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Worth the drive| Feel-good food that’s good for you, too

Story and photos by Allison Law

Chef Leo Rodriguez holds a customer favorite – Crab Cake Burger with Avocado Fries.

In a culinary landscape of all-you-can-eat buffets, wing joints and fat-laden fried foods, it can be hard for a restaurant featuring healthy foods and controlled portions to find an audience. But Leo and Lauren Rodriguez seem to have found a niche.

Their restaurant, Bella Vista by the Creek in downtown Prattville, is what they call a “healthy bistro,” serving up artisan wraps and sandwiches, salads and south of the border specialties; many are gluten free or Keto-friendly, and most entrees are in the 500-calorie range. 

“It took a while for people to adapt to our food, but we have a wonderful clientele,” Leo says. “I feel we’ve set the bar for things that haven’t been done.”

Chef Leo came to Alabama from South Florida, a mecca for glamorous looks and svelte physiques. He was surprised at the rates of obesity and nutritional habits he encountered when he came to Alabama.   

“There was a calling for me to do something different,” Leo says. 

The entrees at Bella Vista by the Creek are healthy, but some fried cheesecake bites topped with sliced strawberries provide a just-right bite to end a meal.

While most of the restaurant’s offerings include meat, the couple plan to introduce more vegetarian and possibly vegan entrees. “There’s a lot of ways you can enjoy a great meal without having a piece of steak or chicken or salmon,” Leo says. He sees room for trends seen elsewhere in the restaurant industry – dishes that rely less on dairy, are gluten-free and include more vegetables. 

But even more important to the couple is customer satisfaction. “The quote is, ‘You’re just as good as the last plate of food you put in the window.’ That’s what I live by,” Leo says. “You’re here to be served and taken care of.”

Caribbean roots

Leo Rodriguez was born in the Dominican Republic and spent his childhood there, learning about cooking and flavor profiles from his grandmother, aunts and other family members who loved cooking. Life in the island country meant easy access to fresh tropical fruits, like mango and plantains, and an early exposure to seasonings and flavors.

His parents moved the family to New York when he was an older child, but he continued to cook and bake. “I was always there, making little biscuits. Is that what you call it, biscuits? Little cakes. They called me ‘little baker’ at a young age.”

He was able to attend a high school that had a culinary certificate program, which put him ahead when he studied culinary arts at Sullivan Community College in Liberty, N.Y. From there came a three-month program at the Culinary Institute of America and work at several restaurants, including those at The Breakers, the historic luxury resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

Working at The Breakers was “another school,” Leo says. He worked at several of the resort’s restaurants, which exposed him to a variety of cuisines and styles – everything from fine dining to Italian to seafood. And South Florida is a confluence of culinary culture; he learned about other Caribbean flavors from the Puerto Ricans and Cubans in the restaurant industry there.

Years later, looking for a career change, family members convinced him to come to central Alabama. Then, a cousin who owned Maria’s Cantina in Prattville asked for help, so he went to work there though he knew he didn’t want to do Mexican food long-term. 

He met Lauren at the restaurant, and the two decided to venture out to open What’s For Lunch, a prepared meal delivery service, in Millbrook in 2016. They delivered hot, fresh meals in insulated lunch boxes to lunchtime customers in Prattville and Montgomery. Later, they bought the Healthy Me meal delivery company; customers order individually packaged meals a few days in advance, and Healthy Me delivers them to pre-appointed drop-off sites (mainly health clubs) for customer pickup. Customers heat the meals at home.

What’s For Lunch eventually gave way to Bella Vista by the Creek, the couple’s dream healthy bistro, which opened in April 2019. (They still operate Healthy Me and prepare the meals in Bella Vista’s kitchen.)

Doing the prepared meals encouraged them to focus on portion control at the restaurant. Entrees at Bella Vista are filling, but plates aren’t piled high. “It’s what your body needs,” Lauren says. 

A customer favorite at Bella Vista is the crab cake burger – a simple recipe for a Maryland crab cake but with cilantro and fresh garlic – served with avocado fries. The “pop-up specials,” as Lauren calls them, change daily, and allow chef Leo to get creative. 

One day might offer a Fried Plantain Pulled Pork Stacker, drizzled with signature “bang bang” sauce served with Asian slaw; another day, a Surf and Turf Quesadilla, made with top sirloin and wild-caught Gulf shrimp. Or Bella’s Crunchy Fish Tacos, made with gluten-free fried catfish on whole wheat tortillas.

“Our food is made in a way that’s helping your body,” Leo says. “I never want to give you something that’s going to make your body feel bad.”

Looking ahead

The couple have several goals in mind; with the coming warmer weather, they hope to take advantage of Creekwalk, just behind the historic downtown building, and include patio seating. They also hope to get a beer and wine license and change up the dinner menu, to distinguish it from the lunch menu. 

Lauren handles most of the marketing and HR for the restaurant. But she’s also a yoga instructor; she has also created a face wash and works with essential oils. She says she’s always had an entrepreneurial mindset and hopes to find a way to fuse these different health-minded ideas together to create a wellness brand. 

She’d like to extend that healthy lifestyle concept to help moms, both before and after a baby. (She and Leo have two sons, Koi and Davino and will welcome another boy this summer.)

And Leo hopes to return to the Dominican Republic this year – Lauren’s never been – and perhaps pay homage to the tropical roots that laid the foundation for his culinary career.


Bella Vista by the Creek

153 W. Main St., Prattville, AL 36067

334-356-6863

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Wednesday;

10:30 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday

Find them on Facebook @BellaVista19

Dream homes for pollinators: Welcome beneficial insects to your neighborhood

By Katie Jackson

Photo by Bob Farley

Many of us work hard to make pollinators feel at home in our landscapes, but there’s always more we can do for these and other beneficial insects, such as providing them with dream homes.  

Though a number of animal species, including birds, bats, small mammals and reptiles, assist in pollination services, insects do the yeoman’s work, and it’s bees that provide the most bang for the buzz by pollinating 80 percent of the world’s plants and at least 90 percent of the world’s food crops. 

While honey and bumblebees are the best-known pollinators, lesser-known native solitary bees such as orchard mason, leafcutter, blueberry and squash bees are also vital. In fact, solitary bees, which make up 90 percent of the almost 4,000 bee species in the United States, don’t just help with pollination. They are fundamental links in the food chain and essential to ecosystem balance and biodiversity. 

Despite their importance to us, these solitary bees and their solitary wasp cousins are often overlooked and underappreciated. That may be because, unlike their very social honey and bumblebee relatives (bees and wasps both belong to the order Hymenoptera), solitary bees and wasps live independent of one another rather than in hives and colonies. Since they usually nest in out-of-the-way places, such as tunnels beneath the soil, crevices between rocks and inside hollow plant stems, we may never know they’re around—until they aren’t.

Ensuring they come around is relatively easy if we provide reliable sources of food and water, access to lots of native plants and protection from chemical pesticides. To keep them around, however, we need to offer suitable housing.  

When it comes to housing, solitary bees and many other beneficial insects are perfectly content with humble abodes such as brush piles, piles of rocks or bricks, bundles of stems and, in the case of ground-dwelling insects, areas of bare, loose soil. In other words, leave areas of the landscape naturalized—maybe even a little messy—and they’ll be happy homemakers.

However, some also enjoy something a little more upscale, such the exquisite pollinator houses (also called pollinator or bee hotels) that you may have noticed popping up in public and private landscapes. These houses offer a variety of room designs (nesting cavities) that appeal to solitary bees. Lucky for us, this collection of rooms involves a blend of shapes, sizes and materials that become appealing works of art, and they can be created using a range of found, recycled and upcycled items. 

Though pollinator houses should meet a few basic building and maintenance codes (see list below) to be effective, they offer us a chance to be creative, as proved by a group of University of Alabama Birmingham art students who, in 2017, designed and built amazing insect houses for the Ruffner Mountain Reserve in Birmingham. These houses and others like them are not only stunning, they are exceptional educational tools and can be great DIY projects for families or for community groups.

If you want to learn more about insect dream homes, check out expert sources such as the Xerces Society (https://xerces.org) or at local public gardens, garden stores and community gardening organizations. 

Pollinator House Building Codes:

Use the following basic guidelines to make a home for solitary bees and wasps as well as other beneficial insects. House plans and additional details are available from many sources including in an article written by Ruffner Mountain’s native habitat director Michelle Reynolds (www.diynetwork.com/how-to/outdoors/gardening/build-a-backyard-bee-house). 

• Provide a diverse selection of nesting cavities and materials.

• Frame and roof the house to protect residents from the elements. 

• Locate the house on an open site, preferably south- to southeast-facing, where no vegetation obscures the cavity entrances.

• Erect the house three to four feet off the ground and anchor it securely against winds.

• Clean the house annually and replace nesting materials every two years.

March Tips

  • Celebrate the first day of spring (March 19) by doing something in the garden.
  • Get gardening tools and equipment ready for the year.
  • Add compost, manure and other organic materials to garden beds.
  • Begin planting spring crops such as snow peas, cauliflower, celery, onion and radishes.
  • Plant strawberries, blueberries, grapes and fruit trees.
  • Begin fertilizing houseplants.
  • Remove weeds from gardens beds as soon as they emerge.

Energy efficient landscaping tips

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: A friend told us that if our landscaping is done right, it can help lower our home’s monthly energy bill. What choices can we make that will reduce our home energy use?

 Your friend is right. The decisions you make about your home’s landscaping can help you stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. With summer just around the corner, let’s start by looking at how strategic planting can help cool your home.

Direct sunlight hitting windows is a major contributor to overheating your home during summer months. By planting trees that block sunlight, you can improve comfort and reduce your air conditioning energy use. If the trees eventually grow tall enough to shield your roof, that’s even better. 

The most important windows to shade are the ones facing west, followed by windows that face east. Morning and evening sunlight hits the home more directly than mid-day sunlight. Also, an eave on the south side of your home can help shade your windows during mid-day sun. 

If you live in a colder climate, planting deciduous trees that lose their leaves in fall will shield your windows in summer and allow sunlight in during winter to help warm your home. A simple approach that can deliver some shade the first year is to plant a “living wall” of vines grown on a trellis next to your home.

One cooling strategy is to make sure your air conditioning compressor has some plants near it. Just make sure the plants aren’t too close. The compressor should have a five-foot space above it and a two- to three-foot gap all the way around so that it gets enough air movement to do its job.

There are two other factors to consider that are important in some areas of the country:

Water is becoming more precious and more expensive. When you pay your water bill, much of that cost is for the energy required to pump water to your home, or perhaps you have your own well. Either way, reducing water use saves you money and reduces energy use.    

If you live in an area that has wildfires, you should definitely take that into consideration as you develop a landscaping plan. What and where you plant on your property can either increase or decrease the risk of fire reaching your home.

Now let’s talk about how landscaping impacts your home’s energy use and comfort in the winter.

If you live in a colder climate, a solid wind break can cut harsh winter winds. The best solution for this is a solid row of trees (preferably evergreen) on the wind

ward side of the home, with shrubs underneath the trees to keep the wind from sneaking through. If you live in a warmer climate, you would not want a wind barrier as wind flow will help cool your home.

If you live in a cooler climate that isn’t too humid, planting a row of shrubs a foot from your home can provide more efficiency. By stopping air movement, it can form a dead air space around the home that acts as “bonus” insulation. While you’re at it, you could add some foundation insulation if you have a home with a basement or if it’s built on a slab. In a humid climate, however, leave several feet of space between landscaping and the home as air flow is necessary to avoid moisture-related home damage.

These are just a few ideas to help you get started. I should also note that as with any landscaping projects that require digging, remember to dial 8-1-1 to ensure all underground utility lines are properly marked and flagged before you start the work. Happy planting!

How batteries are changing your electricity

By Paul Wesslund

This 250kW/735kWh battery storage system is owned by North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, in partnership with South River EMC. Photo courtesy North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives

Business is betting big on batteries around the world in a roundabout way that could streamline the electricity service in your home.

Over the past eight years, industry sources say battery production capacity has grown eight times, mostly to supply demand for the rapidly expanding market for electric vehicles. Companies believe that expansion will continue, so they’re planning to build new manufacturing plants in the United States, Europe and Asia that will increase capacity another five times in the next eight years.

As with other technologies, more production means improved performance and lower prices, says Jan Ahlen, the director of energy solutions for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

“Batteries are becoming better, faster and cheaper,” says Ahlen. “As more and more of these new manufacturing plants get built, there are economies of scale that are bringing down the prices and the electric vehicle market is the main driver for all this.”

What “all this” has to do with your electric cooperative is that a better and cheaper battery can be a huge new tool for an electric utility. The batteries being developed to make electric vehicles run better are being connected to make large “utility-scale” batteries.

Batteries are becoming better, faster and cheaper

Making wind and solar more useful

Utility-scale battery use has been growing along with the increase in battery manufacturing. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration reports that utility battery capacity has quadrupled in the past five years. Over the next three years, the agency predicts the battery capacity of utilities will triple to the point where they could supply enough electricity for 2.5 million homes. Although that number is a small share of the electricity market, the effects of utility battery use can be huge.

Ahlen calls these batteries “the Swiss army knife” of the utility industry because they can be used for a number of different applications and a number of different reasons. Here are some of those uses:

Timing for the best price: The cost of the electricity to a utility can vary during the time of year and even the time of day as demand for that electricity changes depending on things like how much heating or air conditioning is going on. If a utility could buy electricity and store it in a battery when the price is lowest, then draw from the battery when market prices are highest, it could amount to cost savings that could be passed on to the consumer.

Helping renewable energy: One factor preventing more use of renewable energy is there’s no solar power at night or wind energy in calm weather. Batteries could change that, storing electricity during peak production, making renewable energy more useful.

Construction management: Batteries could defer the need to upgrade or replace existing utility infrastructure, such as substations, allowing a utility to save money on otherwise expensive infrastructure upgrades.

Batteries are also being used as a part of a new utility outage management idea called microgrids. Microgrids designate high-priority parts of the larger electric grid, like hospitals or gas stations, to help a community manage during a power outage. Those areas might have extra wiring or power sources, like small generators or large utility-scale batteries.

(Batteries) are opening up many new opportunities for utilities to help provide more affordable and reliable power for their consumers.

This 13-megawatt Tesla solar field, which is coupled with a 52-megawatt hour battery storage system, is owned by Kaua’i Island Utility Co-op and allows the cooperative to store solar power during the day and dispatch it over a four-hour period during the evening when energy demand is high.

Consumers at the forefront

Government policies are also driving the use and development of utility-scale batteries. Several states are directing utilities to consider batteries as part of power restoration plans, or to meet renewable energy goals.

For decades, one of the fundamental truths of the electric power industry has been that “electricity can’t be stored.” A coal, nuclear or hydroelectric power plant generated electricity that had to be delivered immediately to homes and businesses through a precise network of wires, transformers and other equipment. Even a few strategically-placed batteries can change that longstanding structure. In addition to opening up options for utility operations, it gives consumers more choices. The high-end electric vehicle maker Tesla took one of its vehicle batteries and redesigned it to look appealing hanging on the wall of your living room. The company called it the Powerwall and promoted it as backup power in case of an outage, or to store some of the energy from your rooftop solar panels for evening use. 

Batteries, says Ahlen, “are opening up many new opportunities for utilities to help provide more affordable and reliable power for their consumers. The other implication is it’s really part of a larger trend of putting the consumer at the forefront now more than ever and giving them more choices.”

Kidnap, ransom and rescue, part 1

By Dr. Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MD, Ph.D.

Recently, I wrote a series of serious articles talking about various pet diseases. I think it’s story time again. The story is long-winded and true, but it ends well! 

Years ago, my wife and I had a mobile veterinary practice in Oregon spanning about a 45-mile radius. That meant many hours on the road. We had an indoor Lab-Akita cross named Delila, who could not hold her bladder for long. We had to plan our appointments so that we could stop to take her outside. It was difficult, but you do difficult things for the ones you love. 

After our first year in Oregon, Delila started feeling down. X-rays showed that she had cancer in her abdomen. We tried to surgically remove it, but it had spread too far and we made the agonizing decision to spare her the suffering and not to wake her up. 

Life sure changed for us! We were free to stay out as long as we wanted, but when we came home, the house and the place she occupied in our hearts was still empty! 

The burden of an empty and “tidy” house is hard to bear for anyone who has loved and lived with a dog. As time went on, we started looking for a pup; but the two of us could never agree. At last the time came. 

We were treating six rescue pit bull puppies for severe respiratory distress. The foster mom was a seasoned pet nurse and had them in a makeshift oxygen tent. With very hard work on her part and little help from us, the puppies started to get better. After our third visit, Julie said that she liked one of the puppies, and I jumped at the opportunity. 

She was a little girl with tuxedo marking we named Anandi. We got her home and made a bed for her in the bedroom on Delila’s old bed. The chaos of raising a puppy began. 

She would not go to sleep, so we would sing to her an old Bollywood song – “You are my sun, you are my moon!” Over the top? Yes, but we loved it. 

Raising her was exhausting. She chewed up numerous shoes and four pairs of prescription eyeglasses. We also were seriously doubting that she would ever be potty trained!

Around the same time, four other friends got new puppies, and we would talk on the phone about our overall misery and what new destruction these creatures had wrought. Needless to say, we were all fantastically devoted to these pups! 

It was challenging to raise a puppy when we were constantly on the road. But we were determined to not let her be left alone, so our new pup had to come with us. Southern Oregon gets hot in the summer. We set up an additional deep cycle battery in the van with a fan and mister for the cabin. We also installed a remote temperature sensor and window shading. We carried extra water with us and soaked her before we went into a client’s house.

Anyway, with this backdrop the drama began, and will end in the next article in the May issue.

Airboats allow up-close look at the Lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta

An airboat ride allows visitors to experience the natural Beaty of the largest river delta and wetland in Alabama.

Second in size only to the Mississippi River Delta, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta spreads across 250,000 acres north of Mobile Bay. Congress declared this wet wilderness a National Natural Landmark in 1974.

Many thousands of people glimpse these marshes every day as they drive along Interstate 10 or U.S. 98, better known as Battleship Parkway or the Mobile Causeway, between Mobile and Spanish Fort. But most people never venture into these wetlands. With an airboat, people can easily tour this special wilderness sitting almost in the shadow of downtown Mobile.

From February through mid-November, Geoff and Brittany Woodliff leave daily from the Causeway to take people on airboat tours. Also called a fan boat, an airboat uses the power of an aircraft engine and propeller safely enclosed in a wire cage to push a boat over weeds, through extremely shallow waters or even over wet mud.

“I saw my first airboat when I was about 10 and I’ve been interested ever since,” Geoff says. “We use two 18-foot Diamondback airboats, each with big block Chevrolet 496 engine that creates about 460 horsepower. These boats are very versatile with shallow drafts. They can go where other boats cannot go. We have mufflers on them to be as ecofriendly and noise-friendly as possible.”

Geoff is from northern Alabama and Brittany is from Florida; both fell in love with the delta and each other. Married since 2008, the two U.S. Coast Guard certified captains began their airboat business about 15 years ago. Now they run tours seven days a week, weather permitting.

“We never do a tour exactly the same way,” Geoff says. “It just depends on what we see and what the people in the boat want to do. Every tour is customized for them. Sometimes people don’t care about the plants, trees and flowers. They just want to go fast and have fun. That’s fine. Some people want to shoot a lot of photos. We tailor it to the people on the boat.”

On each tour, passengers might see numerous herons, egrets, pelicans and other birds or waterfowl. Passengers might also see feral pigs, raccoons, snakes, otters, turtles, fish and other creatures that call the delta home. The captain stops the boat regularly to point out various plants or animals and provide information about them, often sprinkled with a few tall tales and good-natured jokes.

“All kinds of animals live out there,” Geoff says. “One of our most unusual sightings was a bobcat swimming in the water. Every now and then we see a deer, but they usually hear the airboat and run off. I think the people enjoy how we stop to talk to them. It’s not just a ride. It’s an adventure. If someone wants to take a picture, we stop so they can take it.”

Of course, most people want to see alligators. Many riders come from places where they cannot see tidal marshes or wild alligators. During warmer months, guests frequently see alligators, including some really big ones. 

“I really enjoyed looking at the alligators almost eye to eye in the water,” says Marie Wines, who with her husband, Jeff, now lives in Spanish Fort. “The captain gave us an education on the alligators and about how the temperature of the nest determines the sex of the alligators in the eggs. That was very interesting. Whenever someone comes to visit us, we take them out here because it’s an education and it’s fun. We don’t see this kind of terrain in Ohio.”

“Captain Geoff always does a great job,” echoes Jeff. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s entertaining too. He tells us a lot of interesting facts about the alligators and the birds. We learn something new every time we go out with Geoff. He tells a different story and takes a little different route every time.”

Marie and Jeff grew up in Canton, Ohio. On this occasion, they brought Jeff’s father, Ernest Wines. A Korean War veteran who still lives in Ohio, Ernest had never ridden in an airboat before.

“I thought it was really great,” Ernest says. “The captain knows how to drive that boat. I’ve never been in a marsh before. We saw some things I’ve never seen before. There’s a lot of fish out there. My favorite part was when we were going through the reeds. It was quite a sensation.”

To book a tour, call the Woodliffs at 251-370-7089 in Spanish Fort or visit airboatexpress.com.

Peanut Butter

Styling/Photos by Brooke Echols

Cook of the Month | Annie Fossett, North Alabama EC

Peanut Butter Chocolate Trifle

Peanut Butter Chocolate Trifle

1 3.9-ounce package Jello chocolate instant pudding mix

1 3.4-ounce package Jello vanilla instant pudding mix

3 cups cold milk, divided

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

1 8-ounce tub Cool Whip, thawed

and divided

30 Chips Ahoy! Cookies, chopped

3 tablespoons chocolate syrup

Empty dry pudding mixes into separate medium bowls. Add 1½ cups milk to each, beat with whisk for 2 minutes. Add peanut butter to vanilla pudding, beating well until blended. Stir ½ cup Cool Whip into pudding in each bowl. Spoon chocolate pudding mixture into 2-quart serving bowl. Cover with layers of half each of the remaining Cool Whip and chopped cookies. Repeat layers, using vanilla pudding mixture. Drizzle with syrup. Makes 12 servings; 2/3 cup each. 


Peanut Butter Granola

Peanut Butter Granola

2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup oats

Combine peanut butter and honey and microwave until melted. About 15-20 seconds. Stir in cinnamon and vanilla. Add oats and stir till well coated. Spread out on a cookie sheet sprayed well with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes until slightly brown. Let cool until dry and crunchy.

Angela Bradley, Clarke-Washington EC


Peanut Butter Bars are a peanut butter lover’s dream. Peanut butter cake-like bars enhanced with a decadent peanut butter frosting. There’s perfect peanut butter sweetness in every bite. Simple and delicious, these Peanut Butter Bars are easy to make and even easier to eat!  A not-too-sweet cake-like base gives a great foundation to this frosting that is a treat right by itself. For more great recipes like this one, visit us at thebutteredhome.com.

Photo by The Buttered Home

Peanut Butter Bars

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1 cup water

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Frosting:

3/4 cup butter

1/4 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

3 cups powdered sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, bring peanut butter, water and butter to a soft boil. Just until combined. Remove from the heat. Cool 5 minutes. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients –  flour, sugars and salt – with a whisk to sift. Slowly add in peanut butter mixture and stir to mix.

Add eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. Mix well. Pour into a lightly greased glass 9 x 13 casserole dish. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until set. Will not rise very much. Cool.

Frosting: In a saucepan, mix all ingredients EXCEPT powdered sugar and vanilla. Bring to a soft boil and remove from heat. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Mix well. Pour over cooled cake and allow to set. Can refrigerate to speed up this process.


Creamy Peanut Butter Pie

1 chocolate cookie pie crust

1¼ cups nonfat plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons coffee creamer, peanut butter or vanilla flavor

¾ cup creamy peanut butter

¾ cup peanut butter morsels, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put all the ingredients, except crust, in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Pour the mixture into the pie crust and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Decorate with additional peanut butter morsels, if desired. Refrigerate 2 hours or overnight until firm.   

Robin O’Sullivan, Wiregrass EC


Peanut Butter Reese Squares

1 cup butter

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1 bag milk chocolate chips

1 box powdered sugar

In microwave, melt butter, then melt peanut butter, mix all together and spread into a 9×13-inch pan. Melt chocolate chips in microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until melted. Spread melted chocolate over the first layer. Let cool before cutting into squares. 

Annie Fossett, North Alabama EC


Peanut Butter Fudge

½ cup butter or margarine

1 pound light brown sugar

½ cup milk

¾ cup peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pound confectioner’s sugar

Melt butter in a medium saucepan, stir in brown sugar and milk. Bring to a boil, stirring for 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in peanut butter and vanilla. Mix in confectioner’s sugar; beat until smooth. Spread into buttered 9-inch square baking pan. Chill until firm. Cut into squares. Makes 3½ pounds.

Wanda Monk, Cullman EC


Peanut Butter Cake

1 box yellow cake mix

1 16-ounce jar creamy peanut butter

½ stick butter

1½ cups whole milk

1½ cups white granulated sugar

Mix and bake cake according to box directions. You may use 9×13-inch pan or two 9-inch round pans. Cool cake completely. In saucepan, mix milk, sugar and butter. Cook on low until butter melts. Add peanut butter. Cook until soft stage. Spread over cake. Cool and cut into squares to serve.

Pauline Lowery, Pioneer EC


K’s Peanut Butter Pancakes

1 cup self-rising flour

3 teaspoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons honey

½ cup buttermilk

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

Mix all ingredients until well combined. Cook in lightly oiled skillet until set; flip over. Cook until set. Top with butter and syrup.

Kay Harrison, South Alabama EC


Easy Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 cup dry, off-brand peanut butter

Gently mix all ingredients by hand. Drop by spoon onto a non-greased baking sheet. Bake for 13 minutes at 300 degrees. They will not look cooked through, but they are.

Cool and serve. Cook’s note: the popular name brands don’t work as well.

Becky Chappelle, Cullman EC


Themes and Deadlines

June: Potluck | March 13

July: Squash | April 3

August: Pound Cake | May 8

3 ways to submit:

Online: alabamaliving.coop

Email: recipes@alabamaliving.coop

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

Please send us your original recipes (developed  or adapted by you or family members.) Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

They eat gophers, don’t they?

By Hardy Jackson

Doing some research, I came across an article in the Aug. 5, 1950 edition of the Mobile Register that told of how folks down there “Eat Gophers, Claim They’re Delicious.” 

Gophers. Those big tortoises that burrow deep into the sandy soil of South Alabama.

It seemed that back then gophers were fast becoming all the rage in the Port City. Demand was so great that one enterprising citizen was keeping a “backyard pen well stocked in the turtle-like creatures” and “several small eating places even stir up a batch of ‘gopher stew’ to put on the menu.” (Mobile’s “Renaissance Man,” Eugene Walter, included gopher gumbo in his much-admired book on Southern cooking.) 

A regular gopher industry was blossoming as boys and girls out “in the country” caught them, brought them in, and sold them to local “distributors.” 

Now a lot can be said for gopher raising. They are cheap and easy to care for. They eat grass mostly and they love watermelon rinds. They aren’t aggressive and of course, they “taste like chicken.” 

“In fact,” the article reported, “if you ate some while blindfolded you wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference.”

Well, from my experience, yes you would.

I was just a lad when I caught the tortoise that became my first and only culinary experience with gopher.

I brought it up to the house where Mr. Pugh was doing some yard work for Daddy. The conversation, as I recall, went something like this.

Mr. Pugh: “What’cha gonna do with it?”

Me: “I dunno.”

Mr. Pugh: “Can I have it?”

Me: “What’cha gonna do with it?”

Mr. Pugh: “Eat it.”

Then he proceeded to tell me how gopher had five different kinds of meat in it. Chicken, of course. Fish. Pork. Beef. And, he paused for effect, mule.

Then he promised to take it home, get his wife to cook it, and bring some back the next day for me to sample. 

And he did. Brought me a piece about the size of a silver dollar, deep-fried and crisp. I ate it.

Musta been the mule.

So I am not surprised that despite all the hype the Register gave to gopher stew, gopher gumbo, gopher and dumplings, and southern fried gopher smothered in gravy, gopher eating never caught on. 

There was some discussion of raising gophers for their eggs, but they don’t lay many and when a local cook reportedly “tried frying one for breakfast, it blew up in the pan and stuck to the ceiling.”

That put an end to that.

So, if you get the urge for some gopher, chances are your local grocery won’t carry it. But if it does, it is probably in the frozen food section marked “Mule.”

Alabama Snapshots | Playing in the rain

Luke showing his little sister, Lydia, how to enjoy a mud puddle!

SUBMITTED BY Jacquelyn Peterson, Robertsdale.

Grandsons Landon and Reagan McLain having fun in the mud.

SUBMITTED BY Pam Sexton, Greenville.

My daughter, Emma, enjoying all of her rain gear gifts on a rainy day.

SUBMITTED BY Bessie Ryan, Cullman.

My niece Nova Laikyn Bradley, age 3, playing in the rain.

SUBMITTED BY Debra Sellers, Seale.

My great-grandson, Cloud Asher Gibson, having a blast in a mud hole.

SUBMITTED BY Judy Elam, Addison.

Alabama is home to many spectacular waterfalls and we want to see photos of your favorites!

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