Put up your green beans

In Carol Shields’s fictional worlds, dinner parties are transformational. People assume their “party selves,” she once wrote, that party-self being a more sociable, lighter version of your everyday personality. (“Parties” 45) Sadly, this positive renewal is not the experience of Dot Weller, wife of Stu Weller and mother to Larry Weller in Shields’s novel Larry’s Party.

For Dot, even casual family get-togethers cause copious perspiration and “jittery detachment”. (Larry’s 44) Her parties are haunted by “the poison of memory” (44)— a summer dinner that she hosted for her in-laws back in England and that sealed her fate and “exodus” to Canada. (52) Dot’s canned beans were to blame.

beans

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Childhood Morsels

In their introduction to The Imagined City: A Literary History of Winnipeg, David Arnason and Mhari Mackintosh note that they “began by thinking of Winnipeg as an unformed city” (x). During the fur trade and early settlement, Winnipeg (before it was “Winnipeg”) “was less a defined place than a destination or a stopping place or a crossroads” (x). When the city became the capital in 1874, there were only 3700 residents, but by 1882, there were 14,700 (x).

Wolseley Neighbourhood, Winnipeg.

Morning Sunrise in Wolseley Neighbourhood, Winnipeg.
Photo Credit: Renée Desjardins

Thinking about this previously “unformed” and growing city, the Canadian Literary Fare team thought it would be fitting to sample stories from childhood. A number of Canadian writers spent their formative years in Winnipeg, and by recounting these experiences in their fiction and non-fiction, they shaped the capital.
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Savoury, Spicy Goulash inspired by Winnipeg

The food arrived, the hot steaming fragrance of it filling the room, savoury and varied and as spicy as an adventure, rich with the treasured cooking-lore of the whole of Europe . . . Soup came first. But this was merely to prepare the guests for the more serious business of eating. Immediately after, there appeared an enormous bowl of chicken goulash, steaming hot in its red sauce of paprika, with great fat globules floating on the surface. As a side dish for soaking up the gravy there was a mound of home-made noodles, accompanied by small green gherkins with flesh clear as glass from their long immersion in brine, with the pungent aroma of dill and garlic and the young tender leaves of horse-radish.

John Marlyn’s Under the Ribs of Death, 99

Recipe Notes (by Alexia Moyer)

This passage from John Marlyn’s Under the Ribs of Death – set in Winnipeg’s North End – is a favourite of mine.

Those moments in which protagonist Sandor Hunyadi takes pride in his community’s output are few. This is one of them. There is no embarrassment or dissimulation here. This table of delicacies the result of the skill, generousity and ingenuity of Frau Hunyadi and her neighbours – is not found wanting. There is only pleasure and satiety.

Admittedly, I also chose this passage because I wanted to make goulash. Or, more precisely, eat it.

I started with 3 peppers, chopped.

5 cloves of garlic, minced.

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So This Is Winnipeg?

“The visitor to the West,—the kind of visitor who writes up his visit,—is supposed, on his first morning in Winnipeg, to throw wide open his window and say, ‘So this is Winnipeg’! I didn’t. I was too cold. And there was no one to hear me except the waiter with the tea, and he knew it was Winnipeg” (Leacock 37).

The title of this week’s post takes its inspiration from Stephen Leacock’s book My Discovery of the West. If one is unfamiliar with a city, then perhaps a famous writer’s own visit to Manitoba will provide some insight for the “Capital Meals” series?

Leacock begins his travelogue with an unenthusiastic first morning. It’s important to note, here, that when Leacock was 18 years old, his father, Peter, abandoned the family and “ran off to Manitoba at the height of a real estate boom” in the 1880s (Spadoni xiv). Known more for his gambling and drinking than his entrepreneurial skill, Peter failed in his Winnipeg venture, or as Leacock bluntly describes it, “my father lasted nearly a year, before [he] blew up” (51). Perhaps these troubled memories colour Leacock’s chapter, but more than likely his satiric vision leads to his mixed impressions of the city.

Commenting on the frigid climate, Leacock claims that January winds funnelling down Main Street and Portage Avenue stimulate one’s creativity. He’d rather leave the tropics to “the bums, the loafers, and the poets” who congregate under palm trees with their glasses of wine; instead, Leacock opts for Winnipeg’s winters, preferring “a tenderloin steak in a grill room on Main Street with a full-sized woman raised in the cattle country” (40).

Painted in Waterlogue

Photo Credit: Shelley Boyd


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