Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hurricane Irene

From top to bottom:

The Tawasentha Park Winter Recreation Area is covered with snow in the winter - - and mud at the base of the sleighing hill after the high water.

In Frenchs Hollow, on the Normanskill, just below the bridge rail in the middle picture is a standing wave, about six feet high.

The last picture is a view of the Normanskill looking upstream in Frenchs Hollow.

When Hurricane Irene got to upstate New York, it may have declined to tropical storm. But meteorology and semantics come nowhere near to describing the wallop that Irene packed.

At 6:30 am, Sunday morning, I got up, checked the weather and sent some e-mails. There was rain and some wind, but nothing noteworthy. After returning to bed, I heard, from a half-deep sleep, the telephone peeping. When I awoke several hours later, the cable and Internet were out.

Then, the power died.

To get to the supermarket for the newspaper, I drove across the bridge over the Normanskill, a medium-sized stream in our neighborhood. The water was coming up. The trip required a detour because a house on Route 20 had an electrical fire.

On the way home, the Normanskill was rising even more. An hour later, a truck from our utility, National Grid, went down the street. With no electricity and little to do, I chased the truck, to ask when power would be restored.

We lost electricity after a power house at the Watervliet Reservoir dam was submerged by rapidly rising waters of the Normanskill, shown in the first two pictures above. A quick thinking National Grid lineman safely separated electrical service to our street and the power house and the lights were on again.

All day, rain fell steadily and wind blew at a good pace. At first, the wind brought down just twigs and dead limbs. Then, it brought down a 30 foot long trunk from a walnut tree in our backyard.

Even though the lack of power, cable and Internet was frustrating, the day was nice. We read the two local papers and The New York Times all the way through. After dinner, we played Scrabble instead of settling for television.

Weather on Monday, the day after the storm, was exquisite: sunny and pleasant. However, all the rain that arrived Sunday lifted most of the local streams and rivers to record flood levels.
The Mohawk at Schenectady, for example, overflowed the entire floodplain, closed the Western Gateway Bridge and submerged Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive-In. Rather than pile on more words, check the photo gallery at The Daily Gazette and you will see how extensive the damage was!

An odd things about this storm was how focused the news coverage of the events were. New York’s Capital Region had excellent local coverage on radio and in newspapers. However, a person wishing to learn about conditions in New England or Long Island had much trouble finding any useful information.

Irene left property damage, injuries and some deaths from North Carolina up to New England. My mother is still without power on eastern Long Island and a friend in Virginia lost power for four days. Another friend in the eastern Catskills had a tree fall on her garage - - although she kept going thanks to an excellent back-up generator. If you have a story about the hurricane, please take a sec to share it!

Despite these problems, luck, careful preparation by citizens and tireless work by government and electrical utility first responders took a lot of the sting out of the storm.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Delights of Sweet Corn

Sweet Corn at Gade Farm, courtesy of Gade Farm

Whether you are at a farmer’s market in Los Angeles, a farm stand near Lake Erie or a New York supermarket, we are approaching the pinnacle of sweet corn season.

In a recent conversation, Steve Lyle, Communications Director for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said enthusiastically, “The supply and quality of sweet corn coming to California farm stands, farmer’s markets and supermarkets is excellent!”

You may think that sweet corn is a quaint part of America cuisine, food rolled out this time of year at picnics or lobster dinners.

However, Lyle reports that California’s sweet corn crop has an estimated value of $117 million. Stephen Williams, writing in a recent issue of the Schenectady Gazette, discovered that New York ranks fourth, nationally, in sweet corn production, “behind only Florida, California and Georgia.” In a recent essay in The Gazette, Maggie Hartley, the paper's Arts Editor, learned from one of her farming neighbors that farm stands do not start drawing steady business until sweet corn and tomatoes are on display.

At the Hannaford Supermarket in my neighborhood, there is a nice size pile of sweet corn when I shop early in the morning. If I am shopping after dinner, it’s always down to a stray ear or two. Gade Farm around the corner has a large pile daily in their farm store.

This year, it seems the corn in upstate New York is slightly more petit than in past years. So, before you check out, look at the ears you have chosen. You may want to buy a few more, so no one goes short when dinner is served.

While corn has been around for a long time, sweet corn is a recent arrival. Stephan Jones, on his Reluctant Gourmet website, states that sweet corn was probably first cultivated in the 1600’s by Iroquois tribes in upstate New York.

Since then, agricultural scientists continue tinkering with the species. According to the University of Illinois Extension Service’s website Watch Your Garden Grow, sweet corn can be “normal sugary,” “sugary enhancer” or “supersweet.” Agricultural scientists also breed for tenderness and are adding genes to resist pests that threaten corn crops.

While reading research articles and seed company websites, I discovered there is a Montauk species of sweet corn. It is bred to be pest resistant and harvested late in the season. Might the researcher who developed this variety been looking for fresh produce to go with a striped bass caught in October under the Montauk Lighthouse?

Newspapers, websites and radio are full of sweet corn recipes in this season. However, my favorite is corn on the cob. It is easy to prepare and gives the deliciousness of the corn center stage.

Michael, one of the produce experts at Hannaford, observes the biggest mistake with corn on the cob is overcooking it. To avoid this, he advises, “When the water comes to a boil, put the ears of corn into the pot. As soon as it returns to the boil, remove the corn; it will be done.”