Alison Gillmor

  • Give it a swirl

    Just an update on last week's column, when I messed up June Brent's lovely apple cake recipe by using a needlessly fancy Bundt pan that just wouldn't release. Irene Anderson wrote in to tell me that she used a standard angel food tube pan and got terrific results. She served her apple cake with caramel sauce, and the picture she sent looks perfect. This week, we have one more look at marble cake with a rich, eggy loaf from Linda Snider, and I also try out a recipe for marble cookies.
  • Female cops give birth to new genre

    It didn't take long for Netflix, my new best friend, to start hooking me up with Dark Crime Dramas. My algorithmically generated "Top Picks for Alison" row includes a long list of television series about driven, tormented cops, who are sometimes only marginally less bad than the criminals they're trying to catch. Low Winter Sun, Hinterland, Luther, Wallander: I can explore the illegal underworlds of grim decaying Detroit, grim remote Wales, grim rain-drenched London or grim social-democratic Sweden. Even the Belgians are getting in on the trend, with a Flemish noir series called Salamander.
  • Not your usual feminist icon

    "With plastic surgery, the general anesthetic is like a black-velvety sleep, and that's what death is," Joan Rivers once said in an interview. The comedian, who died on Sept. 4 at age 81, might seem like an unlikely poster girl for raising awareness about issues surrounding women, celebrity, aging and appearance. Her own face, after all, was a morbidly mesmerizing plastic-fantastic mask. Decades of nips and tucks had turned it into frozen sculpture. By the time she hit her 60s, the brash, brazen comedian had crossed into that uncanny territory where cosmetic surgery no longer replicates youth but becomes a shiny, stretchy parody of it.
  • Plum cakes? You gotta be kuchen me!

    This week, I tried out two recipes for plum kuchen made with yeast. Thanks so much to Jean McElhoes, Pamela Whitehead and Lori Grant, whose kuchen recipe is below, and to Pat Depoe, who sent in a Gourmet recipe for plum bread she's been making since the 1980s. Lori Grant also has memories of a Yorkton, Sask., store that sold Big Bob's Ukrainian Roasting Sausage, which she recalls as moist, juicy and not overly spicy. She's hoping someone might have a recipe for something similar.
  • Fruitful fall

    Early September is a poignant time. You can feel the chill in the mornings and evenings, as your thoughts start to turn from lazy summer weekends to the brisk autumn routines of school and work. But this melancholy shift has its own consolations, one of the most delicious being plums. This versatile fruit starts to come into its own as we head into fall, adding tart, sweet taste and gorgeous crimson colour to a range of desserts.
  • Who you gonna call?

    Ghostbusters, that favourite flick of the 1980s, has been celebrating its 30th anniversary this week with a theatrical re-release and the launch of a loaded-up Blu-ray edition. There have also been several recent sightings of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. There's a lot to love about this disarming movie, with its sweetness, its offhand humour, its quotable dialogue. ("That's a big Twinkie.") There are the special effects, which were pretty swell at the time and now feel fabulously retro, and the deliberately idiotic science, like "the streams that should never be crossed" (except when they totally need to be crossed). And of course, Ghostbusters offers a classic early example of Bill Murray's deadpan, sardonic shtick.
  • Go nuts!

    Earlier this month, Leslie Hancock was hoping someone might have a recipe for the pecan chicken with mustard sauce once served at Haley's Restaurant, a Cajun eatery near Confusion Corner. We haven't found that specific recipe, but I did track down some pecan chicken recipes, which I hope might be close. This week, we're still looking for recipes for plum kºchen, the kind made with yeast. And with school starting soon, I'd love to see suggestions for anything your kids really like for lunch. 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.
  • A different world, a different kind of star

    Lauren Bacall, who died Aug. 12 at age 89, was known for "the look," a sultry up-and-under glance that was one part "come hither" and one part "get lost, chump." Bacall was a cool contradiction. She made her astonishing screen debut very young -- in 1944's To Have and Have Not -- but she was never an ingenue. Later on, in the 1960s and '70s, she could be a regal lady but also one hell of a tough broad.
  • Catalogue of culture

    IKEA is always looking ahead. In fact, the Swedish furnishing giant is already living in 2015, as you might have noticed if you’re among the 6.5 million Canadians slated to get copies of the new IKEA catalogue dropped into their mailboxes starting this week.  IKEA began as a mail-order business, and its annual catalogue is still its key corporate statement. This compendium of Lack tables and Malm dressers goes beyond mere marketing to become a form of missionary work, spreading the gospel of Scandi-modern design. The 326-page 2015 edition is expected to reach 217 million people in 27 languages. In recent years more copies of the catalogue have been printed than the Bible.
  • Vampires revamped

    The Strain, the new vampire series on FX Canada, is a bit like the swoopy wig of its main character, Ephraim "Eph" Goodweather (played by the usually bald Corey Stoll). Eph's hairpiece, which has become a media talking point, is fake, funny, bizarre. It's also curiously compelling. I can't take my eyes off that crazy hair -- or the fabulously repulsive, ridiculous vampire action swirling around it. Since The Strain's July debut, Guillermo del Toro (along with co-creators Chuck Hogan and Carlton Cuse) has been getting credit for revamping vamps. Forget those defanged existential brooders who've been moping around the pop-culture universe. Del Toro, an acclaimed film director and professional fanboy, has made vampires into monsters again. The Strain's lead leech is less of a romantic Byronic antihero and more of a fast-moving three-metre tapeworm.
  • Angel food takes flight

    First of all, a belated thank you to Bea Rands, Luba Finney and Linda Snider for their recipes for rhubarb relish, which Recipe Swap covered last week. Last month, I sent out a request for angel food cake recipes. I got a terrific response, and I'm starting this week with a recipe from Christie Macdonald, who relies on the chocolate angel food cake from The Cake Bible by baking maven Rosy Levy Beranbaum. (You can find many recipes, and a lot of sound advice, at Beranbaum's website, As Christie writes, Beranbaum is known for her obsessive accuracy and detailed directions. (Along with volume measurements, Beranbaum supplies weight measurements, which offer the most accuracy in baking.) And confession time for me: I've never actually made an angel food cake, so the comprehensive recipe was really helpful. It uses a whopping amount of egg whites -- 16! -- but the results go far beyond the store-bought variety of angel food cake.
  • ScarJo finds perfect fit for opaque persona

    Scarlett Johansson is clearly a woman. In fact, going by the lad-magazine headlines, the voluptuous, honey-voiced star could be described as "all woman."  
  • Art film chugs into your living room

    I watched Snowpiercer this week, and I'm conflicted. Not about the movie, which is a singular, stunning, deranged post-apocalyptic dream, but about the way I watched it. Snowpiercer, after doing bang-up business in director Bong Joon-ho's native South Korea, was given a limited North American theatrical opening on June 27, followed up -- only two weeks later -- with a video-on-demand (VOD) release. I paid $7.99 to download the film from iTunes and watch it in my living room.
  • No-churn ice cream gives you all the creamy taste with none of the hassle

    Everyone loves homemade ice cream. But not everyone loves ice cream makers. So what should you do if you want to make your own summer desserts but you don't want to take on a specialized, space-hogging appliance? It's true that many recipes formulated for automatic ice cream makers offer a kind of afterthought alternative for folks who don't have a machine. This is usually a time-consuming, pain-in-the-neck process that involves a lot of repeated freezing and beating, freezing and beating. And the results can be unpredictable, with ice creams and sorbets often ending up as icy, rock-hard blocks.
  • Going ape over motion capture

    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes seems to have ignited a primal feud. On one side, there are calls for Andy Serkis to get an Oscar for his astonishing work as the simian statesman Caesar. On the other side, there's an anxious sense that Serkis's motion-capture-based performance is monkeying around with the threatening possibilities of "post-human" filmmaking. Homo sapiens are undeniably on the run in Dawn's bleak storyline. Human survivors of a global plague are barely hanging on in the ruined grandeur of San Francisco. Meanwhile, in the nearby Muir Woods, intelligent apes are constructing a rising city state. They've mastered the alphabet, architecture and ethics. Some hairy form of classical democracy can't be far off.
  • Subtle lavender scones, Tea Cozy's muffin recipe

    A recent Recipe Swap look at the Tea Cozy's ginger cake drew a huge reader response. Former Winnipegger Michael Gros, who worked at that popular Osborne Village restaurant as a day cook many years ago, offers a recipe for the Tea Cozy's bran muffins. And in response to a request for scone recipes, Joan Honsberger-Siemens sent in a version that adds the subtle flavour and fragrance of lavender. The recipe comes from an increasingly common source for food ideas -- murder mysteries that involve cooking, baking, catering or gardening themes. In this case, the scone recipe comes from A Dilly of a Death, a "herbal mystery" by Susan Wittig Albert.
  • Transforming into confusion

    The Transformers movies, based on a line of Hasbro toys in which mechanical aliens change into cars, may seem like eight-year-old-boy dreams projected onto a big screen. But as the old Transformers' tagline suggests, there's "more than meets the eye" to this box-office-crushing franchise. For critics who bother to apply ideological analysis to the work of director Michael Bay, the Transformers flicks have been viewed as a glorification of militarism, an affirmation of American triumphalism, a celebration of capitalist consumerism and an assertion of masculine power. But could all this cinematic certainty be unravelling? In the series' fourth outing, Transformers: Age of Extinction, serial blower-upper Bay seems beset by confusion, and not just the usual narrative kind. (Just remind us why the cab of an 18-wheeler is inside an old movie theatre. And why nobody seems surprised.) Underneath the constant barrage of exploding metal and glass, there's a sense that something else is falling apart.
  • Winnipeg's food trucks deliver stellar street eats

    In the recent movie Chef, Jon Favreau plays Carl, the star talent at a pricey Los Angeles restaurant. He loses his job but ends up finding his soul when he buys a broken-down food truck. Slinging cheap and cheerful eats from his mobile kitchen, Favreau's Carl joins a list of lovable food-truck-operating movie characters, including Jason Segel in The Five-Year Engagement, Michael Ealy in Think Like a Man and Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford in What To Expect When You're Expecting. Hollywood uses food trucks as shorthand for authenticity and down-to-earth values, for following your passion and grounding your life in something meaningful.
  • Bottom line wipes out weirdness

    Dov Charney, the founder of fashion retailer American Apparel, is out. His 10-year up-and-down saga suggests sex sells. Until it doesn't. The 45-year-old Canadian-born Charney was notorious for his pants-optional management style and knowingly pervy ad campaigns. He was considered "eccentric," "creative," "controversial" -- as long as he was making money. But as AA was beset by tanking shares and rising debt, that perception started to shift. On June 18, the AA board voted to terminate Charney "with cause," citing unspecified misconduct.
  • The joke could soon be on ClickHole

    The men and women at the Onion are a funny gang. They're going to need all the funny they can get for ClickHole, a new standalone project that satirizes viral media. With the tagline, "Because all content deserves to go viral," this spoof of "the online social experience" has already grabbed a lot of attention. But does ClickHole actually work? As they say on the Internet, The Answer May Surprise You.
  • Sometimes, we just need a good cry

    As I sat watching The Fault in Our Stars, in a state of quiet, constant sniffling that occasionally gave way to gusts of outright weeping, I had to ask myself: Why do we go to the movies to cry? Of course, most of the time we don't go to the movies to cry. Judging by box-office stats, we go for uncomplicated entertainment. We don't go to watch bad things happen to good people, which we can see easily enough in real life. We're looking for Hollywood endings, as we call them, where everything wraps up nicely, neatly and happily. Very happily.
  • No dozing under Jolie's spell

    Maleficent is a muddled, murky, fatally mediocre movie. But as the titular villainess/heroine/misunderstood baby-curser in this revisionist Sleeping Beauty tale, Angelina Jolie casts an unbreakable spell. I couldn't take my eyes off her. I'm not the only one. In its opening weekend, Maleficent pulled in $70 million at the North American box office, along with $100 million overseas. This is a triumph of female star power and a much-needed corrective to the entrenched Hollywood belief that women can't open movies.
  • Refresher course: How to make the perfect iced tea

    Iced tea is a perfect summer refresher. But the canned stuff you pick up at the supermarket is packed with sugar, and the fancy kind you buy at the upscale coffee shop is ridiculously expensive. Making your own iced tea allows you to consume a lot less sugar and spend a lot less money. It also means you can experiment with all sorts of subtle and varied flavours. It's easy to freestyle with the wide array of teas available, from old-school orange pekoe to delicate tisanes. You can add fruit infusions or accent with fresh herbs such as lavender or mint.
  • Sharing your shelfie

    It's no surprise that by the time the Oxford Dictionaries declared "selfie" the 2013 word of the year, the kids had already moved on. The new selfie seems to be the shelfie, which involves images of exquisitely curated objects. Forget about using social media to show the world your pouting duckface or your raised eyebrow: You can now express yourself through your collection of ironic Victorian taxidermy.
  • Where office marriages burn on

    For most of Mad Men's seventh season, Don and Peggy have been at odds with each other. As a professional critic-type person, I should have been able to read that as dramatic tension, but somehow I took it personally. It felt more like listening to mommy and daddy fight. My TV trauma was probably rooted in the fact that Don and Peggy are usually the only functional couple in sight. Thankfully, the pair reconciled last week, in what is widely seen as the strongest episode of the year. It's impossible to watch Mad Men without a down-deep taste for misery, but even the most masochistic viewer needs a little respite. Finally, Peggy and Don were working overtime again, firing off ideas and slow-dancing to Frank Sinatra. I hate to sound like their boss Lou, a man who can make cardigans look sinister, but all I can say is, "It's nice to see family happiness again."


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