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July Recipes

Tomato Time

BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY | FOOD PREPARED AND PHOTOGRAPHED BY BROOKE ECHOLS

Plump green globes are ripening to red. Get ready to make the most of summer’s tomatoes!

At its roots, Southern food is simple. Many of our regional favorites are pretty basic, but built on authentic ingredients and time-tested techniques. Perhaps the purest expression of this is a humble bite that requires three ingredients and two tools (knife and fork): a thick round of fresh-off-the-vine, ripe-to-its-core, summer-sun-warmed tomato. Cut a slice, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then dig on in. Or take things a step farther. Spread a little mayo on two pieces of white bread, and tuck your slice in between them for a tomato sandwich. Kick the situation up one more notch with the addition of bacon and some lettuce, and you’ve created the classic BLT, in my opinion, the absolute best taste of tomato season. All of these applications use tomatoes raw, but you should definitely cook some too. In fact, heat increases the amount of lycopene, a key tomato nutrient, that our bodies can absorb. And with the diversity of this month’s reader-submitted dishes and the depth of tomato flavor they promise, you’ll likely find a few new go-to options to add to your tomato recipe repertoire.

To chill or not to chill?

In recent years, a fiery debate erupted in the food world questioning the old adage “never refrigerate tomatoes.” After some back and forth and finally, some real research, the consensus now seems to be that sometimes you should and sometimes you shouldn’t. If you’ve got slightly unripe tomatoes on your hands, you want to leave them at room temperature. The cold of your fridge will halt any further ripening. If you’ve got perfectly ripe tomatoes, leave them out too, unless you think you won’t eat them within a couple of days. They will continue to ripen, and if left at room temp too long, will rot. Feel free to chill them to preserve them for longer. You may notice a less-than-stellar texture, but it’s better than finding them mushy and inedible.

The South’s favorite fruit

Tomatoes are put on a pedestal in the South; in some circles down here, they are hailed as the quintessential piece of produce in our region. But they are not exclusive to our area. They are grown (and enjoyed) all over the country, and in many other parts of the world. They’re an important part of food culture in Italy. They are the state vegetable of New Jersey — even though, botanically speaking, they are not a vegetable at all, but a fruit. And China is the largest producer of tomatoes, with India second and the United States coming in third.

Cook of the Month Sara Jean Brooklere, Baldwin EMC

Cook of the Month!

Sara Jean Brooklere has been making her Stuffed Tomatoes with Rice for several years, always to the delight of her family. She created the recipe by mixing and tweaking the ingredients of several tomato dishes she liked, including a few her grandmother used to make. “It’s just so good. I love it,” she said. It looks good, too. She pointed to its presentation as another reason it’s a favorite. “It’s really pretty on the plate and nice to serve to guests,” she said. And she offered this tip. “It’s a great way to use up all the tomatoes you get in summer, and you can use the really big ones, but I like to use smaller tomatoes.” She also encourages improvising to make the stuffing fit your tastes. “I actually don’t love garlic, so sometimes I leave it out, and the dish is just as delicious.”


Stuffed Tomatoes with Rice

  • 8 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cleaned
  • ½ cup rice
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced (optional)
  • 6 slices bacon, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced sweet basil
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • ½ cup grated Fontina cheese or Romano cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil

 


Tomato and Watermelon Gazpacho

  • 2 cups tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup watermelon, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped (plus more  for garnish)
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • Sea salt

Put tomatoes, watermelon, cucumber, bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes and basil into a food processor and process until smooth. Add salt and vinegar to taste. Serve garnished with more basil, if desired.

Robin OSullivan, Wiregrass EC


Tomato Gravy

  • 1 pound bacon or sausage
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 pint fresh tomatoes, diced or 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes Splash of milk
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the bacon in a deep iron skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate and keep the grease in the pan. Gradually stir in the flour so that no lumps form, then mix in the tomatoes, continuing to cook and stir until thickened. If gravy is too thick, add water a little at a time until right consistency. Remove from heat, stir in a splash of milk, salt and pepper to taste. Serve over hot, homemade biscuits.

Kellie Petty, North Alabama EC


Skillet Tomatoes and Zucchini

  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
  • ½ teaspoon garlic salt
  • Dash of pepper
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup seasoned croutons
  • ½ cup toasted pecans

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add zucchini and onion. Cook over medium heat until tender-crisp. Gently stir in tomatoes and seasonings. Cover and cook 3-5 minutes or until tomatoes are tender. Remove from heat and sprinkle with cheese and croutons. Cover and let stand 2-3 minutes or until cheese is melted. Add toasted pecans and serve.

Peggy Lunsford, Pea River EC


Southern Tomato Pie

Piecrust:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 tablespoons ice-cold water

Optional: Store bought piecrust

Pie Filling:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow or sweet onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons black pepper
  • 4 large tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon rosemary

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup gruyere cheese

Prepare crust: In mixer, mix together flour, sugar and salt. Mix in butter 1 tablespoon at a time on medium speed. Add ice-cold water until combined. Do not over mix. Press dough in lightly buttered pie pan. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour. Bring dough to room temperature. Sprinkle dough with flour and roll out to 1/8-inch thickness. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Press dough in a 9-inch pie pan. Chill crust before baking to keep crust from bubbling. Also, you can place parchment paper on top with pie weights to keep from bubbling. Bake crust until lightly brown and cool completely.

Filling and topping:

Sauté onions in olive oil until tender, add salt and pepper. Thinly slice the tomatoes and pat dry with a paper towel. Layer the onions and tomatoes, sprinkling with parsley, basil, thyme and rosemary. Mix together the three cheeses with mayonnaise and spread or place on top of pie. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until lightly brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Deborah Peek, Sand Mountain EC


Tomato ‘n Cheese Bread

  • 3 medium tomatoes, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick

Bread:

  • 2 cups biscuit mix
  • 2/3 cup milk

Topping:

  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 11/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • Sprinkle of paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 13x9x2-inch pan with cooking spray. Combine biscuit mix with milk. Knead lightly on a well-floured surface. Roll out dough until a little larger than the dish. Press into dish, pushing dough up on sides to form a 1/2-inch rim. Arrange tomato slices evenly over dough. Sauté onion in butter until tender. Mix mayonnaise, sour cream, salt and Italian seasoning; add to onions and spread over tomatoes. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the dish. For extra color, sprinkle dish lightly with paprika. Bake 25 minutes. Serves 12.

Mary Donaldson, Covington EC


Italian Style Baked Tomatoes

  • 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach
  • 2-3 large tomatoes, cut into 3/4 inch  slices
  • 1/2 cup dry Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions (white and green parts)
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2-3 dashes hot pepper sauce (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 13×9-inch baking dish. Cook spinach according to package directions. Drain well in a colander, pressing with paper towels to remove most of the liquid. Arrange tomato slices in a single layer in prepared pan. Combine breadcrumbs, green onions, eggs, butter, Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt, thyme and hot sauce (if using) in a medium bowl. Add spinach; mix well. Spoon equal amounts of the spinach mixture on top of each tomato slice. Bake uncovered 15 minutes. Serves 8.

Janice Bracewell, Covington EC


Hardy’s Goat Recipe


Coming up in August… Summer Salads!

Recipe Themes and Deadlines:

September
Cheese, please!
Deadline July 8

October
Pies
August 8

November
Sweet Potatoes
September 8

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

The great goat barbecue of 1962

Illustration by Dennis Auth

There weren’t many “official” Independence Day celebrations when I was a kid.

At least not in my little town.

What Independence Day celebrating was done, was done among little clusters of families and friends, and it usually involved pork, potato salad, deviled eggs, ice tea, and ice cream churned by the bigger kids.

So, from my perspective, Independence Day was about eating.

And of all those Independence Day feasts, the one that stands out above the rest was the great goat barbecue of 1962.

Let me explain.

To earn money for college I worked summers for the county engineers – the survey crew, the rod-man, the bush-cutter. This job put me in contact with road construction men, heavy equipment operators who moved from job to job, often taking their families along. That summer a whole bunch of them set up housekeeping at a knock-together trailer park just south of town.

I got to know them on the job, and while we squatted together in the shade at lunchtime — eating sandwiches from home or potted meat and crackers, a Stage-Plank for dessert, all washed down with an R-O-C Cola or a Big Orange. That was when they invited any and all county employees to join them on the 4th of July.

“Everybody’s welcome. We gonna cook a goat.”

Now friends, I was not unfamiliar with goats. My Uncle Dub raised them.

I was not opposed to goat eating.

So, I accepted the invitation.

Then I began to have second thoughts. Did I really want to spend the day and into the evening with a bunch of trailer park goat eaters, folks whose lifestyle seemed pretty far removed from college-boy me.

My hosts at the goat-cooking seemed like gypsies, rootless nomads who were here today and gone tomorrow.

I wondered what I would find there. Wild women without inhibitions and jealous men with knives? Mamas fanning flies from the food while their kids played in the dirt? Or on the bright side, might I catch the eye of the beautiful teenage daughter of the top dozer man, a girl I had seen one day in town with the others.

So, I went into the uncertainty.

It was great.

I got to be part of a real Independence Day celebration – independence from the job, independence from the boss, independence from the culture of shopkeepers who looked down on them, preachers who told them not to do what they enjoyed doing and creditors who’d take their car if they missed a payment.

They were a community bound together, not by a place but by the experiences they shared.

While the goat cooked slow and tender, the little kids played, the teenagers did what teenagers do, and the women laid everything out on tables made of boards set on saw horses. And because I was a worker from out on the job, I sat with the men, and listened to the talk, the stories, the lies (probably) and the lessons.

And I ate.

Good goat.

Then as it got dark they put down six sheets of plywood, sprinkled corn meal on them, brought out an old record player, dimmed the lights, and everyone danced.

And I got to dance with the dozer daughter.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.


Seven Jay Barbecued Goat (makes 8-10 pounds)

(Adapted by John Shelton Reed from a recipe originated by Hawley and Barbara Jernigan of the Seven Jay Ranch near Mullin, Texas)

 

1 20-pound (dressed weight) goat

2 cups melted butter, melted bacon drippings, or a combination

 

For the brine (optional, but recommended):

Approximately 3 gallons water

3 cups kosher salt

4 or 5 lemons, halved

 

For the rub:

2 cups kosher salt

2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons chipotle powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

 

For the glaze:

2 cups sugar, or to taste

1 cup prepared yellow mustard

½ cup cider vinegar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

 

If brining: Combine the water, salt and vinegar. Squeeze the lemon halves, and add the juice and squeezed halves to the mixture. Seal the meat and brine in a cooler or sturdy plastic bag for at least 1 hour (better is to refrigerate overnight or longer). Remove the meat from the brine and pat it dry.

Combine the rub ingredients, mix thoroughly and apply generously to the meat. Let the mat sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before cooking. Cook the goat, meaty side up, at 220-250 degrees, brushing every hour and a half with butter or drippings.

Combine and heat the glaze ingredients, mixing thoroughly (do not boil). Cook the meat to 175 degrees if slicing, 190 degrees if pulling (maybe 9 to 10 hours).

When the meat reaches the desired temperature, brush both sides liberally with glaze so it will set, and return it to the heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let it rest 20 to 30 minutes. Serve sliced or pulled.

Reprinted with permission from “Barbecue: A Savor the South® Cookbook,” by John Shelton Reed, published by the University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

Light up the skies safely this Fourth of July

What would the Fourth of July be without cookouts, baseball games, and pyrotechnic displays in the night sky? But it’s easy to forget that fireworks are dangerous explosives, and carelessness could have deadly consequences.

 

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that in 2015, about 11,900 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with fireworks. Children under the age of 15 accounted for 38 percent of the estimated injuries.

The federal government long ago banned sales of the most dangerous fireworks to consumers, such as cherry bombs and M-80s. But sparklers, firecrackers, and other smaller fireworks remain legal in most states. Lighting your own fireworks is generally illegal in most cities and towns, but are legal in most unincorporated areas. The level of enforcement varies from one jurisdiction to another.

There are other laws in Alabama as well: It’s illegal to explode fireworks within 600 feet of any church, hospital, public school or enclosed building, or within 200 feet of where fireworks are stored or sold.

It’s also illegal to ignite or discharge a firework inside a car, or to throw one from a moving vehicle or at a group of people.

To help make sure your holiday celebrations don’t end with a trip to the emergency room, follow these safety tips from the CPSC:

  • Sparklers aren’t safe for small children. They burn at very high temperatures — up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt some metals — and can easily set clothes on fire.
  • Ignite fireworks in a clearing, away from power lines, homes, other structures, dry leaves and grass, and other flammable materials. Never light them in any type of container.
  • Keep a bucket of water handy in case of emergencies and for fireworks that fail to ignite or explode.
  • Light only one firework at a time, and don’t try to relight a “dud.”
  • Check instructions for storage, but generally keep fireworks in a cool, dry place.
  • Do not place any part of your body directly over fireworks while you’re lighting them, and immediately move away as soon as the device is lit.
  • “Homemade” fireworks kits are illegal. Never try to make your own.
  • After fireworks have completely burned out, soak them with a hose before throwing them in the trash to help prevent fires.

And remember that during a drought situation, fireworks can cause fires that can spread rapidly. Have a water source handy to extinguish any small spark before it can spread. The Fourth of July is a time to celebrate, but we urge you to use caution with fireworks — and always look up for power lines before you shoot anything skyward.

Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Michael Kelley is director of Safety, Loss Control and regulatory compliance for the Alabama Rural Electric Association.

Alabama sea monsters

Large mammals roam coastal waters, but fear not!

By John Felsher

“I saw it roll in the water and didn’t know what it was!” exclaimed the agitated caller. “It came up right next to my boat and was almost as big. It slapped the water a few times. We were thinking of everything from a large alligator to a dinosaur, but I know it wasn’t an alligator.”

The very excited caller described the nearly 14-foot-long animal as “looking something like a giant beaver” with a large flat tail. It probably weighed more than a ton, but it wasn’t a dinosaur or sea monster prowling coastal waters, not even a dinosaur’s relative, an alligator. The caller spotted a manatee, also called a sea cow.

Despite their impressive size and “dino-like” appearance in the water, these large, rotund vegetarians do not attack people.

“Manatees are herbivores,” says Elizabeth Hieb, manager of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Manatee Sighting Network. “The average adult can eat about 100 pounds of plants per day. They are large animals, but typically not aggressive.”

Manatees can exceed 13 feet in length and weigh more than 2,500 pounds, about as much as some cars. Unlike a walrus or sea lion, manatees never leave the water. According to legend, centuries ago, some sailors even described these plump animals as “mermaids” – probably after an extended period at sea and numerous trips to the grog barrel.

“Not many people think about manatees coming to Alabama, but this is their historic range,” Hieb says. “Manatees are not just straying into Alabama waters. The same animals are coming here year after year. We’ve seen evidence of mating herds in Alabama waters and animals actually raising calves.”

Posing for a close-up! Researchers at MSN use photo-identification methods to identify individual manatees based on their unique scar patterns. Dauphin Island Sea Lab Manatee Sighting Network

Recently, the U.S. Department of the Interior dropped the status of West Indian manatees from “endangered” to “threatened,” but the animals remain federally protected. The population of Florida manatees, the subspecies that visits Alabama, grew from a few hundred 40 years ago to more than 6,600 today, says Jim Kurth of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. About 6,300 Antillean manatees, another subspecies, exist in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Central America and northern South America.

“Many manatees live in and migrate through the northern Gulf of Mexico,” says Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael, a senior marine scientist with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. “Until recently, however, little was known about this species outside of Florida.”

To begin to learn more about where and when manatees reside in Alabama waters, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab established the Manatee Sighting Network in 2007.

Despite their blubbery appearance, manatees do not like water colder than 70 degrees. Like ducks, many manatees migrate northward in the spring (though much more slowly) and head south to warmer Florida waters before winter. Most manatees that visit Alabama migrate up from the Crystal River or Tampa areas.

“The warmer the water, the more likely people will see manatees in Alabama waters,” Hieb says. “Usually, they show up in Alabama in late March and depart by early November. The peak for manatee sightings here is July and August.”

Researchers at Dauphin Island Sea Lab rely upon people out fishing or boating to report manatees they see. They also tagged 11 of them and now track their movements to study them.

In Alabama waters, boaters would most likely see manatees in the Dog River area or other parts of western Mobile Bay, the Intracoastal Waterway or Perdido Pass. However, some regularly visit the weedy bays at the southern end of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

“The Dauphin Island Sea Lab Manatee Sighting Network is the first formal manatee sighting network of its kind using publicly reported sightings combined with targeted research efforts,” Hieb says. “Since its inception, the network has recorded more than 2,000 manatee sightings from Alabama west through Texas. The network also operates the first manatee tagging program in Alabama using satellite GPS telemetry technology. We’ve identified at least 30 individuals that come to the north-central Gulf Coast regularly, but we might have up to 100 manatees that come to Alabama. They’ve been seen as far north as the Claiborne Dam on the Alabama River near Monroeville.”

With no natural predators, a manatee can live more than 60 years. Unfortunately, boats hit many of these slow-moving creatures. Scientists identify individual animals by their unique prop scars. Boaters should watch for manatees in coastal areas. A boater can much more easily avoid a manatee than a manatee can dodge a speeding boat.

“Boats and boat propellers can be dangerous to manatees,” Hieb says. “Their white scars from boat propellers are like fingerprints with no two exactly alike. Boat with caution on our local waterways and give manatees space. The best rule of thumb is to stay at least 100 feet away from them.”

To report seeing a manatee or a collision with one, call the hotline at 1-866-493-5803, 24 hours a day. For more information, see manatee.disl.org or visit the network’s Facebook page to keep up with the latest sightings.

John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who writes from Semmes, Ala. Contact him through his website at www.JohnNFelsher.com

Consumer Wise

A new home doesn’t guarantee energy efficiency

By Pat Keegan

Q:

Kanyon Payne, a home energy rater with United Cooperative Service, uses an infrared camera to show consumers where energy losses are occurring.
Photo credit: United Cooperative Service

I recently became a real estate agent and several of my clients have been asking about the energy efficiency of the homes I show them. Do you have any suggestions about energy-related questions I should help my clients consider before they purchase a home?

A:

It’s great to hear that you want to help inform your clients. Many homebuyers do not consider energy costs (such as electricity, gas and propane), which are significant expenses for any home. The average home costs approximately $2,000 in energy expenses per year. Think about how much money that is over the life of the home!

Your clients’ preferences for the kind of new home they want to buy can have a strong influence on energy performance. For example, the size of a home is one of the most important factors that will determine energy costs. As square footage increases, lighting requirements increase, and more importantly, the burden on heating and cooling equipment increases.

In general, newer homes have better energy performance due to advancements in building codes, but buying a new home does not guarantee efficiency. Building codes are not always enforced, and a minimum-code home is not nearly as efficient as homes built to a higher standard. For example, if energy efficiency or green features are a high priority for your clients, look for homes that have ENERGY STAR, Built Green or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications.

Newer manufactured homes are typically much more efficient than older manufactured homes but do not have to meet the same energy code requirements of site-built homes. Residents of manufactured homes spend about 70 percent more on energy per square foot of living space as residents of site-built homes. If your clients are considering a manufactured home, those built after 1994 or that have an ENERGY STAR label have superior energy performance.

Once your clients are interested in a specific home, one of the first factors they should consider is how the energy performance of that home compares to similar homes. Although you may request electricity, natural gas or propane bills from the sellers so that your clients can estimate how much it will cost to heat and cool the home annually, this is not a precise measure of home energy performance. The Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index is like a “miles per gallon” rating for a home that allows consumers to comparison-shop based on energy performance, similar to the way they can comparison-shop for cars. A certified RESNET Home Energy Rater will need to inspect the home and develop a HERS rating. This rating can be done during the inspection process, or you may request a HERS rating from the seller.

A home’s insulation levels will significantly impact heating and cooling needs.
Photo Credit: Matthew G. Bisanz

Hidden systems have the most impact

Although many homebuyers focus on energy features that have the strongest impact on the aesthetics of the home, such as windows and lighting fixtures, it’s the hidden systems like appliances that have the most impact on energy performance. Heating and cooling systems consume about half of a home’s energy use and are costly to replace. Here are a couple questions homebuyers should consider about heating and cooling:

How old is the heating system? If the home’s heating system is more than 10 years old, it may be necessary to replace it in the near-term.

What is the seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER)? Find out the SEER for the home’s air conditioning system. If the air conditioner has a SEER of less than 8, you will likely want to replace it.

A home’s building envelope insulates the home’s interior from the outdoor environment and includes features like doors, walls and the roof. If the quality of the building envelope is compromised, it can contribute to higher heating and cooling costs.  R-Value is the thermal resistance measurement used for insulation, indicating its resistance to heat flow. You may want to learn about the recommended R-value for homes in your region so you will have a general sense about the quality of a home’s building envelope.

If your clients determine energy investments are necessary in a home they are considering, it can be helpful to call your local electric cooperative. Many electric co-ops can assist with energy audits and offer incentives for energy efficient heating and cooling equipment.

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to energytips@collaborativeefficiency.com for more information.

The future of solar energy

By Thomas Kirk

The price of solar has fallen dramatically to become competitive with other generation sources. In 2015 and 2016, the United States installed more solar panels than in the previous 30 years combined. So how did we get here and, more importantly, what’s next?

Solar power is actually a misnomer because it can refer to any power that comes from the sun. When people talk about ‘solar power’ these days, they usually mean photovoltaic, or PV, solar power. This is a specific physical phenomenon in which light strikes a material and causes an electric current. First discovered in 1839 by Edmund Becquerel, there wasn’t a practical application of this effect until Bell Labs realized silicon was a photovoltaic material and used it to make the first solar panel in 1954.

At first solar panels were extremely expensive and only used for niche applications, such as satellites where the ability to produce electricity without fuel is extremely valuable. Gradually the price for solar declined, and solar panels were used for remote off-grid applications and eventually on-grid applications.

Today many homeowners, companies and utilities have their own solar arrays, and many more are expected to be installed over the next few years.

Let’s peek into the future at three different trends and technologies that could emerge: larger-scale solar installations (high probability); solar integrated into new building and home design (medium probability); and a dramatic technology idea of solar arrays in space (low probability).

Large solar arrays, often referred to as utility-scale solar, already make up the majority of newly installed solar capacity. A moderately sized utility-scale solar array can be the equivalent of more than 1,000 residential solar arrays, and every year ever larger arrays are built. Currently, the largest solar array in the world is the Longyangxia Dam solar station in China that covers an area greater than 14,000 football fields. One of the biggest benefits of these systems is their cost per panel. Installing a large solar array is less than half the cost of putting it on your roof. As solar costs continue to fall and more utilities and other large players get involved, you can expect to see solar trending towards more of the larger arrays.

Many companies have tried and failed to develop products that double as both a building material and a solar panel. Known as building integrated photovoltaics (BiPV), typically, these are either solar shingles or solar windows. The dream is a building material that costs the same as its non-solar counterpart, but also produces electricity. If the costs come down to this point, and as new houses are built, windows replaced or roofs redone, they could replaced by solar parts.  This technology has recently gotten more attention from the media because Tesla is planning to begin selling solar rooftop shingles in April 2018.

Lastly, one of the most spectacular ideas for future solar arrays is to put them into space.  Large solar arrays would be blasted into space, self-assemble, then beam their power down to earth as microwaves or lasers. There are several advantages to this.

First, without clouds or the earth in the way, these panels will produce electricity 24/7.  Second, without an atmosphere in the way, more light would actually reach these panels, making them more productive. Lastly, the power could be sent anywhere in the world, as long as there is a receiving station. Many conceptual designs exist for this technology, and there are a number of companies around the world working on making this a reality, but the major problem is still the high cost of sending materials into space.

Until Elon Musk develops a cheap, reusable rocketship, or the U.S. builds an elevator to space, this technology will remain just pie in the sky.

Thomas Kirk is an associate analyst of distributed energy resources for the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Business & Technology Strategies (BTS) division.

Gardens: a medicine cabinet in your yard

Growing and using medicinal plants

By Katie Jackson

Plants have been used for their medicinal qualities since the dawn of humankind, and even today many medicines we consider “modern” are still derived from plants — cough, heart and pain medicines among them. The convenience of these pre-processed modern meds makes access to them easier, but it also means that fewer and fewer people know the importance of plants in our pharmacopeia or how to appropriately and safely use plants to cure what ails them.

There are, however, a number of Alabamians working hard to preserve and reclaim medicinal plant knowledge and, perhaps, put plants back to work for our health. Among them is Daryl Patton (http://thesouthernherbalist.com) who lives in northeast Alabama where he carries on the work of his late mentor, the celebrated Appalachian herbalist Tommie Bass.

There are also members of the Alabama Medicinal Plant Growers Association who are developing a medicinal plant economy for the state.

I’m sure there are many others as well, and I welcome information about them from you readers! But the two I know best are Auburn-Opelika horticulturists Tia Gonzales, a regionally renowned expert on culinary and medicinal plants, and Dee Smith, the former curator of Auburn University’s Donald E. Davis Arboretum who has a deep interest and extensive training in using medicinal plants.

I turned to them for a few recommendations about how we can make use of medicinal plants and they both agreed: medicinal plants are all around us. Though according to Tia all plants have medicinal qualities, many of the best are already planted in our yards (from rosemary to roses) or growing there as weeds (think goldenrod and dandelions).

Of course, as with any medicine, it’s important to know what you’re using and how to use it, so before dosing yourself with any medicine, do your research. There are tons of resources in books, online and through workshops. You don’t, however, have to be an expert to use some of tried-and-true options, especially the culinary herbs that you may already be using in your kitchen.

Here’s a list compiled from Dee and Tia’s perennial and biennial herb recommendations. The list includes just a few of the health benefits of these plants, though most have a more extensive repertoire. By the way, Tia and Dee suggest planting these in containers near the kitchen so you’ll have them at your fingertips.

  • Chives are both easy to grow, drought tolerant and they can help with digestive issues, boost the immune system, improve vision and ward off heart and cardiovascular problems.
  • Rosemary is also easy to grow but it can quickly outgrow small pots so plant it in a big one or try ‘Chef’s Choice’, a new upright variety that is smaller and requires less space to thrive. Rosemary can boost memory, reduce inflammation, relieve pain, protect the immune system, stimulate circulation, and protect the body from bacterial infections and premature aging.
  • Parsley is biennial so it must be replanted every two years, but it grows well year-round and is an especially great option for winter pots. It can help the body heal faster, aid in digestion, help prevent bad breath and reduce joint pain.
  • Thyme, which can be used for respiratory infections and also as a topical antiseptic, actually grows best in pots rather than in the ground. It is available in a range of flavors so you may want to try several varieties.
  • Oregano can be used to treat respiratory, urinary and gastrointestinal tract disorders, menstrual cramps and can be used topically to help skin conditions such as acne and dandruff. Use Italian or Greek varieties for the best flavor.
  • Mints come in lots of flavors, from peppermint and spearmint to lemon and chocolate mint. They are all easy to grow and can become a bit invasive if planted in the ground, so pots are ideal. They not only make great teas and flavorings, they are can soother a number of tummy issues and often have a calming, sedative effect.

These are only a handful of options so spend some time exploring other medicinal plants and their uses and, with the caveat that you should use them all judiciously, you may soon be have a home-grown medicine cabinet just outside your door.

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

Worth the Drive: McLin’s

Steaks and seafood star at Daleville mainstay

Story and photos by Lori Quiller

If you’re heading out for dinner in the Wiregrass, but you can’t decide between steak or seafood, at McLin’s Restaurant in Daleville, you don’t have to.

McLin’s Restaurant opened in 1968 in the old Daleville Baptist Church building by Evelyn and James McLin, parents of the current owner, Ricky McLin.

“My father had the idea to open the restaurant, but my mother was the mainstay here. This was her baby,” Ricky says. “She was the one who stayed here when the rest of us were out doing other things. She was the only one always here taking care of things, but it really is a family business. My mother worked here for about 42 years. My sister, brother and I have all worked here. My wife has worked here for about 35 years, and my son and daughter have worked here, too. I have a nephew working here now, and my granddaughter just started.”

Until late last year, James McLin was a fixture in the restaurant as well. He would often be seen greeting customers as they entered, and sitting with them on the wooden bench beside the front door as they waited for a table. The family patriarch suffered a stroke after Thanksgiving, but the family said he is doing much better these days.

As guests enter, they are asked to take part in a family tradition that is as old as the restaurant…signing the guestbook.

“Our customers have become our good friends. We know our customers by their first names. My wife, for the 35 years that she worked up here, knew everyone by names, their children, she would send them cards on their birthdays, and my son is really good at that, too! I know a lot of our customers, but I don’t know as many as they do!” Ricky laughs.

He can probably tell you his customer’s favorite meals as well. Although McLin’s has always been known primarily as a seafood restaurant, about 20 years ago, Ricky asked his father, who was a cattle farmer, about the possibility of serving a better grade of steak for the restaurant. His father suggested certified Angus beef, and the rest is history.

“Shrimp, ribeye and catfish, in that order,” Ricky said. “But, it can vary from time to time.”

Shrimp, ribeye and catfish aren’t the only delicious options you’ll find on the McLin’s menu. Southern fried chicken, livers and gizzards, flounder, oysters and scallops round out the menu. Appetizers of crab claws and onion rings will surely get your meal going in the right direction. For dessert, don’t forget the pie – coconut or key lime. But, you’ll probably be full, so get a slice to go.

And, if you’re with a small group, no worries. There are several private dining areas where you and your guests can dine away from the two large dining rooms.

From left, Matt, Zach and Ricky McLin continue to operate their family’s restaurant.

“I feel like I’ve been blessed all my life. I had Christian parents who believed in serving good, quality food at a reasonable price, something that people can afford. That was my mother’s philosophy, and I think it still holds true today,” Ricky says.

McLin’s Restaurant may have been his father’s vision, driven by his mother’s philosophy of great customer service, but it has been the life’s work of the entire McLin family that has kept the doors of the restaurant open for nearly 50 years. There’s a sign over the door that James McLin hung years ago to remind the family of the reason why those doors will remain open. It reads: “Thru these doors walk the finest people in the world, our customers. Thank you!”

“My dad put that up over the door,” Ricky says. “We had a fire in 1993, and I really thought that was the worst night of my life. I had never been where I couldn’t take care of my family, but the Lord takes care of things. We were closed for four months, but we were able to expand during that time. We were worried whether the community would come back to us after being closed for so long, but they did…probably about 80-90 percent of them are still with us from back then. It’s a great feeling to know that our customers love us that much! My son has tried to get me to walk through the parking lot to see where all our customers come from. There are tags from Troy, Elba, Geneva, Florida. In my opinion, especially on the weekends, people like to go out and enjoy good food, so they don’t mind driving a piece to get it. That’s why we take great care in the food we serve. We want our customers to have a great meal every time they visit with us!”


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McLin’s Restaurant

2 Old Newton Road, Daleville, AL 36322

Phone: (334) 598-2774

Hours:

Closed Sunday & Monday

Open Tuesday – Friday

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.;

4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Open Saturday

4:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Alabama People: Thom Gossom

Author, actor,
Auburn fundraiser

By Lenore Vickrey

Alabama Living last talked to actor and author Thom Gossom in 2014 after the premiere of “Quiet Courage: The James Owens Story,” the documentary that chronicled his friend Owens’ journey as Auburn’s first black scholarship football player. Owens died in 2016, and it’s been almost 10 years since the publication of Gossom’s own memoir, Walk-On: My Reluctant Journey to Integration at Auburn University, about his years as the first black athlete in the SEC to earn a full scholarship and graduate from Auburn. But Gossom has stayed busy with his acting career, writing more books, and promoting his alma mater. Most recently, he chaired the Auburn Foundation which hit its $1 billion fundraising goal more than a year ahead of schedule, making Auburn the first university in the state to raise that figure. We talked to Gossom, 65, who lives in northwest Florida with his wife but frequently comes back to his native Alabama, as he was preparing to speak to incoming freshmen football and basketball players at Auburn.

What’s been the reaction to the movie and the book?

I was very proud of the movie. It was my tribute to James. I felt he deserved it. It was also the university’s tribute to James and that whole experience. It was a part of our history, of the black students who were there and the university as a whole. I felt the story needed to be told about life in the ’60s and ’70s.

Was there a similar motivation for writing your book?

Yes, if that book had not been done, that part of our history would have been lost. So yes, I knew I would write the book when I was at Auburn. I started saving things. I thought it was a historical moment. I was always a history buff. My intention was to write about that time. The reaction of the university and alumni has been very positive. The book has been passed around from grandparents to parents to students. It’s been 10 years and the book still sells.

How did you come up with the idea for your “Slice of Life” series of books? They are labeled fiction, but how many of their characters are based on folks you’ve known?

They are composite characters. Some are based on some of the things I’ve seen. As an actor, you have to be observant. You get your base of a character from something you see and build it from there. The first book has more things I’ve seen and maybe participated in somewhat. The second and third are 100 percent fiction. There’s another one coming out, “I’ll Take the Crumbs,” which will be more contemporary and futuristic.

You’ve played characters onstage, in several TV shows, including “In the Heat of the Night,” “NYPD Blue,” and “Boston Legal” and in movies like “Miss Evers’ Boys” and “Fight Club.” What’s the most memorable role you’ve played?

It was for an episode of “NYPD Blue,” “Lost Israel (1997.)” It won an Emmy award. I played the title character, a homeless man who lived in a park, and who did not talk. He was accused of raping, molesting and killing a little boy, something he did not do. He could talk, but he chose not to.

It was a challenging role. For that entire time I was on set for nine days, I never said a word. A couple months ago, at one of the Auburn events, a guy came up to me and said, “I have every episode of ‘NYPD Blue’ and I’ve watched that one 4-5 times and I never knew that was you.” That was probably the best and hardest job I’ve ever done, but the most satisfying.

You recently headed up a highly successful fund drive for your alma mater, Auburn University, which raised an astounding $1 billion. You and fellow actor and alum Michael O’Neill co-hosted a live show in support of the campaign in multiple cities across the country.  Tell us about that.

It was very strategic thinking on the part of the university. Having me as the chair doing these live events suited my skill set. It was something I believed in. We had a very creative communications team in the development department who would write great scripts for us. I got to tinker with it, to own the script, so it became me. It was just awesome. We felt very strongly, based on the wonderful job the development department was doing, that we would reach our goal ahead of time. Last I heard we were at $1 billion, 150 million. For me, it was knowing my history coming to Auburn as a walk-on, coming in during integration, being the first African American to graduate, the painful period, all that stuff, it was so gratifying and satisfying to be a part of something like that. Now I say, “We’ve done something that’s never been done before! What are we going to do for an encore?”

What new projects are you working on?

I’ve been talking to Michael O’Neill about working on a piece together called “Alabama Boys.” Basically it highlights our separate journeys together, including at Auburn and Hollywood. That would resonate. It would be something as a fundraiser for the university. I also have to finish the last book in the short story collection. And I’ve got a couple feelers out for film projects, waiting to see if they materialize. The last show I did for TV was “Containment” (2016), a limited series. So we’ll see what’s next. It’s been a great ride. I don’t want it to stop right now.

Alabama Bookshelf

“Selma: A Bicentennial History,” by Alston Fitts III, University of Alabama Press, 2016, $39.95 (history). The book is a revised and expanded version of Fitts’ history of Selma originally published in 1989, including new illustrations and details of events that shaped Selma’s growth and development from 1815 to the end of the 20th century. Fitts, a native of Tuscaloosa, served for many years as the director of information and principal fundraiser for the Selma-based Edmundite Missions, a Catholic organization.


“The Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story,” by Miriam C. Davis, Chicago Review Press, March 2017, $26.99 (true crime/history).  Montgomery resident and Alabama Living contributor Miriam C. Davis brings to light the facts of a Jack-the-Ripper-style killing spree that terrorized New Orleans in the 1910s. For nearly a decade an ax-wielding killer preyed on Italian grocers in their homes at night, leaving his victims in a pool of blood. The book includes new evidence that the suspect most commonly tied to the case could not have committed the crimes and thus the real killer may never be known.


“Footprints in Stone: Fossil Traces of Coal-Age Tetrapods” by Ronald J. Buta and David C. Kopaska-Merkel, University of Alabama Press, 2016, $49.95 (natural history/paleontology). The book tells the story behind the discovery, documentation and preservation of the Union Chapel coal mine in Walker County, where footprints of primitive creatures in the dark gray shale give important information on the ecosystem that existed during the coal age, more than 300 million years ago.


“Mr. Brandon’s School Bus: What I Heard on the Way to School,” by Tom Brandon, NewSouth Books, 2016, $15.95  (humor). Teacher Tom Brandon drives his school bus twice a day in rural Madison County, Alabama, and over the 30 years of his career he’s heard some hilarious tales from the mouths of the schoolchildren he’s transported to and from Walnut Grove Elementary. The book is a compilation of those stories, some of which he previously documented on his blog, mrbrandonsbus.blogspot.com.


“Historic Alabama Courthouses: A Century of Their Images and Stories,” by Delos Hughes, NewSouth Books, 2017, $25.95 (architecture/history). If you’ve ever been curious about the history of your county courthouse, this book could provide some fascinating details. Organized alphabetically, from the Autauga County Courthouse in Prattville to the Winston County Courthouse in Double Springs, the book features historical, architectural, social, legal and political information and photographs of more than 120 buildings. The author is an Auburn native whose previous book is “Lost Auburn: A Village Remembered in Period Photographs” (2012).


In this periodic feature, we highlight books either about Alabama people or events or written by Alabama authors. Summaries are not reviews or endorsements. We also occasionally highlight book-related events. Email submissions to bookshelf@alabamaliving.coop.