Navigate / search

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.

The discovery of the Orline St. John

William Harris was deadheading when he saw the hog chains.

That was what he told me back in 1991 when I interviewed him in his store at ‘Possum Bend, west of Camden and not far from the Alabama River.

“Deadheads” were sunken logs that had lain long in the water and had taken on the tea-color that was highly prized by furniture makers. “Hog chains” were the rods used to stabilize steamboats that once plied the waters. Moving closer, Harris could see the outline of the hull.

It was 1954.

Harris was a riverman. All his life he had heard stories of steamboat wrecks. Now he had found one.

Getting some friends to help him, they began free diving and soon their efforts brought results. Out of the mud and silt came twisted metal, nails, buttons, bits of copper and scraps of leather and cloth. Then one of them recovered a piece of broken dinnerware, with something written on it. As they washed away the muck, the bright blue words came clear: “Orline St. John Tim Meaher.”

The names recalled one of the era’s great steamboat captains, Tim Meaher, and one of the era’s great tragedies. In March of 1850, the steamboat Orline St. John caught fire and burned. Nearly 40 passengers and crew perished, including all the women and children on board.

With the wreck identified, Harris wanted to know more. So he began digging into old courthouse records and there he found mention of a strongbox and its treasure. The news could not be contained and soon the local press reported that “Wilcox Gold Hunters” were at work on the river. Fearing for the future of their find, Harris and his friends obtained salvage rights. Then they brought in a “centrifugal pump” to blow away the silt.

Up came an impressive array of artifacts – dishes, razors, knives, forks, needles, thimbles, buttons, shoes, blots of cloth, barrels, kegs, and thousands of nails. Once they found a box intact. On its way to the surface it broke apart and what they thought were coins spilled out – but they were only brass-collar buttons.

Also brought up were items that personalized the tragedy: “a miniature locket” with a “blue and pink enameled design” that was likely worn by one of the women, and a “dainty baby dress” that had survived the fire and almost a century under water, but fell to pieces when it dried.

They did not find any gold. There were lumps of coins which have been melted together by the intense heat, but there was no treasure.

Harris took what he found home and displayed it at his store. Meanwhile, in 1969, the U.S. Corps of Engineers built a dam at Miller’s Ferry, about 20 miles below the wreck. Soon the Orline St. John was under 40 feet of water.

But river rumors die hard and even today it is told around of how after the lake was full, divers went down, found the gold – bars about the size of “cakes of Octagon Soap” according to one report — and spirited it away.

Maybe they did.

Or maybe there was never any treasure.

Or maybe it is still there.

William Harris died in 2008 at the age of 98.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living.  He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.