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Let’s call it spring

By Loni Kemp

Fri, Mar 14th, 2014
Posted in All Columnists

As the Winter That Drove us Nuts began to wind down, I found myself ecstatic at the first March day to attain 40 degrees.

I put on my gardening overalls and a sweatshirt, with no jacket or hat, just to get in the mood. I was about to uncover a bit of land not seen since December.

Despite the valiant and repeated efforts of our snowplow guy, nothing had succeeded in removing the two-inch layer of ice on our driveway. It was laid down by the worst of so many storms, the blizzard that started off with rain and slush. Topped with dense and wind-polished snow, preserved for months by consistently frigid temperatures, that ice had annoyed and even terrorized much of the region. Now it was exposed and slick, but it was beginning to show signs of decay from the warmth. I was determined to break its hold.

A flat narrow shovel that was never good for digging in the dirt, as it lacked a point to break through the earth, has become my prized tool for driveway scraping. With the sun blazing down, I started where the blacktop peeked through and began to break up the ice chunks and shove them off to the side. I got a nice rhythm going, not bothering to totally clear the area since the sun and warmth were also working, but aiming to speed up what would otherwise take many days to melt on its own.

Our steep and long driveway often requires four-wheel drive in the winter, and occasionally we have to drive down to meet visitors who park close to the road. We, after 30 years of this, are well experienced in the sequence of “slow—accelerate a bit—now don’t let up on the curve—ok now ease off.” Yet we too got stuck more than once without sufficient traction. Tired of the threat of having to carry groceries up the long cold drive, I was determined to liberate our driveway before the inevitable cold snaps to come.

After working up a real sweat, I gazed up and saw a significant expanse of driveway now cleared of ice. And it felt good. The finches were tweeting and the chickadees were calling, while woodpeckers hammered on dead trees to clarify their territorial ownership.

Now for my real inauguration of springtime. I buckled on snow shoes and grabbed my already-sharpened loppers, and headed out to the apple orchard. Skimming over the remaining couple of feet of snow on the ground, I could reach that much higher into the branches of our mature apple trees. I began to snip away branches and twigs, seeking out the broken or crossing, too low or upright suckers.

I’m gardening! It felt so good to be back interacting with living plants, anticipating where apples would best grow, how to help the tree bear their weight when fully ripe and heavy.

Predictably, the very next day was colder with a mix of rain and snow, and I had no desire to set foot outside. The task was only a third done, as I will have to schlep out a ladder to prune hundreds more branches growing high up in the apple trees, higher than I want to or even can reach at harvest time.

But we know March. It zigzags between winter and spring, with never a predictable path through the month. April can be just as ambiguous. But the more tortuous it is, the more we exult in the precious nice days.

Countertop Cultured Milk

Yogurt and buttermilk are fermented milk products familiar to all. But did you know there are tasty versions of cultured milk from all over the world? One family of dairy beverages is amazingly easy to make at home. All you need is milk, a starter, and space on your kitchen counter. These will culture at room temperature—no cooking involved. Kefir, like a drinkable yogurt, is gaining recognition. Scandinavia is home to viili, skyr, surmelk, filmjolk… They all contain high quantities of friendly bacteria, or probiotics, that make for a healthy digestive system, and are lactose free. In fact, each one uses a different set of bacteria.

You can get your starter by buying a bottle of plain kefir, available at co-ops and Trader Joe’s. The live bacteria are noted on the label. I’ve been making my own whatever-you-call-it for several years and we have it on granola every morning.

Step 1: Pour two tablespoons of kefir into a quart jar. Top off the jar with whole or 2 percent milk. (I prefer Kapper’s Big Red Barn milk, available at the farm near Chatfield or at Beste Byen (formerly Lanesboro Local Marketplace.)

Step 2: Wrap uncapped bottle in a towel and leave on the counter for 24 hours or so.

Step 3: It will be slightly thickened and will easily separate from the side of the jar when ready. Cover and refrigerate. When cold, shake and enjoy. It is great on granola, in smoothies, or as a beverage with a little fruit juice or maple syrup mixed in. When you get near the bottom of the bottle, it is time to make another batch.

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