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A healing place

An aerial view of Storybook Farm near Opelika, which recently added 26 acres of pine timber forest. The new acreage will allow the farm to expand its programming to include more time with the horses and additional agricultural outlets.
PHOTO COURTESY STORYBOOK FARM

By Lindsay Miles Penny

It all began while folding laundry.

Storybook Farm Director Dena Little was completing household chores while thumbing through Practical Horseman when she came across a story about a horse therapy farm in Virginia.

Little, who grew up caring for and competing on horses, had taken a hiatus from farm life as she ran a bakery in Atlanta and cared for her two small children. It was 2002, and she had just sold her bakery and moved her young family to a small farm in Auburn. She yearned to get back to her roots and share her love of horses with her children.

That’s when the article struck a chord.

Little immediately got in contact with the owner of the horse therapy farm in Virginia. Soon after, she gained certification for her farm to provide equine-assisted therapy for children needing support, and Storybook Farm was born.

“I really had no idea the impact that Storybook would have, or its longevity, and I didn’t realize the need for programming like this,” Little says. “When Storybook opened, we quickly had a waitlist. I felt the Lord was leading me down this path to utilize my background with horses and to translate that to helping families that are facing crises and uncertain futures. Getting to walk alongside these families has become my distinct honor.”

Children from age 2 to young adulthood who face obstacles such as autism, cerebral palsy, cognitive delays, sensory integration issues and bereavement situations come to Storybook Farm for horseback riding and weekly lesson plans, including games and activities. They learn how to care for animals and develop social skills by interacting with farm volunteers. Horseback riding also provides physical benefits such as improvements to balance, motor skills, muscle strength and coordination.

Personal attention

More than 250 Auburn University students a week volunteer at Storybook Farm — greeting children and families, securing riding helmets, leading and walking alongside riders, exploring and learning in the Secret Garden, helping with lesson plans, cleaning stables, repairing fences and other chores.

An English literature major in college, Little wanted to create a whimsical, real-life fairytale for every child. Willy Wonka, Mrs. Potts, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are just a few of the horses to come through the farm. Driving up to the farm and looking out over the lush, rolling acres immediately transports anyone into a storybook.

“We started with three children, and will have about 1,500 this year alone,” Little says. “We don’t turn anyone away. We always make it work. One of the greatest compliments a family has ever given me is a parent saying, ‘I feel like our child is the only one who rides at Storybook.’ That’s what I want it to be. I wanted it to be so personal and special for everyone who comes to the farm. Many of the children we see and serve at Storybook have ambulatory issues, and they’ve never had that mobility and that freedom to just be one of the kids. To be one of the kids and not be set apart by the condition that brought you to Storybook is so important to me.”

Not only are the children and families impacted by Storybook Farm, but the effect the farm has on volunteers is evident. With more than 300 volunteers each week from Auburn University and the community, the people at the farm are committed to carrying out the farm’s mission. 

“I started out as a volunteer not really knowing anything about children with disabilities or horses,” says Andrew Skinner, executive communications director. “I’d originally started coming out to the farm with a friend. At the time, I wasn’t doing much with my life. I remember painting a fence, and looking around seeing all the kids riding horses and smiling, and looking back at that now, I realize it was what I needed in my life at the time and that it was a little pat from God.”

Skinner quickly became part of the Storybook Farm staff, and hopes to instill an attitude of service with current and future volunteers.

“Our goal is to give these kids a chance to just be a kid,” said Skinner.

Families are referred to the farm by counselors, pediatricians and therapists, and most commonly, by word of mouth from other families.

Gardens as therapy

A newer addition to Storybook Farm is the Secret Garden. Located in the middle of the farm, the garden provides a wealth of activities to help farm goers improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills and socialization.

An aerial view of Storybook Farm near Opelika, which recently added 26 acres of pine timber forest. The new acreage will allow the farm to expand its programming to include more time with the horses and additional agricultural outlets.
PHOTO COURTESY STORYBOOK FARM

The horticultural programming the Secret Garden provides allows those with physical limitations an opportunity to strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance and endurance. The garden also teaches children about nutrition, caring for plants and the importance of a healthy diet.

Partnerships with Auburn University and Mobile Studio, a company that specializes in creating outdoor spaces, allowed the garden to be created with maximum accessibility in mind.

The bounty harvested from the garden is given back to the community and shared with food insecure families.

The services provided at Storybook Farm, which is served by Tallapoosa River Electric Cooperative, are free to families, thanks to funding through corporate sponsors, grants and fundraisers.

“Our biggest fundraiser is our Kentucky Derby Dinner and Auction,” Little says. “It’s grown from less than 100 people to hopefully over 500 people this year. People come dressed in their Kentucky Derby best, eat and enjoy a really fun event.”

The Kentucky Derby Dinner and Auction will be May 5. Tickets are available at hopeonhorseback.org/events/derby.

For more information on Storybook Farm’s services or volunteer opportunities, call 334-444-5966 or info@HopeOnHorseback.org or visit hopeonhorseback.org.

Already a fishing legend at 23

In 2015, 23-year-old Jordan Lee of Grant became the youngest competitor on the top-tier Bass Angler Sportsman Society Elite Series. So far, he’s only fished four Bassmaster Classics, the world championship of professional fishing, but has already won two of them. In 2017, he became one of the youngest champions at 25 when he won his first Classic. In March 2018, he became only the third man in history to win back-to-back Classics in the 48-year history of the event with his victory at Lake Hartwell, S.C. – John Felsher

How does it feel to join the ranks of legendary bass anglers like Rick Clunn and Kevin VanDam to win back-to-back Bassmaster Classics at such a young age?

In my wildest dreams, I never thought I was going to win the 2018 Classic. It really is overwhelming. I’ve never won a Bassmaster Open event. I’ve never won an Elite Series event. I guess there’s just something about this tournament for me. I didn’t have a game plan for Hartwell. I didn’t have one magical spot. I knew that with the warm weather, docks were going to be a player. I saw tons of big bass suspending under every dock. It was just amazing to see that.

How did you first get interested in fishing?

I got interested in fishing through friends at small lakes and ponds. At the age of 10 was the most memorable. That’s when I caught the fishing bug, when I started fishing my grandfather’s pond in my hometown of Cullman. I remember that day vividly as I was pulling out 4- and 5-pound bass with my first rod and reel. I knew at that moment that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

Years later, my parents saw a growing passion and bought me an aluminum boat to fish local tournaments on Lake Catoma. Fast forward 10 years and my dreams began unfolding one tournament at a time. Fishing on the Auburn University Team was a life-changing, growing experience that opened the doors to my future in fishing.

How did you get started in professional fishing and work your way up to competing in the biggest event in the sport?

I started fishing local tournaments throughout high school. Then I began fishing for the Auburn University bass fishing team. I qualified for my first Bassmaster Classic through the Carhartt College Program. After college, I fished the Bassmaster Opens for one season and then qualified for the Elite Series.

You and your older brother, Matt Jordan, compete directly against each other on the tournament trail. What’s the competition like between yourself and your brother?

I get this question a lot, There are 108 more anglers, so the competition is equal among all of us. It’s not just me against him.

As a young competitor fishing against some former champions and other legendary anglers, how do you prepare yourself to compete against all those other great, experienced anglers?

It’s just me against the fish. I don’t worry about other anglers and their experience versus mine.

How did winning your first Classic in 2017 at such a young age change your life in the months that followed?

The amount of exposure has changed. With that the workload and travel has increased. I also feel like I am well known wherever I go now.

Did you personally change in any way after winning a Classic?

No. I stay levelheaded throughout the ups and downs. Stay humble, always.

What was the strangest or most unexpected thing to happen to you as a result of your winning the Classic?

I’m amazed by the amount of people who know who I am. I’ve had people from Germany who are big fans waiting for me at the boat ramp one day after I finished fishing.

After winning two Classics back to back, what’s next on your life goals or bucket list?

I want to win the Angler of the Year title. I also want to win an Elite Series tournament and enjoy spending time with my wife-to-be and our dogs.

What advice would you give to young anglers now looking at you and your success who would like to become professional bass anglers and perhaps compete in a Bassmaster Classic in coming years?

Just focus on fishing. The sponsors will come. Stay in school! College programs are a great way to work your way up and help your skill level increase.

Besides fishing, what other things do you like to do?

I enjoy playing golf, traveling and watching professional basketball and college football.

Stacy’s is the place for fresh cooked fare

Demopolis eatery draws locals as well as visitors

Stacy’s Café is in historic downtown Demopolis.

Story and Photo by Emmett Burnett

In a park across the street from Stacy’s Café, a stone marker notes the 1919 chicken auction that funded construction of nearby Rooster Bridge. Coincidentally, today’s special at Stacy’s is fried chicken. It, too, is monumental. The entire menu is.

Occupying the ground floor of 123 W. Washington St. in Demopolis, Stacy’s Cafe seats about 115 and does so often.

“I loved this place from the first visit,” says frequent fan and Marengo County attorney Abisola A. Samuel, recalling her first encounter.

“On a friend’s recommendation, I visited, ordered something with rice and gravy, and was amazed. It tasted just like home cooking. I remember saying ‘wow, who is this lady?’”

Stacy’s steak plate is a customer favorite.

This lady is Faunsdale, Alabama’s Stacy Averette Pearson, wife, mother, U.S. Air Force veteran, and owner of the namesake café with a Demopolis and ever-expanding statewide following. Many restaurateurs start out dreaming of being in the food service field. Stacy did not.

“My experience was basically working in fast food places during college and later as a waitress at the Faunsdale Bar and Grill,” she recalls, while checking menus for today’s customers. “My intentions were to attend college and study science.”

After graduating from Demopolis High School in 1984, the future restaurateur enrolled in Livingston University. But she left college in 1987 to join the Air Force and served a three-and-a-half year hitch, working as a computer programmer.

In 1991, Stacy returned home. As a waitress at the Faunsdale Bar and Grill, she learned a lesson in projecting the daily business of running a restaurant: “You can’t,” she says. “The only one thing in the restaurant business you can predict every day is every day is unpredictable.”

Recognizing her culinary talents, family members encouraged Stacy to take a bold step, which sent life in a new direction.

Stacy Averette Pearson, seated, owner of Stacy’s Cafe, takes a break outside her restaurant. Standing behind her are servers, from left: Cailin Bamberb, Andrea Reynolds and Heather Ward.

In March 1999, the waitress bought the diner-bar that employed her, changing the name to Faunsdale Café. She still owns it, 14 miles from Demopolis. But she sought more, wanting to venture into catering from a larger restaurant. She wanted Demopolis.

On Sept. 26, 2017, she took a new culinary plunge, opening Stacy’s Café. “I knew the town would support me because many from Demopolis visited our Faunsdale location,” she recalls. “But many were apprehensive about it being off Demopolis’s main highway. We are in downtown. If you want to eat here you have to find us.” Not a problem.

“If I am in Demopolis I am at Stacy’s,” says attorney Samuel. “The food here is the best, bar none. Not sure I can pick a favorite dish, but one would be the grilled chicken Greek salad.”

In addition to the previously referenced monumental chicken, entree options include steaks (ribeye and hamburger), catfish plates, oyster platters, po’ boys, seafood gumbo, and red beans and rice. Side dishes of greens, mashed potatoes, okra, fried green tomatoes, and vegetables accentuate the menu. And may we have a serious discussion about cornbread?

Stacy’s cornbread comes in varieties – regular, Mexican, and a new entry chocked with crawfish. You heard me, crawfish. “Her crawfish cornbread and crawfish bisque are delicious,” smiles husband Eddie Pearson, offering a testimonial about his wife’s latest project, a crustacean creation.

He adds, “Everybody loves it.” Which is good because there is much to love. Cornbread is served slab size.

Such innovations are sparked by original thought. New dishes are the result of experimentation. “I come up with an idea, then do research, cook it at home, and serve to my family,” Stacy says. “After tweaking and re-testing, it may premiere at the restaurant.”

  She credits success to a simple concept: “Everything we serve is homemade, hand prepared, and cooked fresh.” It takes work.

Though open for lunch at 11, staff arrives by 8:30. There is no time to dilly-dally. “Demopolis is a 12 o’clock eating town,” Stacy says. “We don’t have one particularly busy day.” But when church lets out on Sunday, as the old saying goes, Katie bar the door. But typically every day is brisk and preparation starts early.

“Our salads are from hand cut leaf lettuce, not bagged,” Stacy says. “Burger patties are hand-patted and fries hand carved. Catfish is locally raised.” Gravy on mashed potatoes or rice has never seen a can nor spent the night in a package.

The menu changes daily with specials. Customers frequently call inquiring about shrimp and wild rice casserole or when seafood gumbo will again grace the menu. Other items are everyday fixtures, including burgers, salads, chicken fingers and salad varieties such as ham, bacon, and popcorn shrimp.


Worth The Drive: Stacey’s Cafe from AREA on Vimeo.

123 W. Washington St.
Demopolis, AL 36732
334-654-5120
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m
Sunday–Friday
Menu updates are available on the restaurant’s Facebook page – or by asking anyone in Demopolis.

 

Gardening hacks: Ways to make gardening easy, economical and eco-friendly

Recycle or up cycle in the garden. Here is a pair of boots hanging from iron rebar. Boots contain plants of wild strawberrys.

Gardening hacks — or creative ways to save time and money in the garden — can be fun and often effective shortcuts for many gardening chores. If used correctly, garden hacks can also help us create more eco-friendly gardens, especially if we concentrate on the three Rs of sustainability: recycling, reusing and repurposing.

Recycle

Many items that we might throw in the trash or send to our local recycling center can be useful tools in the garden. Here are a few ways to turn trash into garden treasure.

Yogurt cups and other small plastic cartons make great seed-starting containers. Emptied milk, water, soda and juice containers can be used as plant covers, plant collars and as mini greenhouses or terrariums. Those with handles are perfect for use as watering and dusting devices or as scoops for potting soil and birdseed.

Old newspapers and cardboard can be laid in garden beds to control weeds and retain moisture in the soil.

Empty wine bottles can be filled with water, then pushed upside down into a pot to slowly irrigate container plants. They are also a great source for garden art and ornamentation — think bottle trees or a garden bed bordered with upturned bottles.

Reuse

Lots of things can be reused in the garden — old boots can become planters and old pallets can become tool racks — but there are few things as valuable to a garden as kitchen waste. Yes, it makes great compost, but here are a few other uses for it, too.

Eggshell halves make cute, biodegradable seed-starting containers and can be crushed and sprinkled around plants to keep away slugs and add calcium to the soil.

Banana peels, which are high in potassium and other plant nutrients, can be added to compost or chopped or dried and added to garden soil as a slow-release fertilizer. They can also help ward off aphids.

Used coffee grounds can be sprinkled around plants to tamp down fungal diseases, provide a slow-release source of nitrogen to plants and improve soil texture. (A word of caution: coffee is acidic, so used grounds are not recommended for plants that require more alkaline conditions.)

Repurpose

Many of the household products we use every day in the home are also useful in the garden to control pests, add nutrients to the soil and in other ways.  Here are a few examples. 

Baking soda can help fight fungal problems on flowers and shrubs and can help sweeten the taste of tomatoes.

Concoctions of vinegar, baking soda, dish soaps, vegetable oils and other products can be used in place of stronger chemicals to remove and thwart a variety of pests.

Mixtures made of ingredients such as hot peppers, garlic and water can be misted on to plants to deter aphids, and jar caps filled with beer can trap and kill slugs, snails and some flying insects.

These are just a few of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of gardening hacks that make gardening easier, cheaper, sustainable and more fun. Additional details for these and other ideas are available in gardening publications, online and through local garden experts (one great book of ideas is 101 Organic Gardening Hacks: Eco-friendly Solutions to Improve Any Garden by Shawna Coronado). Do a little poking around to find ones that suit your needs.

A word of caution, though: not all hacks are effective or safe, so if you have questions or concerns, seek advice from your local Cooperative Extension or Master Gardener organizations or other professional gardening sources, especially before applying any potentially toxic or unsafe products to your garden.

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

Play it cool: Tips to help you stay comfortable this summer

Since most solar gain enters through your home’s windows, awnings and shade trees are effective in making your home cooler during summer months. Photo Credit: David Sawyer, Flickr

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: My energy bill was pretty high last summer. Do you have any tips for how to keep comfortable this year without breaking the bank?

A: Absolutely! There are several ways to make your home more comfortable this summer. Some of the solutions are low-cost, while others require a bigger investment. In the end, you can be more comfortable and have lower energy bills this summer.

The first step is to reduce your home’s solar gains – the heat energy it collects from the sun. Since most solar gains originate through your home’s windows, awnings are an effective solution. They can reduce solar heat gain by as much as 65 percent on south-facing windows and 77 percent on west-facing windows. You can also try less expensive solutions on the outside or inside of your windows, like reflective films and solar screens. Heavy window coverings also work and have the added benefit of reducing heat loss in winter.

Two areas that can be major sources of heat gain are skylights and attics. Reflective film or specially designed window coverings are potential solutions for skylights. Attics can become extremely hot and radiate heat through the ceiling into your living space. Abundant venting through the roof, gable or eaves is one solution, but you also need adequate attic insulation.

Another important step is to seal air leaks around windows, doors, plumbing and wiring penetrations to keep warm air out and cool air in.

Excess heat can also be generated inside your home – and at your expense. Here’s a quick list of simple steps you can take:

Make it a habit to turn off lights and TVs in rooms that aren’t in use.

Incandescent light bulbs generate a lot of heat. Replace them with LEDs.

Unplug devices you aren’t using, like chargers, computers, monitors and consumer electronics. Many of these use phantom power that keeps them on constantly (even when they’re not in use!), which generates heat.

Maintain appliances for peak efficiency. For example, clean your refrigerator coils.

Lower your water heater temperature to no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit and your refrigerator to no lower than 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Also consider insulating your hot water pipes.

Minimize use of your oven, and don’t run the dishwasher or washing machine until they are full.

Now that you’ve worked on keeping heat out of your home and minimizing the waste heat generated inside, let’s look at how to make the inside air cooler. That starts by assessing your air conditioning (AC) system.

If you have central AC, make sure it’s working efficiently. Replace the filters regularly, and check to see if your supply registers are open. AC systems need to push an adequate amount of air into the supply ductwork to function properly.

If you do not have central AC, window units can be an efficient solution if they are ENERGY STAR®-certified and only used to cool part of the home, part of the time. Make sure to seal any openings around the window unit.

The least expensive way to cool yourself is air movement. A ceiling fan or portable fan can make a room feel up to 10 degrees cooler, but keep in mind, fans cool people. Turn them off when you’re not in the room.

If you live in an area where the night air is cool and not too humid, you can exchange your hot air for cool outdoor air by opening the windows and turning on your kitchen and bath fans. Or you can place a fan in one window to exhaust the warm air and open another window at the opposite end of the house to allow the cooler night air inside. The permanent (but more expensive) option is to install a whole-house fan.

Remember, there are several ways to keep cool and increase comfort. I hope these tips will make your summer more enjoyable than the last!ν

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on staying comfortable during summer months, visit: www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.

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.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

For ideas on how to save energy through radiant head that comes in through windows and skylights, see:

energy.gov/energysaver/energy-efficient-window-treatments

energy.gov/energysaver/windows-doors-and-skylights/skylights

To look further into maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of your AC system, check out these links:

energy.gov/energysaver/room-air-conditioners

www.consumerreports.org/window-air-conditioners/energy-efficient-window-air-conditioners/

energy.gov/energysaver/central-air-conditioning

And for general weatherization tips for all seasons, visit:

www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=heat_cool.pr_checklist_consumers

Toothy terrors!

Water wolverines provide outstanding sport

Cliff “J. R.” Mundinger shows off a chain pickerel he caught on a spinnerbait. Photo by John N. Felsher

By John N. Felsher

Often called jackfish, southern pike, duckbill, and other names – including a few unfit to print – chain pickerel hit extremely hard and fight with speed and ferocity, but most Alabama anglers consider them a major nuisance.

Sometimes erroneously called pike, chain pickerel resemble northern pike, but seldom exceed 30 inches long or weigh more than three pounds. The Alabama state record weighed 6 pounds, 6 ounces and came from the Perdido River system in Baldwin County. A similar species, redfin pickerel, range across southern Alabama, but rarely weigh more than a pound. The state record redfin only weighed 13 ounces.

“Chain pickerel are native to Alabama, but not many people target them,” says Chris Greene, an Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division biologist. “Chain pickerel are found throughout the state. They look similar to northern pike, but a chain pickerel gets its name from the chain-like markings on its side.”

Chain pickerel range from southern Canada to Florida and west across the Mississippi Valley to Texas. Abundant in most Alabama river and reservoir systems, pickerel thrive best in large sluggish streams and oxbows with minimal current and thick vegetation. The rivers, lakes, bayous, creeks, sloughs and backwaters of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta near Mobile probably offer the best pickerel fishing in Alabama.

“Chain pickerel tend to go more in the backwaters, but anglers can find them in main channels and secondary creeks,” Greene says. “They generally prefer more clear water and tend to orient toward aquatic vegetation. Some better Alabama waters for catching chain pickerel include the Mobile-Tensaw River drainage, the Tennessee River, Warrior River and other places.”

While small in stature, chain pickerel more than compensate with swiftness and viciousness. These voracious killers love aquatic weeds, the thicker the better. In dense grass or lily pad patches, pickerel typically hover motionless, using their splendid splotchy green camouflage to hide as they wait to ambush enticing morsels that wander into range.

When they spot something irresistible, pickerel viciously flash out with incredible speed to sink their needle-like teeth into prey – or lures!

“I’ve always caught pickerel in the backwaters and up the creeks around weeds,” says Cliff Mundinger, an angler. “They love being around thick matted grass, lily pads, hydrilla and other vegetation. Pickerel are very exciting fish to catch. When they hit a bait, you know it. A 3-pound chain pickerel will put up a great fight, especially on light tackle.”

Highly aggressive, pickerel feed primarily upon fish, including threadfin shad, sunfish, shiners, minnows and other succulent morsels, but may attack anything. These opportunistic predators occasionally eat crawfish, lizards, snakes, amphibians and even mice or small birds that venture too close to the water. Sometimes, they grab dragonflies perched on grass stems or even leap from the water to snatch low-flying insects from the air.

Caught by accident

“A pickerel will hit just about anything a bass might hit,” Greene says. “A lot of anglers consider them trash, but they can be fun to catch. They are powerful fish and hard hitters.”

In Alabama, anglers mostly catch chain pickerel by accident when fishing for bass. Crappie anglers also frequently catch pickerel when fishing weedy waters with minnows, threadfin shad, shiners or other live bait. Almost any lure or live bait that might tempt a largemouth bass or crappie could provoke a vicious strike from a chain pickerel, including spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, spoons, crankbaits and similar lures. They occasionally hit topwater baits and relentlessly pursue weedless frogs buzzed across matted grass.

When hooked, they put up a spirited fight with lightning runs and powerful lunges. They frequently jump like largemouth bass. People intentionally fishing for these water wolves should use short steel leaders to prevent them from slicing through line with their razor teeth.

“My two favorite baits to catch jackfish are spinnerbaits and jerkbaits,” Mundinger says. “Jacks absolutely love a jerkbait because they are primarily fish feeders. I also like to catch them on topwater frogs run through the lily pads. In the middle of summer, anyone throwing a frog over grass in the backwaters will most likely catch a jack.”

Big pickerel make excellent eating, but smaller versions of these long, skinny fish don’t yield much meat. Most people release them because of their numerous small bones, but the white, flaky meat tastes delicious with a mild flavor and no oily taste.

Handle pickerel with care. Sometimes called snakefish, these agile toothy beasts often bend their bodies and shake violently looking for something to bite when grabbed. If they don’t bite a person, they might drive a hook into a finger. Also pay attention to the very sharp gill plates that can slice flesh. Use pliers to remove the hooks in order to avoid those teeth.

Although pickerel don’t receive much love or attention in Alabama, they can turn a humdrum day into an exciting excursion for any light-tackle enthusiast fishing in weedy waters.

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

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.

BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY  | FOOD/PHOTOGRAPHY BY BROOKE ECHOLS

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

Cupcakes:

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.

Frosting:

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.

Assemble:

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.

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.