Alison Gillmor

  • Brief Encounter lingers on

    Noël Coward, the playwright, actor, songwriter, singer and star of Winnipeg's own CowardFest 2015, is the epitome of Jazz Age chic. Mere mention of his name calls up champagne cocktails and smoking jackets, dry wit and "Darling, how marvellous" dialogue. Trust me to be drawn instead to the sad Coward, the drab Coward, the wartime Coward. My favourite Coward work is Brief Encounter, a resolutely middle-aged, middle-class story where everybody drinks cups of weak tea on the way to muted suburban sorrow.
  • Hard to choose from bunch of banana bread recipes

    WE got a huge response to last week’s request for banana bread recipes. Thanks so much to the many readers who answered the call, including Naomi Doerksen, Lindsay Storie, Jeanette Johnston, Brenda Vincent, Karen Solomon, Carol Gillis, Vicki Lazaruk, Donna Whonder, Wendy Barker, Christie Macdonald, Gina Chodirker, Marcy Mazur and Linda Snider. It was very hard to choose from so many recipes, including some that had been inherited from mothers and grandmothers. I ended up going with a good basic recipe from Margaret Daley-Wiebe, as well as a whole-wheat version from Wendy Phillips of Oakville, Ont.
  • Oscar has a woman problem

    It's commonplace to assume that the entertainment industry is just packed with progressives. You know, those "Hollywood liberals" and "leftie elites" that Fox News is always talking about. But as the 2015 Academy Awards nominations suggest, the movie biz is actually a lot less diverse than the moviegoers its serves, and it remains curiously resistant to closing that gap. In fact, it can be downright anti-progressive, with the academy standing as one of the last comfy clubhouses for middle-aged white guys.
  • Let Amal be our Hollywood tour guide

    The most talked-about attendee at last Sunday's Golden Globes wasn't a big Hollywood celebrity. It was Amal Clooney, who was basically there as her husband's plus-one. Hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler -- who ran a notably feminist awards show -- kickstarted the Amal-loving vibe with their opening monologue. They began by pointing out that Amal Alamuddin Clooney "is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case [and] was an adviser to Kofi Annan regarding Syria."
  • When life gives Calgary food writer lemons ...she heads directly to the kitchen

    FOR Gwendolyn Richards, the path to her first cookbook involved a few funny turns. While working as a crime reporter for the Calgary Herald, Richards started a food blog as a creative side project and then began doing monthly food pieces for the newspaper. “Every month I would pitch what I wanted to write about,” explains the 38-year-old food writer and photographer. “A nd I kind of fell into this pattern where everything I pitched was lemon-related.”
  • Downton ditches classy for daffy

    Last Sunday, as Downton Abbey offered up a daffy, slightly deranged season opener, it seemed odd to look back to 2011, when the series seemed to embody the quintessence of Masterpiece Theater "classiness." With its handsome period-piece prestige, DA appeared set to examine the complex class hierarchies of a rapidly changing England. But no. By the second season, with a spate of double amnesia and temporary paralysis subplots, the series had become a posh soap opera. By the third season, it had descended into moments of unintentional comedy. Now, after a letdown fourth series, Downton Abbey is back for a fifth, reigning over PBS's Sunday evenings in its interminable but strangely irresistible way. Four years on, we're still watching Downton Abbey.
  • The strange, sad and silly year that was

    As usual, the year in pop culture provided a tragicomic pageant of the good, the bad, the random and the ridiculous. Here's a brief rundown:
  • Earl Grey squares

    If you like cookies and tea, you want to try cookies made with tea. These convenient slice-and-bake squares offer the subtle citrus taste of Earl Grey.  
  • Combining Hanukkah and Christmas doesn’t have to be like mixing oil and eggnog

    THE snow is falling. The lights are gleaming. It’s beginning to look a lot like... Chrismukkah? Last night, many Winnipeg families began lighting candles to mark Hanukkah, the Jewish celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a struggle for religious freedom. Other families are busy decorating trees, baking cookies and singing carols to celebrate Christmas and the birth of Jesus.
  • Eggnog Sandwich Cookies

    THESE cakey sandwich cookies have the warm Christmas flavours of eggnog.  
  • Sorkin's show spirals to irrelevancy

    Like a lot of people who write for a living, I wanted to like the Aaron Sorkin series The Newsroom. It's wordy, and I like words. It's idealistic, and I've got ideals. I love the notion that getting out the news is just one fast-talking, crisis-a-minute caper. If only the words weren't such an echo chamber of hollow cleverness. The Newsroom offers the worst kind of Sorkin-talk, with almost nothing between rat-a-tat banter and ponderous speechifying. If only the principles weren't so smug and self-indulgent. Even to me, someone who can't start the day without a cup of coffee and some hard-copy news, the show's defence of old-school journalism feels preachy, patronizing and embarrassingly out of touch.
  • Lemon Thumbprints

    This recipe adds some fresh citrus flavour to a buttery thumbprint cookie. Lemon Thumbprints
  • There has been an awakening

    The trailer for Star Wars 7 dropped the day after American Thanksgiving, with fans rousing themselves from food hangovers for a longed-for first look at The Force Awakens. Some ardent Star Wars lovers headed to the multiplex, often to attend movies they didn't like, just to experience the new offering on the big screen. The trailer was simultaneously released on iTunes and was almost immediately plastered over social media. Not long after that, the Internet was packed with memes, parodies, fan art, even a shot-by-shot Lego replication. By the end of the weekend, the trailer had millions of views, and almost as many reviews, reactions and online rants and raves.
  • Food author thinks we can learn to love bitterness

    Toronto-based food writer and cook Jennifer McLagan has made a career of championing misunderstood foods. In her new book, Bitter, she makes the contrarian case that bitter is often better. McLagan's award-winning Bones (2005) was a reaction to the skinless, boneless chicken breasts that dominated the supermarket aisles. Fat (2008) embraced not just butter but unfashionable ingredients like lard and suet. The Odd Bits (2011) celebrated cuts of meat that North American cuisine has often thrown on the scrap heap.
  • Big apple flavour from vegan bars

    This week we have some vegan apple-cinnamon bars, in response to a request from Judith Shkolny. Thanks to Linda Snider from Glenboro. I've also added a recipe for vegan apple oat squares adapted from the popular vegan cooking blog Oh She Glows. Currently, we have a very seasonal request for homemade hot chocolate mix from Suzanne Thorndycraft, who had a favourite recipe that has gone missing. She remembers it including powdered milk, cocoa, sugar and Coffee-Mate. And Karen Makoswki is looking for good recipes for onion salad, especially ones that include oranges. She wants to use some of the onions her husband grew in his garden this year.
  • Sexiest Man Alive is no Cumberbatch

    It's People vs. the people, in the battle for sexy. Every year since 1985, People magazine has tried to foist the Sexiest Man Alive on a sometimes bemused, sometimes unwilling female public. But in these heady days of participatory media, this kind of top-down, authoritarian approach to sexiness no longer works. The Internet's potential for radical democracy seems to have been fulfilled -- at least in this completely trivial matter -- because women are pushing back. Witness this headline in online magazine Slate: "Who Actually Thinks the Sexiest Man Alive is Sexy?"
  • Nitpickers ruin a perfectly bad movie

    Interstellar, Christopher Nolan's hugely anticipated space epic, opened on Nov. 7. The next week the Internet was flooded with "What Interstellar Gets Wrong" pieces, which poked holes in the sci-fi film's space-time continuum and complained about the use and misuse of gravitational anomalies, event horizons and time-travel paradoxes. This physics-wonk approach was followed by a spate of equally indignant "What Those 'What Interstellar Gets Wrong' Pieces Get Wrong" pieces. These articles counselled the nitpickers to give in and enjoy the cinematic ride through wormholes, hyperspace and one undeniably neat fifth-dimensional tesseract. The writers reminded their pedantic opponents that they were watching a science-fiction movie, so why get all huffy about the "science" part while forgetting the "fiction" part?
  • Fame is fleeting in Canada

    If you want to get a sense of the confusions of the modern media world, the fraught future of the CBC, and the quizzical nature of Canadian celebrity, all you need to do is watch Rex Murphy deliver a scathing video editorial on Jian Ghomeshi. Murphy, who looks like an off-duty gargoyle, is an old-school CBC journalist, defiantly un-photogenic, a substance-over-style kind of guy. His target, meanwhile, is the former poster boy for the young, hip, popular, accessible new CBC. Ghomeshi had become almost as famous for his regular red-carpet appearances as he was for his velvety radio voice. He had moved beyond being an interviewer and cultural commentator to becoming a celebrity in his own right.
  • Readers try to recreate Reykjavik Bakery biscuits

    Last month, Terry Earl-Sparling wrote in about the oatmeal biscuits served at the Reykjavik Bakery in Gimli, which she described as a cross between a cookie and a biscuit with just a little sweetness. This week, we have some recipes for oat biscuits. I don't think we've replicated the Reykjavik version, because the first version is more like an American-style biscuit and the second -- thanks to Linda Snider from Glenboro -- is more like a cookie. But oats are always good, so I thought I'd include these recipes anyway. This week, I'm looking for a recipe for homemade clam chowder, New England style, and it's time to get in those requests for holiday cooking and baking. If you can help with a recipe request, have your own request, or a favourite recipe you'd like to share, send an email to, fax it to 697-7412, or write to Recipe Swap, c/o Alison Gillmor, Winnipeg Free Press, 1355 Mountain Ave. Winnipeg, MB, R2X 3B6. Please include your first and last name, address and telephone number.
  • Gone Girl finds profit in polarization

    Gone Girl is a rare thing, a Hollywood movie that manages to be both popular and polarizing. Is it a misogynistic movie or a movie about misogyny? Is it a cautionary tale for men? A revenge fantasy for women? Does Gone Girl have a "woman problem," as several cultural commentators believe, or is it "the most feminist mainstream movie in years," as another critic declares? Does it topple gender stereotypes or just tart them up?
  • Zellweger is aging — how dare she!

    It's being called Facegate. This week, reports started surfacing that Renée Zellweger had become a completely different woman. "This is not Botox or even surgery," tweeted one commentator about the movie star, who was snapped at the Elle Women in Hollywood event. "It's a MISSING PERSON ENQUIRY." Some of the Internet chatter about Zellweger's "new face" involves the kind of ugly snarking that is regularly used to demean women in Hollywood, especially those who have the temerity to be over 30. A quick look at comment boards confirms a predictable amount of anonymous nastiness.
  • Fans use the Force in sci-fi remake

    Hey, Star Wars fans. Stop obsessing about that upcoming Episode VII. Instead, watch the crowdsourced, shot-for-shot remake of The Empire Strikes Back, which hit the Internet on Oct. 10. There's your new hope. Empire Uncut is deeply nostalgic, unabashedly affectionate and adorably kooky. And if it doesn't make you feel good, you've clearly gone over to the dark side.
  • Spoilers are spoiling our conversations

    Gone Girl, the David Fincher film based on Gillian Flynn's he-said, she-said thriller, is having a moment. There are fraught discussions going on -- is it a movie about misogyny, or is it just a misogynistic movie? -- but it's hard to say anything significant about the story's male-female death-match without delving into plot points. Especially that one big plot point. You know the one. Or maybe you don't, in which case even mentioning it could lead us into spoiler territory, which in today's pop-culture landscape is increasingly a place of confusion, indignation and sometimes even outrage.
  • Point to no-fry fingers

    Thanks so much to Gwenda Coopland, Debbie Huffman and Kathie Taft, who answered last week's call for recipes for chicken strips baked in the oven. Both of these versions are easy and tasty, and after making them, I won't be going back to the frying-pan method. In requests this week, Terry Earl-Sparling recently sampled the oatmeal biscuits at the Reykjavik Bakery in Gimli, which she describes as a cross between a cookie and a biscuit with just a little sweetness. She would love to get the recipe. And Judy Shkolny is looking for a recipe for vegan apple-cinnamon bars that contain oats, apples, apple sauce, walnuts, almonds, dates, coconut, sugar, chia seeds and spices. She bought some at a farmers' market and would like to make them at home.
  • Charmed by Masters' unlikeability

    Recently on Masters of Sex, there was a scene in which Bill Masters (played with magnificent uptightness by Michael Sheen) was coached for an upcoming TV appearance. "You have to be personable enough that the audience wants to invite you into their home," explains the PR guy, helpfully. "Like a Fuller Brush man?" responds Bill, looking even prissier than usual (and that's saying something).


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