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Flour and water - be food sufficient - our bread series chapter 1 · 25.04.16 by colin newell

Sourdough bread by the numbers

When I was a kid and in a farm house of five, my mother probably made 6 to 12 loaves of bread every week – depending on time of year and demand.

She made all of our breads by hand, with flour and water, salt and yeast – sometimes with extras like cheese, spices and herbs – sometimes with flours other than whole wheat or white bread.

It was something that a lot of people did in the 60’s and 70’s – especially if they were on a tight budget. And our house was no exception. And since we had a country kitchen with an old hybrid wood and gas stove it just made sense. The baking also helped heat the house to it was economics 101 at work.

My roll in all of this was picking up 20 Lb bags of flour and running them from the grocery store the 2.5 km home on my bike… which had a big basket on it. Imagine a 20 Lb bag of flour and other dry goods – that was a very, very full basket. I must have made that run 100 times over the years and I never once spilled a grain of flour.

In the kitchen I got to watch – and watch. And watch again. Maybe I got to get some warm water or take the temperature of some water or open the jar of powdered yeast. It was a very rare event indeed if I actually got to stick my hands in the mix. And this was an “all hands” process. There was no commercial mixer. There was no Kitchen Aid machine with the bread hook that I use today. It was all hands, instinct only, physical memory and repetition.

Perhaps ironically, I did get to suggest recipes and flavours for bread. I kid you not. My mother would ask a 12 year old (me) what kind of bread I would find interesting. And as it would turn out, the darker and denser the bread the better. We started simply enough with a medium rye bread. And over time, the breads got darker and darker until, I think, we invented something that my mother called a “Russian black bread…” I am not sure where the ethnicity or the colour came in but it was among the darkest and tastiest of breads I have ever had in my life. It was dark brown, complex, spicy, sweet, chewy and dense all in the same bite – and because it went through a double or triple raise and proof process, the ferment allowed for a very nutritional development of the loaf – that is to say, you could easily live off of this bread for a very long time.

In this upcoming series of blogs I am going to reveal the re-introduction of bread into my life and how I have come to depend on my instincts more than the strict discipline of recipes.

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Are you ready - Chapter 2 - emergency preparedness on an Island · 24.01.16 by colin newell

Earthquake coming to Victoria - be prepared

Chances are, if you are a resident of Victoria on Vancouver Island, Vancouver, Seattle or one of many small or medium sized coastal communities in the Northwest, one of the worse things that is going to happen to you in your life likely hasn’t happened yet because it is brewing right now, underground, along the coast in a colossal clash of geology that is moving in slow motion towards an earth shattering climax.

Within the last month, on Southern Vancouver Island and amidst the Gulf Islands, we had a very mild earthquake that rattled as many nerves as dishes and caused virtually no damage. There was the typical rush to prepare as sales of emergency kits soared. Truth is, this race to get prepared has very few fully engaged participants.

So if you are among the small percentage of folks that rushed out and got your first aid kits together and took an inventory of your dry goods and water supply… well, don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. Truth be told, you are not really and truly prepared. Neither am I come to think of it. As I sit here right now gazing into my back yard, I cannot, for certain, tell you where my first aid kits are – and I know for a fact that I do not have adequate water. I do have enough white and red wine in my cellar to keep my entire street inebriated for an entire week but that is not entirely helpful.

Being ready is more than just having a weeks worth of bottled water stowed in a secure location or having a packed bag of first aid and outdoor survival gear packed in the back of your car or in your garage. These things are all critical (and sadly only 10% or less of area residents have given much thought towards the most basic of survival kits…) but one of the less obvious things that is missing from our plan has more to do with our individual or collective consciousness.

What do I mean by that? I mean that the average person is not having a regular dialog with themselves or their neighbours about what to do in the event of a catastrophe of this nature. The kind of earthquake we can expect in our life time will cut us off from our families and our public services and utilities. This separation from our daily reality could easily last days and weeks.

So, what to do? I am not going to drone on about this. But I will repeat my basic list of what most would agree that you need to hunker down and survive – and to help your neighbourhood survive.

a.) Water. Have at least 2 weeks worth in bottles – at least a litre a day per person in your house.
b.) Candles. Flashlight. Battery powered radio.
c.) Dried food/Emergency rations. Enough for a dozen or so neighbours for a week!
d.) First aid kit. Bandages. Antibiotic cream. Antiseptic.
e.) Shelter. Your house may be still standing but you are going to be sleeping outside for a few days.

The key thing here is: You can live for days without food. You cannot function without water. If you do anything, have water at the ready. Or beer or wine. Or nutritional drinks like “Rumble” – they are available locally and you could survive on those alone for weeks.

Another tip: Have a pair of thick socks and slippers by your bed always. When the “big one” hits, you are going to be walking on broken glass – so it will be good to have your feet covered.

I had an excellent question from Ken Gordon, well known Victoria area resident that works at Caffe Fantastico, “Hey Colin, if anyone would know the answer to this, you would… Where do I tune my radio to in the event of the Big One?”

Well, this may come as a surprise to our readers… but it will not be the CBC on Vancouver Island – and it will not likely be a networked FM radio station operating out of Victoria. It will be CFAX on 1070 khz. During our last great calamity, the snow storm of 1996, most of Victoria’s radio and TV networks never broke from their generic Toronto content feed to even acknowledge that anything untoward was happening here. It was CFAX 1070 alone that reported on the events as they unfolded. CBC Radio 1 on Vancouver Island is hopelessly tethered to the Mother Ship in Toronto and has no facility whatsoever to handle any form of live broadcasting or emergency message handling here in the city or on the Island.

To quote an earlier chapter on this subject…

“The local radio station will be running on emergency power. They will be your first and primary way of assessing what has happened on a broader scale. Your cell phone network will be a paper weight, overloaded by panicked 911 calls and toppled towers. As you divide your attention between the crackling radio and the downtown horizon in the distance, you will be overwhelmed by the immediately unfamiliar chaos, but hopefully you will also have a steady sense of resolve and, as a result of your personal planning, a plan of action.”



Colin Newell is a writer, technician and advocate for emergency preparedness – who is, more or less, prepared for anything nature can throw at him. Join us for a continuing dialog on this subject.

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Katie and her World of beautiful cards for all occasions · 15.12.15 by colin newell

Cards by Katie - Victoria B.C. Canada Festive cards!

Katie is a lovely 19 year old girl who has Cerebral Palsy. Together with her mom, Sue, they have been making stamped cards since 2007. Prior to receiving assistive technology, Sue used to help her daughter stamp the images on the cards.

Katie has a head controlled stamping machine made for her four years ago by CanAssist. She is now able to stamp the images for her cards through a switch control using her head.

Card making is Katie’s thing and it brings her great joy. She loves making cards and sharing them. Making and selling cards has given her a unique way to connect with people in the community. Additionally, this also allows Katie to give back to the community with the profits from her cards. This year, Katie’s cards accounted for 100% of the festive seasonal cards that we sent out – and as you can see in the photo above, they are beautiful.

Katie had hip surgery a year ago which took her out of card making commission. Her story was featured on Global-TV and she was an instant hit – it put a smile on her face and to this day she is still very busy putting smiles on our faces.

At the time, her Mom, Sue and some of the neighbors put their heads together to see if they could come up with a plan to brighten her recovery. Sue suggested, “Since Katie will not be making cards for a couple weeks, I thought that it would be amazing if bright, beautiful cards made their way to her. Near and Far.”

Custom made cards from Katie

“We have a world map up. Her sisters will open up the cards and we can mark on the map were they have come from. We have also created a box of inspiration. When someone sends a card if they could put in a single button or piece of ribbon – something cute that Katie can put on a card… That would be great. Once she got back to making her cards she had hundreds of pieces of inspiration from everyone around the globe to put on her cards.”

At the time the message was – “Please mark on the back of the cards were they are from. I know that Katie will want to look at each and every one for years to come. We are going to put the world map up in her room so she can always see it.”

If you feel like sending a card (or getting an incredible custom card for any and all seasons) from Katie, send your own card or a request for a price list to:

Katie Philip
6898 Central Saanich Rd.,
Victoria B.C.
V8Z 5V2
Canada

Katie has a website and point-of-sale PayPal thing for her cards over here

Katie thanks you!

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A great big slice of Italian passion in Victoria B.C. - Il Covo Trattoria · 18.09.15 by colin newell

Il Covo Trattoria James Bay - Italian spirit in Victoria B.C. Canada

My wife and I have a few go-to places for celebrating special occasions – like Fridays, or a Wedding Anniversary, a successful shopping trip or the first rainy day in September after a long drought.

And considering that Victoria B.C. is a city flush with imaginative restaurants, there are really only a handful (in my estimation) of food places that consistently deliver passion, authenticity, love and great taste in equal measure.

Il Covo Trattoria at 106 Superior Street in James Bay near Fishermans Wharf is one of those places. I have a soft spot for Italian cuisine (my mother grew up in an Italian enclave in Montreal in the 30’s and 40’s…) and I was raised on rustic interpretations of Northern Italian classics. So, it’s in my blood and in my memories. And if your momma cooked Italian, getting that experience in a restaurant is a tall order.

Il Covo Trattoria seems to make it effortless. Their location in historic James Bay – Victoria, not far from Fishermen’s Wharf and a short walk from the Inner Harbour and some of the cities finest hotels could be just as easily located in the heart of New York City, Rome or Montreal. Passing through the grand entrance into the care of the hostess, one is transformed into another time and place. A big part of a restaurants charm is unquestionably its ambiance and Il Covo has certainly nailed the European experience.

Ii Covo is large enough for expansive families and intimate enough for couples on an important or romantic date. Service is attentive, informed and engaged without being worrisome. What I love about the eating experience here is the dedication to authenticity and focus on regional ingredients – all impeccably fresh and balanced according to the season.

Andrea and I started our culinary adventure with a martini and one of Il Covo’s brilliant Northern Italian inspired cocktails.

Il Covo - James Bay - Victoria - click on IMAGE for large view

Our opener from Chef was a salad of rare tuna, chick peas and arugula – perfectly tart and balanced to set the palate up for our mains.

Click on Map Photo for the Big View

This evening my wife had the signature Lasagna – which she rates as the best in North America – and trust me, she has sampled this straight forward dish from coast to coast. I had the Papardelle pasta with Prawns and fresh asparagus in a Pernod sauce – delicious, fresh and so satisfying.

If you have room for any dessert, the cakes, creme brulee, panna cotta and tiramisu are amazing – I know. I have had them all. Coffee is great too!

Il Covo, for us, is a place filled with love of family, friends and dedication to the most positive food experience – it is as close to eating in an Italian village as you can get without actually being there. Top marks to the Il Covo team! Bravo!

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The Nespresso Inissia pod system and the convenience of now · 4.08.15 by colin newell

The Nespresso Pod machine - how convenient

I get many offers of coffee machines to test in exchange for a review – or a machine in exchange from one of the many online companies offering a selection of coffee products.

The folks at New York City and Berlin based Gourmesso.com were good enough to send a very significant supply of coffee samples and arrange for an Inissia machine to test them on and for me to keep, cherish and redistribute however I saw fit. Great deal.

So – my review of the Innisia is over here – and it is worth a spin before proceeding with the rest of these follow up observations.

OK – here is the big upside of Nespresso pod coffee. It is convenient and fast. It reduces the planning for coffee to a push of a single button. Feel like coffee? Get out some pods and fill and power up the machine. There is little more than a minute and a half of waiting while the unit heats up. I like to heat up my cups before I start brewing shots from the Nespresso so that might take a few more moments of your time. So, if you are absolutely and positively in a hurry and have to have your coffee right now, this might be the way to go.

The quality of the Nespresso coffee pods is good, annoying good in some ways when you compare it to other methods of brewing. From a technical stand point, there is not quite enough coffee in each pod to balance the mount of water that the Nespresso pushes through. I noticed that the Gourmesso pods contained slightly less coffee (or the pods were a touch smaller) and the quality of the coffee was not quite up to the level of the Nespresso pods. The Gourmesso pods are also cheaper – and I think at last check, a Nespresso pod is well over a buck a pop. And for you convenience lovers, that adds up fast! We had some friends over last night for some wine and coffee (brewed on our patio out of doors!) and they claimed to be Nespresso lovers for a few months until the costs for the pods started to rack up.

They noted that they were averaging $200 (Canadian) a month on pods – they are both coffee drinkers. They were brewing several double shots in the morning and afternoon and quickly added up to lots of pods.
The Nespresso (and Gourmesso) pods are only available online (or in Nespresso boutique stores in large Urban cities) so the costs and shipping start to add up fast. My whole bean coffee habit when consuming the same amount of coffee (brewed as gravity drip) is less than 1/2 this amount and I serve an average of 2-4 cups a day to 2 to 4 people every day of the week!

The big downside outside of the cost of pods is the waste that is generated – but slowly there are recycling stations that are taking the spent pods – which often contain plastic, paper and foil in one unit — kind of difficult to process. Pod systems are quite the rage right now and the environment is having a bad time with all the waste materials and it could be years before the planet catches up to it all.

The Nespresso machines themselves tend to not be that expensive and they are not that complex – and they are wickedly convenient… but that comes with a cost that you have to weigh out. Do the math ahead of time and if you think you can live with the extra cost, then go ahead.

Personally, I like my gravity drip methods, my Hario filter holders, paper, grinder, kettle and scale. It’s hipster and tasty and easier on my pocket book and my conscience. For the Coffeecrew blog and website, I am Colin Newell in Victoria B.C. Canada.

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Grilled spicy Lamb burgers on the old Weber · 1.07.15 by colin newell

Grilled Lamb burgers on the old Weber

Andrea and I made these from fresh ground Island lamb and fresh herbs from the garden – much like regular beef burgers but with a kick – and they are lamb.

They are around 3/4” thick – I grilled them at around 375 to 425 for 5 minutes on the first side
and 2 minutes on the second side.

PATTIES

1½ pounds ground lamb
2 tablespoons tightly packed finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon moroccan spice mix
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

4 kaiser rolls, split
Thinly sliced red onion

MAYO
2 tablespoons mayonaise
2 heaping teaspoons fresh mint sauce

Served with lettuce and red onion – and any salad on the side you might desire.

Grill with crumbled feta on top.

Pairs well with a robust Red wine.

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