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Alabama Snapshots: Front Porches

Joyce Peterson and great-grandson Luke Peterson, looking for “big trucks”. SUBMITTED BY Debbie Peterson, Robertsdale.

Katie-bell (the dog). SUBMITTED BY Cindy Walton, Vinemont.

Family Christmas 2009. SUBMITTED BY Anthony Paradise, Scottsboro.

Stunning style by the bay. SUBMITTED BY Jeff Hosterman, Fairhope.

SUBMITTED BY Mildred West Hutcheson, Old Nauvoo.

The I.D. Killough home, built in 1904. SUBMITTED BY Annie Killough, Greenville.

Submit Your Images! May Theme: “Graduates” Deadline for May: March 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.

Plant Detectives

Students learn about state’s diverse ecosystems

Students in Emily Smith’s science classes at Pisgah High School visit Graham Farms in Jackson County to collect plant samples, which they will send to HudsonAlpha for DNA sequencing. The classes are participating in the Bicentennial barcoding project, which gives them hands-on experience with an innovative curriculum. Photos courtesy of Emily Smith

As you enter the state from Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, road signs welcome you to Alabama the Beautiful. The highway turns bumpier from some states and smoother from others, but the same deep, green pine forests usher travelers onto paths that lead to species as diverse and complicated and beautiful as Alabama herself.

Thanks to a unique project, high school students are getting the chance to learn more about our state’s biodiversity – all the different kinds of living organisms in Alabama. Biodiversity generally includes plants, animals and fungi, but this particular project is focusing on plants, and will allow students to become like plant detectives – giving them valuable insight into Alabama’s unique ecosystems.

Learning about barcoding

The nonprofit biotech institute HudsonAlpha, based in Huntsville, is teaming with 29 public high schools and community partners to catalog barcodes of Alabama’s flora. Barcoding uses a very short genetic sequence from part of the plant’s genome – its genetic material – to help distinguish plants that may look similar to the untrained eye.

Think of barcoding as the way a supermarket scanner distinguishes two similar products.

This innovative project will allow students to study plants unique to their counties.

Students, most of whom have little opportunity to use advanced technology to study plants, will get a tremendous educational benefit. They’re learning how to collect specimens, enter information into databases, photograph and use GPS to record locations of species, and organize samples and their numbers.

Collected samples will be sent to HudsonAlpha for DNA extraction and preparation of samples for sequencing. Using a DNA analysis program, students will examine the DNA sequences and look for a match to existing barcodes.

If a sequence is not a part of the barcode of life database, students will have the opportunity to submit the sample for validation and register a new entry in the database.

The project is a vanguard for one of its scale and funding from Vulcan Materials and others made it possible, says Jennifer Whitney Carden, public outreach lead for HudsonAlpha. Schools were chosen for their geographic diversity and teacher interest from those who applied.

The project is in conjunction with the Alabama Bicentennial celebration. Jay Lamar, executive director of the Bicentennial Commission, says it’s a wonderful way to open an avenue of participation that would not have existed otherwise. “This is a project that will take place during the bicentennial, but have a life far beyond it,” Lamar says.

A ‘jewel’ of biodiversity

Participating in this project provides Alabama educators an opportunity to introduce students to cutting-edge genetic technologies and the growing field of informatics (a discipline that focuses on the study of information processing); highlight Alabama’s natural resources; and teach the importance of preserving Alabama’s unique ecosystems.

The technologies

and supporting concepts align with objectives in the Alabama Science Course of Study for the units on ecosystems, heredity and unity/diversity, and the activities cross-reference with topics from geography, earth science and early American history.

The Bicentennial Barcode project began in the spring of 2017 and will run through early fall 2019. Students in high school biology and environmental classes will gather approximately 1,775 samples over the course of the project.

Emily Smith’s ninth-grade biology class at Pisgah High School, a member of Sand Mountain EC, is participating. She’s excited for her students to have an interactive curriculum and access to expensive equipment that would be normally out of their reach.

The class partnered with Graham Farms and explored their diverse 400-acre farm in order to collect samples that they will send to HudsonAlpha for extraction and analysis. When the sequences are returned, students will utilize a database to compare them to existing barcodes; for example, students may discover whether a particular species of oak has been cataloged.

“They’re going to get a chance to look at DNA samples, which is very rare,” Smith says. “Alabama hasn’t been that well studied as far as biodiversity and we have a lot of biodiversity. So we’re going to be able to compare the same plant grown in south Alabama as north Alabama to see if they match.”

The diversity of Graham Farms and Jackson County allowed Smith’s students to sample data from a mountain range, swampland and grassy areas. Smith, a longtime fan of biodiversity, learned a lot about her state.

“I was really intrigued with the honey locust tree,” she says. “I knew about the leaves, but I didn’t know they grew a crown of thorns off every branch and their seed pods look like green beans.”

That such a species of the flower exists here, and in a few other southern states, is another example of what makes Alabama’s biodiversity distinguished.

“Alabama is a jewel,” Carden says, and notes that the state ranks fifth among states in biodiversity. We’re the most diverse state east of the Mississippi River. “We live in a unique and gorgeous state.”

Southern storyteller

‘Sean of the South’ celebrates the good, the broken, the angels among us

Sean Dietrich, better known as “Sean of the South,” uses his daily columns to celebrate the South’s everyday heroes and treasured traditions. Photo by Sean Murphy

By Allison Law

After the potluck dinner in the fellowship hall and the speech in the sanctuary, Sean Dietrich greets his fans in the vestibule of this church in southeast Alabama. Those who came to hear him are eager to give him a hug, snap a photo and tell him what his writings have meant to them. He’s one of them, and his words touch their hearts, they tell him. He considers those mighty compliments.

He’s in his element. He’d stay all night and chat with them, if they’d stick around that long.

Dietrich is better known as “Sean of the South,” the name of his blog and part of the title of four of his books. His stories touch on hope, goodness, redemption and kindness. Many relate an appreciation for the slower, sweeter pace of Southern life in the towns and farming communities his readers call home.

The columns that seem to resonate the most are the ones that celebrate the everyday heroes, who perform miracles big and small with no thought of reward; the ones that relate the heartbreaking stories of the angels who walk among us; and the ones that highlight the sometimes split-second decisions and seemingly small events in our lives, which lead us on journeys we could never have imagined.

Finding direction

Dietrich’s dad was a steelworker, and the family moved around – Missouri, Kansas, Tennessee, North Carolina. But as a teenager, home became the Florida panhandle, where he and his wife Jamie live today.

But he says he identifies more with the people in Alabama than Florida. Jamie is from Brewton, and when they married more than 15 years ago everybody in the town welcomed him into the fold. The logo for his blog includes a drawing of the state of Alabama, and the blog name itself is a play on the old Alabama tune, “Song of the South.”

Growing up was tough. After his father’s suicide when he was 12, he quit school to help support his mom and younger sister. He loved music, a talent he started nurturing early on. He plays piano, guitar and accordion, and plays in several bands today.

But he dreamed of being a writer. He would play music at night, often spending weekends at places in the Panhandle where he could camp on the cheap while playing a gig. During his down time, he started writing a novel. “I finished my novel, and I thought, this is fun. I’m gonna do this, I’m going to write a column. I’d always wanted to be a columnist.”

He suffered through some rejections, but they redirected his life and his work. He wanted to be a humorist, and there are elements of humor in some of his columns. But his style evolved into telling more of his story, which got a good response, and then the stories of others he met along the way.

Becoming a storyteller

And he meets lots of folks. He’s naturally talkative, but is able to draw people out; they feel safe with him. “My mother is a lot like this – somebody will buddy up to her, telling her their story. I thought it was annoying when I was child, because she would sit there and listen, and ask them questions to keep them going, and I hated it.”

One night, he and Jamie went out for their anniversary, and a fellow at the bar sidled up to him and shared an incredible story of loss. He and Jamie talked to the man for about an hour.

“I realized that night, I’m just like my mother. Put me in a bar, and they’re going to find me. I’m grateful for that now. I’m learning to listen more than I ever have before in my life, just because of what I do. I want to say that I notice things that were there all along, that I didn’t notice before.”

Dietrich signs a book for a fan at one of his speaking engagements in October in Dothan.
Photo by Allison Law

If he got his natural magnetism from his mom, he got his love of storytelling from his dad.  “My father was a storyteller – I grew to love those stories. (One day) he told me I might be a storyteller too. A storyteller is someone who does not judge, who just observes.”

‘Where the people are’

The columns and books have paved an unexpected but welcome career path for Dietrich. He’s become a much-requested public speaker all over the South. He loves the chance to interact with people – to hug necks, to hear memories, and bring a little light into lives of those who could use some.

They tell him the details of their lives – sad, hopeful, sometimes humorous, always heartfelt – and he’s eager to hear them.

“If (someone) were to follow me around for a week, they’d say, you look like you’ve hit rock bottom. You’re speaking at the rest home, or you’re speaking at the high school. This is not glamorous stuff. These are small towns. But I love it. That’s where the people are, you know?”

Life partners

Sean and Jamie are very close; his favorite column, he says, is the one called “Baker.” Jamie had a medical scare and the two were on their way back home from UAB. They stopped at the Gator Cafe in Baker, Fla., after the doctor called with good news. “It was one of the best days of my life,” he recalls, “and writing about it was a special experience. I wrote it in about 10 minutes, and hardly even edited it.”

Jamie quit working as a private chef to travel with him and handle his scheduling. The two seem genuinely happy to spend their time together, often on the road, meeting strangers who instantly become family.

“I feel like these are the best years of our life, until next year,” Sean says. For many years, he says he was plagued by self-doubt and a lack of confidence. He credits Jamie with having faith in his talent.

Jamie is equally happy to witness his growth and success. “I certainly feel blessed to be on this journey. I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but it’s fun, and we’re enjoying it. We’re meeting so many real people, so many incredible people.”


Sean Dietrich has started recording podcasts under the “Sean of the South” title Each podcast is a collection of his stories recorded in front of live audiences with Southern regional music thrown in. New episodes are released on Saturdays, and are free on iTunes and at www.seandietrich.com.

Right-of-way management benefits wildlife, promotes plant diversity

The data surrounding Cooperative Energy’s new vegetation management strategies shows an increase in populations of quail, wild turkey, white-tailed deer and other species.
Source: Cooperative Energy

By Derrill E. Holly

In Mississippi, it’s a tortoise. In New England, it’s a hare. Those are just two species symbolizing the successes electric cooperatives are achieving with vegetation management strategies designed to reduce right-of-way maintenance costs while improving wildlife habitat.

“Instead of 12 feet of open space immediately under our poles, we have opened up our entire 100 feet of right of way,” said Wesley Graham, a transmission field biologist at Cooperative Energy.

The Hattiesburg, Mississippi-based generation and transmission (G&T) cooperative used the catastrophic system damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to completely rethink its approach to right-of-way management, and the results are paying off. 

“In five years, we’ve seen evidence that gopher tortoises are nesting or moving boundary-to-boundary,” said Graham. He has collected reams of data on nest activity indicating an increase in population for the species which remains on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list.

Before Katrina ripped down much of the co-op’s transmission system, vegetation management meant mowing the entire 1,800 miles of transmission corridors on a four-year rotation and side trimming boundary vegetation over a 15 to 20-year cycle.

Graham now uses herbicides specifically formulated to control woody vegetation within the 100-foot-wide utility easements. Crews walking the right of way are able to treat half the system within an annual control cycle.

“There’s evidence that the change has increased populations of quail, wild turkey, white-tailed deer and squirrels,” said Graham. “It’s a win for the co-op, it’s a win for the landowners and it’s a win for the environment.”

Like many electric cooperatives, Cooperative Energy is reducing its reliance upon pruning, cutting and mowing as primary methods of right-of-way vegetation management, and turning to resource management techniques to save money and energy.

Many G&Ts are working with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state natural resources and environmental agencies. Cooperative Energy’s current vegetation management plan was also reviewed by environmental interest groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation. 

“We’ve worked to develop a program that’s beneficial to all involved, and that includes wildlife,” said Graham. “We’re trying to create ecosystems that support biologic diversity.”

Instead of using turf grasses, like Bermuda or Bahia, Cooperative Energy has stripped away invasive or overly dominant vegetation, enabling native grasses to recover, said Graham.

Graham and other G&T vegetation management experts now suggest that transmission right of way be viewed as natural corridors for wildlife because many easements have been in place for more than 50 years. Effective management can help make them ecological assets.

Starting small for big benefits

“Utility easements create opportunities to establish or expand habitat,” said Mace Vaughan, co-director of pollinator conservation and agricultural biodiversity for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. “When you bring wildflower and plant diversity into those areas, you can make them more productive.” That means healthy new growth can be “feathered in,” featuring shorter or slower growing trees and other plants, protecting more mature forests from high winds that might topple trees into rights of way.

“No one wants trees growing up into or falling onto power lines, so we’re offering solutions that can help promote and maintain diverse ecosystems,” said Vaughan. “Encouraging growth of smaller stature shrubs helps create sunny, open meadows that support pollinators and other wildlife.”

Foresters and botanists have identified varieties of slow-growing or medium-height mature trees, flowering or fruiting shrubs, forbs, grasses and wildflowers suitable for naturalized landscaping.

When they are established along or near a utility transmission right of way, they can offer a welcoming stop for insects and animals moving along easement edges between parkland and larger, undeveloped areas.

Helping Mother Nature

Small populations of the New England cottontail, sometimes called the gray hare, have been identified from eastern New York to southeastern Maine. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is involved in a three-year conservation plan for the species on behalf of USDA’s Working Lands for Wildlife Program. Several utilities in the region are supporting the project in northeastern New York and six nearby states.

A major utility transmission corridor in Maine has been planted with shrubby habitat that could attract rabbits and there is evidence they are moving along the right of way and establishing new active colonies.

The challenge is finding ways to mimic nature, while controlling growth to occupy available space. Wildlife friendly habitats can be compatible with most urban and suburban homes, leaving ample room for outdoor recreation and entertaining.ν

Derrill Holly writes on cooperative issues 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.

Hiring the right contractor

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: We want to make renovations to our home that will improve aesthetics and overall energy efficiency. How can we make sure we hire a contractor who will do a good job and stay within our budget?

A: Great question! Renovations can be the perfect time to improve your home’s energy efficiency. To make sure you get those energy savings, it’s important to do some planning right from the beginning.

The first step is to educate yourself so you can be in control of your project. Helpful, easy-to-understand energy efficiency information is available for virtually any area of your home and any renovation project. Just be sure to use reputable sources, like energy.gov, energystar.gov or your local electric co-op.

You’ll need that knowledge so you can judge the solutions each potential contractor proposes. Some products or methods that are sold as effective energy efficiency solutions may not work as well as they claim, or may be too expensive relative to the energy savings they provide.

It’s important to talk to your local building department to find out if your project requires a permit and inspections. Some contractors may suggest doing the work without a permit, but unpermitted work can cause problems if you need to file an insurance claim down the road or when you get ready to sell your home.

You can also use your newfound knowledge to ask the right questions of potential contractors. Ask about the product to be installed, the energy savings it should yield and whether it will improve comfort. Because energy efficiency installations and construction are specialized, most measures are unlikely to be installed correctly unless the installer has experience and hopefully some appropriate training or certification.

Finding a contractor can be a challenge, especially in rural areas. To find them, use your online search engine to “find a contractor in your area.”  If you’re in a sparsely-populated area, the right contractor may be located an hour or two away. Your electric co-op may be able to provide a list of approved contractors in your area. You can also check with a local energy auditor for contractor names.

You may decide you’d like to hire a small specialty contractor or a larger general contractor. Either way, it’s crucial to hire someone with a contractor’s license, a local business license and three types of insurance: liability, personal injury and workers’ compensation. Check references to verify the contractor has a solid history of cost-control, timeliness, good communication and excellent results, including significant energy savings. You might learn that your lowest bidder has a tendency to increase the price after the job has begun.

As you choose between contractors, quality should be an even more important consideration than price. Poor-quality energy efficiency work will not deliver maximum savings.

Once you have settled on a contractor, be sure to get a written contract. It should include “as built” details and specifications that include energy performance ratings you have researched ahead of time, such as:

• the name of the individual doing the installation

• the specific R value if you’re insulating

• the make, model, the AFUE (annual fuel use efficiency) and COP (coefficient of performance) ratings if you’re replacing a furnace (and ask that an efficiency test be conducted before and after the work)

• the make, model and EER (energy efficient ratio) rating if you are replacing the air conditioner. (Some contractors are able to check for duct leakage in the supply and return ductwork with a duct blaster if you’re doing any furnace or AC work.)

• whether the contractor must pay for the necessary building permits.

Finally, be cautious about pre-paying. Keep the upfront payment as low as possible, set benchmarks the contractor must meet to receive the next payment and make sure a reasonable amount of the payment is not due until the project is completed, passes building inspections and you are fully satisfied. If you don’t feel qualified to approve the project, you could even require testing or inspection by an independent energy auditor.

Then, enjoy your new energy efficient space!

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.

Honey Do

Honey Don’t Because honey can contain spores of clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that can make babies dangerously ill, raw honey should never be fed to children under 12 months old. Anyone with an immunodeficiency should also avoid raw honey. The mature digestive systems of healthy older children and adults can handle exposure to this bacteria, making raw honey safe for most.

BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY  | FOOD/PHOTOGRAPHY BY BROOKE ECHOLS

Packed with health benefits and boasting a better sweet than regular sugar, honey is one of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts and should stay on your cooking “to do” list.

Honey’s sweet. We all know that. But it’s got plenty more going for it too. In fact, its very sweetness is more — more than the one-dimensional saccharine flavor of refined sugar. Its distinct taste is layered, complex, and it’s different depending on which bees made it and which flower nectar they were sippin’ on. The flavor of honey can vary greatly even from one neighborhood to the next, so just imagine the diversity in honey harvested all around our state.

From spreading it on white bread opposite peanut butter for a sandwich that surpasses your average PB&J, stirring a spoonful into hot tea or making a sticky-sweet glaze for grilled meats, honey is as versatile as it is delicious.

It’s also packed with nutrients our bodies need like vitamins B1, B2, C, B6, B5 and B3; minerals; enzymes; and antioxidants. It has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties too. This, combined with its taste and countless kitchen uses, gives it high culinary value.

But not all honey is equal. Only raw honey is the real liquid gold. The next time you need some, take a closer look at what you’re buying. The honey you see in the grocery store may not always be 100-percent honey; some of it includes other ingredients. Plus, some honey has been pasteurized, which destroys most of its health-benefitting substances. On the flipside, raw honey is un-pasteurized and un-processed and retains all of its inherent good stuff. Raw honey has been proven to aid in digestion, strengthen your immune system, balance blood sugar and soothe a sore throat, too.

And while raw honey is great, local raw honey is even better since it contains pollen that is specific to where you live — and breathe. Some folks claim this helps lessen the effects of seasonal allergies. Plus, you’re supporting area farms and beekeepers, so it’s a win-win.

If all of this info makes you want to increase your honey consumption, you’re in luck! We got a great list of honey recipes from our readers this month.


Cook of the Month:

Victoria Motyka, Baldwin EMC

Victoria Motyka has been baking Ukrainian Honey Cake for decades. She wanted to make something sweet for her honey (her husband) whose parents came to America from Ukraine. “When we first got married, I wanted to be able to cook some dishes that he liked growing up, so I got a few recipes from his mom, and this cake is something she made often,” Motyka said. She quickly learned why the moist, spiced dessert stayed on her mother-in-law’s rotation. “It tastes great, and it’s easy to make,” she said. “It’s not a layer cake, you don’t ice it. It’s kinda their version of a brownie or a snack cake.” It has a lot of flavors, yet the honey still comes through. Motyka particularly likes the raisins, and her family likes it all. “They love it. My grown daughter now makes it herself.”

Ukrainian Honey Cake

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg (or to taste)

Dissolve the baking soda in the sour cream and set aside. Cream the butter and brown sugar; add honey and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing between additions. Mix in the sour cream with baking soda, add the flour a little at a time, mixing slowly, then add the cinnamon and nutmeg (can be adjusted to taste) with one last mix and then fold in the walnuts and raisins. Grease a 9×12-inch baking pan and dust with flour, pour in the mixture and bake in a 325 degree oven for 50 minutes or so. It will be very dark in color when done, so be cautious not to take it out too soon. It is an unfrosted cake but a light dusting of powdered sugar can be used. Note that the walnuts are finely chopped, so be sure to warn anyone who might have a nut allergy.


Cast Iron Skillet Honey Lime Chicken 

  • 1 ½pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ cup honey
  • Juice of one lime
  • Zest of one lime
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

In a medium-sized skillet over medium heat add olive oil. In a small bowl combine cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Rub on chicken and place in skillet. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side or until chicken is no longer pink and 165 degrees internal temperature. Remove chicken and set aside on plate. Add honey, lime juice and zest, soy sauce and garlic. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and reduce heat and whisk until it starts to thicken. About 2 minutes. Add the chicken back to the skillet and coat in the sauce. Garnish with lime wedges.

Mary Rich

North Alabama EC


Salted Honey Taffy

  • 1 pound real honey (about 11/2 cups)
  • Salt, to taste

Bring honey to a boil in an uncovered medium saucepan over medium heat (about 5 to 7 minutes). Continue to boil until honey registers 280 degrees on a candy thermometer (about 10 to 12 minutes). Line a pan with parchment paper and coat lightly with cooking spray. When the honey reaches temperature, pour it onto your prepared pan and allow to cool on the counter for 20-25 minutes. Spray your hands with nonstick spray and break off about a third of the cooled honey. Begin to pull and stretch the honey, continually folding it and working more air into the taffy. As you continue to pull and incorporate air into the taffy, it will start to firm up and become lighter in color. Keep doing this for about five minutes, or until taffy has lightened in color from dark amber to tan. When taffy is tan and firmed up, roll it into several long thin snakes and place these back on your parchment paper lined pan. Sprinkle with salt. Refrigerate pan for 10 minutes then use a knife coated in cooking spray to cut each taffy roll into one inch long pieces. Roll up each piece of taffy in wax paper, twisting the ends to close.

Sierra Joachim

South Alabama EC


Heavenly Honey Cake

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup warm coffee
  • 3/4 cup fresh orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch angel food cake pan or bundt cake pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Make a well in the center to add the oil, honey, white and brown sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee and orange juice. Using an electric mixer on slow speed, combine the ingredients well to make a thick batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Place the cake pan on a baking sheet and bake for 60 to 70 minutes. Let the cake stand for 15 minutes before removing it from the pan, then invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Robin O’Sullivan

Wiregrass EC


Russian Dressing

  • ¼ cup honey
  • ½ cup catsup
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder

Whisk all ingredients together. Chill and use on favorite garden salad.

Judy Self

Black Warrior EMC


Honey Graham Apple Bars

Bars:

  • 1 package honey graham crackers, crushed
  • 1 1/4 cups quick oats
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 apple, chopped

Frosting:

  • 8-ounces cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • Vanilla, to taste
  • Crumb Topping:
  • Honey graham crackers
  • Melted butter (just enough to make a nice crumble)
  • Cinnamon
  • Walnuts

Directions for Bars:

In a bowl, mix 1 cup graham cracker crumbs, quick oats, flour and cinnamon. In a separate bowl mix coconut oil and honey. Then add the vanilla and egg. Combine with graham cracker mixture. Add the chopped apple and chopped walnuts (reserving some walnuts for the topping). Pour into an oiled 11×6-inch pan and bake at 320 degrees.

Directions for Frosting:

Blend together the cream cheese, honey and vanilla. Frost the bars when they are done baking.

Directions for Crumb Topping:

Combine the leftover graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, cinnamon and the reserved walnuts. Sprinkle on top of the frosting.

Caleb Pittman

Joe Wheeler EMC


Honey-Balsamic-Hitachi Wings

  • 1 /2 cup honey
  • 1 cup balsamic salad dressing
  • 1/2 cup Siracha sauce
  • 2 dozen wings (drumsticks and wings)

Mix together honey, balsamic and Siracha. Put drumsticks and wings in a Ziploc bag. Shake bag to ensure wings are coated. Store in refrigerator 3 days. Shake bag periodically. To cook in the oven: Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes. To cook on a gas grill: Heat two burners on high. Once the grill is hot, turn one burner off and turn the other burner to low. Place wings on no-heat side, cooking for 1 hour. Turn heat up to crisp wings. They can also be cooked in a smoker at 200 degrees for three and a half hours. Crisp under house broiler, if needed. Mix up extra sauce for dipping.

Bill Stone

Baldwin EMC


Honey Jalapeno Salmon

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 large jalapeno, sliced
  • 2 6-ounce salmon fillets, skin removed
  • Oil
  • Salt and black pepper

Combine honey, lemon juice and jalapeno slices in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer over very low heat for 10 minutes. Rinse salmon and pat dry. Brush lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil for about 5 minutes each side, brushing with honey glaze. When cooked, drizzle with remaining glaze.

Julia Gibson

Tallapoosa River EC


Coming up in April…Bread!

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

May: Junior Cooks | Mar. 8

June: Heirloom Recipes | April 8

July: Frozen Treats | May. 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.

Was that a turtle I heard?

 

 

For, lo, the winter is past,

The rain is over and gone;

The Flowers appear on the earth;

The Time of the singing of birds is come,

And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land

Song of Solomon, 2:11-12

OK, I know it’s a turtledove and the dove got lost in translation, but I’m a King James Version guy. It sounds better. (Besides, as my Sunday school teacher, Miss Kling Dacy, told us after she read the verse, “If God wanted to give turtles a voice, he could.”  So there.)

But I’m not here to write about turtles, or doves, or Miss Kling (though one day I probably will). I’m here to write about spring in the South.

I love Southern springs — especially early spring, when those first flowers push up to remind us of things past. Ride around town and see paper narcissus and jonquils scattered about in vacant lots where once there were homes and people. Venture into the countryside and catch the outline of a long-gone house defined by daffodils where, years ago, a farm wife put out bulbs to add a bit of beauty to her life. Wisteria fills the air with perfume. And forsythia (or “switch bushes” as they were called in families where the parents knew nothing of Dr. Spock or “positive encouragement,” except to say that “if you do that again I’m positive I’m gonna cut one of them and lay some encouragement on you.”)

But don’t get too used to it. February thaws often lead to March freezes.  “Thunder in February, frost in April,” my Mother used to say.

Spring in the South can also make a liar out of you, as it did me once, long ago. It had been one of those wonderful late February days, bulbs were blooming, buds were budding, the earth was squishy under your feet, and the air was full of damp delights. And my friend Jim was in Iowa.

Now Jim was from Georgia, so I figured it was my Christian duty to call him up, remind him of how things were down here, needle him a little, so I did.

His wife came on the phone.

“Let me speak to Jim.”

“He can’t come right now. Our gutters froze over, one has already come down, and he is up on a ladder trying to save the others. And it’s 10 degrees. Can I have him call you back?”

Now I could have told her “No, just tell him that it is over 60 here, birds are singing, and kids are already playing baseball.” Or I could have said, “Sure, tell him to call when he gets down.” And when he did I could have described, in detail, the dandy day he missed by being up there.

But friends don’t do that to friends. In cases like this, friends lie. Which was what I did. “No,” I replied, “just tell him that we are in the middle of an ice storm and I wanted to see if things were as bad in the North.”

There was no reason to remind Jim what a Southern spring was like. Anyone who has lived through one remembers, and can’t wait for another. And a few years later Jim took a job in Mississippi – which he knew was the right decision, he told me, when the feeling returned to his fingers and toes.

And he is in the South still, just like me. And I bet, right now, he is listening out for that turtle.

Just like me.

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.

Five facts you might not know about Social Security

Most people know at least something about Social Security. For decades, Social Security has been providing valuable information and tools to help you build financial security. Here’s your opportunity to find out a little more, with some lesser-known facts about Social Security.
1. Social Security pays benefits to children.
Social Security pays benefits to unmarried children whose parents are deceased, disabled, or retired. See Benefits for Children at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10085.pdf for the specific requirements.
2. Social Security can pay benefits to parents.
Most people know that when a worker dies, we can pay benefits to surviving spouses and children. What you may not know is that under certain circumstances, we can pay benefits to a surviving parent. Read our Fact Sheet Parent’s Benefits, available at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10036.pdf, for the details.
3. Widows’ and widowers’ payments can continue if remarriage occurs after age 60.
Remarriage ends survivor’s benefits when it occurs before age 60, but benefits can continue for marriages after age 60.
4. If a spouse draws reduced retirement benefits before starting spouse’s benefits (his or her spouse is younger), the spouse will not receive 50 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.
Your full spouse’s benefit could be up to 50 percent of your spouse’s full retirement age amount if you are full retirement age when you take it. If you qualify for your own retirement benefit and a spouse’s benefit, we always pay your own benefit first. (For example, you are eligible for $400 from your own retirement and $150 as a spouse for a total of $550.) The reduction rates for retirement and spouses benefits are different. If your spouse is younger, you cannot receive benefits unless he or she is receiving benefits (except for divorced spouses). If you took your reduced retirement first while waiting for your spouse to reach retirement age, when you add spouse’s benefits later, your own retirement portion remains reduced which causes the total retirement and spouses benefit together to total less than 50 percent of the worker’s amount. You can find out more at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/quickcalc/spouse.html.
5. If your spouse’s retirement benefit is higher than your retirement benefit, and he or she chooses to take reduced benefits and dies first, you will never receive more in benefits than the spouse received.
If the deceased worker started receiving retirement benefits before their full retirement age, the maximum survivors benefit is limited to what the worker would receive if they were still alive. See www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/survivors/survivorchartred.html for a chart.

Social Security helps secure your financial future by providing the facts you need to make life’s important decisions.

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

Having a pet teaches a child empathy, responsibility

“When you discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy – something that truly matters – you care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” – Jean Bolen, M.D., psychiatrist and author

In January, we talked about the contributions pets make to our lives. However, this great reward comes with great responsibility. The cuteness of a new puppy or a kitten wears off soon and gets replaced with a sense of “another burden” to deal with. That’s why there are so many dogs and cats that are left in the shelter –– or worst-case scenario, just tossed out on some farmland.

Before starting with a pet, please research what you are getting into. Taking a few months to learn about different pet’s characteristics, the cost of healthcare and how they will fit into your lifestyle is worth every minute of your time. Visit your local shelter several times to meet with the many amazing creatures there.

Talk to the people who work there. They are passionate and dedicated pet people who can help you find a pet to fit your lifestyle. You don’t want a high-energy working breed if you’re too busy to play with them for hours every day!

I strongly believe that all children should grow up with pets.

Having a dog and a cat in the house may prevent pet allergies in later years. A pet can teach a child to be empathic, responsible, confident, have self-esteem and increase their verbal skills.

If you want a pet for your child, it is important to remember that it’s likely you will be the one who will do all the work. But by demonstrating excellent care for the pet, we can teach our children how to become a patient, responsible, kind and generous person.

I interviewed three people associated with the veterinary profession. I asked what was the earliest age they remember having their own pet, and how did they reconcile between the new cute cuddliness and the tedium of feeding and watering them, cleaning their poop, playing and walking them. Surprisingly, I got three different perspectives.

For Jana, it was the rescue mentality. She was only 6. It started with a high-strung “weiner” dog, difficult and unruly! The family would have given the dog away unless she stepped in. Even at that tender age, her “protector” instinct kicked in, she “grew up” and took responsibility to care for this dog. Now, Jana is studying to be a veterinarian.

Next, it was Morwena. When asked about this issue, she simply said, “If I eat, they eat.” So, she was driven by some inner ethics, which was very noble.

Then I asked Amber. She had her first pet horse when she was 12 years old. Her parents taught her the value of responsibility. She was not allowed to ride her horse until he was fed, brushed and the stall cleaned. She was taught that fun comes after you take care of things that need to be taken care of. She learned at a very young age that privileges are earned!

In the May issue, we will talk about vaccines and preventable diseases for dogs and cats.ν

This column appears every other month. If you have a pet-related question of general interest, write to Dr. G at P.O. 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.

MMI’s 175 years of history

America’s oldest military junior college marches into its third century of educating future leaders

The entire Marion Military Institute Corps of Cadets, faculty and staff celebrates “Marion Made Day” on October 4, 2017 in honor of college founder Colonel J.T. Murfee.

By Alvin Benn

Marion Military Institute is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year with numerous events planned to commemorate one of America’s most historic educational facilities.

It will never rival West Point or Annapolis because of its size, but it has left indelible marks as MMI continues into its third century of excellence during times of war and peace.

MMI is America’s oldest military junior college with an origin dating back to 1842 — two decades after Alabama became a state. That’s quite a pedigree to promote.

Universities across America are rightly proud of what they have accomplished through the years, but MMI has its own reasons for such a lengthy existence.

In addition to its academic achievements, it’s also known for military programs that have educated hundreds of future generals and admirals to help protect America. The list of MMI graduates is extensive, with every branch of the military represented. Many have paid the supreme price in defense of their country.

But there is no military obligation in attending MMI; about 40 percent of the cadets are not pursuing a military career. The civilian track students come to MMI to gain peer leadership experience, earn an associate’s degree, prepare to transfer to a four-year university as a junior, and/or compete as a student-athlete on one of the school’s nine National Junior College Athletic Association teams.

The school offers the opportunity to live a disciplined lifestyle while gaining practical experience in leadership and organizational management.

Members of the 1921 MMI “Navy Class” were preparing to transfer to the U.S. Naval Academy; the Marion pipeline to the five U.S. Service Academies continues to this day as a one-year MMI program.

Future once in doubt

MMI has had loyal graduate support throughout its long history, but its existence appeared in danger at one point.

That happened two decades ago when a majority of MMI trustees voted to move the school to Fort McClellan in Anniston, where the facility was in the process of being closed by the Army.

The federal government had offered the east Alabama site as a new location, but a two-thirds vote was required. It fell one vote short on the 18-member board.

What made the situation doubly hard to swallow was the fact that the proposed move to Fort McClellan was orchestrated by Thomas Adams, MMI’s president at the time.

A storm of controversy followed Adams’ recommendation that MMI be moved from Marion, and that eventually led to his resignation as president shortly after he suggested it. He refused to back down from his recommendation to leave Perry County, insisting the school was in too remote a location.

The uproar at MMI was not unexpected and Adams’ idea backfired. He officially tendered his resignation to the chairman of the MMI Board of Trustees on Aug. 9, 1999. It was accepted “with great reluctance.”

The controversy slowly subsided, but it took a few years to ease the unrest just as the state of Alabama entered the picture with a merger idea that helped save MMI.

In 2006 the Alabama Legislature placed the school under the auspices of the Alabama Department of Post-Secondary Education.

MMI cadets from around the country learn to work together in a peer leadership environment.

That move turned out to be an educational shot in the arm that was badly needed. MMI is now officially known as “The Military College of Alabama.”

As part of the transition from private to public institution, MMI phased out its high school program, one that had attracted thousands of students through the years. The last high school class graduated in 2009 from MMI’s prep-school that had dated back to 1887.

New leadership

Marion’s population and businesses have dwindled in past decades – a distressing development for local leaders who have watched the shrinkage grow before their eyes.

Retired drug store owner Roy Barnett, 80, can remember when Marion had three pharmacies surrounded by other thriving businesses.

Judson College, an all-female college located only a few blocks from MMI, has helped make Marion educational bookends. That’s why Barnett named his business “College City Drugs.”

“MMI is what’s driven our economy for many years, but our downtown district has gone through some bad times and it’s not good,” Barnett says.

New leadership at MMI couldn’t have come at a better time, especially with the hiring of retired Marine Col. David Mollahan as the school’s 16th president.

A Marine aviator with 4,100 flight hours under his belt, including hundreds of hours on combat missions, Mollahan liked what he saw the first time he got a glimpse of the MMI campus.

“It had really impressive, stately-looking facilities that you’d think of in the South,” says Mollahan, an Oregon native, after he completed an interview process.

A nuclear engineer as well as a military helicopter pilot, Mollahan has thoroughly enjoyed the past nine years since he took command of MMI. At the moment, he’s busy stepping up efforts to bring more cadets into the fold.

“We’re getting the word out about who we are as well as the unique things we have available that they aren’t going to find anywhere else, especially in leadership and character development,” Mollahan says.

What concerns him today are “myths” perpetrated by detractors. He’s been working hard to dispel them as he moves toward completion of his first decade at the helm.

“Some claim we’re not much more than a boarding school for troubled students and that half of our students aren’t going to class.”

MMI has had fluctuating enrollments for years, with highs in the 600-800 range at times, but that was due to MMI’s prep school involvement. Without a high school now, enrollment has dropped into the mid-450 range, and Mollahan is confident that is what was needed.

“This is a special place with opportunities for students to come here,” he says. “What we do here is develop young people of high character with fundamental leadership skills.”

Mollahan says MMI’s in-state tuition is about $16,000 a year, with out-of-state student tuition listed at about $22,000. He said the school’s annual budget is in the $13 million range, with support from Alabama’s Educational Trust Fund — one of the benefits of being under the

MMI cadets are put to the test on their new, military-grade obstacle course that teaches them physical and mental endurance.

state’s financial wing.

Looking forward

If special thanks are in order at Alabama’s “new” MMI, it belongs to Dean Mooty Jr., who spent five years at the school encompassing high school and junior college before moving on to the University of Alabama. Mooty, who grew up in Marion and created a prominent law firm in Montgomery, not only devotes much of his free time to MMI, but he’s also chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees.

Celebrations have begun on the MMI campus and smiles abound as Mollahan, his staff and cadets take part in events to honor Alabama’s unique one-of-a-kind facility.

Mollahan and parents of cadets took part in the official kickoff event in September when he delivered a speech, followed by the cutting of a “birthday cake” at a packed gymnasium.

He used a number attached to the celebration that also included a “cresting ceremony,” signifying the official welcoming of young men and women into MMI’s Corps of Cadets.

“Today we mark 175 years of history, 175 years full of momentous events, 175 years of ups and downs, 175 years behind us, 175 years ahead,” the president said in his address.

O’Neal Holmes, director of MMI’s alumni and community affairs programs, said a time capsule will be buried in April as part of acknowledging a milestone event in the school’s history.