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Alabama Snapshots: Service Pets

Heather and service dog, Mushu. SUBMITTED BY Heather Davis, Deatsville.

Elijah Gaige Mendez and his service dog, Emma. SUBMITTED BY Chris Mendez, Dothan.


MacKenzie, a senior at Auburn High School, and service dog Maddie. SUBMITTED BY Kristy Morgan, Auburn.

Joann Heda with her mobility service dog, Rebecca. SUBMITTED BY Joann Heda, Homosassa, Florida.

Submit Your Images! April Theme: “Country Roads” Deadline for April: February 28

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.

My favorite teacher

By Allison Law

Readers share memories of those who inspired them

They’re more than just instructors and paper-graders. Most of us can recall at least one special school teacher who not only made learning fun, but opened our eyes to new worlds in science and math, piqued our interest in literature and music, and inspired us to reach farther and do better, in school as well as life.

We asked readers to send us stories about their favorite teachers, and to share with us how these educators shaped their minds and attitudes. They’re role models as well as teachers, and their lessons go far beyond the classroom.

Below are the responses we received; perhaps you’ll think back on your favorite teacher, and say “thank you” to the educators of today.

My mother, my teacher

My favorite teacher was my mother, Gladys Brasher.

My mother had finished high school and one year of college and was teaching school at age 16.

She taught all five of her children and many of her grandchildren, and gave each child her time.

She never learned to drive, so she rode the school bus to school each day.

She finished college, raised five children and never complained about being tired.

She took time with each child she taught. She loved all of her students.

Even today, now that she has been gone for 23 years, people will come up to me and tell me how much she meant to them and how much she helped them in school.

After she retired, she continued to help her grandchildren with homework.

– Barbara Smith, Vandiver

Life is a highway

My favorite teacher was Ms. Dianne Milliose, who taught fifth grade at the elementary school I attended in Temple Hills, Md. She was strict and firm, but fun. She would jump rope with us at recess. She taught you to strive for more than 100 percent.

When I moved to Alabama, my favorite would be my 11th-grade teacher, Mr. Byrd. He would always find ways to remind me that learning comes from interest and a burning desire and passion. Some of his other lessons: Life is a highway, with many turns, many obstacles, many distractions. Stay focused and alert. A reward is earned, and respect is earned. Not to give in, but learn when to bend.

– Patricia Baggett, Uriah

Making English enjoyable

My favorite teacher was Mrs. Creighon, a seventh-grade English teacher at Baton Rouge Jr. High, in 1959.

We, as new students, had been warned of this woman’s strict and tough attitude. Let me assure you, it was all true. On the first day, Mrs. Creighon stated no one in her class would fail. We would all participate in her activities, turn in all homework, and not be late for class. The only excuses accepted for being absent was a note from a doctor or there was a death in the family.

We had to make up our minds, right then and there, what our intentions were. If we had no intentions of following her rules, she said to get out now and don’t come back.  Who would dare to walk the halls without a pass? We knew from day one what was expected of us.

Because of this woman, English was my favorite and best subject throughout the rest of my education. She didn’t mind helping and working with us, individually.  We would get that special attention, if we needed it.

We realized, too, not all of us were on the same learning level and our teacher helped each of us. Mrs. Creighon made English easy and enjoyable.

– Alice P. Dunbar, Robertsdale

Class was over when he said so 

During my school career, I had many special teachers. When I think of one who stands out, I think of Mr. Billy Oliver of Holly Pond, Ala.

Mr. Oliver, or Coach Oliver as he is still known, touched the lives of many during his tenure with Cullman County Schools, serving in many positions as an educator, coach, principal, and eventually over the transportation for the county.

While at Holly Pond School, Coach Oliver taught science classes and coached football, girls’ basketball, and track. Coach Oliver gave countless hours of his time and himself to make a difference in the lives of many young people. As a family man, his family was always there to support the functions he was involved in. They were not only there to support him. But they were there to support the students he cared so much for.

Coach Oliver continues to take an interest in his students past their high school careers. As I began my teaching career 25 years ago, Coach Oliver was there to encourage me and often offered help many times. His encouragement from the past to this day has meant a lot to many.

Coach Oliver had a specific rule in his classes. Class was not over when the bell rang; it was over when he told you it was time to leave. Coach Oliver delivered to me the only paddling that I ever received in my school career for getting out of my seat when the bell rang. One time and I did not do it again.

Today, Coach Oliver serves as the mayor of our town. Though he is busy with his responsibilities as the mayor, he is never too busy to lend a hand or and encouraging word. The lessons that I learned in and out of the classroom from Coach Oliver made a difference in my life along with many others.

– June Wood, Holly Pond

Creating a passion for learning

Growing up in northeast Alabama on Sand Mountain, it did not occur to me that we were of the lower economic class. The four-room wooden schoolhouse with a pot-bellied stove for warmth and an outhouse down in the hollow should have given it away. But I had not one but three of the most amazing teachers ever to set foot in any classroom.

Miss Emma Hales taught me in first and second grade where both classes were in one room. With few books, limited materials, and a vivid imagination, Miss Emma would take us to all parts of the world.

The husband and wife team of Junior and Ina Carlyle continued that enthusiasm in third through sixth grades and made us feel we could conquer anything. Mrs. Carlyle convinced us that we were the greatest actors on the stage, confirmed when our little school placed in the top three at the annual 4-H County Talent contest every year. To Mr. Carlyle it mattered not whether your dad had a paying job or whether he was a sharecropper, everyone was the same. Many times he would pile us all on a flatbed truck to visit neighboring schools for a friendly softball match.

Few days go by that I do not recall something one of these outstanding educators taught me. Their influence has carried on through their students and through the hundreds who have been in my own classroom. Their influence created the passion for learning I continue to embrace.

– Nancie Ellis Nesbitt, Pelham

History came alive

My favorite teacher was Mrs. Kate B. Hendley. She was a loving, caring and inspiring teacher. Mrs. Hendley taught me in grades 4, 5 and part of 6 at Cowarts Elementary, a three-room school in Cowarts, Ala., 1959-1961.

She was soft-spoken, kind and friendly, yet she was firm. A student knew to listen to her, but when we did something wrong, she not only scolded us, she told us why it was wrong. When we did a good job or deed, she praised us.

In the mornings, Mrs. Hendley would let us take turns leading the pledge to the American flag, reciting a Bible verse, praying and leading the class in a song. Too, we got to ring the bell by pulling a large rope to begin and end school, recess and lunch.

Mrs. Hendley was a caring person. On my last day in her class, she pulled me aside and told me to always be honest, to be kind to others, to brush my teeth after meals, to keep myself and my belongings clean and to eat an apple every day!

She was an inspiring teacher. Most mornings she would read a chapter of a storybook to us. There was a double-door bookcase filled with biographies of our forefathers and other historical figures. I read them all.

Mrs. Hendley made Alabama history come alive. We learned the state song, bird, flower and all 67 counties. When it was rest time, our heads on our desks, Mrs. Hendley would be hand-sewing while listening to records of Perry Como singing or a Yankees baseball game on the radio.

To this day, I’m thankful for Mrs. Hendley and the good influence she made on my life. I love to read, sew and listen to ball games on the radio.

– Kathy Granger, Enterprise

Salt and pepper shaker memories

I felt the need to tell about my first-grade teacher in 1960, Mrs. Wilson. (I was born and raised in West Texas.)

She also taught three of my siblings. She could use that paddle very well.

I bought her a Christmas present that year. It was  salt and pepper shakers shaped like a spoon and a fork.

As the years went by I became a nurse and still lived in the same town. I got a call one day to see if I would consider cleaning and cooking for her and her husband. I took on the challenge twice a week. Loved them dearly. Did this for them until they both passed away. I lovingly became the proud owner of the salt and pepper shakers from her family. One of my most cherished possessions. Hopefully my granddaughters will consider it one of their prize possessions also.

– Shirley Grimes, Marbury

Without discipline, there is no learning

Ms. Jesse Draper of Raleigh, N.C., was my first grade and favorite teacher, counting all education levels through a master’s degree. Why? She was a very strict disciplinarian and I was a “handful” if there ever was one. Folks today would not approve of her disciplinary actions, including holding my chin with a very long thumbnail and taking my chin to the floor while telling me “Don’t do that again.” No surprise that I didn’t do “that” again and the class continued without further interruption from me. I learned from her that without discipline, there is no learning.

Ms. Draper devoted just about her entire adult life to teaching young children and lived to be 100 years old. In her later years, we became friends and I am so thankful that I was able to say “thank you” to her personally before she passed. Our entire education system, including parents and lawyers, could learn a lot from Ms. Draper. I certainly did.

– Linwood H. (Woody) Snell, Jr., Colonel (USAF Retired), Lake Jordan


Alabama People: Space center leader wants students to shoot for the stars

One of the world’s most exceptional educational resources in the realm of science and space exploration has its home right here in Alabama, and its CEO is a woman who is herself an Alabamian.

Deborah Barnhart, Ed.D., has had a distinguished career spanning three decades in commercial industry, government, aerospace and defense. For the last seven years she’s been the CEO and executive director of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, home to the renowned U.S. Space Camp, U.S. Space Academy, Aviation Challenge and Robotics Camp.

She’s been at the helm of the Space and Rocket Center for seven years, but it’s not her first job there. As a college senior in 1973, she helped with media, advertising and writing. She returned in 1977 to help with media when the space shuttle was flying into Huntsville on the back of a 747. She joined the Navy and returned to Huntsville in 1986 and served as director of Space Camp until 1990. She took over leadership of the center on the last day of 2010.

The center contains one of the largest collections of rockets and space memorabilia anywhere in the world. It is the state’s No. 1 tourist attraction, and expected to have 700,000 visitors by the end of 2017.

We asked her to talk about the center’s educational mission and how it serves the people of Alabama, both the current generations and the ones yet to come. – Allison Law

You get participants from around the world, but do you actively market and recruit participants from Alabama?

Oh, yes. We have two really important special programs. Every legislator in the state is allowed to send a boy and a girl in middle school through our Space Academy, which is a Space Camp program. We found that plenty of students were coming from the (metro) areas, but we (weren’t getting) children in the Black Belt and Wiregrass. So this program allows us to bring two students from every legislative district every year. We also have a program that allows us to send a teacher from every school district on scholarship every year to the teacher’s program.

Space Camp is probably the best-known of the camps, but talk about the other camps you offer for students.

Space Camp opened in 1982, and 800,000 alumni later it continues to grow. A few years after we opened, there was an extraordinary interest in people becoming pilots so they could perhaps become astronauts. So we started a second program called Aviation Challenge, which is still operating today. It’s like Space Camp, but like “Top Gun.” They have jet cockpit simulators, and they go down the slide wire as if they’re splashing into the ocean. It’s sort of a military experience to introduce students to the world of aviation.

Then a few years ago, we started Space Camp Robotics, which is very different than the other types you see. Our program allows the student to build and (maneuver) an airborne robot, like an unmanned aerial vehicle, a (more traditional) terrestrial robot, and an underwater robot. We’re trying to demonstrate the crosscutting nature of robotics.

We’ve done two pilot programs for the establishment of U.S. Cyber Camp, because cyber cuts across every industry in every aspect of our lives these days. We brought Alabama students in for our beta tests, and we will be opening that full-scale cyber camp in the summer of 2018.

Let me say a little bit about who comes to our programs, if that’s OK.

Yes, please do.

We’ve talked about Alabama, and that’s appropriate because I’m a commission of the state of Alabama, and my first responsibility is to serve the people of Alabama. But of course everybody’s interested in space, and our students typically come from at least 70 countries a year and all 50 states.

It’s a reflection on the prowess of Alabama, on the accomplishment that has come out of Alabama and the world’s respect for Alabama, for our technology. They’re sending their young people here to look at our programs and learn from us.

You inherited some financial challenges when you took over at the center, but it’s now on much more solid footing.

We are one of only 0.5 percent of museums in the world that are self-sustaining on our own revenue. The money we spend on operations, we earn on operations. We do, of course, have gifts, and we do have a foundation whose purpose is to provide money for educational programs at the Space and Rocket Center, but all that is below the line.

We do receive funds from the Alabama Education Trust Fund. Every dollar of the money that we receive from the state goes to a scholarship amortization for either a field trip for children coming from Alabama schools, an Alabama child or school group going through Space Camp, or for an educator who goes through our Space Academy. So every bit of that money that comes from the state goes back into scholarships for an Alabamian.

WTD: Bertolone’s brings Italian comfort food to Clanton

By Allison Law, photos by Mark Stephenson

It was family that brought Sonia Bertolone into the restaurant business. Even as a child she was in the kitchen, cooking and learning old-world recipes from her Italian parents, Joe and Elvira.

The Bertolone family moved from Italy to Gilroy, Calif., in 1977, when Sonia was six. They opened a restaurant called Joe’s Italian, which would become a landmark in the small California city that prides itself on being the “garlic capital of the world.”

Many years later, after Sonia’s sister left California and moved to Alabama, the Bertolone family followed in 2008. They opened a new Joe’s Italian restaurant in the Birmingham suburb of Alabaster, which they operated for several years.

But Joe’s death in 2013 had a dramatic effect on the family. “Dad was the glue that held the siblings together,” Sonia says. “Without him, and Mom just grieving so terribly, we just kind of fell apart a little bit.” Joe’s Italian was doing well at the time, but with such a loss in the family dynamic, they decided to sell the restaurant, including the intellectual property.

Bertolone’s specializes in Italian comfort food, with such familiar specialties as spaghetti and meatballs, cannelloni and artisan pizzas. Above: Sonia Bertolone, right, continues the tradition of family business with her mom, Elvira, seated, and her daughter, Francesca.

Sonia took a much-needed break from the long hours required to run a successful restaurant. “I just really needed to kind of grieve,” she says.

But the business is in the blood.

Cooking and running a restaurant is all she’s ever done. So a little more than a year later, she decided to open a new place. Bertolone’s Italian Cafe in Clanton specializes in Italian comfort food, but with tweaks and alterations from the recipes she created at Joe’s Italian.

Business was slow at first, but it gave her time and opportunity to experiment. “The first six or seven months we were open, we were so slow we were just like, ‘OK, well, what if I do this?’ Let’s just see if we can make it better.”

A big part of making that better food at Bertolone’s is quality ingredients. As an example, she points to the mozzarella cheese they use, which is all natural from Wisconsin and more expensive than other commercial cheeses. “We’ve always built the business on a higher-caliber ingredient to start with.”

The menu features the Italian specialties you’d expect – chicken parmigiana, fettucine alfredo and lasagna, all with house-made sauces. But there are also custom, handmade pizzas (“Papa Joe’s Special” is a best seller, with pepperoni, salami, ham, sausage, onions, olives and mushrooms) and hand-crafted calzones (their dough is “legendary,” Sonia says). And three full-time bakers produce an array of cakes, pastries and sweet treats.

A red velvet cheesecake is made in-house by one of the three full-time bakers.

She pulls from her memories as well. The cafe serves cannelloni – ground beef mixed with carrots, onions, celery and mozzarella cheese, rolled in a pasta sheet and topped with meat sauce and Alfredo sauce. “That is my memory growing up – being 8 or 9 years old, coming home from school, my mom would pull cannelloni out of the oven, and that is just my warm and fuzzy right there, so I love it.”

Her mom, known to staff and customers as “Nonna” (Italian for “grandmother,”) is still a fixture at the restaurant. She uses a cane but is still baking cakes and making cookies.

And there may be another Bertolone in the business. Sonia’s 12-year-old daughter, Francesca, is “a natural at it,” her mom says. “She likes to be the boss, so I tell everyone I’ve got a little mini-manager.”

The restaurant is doing well, so Sonia is looking ahead to the next step, which includes growing her catering business. “It’s a challenge to me right now. So we have 700 people to serve, how are we going to do it off-site?”

And she’s in talks with a food vendor about the possibilities of making cakes that can be sold to other restaurants. She’s also working with an Atlanta-based company to manufacture and mass-produce her sauces.

Such steps are right in line with what her dad, Joe, always wanted – “bigger things,” Sonia says.



February: The ‘love to learn’ month in the garden

If you long for some gardening love this February, use these cold, hard-to-garden-in days to further your education, and perhaps kick off a whole year—maybe even a lifetime—of garden learning. The options are many and varied.

One exceptional opportunity is to become a Master Gardener, which affords the chance to be both a learner and a teacher. The nonprofit Alabama Master Gardener Association works through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System to provide continuing education opportunities and offer horticultural help to others through volunteer and community service programs.

Becoming a Master Gardener requires 50 hours of instruction focused on gardening practices and pest control, and 50 hours of approved volunteer service. It’s a commitment, but it’s a commitment that keeps on giving—to you and to others.

There are some 35 local Master Gardener associations throughout the state and many are enrolling for upcoming classes. Go to or contact your county Extension office to find out more about the programs.

If you want to help cultivate a new generation of garden lovers, consider volunteering with, or enrolling your youngsters in, the Alabama Junior Master Gardener program, which is also coordinated through Alabama’s Extension System. To learn more, go to

I often cite the Extension System as a go-to resource for gardeners for good reason. This more than a century-old organization provides exceptional resources that can help answer virtually any gardening question, resources that are science-based and specifically targeted toward Alabama’s gardening needs. Go to to find contact information for your local Extension office and also access Extension’s plethora of online materials.

Public gardens, local nurseries are resources

Alabama’s public gardens are yet another great source of garden learning. Located throughout the state, these gardens and arboretums offer chances to wander through some of the nation’s most beautiful plant collections and participate in workshops on a wide range of subjects. A list of most of these gardens can be found at

Local nursery and garden centers also often offer workshops on everything from plants to gardening projects to culinary or food preservation classes. If you’re not familiar with your local nursery and landscape businesses, check out the membership list of the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association’s website ( for some options. 

Yet another resource for gardening events is the Alabama Tourism Department (, which provides an online calendar of events that include flower shows, garden tours and other garden and outdoor educational and recreational opportunities.  It can also help you find garden-related travel experiences in the state.

And still another option is to join a gardening club or plant society. These organizations range from plant-specific groups (ones that focus on wildflowers and native plants or on cultivated species like camellias, roses and orchids, to name a few) to those with a more general gardening focus. The Garden Club of Alabama’s website ( provides links to all the official garden clubs in the state or do an online or library search for Alabama garden clubs and plant societies to find ones that pique your interest.

Finally, never underestimate the knowledge of your gardening friends, relatives and neighbors. These seasoned gardeners have so much experience to offer and most of them will relish the chance to share it with you.

Oh, and if you’re thinking of gardening as a career, a great resource is the Alabama Green Industry website at It has information on career options and on community and four-year colleges that offer horticultural degrees.

You can also use this short, chilly, love-laced month to tuck in and read books and magazines and explore the many resources that may help deepen your love of gardening—and learning. What a great Valentine gift to yourself and your garden!

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

Hawk stalk

John Ortino, falconer from Alabaster. Photo by John N. Felsher

Ancient practice gives ‘bird hunting’ a different meaning

Perched high in a tree, the predator missed little, but even a hawk’s eyes couldn’t see through wood.

Cleverly, the squirrel maneuvered to keep the tree trunk between itself and its feathered stalker perched in an adjacent tree.

When a person moved under the tree, the squirrel jumped into a leafy nest. This tactic might save a squirrel from a human hunter, but not a hawk. The sharp-eyed raptor immediately noticed the movement and pounced, tearing apart the nest to drag out its prey.

Dubbed the “Sport of Kings,” hunting with birds of prey dates back at least 4,000 years. The sport came to North America with 16th century Spanish conquistadors and thrived all through the colonial period. Today, about 4,000 licensed falconers, including 60 or so in Alabama, still practice their hobby in the United States.

“Originally, falconry was a way to put food on the table,” explains Michael Moore with the Alabama Hawking Association ( “Kings kept falconers who took care of their birds and flew them when the king wanted to hunt. We’re trying to keep the art of falconry alive and pass it on to the next generation.”

Many people today use the term “falconry” to describe any type of hunting with raptors. The word comes from the use of peregrine falcons, the fastest animal on earth, to hunt birds. Fairly common in Alabama at times, peregrine falcons can exceed 200 miles per hour when swooping down on prey.

Falcons typically hunt open ground where they can easily spot flushing birds. In densely wooded Alabama, however, most people use red-tailed or red-shouldered hawks and go by the term “hawkers.”

Michael Moore of the Alabama Hawking Association. Photo courtesy of the Alabama Hawking Association.

“Red-tail hawks naturally prey upon squirrels in the wild,” says Mark Wetzel of Daphne. “When hunting with any bird of prey species, it’s best to fly that bird after what it would normally catch for itself.”

Hawks must be captured first

Hawkers can’t just buy a bird from the local pet shop and start hunting. They must capture and train their own hunting companion. After catching a wild bird, hawkers must gain its trust through food. Once a raptor learns that taking food offered by a human is easier and more dependable than hunting for itself, it keeps returning to its handler, even when released to hunt.

“A wild hawk could fly off at any time, but it’s about building trust in the bird through feeding it,” described Moore from Vineland. “When we release a bird, it follows us through the woods fairly closely. The person actually flushes the game so the hawk can see it. When hunting squirrels, we’ll shake vines to make them jump.”

After catching a squirrel too heavy to lift, a hawk flies to the ground with it. The person rushes to the bird to keep it from devouring the animal and prevent a still-alive squirrel from injuring the bird with its sharp teeth. If a bird eats too much, it won’t fly or hunt. The hawker rewards the bird for the kill with a piece of the animal, but lets it fill its belly after a good day afield.

Some people use owls instead of hawks, but must capture and train them the same way. Naturally nocturnal, owls typically locate game with their incredible hearing. Rather than fly along behind humans, an owl usually remains perched on its handler’s thick leather glove until it hears something interesting.

“Hunting with a great horned owl is a lot different than hunting with a hawk,” Wetzel clarified. “An owl is much more sensitive to noises while a hawk is much more visually oriented. An owl is a lot quieter when stalking its prey and can fly silently.”

Before hunting with any bird of prey in Alabama, a prospective hawker must obtain a falconry permit and go through a certification process. This includes becoming an apprentice to a general or master falconer for two years and passing a written exam.

In Alabama, hawkers enjoy more days afield than traditional hunters. For most sportsmen, the 2017-18 squirrel and rabbit seasons end March 4, but hawkers can hunt through March 31. Some state parks even allow falconers to hunt small game where others cannot.

All other bag limits and laws apply, except falconers also get an “oops” clause. A bird doesn’t know game laws or dates. Therefore, if a bird grabs something illegal or out of season, the hawker can let the bird eat it, but cannot take it.

“After working with a bird, a handler learns to read a bird and predict what it might do next,” Wetzel explained. “We built a bond of trust, but the birds do not love us or have any affection for us, no matter how much we have for them. We bribe them to come back with food, but it’s a lot of fun for me.”

For more information on Alabama falconry permits and laws, see

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

Hot stuff

Bringing the sizzle, 

just in time for Valentine’s Day



“If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” While this phrase is rarely referring to an actual kitchen or a literal rise in temperature, it has its basis in fact. Cooking makes things hot (including the spaces surrounding its activity, and during winter, that’s not a bad thing). But with this month’s reader-submitted recipes, you don’t have to be anywhere near the kitchen to feel the burn. These dishes are packing heat in another sense. Thanks to fresh peppers, dried chilies and other seasonings, they’re full of flavor and spice. Some like it hot; they get a kick out of a little singe. Testing the limits of what our tongues can take has actually gotten pretty popular. Just look at the hot sauce market. With names like Wild Fire, Devil’s Tongue and Sudden Death (plus labels picturing flaming skulls), some brands make no attempt to hide the pain their ingestion will cause, and yet, people buy them. Other people find zero pleasure in the discomfort that can come with super spicy foods and choose to keep their plates and palates on the mild side. No matter what camp you fall into, remember, you can adjust any recipe to be less fiery by reducing (or leaving out) its blaze-bringing ingredients. Or, you can turn up the temp by adding even more. Whatever you do, don’t shy away from these dishes. Intense and intensely satisfying, they’ll warm you from the inside out, and their tastes are worth the risk of a little heartburn.

Cook of the Month: Sandra Rhodes, Central Alabama EC 

Sandra Rhodes first made her Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls a few years ago when she had some leftover buffalo chicken in the fridge, a common occurrence because she and her family love the dish. “We eat a lot of buffalo chicken and use it all kinds of ways,” she said. “We had some buffalo chicken sandwiches for dinner, and I figured I’d use the leftover chicken to make myself lunch the next day.” She realized she was out of buns. But she did have some egg roll wrappers. And some cheese and a packet to make Ranch dressing. “So I really just threw it all together,” she said. She loved it, so she made it again for her husband and son. “It was a hit. The combo of the crunch, the spice and the gooey cheese is great,” she said. She stressed that you can make it less spicy if you want, using a milder buffalo sauce. But in her house, they usually make things hotter. “My husband likes super-spicy food, so we even kick it up some. You can add chopped jalapeños, substitute pepper jack for the mozzarella and use a really fiery sauce,” she said.

Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls

  • 1 package egg roll wrappers
  • 1.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Sweet Baby Rays Buffalo Sauce
  • 1 cup mozzarella (more if you like it cheesy)
  • 1 package dry ranch dressing mix
  • Peanut oil for frying
  • Buttermilk ranch dressing (for dipping)

Boil chicken until tender and easily shredded. Shred chicken and add to a medium bowl, add mozzarella cheese and half of the dry ranch packet, then add enough buffalo sauce to coat well. Add about a tablespoon of chicken mixture to middle of an egg roll wrapper. Dip the edge of a paper towel in water and go around all edges of the wrapper, then fold it like an envelope. Either deep fry at 350 degrees for a couple minutes until they are nicely browned and crisp, or fry in a couple of inches of oil in a cast iron skillet, turning to brown all sides. Serve with buttermilk ranch dressing for dipping.

Southwest Breakfast Casserole

  • 1 package hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1/2 sweet onion, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, minced
  • 2 cans Rotel, undrained
  • 8 fajita size flour tortillas, torn into pieces
  • 2 cups shredded colby-jack cheese or cheddar
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoonful garlic powder
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoonful cayenne pepper, optional
  • Black pepper, to taste

Cook sausage, pepper and onion in a skillet, breaking sausage into small crumbles and cook until vegetables are soft and sausage is cooked through. Drain fat if needed. Return sausage mixture to pan and add Rotel. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the liquid has been reduced, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk together the eggs, milk and seasonings until combined. In a 9×13-inch dish layer half the tortilla pieces to cover the bottom. Top with half the sausage mixture then half the cheese, and repeat layers one more time. Pour egg mixture over the entire casserole. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, preheat oven to 375 degrees and remove casserole from the refrigerator. Bake covered for 25 minutes, then remove foil and bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until cooked through and bubbling around edges.

Emily Nebrig

Joe Wheeler EMC

Slow Cooker Beef-Chorizo Taco Chili

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound fresh chorizo sausage, casings removed
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes with peppers
  • 2 14-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 cups bell peppers, sliced
  • 1 ¼ cups yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup frozen sweet corn kernels
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3-4 cups beef stock
  • Optional toppings: sour cream, sliced jalapeno, lime, avocado, shredded cheese and corn chips

In a large skillet set over medium heat, add ground beef and chorizo sausage (casing removed). While breaking up the meat, cook until no longer pink. Remove meat from pan and drain on paper towels to remove grease. Add cooked meat to a large slow cooker along with diced tomatoes, black beans, jalapenos, tomato paste, bell peppers, yellow onion, corn, taco seasoning, chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin, kosher salt and pepper. Stir together. Start off by adding in 3 cups beef stock, and cook on high heat for at least 6 hours. The chili should not get dry but if it does, simply add more stock a little at a time. Serve with various toppings: sour cream, sliced jalapenos, lime, avocado, shredded cheese or corn chips.

Nancy Repking

Baldwin EMC

Jen’s Salsa

  • 2 14.5-ounce cans petite diced tomatoes, drained 
  • 1 16-ounce jar sliced jalapeños, drained
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend to desired consistency. Serve with chips and enjoy. Cook’s note: If you want a thicker salsa you can add a can of tomato paste.

Jennifer Turner

Wiregrass EC

5-Alarm Spicy Wings

1 package chicken wings, sections or whole

1/2 cup Sriracha hot sauce

1/2 cup Louisiana hot sauce

1/2 cup Tabasco sauce

1/2 cup Zatarains Cajun sauce

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 stick of butter

2 4-ounces cooking oil

Wash chicken and split into sections if whole. Heat oil to 300 degrees in a deep fryer. Drop chicken pieces into oil, cooking for 12 minutes. While chicken is cooking, melt butter in a saucepan, then add all sauces and cayenne pepper. Once chicken is done, drain grease off chicken. Toss the chicken in the sauce mix. Preheat oven on 400 degrees. Once all wings have been tossed, place in oven for 15 minutes. Halfway through, toss with remaining sauce. Once they are done, enjoy with some ranch dressing and celery sticks.

Sharlene Parker

Baldwin EMC

Hot Corn

  • 3 7-ounce cans white shoepeg corn, drained
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Jalapeno peppers, sliced (to taste)

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a casserole dish and bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until heated through. The more jalapenos you add, the hotter the dish is.

Peggy Key

North Alabama EC

Coming up in March…Honey!

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

April: Bread | Feb. 8

May: Junior Cooks | Mar. 8

June: Heirloom Recipes | April 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.

Do radiant barriers really make a difference?

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: I’ve heard that installing a radiant barrier in my attic could save me a lot of money on my energy bill. What exactly is a radiant barrier, and does it really make a difference?

A: A radiant barrier reflects radiant heat and can be used to keep heat in a home during the winter and to keep heat out in the summer. To understand the value of a radiant barrier we need to consider the three different ways heat travels.

Convection is air movement from hot to cold. This happens through openings in your home, like doors, windows, vents and air leaks. 

Conduction is heat traveling through a solid material, such as the sheetrock and framing of your home. This can be minimized by insulation.

Radiant heat loss is a transfer of heat from the sun, or when a warmer material transmits infrared radiation to a colder material. Radiant barriers are designed to reflect this type of heat loss.

Radiant barriers often look like aluminum foil. Sometimes the foil is fastened to oriented strand board or foam board, but the foil will only reflect radiant heat towards an air space of at least one inch. If the foil is in contact with a solid material, it conducts excess heat into that material.

A common location for application of radiant barriers is the attic; radiant energy from the sun is sent back out of the roof before it can heat the air and insulation in your home. It is commonly sold as a roll of shiny, aluminum material and is usually mounted on the underside of the framing that supports the roof.

The radiant barrier is only effective in reflecting radiant heat, not as insulation or as a wrap to block air loss, but it can be very effective at its intended purpose. Even something as thin as a sheet of aluminum

foil can reflect 95 percent of the radiated heat back through the roof if it’s installed properly, with an air gap between itself and the roof. While other solutions such as an attic fan try to remove the heat once it has accumulated, the radiant barrier stops the heat from building up in the first place.

The net impact of a radiant barrier depends on whether you live in a hot or cold-weather climate. For example, homes that were retrofitted with attic radiant barrier systems in Florida were able to reduce air conditioning energy use by about 9 percent. In colder climates, the radiant barrier that reflects unwanted heat outside of the house in the summer will also be reflecting heat away from the house in the winter. In other words, the cooling bill may decrease but the heating bill may increase.    

So, is a radiant barrier in your attic a good investment? Sometimes. You need to do a little research, as savings vary in each situation and there are many inaccurate claims made about the cost savings they bring. In a warmer climate, a home with a large cooling load and a roof that is fully exposed to the sun, an attic radiant barrier could be a cost-effective measure, and it could make your home more comfortable. Products are getting better all the time, but even then, your expectations need to be realistic.

It’s a good idea to compare an investment in an attic radiant barrier to other energy efficiency investments, such as improving your attic insulation or sealing air leaks around doors and windows. Of course, the best way to compare your energy efficiency opportunities is to schedule an energy audit of your home. Start by talking to your friendly energy advisors at your local electric cooperative.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on radiant barriers, please visit:

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to for more information.

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

Bigfoot and King Hal

I grew up in Clarke County, squeezed between the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers.

In the southern end of the county, where the rivers converge, are swamps that would do the Amazon proud.    

Knowing how things are different there, I was not entirely surprised when news reached me that in the vicinity of Gainestown, a hairy “creature,” eight feet tall, was abroad on the land, terrorizing pets, ransacking garbage cans, and making a general nuisance of itself.

Gainestown, for those unfamiliar with southwest Alabama geography, is just north of all those swamps.

According to the person who claimed he saw it – he was visiting from Texas, which may or may not be significant – the giant weighed around 800 pounds, had 16-inch feet, five-foot long arms, and “smelled of cheese gone bad.”

What else could it be but a Bigfoot?

Bigfoots (or should that be Bigfeet?) are pretty popular these days.  Where once they were confined to Canada and the Pacific Northwest, they have apparently migrated and are popping up all over. Even Florida has the “Skunk-Ape.”

So why not Alabama?

And I am here to tell you that if a Bigfoot sets up shop in our fair state, the swamps south of Gainestown would be the place it would go.

Where the rivers join is a jungle broken only by an occasional lake left behind when the streams changed course. It is so impenetrable that back before the Civil War a runaway slave named Hal found his way into the middle of it. There he created a haven for other runaways and ruled it as their “king.”  It took a small army to dislodge them.

Today all that remains of Hal is the long, meandering body of water that bears his name – Hal’s Lake – and the stories that are still told of how Hal really didn’t die in the fight, that he took to the swamps, and that he lives there still.

Or maybe his spirit lives in Bigfoot.

Or maybe he became Bigfoot.

Who knows?

I only know that down in the forks, in a land where the earth moves under your feet, where there are still more deer and bear and hogs than humans, where you can catch fish that look Jurassic, and where once, as I sat in a boat waiting for a bite, a bush suddenly erupted with colorful birds that, to this day, I cannot identify. In a land like that, anything is possible.

It is beautiful country, unchanged for centuries.

It is country worth seeing.

But if you go down there, and smell cheese gone bad, beware. You may be where you ought not to be and if you are, Bigfoot might get you.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living.  He can be reached at

Social security

Reaching retirement age? Here’s what you need to know

Every birthday deserves celebration, but some seem a little more special than others. Think of a baby’s first birthday. Sweet 16. The “Big 4-0.” Then, before you know it, along comes 65. This last milestone is especially important to retirees.

For nearly half a century, American workers looked to 65 as the age at which they could stop working and finally reap their full retirement benefits under the Social Security Act of 1935.

Today, however, the full retirement age is now 66 or 67, depending on when you were born. In 1983, Congress changed the law to increase the retirement age gradually over a 22-year period, citing improvements in the health of older people and increases in average life expectancy. To find out your full retirement age, visit

If you’ve contributed enough to the Social Security system through payroll taxes, you still can claim your retirement benefits at 65 — or 62, 63, or 64, for that matter — but your monthly payments will be permanently reduced.

For help deciding which age is right for you to start receiving Social Security retirement benefits, read, “When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits” at

We have also made applying for benefits easier than ever. You can do it online! To apply for benefits, please go to

That said, age 65 should still factor in prominently as you prepare for retirement and a stable financial future, because that’s when most American workers first become eligible for Medicare health insurance coverage.

To see if you’ve earned enough credits through work to qualify for Medicare at age 65, view your Social Security Statement online using your personal my Social Security account. Create or log on to your account at

If you’re already receiving Social Security benefits before age 65, we’ll automatically enroll you in Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Medicare Part B (supplemental medical insurance) effective the first day of the month you turn 65. Watch your mailbox a few months before your birthday for your Medicare card.

Otherwise, three months before your 65th birthday, you can apply for Medicare Parts A and B online at

Your Initial Enrollment Period for Medicare starts three months before your 65th birthday month and continues for three months after. To learn more about Medicare enrollment and coverage, please visit To learn more about Medicare coverage, visit

Social Security is with you through life’s journey, on your first birthday and the many more that follow. Learn how we help you and your family secure today and tomorrow through our financial benefits, information, and planning tools at

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