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Holiday eating with diabetes


Holiday menus challenge people with diabetes, but planning pays off

Food plays a central role in many family celebrations and parties at holiday times, especially during November and December. If you have diabetes or are trying to prevent having Type 2 diabetes, this season can be especially challenging because of the large number of festive occasions that seem to revolve around eating.

Your health care provider may have discussed with you how certain foods may affect your blood sugar more than other foods. But this doesn’t mean you have to forego all your favorite dishes. People living with diabetes still can enjoy tempting food at holiday meals and parties without overeating or feeling deprived.

When preparing to go somewhere you know there is going to be a lot of food offered, planning ahead really helps. Anticipating the menu allows you to select the foods that will be easier to fit into your meal plan. If you are unsure what will be served at a special event, check it out when you arrive. If there’s a buffet line, take small bites of the food choices that you think you might like so you can save your portions for the foods that taste the best. Try to choose healthier, fresher, and less-processed alternatives in appropriate portion sizes.

You don’t need to abandon your meal plan totally, but you have some leeway. Here are some tips for eating healthy and delicious food at special events:

  • Have a light snack of a non-starchy vegetable or protein before you arrive, so you’re not too hungry and can more easily avoid the temptation to overeat.
  • If it’s appropriate, such as at a covered dish meal, bring food that you know you really enjoy and that fits into your meal plan.
  • Make smart food selections, eat slowly, and savor your food. Resist second helpings.
  • Quench your thirst with water instead of soft drinks or juice, and limit alcohol. Not only does consuming alcohol add calories, but it can increase your appetite. Don’t drink alcohol on an empty stomach.
  • At celebrations, dessert is frequently the highlight of the event. Most sweets contain a lot of carbohydrates so you will want to keep portion sizes small. Plan for dessert by eating more vegetables earlier in the meal, and saving calories and carbohydrates for a small portion of a dessert you really want.

Remember, with care and moderation, holiday meals and traditions do not have to disrupt your diabetes control. With some preparation, you can enjoy a healthy and happy holiday. Just dine in moderation as part of an overall healthy eating plan. This recommendation holds true for everyone, not just people with diabetes.

To learn more about eating healthy at family functions and special occasions, visit

Jim McVay, Dr.P.A., is director of the Bureau of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease of the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Honor Flight honors Alabama heroes

A bystander shakes the hand of Air Force veteran Addison Dozier as the Covington Region Honor Flight enters the terminal at Reagan National Airport. Photo by Allison Griffin

Though many of our veterans have seen the world as part of their service to the country, the national Honor Flight Network aims to take them only to Washington, D.C. But it’s a trip of a lifetime: A chance to visit and reflect on the memorials that were erected to honor them.

The Covington Region Honor Flight took a charter bus full of veterans and their appointed guardians to the nation’s capital in early October. The whirlwind 24-hour trip, which included a bus ride from Andalusia to Atlanta and a flight to D.C., included stops at the World War II, Women’s War, Air Force, Korea and Vietnam memorials, as well as the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Veterans from many of our nation’s conflicts, including WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, were represented on the trip. Honor Flight regional hub staffers directed the group and provided wheelchairs and logistical support to the veterans, some of whom are in their 80s and 90s.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions made a stop on the charter bus to welcome the veterans to D.C. Later in the day, U.S. Rep. Martha Roby sent a cadre of her staffers to welcome the group to dinner at a Washington restaurant.

Unfortunately, the day was shrouded in wind and rain, with showers following the group throughout the day and making the memorial visits a challenge. But as one might expect from a group of veterans, there was little complaining. And the veterans were warmly received at every stop – travelers at the airport terminal applauded, cheered and shook the hands of the veterans as a French horn player serenaded the group with the songs of all the military branches.

Helping veterans and active duty military

On Veterans Day, the nation honors men and women who risk their lives to protect our freedom. Social Security honors veterans and active duty members of the military every day by giving them the respect they deserve. A vital part of that is administering the Social Security disability program.

For those who return home with injuries, Social Security is a resource they can turn to. If you know any wounded veterans, please let them know about Social Security’s Wounded Warriors website. You can find it at

The Wounded Warriors website answers many commonly asked questions, and shares other useful information about disability benefits, including how veterans can receive expedited processing of disability claims. Benefits available through Social Security are different than those from the Department of Veterans Affairs and require a separate application.

The expedited process is used for military service members who become disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001, regardless of where the disability occurs.

Even active duty military who continue to receive pay while in a hospital or on medical leave should consider applying for disability benefits if they’re unable to work due to a disabling condition. Active duty status and receipt of military pay doesn’t necessarily prevent payment of Social Security disability benefits. Although a person can’t receive Social Security disability benefits while engaging in substantial work for pay or profit, receipt of military payments should never stop someone from applying for disability benefits from Social Security.

Learn more by visiting

Social Security is proud to support the veterans and active duty members of the military. Let these heroes know they can count on us when they need to take advantage of their earned benefits.

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by e-mail at

Alabama Gardens: Coaxing spring to come a little early


Coaxing spring to come a little early

Though pumpkins, gourds, mums, fall leaves and the like are beautiful and abundant this time of year, sometimes you just need a little reassurance that spring will again return. One of the easiest ways to get that reassurance is to plant spring-blooming bulbs, both in the yard and for the house.

Here in Alabama, the best time to plant late winter and early spring flowering bulbs in the landscape is in the fall, a process that can continue into December and even January. Now is also a fine time to buy bulbs as holiday gifts or to “force” potted bulbs into bloom.

Forcing bulbs (I like to think of it as coaxing bulbs) into bloom is relatively easy. All you need is a little advanced planning, an attractive container and the right growing conditions — some pebbles or a sterile, lightweight potting media, a little bit of water and some time in the dark. Oh, and a touch of patience.

While many types of bulbs can be convinced to bloom inside during the winter, some such as paperwhites and amaryllis are easier because they do not require a chilling period. Others, such as crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips, need to be exposed to a period of colder temperatures (typically 30-45 degrees F for a few weeks) to bloom well.

You can achieve this chilling requirement by keeping loose or potted bulbs in a cold frame or in an unheated attic, cellar or garage or by keeping loose bulbs in a breathable bag (paper or mesh are ideal) in your refrigerator’s vegetable drawer for several weeks (read the bulb packaging labels to determine specific chilling requirements). Just make sure to keep the bulbs away from any fresh fruits and vegetables that may emit ethylene gasses, which can damage the bulbs’ latent blooms, and label them as nonfood items so no one unwittingly tries to taste them (they can be poisonous if consumed)!


Though specialized bulb forcing containers are available at many garden shops, you can also use a wide range of attractive pots or containers that you may already have on hand, the selection of which will depend on whether you want to grow the bulbs in pebbles or in a potting mix. If you’re using the pebble method, choose a shallow waterproof dish or clear glass container (so you can better monitor water levels). If you’re using a potting mix, any pot that is at least twice as deep as the bulbs you are planting will do.

The pebble method works best for paperwhites, crocuses, hyacinths and other smaller-sized bulbs. Simply place about two inches of clean pebbles or small decorative rocks (you can use marbles or decorative glass for this as well) in the bottom of the container, nestle the base of the bulbs into these pebbles so that the bulbs are close together but not touching, then add enough additional pebbles, glass or marbles to snug the bulbs in firmly. You should be able to see the tops of the bulbs through the pebble layer.

If you’re planting bulbs in a potting mixture, fill the pot half full with the potting media, position the bulbs base-side down, then cover them loosely with more potting media so that the upper halves of the bulbs are still visible.

Add enough water to touch the base of the bulbs if they are in pebbles; for potting mix-planted bulbs, add enough water so the potting mix is moist but not wet.

Now is when patience is needed. Place the containerized bulbs in a cool, dark place (closet, basement, etc.) and leave them alone for three weeks or so, then start checking them weekly to look for signs of sprouting. Check the water levels periodically to make sure they don’t completely dry out.

Once you see shoots — which can take four to 10 weeks depending on the bulb type — bring them out of storage, water them and place them in a cool room (60 to 65 degrees F) with low light until they begin to bloom. When blooms appear, the plants can be moved into a warmer environment, though if you want to prolong bloom times keep them in cooler parts of the house. To keep a steady supply of bulbs in bloom, make up new pots of bulbs every two or three weeks and repeat the process so that something new will be coming into bloom throughout the winter months.

To learn more about coaxing bulbs into bloom, check with your local garden center, search for information on the Internet (the American Daffodil Society is a great source at or get a copy of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s publication “Home Bulb Forcing” (publication number ANR-1325) at or through your local Extension office.


  • Some supplies you’ll need to force bulbs into bloom include pottery or containers (any size is fine), water, pebbles or a lightweight growing media.
  • Space the bulbs apart in a shallow dish with pebbles deep enough to leave the tops showing. Add water until moist.
  • Some bulbs will do better in soil. Fill a pot half full with potting media, position the bulbs base-side down, then cover them loosely with more potting media.
  • These bulbs are ready to be placed in a cool, dark area of the home.

|View picture gallery HERE|

photos by Allison Griffin


NOVEMBER Garden Tips

      • Plant woody shrubs, vines, trees and roses.
      • Store unused pesticides in sealed containers and place them in freeze-protected locations.
      • Fertilize shade trees.
      • Turn the compost pile.
      • Test your soil and begin adding needed amendments once the results are in.
      • Apply mulch to newly planted trees and shrubs and tender perennials.
      • Plant beets, carrots, radishes, garlic and asparagus.
      • Plant pansies, sweet peas, poppies, snapdragons, larkspurs and delphiniums.
      • Keep bird feeders cleaned and filled.


JACKSON, KATIE Gardening 2013

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

Alabama Outdoors: Helping warriors heal

A hunter doesn’t allow his disabilities to prevent him from taking down a trophy.

Taking combat vets outdoors to heal unseen wounds

By John N. Felsher

In March 2007, during his second tour of duty in Iraq, Mark McDuffie’s life changed forever.

He worked alongside an explosive ordnance disposal team when a roadside bomb exploded. The blast killed two men and horribly injured McDuffie, a 10-year Air Force veteran from Geneva, Ala. The bomb severely injured his legs and feet. He also suffered numerous shrapnel wounds to his face, throat and elsewhere.

“I went through 58 surgeries, some experimental,” the veteran recalls. “I can still walk with my own two feet and enjoy the things I did before, but can’t run. I’ve been blessed by the Good Lord to be able to still get around.”

Medically retired from the Air Force in 2009, McDuffie took another government job as a civilian. After a year, he finally had enough. He decided to do something not only to help himself, but others who suffered battle wounds.

A veteran demonstrates modified wheelchair.

“I got fed up working for the government,” he says. “I walked into a colonel’s office and said I was going fishing. Everyone laughed. I spent considerable time on the water learning how to deal with everything and started bringing other wounded warriors fishing. Then, more people asked me to run charters so I did that to help defray the cost of taking those warriors.”

A licensed captain, McDuffie runs Wounded Warrior Fishing and now charters excursions from Panama City, Fla., to Orange Beach, Ala. He also fishes professional redfish tournaments.

One day, McDuffie met Jeep Sullivan, a Baptist preacher from Bonifay, Fla. The now retired pastor shares McDuffie’s vision of helping wounded veterans. He founded Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures in 2011. Not affiliated with Wounded Warrior Inc. or groups with similar names, Sullivan’s organization assists combat veterans to heal mentally, emotionally and physically through various outdoors adventures. He arranges hunting and fishing trips, golfing outings and other activities for recipients of Purple Hearts, the badge of honor given to those wounded in battle.

“Several years ago, I started taking some World War II vets hunting and fishing and got the idea to found a non-profit organization,” Sullivan recalls. “We’re a ministry that enables combat-wounded veterans to enjoy God’s great outdoors. We enable our Purple Heart recipients from all conflicts to get together in an outdoors setting at no cost to them. We try to do anything outdoors that they would like to do. We want to help them do things that they may not be able to do on their own.”

Not a veteran himself, Jeep saw what his father-in-law endured after returning from Vietnam. Wayne Mitchell, a badly wounded Marine, took about two years to physically recover from his injuries, but mental and emotional scars stick for life. Seeing how Mitchell coped with his injuries inspired Sullivan to do something for other vets.

“Many vets back then were spat upon when they went through airports in uniform. Wayne got a job and went on with his life. He ran marathons and numerous other races. We want all Purple Heart vets to know that someone loves them, cares for them and wants to minister to them.”

Although based in Florida, Sullivan’s organization brings veterans on adventures wherever possible. In Alabama, warriors hunt hogs and deer. McDuffie takes them fishing.

“We probably do more in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi than other places,” Sullivan says. “We even did an alligator hunt in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta earlier this year. For the bass tournament, the vets came in Friday before the event. We fed them at a big fish fry and put them up in cabins for the night. The next day, they fished.”

Sullivan’s group tries to pair older vets from Korea, Vietnam and even World War II with younger Iraq and Afghanistan vets.

“They help each other,” Sullivan explains. “It’s all part of their healing process. Our goal is to help these soldiers to smile and forget their problems for a while as we honor them for their service. The difference between our organization and similar groups is that we work to facilitate healing the whole soldier — body, soul and spirit. We understand that our wounded military personnel are injured as a family. Therefore, they must heal as a family. We incorporate family outings along with our adventures. My wife, Meg, takes the vets’ wives shopping, to the beach and other places.”

One vet at the September fish fry told a story. He said that he spent three years sitting in his bedroom trying to drink himself to death. He first participated in some hunting activities with Sullivan’s group about two years ago and joined several more since.

“He’s been with us on numerous occasions and now brags about how much the experience helped him,” Sullivan says. “For younger guys, just seeing older vets get through the same problems makes them believe that they can do it too. Getting together with comrades who shared similar experiences helps tremendously. It also helps them to know that many ordinary Americans are behind them and willing to do whatever we can to help them.”

More information: 850-326-1771,; 850-499-8385, or


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: Brunch

Photo by Michael Cornelison

When I was a kid in the late ’70s and early ’80s, brunch wasn’t really a thing. If we ate breakfast late on the weekends, we still called it breakfast. I don’t know who it was, or when it happened, but some genius simply smashed two words together, and created a new way for us to do some of our favorite morning-time foods. Bruch has become more than a meal for most; it’s an experience.

I was grown before I had my first “brunch,” and today, it’s something I relish. Meant to be enjoyed on lazy Saturday or Sunday mornings, brunch is best served to a group, and lingering around the table chatting and munching is a quintessential part of the fun.

It’s especially practical around the holidays, when you’ve got hungry friends or extended family in your home. It’s no harder than whipping up a large lunch and offers the comforting appeal that is the hallmark of many breakfast dishes.

The ideal brunch menu includes something savory, something sweet and something fresh (like fruit or even basic roasted veggies like asparagus or zucchini). And of course, copious amounts of good coffee. Our readers submitted a bounty of brunch recipes, so choose one or two from each category above, and you’ve got an impressive brunch spread that will wow your guests and leave them full and happy till dinner.

– Jennifer Kornegay

Cook of the month

Jacqueline Bonn, Covington EC

Writes Jacqueline:

This is my own recipe which has undergone several changes over the 48 years that my husband and I have been married, during which he served many years in the Army. We love to have a special brunch-type breakfast once a week, so my husband started by making standard omelets. Recently, I decided to do a scrambled egg version, adding special ingredients that expressed my Italian heritage. This version would be perfect as a brunch entrée; it’s basically a one-pan meal.


Brunch, Italian Style

  • 1 dozen large eggs
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 pound Italian sausage (hot or sweet), casings removed, crumbled
  • 10 frozen hash brown patties
  • 2 large red bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 pound button or baby bella mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon crushed dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh or dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon margarine or butter
  • 2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; spray 9 x 13-inch casserole dish with vegetable spray. Fry Italian crumbled sausage in olive oil until browned; remove from pan, drain on paper towels. Sautee bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, garlic cloves, oregano and crushed red pepper in same pan, set aside. Fry frozen hash brown patties until soft (4-5 minutes) in same pan, cut into chunks, set aside. In same pan, melt margarine or butter; add scrambled eggs, parsley, basil, salt and pepper to taste.

Cook until eggs are still soft and fluffy; remove from pan. Layer 1/3 egg mixture in bottom of sprayed casserole dish. Add 1/3 pepper, onion, mushroom layer. Add 1/3 hash brown patties and sprinkle with 1/3 mozzarella cheese. Repeat these layers 2 more times, finishing with mozzarella cheese layer. Bake in oven for 10 minutes or until cheese has melted. Serve with biscuits or warm Italian bread slices and a fresh fruit salad. Casserole serves 6 -8.

Photo by Michael Cornelison

Praline French Toast Casserole

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups half-and-half
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 10 to 12 slices soft bread


  • 1 stick butter
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 cups pecans, chopped

Generously butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Mix eggs, half-and-half, maple syrup and brown sugar in a large bowl. Place bread slices in greased baking dish and cover with egg mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let soak overnight in the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove from refrigerator. For the topping, melt butter in a saucepan and add the sugar and maple syrup. Cook 1-2 minutes. Stir in pecans. Pour over the bread and bake 45-55 minutes. Allow 10 minutes before serving.

Mrs. Harold Batchelor, Covington EC

Photo by Michael Cornelison
Photo by Michael Cornelison

Strawberry Yogurt Crunch

  • ¾ cup butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1 cup flaked coconut, toasted
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans, roasted
  • 1 carton (8 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 2 cartons (6 ounces each) strawberry custard-style yogurt

Toast coconut and roast pecans. Use food chopper and process oats about 30 seconds. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Combine the flour, cinnamon and baking soda; gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in the oats, coconut and nuts. Remove 1 cup for topping and place in a small pan. Press remaining oat mixture in an ungreased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Bake this along with the mixture in the small pan at 350 degrees for 12-13 minutes or until light brown. Cool on a wire rack. In a large bowl, fold whipped topping into yogurt. Spread over crust. Crumble oat mixture, which was baked in the small pan, over the top. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. Yield 12 servings.

Elaine P. Brooks, Southern Pine EC

Photo by Michael Cornelison
Photo by Michael Cornelison

Southern Scalloped Tomatoes

  • 2 ½ cups tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons butter or margarine, divided
  • 1 cup bread cubes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • A few drops of Tabasco
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dash of sweet basil
  • A couple slices bacon, cooked and broken into small pieces
  • 1 cup shredded cheese for topping
  • Crushed crackers for topping

Using a 10-inch skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter or margarine. Add bread cubes and brown lightly. Remove from skillet and add remaining butter or margarine. Melt and add onions, browning lightly. Mix all other ingredients except cheese and crushed crackers and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with crushed crackers and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Add cheese and cook 10-15 minutes longer.

Paul Barton, Black Warrior EMC

Breakfast Egg Rolls

  • 1 small onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small knob ginger, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
  • 2 green onions or shallots, finely sliced
  • ¼ bunch fresh cilantro
  • ¼ cup crisp fried garlic

In a small saucepan, cook the onion and ginger in the olive oil until translucent. Add the cabbage and 1/3 cup of water. Cover with lid. Cook for 5–8 minutes or until cabbage is tender. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, crack the 3 eggs. Add salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons water. Beat with a fork until eggs are well mixed. Heat a 10-inch nonstick pan with a little oil in the bottom. When the pan is hot, add in a little of the egg, swirling the pan at the same time to cover the base. Place the pan back over the heat and continue to cook until the egg has solidified. Gently flip, using a spatula. Repeat with the remaining egg mixture. Lay out the cooked egg sheets on a chopping board or clean flat surface. In the center of each, lay a couple of spoons of the cabbage, place on top a few cilantro leaves, sliced green onions, a little sprinkling of dried chili and crisp fried garlic.

Roll up and serve immediately.

Robin O’Sullivan, Wiregrass EC


Gluten-Free Cranberry Almond Pecan Scones

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 2/3 cup garbanzo bean flour
  • 1/3 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup of EACH dried cranberries, chocolate chips, and chopped pecans
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/3 cup whipping cream


  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • enough water to reach right consistency

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheet. In a large mixing bowl, combine flours, xanthan gum, and salt. Add cranberries, pecans, and chocolate chips; fold in whipping cream and almond extract. On lightly floured surface (use gluten free flour), knead dough three times. Divide in half and pat each into 6-inch round circles. Cut each circle into 6 wedges and place each wedge 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet. Bake 10-13 minutes or untilgolden brown. Cool 5 minutes before removing from cookie sheet. Meanwhile, mix powdered sugar, almond extract, and enough water to bring to drizzling consistency. Drizzle over warm scones.

Esther Briddick, Joe Wheeler EMC

Frittata Muffins

  • 6 strips ready-to-serve bacon or 6 strips regular sliced bacon, cooked crisp
  • 6 heat-and-serve sausage patties
  • 4 small mushrooms, diced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced (use white and green parts of the onions)
  • ¼ cup finely diced red, green, yellow or orange pepper
  • 6 extra large or jumbo eggs
  • ¾ cup whipping cream
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 8 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • Fresh fruit for garnish – sliced cantaloupe, strawberries, etc.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set aside a 6-cup non-stick jumbo muffin pan. In a skillet over medium heat, brown sausage, remove from heat, drain and then crumble into a small bowl. Crumble bacon. Reserve. Return skillet to medium heat, add mushrooms and cook for 1 minute, stirring often. With a slotted spoon, remove mushrooms to a small bowl and reserve. Add onions and peppers to skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat. In a large measuring cup or mixing bowl, beat eggs, then add cream, salt and pepper. Add 6 ounces grated cheese. Add bacon, sausage, mushrooms, onions and peppers. Mix well. Pour egg mixture into muffin pan and prick with a fork to settle the mixture and remove air bubbles. Top with remaining cheese. Bake for 30–40 minutes or until set. Test by inserting a knife in the middle of one of the frittatas. If set, the knife will come out clean. Garnish with fresh fruit and serve.

Karen Harrison, Cullman EC

Brunch Basics

Make as much of your menu as you can the day or night before. Egg-based casseroles (like several of the recipes here) can be made ahead and refrigerated. In the morning, take them out and let them come to room temperature, cover with foil and then pop them in a 325-degree oven for about 30 minutes to warm them through.


Upcoming recipe themes and deadlines:

  • January Chili: – November 15
  • February: Quick & Easy – December 15
  • March Garlic January 15


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: Tin Top


Enjoy tip top seafood and steaks at the Tin Top

By Allison Griffin

The Tin Top Restaurant and Oyster Bar, tucked away amid the old oak trees at a four-way stop in rural south Baldwin County, is a textbook destination eatery.

But that hasn’t kept locals and Alabama beach vacationers alike from finding it and enjoying its hand-cut steaks and fresh-caught Gulf seafood. And that’s just the way owners Bob and Patty Hallmark like it.

When the Hallmarks were looking to open a place in the early 2000s, Bob remembered an old restaurant in the area named Mimi’s. Back in the 1960s, Mimi’s guest register was filled with patrons from all 50 states and 34 countries. All those people coming down a little dirt road — that was reason enough for Bob to believe that hungry guests would find them at this place, just a short walk from the Bon Secour River.

“I’ve always believed that if it’s good, people will find you,” Bob says at their restaurant, which just celebrated its 11th anniversary. “We wanted a destination point, and boy, we got one.”

They opened on Friday, Aug. 13, 2004. A month later, Hurricane Ivan slammed into the coast, its 120-mile per hour winds and 14-foot storm surge leaving a path of destruction through Baldwin County. But the Tin Top, housed in an old country store that had already weathered Hurricanes Camille in 1969 and Frederic in 1979, held up.

The utility companies restored power relatively quickly to the nearby fisheries and seafood industries, and the Tin Top came back online, too. The restaurant didn’t have a lot of food left, but the Hallmarks cooked what they had and helped feed folks who remained without power.

“There was some good community things going on during that time,” Patty recalls. Ironically, the destructive storm helped put the new eatery on the map, as locals quickly spread the word.


More than a steak place

Bob, a building contractor by trade, was renowned among friends and family for his outstanding steaks. The Hallmarks originally opened the Tin Top because “there was not a good place to get a good steak in Baldwin County,” Patty says.

But any place that’s a short drive from the ocean has to have fresh seafood, as the Hallmarks soon learned, and they buy theirs locally. Bob based their fried shrimp recipe on the much-loved Nan Seas restaurant on the western shore of Mobile Bay, which closed after Hurricane Katrina. “I said, if we’re going to do fried shrimp, I want something like that,” Bob says. “Our fried shrimp are very, very, very good.”

Other seafood specialties include the popular sauteed crab claws and the seafood stuffed catch. “We make our own stuffing, and we cover it with lobster sauce on top,” Patty says.

The best dish, in Bob’s opinion, is the seafood stuffed pork chop with a cranberry jezebel sauce, which has “a flavor combination that’s second-to-none.” The seafood stuffed mushrooms are another popular dish.

But Bob is still a beef “fiend,” as he says, and takes immense pride in his steaks. “Our beef has been compared to Ruth’s Chris,” he says, noting that they use hand-cut, premium beef.

Those are the highlights, but the menu is almost overwhelming — the offerings for appetizers, lunch, dinner, desserts and cocktails cover multiple blackboards on the walls. Friday night is chef’s special night, and they offer rotating specialties each weeknight along with blue plate specials at lunch. But most of the menu is available, lunch or dinner.

The restaurant is open in the warmer months for Sunday champagne brunch; if you’re there on a Sunday, check out the Tin Top Eggs Benedict (the familiar poached eggs and Canadian bacon topped with a fried green tomato and crawfish sauce).

Tin Top owners Bob and Patty Hallmark, right, with Jack and Louise Taylor, left, who own the building. The Taylors have been mentors to the Hallmarks over the years. Photo by Allison Griffin
Tin Top owners Bob and Patty Hallmark, right, with Jack and Louise Taylor, left, who own the building. The Taylors have been mentors to the Hallmarks over the years. Photo by Allison Griffin

The future

The Hallmarks opened a second location in Tuscaloosa a few years ago, which was originally a clone of the Bon Secour restaurant. But that location has evolved into a sports bar and grill, an attempt to catch the younger professional crowd and game-day fans (the downtown restaurant is just a mile from Bryant-Denny Stadium).

But running two restaurants is difficult, and the drive back and forth between the two is draining. Staffing and management issues at the Tuscaloosa location have also taken a toll. Though Bob is from Tuscaloosa (Patty is from Saraland), it’s clear the Hallmarks consider the original Tin Top location as their home.

“People who have multiple restaurants, I tip my hat to them,” Bob says. But they’ll never be in the chain restaurant business.

“We’re too involved with it,” Bob says. “You’ve got your signature on everything that goes out. We sell the freshest food we can get our hands on. We pride ourselves on selling local Gulf shrimp and seafood.”

Good steaks, fresh seafood at Tin Top Restaurant and Oyster Bar
6232 Bon Secour Highway, Bon Secour
11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday
(restaurant closes on Sunday during the cooler months, so call first)
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday

A State divided 


For state’s football fans, Iron Bowls inspire memories

By Emmett Burnett

Alabama  residency usually includes at least one Iron Bowl memory. For in this state, calling the Alabama–Auburn rivalry a football game is like calling Godzilla a lizard. Both are much more.

Here are a few of the thousands of men and women who bleed crimson when cut or whisper “War Eagle” while sleeping. These are their stories. This is their Iron Bowl.

From 1968-70, Prichard native and Mobile area resident Scott Hunter was quarterback for the Crimson Tide. His coach was Paul “Bear” Bryant, who, shall we say, was opinionated.

“Iron Bowl 1968 is a favorite,” Hunter recalls. “I called timeout, for a sideline conference with Coach Bryant and assistants.” Hunter wanted to run a play action pass but assistant coaches, knowing it had not worked in practice, objected.

The quarterback told Bryant, “Coach, this will work. Let’s run it.” Bryant pushed the assistants aside and replied to Hunter, “OK. If you think it will work, run it.” And as Hunter ran onto Legion Field turf, Bryant shouted, “And by God it better work!”

It did. The Tide won, 24-16.

In a 1981 press conference, newly hired Auburn football coach Pat Dye was asked, “How long will it take to beat Alabama?” He answered, “Sixty minutes.”

“But there’s more to it,” smiles the Auburn icon, who today lives in Notasulga, which is between Auburn and Tallassee. “This guy, unrecognized, shouted his ‘how long’ question from the back of the room. I paused, deliberating my response. Knowing that beating Alabama requires your best the entire game, I answered, ‘60 minutes,’ as a compliment to Alabama. That reporter gave an unfair question and I gave a smart answer.”

One of Dye’s favorite Iron Bowls was 1982, remembered now as “Bo Over the Top.” With two minutes left on the clock, Auburn marched the field and scored with running back Bo Jackson leaping over the defensive line – touchdown and 23-22 victory. “It ended Alabama’s nine-game winning streak,” Dye recalls. “And it was a historical moment for me and Auburn. Since that game, both teams are pretty well matched in wins and losses.”


In 1972, Mobile teenager Bradley Byrne was taking college placement exams. “We took a break,” recalls Byrne, now a University of Alabama graduate and U.S. Congressman representing House District 1. “Someone turned on a TV to the Iron Bowl. I felt good because we were winning 16-0.” After completing tests, Byrne checked the score again. “We lost 17–16? It took me a long time to receive an acceptable explanation of just how that happened.”

But the congressman has witnessed many Bama victories since then, watching with wife Rebecca. Unfortunately, like the Congress he serves, the House of Byrne is a house divided. Rebecca Byrne attended Auburn.


Former state representative Barry Mask was the first Aubie, mascot of the Auburn Tigers. In the 1979 Iron Bowl, the Wetumpka area resident-as-Aubie was photographed mimicking Alabama’s Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. The tiger and the Bear both leaned against a goal post, each outfitted in houndstooth hats and blazers, before cheering thousands. “But Coach Bryant didn’t see me,” says Mask. Then he turned around, did a double-take, and approached the Auburn tiger.

“Face to face I looked into those steel blue eyes not knowing what to expect,” recalls the mascot.  Finally, breaking his intense stare, the famous coach pointed at Aubie’s head, chuckled and said, “Nice hat.”


Among the most famous Iron Bowl games are the “Punt Bama Punt,” the 1972 contest; “Bo Over the Top” in 1982; and Iron Bowl 2013, the most famous second in football history.

Auburn sportscaster Rod Bramblett helped made that second famous. The New York Times calls his play-by-play broadcast “The Call of a Lifetime.” With one second left, and a 109-yard missed kick runback, Auburn won 34-28.
“Holy cow!!! Oh my God!!!…Auburn wins!!! Auburn has won the Iron Bowl!!!” Bramblett’s words blared over almost every radio in the state. Like many, he had trouble believing it.

“I heard the replays the next day just like everyone else,” he recalls. “It took a while to sink in. I kept thinking, ‘Did that really happen?’”

“I am glad the broadcast contributed to putting Auburn in a positive light,” he says. And as for the famous last seconds, Bramblett laughs, “I probably need some new material. But that call has been very good to me.”


Tuscaloosa’s Lillie Leatherwood seldom saw Iron Bowl games during her 1983–87 Capstone years. She was busy training and running track, which won her an Olympic Gold Medal. “But during practices, I was glued to the TV for the Iron Bowl,” she says. “And I will always love the Van Tiffin kick” in 1985, when Alabama kicker Van Tiffin made a 52-yard field goal with zero time remaining. Alabama won 25–23.

As a Tuscaloosa Police officer, she has worked crowd control on Iron Bowl Saturdays. “People expect automobile traffic to be heavy,” she says. “But the foot traffic around the stadium is amazing. It is a sea of people.”

Rick Smith witnessed an Iron Bowl miracle. In the 1970s he recalls sitting in Legion Field during a storm. “I noticed Coach Bryant peering at the sky,” the Foley resident said.  “Lo and behold, almost immediately the rain stopped!” After the game, Smith noticed Coach Bryant again, gazing at clouds. “The rains returned as we drove home,” says Smith, who thought, “Coach Bryant really can part the waters!”

Weather was a defining memory for Regina Coleman, a former Auburn student and avid Auburn fan. “I remember an Iron Bowl played at Legion Field back during the late ‘70s, or possibly the ‘80s, when my husband and I sat in the upper deck, while waiting for a tornado watch to lift. Memories of this Iron Bowl were mainly (of a) torrential downpour and prayers of, ‘please keep us safe.’ Auburn did win in a squeaker, but mostly I was just thankful to make it out of the stadium alive and in one piece.”

And yes, we can get along. Gadsden resident and Auburn fan Mike Fisher shared a Sugar Bowl skybox game with an Alabama fan-friend, courtesy of business associate tickets. Returning the favor, Fisher’s Crimson Tide buddy invited him to a 50-yard line 1993 Iron Bowl visit, courtesy of the friend’s employer. “It isn’t often Auburn and Alabama fans share their fondest football memories together,” Fisher says. Sharing them from a cushy skybox doesn’t hurt either.


Crimson Tide sports announcer Eli Gold is hard pressed to pick a favorite game. “Anytime Alabama wins is my choice,” he says. “The most memorable ones for me are any leading to national championships.”

But Gold perhaps sums the Iron Bowl best. “I have had the pleasure and luxury to broadcast many college and NFL games,” he says. “They are good, many are excellent, but different from the atmosphere and excitement of the Iron Bowl.”

He continues, “The Iron Bowl is the best and biggest. The teams are always nationally ranked and the entire state revolves around the game, year in and year out. It is the best college rivalry there is. Period.”
We agree. Roll Tide and War Eagle. Period.

A rivalry


’s history

The first Iron Bowl was played in Birmingham’s Lakeview Park on Feb. 22, 1893, when Auburn won, 32-22. The inaugural game drew less than 5,000 people.
Contrast that to Iron Bowl 2014. With 100,000-plus in attendance, Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Den
ny Stadium held more people than the combined population of Dothan and Selma.

The title “Iron Bowl” is credited to Auburn’s legendary football coach, Ralph “Shug” Jordan, as a reference to Birmingham, the “Iron City” game’s host. Ironically, later, Auburn vigorously lobbied to move the game from Birmingham to the school’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. This is the same stadium partially named for Jordan, who named the game for Birmingham, the city Auburn moved the game out of. Confused yet?

Alabama and Auburn fans have encountered many disagreements over the years. But today’s game is almost genteel compared to the early ones. The early 1900s rivalry was plagued with accusations of bias, misappropriations of funding, contract disputes and coaching arguments.

Each team’s supporters accused the other of ill-gotten deeds of dubious means. Enough was enough. In 1907, the gridiron contest was suspended until Alabama and Auburn could compromise, restore peace, and quit bickering.  It took them 41 years.

The game resumed in 1948.

Incidentally, Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant suggested the contest by referred to as “the Brag Bowl,” because winning team fans, for the next 364 days, miss no opportunity informing losing team fans of the final score.


Denice and Nehemiah Mitchell of Smiths Station aren’t big sports fanatics, but after their oldest child, Moriah, won tickets and sideline passes for the 2014 Iron Bowl, the family showed their Crimson Tide allegiance and helped celebrate their little girl’s big accomplishment.

Moriah, a pupil at West Smiths Station Elementary School, won the “Be A Champion and Read” contest, designed to promote reading in Alabama’s public schools. The grand prize: tickets to the big game! Moriah is a big Tide fan, and was happy to put on her crimson and white for the Iron
Bowl in Tuscaloosa.

There, Moriah walked among the tailgaters, took pictu


res with the schools’ cheerleaders and got a hug from Big Al (she even agreed to a picture with Aubie).

“We will never forget the 2014 Iron Bowl, the year Alabama defeated Auburn, which was the cherry on top for our little Bama girl,” her mother, Denice, says.

Wartime memories

The USS Alabama (BB-60), moored on the shores of Mobile Bay, one of the state’s most popular tourists destinations. Photo by Emmett Burnett
The USS Alabama (BB-60), moored on the shores of Mobile Bay, one of the state’s most popular tourists destinations. Photo by Emmett Burnett

WWII vets return to USS Alabama

By Emmett Burnett

|View Image Gallery HERE|

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park employees have noticed an interesting phenomenon. When some former crew members board the ship, they stand straight, strong, and stride the gangway with a spring in their step. Ninety-year-old veterans become 20-year-old sailors again, men like Fred Francis.

“People don’t realize how big it is,” beams the 1943-1945 Seaman First Class, speaking aboard the ship he once shot Japanese aircraft from. “When I first saw the Alabama, I thought it was massive. The biggest thing I’d ever seen.”


During World War II, Francis worked an airplane catapult in his service on the ship now moored on the shores of Mobile Bay. His team catapulted American airplanes off the ship and into the sky. “You had to do it just right or the pilot would break his neck,” he says.

Francis and a dozen-plus former World War II shipmates were in Mobile earlier this year, for their annual reunion and observing the 50th anniversary of the USS Alabama’s opening in Mobile. Today it is one of the state’s leading tourist destinations. But when William Hahn called it home, tourism was far from mind.

Hahn, now 91 and living in Maryland, was a machine gunner. “If enemy planes got past the smaller guns, it was our turn,” he recalls. “I shot a few planes, can’t tell you how many, but I did. It was our job. We did what we had to do.”

Florida’s Frank Radulski was the ship’s radar operator in 1946. “Back then radar and electronics filled entire rooms on ship!” the Florida retiree recalls. “Today that same technology is on that thing.” He laughs, and points at an iPhone.

Daniel Glass was one of the youngsters at the crewmate’s reunion. He is only 87. But he recalls his first time onboard, at age 17. “In 1945 wartime, the walk wasn’t this leisurely,” he smiles. “We were in a hurry, to learn our jobs, load the ship, and set a course to sea.”

The ship was nicknamed, ‘The Lucky A.’ But if the men who served on it hear you say that, you may get your feelings hurt. “They prefer ‘The Mighty A,’ says the Alabama’s curator, Shea McLean. “Lucky” implies it dodged combat, which is completely false.

More than a dozen men who once served aboard the USS Alabama attended their annual reunion at the ship in Mobile, in April, 2015. Photo by Emmett Burnett
More than a dozen men who once served aboard the USS Alabama attended their annual reunion at the ship in Mobile, in April, 2015. Photo by Emmett Burnett

This ship received 9 battle stars. It shot down 22 Japanese enemy combatants. You don’t do that by luck. You do it by being well trained and so good at your job, the enemy was blown from the sky before given any strike opportunity. However, there were fatalities and injuries onboard, associated indirectly with the heat of battle.

The 12-story tall floating fortress is 680 feet from stem to stern, half as long as the Empire State Building is tall. At any given time of service, more than 2,500 were on board. It was a battleship first. But it was also a seaworthy city.

Crew members receiving haircuts at the barbershop.
Crew members receiving haircuts at the barbershop.

It had barber shops, a jail, butchers, cooks, dry cleaners, a full orchestra, post office, and an outdoor open-air movie theater. A fully equipped medical facility included an operating room, capable of performing major surgeries. The Alabama fielded a league championship baseball team. Having crewmate and All-American Cleveland Indians’ Bob Feller as pitcher probably didn’t hurt.

By 1940s standards, the ship’s population was larger than many towns in the state that bore its name. It was a man’s world (no women allowed). Many men started as teenagers and grew up fast.

One could join the Navy at age 17 with parents’ permission. Or you could falsify documents like the Alabama’s 15-year old sailors did.

Gambling was forbidden on ship – in theory. “There’s a story of men playing cards,” says McLean. “They stationed a lookout to warn of approaching officers.”

But the game was so good, the lookout forsook his post to watch the gamblers, until an ominous human shadow cast over the forbidden proceedings. It was the ship’s chaplain.

Frozen in terror, guilty crewmen looked up at the military minister, and braced for time in the brig. After a stern pause, the chaplain, reached down, scooped up the money, stuffed it in his shirt pocket, and said, “Boys, let’s just consider this a donation to the church.” And walked away.

But regardless of calling, social status, race, or creed, when the “Battle Stations!” alarm blared over loudspeakers, you became a sailor. Every man had a job. You either shot the enemy or assisted those who did. They also battled the weather.

“The Alabama experienced at least two huge typhoons,” notes McLean. “The ship was top heavy and bobbed in rough seas like a cork.” There are reports of hurricanes, when the ship listed/swayed in great waves so powerful that men left footprints – on the walls.

Of the several thousand total who served aboard the USS Alabama, miraculously, most returned safely. About 600 are still with us. Soon they, too, will be a memory.

“These men walked away from a safe lifestyle and put themselves in harm’s way,” says Battleship Memorial Park Executive Director, Bill Tunnell. “I never forget that. The freedoms we cherish were made possible in part by the men who served on this ship.”

On the trail


Tracking beagle helps catch game law violators, lost hunters

By Ben Norman, Photos by Mark Stephenson

When this tracking dog gets on the trail of a poacher or lost person, the odds are they will be found in short order.

Crenshaw County Conservation Enforcement Officer Brad Gavins has a new partner to assist him in the enforcement of Alabama’s fish and game laws. Holeyfield is a 10-year-old tracking beagle trained to trail a human scent rather than a rabbit scent like most beagles.

Trained by the Alabama Department of Corrections to trail escaped prisoners and other criminals, he now assists Gavins in apprehending game law violators, searching for lost hunters, children, and dementia patients or for any emergency involving a lost or missing person. Gavins and Holeyfield have also assisted other law enforcement agencies in the tracking and apprehension of home invasion suspects and other criminals.


Gavins says Holeyfield was trained by the Alabama Department of Corrections and used for several years with that agency. “The Department of Corrections prefers a dog that barks on the trail of a fleeing criminal. The reason they prefer a barking dog is because in the pursuit there are often multiple law enforcement agencies involved, and they can tell by the barking where the subject is headed. A barking dog on the trail of a fleeing felon also causes stress on the one being pursued, causing them to be more likely to make a mistake that results in their apprehension,” says Gavins.

But Holeyfield does not bark on the trail and is referred to as a silent trailer.

“A silent trailer may be an excellent trailer, but they just don’t bark when trailing. While this is an undesirable trait for a dog trailing escaped prisoners, it is exactly what we want when investigating fish and game law violations. For example, I may note where a hunter parked their vehicle so I can return to the site after they leave and use Holeyfield to backtrack to the area hunted to determine if the area is baited, or other illegal activity is going on. I can often follow Holeyfield right up to the bait pile rather than having to search all over the woods looking for it. When doing this type investigation, we don’t need a dog that barks,” said Gavins.

Trespassing on private land is a common complaint received by conservation officers in Alabama. The officer often arrives after the trespasser has left the area, and about all an officer without a tracking dog can do is search the area or ride rural roads looking for the trespasser. “Rather than just trying to visually track a suspect or searching the woods hoping for a visual contact, I can often put Holeyfield on the trail and track and apprehend the trespasser. They usually don’t even know we are on their trail until we walk up on them. I have been called many times to assist wardens in other counties where they are having trespassing problems.”

Gavins says Holeyfield has a lot of stamina and is relentless when he gets on a trail. “I was called by a warden in an adjacent county to help him apprehend a trespassing suspect he had complaints on. We found the suspect’s tracks and started trailing him with Holeyfield. We trailed him … for several hours. The suspect hit a dirt road where his wife was supposed to pick him up. She wasn’t there because she was arrested earlier for trespassing. The suspect hid his gun in a brush pile and started walking down a dirt road. Holeyfield led us right up to where the gun was hidden. We confiscated it and then tracked the suspect down the road to his house. Holeyfield just doesn’t give up. After several hours and a long walk through the woods, he led us right up to the suspect’s door. We made an arrest and got a conviction in this case,” Gavins says.

According to Gavins, tracking dogs like Holeyfield are proving how useful they are in Alabama and other states. Because Holeyfield has proven such a valuable tool, another Alabama warden is scheduled to obtain a tracking dog soon. “Due to budget constraints and less wardens in the field, I think we will see more and more wardens with tracking dogs. They can save a lot of man hours while doing an investigation,” Gavins says.

The majority of Alabama sportsmen are law-abiding citizens, but for those tempted to throw out a little bait or take a buck or gobbler out of season, beware. Holeyfield may be on your trail.

Ben Norman writes from Highland Home.

These dogs are on call 24 / 7

Photo by Allison Griffin
Photo by Allison Griffin


The tracking dogs at Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore know that when Lt. Adam McDaniel pulls the truck up to their kennel, the work is about to begin. And they love it.

They bark, howl and paw at the chain-link fences to get McDaniel’s attention, eager to show off for the boss (and perhaps earn a tasty reward).

And they don’t know what their day holds. McDaniel may be loading them up for a training run, a medical checkup, or for a real-world call to assist another law enforcement agency.

McDaniel is one of four on the team of K9 handlers at Staton. That team, like seven others that are headquartered at prisons around the state, assists law enforcement on the city, county, state and federal levels.

Each team, which is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, trains and handles passive tracking dogs, mostly beagles and bloodhounds. The dogs are bred at the prisons, and from the time they’re weaned, the puppies are trained to follow leads and track people, eventually learning to traverse all manner of woods, water and roadways. Inmates are used to lay down a track to train the dogs. Older, well-trained dogs can track a man for 6 to 8 hours, or even longer.

Bystanders who spot a tracking team often assume that the dogs are searching for an escaped inmate, but McDaniel says that’s not usually the case. The dogs also track missing children, or dementia patients who have left home. The teams also patrol the perimeter of the prisons, searching for “ninjas” who try to drop off drugs and throw phones over the prison fences for inmates.

The dogs are well conditioned, so the officers have to be able to keep up. The handlers, however, often wear a bulletproof vest, snake chaps and other equipment that weighs them down, and must traverse downed limbs and thickets of briars as well as drop offs and fences. But both man and dog are up to the task.

“Just like these inmates try to beat us, they’re going to try to beat the dogs,” McDaniel says. “I can’t let that happen. I can’t let my dog down like that, and I can’t let my team down like that.”

– Allison Griffin