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Pet Health: Vaccinations critically important for companion pets

“Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective health investments in history.” — Seth Berkley, CEO of the Vaccine Alliance

Many times when I go to work, there are one or two tiny puppies in the isolation room suffering from severe diarrhea and vomiting, looking miserable from the parvo virus. Some do not make it home. This does not need to happen! Timely vaccination could have prevented their sufferings.

Your veterinarian is the best person to address your situation, but here are some guidelines.

Proper protection should start with vaccinating the mother before she gets pregnant. A vaccinated mother will have an immunity that she transfers to her babies. In an ideal breeding situation, it is assumed that the puppies are protected for the first 8 to 9 weeks of their life. However, we see an inordinate number of puppies whose mothers were not vaccinated and do not fall under the “ideal” category. 

That’s why many veterinarians will recommend starting the first distemper/parvo vaccine as early as 6 weeks of age. Vaccines should be given every 2-4 weeks until the puppies are 16 weeks old. For high-risk situations, the last vaccine can be given at 19 to 20 weeks of age. So, if you start at 7 weeks, the sequence will be 7, 10, 13 and 19 weeks. If you adopt an unvaccinated older dog, you will need to give the initial vaccine and one booster three weeks later.

Now about rabies. Dog, cat and ferret owners are required by Alabama law to have their pet immunized for rabies when the animal reaches three months of age. The rabies vaccine must be given by a veterinarian, or a licensed vet tech in the presence of a veterinarian. Many communities hold annual low cost rabies vaccination clinics. I have seen rabies vaccines given in a town-sponsored event for as low as $5!

Frequently I get asked if the vaccine from the co-op is as good as ours. I don’t have an answer, as I have not come across a study comparing both. My recommendation is to go through your vet as they provide a lot more than just a “shot.”

I feel the puppy/kitty visits are THE most important vet visits of all! This is the time where early health issues are discussed and lifelong health habits are established. However, if getting to a vet is impossible for you, I have to suggest that you get your vaccines from a place that stores and handles their vaccines properly.

Last, but not least, here’s a little bit on cats. Cats also get a parvo-like disease called Feline Distemper or Panleukopenia. Vaccination should start as early as 6 weeks and be boosted every 3 weeks until they reach 16 weeks. Outdoor cats should also get Feline Leukemia vaccine.

Now, for the folks who are little leery of “over vaccination.” The issue of what constitutes “over vaccination” and related health problems is a highly contentious issue and best kept aside for a consultation with your vet.

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.

Alabama Snapshots: Graduates

Erin Brock, Foley High School graduation 2012. SUBMITTED BY Brenda Brock, Summerdale.

Kynleigh Wood kindergarten graduation. SUBMITTED BY June Wood, Holly Pond.

Ian Adair, Tonya Anderson and Kenray Anderson.SUBMITTED BY Ya’den Anderson, Millbrook.

Buddy’s pre-school graduation. SUBMITTED BY Kennith and Elaine McIntyre, Jackson.

Ashley Hanks, Geneva County High School class of 2017. SUBMITTED BY Denise Hanks, Hartford.

First cousins Ieshia Miller and Skyler Twitty, graduating from Hanceville High School. SUBMITTED BY Carol Twitty, Cullman.

Anna Nelson, mathematics education teacher. SUBMITTED BY Faye Nelson, Andalusia.

Submit Your Images! June Theme: “Family Reunions” Deadline for July: May 31. Submit photos online: 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 and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos.

Church is legacy of Greek community and its namesake

Domed towers majestically flank the brick, limestone and marble cathedral-like Grecian worship center that is Daphne, Alabama’s Malbis Memorial Church. Located on Alabama Highway 181, the church was built on the request of area Grecian immigrant and leader Jason Malbis. It was dedicated Jan. 3, 1965.

By Emmett Burnett

Malbis Memorial Church is often discovered accidentally while driving somewhere else. Commanding Alabama Highway 181 in Daphne is a Greek cathedral-like fortress, flanked with brick stone towers, braced in Corinthian columns, centered under a domed roof.

Somewhere else is now here.

“Here,” is the centerpiece of the Malbis Plantation, cornerstone of Baldwin County’s small but industrious Greek community, and legacy of the community and church’s namesake, Jason Malbis.

On a trip to Athens, shortly before his death, the Grecian forefather instructed followers to build his church in Malbis. And oh boy, did they.

Formally the “Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monastery of the Presentation of Theotoko,” the church has surprised and delighted visitors since day one with good reason. It is spiritual, reverent and eye popping.

“First timers can’t believe what they are seeing,” notes Nafseka Malbis, caretaker, tour guide and descendant of founder Jason Malbis. “For me, there is no one favorite item. Everything is special.”

The interior is detailed with hand-rendered frescos – paintings that adorn virtually every space. Art depicts the life of Christ chronicled from the Testaments. More than 150 paintings tell stories, including Christ before the High Priest, the Sermon on the Mount, Moses receiving the 10 Commandments, religious heroes and other Bible scenes.

“It is like art comes to life and speaks to you,” adds George Kalasountas, frequent visitor and fan. “Many have told me upon leaving the sanctuary, they’ve never seen anything like it and they are correct.”

Kalasountas, who came from Greece in 1956 and today is vice president of the Malbis Memorial Foundation, adds, “We have many Greek Orthodox Churches, but this is the cream of the crop. It is simply beautiful.”

The fresco murals took three master artists flown in from Greece nine months to complete. The rotunda features a portrait of God, the Almighty surrounded by 12 murals of disciples and religious leaders. Artist Spyros Tzouvaras hand painted the portraits from scaffolding 75 feet above the floor. He lay on his back, applying paint and brush strokes to the ceiling, rendering the images. It took him three months.

Hand carved figures were brought from Greece and assembled in the church. The bishop’s throne, pulpit and other features are carved in white marble extracted from the same Grecian mines that supplied the Parthenon millenniums earlier.

On the outside above massive oak doors are mosaics created with thousands of tiles about one-inch square. Above the middle door is a portrait of Jesus. Above him are images of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; all are a composite of mosaic tiles. Each tiny piece was prepared in Italy, shipped to Malbis, and installed on site.

Rising 75 feet above the church floor, the dome interior of the church features the Pantocrator – A fresco of the Almighty and depictions of disciples, prophets and evangelists. The paintings were hand rendered to the ceiling by Grecian artists on scaffolding.

Outside, the left tower contains a bell system: 49 bell tone generators that at full volume can be heard six miles away. It is a call to worship, a reminder of Grecian heritage, and the legacy of an immigrant who dreamed of a new world in Baldwin County.

Jason Malbis was born Antonios Markopoulos in Doumena, Greece. But in his 40s, he moved to America for a new life. Joined by friend William Papageorge, the two searched Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Mississippi before buying 120 acres in Baldwin County for $5 an acre.

Others followed and more land was added to become The Malbis Plantation, established in 1906. “We had a bakery, power plant, bank, timber company, hotel, and farms,” Kalasountas recalls. “It was a self-sufficient. We all had jobs to do. We all had a place in the community.”

But they did not have a church – yet.

‘It is my desire that you build a church’

In the early 1940s Jason Malbis visited Athens, Greece, but could not return due to World War II disruptions. He became sick and died in Athens, July 22, 1942, but not before sending a letter to beloved Grecians of Baldwin County: “It is my desire that you build a church.”

By 1960, the Greek settlement of about 60 – mostly farmers, tradesmen and working people – spearheaded a fundraising drive of $1 million. Adjusted for inflation, that is more than $7 million today.

Groundbreaking was held in 1960, and Malbis Memorial Church was dedicated on Jan. 3, 1965. If you were Greek you were there. And on that day everybody was Greek.

“People came from everywhere,” Kalasountas says. “The line to get in went around the building and people were in tears upon leaving.”

A New York Times October 1965 review noted, “The church is unique in the United States. A visitor’s first reaction upon entering the building is one of awe. It is like being inside a rainbow.”

Amazingly, this grand cathedral is financed mainly by love and donations. The Malbis church has never held a formal congregation but conducts regularly scheduled worship services. The building is also open to the public from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

Through the years, concerns were raised about next door Daphne – Baldwin County’s largest city – continuing to expand, and possibly encroaching on Malbis. “I think we are OK,” Kalasountas says. “Daphne is a good place, but we are doing just fine here in Malbis, too.”

Though Jason Malbis never saw the church that bears his name, his remains are interred in a crypt inside. But you can feel his spirit saying, “Build my church.” Outside, adjacent to the church, 100 Grecian graves answer, “Mission accomplished.”

The sanctuary, as seen from the balcony. The white marble of the Iconostasis at the front is made from hand-carved marble from the same Grecian quarries that supplied the ancient Parthenon.

Hospitals key to quality rural health care

The gleaming new Tanner Medical Center/East Alabama in Wedowee, 14 miles up the road from Roanoke, opened in November. Tanner Health System of Carrollton, Ga., was managing the old Wedowee Hospital and was willing to provide funds for equipping a new hospital, if county residents could provide construction funding. Eighty-six percent of the voters in Randolph County approved a tax to build a new hospital.

While rural hospitals face numerous financial challenges, hope is not lost. Many areas in Alabama are finding partnerships and tax revenue to maintain their level of health care

By M.J. Ellington

When people in rural Randolph County faced the prospect of life without a nearby hospital or else raising taxes, voters in Roanoke, Wedowee and surrounding areas approved a 1 percent sales tax increase in 2015. Two years later, people in the small East Alabama county celebrated the opening of shiny new Tanner Medical Center/East Alabama. Tanner Medical Services, a Georgia not-for-profit hospital management company, operates the facility.

Randolph’s vote came following the 2011 closing of Randolph County Hospital in Roanoke and the pending loss of nearby Wedowee Hospital, both due to financial problems and aging structures. The county is hardly alone with its hospital financial challenges.

Part of the reason rural Alabama hospitals face such challenges is because the state has not expanded Medicaid, said Dr. Marsha Raulerson, a semi-retired Brewton pediatrician and past president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama. “People think Medicaid is a welfare program; it is so much more,” she says. “If people just knew, it affects all of us.”

Now 76, Raulerson said at age 39, she came “kicking and screaming” to Brewton with her nephrologist husband who was recruited out of the University of Florida to open the first dialysis program between Mobile and Dothan.

She had planned to spend the rest of her life teaching at the University of Florida’s medical school, but once she got used to life in a town of 5,400 people, she realized it provides a good quality of life and a great place for children to grow up. Having access to good health care nearby is an important factor, but Raulerson said this year, she is concerned.

“For the first time, our hospital is in the red,” Raulerson says. “There are so many people who are uninsured, who cannot pay. Insurance and Medicare have lower payments to rural hospitals. Expanded Medicaid would help with this.”

A ‘trifecta of challenges’

Dr. Don Williamson, Alabama Hospital Association executive director and former state health officer, said rural hospitals face a “trifecta of challenges” as they seek to shore up financially ailing hospitals. Those challenges include:

• Alabama’s decision not to expand Medicaid left a large number of people without health coverage to pay for needed care.

• Federal Medicare and payments to health providers are lower for small hospitals than the biggest hospitals, based on a federal formula that mandates larger reimbursements for the largest hospitals. The federal wage index that helps determine how much health providers get paid in every state lists Alabama at the bottom.

• Alabama is the only state in the country that does not pay any of the state’s matching share required to bring in federal revenue for Medicaid programs. Of every dollar spent on the program, the federal government pays 70 cents while Alabama’s share to bring in the federal funds is 30 cents. But unlike other states, Alabama’s share comes from a voluntary tax hospitals pay to tap the federal revenue.

Hospital Association figures show that 86 percent of rural hospitals are operating in the red as compared to 69 percent of all hospitals having a negative operating margin, says Rosemary Blackmon, vice president of communications. Hospitals with other sources of revenue, such as taxes or other services, may be able to shore up the bottom line.

“Right now, when a rural hospital is in trouble, a county tries to rally by raising taxes,” Williamson says. “What if that money went to Medicaid? We could bring in 10 times as much federal revenue. It probably would have been cheaper.”

The emergency department at Wedowee Hospital closed in November with the opening of the new Tanner Medical Center/East Alabama.

But rural counties like Randolph have done a remarkable job working to save rural hospitals, Williamson says. In recent years, several other small Alabama cities faced with losing their local hospital found partnerships and tax revenue to help pay for new facilities.

The impact of hospitals on the life of rural communities helps cities and counties keep them viable. Blackmon said the annual payroll of rural hospitals is $552 million, and 44 percent of total employment in rural counties can be attributed to health care.

Pell City in St. Clair County and Clanton in Chilton County established partnerships with St. Vincent’s Health Care to open new, smaller hospitals in their towns. Williamson said Haleyville in Winston County wants a local tax to help with operating costs at Lakeland Community Hospital.

Three other rural hospitals – John Paul Jones Hospital in Camden, Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital in Demopolis and J.V. Stabler Memorial Hospital in Greenville – became part of the UAB Health System in February. UAB’s financial and managerial expertise, hospital compliance training and clinical resources are part of the package.

In March, the state Legislature approved a bill to create a resource center housed at UAB to provide support for nonprofit, rural, public hospitals in the state that are facing economic pressures. It would assist these hospitals in areas including purchasing and supply chain, strategic planning, insurance and cost reporting, coding, recruitment and compliance.

While the bill passed, it has not been funded. The UAB Health System will work to determine interim funding prior to the 2019 legislative session to start providing support to eligible hospitals.

Hospitals that can backfill with taxes or other sources of revenue have more ways to supplement the income they get through Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance reimbursement.

Rural areas need new ideas

In rural areas, the population tends to be older, poorer and less likely to have insurance to pay for hospital and other health care costs. One wrinkle in the uninsured population is that Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance companies negotiate the rates they will pay for a patient’s care. People without insurance coverage pay the highest rate because there is no company that is negotiating rates on their behalf. As a result, uninsured people in rural areas may not seek medical care until a problem is harder to deal with, and when they do, the cost for their care may be higher than what people with insurance pay.

Ready access to good health care becomes everyone’s problem when the local hospital and healthcare delivery system are at risk, a point at which rural communities should approach the issue with new ideas, says Dale Quinney, longtime executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association.

Quinney says when the healthcare delivery system begins to fail, particularly if the future of the local hospital is uncertain, it’s time to get creative with solutions. “Without a hospital, the economic base fails,” he says.

He wants a greater role for allied health professionals, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants, and telehealth that enables doctors at remote locations to visit patients in rural areas using computer and electronic devices. He’d like to see more hospitals have a small number of inpatient beds and the ability to have alternate ways to generate operating revenue.

Quinney is excited about the possibilities of “telehealth carts” that help patients in rural areas consult with doctors in other cities using electronic and computer technology.

Michael Smith directs the telehealth cart program at the Alabama Department of Public Health. Smith said the department expects to have telehealth cart programs available at 60 county health department offices around the state this year.ν

M.J. Ellington is a Montgomery freelance journalist whose longtime health and state government reporting and editing career included the Montgomery Advertiser, The Decatur Daily, Florence Times-Daily and The Anniston Star. Contact her at

The Randolph County Hospital in Roanoke closed in 2011, due to financial problems and an aging facility.

Medal of Honor winner saved by a tiger

Opelika native and retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins received the nation’s highest military award in 2014. Photo by John Oliver

By Miriam Davis

The tiger saved us,” says Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins (U.S. Army, Retired) matter-of-factly. “The North Vietnamese soldiers were more afraid of it than they were of us.”

Adkins, 84, is speaking of the aftermath of the Battle of A Shau when, in 1966, he and other survivors evaded the enemy after a team of 17 American Special Forces and about 400 of their South Vietnamese allies were attacked and overrun by a North Vietnamese division of 16,000 troops. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Adkins the Medal of Honor for his actions during that battle. Adkins and co-author (and Alabama Living gardening columnist) Katie Jackson tell his story in their forthcoming book, A Tiger Among Us.

“I was just doing my job,” insists Adkins. “It was my training. … When you’re picked out to be one of the elite, you try to live up to that.”

Adkins’ job was as a Special Forces intelligence sergeant. After being drafted into the Army in 1956, he found being a clerk-typist “not for me.” Special Forces was a challenge both physically and mentally.  But, says Adkins, “I had too much pride to quit.”

In 1965, then-Sergeant First Class Adkins was sent to the A Shau valley to advise South Vietnamese forces and to impede infiltration of the North Vietnamese into the south. The valley, which runs along Vietnam’s border with Cambodia and Laos, became part of the trail along which the North Vietnamese brought provisions and troops down into the south and as such was, as Adkins describes it in his book, “a hotbed of activity.”

“I can tell you that none of us were happy to be in that camp,” Adkins says in A Tiger Among Us. Sitting in that valley, “about thirty miles from another friendly camp …. [w]e were like fish in a barrel.”

Risking his life

Adkins’ team had been warned that an attack was imminent, and the Battle of A Shau began about 4 a.m. on March 9, 1966, with a deafening North Vietnamese artillery and mortar barrage. Adkins ran to take his position in a mortar pit from which he and his crew fired illumination and high-explosive rounds.

Wounded 18 times, Adkins repeatedly risked his life during the battle. He was blown out of his mortar pit three times by direct hits from enemy mortars and lost several entire mortar crews. But he continued manning his position until the mortar pit was finally destroyed by RPGs (rocket propelled grenades). Disregarding enemy mortar and sniper fire, Adkins also rescued American and Vietnamese wounded and transported them to safety, and then – again under direct fire –  loaded them onto evacuation helicopters. When a load of desperately needed supplies was inadvertently dropped into a mine field, Adkins rushed into the mine field to retrieve it.

After 38 hours of intense fighting – hungry, thirsty, and exhausted – the Americans were ordered to evacuate. In the chaos of the withdrawal, Adkins went back to rescue a badly wounded comrade. When they returned to the evacuation point, the helicopters had already gone.

Though Adkins was nominated for the Medal of Honor shortly after the battle, he didn’t receive it until nearly 50 years later. collection of bennie adkins

Which is where the tiger came in.

Adkins and a small group of survivors had no choice but to evade the North Vietnamese in the dense jungle until they could be rescued. On their second night, Adkins and his men could hear enemy soldiers searching for them. They also heard another sound – something big rustling in the undergrowth nearby. Then Adkins heard a low growl and saw eyes glowing in the dark – a tiger, drawn by the smell of blood covering the wounded survivors.  The war had given tigers a taste for humans.

The North Vietnamese heard the tiger, too, for they hastily pulled back, allowing Adkins and the other survivors to slip away. They were picked up by helicopter the next day.

Shortly after the battle, Adkins was nominated for the Medal of Honor. Nothing happened at the time. But in 2014, Adkins received a phone call from President Obama informing him that he was to be awarded the nation’s highest military honor.

“Super humbling,” is how Adkins describes it. “I’m very humbled to be one of the few living soldiers to wear this medal.”  He now speaks all over the county trying to inspire in people a love of country and the desire to be a good citizen.

“And an appreciation of the military,” adds Adkins’ co-author Katie Jackson. She points out that less than 1% of the population has served in the military and that “the general population doesn’t understand the military.”

Left, the cover of “A Tiger Among Us,” published by Da Capo Press this month and available at Below, Katie Lamar Jackson, who co-authored the book.

Adkins and Jackson, an adjunct instructor in Auburn’s School of Communication and Journalism, worked on the book for three years. This involved tracking down and interviewing the five other survivors of the battle. “All of them have a deep admiration and respect for Bennie,” says Jackson. “Even years later, they all say he’s amazing. … He was the one who really did things that were superhuman.”

Any money made from A Tiger Among Us will go to the Bennie Adkins Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides scholarships for Special Forces enlisted personnel transitioning from the service. “One of the reasons this is so important to Bennie,” says Jackson, “is because he knows what it’s like to move from the military to the civilian world, and it’s not easy.”

Last year the foundation awarded the first scholarships; 25 will be awarded this year.

All of this was made possible by the 400-pound Indochinese tiger that saved Bennie Adkins all those years ago.

“That tiger was my friend,” chuckles Adkins.

Ivey signs Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act

High-speed internet is no longer just a luxury for our rural areas. It is a necessity to help rural residents conduct business, to expand education opportunities, to create avenues for remote health care and to spur economic development.

During this legislative session, the Alabama Rural Electric Association (AREA), which publishes Alabama Living magazine, and its member cooperatives championed the bill known as SB149, or the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act. The legislation will encourage private investment in broadband infrastructure in unserved rural areas.

In late March, Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill into law.

“This common sense legislation will help us attract new broadband to areas that need it most, especially in rural Alabama,” Ivey said.

The bill, which is just a first step in a long process to bring internet to rural areas, was sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield and Rep. Donnie Chesteen.

The act creates a grant program to be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Individual grants may be awarded for up to 20 percent of the project costs to telecommunications companies, cable companies and electric cooperatives.

Alabama will be further helped by a pilot program, grants and loans from the federal government. Congress, through an effort led by Congressman Robert Aderholt, included in the omnibus spending bill a $600 million pilot program that will enable applicants to finance a project by combining loans and grants to provide broadband to eligible rural and tribal areas.

Ivey’s office estimates that more than 842,000 Alabamians are without access to a wired connection capable of 25 megabits per second download speeds. One million have access to only a single wired provider, and another 276,000 don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.

Kids can cook!

Junior cook tip: find a guide. The internet is packed with lists and charts of age-appropriate cooking tasks. But remember, they are rough guides. All kids have different temperaments, maturity levels and dexterity, so use your judgment on what cooking tasks the child in your life can tackle. Pictured here: Nicole Esco and daughter Addi, age 6, of Wetumpka, baking Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cupcakes.


Ask any chefs and avid home cooks you know when they first got interested in cooking, and there’s a good chance more than a few will tell you it was at a young age. Maybe it started as hanging around to sneak a spoonful of pie filling or hoping for permission to lick icing-coated beaters. Maybe they wanted to spend more time with their mom or nana or some other beloved relative. Whatever drew them to it, once they knew just a little, they wanted to learn more.

     Getting your kids in the kitchen is a great way to spend more quality time with them, time away from a screen of some sort. It offers the chance to pass along family recipes, share memories and make new ones. You can teach them about nutrition. You can augment the things they’re learning in school; your kitchen will become an interactive science and math lab, turning abstract concepts into applications they can eat.

     Once picky eaters see and understand what goes into a dish, they’re more likely to try (and like) new foods. And you’re teaching them a practical skill that will come in handy when they set off on their own. Plus, as they get more and more proficient, you gain a willing and helpful hand come dinnertime.

     When it comes to imparting kitchen wisdom, it’s best to start simple. Try a selection from this handy dandy roundup of kid-friendly, more “bite-size” recipes submitted by our younger readers. They’re just right for your budding junior cook’s beginner lessons.

Junior Cook of the Month:

Ella Grace Stapleton, Baldwin EMC

Ella Grace Stapleton, age 12, learned to cook from her dad, who owns a catering company. While she loves to bake sweets like cookies and brownies, she also loves the Stuffed Shells recipe she submitted. “I like it because it is so cheesy and creamy and because you can add or delete different things in the filling,” she said “I’ve had some versions with bell peppers, and I don’t like them, so I leave that out.” She enjoys eating her creations, but she’s also proud to be a help to her mom. “Sometimes my mom works late, and so I cook dinner for us, and I like being able to take that off her plate,” she said. She encourages other kids to get in the kitchen for the same reasons. “You can do it, and then you can be a help for your parents. Plus, it’s fun.”



Stuffed Shells

  • 1 package of jumbo stuff-able pasta shells
  • 1 jar of marinara sauce
  • ½ teaspoon of pepper
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon of onion powder
  • 30 ounces of ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups of mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 eggs

Before you start to do anything, make sure that you steam the shells completely. Turn your oven on 375 degrees so that it can heat up while you are mixing. Mix pepper, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, ricotta cheese, eggs and 2 cups of mozzarella cheese well before piping in the shells. Place your mixed ingredients in a Ziploc bag, and cut a hole in one of the bottom corners of your bag so your ingredients can enter the steamed shell easily. Seal the bag and then gently squeeze the filling out of the corner hole into the steamed shells. After stuffing the shells, you must get a pan that all your shells will fit in. Spray the bottom of the pan with canola oil spray so that the shells will not stick. After you apply the oil, cover the bottom of the pan with marinara sauce (usually about ½ of the jar), but make sure that you still have enough to apply to the top. Add your shells into your pan and cover the top with the other half of the sauce. Now add 1 cup of mozzarella on top of the sauce. Before you place in the oven, be sure to cover with aluminum foil.  After you place in the oven set a timer for 50 minutes. When 50 minutes is over, remove foil and place back in the oven for 10 more minutes. When 10 minutes is over, take it out of the oven and be wowed.

Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 13/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup dark cocoa
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 to 1 cup boiling water
  • Marshmallow Frosting:
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1-3 teaspoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 (198 g) container of marshmallow fluff
  • Salt, to taste

Caramel Sauce:

  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with cupcake liners. In a large mixer bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for three minutes. Stir in boiling water by hand (batter will be thin). (NOTE: I prefer using in between 3/4 cup and 1 cup of boiling water just until it is perfect to my eye.) Pour into cupcake pan. Because they have a tendency to overflow, fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake 18-20 min. Cool 10 min; remove from pan to wire racks.


Sift powdered sugar and set aside. In a mixer, beat the butter until soft and fluffy. You’ll have to scrape the sides of the bowl several times. Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Add the vanilla and heavy cream and beat until smooth. Beat in the marshmallow fluff until smooth.

Caramel Sauce:

Mix the brown sugar, half-and-half, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook while whisking gently for 5 to 7 minutes, until it gets thicker. Add the vanilla and turn off the heat, cool slightly and pour the sauce into jar.


Pipe icing on top of cupcakes. Drizzle on caramel sauce and you can put a pretzel on top.

Sarah Camp

Coosa Valley EC

Southern Pralines

  • 2 cups sucanat (sugar cane natural sweetener– a natural alternative to brown sugar)
  • 2 cups pecans (chopped or whole)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, plus extra to butter wax paper
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Roast the pecans by pouring them on a pan and placing the pan in the oven. Once the pecans are in the oven, turn the oven on to 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Combine sucanat, roasted pecans, butter and water in a pot and stir until sucanat has partially dissolved. Cook over medium heat until mixture reaches 240 degrees (soft ball) on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat; add vanilla. Stir until mixture thickens and loses some of its gloss. Drop immediately onto buttered wax paper. After pralines have cooled, wrap them in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container. Makes about 18 pralines. NOTE: Be sure to use buttered wax paper. The wax paper helps to lift the pralines after they are hardened, and the butter helps them not to stick to the wax paper. Optional: Brown sugar can be used in the place of sucanat.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Working with cooking sugar can be tricky. It can bubble and pop and really burn, so we suggest this recipe for older and/or intermediate kid cooks.

Kathryn Tipton

South Alabama EC

Ethan’s Banana Cake

  • 1 butter cake mix
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted in butter and chopped
  • 2-3 ripe bananas, mashed

Mix the cake mix according to box instructions. Add the bananas and pecans. Pour batter into a well greased and floured 13×9-inch dish. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown and toothpick inserted comes out clean. While warm, pour on glaze.


  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1/8 cup water (2 tablespoons)

In a small saucepan, boil all ingredients for 3 minutes. Pour over warm cake in pan.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Working with cooking sugar can be tricky. It can bubble and pop and really burn, so we suggest this recipe for older and/or intermediate kid cooks.

Ethan George, age 12

Marshall-DeKalb EC

Tucker’s Potato Soup

  • 3-4 large potatoes, washed
  • 1 32-ounce carton chicken broth
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • ¼ cup of real bacon bits

Pour broth into large pot and bring to a boil. Chop potatoes and add to broth. (Peeling potatoes is optional.) Cook until potatoes are soft. Add cheese to melt. Sprinkle bacon bits on top.

Tucker Eason, age 8

Tallapoosa River EC

Baked Oatmeal

  • 2 cups quick-cooking oats
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 egg

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Spread mixture in a greased 9×13-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until it is set. Cut into squares and serve warm topped with milk. The mixture will be crumbly. It makes a great breakfast.

Sierra Joachim, age 15

South Alabama EC

Peanut Butter Blender Muffin

  • 1 medium banana
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • ½ cup peanut butter (almond butter may be substituted)
  • 5/8 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put all ingredients in blender, except for chocolate chips, and blend well. Grease muffin pan or use cupcake liners. Fill muffin cups about 1/3 full of batter then sprinkle chocolate chips on the top of each muffin. Stir each muffin gently with a toothpick just enough to incorporate chocolate chips. Bake for 14 minutes. Makes 12 regular size muffins (or 24 mini muffins).

Anna Catherine Douglas

Arab EC

Coming up in June… Heirloom Recipes!

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

July: Frozen Treats | May. 8

August: Corn | June 8

September: BBQ | July 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.