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One of the prettiest vistas in the county - Morris Vineyard

One of the prettiest vistas in the county - Morris Vineyard

Earlier this week I rode out to Morris Vineyard & Tennessee Mountainview Winery for my annual blueberry picking excursion.  Once out of town, I have to say it’s probably one of the prettiest rides around.  Some lovely shaded back roads wind up to the Vineyard, which has one of the prettiest views of the nearby mountains and Cherokee National Forest

Thanks to the Xtracooler to help be bring the fresh berries home.

Thanks to the Xtracooler to help be bring the fresh berries home.

I grabbed a bucket and hit the berry patch.  I think it was still maybe a week off of peak ripeness time, although I managed to get around 8 lbs. of beautiful plump blueberry goodness.  Only one other couple was out there with me, and they arrived just before I was finishing up.

Last year the boys and I went out twice to pick, bringing home around 17 lbs of berries.  I love blueberries – easy to pick, easy to bag up and freeze. I took along the Xtracooler – nice little narrow ice chest that fits perfectly in the Xtracycle slings – and it was just the thing to get the berries home, cool and undamaged.   I might head out for one more picking session, but we’ll see.  We have plans for heading out of town this next week, and not sure I will be able to squeeze it in.

While I froze most of the haul, I kept out a few cups to make a super-delicious “No-Bake Blueberry Pie”.  I adapted the recipe slightly from one that was published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.  It is very quick and easy, and I love that it maintains that fresh bluberry firmness and burst of flavor; it’s not as sweet/syrupy as a traditional pie.  Highly recommended!

NO-BAKE BLUEBERRY PIE

9-inch crumb pie crust (cookie crumb crust as follows, or other purchased crust – shortbread or graham would work well)

6 cups fresh blueberries, divided*

1/4 C sugar

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

2 Tbs cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water

1 Tbs unsalted butter

1 Tbs fresh lemon juice

sweetened whipped cream (optional)

*Note on blueberries: this pie will be exceptionally delicious when you pick your own local blueberries, and travel by bicycle to the blueberry patch!  Trust me – it really makes a difference! 🙂

Combine 2 cups blueberries, sugar and 2 Tbs water in a saucepan and bring to a full boil.  Stir in dissolved cornstarch/water mixture and return to a boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in cinnamon, butter, lemon juice and remaining blueberries.  Spoon into crust and let stand for 3 hours or until set.  Top with whip cream.

COOKIE CRUMB CRUST

2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (process in food processor)

1/2 cup melted unsalted butter

1/3 cup sugar

Combine crust ingredients and press into 9-inch pie plate (bottom & sides).  Bake at 400’F for 10 minutes and cool on rack.  Fill with No-Bake blueberry filling (above).

The No-Bake Blueberry Pie ... it's quite delicious!

The No-Bake Blueberry Pie ... it's quite delicious!

battling Olin

despite this obscurely placed warning, people still fish & consume, and birds can't read the sign

despite this obscurely placed warning, people still fish & consume, and birds can't read the sign

This past Sunday, Mark, Mason, Dillon and I took a ride, crossing over our Hiwassee river bridge once again.  I stopped to take a photo of this warning.  The small sign, which is obscurely placed at the opposite end of the bridge where the put-in and parking areas are, is barely noticeable.  As I said in the previous post, people are continually fishing the quiet waters near the bridge and many fish directly from the bridge.

The small obscure sign, and guy fishing from bridge in the distance.

The small obscure sign, and guy fishing from bridge in the distance.

While we were stopped, we couldn’t help but notice the guy parked and fishing from the bridge and wondering if he had any idea of the toxicity of what he might be catching?

The campaign against the four remaining out-dated chlorine plants  in the country (our Olin is one of them) has been spearheaded by the dedicated and knowledgeable people at Oceana.  The boys and I have been active in several of their community meetings and events directed at Olin and have gotten to know our local Oceana staff member, Suzanne Wisdom.

Earlier this week, I received an email from Suzanne saying that they were planning to deliver a boxful of signed petition cards to Olin headquarters here in Cleveland, accompanied by the Oceana dolphin mascot.  We were invited to join the event.

Earlier this afternoon, a group of concerned local residents joined Suzanne and the Oceana dolphin in the parking lot of the Olin offices.  We quietly and peacefully gathered, holding several signs and a banner, and Suzanne and the dolphin delivered the petition cards.  Since no Olin representative was willing to even come to the lobby to receive the cards or talk to anyone, Suzanne was forced to leave the box with a receptionist.  Oh well, par for the course.

Suzanne Wisdom (Oceana) and the Oceana dolphin deliver the petition cards to the Olin offices.

Suzanne Wisdom (Oceana) and the Oceana dolphin deliver the petition cards to the Olin offices.

Local citizens demanding mercury-free technology from Olin

Local citizens demanding mercury-free technology from local Olin plant

Suzanne gave me a copy of Oceana’s recent Press Release regarding the introduction of the Senate Bill to eliminate mercury from Chlorine Production within two years.  Here are a few important excerpts:

WASHINGTON, July 9, 2009 – Oceana applauds Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for introducing the Mercury Pollution Reduction Act of 2009 (S.1428) in the U.S. Senatet today.  The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), would phase-out the use of mercury technology in domestic chlorine production within two years. Specifically, it would require four renegade chlorine plants in the U.S. to transition to mercury free technology

While 95 percent of chlorine produced in the United States uses a mercury-free process, four U.S. plants have continued to use outdated, mercury-dependent technology to produce chlorine and caustic soda.  Meanwhile, technology that can eliminate the use of mercury in chlorine and caustic soda production has been available for decades.

These chlorine factories release more mercury than the average coal-fired plant, making them top polluters in their states.  A chlor-alkali production facility in Tennessee has historically been the number one source of mercury in the state, and the plant has impaired the river on which it’s located, according to local environmental officials.

Finally, I am sorry but not surprised to report that Olin has apparently contacted Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander (R), requesting/pressuring him to introduce a new bill that would allow the existing outdated chlorine plants an additional twenty years to come into compliance with mercury-free production.  Senator Alexander, with his less-than-stellar environmental voting record still often touts himself as being Mr. Anti-Mercury … so we’ll see how this play out.  In the meantime, I can only hope that the current Bill S. 1428 will pass by the fall of 2009, and maybe then we can halt this nonsense within two years.  The lingering damage to the river ecosystem and the river sediment is another matter…

More on Oceana and their Mercury-free campaign can be found here.


bikayak

kayak by Xtracycle ... rides better than it looks, truly

kayak by Xtracycle ... rides better than it looks, truly

A couple of miles up the road from our house we have a nice put-in to one of the Hiwassee River’s inlets.  Although there is water year-round, it’s most conducive for paddling/boating in the summers when TVA is releasing water to the Hiwassee.  In winter, water levels can get pretty low.

Despite the doubters in the house, I managed to get our old beater kayak loaded onto the Xtracycle and went for a paddle today.  OK, I’ll admit, when I first felt the (off-)balance of the load I wasn’t sure it was going to work.  But surprisingly, upon taking a test ride, I discovered that it was totally do-able – at least for the few miles I had to go.  You kind of naturally make a center-of-gravity shift, but nothing that changes your cycling position dramatically.  There was occasionally a funny little shimmy-shake in the front, especially when on a downhill coast, but pedaling seemed to eliminate it.  Optimum no-shimmy speed seemed to be about 13mph.  Not sure of the physics behind what was going on, but I’d be curious if someone could explain…

ready to go exploring

ready to go exploring

The great thing about this little inlet are all of the little islands and shallow channels – perfect quiet water for meandering about and bird-watching without a beastly motor.  I had barely paddled off when I spotted a Little Green Heron perched overhead (picture of him on the Pix page).  Also saw several Great Blue Herons, and another black and white water bird I have not yet identified.

Strangest event of the trip was spotting a very large creature swimming across one of the channels.  It was huge – bigger than a muskrat or anything I might have expected to see.  As I sat watching, I discovered it was a deer!  She was swimming across the water, only her head sticking out – and had two lovely little fawns trailing behind her!  I had never seen a deer swim before, so this was something pretty amazing for me.

Of course I didn’t have the telephoto lens on the camera, so I did the best I could.  You can just make her out in the distance, doe on either side of her.

doe and fawns, heading for an island

doe and fawns, heading for an island

closer ... but missed the shot; doe & fawns climb ashore

closer ... but missed the shot; doe & fawns climb ashore

Had a great day exploring, bird-watching … and deer-watching.  When I got back to the put-in, I was greeted by a rather mystified fisherman – a very nice older gentleman who introduced himself as Bill.  Think he was pretty baffled with my boat-on-bike set-up, but offered some help while I was strapping things up, and I enjoyed chatting with him.

We had a brief discussion over the safety of fish consumption from this part of the river.  Thanks to the wonderful folks at Olin Chemical, high levels of mercury in the river sediment and in fish have made it unsafe to consume the catch.  Tennessee Fish & Game and the EPA have posted warning signs, but it doesn’t stop people from fishing.  I was happy to hear that Bill knew about the situation and was strictly a catch-and-release fisherman.  Still, it makes me very sad – especially watching the herons and the other fish-feeding birds and thinking about how it may be harming them and the rest of the ecosystem.

Great day, great ride, great paddle, great sights.  Can’t wait to do it again.

independence day – riverwalk ride

RIding the glass bridge from Hunter Museum of Art; Chattanooga Riverwalk

Crossing on the glass bridge from the Hunter Museum of Art; Chattanooga Riverwalk

Summer is here, the Tour de France has officially started, and yesterday was Independence Day.

After spending the earlier part of the day glued to the Tour on television, we had an early BBQ at home and then headed toward Coolidge Park in downtown Chattanooga, via the Riverwalk – by bike.

The Riverwalk Route (map) is a leisurely bike (& pedestrian) path ride, winding from the TVA dam, near Amnicola Highway, into downtown Chattanooga/Ross’s Landing.  It passes through several parks and picnic areas, the Amnicola wetlands/swamp (which despite the sound, is really lovely), and along the Tennessee River into downtown Chattanooga.  Most of the scenery is picturesque, with the exception of a couple of industrial areas you pass through near the downtown end of the trail.  Currently, I believe the contiguous path is about 8 miles in length – from TVA dam to downtown (16 mi. roundtrip for out-and-back).  It’s a great opportunity for family riding, being almost entirely flat, smooth, and mostly free from street crossings.

Upon reaching the Bluff View Art District, you will need to travel one small stretch of low-traffic street to get to the continuation of the path near the Hunter Museum of Art.  At the museum, you get to cross the slick little glass bridge (shown above); it offers a neat view of down below, as well as the Aquarium and the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge.

The guys, riding merry-go-round style in front of the Hunter Museum of Art.

The guys, riding merry-go-round style in front of the Hunter Museum of Art.

A quick cross over the Walnut Street Bridge and you are in Coolidge Park – home to the weekend downtown Marketplace as well as the venue for concerts and other gatherings.

I had the trusty Xtracycle to haul a blanket, our camp seats, a cooler, and the rest of the necessary odds & ends. We picked a shady spot to park ourselves, and enjoyed a couple of hours relaxing and people-watching.  Chattanooga Outdoors was supposed to be offering a Bike Valet Service for the July 4th gathering, but we must have missed it.

Coolidge Park and the Walnut Street Pedestrian/Bike Bridge

Coolidge Park and the Walnut Street Pedestrian/Bike Bridge

We hung out till near-dusk and decided to head back, skipping the fireworks, etc.  We’re a little unclear on the official Riverwalk policy, but I believe that sections of it are closed at sundown.  There are a couple of lockable metal gates along the path, and we didn’t want to take the chance of getting trapped-out of riding back.  I need to investigate this matter further, because we’ve often considered riding down for an evening Lookouts game, but are not sure we’d have access to the path to get us back.

We missed the Bike Valet - oh, well...

We missed the Bike Valet - oh, well...

It’s always encouraging to see the efforts being made by more and more cities to become more bike and pedestrian friendly.  I’m happy to say I think we should add Chattanooga to the list.  If you ever have a chance to use the Riverwalk to explore the city, or just to take a leisurely ride, you won’t be disappointed.

Kinda nice to add a new meaning to Independence Day – independence from the car!

de-coat the goat

One more before-and-after – this one from the Funny Farm and shearing The Hairy One.

Before: badly in need of a haircut

Before: Remember these guys? Badly in need of a haircut!

After: (Elmer) shedding the 12 lb. mohair coat ... aaaahhh; that feels good!

After: (Elmer) shedding the 12 lb. mohair coat ... aaaahhh; that feels good!

OK, I am no pro at shearing – in fact, I’m pretty bad at it – but I can basically get the job done.  With some help holding the “handles” (i.e., horns) during the process.

Since a few have asked – Elmer (and the former Ruby Pearl) are Angora goats.  The fiber they produce, however, is not angora – it’s mohair.  In the past I have had some of the fleeces spun into some very lovely yarn.  But the truth is – it’s not worth the expense and hassle (the fleece is a nasty pain to wash/clean, and the spinery I used had a very lengthy turn around time and was awfully expensive).  In the end, unless I decided to buy a spinning wheel and do it myself (nope), I can typically buy finished mohair yarn cheaper than what I can have made from our own fleece.

I had also sent some of the longest and curliest cleaned locks to a friend in MO who did some brilliant Santa Claus sculptures.  I got a couple of really neat Santas out of the deal.

Cleaned fleece and the mohair yarn (un-dyed and dyed)

Cleaned fleece and the mohair yarn (un-dyed and dyed)

A final fiber fact … Angora goats produce mohair.  And Angora rabbits produce – yep, you guessed it – angora.  (We have one of those too.  But sorry, no Angora yarn).

(And I promise – no more goofy non-bicycle stuff next post!)

Snoopy the Wonder Bunny (Angora), and Molly the Wonder Mutt (Westie)

Snoopy the Wonder-Bunny (Angora), and Molly the Wonder-Mutt (Westie); they're friends

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riding & local economy

Old house; White Oak Valley Road

Old house; White Oak Valley Road - March 10, 2009

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Old house gets some TLC - July 1, 2009

The weather humidity is down and the morning temps have cooled off.  Had a nice ride this morning with Mason.  Along the way, we always pass this old house and farm.  Earlier this year (March ’09) it appeared someone had decided to do some renovating – action I was delighted to see, as I love when beautiful old homes are saved and restored rather than being destroyed for new construction.  To me, preservation shows a different kind of vision and appreciation.

This morning as we rode by, it made me smile to see the transformation that has taken place over the past few months.  The place is looking lovely.  Maybe not entirely authentic (vinyl siding aside), but true to original architecture and detail for the most part.  I was tempted to stop and ask one of the workers if I could step inside and look around … but figured it would be better to spare him my stinky, sweaty self.

I don’t know when we can officially declare ourselves “out” of the current Recession … but at least it looks like we might be making some progress.