Cold weather. Hog-killing time. I’ve got great news for you.
Lard is in again.
According to a “meta-analysis” published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, there was “just no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease.” Not only that, there is some evidence to indicate that too little saturated fat might hurt you.
And as you know, one of the best sources of saturated fat is lard.
I grew up with lard.
My grandmother bought it in buckets and fried everything fryable in it – from chicken to peach pies. When we cleaned out her kitchen after she died, the wall behind her stove was so caked with splattered lard that we had to scrape it off with a spatula.
Her daughter, my mother, followed in her footsteps, and during my childhood, lard was a staple in our house.
Then it disappeared, replaced by vegetable shortening, which was supposed to be healthier – less saturated fat or something like that.
I am not sure how much attention Mama paid to the health claims. Because of the prevalence of pork in her cooking and her habit of saving the drippings for future flavoring, our family continued to get our fair share of pig fat.
And chicken fat and beef fat, and so on and so on.
My father’s argument in favor of animal fat was simple and difficult to refute: “It tastes good.”
Now without getting into all the scientific debate over the relative benefits and dangers of polyunsaturated fats, mono-unsaturated fats, trans fats and such, let me simply say that this report makes a good case for the way Grandma, Mama, and most of the cooks of their generation fed their men.
The articles also confirm the old adage that “fat is flavor,” while giving us reason to ignore the advice of health food fanatics who tell us “if it tastes good, spit it out.”
Before you get all excited and rush out to eat something you have been denying yourself, a word of caution. Beware of “fake foods” – hyperprocessed junk full of all sorts of chemicals. And watch out for foods that the food industry advertises as low-fat or fat-free. In their quest to create a product that can fool you into believing it is what it ain’t, companies include ingredients that read like a chemist’s shopping list.
So how about a new adage – “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.”
Now, I am not on the side of those who advocate avoiding any food that didn’t exist 100 years ago. However, just for the fun of it, take a look in your fridge and pantry and count the things that your Mamaw would have had in hers.
Short list, I bet.
But I digress.
My point is not what you shouldn’t eat, but what you can – and in some cases should.
You can, and in some cases should, eat lard.
Grandma lived into her 90s. Daddy made it to 93. Mama hung up her apron at 98. Heart disease took my grandfather away when he was barely 60.
Did the grease get him? Maybe, but it also helped him enjoy the time he had here.
There is that. A
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is retired professor emeritus of history at Jacksonville State University whose most recent book is “The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera”, featured in the January 2013 Alabama Living. His work appears in the Anniston Star and Northeast Alabama Living. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This month I wanted to share with you some of the many questions Social Security receives from the general public and my answers.
I haven’t received my Social Security Statement in the mail the last few years. Will I ever get one again?
In September 2014, Social Security resumed mailing Social Security Statements to workers ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 who aren’t receiving Social Security benefits, and who don’t have a my Social Security account. Rather than once every five years, those older than age 60 will receive a Statement every year. Instead of waiting to receive a mailed Statement once every five years, we encourage people to open a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount so they can access their Statement online, anytime.
I am about to retire, but I still have a young child in my care. Will I receive additional benefits for the child I care for?
When you qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, your children may also qualify to receive benefits. Your eligible child can be your biological child, an adopted child, or a stepchild. In limited circumstances, you may also get benefits for a dependent grandchild. To receive benefits, your child must be: unmarried; under the age of 18; between 18 and 19 years old and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12); or 18 or older and disabled from a condition that started before age 22. You can read more about planning for a disabled child’s care here: www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/yourchildren.htm.
My spouse and I have been married for more than 30 years and we are about to retire. Will there be any reduction in benefits because we are married?
None at all. We calculate lifetime earnings independently to determine each spouse’s Social Security benefit amount, and couples aren’t penalized because they are married. When both spouses meet all other eligibility requirements to receive Social Security retirement benefits, each spouse receives a monthly benefit amount based on his or her own earnings. If one member of the couple earned low wages or failed to earn enough Social Security credits to be insured for retirement benefits, he or she may be eligible to receive benefits as a spouse. Learn more about earning Social Security credits by reading our publication, “How You Earn Credits,” available at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.
Kylle’ McKinney, Alabama Social Security Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached in Montgomery at 866-593-0914, ext. 26265, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[ pro . cras . ti . nate ] – to put off until another day or time; to postpone; delay action
When it comes to Christmas shopping, you’re either a prepper or a delayer.
You’re either one of those people who stand in long lines on Thanksgiving to be first to score that perfect gift at a huge discount, or you’re that guy at the mall on Christmas Eve trying to find anything (and I mean ANYTHING) that they won’t hate when they unwrap your obviously rushed and unskilled wrapping effort.
Well, no worries, my friend. From one procrastinator to another – Alabama Living has you covered. We’ve been standing in line since last Christmas to be able to bring you a holiday gift guide that even the most experienced last-minute shoppers can appreciate. Even better, most of them are Alabama-based businesses, so you can be sure to let everyone know you support our state’s economy. So let’s go shopping!
Alabama Living Magazine
A gift subscription to Alabama’s largest consumer publication is only $6 and is the perfect gift for your out-of-town relatives and friends who want to keep up with the people, places and events that make Alabama special. Call 1-800-410-2737 or visit alabamaliving.coop/subscribe.
(Dothan) As featured on the hit ABC show, “Shark Tank,” ChordBuddy’s patented learning system attaches to the neck of any guitar and allows potential musicians to play their favorite songs instantly by pushing a button. As they progress, the plastic tabs can be removed like training wheels on a bike, and the students are able to play real guitar chords.
ChordBuddy comes with a lesson guide, DVD and book with more than 100 songs for less than $50 (49.95) making it a must-have this Christmas. Guitar combo-packs are available for adults and children. The new ChordBuddy Jr. “Duck Comander” edition is a half-sized guitar for the 4-8 age group printed with a cartoon graphic featuring the Robertson family from A&E’s hit reality show “Duck Dynasty.”
ChordBuddy’s entire line of music learning products are available online at www.chordbuddy.com or in retail locations across the country.
(Birmingham) Made of surgical grade steel cable, industrial strength rubber and other quality components, Cablz are designed to handle hard work and active lifestyles. Whether you are fishing, biking, hiking, kayaking, hunting or just enjoyng the great outdoors, Cablz are the ideal eyewear rentention system that will keep your eyewear secure and stylish. Available in various styles, colors and materials including paracord and non-conductive monofilament for the utility and fishing industries. The new adjustable Cablz Zips are snag proof when zipped. Perfect under helmets and great for running and other active sports. You can see all of the many styles of Cablz at www.cablz.com and in retail locations across the country. Cablz are less than $20 (11.99 – 15.99) and make great stocking stuffers.
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
Tickets to the inaugural Camellia Bowl, set for Dec. 20 at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, are a perfect gift for the college football fan. The Sun Belt Conference and Mid-American Conference matchup will be televised live on ESPN, with kickoff at 8:15 p.m. Historic Cramton Bowl, formerly the home to the Blue-Gray Football Classic, has undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation and boasts a capacity of 25,000. Ticket prices start at $20 for general admission, but group rates and tailgate packages, which feature tent, tables, chairs, tickets and more, are available. Log on to espnevents.com/camellia-bowl/ or send an email to email@example.com.
In this new feature, we offer a summary of recent books about Alabama, people with Alabama ties, and/or written by Alabama authors. Let us know about any books you’ve read recently that meet those criteria by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Better Than Them: The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist, by S. McEachin Otts; NewSouth Books, Fall 2014; 176 pages, $23.95
In 1965, S.M. “Mac” Otts’ grandmother gave him an admonition that he would never forget. Those words – “You are better than them. Don’t forget it” – shaped the life of the 18-year-old Otts. In this memoir, he reflects on how he outgrew his racist upbringing, and how returning to his Black Belt hometown helped him understand a racially divided world. The book is a statement about how life is lived, celebrated and understood.
Alabama Scoundrels: Outlaws, Pirates, Bandits and Bushwhackers, by Kelly Kazek and Wil Elrick; The History Press, June 2014; 128 pages; $19.99
This book brings to life more than two dozen of the most infamous lawbreakers to set foot on Alabama soil. Most of the characters date to the 19th century, when Alabama was still a young, sparse state and chasing criminals could be a treacherous affair. Some of the outlaws managed to elude justice, forever disappearing into history, but others faced violent ends, often at the end of a noose or a gun barrel.
F. Scott Fitzgerald at Work: The Making of The Great Gatsby, by Horst H. Kruse; University of Alabama Press, Fall 2014; 168 pages, $39.95
The Great Gatsby, a tale of America during the Jazz Age, is one of America’s best-known works and has been studied in great detail, but scholars and readers have continued to speculate about Fitzgerald’s sources of inspiration. The essays in this new work examine fresh facts that illuminate the experiences and source materials upon which Fitzgerald, who lived briefly in Montgomery with his wife, Montgomery native Zelda Sayre, based his masterpiece.
Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, by Rick Bragg; HarperCollins, October 2014, 512 pages, $27.99
Noted Southern storyteller (and Alabama native) Bragg tracks down “the Killer,” who galvanized the world with hit records like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire.” The book, based on Bragg’s interviews with Lewis over a two-year period, recounts Lewis’ modest upbringing, the wild nights on the road and the redemption of his sunset years. The book is filled with Lewis’ own words and framed by Bragg’s rich narrative.
Gaines Ridge: Cooking for guests like they were family
Story and photos by Jennifer Kornegay
On the outskirts of Camden, Ala., Gaines Ridge sits at the end of a long gravel drive, its unadorned columns gleaming white through the shade of tall trees. Built in 1827, for decades it was a private residence, but today, it houses the Gaines Ridge Dinner Club, a restaurant offering old-fashioned, no-frills fine dining (no odd ingredients or overly fussy foods here) in a historic setting.
The house has plenty of tales to tell, but the Dinner Club story started with a love of food and feeding others and Betty Gaines Kennedy’s desire to preserve her home place. Kennedy grew up in Gaines Ridge, then known as the Hearn Place after the house’s original owner, Reverend Ebenezer Hearn.
Kennedy’s family bought the house and surrounding property in 1898, and generations of the Gaineses lived there until shortly after World War II. “We still owned it then, but we rented it out for years,” Kennedy says. Then, after the house was vacant for a while, it fell into disrepair. “My sister and I wanted to do something with it, to make it a welcoming place again,” Kennedy says.
So, in 1985, despite zero restaurant experience or training, the two decided to open a restaurant.
“Folks thought we were crazy to open the place,” Kennedy says. “Most gave us about six months. But here were are, almost 30 years later.”
Kennedy has a kitchen staff, but you can often find her in there too, usually working the grill. “We do everything in-house,” she says. “I cook for all my guests like I would cook for my own family.”
Though it’s definitely out of most people’s way, Gaines Ridge draws crowds every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night with dishes like crab cakes, seafood casserole, steaks and chargrilled kabobs. Classic salads come served with a trio of homemade dressings, letting diners drown the iceberg lettuce, thick-cut tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs if they choose. The choices for sides include American fries and dinner fries. The former are what you’d expect; the latter are rounds of potato crispy as a chip on the outside yet tender on the inside. Bite-sized hot-from-the-oven rolls in a basket round out every meal.
The restaurant also caters almost every event in Wilcox County, including baby showers, weddings, business meetings, birthday parties and funerals. As snappy server Deborah Dailey says, “We birth you, and we bury you.”
Kennedy is particularly proud of the steaks, which she cuts and marinates to order. And it’s not a case of the cook being overly fond of her own creations. Several folks at the table next to me ordered ribeyes, and when Deborah asked if they wanted steak sauce, one man quips, “I hope we don’t need it!” When their dinners arrived, it was clear they didn’t.
I opted for something I’ve not had in years: hamburger steak smothered in sautéed onions. Gaines Ridge takes this humble dish to new heights, and even though I didn’t need it either, I was feeling nostalgic and so added a bit of Heinz 57 to every bite.
But Gaines Ridge saves its best for last. Its scratch-made desserts have scores of loyal fans, and the Black Bottom Pie, a treat Kennedy’s mother used to make, earned a spot on the Alabama Tourism Department’s 100 Alabama Dishes to Eat Before You Die list. My wedge of rum-infused custard resting on a layer of dark chocolate and a ginger-snap crust disappeared so quickly, I swear some unseen someone was stealing bites. Maybe it was Gaines Ridge’s resident ghost.
“Things do disappear around here. Anything odd that happens, we blame on the ghost,” Kennedy says. Her first encounter with the otherworldly presence was truly frightening, but now, she’s come to accept the s
pirit as part of the old house’s charm.
As interesting as a historic haunting is (it’s made the restaurant a popular stop on the Alabama Ghost Trail), according to Kennedy, it’s not what makes Gaines Ridge special. “I think our food is second to none, and just this place, my people, the antiques, the atmosphere. That’s why people come,” she says.
Gaines Ridge Dinner Club 933 Alabama 10, Camden, AL 334-682-9707
Hours: Thursday-Saturday, 5:30pm – 9pm
If you’re planning a trip to Gaines Ridge, try to make it there this month. While it’s lovely year round, it’s particularly pretty during the holidays. “We take three days to decorate the entire house, and there’s a Christmas tree in every room,” Kennedy says.
Jennifer Kornegay travels to an out-of-the way restaurant destination in Alabama every month. She may be reached for comment at email@example.com. Check out more of Jennifer’s food writing, recipes and recommendations on her blog, Chew on This at www.jenniferkornegay.com.
Transplant trees and shrubs and plant roses, spring-flowering bulbs and hardy annual plant seed.
Protect tender flowering shrubs from freezing weather by covering them with a sheet or blanket. Uncover them when temperatures begin to rise.
Keep houseplants healthy by wiping dust from their foliage and keeping them in more humid areas of the house, such as the kitchen or bathrooms.
Spot-treat weeds in the lawn.
If you’ve not already done it, apply winter-protective mulch to garden beds and around newly planted trees and shrubs.
Prune hardy deciduous and evergreen trees and summer-blooming shrubs.
Sow seeds for winter or cool-season vegetables.
Plant cool-season annuals such as pansies, ornamental cabbages and kales and snapdragons.
Water lawns, shrubs and small trees if the weather is dry.
Keep bird feeders and birdbaths clean and full.
Begin planning your 2015 garden.
I have a son-in-law who is a closet Clark “Sparky” Griswold — you know, Chevy Chase’s character in the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” — who gets a little carried away with his holiday decorations.
Though my son-in-law (perhaps due to my daughter’s intervention) has kept his inner “Sparky” in check and never landscaped their yard with giant inflatables and incessant flashing Christmas lights, my husband and I have long been tempted to Griswold him for Christmas: Don’t you know he’d love to come home one evening to a yard filled with Santas, snowmen, reindeer, elves and other festive (some may say tacky) holiday decorations?
Realizing that such a gift may have repercussions (we want my daughter to continue speaking to us, after all), we instead have given him things for the lawn and garden, from grills to landscape plants.
There are also plenty of indoor plants available this time of year that can be given as gifts or used to decorate for the holidays. Topping the best-seller list of potted holiday plants is the poinsettia, cultivars of which now come in a wide range of colors and sizes. Festive Christmas cactuses are also extremely popular, and both of these holiday favorites, with proper care, can be carried over from year to year and can even be coaxed into re-blooming just in time for the holidays. In fact, tucking them away in a dark place and ignoring them from October till early December is pretty much all it takes to bring them back into bloom for the holidays.
But don’t stop with these more traditional holiday plants. Tap into the abundance of potted azaleas, hydrangeas, hollies, rosemary topiaries, Lenten or Christmas roses, Norfolk Island pines, orchids, amaryllis, paper whites and other container plants that are wonderful for the holiday season, but can also be kept as container plants or planted in the landscape for year-round enjoyment.
And if the urge to go “Sparky” is just too strong to resist, I say let your “Sparky” shine. Even my daughter admits that some of our fondest holiday memories involve driving around neighborhoods to see who has the showiest, if not gaudiest, Griswoldian display.
It seems there is always a story behind every cake. Well, at least for the ones I make. I consider myself a better baker than cook, but sometimes I’m faced with density problems, bubbles, peaks, or sunken middles. I’m still trying to forget the times I’ve forgotten to grease the pan and dealing with cake crumbling while trying to remove it from the pan. However, I’ve had a few successes. One of them was the cake I made for my daughter’s first birthday. We had a simple party with homemade decorations and toddler-friendly food. I spent most of the time making her rainbow cake. It’s basically just a white cake with cream cheese icing. I used different food colorings for each layer and baked them separately. Once cooled, I trimmed the peaks so the layers would lie flat, then I stacked, frosted and stacked again. It was really simple, but it just took a bit longer to prepare. There wasn’t a slice left! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Mary Tyler Spivey is a graduate of Huntingdon College
where she studied history and French but she also has a
passion for great food.
Mix cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl; add confectioner’s sugar and blend till smooth. Add chopped nuts and stir. Pour over warm cake when it comes out of oven, or cool cake completely and put on cake.
1 16-ounce package regular marshmallows
1/2 stick butter or margarine
1/4 cup vegetable oil
16 cups popped buttered popcorn
1 can (12 oz.) salted peanuts
1/2 cup candy mini-chocolate chips
Optional but good: Teddy Grahams, M&Ms
In large saucepan over medium heat, combine marshmallows, butter and oil; stir constantly until marshmallows are melted. Place popcorn, candies and peanuts in large bowl; stir in marshmallow mixture. Press popcorn mixture into a greased 10-inch tube/bundt pan, pack firmly. Let set for 30 minutes.
Memory Bush, South Alabama EC
1 cup butter
6 1 oz semisweet chocolate squares
11/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup red candied cherries (cut in half)
1 cup either green or red candied pineapple, cut in 1/2 inch wedges
3/4 cup English walnut halves
3/4 cup pecan halves
Red candied cherries for garnish
Melt butter and chocolate in heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring often. Remove from heat and cool 15 minutes. Stir in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, stirring well after each egg. Add flour and salt, stirring until blended. Stir in cherries, pineapple and nuts. Spoon mixture into greased and floured 53/4 x 31/4 x 2-inch loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool on wire racks. Seal cakes in plastic wrap; refrigerate 8 hours before cutting. Yield: 4 (12-ounce) loaves. Note: Easier to slice if stored in refrigerator, but freezes well.
Jane A. Smith, Joe Wheeler EMC
1 cup chocolate chips
2 cups pecans
3/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 14-ounce bag caramels
11/3 cups water (or as called for by your cake mix)
1/3 cup oil (or as called for by your cake mix)
3 eggs (or as called for by your cake mix)
1 18-ounce box German chocolate cake mix
First step to prepare this recipe is to use directions to prepare cake mix. Pour half the batter in a 13×9-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool. In a double boiler, add caramels, milk and butter, stirring constantly until melted. Pour melted caramel over cooling cake. Sprinkle pecans and chocolate chips on the top. Pour remaining batter on top, then bake about 20 minutes or until set. Turtle cake can be made as a sheet cake or a layer cake as shown in photo.
Katherine Authement, Baldwin EMC
Layered Peppermint Cheesecake
3 8-ounce packages of softened cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
2/3 cup crushed hard peppermint candies
Sour cream layers
1 18.25-ounce package white cake mix
2 large eggs
1 8-ounce container sour cream
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
1 cup white chocolate morsels
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Prepare cheesecake layers: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line bottom and sides of two (8-inch) round cake pans with aluminum foil allowing 2-3 inches to extend over sides; lightly grease foil. Beat cream cheese, sugar and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer for 1 to 2 minutes or until creamy and smooth. Add three eggs, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Add flour and next three ingredients, beating until blended and folding in candies. Pour batter into pans. Place cake pans in a large pan, add water to pan depth of one inch. Bake at 325 for 25 minutes or until set. Remove from oven to wire racks. Cool completely in pans (about one hour). Cover cheesecakes and freeze four to six hours or until frozen solid. Lift from pans using foil as handles. Return to freezer until ready to assemble.
Sour cream layers: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat cake mix and next four ingredients at low speed for 30 seconds or until just moistened; beat at medium speed two minutes. Spoon batter into three greased and floured 8-inch round cake pans.
Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until a pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on a wire rack.
Frosting: Cook 2/3 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Add morsels; cook, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes or until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Cool about 30 minutes, whisking occasionally. Beat whipping cream and vanilla at high speed 1 to 2 minutes or until soft peaks form. Gradually fold white chocolate mixture into whipped cream mixture, until mixture reaches spreading consistency. Assemble layers and frost.
1 stick margarine, softened at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1 box powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
Mix cake mix and cocoa. Add buttermilk, melted margarine, eggs, vanilla and food coloring. Mix together until blended well. Add baking soda and vinegar. Mix on medium speed for 4 minutes. Bake at 325 degrees until done.
Frosting: Mix margarine and cream cheese until blended well. Pour in powdered sugar and vanilla and mix well. Add pecans.
Faye Marion, Arab EC
Maw’s Christmas Cake
1 box white cake mix
1½ cup broken walnuts
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 bag coconut
1-2 peppermint sticks
3 egg whites
1½ cups of sugar
1/3 cup cold water
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Prepare cake mix as directed. Add 1 cup walnuts and 1 cup chocolate morsels. Bake as directed.
7 Minute Icing
In double boiler, mix egg whites, sugar, cold water and cream of tartar. Bring to a boil; use mixer and mix until fluffy and forms peak. Spread 7 minute icing onto cooled cake. Put coconut on top of icing. Crush the peppermint sticks until mostly a powder. Sprinkle the peppermint powder over the cake. Drop or place walnut pieces and chocolate morsels on top of cake, as desired.
Janie Wade, Marshall DeKalb EC
Pistachio Holiday Cake
3/4 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
11/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 13-by 9-inch cake pan, knocking out excess flour. Pulse pistachios in a food processor until finely ground. Add baking powder, cardamom, and salt. Pulse to combine. Combine milk and vanilla in a measuring cup. Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add pistachio, flour and milk in batches and mix at low speed until combined.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan and bake until tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
For the frosting: Whisk all ingredients until smooth. Drizzle over cake slices before serving.
Editor’s note: Travel writer Marilyn Jones visited coastal Alabama last December and found several events visitors can enjoy during the holiday season.
Our first stop is Fort Gaines and what is billed as “Christmas Through the Ages.”
Located on Dauphin Island, a barrier island at the mouth of Mobile Bay, there is little protection from the wind whipping in off the Gulf of Mexico. It’s unseasonably cold for this part of Alabama, but the chill in the air lends itself to the holiday festivities in full swing as we enter the historic fort.
Costumed interpreters are outfitted in Confederate uniforms and civilian dress of the mid-1800s. My friend Enola and I walk along the perimeter of the fort where docents go about their chores making bread, creating decorative items in the blacksmith shop and cooking over an open fire. Soldiers protect the fort, and while we watch, fire a cannon at an enemy from the long ago past.
To add to the enjoyment of the day, Christmas festivities include lively music, ornament-making for children, a craft sale and, of course, Santa Claus.
Next we head for Bellingrath Gardens and Home in nearby Theodore.
The sprawling estate began as a fishing lodge and grew to its current status when Walter Bellingrath’s wife Bessie began “making improvements.” The gardens first opened to the public in 1932 when a national garden club meeting was taking place in Mobile. Mr. Bellingrath placed an ad in the newspaper announcing that anyone who would like to see the spring garden was welcome to. The response was so overwhelming the couple decided to keep the gardens open year-round, beginning in 1934.
This time of year the 65-acre estate celebrates the holidays with “Magic Christmas in Lights.” More than three million lights on more than 1,000 displays are scattered throughout the gardens.
Arriving before dark, we have a bite to eat at The Magnolia Café and then spend a long while in the expansive gift shop before we head for the house.
On a guided tour, we are ushered from room to room — each seemingly more beautiful than the last. Christmas trees are in nearly every room, garland is draped over fireplaces and other festive accents punctuate the already grand home. We are told the furnishings, including Mrs. Bellingrath’s extensive collection of decorative art, all belonged to the Bellingraths.
After the tour, we walk through the gardens, past light displays befitting their location and the season. The intimacy of walking past the displays, being able to really take in their beauty against the night sky, makes this a very memorable holiday attraction. It’s a glorious sight and one that will put anyone in a holly jolly frame of mind.
We spend the next day shopping. From Tanger Outlet Center, Pier 1, Old Time Pottery and other national chains to locally owned gift shops at The Wharf in Orange Beach, we have a lot to choose from.
The Wharf also offers other activities for its shoppers. There’s the signature ferris wheel, ice skating and a visit with Santa Claus.
December’s calendar has a host of other events to choose from on the coast, including music, parades and arts and crafts. The Coastal Alabama Business Chamber presents “Christmas with Aaron Neville” Dec. 3 at 5:30 p.m. at the Orange Beach Event Center at the Wharf. The 5th Annual City of Gulf Shores Christmas Parade will be Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m., starting at Club House Drive on Highway 59 and ending at the Gulf Shores Public Beach. The 3rd Annual Merry Market, a gifts and arts and crafts expo, will be Dec. 12 and 13 at the Orange Beach Events Center, and the next day a Lighted Boat Parade will start at 5:30 p.m. from Lulu’s and finish at Zeke’s Marina.
Alabama’s Gulf Coast region offers a great getaway any time of year, but during the holiday season hotel prices are reduced, restaurants aren’t as busy, you can still walk along the beach and the shopping opportunities are nearly limitless.
No matter where you roam this holiday season, be safe, have fun and remember the reason for the season.
If you go:
Bellingrath Gardens and Home, 12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road, Theodore; www.bellingrath.org;
(800) 247-8420. “Christmas in Lights” is Nov. 28 – Jan. 3 (closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1). 30th Annual “Christmas through the Ages,” Dec. 6, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Fort Gaines, 51 Bienville Blvd., Dauphin Island; dauphinislandtourism.com; (251) 861-6992.
For a complete listing, times and locations of other events, visit alabamacoastalchristmas.com; (251) 968-6091.
Post-season bowl games have a 75-year history in our state
By Emmett Burnett
Alabama loves college football. Motorists driving to Tuscaloosa on Iron Bowl day realize it immediately — with traffic snarled in three zip codes; where the only guaranteed parking is for the Goodyear Blimp; when for four hours, 103,000 fans make Bryant-Denny Stadium the state’s fifth largest city — this is a football state.
But “War Eagle” and “Roll Tide” are just the beginning. Are you ready for some football? There are bowls beyond the Iron one. So let’s kick off.
Our bowl games have a 75-year history, with one of the first being the 1939 Montgomery startup, the Blue-Gray Football Classic. The Blue-Gray is no longer with us, but the Capital City has a new game in town.
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
‘Twas four days before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring – because they were watching nationally televised football from Montgomery.
OK, maybe not everybody. But the country’s college football fans will be glued to the Camellia Bowl on Dec. 20, live from Montgomery. And oh, what a night.
“Think about it,” says Johnny Williams, the Camellia’s executive director. “At 8:15 p.m. Dec. 20, we will be the only ESPN college game playing in the country. Every sports bar from Seattle to Miami will have us on their screens.”
“There is tons of excitement supporting it,” Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange says of the Camellia’s premier. “Excitement is not just from corporate sponsors but from our city. Montgomery rallied to bring the game here,” he says.
The city’s massive downtown revitalization included major upgrades to Cramton Bowl. The 25,000-seat stadium underwent a $30 million renovation project, which included new turf, concession stands, and a 90,000-square-foot Multiplex. Montgomery kept pace with infrastructure upgrades, hotels, restaurants and a convention center, all designed to draw people downtown. “We will use this TV venue to show Montgomery,” Strange says. “This is a new Montgomery. We are proud of it and want others to know about and experience it.”
Montgomery also wants the experience of ka-ching, the kind cash registers make. Organizers admit that since this is the game’s first year, economic impact data are not available. But a similar event, the GoDaddy Bowl, brings in about $15-$20 million to host city Mobile. Ka-ching!
The Camellia Bowl plans to fill the stadium with 25,000 fans, about 75 ESPN production personnel, 200-400 band members per school and 150-170 football players and personnel.
The game features a team from the Sun Belt Conference against one from the Mid-American Conference. Both teams will be announced a few weeks leading up to the game. Football fever is already in progress.
Serious dialogue to bring the game to Montgomery started in May 2013. “ESPN picked us because of our strong football history with the Blue-Gray,” Williams says. The network was looking for a city that would be supportive, and Montgomery won over five other contenders. “What state is more supportive of football than Alabama?” Williams says. And Montgomery is its capital.
The only way Birmingham could be more entwined with football is if the Vulcan Statue wore a helmet. For Alabama’s largest metropolis, football is beyond a game; it is the Magic City’s history and passion. The namesake bowl game’s motto says it all: “Southern hospitality, serious football.”
Now in its ninth year, Legion Field’s Birmingham Bowl attendance is unique, organizers say. The predicted attendance is 45,000-55,000; half of them have no allegiance to either team. “That’s Birmingham,” says Mark Meadows, executive director of the Birmingham Bowl. “These people, local and state, love football, not just a specific contest but the game of football. They come here for the love of the sport and to enjoy it as a community.” They also welcome visitors who are here to win.
“We want all guests to enjoy Birmingham while they are here,” Meadows says. “I hear guests’ comments every game, ‘Wow, this is a lot more than we expected,’ or ‘I had no idea Birmingham had this,’ ” referencing restaurants, nightlife, and activities. The wow factor kicks off in town before it does on field.
“Prior to the game, we have a street party,” Meadows says. “It’s very popular and includes food, drink, bands and cheerleaders. Head coaches of both teams conduct pep rallies.”
Unlike winter’s frozen tundra up north, game-day Birmingham can see pretty decent weather — or you can freeze your Vulcan off. “But overall, January is a good time of year to host a bowl game,” Meadows says. “Holidays are over and restaurants and hotels are not as busy, a perfect time to bring in folks from out of state. We have had great success with that” — as in $97 million added to the local economy.
Set for Jan. 3, the Birmingham Bowl is the only bowl in America aligned with both the Southeastern Conference and the American Athletic Conference. Participating teams should be announced around Dec. 7.
Mobile is the only Alabama city that hosts two nationally televised bowl games in the same month: The GoDaddy (Jan. 4) and Senior Bowl (Jan. 24). But they’re not at all alike.
“They are entirely different venues,” said GoDaddy Bowl president Jerry Silverstein. The Senior Bowl features players from many teams joining as one for the first time to play an opposing team formed the same way. It is an exhibition game for fans and pro scouts. “GoDaddy is two college teams, vying for a championship. For many of these teams and fans, with the parades, pageantry, and the game itself, GoDaddy is their Rose Bowl,” Silverstein says.
Questions surfaced when GoDaddy (originally called the Mobile Alabama Bowl) began in 1999. The Senior Bowl had been a city fixture since 1951. Could Mobile support another major sports event? Yes. GoDaddy’s economic impact is about $20 million a game. About 36,000 attended last year’s game, including 25,000 from out of town. But much of the fun is on the streets.
Mobile founded Mardi Gras, but one of the biggest parades isn’t during Carnival; it rolls during GoDaddy Week. “It’s a big night,” Silverstein says. “Several mystic societies participate.” The parade can see 70,000-100,000 people along the route. Add fireworks, pep rallies and street parties to the Sunbelt Conference and Mid-American Conference’s battle in Ladd-Peebles Stadium, and football rocks the City by the Bay.
From Birmingham to Mobile and all parts in between and beyond, let the games begin, one first down at a time.
Many of our most treasured holiday traditions involve the kitchen. Memories continue to be made around the table; the warmth of the stove and the smells of fresh-cooked foods lure friends and family eager to get the first taste of homemade delicacies, many of which are only made at Christmastime.
I have fond memories of my grandmother in her bright yellow kitchen, making batches of Christmas candy for guests and to give as gifts. These were true treasures – divinity and chocolate and peanut butter fudge, richer and more flavorful than any store-bought sweets. Once the Christmas gifts and decorations were put away and the last crumb of candy was gone, we knew it would be the last of it until the next year.
I watched her, with her candy thermometer and steely patience, making sure each batch was perfectly created, cooled and cut. She’d explain her cooking process, which I now know was the key: A hand-written recipe can’t adequately capture a seasoned cook’s special touch.
Such a memory is familiar to Ellen Gregg, a member of the Tombigbee Electric Cooperative whose father, H.T. “Bud” Gregg, was on the Tombigbee board for many years. Her mother, Alice, was famous for her Christmastime peanut brittle, though the recipe was the same one printed on the Karo corn syrup bottle.
“Like a lot of old recipes, it is not enough to just know the recipe. You have to watch how they made the recipe,” Gregg says.
Gregg recalls that the reason everyone loved her mother’s brittle was because she put in more peanuts than the recipe called for. She would butter her old-fashioned porcelain-top kitchen table and pour her brittle batter onto it, using two spatulas or wooden spoons to pull it out as much as she could before it cooled and hardened, which made it thin and lacy.
Another key that Gregg remembers: Putting in the peanuts early enough in the process so they would cook slightly, but not burn. “People would tell Mother that they tried to follow the recipe, but theirs did not turn out like hers.”
Karo syrup is at the heart of another favorite candy (especially in the South) that dates back at least a century. Who can resist the sweet little meringue confections known as divinity?
Divinity, like other candies made from a sugar syrup base, requires precision. A long-held rule of thumb is to make such candies on a day when the humidity is less than 60 percent, because high humidity can affect the texture of soft caramels and hard candy.
Timing and temperature key to perfect divinity
But Sharon Green, owner with her husband Dennis of Nuts to Go in Dothan and a member of Wiregrass Electric Cooperative, says she can churn out a perfect batch of divinity, regardless of the weather. The key, she said, is patience, timing and temperature.
Green recalls watching her mother make delicious divinity and the old-fashioned fudge made with Hershey’s cocoa that was dropped by the spoon, not cut in a pan into squares.
But when Green started making divinity herself as an adult, she couldn’t turn out a batch nearly as good. After innumerable practice batches (including a few that a family member referred to as “divinity soup”), she finally hit on a can’t-miss process.
“It’s actually to do with the timing has to be perfect, and the temperatures have to be perfect. I use timers, and I use the same thermometer,” Green says.
But there’s no substitute for experience.
“There’s a look, and a timing, and a temperature. If you alter in one, you can lose the whole batch,” Green says.
Tips to remember when making candy at home:
If you’re using a thermometer you’re unfamiliar with, place it in a saucepan of boiling water; it should read 212 degrees Fahrenheit. If it doesn’t, adjust the recipe temperature based on the results of the test. The thermometer helps gauge the consistency of the sugar syrup.
If your recipe calls for nuts, try roasting the nuts first before adding chocolate or other ingredients; that may enhance the flavor.
Keep moisture away from melted chocolate. Even a small drop can make the chocolate “seize,” or clump and harden.
Let candy set up completely before wrapping or storing it. Use wax paper to wrap the candy, or to separate layers in gift boxes.
Use the best ingredients. Don’t skimp, especially on chocolate.
Store hard and soft candies in separate airtight containers to avoid changes in texture.
When giving candy as a gift, try a few special presentation touches. Use miniature boxes, woven baskets or decorative jars; decorate the packages with handmade nametags, raffia bows or miniature ornaments.
Sources: Taste of Home web site; Ellen Burkett, Carolyn Adams and Sandra Lewis of Priester’s Pecans in Fort Deposit
HOLIDAY CANDY RECIPES
The first two recipes were made by Alabama Living managing editor Allison Griffin’s grandmother, Inez Moye Wilder, at holiday time:
3 cups sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 cup milk
½ cup light corn syrup
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
1¼ cups butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup nuts
Butter an 8-by-8-by-2-inch pan. In a 3 ½ quart saucepan, mix sugar with dry gelatin. Add milk, corn syrup, chocolate and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to 238 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer, or until the mixture forms a soft ball when dropped in a little cold water and flattens when removed from water.
Remove from heat; pour into a large mixing bowl. Stir in vanilla. Cool for 25 minutes. Beat with a wooden spoon until candy thickens; spread into the pan. Let cool about 30 minutes, then cut into squares. Makes about 2 ½ pounds.
Peanut Butter Fudge
Mix three cups brown sugar and 1 cup sweet milk thoroughly. Boil until the syrup forms a soft ball when dropped into cold water. Remove from heat and add ¾ cup peanut butter. Beat until thick; pour into a buttered pan and cut into squares when completely cooled.
Ellen Gregg’s mother, Alice Hardwick Gregg, used this classic recipe and tweaked it to make it her own:
1 cup light or dark corn syrup
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine (she preferred butter)
2-3 cups roasted, lightly salted peanuts
1 teaspoon baking soda
Combine syrup, sugar, water and butter in a heavy 3-quart saucepan. (The heavier, the better!) Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil.
Cook without stirring until temperature reaches 280 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer or small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into threads which are hard but not brittle.
Gradually stir in peanuts; continue cooking, stirring frequently, until temperature reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit or small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into threads which are hard and brittle. Remove from heat; stir in baking soda. Mixture will foam and become lighter in color.
Immediately pour mixture onto prepared metal, enamel, or porcelain table. (If you don’t have one of these, well bless your heart, just do the best you can!) With metal spatula (or any instrument handy, as it will burn and stick to your skin!), frantically spread mixture out as far as you can get it, before it cools. Then hide some for yourself, or you might not get any!
Ellen Gregg, Tombigbee EC
This is a classic recipe for divinity from the Karo corn syrup company, with a couple of notes from baker and Nuts to Go shop owner Sharon Green of Dothan:
2½ cups sugar
½ cup Karo light corn syrup
½ cup water
¼ teaspoon of salt
2 egg whites, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
In a heavy saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, water and salt. Stirring constantly, bring to boil over medium heat. Without stirring, cook over low heat (small to medium bubbles breaking across the surface of the liquid) until the temperature reaches 260 degrees Fahrenheit, or the hard ball stage.
In a large stand mixer, beat egg whites at high speed until stiff peaks form. Beating at high speed, very slowly add hot syrup in a thin, steady stream (this can take several minutes.) Don’t scrape the side of the saucepan. Continue beating at high speed until mixture begins to lose its gloss, about three minutes.
Reduce speed to low. Beat in vanilla. Continue beating at low speed until mixture holds a peak and doesn’t spread when dropped from a spoon, about eight minutes. (If mixture becomes too stiff for mixer, beat with a wooden spoon.) Immediately stir in nuts with a spoon.
Working quickly, drop by teaspoons (one to dip into batter, the other to roll it into a ball) onto waxed paper. Garnish with walnut pieces, a pecan half or candied cherries, if desired. Let stand until set.
Sharon Green, Wiregrass EC
The following two recipes are from Alabama Living’s “Southern Occasions” cookbook, which features recipes submitted by cooperative members:
Crock Pot Candy
16 ounces peanuts, dry roasted and salted
16 ounces peanuts, dry roasted and unsalted
1 bar German sweet chocolate
12 ounces milk chocolate chips
1½ bars white almond bark
In a large crockpot, layer the ingredients in the order listed. Do not mix or stir. Heat on low for two hours. Do not lift lid. After two hours, stir well and drop by teaspoonful onto wax paper. Let cool.
Shari Taylor, Central Alabama EC
3 cups sugar
1 small package strawberry Jell-O
¾ cup light corn syrup
¾ cup water
2 stiffly beaten egg whites
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
½ cup coconut (optional)
In large saucepan bring sugar, corn syrup and water to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and cook to hard ball stage. Combine egg whites with Jell-O until mixed. Pour syrup in a thin thread over egg whites and Jell-O mixture. With mixer on high, beat until all syrup is used, continuing to beat until the candy is cool and has a smooth look. Using two teaspoons, drop onto wax paper. If candy is too hot to drop, cool only a few seconds, or beat with a spoon a few seconds. Continue to drop onto wax paper. This candy sets up rather fast and makes about 50 pieces. (If coconut is used, I usually omit pecans.)