Tuesday 2 April 2019

Visiting the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver, BC

I was in Vancouver last week and, on Tuesday, experienced the warm-coat-and-umbrella side of our coast's unpredictable spring weather.  The day dawned cold, with rain showers and gusty winds that left me craving somewhere warm and tropical.  It seemed a perfect time to visit the Bloedel Conservatory. 

The Bloedel Conservatory is a 140-foot diameter triodetic dome, 70 feet high at its tallest point, set into a plaza atop Little Mountain in Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Park.  It was conceived as a project to mark Canada's centennial in 1967 but challenges afforded by the site (it was at the time an open 5.5 acre fresh water reservoir for the city) delayed opening of the conservatory until 1969.  The design solution to the site challenges is amazing, with the reservoir capped but still functional and the Bloedel Conservatory with its surrounding plaza built adjacent to it, all at the city's geographical center and its highest elevation.

The conservatory houses a botanical garden.  It's divided into 3 botanical zones - tropical, subtropical, and arid, although they are currently in the process of taking out the arid zone plants in order to replace them with plants more suited to the humidity inside the dome.  Fifty years of growth and cultivation have allowed the garden to develop into a dense planting of full sized trees with a lush under-story of shrubs, ferns, bromeliads, and flowering plants. Flying freely through this botanical wonderland are more than 120 tropical birds.  It did, indeed, feel like I'd taken a short trip to the tropics.

I could tell you more about the conservatory's history, it's plantings, and its current management but I'll provide you this link instead, devoting most of the remaining space in this post to photos*. I do encourage you to click on the link and to read more about this wonderful project. It's an interesting part of Vancouver's history.

By the time I'd explored the conservatory and emerged outdoors again the weather had brightened and warmed, affording me an opportunity to explore the surrounding park.  

The views from the plaza around the conservatory were spectacular, even with the relatively low cloud cover.  I could look across the city and the Fraser River to the North Shore mountains in one direction, and across the river delta land and flat fields of Richmond and Delta to the Strait of Georgia in another.  I didn't have a camera lens sufficient to the distance but, truly, it's worth visiting the site for just the views alone.

Like Butchart Gardens  on Vancouver Island, Little Mountain - the site of Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver - was once a quarry.  Formal gardens were planted in the quarry pits during the 1930's and an arboretum of both exotic and endemic trees was established on the site as well.  

The gardens have been extensively planted with spring bulbs, but my visit was a little too early in the season for me to see them in bloom.  The brightly coloured flowers will look particularly vibrant framed by the varied greens of trees and lawns but even without them I enjoyed my walk around the park. The many trees and shrubs, some in blossom and some with early flowers sheltering in the shade beneath them, provided an abundance of beautiful sights.

Here are some pictures from the park

I hope you get a chance to visit this place.  It's beautiful.

*If you're viewing this post on a desktop computer or a laptop, you should be able to click on any of the photos and be taken to a slide show where you can view the images in a larger format.

Monday 19 November 2018

A Simple Baking Trick: Add Moisture and Flavour to Dried Fruit

This is a photo of the 10 pounds of mixed dried and candied fruit (raisins,sultans, dates, glace cherries, mixed peel, citron, and candied pineapple) called for in my great-grandma's fruitcake recipe.  I'm not going to share the exact recipe with you - it's a family thing - but I do want to share a simple trick I use for adding moisture and flavour to the finished cake.

My great-grandma, my grandma, and my mom all baked fruitcake months in advance, then wrapped the cakes in cheesecloth soaked in either rum or brandy, and stored it in airtight tins.  They removed the cheesecloth every week and wet it again with rum or brandy, carefully rewrapping the cake, returning it to its tins, and replacing it in the pantry.  The aged cake tasted great but I'm 'way too disorgaized to plan so far in advance.  Even so, my cake tastes delicious; the result of a change in method that I adopted long ago.

In the early 80's, I worked in a small town bakery.  The baker had trained in Scotland, in a rigorous 7-year apprenticeship program that provided him a wealth of traditional knowledge.  His baked goods were brilliant and people pre-ordered his fruitcake months in advance.  The bakery didn't have the space to store booze-soaked, cheesecloth-wrapped fruitcake in tins for months at a time, but that aged flavour was still the end goal.

A good quality fruitcake is basically a whole lot of fruit held together by a bare minimum of well flavoured batter, so the baker took a short cut, infusing rum flavour into the fruit prior to adding it to the cake batter.  The fruit was weighed and mixed, divided into buckets with tight fitting lids, and soaked with a mixture of apple juice and rum extract.  Every morning for several days we opened each bucket, gave it a good stir, and replaced the lid, until all of the liquid had been soaked up by the fruit.  At that point, it was time to bake the cakes.

I use spiced rum instead of the apple juice/rum extract combo we used at the bakery, and I macerate my fruit in a stainless  steel pot with a tight fitting lid but other than that my process is just the same.  The resulting cake has a wonderful depth of flavour.

You can use this method to add flavour to any baked good that contains dried fruit, using almost any compatibly flavoured liquid.  I use raisins soaked in apple spice herbal tea in scones, dried cranberries soaked in orange juice in quick bread, and dried apples soaked in Earl Grey tea in bundt cake.  The possibities for using this simple trick are endless.  Run with it and have fun.  🙂

Friday 28 September 2018

Ladysmith Harbour

My brother has an office in Ladysmith, about 30 minutes drive north of where I live. One sunny day in early September I caught a ride with him when he was on his way to work.  He would be at the office for two or three hours and I intended to use the time to visit the Ladysmith Art Gallery.  

Sadly, I timed my visit to the gallery badly.  They had just torn down one exhibit but not yet put up anything in its place.  I had time to fill and, since I had my camera with me, I decided to visit the waterfront instead.

Just across from the gallery, there are stairs down to the harbour.  They end near the marina where the pleasure boats are moored and where the heritage boat society annually hosts its wooden boat festival.  It's beautiful, but I've been there many times.

I wanted new images with lots of colour and line and texture in them - something maybe a little bit more gritty - so I elected to the follow the wooded trail that led from near the stairway towards the working side of the harbour.

Ladysmith is a small town but its harbour is quite busy.  There are fishing boats there, a boat yard, and facilities for loading barges.  Across the water on the Yellow Point side, there are log booms and boom boats. Tugs pull both barges and booms to their destinations. There are cranes for lifting boats in and out of the water at the boat yard, and other cranes for loading barges. There are breakwaters and wooden piers. There are people working all around you as you walk along the piers.  Lots and lots of wonderful things to catch the eye!

I had thought to walk along the top of the old stone breakwater, now alive with self-seeded wild grasses, flowers and trees. 
Unfortunately, I was greeted with this sign and had to alter my plans and go directly to the piers and wharves instead.  It turned out to be no great hardship.  There was a great deal to see. 

I won't burden you with a lot of narrative about my visit.  Instead I'll share some of my photos, with captions here and there where I feel they'd benefit from a bit of explanation. There aren't a lot of picture-postcard-y images here - many were taken with an eye to future drawings and paintings - but I hope you find them interesting even so.  

If you're viewing this post on a PC or a laptop, you should be able to click on the first image to view the pictures as a full screen slide show.  Enjoy.

This is a tugboat's winding gear.  It pays out or gathers in the cables used to tow barges.

Many tugs have these bumpers around their sterns.  They're made up of pieces of tire, cut, stacked, and bound together by cables running through them.  I like their texture and the pattern created by the repetition of shape.

The floats hanging from the back of this boat reminded me of party balloons. 

I'd never seen a boat in mid-air before. I stood and watched the crane lifting this one for quite some time.

My imagination is sparked by pieces of rusted metal.  I would like to be able to make sculptures from them.

This lovely vine wound itself through the chain link fence around the boat yard. Nature is resilient and pushes her green fingers into every space, no matter how busy or cluttered.  I love that.

Friday 31 August 2018

Blue Heron Park

One of the things I love most about living on Vancouver Island is the abundance of parks here, from tiny plots and playgrounds scattered throughout our communities to immense national and provincial parks offering a wide range of terrains and challenges.  I've made it a point this summer to visit as many of them as I can.

Some parks hold a special place in my heart for the memories attached to them, others for feelings their landscape evokes in me. Blue Heron Park in Yellow Point brings me both. 

This little park is not a place for serious hikers.  There are no challenging climbs or long trails through the woods, but what there is in abundance is peace.  Accessed by a narrow road in Yellow Point, the park isn't heavily used.  It has a few parking spaces in a lot at the top, some picnic tables, and a short set of steps down to the beach.  It's the beach that makes visiting this park such a delight.

Like many of the beaches on central Vancouver Island, Blue Heron's beach is mostly shelving rock:  a combination of sedimentary and igneous stone that creates fascinating formations.
You walk the beach over a series of long low shelves of stone, their edges sculpted by the ocean to mimic the waves that shaped them. 
Scattered along the beach are small hummocks of stone that have been cracked through, looking for all the world like fossilized hot cross buns.In some lights the stone glints with bits of mica or quartz, causing its sand-brown surface to sparkle in the mid-day sun.

The beach at Blue Heron Park isn't a spot for shell collecting.  Barnacles, clams, mussels, and oysters do abide near the low tide line but any shells without occupants are quickly pried from the stones by waves and then ground upon the rough surface of the rocks.  As they're pushed up towards the high tide line over time, the shell fragments are ground smaller and smaller until they accumulate into pockets of bright white granules cupped in depressions in the stone.

All beaches in BC are public property below the high tide line. Provided the terrain allows it, you can follow the shoreline for miles on a low tide day.  It's this that makes Blue Heron Park such a gift to me.  Although there are homes built right up to the edge of the park, when I'm on the beach I hear no road traffic, encounter few people, and even on the calmest of days the sound of waves and the the feeling of a breeze coming in across the water accompany me.  It brings me great peace to be there.

If you'd like to visit Blue Heron Park or to learn more about it, you can find information on the Cowichan Valley Regional District website.  In the meantime, here are some more photos to enjoy.