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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 theRed 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.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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.
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.
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.
1 pound whole strawberries
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
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
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 asit comes out of the oven because bread left in the pan will become moist and soggy.
North Alabama EC
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.
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.
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.
North Alabama EC
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.
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.
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!
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.
Every day thousands use it to do business with Social Security. We strive to offer the kind of services that meet people’s needs.And sometimes you want fast and direct answers over the phone. We have that option.
You can call us toll free at 1-800-772-1213. Our automated services are available 24 hours a day and include some of the most popular services that people need. With automated services, you can request a benefit verification (proof of income) letter, replace a lost SSA-1099 (tax summary needed for taxes), request a replacement Medicare card, ask for form SSA-1020 to apply for help with Medicare prescription drug costs, or request an SS-5 application for a Social Security card.
When our automated services ask such things as, “How can I help you?” Just say, “Get a proof of income letter” or “Replace Medicare card.” Next, you will be asked for some personal information to identify yourself, then we will respond to your request. We will mail you the document or form you requested. It takes less time to use automated services than to reach a representative by phone on a busy day.
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Several years back, I was conducting a community health assessment of a small, rural community in South Alabama to identify its greatest health issues and needs.My first job after finishing college was with the Alabama Department of Mental Health.Because of this experience, mental health care and needs have always been of special concern to me.
As a part of this health assessment, I visited the local outpatient mental health center to meet with the clinical director to discuss mental health-related issues, trends, and needs in the community.I was surprised when he refused to discuss such general topics until I received permission from his supervisor.This experience started me thinking about the stigma attached to certain mental health and other sensitive health conditions as a very real barrier to health care.
Keeping health conditions and issues in the closet is greatly contributing to establishing and increasing stigmas that are actually creating barriers to health care.The question must be asked:Could this unnecessary stigma be a contributing factor in the horrible school violence in this country?This director should have been required to get out and speak with civic organizations, churches, etc. to inform the community about local mental health.
A large portion of our population does not understand mental health.What is depression?What are the symptoms of depression?What is schizophrenia?What treatments and other options are available for persons with mental health needs?Bringing such conditions out of the closet and openly discussing them may help identify many of the undiagnosed who need assistance.It may also increase local awareness and concern to the point of producing more local buy-in and support for mental health care.
Such open and public conversation can also remove much of the stigma associated with sensitive health conditions, like mental health, HIV/AIDS, and drug abuse or dependency.Open discussion can enable many sensitive health conditions to become recognized as normal conditions that involve normal people and for which successful treatments are available.
Attempts are being made to care for patients with more sensitive conditions together with other general health care, rather than having such care provided in separate facilities.Seeing someone walking into a mental health clinic or a facility dedicated to the treatment of other sensitive conditions would virtually be an announcement that they have that condition.This integrative care model holds promise in decreasing the stigma attached to certain health conditions.
If you are a member of a civic organization, church, or other source that provides programs, I encourage you to have programs on topics that can diminish the stigmas attached to sensitive health conditions to enhance access to such health care.
Dale Quinney is executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association, 1414 Elba Highway, Troy, 36081.
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Could the days of black-tie weddings be numbered? Probably not, but the number of weddings hosted in more casual, rustic settings are certainly on the rise in Alabama.
According to TheKnot.com, an online wedding resource, ranch or farm-style weddings have been on the rise since 2012. Nuptials in the country can provide a rustic and memorable event for the bridal party and their family and friends, and Alabama has plenty of spaces to host your special day with a country flair.
Lisa Woodham, owner of Woodham Farms in Dothan, Ala., agreed that rural weddings have become much more popular in recent years and is a trend that’s here to stay.
“Oh, absolutely! It’s more than just country chic, I think. These types of wedding have a certain type of unmistakable charm and sweetness about them. We want people who come here to feel special.”
Newlywed Christina Clark Okarmus said she and her husband chose a Lee County farm for their outdoor wedding in September 2017 for several reasons, but it was the laid back atmosphere that sealed the deal.
“It was a perfect fit for us,” Okarmus says. “We visited a couple of other places in the city, but they just didn’t seem to be the right fit. The farm was far more laid back, and that’s more our style. The farm had housing for our family to stay all week and have plenty of space, and there was a playground for the kids, too. All these things fit into our budget nicely, and it just felt like the right spot for us.”
All kinds of venues
Alabama has a variety of locations for couples looking for the perfect rural wedding spot.
The Hitching Post Farms is 30 acres of land in Eclectic, Ala., owned by Diane and Robert Crosby. While it may not have started off as the couple’s dream to host weddings on the property, now it’s truly a labor of love.
“A lot of our clients want that outside, rustic look for their wedding,” Diane Crosby says. “They want their wedding to be different and special. We work very hard to make that happen for them. Every wedding is always something special, not just for the couple, but for us, too. I feel like it’s my responsibility to fulfill these dreams of these brides who come here and have been planning their weddings their entire lives. It’s an honor to help fulfill those dreams for them.”
However, The Hitching Post Farms was almost lost before it began. The Crosbys had rented the property for a time before eventually purchasing it for themselves. Their dream was to build their perfect home, but they decided to build a barn instead to use for family camping events. Then tragedy struck.
“When the tornadoes came through in 2011, it took out our home. So we started building on to the property to what we have now. It took 18 months to rebuild. Out of that destruction we were able to make something very special and beautiful that we can share with others,” she says.
For couples looking for an all-inclusive, but still farm-style location, Stone Bridge Farms in Cullman, Ala., has been hosting weddings since 2010 and does more than 80 each year. It’s an old family tradition that owner Ron Foust has been working to bring back to life.
As a young boy, Foust remembers his grandfather, a minister for more than 50 years in Cullman County, performing marriages, baptisms and other ceremonies on the family property. Slowly over the years, parcels of the family land were sold. Foust began buying it back until he could restore the family’s 75-acre estate so he could carry on his family’s tradition of hosting weddings on the property.
According to event coordinator Janet Fortner, Stone Bridge Farms handles catering and flowers, as well as photography, for their clients. There’s even a baker on staff, although it’s not mandatory to use the staff baker.
“Sometimes it’s just easier to do everything at one place. We would like the event to be a one-stop-shop so it’s less stressful for our clients,” Fortner says. “We have a design team meeting with our brides on day one, [so they can] get to know them from three to four months out from the wedding. Then we’re there with them to help get them down the aisle as stress-free as possible. Our goal is to make each event as stress-less as possible.”
Stone Bridge Farms, a customer of Cullman EC, offers lodging with five cabins and three homes on property for rent to out-of-town guests. The location doesn’t host only weddings, but also corporate retreats, meetings, birthday parties, showers and other events.
Beyond the farm
If the rustic charm of a barn or farmland isn’t quite what you’re looking for, did you know there’s a vineyard in North Alabama at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains?
Wills Creek Vineyards and Winery in Attalla, Ala., is a working vineyard — and not what you might expect from an outdoor wedding venue.
“When I think of Napa Valley and I see pictures of weddings in Napa, I’m reminded of our wedding space next to our vineyards where it’s lush and green — it’s just such a different setting than a rural barn setting,” says owner Janie Coppey. “Our location is special because you can see the Appalachian foothills that run on the other side of the road, and depending on the focal point of the photographer, some of those mountains will be in your photos. In the spring, summer and fall, everything is so colorful and makes a beautiful setting for a wedding.”
Wills Creek Vineyards and Winery and the event space is two miles away from the six-acre vineyard. The vineyard is a popular destination for bridal showers, brunches, proms, class reunions and other events, thanks to the location’s covered event space. With an on-site coordinator to help pull details together, Coppey says the goal is always to take as much stress off the client as possible.
“Brides, grooms and their families have enough stress, so we want to take as much of that off them to help make their day as special and memorable as possible. We want them to enjoy their day, have beautiful memories, and enjoy the vineyard while they’re here,” Coppey says.
Tips for finding a rural wedding space
Ask questions. If you’re on a budget and using an outdoor space, you should know up front if there are set-up and cleaning fees, what decorations are provided, and whether it’s mandatory to use the venue’s caterer and florist. Have an idea of how many guests plan to attend. Your quote will be based on this number. Do your research. It’s fine if you haven’t settled on your wedding style when you meet with your venue representative, but your meeting will go much better if you have some ideas. The venue will most likely have an event planner on staff to help you along in the process.