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The Leeming Effect - stop dragging my timeline around · Sunday April 11, 2021 by colin newell

Man of mystery or guardian

Around two decades ago I was in the parking lot at the University of Victoria – likely on a Saturday – doing some extra chores.

I finished up about mid-day and was about to set off for some downtown routine to-do items when a strange man appeared in front of my car. He was quite distinguished and around 60 years old – give or take.

I tapped the brake to a stop and he stood by the drivers side window as I rolled it down.
“Hello…” I said, if offering some help to someone appearing very lost.
“Hello…” he paused, and continued. “Do you know someone by the name of John Smith?”
“Why yes, I do…” relieved that this interaction was about to start making sense.
The man looked up over the hood into the sunshine, squinting and paused for around 30 more seconds.
He then returned his very serious looking gaze to me. Another pause of around 30 seconds began. This time the seconds seemed to tick by much more slowly.
“You have coffee at the Finnerty Express most weekdays do you not?” he pointed out with crystal clarity.
I now felt like I was having a very cautious conversation with a CSIS officer.
“Uhm, yes… yes I do… and…”, I slipped back into the conversation.
He then addressed me by name, which surprised me. “Colin, you are Colin, yes? I shall see you for coffee next week…”
He turned on his heel and vanished as quickly as he appeared.

I had a funny feeling that his presence manifested itself at that moment to impede my progress downtown.
In some small (or profound) way he was interfering with the passage of time or my timeline, that if not interrupted, would have lead to some major or minor catastrophe.

These are regular (I guess if you can call them that…) encounters with regular people who, for the moment, are a form of guardian angel arriving just in a nick of time to prevent something really bad from happening.

And yes, the very next week, “David” appeared for coffee – and has appeared for coffee ever week (vacations occasionally interrupting) since that fateful encounter 20 years ago.

Today a young man stopped me at the Root Cellar farmers market in the very same fashion.
He was drawn to a very special sweat shirt that I was wearing. It was the classic blue sweatshirt from the very old and no longer in existence Victoria College from well before 1963! I won’t include the entire conversation (and for the record I was in no hurry…) but he had so many questions.

So this is what it felt like to be a pop star encountering a fan that I could simply not shake. But in this instance, the shirt was the attraction.

He was with his wife or girlfriend but it seemed that the Victoria College shirt took center stage.

Nothing mattered but the shirt I was wearing.

Within a minute or so of answering a barrage of questions, the answers to which he did not appear to be absorbing, I broke away to go through my grocery shortlist.

Within a minute he re-appeared and the questions began again. I quietly and calmly answered and then satisfied, he returned to his shopping… as if nothing had happened.

In an odd coincidence, the elderly man at the beginning of this story was a Victoria College student and a faculty member!

I could not help feeling that I’d just had some kind of alien encounter – but in a good way. I mean, I am, by and large, a science guy, but very occasionally, lost in the glint of bright sunlight or hidden in the shadows of a rainy Victoria afternoon, rests something very likely between science… and the Twilight Zone


Colin Newell lives and works in Victoria B.C. Canada and has been writing about coffee and food culture for what feels like an eternity…

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Rethinking the social bubble before schools re-open - with Dr. Iris Gorfinkel · Friday August 14, 2020 by colin newell

Of the many things that are forefront in our minds, especially the minds of parents, at the very top of the list is the concept of back-to-school, the ever shifting shadow that is COVID19, and the possible efficacy of any future vaccines.

We live in a unique time – a time that requires the best minds that we can find. And, as a lay person listening to all the reports with an ear glued to the Canadian media, one voice that stands out is the voice of Dr. Iris Gorfinkel.

We spoke with Dr. Iris Gorfinkel from our sunny patio in Saanich this afternoon. One thing became clear immediately: The good doctor has an inexhaustible focus for the crisis at hand but also a delightful self-deprecating humour on the subject of her long time love affair with music and the piano. We spoke of the mindful life savers in our personal realm and, as it turned out, music itself was one of those meditative exercises that keep us on course. But for now, the challenges at hand remain front and center in the doctor’s world.

This is her essay on the subject of Rethinking the social bubble before schools re-open:

When kids return to school in just a few weeks it will greatly impact social bubbles that contain both children and seniors. Children and adolescents will be exposed to other students in groups in which physical distancing may not be possible. This carries serious potential risk to those older than 60 years and those with chronic conditions who have school-aged children in their social circle.

Just last week the Toronto District School Board released an impressive 50+ page document describing well thought-out plans to bring children back to school. Bringing kids back isn’t just about the didactic teaching of core subjects. It’s critically important for children’s social skills, lends stability to at-risk children’s lives, provides reduced-priced daily meals and supports both physical and mental health. It also allows parents and guardians to re-enter the work force. The document describes the stringent control measures that are to be put in place including not only masks and hand sanitizer use, but also recommendations on restricting class sizes to 15 students with physical distancing in place along with some at-home learning.

These measures are critical but like all proposals intended to control the pandemic, it is far from perfect with plenty of unknowns. There is the question of adherence on the part of students, teachers, custodians and bus drivers with the suggested measures. Will everyone wear a mask? Wash their hands? Practice physical distancing? What will happen with the oncoming colder weather? What about aggressive contact tracing? Will kids or staff come to school when they have the sniffles?

When we look at the experience of other countries, school re-openings have been sobering. Israel was one of the first countries to re-open its schools and serves as an illustration of caution when moving too precipitously. Within days of reopening in May, COVID-19 infections mushroomed in Jerusalem forcing a widespread shutdown of schools.

We continue our grapple with the unpredictable in Canada. Schools have complex social structures with variable physical layouts, unique student and staff bodies, and a myriad of social dynamics. These factors make accurately predicting the impact that school reopening will have on the number of cases of COVID-19.

It is for this reason that returning students should be considered high risk to vulnerable populations. It follows that, when possible, kids should avoid contact with those over 60 and those with chronic conditions when schools reopen. Instead they should communicate by phone or electronically. When possible, this precautionary measure should be left in place for a minimum of one month following schools’ re-openings. After this, we will have a much better idea of the impact that returning to school has had on the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

Should the number remain low, easing back on complete physical distancing can then be reconsidered. At that point, it still would be prudent for students to continue to wear masks, adhere to hand washing and maintain physical distancing.

Canada has recently exceeded 9,000 deaths from COVID-19. We’ve seen close to 3,000 deaths in Ontario alone. Ontario also boasts the dubious distinction of having one of the lowest hospital bed ratios in the western world during a pandemic for which there remains no known cure and for which no safe and effective vaccine is yet available. It is sobering to contemplate that these numbers may well represent only the beginning of what’s to come.

Rethinking the social circle of vulnerable populations when schools reopen is a consideration that for many may not be an option. But not rethinking seniors’ social bubble in advance may cost far more in terms of human suffering, hospitalization and death. A bit of advanced planning may well help to mitigate infections in our most vulnerable populations.

Dr. Iris Gorfinkel

Dr. Gorfinkel graduated from McGill University and completed her post graduate training at the University of Toronto where she was named Intern of the Year. Following this she became a Clinical Instructor in Family Medicine at the University of British Columbia, maintained a family practice, and served assessing women in the emergency room on the Sexual Assault Service at Shaughnessy Hospital (now the BC Women’s Hospital).

She moved to Toronto where she maintains a full time general practice and participates in clinical research.

Care to read some more on the good doctor’s latest initiatives? A National Vaccine Registry Blueprint Check over here


Colin Newell is a Victoria resident and author of the coffeecrew website… his meandering on the subject of specialty coffee goes back decades…

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Culinary designs for living - Making caramel sauce - warning, it's dangerous! · Sunday March 17, 2019 by colin newell

Caramel Sauce - there are hazards

Caramel sauce is awesome on cheesecake. This entry is specifically written for the previous blog entry.

Note: Making caramel sauce at home uses few ingredients but you are in immediate danger of serious or life threatening injuries if you do not exercise caution when making this recipe. Pay attention!

Some warnings and best practices: Do not use a heavy iron pot for this task. You want a pot that absorbs and dissipates heat fast. Do not use an iron or heavy enamel or ceramic pot that holds onto energy and releases it slowly. The process of making caramel can get out of control really fast. You want a cooking pot or saucepan that releases its heat quickly.

Wear safety glasses and if you are using a candy thermometer, wear heat proof gloves or mitts. Candy burns are extremely dangerous and can result in permanent scarring.

Ingredients

  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream
  • 4 tbsp. butter, cubed

In a small, thin, conductive saucepan over medium heat, add sugar and salt and cover with water.

Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring every so often until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high and cook until you achieve a deeply buterscotch-copper colour in the mix, without stirring, 4 to 5 minutes more.

Using a candy thermometer (and I hope you do) you want it to reach 350° F.

Once caramel is a deep copper color, turn off heat, remove from heat source (Oven mitts on!) and immediately stir in cream and butter. Mixture will bubble up so be very, VERY, careful!

Let cool slightly in pan, then transfer to a container to cool completely. You can keep the caramel sauce in the fridge for around one week – as if it won’t be used up within a day!

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Culinary designs for living - Instant pot salted caramel cheesecake · Sunday March 17, 2019 by colin newell

Salted caramel Instant Pot Cheesecake 2019

I don’t rant much about kitchen appliances. They are all tools and they have a job to do. Few tools, however, are true time and energy savers. The Instant Pot (a digital pressure cooker no less…) has been a revolutionary game changer in our busy little kitchen. We’ve made pastas, BBQ ribs, hot and spicy South Asian creations, cajun classics like Jambalaya, healthy breakfast standards like steel cut oats and eggs (any style) and a very passable risotto! Finally whipping up a delicious and creamy classic New York style cheesecake has been the crowning achievement for the Instant Pot. Here’s how you can do it too!

The recipe for the caramel sauce (which is one of the toughest steps) will be featured in the very next blog entry

Some tips to make the perfect Instant Pot cheesecake

  • Pre-baking the crust will make it crisper and crunchier than freezing.
    • In order to avoid lumps in your batter, ensure that all of your ingredients are room temperature.
  • Take the cream cheese, sour cream and eggs out of the refrigerator at least an hour before you plan to start.
    • Mixing is key to a perfectly smooth cheesecake free of air bubbles and cracks.
    • Do not overmix! 30 seconds of mixing tops per step!
    • Mix on low speed, and add the eggs in one at a time.
  • A springform pan or round cake pan with a removable bottom works best
  • If you line both the bottom and the sides of the pan with parchment paper, you should be able to get that perfect, smooth look along the outside of your cheesecake.
  • The size pan you choose will depend on the size of your Instant Pot. An 8″ pan works well with the 8-quart, while a 6″ to 7″ pan is perfect for the 6-quart.
  • Wrap a sling made of foil around the pan to make removal easier. Fold a long piece of foil in at least thirds, lengthwise. Place the pan in the middle of the foil strip and pull up over either side. When placing the pan on the trivet in the inner liner, make sure the ends of the foil sling are sticking up over the sides.

    Ingredients and process

The Cheesecake:

  • 28 graham crackers, crushed
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 farm fresh eggs
    Graham wafer - the secret to great cheesecake!

The Crust – Spray your 7-inch springform pan lightly with cooking spray.
Cut a piece of parchment paper in a circle to fit the bottom of the pan, then spray with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the graham crackers, white sugar and butter, and mix well.
Press the mixture firmly into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan. I used a whiskey glass – flat bottom – very handy.

Bake at 350F for 13 minutes. Remove and set aside.

The Cheesecake mix
In the bowl of your stand mixer, blend the cream cheese and sugar until well combined. Don’t exceed 30 seconds.
Add in the sour cream and mix until smooth. Don’t exceed 30 seconds.
Add in the flour, salt and vanilla, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Don’t exceed 30 seconds of mixing!
Add in the eggs, then mix again until just smooth. At this stage, don’t over mix the batter. 30 seconds per step!

Pour the cream cheese mixture into the prepared crust.

Water - the key to cheesecake success!

The Instant Pot Process
Pour 2 cups of water into the bottom of the Instant Pot. Place the trivet that came with the pot into the bottom. Cut a piece of aluminum foil the same size as a paper towel. Place the foil under the paper towel, then put the springform pan on top of the paper towel. Wrap the bottom of the pan in the foil, using the paper towel as a barrier.

Next, take another piece of foil about 18 inches long folded into thirds lengthwise. Place this under the springform pan, and use the two sides as a sling to place the cheesecake into the pot. It will also make it very easy to remove the cheesecake from the Instant Pot when it’s done.

Once the pan is in the Instant Pot, secure the lid and press Manual.

Adjust the pressure to high and set for 35 minutes, ensuring that the vent value is in the closed position.
Cook the cheesecake in the alloted time, and when finished, allow the pressure to release naturally.

Remove the cheesecake from the pot using the sling you prepared, and place on a wire rack to cool the cheesecake for an hour.

Cover the cheesecake in the pan with foil, and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When ready to serve, top the cheesecake with the caramel sauce (recipe coming) and sprinkle with sea salt.
Using a butter knife, loosen the sides of the cheesecake from the pan and release the sides of the pan. Expect cheers of applause from the folks lucky enough to be sampling your cheesecake!

Store airtight in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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Transitioning the chapters of life - Chapter one - hey, what's with the bow tie? · Saturday March 16, 2019 by colin newell

I was sitting with my lovely wife Andrea at the Fernwood Coffee House today at noon. Between bites of a breakfast egg bagel and sips of black coffee (and her sampling her London Fog…) we reflected on the passage of time – and how we grow and change.

Cutting to the chase: “What’s with the bow tie?” She asked.

Right. Bow ties, in the 21st Century trigger a lot of different responses – and it all depends on where you are. I work at a University (in IT) and in my wandering between classroom buildings, my lab and the cafe, my attire is usually business casual; in the Springtime, shirt and slacks – in the summer, an Aloha shirt and blue jeans. I never, ever wear shorts. What I wear is dependant on the day of the week and the time of year. Many places, schools, Universities and colleges have a casual Friday. We have flipped that on its ear and do a formal Friday. Some of the staff wear ties, scarves, fancier head gear and yes, even bow ties. It is simply a timeless look that works anywhere at anytime. At least that is what I tell myself. Today, while popping into a bookstore for some items, I was asked by the staffer at the counter if I was “going to a birthday party…” “Uhm… no I hesitated then I realized that I was dressed as a magician that would be going to a birthday party! Impression, then response!

Truth be told, Victoria B.C. is not an urban centre with a high awareness of fashion. Go to an opera in Victoria and the listener next to you is just as likely to be dressed for a hike or a dig of the root vegetables in the back garden. And not that this offends me much – actually it offends me a bit. I truly believe that clothing is not about elitism (at least entirely…) and more about the expression of “I care about my appearance!”

And yes, I am an extrovert and I am a bit of an attention suck. For what other reason would I pay attention to fashion trends and make an effort to stand out… well, at least a bit. “But where does this begin?” she asked.

“Well!” I exclaimed as I took a lung full of air.

In 1979 while attending a series of courses at one of the local colleges, I noticed a 21 year old classmate who stood out from the rest. He was wearing a Harris Tweed sport coat. I’d seen elbow padded professors wearing these beat up old classics but I thought it was their exclusive reservation. It’s wasn’t and on this blue jean clad student, it worked. It got me thinking about how we make impressions based on the image that we present. My career choices would always put me in contact with the general public so I had to craft some kind of “package” – over time, this “look” would evolve into a fashion forward sense that changed with the times. My 1st suit for my first date near the Christmas of 1980 would be a cotton corduroy thing from a mall Mens store. It was a modest beginning. Interestingly, I did not buy a tie for this outfit and my date at the time reminded me of the necessity of achieving “balance”. There could be no balance with a three piece suit and no tie.

It was a beginning. The 1980’s offered a wealth of quirky choices for men while remaining somewhat centred in the fashion mainstream – and as it would turn out, the “stream” of fashion in Victoria, at the time, was little more than a rivulet. That would change, little by little, over time.

Flashing forward, I have been working at a University since the late 1980’s (now around 6 years away from retirement!) and that is a few items of clothing under the bridge. The biggest transition is yet to come. It’s thought that graduation, marriage, death, divorce and retirement are among the most stressful of transitions. One takes stock and wonders what it will be that they will be next. Reinvention. It’s a thing. It’s healthy, too a point I guess.

So. The bow tie. For me, it is an expression of, “Hey, it’s still me and I’m still here and I still care…”

When I stop caring… well, let’s not go there.


Colin Newell is an about town writer, food and coffee guy, member of the Canadian Media Guild… and always on the hunt for a great cup of joe and a sharp looking tie.

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