Coffee roasting 101: All you need is a skillet or a popcorn maker

23 Jan

By Diva Heather Boa

ZURICH – A friend who is a psychologist once told me that addiction to coffee isn’t measured by how many cups one drinks but, rather, by the depth of emotion that one feels for coffee.

Well, I love coffee. Hot, rich, smooth, black coffee. In large quantities.

So when the invitation came to attend Coffee Roasting 101 at The Coastal Roastery in Zurich today, I was excited.

Many people are familiar with Coastal Coffee Company, with its green logo of a stylized pop-up top Volkswagen van, a regular at many farmers markets in Huron County. Perhaps not so many people are familiar with its coffee shop in downtown Zurich, where there’s always a pot or two of coffee and some baked goods available, along with everything you need to prepare a good pot of coffee. At the back, beyond the retail shop, burlap sacks of green beans – which are really the seed of a coffee cherry – grown by micro producers in Nicaragua, Columbia, Rwanda, Peru or some other exotic country sit ready for the gleaming Toper brand roaster in the centre of the room.

Today, the four of us in this class are not going near the commercial roaster.

Instead, we’re learning to roast micro batches of coffee using a few methods that adapt to our own kitchens or campfires. The class ratio is a phenomenal 1:1, with staff sharing their considerable knowledge and skills.

Jason Wiebe kicks off the demonstration with a cautionary note that a butane burner should not be used indoors and a popcorn maker should not be modified in any way.

coffeeroasting5Then he fills a dry cast iron skillet with 250g – that’s one cup, for those of you still on Imperial measurements – and we watch as he flips the beans like a chef making an omelette, chaff floating into the air. In time, the beans turn from green to yellow to deep brown. And there is a cluster of cracking sounds, like sluggish popcorn, at two intervals in the process. We’re told the green beans smell like wet grass in the first few minutes, then like hay, then like fresh bread as the sugar in the beans start to caramelize. When they’re done, Jason flips them onto a baking pan to cool.

coffeeroasting8To watch a short video of coffee beans in the skillet, check out their Facebook video post on Jan. 23.

coffeeroasting9Ben Gingerich takes an even smaller portion of beans, just 80g, and pours them into an old, sturdy popcorn maker that’s been modified with the addition of a steel can missing both top and bottom fitted like a miniature smoke stack. The hot air tosses around the beans and every now and again he gives the popcorn maker a shake. We shine a penlight onto the beans, checking their colour because we can’t hear the beans crack above the noise of the machine. In a shorter time than it took to skillet roast the beans, this batch is done.

2016-01-23 14.46.03There is a third process for roasting coffee at home, but it seems to be the least favourable choice: using a relatively pricey electric drum roller with presets.

At the end of the two-hour class, we grab homemade cookies and yet another cup of coffee, we are given green beans to roast at home, and we get a sample of the beans we roasted.

Even if my sample of green beans never hits a skillet or popcorn maker, I have a much deeper appreciation for coffee, which is a big part of my day.


What: Coffee Roasting 101

When: Saturday, Feb. 27, starting at 1:30 p.m.

Where: Coastal Roastery, 17 Goshen St. N., Zurich

Cost: $40

RSVP: Space is limited. Email:





Cooking like a chef at Samuel’s Hotel

18 Jan

samuelsspencer6By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – They’re five basic ingredients: flour, kosher salt, eggs, olive oil and cream.

But they hold so much potential, as a dozen aproned people discovered during a Saturday morning pasta-making class led by Chef Spencer Vail at Samuel’s Hotel Inc. just north of Goderich.

In three hours, those ingredients were mixed, kneaded, rested, pulled, cut, filled, folded, pinched, and shaped into delicate pasta packages stuffed with all sorts of delicious mixtures. Chef Vail, of Cait’s Kitchen, demonstrated a few fundamental techniques, a few simple sauces, and a couple of cheats for making pasta on a weekend that would result in easy meals through the working week. The students gathered around the kitchen island to watch intently, ignoring the winter river scene out the hotel suite’s patio windows.

samuelsspencer11There was butternut squash baked and blended with cinnamon, fennel seeds, peppercorn, cloves, and star anise, which were piped onto waiting pasta to make a folded agnolotti, then fried in butter and sage.

There were braised chicken thighs, flavoured in a stock of onions, carrots, water, salt and peppercorn, which would be pulled for the filling for ravioli, then topped with a sauce of the stock reduction, along with mushrooms and kale.

There were aged cheddar, Swiss, and jalapeño goat cheese filled into pasta shaped into tortellini and topped with a mixture of simmered cherry tomatoes, chopped onions and smoked garlic, with a touch of cream added at the end.

samuelsspencer9“Any paste you like the taste of you can use as a filling,” Chef Vail said, as students pulled pasta through the pasta-making machine and cut shapes in the dough.

As one budding cook pointed out, all we needed was a good bottle of red wine – or a bad bottle of red wine.


What: Cook Like A Chef, with Chef Spencer Vail

Where: Samuel’s Hotel Inc., 34031 Saltford Rd., Goderich, ON

More details: Learn some pretty great kitchen skills and share in the meal prepared. Stay Friday or Saturday night in a cozy room with a fireplace and enjoy a hot breakfast the following morning. Classes are held Saturdays. Packages priced per couple. Additional guests taking part in the classes are $70pp.
January 16 ~ Local Ingredients, International Flavour
January 30 ~ That’s How I Roll
February 13 ~ Get in the Game
February 27 ~ To be Announced

February 6 ~ Valentines Crash Course: Beyond Making Toast and Boiling Water – Learn How not to Suck at Cooking (This class is for men only. Craft Beer is included in this class)

To register: Email, phone 1-877-524-1371 or 519-524-1371




There’s a hint of spring at Goderich Makers Market

10 Jan

makers market 1
By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – Environment Canada issued the snow squall warning just as I was unpacking into the fridge a dozen fresh eggs and a bunch of carrots and putting into the cupboard a jar of fermented turnip and carrots from the local market.

On this Saturday morning, about 300 visitors were greeted by the aroma of chickpea, quinoa and spinach soup, made by the Goderich Makers Market creator, Amy Zoethout, of Feast for Good. A few steps into the lobby of the Huron County Museum, percolating coffee from Coastal Coffee filled the air with wonderful smells of beans from around the world, all roasted in Zurich, Ont. Beyond the glass door, in the History Hall the historic storefronts and imposing locomotive shared space with tables of canned goods, natural soaps and lotions, baked stuff, knitting and jewellery. In the exhibit hall, farmers from neighbouring communities sold produce.

makers market 2

I spent a good 15 minutes just within the front door, as friends stopped to chat about Christmas holidays, winter getaways, and the disadvantages of a Facebook account. Then I walked through the halls, talking to vendors who have become friends over the years of regular visits to various farmers’ markets.

As I write this, the wind throws snow against the window and I’m convinced that winter is finally here. But thank goodness there will be monthly markets to get me through to springtime.


What: Goderich Makers Market

When: First Saturday – Feb. 6, March 5, April 2. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. After that, find these vendors at the Goderich Farmers’ Market, starting May long weekend.

Where: Huron County Museum, 110 North St., Goderich

Cost: Free, or goodwill donation to view the museum exhibits.

There’s treasure on Hwy. 86

14 Dec

bushart1By Diva Heather Boa

HURON COUNTY – It’s easy to image carloads of tourists and cottagers rolling along the picturesque Hwy. 86 – the dividing line between Huron and Bruce counties – in search of adventure during the summer months. They stop to poke around the markets, garden centres and studios that surround Wingham in a big arc, and they eat picnic lunches or enjoy coffee breaks at pretty parks set in small villages.

This time of year, the swarms of summer visitors are gone, but many of those places remain open to be discovered in this week before Christmas.


Bush Art, 86457 Norman Line, Wingham

The roadway sign at the corner of Norman Line and Hwy. 86, just west of Wingham entices folks down a dirt road and up a farm laneway. It would seem unlikely that on this dreary day the place would welcome travellers, but there’s the neon “open” sign lit up with red light bulbs. I enter a room filled with wooden angels with crosses of copper wire hanging from their necks, walking sticks with patterns burned into their smooth surfaces, a massive tree burl with every curve highly polished, and other items crafted from materials found on the farm’s acreage. As is Huron County custom in the rural area, I know that the owner will eventually discover my car in his laneway and come out to greet me. True enough, within a few minutes, retired-farmer-turned-artisan Brian Wellsted joins me, inviting me to wander further into the old barn, where used row upon row of books neatly line his handmade bookshelves, organized in categories just like you would expect to find at Chapters or Coles. He leaves me alone with the hum of the heaters and the rhythmic tap of rain against the old window panes, while I explore the mystery section, picking out two reasonably priced hard covers, and then sifting through the Canadiana, gardening, travel and sections.

I leave with my two books and wooden angel just as what appears to be a mother-daughter combo enter for their turn to explore.

Pioneer Conservation Area, 13 Clyde St., Bluevale

Today the ball diamond is empty, the playground equipment quiet. There’s no one under the picnic shelter. It’s peaceful. A great place to read my new book, enjoy a cup of coffee and recall the last time I was here – as a reporter, observing a mock disaster built around a scenario of a bus accident. There were student actors hanging in tree branches, caught under the bus, trapped inside, thrown clear across the field and impaled by branches. They waited while emergency workers co-ordinated efforts to get medical help to them and extract them, in a rehearsal of their skills. But on this day there’s no one in the park and on the footpath to the Maitland River even though it’s quite pretty.


Old 86 Farmers’ Market, 44229 Hwy. 86

The fry truck is all closed up now that the sun has waned, but there’s still plenty to see at this massive farmers’ market of locally produced frozen, boxed and preserved food, and everything from gardening tools to home décor to underwear.

I wander through a front room filled with wonderful preserves by Glenn Hill, turkey products by Hayter’s and new giftware, picking out a jar of marmalade for a Christmas morning treat.


Then I head back into the vast room, at the least the size of an arena floor, and sift through toys, gift wrapping, golfing shoes, work clothes, wall signs, books and all sorts of items that would make great gifts or stocking stuffers. In the end, I pick out two pairs of gloves with little no-slip nubs of plastic on the palms, perfect for the gym.

With my haul of treasures in the back of the car, I head back down the highway, this time in search of lunch.

Dinner at Hessenland with a heaping of precision, consistency

7 Dec

hessenland1By Diva Heather Boa

ST. JOSEPH – There are two reasons to be a fan of the simply elegant European dining experience at Hessenland Country Inn: Precision and consistency.

With the ownership team of Liz Ihrig at front of house and Frank Ihrig in charge of the kitchen, there is a never-failing attention to detail that is almost spooky.

We’re here for a business meeting of eight women – the annual meeting of the Ontario Travel Divas, with a photography seminar provided by Erin Samuell of A Simple Photograph, division of blog ideas for the next year, and dinner. We’re in luck because the restaurant is open this weekday night to accommodate a Christmas party in its vast main dining room, with a wall of windows and patio doors that provide a picturesque view of the countryside near the shores of Lake Huron.

IMG_4928We meet in an intimate space at the front of the restaurant, and hear not a peep from the party.

Twinkling white Christmas lights in garland border the window and stockings carefully hung on the mantle serve as a backdrop to a table perfectly laid out with silverware, carafes of water set at intervals.

I could order with my eyes closed: Kalbs Schnitzel Wiener Art ($24.95), which is a Huron County veal that’s been breaded and sautéed, with just enough smooth, brown gravy to make it decadent. And on the side I choose spaetzle, a soft egg noodle that is delicious without adornment, and red cabbage, made interesting with clove and something sweet. This is the same order I have every time, and every time it looks and tastes just as wonderful (unless it’s Mongolian Grill night, when I choose a whack of raw meat and vegetables and take it outside to the grill for frying and spicing by Frank.)


On a visit this past summer, the kitchen also made a special order birthday Pavlova, a fussy dish with its meringue base, topped with fruit and whipped cream.

Our waitstaff finds the perfect balance between professionalism and friendliness, somehow always managing to appear when we’re in need but disappearing from the cozy dining space when we are settled.

Hessenland also serves its own beer, Hessenland Helles Bavarian style beer, and this spring will begin planting grapevines with the expectation of pouring its first glass of wine in 2018.

Hessenland is currently running pre-Christmas hours, Friday and Saturday for dinners only. Group reservations for 20 people or more on the remaining weekdays until Dec. 17, at which time it closes until Spring.




Trucks, trailers, tractors – oh my!

4 Dec


By Diva Shari Parsons

SEAFORTH – The rare treasure of a mild and sunny Sunday afternoon in November calls for a road trip. My hubby and I enjoyed the drive to Seaforth where we stopped at the annual Toy and Craft Show and Sale held at the Seaforth Agriplex and Community Centre. Admission was $5 a person for ages 10 and up.

Before we entered the Agriplex, we were entertained by the sight of what I called the “push-me-pull-you” car. Two front ends of two separate vehicles had been joined together, each end with its own steering wheel and driver’s seat. The perfect car for the person who doesn’t know whether they are coming or going!

seaforthtoyandcraft8Inside the Agriplex, children were greeted by Santa and the 2015 Seaforth Fall Fair Ambassador, Maranda Klaver, handing out candy canes and good wishes.

seaforthtoyandcraft9Farmers and little farmers-to-be were greeted by the sight of toy trucks, trailers, tractors and farm machinery in every size, shape and colour, including pink! There were wonderful static displays of model farms and farm machinery. For the collector, there were vintage toy farm machinery, Pepsi and Coca-Cola wares and vintage style signs. Sports fans could browse through a variety of sports memorabilia and collectibles. There were also a couple of booths promoting the 2016 International Plowing Match, taking place in Walton, Ontario in September 2017. One such booth promoted a quilt block challenge for which participants create a quilt block using only the fabric provided. The completed blocks will be judged and the winning blocks will be assembled into a quilt, which will be raffled off during the Country Side Meets Coastline quilt show being held in August 2017 at the Seaforth Community Centre.

A short walk across the road to the Community Centre presented us with a varied selection of choices for Christmas gift shopping. One wall displayed a heart-warming selection of wooden snowmen and penguins complete with twinkling lights. There were tables laden with a mouth-watering variety of home-baked goodies. My mouth said “yes-yes” but my waistline said “no-no”! A number of booths offered home-made Christmas decorations, one of my favourites being a wreath constructed to look like the fluffy white head of a cheerful snowman. If bling is your thing, there were several styles, shapes and colours of jewelry to decorate fingers, wrists and necks. Another table I admired displayed lovely wooden bowls and vases polished to glow with a warm shine. Any little girl with a Barbie doll would have been delighted by the selection of beautiful home-made gowns displayed at another booth. As I have an eye for colour, I enjoyed looking over the bright and colourful Tupperware items artfully arranged on a table.

If shopping made you hungry or thirsty, the Seaforth Agricultural Society operated a couple of concession stands that offered a variety of goodies to tempt your tummy.

The Toy and Craft Show and Sale offers something of interest to young and old alike and is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours and maybe pick up a gift or two.





IODE Christmas House Tour: Decking the halls in Goderich

19 Nov

IMG_3251By Diva Shari Parsons

GODERICH – I usually prefer to spend glorious, sunny autumn days outdoors but the lovely weekend weather provided the perfect accompaniment to the 2015 IODE Christmas House Tour.

The tour consisted of five different homes – two modern and three historical. The homes themselves were decorated with both modern and traditional themes. The trend colour for this year appeared to be silver and aqua along with other glitzy metallics like gold, bronze and copper.

IMG_3239In the first home I visited, the master bedroom was a glistening ice palace of silver, white and blue. A guest bedroom was decorated in rich tones of spring green and peacock blue against velvety chocolate brown walls. The smallest bedroom was done in a rustic Canadiana theme with red, green and white engendering images of cozy, fire-lit wooden cabins. The living room was modern with silver and gold and touches of deep purple. I think the most eye-catching display was the long dining room table done in muted silver and gold with a centerpiece created using long, twisting and twining vine-like branches that were the colour of long exposed driftwood.

Visitors to the second home I toured were first greeted by the cheerful sight of a vivid IMG_3247orange VW Beetle topped by brilliant orange and purple presents. The large tree in the front room was festooned in glittering aqua and silver. The bright, candy-coloured decor in the living room took its inspiration from the beautiful quilt that the homeowner had created and hung on one wall. A small den featured a smaller tree decorated in the traditional colours of red, green and white. The eating area of the sunlit kitchen was sparkling with silver and gold contrasting with rich blue napkins and candles. The exterior of the home displayed its share of Christmas pizzazz too. A green topiary was accented with sparkling, icy crystals, chrome silver and fancy wrought iron. Large planters filled with evergreens, bronze, gold and copper flanked a side door.

IMG_3281Visitors to another home were welcomed by a cute black bear wearing a red and black plaid hat and scarf and holding on to a pine tree with one paw and a Welcome sign in the other. The circular front room featured a tall tree wrapped in clouds of white, silver and pale blue topped by a white heavenly angel. The dining room table was set with elegant burgundy, white and gold china. Each place setting was completed with the cutest little silvery-gold nest containing three little silvery-gold eggs. A life-sized doll of Santa relaxed in a chair in the corner of the music room. The warm and sunny kitchen table was decorated in a cheerful winter theme inspired by red cardinals.

Another cute little bear, this one sitting on an old-fashioned bobsled, complemented the updated rustic style of the Christmas tree in the fourth home I toured. The dining room evoked the sense of icy coolness with its white, pale blue and and glittering silver tableware and decor. The Christmas theme was carried out to the charming back porch. A variety of accent pieces were artistically combined to produce a “modern” take on a rustic theme.

IMG_3272The final home I toured used rustic style elements that had been designed with a contemporary feel. Large candle holders on the dining table and buffet were modern, stylized silver metal branches. The master bedroom was an ice palace of pale blues and silver. Unperturbed by the crowds roaming through the room, a large tri-coloured cat lay on the bed and attended to its grooming. One of my favourite pieces in the home was a triptych print of the head of a regal looking buck, which graced the mantel in the living room. The Christmas tree was decorated with over-sized red silk poinsettia blooms, which contrasted nicely with the white flocked branches of the tree. The country-cozy upstairs bedroom was the home for two friendly looking polar bears sporting handsome red and green Christmas bow collars.

IMG_3252Even the pool deck outside received a Christmas trimming. A stunning, tall silver and glass lantern contained a display of a snow-white pillar candle surrounded by white flocked greenery and glittering ice crystal branches.

After the tour, I wanted to go home, throw everything out and totally redecorate! My hubby may never let me go on another tour!

I want to say kudos to the IODE for a very well organized and thoroughly enjoyable event and to all the designers and decorators for doing such a fantastic job!


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