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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.