They are the ones that leave the itchy, throbbing welt that just plain hurts.
They are the ones that carry diseases that kill more people around the world than any other animal – except the human ones – every year.
Now I know mosquitoes are God’s creation like other living things, but I sorta wonder that maybe God created mosquitoes as part of one of the plagues he smote the Egyptians with back in Moses’ time? And when He was cleaning up afterward He forgot to undo what He had done and mosquitoes slipped through the cracks.
Once out, there was no stopping them.
Every summer throughout the South mosquitoes swarm out of stagnant water that collects in cans and drains and pots and troughs. Mosquitoes love it.
Help, however, might be on the way.
According to those who should know, scientists are on the brink of creating “A World Without Mosquitoes.”
Yessir, a world without something I hate, not to mention a thing that kills people, sounds like a pretty good world to me.
Well, molecular geneticists are working on a way to create a lethal mutation and insert it into the DNA of male mosquitoes, rendering them sterile. Then the males would go out and breed. But there would be no offspring. Called the “sterile insect technique,” it is something like giving vasectomies to male mosquitoes and ending the line once and for all.
I recall some years ago when the fruit fly was wrecking havoc on the Florida orange crop scientists proposed catching thousands of fruit flies, zapping them with something to make them sterile, then sending them out into the world not to reproduce.
Not sure how that has worked, but there seems to be plenty of orange juice in the stores.
However, the fruit fly plan was small stuff compared to a program that would create “a world without mosquitoes.”
Of course, there are a few hitches in process.
Consider the economic consequences. If mosquitoes are eradicated, companies that make mosquito repellants will go under, jobs will be lost, families will go hungry, and politicians will feed on the anger.
It could happen.
And there is the ethical question.
Should we drive a whole species to extinction?
We have done it before but usually as a consequence of habitat destruction, over hunting, and such.
This would be a program calculated to remove one of God’s creatures from the face of the earth.
Think about it.
If mosquitoes are part of the Lord’s Plan, who are we to interfere?
But remember those Egyptian plagues?
What if God was just so busy getting the Children of Israel to the Promised Land that He forgot to tidy up the mosquito mess?
An oversight that we can rectify.
But should we?
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A common sight at the Easter meal is an heirloom deviled egg dish. Some Southern women believe you just can’t entertain properly without one. They may be round or oval. They may be cut crystal. They may be white milk glass with gilded edges. They may have 12 or even up to 24 shallow, egg-shaped indentions designed to perfectly cradle this egg-stremely popular stuffed-egg standard.
And because the platters come in different colors, style and sizes, consider a variation on the classic deviled egg recipe to fill yours.
Try these add-ins:
cooked and crumbled bacon
a vinegary buffalo sauce
spicy pickle relish (like Alabama-made Wickles Pickles’ version) instead of your usual choice
fresh-chopped herbs (like chives or tarragon)
If your childhood was anything like mine, Easter morning meant a plastic-grass-lined basket packed with a diverse array of candy: a rainbow of jelly beans, foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies and more. Maybe you still get a basket like that or you dip into the sweets received by your kids or grandkids. While it can be tempting to over-indulge in these delights, don’t.
The roster for a traditional Southern Easter lunch includes some of our region’s most iconic and delicious foods, so you’ll want to have ample stomach space to savor it all.
The main event is probably some form of pig, maybe a pork roast or most likely, a ham (brown-sugar or molasses glazed). According to some food historians, the custom of eating ham on Easter is not restricted to the South, and dating back to the days before refrigeration, was more a choice of necessity than preference. Hogs were often slaughtered in the winter and then preserved by smoking. The resulting hams were available to enjoy in the early spring, before fresh meat was available.
While it may take a backseat to pork in Alabama, lamb also has a place on the Easter lunch menu, and in other parts of the world, it is one of the most popular proteins for the holiday. Its ties to “the lamb of God,” a reference to Jesus, imbue it with significance, especially on Easter.
No matter how succulent the ham or moist the lamb, the Easter sides can often outshine the entrée with their familiar tastes. There’s usually a potato dish (maybe creamy, starchy layers of au gratin or the oozing cheesy comfort of the hash browns, butter and cheddar in a potato casserole). And eggs almost always make an appearance, whether deviled, in a rich quiche or in an egg-heavy bread pudding for dessert. Eggs’ starring role in the event pre-dates Christianity, as the orbs have long been a rite of the season as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. After Christ’s resurrection on the first Easter and as Christianity spread, eggs took on even deeper meaning.
Finally, a few green veggies, possibly embellished with even more pork, round out the selections. Some usual suspects include soft, salty lima beans cooked with ham hocks or bundles of green beans swaddled in bacon and baked.
No matter what sweet Easter treats you find yourself faced with on the special morning, save them for after lunch (although just one handful of jelly beans or a bunny ear before probably won’t hurt). You’ll want plenty of room and a blank palate to truly enjoy every bite of your Easter meal. Not sure what you’re serving yet? Try one of this month’s reader-submitted recipes that offer some different spins on most of the requisite categories for a successful holiday feast.
BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY | FOOD PREPARED AND PHOTOGRAPHED BY BROOKE ECHOLS
Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.
Cook of the Month!
Kirk Vantrease was looking for a way to ensure his grilled pork stayed tender, and after playing around with a few ingredient combos and techniques, he settled on the Grilled Stuffed Pork Chops he submitted. “I call the stuffing ‘spi-garlic,’ a mashup of spinach and garlic, and my family really loves it,” he said. The flavor has spinach’s earthy green notes along with the zest of garlic and parmesan cheese. His family likes its taste so much, they enjoy this dish a lot more often than on Easter. “It’s great for that meal, a nice departure from ham, but I end up making it often all year round,” he said. And there’s a bonus for busy cooks: The stuffing can be made ahead. “Just pop it in freezer bags and pull it out any time you want to make the chops,” he said.
Grilled Stuffed Pork Chops
2 thick cut boneless pork chops
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 1/2 cup spinach, roughly chopped
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Heat olive oil in skillet on medium high heat. Add onions and stir until caramelized. Add garlic, salt, pepper and spinach. Cook until the spinach cooks down, about 5 minutes. Add parmesan cheese and stir all ingredients until cheese is melted. Butterfly pork chops cutting them half way through but leaving one side connected. Stuff the pork chops with the spinach mixture. Hold in place with toothpicks. Grill on a preheated grill for ten minutes a side to cook all the way through. Remove toothpicks, cool and slice for several to enjoy.
Sweet n’ Sour Cabbage and Dumplings
For the cabbage:
1 head cabbage, chopped into 1-inch cubes (green works fine, but red is pretty)
2 cups low sodium broth (chicken or vegetable)
Salt to taste
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon bruised caraway seeds
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup bacon grease (or coconut oil)
1/2 cup cooked bacon (optional)
Directions for cabbage:
Place all the ingredients in a large pot and stir gently. Cook on medium till cabbage is fork tender. Or, place all ingredients in a large crock pot and cook on low for 4 hours or high for 3 hours depending on your crockpot.
For the dumplings:
1 pound loaf day-old French-type bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
3/4 cup scalded canned milk
2 tablespoons butter, coconut oil or bacon grease
1 small onion, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 /2 cup all-purpose flour (or as needed)
In a large bowl, pour the hot milk over the bread cubes. Let soak and cool for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and in a separate skillet, melt the butter/oil/bacon grease in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion; saute till caramelized. Stir in the parsley, and remove from the heat. Combine onions, eggs, salt, pepper. Pour over bread mixture. Add flour and knead dough with your hands. Squish and squeeze till all combined. Dough should be slightly lumpy and sticky. However not too sticky to form into soft balls. Test one ball first. Gently drop it into the pot of boiling water. If it falls apart, add more flour to your remaining dough. Continue dropping the dough balls into the boiling water, but be careful not to crowd them. Simmer over a low-almost boil for 15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate. They should be spongy. Depending on size, slice or serve whole alongside the sweet and sour cabbage. Then eat your heart out!
Kimberly Chapman, Wiregrass EC
Ham and Broccoli Casserole
1 package frozen broccoli, thawed and drained (do not cook, I prefer fresh broccoli slightly blanched and drained and cooled)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
2 cups grated cheese
11/2 cups diced ham
3/4 cup Bisquick
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Lightly grease casserole dish. Combine broccoli, onion, green pepper, ham, and cheese in casserole dish. In a bowl, mix Bisquick, milk, eggs, salt and pepper. Pour over other items in casserole dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes until done.
Naaman Ivey, Pea River EC
Eggs a la Goldenrod
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups milk, approximately
4-5 boiled eggs, whites and yolks separated
Salt and pepper, to taste
Make a basic cream sauce: melt butter in a skillet over medium-low heat, stir in flour until blended and then slowly stir in milk until thick and bubbly. Stir in chopped boiled egg whites and a little salt and pepper. Pour over toast slices. Force yolks through a strainer with a spoon to top the sauce. Add another dash of salt and pepper and serve with bacon, sausage or fried spam.
Evelyn Milner, Wiregrass EC
Pizza Giena (Italian Easter Pie)
Favorite pie dough recipe (need 2)
1 pound ham, finely chopped
1/2 pound Farmer cheese, cut up
16 ounces Ricotta cheese
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 pound shredded Mozzarella cheese
2 egg yolks, beaten (to be used on pastry crust)
Large pie plate
Roll out bottom pastry; place in pie plate. Beat Ricotta cheese. Add 6 whole eggs, then remaining ingredients, except separate egg yolks. Mix well. Brush pastry bottom with beaten egg yolks before filling. Cover with second pie dough; brush with egg yolks. Make slits on crust. Bake for 45 minutes at 375 degrees. Test with knife. Pie is done when knife comes out clean.
Cook’s note: I grew up in an Italian household and watched my grandmother make this pie every Easter. The tradition was carried on by my mother and aunts. Then my cousins and I continued the tradition after we married. To this day, my sons and their families expect me to make this pie as part of our Easter dinner.
Janice Bracewell, Covington EC
Eggnog Rice Pudding
1/4 cup rice
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins
4 cups scalded eggnog
Combine all ingredients. Pour into greased baking dish. Bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours. Stir about 4 times while baking. Serves 6, hot or cold.
Carol Fiedler, North Alabama EC
12-14 cups cubed stale French bread
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups heavy cream
4 cups milk
6 large eggs
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup bourbon or rum
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine cream, milk, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and raisins. Whisk, pour over bread, let sit 30 minutes. Pour in buttered casserole dish and bake 50-60 minutes.
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine milk and sugar. Pour ¼ cup bourbon (or rum) and cornstarch into a small bowl. Whisk to create a slurry, pour the slurry into the sauce. Bring to a slow boil, reduce heat and simmer 5-10 minutes. Stir in butter, salt and remaining bourbon or rum. Drizzle over bread pudding.
Angela Bradley, Clarke-Washington EMC
Bacon Green Beans with Brown Sugar Glaze
2 pounds fresh green beans
12 strips bacon
6 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Boil green beans until slightly tender. Fry bacon until it is almost done, soft, but not crisp. Wrap a section of bacon around 4-5 beans and lay on baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Heat butter, garlic, and brown sugar in saucepan on medium heat. Drizzle over green bean wraps before serving.
I have a central air conditioner in my home that is at least 15 years old. It is not very efficient, but still works. Should I look into replacing it now, or wait until it fails?
Replacing an inefficient air conditioner (AC) with a more efficient model could significantly reduce your electric bill. A new AC unit is 20 to 40 percent more efficient than one from the 1990s – and ENERGY STAR-certified systems are even more efficient. Replacing an aging system now, before summer starts, could help you avoid delays or price premiums.
How much money you save by replacing your current AC unit depends on how often your AC runs and your electric rate. If you are in a hot climate and you keep your home’s temperature in the low 70s, your cost of cooling will be substantial and so will the potential savings from replacing your old air conditioner with an efficient new one.
The best way to determine possible savings is to have an in-home assessment conducted by a qualified heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) professional or a certified energy auditor. Electric co-ops are often interested in reducing peak summer loads and sometimes offer information, rebates or a list of qualified professionals. It’s a plus if the contractor has North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification. Contractors should be knowledgeable about energy efficient systems and have good references.
Your contractor needs to size the system to your home. Ken Maleski, the residential advisor at Central Electric Cooperative in Pennsylvania, says a unit that is too small will not cool your home to the levels you want. If it is too large, it may not dehumidify your home sufficiently, and it will cycle on and off more frequently, which can increase wear and tear on the system and shorten its life significantly.
To size the system, the contractor will need to look at the efficiency of the home by checking insulation levels. If you add insulation where it’s most needed, you may be able to install a smaller AC unit, and you should enjoy greater comfort and lower cooling costs. The HVAC contractor you hire should also assess your ductwork, which is often poorly designed, leaky or inadequately insulated.
As you talk to your contractor, it’s good to know there are several air conditioning options suited to different situations. It may or may not be practical to change to a different type of system.
Central air conditioning is generally one of two types: either split or packaged. A split system, which has the cold coils inside the home and an outside unit exhausting heat, is the most common. Packaged systems, which are sometimes installed because of space constraints, combine these functions into one box located outside the home.
A heat pump can provide cooling and heating in homes with or without ducts. If you are currently using propane or natural gas as your fuel source, this may be a good option.
A ductless mini-split heat pump can be an efficient way to cool up to four zones inside the home. If your existing ductwork is in bad shape or poorly designed, this could be a good solution.
Window units are much less efficient than other options, but they can still be effective for cooling a single room. It’s worth paying a little more for a new ENERGY STAR-compliant unit, rather than the dusty $80 unit from the yard sale or auction that wheezes its way through the summer.
Evaporative (or “swamp”) coolers are an alternative in very dry climates. While they use a quarter the energy and are less expensive to install than central air conditioning, they also require more frequent maintenance.
Replacing an aging air conditioner is a great way to improve comfort, cut energy costs and reduce peak energy demand. Your co-op may be able to help, and you can learn a lot from the information resources available on our website and on the ENERGY STAR and energy.gov websites.
Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.
As turkey seasons open this spring, sportsmen across Alabama will sit quietly under trees or in blinds, occasionally calling to bring the wily birds closer toward them. But I’ll bet none of them will use a 3,000-pound call!
Growing up hunting ducks and small game, we didn’t know much about hunting wild turkeys, a rather uncommon and mysterious game bird to us back then. My dad never hunted them so we didn’t either, at least in the normal sense.
My older brother bought a well-used 1964 Ford Falcon as his first car. Built like a Sherman tank, it could go anywhere, making it an excellent hunting vehicle. Of course, being the ONLY vehicle available to us at the time also made it an excellent hunting vehicle!
Back then, before hunting leases became popular – and very expensive – paper and timber companies frequently allowed people to hunt vast tracts of forests for free, as long as they didn’t cut down any trees. We frequently took that old Falcon to those timberland tracts, cruising logging roads looking for game and new hunting spots.
Just about every piece of metal and joint in that beat-up car squeaked. When we rumbled over those rough roads, Ol’ Squeaky started singing. Even the slightest bump in roads, commonly dubbed “washboards,” alerted anything in the woods for miles to our presence. However, it apparently emitted a certain squeak that turkeys liked, or at least aroused their curiosity. Whenever we drove the Falcon through the woods, turkeys would come running up to the edge of the road to see what in the world was coming!
When Ol’ Squeaky rattled up a turkey, the only thing we could think to do to bag that bird was stop, grab our shotguns and start running after it as the very startled bird rapidly disappeared into the forests. Of course, that never worked. However, I did almost get a shot at a gobbler one day.
Rather than running, this smart gobbler remembered he had broad wings and could fly. He didn’t need to run through the briars, brambles and underbrush like we did. He could fly over that stuff and proceeded to do just that. After flying a short distance, the fat gobbler landed on a branch near the top of a tree just out of the effective range of my shotgun, but well within my view.
“Now, I’ve got him,” I thought to myself, racing as fast as I could to cut the distance. “I’m about to bag my first turkey. I’ll be a hero next Thanksgiving and maybe my parents will let me sit at the big boy table instead of by myself at the kids’ table,” which was not only embarrassing, but depressing since I was the last of the kids.
Knowing that I’d never see him again, I needed to take this, my only chance. I kept my eyes keenly focused on that bird as I ran to get into shotgun range before he flew off and disappeared forever. That plan worked amazingly well and I made good progress – at least at first.
Just about the time I reasoned that I had cut the distance sufficiently to chance a shot, I made a rather abrupt and loud stop. With my eyes focused so hard on that bird, I didn’t notice the large thicket comprised primarily of brambles and thorny vines coming at me at high speed, relatively speaking for the slowest runner in our neighborhood. I also didn’t notice that the little game trail that I was following, probably made by a rabbit since deer were also scarce in those days, disappeared under that pile of bristling razor-sharp spikes. (Okay, maybe that’s a SLIGHT exaggeration.)
Although I was a small child at that time, I was still much bigger than any rabbit. After making my sudden, screaming halt, I struggled to extricate myself from the thorny situation without losing more than a quart or two of blood, which took considerably more time than it did to run this far.
I don’t know what happened to the gobbler when I made my unexpected rapid deceleration, but I seem to remember the haunting notes that distinctly sounded like laughter echoing through the treetops where the bird had sat just seconds before. I sensed a setup! Of course, it might have been the rabbit making that noise too, or my brother who I know was laughing from the road!
In most of Alabama, turkey season opened March 15 and continues through April 30, but seasons differ in some counties and public hunting lands. Regardless of when or where they hunt, Alabama sportsmen cannot bag more than five gobblers per year. New this year: Hunters MUST report all turkey kills through the mandatory Game Check program.
Check www.outdooralabama.com for how to report turkey kills, specific zone boundaries, season dates, other regulations and special hunting opportunities for youths and disabled hunters.
John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who writes from Semmes, Ala. Contact him through his website at www.JohnNFelsher.com
It’s been two years since Rick Hall, the founder of FAME Music studios in Muscle Shoals, published his autobiography, The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey from Shame to Fame. Hall was also prominently featured in the 2013 documentary, “Muscle Shoals.” In both, he speaks frankly about growing up in squalid poverty in rural northwest Alabama, sleeping on straw with no toilets, and dealing with rejection by his mother, his schoolmates, and by others in the music business. Overcoming crushing personal tragedies in the death of his first wife and his father, Hall persevered to become one of the top music producers and publishers in the country, writing songs as well as producing hit records for such R&B singers as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, and mainstream acts like the Osmonds and later, country singers Mac Davis and Jerry Reed, among others. He rightfully earned the title, “The Father of Muscle Shoals Music.” Now 85, he enjoys spending time between his home and his beach condo with his wife, Linda. Two of their three sons work in the music business and a third is a lawyer involved in the legal side of the music industry. The Halls donated their 23-room home in Russellville to the Alabama Youth Ranches, which operates it as FAME Girls Ranch for abused and neglected girls. – Lenore Vickrey
Were you pleased with the way the book turned out?
Yes, I was very pleased with the book. Everyone that I wrote about who has commented has felt like I treated them fairly in the book. The general public has loved it.
The book details Hall’s life from his childhood which he described as a family living “the life of poor struggling nomads.” Born in Mississippi, he grew up in Franklin County as the son of sharecroppers. “Life at Liberty Hill [a small community west of Phil Campbell] was full of toil and poverty, which only inspired me more to pursue my passion for music,” he writes.
Are there any stories you didn’t get to tell?
Yes, there are lots of stories that I didn’t tell. My whole life is a story.
What was your favorite memory of a recording session?
I guess my most memorable sessions were with Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Bobbi Gentry, Mac Davis (who I produced more albums for than anyone else in my career), Jerry Reed and Etta James.
What’s your favorite song recorded at FAME studios?
“Patches” by Clarence Carter (1970) and “Hey Jude” by Wilson Pickett (1969).
In the “Muscle Shoals” movie, Carter says Hall wanted him to do the song, but he didn’t like it at first because of the negative way he thought it portrayed black people. The lyrics talk about a man’s father who, without an education, “did wonders when the times got bad; the little money from the crops he raised barely paid the bills we made.” On his deathbed, he calls on his son, “Patches,” to carry on for the family, and Hall saw many similarities in the song’s characters in his own life: “It was my story. That was my father.” The song went to number one. It “remains close to my heart because it reminds me of my father and the hard times poor people endure, regardless of creed or color,” he writes.
Wilson Pickett’s recording of the Beatles’ hit “Hey Jude” was the idea of guitarist Duane Allman, but Hall wasn’t initially convinced it would work. But it did, with Hall at the controls, Allman playing his Stratocaster Fender on a piano stool and Pickett “screaming his lungs out, everybody in the studio went wild,” Hall recounts in his book. Atlantic Records head Jerry Wexler credited Hall with a “stroke of genius” and the record was a hit. “That was the beginning of Southern rock,” he said, pioneered by the Allman Brothers Band.
Are you working on any new recording projects these days?
I’m not working on a project right now, but I’m always looking.
One of the earliest memories Frank Vafinis can recall is standing atop a milk crate in the kitchen of his parents’ restaurant, George’s Steak Pit in Sheffield. Named for his father, George’s opened in 1956, and is an institution in the Shoals. It is the kind of place you celebrate an engagement, wedding, or as is often the case, a successful day at the recording studio.
Vafinis bussed tables here as a kid.
“We’d get a 50-cent tip and think that was the world,” he says. He waited tables in high school, cooked, and since 1983, has been running the place. His son works at George’s now, making him the third generation to do so at one of the oldest restaurants in the state run by a single family.
George’s offers many locals with longstanding reservations and visiting musicians a place to sit down and eat a good steak. Salmon, pork chops, chicken and hamburger steak are also on the menu in addition to signature ribeye, lobster, New York Strip and surf ’n’ turf. Sides include wild rice, steak fries, salads and vegetables.
But the steaks are the stars here. Piles of hickory sit stacked against the side of the Craftsman-style building to fuel the open steak pit. You have your choice of hand-cut steaks – the special ribeye, prime rib, New York strip, filet mignon and a hefty 18-ounce T-bone.
Inside, the marbled bar is the focal point of the lounge, which smells like a lounge should — slightly smoky — and it is stocked with various bottles of Hennessy and Glenfiddich. George’s also features an extensive wine list.
Vafinis’ presence is constant here, which he says is essential to running a steady business.
“You’ve got to be hands-on in a restaurant,” he says. “The higher scale, the more critical.”
No more sirloin
Vafinis tries to retain the same kitchen employees for at least five to 20 years so the food will taste the same. In a case of the customer is always right, he stopped using top sirloin, which he says is a tougher cut of beef, after customers voiced their displeasure.
“I pulled that a long time ago,” he says. “Ninety-five percent of complaints were top sirloin so I said, let’s drop that.
“A lot of people say you are your own boss, and you are, but your real boss is your customers, and they have more authority than people think, if you take care of them,” Vafinis says.
George’s only seats about 60 diners comfortably, so Vafinis opened George’s 217, in downtown Sheffield, two years ago to accommodate larger wedding receptions, birthday parties and corporate events.
The restaurant moved to its current building in 1966, during the height of Muscle Shoals’ music industry. George’s sits 2.5 miles down the road from legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, and has hosted Liza Minnelli, Wayne Newton, and, most legendary in Vafinis’ family, Gregg Allman. His mother, Vangie, liked to tell about how the blond, longhaired singer was eating in the dining room, drawing ire from fellow diners who commented about his appearance. (Allman’s brother Duane experienced the same when he ate lunch at another place with Wilson Pickett, according to the documentary, “Muscle Shoals.”)
“She told them, ‘He could buy everyone in here dinner. He’s a famous musician,’ ” Vafinis says. “They had no idea who he was.”
These days, country musicians from the Florence radio station WQLT’s “Muscle Shoals to Music Row Live” drop in for dinner before their monthly radio and web show, and songwriter Gary Baker and the Backstreet Boys are regulars.
Vafinis has observed an uptick in the number of musicians returning to write and record in the Shoals from burgeoning Nashville.
“Nashville’s gotten so commercialized … and that’s why the music industry has started to come back here, because they don’t want to go to Nashville,” Vafinis says.
Last April, on a trip to south Alabama, I happened upon a charming roadside sight — a freshly planted garden surrounded by colorful dancing dresses.
Those dresses, located off Interstate 65’s Exit 45 near Rabun, were a beautiful and creative example of how we can use scarecrows and other human- or animal-like figures to frighten away crows, blackbirds and other critters that might plunder a garden. In my case, the whimsical scene drew me in instead of scaring me off, and it also got me thinking about all the ways we can creatively, and effectively, use scarecrows to protect our gardens from hungry foragers.
Scarecrows have been used for centuries, dating back as far as the ancient Egyptians and beyond, to protect gardens from animal pests and they have become both artistic and cultural symbols of gardening across the globe. But do they work?
Well, kind of. The mere presence of a scarecrow or any similar figure will likely keep birds, deer and other potentially damaging animals at bay for a while. But critters are savvy, and they quickly figure out that these stationary garden guardians pose little threat and may even make very fine perches or rubbing posts.
For scarecrows and their kin (such as plastic owls and snakes) to remain effective over time, there must be an element of constant surprise, such as loose clothing, floppy arms and legs or shiny and fluttery accessories (tin plates, old CDs, ribbons or reflective tape, for example) that shift in the wind. Moving the figures around in the garden every few days can also help.
Realizing the limitations of scarecrows, ingenious gardeners have developed other tactics to keep wildlife away. These include mechanized options such as noise guns, motion-activated sprinklers and even piping in sporadic bursts of loud music or the calls of owls and hawks. Physical barriers such as fencing, bird netting, floating row covers or threads of fishing line strung in a random web over a garden plot can also be effective. In addition, natural and manufactured repellents, from chemical sprays to balls of human hair, can be helpful.
No matter how hard we try to keep animals out of our gardens, though, it’s likely that we won’t be able to keep them all at bay, so one option is to plant enough fruits and vegetables to share with wildlife. Or, especially in the case of deer eating landscape plants, providing them with a supply of other plants that are tastier than your beloved shrubs can help. Having a dog in the yard is also pretty darned effective against deer.
Still, whether they help keep critters away or not, scarecrows are lots of fun to make, especially if you get children involved. They can also become works of art for your yard or to enter in a community scarecrow contest.
A basic scarecrow can be made using items you’re likely to have on hand. Repurpose old panty hose (for the head, legs and arms) or a pillow case (for the head), a couple of boards or some sticks lashed together for a stand and use old clothes, hats, scarves and the like to create a traditional scarecrow. Or clean out your closet and put up some dresses.
An abundance of ideas for scarecrows can be found in books and magazines and, of course, online. I found one particularly helpful site at www.makescarecrows.com, which includes lists of ideas ranging from basic scarecrow designs to more elaborate options — how about a whole family of scarecrows, a movie-star scarecrow or even a scare-donkey?
Check them out and, if you’re inspired to create your own scarecrow, send me pictures!
Ever dream of cruising the mighty Mississippi like Mark Twain or guiding anglers to giant redfish along the Gulf Coast? It may still be possible to make your dream come true.
Wes Davis of Luverne loves the water. Lakes, rivers, bays or ocean, it doesn’t matter to him, just as long as he can be outdoors and preferably on a boat. “I’ve just always loved boating but until recently it has been a recreational pursuit. I kept day dreaming about how nice it must be to captain a boat, regardless of what type, and get paid,” says Davis.
Davis says he thinks his love for the outdoors led him to his present vocation, operating Wes’s Lawn Service in Luverne. “We run a complete lawn care service covering Crenshaw County offering lawn mowing, edging, leaf and limb removal, whatever the customer wants. Since my work is somewhat seasonal it allows me time for boating in the off season.”
Three years ago Davis was visiting his sister who owns a house on Lake Martin. “My sister introduced me to a neighbor of hers who operates a marine towing business. I expressed my interest in working on the water and he invited me to go on a few towing runs with him. I just loved it. My newfound friend told me he was going to be needing a few licensed boat captains and asked if I would be interested in going to school and taking the test to get my license. It was time to shut up or put up, so after investigating some of the different schools I started to Sea School in Bayou La Batre in October 2015.”
Davis said he attended class for approximately ten hours a day and studied several more hours after class. “We took the United States Coast Guard approved test on the eighth day. I wanted a school that would give me my money’s worth and I can truly say Sea School did exactly that. My primary instructor was a retired naval officer and he really knew his business. We covered all the basics that an aspiring boat captain would need to know including rules of the road, radio use, survival techniques, life jackets seamanship, navigation and much more. If you apply yourself in class and study at night, you should pass the test,” says Davis.
Students who pass the USCG-approved test have one year after passing the test to get the required information to the Coast Guard. You have to confirm your experience or time on the water. Time on the water can be on your boat, or someone else’s boat. Recreational boating time will also count. The basic requirement for the beginning license, Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel or OUPV and often referred to as simply the 6-pack license, is be 18 years old, have a Social Security Card, and document 360 days on a vessel with 90 of those days being within the last 3 years. In addition to time on the water, new applicants must pass a drug test, a Coast Guard physical and obtain a TWIC card from Homeland Security clearing the applicant to enter ports.
Davis says that after passing the test and submitting the required documents he received his captain’s license. “With the license you have the option of getting several endorsements on your license. I have the Inland, Near Coastal and Towing Assistance endorsements on my license. This allows me to work on inland lakes and rivers, carry up to six people out in the Gulf on a vessel 100 tons or less and the Towing Assistance endorsement allows me to captain a towing vessel. Towing is probably the area I will pursue.”
Davis says that when his son, Will, graduates from school in a few years he is thinking about moving to the Gulf Coast and pursuing a maritime career. “As I said, operating a tow boat appeals to me, but there are many other maritime employment options available. The oil industry is always needing captains for the offshore supply boats. Other employment opportunities are piloting ferries, working for yacht delivery services, parasail operators, water taxies, gambling cruise operators, sightseeing boats, inshore and offshore fishing boats, scuba dive boats, and tug boats. Also, not everyone who gets their license plans to seek maritime employment. Many recreational boaters just want to learn more about boating and take the course and get their license.”
Once he receives his OUPV (6-Pack) license, he may continue taking courses, pass the Master’s test and upgrade his license to the Master’s license. A Master license entitles him to captain larger boats and carry more people. Tug boats, large supply boats, cruise boats, and others are usually captained by someone with a Master license, while smaller fishing boats, para sail boats, etc. are usually captained by OUPV license holders.
As they say, it’s never too late. Take the course, pass the test and you could be taking clients fishing in your own boat. And if you see a tow boat operating on Lake Martin give it a wave. There is a good chance Captain Wes Davis, a man who made his dream come true, will be at the helm.
For more information on Sea School contact Nellie Fuller, (800) 247-3080.
Ben Norman is a writer from Highland Home, Al.
To the wildflower enthusiast, some of the most cherished memories will be those of springtime travels across south Alabama. The season comes early, with the earliest flowers making their debut by mid-January, often appearing alongside lingering blossoms of the previous autumn.
Those willing to endure occasional frosty temperatures and take to the trails early will be rewarded with an endless sequel of color, experiencing some of the finest wildflower displays to be found in the Southeast.
The landscape of south Alabama is one of subtle beauty marked by myriad dark-water streams and cypress-lined sloughs laced among rolling hills of open pine. Widely scattered but well hidden from the casual observer are the region’s most exceptional environments, a mosaic of seepage wetlands and bogs that shelter some of the world’s most intriguing and bizarre forms of plant life.
The coastal plain of Alabama and neighboring states has the noble distinction of harboring the greatest diversity and largest concentration of carnivorous plants found on the planet. Carnivorous plants in all their forms and color have the ability to lure, entrap, and digest insects and other small animals as a source of nourishment, supplementing their diets with essential nutrients to promote growth and reproduction.
In fact, these plants are highly dependent on a diet of flies, butterflies, mosquitos, and other insects to maintain a good standard of living, for the soils in which they grow are nutrient poor, benefiting from the dietary supplements provided by consuming small animals.
Four types are known to Alabama, each with its own specialized apparatus for capturing insects:
Pitcher-plants with their pitcher-shaped leaves are the most striking of the group, in which insects are bribed to a perilous footing along the rim of the pitcher trap by copious amounts of nectar. To unwary insects, this zone is especially treacherous, for the surface is covered with slick waxy deposits causing them to loose balance and tumble into the pitcher depths. The fate of the hapless insect lies await at the bottom, perishing in a water-like digestive liquid that gradually extracts nutrients from the insect’s corpse.
Smaller, but equally impressive are the butterworts, whose leaves secrete a gooey buttery glaze on the upper surface that enables the plants to ensnare midges, gnats, and a host of other insects.
Sundews are often small, rather unassuming plants, and to the untrained eye, can be easily overlooked. Like butterworts, the leaves have glands that produce a sticky liquid, appearing as drops of dew, entangling insects and secreting enzymes to digest them.
Lastly, the bladderworts have the smallest traps of the state’s insect-eating plants, and because they lie hidden beneath the surface of the water or embedded in the ground, are seldom noticed. The bladder-like traps, resembling that of a tiny broad bean, are perhaps the most sophisticated of the “plant eat insect world” where water fleas, mosquito larvae, and other minute insects are faced with a precarious existence upon triggering a series of small sensitive hairs, suddenly forcing them through a trap door with no hope to escape.
Through the forces of nature and a long-standing commitment to conservation, south Alabama is blessed with a remarkable array of botanical treasures awaiting discovery in many of the region’s parks and preserves. From the examples provided here, the budding novice to the seasoned observer will be witness to some of the most spectacular wildflower viewing the South has to offer.
When visiting the sites featured in this article, it is important to avoid stepping off the trail to prevent damaging the plant life and refrain from picking flowers for others to observe and enjoy.
Spring comes with unexpected and drastic changes in the weather, and so be certain to dress accordingly and watchful of the skies. And to capture those special moments for a lifetime of memories, a camera will be invaluable.
South Alabama wildflower trails
Kurt G. Wintermeyer Nature Trail – Weeks Bay Reserve
How to get there: Trail is accessed from a parking area on the east side County Road 17 by driving north one quarter mile from US Highway 98, just east of the Fish River and roughly 8 miles west of State Route 59 in Foley.
Trail condition: Trail is a well maintained boardwalk and easy to follow.
Best time to visit: April – May. Recognized as onzzzze of the finest sites in Alabama and along the Gulf Coast to observe carnivorous plants, wild orchids, and striking displays of other wildflowers throughout the year. Spring is particularly attractive as pitcher-plants (carnivorous plants) and early-season orchids are at peak flowering.
Haines Island Nature Trail Complex
How to get there: Haines Island Park is on the east side of the Alabama River, roughly 17 miles northwest of Monroeville. The park can be reached by driving 2.8 miles on County Road 17 from State Route 41 in Franklin, then turning right on County Road 49 (unpaved) and continuing roughly 1.5 miles to the parking area. Three trails offer easy wildflower viewing, with the Bigleaf Magnolia and Upper Ironwood trails providing the best displays.
Trail condition: Trails are maintained and easy to follow. Trail difficulty is easy, with some light uphill walking along the Upper Ironwood Trail.
Best time to visit: Mid-March – late April. Showy displays of phlox, anemones, rain lilies, and other wildflowers can be observed from late March to early April along the Bigleaf Magnolia Trail. The Upper Ironwood Trail has striking pageants of azaleas, dogwoods, mountain laurel, and various magnolias, often reaching their greatest splendor during the last three weeks of April.
Chattahoochee State Park Trail Complex
How to get there: Chattahoochee State Park is located off State Route 95, roughly 25 miles southeast of Dothan.
Trail condition: Trails are well maintained and easy to follow. Trails are level and occasionally become muddy following heavy rainfall.
Best time to visit: Late March – late April. The park is noted for dogwood, azaleas, and fringetree, with some of the nicest displays found along the Horseshoe, Dogwood, and K.O. Smith Trails.
George W. Folkerts Bog Trail – Ruth McClellan Abronski Splinter Hill Bog Preserve
How to get there: The preserve is roughly 40 miles north of Mobile, easily accessed off Interstate 65. From Exit 45 on Interstate 65 (Exit for Perdido & Rabun) travel west on County Road 47 approximately 2 miles to the trailhead parking area located on the left (south) side of the road.
Trail condition: Trail is well maintained and easy to follow. Portions can become wet and muddy after heavy rainfall.
Best time to visit: April – May. Spectacular displays of carnivorous plants (pitcher-plants, butterworts, sundews), and a showcase of other wildflowers make their annual debut.
Alfred Schotz is a botanist with the Auburn University Museum of Natural History.
Readers share stories behind some of their ticket keepsakes
BY ALLISON GRIFFIN
Whether you’re a fan of a music group or singer, a particular sport or team or just a collector of mementoes, the ticket stubs you’ve saved chronicle decades’ worth of memories. The little strips of printed, fading card stock may not be noteworthy from a historical perspective, but they are little personal reminders of fun times gone by.
Some of the purists among us lament the print-at-home tickets available today with online purchases; those tickets, spit out from a bubble jet printer on cheap paper, seem impersonal and downright bland. Most of us would rather see the bright colors and creative artwork that grace the tickets of yesteryear.
Even worse: the tickets that are sent electronically, so all the bearer has to do is wave his smartphone at the ticket attendant holding a scanner. It may be more convenient, but how can you not want a tangible souvenir?
We asked our readers to share some of their favorite ticket stubs and the stories behind them.
Even if you’ve never saved a single stub – or if you have saved them all and they’re stuffed away in a shoebox in the closet – you’ll likely identify with the personal recollections we’ve assembled here.
At 40, I probably should have thrown these ticket stubs away by now, but every time I look at them, I remember so many fun and happy times.
These pieces of paper contain memories of my past with friends and family, with musicians, comedians, actors/actresses, sporting events, and even times I’ve traveled around the world.
I’ve held on to a ticket from 1993, when my husband and I were just friends – who knew we would one day be married! I have a special autographed ticket from a Penn and Teller performance, when magician Penn Jillette looked at me and said I had “pretty hair.”
The most special is an airline ticket from when I took my first plane trip, 17 hours to Japan, to meet my family for the first time. And the list goes on.
In the maddening crowd of Elvis fans pushing and shoving their way in to see “the King,” the ticket taker at the turnstile missed mine. I have treasured this keepsake for 40 years. The concert in Montgomery was exactly six months before Elvis’ death.
That was my third time to see Elvis perform, and no words can describe being there, seeing him in person.
I won tickets to the iHeart Country Music Festival in Austin, Texas, in 2014 through a radio contest. I took my son, Tyler, with me. (It was the first airplane trip for both.) We got to fly in a helicopter with country music singer Hunter Hayes. We had front row seats at the concert.
Hunter Hayes and his manager, along with the helicopter pilot, were all super nice. Flying over the city of Austin was breathtaking. I would say it was the trip of a lifetime.
Our family took a vacation to central Florida to visit Disney World, the Kennedy Space Center and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in their winter home. We drove down in April/May 1990 and spent a couple of weeks on the road.
My wife and I have three kids, and at the time they were aged 5 to 10. It was a wonderful vacation, though the kids don’t remember it as well as I do. I am and always will be a big kid, and when we started home I think I was sadder than the kids were.
Over a period of some 24 years (1980-2004), my son David and I attended a major league baseball game in all 30 major league stadiums. The wonderful adventures came as a result of birthdays, Father’s Day celebrations, church trips, vacation travel, a summer master’s degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and other special trips.
Five years ago, my wife Jane ordered the map in the picture, chose a few pictures from the trips, made a border with the tickets of each game and framed what you see in the picture. She presented both David and me a 46-inch by 34-inch framed gift. His tickets, like mine, form the border of the “Touring The Majors” map.
Today David’s picture hangs in his office in Tuscumbia. My picture is a proud part of my library at home in Dothan.
I have seen a lot of talented musicians over the decades. I have saved my ticket stubs since the very first concert I attended – Steppenwolf in 1970. The ticket was a Christmas gift from my oldest brother, which set him back $4. I was hooked after that.
I went to concerts like people go to movies. I grew up in Birmingham, where there are several concert venues, and of course nearby cities like Atlanta offered some wonderful concerts, like Paul McCartney ($8.50 a ticket) and George Harrison with Ringo Starr ($9.50 a ticket). My love of music has only grown over the years, and I support the local musicians who play in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, where I currently live. I still attend as many concerts as possible. And I still save my ticket stubs.
Editor’s note: Marcia listed more than 40 shows, so what follows is just a sample of her concerts: The Rolling Stones, 1972; Bruce Springsteen, sometime in the early 1970s (free tickets were given away on the radio since no one bought them, she remembers); The Eagles, 1973 and 1995; Hank Williams Jr., 1982 (he gave her a complimentary ticket); John Prine and the Cowboy Junkies, 1992; Van Morrison and B.B. King, 2001; and 30 tickets to Jimmy Buffett, the earliest one dated 1978, and four times in 1998 and 1999.
This 2010 ticket was used by my son, Levi, to attend the first Enterprise High School football game in the new Wildcat Stadium. (The former stadium was destroyed in the tornado of March 1, 2007; Wildcat Stadium opened in 2010.) The only info I have is written on the back of the ticket, that he went with family friends.
This is a ticket from Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s 315th win. I was ushering at the game when an Auburn friend gave me the ticket because he knew I collected memorabilia like this.
I was working in Bessemer at the time. A friend from church got me into ushering at Legion Field. We were not paid, but got into the games. We did get to see some great, great games.
I also have the program from this game, and from Bryant’s last post-season game in the Liberty Bowl in 1982. And I’m an Auburn fan; I graduated from Auburn in 1972.
Miami hosted Super Bowl III on Jan. 12, 1969, while I was serving in the U.S. Navy on the only Navy ship home ported in Port Everglades, Fla.
As University of Alabama graduates, both my wife, Sheila, and I were excited that we would be able to see Joe Namath play if I could arrange to take leave. I was able to convince my commanding officer that I could take some much needed leave and catch back up with the ship when it docked for a one-day port call in Key West.
Adding to the thrill: Some good friends said they would love to come down for the game if we could get tickets.
My leave request was approved, and as incredible as it seems today, my wife purchased four tickets at the corner drugstore in Fort Lauderdale for $6 each!
But the best was yet to come. Not only did we have a great time with our friends, but we were treated to one of, if not the most, memorable Super Bowls ever played. The underdog New York Jets seemed to make matters worse for themselves when the brash Namath “guaranteed” a win. But he defied the experts and led his team to an improbable victory over the Baltimore Colts, 16-7.
This is a stub from the dedication game of Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. My grandmother attended that game as a freshman in 1929 when Yale played Georgia. She gave the ticket stub to me for my birthday in 1988. I’m a die-hard UGA fan but never attended; I inherited it the old-fashioned way. This ticket is the corner piece of my collection of UGA materials.
We are quite proud of our Auburn-Alabama tickets from 1989. It was the first year the game wasn’t played in Birmingham and played in Auburn! Everyone said it wouldn’t work and traffic would be horrible, but the world didn’t end and traffic moved along – and Auburn won the game!
I couldn’t talk for three days afterward. It is my No. 1 favorite game of all time, including the national championship game in 2011. We had the tickets framed with a photo from the scoreboard that my husband took after the game.
Last summer I went to an estate sale in Fairhope. I was getting married in November, so I was looking for decorations (specifically old books). I found some pretty neat books at the sale, but the true gem was a Cotton Bowl program from 1954, stuffed between two old books on a shelf. My fiancé is a huge Alabama fan, so I figured I would buy it for him! (And it was only $1.)
While he flipped through the program, two ticket stubs from the Cotton Bowl fell out. He was so surprised and so was I! Excited about the neat discovery, we told his family. His grandfather told us how memorable that game was not only to him, but to millions of Americans.
(Editor’s note: The game featured a play that became known as the “12th man tackle.” Alabama fullback Tommy Lewis left the sideline and tackled All-American halfback Dicky Moegle of Rice near midfield. Moegle was on his way to a 95-yard touchdown when Lewis brought him down. Moegle was credited with a touchdown. Rice went on to win, 28-6.)
My husband’s grandfather also mentioned that it was the very first football game he ever watched on television.
After learning how historical the game was, we had the ticket stubs and program framed. It was the best dollar I have ever spent!
I have been blessed to have attended more than 500 Alabama football games, and I have stubs from each game I attended. I have collected numerous Bama artifacts over the years, but probably my favorite item is a ticket stub from an Alabama game against the University of Pennsylvania (not Penn State) played at Franklin Field in Philadelphia on Nov. 4, 1922.
Penn was a powerful eastern team from the Ivy League coached by John Heisman during this time, and they had beaten a strong Navy outfit the week before. The Alabama coach was Xen Scott, who in four years carried Alabama to a record of 29-9-3. But during the 1922 season he was diagnosed with oral cancer and was advised not to make the trip to Philly (he resigned due to health reasons at the year end.)
Though a heavy underdog, Alabama prevailed that afternoon, 9-7. This game is often heralded as one of the first major wins of national prominence for the Crimson Tide.