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A Christmas memory

Come Christmas, I always think of Taddy.

His full name, Tadeusz Klarrman, was too much for the South Alabama tongue. So Taddy is what we called him.

He arrived in our little town sometime in 1951. They, the grownups, put him in the 6th grade. By early 1952 he was gone, and today, to me, he would be just another fading picture in an old yearbook. If it weren’t for Christmas.

They, the grownups, told us Taddy was a refugee. They didn’t tell us much more. Imagination supplied the rest, and put together a story of how, at the end of World War II, Taddy and his mother were caught behind the Iron Curtain. Then, in the confusion and chaos of postwar Europe they made it across the border and became DPs – Displaced Persons. Sticking together, they survived the camps, found an American sponsor, crossed the ocean, and one day arrived in Grove Hill, Alabama.

Since he was a few years older than me, I never really got to know him, never played with him, don’t know if we ever spoke. All I remember is his riding around town on an old bicycle, alone.

And the story my parents told me.

It began with his class Christmas party.

Students in each room drew names for gift-giving.

They don’t do that any more, which is good. The teachers meant well, but name drawing wasn’t fun.

Especially for poor kids.

I grew up among folks who didn’t have much. Today people look back through rose-tinted glasses and talk about being poor but not knowing it. These children knew it. They were the ones who spent the year collecting the tinfoil from discarded cigarette packages to make shiny balls to decorate their Christmas tree because they could not afford the store-bought kind. It was all their parents could do to buy a Christmas gift for their own children, much less someone else’s. Name drawing reminded them, and us, of their situation.

Taddy’s family fell into that category.

Mr. Brady owned a hardware store, which during the Christmas season he magically converted into a toyshop where all the delights of childhood could be displayed. Every day after school my friends and I would drop by to see what new wonders had arrived and to stare at the stack of two-gun, double-holster, cap-pistol sets that were on all our Christmas lists.

I was probably thinking about those guns when my parents told me what happened.

Somehow Mr. Brady had learned of Taddy’s situation. So he went and got him and took him to his store and told him to pick out whatever he wanted to give the name he had drawn. Taddy went straight over to the two-gun, double-holster, cap-pistol set and said “This.”

Mr. Brady wrapped it and handed it to him.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Then Mr. Brady told Taddy, “Now you pick out the gift that you would like to have for yourself.” And Taddy went over and picked up another two-gun, double-holster, cap-pistol set.

And I knew what my parents were telling me. Taddy was what Christmas giving should be all about. At Christmas we should give what we, ourselves, treasure most.

Now that happened a long time ago.

But come Christmas, I always think of Taddy.

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

Alabama Gardens: DIY holiday gifts


DIY holiday gifts, from and for gardeners

If you love to garden, you probably also love to share the gardening experience with others. So why not turn your passion for gardening into holiday gifts?

Hundreds — more like thousands — of crafty do-it-yourself ideas for garden gifts and projects abound, some so easy that even the least handy of us (that would be me) can make impressive gifts for friends and loved ones. Here are just a few easy ideas, though you can find many more on the Internet, at your local craft store and even in books and publications at your local library. Just spend a little time poking around to find ones that fit your needs and skill level.

Top among my gifting picks is a container filled with an assortment of helpful gardening items, from small, inexpensive goodies to more expensive must-have or didn’t-know-you-wanted-till-you-got-them items. You can buy new containers or use this as the perfect opportunity to repurpose all those old baskets and tins or pots you’ve
been collecting. Watering cans, burlap bags, plastic milk crates and even an old (or a new) wheelbarrow — anything that you have on hand or that strikes your fancy — will work.

It’s also a great way to pick things that are specific to the recipient’s needs. You can include basic hand tools, seeds and how-to books for a novice gardener (or a child), or you can find more advanced items for someone who has lots of gardening experience. These gift collections can also be tailored to the style of each gardener, from frilly to sensible to even manly.


Among the gift goodies that can be included in these containers are books, magazines, sunscreen, bug and poison ivy sprays and lotions, hats, gloves, bird seed and feeders, plant seeds and bulbs, hand tools, water bottles, kneelers, gardening aprons or anything else that catches your eye and fits your budget. Put them in the container, add a little straw or tissue paper, tie it with a ribbon and you’re done.

Another easy and fun gift option is to either grow small plants from seeds or cuttings or buy some small potted plants (jade plants, ivy, herbs and orchids for example) that can be used indoors or planted later in the yard.

You can embellish those plain little plastic pots with ribbons and tissue paper or slip small potted plants into oversized coffee mugs rather than potting them in more expensive containers to keep the cost down. If you want to make them extra special without spending too much money, use burlap, decorative muffin tin liners (if the pots are small enough), foil or get some heavier-gauge decorative paper (scrapbooking paper works particularly well) and use Martha Stewart’s pot wrapping technique: set the pot in the middle of a square sheet of decorative paper, fold two opposite sides of the paper up and secure them to the pot’s sides with double-sided tape, then repeat for the other side for a neat wrap. Tie festive cords or ribbons around the pot for a final touch.

Use a pre-made plain wooden birdhouse to make an edible gift for bird lovers.
Use a pre-made plain wooden birdhouse to make an edible gift for bird lovers.

And here is an idea that can be a gift for your bird-loving friends and for the birds—an edible birdhouse! All you need is an unfinished wooden or cardboard birdhouse (available at most craft stores if you’re not into woodworking). Drill or carefully poke holes on either side of the top center the birdhouse, insert a thin rope or strong ribbon or twine through the holes and tie securely to form a loop so it can be hung in a tree or on a stand.

Coat the outside of the house with peanut butter, homemade suet or an edible paste (one recipe I found recommends using 3 cups wheat flour, 2 cups water and ¾ cups honey for the paste). Sprinkle or press birdseed, sunflower seed, millet, etc., on the coating and then add further embellishments. For example, a sprinkling of coconut can look like snow and thin slices of dried oranges or apples can be used as roof shingles. Nuts, cranberries, raisins and other healthful, edible dried foods can be used for further decoration.

Of course you can also use large pinecones, gumballs and other natural items to make edible ornaments, too — a great project for kids. And these birdhouses or other items can always be recoated over and over again as the birds peck away all the yummy foods.

This is just a small sampling of the many ideas that are out there, so don’t hesitate to find or create fun projects of your own. In fact, I’d love to hear about your creations and ideas, so send photos and messages to me at or share them with us on the Alabama Living Facebook page.

DECEMBER Garden Tips

      • Wipe dust from the foliage of houseplants and keep them in more humid areas of the house, such as the kitchen or bathrooms.
      • Transplant trees and shrubs and plant roses, spring-flowering bulbs and hardy annual plant seed.
      • Protect tender flowering shrubs from freezing weather by covering them with a sheet or blanket. Uncover them when temperatures begin to rise.
      • Spot-treat weeds in the lawn.
      • Apply winter-protective mulch to garden beds and around newly planted trees and shrubs.
      • Prune hardy deciduous and evergreen trees and summer-blooming shrubs.
      • Sow seeds for winter or cool-season vegetables.
      • Plant cool-season annuals such as pansies, ornamental cabbages and kales and snapdragons.
      • Water lawns, shrubs and small trees if the weather is dry.
      • Keep bird feeders and birdbaths clean and full.
      • Begin planning your 2016 garden.

JACKSON, KATIE Gardening 2013

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

Alabama Bookshelf: December 2015

In this feature, we highlight recent books either about Alabama people or written by Alabama authors. Summaries are not reviews or endorsements. We also occasionally highlight book-related events. Email submissions and events to


Among the Swamp People, by Watt Key, University of Alabama Press, September 2015, $29.95 hardcover (memoir/natural history) A collection of colorful personal essays about life in the wilds of Alabama’s Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. Key, a novelist and screenwriter living on the Gulf coast, chronicles the delta’s natural beauty, the difficulty of survival in it and the extraordinary cast of characters that calls it home.


Behind Nazi Lines: My Father’s Heroic Quest to Save 149 World War II POWs, by Andrew Gerow Hodges Jr. and Denise George, Berkley Caliber Press, August 2015, $27.95 hardcover (military/memoir) Hodges tells the true story of his father, a Red Cross volunteer, and his brave mission behind enemy lines to negotiate the safety of prisoners in 1944 German-occupied France. Both authors make their home in Birmingham.


Daniel and the Sun Sword, Sons and Daughters, Book 1, by Nathan Lumbatis, Ellechor Publishing House, November 2015, $16.99 paperback (young adult Christian fantasy) Daniel is an orphan who’s given up on the world. But when he is adopted by God, he is charged with a quest to save humanity by finding the lost shards of a mystical sword. Will he learn to trust in God’s power before it’s too late? The author lives in Dothan.


Visions of the Black Belt, by Robin McDonald and Valerie Pope Burnes, University of Alabama Press, October 2015, $39.95 tradecloth (photography/history) In photos and text, the authors bring to life the layers of history that shaped the Black Belt’s tastes, sounds and colors. The book recounts the stories of such communities as Camden, Eutaw and Tuskegee, and offers an illustrated tour of the lands that represent the cultural efflorescence of Alabama’s heartland.


The Cotton-Picking Centre Warriors, by Randall McCord and Tommy Moon, Whosoever Press, $35 (local history) The authors put 5 ½ years into this 740-page book, which looks at the ties between football and farming. They interviewed players and coaches associated with Cherokee County High School and read personal reminiscences to document their work. “If football is the spirit of CCHS, then cotton is the soul,” the authors say.


That He May Raise, by Armond Boudreaux, Livingston Press, $17.95 trade paper (fiction) These linked stories explore the ways in which guilt radiates through time and space, and ask whether the resulting suffering can be redemptive. A husband forces his wife into an impossible choice; a son cannot forgive his father’s sins; a woman tries to atone for betraying her best friend by making her lover pay. Author Boudreaux grew up in southwestern Alabama.

Christmas photos

Get your phones ready for better Christmas photos

By Allison Griffin

If you’re like most of us, your photo albums are filled with photos of Christmas past that had potential, but for whatever reason, just didn’t take: The backlit people. The family that was grouped around the tree, but you wouldn’t know it because the tree isn’t visible. The whitewashed look of a photo subject, who was hit square in the face by a harsh flash. The shots that came out blurry due to low light and shaky arms.

These photo flops still exist, but they’re increasingly not finding their way into the photo albums. Now, they’re taken on smartphones or tablets, which are easy to use, extremely portable and always handy – but they have in the past made good photography a challenge.

But even today’s lower-end smartphones can capture some great photos. All you need is to put a little thought and planning into the photos you take, and a little practice with the capabilities of your device. The result? Photos that will make this season a memorable one.

For some professional input, we asked Bryan Carter, owner of Carter Photography and Design in Montgomery, for some tips and ideas that even the novice photographer can put to use this Christmas.

“No matter what device you have, no matter what your handicap in that area might be, the possibility of a good photo exists,” Carter says. “Just follow the simple principles of good photography.”

With that in mind, here are some of Carter’s thoughts:

      • Composition. Note the lighting and surroundings of your photo frame – things you’re aware of. Does the person have a harsh shadow on her face? Try to move in to less direct light. Is there a big garbage can in the shot? Scoot everyone over a bit to cover it up.
      • Look for opportunities for unusual, candid shots. At the holiday table, for example, instead of a shot of people standing around it, have a seat and get candids of people talking to each other or passing the food around (don’t tell them you’re taking photos). You could even set the timer on your photo app and put the camera at the end of the table.
      • Perspective, or angle. The tendency with smartphones is to hold the phone at chest level, arms partially extended. But that’s often an unflattering angle. Try getting above or below the subject to create more visual interest, or to be kinder to someone’s body shape.
      • On the subject of camera position, if your arms are extended out from your body holding the smartphone, there’s more possibility of shake. Better to hold the phone as you would hold a camera and steady it, by bringing your arms in and bracing them against your body. Or use a table to steady your arms, or lean up against a wall. And always use two hands to hold the phone.
      • When shooting pets or little kids, get down on their level. You’re more likely to engage with them, and get a better shot.
      • Avoid using your phone’s digital zoom. It’s better to move yourself to get the best image. When you zoom, you’ll struggle with shake and photo quality.
      • Know the rule of thirds. Most smartphones and tablets have the option to display a grid, which breaks the frame into nine equal quadrants. The idea is to place the subject of influence in one of the intersects of the vertical and horizontal lines. Most folks have a tendency to center the photo subject, which is less visually interesting.
      • Be ready. If it’s time to open presents or mealtime, have your phone out of your pocket or purse and in your hand. Capturing a moment can be difficult with a phone, which some folks keep tucked away.
      • Turn off that flash. The on-camera smartphone flashes are “the worst things ever,” Carter says. The tiny light creates harsh lines on your photo subject, and you can’t control the white balance. Plus, the light hits the subject square in the face. Don’t blind him or her!
      • Most smartphone camera apps have a multishot feature. Just hold the shutter button down and it will take multiple, sequential shots. That’s a good feature to use if you’re trying to capture children playing with their new toys – or anything that is constantly moving.
      • Keep it clean. The lens of your smartphone or tablet needs to be cleaned periodically with a soft, lint-free cloth (the kind used to clean eyeglasses). Women in particular, who often use lotions on their hands, may notice a thin film or residue on their lens. Fingerprints will cloud it up, too.
      • Posing your subjects. The phrase, “get together for a picture” often leads to a long horizontal line when several people are involved. To avoid the look of a police lineup, take the time to maneuver people for a closer, clearer shot. Larger and taller people should be in the back, shorter and smaller folks in the front. Take time to angle the people to make a flattering composition. And if there are many, make sure you can see every face, and tell them they have to be able to see your face too.
      • When posing, make use of any stairs in the house, or even better, the front porch steps (to take advantage of natural light). It’s easier to compensate for varying heights and body shapes with stairs and steps.
      • Speaking of natural light: “We’ve got the best light source available to us, and that’s the sun,” Carter says. However, smartphone cameras work best with indirect light – a bright overcast day, foggy mornings, partial shade – soft light situations.
      • If you can’t go outside, make use of a large window for good light. Position the photo subject at the far end of the window, looking alongside or toward the window and toward the light.
      • Practice, practice, practice. With the new year ahead, take advantage of one of the “365” projects that many blogs, online programs and social media platforms offer. Take a photo every day, and immerse yourself in smartphone or tablet photography.

Alabama Outdoors: Feathered pursuits


Alabama abounds with bird hunting options

By John N. Felsher

Each fall, sportsmen across Alabama eagerly await cooler days when they can pursue King Bob, the most majestic of all native North American game birds. Better known as bobwhite quail, King Bob once ranked among the most popular game species in North America, particularly in the South. However, the regal fowl suffered many setbacks from predators and disappearing or changing habitat.

“The bobwhite quail population is poor and declining across most of Alabama, except on some private plantations with intensive habitat management,” says Steve Mitchell, an Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources biologist in Goodwater. “Habitat loss has been the main factor in the bobwhite population decline across Alabama.”

Bobwhites inhabit anything from tall grass prairies and brushy rangeland to pine savannahs. They prefer grasslands and “successional” plant species, those that emerge after something disturbs the soil to create an opening. They don’t do well in thick forests with little undergrowth, but thrive in some crop fields, as long as they can find edge cover from weeds, grasses, brambles or woody thickets.

Fortunately, the state manages some public lands specifically for quail. Some better wildlife management areas for bobwhites include Barbour, Blue Springs, Freedom Hills, Lauderdale, Mulberry Fork, Mallard Fox Creek, Swan Creek WMAs and Geneva State Forest.

“Positive work is being done on many WMAs,” Mitchell says. “Longleaf pine restoration on Barbour WMA has whistling counts trending upward. Quail are also showing a positive response to shortleaf pine restoration on Freedom Hills WMA and Lauderdale WMA. We are also modifying agriculture contracts on many areas that will have a positive impact for quail habitat by leaving fallow field borders.”

In addition, many private property owners also intensively manage their lands to enhance quail habitat. Commercial shooting preserves supplement the wild population by releasing pen-raised birds on their land. The Alabama wild quail season began Nov. 7 and continues through Feb. 29, 2016, but the season for pen-raised birds on commercial preserves runs from Oct. 1 through March 31 annually.

Besides bobwhite quail, Alabama sportsmen can hunt several other game birds, not to mention turkeys and waterfowl. While quail populations have declined, doves number nearly 500 million birds across North America. These extremely swift and agile fliers can exceed 55 miles per hour. With twisting, erratic flight patterns, doves frequently embarrass even the best shooters.

“Agriculture and forestry practices greatly enhance the habitat and benefit Alabama mourning dove populations,” says Jeff Makemson, an ADCNR biologist. “Mourning doves are the most numerous game birds in Alabama. The population is good and stable throughout the state with the highest populations in southern Alabama. Localized dove populations vary depending on the preferred food source in the area.”

Doves prefer open fields or grasslands punctuated by occasional trees, brush or fencerows where they find abundant seeds. They tend to avoid swamps and thick forests, but do feed along timbered edges.

For many sportsmen, a new hunting season kicks off when dove seasons open every September. Dove season in the North Zone ran from Sept. 12 to Nov. 15 and returns from Dec. 5-29. In the South Zone, the late season runs from Nov. 12 to Jan. 15. Some of the best hunting occurs later in the year. While many birds live their entire lives in Alabama, others migrate to the Cotton State as cold weather hits.

Sportsmen can also hunt two other largely ignored game birds – snipe and woodcock. Both look similar with small bodies and long bills that they use to probe soft mud for invertebrates. Both fly swiftly and erratically, making them extremely difficult to hit. In fact, the military term “sniper” for an expert marksman originally described someone skilled enough to hit a snipe in flight.

During the winter, many snipe and woodcock migrate to the Gulf Coast. Snipe season runs from Nov. 14 to Feb. 28. Woodcock season lasts from Dec. 18 until Jan. 31. For more information, see


John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He co-hosts a weekly outdoors show that is syndicated to stations in Alabama. For more on the show, see Contact him through his website at

Alabama Recipes: Peppermint


A holiday must-have

More than any other aroma or flavor, peppermint says “holidays” to me. The simple sight of candy canes, all lined up in their cellophane-wrapped boxes, sitting on grocery store shelves, screams “childhood memories coming!,” a warning before my emotional floodgates open, and I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia and warm, fuzzy thoughts of Christmas mornings with my brother and parents.

An annual tradition in our house was making Christmas cookies together. My mom would pull index cards, their printed lines and inked words faded and corners worn soft, out of her wooden recipe box. We usually made three or four different kinds, but my favorites to eat were my least favorite to make.

Candy Cane Cookies were delicious but complicated. I didn’t mind cutting out shapes and tossing on some colored sugars. That didn’t take too long, and it was fun. But Candy Cane Cookies meant making the dough, dividing it and coloring one half red, pinching off little balls, hand-rolling them into ropes, twisting the red and white ropes together and then turning one end down to form a crook. When done, you had the spitting image of red-and-white spiral-striped candy canes. Oh, and then you crushed up peppermint candies and sprinkled them on top. They looked impressive, but I always wanted them mixed, baked and in my mouth, STAT.

Despite my impatience, I pushed through and helped my mom with minimal complaining every year, knowing I’d be proud of the pretty cookies when I was done (and of course, enjoy eating them). I still make them every year, now by myself in my own kitchen, although my husband happily joins me in devouring them long before Christmas ever arrives.

Nowadays, stores have Christmas decor and candy canes out before Thanksgiving; some even try to push us into the holiday spirit before Halloween has come and gone. Lots of folks complain about this, but I don’t mind. I feel a gentle wave of pure joy wash over me when I see candy canes for the first time each year. If that happens to be in October, so be it. The longer I can stretch Christmas and everything it means to me, the better.

Peppermint may not be so closely linked to the holidays at your house, but I’d be willing to bet there’s at least some connection. That’s why we’re pretty sure you’ll be excited about this month’s recipes, all shining the spotlight on peppermint and highlighting its sweet, exhilarating tingly taste.

– Jennifer Kornegay



Cook of the Month

Christie York
Christie York

Christie York, Marshall-DeKalb EC

An avid cook, Christie loves to make desserts, and she’s been whipping up her Frozen Peppermint Cheesecake for about 20 years, especially around Christmas. “It’s something my family really just expects around the holidays,” she says, “so I always make it then, and it has become part of our holiday tradition.” It’s cool and creamy with a refreshing pop of peppermint, but that’s not the only reason it’s become a mainstay. “It’s so easy to make, and when I have my oven busy cooking so many other things, it’s nice to be able to make this, since it’s really a no-cook recipe.” And while it’s doubtful that there will be any leftovers from this dish, if there are, simply slice individual pieces and wrap them in plastic wrap and pop them in the freezer. “It’s great to have a few on hand for surprise guests,” Christie says.

Frozen Peppermint Cheesecake

  • 1½ cups chocolate wafer crumbs
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup crushed peppermint candy
  • 3 drops liquid red food coloring
  • 2 cups whipping cream, whipped
  • Garnishes: whipped cream and crushed peppermint candy

Combine first 3 ingredients; firmly press onto bottom and 1 inch up sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Chill. Beat cream cheese at high speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add condensed milk, peppermint candy and food coloring; beat well. Fold in whipped cream. Pour into prepared pan. Cover and freeze until firm. Garnish if desired. Yields one 9-inch cheesecake.


Peppermint Candy

  • 1 large stick peppermint candy, crushed
  • 1 can Eagle Brand milk
  • ¼-½ cup Crisco
  • 1½-2boxes powdered sugar
  • Almond bark

Mix crushed peppermint candy, milk and Crisco. Blend in powdered sugar. Roll to form balls and dip in melted almond bark. Place on wax paper to harden.

Belinda Tillery, Cherokee EC


Chocolate Peppermint Ritz

  • 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon peppermint oil (not extract)
  • Chocolate almond bark
  • Ritz crackers

Melt chocolate bark in an 8-inch by 8-inch pan; add peppermint oil. Stir. Lay 4-5 crackers in the melted chocolate. Remove with a spoon and lay on waxed paper to dry. Repeat.

Tina Robertson, Baldwin EMC


Gluten-Free Candy Cane Cupcakes

  • 1¼ cup brown rice flour
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup oil
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
Frosting ingredients:
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • Crushed candy canes

Combine rice flour, cornstarch, cocoa, soda, and xanthan gum, and salt. In a separate bowl combine milk, egg, oil, water, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix for 2 minutes. Fill paper-lined muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack.

Meanwhile in mixing bowl, combine shortening, butter, powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt. Beat for 5 minutes until fluffy. Take half of the frosting and put in a decorators bag and push tip into the top of each cooled cupcake. Squeeze bag to allow a couple teaspoons of frosting in the center for a delectable filling. Take remaining frosting and frost the top on each cupcake. Sprinkle with crushed candy canes.

Esther Briddick, Joe Wheeler EMC

Peppermint Oreo Balls

  • 1 package regular Oreo cookies, ground fine
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • White chocolate chips (or almond bark), melted
  • Crushed peppermints for garnish

Blend cookie crumbs, cream cheese and peppermint extract. Roll into small balls. Dip into the melted white chocolate, set on wax paper and quickly dust with crushed peppermints. Cool for one hour.

Janie Whelton, Baldwin EMC

Holiday Peppermint Pie

  • 4 cups crispy rice cereal
  • 1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips, melted
  • 1½ quarts peppermint stick ice cream, softened
  • Chocolate fudge topping
  • Crushed peppermint candies

Combine the cereal and melted chocolate; mix well. Press onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 9-inch pie plate. Freeze for 5 minutes. Spoon ice cream into the crust. Freeze for 6 hours or overnight. Remove from freezer 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with the chocolate fudge topping and peppermint candies.

Sherry Parker, Cherokee EC


Peppermint Hot Chocolate

  • 3½ cups whole milk
  • 8 squares (1 ounce) white baking chocolate, chopped
  • ¼-½ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 2/3 cup whipped cream
  • 8 peppermint candies, crushed
  • Chocolate syrup
  • Additional crushed candies as desired

In a saucepan, heat milk over medium heat until hot. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Stir in peppermint extract. In a medium bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in crushed candies. Ladle the hot chocolate mixture into mugs and dollop with whipped cream. Drizzle with chocolate syrup and additional crushed candies.

Carolyn Batchelor, Covington EC

The Power of Peppermint

Peppermint-flavored foods get their punch from peppermint oil (or extracts made from peppermint oil), which are derived from a mixture of mint plant species. But did you know that this versatile ingredient can do a lot more than add a burst of invigorating cool to everything from candy and cakes to tea? Peppermint oil is for way more than eating. Check out some of its many benefits and uses.

  • Reduce nausea and soothe upset stomachs
  • Perk you up and provide a natural energy boost
  • Freshen breath with its antimicrobial properties
  • Relieve muscle soreness when applied topically
  • Open sinuses and nasal passages
  • Relieve stress
  • Reduce cravings and curb appetite
  • Stop the itch from bug bites and rashes when applied topically



Upcoming recipe themes and deadlines:

  • February Quick & Easy December 15
  • March Garlic January 15
  • April Greens February 8


Mail: Recipes, P.O. Box 244014
Montgomery, AL 36124

We welcome your recipes!

Please send us your original recipes, developed by you or family members, and not ones copied from a book or magazine. You may adapt a recipe from another source by changing as little as the amount of one ingredient. Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

Share a story about your recipe! Whether it’s your grandmother’s best cake or your uncle’s camp stew, every recipe has a story behind it. We’ll pay $50 for the best recipe-related story each month.


Worth the Drive: Big Mike’s


Big Mike’s among top steakhouses

Story and photos by Emmett Burnett


Much is at stake for great steaks. Just ask the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. They know a few things about beef, enough to rank Big Mike’s Steakhouse one of the top 10 steak-eating restaurants in Alabama. And Mike Cole, Scott Powell, and Caine Conway are three proud stakeholders.

“It’s a bit overwhelming but nice to see,” says Mike, the ‘Big Mike’ of Big Mike’s.  Referencing accolades received for the Thomasville restaurant he laughingly adds, “It is very gratifying because we work our ever-lovin’ tails off here.” Take a recent Friday night, for example.

On this weekend eve, a Demopolis school bus is en route. “Tell the driver to be here as close to 4 p.m. as possible,” Mike instructs a staffer. It is sage advice.

Big Mike’s opens at 4 p.m. on Friday-Saturdays. By 6, there is a waiting list. By 10 p.m., 400 to 500 people have been served.

Big Mike’s main men: Mike Cole, Scott Powell and Caine Conway. “This man can cook your shoe and make it good,” jokes Scott about his partner, Mike.
Big Mike’s main men: Mike Cole, Scott Powell and Caine Conway. “This man can cook your shoe and make it good,” jokes Scott about his partner, Mike.

“I believe the key to our success is a combination,” says Big Mike’s co-operator, Scott Powell. “We offer really good food, great service, and a very clean environment.” He adds about his friend and restaurateur, Mike, who he has known since their 1990s Livingston University (University of West Alabama) days, “When I met Mike I threw away my grill. This man can cook your shoe and make it good.”

Scott runs ‘the front.’ He personally greets 90 percent of the customers every day and never forgets a name. “I enjoy our guests,” he says, “They are really great people.” And he adds, “One of my favorite times is Wednesday’s and Thursday’s specials. But don’t associate cheap with special.”

Staffers insist everything is top quality. For example, the menu includes a cheeseburger. Now in many places, a cheeseburger comes with a scratch-off game card, from a golden-arched diner with an adjacent playground. Not here.

The patty is ground ribeye and filet mignon cuts, the same meat awarded by the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. It is rendered into a bun-encased burger large enough for a zip code.

The third spoke of Big Mike’s trio is Caine Conway, who met and worked for Scott years earlier in a landscaping business. Caine runs the bar, from training learned on the job. “Before coming here most of my experience came from sitting on the other side of the bar,” he smiles. “But customers were patient.” Caine learned, and today is a Thomasville master of mixology.

When not working, the three hang out, socialize, and vacation together. They enjoy the rewards of transforming a start-up business from nothing to the 8th best steak house in the state. But they began with a trial by smoke, lots of it.  Or as Mike recalls about opening day, “It was horrible.”

A cheeseburger to die for:    A treat made from ground ribeye and filet mignon cuts.
A cheeseburger to die for: A treat made from ground ribeye and filet mignon cuts.

Big Mike’s Steakhouse debuted in October 2013, to a packed house, much bigger than anyone predicted. In addition to everyone at their new jobs and opening-day jitters, a kitchen vent system shut down, expelling billowing smoke everywhere. And though there was never any danger, Mike recalls, “You could not see me sitting next to you because of the smoke.”  They ordered everyone out and locked the doors at 7 p.m. And Mike added, “I went to my truck, sat on the tailgate, and cried.”

They credit the good people of Thomasville for getting the restaurant back on its feet after October’s smoky night. Big Mike’s reopened the next week, smoke free, and has never looked back.

The once-vacant building is the toast of Thomasville. Mike has culinary experience, gleaned from years working at his in-laws’ restaurant/catering business in Demopolis and Orange Beach. “I drove by this place many times, and saw the ‘For Sale’ sign,” he recalls, about his future 33215 Highway 43, Thomasville location. “My dream was to have a restaurant of my own and this was the place.”

Scott and Caine agreed. And the rest is history.  The building was acquired in August, 2013. For two months, three restaurateurs, employees, and friends refurbished, remodeled, and reinvigorated. Big Mike’s was and is a big deal.


Top Angus beef is hand cut in house, marinated and rubbed with custom 7-spice seasoning blends, wood-fire grilled to customer requests, and completed with garlic herb butter. The ribeye is edible art. The ‘Highway 43’ Strip is their version of the New York strip – same great taste without the subway. And the filet mignon is what mother angels feed teething baby cherubs.  Their biggest seller is the 16 oz. ribeye or you can go bold, with a 24 oz. version, ‘The Big Mike.’

The restaurant is a fine dining experience but don’t say it. “Fine dining’ always scares me,” says Mike. “Yes, we have gourmet steaks, fresh Gulf seafood, and an amazing wine selection, but we also have great burgers.”

The three consider their venture to be a working man’s steakhouse, not Ruth’s Chris. “We offer a product every bit as good as theirs,” adds Mike. “But our tables are set with butcher paper instead of linens.”

“We want everything perfect,” says Scott.  And Mike adds, “This is who we are. My name is on this building. We put our hearts and souls into this place.”

And as the Demopolis bus pulls into the driveway, unloading a multitude of beef buddies, Mike looks on and confides, “There is nothing better than seeing someone slice into a great steak, smile, and give a thumbs up.”


Big Mike’s Steakhouse
33215 Highway 43
Thomasville, AL. 36784

Wednesday – Thursday – 4:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Friday – Saturday 4 p.m. –10 p.m.

The sky’s the limit


Drone technology can benefit farmers, schools, industry

By Emmett Burnett

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s none of the above. “It” is a drone, hovering over Alabama skies.

Actually, ‘drone’ is not always the best choice of words. “We prefer ‘unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS,’” says Brandon Reed, a UAS instructor with Huntsville’s EnrGies Inc. “The word ‘drone’ has a bad reputation.”

Indeed it does. Drones conjure images of sky-spies, the creepy airborne camera controlled by that equally creepy next door neighbor. But good drones outweigh bad ones and UAS can enhance lives, and in some cases, save them.

Students learn how to operate a drone at Auburn University’s first FAA-approved Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight School. PHOTO COURTESY OF AUBURN UNIVERSITY
Students learn how to operate a drone at Auburn University’s first FAA-approved Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight School. PHOTO COURTESY OF AUBURN UNIVERSITY

Unmanned aircraft may soon be Alabama farmers’ flying tractors. Civil defense will call them to service for hurricane rescue. Forestry operations, wildlife management, bridge repair, and more will benefit from these flying computers. And what better place to learn how to harness the sky than the campus of the War Eagle.

Auburn teaching hands-on skills

Auburn University runs America’s first FAA-approved Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight School. It teaches hands-on skills and beyond. Auburn focuses on federal regulations, legalities and UAS capabilities.

“We have taught aviation for over 80 years,” says Dr. William ‘Bill’ T. Hutto, director, Auburn University Regional Airport and Aviation Center. “Auburn sees enormous growth ahead for unmanned aircraft. Offering a course is a natural extension of what we’ve already done.”

Auburn built the course in conjunction with EnrGies Inc., Huntsville. “There is much more to flying remote aircraft than taking it out of the box, charging a battery, and pressing the ‘Go’ button,” says Phil Owen, EnrGies director of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) operations.

Owen worked with Dr. Hutto in building the course. They both love flying and preach safety. Owen notes that a UAV weighing 10 pounds, made of carbon fiber, with props spinning at 17,000 rpms is practically a flying buzz saw. “It is not a toy,” he says.

But the potential is enormous.

Saving time and money


“In Alabama we see exciting uses ahead,” adds Dr. Hutto, “especially in precision agriculture.” He explained that a UAV flying over 1,000 acre farms can obtain data in minutes from the sky as opposed to hours from earth. Farmers receive data, pinpointing areas of concern — more water, less fertilizer, fungus treatments, and more — delivered from an airborne drone via email.

With aerial applications including surveying, R&D, powerline/pipeline/bridge inspections, wildlife management, and support to first responders — no pun intended — UAVs are looking up.

Looking ahead, Auburn is considering ways to incorporate unmanned aircraft into the school’s curriculum, including journalism, engineering and aerospace. As Dr. Hutto says, “the sky is the limit.”

Auburn’s course met FAA approval in April 2015 and held its first session the following September. The course will evolve, pending FAA rulings expected in 2016.

From Lee to Pike County — 62 miles as the drone flies — Troy University has a similar approach. “It is the first Alabama school to offer a minor in Unmanned Aerial Systems,” says Al Allenback, vice president for airport planning and engineering at Goodwyn Mills Cawood in Montgomery. “Troy University prepares future UAS operators, policymakers, and CDOs — Chief Drone Officers.” Having the title ‘Chief Drone Officer,’ is pretty cool too.

$82 billion impact predicted

Allenback claims that by 2025, the UAS industry will have an $82 billion impact across government, military, and commercial operations. It will employ more than 100,000 people. Troy, Auburn, and colleges to follow, want to ensure that Alabama’s drone economy takes off — just as Troy’s drone does.

“We’ve had one for the last two years,” recalls Cliff Lusk, Troy University spokesperson. “It’s a great way to keep alumni, students, and others connected. However, the biggest reactions occur when people see the beauty of the campus (UAS photographed) from up high.”

Awesome aerial photography is impressive, but saving time sealed the deal for John O’Dell, an insurance-building inspection company owner in Semmes, AL. “It decreases the times I climb ladders to roofs,” he says. “With a lot of house tops to inspect, I can do in 10 minutes with my drone what takes hours without it.”

Admittedly, unmanned aircraft have a wow factor. “It really is amazing technology,” adds Phil Owen. UAVs carry onboard computers, video/still shot cameras and satellite GPS. And that’s the standard package. Try the deluxe model, implemented with infrared sensors, reconnaissance capabilities, weather-data forecasters, tracking devices, or stuff the U.S. military can or cannot confirm nor deny.

It flies without an onboard human pilot up to 80 mph, 400 feet high, legally. And anybody can buy one. That is not always good.

Citing drone crashes into electrical substations, near misses with airplanes, and launches that never return, Owen adds, “These things are not as easy to fly as some may think. You must know what you are doing.” The FAA agrees.

In October 2015, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and the FAA announced that non-commercial drones will be registered and regulated just like commercial ones. “As far as the FAA is concerned, drones are no different than airplanes,” says Brandon Reed. “More rulings will be announced in 2016. Count on it.”

More unmanned aircraft are coming, too. It is good news for Alabama’s farmers, educators, industry and businesses, who say bring it on. UAVs are clear for takeoff.

Co-ops see help for maintenance, storm assessment

Electric utilities are looking toward UAVs to reduce costs, improve safety, and increase reliability and response times across their transmission and distribution systems, according to a recent article in Intelligent Utility.

UAVs can help with inspections of overhead transmission and distribution lines, storm damage assessment, outage management/response, substation inspection, asset monitoring, and even vegetation management, the article noted.

The possibilities offered by drones have attracted the interest of several Alabama electric co-ops, says Mike Temple, AREA director of training and risk management. Temple has been asked to serve on an NRECA committee to study the use of UAVs in cooperatives across the country

“We have been talking and sharing information with several of our neighboring statewide associations who’ve been using UAVs in limited applications,” says Temple, who is keeping an eye on FAA requirements that may continue to change. Nevertheless, “the potential for cost savings and benefits to our members is definitely there.”

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Community theaters provide cultural opportunities for small towns

By Minnie Lamberth

The Red Door Theatre in Union Springs wraps up its 12th season this December with performances of “Always a Bridesmaid,” a comedy about four Southern women keeping a promise made on their prom night to be in each other’s weddings. As is common for community theaters in small towns across the state, an all-volunteer cast from the area will perform and the play itself will have a Southern focus.


“Community theater is really alive and well in Alabama,” says Xan Morrow, chairperson of the Red Door Theatre Committee. “It’s really amazing how good it is.”

In Union Springs, the theater is operated by local folks who had a vision for creating cultural opportunities in this small town – as well as a desire to draw visitors for special events. In the early 2000s, The Tourism Council of Bullock County was seeking a vehicle to pull visitors to the community, Morrow explains. “We decided a community theater would be a way to do that.”

To make that happen, organizers needed a location, and they found a beautiful venue in the former Trinity Episcopal Church. Built in 1909, the building was donated to the City of Union Springs through an arrangement made by The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama and is used for theatrical performances. The pews and stained glass windows are still there, though upgrades have been made in restroom additions and air conditioning.

Organizers also needed the right production. Working in concert with the Troy University Foundation, they were able to commission a play, “Conecuh People,” based on an autobiographical book by Troy graduate and Bullock County native Wade Hall. Barbour County native Ty Adams wrote the play. When the script was completed, Troy’s Department of Theatre and Dance presented the inaugural production. After that, Morrow says, “It became ours for seven years. That became our play.”

The initial presentation was in 2004, and the Red Door continued to produce the play each spring until 2010. After a hiatus, Morrow says, “We did it this year for the first time in five years.”

The Red Door puts on four different productions each year. Whether or not “Conecuh People” is in the offerings, all plays have a Southern emphasis. The productions are “celebrating our heritage, our culture, our future,” Morrow says. “Everything is connected to where we live.”

7,000 community theaters across the U.S.

Julie Crawford of the American Association of Community Theaters says cultural opportunities of this kind are important in small towns. “There are about 7,000 community theaters across the country,” Crawford says. “Very few are in the big urban areas. They’re in the suburban or rural areas.”

Community theaters are often one of few opportunities to participate in the arts, she notes. “People want them and that’s why they support them,” she says.

The community theater provides different opportunities – not just for the audience but the opportunity to get involved in the production. Often parents and children participate together. “It’s artistic outlet and a way to give back to the community,” she says. “In a small town, you often know somebody on stage. It’s a neighborly kind of thing, too.”

A repurposed building in Red Bay


In northwest Alabama, in the small town of Red Bay, the vision for a community theater came in part from local bank officials. In the 1990s, what is now Community Spirit Bank had taken possession of a foreclosed property in the middle of town. A six-lane bowling alley was on one side, a movie theater on the other.

“The bank was trying to do something the community could use,” says Scotty Kennedy of the Bay Tree Council for the Performing Arts. The building was repurposed, and as a result, Community Spirit Bank’s Weatherford Centre became a community gathering place with banquet facilities on one side and live theater on the other.

“It’s been wonderful for our community to open the door to live theater,” says Tammy Montgomery, Community Spirit’s chief operating officer. “We’d never had that in Red Bay before.” Her father, Billy Bolton, is the bank’s chairman and was instrumental in the bank’s decision. As former mayor, “He always had a vision for our community,” Montgomery says.

Red Bay produces three productions a year, scheduled for a Thursday through Sunday in the months of November, February and April. Local talent runs the show. “The director and ticket coordinator are paid, and so is the carpenter. Everyone else is volunteer,” Kennedy says. Board members help with tickets and concessions, while volunteers work with hair and makeup and paint the set. Given that banquet facilities are just on the other side of the building, some of these performances come with a meal.

“We mainly do comedies,” Kennedy says. “Dramas don’t go over well in our small town. It’s a very family-oriented production that we do.”

In Atmore, theater finds home in 100-year-old building

In Atmore, the Greater Escambia Council for the Arts holds its theater productions in a 100-year-old building that had previously been the site of a number of businesses, including a feed store, Ford dealership, grocery store and furniture store, before sitting empty for about five years. Again, a local bank, United Bank, made an offer. “The president of the bank contacted us to see if we had any interest in the building,” says Phil Johnson, artistic director for the council. “We said yes.”

The theater has been housed in the building for six years now, which has helped provide consistency for a group that for its first 10 years performed wherever a facility was available. “We figured we performed about 75 or 80 shows in about 75 or 75 or 80 locations,” Johnson says. “It got to the point where people couldn’t find us.”

The Atmore council produces six primary dramatic or musical performances during the year, Johnson says. “We’ve done everything from ‘I Do, I Do,’ which has a cast of two, to ‘Titanic’ which has a cast of 125.” He adds that council members once tried to count all the individuals who had been involved in casts. “We stopped counting at 400.”

Venue for young artists in Baldwin County

Monday, Sept. 14, 2015 at the U.S. Manufacturing Facility in Mobile, Ala.
Monday, Sept. 14, 2015 at the U.S. Manufacturing Facility in Mobile, Ala.

In Gulf Shores, the South Baldwin Community Theatre was able to build its own building on donated land about 25 years ago. Though initially located in Foley, the SBCT has been in continuous operation since 1972 and has produced hundreds of plays. All activities are conducted by volunteers.

“We have been very successful in our goal of providing community theater for Baldwin County and have been able to improve the theater facilities over time. This has enabled us to enhance the quality of the programs we offer, such as the YAS,” says Jan Hinnen, SBCT president.

The Young Artist Series is a way to give children the opportunity to participate in live theater, he explained. “They get good experience,” Hinnen says. This past season the SBCT has presented eight plays, three of which were in the Young Artist Series. Both genres include musicals and comedies. In addition, the adult shows include romantic comedies and mysteries.

Also noteworthy, the SBCT has a local playwright on its board, Laura Pfizenmayer. “We’ve done five of her plays,” Hinnen says. Some of her plays are being performed in other areas as well.


Alabama’s small town community theaters and organizations include:

If you don’t see your local theatre group listed, let us know at