What a year this week has been.
Typically, the first week of spring is when Canadians celebrate the end of a long winter and begin to celebrate our great outdoors. This year, not so much. Social distancing is our new normal.
I’ve been pondering two things this past week as all travel around the world has been cut short, cancelled, or put on hold.
The first is that it’s humanity’s love of travel and exploration and wanting to connect with other cultures that has allowed the Covid-19 virus to travel the globe as quickly as it has.
And the second is that over the past eight or so days, our personal worlds have shrunk. Mine at present is about as small as it has even been: the inside of my apartment.
What helps me accept all the restrictions placed on our daily routines is not worrying so much about what I can’t control (whether I will get sick), but to focus on what I can control by thinking of myself as a carrier of the virus and acting accordingly. Knowing that everything I do going forward may prevent others from getting sick makes it pretty easy to stay home.
Everyone is joking about how introverts are living their best lives right now. Seriously, though, after so many years of working alone at home, as I do, I’ve often felt like a freak. Now … I just feel ready. That’s because I already have a lot of coping mechanisms to help me deal with isolation.
One change to my daily routine, however, is that I now start the day by listening to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he addresses the country. One reporter referred to him as the nation’s “Prime Comforter.” What I find remarkable is he’s been leading Canadians through these extraordinary times while in self-isolation and while solo parenting his three young children. (His wife is currently in quarantine at home after testing positive for Covid-19 and there is no other adult in their home at present.)
The other difference to my daily routine is that I time my afternoon tea break to coincide with the daily news conference offered by Adrian Dix, British Columbia’s Minister of Health, and Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer. BC’s top doctor has such a comforting voice, and when she introduces each new restriction, she does so by saying, “This is not forever. This is for now.” Her other mantra is this: “We need to be kind. We need to be calm. We need to be safe.”
The traffic reporter on the radio show I listen to each morning has been working from home this past week. There’s not a lot of traffic to talk about, so she’s taken to reporting on how many dogs pass her living room window during the course of the show. I think it’s important that we all look for whatever makes us laugh right now.
It’s also important that we look for joy wherever we can find it. To that end, here is a photo I took exactly a month ago today, when our world was a much different place.
It was another weird and wacky winter in Vancouver. Daffodils in January. The coldest February ever (since they started to keep records in 1937). The driest March since 1992 (which does not bode well for wildfire season).
Hello, climate change.
April, thank goodness, was blessedly normal.
April is cherry blossom season in Vancouver. The last of the blossoms are still in bloom, but they will be gone in a few days, I’m sure.
To celebrate the season this year, another public art installation was put up in the same square as last year’s Underbrellas. I don’t know what this year’s umbrellas are called, but I’m calling them the pretty pink parasols.
Is this not the wettest, coldest spring ever?
I know, I know. I have no right to complain considering how many parts of the country are experiencing their longest winter in decades. Southern Ontario is in the grips of an ice storm as we speak, Edmonton has broken a 44-year record with 167 consecutive overnight lows below 0 °C, and Calgary’s forecast is for 10 to 20 centimetres of snow.
I have absolutely no right to complain.
And yet, I am. See the dark clouds in this photo? That’s what the skies in Vancouver have looked like for the better part of this winter and our oh-so-cold spring.
I’m posting this photo because these daffodils have been the one bright spot for me this spring. They appeared about a month ago along the seawall in English Bay, a new addition courtesy the Vancouver Parks Board. I love that they were planted in the middle of the grass, rather than set off in some flower bed somewhere.
Nothing says April like a crowd of daffodils.
Except in Canada, I suppose, where nothing says April like one last blast of winter.
I feel a bit cruel posting this photo, but, well, it does reflect the reality of what it’s like to live in Vancouver.
Vancouver in February = crocuses.
I feel cruel because my friends in Halifax and Boston are struggling to keep up with all the snow shovelling and my friends in Toronto and New York are facing endless days of sub-Arctic temperatures ― all while Vancouver is experiencing a non-winter.
And now, on top of all that, we get an early spring.
I saw daffodils in bloom in Stanley Park on New Year’s Day. The snow drops made their first appearance about ten days later. The crocuses have been up for weeks, and I saw the first cherry blossoms on February 11 ― about two weeks earlier than most years ― and they’re now in full bloom. Last weekend I even saw a flowering rhododendron.
And all this past week I’ve noticed the magnolia trees are starting to blossom. I have never seen magnolia flowers appear so early ― the trees typically bloom in April.
It doesn’t seem fair, given the winter the rest of the continent is having (and it definitely doesn’t seem Canadian).
But, hey, whoever said life is fair?
Someone has to live in Vancouver. Might as well be me.
I first discovered wild BC spot prawns a couple of years ago when I noticed them popping up on restaurant menus around town.
“Spot prawns? What are spot prawns?” I asked my friends. They didn’t know either. I ordered them, tasted them, fell in love with them …
With a little research, I discovered that the wild BC spot prawn is the largest of seven species of commercially available BC shrimp. What’s unique about them is their distinctive white spots and naturally bright orange colour.
With a little more research, I learned that the spot prawn fishery is one of BC’s most sustainable fisheries. It’s limited to trap gear only, and the prawns are hand sorted upon removal from the ocean. Prawns too small for consumption are thrown back. About 90 percent of the commercial catch is shipped to Japan and the remainder is sold locally. But here’s the kicker: the season is short ― only six weeks from mid-May to June. In other words: get them while you can. (And if you don’t live in BC or Japan, well, too bad for you.)
Last year, I got up the courage to cook spot prawns myself. I had house guests ― my brother and his family were visiting from land-locked Alberta ― and when they told me they wanted to spend the day playing tourist at Granville Island, I decided to show off. I told them, casual like (as if I did it all the time), that I would pick up some spot prawns at the market for our dinner.
I was a bit taken aback when the fishmonger scooped a handful of live spot prawns from a water tank. “I didn’t know they were sold live,” I whispered to my brother, my bravado quickly disappearing. Gamely, I accepted the plastic bag of prawns wrapped in newspaper. I told the fishmonger I was planning to sauté them with garlic in butter.
“Excellent,” he said. “That’s the best way to prepare them.”
“But … do I have to … you know … kill them first?” I asked gingerly.
“Nope,” he said. “By the time you get them home, they’ll be dead.” Phew. I’m no vegetarian, but I draw the line at killing my own food.
He was right. When I unwrapped my package a few hours later, the shrimp were still bright orange, but most definitely in a non-living state. I cooked them up, and we devoured those garlicky spot prawns in record time. Their taste reminded me of lobster, and my only regret was that I didn’t buy more.
This year, I did buy more, and I cooked them the same way, relishing them as much as the first time. The very next evening, I went to my sister’s and her husband’s for a barbecue dinner, and was pleased to find out that grilled spot prawns were on the menu. But I was stunned when I saw the plate of prawns she had prepared for grilling.
“Where are the heads!?” I asked.
My sister looked at me, puzzled. “You have to take them off,” she insisted.
Lively debate ensues: do you eat spot prawns with the heads on or off? (And, while we’re at it, do you need to devein them?)
Back to Google. It turns out that deveining spot prawns is a matter of personal preference. (I have yet to taste the grittiness some claim is common if you don’t devein.) But what is critical is that you remove the heads immediately if you aren’t intending to cook the prawns the same day, because they release an enzyme after death that makes the tail meat turn mushy.
Here is the recipe I like to use (with heads on), but know that if you eat yours with heads off, they will be just as tasty.
Wild BC Spot Prawns
1 pound whole spot prawns
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
1. Melt butter in a large frying pan on medium high heat.
2. Add minced garlic and parsley and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Add prawns and white wine, tossing to coat with the butter and parsley, then season with salt and pepper.
4. Cover and cook 4 to 5 minutes, no longer.
Serve with slices of crusty baguette and a chilled buttery chardonnay.
I took this photo last Friday in the beautiful Nitobe Memorial Garden. This garden is located at the opposite corner of the UBC campus from my office ― which makes for a nice walk when I’m on my lunch break. As I’ve noted before, I think UBC is a beautiful campus. The Nitobe Memorial Garden only reaffirms my belief.
The herons are back!
A sure sign of spring for me ― even more than crocuses or cherry blossoms in bloom ― is when the Pacific great blue herons return to Stanley Park. They arrived a few weeks ago. This is the thirteenth consecutive year they’re nesting in what is one of the largest urban great blue heron colonies in North America. Last year, the Stanley Park heronry hosted 86 mating pairs, which produced 169 fledglings.
The heronry is fenced off to keep people from walking beneath the nests, and metal flashing placed around the base of the trees keeps the raccoons from climbing the trees. The eggs are at risk from bald eagles, though, which also live in the park.
The Pacific great blue heron is the largest heron native to North America.
Vancouver has almost 40,000 cherry trees that burst into bloom every March and April. It’s my favourite time of year.
Spring is Vancouver’s longest season. It’s always a bit of a shock to me when I see the first crocuses (I took this photo yesterday), but summer temperatures rarely arrive before the end of June.