Category: Canadiana

Return to the now – Chapter one

Silence – what is it and where does it come from? Like the empty coffee cup, is it actually empty or waiting?

Contrary to popular belief, the empty cup and saucer is not necessarily a bad thing. It offers optimism, hope and light at the end of that seemingly endless tunnel called life.

For me, the latter half of 2017 and the first 6 months of 2018 have been something of a challenge. Elder care and the death of a family member – always challenging things. But these are things that everyone encounters and has to process in their own way. From within the emptiness of the coffee pot comes a fresh batch of ideas. Every new day brings us alternative coping skills – or that innate ability to move forward despite feeling ankle deep wet concrete holding us back.

The loss of a parent brings unique emotional challenges. For some of us, it might be our mom or our dad – or even a special aunt or uncle. What I discovered about losing “mom” were the unexpected layers or strata of emotional responses and how when you least expected it, something would pop up and trip you up.

Like the weather: You cannot predict it with that much certainty. You do know that a rain is going to fall and the sun will shine in its glory once again. Just maybe not today or tomorrow.

LR123.mp3

or click here for the mp3 if you cannot see the above widget.

Thanksgiving – Life in the coffee time-tunnel

Way back in 2008, I popped into Cafe Roma on Commercial Drive in Vancouver – a cafe that has more than a little history for this old part of Vancouver and for me, a big piece of childhood memory too!

One sunny mid-week Spring day, Dave, a contributor to the CoffeeCrew.com website, and I sample the espressos and cappuccinos and taste some delightful locally baked treats.

It reminded me of a unseasonably hot June of 1968, some 40 years earlier, as I walked down East 6th Avenue, Vancouver, towards Commercial Drive.

This was the first trip off of Vancouver Island and the first trip on the fairly new B.C. Ferries and what started as a day trip turned into an overnight adventure as mom decided to hook up with some cousins in the big city.

Mom, who grew up in a multicultural enclave in Montreal, Quebec and spoke 3 languages, including conversational Italian, had brought me over to Vancouver for the weekend to visit the Pacific National Exhibition and to see a piece of the big city. And what a cultural shock it was for a 11 year old to see something so different than sleepy small town Victoria B.C.

Mom’s cousins lived on East 6th Avenue around 2 or 3 blocks from Commercial Drive – a big old character house the likes of which I had never seen before. The original block of houses remain in Vancouver to this day and walking the tree lined sidewalks in 2018 is like a trip through a time tunnel.

On a Saturday morning in June 1968 I started the day with my cousin Dennis by heading out for an exploration. Only in the late 60’s would it seem perfectly normal for a couple of 11 year olds to head out into the urban jungle for a look see.

Turning onto Commercial Drive on this sunny Saturday late morning, Dennis and I walked down wide sidewalks past Italian delis, corner grocers and bustling cafes.

The street had a life of its own. From a child’s perspective, everything seemed brighter, louder, busier and decidedly more fragrant. For a naive kid from small town Victoria, I might as well have been on another planet.

The aroma of strong coffee, cured ham and fresh fruit drifted over the concrete beneath my feet. I stopped for a moment in front of a busy cafe. It seemed to be packed with men, young, old, mostly old men entangled in a circle of loud conversation and broad hand gestures. They spoke Italian, a language my Montreal raised mother used with me when she was displeased.

A young couple caught my eye. They seemed disconnected from this humming umbilical of community.

A girl, likely in her twenties, wore a canary yellow sun-dress and her male friend a wool suit. The suit seems softened by a few years worth of wear and somewhat sticky considering that it was a hotter than usual summer. Between his sips of strong looking coffee from an impossibly small cup and her demurely drawing from something that looked like a milkshake, they talked in a musical banter – words only they appeared to understand.

Dennis grabbed my shoulder and pulled me along. I looked back at the couple nodding and laughing. The girls hair moved up and down held in place by a daisy-yellow hair broach. Now walking again, Dennis steered me into a green grocers hardly a door away from the cafe. With 90 cents in my pocket, a lot of money for 1968, I bought a Butter-finger chocolate bar, some pixie-sticks (fizzy candy in a paper tube) and a cola.

We exited the store and turned left towards the cafe again.

Caffe Roma is now buzzing louder as we strode towards my cousin’s avenue. The table where the young couple sat was now empty save for a cup and a glass. I spot them exiting onto the boulevard, hand in hand, her dress burning a permanent image into my mind, the itchy smell of his suit offering contrast. They vanished into a pulsating hive of urban humanity – a Saturday morning blend of shoppers, smokers, the odd smattering of fashionably clad hipsters and one wide-eyed child – me.

I look in the cafe window again flashing forward to the present. I stand outside of Caffe Roma on Commercial Drive and time has stood still just for me. The reflection in the window looks alternately young and slightly older.

Clouds pass by offering a broad selection of flattering light. CoffeeCrew contributing member Dave watches me for a moment before holding the door.

“Colin, let’s get some coffee…” he says.

The smells and sounds of the the Cafe and the street envelope me like an old gloved hand. For a moment I hold in my palm the paper tubes of fizzy candy and a half-eaten chocolate bar. Dave asks again, “What are you going to have, Colin?”

I order my usual when I am in a cafe for the first time – double espresso and a snack. In this case, they have very tasty looking apple turnovers. I get one.

The intensity of the Italian coffee and the tangy sweetness of the pastry are the perfect match. As I sip the beverage and feel the caffeine perking within me, I can almost hear the whispered conversations of the young lovers from so long ago at a nearby table. Where are they now? Have the years been kind? Most likely, their grandchildren are half-grown up, much as I was in 1968. I think about my marriage, now almost 2 decades in length, and how in places like these, time just stands still.

In the final moments before we leave for our next stop on the drive, the owner pops by to gather up our spent cups. I tell him the coffee is fabulous. His expression is priceless and without words – a combination of ‘of course it is son…’ and ‘I have a cafe to run today…’

As we step onto the still vibrant sidewalk of Commercial Drive, two ten year old boys approach on skate boards. One sails past me like a low flying seagull.

The other swishes to a stop and is immediately hypnotized by the activity in the cafe, the noise, the smells, the starling chatter of the old men.

The cycle continues season by season, year by year through the generations. We are thankful for our memories and the time we have ahead of us. Thanks for the memories Vancouver!

A few months later in 1968, Jimi Hendrix would play a stellar concert at the Pacific Coliseum and a couple of weeks before I arrived in Vancouver Robert Kennedy would be assassinated in Los Angeles during his presidential bid. Here in 2018, Caffe Roma is now part of the history books – but while in Vancouver, you can visit The Drive – Do so. You will be glad you did.

Talking coffee health studies with Natasha Hall of NewsTalk 800 CJAD Montreal

Podcast – Talking coffee with Natasha Hall of CJAD 800 NewsTalk – Montreal –

We were talking coffee with Natasha Hall of NewsTak 800 – Montreal on the topic of those seemingly endless health studies on the dire (or wonderful) effects of caffeine and coffee (in general) on your body!

This podcast (interview) is around 14 minutes long – so strap yourself in.

I average around 20 radio, TV or newspaper interviews annually and this was one of the better ones – a lot of these radio hosts are affable, enthusiastic and well read before they undertake an interview – honored to chat on the subject of my passion. Coffee. Love it.

Podcast – If you cannot see the audio player above, click here for the mp3 download.

Talking Ham Radio on CBC Spark with Nora

Social media and its evolution – where did it begin? And where is it going?

We enjoy a spectrum of social media tools and experiences in the 21st Century and rightfully so. We have the tools and the technology to make great things happen. But how did we get to where we are today?

Humans have been communicating, somewhat inefficiently, for thousands and thousands of years – with foot messengers, smoke signals and simple peer to peer links, one on one, through the chapters of human history.

It is only with the advent of the telegraph and, soon after, the radio that we can reach a lot of people, reliably and over great distances. And it was radio, in the form of amateur or ham radio, that facilitated the instantaneous and often random social connections that would become the World’s first social media medium.

I talked at length with Nora Young on CBC Spark. The entire show was around 55 minutes and covered some of the history of early social media and its links to amateur radio technology and popular music.

Feel free to enjoy the entire episode over here

Or, if you are short for time, have a listen to our near-5 minute chat with Nora on the subject so dear to my heart – Amateur or Ham Radio and its relationship to the modern social media we enjoy today. –

If you cannot see the audio player below, click here for the mp3.

Book review – Straddling the Hound – The Curious Charms of Long-Distance Bus Travel

When humanity first put one foot in front of the other and locked its gaze on the horizon, the force of curiosity and exploration would inevitably build nations.

Without a curious nature and desire to follow the sun, we would be an entirely different people living in an entirely different world.

Retired medical doctor, Trevor Watson, is one such 21st-century explorer who finds the attraction of the open road impossible to resist. At a very early age, Trevor would sit in his bedroom and gaze at a large full colour Mercator map; he would imagine ocean journeys between tropical outposts. These junkets would often involve ingenious plans to avoid pirates, bandits, and encounters with malarial mosquitos.

Responsibility and practical demands of life in the adult world settled in and Trevor (in a candid and wry admittance) reluctantly decided on a career in family medicine. It would be a wise choice since it created an opportunity to meet his lovely wife of 46 years and travel and work in some interesting corners of the globe. Being a family physician also led him to write a column dealing with health issues for several Canadian newspapers in the 1990s.

In Trevor Watson’s debut release, Straddling the Hound he takes us on a series of explorations into the American hinterland. He frequently integrates etymological and linguistic analysis of place names, regional personalities and the very industry and infrastructure of the open road.

The book has more substance and surprises than what you would expect at first glance.
Straddling the Hound is a very satisfying reading experience – as page after page of first person travel observations reveals unflinchingly detailed explanations of place names, people and the regional origins of successful businesses that ultimately thrived because of travel.

As you would expect, a book about bus travel in North America is not all about smiling faces. This is not the simpler times of the 1950’s and 1960’s. A journey on a trans continental bus is as much about discovering something new as it is seeing the seedier side of the American experience:

One chap particularly caught my eye; he was as stocky as can be; his neck must have been 20” around. He was, I imagined, Carlos “Chopper” Ramirez, out on weekend parole. He had cryptic messages tattooed on his neck and bald scalp. His head actually seemed suffused, as though it was about to explode. Oddly enough, he had – of all things – a huge golden polo medal hanging around his neck. I’ll bet you anything it was stolen, or maybe won in a knife fight.

I found myself drawing the curtains on my suburban home as I fell deeper and deeper into Dr. Watson’s first person dystopian vision of downtown America. That feeling would pass as the writing gave way to a folksier and journalistic treatise on the very fabric of America’s open road, its people, the itinerant among us and the many meanings of our journey.

Straddling the Hound is not just about the bricks, mortar, concrete and blacktop of our interconnecting matrix of highways that connect all the people in their varied splendour. Its also a fearless gaze at the strata of society. Dr. Watson takes us on a sojourn under the soiled fingernails and into the duffle bags of the every day people that ride the bus – heading home, leaving home, and often away from a temporary home. He flirts with often acerbic descriptions of frustrated employees and drivers of Greyhound. He explains the origins of highway-byway diners like Denny’s:

Denny’s was founded in 1953, in Lakewood, California, by Richard Jezak and Harold Butler. The original name was Danny’s Donuts, but a few years later was changed to Denny’s to distinguish itself from a competing chain called Doughnut Dan’s.

Trevor Watson of Straddling the HoundMore than anything else Trevor Watson wants to achieve his mission; to find out about the very essence of the people that he encounters; to understand them and their history and their place in the modern world. It is, I think, the thirst for knowledge that powers, in part, the motivation of the (as Trevor describes himself) hodophiliacsomeone who’s fond of or loves traveling.

Dr. Watson (Photo above) takes us on a dusty road trip leaving us significantly more curious about the world around us. I am very confident that readers of this blog would definitely enjoy putting on their traveling shoes and taking a ride on this bus. Copies of “Straddling the Hound” are available on Amazon.ca and also at Tanners Books in beautiful Sidney, British Columbia, Bolen Books at the Hillside Mall and Ivy’s Books in Oak Bay.


Colin Newell is a Victoria resident, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, who is constantly in search of a great cup of coffee and a good book to read.


Social media 101 – 10 things about todays internet

25 years ago the World wide web was born. In the beginning it all seemed simple enough: Web pages were 100% information. Eventually they would include photos and multi-media. At that point the entire resource became limitless as a medium for knowledge deployment, information sharing and instant global communications.

I am fortunate enough to have been born before the internet. To have lived at a time where I did not have instant access to everything, I think, was something of a developmental benefit. It was a valuable experience. Like growing up without electricity or television… not that I was one of those people! It gives one perspective.

At this 25th anniversary juncture, I have some thoughts and questions about where we are at right now – and yes, it is going to come across as “you kids get off of my lawn…” Here are 10 thoughts:

10.) When did content on the internet become all about search engine ratings? Everywhere you look, you see rubbish, junk content and click bait. This article, for a refreshing change, is 100% information. There is nothing for you to click on, no sensational content, no mass reloads of pages to see one simple article. You are not forced to load 10 pages of ads to see a 300 word article. It respects you and does not treat you like a fool. This is actually the top thing that gets me fuming. Because I am fuming, I put it at the top of the list!

9.) When did the internet (our greatest knowledge resource) become so dumbed down and assume we are all stupid? We are not stupid. The average person functioning on this planet is quite smart. You have to be to survive. So why does the “internet media” feel that we are all idiots?

8.) Where there is potential for so much more we see endless quantities of junk or rubbish content, scandal sheet articles, click bait and pointless advertising shills that pose as meaningful consumer reviews.
It’s everywhere. This article has no hidden agenda. There are no surprises. No insults.

7.) Whither integrity? I may not believe in the same things that you do, but I have stood for some things all the years I have been online and have not really changed my perspective that much.
Websites that try and pass off rubbish for pure profit – or legitimate media sites that include rubbish content (like our local Times-Colonist newspaper) leave me feeling kind of cold.
In their favour I imagine that the life of newspapers is a pretty tight one right now and maybe their very survival depends on this strategy.

6.) Too much information. Yea, I use Facebook and Twitter. When did the curtain of a reasonable expectation of privacy fall away with everyone (quoting a dear Hawaiian friend…) “Drop their panties for the camera…” Is it because we all want to share every moment of our lives and all our desires OR have we been conditioned to do so. I think it is the combination of the two.

5.) Is this a lost opportunity. I think every day we are given the chance to make a small contribution to the greater good of the Planet. The power of the internet and access to information could help us do this. But we waste our time running around after junk content, passing off jokes and gags as a meaningful use of our time and chasing phantoms in the street as a game (Pokemon…) Yup, full on old man rant now!

4.) I’ve still got hope. Actually, I think during a crisis situation the net becomes an awesome tool for coming to the rescue and marshalling a response really fast. Examples include the devastating Earthquakes in S.E. Asia (Indonesia, Thailand), Japan and Haiti. There is no question that people can pull together when they need to. And who knows, maybe the greatest global challenge is still ahead of us.

3.) Why all the eggs in one basket? I worry about the centralization of media and information on the internet and the abandonment or neglect of traditional forms of media, like newspaper, TV and radio. When you think about it, for the consumer, radio is one of the most economical mediums to reach a very large audience at little cost to the end consumer. TV used to be like that in the day we had TV antennas. Truth is, you can still put up a TV antenna and pick up a lot of good stuff – even HD. Most people don’t know this. For most of us, our cable bill (often bundled with internet) is often the priciest of utilities that we have little or nothing to show for our expenditure at the end of the month… apart from wasted time maybe.

2.) Spam is still king. It takes many forms but by and large, unwelcome e-mail is still the bane of the internet that has been with us every day the internet has existed. If anything, our laws and tools against spam may actually be improving. Ironically perhaps, we have grown to trust online commerce for its robust nature, selection and time-saving capabilities and it might just be that we don’t even need spam anymore – of that it might be completely ineffective anyway.

1.) There is hope. I just told you a bunch of different things. Perhaps they may have been laid out in a haphazard manner without the best grammar or punctuation. What I have tried to do is challenge my readers on some level, getting them to stop and think for a few minutes. This content is simply that. Content. No more. No less. So on this 25th anniversary of the world wide web, I offer you this. A single page of words with no music, no photos, no links, no promoted content, no rubbish or bullshit.

Take this knowledge freely. And in your internet travels, keep a watch out for the truth and integrity – two things often in short supply.


Colin Newell is a Victoria area resident, writer, technical analyst and a bunch of other things who has been writing on the internet for an awful long time.


Food, drink and smoking Summer 2016

Having saved up for a house, back-yard and BBQ for going on 20 years, you can imagine my delight when all of this actually came true!

I now have the house and back yard and a very beat up but serviceable Weber Genesis 3-burner 300 series BBQ that is still cooking away (and over ten years of age…)

And in the first 60 days of living in our house, I BBQ’ed 45 nights! We just started our 3rd year in the house 1 month ago! Amazing. I am a better BBQ chef now but what kind of smoker am I?
Well, I am not a smoker at all – but I could aspire to be.

And if learning how to gas flame BBQ cook is one skill, then learning how to smoke meat is an entirely, ahem, different kettle of fish. But let’s discuss some basics.

Smoking meat to perfection requires much more finesse than many people are aware of. There are two distinct setups when it comes to the arrangement of a smoking system: the vertical setup, and the horizontal setup. In the vertical setup, the fire can be as low as the bottom level of the apparatus, separated from the meat at the top with water and smoking wood in the middle.

In the horizontal setup, the cooking chamber, water, meat, smoking agents, and firebox are all connected. Of course, it is also possible to achieve good smoking results simply by using a regular grill. The source of heat for completing the smoking process can be achieved with a number of different agents, including wood, steam, electricity, gas, and charcoal.

The greatest challenge in being able to achieve a consistent temperature throughout the meat is to be able to maintain a constant, healthy flow of smoke. Generally speaking, those who are new to the art of smoking meat will be best-suited with an electric smoking apparatus.

Generally speaking, indirectly seating through smoking is a method adopted for larger pieces of meat. Naturally, different cuts of meat will have a different amount of time that will be most ideal for dispersing the heat of the smoke across the full surface area and throughout the entire cut.

The attached graphic gives you a great idea how different meats or proteins respond to smoke – or in other words, “when they are done…” It was a neat graphic to look at and the attached image prints well – so use it freely and learn a bit more about “smoking” – smoking of the healthy kind that is!

What you can do is open up the graphic by clicking on it and then right clicking it to save to your desk top.

Or (and this should work better…) Click on this – smoking-times-and-temperature.jpg

Now I need to get out some of those hickory wood chips I have kicking around!

Apologies in advance to my lovely Vegan and Vegetarian friends.


Colin Newell has been writing this blog for over 20 years and you will notice the absence of junk content, click bait, promo links and other rubbish. We are better than that and everyone should demand better content!


A slight book review – Adventures in Solitude

Adventures in Solitude Review Grant LawrenceOne would hardly think that we could improve on the relative paradise of Kona, Hawaii – a coastal village often basking in a seemingly endless summer sun, caressed by a cleansing surf and feeling the gentle quiet of the off season.

Despite this perfection, we did. And we did it with a book no less.
And what better book than one that dishes out surprises and regional familiarity by the pail full.

As a Canadian West coast resident who grew up in the in-between zone of not quite country but not quite city life of Southern Vancouver Island, it felt familiar reading a comprehensive, compelling and honest tale of a young man’s coming of age in the blustery South West coastal region of British Columbia. This area, often so unflinchingly merciless, so physically and mentally challenging, was the backyard of my childhood.

Although I have never been in the heart of Desolation Sound, I have been in the region. One of the towns mentioned in the book, Lund, which is the gateway to Desolation Sound, was one of my last stops on many roads trips exploring the area. It is up the road a ways from Powell River at the end of a fully paved 6600 mile road that reaches all the way to Santiago de Chile. And yet, it is, has been and will always be the road less traveled.

I have been to similar places to Lund on Vancouver Island like Port Renfrew, Port Hardy, Telegraph Bay, Ucluelet and many, many others. They are the very fabric of this region and offer a glimpse of what life is like in almost complete isolation.

As pages rolled by I would soon come to realize how much of B.C. wilderness was in my own blood – ready to be relived and re-appreciated.

Adventures in Solitude chronicles the life (particularly the early child development) of CBC host and journalist Grant Lawrence – a fellow who comes across as a chatty and witty pop culture expert and music critic perhaps lacking the kind of depth and dimensionality I have come to expect from other more seasoned and elderly statesmen of Canada’s beloved public broadcaster.

So, imagine the delight of tucking into a randomly selected volume from Victoria’s premier bookstore Munro’s for the purpose of getting me through the fairly routine 5 hour flight from the West Coast to Kona, Hawaii and realizing that there was something truly great between these soft covers. Its resonance with so many hardy Canadians, in part, explains why the book has picked up so many accolades so quickly.

Because, for me, a slightly outdoors kind of guy, here was a story that resonated so deeply in my coastal consciousness that on some minute level I felt like parts of me were incorporated into the book.

Raised in a dissimilar vein to my own, Grant’s background was from tony West Vancouver where lawyers, developers and family money call home. Grant’s dad was a property developer of some note and success and happened upon a piece of land in B.C.‘s coastal wilderness at one of those “just at the right time” moments. Spending summer after bucolic summer in Desolation Sound, the Lawrence family found themselves becoming part of the regional history and folklore of the area.

I do not want to spoil the story though folks – you will have to buy a copy for yourselves. Any long time B.C. resident or Canadian that loves the outdoors and spent part of their formative years anywhere near the coastal wild of the West Coast needs to read this book.

This book reminds me of a really good non-fiction version of a Doug Coupland novel – and I hope that neither of the authors find this insulting because I think Coupland is utterly brilliant – and of course as a British Columbian I relate to his work as well.

Get the book folks – if only for what shades of yourselves you might find. You can find out all you need to know about Grant Lawrence over here.

And another important lesson for me revealed – having figured out that Grant Lawrence was more than the sum of some City parts…

Never judge a Man… or a Book… by its cover.

On location in Kona, Hawaii – I am Colin Newell.

And now a moment of shameless self promotion

The highlight of 2007, for me, was recording a CD worth of music… something I have always wanted to do. I grew up in a house that had a fair amount of music in it – A Heinztman piano from the 19th century was a household fixture and I started playing it when I was 6 or 7. After a couple of years worth of lessons, a guitar started to seem way cooler – and easier to pack around too. That was in the mid-Seventies.

By the mid-eighties I was playing around with a small collection of garage and jukebox bands. In the late eighties, I had a hand in on producing a couple of small folk acts – one such project netted about 4000 units sold – which was not bad for a self-published recording completed on a budget less than $500 in a borrowed studio in a University radio station.

Fast forward to 2017 and I am working on a few musical things with a few people. Here is a snippet featuring Kala ukulele, Cort acoustic guitars, stand up bass, drums and Piano…

Track 1 – You can’t always get what you want –

Track 1 – If you cannot see the audio player above, click here for the mp3 download.

Summer Cooking 2016 Chapter 1 Butter Chicken

I am a huge curry fan – the hotter the better. This is a very easy recipe to build – and you can heat it up or cool it off however you see fit.

Marinade:
1 cup plain yoghurt Greek style High fat content
2 TBL lemon juice
2 TSP Tumeric powder
4 TSP Garam Masala
1 TBL chili powder (ground dried chili powder)
2 TSP ground cumin
2 TBL fresh grated ginger
5 garlic cloves crushed
1500g chicken thigh filet cut into bite sized pieces

Curry:
2 TBL vegetable oil
2 minced shallots
2 cups tomato passata (tomato sauce in a glass jar)
2 TBL sugar
2.5 TSP salt
2 cups half/half cream

Instructions:
a.) Combine the marinade ingredients with the chicken in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
b.) Heat the vegetable oil over high heat in a frying pan – (we use a dutch oven)
c.) Add 2 Minced shallots to the frying pan and cook about 2 minutes.
d.) Add the chicken coated in the marinade and cook for around 3 minutes or until the chicken is while all over.
e.) Add the tomato passata, sugar and salt to the mix – turn down heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
f.) Do a taste test to see if it needs more salt.
g.) Add the cream to the mixture – mix to combine – then remove from heat.

Garnish with cilantro leaves – serve with basmati rice.