Author Archive

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Gavin helps when a woman is hit by a car. PLUS elegant green beans on endive

By Barbara Sibbald

The Accident

—   That’s delicious salad*, says Trish, putting down her fork. I’m still starving all the time.

She pats her protruding tummy.

—   He’s insatiable!

—   You look fabulous, Trish. And you don’t seem to have gained too much.

—   No, I’m good. Hey, I’ve been talking about myself all through dinner. What’s up with you?

—   I’m in shock, says Fiona. I got an email from Dad today, telling me he’s coming to town next week.

—   Your dad? says Trish. I’ve never even met him. And I’ve known you how long? Twelve years?scrambled-eggs

—   More like fifteen. I can’t remember the last time he came here, says Fiona. I saw him maybe two years ago, when I went to that magazine conference in Vancouver. But now he’s been invited to a meeting here, all expenses paid, to be part of an advisory group on the Young Offenders Act. It was his specialty, even though he’s retired now.

—   So where are you meeting him?

—   Here. For dinner on Wednesday night. We thought that would be best so he could see the new house and spend some time with Gavin — although that’s never really seemed to be a priority for him. Plus, we can have some time to talk without waiters hovering.

—   Didn’t you get some nasty letter from him?

—    Yeah, his will. He basically left everything to his new wife, Lorelei. I talked to a mediator and sent him a letter saying that I understand that he needs to take care of her, but I pointed out that Neil’s in a bad way and that it would be great to have an educational fund for Gavin. There’s plenty for everyone.

—   What about you and Luc?

—   I left us out of it. We’ll pay down the mortgage eventually and Luc has a good pension coming.

—   Well, that seems fair enough, I wonder….

Gavin slams through the screen door; Fiona notices at once how pale he is.

— I need a mom hug, he says.

—   Honey! Fiona puts her arms around him, pleased at being wanted by her fourteen-year-old son, but alarmed too.

—    What’s wrong? Are you okay? she asks.

—   I saw an accident, he stammers. A woman. And she got run over. Her whole body. She screamed and screamed.

He is weeping now.

—   Sit down, sit down, honey.

Fiona sits across from him, holding his hand.

—   Start at the beginning. Take a deep breath and tell me what happened. Trish, could you get a glass of water?

—   I was coming home from the concert, walking down Albert to catch a bus, and this car comes whipping out of an underground garage, going way too fast, and hits this woman. Runs right over her. And I run to help, but all at once there’s a crowd of people. Someone’s talking to the woman, someone’s calling an ambulance on their cell. Then I see this man to the side; he’s crying and shaking and I think, that’s her husband, so I go over to him. I don’t know what to do, so I ask, is that your wife? And he nods and there are tears all over his face, so I tell him everything’s going to be okay. People are looking after her, an ambulance is coming.

Gavin takes a sip of water. Fiona squeezes his hand.

—   That was kind of you.

—   Then this little boy comes and tugs at the man’s coat: Dad, Dad! He’s crying. Then the boy just walks away. So I ask the man if I should go look after his son, because obviously he can’t. And he looks me right in the eyes and says, Please, please. So I go over to the boy and crouch down beside him, blocking his view of the accident. And I ask him questions to distract him: Where do you live? How old are you? — he was six. And then he yells: I want my mom! I want my mom! So I tell him, your mom’s okay. Everyone is looking after her. Then I start asking him other questions, like what’s his favourite subject in school and does he have pets. Then the ambulance comes and they load the woman in, and I’m still trying to distract Joel, the little boy. Then the father comes for Joel and they get into the ambulance and they just drive away. And I started walking really fast, thinking about Joel and what his life will be like if his mom dies. It could have been me that got hit. Another thirty seconds and it would have been me. Or Joel. He’s only six.

Fiona puts her arms around him.

IMG_4300—   Thank God, you’re alright, Gavin. And I’m so proud of you, helping like that. You did the best thing you could’ve done looking out for the little lad. It’s so horrible.

She looks into her son’s pale face, trying to assess the damage.

—   Mom, what about the woman? Do you think she’ll be okay?

—   Maybe there’ll be an article in the paper tomorrow. If she was talking and everything, well, I don’t know. It’s hard to say. But you did the right thing. You did all you could, and a lot more than other people would have done.

Gavin says nothing.

—   You’re mom’s right, says Trish.

Gavin looks at her, aware for the first time that she’s in the room and feels embarrassed by his tears, his reaction. Trish is his mom’s friend but she’s closer to his age, and he’s always felt a bit attracted to her.

—   I’m going to take a shower, he says.

Fiona nods. I’ll make you a cocoa, she says.

—   I’m not a baby, he says. I’ll be okay.

He stomps up the stairs.

—   He’ll be okay, Trish says to Fiona. It’s just the shock

—   I’ll go up when he’s out of the shower, says Fiona.

She pauses.

—   He’s right though, it could have been him. One minute you’re complaining about a dull concert and — she snaps her fingers — like that, your life can change forever. Good thing Dad’s coming next week.


*Green beans on endive

Serves 4


1 pound green beans

1 head Belgian endive

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons mayonnaise

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon oregano

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ to ½ cup diced red onion (to taste)


  1. Wash and trim beans. Cook in a large pot of boiling salted water, in batches, until tender-crisp (6 to 8 minutes) Drain and rinse under cold running water. Pat dry. Refrigerate until serving time.
  2. Wipe and separate endive leaves. Wrap in paper towels and refrigerate until serving time.
  3. Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, mayo, garlic, oregano, sugar and salt and pepper until smooth. Stir in onion.
  4. An hour before serving, pour dressing over beans and gently toss.

To serve, arrange endive leaves around the edge of large serving plate, and pile the beans in the centre. Or, serve the beans on endive leaves. Beautiful either way!

FROM THE PRINT EDITION: The pills, thrills, and chills of an MDMA trip

The popularity of electronic music in Ottawa is rising — as is its go-to drug, MDMA. This article, in which author David Meffe explores the local scene following the tragic death of a friend, first appeared in OTTAWA Magazine’s May issue. We’re releasing it online following two recent drug-related incidents in the city. 


I was on the dance floor when the drugs kicked in. Caught between the elevated DJ booth and a crowd of hundreds, I was aware that something primal was happening in my body, in my brain. I had taken the pill almost an hour earlier, and the telltale signs were manifesting in the tips of my fingers.

Barrymore’s Music Hall on Bank Street was packed solid: punks, ravers, hipsters, jocks, students, greasers, preps — you name it. German electro-trance duo Cosmic Gate had just commandeered the booth to the rising shouts and screams of the audience begging for what they had paid to hear.

Just about everybody was on something, but MDMA — an amphetamine better known as ecstasy — was electro’s all-powerful soup du jour, the raver’s panacea. Pills, caps, or powder, it was everywhere — in pockets, under tongues, on gums, up noses, and in drinks.

I had spent the past hour misinterpreting every shiver I felt as a manifestation of the drug, but doubt evaporated as my senses aggressively sharpened against a rapidly revolving whetstone in my mind. Movements felt exaggerated and elongated, as if they were expressions of a buried instinct.

Cramped together in our communal womb, floating in the nurturing amniotic fluid of bass and electronic sounds, our tribe was moving in unison. Every brush against my skin was a cascade of warmth, a bathing baptism of the cortex, an orgasm of the mind. Flashing lights danced around my dilated pupils, and I lost myself, feeling content to stay there forever if need be.

The side effects I had feared — hallucinations, paranoia, grogginess — were absent. No stifling feelings of deep synthetic insight or forced introspective revelations, just an overwhelming feeling of oneness with the grinding mass. It felt like an endless rabbit hole of unbridled euphoria, an overarching sense that whatever we were doing was right, that nothing could ever be wrong as long as we all kept dancing. But only if it was with others; oh God, I couldn’t do it alone.

At that time, I had no idea that in a few months, the death of a friend would expose the narrow line that separates youthful excess and the dark side of amphetamine use, the short ride from a rave to the grave.

Illustration by Anthony Tremmaglia

Illustration by Anthony Tremmaglia

Ottawa + Electro + MDMA
Music and drugs have always seen eye to eye, but if MDMA married electro music, Ottawa — despite a short stint in the rave days of the 1990s — showed up late to the reception, long after regular party guests (i.e., Toronto and Montreal) had already passed out drunk at the bar.

Over the past five years, Ottawa has found itself an emerging hotbed for electronic-music concerts. Top artists who previously ignored the nation’s sleepy capital in favour of more established party hubs are beginning to recognize the interest in their brand of music. The summer Escapade Music Festival, which started in 2010, has now become a Canada Day staple that draws concertgoers from across the province to see iconic acts such as DJ Tiesto, Deadmau5, and Avicii.

“More people are willing to come to the city, artists we originally thought would never want to,” says Maninder Virk, of Ottawa-based concert promoter DNA Presents, the company behind Escapade. He says agents are beginning to trust that promoters can ensure a packed audience when their headliners take the booth.

“When people see that Ottawa can sustain a large atmosphere and has a lot of support for the electronic movement, we’re only going to keep getting bigger concerts,” says Virk. “You’re going to see more electronic music incorporated into events like Bluesfest.”

My own MDMA trip started on a street corner — one hand held the ubiquitous raver’s water bottle, the other fidgeted nervously. It was time to take the dive. I kept looking at my chest, where a little plastic bag lay in my left breast pocket.

Read the rest of this entry »

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Will Anne be able to forgive Fiona’s betrayal? PLUS rave reviews for this Caribbean shrimp appetizer.


By Barbara Sibbald



Fiona’s stomach turns. Do I need to go to the bathroom again? she wonders. Was it was a mistake inviting Anne over to the house? Maybe we should have met at a café. Neutral space. She sighs. But Anne agreed to come. Via email. We haven’t talked in nearly a month, Fiona realizes.

Her stomach flips again. What if Anne’s still angry? What if she thinks Luc was insincere, if he apologized to her just because I was so upset.

Her thoughts are interrupted by a tap at the screen.

—   Anne, with a tan! Fiona says with a big smile. She opens the door, beckoning her long-time friend to come in.

—   You look fabulous!

And she does. Her golden skin shows off her blonde curls and her green eyes sparkle.

—   Hi Fee, Anne says, stepping into the kitchen. Tuscany was spectacular!

—   That’s great. Have a seat. Red? It’s a Masi.

—   Thanks. Another taste of Italy.

—   So it was a good holiday?

—   It was a great holiday! We took it easy instead of our usual binge-tourism. Hung out in outdoor cafes, watching people, chatting. Walked for hours. Sat in parks and gardens. We did go to galleries and museums, but we limited ourselves to just a floor or a couple of rooms each day. You actually appreciate and remember what you see. It really worked well.

—   Where did you stay?

—   We were south of Siena, in a small old hotel plopped in the middle of a vineyard. We’d walk through it and on the other side there were these dusty olive trees. We had rented a car so we took in a lot of the sights: San Gimignano, olive groves, an old spa.

—   It sounds divine. Try some of the shrimp. Candace’s recipe.

—   Oh, I love that. And how are things with you, Fee?


Fiona hesitates but opts to plunge into dangerous territory.

—   I won’t pretend I haven’t missed you, Anne. And I’ve been horribly upset by how I behaved. Luc talked to you?

—   Yeah, he did, but it took me a while to process it all. Going away was a good idea in so many ways. I talked to Georges about it as well. He agrees he put Luc in a really awkward situation, and that telling him was a mistake.

—   Really, he said that?

—   Yeah. You know Georges is really making an effort. He was so kind and attentive to me on the holiday. He even bought me a guilt ring.


She flashes an emerald and diamond beauty.

—   It’s gorgeous, says Fiona, catching Anne’s hand. The green is stunning — matches your eyes.

—   Thanks, Fee, she says. More important, it wasn’t just a meaningless gesture. Now that we’re home — well, we just seem to be on a different footing. Early days yet, and we’re still in couples therapy and he’s in individual therapy, which is good, but things seem to be sorting themselves out.

—   Oh Anne, I am so glad things are on the mend. But I still feel horrible about what I did. I feel like I really betrayed you.

—   You did, says Anne simply. Fiona flushes with shame.

—   And I was furious with you at first, then mostly sad and disappointed. But gradually, I realized why you did it. Even if I still think it was wrongheaded, paternalistic….

—   I wanted to protect you, says Fee.

—   I know. I realize that now. And it’s because you care about me.

—   You’re my best friend. But, well, I made a big mistake. A big ethical error. And so did Luc. The right thing to do would have been to tell you the minute we knew. As you said, if the shoe were on the other foot, that’s what I would have wanted.

—   I nearly lost the two people who mean the most to me in the world, says Anne. If I can forgive Georges, I can certainly forgive you and try to move on. I mean, I may have a bit of trouble with trust and it may take a while to get fully back on track, but I think we’re up to the challenge.

—   So do I, Anne. There’s nothing I’d like more.

—   Here’s to a renewed friendship then, says Anne raising her wine glass.

—   And my atonement, says Fiona, clinking. Thank you for giving me another chance, Anne.


*Caribbean Shrimp

- Makes 10 appetizer-type servings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 limes, juiced

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

½ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon hot red paper flakes

¼ cup fresh coriander, washed and minced

2 pounds large tail-on cooked shrimp (thaw, if frozen)

  1. Stir together vegetable oil, ginger, juice of both limes, garlic cloves, soy, sugar and pepper flakes.
  2. Stir in finely chopped coriander and cooked shrimp.
  1. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Stir occasionally.
  2. Place in a shallow plate with toothpicks. Garnish with coriander sprigs.

Thank you to Candace Brookbank for this recipe.

 Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new installment — and a tested recipe.



Ottawa Magazine’s 2014 Eating and Drinking Guide, available until 2015!


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REASON TO LOVE OTTAWA: Because two guys on Parliament Hill have been listening to our secrets for a century

By Cindy Olberg

Sydney Mutendi of Harare, Zimbabwe sits by the Whispering Wall monument on Parliament Hill, May 3rd, 2014.

Sydney Mutendi of Harare, Zimbabwe sits by the Whispering Wall on Parliament Hill, May 3rd, 2014. Photo by Jackson Couse


Perhaps you’ve heard whispers about an unusual monument hidden in plain sight on Parliament Hill. On the east side of the Centre Block, past the statues of the Famous Five and Queen Elizabeth II, there’s a statue referred to as the “whispering wall.”

The Robert Baldwin and Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine memorial, designed by Walter Seymour Allward and built in 1914, is a tribute to two statesmen who worked together to give legislative power to elected assemblies and prove that French and English Canadians could collaborate on political issues.
Often praised for its original curved design, another quality tends to get overlooked: it carries sound. When two people sit at opposite ends of the monument and whisper, they can hear each other — perfectly, as if they were sitting side by side.

According to Craig Merrett, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Carleton University, it’s caused by a phenomenon known as evanescent waves. “Sound waves almost move in a ripple along the surface of the wall, and the person at the other end can hear — with little distortion. With the sound waves moving along the surface of the wall, it actually doesn’t lose its intensity as much as when you normally just talk into open air.”

Students from Sir Guy-Carleton High-school at the Whispering Wall monument commemorating Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hyppolyte Lafontaine, the collaborative Premiers of Upper and Lower Canada. The students, from grades nine through twelve, are on a leadership training scavenger-hunt to Parliament Hill, May 4th, 2014. Photo by Jackson Couse.

Students from Sir Guy-Carleton High-school at the Whispering Wall monument commemorating Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hyppolyte Lafontaine, the collaborative Premiers of Upper and Lower Canada. The students, from grades nine through twelve, were on a leadership training scavenger-hunt to Parliament Hill, May 4th, 2014. Photo by Jackson Couse.

The effect is fun for passersby, but it’s not an intentional design element. Other famous examples include the dome in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and a dam in Williamstown, Australia – both of which attract tourists with their sound-channeling properties.

Take a friend and experience it for yourself -  tell each other a secret or something nonsensical. But bear in mind: you’ll be doing it under the watchful gaze of two politicians who continue to remind us that communication is the glue that bonds English and French Canadians, whispers and all.

The Novak family of Vancouver - Milan, Marek, and Gabi Novak and their mother, Paula Da Rosa - talk to each other across the Whispering Wall on Parliament Hill, May 4th, 2014.

The Novak family of Vancouver – Milan, Marek, and Gabi Novak and their mother, Paula Da Rosa – talk to each other across the Whispering Wall on Parliament Hill, May 4th, 2014. Photo By Jackson Couse.

This REASON TO LOVE OTTAWA is found on Page 17 in the 2014 Summer Issue of Ottawa Magazine, available now at independent local news outlets or at

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Cowboy cuisine from Trish’s Russian pal. PLUS Roast chicken on a vodka bottle


Russian hijinxs

—   Trish! It’s so great to see you. Now I can stop cleaning the damn house!

—   Sorry to just pop by unannounced, Fee, but I was at the market and I just thought I’d see if you were at home.

—   Is something wrong?

—   I’m succumbing to guilt overload. I’ve asked Iryna to leave by Sunday and I’m dodging her!

—   But I thought things were going well.

—   The first few days were great. Last Saturday, we took a long walk along the river and in the evening we sat around talking and drinking shots of vodka. Well, they drank vodka, I had tea.

—   What did you talk about? The political situation? The corruption? That’s what I’d be interested in.

—   Craig too, but she didn’t seem to be interested in politics at all. I think half the reason Craig didn’t make a fuss about her staying was he thought she might give him some insight into what’s going on there. I think she knows a lot, but she skirts his questions, pretends she doesn’t understand. Did you read that article in the Globe a couple of weeks ago about Russia’s nouveau riche and its corrupt bankers? I asked her last week about the banking system, and she pretended she didn’t understand the meaning of “corrupt.”

—   That’s so bizarre.

—   I know! On the one hand, she’ll talk about the hardships now, and how it was better before — under Communism — for the average person; then there was work and food for everyone, all the basics. On the other hand she’s totally loyal to the new system, to the national goals. She’s strident about it, talking about how well they are doing, how rich in resources they are.Russian dolls

—   So nothing about the cowboy capitalism?

—   The Wild West seems to be settling, from what I read. She was a lot more forthcoming on the train. Since she’s been with us, the closest she’s gotten to being critical was on the night of the vodka shooters. Vodka with dill pickle chasers no less. (“Is the Russian way,” she says.) So after about five shots, she admits that the people feel “humiliated.” But then she seemed to immediately regret saying it, but refuses to elaborate. Craig and I talked about it afterward. Our guess is that people feel humiliated because of the failure of communism. Because it didn’t work: with the corruption, the inequity, the brutality under Stalin, people’s innate greed. Yet it seems that, in some ways, people were better off. Free apartments and education, inexpensive cultural events, strong family values and nationalism.

Read the rest of this entry »

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Trish entertains a surprise visitor from Russia. Plus hearty Ukranian Borscht.

An Actuary from Russia

By Barbara Sibbald


—   So, what’s happening with Anne? asks Trish.

Fiona’s two friends have met a few times, but failed to connect. Anne’s too serious for Trish, not artsy enough. As for Anne, Trish reminds her of her most needy patients. Still, they have a lively interest in each other’s lives, via Fiona.

—   She and Georges have gone away for a couple of weeks, says Fiona. To Paris and then Tuscany. To try to sort things out.

—   Must be nice!

—   Yeah, well, I wish them the best. And I’m really glad Luc had a chance to talk to Anne before they left.

—   What about?

—   He actually apologized for not telling her what he knew, and for putting me in such an awkward situation.

—   Luc apologized, Wow!

Uke Russian Roll

Fiona laughs, but feels a bit miffed by Trish’s insinuation that Luc is incapable of apologizing.


—   He does sometimes, you know. So, what’s up with you?

—   I have a Russian woman coming to stay with us.

—   What? Who? asks Fiona.

—   It just sort of happened, I didn’t plan it, says Trish. I guess I’m too soft-hearted.

—   Or soft-headed, says Fee, grinning.

—   On Sunday, I was coming home on the train from visiting Joanne and I saw an empty seat beside this huge woman. She looked interesting, and it’s a long trip. She’s a giant really, well over six feet, with these huge hands: old Ukrainian stock, it turns out. And she was dressed like she was a hundred and eight: drab grey suit and sturdy scuffed black shoes. Soviet issue I suppose. But it turns out that Iryna’s very well educated — PhD in law — and she’s been sent to Canada by the Russian government to look into types of insurance systems. Think of it, under the Soviet system, there was no insurance. None.

—   Of course. How strange.

—   Yeah, but now people have private property, so suddenly there’s this need. And that’s just one small thing, one thing that we totally take for granted.

—   I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from Russia.

—   Me neither. It seems so exotic to me. Chatting with her was like visiting another country: she told me all about things — things you wouldn’t find out even if you visited. She told me about their life, about how, in the old system, personal success was unimportant and personal development meant everything. And how people were so well educated — with two, three degrees. Now illiteracy is a problem. On the plus side, they don’t have to line up for food anymore and can buy anything they want. If they have the money. But of course, most people don’t have the money. Unemployment — another thing that didn’t exist before — is high. And so is crime. And there are people playing instruments in the subway — they might as well be beggars, she said, all disapproving like. But some of them are members of their national orchestra who have to busk because their salaries are so low.

—   That’s just shameful, says Fiona.

—   Especially for Russia, because she says they love art: theatre, ballet, everything. Their metro is filled with sculptures, chandeliers, marble floors. It’s all about the aesthetic, but it’s for everyone, not just the intellectual or social elite, like it is here.

—   What do you mean? We have public galleries?

—   Yeah, but you have to pay to get in. And you and I both know it’s only certain people who go. But in Russia, Moscow anyway, where Iryna lives, the art is everywhere. Banners with poetry on them lining the streets. A sculpture of Pushkin. I mean where’s our sculpture of Birney? Even their chocolate bars wrappers feature iconic paintings. Imagine if Mars bars were wrapped in a Tom Thompson painting!

—   So what did you tell her about Canada?

—   I talked about what it means to be a young country, a country of immigrants. So after all this chat, when we arrive in Ottawa, naturally I offer to give her a lift to her billet. And she asks for my phone number, says she’d like to meet up with me again because I explain things so well. I was flattered, so I gave her my phone number, said we should get together for lunch.

—   And she calls.

—   Of course. She asks me to meet her at her office on the seventh floor of this building on Laurier. So after work, I go to the seventh floor and when I get there, I realize I don’t even know the name of the outfit she’s with. I wander around asking people and, of course, no one’s ever heard of her.

—   Sounds like a scene in a Kafka novel!

—   Yeah! Except this is the twentieth century in Canada. So finally, it dawns on me that I can just call Iryna’s cell. It turns out she’s on the seventeenth floor. She’s holed up with the Canadian Insurer’s Association Anyway, she tells me how much she’s learning and how great it is, and that she’s decided to stay another two weeks. But she has a problem: She can’t stay where she is because it costs too much, and she wants to know if I know of any inexpensive place she might stay, because she doesn’t have very much money.

—   Oooh, tough one!

—   I know! And I’m thinking I’ve become a sort of ambassador of good will for Canada, so before I even think about it — without even asking Craig — I ask if she’d like to stay with us, I have a spare room. Well, it’s supposed to be my office, but I usually take my laptop to the living room anyway. And there is the futon couch in there. Until the crib arrives. So, Irnya accepts; I mean why wouldn’t she?

—   Yikes, what did Craig say when you told him?

—   He was incredulous at first, said I had no right, should have asked him first, et cetera et cetera. Everything I expected him to say, all of which is true. But then when I told him what she’s doing and that she’s respectable and all, well he’s still pissed that I didn’t ask first, but what’s done is done. He came home with a Russian phrase book yesterday, so I think he’s okay with it.

—   When’s she coming?

—   Tomorrow.

—   Maybe she’ll teach you how to make borscht*.

Russian dolls


*Ukranian borscht

Four servings


1 ½ cups potato, peeled and chopped into 1/3″ chunks

1 cup sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1/3″ chunks

1 cup beets, peeled and chopped into 1/3″ chunks

2 tablespoons butter

1 ½ cups chopped onion

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Vegetable stock (from cube) to top up beet/potato water to make 4 cups

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced

1 stalk celery, washed and sliced

3 cups cabbage, chopped

black pepper

1 bay leaf

¼ teaspoon dill weed

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon honey

1 cup tomato puree

sour cream

1 tomato, chopped


  1. Place potatoes and beets into a saucepan, cover with water and boil until tender. Strain, saving the water in a large measuring cup.
  2. Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion, caraway seeds and salt. Cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent.
  3. Top up water from beets and potatoes with vegetable stock, to total 4 cups.
  4. Add stock, celery, carrots and cabbage to pot and cook until vegetables are tender.
  5. Add potatoes, beets, pepper, bay leaf, dill weed, vinegar, honey and puree.
  6. Cover and simmer 30-plus minutes.

To each bowl add a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of dill weed and a couple of tablespoons of chopped tomato.

 Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa MagazineVisit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new installment — and a tested recipe.

FROM THE PRINT EDITION: Diversity — and commitment — drives Ottawa’s theatre scene


Laura Hall and Cindy Beaton in Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of Mauritius. Photo by Maria Vartanova

Laura Hall and Cindy Beaton in Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of Mauritius. Photo by Maria Vartanova

Earlier this year, CBC Radio hosted a phone-in program asking listeners to respond to the question: “Is live theatre dead?” Some callers agreed, saying, more or less, “It’s been replaced, and good riddance.” Others insisted that nothing rivals the sheer human power of live performance.

In fact, not only is theatre alive, it is growing. Market research done using Statistics Canada data reports that between 2001 and 2008, total consumer spending on live performance increased by 49%. Canadians spend twice as much on performing arts as on live sports, and — according to a 2010 survey — theatre attracts 12.4 million Canadians annually, compared with only 11.1 million for live popular music. That means that almost half of all Canadians over the age of 15 attend live theatre at least once every year.

Still, the economics of theatre — where production costs typically exceed revenues — are brutal, and the average performance-related annual income of actors hovers around $12,000, as reported in The Toronto Star in 2009. “Many actors and comedians leave the occupation because of high job insecurity,” says Service Canada in a report called “Job Futures.” “Like many other occupations in the arts, multiple employment is common.”

There is a lot of competition in Ottawa. With most of the oxygen being taken up by the National Arts Centre and the Great Canadian Theatre Company, there may actually be more companies producing good work here than there is audience. But John Muggleton, an actor who worked in television in Toronto before returning to Ottawa as director of marketing at the Ottawa Little Theatre, says that the competition is not waged with other theatres. “It’s Future Shop and Best Buy that hurt us, all selling products designed to keep people at home.”


Ottawa Little Theatre, founded as the Ottawa Drama League in 1913

If theatre has survived, it is an economic miracle, largely because of the commitment of driven artists. As David Whiteley of Plosive Productions says: “Nothing else is so comprehensive, so expressive. Nowhere else do you work so closely, so creatively with others. Nothing else brings together so many of the arts — visual arts, music, story-telling, writing. Theatre is complete.”

The Gladstone Theatre shines as an example of theatrical passion. The venue — on Gladstone Avenue west of Preston — was a tired old commercial space until 1982, when the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) converted it into a rough-and-ready theatre space. There, the company presented Canadian works for over 25 years. In 2007, it was strong enough, financially and artistically, to move into a new purpose-built home. The old bare-bones garage-cum-theatre on Gladstone was left empty. Enter Steve Martin.

In one of Ottawa’s most gallant theatre adventures, Martin purchased The Gladstone and renovated it into a little jewel of a theatre. He had a vision of a small, classy theatre, managed as a business and producing a year-long list of good plays, well publicized and featuring the city’s best artists. The results were disappointing. Martin now leases The Gladstone to Plosive Productions, which manages it as a rental facility and uses it for its own productions. One of those was a recent production of the Canadian classic Billy Bishop Goes to War, a one-man tour de force with actor Chris Ralph playing 18 roles; the play has been nominated for a Rideau Prize for Outstanding Production and Performance.

John P. Kelly of Gladstone Theatre - Photo by Lois Siegel

Director John P. Kelly of SevenThirty Productions, a company that presents regularly at The Gladstone Theatre – Photo by Lois Siegel


One of the regular tenants at The Gladstone is John P. Kelly’s SevenThirty Productions, which mounted November last fall — a play that won Best Professional Production and Best Actor awards for Todd Duckworth from the Capital Critics Circle. Kelly came to Ottawa in 2004, expecting to find work here. Instead, he was forced to found his own company, though the last thing he ever wanted was to produce. The results have been artistically acclaimed, but it is a hard living. What keeps Kelly going? “It’s what I do,” he says. “It’s who I am.”

Companies like Plosive and SevenThirty are keeping The Gladstone alive, and Martin remains convinced that his vision is tenable. He believes, however, that theatre-goers are looking for a “blue jean” experience, something that rivals film for ease of access and affordability. He will test that theory with a new show this summer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet. Ticket prices will be low, and Martin intends to marry theatre with live dance music on weekends to appeal to a younger, music-oriented crowd.

The newcomers may be struggling, but Ottawa veterans have arguably survived by identifying a clear niche, venue, and audience.


DSC_0114 copy

Odyssey Theatre ensemble photo by John Forster

Odyssey Theatre, for example, is Ottawa’s pioneer “theatre in the park.” Since 1986, it has been producing its annual flagship play in Strathcona Park, where it specializes in commedia dell’arte (the classic masked street theatre of Italy). Ottawa people like to stay outdoors in summer. The Odyssey has captured their attention and used its seasonal success to build, grow, and diversify. It has taken time.

The GCTC also found its way. It started in 1975 with an identifiable constituency — cultural nationalists who wanted to see Canadian works on the stage. It has worked for over three decades to develop that audience and to build a strong business. It has taken patience.

Avalon Studio - photo by John Muggleton

Avalon Studio – photo by John Muggleton


A close and disciplined focus may have worked for established companies, but diversity is the emerging trend. Ottawa’s newest theatre business, for example — the Avalon Studio — has several strings to its bow. Last fall, Muggleton and actor/teacher Chris Ralph discovered a long-abandoned vaudeville theatre on Bank Street that had been repurposed for office space. They have reopened it now as a modestly sized and wonderfully atmospheric old theatre, but the Avalon is also making its living as a recreational drama school and event venue.

Ralph, whose acting career includes a diploma from the National Theatre School and work in Montreal and Toronto, is optimistic about the industry. “Theatre isn’t dead,” he says, “but it is evolving. To survive, we have to be flexible and inventive.”

Plays have to change as well, says Muggleton, and to have smaller casts. “As we work out of smaller venues, we need a different kind of play — two- or three-handers that we can afford to mount. Plays also have to be shorter, faster, and more dynamic.” And those plays have to be strong enough to please audiences trained by the consumer market to expect consummate polish and high-paced delivery. There is no room, ever, to compromise quality.

Quality is not the issue for Third Wall Theatre. The company has been presenting classic plays to Ottawa audiences for the past 13 years. It is a critical favourite, recently nominated for five Rideau Prize awards. It is worth noting that although the critically acclaimed God of Carnage drew the second largest audience of any show in Third Wall’s history, it was not a financial success. Welcome to the world of theatre.

Third Wall Theatre - God of Carnage - 2013 - Mary Ellis, Todd Duckworth, John Koensgen & Kristina Watt

Third Wall Theatre – God of Carnage – 2013 – Mary Ellis, Todd Duckworth, John Koensgen & Kristina Watt


Third Wall is remarkable in that it has a resident company, a body of actors on which it draws for all productions. This is an unusual model for a small company, but it has allowed Third Wall to build a winning theatrical team. Not only is the company able to count on some of the city’s best actors, but the model helps actors develop onstage relationships. Third Wall has also invested in the nationally recognized director Ross Manson.

Quality is expensive, and Third Wall has felt the sharp end of the financial stick. It too has diversified to survive, notably with the Empty Space Series, where actors gather in the splendid hall of Glebe St. James United Church to read from short stories, letters, or poetry. The company has also created the Third Wall Academy, a training program for young actors. And it is currently hammering out a new business model, including partnerships to develop new theatre works based on classic works of fiction.

At least Third Wall has found a home. Earlier this year, it staged Harold Pinter’s classic one-act play The Dumb Waiter in the friendly, rough-hewn Avalon Studio. In doing so, it benefited from the affordability of an intimate space, the marketing expertise of Muggleton and Ralph, and access to the emerging Avalon community. Third Wall also experimented with an innovative ticket system for that show, with gradually increasing prices for ticket-buyers. This gave the company access to upfront revenues and helped build buzz around the production.

So is live theatre dead in Ottawa? In this brave new world, where newspapers, books, and cursive writing are all threatened with extinction, will theatre be among the casualties? Let us look for an answer to Mark Twain, who once famously observed, “Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”


“Passion Play” originally appeared on Page 27 in the MAY 2014 Issue of Ottawa Magazine.

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: What happens when loyalties are split. PLUS easy baked risotto

By Barbara Sibbald



—   I know I accepted your conditions, Luc, says Fiona angrily. I agreed not to tell Anne, but what choice did I have? I mean really?

—   Fee, do we have to talk about this now? I just want to relax and read the paper while the risotto* bakes.

—   Luc, I’m steaming. You put me off last night.

—   I didn’t get home until eleven!

—   Well, we need to talk about this.

He shrugs, wearily.IMG_4300

—   The way I see it, you left me with no choice, continues Fiona. If I hadn’t accepted your conditions, if I had told Anne that Georges was screwing around…. Well, you said it yourself, you’d feel I was being disloyal to you.

—   Well, you would have been.

—   So basically, my choice was being loyal to you and not telling Anne, or vice versa. Either way I’m the big loser.

—   It’s not quite so black and white, Fee, he says. You know you didn’t want to tell Anne, not really. You wanted to save her the pain of knowing, and if Georges had just quietly broke it off, well so much the better.

—   What? No harm done? Are you kidding me? Of course there was harm. There was harm from the moment Georges decided to have it off with Giselle. Before he even did it. And, yes, I am a bit of a coward when it comes to breaking bad news.

—   More of a Pollyanna, he says, grinning.

—   Whatever, she retorts tersely. The fact is, I avoid it at all costs. But this time, I should have done the tough thing, because that was the right thing. Anne had a right to know, and to make her own decisions about this. The secrecy has just made it so much worse. Now Anne’s not only been betrayed by her husband, but also by her best friend.

—   And you blame me?

—   No, not entirely, of course not. But Luc, you did put me in a terrible position.

—   By telling you about the affair in the first place?

—   Yes.

—   So it would have been better if I kept it a secret? To keep secrets from you? My partner?

—   Yes. No. Well, no, but you should have thought it through more thoroughly. About what it meant to tell me, and whether telling Anne was the right thing to do, no matter what the repercussions were for your friendship with Georges. Look what’s happened now! You and Georges are still fine friends and Anne and I have had a total blow-out over this. So basically, my friendship was sacrificed to save yours.

—   How was I to know that would happen, Fee? It’s certainly not what I wanted.

—   What did you want?

—   I wanted to save both friendships, and maybe their marriage as well.

—   Aren’t you the noble one! Don’t you think that was just a tad controlling, Luc?

—   Not that again! he says. It always comes down to that for you, doesn’t it Fee? Any argument we have, over sex, or Gavin, or the house, it always comes down to me wanting to wrest control. Don’t you think there might be more to it than that?

—   Of course there’s more, but that is the root of a lot of this. And besides, you’re changing the topic.

—   Which is…?

—   Why can’t you admit that we made a mistake in November when we decided not to tell Anne? I can admit that now.

—   Hindsight’s always twenty-twenty. Fee, we’ve just gone through this, the whole circle. You didn’t want to tell Anne any more than I did. You accepted my solution gratefully, you know you did.

—   So I’m solely responsible?

—   Architect of your own actions. If you’d stood up for telling her, if you’d insisted, even if you’d followed-up on Georges and Giselle and the fact that it kept going on for two months….

—   Hey, don’t stick me with that too, says Fiona, pointing her finger at his chest. That was your piece of the ultimatum. You said you’d talk to him. You should have followed up on that.

—   Well, the fact is that neither one of us did. So, yes, I take some of the blame for that.

—   And what about telling me in the first place. Don’t you think you should have given that a bit more thought, for the situation you dumped me in? persists Fiona.

—   You aren’t going to let this go until you have blood, are you?

She stares at him, her dark eyes flashing angrily. Luc sighs.

—   Yes, I probably should have thought it through. But Fiona, one of the best things about our relationship is that we do tell each other everything. We believe in that.

—   Yes, we do, she says, and that’s a good thing. But sometimes we have to think before we speak, appreciate what the information will mean to the other person. In this case, what the moral implications were. And that there may be a price to pay, on both sides, for being honest.

—   I did pay a price, I lost Georges’ friendship for a while.

—   And now I’ve lost Anne’s, and I’m not sure she’ll come back.

—   She will. You guys are tight.

—   Maybe. You don’t know that. And I’ve really hurt her. Deeply.

—   I am sorry about that, says Luc.

scrambled-eggsFiona can hear the sincerity in his voice.

—   Do you think it would help if I talked to her? he asks. If I told her it was my idea not to tell her.

—   You’d have to apologize too, you know, for being paternalistic about it, for putting your friendship with Georges ahead of their marriage and my friendship with Anne.

—   Phew, that’s a lot of weight.

—   I’ve taken my hit for the team, says Fee.

—   Yeah, yeah. And Fee, I am sorry I put you in that position. You’re right, I didn’t think it through.

—   Well, Georges shouldn’t have told you either, says Fiona. It’s not all your responsibility. Just because he was lying to his wife, doesn’t mean he should have assumed you’d lie to yours.

—   I don’t think he thought of it in those terms, he just wanted an alibi.

—   Purely selfish then.

—   Yeah.

—   So you’ll talk to Anne?

—   Yes. I’m really sorry about what’s happened, Fiona. Really sorry.

He takes her hand across the table and she looks up at him.

—   One thing’s for sure, she says, Georges’ selfishness isn’t going to make us fall out.

—   No, he says, giving her hand a squeeze.


*Easy bake risotto

Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 types of vegetables, washed and chopped, about 2 cups in all (choose from red pepper, leek, garlic, onions, mushrooms)

1 cup Arborio risotto

3 cups vegetable stock (from cube is fine)

Fish (haddock, salmon or trout, no skin) or vegetable (broccoli, asparagus or cauliflower)

2 tablespoons grated parmesan

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Heat oil in medium, oven-proof pot. Add 3 types of vegetable and rice. Sauté until vegetables are fairly tender.
  3. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
  4. Cover and put in the oven for about 15 minutes.
  5. Put fish or veggie on top, sprinkle with parmesan. Cook another 5 minutes. Serve with green salad.

Thank you to Josefine Lami for this recipe.

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Is keeping quiet the same as lying? PLUS spice it up with cauliflower curry


By Barbara Sibbald

There’s a tap at the back screen. Fee turns from chopping up cauliflower for a curry* to see Anne standing outside, pale and frowning.

—   Anne, she says, rushing over to open the door, what’s up? You look upset.

—   I am upset, she says tersely. May I come in?

—   Of course, of course, says Fee, stepping aside. Please sit down.

Her radar is tingling. Why’s Anne being so formal? What’s going on? Omigosh, has she found out that we knew? Please, no!


—   Glass of wine? Fee offers.

Anne shakes her head.

—   I need to know the truth, Fiona. Georges let it slip in therapy that he’d talked to Luc about the affair. I guess in my heart I sort of suspected as much. I asked him if you knew too, and he just shrugged. Did you know Fee? Did you?

Fiona’s heart pounds. She’s been dreading this conversation, rehearsing it in the middle of the night, oscillating between telling and not telling, unable to decide but knowing she’d have to sooner or later. Anne’s too smart not to figure it out. Now the hour has come, and Fee knows she has no choice.

—   Yes. Yes, I did know. I didn’t want to know. When Luc told me, I said he’d put me in an untenable situation, but we talked about it and he said he’d give Georges an ultimatum: either break up with Giselle or we would tell you.

—   When was that? Anne asks cooly.

—   Near the end of November, I guess. I told Luc that I wouldn’t lie, that if you asked me, I’d tell you everything I knew.

—   But otherwise, you wouldn’t say a word.

—   I didn’t see what would be gained, Anne. If he was breaking it off any way.

—   How can you make a call like that for me, Fiona? It’s so paternalistic. Don’t you think I had the right to know? You of all people. I mean if Luc were having an affair and I knew, wouldn’t you expect me to tell you so you could make your own decisions?

—   Yeah, I guess so. Yes, I would.

—   Why didn’t you think of that when you were discussing this with Luc?

—   I did. I told him you were my best friend and my loyalty was to you. And he said if I told you it would mean the end of his relationship with Georges, his best friend, and that I should be loyal to him…to Luc that is. He can be pretty persuasive, so I agreed, but only on condition Georges broke it off.

—   But that was in November….

—   Well, then Christmas came and Mom and Neil’s visit and well, yeah I did lose track for a bit. And….

—   So November to February? You cut him that much slack?

—   Luc thought Georges had broken it off. That’s what he told me in January — the day after that crazy night of cards. Still, that was well over a month after Luc gave the ultimatum. We should have set a deadline, and I should have followed up.

—   There’s lots you should have done, says Anne. The least of which is to tell me what the hell was going on. What I don’t get is how you could have pretended nothing was wrong. Remember when I found out and I came here? I cried at this table and you sat there and you lied to me. You said Luc didn’t know.

—   I never actually said it.

—   Well you implied it. You didn’t fess up. I feel so betrayed, Fiona. How could you? I thought we were friends.

—   We are. Oh, Anne, I’m so sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing, balancing my loyalties to you and to Luc.


She pauses, gazes out the kitchen window, then back at Anne.

—    I knew it was wrong, she says quietly. I’ve had nightmares about you finding out. But Luc…well I shouldn’t blame him, but he did give me a sort of ultimatum too: him or you. It was hard to see what was right with him pushing his view. I knew it was wrong of him, and in retrospect I was wrong to accept it. And we were both wrong to let Georges linger so long. We should have given him a week, end of discussion.

—   I’ve been a good friend to you, Fee. I’ve helped you with Gavin, with finding this house, with Neil…. I just don’t understand how you could be so disloyal. It hurts. It hurts a lot. I’ve been such a fool.

—   No, no, I’ve been the fool, Anne, says Fiona, the tears welling in her eyes. I’m so so sorry, please, please forgive me.



Anne stands up.

—   I can’t talk about this anymore. I need to think, she says.

She walks out the door without saying goodbye.

Fiona sits at the table, staring at the Formica, tears slowly trickling down her face, knowing she shouldn’t blame Luc, but unable to bear the full brunt of the responsibility herself. Will Anne ever forgive me? she wonders.

*Cauliflower curry

Serves 3-4

1 ½ pounds cauliflower (2 medium heads)

3 potatoes, peeled and diced

3 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon cayenne

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon coriander

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

1 clove of garlic, peeled and put through a press

½ cup water

1 ½ cups peas (fresh or frozen)

2 tablespoons torn cilantro leaves

2 tomatoes diced (fresh or canned)


  1. Wash the cauliflower and break into small (bite-sized) flowerets.
  2. Heat butter in a large pot over medium-high heat and add all the spices. Stir.
  3. When the spices are warm, add the cauliflower, potatoes and water. Stir and cover tightly.
  4. Steam until the cauliflower is almost tender.
  5. Add peas, cilantro and tomato. Cook another 5 to 7 minutes, stirring gently from time to time with a wooden spoon.
  6. Serve with yoghurt and mango chutney.


Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa MagazineVisit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new installment — and a tested recipe.