Wine & Spirits

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: The pain of those left behind PLUS Salade Niҫoise for a gang

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 instalment — and a tested recipe.

The Cyclamen

Fiona hums lightly as she washes the wooden salad bowl* from dinner. She loves this time of day: Gavin is upstairs doing his homework, Luc is answering email and she gets time to herself after a long day. Luc thinks they should get a dishwasher, but she likes washing dishes. It’s Zen-like. She zones out and gets into the rhythm of it. Her reverie is interrupted by a tap at the door. Trish peers through the back window, giving a little wave; Fiona throws the bolt.

—   Fee, sorry I didn’t call first, but the line was busy so I just jumped into the car…

Tears well up in her eyes and she falls into Fiona’s arms.

—   Trish! What’s happened? Here sit down.

kitchen-chroniclesShe hands her a Kleenex. The baby?

—   It’s Georgina — my old roommate, says Trish. You met her a couple of times.

—   Of course, of course, I remember her well.

—   She committed suicide yesterday.

—   What! That’s terrible. Poor Georgina!

Trish blows her nose. Fiona remembers meeting Georgina; she was tall and indistinct, with washed out light brown hair and waxen skin. An art student, but years older than the others — maybe mid-thirties. She struggled, working at soul-sucking clerking jobs and trying to do art. But that was years ago.

—   How did you find out? she asks Trish.

—   Lisette just phoned me. They live together still. Lived. Lived together. Lisette says Georgina went off her meds about a month ago.

—   I didn’t know she was on anything.

—   Something for depression or maybe bipolar. I remember times when we were living together, she’d be good — going to work, sketching and painting, being social — and then she’d just disappear into her room for days and days. Convinced she was a horrible artist and that she should’ve gone into nursing, like her mom had advised. She’d just get so down. I’d coax her out. Or Lisette would. She seemed okay the last time I saw her. I remember we even shared a laugh — over your joke actually, about the flasher line-up. How could she laugh and then….

She starts crying again, unconsciously twisting her Kleenex into a cone.

—   I’m such a bad friend. I should have known.

—   How could you have known, Trish? When was the last time you saw her?

—   Just last Thursday. She phoned me and asked me to come and take a plant. I should have known something was wrong because she’d never give away a plant, she loved them.

—   I remember. Her room was like a greenhouse: vines climbing the walls, big pots with trees. There were way too many even when you were living there. When was that anyway, three years ago?

—   Nearly four.

—   You shouldn’t beat yourself up, Trish. You probably assumed she was just downsizing, getting rid of some that she didn’t like any more. You couldn’t have known it was a sign of this.

kitchen-chronicles—   Lisette said she’d carefully planned it. All her bills were paid. And she’d closed her bank accounts.

—   Did she leave a note?

—   Just a few lines. Lisette couldn’t remember exactly what it said, instructions basically. She did it in her studio. She hanged herself.

—   In her studio? How awful, how lonely.

—   Lonely?

—   Because she didn’t do it in her home. But she probably planned that too, so that Lisette wouldn’t have to deal with the police and everything.

—   Come to the service with me, Fee? It’s tomorrow. I’d really appreciate it.

—   Of course, of course, no problem.

She reaches over the squeezes Trish’s hand.

—   Here let me make you some tea.

She fills the kettle and puts it on to boil. Why would someone do that? Why? I just don’t understand how it could get that bad. She turns to Trish.

—   What plant did she give you?

—   A cyclamen.

—   Cyclamen? How odd.

—   Why?

—   Oh nothing, says Fiona, It’s just more of an outdoor plant.

Actually, she knows that it’s also a symbol of resignation, of good-bye.


*Wynn Anne’s salade Niҫoise

6 medium potatoes or 8 small new potatoes
4 eggs, boiled in shells
2 cups green beans
½ red onion, sliced
1 green pepper, chopped into bite-size pieces
3 tomatoes, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 cans tuna, flaked with a fork
15 black olives


2/3 cup olive oil
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon dried parsley
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano

  1. Cover potatoes with cold water, bring water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes until tender. Run under cold water, drain and put in refrigerator.
  2. Boil eggs to just hard boiled. Peel, rinse and put in refrigerator.
  3. Cut the green beans into bite-size pieces and steam lightly.
  4. Combine onion, pepper, tomatoes, tuna, olives and green beans in a decorative serving bowl.
  5. Cut chilled potatoes into bite-sized pieces and add to above.
  6. Combine all dressing ingredients, pour over the salad and toss gently.
  7. Slice eggs and garnish salad.
  8. Serve chilled.

Thanks to Wynn Anne Sibbald for this recipe.