Thursday, March 20, 2014

Behold the Lovely Dandelion

By Manfried Rieder

Most people look for Robins, Snowdrops or other fine signs of spring but I lust for the first Dandelion. I know it is the bane of everyone who wants a lush green lawn and millions of Americans are ready to go to the annual Dandelion wars with shovels, picks, chainsaws or Dynamite. Thousands of articles are written about how to eradicate this plant, Millions are spent on weed killing chemicals to combat the pesty flower.
Why I ask? What did that poor Dandelion ever do to you to deserve such maltreatment. I think it is a phobia and psychiatrists could get rich analyzing this phenomenon. Just because our neighbor does not have any yellow spots in his lawn does not make me an offender to civic orderliness. At my former house in Sutton I had a huge lawn and nice large garden and my lawn was full of Dandelions. I love to look at the lush yellow field, it takes very little maintenance and even after I did my every-other-week mowing, the yellow was back within days, newly minted golden stars shone brightly even if my lawn was not watered every day. Everyone else's turf started to brown in the Summer heat but not mine. The Dandelions provided enough shade for the surrounding grass to protect it somewhat and when we had a deluge of rain, those feisty tap roots took care of the flooding.
What a great plant. I have always advocated Dandelion as an alternate crop. Think about it - corn or tomatoes will suck every micro-ounce of nutrients from the soil and if you would alternate the acres with Dandelions, they are so chock-full of nitrates, fiber and other healthy minerals, they could simply be plowed under and in the next season the earth would be healthy and fruitful again.
I know, neighboring home owners would probably call for aerial spraying if a farmer would be courageous enough to have a few hundred acres of yellow gold growing but what fun to see all the little seeds fly through the air. Kids would be in seventh heaven to watch that continuous air-show.
Also, the lowly Dandelion is one of the most healthful plants on this planet. Every part of it is edible, the greens make superb salads which I prefer to a lot of over-hyped greens. When the young flower pods appear, I pick jar fulls of them and pickle them in cider vinegar. This makes a lovely alternative to capers and we sprinkle it into salads or pasta sauces. The roots make a good tea full of minerals and vitamins and they can also be dried and roasted and used as "ersatz" coffee. Just imagine what this plant could do in poorly irrigated areas of Africa or China? Free salad every day for everyone and a visual delight in almost any setting.
Now if the snow would just go away. I can barely wait to greet my first Dandelion of the year.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Boating Season is Just Around the Corner

By Manfried Rieder

It does not look like the boating season is about to begin on lake Memphremagog but that does not prevent avid boaters to look forward to the joys of the lake. Soon the local marinas will get the docks ready, the City of Newport is hiring a new harbor master, notices are being sent out to boaters of when they can begin to have their boats launched and repair work and maintenance is of course ongoing.
There is a great misconception about boating though: most people still believe in the old saying "A boat is a hole in the water into which one pours money". Today's boats do not often leak, engines if well maintained last a long time and canvas sails have long been replaced by synthetic fabrics that do not mildew or break at the seams. Stainless hardware took care of rusting fasteners and even with a cheap GPS you can probably find your way home in the fog. So what would be the entry level cost be for an average young family of four?
Not as much as one might expect. I checked out the last few issues of the Green Mountain Trading Post and Craigslist and have found seven acceptable family boats which, while dated, appear to be lake-worthy and sound. They range from small sailboats of the day -sailor variety to outboard runabouts and even a couple of inboard/outboard cruisers. Prices range from $ 500 to $ 1,200 for an acceptable and safe boat and most have trailers or you can certainly find an inexpensive trailer. A trailer-ed boat would be best for the financially challenged because there is no charge at many ramps around this lake. My preference is the boat-launching area at the Gateway  Center in Newport City as there always is ample parking.
For even less money, used canoes or kayaks can be had for about $ 200.- and if this is not suitable, when spring starts, a lot of stores sell inexpensive 4-person inflatable boats which range from as low as $ 100 to about $ 500.- fora decent outfit which will fit in any car.
So join us on the lake but make sure you bring life jackets for every person on board and leave the beer at home. More harm has been done on the water by inexperienced boaters on booze than any other nautical mishap. See you on the lake.

Converse G. Goodrich's Dream Lives on

By Manfried Rieder
Converse G. Goodrich in September of 1897 made and signed his Last Will and Testament in which he set aside ample funds to create a splendid library in his memory. He also had the foresight to create an endowment fund to secure the existence of his dream for the future and the dream lives on to the great joy of thousands of residents of the Northeast Kingdom. Converse might actually enjoy strolling through "his" building today because it has remained pretty much the same over the decades. Gone are the old iron shelves but he would probably enjoy the newer wooden shelves. I asked, but nobody could tell me if there had been radios or a "Talking Machine" in the library in earlier times but Mr. Goodrich would certainly be amazed at the new computers available to control the whereabouts of books and the access to libraries through the electronic means by which books and information can be obtained from other institutions. WiFi might confuse the old gentleman but of course so would be the electric lighting and the motor cars parked outside. But looking out from the upstairs window he could enjoy the familiar sight of the courthouse with its magnificent clock or the unchanged view to the distant peaks beyond lake Memphremagog.
Goodrich had been a school teacher and a farmer but he became a successful merchant and civic leader during his residence of 45 years. He was a collector of taxes, justice of the piece and superintendent of schools. His wife also was active in civic affairs.
Alas, Mr. Goodrich never did get to see the project finished. He died a year after construction had begun, in 1998 and the library was officially dedicated on September 1, 1899, almost exactly two years after the Last Will of Converse had been written.
Today the library acts in a vastly larger function than as a lender of books and collector of fines. It must be stated here however that the collection, especially of modern fiction, equals that of any library I have seen and as an avid reader I have been a "frequent flyer" for more than 50 years. I still have my Montreal library pass just in case....There is a fine array of children's literature and an up-to-date collection of CDS both for movie lovers and music enthusiasts.
The Goodrich hosts concerts and readings and events such as the upcoming lecture by Scott Wheeler "Rumrunners and Revenuers" which will be on April 2 at 7 PM.
Upstairs in the library is the Library Museum with numerous photos and paintings and memorabilia of the area's past. Converse would feel right at home here. He was said to be an avid hunter and might delight in the fine exhibition of stuffed animals. It is not known what kind of books Mr. Goodrich favored, possibly as a schoolmaster he was more inclined towered the classic and scholarly texts of the time, some of which he could still find here. Perhaps he was not adverse to a bit of Victorian romance, or his wife might have enjoyed that. Some of that can still be found. Maybe a light ghost/romance story by Heather Graham? I do not think he would understand Clancy or Vince Flynn but there is still the odd Mark Twain on the shelf to entertain him. He probably does not haunt his edifice but if he were, he would be a generous host who could rest in peace seeing how well his project had endured over the decades.

Enthusiasm and Professionalism - Newport"s Parks and Recreation Department

By Manfried Rieder
(All photos courtesy of Newport Parts and Recreation Dept.)

There are three full time employees, 25 people who work part time on different projects during the year and at least 25 local volunteers who make up the Newport Parks and Recreation Department but what a fine bunch of enthusiastic and professional people they are can only be measured when one takes into consideration what those people have been doing for the city and county.
They organize the Water Fest and the 4th of July fireworks, the annual Santa Parade and Easter egg hunts, day and night camps, skating and skiing expedition, Bingo, a school break camp, a Preschool Playworld, bicycle rides for children, a golf tournament, Track and Field competition and a soccer camp.
If this is not enough to make the neighborhood Olympic Committees green with envy, it is just the tip of the iceberg. They are also in charge of a Celebration of the Young Child at Prouty beach which of course is under their supervision, as is the town dock. On Valentine's day they hold a father-daughter dance and in May there is the Dandelion and Fiddle Festival, a summer concert in front of the Municipal building, the Harry Carrow Freedom Run and a Lobsterfest and if this is all too exhausting an activity, the more sedentary types of us can enjoy the city wide Yard Sale. An annual Foliage Festival has been a crowd pleaser as well.
The office of the department which is anchored by its director Andrew Cappello is on the second floor of the Municipal building and as can be expected, a visitor will find the door wide open. New ideas are welcome, inquiries will be courteously dealt with but permeating the atmosphere, everywhere those people can be found, be it at Gardner park or on Prouty beach, is an underlying professionalism tinged with humor and an obvious enjoyment of the work that is being done for the municipality.
There is so much going on in Newport all through the year that visitors to the Kingdom are well advised to find out what Andrew and his Merry Men and Women are cooking up next. While some events are for residents only, most are open to all comers and with the cornucopia of activities for children, visitors should contact Parks and Recreation to find out what is going on and where. They can be reached at (802) 334 6345.
The next event we look forward to watching will be fun: On April 18 there will be an under- water egg hunt at either Jay Peak or the Newport City Hotel followed by a popular egg hunt at Prouty Beach on the 19th. Meanwhile, there stands a wooden Dummy in the frozen lake near the Causeway bridge and folks can buy tickets for the "Ice Out" competition. Whomever figures out the closest time and day of when the dummy falls through the ice wins!
All thanks to people who love Newport and see the beauty of this often overlooked place in all its glory.

Cold weather delays sugaring in Vt. and Quebec

By Manfried Rieder
The record braking cold spell we had last week has delayed maple syrup production in most of northern Vermont and neighboring Quebec and when contacted, 12 sugar producers stated that they may be about three weeks late this year but as the owner of one sugar shack said: "We had winters where we were boiling off the sap in February and it could go as late as April in some years - it is nature's way and we are quite used to these vagaries"
However, most Vermont sugar shacks will host an Open House Maple Weekend on Saturday March 22 and Sunday, March 23. Nearby, in Derby, Jed's Maple will have their 15th annual Sugar on the Snow party and Maple Open House. This is a free event with story time in the morning, a Junior Sugarmaker class in the afternoon and food tasting all day long. Weather permitting they will be boiling and there will be samples of fresh syrup.
The event spans all regions of Vermont and we spoke with a sugar maker at the "Sugar Shack and Battenkill Gallery" in Arlington. This might be a bit far for our readers but this famous old maple producer has made the simple maple sap into an art form with a huge array of products ranging from all grades and bottling sizes of syrup to candies, pies and maple related condiments and baked goods. They also have a beautiful collection of Norman Rockwell paintings in their "Battenkill Gallery". This place is on historic route 7A near Bennington.
Prices for maple syrup have gone sky high in recent years and you can compare the per-ounce cost of syrup with the cost of a good quality bourbon or vodka. Currently a simple quart of best grade syrup retails for about $ 24.-
The production of syrup goes back to the original inhabitants, the Abenaki Indians, who had a long tradition of gathering and boiling sap, a custom that was embraced and continued by the early settlers of the region. Until just a few short years ago the methods were traditional - spouts would be driven into mature maple trees and buckets hung on them to gather the sap as the early spring warmed the tree trunks enough to get the sap flowing. The buckets would be emptied into barrels and - often by horse drawn sleigh - be brought to the sugar house to be boiled down into syrup. Many such traditional shacks still exist, mainly in southern Quebec but the horse has been replaced by the tractor and stainless steel containers the wooden barrel. In order to adhere to standards, no matter how rustic the old shacks may look on the outside, expensive stainless steel boiling equipment had become the norm inside. Approximately 80 % of all production is now done by automation with hoses and pipes, pumps and vacuum system will deliver the sap directly to the production facility. The cost of this is high. Newport's Pick and Shovel hardware store has a separate building to sell the equipment for serious maple producers and the prices for the modern machinery required to get into or update a shack is not for the faint of heart.
But - from simple addition to the morning's French toast or pancakes, the syrup has found its way into the limelight of the international cuisine. There is maple syrup Sushi in Japan and maple roasted pork chops in Berlin. Swedish meatballs can be had with maple infused lingonberry sauce and bars all over the planet have begin to concoct syrup based cocktails such as the Mapletini, four ounces of room temperature Vodka into which is stirred one teaspoon of good grade syrup which is poured over crushed ice and served with a short straw. Others do as we have done in my family: we use a teaspoon of syrup to sweeten our morning coffee.
Enjoy the maple culture of Vermont and the Eastern Townships beginning this weekend and if you have a Mapletini - Scoal!
$ 24.- for a quart of tinned syrup