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Yellow-headed Blackbird

We’ve just finished a second consecutive weekend of summer temperatures, so I am starting to believe that, just maybe, summer has finally arrived.

To celebrate, here is a photo of a Yellow-headed Blackbird — a new-to-me bird I saw the other day at Piper Spit on Burnaby Lake. These birds like freshwater wetlands, which is exactly where I found this fellow.

Anna’s Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

I took this photo of an Anna’s Hummingbird a few weeks ago during our last snowstorm. I was housebound during that storm because I was hanging out in Solo. If you look closely, you can see that the water in the feeder is almost frozen solid. I’m sure that hummingbird was as confused as I was by the cold weather.

Why am I posting this photo today? Because this morning I spent nearly an hour watching big fat snowflakes fall from the sky.

C’mon. It’s almost March. More snow??

Vancouver has had twice as much snow this winter as Edmonton where it’s winter seven months of the year. (I can say that because I grew up in Edmonton. I know winter. Er … I used to know winter.)

Anna’s Hummingbirds do not migrate south from Vancouver for the winter, thanks to the proliferation of backyard feeders like this one. I still can’t get my head around the fact that hummingbirds are here year-round.

I just hope all that hovering they do kept those tiny birds warm this winter.

Dishing: The Pear Tree

Back when I lived in Toronto, I used to joke that I never went north of Eglinton if I could help it. Here in Vancouver, I make similar jokes about how I do everything I can to avoid travelling to bridge-and-tunnel land. These kinds of comments can easily get you into trouble with certain folks (as in: the ones who live north of Eglinton or in bridge-and-tunnel land). They are also the folks who know that there are many excellent reasons to venture out of the downtown core.

WineThe Pear Tree is one of those reasons. Ranked 49th in the 2015 list of Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants, it has been serving quality, classic food in Burnaby Heights for almost two decades. Was it the sole reason I trekked all the way out to North Burnaby the other weekend? Not entirely. But the offer from my sister and her husband of a nice dinner out (who am I to turn down a free meal?) as a thank you for hanging out in Solo so I could watch over their house and feed their cats while they were on walkabout in Southeast Asia was all the incentive I needed to spend an hour Skytraining my way east.

Upon arrival we were immediately seated by a young hostess who took our coats ― and then promptly disappeared. (Seriously. We never saw her again.) But in no time at all we were sipping cocktails and studying the menu in earnest. We made our selections with care.

And then.

And then we sat back and enjoyed ourselves. There wasn’t a wrong step with any of the dishes.

The highlight of my evening was my first course: Orange Caramelized Scallops with Double-Smoked Bacon Risotto. Creamy and full of flavour, the risotto was neither too bland nor too cheesy. I was a wee bit worried that the citrus flavour would overpower the scallops, but there was just a hint of it. The dish is also available as a main course.

Orange Caramelized Scallops with Double-Smoked Bacon Risotto

Orange Caramelized Scallops with Double-Smoked Bacon Risotto

I ordered the Twice-Cooked Fraser Valley Belly with White Bean Cassoulet so I could compare it to the cassoulet I so fondly remembered from a long-ago visit to Carcassonne, France. The Pear Tree version was nothing like the Carcassonne version. (No surprise there, to be honest, and I would have been disappointed if it had.) The pork belly was crisp, but moist; if you like your bacon well-cooked, this is not the dish for you as you will likely be turned off by the fattiness of the pork belly. The meat lay on a bed of white beans and green pea puree.

Twice-Cooked Fraser Valley Pork Belly with White Bean Cassoulet

Twice-Cooked Fraser Valley Pork Belly with White Bean Cassoulet

Roasted steelhead and grilled pork tenderloin were the choices for my sister and her husband and there were no complaints at our table. As we all tucked into our main courses, our waiter brought us a plate of lightly dressed fresh greens to share.

Pan Roasted Lois Lake Steelhead served with Pommes Dauphine and Butternut Squash

Pan Roasted Lois Lake Steelhead served with Pommes Dauphine and Butternut Squash

Chargrilled Pork Tenderloin with Bacon-Crusted Salsify and Potato Pave

Chargrilled Pork Tenderloin with Bacon-Crusted Salsify and Potato Pave

Stilton with Candied Nuts and Toasted Brioche

Stilton with Candied Nuts and Toasted Brioche

We finished our meal with a cheese course of stilton and candied walnuts, but it was the arrival of our trio of desserts that drew gasps from our neighbours. No wonder ― they looked spectacular. I had the Chocolate Ganache with a Crisp Nut Base, Salted Caramel, and Orange Chocolate Sorbet. Now here’s a revelation: salted caramel is the perfect companion to deep rich chocolate. Even so, my favourite part may have been the nut-based crust.

Chocolate Ganache with a Crisp Nut Base, Salted Caramel, and Orange Chocolate Sorbet

Chocolate Ganache with a Crisp Nut Base, Salted Caramel, and Orange Chocolate Sorbet

The Vanilla Crème Brulée with a Crisp Brandy Snap was the creamiest crème brulée I’ve tasted in a long while. I loved how the vanilla flavour was front and centre.

Vanilla Crème Brulée with a Crisp Brandy Snap

Vanilla Crème Brulée with a Crisp Brandy Snap

But the star of the night was the Fresh Lemon Tart with Lemon Sour Cream Sorbet. I say this because it was the dessert with the most dramatic presentation with its tower of spun sugar. I happen to think that lemon tarts have long been underrated ― the fresh lemony taste of this one only confirmed my belief.

Fresh Lemon Tart with Lemon Sour Cream Sorbet

Fresh Lemon Tart with Lemon Sour Cream Sorbet

When we were finally sated and I had heard all about my sister and her husband’s travels, we got up and I moved towards the coat closet beside our table. But Stephanie, co-owner and front of house, had already placed them on a table in the lounge. How did she know which coats were ours without a coat check tag? Pear ArtThis is a mystery to me. (Remember, the hostess who took our coats upon our arrival had long disappeared.) Stephanie’s husband, co-owner and chef Scott, stood beside her and chatted with us as we put on our coats. It was a homey touch, as if our hosts were seeing us to the door the way they would in their own home. For me, that personal touch was the most impressive moment of an impressive evening.

Which means I may be trekking out to Burnaby Heights more often in the future.

Deer Lake Park in Winter

Deer Lake Park Winter 1

So remember when I told you how Deer Lake Park in Burnaby was an all-season park and I intended to go back and explore it some more? Yeah, I know. I forgot too.


Deer Lake Park Winter 2

I’m hanging out in Solo again, which means I have no excuse to not get myself back to this park. And so, one afternoon last week when there was fresh snow on the ground, I went for another walk with the friend who introduced me to Deer Lake Park.

It was stunning. I’m rather partial to my own park (that would be the one they call Stanley), but whenever I get a bit uppity about the park in my backyard, something or someone reminds me of how many fabulous parks there are all over Greater Vancouver.

Have a look at what I saw that afternoon.

Simon Fraser University

And now, for something completely different.

SFU Quad 1

Unlike the universities I wrote about in the previous four posts, whose campuses are all situated smack in the middle of a city, Simon Fraser University sits above the city, on top of a mountain. (Which, in my humble opinion, takes the notion of an Ivory Tower a tad too literally.)

SFU Quad 2

Construction of SFU’s Burnaby campus was begun in the spring of 1964, and the university welcomed its first 2500 students in September 1965.

SFU Quad 3

The architects were Arthur Erickson ― probably Vancouver’s best-known and most influential architect ― and Geoffrey Massey. The campus atop Burnaby Mountain is in the Brutalist style of architecture, and won the 2007 Prix du XXe siècle from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, which recognizes buildings of significance to Canada’s architectural history.

SFU Quad 4

Deer Lake Park

The other day I wrote that, during my time hanging out in Solo, I’ve discovered a few of Burnaby’s treasures ― delightful treasures that redeem some of the annoying and ugly aspects of suburban living. Deer Lake Park is one such treasure.

A friend introduced me to Deer Lake Park one afternoon about a week ago. Her townhouse complex backs onto the 500-acre park, so you could say the park is right in her backyard. We walked a loop around the park and I took some photos of the lake. Here are a few of them.

Deer Lake Park is a park for all seasons and I intend to come back to explore it some more.

Hanging Out in Solo

While my sister and her husband are busy eating, drinking, and loving their way around Italy, I’ve been on house-sitting duty. House sitting, I’m discovering, is an awful lot like home exchanging: it gives me a chance to enjoy the perks of someone else’s home for a while, and the opportunity to explore a new neighbourhood. The only difference between this round of house sitting and my previous home exchanges is that, if I need something from home, I can easily go get it.

The perks this time are pretty good. I have an enormous south-facing backyard all to myself, with a covered patio, a Rolls-Royce of barbecues, and an herb garden. Beyond that, there’s a back 40 filled with bushes dripping with almost-ripe blackberries. The herb garden has to be watered daily, as does a forest of small trees belonging to my brother-in-law. And then there are the six cats (two of them my own) who need to be fed and watered twice a day. I feel like I’m playing farmer, what with all these animals, crops, and chores, but hey, it’s summertime, and it’s pretty heavenly.

The neighbourhood, on the other hand? Not so heavenly. I’m in North Burnaby, in an area some developers are starting to call Solo ― that’s SOuth of LOugheed. (Go ahead, laugh. I did.) The subdivision where I am temporarily lodged is sandwiched between two highways: Lougheed (with the elevated SkyTrain running above it) and the Trans-Canada. That means I’m listening to the constant white noise of freeway traffic to the south, and the intermittent whirr of the SkyTrain to the north.

North Burnaby is not that attractive, in other words. It’s one mall after another, one industrial park after another, one arterial road after another. I loathe the whole car culture that is necessary here; I know it’s no different from any other North American suburb, but it’s what I hate most about suburbia and why I choose to live downtown. The other day I used a drive-through ATM for the first time in my life, and felt strangely defeated by doing so.

However, spend enough time in a neighbourhood and eventually, somewhere, somehow, you begin to discover its treasures. Burnaby has a few that are simply delightful, which I’ll write about in another post. For now, I will remind you (my faithful readers) and myself that the intent of this blog is to take a second look at our surroundings ― whether beautiful or mundane. And I’ll leave you with a photo of some marvellous engineering. After all, there is beauty in that, too, right?

SkyTrain tracks snaking their way east above Lougheed Highway