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Recipes: Gifts from the gulf

By Jennifer Kornegay | Food prepared and photographed by Brooke Echols

Indulge in shrimp and other shellfish fresh from Alabama’s Gulf Coast waters.

If you’re a fan of shrimp, crabs, oysters and more, count yourself lucky to live in Alabama. Our state’s Gulf Coast waters are teeming with these tasty animals, and dedicated men and women – some who’ve been in the seafood industry for decades – are working hard to snatch them up and get them to consumers. With a ready supply of Alabama seafood available, it makes good sense to “ buy local” when you can.  For one thing, shrimp and shellfish caught closer to you will be fresher, retaining more flavor and maintaining their proper texture longer. Plus, you’re helping support the livelihoods of fellow Alabamians as well as the state’s overall fiscal health.  In 2014 alone, the Alabama’s shrimp fleet brought in more than 17 million pounds of shrimp and that same year, the economic impact from total commercial fishing in our state was $573 million. So when you’re shopping for the ingredients for this month’s reader-submitted recipes, look for Alabama shrimp and shellfish at your market, and if they’re not there, ask if they can get some for you.


Kathy Skinner, Tallapoosa River EC

Cook of the Month!

 

The first time Kathy Skinner made her Green Tomato Shrimp Creole, it was on a whim and as a way to use up some ingredients. “I’d been making a really big batch of fried green tomatoes and had a a lot of already sliced tomatoes left over,” she said. “I also had some shrimp on hand, so I decided to try something new.” She took the basic flavors and methods of traditional shrimp creole and subbed tart green tomatoes fresh from her backyard garden for red ones, and it turned out tasty. “I loved it, and I’ve been making it for a long time now,” she said. “It has become one of my favorite ways to cook shrimp.”

Kathy’s Green Tomato Shrimp Creole

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 green tomatoes, chopped

1 red tomato, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup ham bouillon or broth

1 can green chilies, rinsed & drained

1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

Hot sauce as desired

1/4 cup catsup or tomato paste

1/2 pound medium shrimp

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil. Add tomatoes and green chilies. Cover and cook on medium high about 5 minutes or until tomatoes begin to break down. Add remaining ingredients except shrimp. Cook on medium heat, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until liquid is slightly reduced and thickened. Add shrimp. Cover and cook 2-5 minutes or until shrimp just turn pink. Serve over rice or grits. Salt and pepper to taste.


Shrimp and Artichoke Bake

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1½ cups half and half

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

¼ cup sherry

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon creole seasoning

2 egg yolks

113-ounce can artichokes, drained

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

¼ pound mushrooms, sliced or chopped

¾ cups grated cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese

Paprika
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Blend in flour to make a paste and add half and half. Stir until thick. Add parmesan cheese, sherry, Worcestershire sauce and creole seasoning. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Temper egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of the hot mixture. Add tempered eggs to the sauce. Mix artichoke, shrimp and mushrooms in a baking dish and pour sauce over. Sprinkle top with grated cheese and paprika. Bake for 30-45 minutes. Serve over rice.
Angela Bradley, Clarke-Washington EMC


Lower Alabama Spicy Shrimp

2 pounds (30-count) Gulf Wild Shrimp, shells removed

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

4 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

2 teaspoons Chef Paul’s Blackened Redfish Magic

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

214-ounce cans artichoke hearts, drained and quartered

1 stick butter

1½ tablespoons garlic, minced

4 servings spaghetti or pasta of choice
Prepare pasta according to package instructions, drain and set aside. Place a large frying pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Melt butter and add mushrooms. Cook mushrooms until they begin to darken, add artichokes and garlic, mix well; cover. Reduce heat to low for 20 minutes. Liquid will form in the bottom of the pan. Blend all seasonings together to make one seasoning. Increase heat to medium-high and add shrimp to the pot. Add seasoning and mix very well until seasoning coats everything evenly. Cook until shrimp are pink and form a tight “C”. Add pasta and mix, turn off heat. Let stand 15 minutes; pasta will absorb remaining liquid.
Jean Vick, Baldwin EMC


Quick Crab Cakes with a Kick

12 ounces crab meat

1 egg

2 teaspoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons mayo

1 teaspoon sriracha sauce

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

3 green onions, chopped

1/2 cup regular bread crumbs

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil for frying
Add all ingredients, except oil, to a bowl. Mix gently. Form into patties. Heat oil in cast iron skillet over medium heat. Place patties in skillet and cook only 3 to 4 at a time so they cook evenly, about 4-5 minutes per side. Cook until golden brown. Crab cakes can also be baked in the oven at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. Flip patties half way through cook time.
Jennifer Tijsma, Sand Mountain EC


Shrimp Jambalaya

¼ cup cooking oil

1 pound smoked sausage, sliced

1 pound chicken, cubed

2 pounds peeled shrimp

1 cup onion, chopped

1 cup bell pepper, chopped

1 cup green onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

116-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, reserving juice

1½ cups chicken stock or water

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup converted rice

1½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
In a heavy dutch oven, sauté sausage and chicken until lightly browned. Remove from pot. Sauté onion, bell pepper, green onion and garlic in meat drippings until tender. Add tomatoes, thyme, pepper and salt. Cook 5 minutes. Stir in rice. Mix together liquid from tomatoes, stock (or water) and Worcestershire sauce to equal 2 ½ cups; add to rice mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add raw shrimp, sausage and chicken. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until rice and shrimp are done.
Rev. J. B. Wells, Coosa Valley EC


Shrimp/Crab Gumbo

4 strips bacon, chopped

1 bell pepper, diced

2 medium sweet onions, diced

4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

3 bay leaves

1-2 cups chopped okra (your preference)

1 large can diced tomatoes

1 small can tomato sauce

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 1/2 pounds peeled raw shrimp

2 pounds crab meat (either lump, claw or mixed)

Whole crab bodies and cracked claws (add water as needed), optional
Dice about four strips of bacon into large soup pot. Brown the bacon and remove from grease. Add bell pepper, onions, chopped garlic and bay leaves, sauté until tender. Add 1 to 2 cups chopped okra, adding enough water to cover and simmer until okra is tender. Add the bacon, crumbled, and 1 large can diced tomatoes and 1 small can tomato sauce. Add more water if too thick. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaves. Bring to almost a boil and add 2 1/2 pounds peeled, raw shrimp and 2 pounds crab meat (either lump, claw or mixed). Better yet, whole crab bodies and claws if you are so lucky. Simmer just until shrimp have turned pink. You may add some file seasoning, if preferred. Serve over steamed white rice. We put out a bottle of hot sauce and let each person add if they want some zing to it.
Stevie Walker, Baldwin EMC


Janet’s Alabama Voodoo Shrimp

1/2 pound fettuccine

1 pound Kelley’s Baby Link Sausage (this comes pre-cooked, available at most grocery stores and is made in Elba, Alabama)

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon Old Bay

1 teaspoon Tony Chacheres Creole Seasoning

1 teaspoon and a dash garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon onion powder

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 pound small Alabama Gulf Coast Shrimp (peeled, deveined, tails off)
Boil fettuccine 1 minute less than directed in water seasoned with 1 teaspoon of salt and a dash of garlic powder. (Tip: Do not add any oil or butter to the water. This will help your sauce stick to the noodles.) Cut Kelley’s Baby Link Sausage into 1/2-inch pieces. In a large 10-inch skillet, over medium heat, combine butter, olive oil, Old Bay, Tony Chacheres, garlic powder, onion powder, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Stir constantly allowing butter to melt and seasonings to combine, about 3 minutes. Add sausage and shrimp. Sauté together, stirring well until all pieces are well covered with the sauce. Cover and simmer for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Toss in fettuccine and mix well for 1 minute, until fettuccine is covered with sauce. Best plated in a bowl, so you can add extra sauce over the top. Makes 4 large servings. Note: It takes less than 20 minutes to make this meal from start to finish, if you purchase your shrimp already peeled, deveined and tails off.
Janet Kynard, Central Alabama EC


Shrimp and Crab Au Gratin

Seasoning:

2 tablespoons salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 /4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon rosemary
Sauce:

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 bell pepper, finely chopped

4-ounces cream cheese

2 cups milk

2 tablespoons flour

2 cloves garlic, smashed

Red Pepper Flakes, to taste

4-ounces smoked Gouda cheese

1/2 cup heavy cream
Filling:

1 pound gumbo shrimp (90-110)

1 pound crab meat (chop fine if using imitation)

2 green onions, chopped

Bacon drippings

Parmesan cheese for topping
Seasoning: mix seasoning ingredients in a small bowl. Sauce: in a medium saucepan, melt bacon drippings. Add finely chopped onion and bell pepper and sauté about one minute stirring frequently. Add garlic, then one teaspoon seasoning. Stir frequently for one to two minutes. Add flour gradually mixing well. Stir in milk and bring to simmer whisking frequently. When mixture thickens, add cream and bring to boil whisking constantly. Remove from heat and add cream cheese, Gouda cheese and red pepper flakes. Stir until cheeses melt. Filling: in a large skillet, melt bacon drippings. Add shrimp and sauté about one minute, stirring occasionally. Stir in crab meat, two teaspoons seasoning mix and green onions. Stir occasionally and be gentle if using real crab meat. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until shrimp are almost done. Stir in sauce and bring mixture to boil. Remove from heat. Ladle/pour mixture into gratin bowls. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted and starts to brown. Serve hot!
Clyde Helmer, Baldwin EMC


Shrimp Destin

6 ounces angel hair pasta, broken into halves, cooked and drained (but still warm)

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch green onions, sliced, including some of green stems

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/2 -2/3 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 teaspoon each seasoned salt, black pepper and Greek seasoning (such as Cavender’s)

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ cup dry white wine

1 chicken bouillon cube dissolved in ¼ cup water

2 Roma tomatoes, diced

¼ cup Italian parsley, minced

1-2 teaspoons cornstarch

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium high. Sauté green onions for 1 minute. Add garlic and cook for 1 additional minute. Add shrimp and seasonings (salt, pepper, Greek seasoning and cayenne pepper) and cook for 1 minute; turn shrimp and cook only 1 minute more. Add wine, bouillon mixture, tomatoes and parsley and cook 1 to 2 minutes (according to size of shrimp). Add 1-2 teaspoons cornstarch, stirring to slightly thicken. Toss the mixture with warm pasta. If a little dry, add additional water with bouillon. Top with grated parmesan cheese.
Jeanne McKinney, Alexander City


Shrimp with Orzo and Feta

Nonstick cooking spray

1 cup orzo (cooked according to package directions)

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 1/2 cups fresh tomato, diced

3/4 cups onion, chopped green

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (fresh or frozen raw shrimp work well: defrost frozen under running water prior to using)

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Cook the orzo (rice shaped pasta) according to the package directions, being careful not to overcook the pasta. Combine the orzo with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, tomato, green onion, feta, lemon zest and juice, and pepper; place in prepared baking dish. Combine shrimp with fresh basil and arrange on top of pasta mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes or until the shrimp is done. Drizzle with remaining olive oil.
SaLena Embry, Covington EC

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

By Hardy Jackson

The best wedding I never attended

It is wedding season.

Weddings, as you surely know, are a big deal in Dixie. Southern brides start planning theirs from the time they are flower girls, and when their wedding rolls around they have a closet full of bridesmaid dresses in colors never seen in nature and in styles they would never be caught dead in, except on “that day.”

All in preparation for “their moment.”

I was privy to the planning of one wedding where discussions focused on the length of the bridesmaids’ dresses – same distance from the floor or same distance below the knee. (Think about it. Unless the bridesmaids are the same height, you got a problem. You never thought about it? Me neither. But the bride-to-be did.)

And the bride must be the center of attention – which is why bridesmaids have ugly dresses, but not so ugly that they would be the center of attention instead of the bride.

What role does the groom play?

When he ain’t even the “best man” at his own wedding, you know where he is in the pecking order. He, his “best,” and the preacher sneak in while everyone is watching the center of attention come down the aisle.

Then somebody sings something to drag the whole thing out a little longer.

Well, none of that for Beth Ann.

When she got married, nobody came.

I have known Beth Ann since she was a toddler. She teaches school like her Mama, hunts like her Daddy, cuts hay, raises cows and rides horses.

Which is how she met her husband.

He is a farrier.

For the uninitiated, a farrier shoes horses. A farrier is not a blacksmith, though they can be, and to many folks the two are the same, and sometimes they are.

Beth Ann’s horse needed shoeing.

They started dating, and soon people began asking: “When you gonna get married?”

Then more questions:

“Will y’all be married on horseback?”

“What will she wear?”

“What will her sisters wear?”

Then all the questions were answered.

The horses stayed in the stable.

Mama and sisters weren’t even invited. Neither was Daddy, Pop, Mamaw, cousins and friends.

No, they didn’t run off, sneak away, elope or whatever.

They simply told everyone up front that they did not want to get married in a church full of everybody, with Mama and sisters all frilled up and Daddy giving her away in a rented tux, with she and the groom-to-be and the families on both sides shelling out bucks that could be better spent on breeding stock or a new saddle.

When they were ready they went down to the courthouse and got the license. Then they met with a preacher friend who married them. The preacher’s wife was the only witness.

And nobody got upset.

And later, when there was a hint of fall in the air, they had a party.

It’s the cowgirl way. It’s Beth Ann’s way. And nobody worried about the length of anyone’s dress.

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

Consumer Wise: Windows to the world

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Where to start when replacing your windows

Question:

We recently bought a home with windows from the 1960s that are drafty and need replacing. We would like to ensure that our new windows are energy efficient. Can you offer any tips?

Answer:

Replacing your windows is often the most costly and least cost-effective energy efficiency investment you can make. But there are sound reasons besides energy efficiency to invest in new windows, such as comfort, resale value and aesthetics.

As you look into window replacement, think about your goals. If reducing your energy costs is important, you should weigh an investment in new windows against the other energy efficiency opportunities you may have. An energy audit by a qualified auditor is the best way to compare your options.

An energy auditor uses an infrared camera to look for areas around the window that are leaky or poorly insulated.
Photo: Piedmont Electric Membership Corp.

The auditor can perform a diagnostic test to determine how leaky your windows are. These tests often show that windows, even old ones like yours, are not as leaky as you might think and that you have more significant air leakage problems elsewhere in the home.

You may discover there are ways to reduce heat loss through your windows without replacing them, such as storm windows or window coverings. More on that next month.

As you begin to explore window replacement, ask yourself if you’re happy with the number of windows you have and with the size and location. You could decide to increase or decrease the size of a window, or to replace a window with an exterior door. Sometimes these types of changes are quite affordable, but the cost can be much greater if significant changes to the wall framing are required.

When considering whether to add more windows, remember that even very efficient ones are much less effective insulators than a home’s exterior walls, which means they will be colder to the touch than the wall in the winter. Depending on orientation and shading, windows can let in too much direct sun in the summer, driving up indoor temperatures and air conditioning costs.

Window buyers have a number of choices to make. Double-pane windows are necessary to meet code for most applications, but the additional cost for triple-pane windows could be worth the investment if you live in an area with extreme temperatures.  Choosing Argon or Krypton gas between the panes adds a little more efficiency.

A common option that can be well worth the investment is a low-emissivity coating added to the glass. The most important benefit of this  “low-e” coating is its ability to reflect heat back into the interior space, which reduces heating bills and increases comfort. These coatings reduce solar heat gain as well, which can help with air conditioning costs.

Window frames can be made of wood, composite materials, fiberglass, aluminum or vinyl. Each has pluses and minuses in terms of cost, maintenance, durability and energy efficiency.

Fortunately, windows are rated for energy efficiency, so you don’t need to know all the details about their construction. The most important indicator of a window’s energy efficiency is the U-factor, which measures the rate the entire window loses heat. Lower U-factors are more efficient. The window framing material, the number of layers of glass and the special coatings on the glass all contribute to the overall U-factor. In more extreme climates, it makes sense to have more efficient windows.

Another simple measure to look for is the ENERGY STAR label. Only windows that are substantially more efficient than the code requires receive the ENERGY STAR label. The ENERGY STAR website www.energystar.gov, which is maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy, has a climate zone map and a list of windows, doors and skylights that qualify for the ENERGY STAR label.

Working with a professional is important because a poor installation can result in long-term damage. Moisture problems are common if windows are not installed properly, which can create mold, mildew and rot in the wall. This can prevent the window from operating properly, or cause the paint to peel.

Bids for new windows vary a great deal, so it’s worth requesting more than one and comparing qualifications as well as price for something that will change the look and comfort of your home for many years to come.

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.

Veterans finding healing on the water

By John Felsher

Many people find gliding along silently in a kayak, listening to nature, quite soothing, even therapeutic. But for injured veterans, such an experience could be life-changing.

Brian Carson, Heroes on the Water’s South Alabama chapter coordinator.

“Not all war injuries are visible,” says Brian Carson of Bay Minette, who serves as the coordinator for the South Alabama chapter of Heroes on the Water. “We try to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, but we won’t hesitate to help someone with a physical limitation. We treat all veterans the same.”

With about 80 chapters nationwide, including three in Alabama, and some international chapters, HOTW (heroesonthewater.org) takes veterans fishing in kayaks. These adventures give veterans opportunities to relax and decompress from their stress, which helps with their mental and physical healing.

“We put them on the water in a fishing situation to unwind and disengage from their daily activities,” Carson says. “It’s a healing process and a ‘thank you’ for their service. We provide the kayaks, the paddles, fishing gear, the guide – everything. The veterans never pay a cent.”

Carson reached out to one young soldier who suffered serious injuries while serving in Iraq. After returning home, the man did not adjust very well and contemplated suicide. Carson invited him to fish the annual HOTW kayak tournament.

“He was a little nervous about participating,” Carson recalls. “He called me a couple weeks after the tournament and said, ‘That time on the water gave me a chance to reflect and look back on what’s important. If I can get out on the water in a kayak and fish, I can do anything.’ That’s a recurring story with many vets. Another person was on the verge of committing suicide when one of our people invited him to fish. He went and it changed his life. He’s now helping other veterans to come back from these dark moments.”

The South Alabama chapter holds a paddling event about once a month. Each fall, the chapter hosts a kayak fishing tournament, next slated for Sept. 16, 2017. Veterans and guides will fish for several species found in Mobile Bay and associated waters.

“I knew how to kayak before my brain injury, but I forgot it,” says David Atkins of Mobile, who used to work on Apache helicopters while in the Army and participated in a recent kayak fishing trip in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. “Heroes on the Water is reteaching me how to kayak more efficiently and correctly. You have to live, laugh and love when you can.”

Tonya Butler-Collins with Team River Runner instructs others on the proper ways to paddle a kayak while participating in a South Alabama Chapter of Heroes on the Water paddling event held in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta near Spanish Fort, Ala.

Team River Runner

The South Alabama chapter teamed up with another group to help veterans heal through a relaxing day on the water. With more than 50 chapters in 31 states, Team River Runner (Teamriverrunner.org) “creates an environment of healthy adventure, recreation and camaraderie for healing active duty, veteran service members and their families through adaptive kayaking,” reads the organization mission statement.

“I teach adaptive boating and help people with disabilities,” says Tonya Butler-Collins, the TRR South Alabama Chapter coordinator. “I’ve kayaked for many years, but I haven’t done much fishing from one. Brian takes care of the fishing and I do the kayaking. We put these two skill sets together to give more opportunities to vets.”

Not just a coordinator, but a beneficiary, Butler-Collins served in the Army and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Now a medical massage therapist, she sees both sides of rehabilitation.

“I’m a vet who went through a lot of this myself,” she says. “At the time, I didn’t have a lot of support. Now, I help veterans with brain and spinal cord injuries regain a sense of independence through sports, recreation and community involvement. I’d like to break down some barriers for other female veterans to get out and do more outdoors sports. A lot of female vets love being outdoors, but many organizations forget to invite them.”

Many of the people who participate in events with Carson or Butler-Collins never sat in any boat before, much less such a small, tippy craft as low to the water as a kayak. Some people with physical injures need extra help or special equipment.

“Depending upon the injury, we can adapt a kayak to meet the needs of that person,” Butler-Collins says. “For instance, if the person has a spinal injury, we have special seats that hold them up, but they can still paddle on their own. We also have pontoons that we can add to kayaks so they won’t tip over.”

To hold events, both HOTW and TRR need help. They could use more volunteers to donate their time. People can also make tax-deductible contributions of equipment or money. With more boats and fishing gear, they could help more veterans who wish to participate.

Never wish a veteran “Happy Memorial Day” because it is not meant to be a happy day. On Memorial Day this year, simply say, “thank you,” or get involved with a group like HOTW and TRR that helps vets who served all of us.

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


A spring spectacular: part 3 of 3

By Alfred Schotz

Wildflower viewing in central Alabama

The landscape of central Alabama is one of striking contrasts and immense beauty, a mingling of high mountains, rocky shoals, and open grasslands amid a setting of verdant forests. Through the powers of nature and the passages of time, the region has been sculpted into a profound array of natural environments that, in turn, have nurtured a remarkable diversity of wildflowers and native plant life, some found only here and nowhere else on the planet.

From the budding novice to the seasoned aficionado, those who admire the state’s wildflower riches eagerly anticipate the spring season to become reacquainted with favorites from the past or begin searches anew for “life species” that have long aroused intrigue and fascination, but evaded detection.

Perhaps of all the flowering plants bestowed upon central Alabama, orchids are surely among the most cherished and sought after. Their exquisite display of colors and forms evoke an air of fantasy and are a symbol of all that is exotic.

For many, the general perception of orchids is one of mystical and distant lands of the equator, and rightly so, for orchids are most commonly encountered in tropical regions. However, several species are distributed across the cooler regions of North America, and are as rich and varied as the landscape in which they grow.

Alabama, with its fertile soil, ample rainfall, and temperate climate, is prime orchid country, producing an opulence of vivid colors and bizarre shapes adorning all facets of the state’s landscape. In fact, a number of orchids – 58 species in all – embellish the Heart of Dixie, with many occurring across the central portion of the state.

Springtime brings about some of our most distinctive and attractive species, with the lady’s-slipper orchids being easiest to recognize. The fruiting capsule of this and many other species of Alabama’s native orchids produce thousands of minute dust-like seeds that can travel vast distances, carried by the slightest breath of wind.

With such an abundance of seeds, one would naturally assume orchids to be as common as kudzu. But by its very design, the seed of an orchid does not have the necessary apparatus to germinate on its own, instead relying on a specialized fungus in the soil to stimulate growth and provide nutrients.

Given such precise requirements, however, only a few of them ever find suitable conditions for germination and develop into new plants. The remainder – often thousands – will scatter into oblivion.

The splendor of wild orchids and spectacular pageants of other wildflowers will be on display for those taking the time to explore the many trails in central Alabama’s parks and preserves, including those described below.

Upon packing supplies (plenty of food, water, and of course, a camera) in preparing for a half or full day outing, the need to travel afar will not be necessary, for many of the region’s finest displays are within easy reach of central Alabama.n

Central Alabama wildflower trails

Perry Lakes Park Trail Complex

How to get there: Entrance to the park is on the east side of State Route 175 alongside the Marion State Fish Hatchery roughly 2.25 miles north of State Route 183, approximately 7 miles northeast of Marion.

Trail condition: Trails consist of boardwalks and dirt-based pathways, both being well-maintained and easy to follow. Trails are level and can become muddy following heavy rainfall.

Best time to visit: Mid-March – mid-April. Considered one of the finest viewing areas for early spring wildflowers in central Alabama. Many trails exist, with the Basswood, Perry Lakes, and Round Lake trails offering some of the nicest displays. A trail map is available online.


 

Mt. Cheaha State Park

How to get there: Mt. Cheaha is the highest point in Alabama, roughly 15 miles south of Anniston, off State Route 281. Several options exist for wildflower viewing with the Mountain Laurel and Pulpit Rock Trails, offering the finest displays.

Trail condition: Trails are well maintained and easy to follow. Both trails are rated easy to moderate.

Best time to visit: Late April – late May. Mountain laurel and the orange-flowered Cumberland azalea are generally at their prime during the second and third weeks in May. Late April and early May are good for pink-flowered azaleas and flowering dogwoods.


Old Cahawba Prairie Trail Complex

How to get there: From Selma take State Route 22 west roughly 8.5 miles to Dallas County Road 9, turn left on County Road 9 and continue approximately 3.4 miles to County Road 1, and then turn right on County Road 1, traveling about 1 mile to a parking area and kiosk on the right side of the road.

Trail condition: Trails are well maintained and easy to follow. Trails are generally level and can become slippery following rainfall; appropriate footgear is suggested.

Best time to visit: Late March – late May. Three trails exist, each traversing a mix of prairie and woodland. Colonies of early spring wildflowers can be observed in March and April along the forested sections of the trails, whereas the prairies come into their prime in May and into June.


Smith Mountain Trail

How to get there: Smith Mountain is roughly 5 miles west of Dadeville, located along the northeastern portion of Lake Martin. There’s a parking area at the end of Smith Mountain Road, and can be only reached by driving south on Smith Mountain Drive roughly one half mile from Young’s Ferry Road.

Trail condition: Trail is well maintained and easy to follow. Trail difficulty is rated as easy to moderate, with the uppermost section nearest the summit becoming more strenuous.

Best time to visit: Late March – mid-May. Mountain laurel in all its glory is the star attraction during the last two weeks of April and early May. Beginning in late March and extending to mid-April the trails are also accented with colorful blazes of azaleas, rhododendron, fringetree, and sparkleberry, particularly at lower elevations.


Alfred Schotz is a botanist with the Auburn University Museum of Natural History.

Alabama People: William Lee Golden

By Allison Griffin

This Oak Ridge Boy still going strong

He’s been a performer for more than 50 years, but now William Lee Golden is indulging in a passion that takes him out of the spotlight and puts him behind the artist’s brush and photographer’s lens.

Golden is the longtime baritone for the Oak Ridge Boys, the iconic country and gospel group that continues to make new music today. He joined the group in 1965, and except for a nine-year break in the 1980s and early 1990s, he’s been a part of the Boys’ lineup. They still perform about 160 shows a year, and show no signs of slowing down.

But Golden, 78, is perhaps most passionate now about painting and photography, hobbies he took up about 15 years ago to help him fill the time while out on tour. He was inspired by much of the American landscape he saw on the road. “I love landscapes and traveling and seeing all these beautiful places.”

The Pensacola Museum of Art has had a showing of his artwork, and the Pensacola airport has exhibited some of his photography. He’s even sorting through his photos to compile a coffee table book.

He’s also embraced social media as an outlet for his works, and has followings on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “I use that as an outlet to get a feedback and response for how certain photos affect an audience,” he says.

Besides his active career and hobbies, he’s also found joy in his personal life. He married longtime friend Simone De Staley in 2015, and they make their home in Hendersonville, Tenn., near Nashville.

But Golden hasn’t forgotten his roots in Brewton, Ala. The father of four sons, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren talked with Alabama Living about his life and what’s ahead. – Allison Griffin

Talk about your upbringing in south Alabama.

I was born and raised south of Brewton. Our family farm was there, right on the Alabama-Florida line. My dad was a big cotton and peanut farmer.

I lived there until I was out of school and married and working at a paper mill down in Brewton. I grew up on that big farm, and that’s actually where I learned about singing and playing music.

My sister and I would play and sing. She played mandolin, and I played guitar. We’d sing in church. My Granddaddy Golden was a fiddle player and had a radio show. Once a week, my sister and I would get to go over and do a song on Granddaddy’s radio show. We would play at churches, high school assemblies. We were always playing and singing, my sister and I.

I still go back home to Brewton to visit my family. My sister is still there, around the family farm. My sister also has a house on Lake Martin, and sometimes we’re able to meet there. My brother is in Atlanta and has a beach house down in Florida.

For the early part of the Oak Ridge Boys’ career, you were a gospel group. Is gospel still a part of who you are as a group?

That’s true. I’d say an hour, an hour and 15 minutes into our show, we go back and revisit our roots for two or three songs some nights, at least a song or two every night. It’s something we do because of our love for what we do. It’s where we got our start. Our families feel close to that music, too.

What helps you stay healthy?

I’ve kind of made it a habit to keep up my physical condition and stay active and healthy. I enjoy going out and walking four or five miles. Workouts always make me feel better. Now, every day when I’m on the road, I sit in the floor and I do like 100 situps every day. Sometimes I’ll do 125. It really helps me sing so much better. It’s so much easier to sing when I’m in shape.

Are the Oak Ridge Boys working on new music?

We’re scheduled to go into the studio in July with David Cobb, who we’ve worked with before. We met him through Shooter Jennings, when we sang a song with him. David is the hottest producer in Nashville right now. Chris Stapleton is his artist. Some other young acts that he’s had are breaking big too.

Do you find at your concerts that you have generations of fans?

We do. That’s the great thing about what we do. Joe (Bonsall, tenor of the group) mentions that sometimes on stage. There are these kids down there singing our songs. He’ll say, ‘These were way before you were born. How do you know these songs?’ It’s from their grandmother playing records, or their granddad’s 8-tracks. The grandmother will come to the show, the daughter and the granddaughter. So we’ve been kind of passed down in the family.

Worth the drive: Chris’ Famous Hotdogs

Chris’ Famous Hot Dogs has a prime downtown spot in Montgomery.

By Lori Quiller

Celebrating 100 years of hot dogs in Montgomery

Nestled at the bottom of Dexter Avenue in Montgomery just a few blocks from the steps of the Capitol sits one of the city’s most beloved lunch spots. Tucked away under a green and white awning is Chris’ Famous Hot Dogs, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

When you walk into the restaurant, the rich smells of spicy chili and French fries fill the air. Hanging on the walls are photos from the restaurant’s 100-year history, including some original menus, mementos, souvenirs and even some knickknacks donated by loyal patrons.

“People ask my dad what’s the secret to being in business for so long,” explained Gus Katechis, who runs Chris’ with his father, Theo. “That’s pretty easy. You just have to be here. You don’t get to take a lot of vacations.”

The restaurant was opened on May 1, 1917, by his uncle and grandfather, Chris, under the name Post Office Café & Fruit Stand because it was next door to the city’s post office, says Gus. So, why would immigrants from Greece want to open a hot dog restaurant?

“My grandfather, Chris, was so proud when he came over from Greece and became an American citizen,” Gus says. “He never thought of himself as a Greek-American. He was proud to be an American, and he wanted his restaurant to be part of American culture. The hot dog is straight-up American food.”

Chris hit on something special with his hot dogs, and when he added his special chili sauce, he had a winner. Today, Theo makes about 10 gallons every other day – but don’t ask for the recipe. Only a few people know that.

Being located on Dexter Avenue has allowed the restaurant and its patrons a front-row seat to much of Montgomery’s rich history. From the birth of the civil rights movement with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks to its many famous patrons who stopped by, such as Clark Gable, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Stewart, Hank Williams and Tallulah Bankhead, to Presidents Harry Truman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Every Alabama governor has made a stop at Chris’, which is conveniently located between the State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion. But one governor had a hand in saving the day when hot dogs were in short supply.

An old menu shows just how much prices have changed over the years.

A governor to the rescue

According to Gus, in the restaurant’s 100-year history, there have only been a couple of times when the store almost ran out of hot dogs. The local company that Chris’ used to get their hot dogs from had a trucking strike. The strike lasted long enough that the company eventually closed.

“Gov. George Wallace sent the Air National Guard to Chicago to get our hot dogs, no lie,” Gus laughs. “That would never happen today, but back in the day? There was one other time we almost ran out of hot dogs, too. Years ago someone posted on a blog that we were going out of business. Of course we weren’t, but our phone rang off the hook for months!”

 

 

 

Gus Katechis and his father, Theo, continue to run the family restaurant.

That was when Gus and his father, Theo, realized they needed to adapt themselves. Patrons can find them online at www.chrishotdogs.com, as well as on Facebook. But, the Katechis family still believes in the power of civic relationships and being there for the people who have been there for them for so long. You’d be hard pressed to find a large event in Alabama that doesn’t serve a Chris’ Famous Hot Dog.

In fact, the largest hot dog order so far was for the USS Montgomery on Sept. 16, 2016, in Mobile. Gus said it took six people about four hours to produce 2,500 hot dogs. Back in Montgomery, Theo was heading out the door with a couple dozen dogs for the grand opening of a new furniture store across town.

“It’s all about community,” Gus says. “And, this is home.”

Worth the Drive: Chris’ Famous Hotdogs from Alabama Living on Vimeo.


Chris’ Famous Hot Dogs

138 Dexter Ave. Montgomery, AL 36104

334-265-6850

www.chrishotdogs.com

Facebook: @ChrisHotDogs

Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday

10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday

10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday

Gardens: Appetizing yards

By Katie Jackson

Create a beautiful, edible landscape

The petals of pansies are edible.

A few years back I got this hair-brained idea (or maybe I should say I got another hair-brained idea – they seem to come to me rather regularly). I replaced a section of aged, declining boxwoods beside our garage with three blueberry bushes and a pomegranate shrub. It was my first attempt to begin turning our ornamental landscape into an edible one.

The area looked a little barren for the first year, but by the second year the shrubs had filled out and begun producing fruit. The idea worked well enough that I also began filling pots on my back patio with lettuces and strawberries instead of annual flowers.

Granted, I’m not producing buckets of berries or bowls of salad from these small plantings, but I am harvesting enough to add fresh, seasonal fruits and leafy greens to our meals and I am on my way to making our landscape attractively tasty.

Blueberry bushes provide foliage, flowers and fruits.

Edible landscapes (also called foodscapes) are nothing new. They’ve been around ever since the human race began cultivating crops and the concept experienced a hey day during the era of victory gardens, when homeowners took to planting fruits and vegetables in areas previously reserved for lawns and flower beds. In more recent years this practice has undergone a revival, especially among gardeners interested in making their landscapes more sustainable and environmentally friendly and in eating local food. What’s more local than your own yard, right?

The benefits of edible landscapes are plentiful. As with any homegrown produce, this practice helps cut down on food transportation, production and storage costs and allows us to control the safety, purity and freshness of our food. Edible landscapes that take the place of thirsty, labor-intensive lawns and ornamentals can also help reduce water, chemical and fuel usage in our yards.

Creating an edible landscape doesn’t mean giving up a beautiful landscape, either. It’s simply an opportunity to incorporate edible plants into a landscape design, and it’s as easy as trading off some non-fruiting plants for fruiting ones or mixing edibles in with ornamentals.

A pot of strawberries is a tasty alternative to blooming annuals.

For example, use muscadine vines instead of honeysuckle or jasmine vines on a trellis or fence. Perennial herbs, such as rosemary, make fabulous (and fragrant and flowering) shrubs or borders. Cool season annual flowers can be substituted or interspersed with basil, kale and other leafy greens in beds or pots. Containers usually reserved for summer flowering plants can be filled with cherry tomatoes, hot peppers or herbs. A pecan or pear tree can be used as a shade tree. You get the picture.

And don’t forget that often the pretty petals of flowering ornamental plants are also edible. Not only are blooms from many herbs (such as basil and chives) and vegetables (such as squash blossoms) safe to eat, so are marigold, violet, rose and sunflower petals, to name a few of the annual and perennial flowers that can become part of a meal.

Some of these flowers provide added flavor to dishes while others simply make stunning garnishes, but they can be fun to experiment with. Just make sure you eat from a list of safe flowers, one of which can be found in the North Carolina Extension publication Choosing and Using Edible Flowers, and don’t eat petals from florist flowers or flowers picked along roadsides as these may have been treated with chemicals.

To begin creating your own edible landscape, start small and pick plants and foods you love. An abundance of books and articles on creating edible landscapes is available online or in bookstores and local libraries, but you can get started by checking out the Alabama Cooperative Extension System publication Edible Landscaping.

Bon appetit!

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

State kicks off bicentennial celebration

The state is planning a big birthday party for its bicentennial, and you’re invited to be a part of the festivities leading up to it.

In 2019, Alabama will commemorate the 200th anniversary of its statehood. Created from the Mississippi Territory in 1817, the Alabama Territory became the nation’s 22nd state on Dec. 14, 1819.

But the state’s Bicentennial Commission is getting a jump on things with more than 2 ½ years’ worth of activities leading up to the actual anniversary. And on May 5 of this year, the city of Mobile will host a formal ceremony launching the multi-year birthday celebration, complete with a street party in downtown Mobile and a fireworks display.

After that, the Alabama 200 initiative will engage residents and visitors in educational programs, community activities and statewide events that will teach, inspire and entertain.

Among the activities planned: traveling exhibitions, a mobile oral history studio, increasing access to family history records, community workshops, a special “Bicentennial Bookshelf” and Alabama Reads, a common reading program.

Education projects range from Bicentennial Blue Ribbon School designations to new curriculum development to professional development for teachers.

Community-hosted efforts include historical marker programs, festivals and fairs, bicentennial gardens, cemetery surveys, reunions and other activities that shine a light on local history.

And a Capitol Bicentennial Park will be constructed in an area facing the Capitol in downtown Montgomery. The park will feature bas-relief sculptures telling the history of Alabama.

For more information, visit Alabama200.org. At the website, you can learn more about adopting a resolution, forming a committee or connecting with people in your area. Consider involving your school, community, organization or county in the commemoration events.

From bean to brew

By Allison Griffin and Liz Vinson

Coffee roasters are perking up in Alabama’s towns, small cities

David Warkentin, owner of Bodka Coffee, prepares to weigh coffee at his shop near Emelle.

Across the state, the business of roasting coffee beans and transforming them into fresh blends is brewing along very well.

Entrepreneurs have recognized a market for consumers who want a fresh cup of joe that is flavorful and truly original. Now, they’re taking the lead in providing Alabama’s towns and small cities with coffee that is unmatched in quality by the mass-produced, brand-name coffees in the grocery store.

Coffee culture is no longer confined to large cities or to areas like the West Coast or Northeast, generally considered to be trend-setters in anything related to food or taste. Small-batch roasters are finding markets all over the state, and even the Southeast and beyond.

The work isn’t easy, or necessarily even lucrative; some small town roasters hold down other jobs to keep the bills paid. But most will say that owning their own business – coupled with the pride that comes from practicing an artisanal skill and the satisfaction of educating and pleasing customers – is enough to keep them going.

Education is key

Small-batch roasters follow different business models, but they make money either by selling their roasted beans to coffee shops, which use the beans to make coffee and sell to customers; by supplying bags of coffee beans, whole or ground, to grocery stores; or shipping roasted coffee directly to customers who order them.

Rodolfo Alger, owner of Headland Roasting Co. PHOTO BY ALLISON GRIFFIN

Rodolfo Alger, owner of Headland Roasting Company, a customer of Pea River Electric Cooperative, and his family opened a coffee shop in Daleville, but ended up closing it because it was too far away. Now, the family operates a coffee shop in the Westgate area of Dothan, using their own roasts.

But most of Alger’s business is in the grocery stores around the area. They do supply some offices and churches, a market he’s trying to grow. He doesn’t have an Internet store currently, but will ship bags of coffee to customers who reach out to him via Facebook.

Alger came to the U.S. from his native El Salvador with his family to visit his sister, who was living in Hartford at the time. They liked the area and wanted to raise their family in a rural setting, so they moved to Headland in 2007.

Though the area is rural, he says that the business can easily serve an area within a 100-mile radius.

Once Alger roasts the beans, they empty into a large metal tray, where they’re stirred to allow for cooling.

“It’s hard in the sense that the (coffee buying) market is not there, readily available,” he says. “But also, being in a small town, it makes you kind of unique – one of the reasons we named it Headland Roasting Co. is to be connected to Headland, Ala. Better known as just a little town north of Dothan, but a place where there’s a good coffee roasting place.”

For Bodka Coffee in rural Sumter County, between the towns of Gainesville and Emelle, building a roasting business has been tough. “A very poor place to have a coffee business,” owner David Warkentin says.

His brother-in-law in Oklahoma became a roaster, and Warkentin liked the product and the business. He borrowed money to buy a roaster and found a coffee shop willing to buy his product, if he could match or beat the price they were paying and if his quality was good.

He has no problems with quality, but having such a business in west Alabama has not been easy. But both his and his wife’s families are from the area, and leaving would be difficult.

“I’m quite certain that in town, I would have more business,” he says. He doesn’t roast every day of the week, and in fact his primary occupation is in the construction business. He had originally envisioned the coffee being his sole occupation.

Both Warkentin and Alger point to consumer education as the key to future business – making coffee drinkers aware of the difference in quality between a fresh roasted batch and the commercial stuff.

A day a month, Warkentin will have a casual roasting day at his shop, a structure where he roasts that isn’t a sit-down coffee shop. But he invites the community to drop by to taste different blends, have some cinnamon rolls made by his wife and talk about coffee or anything else. Most folks leave a donation, if they don’t buy a bag.

He’d like to work with the shop he supplies to hold more formal educational events, “where I take multiple origins and brew them. Everybody can drink it and taste the difference, and I can explain the differences and talk about how the coffee’s grown and processed.”

Roaster Rufus Ducote’ and owner/roaster Chase Chandler with their machine at Fairhope Roasting Company. Patrons can watch the roasting and bagging process through a large window at the business. PHOTO BY MICHELLE ROLLS-THOMAS

Such events are a big hit for Fairhope Roasting Co. in Baldwin County. The shop holds “Roasting with Rufus” events a couple days a month for a handful of customers to spend a few hours with the roaster (that would be Rufus), watching him and the process.

“It’s really fun that we are able to be the people that are trying to educate in this area,” says Chase Chandler, one of the owners of Fairhope Roasting. “It’s a really rewarding part of our job.”

Fairhope Roasting started out supplying smaller grocery stores and farmers markets, and didn’t focus on starting a café. The company has now expanded into stores in Birmingham, Pensacola and Mobile.

The roaster shares a building with Warehouse Bakery and Doughnuts, and though they’re separate companies, the shared workspace has created a mutually beneficial relationship.

Chandler says having the support of the town of Fairhope has been invaluable. And it doesn’t hurt that Fairhope has a natural tourist draw, both on its own and as a pass through to the beaches.

A strong coffee community

The differences in scale between these roasters are vast. Warkentin, of Bodka Coffee, generally roasts 80-90 pounds per week. Fairhope Roasting Co. roasted 2,152 pounds in a recent month.

But all the roasters say they are committed to quality.

Sarah Barnett Gill, owner of Mama Mocha’s, with her son Samson in front of her company’s roaster. PHOTOS BY LIZ VINSON

Sarah Barnett Gill, owner of Mama Mocha’s Coffee Emporium in Auburn, recognized that coffee shops needed the attention from a good roaster.

“Coffee shops are everywhere, and there is a need for good and well-sourced coffee,” Gill says. “For those coffee drinkers who seek out excellence in their java, a reputable roaster is worth their weight in gold. Local roasters are so important and give coffee shops a chance to know the science and art of what they’re brewing. It gives the chance to connect on a small scale that brings them one step closer to the farmer.”

For Alger, who roasts about 150 pounds per week, being mindful and conscientious of how long the beans are roasted is a delicate and intricate process. Roasters take the beans, which in their pure state are green in color, and roast them for 12 to 50 minutes, depending on how light or dark the roast is meant to be. They also take pride in freshness.

“Our coffee is fresh and roasted in the same week, versus something that sits for months on the shelf of a grocery store,” Alger says.

Mama Mocha’s Coffee Emporium in Auburn plans to expand into downtown Opelika later this year. PHOTO BY LIZ VINSON

And competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the roasters. Chandler says his shop gets along well with other roasters, even larger ones in Birmingham. And people learn more about the coffee when they have different options.

“I think each roasting company gives everything its own little flair, and will have something it’s known for,” he says. “I think it’s very healthy to have other roasters in your area.”