Friday, January 29, 2016


So Anna has been bringing home Asterix and Obelix comics from school for me to read the past few weeks. 

Turns out she's been pleading with her her teacher to borrow them, saying "Asterix is my mum's favourite!" (Last year, she similarly implored her teacher to let her bring home three Barbapapa books.)

Interestingly, these books aren't from the school library. They're from the teachers' personal stashes, which are in the classroom because they've included them in their home reading collections.

They're used copies, often with penciled-in prices. Which means that her teachers have spent more time looking for them in second-hand bookstores than I have—and that's saying a lot, given that I worked in one for three years—to have found these copies. 
That means something because Asterix comics A) aren't that common and B) are in high demand amongst French Immersion grads like me. (The Barbapapa books were actually ex-elementary school copies from the 70s, which I sort of like...)

Reading Asterix comics, in French or in English, reminds me of being in elementary school and sitting on the floor of the library with stacks of Asterix and Lucky Luc and Les Schtroumpfs, and Barbapapa. It reminds me that my mum used to send me to the NFB theatre downtown on Saturday afternoons to watch screenings of French cartoons.

I also like that my daughter has turned herself into my French comics-pusher...

Like most kids of my generation, I spent my allowance, most weeks, on Archie comics. But I also borrowed Elfquest anthologies from a friend and snuck looks at the comics (and everything else) in the Playboy magazines my uncle had at the family cabin. 

Later, it was Bloom County and Wolverine, Jem and Transmetropolitan.

Nowadays, I'm a regular reader of webcomics like Questionable Content, Girls with Slingshots, Blindsprings, Rock Cocks, and Love Not Found

But I also have a great collection of anthologies by Winnipeg creators like G.M.B. Chomichuk, John Toone, David Alexander Robertson, Scott Henderson, Lovern Kinderski, and Nicholas Burns. 

It's exciting to see that locals creating work that is as good, as entrancing, as anything I've ever read, as a child or as an adult...

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Exploring finer foods a tasty treat

Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION
Reviewed by Ariel Gordon 

Chocolate got American environmental journalist Simran Sethi through a divorce.

Chocolate, coffee and the occasional cigarette got Sethi through every page of her intriguing first book, Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love.

"Staples like rice, corn and wheat make up over two-thirds of the world's diet," she notes in the introduction. "But they aren't what get me out of bed in the morning or help me celebrate at night."

And so, after working as an environmental correspondent for NBC News and anchoring the PBS series Quest on science and sustainability, Sethi took three years to focus on five "intimate" foodstuffs: wine, chocolate, coffee, beer and bread.

In each of the book's sections, Sethi takes us to the places coffee, cacao, grapes, hops, yeast and wheat are grown, processed and packaged—from farmers' fields to bakeries, wineries, chocolatiers and coffee roasters.

Along the way, she asks why coffee, chocolate, wine, beer and bread taste the way they do, how they're commodified and what varieties are commonly and uncommonly grown. Which means that in addition to a cultural and personal history of each foodstuff, in each section she also writes about fair-trade practices, food distribution systems and genetic diversity.

This is a lot of ground to cover, both literally and figuratively.

Sethi's insistence that we slow down and really taste the food we're eating would be familiar to devotees of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. Her focus on small farmers and fair-trade practices as well as the real cost of our industrialized approach to food evokes Bill McKibben's Oil and Honey. And her science-driven approach to how we perceive food brings to mind Alton Brown, host of Iron Chef America and a legion of other shows.

Unfortunately, this multi-pronged approach doesn't quite cohere. Bread, Wine, Chocolate doesn't really work as travel writing for foodies or food-security-focused environmental literature. It isn't a confessional memoir or a stylish cookbook.

In addition, there is a lot of sameness in book's first three sections on wine, chocolate and coffee. They're all premium products, many of which we import, and we think and talk about them in similar ways. Though the bread and beer sections provide some variety, they come nearly 200 pages into the book.

And so while Bread, Wine, Chocolate isn't as focused or as charming as one would hope, Sethi does provide us with new ways of thinking about food.

One such tidbit is this quote from conservationist Colin Khoury: "Eating anything that's not rice, wheat, corn, soy or palm oil is radical." Another is Sethi's discussions on how we perceive food, from smell to touch to taste.

Those readers interested in broadening their food vocabulary will especially appreciate the full-colour appendix of "flavour guides," including a coffee flavour wheel (and its dark twin, the coffee defect wheel) and the guides in each section on how to set up a proper wine tasting or a coffee cupping.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer who volunteers for Fruit Share.

Friday, January 22, 2016


* * *

In most situations, a "headshot" would be a shot-to-the-head or a mug-shot, but in this case, it's a shiny new author-photo by M.

I was mostly wanting to show off a new haircut but wound up with something I could use more widely. Part of me wishes I'd applied some tinted lipgloss, but really, this is EXACTLY what I look like, 90% of the time.  (Well, a lot of time I'm also scowling, but...)

My thanks to M, as always, for the picture-ing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Five books + a celadon cup

* * *

For tomorrow's books column on Dahlia Kurtz' CJOB program, I plan to talk about these five books:

Laura Reeves' Guide to Useful Plants by Laura Reeves (Prairie Shore Botanicals)
Wish You Were Here: Hand-Tinted Postcards from Winnipeg's Halcyon Days by Stan Milosevic (Great Plains Publications)
The Road to Atlantis by Leo Brent Robillard (Turnstone Press)
After Light by Catherine Hunter (Signature Editions)
Why Would Elephants Rather Play Tag? by Silvina Rocha and Meyi (Doubledutch Books)

Or, put another way, two novels, one kids' book, and two non-fiction books with lotsa pictures. Five Winnipeg presses publishing books by three Winnipeggers and two non-residents.

I should note that while I was working with an ARC of Leo Brent Robillard's book, it is now out in the world and has a much more colourful cover.

I should also note that I've included a celadon cup, which came with its own loose tea strainer and cover, that I bought while teaching ESL in South Korea back in 1998. 

The segment is part of a monthly books column I'm doing, which so far is great fun. You can listen live or check it out after-the-fact here, by selecting January 14 and 2 pm.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Happy goddamn holidays

* * *

I had grand plans for the holidays. Plans to write, mostly. Which is always what I've got planned.

It's just that I didn't really write. Instead, I stayed up/slept in late most every day. I hung out with the girl, who'd asked to NOT be sent to daycare for the holiday. I spent five or six hours completely immersed in a French-advertising-poster puzzle. I jumped in newly-piled-up snowbanks and encouraged the girl to do the same. I read the two books M. gave me for Xmas. I went with M and the girl to the new Star Wars. I made a batch of kimchi all-by-myself.

It was an immensely restful holiday. It was probably what I needed, because I no longer feel quite so tired all the time.

But it wasn't what I planned. And I had next to no alone time. The only saving grace was Monday the 4th, which I had off. I got up, saw M and the girl out the door, and then sat in my chair and wrote.

I edited a couple of poems and wrote two new ones. I listened to the quiet of the house and fended off the cat, who thinks that I should be petting her all the time if I'm going to be home. That, or running around the house at top speed.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Portrait circa 1991

A few weeks ago, my dad's wife hosted an Xmas family dinner. Which is to say: fifteen adults & children/food/gifts. Which is to say, wrapping paper/parking the car/snow.

I sat with the girl and her cousins while we ate. My niece Kaya was talking about her artwork and mentioned her art teacher at College Jeanne Sauve, madame LaRochelle.

"Lise LaRochelle?" I asked. "She was my art teacher when I was at CJS too!"

I graduated in 1991, so the two generations of my family have caught Mme LaRochelle at the beginning/end of her career. Thinking back, she must have been in her early twenties, freshly graduated from uni, when she started at CJS...and so was only a few years older than me back in 1991.

Anyways, I didn't think much of it, until the next family Xmas dinner, this one including my mum, when my sister sidled up and handed me a red envelope.

I don't have much use for greeting cards, so I wasn't expecting much from its contents.

And then this little painting dropped into my hand. It's of me, from the summer of 1991 when I was in grade 12.

Kaya had apparently mentioned to her teacher who I was...and Mme LaRochelle brought this in and asked her to pass it along.

I don't remember Mme LaRochelle sketching me and I don't remember if I was sitting in the field behind the school or if this was from a school trip.

But it was probably the best gift I got for Xmas, besides the pair of gift cards for David's Tea. (I can get whatever tea I waaaaaaant...)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Last of the apples

So I made apple crisp from the last of the fall apples I picked on October 3.

As opposed to summer apples like Goodlands, which are juicy and soft and usually last about two weeks, these were crisp and tasted of wine.

I shared bags of these apples with co-workers and friends. I ate them in my lunch all fall, three small  honeyed apples instead of one storebought.

Everyone raved about them and as my supply dwindled, I couldn't quite banish the idea that the homeowner who owned the tree had no use for them.

I'd estimate that there are three groups of people who call Fruit Share: single elderly people who can't pick/use 150 lbs of fruit, people who don't like the fruit from the trees they've inherited from previous homeowners (because they're different, somehow, from the grocery store versions), and those who like their fruit but have too much to use themselves.

I benefit from all three types, so I'm not complaining. I'd far rather that fruit is redistributed to people who will appreciate it than have it get thrown out a bag at at a time throughout the summer.

It just makes me sad that people have become so fixated on what an apple or a pear or a plum "should" look like that they won't eat the fruit growing literally in their own back yard.

Rant over.

On Monday, my writing group was having its December meeting. I am usually the person who brings storebought baking, so I elected to make these last wizened apples into crisp with Mike's help and bring that.

We threw together the ingredients while our dinner was cooking, and since we were both famished, the following hangry conversation ensued:

"Am I supposed to use brown sugar AND maple syrup," M asked, scanning my handwritten notes on the perfect crisp.

"No," I said. "There are multiple recipes on that page. Use THAT one."

"Are you sure I'm not supposed to use maple syrup?"


Even though the topping looked weird and I forgot to add water/sugar/vanilla to the fruit, it was delicious: warm, aromatic & sweet. And M was happy, because I brought back half of it and also some of Kerry Ryan's cookies.

I'm also at the end of my supply of homemade kimchi, so this weekend I'm going to be making more with my sister, who is similarly obsessed with kimchi. (I think that was the biggest souvenir from our year teaching English in South Korea...)