April Fools

And you thought it was spring.

Every year, as the snow melts, the birds return, and we get a few warm days, people who are new to New England think winter is over. As some old-timers recently told me, with a knowing look, don’t be fooled by mother nature. Spring may have decided to arrive, sure; but winter usually hasn’t quite yet agreed. April is a time of surprises – it can be 70º one day and then snow six inches the next. So it was no particular surprise to me that yesterday, April Fool’s day, it snowed several times. Just briefly. At the end of the day, though, as it became colder, a bit of snow decided to stick. Now, at 7am, it’s snowing hard!

Maple season

That golden harvest of spring.

Other people call it Spring. Here in northern New England, however, this season always goes by one of two other names: mud season or sugaring season.

A fresh quart of liquid gold – maple syrup from Sunrise Farm.

Sugaring is the process of boiling maple sap – gallons and gallons of it – down to maple syrup or, even further, to maple sugar. One of our favorite annual outings is to visit a local sugarhouse, often tucked into the woods beside a nearby farm, to experience the sights and smells of the boiling sap, and to purchase some of this precious sweet commodity. Last week I was pleased to stop by Sunrise Farm, where my friend Chuck had just concluded a successful boil, and bought four quarts of the good stuff. Just in time, too, because I’d used the last drop of our supply earlier that morning!

Oh, and mud season? More than once I have been stuck in the deep mud along a back road heading to a sugarhouse. The strong spring sunshine and warm daytime temperatures heat the surface of frozen dirt roads, while the underlying soil remains frozen; the melting snow and rainwater cannot drain into the frozen ground, so it turns the surface soil into a a muddy quagmire. Two years ago my car enjoyed this lovely experience, just a mile down our street. Eventually, the deep frost thaws, the soil drains, and the town ‘highway crew’ makes the rounds to grade the dirt roads smooth again.

My Prius gets stuck in the mud in March 2019

Ah yes, the two rites of spring in New England.

Spring equinox

Spring is here in the valley.

Today is the vernal equinox – the spring equinox – when the length of day and night are equal (equi = equal, nox = night). Actually, “They are not exactly equal, … due to the angular size of the Sun, atmospheric refraction, and the rapidly changing duration of the length of day that occurs at most latitudes around the equinoxes” [Wikipedia]. Here in New Hampshire, Sunrise was at 6:51am, Sunset at 7:01pm.

For those who welcome the arrival of spring, today is when we are adding more minutes of sun per day than at any other time. We’re on the steep part of the curve! This is great news for our solar tracker, which put in a banner effort today under nearly clear skies, with a total production of 45.57kWh:

Technically, the equinox is “the instant of time when the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the geometric center of the Sun’s disk” [Wikipedia]. This year, that occurred at 0937 UTC, or 5:37am here in Lyme, which happens to be about when I got up this morning.

Interestingly, it has long been noted this is the “day when the Sun rises due east and sets due west, and indeed this happens on the day closest to the astronomically defined event.” [Wikipedia again].

On cue, the Connecticut River decided it is also ice-out day – the day the winter’s ice breaks up and the river begins to visibly flow. I’m pleased to see open water, because it means that bald eagle might be seen more often in our neighborhood once again, now that it has an opportunity to fish.

ice-out on the Connecticut River, in front of our house

The forecast shows nothing but clear skies, warm days (50-60º) and cool nights (20-30º). Great weather for sugaring! More on that to come…

Pie day

pi, anyone?

Happy pi day! March 14 is known as “pi day” because its date (written in US format) is 3/14 and the mathematical constant π is, of course, 3.14…

So I decided to make pie. I have been making a lot of yogurt, lately, and the process always leaves me with leftover whey (the yellowish clear liquid that results when you strain the cooked yogurt). So I found a recipe for lemon whey pie (way lemon pie?) and, I must say, it came out pretty well. At least, the meringue looks great!

whey good!
Continue reading “Pie day”

Snowflakes

Snowflake photography is hard.

It’s snowing lightly this morning, quite a change from the 50-degree sunny weather that has worn hard on the snowbanks this past week. It’s a welcome opportunity to pretty-up the view of the nearby hillsides and to coat the dirty old snow in a fresh coat of white.

I recently read a New York Times article about the amazing snowflake photographs produced as a hobby by Nathan Myhrvold, a retired Microsoft executive, like the one below.

Image copyright Nathan Myhrvold, from the New York Times.

I decided to dash outside and give it a quick try. Needless to say, my attempts – photographed in about five minutes using a handheld Nikon camera and a routine lens, of flakes freshly fallen onto a microfiber cloth – are not even worthwhile saving. Myhrvold’s work has taken years of experimentation, custom-designed equipment, travel to remote locations, and incredible persistence. It’s beautiful work, and I highly recommend a scroll through the photos in the article.

Who knew microfiber cloths have such texture?

Winter pizza

Pizza tastes even better in winter.

Regular readers may recall that we built a pizza oven last summer, out beside the patio. Well, we’ve worked hard to keep a pathway shoveled over to the oven all winter… and we’ve taken advantage of it a few times. It’s a bit tricky to cook pizza on cold, dark nights! Today, however, we built a fire in the morning and were ready to bake by noon, on a sunny warm (25º) day.

Because I’ve also continued to experiment with Indian cooking in our Ultrapot pressure cooker, I made some chicken tikka masala and decided to make a pizza out of it, adding shiitake mushrooms and curry leaves for extra flair. Here’s the result; pretty darn good, on a late winter’s day!

Chocolate

Feel free to send all the extra chocolate to me!

It is perhaps not surprising that I developed an even deeper addiction to chocolate when we lived in Switzerland, where world-class chocolate was available in numerous local shops. Here in New Hampshire, we buy the best local chocolate we can find, and sometimes special-ordered some Läderach Swiss chocolate by mail.

So I was interested to read this recent news story about the dramatic drop in chocolate consumption in Switzerland in the past year – to the lowest level in forty years. Maybe it’s because we moved out in July! 🙂

Solar flat

Even on a windy day, we can still generate power.

It was a wild and windy night, as a cold front blew away yesterday’s warm temperatures. Our solar tracker is designed to protect itself by going flat when there are gusty or strong winds, and that’s how I found it this morning.

Solar tracker goes flat in windy conditions.

You can see the anemometer at the far-right corner, which is on a gimble so it can measure horizontal wind speed even as the tracker tilts.

That picture was taken about two hours ago. It’s now quite sunny, and still windy; the tracker is still flat (and thus not pointed at the sun), but still generating enough power to serve the house, charge the battery, and feed the grid:

Avalanche

It was just a matter of time before it struck.

An avalanche just struck the house, in a massive rumble that shook the foundation. Ok, that’s a bit melodramatic, but it’s true! I opened the front door to see what was the matter and found a foot-high wall of snow had pressed up against the door:

Front door blocked by an avalanche off the garage roof.

This morning’s warm weather (35ºF and rainy) finally convinced the snowpack on the garage roof, which had accumulated over months and had slowly melted down to 6″ of thick heavy wet stuff, that it was time to go. Fortunately I could sneak out the side door to get a more complete picture.

The garage is to the right, that front door is to the left.

The good news: the snow came off in one quick motion, overshooting much of the walkway, meaning there is less of it we need to shovel away. The bad news? Forecast is for temps to drop to 3ºF tonight, so this stuff will freeze up like concrete unless we move it today. Gotta go get the shovel…