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Hunting works is working for Alabama’s economy

by David Rainer

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

There’s an old saying that to find a person’s passion, follow the money. That apparently is true for Alabama’s hunters, who fuel the economies in many parts of the state that need it the most.

To ensure the citizens of the state understand how important hunting is to the state’s well-being, both economically and culturally, Hunting Works for Alabama was formed last year to enlist the aid of the business community to spread this important message.

“Hunting Works for Alabama is basically a grass-roots group of people who want to make sure we inform the public about the enormous impact hunters have on our economy,” says Tim Wood, one of the four co-chairs of Hunting Works for Alabama. “You’re talking about a $1.8 billion industry in the state. You’re talking about $375 million that people spend on just hunting-related equipment. Travel expenses, hunters are spending about $405 million a year. That’s travel, fuel, food and lodging.

“In the rural part of the state, that is extremely important. The tax dollars and economic benefits in these rural areas, it would be devastating if they didn’t have it. You could look at Demopolis, Selma, Camden and Faunsdale and look at the effects on these areas. It would be absolutely devastating.”

Wood, the general manager of Central Alabama Farmers Co-ops in Selma, said the co-ops he manages cover the Alabama Black Belt, which is known for its rich soil, great hunting and fragile economy. Wood said the importance of hunting is reflected in their business model.

“Our business has changed,” Wood said at the second annual Hunting Works for Alabama meeting at the Civilian Marksmanship Program Talladega range recently. “We used to make money three months out of the year – March, April and May – from selling fertilizer, chemicals and seeds. Now we make our money in September, October and November. The paradigm has absolutely swapped.

“We’re also a sporting goods company that sells firearms. You don’t see that at farm stores. We sell hunting apparel. Our focus is on the hunting industry.”

Out-of-state hunters important

According to the latest figures, about 44,000 non-residents hunt in Alabama annually. Because the costs of non-resident licenses are significantly higher than resident licenses, those non-resident sales provide a significant funding source for the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. The economic impact from non-resident hunters also ripples throughout the state.

“What I think is so important is the out-of-state dollars coming into the state,” Wood said. “You’re talking about some of the poorest areas in Alabama in the Black Belt. People travel from all over the United States to go deer hunting in Alabama. These people are paying lodging taxes, buying food and gas, and buying hunting licenses, which supports the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. These tax dollars are not just being used by people in the hunting industry. It affects everybody in Alabama. Even the birders benefit from hunting in Alabama because the habitat enhancement made for hunting benefits all wildlife.”

Wood also outlines the importance of more hunting opportunities for the general public.

“Hunting leases have become so expensive,” he says. “People are having to pay $15 to $20 an acre for a place to hunt. The everyday hunter back in the old days didn’t pay anything. If you wanted to go hunting, you could go up the road and some farmer or landowner would let you hunt. Those days aren’t here anymore.

“That is why it is absolutely critical that programs like Forever Wild and the Wildlife Management Areas from Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries provide the everyday citizen places to hunt and give them a reason to buy hunting licenses. It is crucial that this Division is properly funded.”

Become a member

Wood said anybody or any business that wants to become a member of Hunting Works for Alabama can sign up and it won’t cost a dime. Go to www.huntingworksforal.com for information or to join the organization.

“When you become a member, you’re able to come to our meetings and meet with other people in the industry,” he says. “You learn the facts and figures about the economic importance of hunting in the state. We are fortunate to be in Alabama, where we are a hunting and gun-friendly state. It’s a luxury, and we want to keep it that way.

“We’re trying to build a network of support. Eventually, we’re going to have to talk to our legislators, because there will be issues that come up that will end up in the Legislature. We need to have voices in the different districts who will contact these legislators to express how important hunting is to the state.”

After one year, Hunting Works for Alabama has 107 members with a goal of reaching at least 150 by the end of the year. Pam Swanner of Alabama Black Belt Adventures, David Dexter of Mobile and Grant Lynch, chairman of the Talladega Superspeedway, serve as the other co-chairs for the organization.

“We’re looking for slow growth,” Wood says. “When you have an all-volunteer staff, we have paying jobs we have to tend to. But for many of us, this does affect our paying jobs. And it also affects our way of life, which I think is more important.”

Social security

Ex-spouse benefits and how they affect you

Just like during tax season, it’s good to have all the information you need early so you can prepare and get any money you are due.   

If you are age 62, unmarried, and divorced from someone entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits, you may be eligible to receive benefits based on his or her record. To be eligible, you must have been married to your ex-spouse for 10 years or more. If you have since remarried, you can’t collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ended by annulment, divorce, or death. Also, if you’re entitled to benefits on your own record, your benefit amount must be less than you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work. In other words, we’ll pay the higher of the two benefits for which you’re eligible, but not both.

You can apply for benefits on your former spouse’s record even if he or she hasn’t retired, as long as you divorced at least two years before applying. If, however, you decide to wait until full retirement age to apply as a divorced spouse, your benefit will be equal to half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount or disability benefit. The same rules apply for a deceased former spouse.

The amount of benefits you get has no effect on the benefits of your ex-spouse and his or her current spouse. Visit Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html to find all the eligibility requirements you must meet to apply as a divorced spouse. Our benefits planner gives you an idea of your monthly benefit amount. If your ex-spouse died after you divorced, you may still quality for widow’s benefits. You’ll find information about that in a note at the bottom of the website.

Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html today to learn whether you’re eligible for benefits on your ex-spouse’s record. That could mean a considerable amount of monthly income. What you learn may bring a smile to your face … even on tax day!

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at kylle.mckinney@ssa.gov.

Intentional gardening: Finding garden flow in 2018

had such good intentions when I sat down to write this month’s column.  I was going to create the perfect list of monthly gardening chores that would set us all on the path to a fun and productive gardening year.

After days and days of trying to create a list that works for every part of the state, though, I realized that my intentions were good, but impractical. How can one short list begin to address the diversity of Alabama gardens and gardeners, not to mention the many variables of gardening in this state such as local climates, soil types and weather patterns? That would require writing a book, not a column.

So, instead, I decided to make a list of intentional gardening strategies that can help us all focus on our personal objectives and, perhaps, find flow in our gardens rather than feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.

It all begins with questions.

The first set of questions is all about establishing your gardening goals:

  • What garden style do I want – formal, informal, natural, manicured, something else?
  • Do I want my garden to be ornamental, edible or a combination of the two?
  • Do I want a low maintenance or a high maintenance garden?
  • Do I want my garden to be interesting year-round or just during certain seasons?
  • Do I want a garden that attracts birds, butterflies and other wildlife, draws the attention of passers-by or does both?
  • Then answer some questions about the resources you have to put into a garden:
  • How much space do I have to garden in and do I want to expand or reduce that space?
  • How much time and energy can I commit to my garden?
  • How much money can I spend on my garden?
  • Is my garden area typically dry or wet, sunny or shady or a combination of these?
  • Do I have good soil in my garden or can I improve that soil?

Once you’ve answered these questions, here are some strategies to help keep up with your garden’s needs:

Walk through the garden as often as possible to look for problems, for chances to pick fruits, vegetables or flowers and to determine which areas and plants need immediate and/or long-term attention, such as watering, pruning, fertilizing and new or different plants.

Concentrate on one section of the garden each time you go out there to work, and don’t get distracted by other parts of the garden. You can save those for the next garden workday.

Finally, get your hands on one or more gardening guides (available online or in many books and magazines) that will help you organize your gardening plans with an eye toward your local needs. Two extremely helpful resources for our part of the world include the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Alabama Gardener’s Calendar (visit www.aces.edu and search for gardener’s calendar) and Month-by-Month Gardening — Deep South, a book written by Nellie Neal and published by Cool Springs Press. However, there are many other resources you can use so take some time to explore the options (and, by the way, January is a great month to stay inside and do just that).

Also, tap into the knowledge of local experts at garden centers, public gardens and Alabama Cooperative Extension System offices, attend some gardening workshops and seek advice from seasoned gardeners in your community or from garden club and plant society members and Master Gardeners.

Needless to say, there are many other things that can be added to these lists of questions and strategies, and the month-by-month list accompanying this column as well, but perhaps these will kick-start your own intentional gardening approach and help you find gardening flow and joy in 2018!

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com


Month-by-Month Gardening 2018

Because the exact timing of many gardening chores and opportunities varies in different parts of the state, here are some general guides for things we can all do in and for our gardens and yards each month.

January

  • Choose and order seeds, bulbs and plants for the coming year.
  • Do a soil test.
  • Plant trees and shrubs now and through the winter.
  • Start seed for winter or early spring crops indoors or in a cold frame.

February

  • Prune many trees and shrubs, though not spring-blooming species.
  • Begin grafting trees and shrubs.
  • Start seed for later spring vegetables, herbs and flowers.
  • Remove or treat winter weeds in the lawn and landscape.

March

  • Prepare garden beds for spring and summer planting.
  • Add fertilizer or other soil amendments recommended by soil test results.
  • Clean and service gardening tools, power equipment, irrigation systems, etc.
  • Start outdoor plantings of tender annual crops.

April

  • Begin moving hardy houseplants outdoors and repot any that have outgrown their containers.
  • Keep a close eye out for increasing pest, weed and disease problems.
  • Begin planting summer crops.   
  • Start regular lawn mowing and maintenance routines.

May

  •  Plant summer annual flowers
  •  Seed new lawns.
  •  Water lawns, newly planted shrubs, garden beds and potted plants as needed.
  •  Mulch newly planted shrubs.

June

  •  Take cuttings from shrubs for rooting new plants.
  •  Trim leggy limbs from shrubs to improve their shape.
  •  Remove spent blooms from most shrubs and other flowering ornamentals.
  •  Stake tall flowers and other plants to keep them from falling or blowing over.

July

  • Plant irises and spider lilies.
  • Sow seed for late summer and early fall vegetables and flowers.
  • Keep watering, mowing and weeding.
  • Plant seed for pumpkins and gourds.

August

  • Start planting fall vegetable seeds and transplants.
  • Divide clumps of perennials such as irises and daylilies.
  • Add organic matter to empty garden beds.
  • Keep planting late summer and fall annual vegetables and flowers.

September

  • Plant new trees, shrubs and wildflowers now and on through the fall.
  • Sow seed for leafy greens such as mustard, lettuce, turnips and collards.
  • Plant spring-blooming bulbs.
  • Take houseplants indoors.

October

  • Winterize and safely store lawn and garden tools and chemicals.
  • Clean out flower and vegetable beds and add organic matter to improve soil quality.
  • Keep planting new trees and shrubs.
  • Freshen mulch around shrubs and perennials.

November

  • Add fallen leaves to compost piles.
  • Start planting new roses.
  • Clean birdfeeders and baths and keep them filled for winter birds.
  • Water newly planted shrubs and trees and container plants.

December

  • Add lime to soils if needed (based on soil test recommendations).
  • Prune grape, wisteria and other ornamental or fruiting vines.
  • Plant blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and other small fruits.
  • Stop fertilizing houseplants.

WTD: 360 Grille

Culinary treats with a 360-degree view

by Allison Law


The 360 Grille, perched 20 stories up atop the tower of the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa in Florence, lures guests with its commanding views of the scenic Tennessee Valley and Wilson Dam.

The aptly-named eatery is the state’s only rotating restaurant. Food and beverage director Garien Shelby, who’s also the executive chef, first came to the 360 Grille as a patron. He brought his wife for a sunset dinner, and it was “spectacular.”

“It completely took my breath away,” he says.

The speed is generally set to allow for a 3-4 course meal in one full rotation, which is about an hour to an hour and a half. Patrons seated near the windows get the full 360-degree view in one meal, but the speed is slow enough that the rotation is neither distracting nor scary. (Interior seats are stationary.)

Its views are unparalleled, for sure. But Shelby wants people to have a culinary as well as a visual experience.

It has always been a fine dining restaurant, but made the transition to a steakhouse about a year ago. Steaks are the anchor – the Grille gets fresh beef delivered two to three times a week – but the chefs tinker with Southern staples to create other signature dishes, which are often seasonal.

“Our fish and grits is a popular dish. Our braised bison short rib is popular. We take some of the Southern flavors and incorporate them in more upscale and versatile items,” Shelby says.

The heirloom tomato salad is a play on a caprese salad, with freshly fried mozzarella, a fig balsamic reduction and a spinach pesto, instead of the regular basil pesto. “We just try to play with the classics and present them in a more elegant way, and take fun risks on certain pieces of the dish.”

The dessert menu features a baked Alaska, but made with red velvet cake and cream cheese ice cream. The s’mores are made with a graham cracker tulipe, a sour cream fudge cake, marshmallow ice cream and a toffee ganache over the top. “It has all those flavors our customers are familiar with, but with an upscale twist.” 

The Spring Vegetable Frittata, on the Sunday brunch menu, features goat cheese, scallions and fresh vegetables.

The Grille also gets fresh seafood twice a week, and sources items locally when possible. For example, the butternut squash risotto features local squash.

In the last year, the Grille began a Sunday brunch, again with a seasonal menu. Among its most popular items is the chicken and waffles, which has become almost a staple in Southern restaurants. But the Grille uses a petit New York strip coated in rice flour, quick-fried to produce a crispy meat with a flavorful sauce.

It is fine dining – entrees are generally in the $20-$40 range – but there is a children’s menu, though with an upscale flair. The steak and frites, for example, is a petit filet with Parmesan fries.

The goal is not to have an intimidating menu, Shelby says. “We take our risks. But the goal is for our customers to look at the menu and be wowed, but also to be familiar with the things they see.”

The staff is trained to be able to answer any questions and explain ingredients or techniques that may be unfamiliar to guests. “Our menu is designed to have a conversation,” he says.

 

 

 

Go Slow

by Jennifer Kornegay

Food/photography by Brooke Echols

In addition to good taste, slow cookers give us the valuable gift of time.

In the South, our culture puts a premium on slow. Our speech slides out with a drawl. We take our time and do things at a laidback pace. So, at first glance, a kitchen device with “slow” in the name seems like the perfect match for this leisurely lifestyle. But we all know that’s not reality, the lifestyle anyway. Today, even down here, most of us are daily moving at break-neck speeds, trying to cram more into every single moment by multi-tasking on many levels. And the slow cooker absolutely fits this scenario. By promising to deliver a hot, tasty meal that requires minimum effort at the end of a long, hectic day, slow cookers are just as popular now as in their heyday in the 1970s. Some sources claim that in 2011, 83 percent of American households contained and used a slow cooker. But it’s not just the convenience that we love. The way they cook – low and slow – has a lot of tasty benefits. It gives us moist tender meats (even when we use cheaper cuts), drastically reduces the risk of burning or over-cooking food, and gives the flavors in any recipe time to truly come together. They’re highly versatile. While they were originally used mainly for savory main dishes, now you can prepare pretty much anything, including desserts, in slow cookers. Plus, they use a tiny amount of energy compared to other kitchen appliances, and as another added bonus (especially for Alabama!), they won’t heat up your entire kitchen. So we’ve established a slow cooker is the busy family’s very helpful friend. But maybe we should also take a cue from the way a slow cooker works: Be open to all kinds of possibilities; take the time to really connect with those around us; and step away from the hustle and hurry sometimes. Good things very often come slowly, and they’re usually worth the wait.


Cook of the Month:

Myra Johnson, Central Alabama EC 

Author Myra Johnson has taken her love of Tallassee, Ala., history and turned it into  several popular books, including a cookbook. She’s also got a long history with slow-cookers, leaning on their reliability and convenience for decades. “I used to commute to Montgomery for work for many years, so I used my Crock-Pot all the time. It made my days so much easier,” she said. She’s got countless slow-cooker recipes, but one of her all-time favorites is her Gumbo with Chicken, Sausage & Shrimp. “I love it because it really is so simple. Just throw everything in and forget it,” she said. “It’s also versatile. You can adjust the heat level by adding hot sauce or cayenne pepper if you want it spicy.” 

Very Easy Crockpot Gumbo with Chicken, Sausage & Shrimp 

  • 1 14.5-ounce can stewed tomatoes, undrained
  • 16-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 can okra and tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 pound skinless boneless chicken, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large sausage link, sliced
  • 1 14.5-ounce can reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 basil leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (I use coarse grind)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or less to your taste)
  • 1 bag frozen medium-sized shrimp, thawed (peeled and deveined without tails)
  • 4 cups hot cooked white rice

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, okra and tomatoes, chicken, sausage, broth, bell pepper, onion, celery, Cajun seasoning, garlic and basil, black pepper and hot pepper to slow cooker. Stir gently to combine everything. Cook on low about 2 hours. Add shrimp and cook another 30 minutes until shrimp is warm. Serve over cooked rice or mix the rice in the slow cooker just before serving.


Ham Potato Bake

  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons margarine
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 1 soup can water
  • 1½ cups fully cooked ham, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Spray slow cooker with vegetable spray. Place potatoes in bottom of cooker, then add onion. In a medium-sized saucepan, soften margarine; remove from heat. Add flour, salt, pepper and mustard; mix until smooth. Combine water and celery soup, stir until blended. Add to the mix in saucepan and stir until smooth. Place pan over low heat and bring to a simmer. Remove immediately and pour over ham and potato mix in the slow cooker. Cover; turn on low setting and cook for 8-10 hours. When done and just before serving, sprinkle cheese over top of the mixture and stir until cheese is melted. Serve warm.

Peggy Key

North Alabama EC


White Chicken Chili

  • 2 cans white northern beans
  • 1 can mild Rotel
  • 2 cups diced chicken
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 package white chili seasoning

Combine all of the ingredients and cook on low for 8 hours and serve with cheddar cheese and tortilla chips.

Tina Hancock

North Alabama EC


Crock-Pot Beef Stew

  • 2 pounds stew beef
  • 5 or 6 potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4-6 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 3-4 celery stalks
  • ½ small onion, minced
  • ½ cup boiling water with 2 beef bouillon cubes dissolved
  • 1 can tomato soup
  • 1 can golden mushroom soup

Mix all ingredients together in slow cooker and cook on low at least 8 hours.

Charles Boenig

Baldwin EMC


Crock-Pot Red Beans and Sausage

  • 4 15-ounce cans kidney beans (light or dark)
  • 2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 pounds Conecuh sausage (or your choice)
  • 1 package smoked turkey necks
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • Garlic powder, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper

Pour 4 cups of water into Crock-Pot, add smoked turkey necks and turn on low setting. While the turkey necks are on, chop sausage, bell peppers and onions. Let turkey necks cook for about 2 hours. Open and drain water off beans and tomatoes and add to the crockpot. Add in sausage, peppers and onion. Sprinkle in salt, pepper, garlic powder and crushed red pepper. Season to your liking. Continue to cook on low for 6-8 hours. Great with rice and Mexican cornbread.

Sharlene Parker

Baldwin EMC


Coming up in February…Spicy foods!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

March: Honey | Jan. 8

April: Bread | Feb. 8

May: Junior Cooks | Mar. 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.

Soup, dessert and entree win prizes at ‘Crockin’ It’ competition

Story and photos by Allison Law

From left, Creative Living Center Director Ann Ball, Stacie Bruney, Tif Smith, TerreLynn Huston, Alabama Living Editor Lenore Vickrey and Fair President Keith Norman.

     For Tif Smith, entering competitions at the Alabama National Fair is a tradition she’s enjoyed for more than 20 years.

     It’s also a family tradition – she cooks with her sister, who came all the way from Dallas, Texas, to enter the Fair this year with her.

     Smith won first place in the annual “Crockin’ It” contest, the slow-cooker competition sponsored by Alabama Living at the fair in early November. Her prize-winning dish, Crock Pot Amish Cabbage Patch Soup, is a hearty meal-in-itself that’s perfect for these colder months.

     She credits the unique flavor to the cumin. “You have to be careful with it, but that’s that ‘bite,’” she says. She thought that cabbage would provide a nice layer of texture along with the beans, and she added Alaga syrup to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. One judge noted that even though he doesn’t care for cabbage, he enjoyed the flavors and texture in Smith’s soup.

     She calls herself a “recipe freak,” and after she suffered a detached retina in March, she used her recuperation time to research recipes and think about twists and touches she could use to make them her own.

     Smith lives in Montgomery but grew up in Wayne County, Miss., on a pig farm. She and her family did lots of cooking and sewing, skills she’s tried to pass on to her own children.

     “Tradition is real important to me,” she says, and points to her daughter in the audience. “We’ve been doing this since she was 5 years old, and she’s 27 now.” And Smith’s aunt was one of the “fair ladies” – the dedicated women who work hard each year at the fair to help the contestants and the judges, and who keep the competitions running smoothly.

     Her family was even keeping up with the competition while the judging was going on. “My mom and dad have already called,” Smith says with a smile. “I said, ‘They’re judging, Daddy!’”

     A young man recently asked Smith for advice about competing; he likely knew that she’s been participating in these contests for many years. “You don’t win if you don’t try,” she says. “Anybody can come up with a recipe. You just keep trying. There was many years when I didn’t win.”


First place

Tif Smith, Montgomery

Crock Pot Amish Cabbage Patch Soup

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 large bell peppers, one orange and one red, chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
  • 1 15-ounce can Garbanzo beans, drained
  • ½ head cabbage, chopped
  • 2 32-ounce boxes beef broth
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Several shakes of Alaga Hot Sauce
  • ½ cup Alaga Light Syrup

Cook the ground beef in a skillet and drain. Add ground beef, onion, celery, bell peppers, beans and cabbage to the Crock Pot. In a bowl, whisk together beef broth, hot sauce, syrup, tomatoes, tomato paste and spices. Pour over the Crock Pot ingredients. Cook on low 6-7 hours or high for 4 hours. Top with shredded cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream if desired.


Second place

Stacie Bruney, Montgomery

Slow Cooker Reese’s Cake

Cake:

  • 1 box chocolate fudge cake mix
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1/8 cup Alaga Corn Syrup

Glaze:

  • ¼ cup creamy peanut butter
  • ¼ cup Barber’s milk
  • 1/8 cup Alaga Corn Syrup
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Topping:

  • 30 mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, chopped
  • ¼ cup chocolate sauce

For the cake, prepare the slow cooker with cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, beat together the cake ingredients. Pour batter into the slow cooker, cover and cook on high for 2-3 hours. Check after 1 ½ hours just in case. When cake is done, remove the pot from slow cooker and set on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, mix together the glaze ingredients. Spread evenly over the top of the cake. Drizzle chocolate sauce on top and sprinkle chopped peanut butter cups.


Third place

TerreLynn Huston, Montgomery

Mongolian Beef, Southern Style

  • 2 pounds chuck roast
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • ¼ cup plus 4 tablespoons water
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon Dale’s low-sodium seasoning
  • 4 green onions, sliced into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon Alaga Hot Sauce

Combine ½ cup soy sauce, ¼ cup water, sugar, garlic and ginger in the Crock Pot and stir. Add Dale’s seasoning and stir well. Lay the chuck roast into the Crock Pot, cover and cook on low 8-10 hours. Remove beef; shred with fork, then return to the Crock Pot. In a small saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch and 4 tablespoons water. Add ½ cup liquid from the Crock Pot. Whisk until it boils and thickens. Pour this liquid back into the Crock Pot. Before serving, heat a pan and add olive oil; add the green onion pieces. Let them sizzle for a few minutes. Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce and Alaga Hot Sauce. Serve the Mongolian Beef over rice and top with the green onion sauce.

Whoop whoop!

Glimpsing one of the world’s rarest birds


Across the field on this frigid day, we watched several hundred tall gray sandhill cranes feeding, but we didn’t feel the cold. Quite comfortable behind the one-way glass of the observation tower at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, we felt only the warmth of excitement as we also spotted three special white birds, bigger and more majestic than others in the flock.

Never very common and now one of the rarest birds in North America, whooping crane numbers dipped to about 15 in the world by the 1940s. The population has rebounded to about 600 today.

Numbers of the similar sandhill crane species also dropped early in the 20th century, but now nearly 500,000 lesser sandhills and 100,000 greater sandhills migrate across North America. However, numbers remain low for some other subspecies.

The tallest birds in North America, whooping cranes stand about five feet tall, compared to sandhills at four feet. Darker gray, sandhills have bright red patches on their heads. Nearly all white, except for black wing tips, whoopers often feed with sandhills where their ranges overlap. People can only hope to see whoopers in a few places in the world, but one of them is Alabama.

“Whooping crane numbers are on the rise, but their population is still low,” says Amber Wilson with the International Crane Foundation Whooping Crane Outreach Program in Decatur. “There are two distinct migrating flocks in North America. One is the historic wild flock that travels from their breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas for the winter. The other migrating population is the reintroduced flock that travels from their breeding grounds in Wisconsin down to Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. There are also about 40 non-migrating birds in Louisiana and 10 in Florida.”

Fearing that disease or another catastrophe could devastate the whooping crane population in one stroke, the International Crane Foundation (www.savingcranes.org) and other groups formed the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. These conservationists wanted to establish a second migratory flock and did so in 2001.

“Historically there was at least one record of a whooping crane in Alabama before the reintroduction of the eastern migratory population,” says Hillary Thompson, an ICF spokeswoman. “Sandhill cranes are native to Alabama. Sandhill crane numbers were once very low, but their numbers have increased greatly over time.”

Now, these eastern birds pass through or winter in Alabama. Sandhills usually arrive at the 35,000-acre Wheeler NWR off Interstate 65 adjacent to Decatur in early November. The first whoopers typically follow a couple weeks later, but a severe cold front could push migrating birds southward. Both species generally leave the refuge in late February or early March heading northward.

“The refuge was established in 1938 as a migratory bird sanctuary,” says Teresa Adams, the Wheeler NWR supervising park ranger. “The refuge has diverse habitats, including reclaimed farmland replanted in hardwoods that provide places for more than 295 bird species, including more than 30 species of waterfowl in the winter. A few sandhill cranes started coming here about 20 years ago. In 2016-17, we had about 20,000 sandhills on the refuge. The whopping cranes started coming here in 2005 and their numbers have steadily increased. In the winter of 2016-17, we had 29 on the refuge.”

Photograph in comfort

Probably no other place on Earth provides a better place to view and photograph wild cranes, geese, ducks and other birds up close in comfort than the observation building. A short walk behind the Wheeler NWR Visitor Center, the building sits on a pond shoreline overlooking fields. In an elevated room surrounded by one-way glass, people can observe and photograph birds without sharp eyes spotting them. Photographers can also reserve an observation blind down near the pond shoreline if they wish.

“I don’t know of another place like it anywhere where people can get such a good look at the birds and stay warm in the winter doing it,” Adams says. “On some days, people can see all kinds of ducks, geese, thousands of sandhill cranes and some whooping cranes. Sometimes, the birds come right in front of the observation building. We also mounted a microphone on the building so people inside can hear the birds.”

The refuge closes many roads to motorized vehicles in the winter so people don’t chase off the birds. However, the roads remain open to hikers and bicyclists. Since the Tennessee River runs through the refuge, people can also see many bird species from boats.

People can see cranes and enjoy various exhibits, workshops, guest speakers, concerts and other activities in Decatur and on the refuge during the 2018 Festival of the Cranes, slated for Jan. 13-14. Area visitors can find any food, lodging and other necessities they need in Decatur.ν

For more about the area and the festival, call Melinda Dunn of the Decatur Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-232-5449 or 256-350-2028, or visit www.decaturcvb.org.

For information on Wheeler NWR, see www.fws.gov/refuge/wheeler or visit the Friends of Wheeler website at www.friendsofwheelerrefuge.org.

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

Let’s hear it for the hog

Well, I’ve always heard, but I ain’t too sure,

That a man’s best friend is a mangy cur.

I kinda favor the hog myself.

How ‘bout a hand for the hog!

— Roger Miller

I read the other day that someone somewhere had done some calculations and come to the conclusion that your average American eats 28 pigs a year!

I don’t know just what, exactly, they base that figure on, but I can say, without fear of contradiction, that I and my family and most of my friends have always done our part to keep pork consumption high. We are serious about swine.

Now I can’t claim any particular expertise when it comes to pigs. I only raised one. She ate what we gave her and fattened up real nice. I don’t recall mourning her passing, but I do recall enjoying the meat.

It’s like this. On a farm everything had a purpose, and a pig’s purpose is to get eaten.

Which is why farm folks I knew never made pets out of pigs. Still, among pig raisers I recall a certain respect for the animals, and that respect was most evident at killing time.

I have witnessed only a few hog killings. They were long ago and all sorta run together now, but thinking of them as one, what I remember most was the cold and the efficiency. It was cold because, even though by then we had refrigerators, you killed hogs in winter, when there was less chance of the meat spoiling. It was efficient because, after years of practice, those doing the killing, the cleaning and the carving-up, knew what to do and how to do it.

There was not a lot of talking and socializing, with the work. Those involved were intent on getting the job done as quickly as they could and, though it may seem odd to say it, with as little inconvenience as possible to the pigs.

Now, of course, there is a certain inconvenience in getting killed. But in the killing, there appeared an acknowledgement of the significance of the pig’s sacrifice. There was no laughing, joking or kidding around the way Southerners usually do when they get together. Death was serious business. And it was not until all the pigs had become pork that the mood shifted. That’s when they divided up the meat, setting some aside for smoking, and started rendering the fat into “cracklings” for cornbread. Then there was a scramble to claim the parts that the very mention of today causes consternation in polite circles – chitlins, brains, feet, knuckles, and of course, liver and lights (if you don’t know, look it up).

My Daddy was particularly good at taking bits and pieces and making hog’s head cheese, to which country connoisseurs gave their highest praise – “ain’t a hair in it.”

Today, most people who eat those delicacies don’t even know it. They are consumed as “assorted pork parts” that are unidentifiable in potted meat, bologna, sausage, and stuff like that – which, I suppose, was figured into the 28-pig calculation.

Which is a shame, for chitlins, knuckles, liver and lights once enabled Southerners to make two pigs out of one, and in the hardscrabble South, quantity mattered.

But so did quality. Southerners learned to do wonderful things with these, the least and the leavings. Which is why I’ll take pickled pig’s feet over ground-up pork parts any day.

Yessir, “How ‘bout a hand for the hog!”

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

Alabama Snapshots: Alabama Sunrises

SUBMITTED BY Tommy and Amy Spruiel, Detroit, AL

 

SUBMITTED BY Alice Barton, Marion.

 

SUBMITTED BY Cindy Prater, Danville.

SUBMITTED BY Deborah Walters, Fairhope.

SUBMITTED BY Kathy Hester, Cedar Bluff .

SUBMITTED BY Regina Sanders, Lanett.

SUBMITTED BY Sharon M. Tucker, Cullman.

 

Submit Your Images! March Theme: “Front Porches” Deadline for March: January 31.

Submit photos online: www.alabamaliving.coop/submit-photo/ or send color photos with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Photos, Alabama Living, 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.

About your pet

Pets are more than treasured companions

Pets are a very important part of our lives. One in six American households own a pet. Sixty percent of Americans think pet owners lead more satisfying lives than non pet-owners. From our personal experience, they would be right! We humans started forming a bond with animals many millennia ago. From being just a tool to make our existence a bit easier, like herding dogs, pets have now taken up the role of trusted friend and companion. The history of this bond goes back a long way. A gravesite in the Czech Republic unearthed a 31,000-year-old skeleton of a dog buried with a carefully placed bone in its mouth. This skeleton was found in a human graveyard. Perhaps it is romanticizing a bit, but maybe another human like us placed the bone and shed a few tears before throwing the first handful of dirt on their beloved friend. Over 50 studies in the last few decades have demonstrated the many health bene-fits of pets. Cat owners enjoy a 30 percent reduction in heart attack risk. Watching fish swim lowers blood pressure, and stroking a dog boosts the immune system. Pets provide valuable services as helpers for the blind and disabled. On top of all these herculean tasks, they also work in prisons, nursing homes and women’s shelters providing compassion and healing. The list goes on. An excellent book, Made for Each Other, by Meg Olmert is a must read on this topic. These creatures give us so much in their short lives! We bear a significant responsibility to take care of them and give them a life full of care and joy. A wonderful guideline for animals in our care is called the “five freedoms:” freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, in-jury or disease, freedom to express normal behavior and freedom from fear and distress.

This column will appear every other month.  If you have a pet-related question of general interest, please write to Dr. G at PO Box 687, Geraldine, AL 35974.

Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MS, Ph.D. (Dr. G) has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He works part time at Grant Animal Clinic and is a member of North Alabama Electric Cooperative.