All Grown Up – My Final Post

SarahZaharia.com started in 2011 with the goal of sharing the Winnipeg I knew and loved. The fun, busy, sexy side of a city that can’tSarahZ-6172 shake its lingering reputation. We were (and in some circles still are) known as a place where things move slow and the culture is boring.

Winnipeggers know how wrong that is. We have some of the best cultural institutions in the country and there are just so many choices of what to do on any given evening. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, The Prairie Theatre Exchange, Manitoba Theatre for Young People, Manitoba Opera and that doesn’t even include the summer festivals!

Since I started writing this blog, my life changed forever at the bar of Bistro 7 ¼ where my love of food, cheese, and wine grew so much I have started to study to become a Sommelier. I returned to my waitressing addiction at the Tallest Poppy and learned more from Talia Syrie about food and service than I thought there was to know. More than the technical requirements to run a restaurant, she taught me the magic of making sure diners enjoyed the experience of eating.

I’ve eaten transformative meals in Winnipeg which would give any other city a run for its money. I’m comfortable saying, without hesitation, that I am in love with food and I could talk about it all day. And a piece of my heart will always be in Winnipeg.

Travel became a larger part of my life and I’ve found myself living in Vancouver. A group of amazing people who shared my perspective agreed to pick up the slack and contribute to my blog and we’ve been publishing more than ever. A year ago, my site became ours. Because of that it was time to grow it up and change the name.

Pepper & Vine will have more content about wine and spirits, travel, and international content but we will still have lots of great local coverage in Winnipeg. So this will be the final post for SarahZaharia.com and I’m so glad to have shared it with you.

We are all so excited about the new site and hope that you will come along for the ride. Please subscribe to Pepper & Vine to continue getting updates on food, culture, and happenings in Winnipeg and beyond.

Thanks and Love,

Sarah

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Sarah Zaharia

Understanding War Through Stories – Armstrong’s War

MON_0712_1The premise of Armstrong’s War (playing now at the Royal MTC’s Warehouse Stage) is simple yet timely. In order to earn a merit badge, a 12-year-old Pathfinder (the fourth rank in the Girl Guides of Canada) must read to a Canadian veteran recovering from his wounds in Afghanistan, in spite of his resistance.

Given that Canada’s capital has recently been the target of an attack (one which triggered new controversial counterterrorism legislation) and that parliament has passed a vote to declare war on ISIS, it’s probably safe to say that most Canadians have a lot of questions right now and are in search of meaning. War forces us to ask questions we normally wouldn’t and face realities we’d sooner not. Art is essential for clarifying and humanizing things beyond our own experiences, and live theatre is a powerful arena for exploring challenging themes.

Armstrong’s War is an interesting take on the themes of war and sacrifice. Corporal Michael MON_0809_1Armstrong is the type of soldier who initially comes across as a careerist, just biding his time in recovery and waiting for the orders to come through that put him back in the field. This façade of bravery and heroism is slowly whittled away at throughout the play as flashbacks of machine gun fire, explosions and the sound of chopper blades torment him into hiding under his bed. And the most telling aspect of his unraveling are the private conversations he has with the ghost of a fallen comrade. All of these personal torments are nothing, though, when faced with the relentless questions and moralizing of Haley Armstrong.

The only serious problem to be found in Armstrong’s War is with the character of Haley, the precocious, pre-pubescent bookworm who comes across as much wiser than her years—perhaps too wise—stretching credibility. To get at the heart of what makes a soldier tick, what drives them, what scares them, playwright Colleen Murphy needed someone to push Corporal Michael Armstrong to talk. And while it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario in which an injured veteran shares some of his experiences with an interested near-teenage girl, the shouting matches and Haley’s insights into things she couldn’t possibly understand walked the line of being strong emotional drama and unbelievable fiction. It’s only worth noting as the play seems to strive for realism and is at times undermined by its incredibility.

MON_0935_1One of the highlights of this production was its emphasis on the importance of stories. There are entire passages where characters are reading aloud from books, to each other and to themselves. Stories are shown as a way for people to heal and to understand their own experiences. Stories are also portrayed as a way for the characters to hide from their ugly realities, a way not to have to face the truth. And interestingly, the play reveals that sometimes the realities we are hiding from are not as bad as the fictions we’ve created to mask them.

Post by Joshua Benoit, photos by Bruce Monk

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Josh Benoit - head shotJoshua Benoit is a freelance writer, musician with the local band, Pumas and videographer living in Winnipeg. He is passionate about food, philosophy, travel and Kurt Vonnegut. At one time he thought he wanted to be an optometrist but ultimately found more joy in words than in formulas, just as he derives more pleasure from whiskey than from soda.

His life goals are modest and include owning a dog with an aloof demeanor and a needy cat, publishing no less than eleven novels (some of them trash), and possibly raising children, though he’d settle for a weekly afterschool special in which he could impart his street-wise verbiage to the children of the world.

Joshua studied English and Film at the University of Manitoba and took his sweet time about getting his B.A. He now works for the Department of Education and is continuing his creative writing studies through the University of Toronto. To get in touch with Joshua, write to him at jedwardbenoit@gmail.com


Sarah Zaharia

Small Things – PTE

Small Things - Barbara Gordon and Ellen Peterson - interviewPrairie Theatre Exchange kicks off its 2014/15 season with a brand new play by Daniel MacIvor called Small Things. The whole play has a certain familiarity: an aging widow who’s a little cold and a little stuffy moves to the country and hires a woman who has also lost her husband and, in the middle years of her life, has to start working. The two have a clash of personalities as Birdy, the hired help, is the type of person who can’t stand silence and her boss, Patricia, can’t stand Birdy’s endless “prattle.” It wouldn’t be giving anything away to say that these two women find a way to co-exist harmoniously and even learn a thing or two from each other—the structure of the story in its simplicity telegraphs this from the outset.

What sets this play apart from the myriad stories of people of different stripes learning to live in harmony is MacIvor’s eye for distinct characters and his ear for whip-smart dialogue. The play never lags and never lets up. It’s a lean 70 minutes with a 15 minute intermission and the time flies by. The rotating stage at PTE allows for quick scene changes (and there are many) and the whimsical original score composed by Winnipegger Greg Lowe that plays between each changeover keeps the play’s energy at a steady clip.

Barbara Gordon as Patricia is outstanding. She’s an incredible actor and her comic timing is perfect. She’s one Small Things - Barbara Gordon and Ellen Peterson - standingof those actors that can do amazing things with the white space on the page, by which I mean those sections of a script where there is no dialogue—she so embodies the character that she draws you in without saying anything.

There are plenty of genuinely funny moments in the play (Patricia high on marijuana comes immediately to mind) and there are an equal number of genuinely human moments. Both Birdy and Patricia are dealing with life after the loss of their husbands and both do so in unique ways. Patricia hides behind her cold front because she feels guilty at not really missing her husband. Birdy hides behind humour and chatter so as not to have to get at anything real. And Birdy’s daughter Dell uses marijuana as an escape from the bleakness of life.

Small Things - Barbara Gordon and Alissa Watson on couchWhile the main story is taken up with Birdy and Patricia learning to get along, the thing that I find most striking about this play is a subplot that deals with transgender issues. Birdy’s grandson has declared that he wants to be identified as Alice. Every time that Dell tries to talk to her mother about this, Birdy shuts down the conversation. Surprisingly, Dell receives encouragement and advice from Patricia who turns out to be a fairly progressive woman. I am encouraged to see transgender issues addressed on such a familial and realistic level in a play that deals with the difference between being a person and being a human.

Small Things runs from October 15 – November 2/2014 at PTE.

Post by Josh Benoit – Photo by Bruce Monk 

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Josh Benoit - head shotJoshua Benoit is a freelance writer, musician with the local band, Pumas and videographer living in Winnipeg. He is passionate about food, philosophy, travel and Kurt Vonnegut. At one time he thought he wanted to be an optometrist but ultimately found more joy in words than in formulas, just as he derives more pleasure from whiskey than from soda.

His life goals are modest and include owning a dog with an aloof demeanor and a needy cat, publishing no less than eleven novels (some of them trash), and possibly raising children, though he’d settle for a weekly afterschool special in which he could impart his street-wise verbiage to the children of the world.

Joshua studied English and Film at the University of Manitoba and took his sweet time about getting his B.A. He now works for the Department of Education and is continuing his creative writing studies through the University of Toronto. To get in touch with Joshua, write to him at jedwardbenoit@gmail.com


Sarah Zaharia

Sasagiu Rapids

IMG_3017Highway 6 is interminably long and boring.  The drive from Winnipeg to Thompson is straight and sparse.  The oranges and yellows of the leaves near Ashern give way to burnt out forested areas past Grand Rapids – barren charred twigs reach into the sky — until just before Ponton. On a chilly Fall day you might be lucky enough to spot a fox crossing the road with some sort of bird hanging from its mouth.

And on that same chilly Fall day you might just be lucky enough to stop at Sasagiu Rapids Lodge Hotel. It looks like the kind of hearty no frills place that would specialize in chicken fingers and deep fried pickerel.  You know, family dining for campers who have given up cooking on the Coleman stove.

It is certainly NOT where I expected to have the best Tom Yum Kung I have ever had the pleasure of photospooning into my mouth — and let’s be honest — wearing.  The most overused word in writing about Thai food is “fragrant.”  I wish I had a better word but I don’t.  It was fragrant but on an epic scale.  Red bird’s eye chilis swirled around 3 types of turgid-yet-yielding mushrooms and springy pink shrimp.  The thick coconut milk broth was spiked with ripped Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass.  It went down like an umami bomb and I am not ashamed to admit I pretty much drained the pot myself.

So who is responsible for this mind and taste bud-blowing Thai near the 55th parallel?

Thitiworada Grandbois moved to Thompson 4 years ago.  For three long winters she cooked spice-laden Thai dishes – infernos in a bowl — to stoke herself through the unending frigid temperatures.  There are really only so many times a girl can hear that she should open a restaurant from friends before she follows through.

Grandbois set up shop in the Lodge last year after securing a steady supply of ingredients from Winnipeg.  Unsure at first how Northerners would respond she was soon pleasantly surprised.  Thompsonites made religious visits to Sasgiu Rapids — a 40 minute pilgrimage from the mining town.  Word got out about its Saturday buffet and its authentic cold-busting menu.  Soon large groups of skidooers started to descend on the lodge clamouring for Pad Thai as they kicked snow off their boots and pulled off frost-beaded fur mitts.

It’s an impressive menu.  There are hand rolled spring rolls packed with pork and chicken. An oft-ordered Pad Ka Pow (#3) and Thai Fried Vegetables (#15).  And then there is the craziest carrot dish: sweet, spicy, raw, with a hint of coconut milk and a heat that will send you on a mad Kleenex run.  It also goes well on fleece (yes, I spilled some in my zeal to figure out what was in it).

IMG_3034IMG_3014IMG_3031Grandbois’s Thai food packs such a powerful punch it almost makes up for the blandness of Highway 6.  Ok, it TOTALLY does.  And it is a way better way to break up a long drive on Highway 6 than seeing a little fox with a bird in its mouth.

Post by Katie Nicholson 

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IMG_0318Katie fell in love with Winnipeg the moment she arrived (despite the fact it was minus 30 that day).  She loves tasting everything life has to offer which is a nice way of saying she has a tendency to overdo it.  She has worked as a theatre and film critic in Canada and the UK.  She has roadtripped all over the US in search of dynamic regional flavours and the perfect cocktail. She can occasionally be found sabring bottles of bubbly.


Sarah Zaharia

Sherlock Holmes and the case of the Jersey Lily

21504_rmtc_show_images_2014-15_sherlock_holmesTrue confession time: every Fall I hunker down on cold dark evenings and work my way through a paperback copy of the complete Sherlock Holmes.  It’s worn and dog-eared and may have been dropped in the bath once or twice.  To put it succinctly: I’m a fan.

Who knew — that all this time — what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was missing was a little Oscar Wilde?

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily is kind of like fan-fiction for Royal history and literary nerds. It’s a mash-up of fact, fiction and lots of sly humour.  The fictional Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson team up to help the very real Oscar Wilde and Lillie Langtry out of a jam.

The actress with a proclivity for high stakes Royal affairs is being blackmailed.  There are letters and a rather compromising photo that have been stolen from her dressing room.  What follows is a succession of crossing and double-crossing from a rogues gallery of larger-than life characters.

Jay Hindle’s Sherlock is restless, observant and, yet, misses the cues of social niceties like a lady’s _DSC2930outstretched hand.  He often moves about the stage with his spindly limbs like a mischevious spider.  Carson Nattrass’s star-struck Dr. Watson hams it up and milks the audience for big laughs.

Sharon Bajer nails her role as the beguiling, too-smart-for-her-own-good actress and unapologetic Royal  mistress…. But, really, Ryan James Miller’s Oscar Wilde steals the show.  Miller completely embraces his role as the fun and foppish writer: arch, silly, gossipy, and a touch cowardly.   If he were wearing pearls he would be clutching them for 30% of the play.  Wilde injects the Holmes-ian universe with a wit and humour it never knew it needed — and it is the better for it.

Also of note: Sarah Constable’s solid performance as she switches accents like gears on a bicycle.

Yes, the performances are strong but they were all sort of upstaged by the… well… by the stagecraft.  Brian Perchaluk’s sets were lavishly decorated and richly textured: from Holmes’s chemistry set to the phrenology map that hangs in 221B Baker St– the guy has an eagle-eye for detail.

_DSC3280_DSC3203_DSC3044With a seemingly effortless sleight of hand, Scott Henderson’s lighting is astonishingly perfect and perfectly choreographed during scene changes.  In particular, as one indoor set gave way to a foggy London alley, the film noir-esque shadows were a thing of beauty.  I half expected to see Humphrey Bogart round the corner.

Early in the first act, Oscar Wilde speaks the plain truth: “People are either charming or tedious.”   The same could be said of plays.  This Sherlock is fun but feels a little long in places.  That said, is tedium is quotient is small in comparison to its charm quotient.

Post by Katie Nicholson – Photos by Bruce Monk 

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IMG_0318Katie fell in love with Winnipeg the moment she arrived (despite the fact it was minus 30 that day).  She loves tasting everything life has to offer which is a nice way of saying she has a tendency to overdo it.  She has worked as a theatre and film critic in Canada and the UK.  She has roadtripped all over the US in search of dynamic regional flavours and the perfect cocktail. She can occasionally be found sabring bottles of bubbly.

 


Sarah Zaharia

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