Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Whisky Review - Ardbeg 10 Year Old

Those who know me well know I love Scotch Whisky. I have decided to include an occasional whiskey (or whisky as the Scots would say). Since I have a few different bottles on hand right now, I will start alphabetically with A for Ardbeg. Ardbeg is a single Islay malt, from the Isle of Islay, Argyll, Scotland. Islay malts are generally peaty and smoky and this is no exception.
Here's a quote from:
"The last distillery on the road along the south coast from Port Ellen on the magical island of Islay, past Laphroaig and Lagavulin.
The distillery itself dates back to the final years of the eighteenth century. The site's water source, Loch Uigeadail, is superb and has had the honour of having a whisky named after it. Until 1976/'77 Ardbeg still had its own malting floor, but take their heavily peated malt from the Port Ellen maltings. Jim Murray, in his Complete Guide to Whisky, described Ardbeg as the greatest distillery to be found on Earth. This was high praise indeed, given that the distillery was mothballed for most of the 1980's until Glenmorangie took control in 1997 and secured its future. The transformation from neglect to a homely and handsome distillery with a fine restaurant has been heartening to watch. Their first new release, an unchillfiltered 10 year old, has proved to be a huge success."

This is their 10 Year Old and a fine whisky it is. Before you open it up with a few drops of water, there is initially big smoke and peat wafting up to the nose, rich and delicately balanced. With a bit of opening, some caramel floats through. Now I am not blessed with a talented nose so I probably miss a lot of the subtler notes, but it presents itself deliciously. The appearance is deceiving, it is a weak, watery-looking whisky, like a very pale citrine. Judging by looks alone, you might be tempted to think the flavour might likewise be insipid. There you would be wrong. It is wonderful, rich and sweet. It lingers sensuously on the tongue and has beautiful smooth finish. Altogether a very delicious and satisfying single malt that would be welcomed by any aficionado

Rating 8/10

Monday, December 29, 2008

I'm Not Dreaming It's a White Christmas

So here we are on Christmas Day, heading for two feet of snow in our yard. We had an amazing dump of snow where it snowed about one inch per hour for about a day and a half. Big piles of light fluffy snow just kept falling until we were beyond enchanted and all the way to fed up! There was snow fort making and sledding and general messing around but it did get tiresome. Speaking of tires, many people in this city do not understand that when you have two feet of snow on the hilly side streets, your Japanese compact front-wheel drive car will get stuck - guaranteed. Cars were abandoned every where, including in the middle of intersections - I kid you not! Not my trusty truck though. No one was laughing at my SUV this week.
I must say that I prefer it when our yard looks like this.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Coho on the Fly

Early August found me winging my way to Dundas Island. This is the most northerly island on the coast of British Columbia. My mission was to attempt to catch the muscular northern Coho on an 8 weight fly rod. My friends, Clayton Vanier and his beautiful wife, Jennifer Nelson, own and operate the Haa Nee Naa fishing lodge on this island. Every spring, they tow in the lodge and set up the resort. It is a wilderness experience with all the mod cons. It's sinfully sumptuous for a man who has learned that catching fish in Canada involves some sort of suffering. Usually fishing in Canada is accompanied by cans cold wind, rain and or snow merciless onslaughts of by black flies, no seeums or mosquitoes and some beans for lunch, breakfast or dinner. At Haa Nee Naa, you are pampered with delicious, gourmet food, a beautifully appointed lodge with comfortable beds and luxuriously appointed bathrooms. Once out on the water, you may have to suffer a little wind and this year it was chilly but as I always say, when you live in canada you can be cold at some point in all 12 months of the year!

However catching coho on the fly is a world-class fishing experience and this year was my 2nd attempt and it was great. I managed to land eight 10lb to 14 lb. beauties like the one in this photo.

Monday, July 21, 2008

France - Les Bourdas

If you want a truly relaxing, delicious, picturesque and entirely French vacation Les Bourdas is the perfect destination. Majestically situated overlooking a bucolic valley, this charming house with a very well-appointed guest house, is the product of many years of renovation and good taste by our friend Alison Bridger. After 3 days of planes, trains and automobiles, (not to mention a taxi and a funiculaire), we arrived in the dark, exhausted at Les Bourdas around midnight. We were delighted with the house, but too tired to really absorb anything. The four of us, my wife and our two boys collapsed into bed for 12 hours of sleep. At noon the next day, I woke up, swung my legs out of bed and opened the windows and the shutters to gaze out at this scene.The accomodation at Les Bourdas was lovely. Beautifully modernized, yet retaining an antique and rustic charm it was really the perfect home for our time in this region of France. We spent two fabulous weeks of exploring the Southwest of France. Les Bourdas is situated in the northern reaches of the Haute Pyrennees region. CLose to the mounains and only and hour and a half to Biarritz on the Atlantic coast, it was a great spot for day trips. I think we most enjoyed taking the short journeys to the local villages for market day.
At the market we would be the local cheese, perhaps a fabulous chevre, a pheasant and cognac sausage, a pain de campagne. Anyway the food was unbelievably good. It is amazing the difference between the industrial approach to foof production that we favour in North America versus the artisanal approach in France. If you are interested contact:

TERRACARTA, Landscape Design
Alison Bridger, 604 294 4864

Sunday, July 20, 2008

France - The Sud-Ouest

I have just returned from 3 weeks in France with my family. This was my first trip to France and only my 2nd visit ever to Europe. The last time being in 1971! It was our first major overseas family vacation. Our journey began with a flight from Vancouver to Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris and an overnight stay in the Montparnassse district of that great city. This part of the trip was a bit of a blur since we spent only a few hours in Paris the afternoon of our arrival before tucking in for the night into our tiny but clean and well-appointed Hotel Mercure on Boulevard Raspail. The next morning we walked to the Gare Montparnasse to take the TGV (the French bullet train)to Pau, the capital of the Haute Pyrenee region we would be exploring. From Pau we rented a car and drove 45 minutes to the northeast to our destination, Les Bourdas in the village of Vidouze. We spent the first 2 weeks in a beautiful home in the Southwest of France. Les Bourdas is owned by our friend and neighbour here in Burnaby, Alison Bridger. Alison and her family have spent the last 4 or 5 years renovating an old country house with an accompanying guest house (called a Gite in France). She has done a wonderful job, creating a sense of tradition with style and all the mod-cons. More on that later. This region in which it is situated is bordering several areas comprised of the Midi-Pyreneees, the Haute Pyrenees, the Pyrenees Atlantique, and the Gers. It is a marvelous tapestry of rolling hills and valleys, turning into the snow-capped Pyrennes to the south, the Atlantic seaside resort of Biarritz to the west and the Armagnac region to the north and more rollimg hills to the east. It is very rural, in fact what struck me about France is what a great agricultural nation it is. From Paris south, there is vast agricultural development. What we found most outstanding about the Southwest was the food. The cuisine of this region is simple and the secret is quality. We went to many of the small incredibly picteresque towns near Les Bourdas on market day to buy cheese, sausage, produce and duck directly from the producers. Of course as throughout France, the Boulangerie and Patisseries create deicious bread and pastry. Our days focused around finding food, preparing food and eating food. And the food was fantastic.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Cedar Waxwings Take up Residence

A flock of Cedar Waxwings arrived a few days ago to dine out on the abundant holly berries in the backyard. I counted about 30 birds this evening as they roosted in the pine tree while they rested from gorging on the red berries. A week ago the holly tree was festooned with thousands of crimson berries. Now it has been stripped bare, so I suspect that they will move on. It's been a treat to see them, they are remarkably beautiful birds with the silkiest plumage imaginable.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Trip to Alberta

I spent last weekend visiting family in Edmonton, Alberta - my hometown. As per usual, I trekked down to the river valley in search of rocks and despite the river being very high, was able to find some cool stones. No dinosaur bone this time because the area where I usually find it was under water. The weather was mild, cloudy with sunny periods and alternating between warm and cool. The area I like to explore is a big bend in the river with a cut bank on the far shore. When I started going there 20 years ago, I was usually pretty much alone except for the occaisional dog and its owner..
Now it is replete with mountain bikers, dogs galore and scads of people. Being selfish, I liked it better when there was no one there. However, it's still a great place to go for a walk, very level and easy hiking and very pleasant country. It lacks the majestic drama of British Columbia, but the beauty is there in a gentle way. I came across a drama in miniature as some red ants had captured an emerging damsel fly. This life and death struggle was taking place among the detritus of the river bank, unseen by the cast of thousands except for one who was peering intently at the rocks and stumbled upon it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Run, Do Not Walk to Vandusen Gardens

You will rarely see anything as breathtaking or as beautiful as the current display at the Vandusen Botanical Gardens. Located between Oak St. and Granville St, with access from 37th Ave, this is one of Vancouver's great treasures. Right now there are two displays that are worth dropping whatever you are doing, and run, do not walk to see the Laburnum walk (pictured on the left) and the Azaleas now in their full glory. The azaleas in particular present an overwhelming assault of beauty on the senses. The colours, the scent, the sheer extravagence of this display is so intense as to be hallucinatory!
Short of tripping on peyote with a shaman diguised as a runaway dog, this is as close as you'll ever get to a true psychedelic experience. So take my advice and run, don't walk to Vandusen Botanical Gardens in the next 5 days, because something as beautiful as this, cannot last. Admission to the Garden is $8.50 for adults. With a display like this, it will be the best $8.50 you ever spent. Ask the staff about the secret pathway through the azaleas, once you are in that Secret Garden, you'll feel like you've walked through the looking glass and stepped into a world of overwhelming beauty.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Great Mystery Gemstone Caper Clue # 3

This is for all the gem sleuths who are trying to figure out the Great Mystery Gemstone Caper. The third clue is geographical. The mystery gem was named after a river in central Oregon which provides much of the drainage on the eastern side of the Cascade Range in Oregon, gathering many of the tributaries that descend from the eastern, drier flank of the mountains. It provided a major route to and from the Columbia for Native Americans and later pioneers on the Oregon Trail. It flows mostly through rugged and arid country, and its valley provides a cultural heart for central Oregon. Today the river provides irrigation and is a popular in the summer for whitewater rafting and fishing. In the early 1800s, French fur traders plied these waters and named it - the "river of falls." If you have stumbled across this entry and are curious about where it comes from, check out:

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bonefishing - The Most Fun You Can Have with Your Pants On

So here is a picture of me in 2004 fishing for bonefish in Ascencion Bay, Mexico. I have to admit, I do not look cool in this picture. That is not a kilt I'm wearing but a very baggy pair of shorts that were in style about 15 years ago. A kilt would have been cool. The hat's OK, but those skinny white legs poking out from the baggy shorts is very dorky! Oh, well. My mahogony coloured guide was a Mayan named Carlos and he was trying to point out the 'nervous water'. I couldn't figure out what the hell he was talking about for the first 3 days. Notice the clouds in the background. Bonefish are very hard to see under the best of conditions and the best of conditions include bright sunny skies and light winds. The sun illuminates the white sand below and you are able to see the shadows of the ghostly schools of silver/white bonefish as they maraud for the crabs hiding in the sand. When it's cloudy like this, all you see is the surface and being somewhat windy, the surface is all chopped up with waves.We spent a lot of time looking around for the elusive bonefish. Ocassionally, we would get out of the panga and wade. That's what my friend Karl is doing in the 2nd picture. Karl always looks cool! Eventually, after about 3 days, we started to be able to see the fish. You could sometimes see their tails as the nose around in shallow waters. The 'nervous water' the guides kept talking about was the faint v-shaped ripples on the surface created by one or several fish as they cruised just beneath the surface. Finally, on Day 3, the sun came out , the wind died down and a school of bonefish were moving in the direction of my panga. I laid out a perfect cast, about 5 feet in front of the lead fish and he took it! then I found out what catching a bonefish was all about. A screaming run which takes out all of your line to the backing. You fight the fish back in and it takes another heart-pounding run. It is a lot of fun. One you land it, you might have someone take a photo, just to prove that you went 3 thousand miles and spent 3 days flailing away but you did catch a bonefish. Then you want to do it again. That is a genuine bonefish smile right there.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Aaah Spring!

You've got to love Spring in Canada! Here we are in Lotusland, baseball season is in full gear, the flowers and blossom trees are emerging and what else? It's snowing!!! This global warming sure has funny ways of manifesting. Last night, just after supper, huge, wet snowflakes started to descend in our neighbourhood. We were freaked out. Our 10-year-old was happy! After a couple of hours, I had to go out with a broom to knock the snow from the branches of many of the shrubs and trees in our yard. They were laden down with the sticky white piles of wet, heavy snow. The tulips in these pictures are the same.The photo of the bedraggled, shivvering group was taken this morning. The happy orange flowers with their heads held proudly in the sun was from a couple of years ago. Note the green grass in the background. Can we please have that picture back?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My Backyard Sanctuary

I love my back yard. I would live in it if we had the climate to do so. Unfortunately, that would be pretty uncomfortable for much of the year. So for most of the year I wait for those warm days where I can putter around in the garden or sit on a bench in the sun. Such is life in Canada, where you can be cold 12 months of the year. However, living in the lower mainland of BC, we enjoy the best weather in Canada for gardening and can grow a huge variety of plants that other parts of Canada can only wistfully dream about.

During the winter months, I never actually see my back yard except on the weekends. That's because I go to work when it's dark and return home in the dark. It is beautiful on those few days in the winter when we get a heavy snowfall that blankets the yard and plants with a puffy white covering. Our 10 year old son is ecstatic when we get a snow fall like this. It gets to the point of obsessive. "What's the temperature?" "Is it going to melt?" "Do you think we have more snow than Ronnie?" (He's a boy who lives just down the road). "Are we going to get more snow tonight?" I will get each of those questions twelve times a day when it snows. Lately he has become more philosophical, as we were driving home from Ronnie's one night and he was obsessing about the snow, as we drove into our yard he said to himself - "Remember Harrison, don't get too attached to anything made of snow".

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tai Haku Heralds Spring

Spring is magnificent in the Pacific Northwest. It is also the predominant season starting sometime around the end of February and lasting until mid July. The good part of that is that it shortens the winter. On the flip side it also shortens our summer. Nonetheless, we greedily await the onslaught of blossoms - ornamental cherries, magnolias, daffodils, azaleas, rhododendrons, camelias, primulas, aubretias, bluebells, lily-of-the valley, flowering currents, tulips - the list is exhaustive. In our yard, we await the exuberant clusters of white flowers on the Tai Haku cherry in our back yard.
Originally from Japan, it was extinct in its native land and known only as the "Great White Cherry" or Tai Haku. Then Botanist Collingwood Ingram found a tree in a garden in Sussex, England that had been sent long before from Japan. He was able to identify it from an 18th-century Japanese print as the variety long extinct in its native land. It has the largest flower of all the ornamental flowering cherries. In the last couple of days, the flowers have started to open, officially heralding the beginning of spring in our back yard.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rare and - My Lapidary Hobby

I spent 20 years in the jewellery trade during which time I was involved in virtually all aspects of that business. I designed, imported, exported, wholesaled and retailed everything from hippie silver to large diamonds. I left that business in the early '90s to pursue a new career but the love of gems was in my blood. What I enjoyed the most of my jewellery experience was cutting gemstones. Over the years in the business I had collected a considerable amount of gem rough which started to call out to me from various boxes in my basement . One of the great things about stone is that it doesn't go bad over time. If you put a piece of rock in a box in your basement and stumbled across it 10,000 years later, it would look exactly the same. You on the other hand wouldn't look so good.

Anyway, a couple of years ago, I built a workshop in my basement to rekindle my love of stone as a hobby. I also set up a website, with the help of my friend Michael Drechsler which you can see at:

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sunny Ven Detta - Up and Coming Stars

Some day I expect this will be an historic picture of a famous band. That's my son Dylan in the middle, he's the lead singer. Cole Godfrey is on drums and Leo Muntank is playing the Fender Precision bass. This was taken in our backyard last year (June 2007)during my annual Angus Guevera Scotch and Cigar Event. These boys are all 20 years old and have been playing together in one form or another since high school. They are great kids and Dylan and Leo are great song writers. Check them out at:

Our first clue of Dylan's musical talent came when he was around 6 years old. We were driving down the highway in our old '83 Subaru with some good tunes in the tape deck and Dylan starting singing along - in harmony! Just popped out. Then there were 6 years of piano lessons - he wrote his first song at around age 10. It was pretty good. By fifteen, piano practice was not happening so the lessons stopped but a couple of years later, he asked for a guitar - so I went to NJAMS on Granville St in Vancouver and bought him a Peavy Stratocaster knockoff. A couple of months later he came home to announce that he was now the singer for a band of local boys who included Leo, Cole and Perry Einarson on lead guitar. From their first performance, two things were clear - they were pretty darn good and Dylan was a charismatic performer. Stay tuned to this Blog for more on his musical career.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Our House in Tucson, Arizona

This is the Southwest part of this blog. We recently purchased a house in Tucson, Arizona. It's a 3 bedroom, 2 bath with a 3 car garage and some nice landscaping. Why Tucson? We chose Arizona because we have both been there many times in the past and love the desert. It's warm, dry and the Sonoran desert is beautiful. In addition, with the current sub-prime mortgage fiasco, my wife Angela and I wanted to invest in that region because housing prices have dropped 25% in the last year or so. Eventually we want to be able to spend a couple of months in Arizona in the winter. The contrast in the vegetation is wonderful. In the Sonoran Desert the giant saguaro cactus dominates the landscape, in the lower mainland, it's giant Douglas fir and cedars.
I hope to visit Tucson annually now, particularly in the late winter and early spring when the weather in the Vancouver region can be cold, wet and grey while the weather in Tucson is warm, dry and sunny. Another draw in Tucson is the great Mexican food, which we all love in our family. This trip we disovered a fanastic chain called La Salsa which serves city in the style of Mexico City. I had the Mahi Mahi tacos and they were delicious. The food is fresh and the salsa bar features an array of tasty and colourful salsas. Combine that with the very reasonable prices and you can bet we will be eating at La Salsa many times in the future.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Where's Spring?

As we stood in the pouring wintery rain at yesterday's little league game it seemed like spring was AWOL. The game was called at the top of the 3rd due to rain. The sky was heavy, with thick piles of cold air and lashes of precipitation. Cleverly, I was announcing in the booth and had my on typical Spring clothing - my ski base layer, a fleece sweater, a down vest, baseball cap and my Helly Hansen rain suit. I love that suit! it keeps me dry in the worst that the Lower Mainland can dish out. After 14 years of early Spring baseball, my motto is "Dress for Winter!"

Spring is about to blossom forth and in the Vancouver region, that is a splendid and beautiful thing.. Already, my garden is sporting a luminous green attire as hostas sprout and unfurl. Buds swell to bursting. The ornamental cherries and magnolias are proclaiming their majesty in streets of exquisite flowering canopies. The plants can't lie. There will be spring and one look at my garden and hope "Springs" eternal.

Two of the early signs of spring in my garden are the lush green emerging hostas and the Magnolia "Leonard Messel".

Sunday, April 6, 2008

North by Southwest Debuts

This is where I live. Somewhere over the rainbow in the Pacific Northwest. This blog will be about how the geography of western North America has shaped and influenced my life. I suspect it will also contain anecdotes, observations and opinions that I will serve up from time-to-time. I hope it will also be a way for me to communicate with people about ideas, passions, history and any other subject that flits across the garden in my mind. I hope to talk about things I love to do: fishing with a fly, gardening, playing music and rocks.

Why North by SouthWest?

It encompasses the geography of my life from my hometown of Edmonton, Alberta (which is certainly north of where most people live on this continent), to my western migration out to the West coast of BC. It also reflects my love of the west from Alberta to Arizona, and from Northern BC to Southern California. We live in a fantastic part of the world.

Its not all rainbows and sunsets though. Sometimes it rains for weeks and the sun seems to have forsaken my part of the world. I'll try to keep the whining about the weather to a minimum.