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Warrior Hunts help heal invisible wounds

John Nolan, Brent Sibley and Ismael “Ish” Villegas prepare to fire at a rising pheasant during a Warrior Hunt event near Springville, Ala. Warrior Hunts bring combat veterans on hunting and fishing trips in several states.

Taut with anticipation of action, combat veterans entered the brush with weapons loaded and ready. Moments later, they began firing, drawing first blood this day.

No, this action didn’t occur in combat thousands of miles from home. These warriors were hunting quail and pheasant near Birmingham, but they really gathered for the camaraderie and healing through hunting. Not all war wounds leave visible scars.

“Warrior Hunts engage combat veterans in nature through hunting, fishing and camaraderie with fellow warriors,” says John Nolan, founder of Warrior Hunts. “Our mission excites positive change in the lives of our heroes. For me, the hunting is a byproduct of the camaraderie that we get by hunting together.”

Nolan served 20 years in the Air Force before retiring in 2012 as a master sergeant. He spent much of his career serving with Special Forces overseas. Soon after retiring, he met Charles Jones, who served with the 5th Special Forces in Vietnam and earned a Purple Heart for wounds and a Bronze Star.

“The Vietnam generation realizes that when men and women come home, they need that camaraderie and that time,” Nolan says. “Just being kind to a veteran helps fight a battle you don’t even know is going on. It doesn’t take a lot to say ‘thank you’ and it really goes a long way. That’s where the healing really starts.”

Jones owns 3PJ Outfitting in Ashville, Ala. and has access to bird hunting operations. Nolan knows many warriors who would benefit from an outdoors adventure. The two veterans teamed up for a new mission. Nolan finds warriors who would enjoy a weekend of hunting and camaraderie. Jones enlisted his friends, Scott and Elizabeth Deuel of Stick Lake Hunting Preserve ( in Springville, Ala. and Mike McClendon with the nearby Heart of Dixie Hunting Preserve, who can offer the vets places to hunt.

“These hunts are not just a ‘thank you,’ but also a healing process,” Jones says. “It’s not only a healing process for them, but for me. I was an Army Green Beret in Vietnam. These events have helped me to heal a lot of wounds from that war.”

Each year, Nolan brings some warriors to Alabama where they spend a few days walking the fields behind trained bird dogs. At night, everyone gathers in the lodge to eat their fill of home-cooked food and swap stories.

“We’ve been able to put more than 400 warriors and their families into nature in Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and other states since 2012,” Nolan says. “Spouses, children and caregivers are included whenever possible. Anytime we can bundle conservation, love of nature, veterans getting outdoors with their families and helping others, that’s a good thing.”

On this hunt is Air Force Master Sgt. Ismael “Ish” Villegas. A combat controller, Ish accompanies ground forces to communicate with aircraft putting bombs on target and bringing in needed supplies. He is the only Air Force member currently on active duty to earn two Silver Stars, the third highest combat citation. He earned those medals for bravery under fire in Afghanistan.

Each year, Warrior Hunts also invites a Gold Star family member. A military tradition dating back to World War I, families place a blue star in their window for each loved one serving in uniform. Unfortunately, they swap the blue star for a gold one when a family member dies in service to the country.

“Gold Star status is something that no family wants to achieve,” Nolan says. “The Gold Star families paid the ultimate price for freedom. They gave the nation a loved one.”

Warrior Hunts invited Brent Sibley as the Gold Star family member for this hunt. Brent’s son, Staff Sgt. Forrest Sibley, was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2015. The 31-year-old Air Force combat controller earned four Bronze Stars for valor under fire and two Purple Hearts for wounds received. On the evening before the first day of hunting, Jones and Nolan presented Sibley with a flag that flew over the Capitol building in Washington D.C. in honor of his son.

“We want to let these warriors know that we honor what they did for their country,” Jones says. “We want to give them a weekend of relaxation and hunting. They don’t have to pay a penny for it. People can hunt these preserves other days, but for three days each year, we set aside the lodge and the properties to honor our nation’s heroes.”

People can help the warriors by donating cash, ammunition, hunting equipment and other supplies to Warrior Hunts or similar organizations. Even better, people can donate their time to help veterans heal their physical, mental and emotional wounds. On this Veterans Day, think about those who served or still serve and their families who also sacrificed or our freedom.

For more information on Warrior Hunts, send an email to or see Contact Jones at 205-915-5305.

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. He’s a professional freelance writer and photographer with more than 2,500 articles published in more than 150 different magazines. Contact him through Facebook.

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

Got Mullet?

One thing leads to another.

Last month I wrote about Aunt Roscoe and her “falsie.”

Aunt Roscoe lived down on the Gulf Coast with Uncle Leon.  Their home was back on the bayou, where Uncle Leon fished for mullet. With a cast net.

Mullet are plentiful, pretty easy to catch, and when fried fresh, they are as good as anything you can pull out of a river or pond.

If you go to the “Redneck Riviera” in search of redneckery, you won’t find much of it among the high-rise condos, gated communities, and upscale eating establishments that serve stuff sautéed.  However, if you go to a place where fried mullet is on the menu, there is a good chance redneckery is lurking about.

Now some say the mullet is not a fish at all.

Back in the 1920s, three men were arrested for fishing for mullet without a license.  They got themselves a lawyer who knew something about mullet and together they devised this defense.

“My clients,” the lawyer told the jury, “cannot be convicted for illegal fishing because a mullet is not a fish.  It is a bird.”

Then he brought in a biologist who testified that in his professional opinion, only birds have gizzards. The jury, carefully selected to include at least a few men who were familiar with mullet, knew that a mullet had a gizzard.  So, it followed logically that a mullet could not be a fish. It had to be a bird.

Not guilty.

Uncle Leon would have applauded the verdict.

According to family lore, he would go down to the bayou with his cast net and bring home fish for frying.

Now I don’t know how much you know about fishing with a cast net, but it is critical that when you cast the net, it flares out in a circle so you can catch as many fish as possible.  There are many ways to accomplish this, but old-timers like Uncle Leon used a technique that involved holding one edge of the net in your teeth.  The trick was to release that edge just a click after throwing so that the net forms the circular pattern so admired by cast net aficionados. It took some coordination, but Uncle Leon had it down pat.

Unfortunately, Uncle Leon, like so many of his class and circumstance, did not practice good dental hygiene.  So, in the fullness of time, he began to lose his teeth.  Unwilling to spend the money to get professionally crafted dentures, he bought a set of choppers at a local store and went about his business.

Which included casting his net for mullet.

You can see where this is heading.

He went out on the bayou as he always had.

Took up the net as he always had.

Put one edge between his teeth, as he always had.

And threw, as he always had.

Only the false teeth did not release as his real teeth had.

So net, with teeth attached, flew out into bayou.

Not in a neat circle, but in an embarrassing splash that scared off any mullet that happened to be nearby.

Uncle Leon hauled in the fishless net.

Put his teeth back in his mouth.

Hung the net in the shed.

And never took it out again.

“As ye sow, so shall you reap.”

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

Social Security

Understanding the government pension offset

Getting ready for retirement requires evaluation of all your sources of retirement income. Even if you worked for the government and didn’t pay the FICA tax on your earnings, you may be eligible for benefits from your spouse’s work under Social Security.

However, when you receive both your own non-covered government pension and a Social Security spousal benefit, your Social Security benefit may be reduced. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduces your Social Security benefit by two-thirds of your government pension.

Why are benefits reduced? Current law requires any beneficiary’s spouse, widow, or widower benefit to be reduced by the dollar amount of their own retirement benefit. For example, if a woman worked and earned her own $900 monthly Social Security benefit, but was due a $500 wife’s benefit on her husband’s record, we couldn’t pay the wife’s $500 benefit because her own retirement benefit is the larger amount.

Before enactment of the GPO, if the same woman was a government employee who didn’t pay into Social Security but earned a $900 government pension, there was no reduction. We would have paid her the full amount of wife’s benefit and she also received her full government pension. GPO ensures that we calculate the benefits of government employees who don’t pay Social Security taxes the same way as workers in the private sector who pay Social Security taxes. Applying the GPO in this example means since two-thirds of the government pension (2/3 of $900 = $600) is more than the wife’s benefit ($500), there is no wife’s benefit payable.

If you take your government pension annuity in a lump sum, Social Security will treat the annuity as if you chose to get monthly benefit payments from your government work. Payments from a defined benefit plan or defined contribution plan (e.g., 401(k), 403(b), or 457) based on earnings from non-covered government employment are considered pensions subject to GPO, if the plan is the employee’s primary retirement plan. To read more about GPO, review our factsheet, Government Pension Offset or visit

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at

Alabama’s Health

Can rural Alabama benefit from community paramedicine?

Community paramedicine is an emerging healthcare profession where paramedics and emergency medical technicians also provide routine healthcare services. This concept has been used for several years in rural areas with a shortage of primary care services. Minnesota is a leader in this concept, signing a Community Paramedic Bill into law in 2011. Alabama does not have a rural community paramedic program, but does have three such programs in Birmingham, Mobile and Tuscaloosa.

Initially, rural community paramedic programs expanded the services provided by rural emergency medical services (EMS) personnel to include outreach, wellness, health screening assessments, dispensing immunizations, disease management, mental health assistance, wound care, safety programs, properly taking medications, and assisting physicians in rural clinics and hospitals. This has provided needed primary care service in many rural areas. It also has the potential to better utilize the abilities of EMS personnel when they are not answering emergency calls and could provide additional revenue to help fund rural EMS and decrease future health care costs.

Community paramedicine also could decrease the excessive number of non-emergency ambulance transports to emergency rooms. The Alabama Legislature funded $500,000 through the Alabama Medicaid Agency for a pilot project involving the City of Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences for such a program. Through this pilot project, nurse practitioners or physician assistants ride with other first-responders on what appear to be non-emergency calls and offer treatment at the patient’s home. Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Service has provided highly innovative community paramedic service since 2014.

The Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) increased hospital responsibility in preventing the readmission of Medicare patients by adding provisions to the Social Security Act that restricted payments to hospitals for Medicare patients who had to be readmitted within 30 days following discharge. Hospitals have not traditionally served as caretakers outside the hospital, but are now placed in this role for Medicare patients. Several medical centers are using community paramedics for case managers for discharged, high-risk Medicare patients to assure that patient instructions are followed and decrease the likelihood of readmission.

The City of Mobile Fire-Rescue Department is operating a community paramedic program to prevent such readmissions and keep hospital beds available. This service involves assessment, taking vital signs, taking medications properly, following other physician or hospital instructions properly, etc. This service is being provided without reimbursement.

The only other community paramedic program in Alabama is operated by Birmingham Fire and Rescue. This program is patterned after the rural community paramedic concept in rural Minnesota and seeks to prevent unnecessary emergency room visits and free hospital beds by preventing readmissions. None of the three community paramedic services serve rural areas.

There are rural areas in Alabama that may benefit from having a community paramedic program. Several issues must be addressed before this can be done. There must be reimbursement by private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, and other payer sources for services provided. Community paramedicine should not duplicate services better provided by others, such as home health. Additional training may be required for EMS personnel to expand health care activity. Providing routine healthcare services differs from providing emergency services and may require EMS personnel.

Visit the Rural Health Information Hub at and enter “community paramedics” in the search box. You can also contact the directors of the three programs in Alabama.

Dale Quinney is executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association, 1414 Elba Highway, Troy, 36081.

Alabama Snapshots: Heirloom Quilts

18-month-old David, sitting on his great-grandmother’s quilt. SUBMITTED BY Kathy Crowder, Dothan.

Handmade by my great-grandmother,”Sally” Brundige. She called this pattern a double wedding ring.
SUBMITTED BY Dianne Deshler, Oxford.

Billie Bailey’s “country decor” fan-design quilt from the 1980s. SUBMITTED BY Jackie Labriola, Wetumpka.

For our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband Oran surprised me with this quilt made of photos from all of our travels around the world. SUBMITTED BY Alina Adams, Boaz

Icy Freeman with granddaughter Jennifer Brock and great-grandson Will Brock holding three of her quilts. SUBMITTED BY Andrew Brock, Boaz.

Sean Allen holding a quilt made by his mother, Maureen Strickling. SUBMITTED BY Kelly Mead, Wetumpka.

Submit Your Images! January Theme: “Alabama Sunrises” Deadline for January: November 30.

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.

Blue and Gray Museum is a must for Civil War buffs

Robert Parham, curator of the Blue and Gray Museum of North Alabama, talks about some of the displays at the museum, which is believed to be the largest privately owned collection of Civil War artifacts in the U.S. Photos by Michael Cornelison

By Aaron Tanner

Located along the Tennessee River in the northern part of Alabama, Decatur was an important river port and railroad hub during the Civil War. Relics from that turbulent time in America’s history can be found in historic downtown Decatur at the Blue and Gray Museum of North Alabama.

Figurines are on display, some of which are for sale. Photos by Michael Cornelison.

From weapons to supplies to uniforms, the items on display at the Blue and Gray Museum are believed to be the largest privately owned collection of Civil War artifacts in the United States. Attached to the museum is a store where authentic Civil War relics can be purchased.

Museum Curator Robert Parham proudly claims his museum offers more for the visitor to see and experience than typical Civil War museums found at major battlefields such as Antietam, Shiloh or Vicksburg. “There is more stuff at our museum than the other battlefield museums,” Parham says. “A lot of people comment about how much we have.”

Although a majority of those who visit the museum have a vested interest in the conflict between North and South, even those who may not be interested at first usually leave the museum with a deeper interest in this particular era in the long history of our nation.

Among the weapons in the collection are swords, revolvers and pistols, muskets and carbines. One of the guns on display is a precursor to the sniper rifle called the Whitworth. While most bullets fired from rifles during that era traveled only a distance of 400 yards, bullets from a Whitworth could travel on average a distance of 800 to 1,000 yards.

The Whitworth rifle, shown in display above, is a precursor to today’s military sniper rifles.

Parham says the record distance for a bullet fired from a Whitworth was in Decatur and traveled 1,200 yards. “Imagine putting twelve football fields together end to end, that was the distance a bullet from a Whitworth traveled,” he says. He adds that those wanting to join the Confederate sniper team had to prove they could shoot a Whitworth before being given the responsibility of fighting on that particular squad.

The Whitworth bullet was able to travel longer distances compared to bullets fired from other rifles of the Civil War era. Photos by Aaron Tanner

There are other types of guns on display, including a Colt .36-caliber carbine, of which only 150 were made during the Civil War, and a Barnett Naval Gun, which was used by the Confederate Navy. Also on display is the gun carried by Union Gen. Joseph K. Mansfield, who was killed in the bloody Battle of Antietam in September 1862.

Also here is a sword carried by Alabama Union Cavalry Lt. Col. Orzo John Dodds, who went on to have a political career after the war. Those interested in artillery shells should pay attention to several cannonballs that were discovered in and around Decatur that are displayed behind glass cases.

Because there were fewer in circulation, Confederate weapons are considered more valuable today than Union weapons.

There are non-weapon items too. Actual voting tickets for both Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and President Abraham Lincoln are here. Photography buffs will especially like the carte de visite photos, a style of small photograph used in the 1800s, of both Confederate and Union generals and politicians.

Models and replicas of historic ships are on display at the museum.
Photo by Michael Cornelison

The museum’s artifacts originally belonged to Robert Sackheim, who helped oversee the aerospace program at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville before retiring in 2006. Sackheim developed an interest in the Civil War while an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, a state with several Civil War battlefields that is steeped in the era’s history.

Collected over the years, Sackheim’s collection includes items he bought and some that were unearthed on private property; it is illegal to dig for artifacts on land owned by the National Park Service.

Sackheim was running out of space in his house and was eager to share his collection with the public. He spoke with Parham, who sold Civil War collectibles; the two shared a passion for history of the era. “They would talk for hours,” says Sackheim’s wife, Babette.

Parham convinced Sackheim to put his collection on display in downtown Decatur. “Why have all this stuff if you can’t see it and enjoy it?” Parham says. Sackheim remodeled an old antique mall to house the museum, which opened in 2007, in hopes of educating future generations about a conflict that deeply divided a nation that was less than a century old at the time.

Although Sackheim passed away in 2013, Parham maintains the museum and gives narrated tours of the different displays. His vast knowledge surpasses what a student might read in a school textbook: Be prepared to spend a few hours or even come back for multiple visits to learn about an important chapter in our nation’s history.ν

For more information on the museum, located at 723 Bank St. in Decatur, see or e-mail Parham at

Harness the sun to extend the fun

Cold frames offer opportunities for year-round gardening

One thing we have plenty of here in Alabama is sunlight, and while it may seem like too much of a good thing during the summer, it’s a valuable fall and winter resource for gardeners, especially those who know how to harness its warming rays to extend the length of their growing season.

Sunlight is, of course, vital for photosynthesis, but it also helps protect plants from cold temperatures by warming the air and soil around them. Greenhouses, hoop houses (also known as high and low tunnels) and row covers are often used by larger-scale growers; however, because these structures tend to require more space, installation effort and investment in materials, they are not always suitable for home gardeners.

Cold frames, on the other hand, are versatile little greenhouses that can be easy and fun to install and then used for starting seed, hardening off seedlings, extending the growing and harvest season of a variety of food crops and protecting dormant or tender plants and cuttings from cold weather.

At their basic level, cold frames are simply low-lying, enclosed spaces that are either sunk into the soil or filled with a growing media and then covered with transparent roofing that allows sunlight to radiate in and warm the air and the growing media inside the enclosure.

Ready-made cold frames can be purchased at many garden centers or online (prices range from less than $50 to more than $400); but they are also easy do-it-yourself projects that can be built using inexpensive (or practically free if you use recycled items) materials such as lumber, hay or straw bales, cinderblocks and old bricks for the enclosed area then top that with plastic sheeting, Plexiglass or old windows and storm doors. Like so many things in the garden, the options are as unlimited as your imagination and pocketbook.

Looking for ideas and inspiration or plans for building a cold frame? Check out the plethora of ideas online or at your local garden center, library and Alabama Cooperative Extension Service office. Or ask your experienced gardening friends for advice. They might just have a cold frame in the yard to show you.

As easy as they are to build, however, there are a few things to keep in mind as you install a cold frame. Here are the main considerations.

Ideally, a cold frame should be located in an area protected from strong winds, preferably against or near a wall with southern or southwestern exposure.

  • The growing media inside the cold frame should be rich in plant nutrients, debris-free and well-drained. Consider soil testing it to make sure it meets the needs of the plants you’re growing.
  • Lumber to build the enclosure should be creosote-free; try to use woods that are naturally weather and rot resistant, such as cypress and cedar. Lumber can, however, be treated with a non-toxic wood preservative or stain.
  • A cold frame’s transparent cover should be either hinged or removable so that it can easily be opened to regulate temperatures, improve ventilation and allow easy access for planting and harvesting.
  • An inexpensive garden thermometer, which can cost as little as few dollars depending on how fancy you want to get with the technology, is a worthwhile investment for a cold frame to monitor temperatures inside the enclosure.

By following these basic guidelines (and your inner do-it-yourself muse), you can have one or more cold frames ready in no time this fall.  And if you already have a cold frame or decide to build one, tell me about it (and send a picture) by emailing me at  I’d love to see what you’ve created!

Speaking of emails, several astute readers noticed that the fruit pictured in last month’s column as a pawpaw was actually a papaya. To learn more about pawpaws (and see photos of them) check out the North American Pawpaw Growers Association at or on Facebook at

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

WTD: Karma is both instant and brewed at Cullman coffee house

Photo by Mariah Walker

By Jennifer Crossley Howard

Karma’s Coffee House is, as the motto goes, “where good people come for good coffee.” It is also where they come on a rainy late summer afternoon, to get a shot of caffeinated comfort to keep going after lunch.

The Cullman coffee shop, open since 2015, sits in a brick building on First Avenue northeast downtown. With its exposed brick walls, humble platform stage and large picture windows overlooking lonely railroad tracks, the environment beckons customers to sit and daydream. A record player spun a new John Mayer song while a tall bookshelf holding works by Joan Didion and Gabriel Garcia Marquez waited for readers to turn off their cellphones and just be.

Owner Katie Fine opened Karma’s in 2015 in downtown Cullman.
Photo by Jennifer Crossley Howard

There’s far more than coffee here. In fact, there are four kinds of chicken salad to suit every taste: Southern, Honey Pecan, Old-Fashioned and Buffalo. Old-Fashioned has crushed pineapple, grapes, almonds and celery.

“Honey Pecan and Buffalo are tied,” owner Katie Fine says, as far as local preferences.

The menu offers flatbread sandwiches as well as grape salad, homemade macaroni, protein bites, cookies, scones and sausage balls. House specialties include the Kurt Cobain, named after the late Nirvana singer. The coffee drink comes with chocolate and an extra shot of nut toffee. Bullet-proof coffee is still in high demand along with acai bowls, which Fine added this summer, that often sell out.

“Crazy enough, my husband suggested we do sausage balls, and they have become the most popular thing,” Fine says.

You can order a bottomless mug of coffee or stick with Fine’s recent choice, a fuss-free cup of strong, black brew. After indulging in specialty drinks for years, she had to go back to the basics.

“I really love the sweet stuff,” she says.

Where regulars are like family

Fine studied rehabilitation and disabilities at Auburn University and interned at United Way before deciding a desk job was not for her. Her fond memories of working at coffee houses and restaurants in Cullman inspired her to open Karma’s with a financial backer.

“Being around a coffee shop is not like anywhere else,” Fine says. “Your regulars kind of become family.”

Noely Skinner is a regular visitor to Karma’s.
Photo by Mariah Walker

Her business embraces warmth over the stark modernity in so many chains. Cushioned chairs and couches fill sitting areas instead of hard metal chairs, and there’s a children’s corner with chalk tables, books and toys. She painted the walls in pleasing jewel tones and works almost every day, fixing orders along with her employees. Fine has nine employees, an accountant, a social media employee and two kitchen workers.

“It’s more (work) than people think,” she says. “More often 12 hours than not.”

She uses local sources for her ingredients, including sausage from Fudge Family Farms in Madison and beans from Vienna Coffee Company in Maryville, Tenn.

Friends told Fine to name her shop after herself or use java in the name. She decided to go with a simple philosophy of doing good to others and then receiving like in return.

“I’m just a big fan of people, and I believe people should be nice to each other,” said Fine, who was leaving on a mission trip in a few days.

Karma’s Coffee House

103 1st Ave. NE Suite 140, Cullman, AL 35055

Hours: 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday;

6:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday;

6:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday;

8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday

Alabama Bookshelf

In this periodic feature, we highlight books either about Alabama people or events or written by Alabama authors. Summaries are not reviews or endorsements. We also occasionally highlight book-related events. Email submissions to bookshelf@alabamaliving.coopDue to the volume of submissions, we are unable to feature all the books we receive.

Sixteen and Counting: The National Championships of Alabama Football, edited and with an introduction by Kenneth Gaddy, University of Alabama Press, $24.95 (sports) The book features dramatic accounts of every University of Alabama National Championship football season, recounted by noted sports writers, players and Alabamians.


Once You Know This, by Emily Blejwas, Random House/Delacorte Press, $16.99 (middle grade readers) Eleven-year-old Brittany knows there has to be a better world out there. At home, her granny is sick, her cat is missing, there’s never any money, and a little brother to worry about. Once she starts believing in herself, she realizes what has always seemed out of reach might be just around the corner. The author lives in Mobile and the novel is set in part in Montgomery.


Grandeur of the Everyday: The Paintings of Dale Kennington, University of Alabama Press, $29.95 (art) The book is a lavishly illustrated overview of the life and work of realist painter Dale Kennington, who called Dothan home for most of her life. The book features more than 85 of her most renowned works, and has an introduction by Daniel White, an interview by Kristen Miller Zohn and an essay by Rebecca Brantley.


An Irresistible History of Alabama Barbecue, by Mark R. Johnson, ArcadiaPublishing and The History Press, $21.99 (food) From Muscle Shoals to Mobile, Alabamians enjoy fabulous barbecue. In the 1820s, however, a group of reformers wanted to eliminate the Southern staple because politicians used it toentice voters. The author traces the development of the state’s famous food from the earliest settlement of the state to the rise of barbecue restaurants.



Archipelagoes of My South: Episodes in the Shaping of a Region, 1830-1965, by J. Mills Thornton III, University of Alabama Press, $59.95 (Southern culture) This collection of essays by historian Thornton, a native of Montgomery, represents 45 years of reflection on the central problems of Southern history, bound together by a common concern with defining the crucial interaction of race and class in the formation of Southern politics and life.

How Sweet It Is

Does your family prefer marshmallow topping, crunchy pecans or are you a family divided? If you’re ready to shake things up a bit, check for a few traditional and some not-so-traditional sweet potato casserole recipes. Food stylist and photographer | Brooke Echols

By Jennifer Kornegay

     A plump turkey, its skin golden brown and crisped by either hot oven air or scalding oil, is the undisputed star of the Southern Thanksgiving table. A chorus of side dishes circles it, and the queen of these back-up singers is usually some iteration of the sweet potato casserole. With the inclusion of sugar and sometimes, a crowning cloud of mini marshmallows, the orange tuber’s inherent subtle sweetness is amplified to an intensity that really should land this dish on the dessert table.

     When given some thought, the addition of marshmallows to the sweet potato casserole is especially odd. Sure, particularly around holidays, we sometimes glaze ham with brown sugar or maybe molasses, but we don’t usually embellish vegetables or other savory foods with candy. We don’t top baked potatoes with gumdrops. We don’t stuff our turkeys with jellybeans. So where did the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows come from?

     It isn’t a Southern invention. Despite its prevalence in our feasts to celebrate an attitude of gratitude, it originated as a marketing ploy of a marshmallow maker in Massachusetts in the early 1900s. The company was looking for a way to boost sales of its brand new treat by disseminating recipes for the home cook that called for marshmallows as an ingredient. This type of sweet potato casserole, today a beloved Thanksgiving tradition in our region, is actually corporate propaganda cloaked in the seemingly innocent pleasure of puffed-sugar fluffs. And, after its initial introduction, it was eaters in the Northern United States who gave it the popularity that pushed it to “classic” status.

     So, if you enjoy this addition to your plateful of turkey-day foods, thank a clever marketing mind. If you don’t like it, blame the Yankees. (And rest assured, we’ve got many recipes sans marshmallows for you in this month’s recipes.)

Cook of the Month 

Courtney Walker, Dixie EC 

“It was actually an accident,” said Courtney Walker of her Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potato recipe. It was a happy accident though. She makes baked sweet potatoes a lot, and one night, was eating one with another dish that had her tomato and parsley topping on it. “I got a mouthful of both, and I loved the combo, so I decided to create a dish around that bite,” she said. The result is her healthy, filling side that can actually be an entire meal. “With the hummus in the sauce, it really satisfies your appetite,” she said. And she encourages people to play with the flavors to find what they like best. “You can add or take away the amount of garlic, and the optional toppings are truly optional,” she said. “But, they are really good.”

Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potatoes

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, halved
  • 1/2teaspoon each: cumin, coriander, cinnamon and smoked paprika (or regular paprika)
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Squirt of lemon juice, optional
  • 2tablespoons olive oil
  • Garlic Herb Sauce:
  • ¼cup hummus
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • 2tablespoons dried dill or to taste
  • 2teaspoons minced garlic
  • Water or unsweetened almond milk (enough to thin it out)
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Optional toppings:
  • ¼cup diced tomatoes
  • ¼cup chopped parsley
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Chili sauce, to taste and add fresh garlic

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Rinse off potatoes, dry and slice each in half.  Combine cumin, coriander, cinnamon and smoked paprika. Sprinkle lightly over cut side of potatoes, adding a squeeze of lemon juice if desired. Place face down on pan and rub with oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Cook for 30-40 minutes until soft. While the potatoes are roasting, prepare your sauce. Add all sauce ingredients to a bowl and blend well. Only add enough water or almond milk to thin it out, but be careful not to make it runny. Taste and add ingredients to your preference if needed. (Note: if you don’t like hummus, substitute with tahini.) Prepare the parsley-tomato topping by tossing all ingredients together. When potatoes are cooked and tender, mash the center down, top with the sauce and garnish with the tomato topping. Sprinkle with a little more dill or lemon if desired.

Sweet Potato Crunch

  • 1½ cups plain flour
  • ¾ cup finely chopped pecans
  • ¾ cup margarine, melted


  • 3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and     mashed
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Topping:
  •   8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  •   2 cups powdered sugar
  • 8-ounce container Cool Whip
  • Additional chopped pecans

In a bowl, combine flour and pecans. Stir in margarine. Press into a greased 13×9-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. In another large bowl, add sweet potatoes, sugar, butter and vanilla; stir until smooth. Spread over crust.

For topping: Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl until smooth. Fold in Cool Whip. Spread over filling. Sprinkle with pecans, if desired. Refrigerate overnight. Yield about 12-16 servings.

Peggy Key

North Alabama EC

Sweet Potato Biscuits

  • 1can Grands Flaky Biscuits
  • 1package sweet potato patties
  • 1 stick oleo
  • 21/2 cups water
  • 2cups sugar
  • 2tablespoons white Karo syrup
  • Cinnamon, for sprinkling

Melt oleo in a 9×11-inch baking dish. Heat water to a simmer; add sugar and Karo syrup. Mix and boil for 10 minutes. Pull biscuits apart into halves. Place one sweet potato patty between two biscuit halves. Crimp edges together and place in dish of melted butter. Pour hot sugar mixture over biscuits. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Shena Blocker

Covington EC

Candied Sweet Potatoes

  • 5 or 6 medium sweet potatoes
  •   1¾ cups Dr. Pepper
  •   1¼ cups sugar
  •   ¾ stick butter
  •   ¾ teaspoon salt

Parboil sweet potatoes for 10 minutes. (Cook’s note: I like to bake them for better flavor.) Slice sweet potatoes and place in baking dish. Combine all remaining ingredients in a saucepan and boil for 10 minutes to create a syrup. Pour syrup mixture over sweet potatoes and bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, basting sweet potatoes several times. Juice will not be very thick.

Joyce Mathis

Tallapoosa River EC

Yummy Yam Bread

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, baked and mashed
  • ¾ cup melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple, undrained
  • ¾ cup chopped nuts or raisins
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting the top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour mixture into two greased loaf pans or one tube pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar. (Cook’s note: Adjust baking time to pan size and desired doneness.)

Peggy Lunsford

Pea River EC

Southern Sweet Potato Pie

  • 1 cup mashed sweet potatoes
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 12/3 cup sugar
  •   ¾ cup evaporated milk
  •   ½ cup butter, melted
  •   ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  •   ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 9-inch unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together all ingredients in a large bowl until smooth. Pour into pie shell and bake for 55-60 minutes. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a dash of ground nutmeg. For a more dense pie, use 1½ cups mashed sweet potatoes instead of 1 cup.

Charlotte Graves

 Sand Mountain EC

Additional Recipes!

Sweet Potato Casserole

  • 5-6 medium-size fresh sweet potatoes
  • 2 sticks butter, melted
  • 1 cup yellow cake mix (I used the Martha White small box)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • Optional: chopped walnuts or pecans and coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash, peel and cut potatoes into ½-inch disks. Place in 9×13-inch pan. In medium-size saucepan, melt butter. Add cake mix, sugar and vanilla, cooking and stirring to make a sauce. Add any optional ingredients, if using. I add pecans. Remove from heat, stir well and pour over potatoes. Bake 25 minutes, checking for doneness after 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Shirley Rossano

North Alabama EC

Pretzel-Topped Sweet Potatoes

  • 2 cups pretzel pieces (I recommend Snyder’s of Hannover Salted Caramel Pieces)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar, for the topping
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted (1/2 cup for topping, 1/4 cup for potatoes)
  • 1 40-ounce can sweet potatoes
  • 1 5-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break pretzels into bite size pieces, chop pecans and rinse cranberries. In large bowl, combine pretzel pieces, brown sugar, cranberries, pecans and ½ cup melted butter. Mix well and set aside. In large bowl, combine sweet potatoes, evaporated milk, vanilla extract, small handful of brown sugar and ¼ cup melted butter. Mix until smooth and pour into a greased 2-quart baking dish. Add pretzel-cranberry topping and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Pamela Martin

Arab Electric Coop

 Sweet Potato Pudding

  • 2 cups grated sweet potatoes
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Miniature marshmallows

Mix all ingredients and pour into a greased casserole dish. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Stir and bake an additional 15-20 minutes. Top with mini marshmallows and brown in the oven.

Mary Segers

Cullman EC

Sweet Potato Casserole

  • 3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1/3 cup milk


  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup butter

Mix first 6 ingredients well. Pour into a greased casserole dish. Mix topping ingredients and sprinkle on top of casserole. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25-35 minutes.

Charlotte Graves

Sand Mountain EC

Coming up in December…Edible Gifts!

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

January: Crockpot | Nov. 8

February: Spicy Foods | Dec. 8

March: Honey | Jan. 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.