Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe Crabs

Pushed along by the waves, she slowly inches her way out of the ocean. She is driven by her instinct to this beach in the spring. She is not alone. She is followed by a horde of suiters. The moon is full. The tide is high. All of her beaux are blinded by her beauty. Tonight, there will be “love” at the edge of two worlds, the ocean and the land.

For the horseshoe crab, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

Horseshoe crabs are ancient. They were here before the dinosaurs. They survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and are found today in all the oceans. Horseshoe crabs look like tiny tanks slowly shuffling along the ocean floor. They have a hard shell called a “carapace” that is shaped kind-of like a horseshoe. Behind the carapace is a spiny tail, which they use to push themselves over when upside down. The females are the size of dinner plates. The males are the size of saucers.

These bizarre creatures are not crabs at all. They are related to spiders. But before you all go “ewww” on me — the link is so far back in time that all you spiders-fearing-folks don’t have to worry; these beasts are harmless. These “crabs” have eight pinchers that are used for clinging to the ocean floor. They do not pinch.

When I wrote, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder,” I meant “eyes.” Horseshoe crabs have compound eyes. There are the pair of eyes that are on the top of the carapace, but studies show these curious creatures have ten eyes positioned around the shell to help it find its way around its watery world.

They are made for the oceans. Their mouths are in the middle of their eight legs, so as they crawl along, they can filter food into those mouthes. They have gills, but they can stay on land if they can keep their gills wet. If they get stranded on the beach, they bury themselves and keep the gills wet.

One of the many fascinating features of these creatures is that they are genuinely blue-blooded. A protein called hemocyanin contains copper which creates a blue hue. This hemocyanin is also important for medical research and labs began collecting the blood, and retuning the crabs to the ocean. How those donors fared remains unknown.

To add to that uncertainty, in 2000 the eel fishing industry discovered horseshoe crabs were great bait. The wholesale harvest of these creatures caused its sudden decline. These crabs that survived the extinction of the dinosaurs were disappearing. The tide turned in 2008 however, when New Jersey became the first state to ban the harvest of horseshoe crabs. Other states followed suit, setting limits on harvesting practices.

Why should we care? Horseshoe crabs have an intriguing nature connection. They must come to the beaches to mate and reproduce. The high tides help push the female crabs onto the beaches. She lays her green eggs in a shallow hole, her mate by her side. Eggs laid (and they lay lots of eggs), she inches her way back to the ocean.

Those millions of protein-rich eggs fuel the globe-trotting shorebirds, like semipalmated sandpiper and red knots, on their long journeys to the arctic. Without the horseshoe crab, these shorebirds would not have the energy to make a fantastic journey.

Everything works together. Look for this nature connection at high tides in April or May.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  By:  Lindsey Adkison.

Garden Walk offers splash of outdoor inspiration

Garden Walk offers splash of outdoor inspiration

The Golden Isles has long been a sanctuary for creators. This little slice of coastline is filled with musicians and artists, all drawn to the natural beauty of the region.

Like their crafty brethren, gardeners too have felt the lure, inspired to till the soil to bring their visions to life. It’s a desire that members of the Cassina Garden Club share. The organization, founded in 1928, joins women under the charge of nurturing growing things. In addition to their longtime sisterhood, the ladies also have made a point to preserve history, namely the tabby cabins at Gascoigne Bluff. Formerly homes of the slaves at Hamilton Plantation, the structures are believed to have been built in the 1830s.

The group has respectfully held the deed to the cabins since 1950, ensuring that they be preserved for future generations. The club spearheaded an extensive renovation project a few years back, even winning the award for “Excellence in Restoration of the Hamilton Plantation Tabby Slave Cabins” from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. The honor recognizes those who have managed to recapture the features and character of a historic structure as it appeared in its original time period.

Of course, the project and continued maintenance comes with a steep price tag. So the ladies decided to host an annual, garden-centric fundraiser to help offset those costs.

The Tabby and Tillandsia Garden Walk and Market began 14 years ago and continues today, highlighting lovely landscapes of St. Simons Island. This year, the organizing committee has selected eight stunning locations for participants to visit.

The tour, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 25, will include stops in Frederica Township, Black Banks, the Island Club, and Sea Palms West. Attendees are also invited to swing by Demere Park to check out the butterfly garden there, which is operated by another local organization, the Live Oaks Garden Club.

A marketplace, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the cabins, 1195 Arthur J. Moore Drive, St. Simons Island.

It will feature items from local artisans and vendors, as well as food trucks, a plein air artists’ sale, and tours of the cabins.

Jane Bangert, this year’s event chair, says each location will serve as inspiration for tour-goers.

“There are so many vignettes and vistas that will inspire. One is almost a formal garden. There is one that’s a very Southern garden. There’s one that is like an English garden,” she said.

“There are some (gardens) with planters where people can take home ideas. I think a lot of people are more successful here with container gardening because of the soil here.”

Tickets to the Garden Walk may be purchased for $45 online at They will be available at tabby cabins on the day of the tour as well.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  By:  Lindsey Adkison.

Golden Isles Magazine Wins FOLIO Award!

The publication earned the Eddie or editorial award for the Southeast city and regional category for “George’s Bait” from the July/August 2018 edition. The story was written by Larry Hobbs and photographed by Benjamin Galland. GIM also received an Eddie honorable mention for Long Form Feature Content Magazine Section for “Ask A Local” in Sept/Oct 2018.

It was awarded an Ozzie (design) honorable mention for the the Spirit of Christmas published in Nov/Dec 2018 and for Illustration in the “Ask a Local” story in Sept/Oct 2018.

Editor Lindsey Adkison is thrilled by the recognition the magazine continues to receive.

“Naturally, the credit for achievement goes to my predecessor, Bethany Leggett. She has set the bar so incredibly high, and should certainly be commended for her vision,” she says.

“Larry and Ben also did outstanding work in creating an engaging and truly beautiful story. It really is such an honor to be a part of this outstanding team.”

Becky Derrick, marketing director for Golden Isles Magazine says it is a privilege to tell the stories of the area’s treasured coastline.

“Our collaborative team treats that responsibility with great care and it’s apparent in our finished product,” Derrick says. “Every year I wonder how we’re going to top the last one, but our team always comes through. They make sure we are undeniably the area’s premier lifestyle publication, and I’m grateful to them for making my job so easy.”

Golden Isles Magazine has an impressive history with the FOLIO: Awards, securing numerous honors over the years. GIM received its Folio’s Eddie & Ozzie award in 2014. Since that time, the publication has received five awards for editorial and design content. It has also garnered nine honorable mentions.

Competition for Golden Isles Magazine includes publications covering large metropolitan areas, like Baltimore Magazine, and regional heavyweights like Charleston-based Garden and Gun.

For Adkison, the awards are well-deserved and represent the tireless work of a team of writers, editors, photographers, and designers.

“Each issue of Golden Isles Magazine has the fingerprints of so many people throughout its pages,” she said. “There is no way that it would be the publication it is without the creativity and brilliance of individuals working behind the scenes — from marketing to design. It truly is a labor of love.”

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island. 

Dish stews up a bit of controversy, with side of fun!

Not many cities can claim a native dish that houses as much controversy as it does acclaim — but that’s precisely what Brunswick stew brings to Brunswick.


The stew, which both Brunswick County, Virginia, and the Coastal Georgia city lay claim to, is the center of attention for the 21st annual Brunswick Rockin’ Stewbilee.

The Stewbilee is part music festival, part cook-off, part cultural institution, and part good old-fashioned get-together for the citizens of Brunswick and beyond. Different cooking teams come together to present their takes on Brunswick stew for judges and attendees to taste.

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The Stewbilee is a joint effort between its committee and the local Kiwanis Club. The committee’s responsibilities include the logistics — road closures, sponsorships, and security, among others — while the Kiwanis Club organizes the actual stew competition, the classic car show, and the kids’ area.

All funds that the committee raises through sponsorships go to the Boys and Girls Club, while all the Kiwanis Club funds go to the organization’s general fund.

Teeple Hill is Stewbilee’s chairman and has been involved in the event since 2007. He said that it takes everyone — the volunteers, musicians, cooks, and judges — to create such a memorable and, at this point, historic event.

“All these different teams donate their time, their work, and their stew to make a successful event,” Hill emphasizes. “Without the teams, we don’t have Stewbilee.”

Ron Adams is a cook in this year’s Stewbilee, but was one of the key organizers from its inception. Since its first event in 1999, the event has gone through as many iterations and changes as there are differences from one person’s stew recipe to another.

At one time, it was a three-day event in October or November, featuring musical acts such as the B-52s, The Neville Brothers, and Casey and the Sunshine Band. When the 2008-2009 recession hit however, the organizers decided it was time to size the event down. Then, when hurricanes caused problems two years in a row, the decision was made to move the date to January, which Adams says has worked out well for the competition.

Even after going through so many changes, the Stewbilee is such an economic boon for the city that even the best cooks of downtown aren’t able to take the day off to compete, Adams says.

“I’ve tried to get (Tipsy McSway’s owner) Susan Bates to cook in the Stewbilee, but she can’t be out of the restaurant because she has so much business that day,” he says, laughing.


While the event has become a downtown staple, Stewbilee almost had to change venues this year due to the city’s plans to renovate Mary Ross Waterfront Park. However, the powers that be, due in part to urging by the Brunswick Exchange Club, promised they would wait until after 2020 to make any changes. As it stands, the event stretches on Bay Street from Newcastle to Gloucester, as well as all of Mary Ross Park.

Adams says Stewbilee not only aids the Boys and Girls Club, but also the city’s inhabitants through sheer exposure and attendance.

“It’s a great calling card for the city of Brunswick,” he said. “It helps people see the real beauty of our city. It’s been a very mutually beneficial event.”

Hill agrees. “This is an event that brings the entire community together,” he said. “Everyone comes out for this and has a good time. It’s a real melting pot for the community,” Hill says.

Though Brunswick, Georgia, is the home of the Stewbilee, and even has a pot at the intersection of F and Bay Streets labeled “in this pot the first Brunswick Stew was made on St. Simon Isle, July 2, 1898” — many Virginians will argue that the coastal city doesn’t deserve to host it.

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When asked where he thought Brunswick stew originated, Hill immediately responded, “Brunswick.” A pause, then with a small laugh, “Georgia.”

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  “Dish Stews Up a Bit of Controversy, With a Side of Fun,” by: Beth Lindly

Sea Anemones

Whenever anyone starts to talk about traveling out of Glynn County, my friend Sandy says, “We don’t travel, OK!” Over the years, I have met travelers who are always on the move. Their boats and RVs are their homes. Then there are other folks, like Sandy, who are happy just where they are. 

Variety is the spice of life. In the ocean, there are big fish and whales that travel long distances with no qualms. On the other side of the coin, there are organisms that, once they find a home, they stick to it like glue. If you are a boat person, these creatures can be a nuisance. For this reason, creatures like sea anemones, barnacles, and oysters are called “fouling organisms.”

I decided to explore Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach one quiet day. It is a fascinating place. Trees are stranded on the beach with the tide washing over them twice a day. It is a fantastic example of nature’s sculpture garden. People visiting for the first time think that storms washed them up on the beach. The trees were once on high, dry land, and the ocean ate away at that land. The barrier islands of South Carolina, Georgia, and Northern Florida are always moving. The concept is called “sand sharing.” The offshore currents take the sand from the north ends of barrier islands and tumble it south to build the south end of these islands. But, the trees on the north end are left stranded in the sand. The tide washes around the root systems and branches, leaving tide pools. Out on the Pacific Coast of California, Oregon, and Washington State, people like to go tide pooling, looking for sea creatures stranded in the pools of water.

This quiet day, I was exploring the tide pools on Driftwood Beach. There were living sand dollars stranded on the dry sand. I picked them up and placed them in the water. The creatures slowly disappeared into the sand. While watching them, something moved in the water at the base of a fallen tree. Wow! It was real, live sea anemones just like the ones in the movie, Finding Nemo. Discovering these sea anemones in the wild was thrilling. I have seen them in salt-water fish tanks, but here they were on Driftwood Beach. They were stuck deep in the pools attached to a root.

Some of the creatures were closed up. They looked like funny, bumpy, squishy pale rocks. I timidly touched one, and it sprung open. It had tentacles. They were larger on the outer rim and smaller closer to the central opening. It was a stunning creature. Richard Chewning is the 4-H Center’s director of Camp Jekyll, a UGA/Jekyll Island Authority Environmental Educational Center at the south end of Jekyll. He is my go-to guy for all things ocean. He told me that these were warty anemones. These are common sea anemones found around the big driftwood trees at the north end. Chewning said the kids at Camp Jekyll got a kick out of these anemones because tentacles called nematocysts do not sting. An interesting fact, he added, is these warty anemones are not found on the south end of Jekyll because the sand is too fine, but love to attach themselves to the roots and rocks at the north end. There is always something to learn in this diverse Georgia Coast.

Take some time and explore. Find the animals that will travel long distances to get here. Discover the creatures like the warty sea anemones that find a home and stick to it like glue.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  “Sea Anemones,” by Lydia Thompson.

All That Jazz

For a celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the Roaring ‘20s, supporters of the Coastal Symphony of Georgia will channel their inner Jay Gatsbys for the Symphony Society’s annual Cabaret fundraiser, “A Gatsby Gala.”

The event will celebrate the spirit of the time, which is most often recognized as the “Jazz Era.”

“(The Roaring ‘20s) marked a huge change in culture for America and for the music scene,” says Gail McCarty, Cabaret chairperson. “People had cars and small appliances. Women could vote for the first time. It was a fascinating time in American history. We went from being isolated to — with cars and airplanes — the beginning of globalization. For the first time in history, families gathered around their radios and had music playing in their living rooms. A great deal of that music was jazz, such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

The event will take place Friday, January 24, at the Cloister on Sea Island. The cocktail reception starts at 6 p.m. and precedes a seated dinner. The Jordan Gilman Septet, which includes a trombone, trumpet, clarinet, double bass, saxophone, and a singer, will perform jazz music of the era.

The fundraiser includes both silent and live auctions, and attendees can bid on artwork, adventures, and a stay in a Tuscan villa, among other items. The silent auction will begin with the cocktail reception. Attendees are encouraged to don Gatsby-like attire.

This year’s “A Gatsby Gala” marks the 16th year that the symphony and the society have sponsored Cabaret. The themes of past Cabarets have ranged from the excitement of Paris and Venice to that of Vegas and Broadway, but the event always includes a seated dinner and entertainment. “It is the major fundraiser of the year,” says Sharon Flores, Coastal Symphony’s executive director.

Established in 2006, the Symphony Society currently includes more than 200 members. Proceeds from concert tickets only cover a portion of the operating budget; fundraising events and activities keep the symphony viable. Initially, the symphony’s board was doing that work. “So, we started the society,” Flores says. “It has been a fundraiser and friend-raiser since 2006. It’s an affiliate of the Coastal Symphony that serves as the volunteer arm.”

The symphony itself dates back 37 years. From its start as the Brunswick Community Orchestra until 2005, the symphony was made up of local musicians, amateurs, and some professionals from the Jacksonville Symphony, according to Flores.

The makeup of the symphony transitioned to professional musicians around 2013, when music director/conductor Luis Haza and general manager Jorge Peña were hired.

About 70 musicians make up the Coastal Symphony, although the size of the orchestra changes depending on the musical selection. Currently, the Coastal Symphony is under the direction of Michelle Merrill, who came to the symphony from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, where she was the associate conductor for four years.

“Our symphony is more than music from 1750 to 1820,” McCarty says. “Our new director, Michelle Merrill, has featured American composers, women composers, and living composers.

The music our symphony is performing is exciting and gives us a possible glimpse into where orchestral music may be heading in the future. We listen to classical music constantly when watching television and movies, we’ve just stopped recognizing it as classical music.”

The symphony performs four concerts each season. There are two concerts left in the 2019-2020 season: March 2 and April 13. Concerts take place at the Brunswick High School auditorium.

The Coastal Symphony of Georgia supports local music education by maintaining a presence in local schools. Through a program called, “Musical Mentors,” the symphony takes guest musicians or artists, flown in for concerts, to schools to talk to students about music. For example, last spring, the symphony played a piece by a composer from Colorado. The symphony flew the composer in, and he visited with high school band and chorus students at Glynn Academy and students at Frederica Academy. Through another program, “Music in the Schools,” members of the symphony visit fourth and fifth graders and, in an hour-long presentation by the musicians, students see, hear, and touch different instruments.

Participation in this year’s Cabaret event supports the symphony as well as its outreach efforts. The event can accommodate 300 people. To purchase tickets, visit or call Sharon Flores at 912-223-6755.

“It’s very unusual for a community this size to have a symphony like this,” McCarty says. “The symphony is a tremendous cultural asset to the Golden Isles community. It’s an asset worth protecting and supporting.”

“A Gatsby Gala,” the Coastal Symphony of Georgia and Symphony Society’s annual Cabaret fundraiser, will be held January 24, 2020, at The Cloister at Sea Island. The cocktail reception and silent auction starts at 6 p.m., and the seated dinner begins at 7 p.m. The event also includes a live auction and jazz music by the Jordan Gilman Septet. Mildred Huie Wilcox, a community icon and veteran of the fashion and art worlds, is the honorary chairperson. Attendees are encouraged to wear clothes inspired by the Roaring ‘20s. To purchase tickets, visit or call Sharon Flores at 912-223-6755.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  “All That Jazz,” by Kathryn Schiliro.

Jekyll Treasures Dot Coast of “Georgia’s Jewel”

In the Golden Isles, the waters are rich with treasures. From fresh white Georgia shrimp to large blue crabs, and a scattering of tiny sharks’ teeth — there’s always something to find for locals and visitors alike.

The event dates back to the early 1900s, when fishermen used glass floats as markers on their nets. The floats were made of recycled glass, resulting in imperfections that made each one unique. Occasionally, the floats would break loose and wash ashore for lucky beachcombers to find and keep. Collecting the rare, highly sought-after glass floats became a leisure activity in the 1950s.

In the early 2000s, the island turned this hobby into an annual hide-and-seek style event, as a nod to its rich history. During January and February each year, visitors scour the island in search of plastic floats marked with an individual number inside. They then exchange these at the Jekyll Island Guest Information Center for their prized glass float, each one as individual as they are.

Each day, volunteers called Beach Buddies hide a select number of the plastic floats around the island. Beach Buddies are employees of the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) chosen through a lottery process to keep the selection random. Employees vie for the opportunity, as they too receive an Island Treasure for their participation in making the event a continued success.

Beach Buddies take great care in hiding the globes where visitors will find them. With a habitat so rare and pristine, floats are only hidden in common places where visitors are likely to frequent. One might find themselves wandering the historic district and stumble upon a float on the steps to Mistletoe Cottage, or shopping in the Beach Village and discover one on a bench in plain sight. For the protection of the island’s delicate habitats like sand dunes and marshes, Island Treasures will never be hidden off-the-beaten path.

The real beauty of the annual Island Treasures event lies in the opportunity to explore. From historical sites within the historic district to watching the active wildlife roaming one of the island’s four golf courses, it’s a peaceful place with many treasures to discover.

But for those lucky enough to also find a float upon their visit to the island, these works of art become a collector’s item. Artists for the glass floats are hand-picked from across the country, with last year’s designers, the Glass Quest Hand Blown Art Glass Studio from Stanwood, Washington, returning. Each float is marked with a unique stamp signifying the year it was made, and each treasure-finder also receives a certificate of authenticity and an artist biography as a keepsake.

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All in all, approximately 250 floats are hidden around the island over the two-month period. Some seekers plan their vacations around the tradition, while others visit for the day. First-time hunters looking to join in on the treasure hunt can visit for details on the best places to explore.


For those who find one, they are a treasure worth keeping for a lifetime. And for those who do not, a visit to the island provides a treasured experience of its own.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  Jekyll Treasures Dot Coast of “Georgia’s Jewel,” by Alexis Orndoff.

Coastal Catfish Feast

Where the pavement ends, the late afternoon sun throws shadows of live oaks, and tall pines on the old dirt road in front of the pickup truck. Clouds of dust swirl up from under the tailgate and trail behind, hanging in the air like gnats. Cicadas sing. In the pickup bed, bumping along with each rut in the road are a few precious things: (1) an old, well-seasoned cast iron Dutch oven; (2) an even older, even more seasoned cast iron skillet; (3) an old cane fly rod, circa 1950; (4) a slightly rusty Coleman camp stove with many years of faithful service behind it; (5) a small cooler of hoppy beer, iced and sweating; and (6) all of the necessary ingredients for a late-summer, al fresco ­catfish feast.

Catfish are among the most common types of fish in the world, living on every continent except Antarctica, with a dizzying number of species, and subspecies, ranging from critically endangered giant Mekong Catfish of Southeast Asia to the dangerously invasive walking catfish that breathe air, crossing dry land to take over habitats, and crowd out native species. Human civilizations around the globe use catfish as a reliable food source, because they thrive in both fresh and brackish waters — both running and still  — and are particularly suited to aquaculture.

Satilla Ponds, a low-impact catfish farm, is the brainchild of Golden Isles restauranteur and entrepreneur, Zack Gowen. Recently, Zack upped the local farm-to-table game by supplying his popular Georgia Sea Grill with produce from his own local farm, Potlikker Farm. Now, he’s applying that same concept to source his own protein for his St. Simons Island location, and the community by farming catfish and crawfish at Satilla Ponds.

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On a lazy Sunday afternoon, as the sun dropped over the pines, a few of us and our families gathered with Zack, his family, and Satilla Ponds manager, Eric Miller, and his family, to wet some lines and sample Satilla Ponds’ first harvest. Knowing that smell is a catfish’s greatest detector of food, we applied pungent anchovy oil to fish egg fly patterns, and the kids quickly had enough fish for a meal flopping pondside.

After dredging the filets in blue-cornmeal and cooking them on the campstove, we ate them with masa grits as the light faded to dark and the whip-poor-wills struck up  their lonesome melody. This recipe puts a South American twist on the classic Lowcountry fish and grits, inspired by a jungle fishing trip on the Amazon that I took a few years ago, where we fly-fished for peacock bass, payara, piranha, and about a dozen different varieties of … you guessed, it: catfish. Substituting hominy Masa cornmeal, produces a creamy, fresh-corn flavored base that leans more toward polenta than stoneground grits. Blue cornmeal gives a bright, crunchy balance to the velvety texture of the catfish. Garnished with garden peppers, smoky bacon lardons, and Vidalia onions (a nod to the American South roots of the recipe), each bite offers a pleasant foil to cold beer on a steamy late-summer night in coastal Georgia.

Creamy Masa Grits

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1 cup plus 3 tablespoons Masa Harina

2 cups fish broth or chicken broth

1 cup half-and-half

2 cups of room temperature water

¼ cup butter

¼ pound of slab smoked bacon or 5 slices thick-cut bacon (Benton’s or Wrights or something similar)

1 Vidalia onion, cut into half rings

Salt to taste

White Pepper to taste


Heat a cast iron Dutch oven or steel pot over medium flame; while it comes to heat, cut the bacon into lardons of ½  to ¾ inch thick. Brown the bacon lardons until crispy, remove from Dutch oven, and place on paper towel to dry.

Cook onion slices in reserved bacon grease in Dutch oven until they are transparent and have a slight char; then, remove onions to paper towel with lardons and reserve for garnish. Pour masa into bacon grease and cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes or until all of the bacon grease is absorbed and a light rue forms. Pour broth over rue, stirring constantly until creamy.

Reduce heat to low. Add half and half and butter and stir until creamy. Gently simmer grits uncovered for 20-30 minutes over low heat. If grits become too thick, add room temperature water a few tablespoons and stir until a creamy consistency (grits should be thinner than mashed potatoes but thicker than gravy). Once grits are ready, turn off flame and cover to keep hot while you prepare the catfish.


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8 medium boneless catfish filets

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon of Cholula hot sauce

1 cup of avocado oil (or other high heat oil, like peanut oil)

1 scant cup of stoneground blue cornmeal

2 red chili peppers, thinly sliced, seeds removed

Placing Catfish in Fryer_CMYK.jpgDirections:

In a small bowl or Ziploc bag, combine buttermilk, cumin, Cholula, and catfish filets. Refrigerate and marinate catfish in buttermilk mixture for 1 to 24 hours.

Thirty minutes to 1 hour prior to cooking, remove catfish from refrigerator and allow filets to come to room temperature.

Heat cast iron skillet over medium-high flame for 3-5 minutes until pan is very hot. While skillet is heating, pour cornmeal into a small shallow bowl. When skillet is hot, pour enough avocado oil to just cover the bottom of skillet and watch the oil to see that it makes slight waves, indicating that the oil is very hot.

One at a time in batches: (a) remove each catfish filet from buttermilk, allowing excess buttermilk to drip away; (b) place filet into cornmeal bowl and coat completely in dry cornmeal; (c) gently, place into hot skillet being careful not to crowd filets. Cook filets without moving them for 3 minutes on one side, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to rest for 3 minutes on a wire rack. Add more oil to skillet if necessary to coat skillet between batches.

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Filets should be crispy, and cornmeal should be slightly brown but mostly bright blue.  If cornmeal turns mostly brown or black, reduce heat. Outside of filets should be crispy while inside should be white throughout, but still soft — not hard. Taste test the first filet to make sure that you are cooking correctly, and adjust heat and cooking time if necessary to achieve a crispy outside and fully-cooked but still soft inside.

After resting cooked filets, serve on a bed of creamy masa grits and garnish with the bacon lardons, charred onions, cilantro, sliced chilis, and squeeze of lime.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island. Coastal Catfish Feast, by: Jim Barger, Jr.

The Art of Bird Photography

Elma Andrews sifted through the colorful photographs poured over the table. Each image featured a vibrant bird artistically captured by either she or her husband, Lynn Cates.
“It is really in their eyes. They say that ‘eyes are the windows to the soul,’” Andrews noted, picking up a photo of a bright pink spoonbill. “It’s true with humans and animals. It’s their identity.” 
“We’ve always enjoyed wildlife; we’ve always enjoyed the birds. We would drive through farm fields. We’d see hawks and really whole flocks of migrating birds … ducks and snow geese.” – Elma Andrews
Bird photography has long been a shared passion for Andrews and Cates. It started back when they resided in New Jersey, before the couple moved to St. Simons Island. 
“We’ve always enjoyed wildlife; we’ve always enjoyed the birds. We would drive through farm fields. We’d see hawks and really whole flocks of migrating birds … ducks and snow geese,” she listed.  “We’re not hard-core bird watchers,” Cates clarified with a laugh. “We don’t travel around to see them.”
But they are avid bird fans in their own way. Watching their movements proves fascinating for them, so once they relocated to the Georgia coast, they decided to engage their feathered friends by erecting feeders on their back porch.
“Either you go to see the birds or get the birds to come to you,” Andrews said with a laugh. “Lynn did something really wonderful. He set up a branch with some moss on it as a perch, so while one bird was eating at the feeder another would wait on the branch. Then he would be inside in the air conditioned sunroom with his camera, taking pictures.” 
Cates’ set-up ingenuity shouldn’t be surprising. He has had a long history with photography and camera work, professionally filming shows for PBS for 40 years. His skills yielded an impressive seven Emmy Award wins and 27 nominations, among other honors. 
Elma Andrews, left, and Lynn Cates_cmyk.jpg
Andrews was Cate’s boss back then, working as a producer and news anchor. The two made a good team then, and still do today, although Andrews’ entry into photography came a bit later than her hubby’s. 
“Although I spent my professional life as a broadcast journalist, covering and editing stories, I was always aware that the real story was in the pictures. I always was hands-on in directing the camera person but never the camera operator myself,” she said.
“When we moved to St. Simons 14 years ago, Lynn wanted to join the Coastal Photographers Guild, but wanted me to join too and go out and shoot with him. I reluctantly agreed.”
The two have excelled, creating a portfolio of breathtaking work. While they shoot many subjects, their stunning bird photography stands out. Many of the shots have been taken locally, while others have been snapped at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida. 
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“It’s a great place to go, it’s a rookery. The birds nest in the trees, and the alligators keep the predators away. Now, an alligator might eat one every now and then, but otherwise they’re OK,” Cates said with a chuckle. 
“You can go there with a standard camera and get some really beautiful shots,” Andrews added. 
Some of their images taken at the St. Augustine location have even won awards among the stiff competition within the photographers guild. Their experiences have taught them a great deal about creating quality art from bird photos. The equation is part technical and part artistic intuition.
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For starters, the couple stresses the importance of finding the right camera and taking time to really understand it once purchased. While reading the manual cover to cover isn’t always necessary, Cates underscores the importance of general competency. 
“Understanding your camera really helps. Point and shoot cameras can get great shots of birds,” Cates said. “But it comes with the auto focus. That auto focus might be focusing on a leaf rather than the bird. If you can put it in manual and do a manual focus, sometimes you’re better off. Other times, if you’re trying to get a shot of a bird in flight, you want the automatic focus because it will stay with the bird the whole time.”
“Learn how to do the quick shutter, too,” Andrews adds. “Because you can lose a shot in an instant.” 
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“Yes, and these point and shoot cameras can do that. They can do ten frames a second,” Cates added. 
Many would-be photographers feel that good pictures require oodles of money. Not so, says the couple. They stress that investing thousands of dollars into fancy equipment is not necessary for quality photos. 
“If you don’t want to spend major money on a camera, they make ‘bridge cameras.’ Those sell for about $300 to $350. These are ideal for people who want to shoot birds,” Cates said. “You might also want to look into getting a tripod because that can add a lot of stabilization to shots. You wouldn’t use that for a bird in flight, but it’s great for those that are stationary.”
These so-called bridge cameras don’t typically come with fancy lenses which can limit zooming capabilities. Cates doesn’t feel that is a problem, adding images can always be reconfigured after the fact. 
“Sometimes you’re farther away from the bird than you’d like, but you can go in post-processing and crop it,” he said. 
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Of course, distance and vantage points are key to good photography. Andrews suggests seeking out different angles to enhance images. 
“You don’t have to shoot straight on … think about going low or going high,” she said.  
Andrews also advises newbie photogs to be very mindful of backgrounds in pictures. While it may initially escape notice, what is happening behind a subject can make or break a photograph.
“What I find when most people are starting out is that they don’t think about the background. I’ve seen so many shots ruined by a cluttered background. Try to clean that up,” she said. 
Being mindful of what’s going on around the subject is critical. And Andrews notes there are other external factors to consider, as well, such as time of day.
American Goldfinch
“For birds, you have to think about when they’re most active. It’s usually in the early morning or around dusk. The shorebirds are most active at high or low tide when they come to feed. So it’s important to know what the tide is doing,” she said. 
The real secret to good photographs, however, is simply to practice. Like so many things in life, the more shots one takes, the more one’s skills improve. Andrews encourages novices not to be too quick to dismiss or delete work. There can be hidden gems among the dozens of pictures one takes in a day. 
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“I know that a lot of people will look at their photos on their camera or on their phone and delete them. Don’t do that. Wait until you take it home and put it on the computer because it will look different,” she said. “You might have a really great photo, but if you delete it, you will never know.” 
Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island. Jekyll, & Sea Island

Cumberland Days Gone By Cumberland’s illustrious past comes to life with ‘Land and Legacies’ Tour

The soft, salty wind blows across the shoreline’s huge ivory dunes, moving through the remnants of former cotton plantations, mansions from the Gilded Age, and old slave settlements and graveyards. Cumberland Island grabs my heart from the first moment my foot steps off the dock, and it never lets go.

Located off the coast of Georgia, the barrier island is a 45-minute drive from the Golden Isles to St. Marys and another 45-minute ferry ride to its shores. On a Thursday in April, day-trippers and campers climb aboard the Cumberland ferry and slowly cruise through golden marshes, lit by the early morning sun, and travel along a winding river to the banks of Sea Camp, the public dock.

After disembarking, a group of us board the “Land and Legacies” van that will take us along the island’s single road that leads from the tropical south side to the island’s wild and unbroken north end. The six-hour tour is advertised as the only practical way to cover the entire island in one day; it is that, and so much more.

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looking down from the second floor to the entrance area of Plum Orchard mansion.

Tour guide Mike Fulford — a born storyteller whose hoarse, gravelly voice is mixed with a Southern drawl and sounds remarkably like Bill Clinton — brings the island’s past to life for those lucky enough to secure a spot in his van.

For years, Fulford split his time working in insurance during the week and spending his weekends on Cumberland Island, where he captained the ferry boat or worked one side job or another. Now retired from the insurance industry, he is a full-time tour guide spinning tales of plantation owner Robert Stafford; Gilded Age heiress Lucy Coleman Carnegie; and the prized island legacy her family turned over to the National Park Service in 1972.

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Tour director Mike Fulford goes over some basic rules before starting the tour.

Like any good storyteller, Fulford may expound, exaggerate, or “take poetic license” here and there, he says; but the gist of his yarns is embedded in history, fact mixed with a little historical gossip. His tales are fascinating, and he rarely comes up for air.

We travel to our first tour stop along a dirt road called Grand Avenue, its grandness evidenced by the lush canopy of live oaks that sculpt the avenue’s landscape. A deep throng of palmettos surrounds the oaks that are smothered in Spanish moss.

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A tour group prepares to enter Plum Orchard.

We stop at the plantation fields, once owned by Robert Stafford, that now stand empty. We are captivated at our first peek of the island’s feral horses, the offspring of equines left on the island by Spanish inhabitants nearly 400 years before. The horses wander the island as they please and live and die in the “circle of life,” Fulford says.

Stafford was an unconventional leader of his time, Fulford explains. He used slaves to power his farm, but he went against the laws of the land — and the recommendations of his peers — by educating his workers.

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Tour director Mike Fulford, center, addresses a tour as they stand in the main entrance of Plum Orchard. 

He allowed them to earn and save money. He also armed each male slave and taught them to hunt, fish, and farm vegetables — skills that helped them become self-sufficient after emancipation.

As we visit Stafford’s gravesite, Fulford says the life enjoyed by Stafford, his family — never married, he raised six children with a slave, Elizabeth Zabette; and two daughters with another slave, Juda — and his workers continued until the end of the Civil War, when the agricultural era on Cumberland abruptly ended. Cumberland then entered into its Gilded Age, a period that lasted from the late 19th through the early 20th century.

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view of the front porch from a window inside Plum Orchard

Lucy Carnegie and her husband, Pittsburgh steel magnate Thomas Carnegie, were snubbed by the millionaires on Jekyll Island “because their blood was not blue enough,” Fulford says. That snub brought them to Cumberland. While riding a horse and buggy down the same Grand Avenue of trees that welcomed us to the island, Lucy came upon the ruins of the Dungeness property and fell in love at first site. As Fulford tells it, she turned to her husband and said, “I must have it … you must buy it for me.”

Even with gobs of money earned from U.S. Steel, it was not an easy purchase. The property was owned by William Davis, first cousin to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and William Davis did not want to sell to a Yankee.

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Tour director Mike Fulford discusses some of the advanced building techniques of Plum Orchard mansion as he leads the group through the basement.

It took Carnegie many months of continual requests before he acquired his wife’s desire. For the next 50 years, from the early 1880s to the early 1930s, the island was dominated by the Carnegies: Lucy, Robert, their nine children, their children’s spouses, their grandchildren, and the 300 or so servants who made sure their lives were enriched with luxury and elegance.

In addition to the 78,000-square-foot rebuilt Dungeness mansion, Lucy added several other “starter” homes for her children — the most prominent being Plum Orchard, built for her fifth son, George Carnegie, and his young wife, Margaret. As Fulford drives his van to the mansion, now owned by the National Park Service, he captivates me with stories of George’s 19-year-old wife, who in taking her first look at Plum Orchard, exclaimed, “This is not big enough for me.” They would go on to add two wings to the home.

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A tour group checks out the indoor pool at Plum Orchard mansion

If you love “Downton Abbey,” you will love Plum Orchard. As we toured the mansion, Fulford shared how Margaret was bathed, dressed, and coiffed each day by her personal servants, similar to the ladies of “Downton.” The house also features a system with servants living in one area of the house and visitors and residents in another. The separate servants’ area was marked with Carnegie gold paint, so if anyone in the house wandered into the servant area, they knew right away they were on the wrong side of the house.

The restored Classical Revival home opens into a beautiful grand hall, featuring an arched alcove, fireplace, and an authentic Tiffany Lamp hanging over a huge center table. The walls are covered in hand-painted burlap wallpaper. The hall flows into a Ladies’ Library, with a huge bookcase (containing a copy of “Sexual Behavior of Human Males,” which may be why Lucy had nine children, observed one tour-goer).

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Plum Orchard mansion, one of the highlights of the tour.

The standout of the house is a 12-foot-deep, heated, white-tiled swimming pool located nearby the mansion’s squash court, which features an observation deck where the women watched the men play. The women did everything the men did outside the home, Fulford says. They rode horses, hunted, fished, played polo and golf, and even “fought in the mud if they wanted.” However, once they entered the house, they assumed their roles as ladies and “not a drop of perspiration” was to show, he adds.

The beautiful grounds of Plum Orchard provide an idyllic backdrop to a bring-your-own picnic lunch. Some of the group sits at the foot of a wide swing that still hangs from the mansion’s porch ceiling. It had been used by servants to gently rock Plum Orchard visitors as they napped and enjoyed the breezes from the nearby river.

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A wild horse grazes outside the entrance to Dungeness.

Once lunch is over, we continue along the most arduous part of the trip, a rugged and uneven thoroughfare leading to the far north end of the island. It’s a bumpy, jerky ride, along a road that is rarely traveled. Fulford warns his tour-goers in the beginning about the difficult journey; however, he makes the ride pleasant by continuing to weave colorful stories about the wild side of the island.

After the Civil War, most of Stafford’s slaves moved to the north end of the island and formed a settlement there, which led to the construction of a small, wooden African American church. The church, beautiful in its simplicity, became famous in 1996, when John F. Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette there in a secret candlelit ceremony.

During our visit to the church, the wedding is brought to life again through a serendipitous experience. A gospel singer, visiting the island for the first time since the famous pair’s wedding, performs an a cappella rendering of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” the same tune he sang as Kennedy and his bride exited the one-room church. It was a moving moment for him as well as us. The song brings home the tragedy of the young couple, whose lives started so brightly and ended so tragically.

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The ruins of Dungeness

The church stands in stark contrast to the neighboring cluster of ramshackle, weathered buildings where environmentalist Carol Ruckdeschel lives. Ruckdeschel was absent the day we visit, but Fulford describes her as an island character. Now in her 70s, she rides the island’s beaches and single road on a four-wheeler. Her braids flying in the wind, she is typically dressed in jeans, long-sleeved flannel shirts, and white rubber boots favored by fishermen. She has lived on the island for almost 50 years and is one of its strongest voices against development.

As we leave the encampment and begin the long journey back to the south end of the island, Fulford details how the playground of the Carnegie family became mostly public land. It’s a story as fascinating as the others we hear that day. Fulford tells us of Carnegie family members who fought and argued and tried to find a way the island could retain its beauty, preserve its history, and continue to be their playground.

Once the last of Lucy’s children passed away, it was the grandchildren who were charged with determining the future of the island. Some of them, facing difficult financial times, sold their property to a Hilton Head developer. The developer planned a very different life for Cumberland than what it is today.

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The ruins of Dungeness 

Fulford says the park service wanted to purchase and designate the island as a national seashore, but funding was an issue. Once the property purchase was secured by money provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the family and the developer agreed to sell. Today, almost 10,000 of the island’s 36,000 acres are designated wilderness.

Fulford winds up his spiel on how the island retains its pristine seashore and wild beauty just at the moment the van pulls up to the most achingly beautiful stop on the tour: the ruins of Dungeness. The mansion burned in 1959, according to Fulford, by a fire believed to be deliberately set by a poacher.

Only stone skeleton ruins, giant brick chimneys, and a single dry brick fountain remain. The ruins of Dungeness perfectly reflect the essence that is Cumberland, the island’s rich historical history combined with its wild and natural state.

It’s It’s another favorite spot for the island’s feral horse population, and you are guaranteed to see them dotting the landscape of the uninhabited property.

As the tour comes to an end, it is evident Fulford loves the island. He tells us delivering the same tour five days a week does not tire him. He often returns to the island by personal boat on his days off to wander through the ruins and along the property. The draw, he says, is the fact it still looks the same as it did on his first visit, 30 years before, but he “always manages to find or see something new. What is here today are the ruins of a lifestyle, the elegant lives lived by people we never met,” he says.

It’s these compelling stories that reel me in and leave me wanting more, eager to plan my next trip to Cumberland.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island. Jekyll, & Sea Island,