Saturday, February 19, 2011

On the Suwannee

Turtles Soaking Up the February Sun
Last Wednesday our friend Jay Bushnell took us out on the river near his home in Fowler's Bluff. The primary purpose of the trip was to bring photographer and fellow Friends of the Refuges board member Sean Dowie to the Vista property. This key waterfront property was recently bequeathed to the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. Sean had volunteered to make a series of photographs for the Refuge, and we got to ride along.

Weeks Creek, Off the Suwannee
Of course we got our first look at the Vista property, as well as two bonuses. One was a tour of the Fowler's Bluff waterfront, and another was a quiet ride through a beautiful little creek that enters the river near the Bluff.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Grand Finale

Tuesday was the final night of The Amazing Cheese Story, our four-session community education course at Santa Fe College. We decided to devote the entire evening to an expanded tasting, and had 12 cheeses, all of which were made in North America. They were:

Westfield Farms Capri Goat Cheese, a soft, unaged cheese from Massachusetts

Old Chatham Hudson Valley Camembert, a bloomy-rind white mold sheep milk cheese from New York State

Blue Bonnets

Westfield Farms Capri Blue Bonnents, an unusual cheese, tiny and surface-ripened with blue mold, also from Massachusetts

Cypress Point Creamery Baby Swiss, and Alpine-type cheese from Hawthorne, Florida

Meadow Creek Dairy Appalachian, a tomme-style cheese from Virginia

Winter Park Dairy Florida Tomme, this quite different tomme is from Florida

Halls Farmhouse Cheddar, our own young homemade cheddar-style cheese

Old Quebec Vintage Cheddar, a 3-year old cheddar from Canada

Vella Monterey Dry Jack, a delightful aged version of the familiar and rather bland Monterey Jack

Bleu Sunshine
Winter Park Dairy Bleu Sunshine, an aged, blue-veined cheese from Florida

Winter Park Dairy Black and Bleu, a version of Bleu Sunshine with added cracked peppercorns

Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson, a pungent washed-rind cheese from Virginia

Residue of a Tasting
Our tasters were delighted to be able to sample so many cheeses. However, despite our best efforts in trying to turn them into cheese enthusiasts, in general they reacted most favorably to the milder kinds. We'll have some more data when we offer these or similar cheeses at two other planned tastings.

Lower Suwannee Waterfowl, Part 2

White Ibises, Green-winged Teal, Great Egret
Three more visits to the freshwater pond have failed to sight any more ducks, and recent rains have filled the pond, perhaps making it less desirable for feeding ducks. 

Fortunately, Tom Liebert has been kind enough to send along some additional photos. Lacking a long lens he was unable to get close-up images, but nevertheless I am reasonably confident I can identify three waterfowl species. They are green-winged teal (Anas crecca), bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), and lesser scaup (Aythya affinis). The scaup are no surprise as we have often spotted them in brackish water near Cedar Key. Additional species may have been present, but the images do not permit positive identification.

It may be next year before we again get the fantastic panorama of wildlife, including hundreds of ibises, that we saw on the pond last December. It is certain, however, that in the future we will be keeping our eyes out for them.

Forests of the Lower Suwannee River Basin

USGS Map Showing Distinct Forest Patches Near the Mouth of the Suwannee River (the town of Suwannee with its canals is shown by the greenish patch at the upper left)
USGS scientists Helen Light, Melanie Darst, and their colleagues devoted years of study to describing and understanding the forests of the Lower Suwannee Basin. Co-sponsored by the Suwannee River Water Management District, these efforts resulted in a long series of technical reports, including the 2002 capstone Hydrology, Vegetation, and Soils of Riverine and Tidal Floodplain Forests of the Lower Suwannee River, Florida, and Potential Impacts of Flow Reductions, and an interactive map on compact disc. Both documents can be obtained from the USGS by following the above links. Maps were generated by analysis of detailed aerial imagery and ground-truthed by transects and plots.

This body of work can serve as an essential aid to anyone seeking to understand the physical environment and its role in the biology of the lower Suwannee. Far too detailed for the paddling guide, results of these studies will nevertheless help us to frame our presentation in ways that will convey the diversity and complexity of the system. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lyon Mountain vs. Benson Mines

I just finished reading Lyon Mountain: The Tragedy of a Mining Town by Lawrence P. Gooley. Naively expecting the book to be similar in scope and content to my Gem of the Adirondacks, I was surprised, though certainly not disappointed. The two books are as different as are the communities and events they portray.

Although both Lyon Mountain and the Benson Mines had in common their Adirondack geography, geological history, and the quality and abundance of their iron ores, they had some important differences. Large scale mining at the Benson Mines did not get fully underway until after the Second World War, whereas industrial-strength mining at Lyon Mountain was well underway more than sixty years earlier. The open-pit mining practiced at the Benson Mines was almost certainly less hazardous than the deep mining at Lyon Mountain, and Benson's miners benefited in their time from improved sensitivity and regulations to promote safety. And while Star Lake and other communities surrounding the Benson Mines had certain characteristics of boom towns, labor was mostly recruited locally, and there was never the active recruitment of disembarking immigrants that characterized the staffing of Lyon Mountain. Nor did the ascendancy of the Benson Mines usher in an era of ethnic rivalries and lawlessness such as plagued Lyon Mountain.

In Gem of the Adirondacks I credited the leaders of the Benson Mines with technical foresight and well-intended attempts to win the allegiance of workers. No such credit attaches to the leaders at Lyon Mountain who, with rare exceptions, embraced a vision of industrial relations based on power and compulsion. Gooley cites the Lyon Mountain baseball teams as providing the kinds of outlet and community cohesion necessary to offset difficult and dangerous working conditions. Company supported leisure and educational activities promoted at the Benson Mines by the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation also were obvious attempts to improve the quality of life of employees, but their offerings were more numerous and more diffuse than the singular role of baseball in promoting civic life in the Lyon Mountain community.

Readers of Gem of the Adirondacks and Star Lake and those of us who experienced what now seem to have been the glory days of the Benson Mines should read Gooley’s book. The similarities and contrasts of the two Adirondack mining communities are important in understanding and coming to terms with our recent past.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Amazing Cheese Story, Preparing for Day 4

Tuesday, February 8, will be the final night of The Amazing Cheese Story...our 4-class mini-course at Santa Fe College community Education.  Here is a link to my thoughts after the first night of the class. Day 1

It has continued to be great fun to get together with these folks each week. On Day 2, we shared stories from the artisan cheesemakers and the cheesemongers we'd interviewed doing the research for The Summer of a Thousand Cheeses and we tasted four artisan cheeses.

Last week we explored the composition of milk and how it turns into cheese.  The milks of different animals, cow, goat, sheep, of course differ from each other in taste and butterfat content, resulting in the cheeses made from their milks differing in taste. What the animals have been eating also makes the cheeses taste different, if artisan processes are used that maintain the qualities and tastes of the original milks. Given those facts, almost all cheeses arrive at their curds-and-whey stage by the same processes and from that point, variations in the processing create the variations we find in the final products. What makes blue cheeses blue and mold-ripened cheeses soft? How they are processed subsequent to the curds-and-whey stage. We talked about that and tasted fromage blanc that Russ and I had made the previous day.
Fromage Blanc
Now we are preparing for the final class. We will taste, taste, taste. Perhaps we will also make some mozzarella. Russ and I are experimenting with mozzarella this afternoon to decide if the timing will work for class, and the product will be worth the class time.
Most fun of all, the cheeses we ordered from our cheesemonger are arriving. Yesterday we received Bleu Sunshine, Black and Bleu, and Tomme from Winter Park Dairy. Today we expect more. When it arrives, I'll post some photos!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fromage Blanc

fromage blanc
As part of our research for The Summer of a Thousand Cheeses we made fromage blanc. Once we had finished, we didn't have a good idea of what to do with the cheese. The recipes we found were mostly for spreads and dips, and we felt that consuming more than a pound of snack food might be excessive. As we reported in the book, we got creative and used part of our supply as a filling for enchiladas. Against all reasonable expectations, we found our enchiladas to be quite good.

Now we have more fromage blanc, having made another batch as part of the course we are teaching at Santa Fe college. The students got to sample the unflavored product and a spread we made up from a recipe in Ricki's book. Still we find ourselves with more leftover cheese, a pound more or less. How better to use it than another try at enchiladas? We are attaching the recipe we used last time and are encouraging others to try it and build on it. This may not prove to be a new American classic, but may appeal to others like us, who view the kitchen as a kind of laboratory.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sand Pine

Here is a closeup made last Friday of a branch tip of sand pine (Pinus clausa) just about to let loose a cloud of pollen. It is native to our coastal scrub habitats in the Big Bend area and also thrives on the sand ridges of the central Florida peninsula, especially in the Ocala National Forest. Of little economic value, often stunted, short-lived, and intolerant of shade, it is generally a poor competitor. However, it may dominate in sandy areas regularly swept by fire. 

Interestingly, its strategy for dealing with fire differs radically from that of the more highly regarded longleaf pine. Longleaf seedlings and adults are highly resistant to fire, trees are durable, and they reproduce slowly. In contrast, sand pine seedlings and adults are quite vulnerable to fire, and they make up for this and other handicaps by maturing quickly and producing large numbers of fire-adapted cones.