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Memories of bread back home shaped central Alabama baker

By M.J. Ellington

Nostalgia for a taste of home may be the simplest explanation for how a classical pianist – who was completely at home on a Ukrainian concert stage – re-molded herself into a cottage industry European bread baker who now sells her artisanal creations to customers in central Alabama. 

During holiday season every year, Wild Yeast Kitchen bakery owner Yuliya Childers creates baked goods half a world away from her birth country. But for her own family’s special occasions, she likes to include special desserts from her childhood not readily available here.

“My holiday table is a complex question,” says Childers, who grew up in Odessa, a cosmopolitan city on the Black Sea. Her family didn’t celebrate Christmas when she was growing up, but “made a huge deal out of New Year.” 

For Thanksgiving 2018, instead of a turkey, Childers made “a traditional English hot water crust pie” filled with a variety of meats and vegetables. “A whole holiday menu under one crust,” she says. “I was very proud of it.”

For New Year’s celebrations growing up, Childers said her mom always made two desserts, one a custard-filled 8-12 layer crust Napoleon cake that is moist and not heavy with sugar.“I still make it occasionally for my family’s most special events. It’s a several hours feat, which is totally worth the time,” she says. The other cake was usually a walnut meringue cake, her grandmother’s recipe.

Old-world flavors

Childers said her exploration of traditional European baking began because she missed European bread, and “I wanted to see if I could replicate it.” At the time, she lived in Atlanta and worked in information technology, first on the Sports Illustrated website and later on PGA and NBA websitesfor Turner Broadcasting Co. 

Childers could not find the kind of bread she remembered growing up. Relatives and friends suggested ways to find the right flours and other supplies to make the bread she wanted to replicate. When she decided to bake her breads professionally, she named her business Wild Yeast Kitchen after the naturally occurring leavening in the grain that causes the dough to rise slowly. The process gives complex flavors and robust texture to her breads, much like the ones she remembers from Odessa.When Childers was growing up, she said, she went on frequent shopping trips to local bakeries near her home. Her family would leave the bakery with bread so fresh it was still warm, fragrant and ready to share at a meal.

Childers began baking for her husband and daughter while they were in Atlanta. She brought her passion for baking when the family moved to Prattville in 2011 and began selling her breads in 2016.

She bakes breads, scones, croissants and specialty items – including chocolate babka, and breads resembling works of art – that she sells on Saturdays at Montgomery Curb Market. She does home delivery to customers who order ahead in Prattville and Millbrook areas. 

Yuliya Childers’ first-ever sale at the Prattville Farmers’ Market in June 2016.
(Photo courtesy of Yuliya Childers)

Her long-termgoal is to establish a commercial kitchen with a large commercial oven so she can bake much more at once. Such a kitchen could put an end to the 20-hour workday she spends without sleep now before her weekly bread sales day in Montgomery. She wants to expand to other farmer’s markets. 

Yuliya Childers’ first week in her booth at the Montgomery Curb Market in January 2017. (Photo courtesy of Yuliya Childers)

“Yuliya has a passion for safe, good food that is part of her baking,” said Kathy Quinn, a registered pharmacist and trained herbalist whose Lost Creek Herbs booth is next to Childers’ booth at the curb market. “I’m on the same trajectory as Yuliya,” Quinn says. “I try not to eat any bread other than Yuliya’s and I try to know the source of where my food comes from. People who aren’t familiar with European bread have missed a different, complex taste that they will not forget.”

Seeking a better life

Childers, her mother and sister fled Odessa for hopes of a better life in the U.S. in a period of Ukrainian governmental conflict and depression, with little job opportunity and dwindling supplies in stores. Once in the U.S., they lived first in Maryland, near Washington, D.C. There, Childers gave some classical piano performances and worked as an accompanist, using the skills she’d studied in Odessa from age 5 through 24. She also worked as a computer programmer for a communications firm.

While music had been her passion in Odessa, computers provided her main livelihood here while she took steps to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Classical music continues to be part of her life, asshe still plays piano and sings in her church choir in Prattville and in the Montgomery Chorale. 

As Childers’ baking business continues to evolve, she describes the careful steps she took to studythe best baking supplies and recipes. Like the process involved in allowing breads to rise slowly, Childers takes her business development one small step at a time. 

In summer 2018, she spent 11 weeks at the San Francisco Baking Institute, earning a diploma in the Bread and Viennoiserie Professional Training Program in recognition of her skill in baking artisan bread and pastry using yeast-leavened dough. “I wanted to see if I could live a baker’s hours,” Childers said of the very early morning baking schedules kept by most small bakeries. She found that she could and saved money for the course and the weeks living on the West Coast. She said her husband and 12-year-old daughter have been very supportive about her developing business. 

The next long-term step will be to establish the commercial kitchen. She hopes the commercial kitchen will effectively take the business out of the house, enabling her to scale up production while “taking the bread quality to the next level.”Childers’ careful, deliberate small steps for an evolving career are characteristic of the way she approaches life’s challenges, Quinn says. “We have a gem in Alabama.”


Oatmeal and Molasses Muffins

1 ½ cups white whole wheat or all-purpose flour

¾ cup cracked or rolled oats

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup molasses

2 large eggs

½ cup coconut oil (butter)

1/3 cup raisins

1/3 cup seeds (I used a blend of sunflower and pumpkin)

zest of ½ orange

1 cup (or a bit more) whole milkPreheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease muffin tin thoroughly. Sift flour and add all dry ingredients to it in a bowl. Mix well. Add molasses, lightly beaten eggs and melted coconut oil or butter. Add ½ cup of milk at first and stir very thoroughly until batter is smooth and non-lumpy. Add raisins, seeds and orange zest at this point and stir again. Now keep adding milk in small quantities until batter reaches the consistency of pancake batter (thick buttermilk or thin yogurt). Distribute batter evenly between muffin tin cups. It should fill the cups to about 2/3 or ¾ capacity. Sprinkle additional seeds on top of the batter just for looks. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until knife or toothpick inserted into a muffin come out clean.

Recipe courtesy of Yuliya Childers

Alabama Snapshots | Elf on the Shelf

Elf on the shelf, 4-month-old Behr McDonald, is all smiles waiting for Santa.

SUBMITTED BY Gail McDonald, Prattville.


Alaina’s Elf, Buckles, sent her an outfit all the way from the North Pole. She can see him but Papa and Memaw can’t.

SUBMITTED BY Robert and Linda Orso, St. Stephens.


Dylan LaPorte’s elf, Tricky, toilet papered the entire living room after Alabama beat Auburn.

SUBMITTED BY Robin LaPorte, Wetumpka.


Shelly Elrod, nurse at Harmony School in Cullman County, dresses up as an elf to spread Christmas cheer on the last day of school.

SUBMITTED BY Vickie Wood, Cullman.


Collect or build model trains? We want to see them!

Submit “Model Trains” photos by December 31. Winning photos will run in the February issue.

ONLINE: alabamaliving.coop

MAIL: Snapshots, P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124

RULES: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at www.alabamaliving.coop and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos. Send a self-addressed stamped envelope to have photos returned.

The city of Enterprise continues to persevere

By Emmett Burnett

In the heart of downtown, a majestic maiden lifts a prize overhead. Outstretched hands hold a big, black bug. It is the world’s only tribute to an insect pest, in a city just as unique –­ Enterprise, Ala.

The Boll Weevil Monument turns 100 on Dec. 11, 2019. In town, Beetle-mania is everywhere and rightly so. For in Coffee County’s largest city, Anthonomus grandis is not a creepy-crawly. It is the bug of benevolence.

The statue symbolizes gratitude to a 6-legged foe turned friend. In the late 1800s boll weevils marched from Mexico, destination Alabama. Cotton was its all-you-can-eat buffet, and the swarm was unstoppable.

Farmers grimly waited their turns – except Enterprise. “But initially, growers did not embrace change,” notes Douglas Bradley, president of the Pea River Historical and Genealogical Society. “With cotton’s boll weevil invasion, we had two choices: diversify crops or cease farming.”

In 1913 after witnessing the demise of Texas cotton fields, Coffee County agent John Pittman assumed the role of Paul Revere, warning Enterprise, “The boll weevils are coming! Change your ways!” Meanwhile, local businessman H.M. Sessions explored agriculture outside Alabama and returned with the promise of peanuts. Cotton farmers eventually took heed, planting alternative crops, including peanuts, just in time.

By 1915, boll weevils had devoured the region, eating 60 percent of cotton production. But by 1917 Coffee County produced more peanuts than any other county in the U.S. In appreciation of the creature that made it happen, on Dec. 11, 1919, the Boll Weevil Monument was unveiled in tribute.

“There is a positive message in that statue,” says Enterprise’s director of tourism, Tammy Doerer, pointing at the display standing 13 ½ feet above street level. “It illustrates how open minds willing to cooperate with new ideas accomplished great things.” The spirit continues.


‘Small’ ideas

Enterprise has the world’s smallest St. Patrick’s Day Parade – one person. “I loved it,” says grand marshal and solitary entry, Sean Roehler. “People lined up to watch.”

The parade starts at the town courthouse and loops around the Boll Weevil Monument and back. “Including stops for photographs and handshakes, takes about 15 minutes,” recalls Roehler. “Absolutely I would do it again, except I want others to participate and enjoy as much as I did.”

Erin Grantham, president of the Enterprise Chamber of Commerce explains, “Our city encompasses lots of small things. We have a small pest, the smallest parade, and a very small race.” She refers to the city’s Half-K Run, covering about 547 yards.

“Our last .5 event had about 400 participants,” Grantham says. “There were conventional racers along with moms pushing baby strollers, people in wheelchairs, and people of all ages.” St. Patrick’s Day Parade participant Roehler ran the race too – donned in his Irish kilt.

Mayor William “Bill” Cooper notes, “Enterprise is different from other cities because of our military base proximity. We have Ft. Rucker (U.S. Army) personnel with roots from all over America in town. Such a diverse mix demands diverse services and we give it to them.”

Here’s something insiders know and the rest of us should: Enterprise has professional quality theater and food seasoned with wonderful. Southern Broadway, a dinner theater, combines both.

The repurposed 1902 former drugstore and barber shop runs sold out performances. “We seat 80,” says co-owner and set designer Susan Gilmore, preparing sets for the next performance of The Depot. “Everybody does everything, we even cook the food onsite.”

Plays are also homegrown, written by co-owner Lydia Dillingham. According to patrons, Southern Broadway is comparable to that other Broadway, up north somewhere.

Other adventures in art are available at the Performing Arts Center, for plays, ballets, musicals and more.

Enterprise’s eateries border on artistic too. The Rawls Restaurant is a Main Street must. The former opulent hotel now housing the eatery and bar was built in 1902.  Chef Bill Schleusner and wife Daphne came onboard 107 years later. It’s about time.

The Rawls’ offerings are abundant and include sautéed grouper, listed in the state Tourism Department’s “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama.” Or request a signature drink – “The Evil Weevil” – a bourbon-based mixture topped with floating happy local peanuts.

“Our restaurant is a continuation of this fine old building,” Chef Schleusner says. “We are honored to be its next torch bearers for those to enjoy good food.”

Many local restaurants obtain produce where everybody else does – the farmers’ market. Forty-plus vendors offering fresh fruits, vegetables, and crafts are available three mornings a week all year. “We can’t really track our attendance numbers,” market director Kay Kirkland notes. “But a thousand or more is not uncommon during special events.”


Remembering history

In the early 1900s the Enterprise Train Depot was here. Today it is a museum. “This puts history in perspective,” says Diane Napoli, Depot Museum director, as we walk across original 1902 wooden floor planks. “It’s a quiet remembrance of where Enterprise has been.”

Across town is another quiet remembrance. A memorial stands on a school campus. It pays tribute to 8 students and a nearby resident who died March 1, 2007 when a 170 mph tornado stuck Enterprise High School.

Pillars of brick, each with a heartbreaking image of a teenage victim, are permanent reminders of that tragic day. The inscription reads in part: “The loss of 9 precious lives left an endearing mark on our community and on our hearts.” The town vowed to never forget the victims lost as it persevered the aftermath.

Enterprise has always survived adversity, hardship, and sorrow. The tornado memorial quotes Adlai Stevenson, “It’s not the years in your life but the life in your years that counts.” Perhaps the words also exemplify the city that defied adversity and prospered. For Enterprise is strong. Boll Weevil strong.

Jack Hawkins | Man of Troy

Dr. Jack Hawkins celebrated 30 years as chancellor of Troy University position this year, making him the longest serving university president in the country. The Mobile native earned degrees at the University of Montevallo, served with the Marines in the Vietnam War, was an assistant dean at the University of Alabama Birmingham, and president of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind before joining Troy in 1989. In those 30 years, Troy changed its name, moved to NCAA Division 1-A athletics and invested $400 million in new and modernized facilities. Hawkins took some time recently to talk to us about his tenure there. 

The average tenure of a college president is about 6.5 years. What’s your secret?

I tell students I don’t want them to have a job after they graduate from TROY, which really gets their attention. Then I tell them I want them to have a cause that becomes their commitment and that becomes their career. My advice to them is based on personal experience, as my commitment to Troy University became my career. My secret is simple: After falling in love with this University, Janice and I couldn’t picture ourselves doing anything else.

What’s been your proudest moment in those 30 years?

Personally, my proudest moments were seeing my daughters Katie and Kelly receive their TROY diplomas. However, if I had to choose one professional moment, it would have to be Friday, December 7, 2007, when the Alabama Commission on Higher Education granted approval for Troy University to offer its first doctoral degree, the doctorate in nursing practice. We have added two Ph.D. programs since then.

Thanks to your leadership, Troy is now known as Alabama’s International University. Why is that important?

From the start of this journey internationalization was a major part of our vision. In the inaugural address in 1990, I shared my belief that by 2000 our university would no longer be regional in nature.  It would become international in outreach. A key component of this educational experience is interaction with classmates from other nations. If you understand people unlike yourself – people from other cultures, speaking different languages – then you can develop an appreciation for those people on a personal level. At that point, true and lasting relationships can develop. 

In 1990 we enrolled only 40 international students. Today our students come from 80 nations. Further, this past year we sent more than 50 study-abroad delegations to 34 countries. 

In 2008, Troy was the first U.S. university to award a college degree in Vietnam. Having served as a platoon leader in the Vietnam War, that must have been an emotional trip for you. 

When I left Vietnam in 1969 I never envisioned I would return. Returning to Vietnam in 2002 was a profound personal experience. My earlier time in-country had a major impact on my life, so you can imagine re-entering the country brought back a wave of memories and emotions. However, apart from the personal aspect, I knew that establishing degree programs in Vietnam was the right thing for TROY to do. In 2002 we established teaching programs in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City. The Vietnamese people covet a degree from a U.S. university, and teaching overseas has been a hallmark of TROY. On 28 February 2008 Troy University became the first American university to award the bachelor’s degree in Vietnam. Today, I am proud we have more than 1,000 alumni working and leading in Vietnam.

Do you have a favorite spot on campus?  

Yes. The Janice Hawkins Cultural Arts Park is a beautiful and contemplative spot. Janice has done so much for Troy University besides being a gracious first lady. She has made major contributions to the beauty of the campus. She was instrumental in creating our Troy for Troops program, which serves our military and veteran students. Her commitment to the fine arts led to the transformation of an old dining hall into a beautiful arts center. And, she has been an advocate for study-abroad programs. Plus, she does so much behind the scenes that is invaluable to TROY.

At age 74, you could have retired years ago, yet you recently signed a new four-year contract. What are your goals for those years

We are working on the creation of a new Center for Materials and Manufacturing Services, which will conduct research in polymer science. We are working closely with KW Plastics in Troy, the largest plastics recycler in the world, in this area. We also want to work to increase the employability potential for every graduate by requiring an internship in every discipline.  Continued internationalization is important. I want to see every TROY student have a study-abroad experience, and we award every student who studies outside of the United States a $1,000 scholarship to defray expenses. I would like to see a health sciences and technology facility to house nursing and allied health programs, as well as our School of Science and Technology. These are and have been exciting times…but for Troy University, the best is yet to be!

Four gift ideas for your favorite energy nerd

By Maria Kanevsky

The holiday season is the time for gift giving, but knowing what to get your loved ones isn’t always easy. Here are some gift ideas that are perfect for the energy nerd in your life! The costs range from $25 to $100, so there’s something for everyone. 

Kill A Watt Meter

The Kill A Watt meter allows you to monitor how much energy your appliances are using. By simply plugging in the meter between the appliance and the power outlet, the device can display the energy use in either volts, amps, watts or Hertz. The large monitor clearly shows the electricity use depending on the type of units you choose. The Kill A Watt meter can also calculate cumulative electricity expenses by day, week, month or year, which can help you to plan ahead. This device is perfect to test the efficiency of older appliances, as well as new, efficient appliances to make sure they’re meeting the energy savings that they promise. You can purchase a Kill A Watt meter for about $20 to $30 online or at local retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

ENERGY STAR-Certified Sound Bar

Imagine listening to great sound while watching television, but also using less energy when doing so. This is what an ENERGY STAR-certified sound bar can provide. The ENERGY STAR-certified sound bar uses about 70% less electricity than regular sound bars, which saves you energy and money. They include volume-leveling technology to ensure that commercials are not louder than the actual shows you’re watching, and these lower volumes also save energy. Sound bars create a three-dimensional surround-sound effect, reducing the need for multiple speakers around the room – this also contributes to less energy use.

For anyone that enjoys curling up to a good movie or binging the latest show, the ENERGY STAR-certified sound bar is a great gift to give. The costs depend on the brand, bells and whistles, but Samsung and Vizio offer ENERGY STAR-certified sound bars for about $100.

Smart Power Strip

Power strips allow you to increase the number of outlets in your home, but unlike a normal power strip, smartpower strips help to reduce “vampire power” – this is the energy used by electronics even when they’re in standby mode. 

The great thing about the smart power strip is that you can leave all your electronics plugged in without having to worry about them using standby power because the smart power strip shuts off electricity to those devices when they are in standby mode. This can help you save a significant amount of money over the year, and depending on your home, you can potentially save 10% to 20% of your home energy consumption. 

Smart power strips, like the TrickleStar power strip shown here, allow you to leave electronics plugged in without having to worry about wasting energy. Smart power strips shut off electricity to devices when they are in standby mode, saving you energy and money. 
Photo Credit: TrickleStar

There are three types of outlets in the smart power strip. The first is the “always on” socket, which is meant for things like Wi-Fi or a cable modem; the second is the “main” socket, which is meant for televisions or computers; and the final is the “secondary” socket, which should be connected to electronics like printers, speakers or gaming consoles. Some smart power strips include additional features, like the ability to connect to smart home assistants through voice control or an app, or being able to set a schedule to automatically turn certain devices on or off.

You can purchase a smart power strip for about $25 on Amazon.com or at your local retail stores.

LED Holiday Lights

If you want to celebrate the holidays but also save 80% of the energy you use while doing so, then LED holidays lights should be on your gift list. Get festive this holiday season without taking a toll on your energy bill. 

The benefits of LED holiday lights aren’t limited to energy savings. They are safer since they don’t get as hot as incandescent lights, and they’re sturdier since they aren’t made of glass. LEDs also last much longer than incandescent lights, and they’re easier to install because they’re less likely to overload a wall socket. To manage your energy use more efficiently, you can also add a timer that shuts off the lights as you go to bed.

These are just a few gift ideas for the energy nerd in your life. Whatever you decide to wrap under the tree, have a safe and happy holiday season!

Whereville, AL

Photo by Allison Law of Alabama Living

Identify and place this Alabama landmark and you could win $25! Winner is chosen at random from all correct entries. Multiple entries from the same person will be disqualified. Send your answer by Dec. 12 with your name, address and the name of your rural electric cooperative. The winner and answer will be announced in the January issue.

Submit by email: whereville@alabamaliving.coop, or by mail: Whereville, P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124.Contribute your own photo for an upcoming issue! Send a photo of an interesting or unusual landmark in Alabama, which must be accessible to the public. A reader whose photo is chosen will also win $25.


November’s Answer

These oversized Adirondack chairs are located in front of the Eden Career Technical Center (ECTC) in Ashville. Marcus Graves, carpentry instructor at the school, gave us a nice history of the chairs: 

“Ronnie McFarling, our former director, is a big fan of the website and app ‘Roadside America.’ In the fall of 2015, he and I started talking about the fact that there were no sites listed in St. Clair County.

“Mr. McFarling saw two big Auburn and Alabama Adirondack chairs for sale at an outdoor store in Birmingham. He asked me if I thought we could build two of these chairs. We initially planned to build five chairs and paint them in the colors of the five high schools that we serve in St. Clair County.

“One day, we saw a picture of four chairs on a beach with the word L-O-V-E spelled out. That led us to the idea of using them as a sign with the letters ECTC for our school.“The chairs were finished in 2016 and we placed them on our property near the intersection of U.S. Highways 231 and 411. They were an immediate hit with the people passing by the school. We started getting calls from people asking if they could stop and take a picture, or if we would build them a chair?

“But the best calls and visits were from people that has passed our school for years and never really knew what we did or what we taught. So the chairs have really helped us draw attention to our school and our mission.”

To learn more about the ECTC, visit sccboe.org.

Ensure a happy holiday with these tree safety tips

By Derrill Holly

About 95 million American households will host at least one Christmas tree this holiday season, and 81% of those trees will be artificial. But a real tree you cut from a field or buy from a store or lot was farm grown and harvested eight to 10 years after they were first cultivated from seed.

Whether your tastes run to firs, spruces, pines, cedars or cypresses, it’s more likely than not that the tree has spent years being sheered, shaped and refined before it was cut this autumn and displayed for sale.

“If you’ve got a local tree farm in your area, cutting your own is the best way to make sure your tree is fresh,” said Jami Warner, executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association. “If you buy your tree from a local retailer, there’s a good chance the trees on the lot were cut at least a month ago.”Dryness and electrical malfunctions with lights and trees located too close to heating sources can make for a deadly combination. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fires involving Christmas trees cause an estimated $13 million annually in property damage.

“Always make sure when you buy a live Christmas Tree, it is fresh cut,” Susan McKelvey, communications manager of the NFPA. “Grab a branch, run your hand along it and see if any needles fall. If you have a lot of needles in your hand, it means the tree is already drying out.”

Tree retailers should be willing to cut a few inches of the stump exposing moist wood, capable of absorbing water through the trunk and circulating it to the tree’s branches, said McKelvey. “When you get it home, set it in a large container of water and let it absorb as much as it can for at least a day before you bring it inside.”

Consumers need to remember that Christmas trees are flammable, so the longer they are inside, the more likely they are to dry out, and that’s when they pose an increased fire hazard, said McKelvey.

The NFPA also recommends that the trees be set up at least three feet away from any heat source, like a fireplace, heating duct or portable space heater. 

With five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years’ Day, this holiday season, keeping trees adequately moist to reduce fire hazards could take regular watering, proper placement and a bit of luck. 

“There are only about 500 Christmas tree fires that occur each year,” said McKelvey. Christmas tree fires are blamed for about four deaths and 15 injuries a year.

“While the number of Christmas tree fires is relatively low, trees located too close to a heat source are a factor in one of every four such fires,” said McKelvey. “When you refill the water reservoir each day, check the tree for needle loss or other signs of dryness that may indicate it’s time to take it down.”  

Twist on Tradition

We throw around the word tradition a lot, and usually use it in a favorable light. That’s with good reason: It’s good to have customs and to remember old ways. It connects us to our history – both our collective and our personal pasts. Some wider traditions reinforce cultural ties; others are just for us and keep family bonds strong. Basically, at their best, traditions ensure good things keep going. 

But ritual can become routine, and in so doing, dull the very meaning that makes a tradition important. When we’re only going through the motions, the significance of the tradition may be lost.  And at its worst, a tradition can hold us back, stop us from branching out and trying something new or from seeing something in a new way. If you only and always eat that one menu at every annual holiday meal, what else are you missing out on? What (or who, even) are you leaving out?

These questions aren’t meant to suggest you should forgo your traditions all together, stop making or quit eating your traditional holiday recipes. But consider adding one or two new dishes and giving the favorites a little twist or two. Shaking up a tradition doesn’t mean getting rid of it. It’s just breathing fresh life into it. 

Finding ways that traditions can be flexible, allowing them to evolve as we evolve, is the best way to keep a tradition going. And for traditions that really matter, the significance is in the spirit, not the specifics. When it comes to holiday meals, it’s more about togetherness than what’s on the table.

With these ideas in mind, we invite you to think beyond the borders of your traditional feast (beloved though it may be) and try one of the “non-traditional” holiday recipes we got from readers this month. And in strictly keeping with the tradition of good ole Southern hospitality, we wish you and yours a very merry and bright holiday season (no matter what you’re eating).


Cook of the Month, Pamela Donahoe, Joe Wheeler EMC

A few years ago, a terrible car accident left Pamela Donahoe with a brain injury. As part of her recovery, she began cooking more often. She was relearning how to speak, how to read and how to do math. “I started really basic, leaning on recipes that were favorites and that were familiar,” she said. One dish that checked both boxes is her Old Fashioned Chayote Casserole. “I learned to make it when I lived in Louisiana, and I love it because the chayote has a great texture but doesn’t have a strong flavor, so it is a fun veggie to play around with,” she said. “This casserole is a great way to use it, and you can add all kinds of things to it if you like. It’s really versatile.” She wanted to share the recipe since it’s not a common holiday dish in Alabama, and because it has such special meaning to her. “I thought people who’ve never had chayote would enjoy it,” she said. “And I just love the part it played in my recovery, and now that I’m doing so much better, I wanted to share it for that reason too.”


Old Fashioned Chayote Casserole

Meat mixture:

6 chayote squash (aka: mirliton)

1 tablespoon butter

1 pound spicy Italian sausage

1 yellow onion, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt and pepper, to taste

Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning to taste

Binder:

2 eggs

1 cup milk

Salt and pepper, to taste

Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning (may substitute Tabasco and cayenne pepper, to taste)

Topping:

2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs

3 tablespoons butter

Lowry’s Seasoned Salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil chayote (skin on) in enough water to cover them for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until fork tender. Drain and let cool. Do not blanch. Peel the skin. Cut in half lengthwise and remove the seed. Cut into ¼-inch dices. Discard any excess liquid. Sauté Italian sausage in 1 tablespoon butter until browned. Add onions and sauté until transparent. Add garlic, salt, pepper and Tony’s to taste; stir and add chayote. Grease a 9×13-inch pan. Add mixture, gently pressing. Mix eggs, milk and seasonings. Pour over casserole. Lightly toast breadcrumbs in remaining butter for 1-2 minutes, being sure to incorporate butter into breadcrumbs. Pour breadcrumb mixture over casserole, lightly pressing. Lightly season entire surface of casserole with Lowry’s Seasoned Salt. Cover with foil. Bake 1 hour. Remove foil and bake an additional 30 minutes or until top is golden brown.


Seafood Gumbo

4 slices bacon, cut into small pieces

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 medium onions, diced

2 medium cube steaks

2 15-ounce cans tomatoes

3 cloves garlic, diced

3 small boxes frozen okra

1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined

2 cups crab meat (fresh is best)

2 sea trout or other mild fish

1 package crab boil

Salt, pepper, red pepper, and oregano to taste

Make Roux:  Lightly oil a Dutch oven.  Fry bacon until crispy.  Remove bacon and reserve grease. (Bacon may be added back to finished gumbo) Add the flour and cook on low heat, stirring often, until roux is dark in color (the color of an old penny), but not burned. The secret to a good gumbo is in the roux. Add onions, cube steaks, tomatoes and garlic. Cook until cube steak falls apart and tomatoes are cooked down, about an hour. Add 2 cups water and okra.  Bring back to a simmer.  Add seafood, crab boil and seasonings. Cook slowly until flavors are blended and seafood is done.  

Kathy Skinner, Tallapoosa River EC


Stuffed Beef Tenderloin

31/4 pound beef tenderloin 

6 ounces spinach 

4 slices bacon, finely chopped 

1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped 

1/2 onion, finely chopped 

1 cup provolone cheese, shredded

1 cup red wine (recommended: Pinot Noir)

1 cup beef stock

1 stick butter 

2 tablespoons olive oil 

1 tablespoon garlic

Salt and pepper, to taste 

Heat a large skillet on medium heat. Add olive oil and bacon, cook for 2 minutes. Add onion and mushrooms and cook 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high heat and add butter, garlic, beef stock, red wine, salt, pepper and spinach, and cook until spinach wilts. Using a sharp knife, slice beef tenderloin down the middle but not all the way through. Open up the tenderloin, cover with wax paper and pound it with a mallet until about ½- inch thick. Spread the mushroom onion mixture evenly over the beef and sprinkle the provolone cheese. Take one end and roll the beef, securing it with kitchen twine. Pour the liquid from the skillet into a casserole baking dish and place the rolled tenderloin in the center of the baking dish. Bake for 45 minutes on 450 degrees until the internal temperature of the beef is 125 degrees. Remove twine and cut across the grain to serve.

Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EC


Christmas Morning Crockpot Rotel Grits

1-2 pounds Velveeta cheese

1 can Rotel tomatoes

1 stick butter

1 pound Conecuh sausage

2 cups Jim Dandy quick-cooking grits

8½ cups water

Salt, to taste

Cube Velveeta and place in Crockpot along with Rotel and butter. Turn heat on high. Cook Conecuh sausage and slice into bite-size pieces and add to the Crockpot. Cook grits according to package directions. Add cooked grits to Crockpot and simmer.

Amy Miller, Clarke-Washington EMC


Cheesy Chili Baked Potato Casserole

4 baking potatoes 

16 ounces cheddar cheese 

15 ounces canned chili

2 sticks butter 

1 cup sour cream

1 cup Fritos corn chips

1/2 cup jalapeños, chopped

Olive oil

Salt and Pepper 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the 4 baking potatoes in a casserole dish and cover each potato with olive oil. Poke each potato with a knife and bake for 1 hour. When potatoes are soft cut each potato down the middle and open it. Cube the 2 sticks of butter and spread evenly over the potatoes. Layer 8 ounces of cheddar cheese, then the 8-ounce can of chili over potatoes and bake for 10 minutes. Top casserole with 8 ounces of cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped jalapeños and crumbled Fritos corn chips. 

Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EC


Themes and Deadlines:

March: Peanut Butter | December 13

April: Pimento Cheese | January 10

May: Avocados | February 7

Please send us your original recipes (developed or adapted by you or family members.) Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

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