaniel Parker in anything. I loved his Lynley, would have been wild to see him in Wolf Hall on Bwy and recently saw him as (of all things) Rudolf Hess on a docudrama series about the Nuremburg Trials.

This reminds me I have to check her out -- summer will be here before we know it. I hope!