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Alabama Recipes

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Cookies

Cookies for school friends, church cookie swaps, and neighbors are a great way to say “I’m thinking of you” this holiday season. Thank you so much for all the cookie recipe submissions; this was our most popular submitted theme this year! I hope you will get the whole family in the kitchen and try out some of these yummy recipes. And of course don’t forget to make a special batch for Santa on Christmas Eve. I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  –Mary Tyler Spivey

 

Photo by Mandi Phillips

Cook of the Month

Butterscotch Chip Cookies 

Betty Jeffreys, Joe Wheeler EMC 

½ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup egg sugar
2 eggs
2¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 6-ounce package butterscotch chips
2 cups crushed potato chips

Cream together butter, sugars and eggs. Mix well. Sift together flour and baking soda. Add flour mixture to creamed ingredients. Add butterscotch chips and crushed potato chips. Roll into ball about one inch in size. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

 

My son Brian entered the Navy in October of 1983. At Thanksgiving I finally got to talk to him for the first time since he was at boot camp. He said he could only get a package if whatever was in it was enough for everyone. There were 500 in his unit. I got busy baking. I made and shipped to Orlando 2,500 cookies (five different kinds). The butterscotch chip cookies were voted best by the Navy unit. When Brian made it home on leave I had to bake a batch just for him. Every Christmas since then the cookies have been on top of the Christmas cook list.

 

 

Monster Cookies 

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3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1½ cups peanut butter (crunchy)
1 cup M&M’s
4½ cups oatmeal
1 cup chocolate chips
2 teaspoons soda
½ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients together with mixer. Drop by spoonfuls on cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees. Bake only 10 minutes. Do not over bake! They will cook some while they cool.

Jenny Day, Central Alabama EC

 

 

Miniature Pie Cookies

8 ounces cream cheese
2 sticks oleo
2½ cup flour
Orange marmalade
Finely chopped pecans

Mix cream cheese, softened oleo and flour. Refrigerate. Mix the marmalade and pecans together in a small bowl. Roll out the dough and cut in very small circles.  Put a small amount of marmalade  mixture on the circle in the center. Fold over and crimp the ends of the pie with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  To make crispier or more brown, put under broiler.

Sara Jean Brooklere, Baldwin EMC

 

 

Nanny’s Tea Cakes

2 sticks oleo
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients together. Spoon onto cookie sheet. Use a teaspoonful spaced several inches apart. Bake at 300 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes. I cook mine on wax paper. Watch to see how you like them: Light colored means they are soft and brown means they are hard and crispy.

Mary Adams, South Alabama EC

 

Pumpkin Spice Delights

1 14-ounce package Pumpkin Quick Bread and Muffin Mix
¾ -1 cup raisins
2½ teaspoons cinnamon, separated
2 teaspoons apple pie spice
½ cup butter or margarine, melted
1 egg
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In small storage bag, mix 1½ teaspoons cinnamon and raisins.  In large bowl, combine quick bread mix, raisins, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and apple pie spice.  Add egg and melted butter; moisten all dry particles.  Shape into balls. In large storage bag, mix sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.  Put round balls in sugar mixture to coat (about 4 or 5 at a time).  Place balls on cookie sheet and press down lightly with spoon.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until cookies are set.  Makes about 2 dozen.

Calli Pittman, Joe Wheeler EMC

 

Million Dollar Cookies

1 package of Kraft caramels
Ritz crackers
50-60 pecan halves depending on how many caramels are in the bag
Ghiradelli candy making and dipping chocolate or Almond Bark chocolate
plastic wrap

Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees.  Fill a cookie sheet with Ritz crackers.  Unwrap Kraft caramels and place one in center of each cracker.  Place in oven for 5-15 minutes.  Watch carefully until the caramel is soft enough to wrap slightly around the edges of a pecan pushed into the middle.  Avoid heating until the caramel completely melts.  Pull the cookie sheet out of the oven and press a pecan into each of the caramels. Make a note of the time your oven requires so you can set the timer for the remainder of the cookies. Cool crackers on a piece of plastic wrap stretched out on your counter.  Repeat the process with the remainder of your caramels.  When the caramels have firmed up, melt the chocolate according to the package directions.  Dip each cookie into the chocolate with a spoon or tongs and place back on the plastic wrap.  Cool and enjoy.  When I have used all the caramels but have crackers left I sometimes use a spoonful of peanut butter with a pecan.  No need to melt the peanut butter.  A nice decorative touch is to make stripes of white chocolate on top of the cookies or dip some of the cookies in white chocolate and stripe with dark chocolate.

Amy Patterson, Tallapoosa River EC

 

Ooey Gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies

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2¼ cups flour
1¼ teaspoons of baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup of butter
¼ cup of sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1½ teaspoon of vanilla
1¾ cups of milk chocolate chips or a mixture of your preference of dark, milk, and semi- sweet to equal the same

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Whisk until it begins to brown (5-10 minutes).
Remove from heat and pour into mixing bowl to cool.
Once cooled, beat butter and sugars.
Add egg, yolk and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to mixture.
Mix in chocolate chips. Chill the dough in freezer for 45-60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line cookie sheet or spray. Drop approximately 1 tablespoon of dough. Bake approximately 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Jennifer Hobbs, Southern Pine EC

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Tis the season for an Alabama-grown Christmas tree

Steve Mannhard works with his trees at Fish River Christmas Tree Farm in Summerdale.
Steve Mannhard works with his trees at Fish River Christmas Tree Farm in Summerdale.

Story and photos by David Haynes

When our daughters were young, the Christmas season officially began for our family just after Thanksgiving when we’d load up and drive to a tree farm. We’d select a tree, cut it down, and bring it home to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening decorating it with family ornaments accumulated year after year, as well as new ones every year made by the girls from popsicle sticks or cotton balls.

Those trips to find a Christmas tree were a highlight of each holiday season. In fact, last year my older daughter took her 1-year-old son for his first trip to a tree farm. He loved it!

Until recently I hadn’t given much thought to what goes into making those experiences happen for families like ours. But after visiting some Alabama Christmas tree farms and talking with the owners, I came away with a new appreciation for the hard work and time that goes into providing that centerpiece holiday decoration for households across the state.

On the surface, it would seem to be an easy business endeavor, but it’s actually much like growing any other crop, requiring long days of hard work, careful planning and good luck with Mother Nature’s unpredictable whims.

Typically a Christmas tree farm opens for business around Thanksgiving. Families come to the farm, select a tree from among acres of trees growing in long rows, then either cut it or have the owners cut it for them and bring it home.

But by the time that perfect tree is ready for the living room it’s usually been tended, trimmed and watched over for three to five years by the tree farmer.

 

Leyland Cypress is the most popular variety

Cherie and Skyler Ramage are ready for riders on the Christmas train at Thornhill Farm in Jackson County.
Cherie and Skyler Ramage are ready for riders on the Christmas train at Thornhill Farm in Jackson County.

The growers I spoke with all said the Leyland Cypress tree was their most popular variety. These begin as seedlings that first must be transplanted into pots to grow under controlled conditions until they’re big enough to put into the ground. Once planted, the still fragile trees must be protected from wind, insects, disease and competing weeds, which means application of fertilizers, fungicides and herbicides, along with regular mowing throughout the year. As they mature, each tree must be trimmed two or three times each year to produce that classic O Tannenbaum shape.

Additionally, growers must plan carefully for their short retail season, which lasts only about one month between Thanksgiving through Christmas. This usually means hiring additional employees and making certain they’re trained, arranging for vendors who provide food, drink or other amenities, setting up electronic point-of-purchase equipment, making sure the equipment needed to bundle and tie down the trees is ready. Some farms have train or wagon rides, wreath and ornament shops, Santa Claus and other holiday-themed entertainment activities, all of which is aimed at making the experience of visiting their farm a memorable one for families, especially the children.

At Fish River Christmas Tree Farm in Summerdale Steve Mannhard uses a motorized hedge-type trimmer to shape Cypress trees on a 20-acre plot. He also sprays and cuts grass between the rows for weed control. “There’s always something that needs doing,” he told me.

Steve was still teaching school when he started the tree farm on his 40 acres back in 1981, but within a few years he left the teaching profession after he realized the farm was a full-time job in itself.

The Ramages prepare to plant potted trees at their tree farm.
The Ramages prepare to plant potted trees at their tree farm.

Each year he averages selling about 5,000 trees. The Fish River farm, which is close enough to the Gulf of Mexico to smell brine in the air, has five main offerings: the traditional model of the customer selecting and cutting a tree; living trees that are removed from the ground in a pot and can be later replanted after the holidays; hand-made wreaths and garland; a nursery operation that’s open year-round; and “Agri-tainment,” which he described at holiday-themed entertainment such as having Santa Claus on hand, a petting zoo, train rides and concessions.

He also imports Frasier Fir trees, which do not grow in the South.  Other varieties include Virginia Pine, Murray Cypress, Carolina Sapphire, Eastern Red Cedar and Green Giant Arborvitae.

His Leyland Cypress are ready to sell in just three years whereas it takes up to four in North Alabama for the same tree. However, he said this is offset by the fact that he has more issues with disease and insects.

And then there are the hurricanes. Steve told me Hurricane Ivan blew over about 20,000 trees in the sandy soil, each of which had to be staked and straightened by hand, a job that took a month of long days plus 10 additional employees for the job who were not in his budget.

 

Flocked trees are new offering      

Nearly 400 miles to the north, in the tiny Jackson County community of Rosalie, perched astride one the highest points on Sand Mountain at an elevation of about 1,500 feet, Thornhill Farm has been growing and selling Christmas trees since the 1970s. Started by Webb Gay and Joy Thornhill, it was one of the early “select and cut” tree farms in the state. Mr. Thornhill passed away earlier this year and Joy told me that her daughter and son-in-law, Cheri and Skyler Ramage, are taking over the day-to-day operation of the tree farm this year.

Cheri said the farm averages selling between 2,000 and 3,000 trees each year, most of which are the Leyland Cypress. They offer several other varieties, including living trees that can be replanted and imported fir trees. In the on-site “Tree House” shop they also have wreaths, ornaments and other Christmas-themed items.

Thornhill Farm offers complimentary hot cider, coffee and hot chocolate. On weekends during the holiday season, they also offer free rides on a train built by Mr. Thornhill many years ago.

This year they plan to offer a flocked tree set-up service, in which they bring a flocked, lit and decorated tree to the client’s home and set it up for them, then remove the tree and trimmings after the holidays.

“Most of our business is from repeat customers,” she said, adding that some families are now in their third generation of coming to the Thornhill Farm. “Some of them bring a picnic lunch and just make a day of it.”

The Back Home Tree Farm in Cottondale, located in the far southeast corner of the state south of Dothan, was the smallest of the farms I contacted. Owners David and Mary offer similar cypress and pine tree types. Mary told me they are also fortunate to have a supplier who brings fresh imported fir trees at several times during the holiday season.

“We sell between 200 and 300 trees each year,” she said. They have a “manageable” 20 acres planted in five plots, each of which is replanted on a five-year rotation. As one year’s trees mature and are harvested, that plot is replanted to begin the cycle again, she explained.

They started their Christmas tree farm 16 years ago, but she noted that it took several years before they had trees ready to be cut and sold. Their customers come mostly from South Alabama and Georgia and the Florida Panhandle and their lower volume allows them to remain an all-family business with Mary, David, their son, Corey, and daughter-in-law, Leanna, working the farm without having to hire seasonal part-time employees.

But she emphasized that their tree farm is still a full-time job that is labor intensive, “It’s just like a farm growing any other crop… it has to be tended year-round.”

The Southern Christmas Tree Association lists 11 tree farms in Alabama (http://www.southernchristmastrees.org/AL-Farms.html), but there are a number of other tree farms as well who aren’t members of the group.

 

 

Growing a philanthropic garden

Many charitable opportunities are available through local garden programs, such as community and senior-center gardens.
Many charitable opportunities are available through local garden programs, such as community and senior-center gardens.

By Katie Jackson

Gift-giving season has arrived and, with it, the challenge of finding just the right gift for everyone on your list, especially those hard-to-buy-for folks. Thankfully, you can find a perfect gift—and plant seeds of goodwill and holiday spirit—by shopping for a worthy charity.

Contributing money, supplies and/or time to an important organization or cause is an easy and meaningful way to celebrate the season, and there are plenty of charities that provide you ways to spread gardening cheer.

For example, make your dollars “grow locally” by donating to (or volunteering at) an area community, school, after-school or senior-center garden. Other local nonprofits in need may include county Master Gardener, Junior Master Gardener, 4-H or garden club organizations as well as botanical gardens, parks, arboretums and food banks in your neighborhood or community.

Make a difference across the state by choosing a charitable organization that supports gardening, agriculture and sustainable food production throughout Alabama such as the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, Agriculture in the Classroom, End Child Hunger in Alabama and many others.

If you want to have a national or an international impact, the options for garden-related charities are almost endless. Among the ones that are particularly garden oriented are the Garden Writers Association’s “Plant a Row for the Hungry” project, the Seed Savers Exchange and the American Community Garden Association. And there are organizations such as FarmAid, Local Harvest, Heifer International and many other food, farming and conservation organizations dedicated to helping take care of people, plants and our environment and natural resources across the globe.

In addition to direct donations, you can also give someone on your list a membership to a gardening organization that is near and dear to their hearts.  Or you can contribute toward or establish a scholarship fund that will help educate the next generation of gardeners or help pay for children or adults to attend garden and farm training sessions.

Of course you don’t have to limit yourself to garden-related organizations.  Just pick one that has special meaning to you or your gift recipient. If you need help choosing just the right philanthropy or want to make sure the one you pick spends your dollars wisely, do an online search for charities (I used the search term “how to find a worthy charity” and came up with several sites) or get help through your local public library, many of which have printed information on various charities or can help you with computer searches.

So go ahead, shop till you drop for a worthy charity that you want to support with your money and time. You’ll not only be able to feel good about your generosity, you’ll probably be able to use it for a tax deduction!

 

December Tips

Protect poinsettias from drafts and direct sunlight and keep the soil in their containers moist, but not too wet.

Living Christmas trees that you want to plant in the yard after the holidays should be kept well watered and away from fireplaces or heaters.

Plant fruit and nut trees, shrubs, roses, spring bulbs and grape vines.

Spot-treat weeds, such as dandelions and wild garlic, in the lawn.

Mulch roses and the rest of your garden.

Wash the dust off of leaves of houseplants.

Prune hardy deciduous and evergreen trees and summer-blooming shrubs.

Plant seeds for winter or cool-season vegetables.

Plant pansies or other cool-season annuals.

If the weather is dry, don’t forget to water lawns, shrubs and young trees.

Keep bird feeders and birdbaths full.

Begin planning for your 2014 garden.

 

Zack’s Family Restaurant: Visit the kinfolk you never knew you had

Zack's Family Restaurant wants its customers to feel like family.
Zack’s Family Restaurant wants its customers to feel like family.

By Jennifer Kornegay

On a particularly sunny autumn Tuesday, I was sitting by a window in Zack’s Family Restaurant in Dothan, polishing off my plate of country-fried steak, veggie casserole, mashed potatoes and field peas and wrestling with a weighty decision: Should I eat the rest of my field peas, or stop and get started on the nanner pudding?

My pondering was interrupted by the guy sitting behind me as he chatted with his friend. “My dad ate here yesterday and couldn’t eat his dinner last night. He does that every time he comes here, just gets too full,” he said.

It was a fortuitous break to my concentration, since it provided me with some much-needed perspective. “I will not be like ‘guy behind me’s’ dad,” I exclaimed to no one but me. “I will exercise self control. I’ll put my fork down, pick my spoon up, and eat only two bites of the pudding.” Why? Because I’m strong. And why else? Because I have a chicken roasting with 20 cloves of garlic in the crock pot at home, and I’m definitely eating my dinner.

I may be a bit more disciplined than “guy sitting behind me’s” dad, but I understand why, at a place like Zack’s, he tends to over-indulge. This casual, no-frills, meat-n-three place serves your favorite Southern staples, and its food is so popular, it has two other locations: one in Slocomb and another in Enterprise.

It’s all served buffet style. You grab a lunchroom-line plastic tray with rounded edges and slide it along the three metal bars as you browse and then choose from a bevy of foods that take a long time to cook, but mere minutes to dish out on your plate, classics like baked chicken, fried chicken, country fried steak, collard greens, mashed potatoes, fried okra, vegetable casserole, field peas and more. You may think you have plenty, until the kindly attendant spooning out veggie casserole asks, “What else you want sweetie? You get more.” Other choices include to gravy or not, and if you do go with gravy, which kind you prefer: the brown or the white, speckled with black pepper. You also have to pick dessert; pies, white cake with chocolate icing or banana pudding are options. The long list of meats, sides and sweets changes daily, but it’s all always fresh, tasty and served with a smile.

For your bread (because you obviously still need more to eat), you don’t have to play favorites. Just grab the little basket with both cornbread and a cheese biscuit and scooch things around ‘til you’ve made room on your tray. Next, you pay a reasonable $9.50 (that’s including tax) for your meal, which comes with a big ole drink.

Once you pick your spot in the dining area that’s filled with lively chatter, a waitress brings you your drink, which is a nice touch since there’s no way you could have carried a cup full of liquid and, by now, zero room on your tray.

Giant sweet teas and a comfort food feast in a “this is where the locals eat” atmosphere is an experience that lots of restaurants around our state can claim to offer, but owner Zack Whaley explained what makes his places special. “We operate under the philosophy of providing quality food, quality service in a quality atmosphere for the families that come here,” he said. “That’s why everyone here makes you feel welcome when you walk in. We are happy and appreciative that you came. We may be feeding you, but you’re making our living, so we’re thankful for you.”

Whaley added that he wants each of his customers to feel like they are family, like they are at grandma’s house. “I want them to relax and enjoy themselves,” he said. And who doesn’t get a little stuffed when visiting grandma? Just throw on a pair of stretchy pants, and you’re ready to have lunch with the kinfolk you never knew you had at any of the locations of Zack’s Family Restaurant.

 

To get there: 

Zack’s Family Restaurant

1495 Headland Ave., Dothan

334-673-9225

Open 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Check out zacksfamilyrestaurant.com for the daily menus and the addresses of the Slocomb and Enterprise locations.

 

Archers in Alabama get the jump on other hunters

JoElla Bates demonstrates how to use a longbow. Photo by John N. Felsher
JoElla Bates demonstrates how to use a longbow. Photo by John N. Felsher

By John N. Felsher

Many sportsmen take up archery because they grow bored with long-range rifle hunting and want a bigger challenge. Some hunters yearn to recapture a piece of a vanished time while others simply want to expand their hunting opportunities.

Alabama archers may start hunting deer about a month earlier than gun hunters. Depending upon where they hunt, archers in Alabama may hunt deer from Oct. 15, 2013, through Feb. 10, 2014. In addition, archers may access more lands. Some public areas only allow archery hunting. Bow hunters can often safely and quietly target deer in small suburban woodlots where firing a magnum rifle at daybreak may cause quite a neighborhood uproar.

“I started rifle hunting for deer in 1996 and bow hunting in 2000,” said Katie Pugh, an avid bow hunter from Lowndesboro, Ala. “When moving from rifle hunting to bow hunting, an archer needs to work more on the ability to control scent and become stealthier. Archers must get closer and wait for the right shot at the right moment to put a deer down quickly.”

Even an experienced whitetail hunter can’t simply buy a bow and a few arrows off the shelf with any great expectation of hunting success. True, archers use essentially the same skills as rifle hunters to bag deer, but shooting a bow requires considerably more ability and practice than firing a rifle. Plus, archery equipment works best when customized to the shooter. Improper or ill-fitting equipment could greatly diminish accuracy and effectiveness.

“People who shoot ill-fitting bows will always struggle with accuracy,” said Joella Bates, a five-time archery world champion from Waverly, Tenn. “A bow with a proper draw length for a given archer will shoot more accurately and cause less fatigue than an improperly sized bow. I highly recommend that anyone who wants to start bow hunting go to a reputable archery shop to get measured for the proper draw length bow.”

Sportsmen today may choose from essentially three types of bows: longbows, recurves or compounds. Light and powerful, traditional longbows resemble medieval weapons that turned the tide of battle against armored knights centuries ago. Generally shorter than longbows, recurve bows somewhat resemble longbows, but power arrows by the reverse shape of the bow.

By far, most modern hunters use compound bows, which fling arrows with sets of cams and pulleys. These devices can achieve astonishing arrow speeds, power and accuracy. Archers can add such devices as multiple sights, stabilizers and other accessories to compound bows to hunt anything from carp to elephants.

“If someone had told me 30 years ago we’d be using the stuff we’re using now, I would have said, ‘no way,’” said Dan Hart of Huntsville, Ala., who shot for the University of Florida archery team in the early 1970s. “Compounds were just coming onto the market when I started shooting a bow. I highly recommend someone shoot a compound bow to start. A compound is much easier to shoot than a recurve.”

Once archers buy whatever bow type, they must practice frequently to hone their proficiency at placing arrows in a precise spot at a given range. Practice as if hunting. Wear the same clothes and shoot from the same positions with the same equipment as if hunting.

“Bow hunters need lots of practice regardless of the equipment they are using,” Bates said. “Practice in a hunting situation. Someone who hunts from an elevated stand should practice from an elevated stand at the same height to keep the draw length the same and look through the sight at the same angle.”

With Christmas approaching, sportsmen may find an entire introductory package complete with a bow, a few arrows, a sight and a quiver for about $400 to $500. Archers should also consider buying finger and arm protection, an adjustable release aid and a laser rangefinder. Misjudging a shot by just a few yards could result in a miss.

Archers may also invest in exercise equipment to develop their upper body strength. Some devices use surgical tubing to create a sort of mini-bow. Archers pulling on these devices work specific muscles required to shoot bows.

“One of the biggest hurdles many beginner archers must overcome is a lack of upper body strength,” Bates said. “People use different muscles pulling back bows than doing just about anything else. I recommend using a Bowfit, which simulates the same motion one would use when drawing a bow. People who shoot bows frequently usually do so from one side of their bodies. That could cause uneven muscle development and some spinal issues. People should exercise both sides of their bodies. They can exercise with a Bowfit while watching TV without releasing arrows.”

While not every archer will become a world champion, just about anyone can learn the sport. After making initial investments for bows, arrows and other essentials, archers can practice practically anywhere for little cost. Then, they can get the jump on unpressured deer before others take to the woods.

New cookbook urges families to ‘come home to supper’

Christy Jordan's new cookbook, "Come Home to Supper," is aimed at those who want to make a family meal.
Christy Jordan’s new cookbook, “Come Home to Supper,” is aimed at those who want to make a sit-down family meal.

By Jennifer Kornegay

It’s something we all know: Sitting down and having dinner as a family is important. It’s the perfect opportunity for talking and listening, for connecting and strengthening bonds. Several studies have even suggested that eating the evening meal together, without TV and other distractions, can impact children’s development in various positive ways. So, it’s what we need to do. But how do we do it? Alabama’s Christy Jordan answers this question with her newest cookbook, the aptly titled Come Home to Supper.

“Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or working, we are all always rushing around,” she said. “For so many, the idea of putting a good meal on the table and everyone sitting down to enjoy it seems an impossible task. But with the right tools, it’s not. My heart has been in encouraging people to do this and in giving them practical ways to do it.”

The author of the popular blog “Southern Plate” published her first cookbook by the same name in 2010.  In Southern Plate, most of the dishes fall into the “comfort food” category, and that’s by design. “When I started the Southern Plate blog, it was because I love writing and writing about my family and the wonderful heritage I have in them,” Jordan said. “I realized that a lot of these ‘heritage’ recipes, the ones grandmoms used to make, were in danger of being lost.”

Used to, particularly in the South, where food so often equals love, people got their cooking education at their mother’s or grandmother’s side, watching them chop this, add a few of those, stir that, often without following a written recipe. Today, that’s changing. “So many people are finding themselves as adults and not knowing how to cook,” Jordan said. “So I started showing how to cook the recipes we grew up with, step by step with photos and explained in easy terms.” The Southern Plate cookbook is full of these classic dishes.

Come Home to Supper hit bookstore shelves last month. In its nearly 300 pages, Jordan shares the recipes for some of her family’s favorite meals. She also shares family stories, ones that underscore the value in spending real quality time together by highlighting the extraordinary that can be found (or missed) in seemingly ordinary moments.

It differs from Southern Plate a bit in its approach, but not in its goal: to get people cooking for their families. The recipes are easy to make and budget friendly.  “This new cookbook features more modern-day things; it’s what I feed my family,” she said.

The book also points out why we need to re-think some of our Southern notions about food. “In this book, I talk about how we don’t have to cook the amount of food our mamas made,” she said. “We don’t have the budget for it, and we don’t need it because we are not as active in our daily lives as generations past had to be. I grew up eating a meat, three sides, a bread and dessert for dinner, but that’s not practical now.”

She’s also cut back on the sweet stuff. “The fist cookbook had lots of desserts; in my house, we now eat dessert maybe a couple times a week, so this book doesn’t have as many.” And the book offers options and alternative ingredients. “I have no problem opening up a can of cream of chicken soup and throwing it in, but some people don’t want to do that, so I included different ways to do things, like how to make your own cream soup from scratch.” It includes menus designed to feed big groups too, since there’s almost always a gathering of some sort coming up on the calendar.

“The thing I wanted to do with this book was encourage people,” she said. “I want people to know it is easy to come together with your family, that cooking is not a talent you are born with. It’s just a skill you learn, and anyone can be a wonderful cook with the right recipes and little bit of confidence.”

Jordan’s sunny disposition shines through her writing on her blog and in both books, but this past summer, an accident threatened to dim her light. “While on vacation in Arkansas, I was thrown from a horse and broke both my legs. I had a concussion and don’t remember anything about the day,” she said. “For over a month, I could not put weight on either leg, so I wasn’t able to cook at all.”

And despite what must have been some serious pain, her involuntary cooking hiatus was one the hardest parts of her recovery. “When I cook for my family, it is how I show them love, so it was really, really tough to not do that for so long,” she said.

When she was finally able, Jordan got back in her kitchen and whipped up some chicken and dumplings, one of her daughter’s favorite meals. “The whole family ran in the kitchen and descended on it!” Jordan said. “I know my family loves my cooking and that makes me happy. I want others to feel that, too.”

But Jordan’s true mission goes beyond arming busy moms (and dads) with the information they need to put delicious meals on their tables. She’s teaching people not just how to preserve tradition, but why tradition matters. And not just how to get your spouse and kids to “come home to supper,” but why it is so important that you do.

“When people ask me ‘What do you like to cook?’ I say, ‘Whatever my kids want; that’s why I do it. That’s how my mom did for us. It is how I pass down our heritage and values,” she said. “Every day, the four of us go our separate ways, and if we didn’t sit down together every day, we’d lose each other. I really believe that. So I tell people to sit down with your kids every night and talk, and let them talk. It’s how you learn who they are becoming, how you stay close. The best part of the dinner table is not the food on it, but the people around it with you.”

 

So, What’s for Supper?

Confession time. As I was finishing up this article at around 4 p.m. on the day before my deadline (I like to live dangerously!), it suddenly occurred to me that to truly fulfill my journalistic duty for this piece, I actually needed to make one or two of the recipes in “Come Home to Supper.” And since it had been a long day of writing (which means no shower and pj pants still on), I wasn’t up for a trip to the grocery store. I also wasn’t up for a complicated recipe that dirtied a bunch of bowls and pots. I just wanted something simple and yummy to enjoy with my husband. And then the epiphany: I was the tired woman who’d found herself a few hours from dinnertime without a clue what to do; I was the person Christy Jordan wrote her book for.

I did a quick inventory of what I had in the fridge and pantry and then flipped through the cookbook to see what might match up. Voila! Coca-Cola Pork Chops, which called for only four ingredients, all of which I had. And two of my faves (Coke and any part of a piggy) combined? I’m in. The recipe took only 25 minutes to prep and cook and yielded tender chops with a thin glaze of a sweet, tangy sauce. It was a hit with the hubby, so I decided to make one more dish, one of Jordan’s desserts. Again, I had to choose based on what I had in the house, so the winner was No Bake Peanut Butter Bars. Again, success. These little squares of delight are rich and creamy and put Reese’s Cups to shame. I did change one thing: I used milk chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet.

Jordan named a few of her favorites from the book: The Cheesy Chicken and Rice, a slow-cooker dish, and the Cappuccino Cake. She developed the latter recipe to replicate a sweet treat she’d had and loved years ago. “The restaurant went out of business, but I had to have that cake again, so I figured out how to make it. It took a while, but I got it,” she said.

You should get it too. Her cookbook, that is.

 

Get More Goodness

Get to know Christy Jordan and find more of her delicious recipes on her website, www.southernplate.com. “Come Home to Supper” is available through amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and other bookstores.

Making dreams come true for Alabama children struggling with illness

Anya Montelara was treated to a trip to Disney World by Magic Moments.
Anya Montelara was treated to a trip to Disney World by Magic Moments.

By Lori Quiller

Most little girls wear shorts and T-shirts on the weekends, but not 6-year-old Anya Montelara of Wetumpka. Her standard weekend attire is a little pink dress imprinted with Disney’s stable of princesses on the front, a row of frilly ruffles on the bottom and a pink tiara headband adorned with crystals.

“I have a tutu, too,” she said, looking up from her drawing pad just long enough to flash a keen grin across the table.

“She does,” agreed her mother, Jaime Montelara, “and she’d wear them all every day if we’d let her. She’s our little princess.”

But little Anya isn’t like most 6-year-old little girls. She’s special, and not just because she’s a burst of energy like her 8-year-old brother, Nick. Anya was born with tibial hemimelia, a rare congenital anomaly in which a child is born without an intact tibia bone. Tibial hemimelia is estimated to occur in about 1 in 1,000,000 births. In Anya’s case, she was missing the tibias in her left and right legs.

Because Anya was also born without connective tissue at her knees and ankles, the physicians at Children’s of Alabama advised her parents that amputation of both of her legs at the knees and the use of prosthetics would be Anya’s best option for a full life. She was only 4 at the time.

“We heard about Magic Moments through Anya’s prosthetics group, Alabama Artificial Limb and Orthotics Services in Montgomery. One of their marketing execs saw a Magic Moments exhibit at a conference and told them about Anya,” Jaime said.

Magic Moments is an Alabama-based non-profit organization devoted to granting the wishes of the state’s chronically ill children and their families. But, according to the organization’s executive director, Joyce Spielberger, Magic Moments’ aims are much greater than just granting wishes.

“Magic Moments is not just about fulfilling the dream of a child struggling with illness. We do so much more. Because we are the only wish-granting organization devoted solely to children in Alabama, we are able to establish deep and lasting relationships with the children and families we serve,” Spielberger said. “We grow and strengthen these relationships through programs such as our annual Family Camp, minor league baseball nights and ice cream socials for our previous recipients throughout the year. We are not just about the single magic moment, but rather we become a lasting support network for those we serve.”

Anya, brother Nick and parents Felix and Jaime.
Anya, brother Nick and parents Felix and Jaime.

Both parents agreed that the organization’s positive impact on the Montelara family came at a perfect time. Raising a young child with special needs is not only stressful to that child, but the family as a whole. Anya’s wish was to visit Disney World in Florida.

All “wish” children who visit Disney stay the week at Give Kids The World Village, a 70-acre, non-profit resort in Kissimmee, Fla., that creates magical memories for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. The village provides accommodations, donated attractions tickets, meals and more for a cost-free fantasy vacation. Give Kids The World has welcomed more than 122,000 families from all 50 states and more than 74 countries and exists through private and corporate donations.

“Magic Moments paid for everything and made all the arrangements. The volunteers at Give Kids The World Village are incredibly special. They know exactly how to work with the children and families. All the volunteers are on four-hour shifts, and most of them are retired from Disney. There was always some kind of activity for the families and children,” Felix said.

“And ice cream for breakfast was mandatory!” Anya and Nick laughed. It’s true. GKTW launched its Ice Cream For Breakfast awareness and fundraising campaign this summer in celebration of National Ice Cream Day. Anya and Nick certainly didn’t mind the sundaes.

GKTW hosted an abundance of activities to keep the families active during their stay, such as Village Idol, a talent show in which Anya and Nick did their first on-stage performance together – an interpretative dance to the theme from the movie Star Wars – and a visit to the wish tree – a tree that drops special “wish pillows” for children to store their wishes in. But this trip wasn’t just for the kids. GKTW also hosted a 10th anniversary vow renewal for Jaime and Felix, with Anya and Nick standing with their parents in the ceremony.

Another member of the Magic Moments team is Kaitlin Bitz, the statewide coordinator, who coordinates the wish moment from start to finish – from connecting the child with a volunteer, or Magic Maker, to checking in with the family after the wish has been granted.

“One of the best parts of my job is hearing the feedback from Magic Makers as they interact with these kids and get to know these families and share in on the special experience that is a magic moment,” Bitz said. “My favorite part is getting to know these families. I go to the hospital and spend all day visiting with families, listening to their stories, bringing them goodies and making sure they’re taken care of. These families have gotten so used to their only interaction being with doctors and nurses and people not meeting their eyes because no one knows what to say to a parent with a sick child.”

For the Montelaras, the magic made a lasting impression, and one the family would love to share with others.

“We are planning to go back in January and volunteer as a family,” Jaime said. “Anya and Nick are looking forward to giving other children the type of experiences we had while we were there. It’s the only place we’ve ever been where we aren’t different from anyone else because everyone who is there is there with special needs children. The whole family is celebrated so the kids that didn’t have special needs were getting a lot of attention and realized they were special, too. We’re so grateful to Magic Moments for giving us this special time that we want to give something back to other families.”

For more information, go to www.magicmoments.org.