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Food plays a very important part in our everyday lives. It is our fuel and gives us sustenance so we can live. I would venture to say that from the beginning of time (however you feel that started) all living creatures knew instinctively that eating was integral to their survival. Over time, the reasons we eat have grown exponentially: boredom, stress, socially, cravings, gluttony … really any excuse can be given for eating. In my lifetime I have met very few people who follow the school of thought, “Eat to live, not live to eat”and He-Who is certainly not one of them.

Very early in our relationship I discovered the importance of food to He-Who. Perhaps I should have clued in with the endless stories of all the food that he missed from his native Winnipeg. Yes, I became well versed in how “Winnipeg is the Center Of The Universe” when it comes to food (among other things). When friends or family mentioned they would be coming to Ontario for a visit they were quickly provided with a list including rye bread, cabbage rolls, perogies, corned beef, etc. and where to get them. It didn’t matter if the travellers were his friends or family. If he overheard someone talking in a restaurant he would introduce himself and produce the list, asking if you thought they might bring some of this back with them. Believe me, over the years, all manner of unsuspecting folks have become He-Who’s food-mules.

Once, when his Mother came for a visit the giant suitcase containing the food went missing. We had made it all the way back to Niagara Falls from the Toronto airport. He was on the phone in minutes tracking down the bag and making arrangements for its rescue. It was not a happy visit until he was reunited with the misplaced food.

When I first met Patrick, one of his best friends from Winnipeg, we picked him up at the airport, confirmed his food baggage was accounted for and headed to one of He-Who’s favourite pizzerias. All the way there Patrick was educated on the fact that this pizza was “almost” as good as the pizza he used to eat in Winnipeg. We ordered our food and chatted.  He-Who excused himself for a minute and before he returned our food arrived. As I chatted with Patrick I took a nibble from He-Who’s plate. I like to share so that I can try different things. Patrick’s eyes almost popped out of his head as he tried to stop me. “What are you doing? Don’t do that! If you want this relationship to go anywhere for the love of God do not touch that man’s food!” I was amused by what I thought was Patrick’s over-reaction. When He-Who returned to the table I told him what had happened. He was not amused and pretty much told me to eat my own. Of course, Patrick had to tell the story of the time he tried to take a piece of pizza from him and it almost ended in a war. It seems He-Who ordered the pizza he wanted and then offered to buy Patrick one for himself. Patrick said he would just have a piece of his. He-Who adamantly said, “No you won’t. I will buy you your own”.  Patrick in his naivety declined his own pizza and did attempt to procure a piece from He-Who. A few stitches, a tetanus shot and several years later, Patrick timidly shows me the scar from He-Who defending his pizza with a fork.

FORK

Over the years most members of my family have gotten use to He-Whos peculiarities about food. In fact, they cater to him. If we are invited for a meal I can guarantee you it will be something He-Who likes and they have probably accosted some old Ukrainian Babushka for it. When they visit they come bearing rye bread and bagels for him. One sister even brought corned beef! They spoil him. When it comes to food he always gets his way. Until recently.

Bread

My sister Pat recently retired and because of this we have had the good fortune to spend more time with her. She brought with her a partial loaf of bread she thought I would like. That’s right. I said it was for me. Somehow over the past 17 or so years she had missed the extreme nature of He-Who’s love of food. The bread was delicious. I enjoyed it. He-Who loved it. When we enquired as to where she got it she didn’t know. My sister Lu had given it to her. Lu came to visit and brought another loaf  “for He-Who”.  We found out it was Miche Rye from Panera Bread.

Panera Bread Oakville

The most convenient Panera Bread to us is in Oakville, about 100k away. We pass it on our way to Niagara Falls on a regular basis. Our next trip to Niagara included a stop at Panera Bread. Pat was with us and we were dropping her in Niagara for a visit. She planned to pick up a loaf of bread to take with her. I planned to pick up two loaves and freeze one. We were all happy campers as we approached Oakville.  Most of you have been in a Panera Bread. As you enter, the wonderful aromas make your mouth water. We stood in line staring at all the yummy stuff on the shelves. Pat and I noticed at the same moment that there was only one loaf of Miche Rye left. We raced each other to the cashiers. I reached mine first and asked, “Is that your last loaf or is there more in the back?” My cashier said, “I will check” and disappeared. Pat reached the cashier second and stated, “I will take that loaf, please.” By the time my cashier came back to give me the bad news that there were no more, my sister had already paid for the last loaf. I was stunned. I was speechless. I had to make myself look at He-Who. There was an expression I have never seen on his face. He very quietly left the building and went outside. I watched him. Words were exchanged between Pat and myself. In her defence she was clueless when it came to He-Who and his food.   I went into the restroom to avoid having to go outside. Pat, thinking she was doing the right thing asked the cashier to split the loaf. Poor Pat. She just didn’t get it. There were more words exchanged as we got into the car. He-Who was silent. Pat was now outraged that there was such a fuss over a loaf of bread and asked, “If you had gotten it would you have split the loaf?” Without missing a beat I responded, “No”. He-Who reached over and patted my hand. The car was silent the rest of the way to Niagara Falls. I would like to say that was the end of it but sadly there was still some bread throwing to come.

Miche Rye Bread

After dropping Pat off we decided to continue to Niagara Falls, New York and visit the Panera Bread there. They had one loaf left. I bought it. You may be scratching your head right now when you realize that we actually entered into another country to get this darn bread, but as soon as it was in the car the atmosphere changed. All was right with the world. Well, He-Who’s world, anyway.

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Getting to know Sammi(I have had many requests from people to read the speech I gave on Winnipeg last winter. As I am venturing back to Winnipeg in a few weeks I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and rework the speech and post it as a blog. I hope you enjoy it.)

How many of you have ever been to Winnipeg? Or as I like to call it Winterpeg!  Was it by choice?  Would you go back?  Just so you know when I first wrote this, the temperature in Winnipeg was -29C (-20F), and they had 4 ½ feet of snow in their yards.
My husband, who shall remain nameless for his own protection, happens to be from Winnipeg, born and raised, Winnipigean.

I have spent the last 12 years, every single day of it, finding out why Winnipeg is the “Centre of the Universe”.
First and foremost you must realize that for my husband his world revolves around food. Now I am not talking about gourmet French cuisine here. I am talking about plain ordinary home cooking, the way my “Auntie” made it or my “Mom” made it. My nameless husband is a French fry and hamburger, pizza and meatloaf kind of guy.
When friends or family come to visit from Winnipeg he e-mails them a list
-rye bread from Cubs Bakery… because he has not found a decent loaf of rye bread since he has been in Ontario
-cabbage rolls from Auntie Edna’s
-and don’t forget the perogies from Alisha’s
His absolute favourite restaurant in Winnipeg is a chain of greasy spoons called Salisbury House where he can get the “world famous” NIPS …not really sure why they are called that…they are really just hamburgers. This chain is owned by none other than Burton Cummings.

Which brings me to the fact that anyone and everyone, who is anyone, is from Winnipeg. Did you know that Burton Cummings is from Winnipeg? Did you know that Randy Backman is from Winnipeg? Both of these men we know from the rock band “The Guess Who”.  I have many times heard the story of the little scrawny boy with the sax (that would be Burton Cummings) wandering the halls of the “Y” playing a few tunes.  Another alumni of my husband’s alma mater was David Steinberg renowned comedian, director and producer.  Doug Henning, Monty Hall and Chantal Kreviazuk.   Mimi Kuzyk, Neil Young and Peter NyguardLynn Johnston, Izzy Asper and even the father of our Medicare Tommy Douglas are all from Winnipeg.  By the way Tommy Douglas also happens to be the Grandfather of Keiffer Sutherland. There are few times I can see or hear anyone without hearing that little voice (my husband’s) telling me they are from Winnipeg.

Of course, serendipity always tends to play with me. I can admire a one of a kind scarf and the shopkeeper will tell me it was handmade in Winnipeg.  I will bring home a new centerpiece for the table and before proudly setting it in its place of honour, turn it over to read the story of how it was made in Winnipeg.  Some of you may remember that I was in search of my family heritage at one point in my life…no one, especially me, could have been more surprised to find that my birth father hailed from Winnipeg.
In my 12 years of hearing how Winnipeg is the Centre of the Universe I have always managed to dodge the Winnipeg “bullet”. I was too busy… or backed up… or just couldn’t get away right now, whenever the nameless one returned to his homeland. This year I found myself without one excuse not to go, I was “in transition” so I had the time.  Tickets were available with airmiles, Cousin Ray who often stayed with us on his business trips to Ontario treated us to hotel accommodations and loaned us a vehicle.  So the last week in August for his birthday we were off to Winnipeg…the trip was mapped out by way of his favourite restaurants and anyone who wanted to see him had to meet us for a scheduled meal.  We literally ate our way through Winnipeg and I came home 7 pounds heavier.

Shortly upon our return I received a phone call from my oldest sister on my father’s side.  A family reunion had been planned because some relatives were returning home from California and it would be a wonderful opportunity for me to meet, be met and bond with my absent family.  My sister bought the plane tickets.  Accommodations arrangements had already been made. Again, I had no excuses… so I was off to Winnipeg for Thanksgiving week. Did I mention the unknown heritage of mine was Ukrainian?  Those people know how to cook …and eat. I was on antibiotics at the time that were to be taken on an empty stomach.  Three days in I clambered up the stairs and said “people, stop feeding me, I have to take these on an empty stomach and my stomach hasn’t been empty since I got here”.

There is a reason the people of Winnipeg all have “Friendly Manitoba” on their license plates.  Truth be told I met some of the most wonderful people who made me feel truly welcome and like I belonged… and they were actually related to me!  While I was there I introduced several of them to facebook and we are all “friends” now and keep in touch on a regular basis.  One of my favourite friends I met while in Winnipeg is Sammi and although Sammi is not related to me in any way we definitely bonded.  We were a great source of amusement to everyone as I gleefully hauled out leftovers and Sammi would trundle over to greet me as they looked on and watched the “city kid” feeding their pig.

Recently, in my job search, most of my solid leads seem to be coming out of …you guessed it, Winnipeg.  So, I’m off to Winnipeg for some job interviews shortly. (I will again be interviewing while in Winnipeg this upcoming trip.)

The reality is that Winnipeg may very well become the centre of my universe!

-30-

NOTE: My husband is not alone in his obsession for food from his homeland. I recently stumbled across preparations for the Manitoba Homecoming 2010 and much to my amusement and his enjoyment, found that many of the activities centre around the food establishments on his list

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