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Songs about Alabama and the stories behind them

By Emmett Burnett

Songs of Alabama have enriched lives since the state was a state of mind. But our songs in the heart, notes in the head, and lyrics in memory are more than meets the ear. How many tunes about the Heart of Dixie can you name? (And by the way, “Heart of Dixie” is the title of the 2013 debut single of country singer Danielle Bradbery – though it isn’t actually about Alabama.)

Missing home

Nashville recording artist Allison Moorer explains the popularity of Alabama namesake songs: “The word sings well. It flows,” she instructs and offers proof. “Try it. Say ‘Alaaaa Bamaaaa.’ See? It flows. You can’t do that with Rhode Island.”

Raised in Washington County, the younger sister of country star Shelby Lynne is well qualified to speak of flowing words. Allison has written over 200 songs, released 7 albums and 11 singles, including “Alabama Song.”

From her debut album of the same name, the lyrics speak of home “where the trees grow tall and green…where the skies shine bright and blue…if you’re going, I’m going with you.”

“I wrote it 20 years ago, a time when I was away from home,” she recalls. “I felt a little marooned and was thinking how special it is returning to the Deep South.”

It came from outer space

We all love “Stars Fell on Alabama,” but beware. It has a dark side. The tale of starry-eyed sweethearts was inspired by a night of terror.

On Nov. 12, 1833, the greatest meteor sighting in recorded history ignited southern skies like a nuclear bomb. There were estimates of 200,000 shooting stars per hour. And on a clear moonless night, Alabama was Ground Zero.

“In 1833 there was no news and no warnings,” notes Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. “Terrified, many thought it was the End Times.”

Frightened masses shivered under wagons and in shelters – impromptu shields from heaven’s wrath. A horrified cotton planter noted, “My God, the world is on fire.”

In 1934, Carl Carmer wrote a book of essays titled “Stars Fell on Alabama,” acknowledging 1833’s spectacle. Inspired by the book, music composer Frank Perkins and lyricist Mitchell Parish realized the potential for a song of the same name.

But how does one create music based on a stellar holocaust?  Easy: Love conquers all, even flying space rocks. Hence the lyrics:

“We lived our little drama

We kissed in a field of white

And Stars Fell On

Alabama Last night…”

“Little drama,” perhaps the biggest understatement in music history, alludes to the fear-frozen night, when stars fell on Alabama.

Turn it up

The words “Sweet Home Alabama” have been embossed on automobile tags, served as an unofficial motto, and been licensed by the State Department of Tourism. And the Lynyrd Skynyrd song that made it popular? Wow.

“It has been used in various facets, from political campaigns to countless movies,” says Rachel Morris, archivist and coordinator at the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University. “It is perhaps the most recognized song about Alabama.”

Ironically, “Sweet Home Alabama” was written by two Floridians and a Californian, and recorded in Georgia. It is basically a protest song of a protest song.

“Lynyrd Skynyrd responded to Neil Young’s ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Alabama,’ which dealt with racism and slavery in the American South,” notes Alabama Tourism Department publications director Rick Harmon. But there was never a feud between the band and the artist.

The lyrics cover a broad range of mid-1970s issues, including Watergate, Gov. George Wallace, and prevailing music trends.

Many ponder the song’s famous first words, “turn it up.” Hidden message? Secret code? Buried treasure map? After years of research, the true meaning of “turn it up” is revealed: Turn it up means turn it up.

During recording, lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant asked someone to increase the volume in his headphones. Unaware the microphone was live, Van Zant’s request was immortalized.

That old college try 

Visitors enjoy a tour of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia.
Photo by Marilyn Jones

You don’t know Ethelred Lundy Sykes. But if you’ve ever watched an Alabama football game, you know his work.

In the early 1920s, the Birmingham native competed for a University of Alabama scholarship and lost. But Ethelred enrolled anyway, becoming active in student life and continuing his unwavering passion for contests.

In 1926 he submitted an entry in the school’s Rammer-Jammer humor magazine’s quest for best new battle march. Sykes’ musical offering was a little ditty he called, “Yea Alabama!”

Perhaps you’ve heard it: “Yea Alabama! Drown ‘em Tide! Every Bama Man’s Behind You, Hit your stride.” Yep, Ethelred wrote that, and won $50.

“Yea Alabama!” became the University of Alabama fight song, typically sung by a choir of 150,000 at the top of their collective lungs at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The late Ethelred Lundy Sykes never wrote another song, opting instead to join the military, where he served in the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command, and retired as a brigadier general.

The ghost who sang “Your Cheating Heart”

Music is often described as hauntingly beautiful, but “Midnight in Montgomery” is beautifully haunted.

With close to 3 million YouTube hits, the video rivals the song in popularity. Lyrics unfold a story at Hank Williams’ Oakwood Annex Cemetery gravesite. Singer Alan Jackson, en route to a gig, steps off a Montgomery bus to pay respects to country music’s king.

But the late Hank Williams is no longer late. Jackson sees a ghost.

“I don’t know if the video and song increased visits to Williams’ burial site,” says Oakwood’s spokesman, Phillip Taunton. “People have visited the grave almost daily since Williams died (Jan. 1, 1953).” They often leave mementos like flowers, guitar picks, and bottles of beer. Which perhaps Hank Williams appreciates, because as Alan Jackson croons, “Oh Hank’s always singing there.”

Alabama, our official song

In the mid-1860s, Tuscaloosa’s Julia S. Tutwiler, educator, humanitarian, and women’s rights advocate, completed her European studies and returned to Alabama. The state of the state left her heartbroken.

Tutwiler felt we could do better. Documents provided by Courtney Pinkard, reference archivist at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, noted Tutwiler’s thoughts: “Never for a moment doubt the outcome of struggle if maintained with courage and devotion to principle.”

Around 1868, she wrote a poem, which later became “Alabama,” a rallying cry set to music by Birmingham composer and organist Edna Cockel-Gussen in 1917. It became our official song by a vote of the Legislature on March 9, 1931.

Several attempts have been made to replace it. “It has an elementary school auditorium assembly feel to it, but you aren’t going to please everyone,” says Kevin Nutt, folk life archivist at the Archives. “’Sweet Home Alabama’ was floated as a replacement. Who can sing that?”

For now, Tutwiler’s classic rules. Each stanza ends with “Alabama, Alabama, We will aye be true to thee!” May it be said by us all, in music, lyrics, and song.

Famous art is right at home in Alabama

Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967), New York Office, 1962, oil on canvas, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, The Blount Collection

By Marilyn Jones

Alabama may not be synonymous with fine art, but our museums are home to some truly world-class collections and pieces. You can appreciate their  beauty or perhaps their emotional power; some offer glimpses into our history, telling us about our culture and where we came from. Whatever the purpose, you can make new discoveries with a short drive to one of Alabama’s fine art museums.

Birmingham Museum of Art 

Richard B. Coe, American 1904–1978, Down Town Birmingham, about 1935, etching on paper. Photo courtesy Birmingham Museum of Art

The museum has an impressive collection of more than 27,000 objects representing cultures from around the world including Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian and Native American art. The museum also houses the largest collection of Wedgwood ceramics in North America, and its holdings of Asian art are the most extensive in the Southeast.

Katelyn Crawford, The William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art, says one of her favorite exhibits in the American galleries is Magic City Realism: Richard Coe’s Birmingham, an exhibition featuring detailed etchings of Birmingham during The Great Depression.

“In celebrating industrial Birmingham, Coe joined fellow Alabama artists in creating a body of American scene images of the South,” says Crawford.

Admission is free; artsbma.org, (205) 254-2565.

Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University

“Grey Fox,” 1843, Hand-colored lithograph, The Louise Hauss and David Brent Miller Audubon Collection. Photo courtesy Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University

“We value all artwork in our collection, not because of their individual monetary value, but the value in what the piece can teach us about the time and culture in which it was made,” says Museum Director Marilyn Laufer.

“Our Advancing American Art collection … (was) acquired by the university in 1948. Looking at those pieces, we get a real sense of the issues and ideas that concerned Americans during that World War II period,” says Laufer. “It is amazing to see how many of those concerns are still prevalent today.”

The university often hosts special exhibitions. Audubon’s Last Wilderness Journey: The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America is currently on view with a comparison exhibition on the seldom reproduced four-footed mammals.

 “We’ve exhibited Rubens and Rembrandt, prints by Edvard Munch and sculptures by August Rodin. In our own collection, we have works by such renowned artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Rufino Tamayo and Jacob Lawrence,” says Laufer, reminding everyone that each “visit to the museum will provide a new discovery.”

Admission is free; jcsm.auburn.edu.

Mobile Museum of Fine Art

“Like most art museums, we view our collection less in terms of monetary value and more in terms of its place in the history of

With a collection of nearly 11,000 objects, guests can spend hours enjoying the many galleries of the Mobile Museum of Art. Photo courtesy Mobile Museum of Art

art,” says Museum Director Deborah Velders. “We are most proud of our community’s support … the vast majority of our collection of nearly 11,000 objects were gifts from this community, as is the financial support for the majority of our exhibitions and programs.

“We own artworks and crafts by many of the ‘canonical’ names in the history of art, such as Pierre-August Renoir, Thomas Moran, Louis Comfort Tiffany glass, Frederick Remington, Salvator Rosa, Robert Rauschenberg and many others,” Velders says.

“While our collection is not comprehensive nor represents fully ‘the history of art,’ it includes significant works that help students and adults alike learn more of our world’s cultures through its art,” says Velders.

Admission is charged; mobilemuseumofart.com

Huntsville Museum of Art

Buccellati: A Silver Menagerie features a four-foot tall flamingo and a reclining giraffe.
Photo courtesy Huntsville Museum of Art

According to Samantha Nielsen, director of communications, the museum is extremely proud of its exhibit Buccellati: A Silver Menagerie.

The silver creations were designed and fabricated in Milan, Italy, by the luxury jewelry firm of Buccellati. Betty Grisham of Huntsville donated the works of art to the museum.

“We have the world’s largest (Buccellati) public collection,” Nielsen says. The artists combined Renaissance period techniques, luxury materials and the extensive use of texture engraving to create objects of great beauty.

Buccellati clientele included the Vatican as well as the Royal Houses of Italy, Spain, Belgium, England and Egypt. Highlights of the museum’s collection include a four-foot tall flamingo, a reclining giraffe and a marine centerpiece consisting of Mediterranean Sea creatures arranged around a natural amethyst geode. “The latest addition is a family of deer commissioned by the museum to honor Betty Grisham.”

One of the museum’s most famous pieces is Luigi Lucioni’s Ethel Waters. “The official unveiling of the painting was held at the museum on Feb. 1 during the opening celebration of African American History Month,” Nielsen says. “This historical painting was thought to be lost and hadn’t been seen by the public since 1942.”

Admission is charged; hsvmuseum.org.

Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

The museum collections “feature primarily American art, and particularly that of the Southeast and Alabama,” says Senior

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925), Mrs. Louis E. Raphael, ca. 1906, oil on canvas, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, The Blount Collection

Curator Margaret Lynne Ausfeld. It has grown to represent 200 years of our country’s history.

“One of the earliest works … in the American paintings collection was made by an anonymous artist around the 1870s right here in Alabama and most likely in Montgomery,” she says. It depicts Montgomery in “an earlier frontier era, most likely during the very early 19th century when Alabama was a territory or during early statehood.”

The museum also features William Merritt Chase and Frank Duveneck. “Chase’s Woman in a Chinese Robe is an excellent example of this artist’s skill as a portraitist and still-life painter,” Ausfeld says. Other outstanding works include Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hills Before Taos and John Singer Sargent’s Mrs. Louis Raphael.

Other notable pieces include Mary Cassatt’s Francois in Green, Sewing and an example of 19th century marble sculpture by Edmonia Lewis, Hiawatha’s Marriage.

“The museum’s best-known painting is by the American 20th century painter Edward Hopper, New York Office,” but Ausfeld stresses there are many collections in the museum as well as programs designed to educate the public about art and this museum’s collection.

Admission is free; mmfa.org.

2017. Park and Building photos. Jonathan Long photography.

Avoiding the ‘grandparent scam’

By Richard Bauman

I answered the phone one morning and heard someone who sounded like our grandson, Edward, say, “Hi grandpa, it’s your favorite grandson.” And that’s how the “grandparent scam” usually starts.

That jovial greeting is usually followed by a tale of woe. In this instance, Edward was supposedly in New York for a buddy’s bachelor party. He had wrecked a rental car and been arrested for DUI.

Then comes the plea for money. He needed $8,000 to pay his fine and to fix the car. “Please help me out, grandpa,” that’s followed by another plea: “Please don’t tell my parents. I’ll explain it to them when I get home.”

My response to the fake Edward: “You’re a fraud,” and I hung up on him.

I knew that Ed wasn’t at a bachelor party in New York. He lives in California, and is a 14-year old high school freshman.

What should you do if you get a phone call supposedly from one of your grandchildren claiming to be in another state, or even a foreign country, and desperately needs several thousand dollars to get out of a jam?

First, be careful. Our natural inclination is to jump in and help but that could be the worst thing to do. Instead of reacting quickly:

Take a deep breath or two, relax and be noncommittal

Ask for a phone number where you can later reach him/her

Contact the supposed grandchild’s parents, siblings and others who would know if he or she is away from home as claimed.

If you know your grandchild’s cell phone, call him/her and leave a voicemail if need be, or text asking him/her to call you.

Be wary if the caller doesn’t sound like your grandchild; ask about it. Scammers usually will say it’s a bad connection or he/she has a cold or make some other vague explanation for their odd sounding voice.

Typically, grandparents are asked to wire the money to some out of state or out of the country location. Sometimes grandparents are told to buy several thousand dollars in prepaid debit cards and then phone the “grandchild” with the scratch-off numbers on the back of the cards. They can then use those numbers to get the money.

According to the National Council on Aging, the grandparent scam is successful because it is so simple, and devious, and it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets – their hearts.

Older people are often easy targets for such cons, according to the AARP, because:

They’re more likely to be home during the day

They expect people to be honest

They are less likely to act when defrauded.

Further, the National Council on Aging estimated that senior citizens are robbed of about $3 billion annually via various financial scams.

Scamming grandparents can be lucrative for well-practiced criminals. Especially since the odds of being caught and prosecuted are slim.

One incarcerated scammer told journalist Carter Evans: “You can make $10,000 … in a day if you do it properly. Once you get them emotionally involved, then they’ll do anything for you, basically.”

“The effect (of the scam) on the victims is so great. It’s not simply the loss of the money. They feel stupid, they feel gullible, and they have nightmares about it and anxiety and depression,” says former Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellyn Lindsey, who successfully prosecuted the scammer that Carter Evans interviewed.

There are also email versions of this swindle. You receive an email supposedly from a friend who is in a foreign country, and has been robbed and needs money to pay for a new passport, his/her hotel and airfare home. I received such an email from my friend Connie, who said she was stuck in London. I knew it was a scam since Connie had died six months before the email arrived.

Recently, my wife received an email plea for help from a nun she knows who was ostensibly stranded in the Philippines. She called the nun’s cell phone and learned she was not stranded in the Philippines or anywhere else. She told Donna she had received numerous calls from people concerned about her well-being.

If a supposed grandchild, relative or friend either calls or emails and claims to be in dire need of money, after having had some devastating experience in either another state or a foreign country, fight the urge to react quickly to the request. Take the time to verify his or her story. It might truly be someone in need of help, but the call or email is more likely just an attempt to separate you from your money.

Lastly, when you receive a call from a number you don’t recognize, let your voicemail answer the call. Scammers don’t usually leave messages.

Sweet surprise: Union Springs cook bakes up an unplanned success

FPH Bakery is located in a renovated downtown building that housed Holmes Café for 55 years.

Story and photos by Jennifer Kornegay

Some say anything tastes better served on fine china and scooped up with a silver fork or spoon. At FPH Bakery in downtown Union Springs, you’ll find both fancy flatware and elegant plates in use, but the cakes, pies, soups, sandwiches and salads served here don’t need the aesthetic boost.

Judging by the packed dining room and a bakery counter that almost empties every day, owner and baker Amber Anderson could probably send out her kitchen creations on paper towels, and folks would still rave.

Anderson opened French Pressed Home (FPH) Bakery in February 2017, and its quick rise to success came as a sweet surprise, especially since owning a bakery and café was never really in her plans. Always interested in cooking, she taught herself to bake and a few years ago, made a few cakes at a friend’s request. The friend liked them and spread the word.

Soon, Anderson was taking orders for her cakes weekly and then moved into wedding cakes. Demand for her desserts ballooned into more than she could handle, and with twin boys also in need of her time, she was close to calling it quits. “I realized I had to expand or fold,” she says. “So I grew and opened the bakery.”

Chocolate-drizzled Napoleans are ready for customers.

She’s been thrilled by the support of her community, a hometown she and her family adopted only a few years ago. “The people here have been so great,” she says. “I knew they would be. I fell in love with this area and its people the first time I came.”

Born, raised and living in San Diego, Calif., until 2013, Anderson and her family made their way South after the recession in 2008 decimated her husband’s contracting business and left them looking for a fresh start. “I didn’t know where we wanted to go, but I knew it was time to leave California,” she says. “I never really thought about the South, but I was looking at houses all over online, and the affordability of properties down here piqued my interest.”

At the time, Anderson was running a vintage goods business and blogging about it (her blog’s name was French Pressed Home) while dreaming of running a bed and breakfast, and a historic house in Union Springs caught her eye. “I came down to look at the house, and I liked it, but I also liked the town,” she says.

She didn’t get that first house and realized it wasn’t the right time for her to pursue a B&B, but she and her husband were still smitten with Union Springs, so they stayed (and bought a new house in the old town). The move shocks some.

“People ask me all the time about how different it must be here compared to San Diego, but it’s really not,” she says. “The San Diego I grew up in in the 1970s had this real neighborhood feel and culture, kinda like a small town. That’s not how it is today, but that’s how it was for a lot of my time there.” Union Springs’ leisurely pace and genuine people reminded her of that childhood and instantly pulled her in.

Now, she’s bringing others to the town. Lunchtime at FPH stays busy; locals come in for a box lunch (a sandwich, chips and choice of dessert) or maybe a bowl of chili or chicken and rice soup with a cup of coffee. Early afternoon sees a steady stream of people sating a sugar fix, getting a sweet snack or an entire cake or pie to go.

FPH’s chicken salad is made with pecans, grapes, celery, poppy seeds and steak seasoning.

Others drive over from Montgomery, Auburn and Troy. Many come for a bite of her claim to fame: salted caramel cake, her riff on a Southern staple that eschews the traditional cooked icing for rich buttercream with her homemade “secret recipe” caramel (with a hint of salt) stirred in. “The usual caramel icing down here is actually hard to get right,” she says. “I decided not to even try and compete with everybody’s Nana.”

And while Anderson’s baked goods – buttery croissants, fudgy brownies, fancifully festooned cupcakes, cookies, pies and more – take the front seat, driving a lot of the bakery’s traffic, a savory dish is not far behind in popularity. Whether it’s between two pieces of bread or mounded on the aforementioned pretty plates with pickles and crackers on the side, FPH’s chicken salad is giving the pastries and other confections a run for their money. Combining both fine, soft shreds and meatier chunks of roasted chicken, sliced red grapes, chopped pecans, pureed celery, a dash of steak seasoning and poppy seeds with a just enough silky mayo to hold things together, it’s creamy, crunchy, tart, peppery and salty all at once.

Housed in an old building on the edge of downtown that Anderson’s husband Bruce carefully renovated, FPH has a convivial atmosphere that’s a draw too. She used her blog’s name for the bakery, and it fits. “I love all things French, baking is associated with France, and I do want this place to feel like a home, to be comfortable,” she says.

Friendly staff, Anderson included, roll out the welcome, and exposed brick lit by glittering chandeliers provides some old-world flair. The china and silver are charming but not pretentious: All mismatched, they’re from the collection Anderson amassed in her previous business. Delights like cakes topped with bright berries and delicate napoleons glistening with drizzled chocolate perch on pedestals of varying heights on a worn wooden counter, “icing” on the spot’s appeal and hospitality.

The vibe is all Anderson, but she’s also embracing the property’s past. “It was a restaurant called Holmes Cafe, run by two brothers, for 55 years, and there were a lot of happy eating memories made here,” Anderson says. She’s hoping to continue the legacy.

She’s also hoping her presence downtown helps other businesses and encourages new ones to locate in the city’s center too. “I love this place and want to do all I can to promote this community and be a part of the positive change already happening,” she says. “It’s exciting to see new business open in this area.”

She’s equally excited by her first year’s accomplishments and looking forward to a prosperous 2018, but putting satisfied smiles on her customer’s faces is the sweet reward that turns her lips up. “This is hard work, but it’s really fun too, and for me, it’s not about making a ton of money,” she says. “It’s about making people leave here happier than they were when they came in.”


While you’re there

The town of Union Springs is a popular day trip for groups. If you visit, be sure to check out the Josephine Art Center, 126 Prairie St. N., where you can visit the local historical museum, view Alabama artwork, create your own work of art, host a private party, book an historic tour of Bullock County, or even check out a ghost tour! More at artatjosephine.com, email promiseland@ustconline.net or (334)703-0098.

 

Spring planting time: Picking the perfect plants

If, like me, you’re looking forward to home-grown summer vegetables, herbs and flowers, it’s time to get planting.

Those of you who thought ahead and started seeds inside or in a cold frame or greenhouse already have a great source of plant material ready to go in the ground. But don’t forget to harden them off first. “Hardening off” is a process that gradually transitions young, tender plants from their sheltered indoor life to the more extreme world of the great outdoors.

Start the process by putting seedlings outside during the day in a shaded, protected area for a couple of hours, then bring them back inside. Gradually lengthen the amount of time they spend outside and the amount of sun exposure they receive on each consecutive day and, in about a week, they should be ready to go out into the world. (The length of time for hardening off varies depending on weather conditions and plant type, so check seed packages for recommendations.)

If you haven’t thought ahead, though, transplants (ready-to-plant seedlings) are abundantly available at retail outlets throughout the state, and they make growing all kinds of annual plants pretty darn easy, especially if you follow these tips.

Pick smaller plants. Avoid extra-large plants and look for smaller, more compact plants that are about as wide as they are tall. Beware of plants that are overcrowded. If there are several plants in a single pot or seedling cell, it may seem like you’re getting more plants for your money, but they may be less healthy or stunted.

Pick quality plants. Buy only healthy plants that exhibit good color in their leaves and stems and show no signs of yellowing, wilting or damage. Make sure their growing media is moist and the transplants are not root-bound. Try to avoid buying vegetable, fruit or herb plants that are already flowering, and look for flowering plants that have buds, not blossoms, so you’ll ensure a longer blooming period.

Plant quickly. Try to avoid buying transplants more than two days before planting. If you have to wait longer than that to get them in the ground, store them in a warm, sunny, but protected spot and keep them well watered.

Plant properly. Gently remove transplants from their containers so you don’t damage their tops or roots, and plant them deep enough so the soil can support them as their root systems develop. Water them well immediately after planting, and water them frequently for several days after planting. Hold off on applying fertilizer, which can burn tender leaves and stimulate excessive foliage growth. Mulch around the plants to keep moisture near their roots and suppress weeds.

When buying transplants, quality is important, and one way to ensure good quality plants is to buy “local.” Look for plants that were produced in Alabama or the Southeast — that means they didn’t have far to travel to get to your garden, so they should be less stressed. If the source of the plant is not listed on the label, ask the store’s staff or manager where they came from.

In addition to transplants, many annual seeds can now be sown directly into the garden. If you collected seed from last year’s plants or know a gardener who is willing to share ones they collected, that’s ideal. But if you need to buy seed, go for quality. A great source of fresh seed — and seed that is tried-and-true in your area — is a store that sells bulk, loose seed (farmer cooperatives and feed-and-seed stores, for example). 

If you can’t find the seed or plants you’re looking for at a local store, catalogues provide exceptional choices, especially for less common selections such as non-GMO, organic, heirloom or newly released varieties and cultivars. Just make sure you’re ordering from a reputable company by checking consumer reviews and reviewing their guarantee and return policies.

Oh, and if in your excitement you overbuy seeds or transplants, don’t toss them out. Donate them to a community or school garden and share the wealth. That way you and others can look forward to all kinds of gardening rewards in the months to come.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.

Birders take flight and travel the globe

By Gayle Gresham

Looking for your travel to take flight this year? Become a birder and enjoy all kinds of new places to visit while adding bird species to your list and enjoying time spent wherever this activity takes you.

Birdwatching is rising in popularity in the United States and throughout the world. Anyone can do it, whether you live in the city, the suburbs or the country. You can set up your own feeders in your own backyard and keep a list of the species that visit you. Or, if you love to travel and you enjoy birdwatching, you can visit wilderness refuges, travel to bird festivals, and take guided tours of bird habitats anywhere in the world.

Backyard birdwatching

It’s great to start bird watching by simply looking out your window and seeing the birds that congregate in your yard or on your patio. Is that a bluebird? What type of bluebird? An eastern, western, or mountain bluebird? You can go old school by checking a field guide like Peterson’s or Sibley’s or you can look up bluebirds on http://allaboutbirds.org  (Cornell Lab of Ornithology). Check the range map and see which is common in your region. Look at the markings and distinctive features. Many birds show enough variation to make an ID with ease. The All About Birds website also contains recordings of each bird’s song so identification can also be made by the birdsong. 

White egrec near San Fransisco Bay. Photo by Alfred Leung on Unsplash.

Going high-tech with your identification tools can make it easier to take them along when you travel. Download the Merlin Bird ID app (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) to your cell phone. The app asks five questions to help identify a bird. It then pulls up bird photos matching the description that have been seen in your region. Or, take a photo of the bird, upload it to Merlin and it will identify the bird for you. 

Those who catch birdwatching fever often keep a list of the birds they have seen or heard. A life list consists of all of the bird species seen in your lifetime while a yearly list tics off every bird species seen in a year. A list can be kept in a simple notebook, in a special birding notebook, or it can be a simple notation of date and place beside the picture in a guide book. Computer list options include Birder’s Diary software, which also allows photos, or use the eBird mobile app for cell phones, which uses GPS coordinates for bird species sightings.

As you become familiar with the birds in your backyard, you will be able to recognize when a bird not common to your area appears. When you see a rare bird, you can report it through eBird or the American Birding Society so other birders can visit your backyard and add it to their lists.

Local birding

A killdeer, which often performs a “broken wing” routine to draw a predator away
Photo by Ken Christison.

If birdwatching has captured your attention and your curiosity has grown beyond the birds showing up in your backyard, then what? It’s time for some birding excursions.

First, call someone you know who is a birdwatcher. Don’t know anyone? Start asking around. You might be surprised by which of your friends are birders. Ask at your library about birdwatching clubs or search the internet for local and state birding clubs and chapters of the Audubon Society for programs, events and field trips. You can go out on your own, but it’s helpful to have someone teach you how to locate and identify the birds. Grab your binoculars, camera and cell phone and head to the wilderness or city park.

One way to learn from an experienced watcher is to join the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count, which allows beginner birders to take part. Participants count every bird seen or heard in a 15-mile diameter designated circle over a 24-hour period of time between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. The count acts as an annual census of birds across the world.

Travel birding

Your interest in birds has been piqued and now you’d like to see species of birds that are not local to your area. It’s time to travel! You can either travel to see birds in a certain locale or go on vacation and see what interesting birds are in your planned location. Once again, the internet can help you identify places to see birds. There are more than 562 National Wildlife Refuges and 38 wetland management districts in the United States. Visit the www.fws.gov/refuges website for locations and information. There are also 10,234 state parks and 58 national parks, giving you plenty of opportunity to travel and find birds. 

At least 38 states have American Birding Association Birding Trails. A designated Birding Trail system links wildlife refuges, state parks and national parks in a state, along with noted habitats found along the route. The trails may be hiking trails or highways to drive. Information on state birding trails can be found on the internet. 

Red-tailed hawk watches a squirrel
Photo by David Morris on Unsplash

The World Birding Center in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas features nine locations with more than 500 species of birds at the convergence of two major migration flyways. Bird festivals are another great way to see specific birds and take part in workshops and tours. Many festivals coincide with migration to see the greatest number of species in a set place.

Competitive birding

You’ve learned to identify birds, enjoy the challenge and you’re ready to dive further into birding, perhaps on a competitive level. There are various events for all ages sponsored by bird organizations. Join The Big Sit! hosted by Bird Watcher’s Digest — 24 hours of sitting in a 17-foot diameter circle with a team counting every birds species seen.

“Big Day” events or birdathons are sponsored by bird associations and often raise pledges for their societies and conservation by counting how many species of birds can be seen in 24 hours. They can be done individually or in teams. The Global Big Day is sponsored by eBird and on May 13, 2017, almost 20,000 birders from 150 countries turned in 50,000 checklists with 6,564 species of birds spotted in one day. That is more than 60 percent of all of the species of birds in the world. 

Stretching that day to a year, The Big Year is the ultimate challenge in birding. It is a competition to see who can see the most birds in one year in a specific geographical area.

A little curiosity and a greater awareness of birds can take you in many directions. Travel, see the country, see the world, and see the birds as you go! Maybe a Big Year is in your future.

Gayle Gresham writes from her electric-co-op powered home in Elbert, Colorado. She now has Merlin Bird ID on her phone and is ready to go watch some birds.


Alabama’s trails offer an abundance of bird-watching locations

Alabama has an abundance of bird species – 430 at last count – to watch, from the Tennessee border to the Gulf Coast.

The Alabama Birding Trails is a system of eight trails highlighting the best public locations available to watch birds year-round. According to its website, alabamabirdingtrails.com, our state provides a critical habitat for hundreds of bird species, from the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker to the now flourishing bald eagle.

As interest in wildlife observation grows, more people want to explore our amazing biodiversity, which makes Alabama second only to Florida in the Eastern U.S. in total number of species of plants and animals.

The eight Alabama Birding Trails unify existing and potential birding sites into a series of cohesive trails and loops that are collectively marketed as part of a statewide system. Many of the sites along the various trails are already being used by thousands of birders and other visitors annually.

The Alabama Birding Trails program recently announced the addition of 10 new birding trail sites, bringing the total number of locations to 280 in 65 counties. Two of the new sites are on Forever Wild properties: the Wehle Forever Wild Tract near Midway, and the Yates Lake Forever Wild Tract near Tallassee.

Brown-headed nuthatch in Alabama. Photo by Mark Langston.

The eight other sites are: Heflin’s Cahulga Creek Park; Coosa County’s Flagg Mountain, near Weogufka; the Lee County Public Fishing Lake, near Opelika; the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve and Nature Center, in Auburn; Minooka Park, in Jemison; the Moss Rock Preserve, in Hoover; Shades Creek Greenway, in Homewood; and the Smith Mountain Fire Tower, near Dadeville.

Alabama’s Birding Trails offer the public a chain of eight geographic regions: North Alabama, West Alabama, Appalachian Highlands, Piedmont Plateau, Black Belt Nature and Heritage, Pineywoods, Wiregrass, and Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. Specific information on each region is available at the alabamabirdingtrails.com website.

This project is a collaborative effort by the Alabama Tourism Department, University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Birmingham Audubon Society, chambers of commerce across the state, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Forest Service and others.

Singer, actor, dancer … doing it all

Alabama’s Jordan Fisher came to national TV prominence in November when he won the 25th season of “Dancing With the Stars” with his professional dancing partner, Lindsay Arnold. But some fans may not realize that Fisher has been acting, dancing and singing more than half his life.

Born and raised in Birmingham, Fisher caught the performing bug early. His fifth-grade crush asked him to join the drama club with her, and he started acting, singing and dancing that first day. That summer, he joined the Red Mountain Theatre Company, one of the South’s premier fine arts education centers. He went from his first school play to community theater to regional theater to joining a professional theater company in a short amount of time.

He wants to do it all – music, theater, as well as acting. He released an EP of pop-soul-R&B music in August 2016, and was featured on the soundtrack of the Disney hit “Moana.” He’s set to release a full album of R&B music this year.

He’s had recurring roles on multiple TV series, including “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” and of course the big win on DWTS.

He made his Broadway debut in the megahit “Hamilton,” playing the roles of John Laurens/Phillip Hamilton.

And he turns 24 in April.

– Allison Law

You were born and raised in Alabama. Talk about your upbringing here.

It’s kind of incredible, when I say that I’m from Alabama. I don’t really have much of an accent, and people are like, for real? …

I can’t think of a better place to spend the majority of my childhood. Standards and morals and all of these things, growing up in the South, that’s something in my opinion that’s priceless. Very proud to be an Alabamian and very proud to have spent a majority of my childhood there. (As a teenager, he traveled back and forth between Alabama and Los Angeles for four years before moving to LA permanently.)

How quickly time passes. Growing up such a fan of sports and people and a love for my family and all of these things, I feel like the root of all of that started with my environment growing up, and that’s Birmingham, and I couldn’t be more proud of the growth of that city.

You acted in the Broadway smash “Hamilton” (from November 2016 through March 2017). Talk about that.

I love it, I miss it to death. It’s kind of hard, when you want to do everything, which is what I do. I wear all the hats, and do TV and film and Broadway, and I’m a recording artist and a writer and a producer and an author, it’s hard to just be able to do one thing for a long period of time. You kind of have to alternate all these things. Eventually, the end goal is that I can pick and choose whatever I want, whenever I want, and right now it’s a matter of having to continue to strike while the iron is hot, which keeps me super busy. It keeps me constantly honing and learning and building my craft and my world as an artist. That will eventually get me back to Broadway, the same way it will always take me back to TV and film and music and touring. But Broadway, I love it just a little bit more than everything else.

I have to ask about “Dancing With the Stars.” How was that experience?

Unbelievable. I learned a lot about myself, and Lindsay, she cracked the whip in all the right ways. It resulted in an amazing friendship. Really more of a family. That’s my favorite memory, taking away from all of this, is the family I got to build on that show, with Lindsay, with the other pros on the show. … We really put in a lot of time and energy and effort, and I’m just very grateful that America saw that and put in the votes.

Do you get back to Alabama very often?

I get back more frequently now. Ellie Woods is the love of my life. We actually grew up together at the  Red Mountain Theatre Company. She is in school for clinical dietetics at the University of Alabama. We see each other every three weeks. That’s the bottom line, period, the end. Whether I go to Birmingham quietly and spend time with her in Tuscaloosa, or she comes to LA or meets me in whatever city I’m in, we see each other every three weeks. When you make the choice and you make the commitment, you make it work, period. We make it work.

Aim for quality when managing a renovation contractor

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: We followed your advice last month and hired a contractor we think will give us an energy efficient renovation. How do we manage the job to make sure the project turns out right?

A: Last month, I offered tips on how to hire a good contractor, but it’s smart to realize that after the hiring is complete, contractors need to be managed.

First, you should decide who will be the main contact with your contractor. Clear communication is critical because a renovation that includes energy efficiency improvements comes with extra challenges. A single point of contact will help avoid confusion, conflicts and cost overruns.

Before the work starts, have a discussion with your contractor about quality. You want the contractor to know you’ll be carefully overseeing the work and that there may be others involved in this oversight, such as building inspectors, your electric cooperative or an independent energy auditor. You can discuss the standards of a professional, high-quality job. And you can agree on the points at which the contractor will pause so you or someone you designate can review the work. At a minimum, an inspection should take place before you make an interim payment.

Here are a few examples of interim review points:

  • The building envelope should be properly sealed before insulation is installed because air leaks increase energy use and reduce comfort.
  • Replacement windows should be properly flashed and sealed before siding and trim are installed, which prevents moisture problems and air leaks.
  • Some insulation measures can be inspected before they are sealed up behind walls or ceilings.
  • Almost all efficiency measures require some kind of final inspection. For example, infrared thermometers can show voids in blown insulation, and fiberglass batts can be visually inspected to ensure there are no air gaps and the batts are not compressed.

HVAC measures require special attention. Nearly half of all HVAC systems are not installed correctly, which often causes uneven temperature distribution throughout the home, along with higher energy bills. ENERGYSTAR® has a special program to ensure quality HVAC installation. Forced air systems typically have poorly balanced supply and return air delivery that can often be improved. Air flow can be measured at each register, and a duct blaster test can identify and quantify duct leakage.

When you review the work, it may be helpful to take photos or to bring in an energy auditor. Be sure to have these inspections outlined in the contract and discussed beforehand so the contractor is comfortable.

It will be tempting to add “just one more thing” along the way, and the contractor may agree a change is simple and possible within the timeframes. Contractors and customers often miscommunicate about change orders and end up disagreeing about a additional costs when the project is completed. Before you make any changes, be sure to get a written cost quote. If it’s significant, you can then weigh the cost against the benefit of the change.

It’s a good idea to maintain good records as the project progresses. These records could be helpful for building inspectors or to qualify for rebates or tax credits. 

HVAC technicians or energy auditors can use diagnostic equipment to measure air leakage and air flow.

When the renovation is complete, it may be tempting to sign the check, shake hands and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s all over. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, it may be worth the extra step of having a final audit by a licensed energy auditor.

My neighbors were saved from a home renovation disaster when an energy audit discovered the energy efficiency contractor had failed to produce the promised efficiencies. The contractor had to perform thousands of dollars’ worth of improvements to fulfill the contract before my neighbors made the final payment.

Once you confirm that the work is 100 percent complete, you can write a check for the final payment, then sit back and enjoy your revitalized, more energy-efficient home!ν

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on managing a home renovation contractor, please visit: www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.

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. Write to energytips@collaborativeefficiency.com for more information.

Bears on the move

As bear and human populations increase, so do contacts

By John N. Felsher

As weather improves, more Alabamians venture outdoors to enjoy hiking, picnicking, turkey hunting, fishing and other activities, but they are not alone! Another very large, toothy Alabama resident could watch their every move.

“Historically, black bears lived throughout the entire state,” says Thomas Harms, the top large carnivore biologist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “The population in Alabama is expanding.”

Harms estimates that 400 or so black bears live in the state. Probably about 300 bears live in Baldwin, Mobile, Washington and Monroe counties. Another 50 to 100 live in the Little River Canyon area of northeastern Alabama. Others may wander through just about any county at times.

Most Alabama male bears weigh about 300 to 350 pounds and females about 100 pounds less. Compare that to grizzlies, which could exceed 1,500 pounds and stand more than nine feet tall. While not as big as their giant cousins, black bears still pose a serious danger to anyone who crosses their paths.

Incredibly powerful predators with big claws and teeth, black bears can kill people and cause extensive property damage if they wish. Fortunately, attacks rarely happen. Actually quite shy, the official Alabama state mammal characteristically tries to avoid people. A bear could live near a residential area and no one will see it.

“The last thing a bear wants to see is a human,” Harms says. “We haven’t had any bear attacks in Alabama in modern times. Like most animals, bears have a natural fear of people. It’s surprising how well such a large animal can remain hidden. People can go in the woods every day and not see a bear, but the bear probably sees the person every time. They know when a person is in the woods and they want to get away as quickly as they can.”

Some hikers carry whistles or horns with them to frighten off any bears they might see. Others carry pepper spray as a last resort. Anyone who does spot a bear in the forests should just leave it alone and go somewhere else.

“A bear is not out to eat a human,” Harms says. “If you stumble upon a bear in the woods, let it know you are there so it can get away. Give the bear space. Back away from it. Don’t turn and run away from it because that could trigger a predatory instinct in the bear.”

However, as the bear and human populations continue to grow, the two species might bump into each other more frequently, particularly in places like Mobile County with large human and bear populations. Most bear-human encounters typically involve food. An omnivore, a bear will eat practically anything. 

Wildlife researchers weigh a black bear they captured in Washington County and check its health before releasing it. About 400 to 500 black bears live in Alabama, mostly in the southwestern and northeastern parts of the state. Photo by Karin Harms

Don’t give bears any reason to come around a house. Never intentionally feed a bear or put out food to attract one. In bear country, put refuse in bear-proof trashcans. At night, bring in pets and pet food. Never leave any food or food residue where a bear can find it. A bear could smell an old sandwich wrapper and tear anything apart looking for food.

“Bears can be dangerous, but they don’t have to be,” Harms says. “If bears begin to associate humans with food, that causes problems. Some people put out corn feeders, whether to hunt deer or just draw animals to the property. Bears find that corn. Bears are also looking for fruit or mast-producing trees.”

Young male bears probably cause the most problems. When young bears reach a certain age, their mother pushes them away as she prepares to breed again. On their own for the first time, these strong youngsters wander long distances looking for food, a mate and territory to call home, one not already occupied by larger bears.

“Young male bears start moving about in May,” Harms says. “They are young and dumb. Up until that time, momma has been telling them what to do. They don’t show any fear of humans and sometimes walk through the middle of big towns. That’s when we get a lot of calls about people seeing bears.”

When a female black bear reaches about two years old, she starts to breed. In Alabama, bears normally breed in July or August. About every two to three years, a female will deliver one to four cubs in January or February. She will likely live about 10 to 20 years and might produce 10 to 15 offspring in her lifetime.

In the spring, hikers, hunters or other outdoor enthusiasts might spot a mother with one or more cubs or possibly just a cub by itself. Never attempt to catch or approach a bear cub. Cubs may look like cute and cuddly fuzzballs, but they are not pets and probably not alone or lost. Momma is likely not far away. Get away from the cub and stay out of that area.

If you see a bear in Alabama, please report it to the ALDCNR at game.dcnr.alabama.gov/BlackBear or call the nearest ALDCNR office.

For more information, call Harms in Spanish Fort at 251-626-5153.

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

Knead some dough?

It’s Alive! Thanks to its short list of fairly accessible ingredients, bread, in its many forms, is the world’s most-eaten food. Most leavened bread gets its rise from yeast, and the way this little organism works is pretty interesting. Yeast is alive, and each individual yeast cell must eat to continue living. Yeasts’ favorite food is sugar, and when they’re added to bread dough, the yeasts feast on the sugars, breaking them down and emitting carbon dioxide and alcohol. As a gas, the carbon dioxide forms bubbles, which grow and expand, “plumping up” the dough. This process intensifies in the heat of the oven, as does the evaporation of the alcohol.

By Jennifer Kornegay / Food Photography by Brooke Echols

A warm-from-the-oven slice of freshly baked homemade bread is worth its weight in gold and definitely worth the effort required to make and bake it.

Bread has long been associated with money. The person bringing home the majority of a family or household’s income is the breadwinner. We often say someone doing well financially is “raking in the dough.” The link has its origins in the important role bread has played in the welfare of cultures around the world since man first started farming. As one of the oldest “prepared foods,” daily bread was essential for life, and thus, it attained high value. In places like ancient Egypt and middle-ages France, bread was used as credit and currency.

     Today, most of us no longer live by bread alone, and as some of us try to watch our waistlines, bread — with its high calorie and carb count — has been given a lesser place of prominence in many modern diets. But this just puts it on a pedestal again, giving it a new kind of value as something some deem a splurge or a luxury.

     Our access to all kinds of bread makes it even more special. We can easily get our hands on bread types from all over the globe: flat but pillowy Indian naan; a skinny, crusty French baguette; or a round of chewy Italian ciabatta. If you prefer to go all-American, you’ve still got lots of options: a soft loaf of tangy sourdough, a slice studded with raisins and swirled with cinnamon, a beer-boosted bread or just a plain piece of basic white.

     And if you want to stay true to our region, cornbread is certainly the South’s favorite bread. Or is it the biscuit? (It’s definitely risen beyond the realm of bread but is still bread nonetheless.) That’s a debate with no wrong answer.

     Wherever your bread cravings take your taste buds, set aside some time to try out a few of this month’s reader submitted recipes.


Cook of the Month: Robin O’Sullivan, Wiregrass EC

Robin O’Sullivan loves fresh, local strawberries, and when they’re in season each spring, she’s always looking for ways to incorporate them into her cooking. She’d made chocolate-banana bread for years, and then one day, decided to branch out and try chocolate-strawberry bread instead. “It was really just an experiment,” she said. “I love the flavor combo of chocolate and strawberry, so I figured it would work.” It did. It’s become a regular in her baking rotation, and while it is technically bread, she admits it’s flirting with being a dessert. “It’s sweet and a bit rich, but like a banana bread, you can still eat it for breakfast,” she said.

 

 

 

 

Chocolate-Strawberry Bread

  • 1 pound whole strawberries
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottoms of two 9×5-inch or 8×4-inch loaf pans. Lightly flour. Slightly mash strawberries; set aside. In a large bowl, mix sugar and oil. Stir in eggs until well blended. Stir in strawberries until well mixed. Stir in remaining ingredients, except chocolate chips, just until moistened. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into pans. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire rack. Cool completely before slicing.


Garlic Rosemary Bread

  • 2 cups lukewarm water (105 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 1 package active dry yeast (21/4 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 4 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Sea salt

In a large mixing bowl, combine water and yeast. Add 1 cup of flour and salt; stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Stir in rosemary leaves and minced garlic. Add remaining flour, one cup at a time, stirring until thoroughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour. Add one tablespoon of olive oil in an 8 or 10-inch cast iron skillet; using a napkin or your fingers, coat bottom and sides of skillet with the olive oil. Flour your hands; remove plastic wrap and using your hands, transfer dough to prepared skillet and shape into a disk. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle remaining olive oil over the top and sprinkle with sea salt. Score the top of the loaf with some shallow knife cuts. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until top is nicely browned. Remove from oven and turn the bread out onto a wire cooling rack. Leave to cool for a few minutes and serve. (If you do not have an iron skillet, you can use a stoneware baking dish).

NOTE: Remove bread from pan as soon as  it comes out of the oven because bread left in the pan will become moist and soggy.

Mary Rich

North Alabama EC


Mayonnaise Biscuits

  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2/3 cup milk

Combine all ingredients and spoon into greased muffin tins. Bake at 425 degrees until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Yield: 6 biscuits. Easily doubled or tripled for more biscuits.

Sherry Phillips

Central Alabama EC


No Corn Jalapeno “Cornbread”

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2-3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup pickled (not hot) jalapenos dried on a paper towel
  • 3/4 cup grated cheddar or Fontina cheese
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil

Place an 8-inch cast iron skillet into the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Add in egg and milk; mix lightly until smooth and fluid. (Add more milk if necessary so that batter is loose enough to spread evenly into bottom of skillet). Remove hot skillet from the oven and add 1 tablespoon oil. Spread oil over bottom. Place back in oven and heat for 5 minutes.

Remove skillet again and pour in half the batter. Spread into a layer over the bottom. Place the dry jalapenos over the batter and then add the cheese over the top. Pour the rest of the batter over the jalapenos and cheese. Spread with spoon to cover evenly. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until top is golden. Serves 2 to 4. Delicious, Paleo and gluten free.

Gay Cotton

Baldwin EMC


Spoon Bread Muffins (Rolls)

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 ½ sticks margarine, melted
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 4 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 package yeast
  • 2 cups warm water

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in flour, beaten egg, sugar and melted margarine. Stir until mixed well. Can use immediately or will keep well in a covered bowl that is refrigerated for one week. To bake: spoon mix into greased muffin tins and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

LaCretia Bevel

North Alabama EC


Easy Popovers

  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 6-cup popover pan. Pour milk into mixing bowl, add flour and salt and use a hand mixer to blend well, making sure not to over-mix the batter. Add eggs one at a time, beating each until completely blended. Pour batter evenly into popover cups, filling will be about 3/4 full. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Shari Lowery

Pioneer EC


Easy Beer Bread

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 bottle of beer
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup optional ingredients: shredded cheese, olives, jalapenos and 1 teaspoon (or more if you like) Italian seasoning blend

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5x3-inch bread loaf pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt until combined. Slowly pour the beer and honey into the flour mixture, add optional ingredients if you desire and stir until combined. Pour half of the melted butter into the bottom of the loaf pan and spread it around evenly. Then add the batter to the pan in an even layer and brush the rest of the butter around evenly on top of the batter. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top of the bread is golden brown and a toothpick or knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Shari Lowery

Pioneer EC


Coming up in May… Junior Cooks!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

June: Heirloom Recipes | April 8

July: Frozen Treats | May. 8

August: Corn | June 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: 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.