I realized after moving back to small town America how often the directions we give are quite confusing to others who aren’t familiar with the area. We start out with phrases like “You know down there where the Jack’s used to be?” or “turn right down yonder passed so and so’s Grandma’s house” It makes perfect sense to those familiar with the area and of course the giver of the directions knows perfectly well where they mean. However, to the unfamiliar traveler or someone who isn’t sure who so and so’s Grandma is, it can be quite confusing.
So it is with most things in life. When you are familiar with your circumstances and know your way it is much easier to take directions. It is not so easy to understand directions on farming when you are an ex preschooler Special Ed teacher turned farmer/business person. I found myself in yet another unfamiliar situation as I observed a broken part on the tractor.
I have never known such a fragile piece of equipment as a tractor. In my observation something is always broke, or fixin’ to break at any moment. This is a complete mystery to me. I suspect a plot hatched up between tractor salesmen and tractor PART salesmen but that is another story… As we stared at the broken piece on the tractor it is described to me as a link adjustment. “Ok. Well, how do we fix that?” the process is described and the “run to town” made and the part purchased. Now for those of you who don’t live out in the country let me explain how this works. A tractor never breaks at a convenient time or in a convenient place. While you “run to town”, a trip that takes at least an hour because we are 25 minutes from ANYWHERE, the tractor remains smack dab in the middle of the driveway. Now a broken tractor is something like a beacon to other farmers in the area. It seems to call out, “come look at me being broken! Give advice on how to fix me and parts to buy!” So before getting back with the part at least 5 people had come by to make sure the problem was diagnosed properly. Each on looker gives an opinion and advice until you are utterly confused. Now as we began trying to get the old part off it becomes apparent that there is about 60 years of dirt and grime that are most likely holding the tractor together and most of that will end up on your shirt.
I will readily admit, I was mostly an observer in this process. My dad describes how to properly replace the part, my brother grunts and struggles and hands me bolts to hold. I was pretty good at that part………Eventually we get the part replaced and up and running once again. I add the instructions on how to replace a link adjustment on a tractor to my skill set and we continue on.
I am getting more comfortable with farm life as we go and the directions and instructions get less and less confusing. I suppose it’s like anything else in life. If you are in the middle of a driveway with a broke tractor in your life, fake it ‘til you make it!! Hang in there because eventually it will all make sense! Even if you have to figure out where the old Jack’s used to be before you start.
Except I don’t know how…….
I have found over the past year I have used this phrase a lot. “I don’t know how to do that.” You see, when I bought a business with my brother I was excited about the BUSINESS part. I didn’t realize all the OTHER bits that came along with the business. I quickly realized that small business owners are mostly super heroes with concealed capes. They fix their own broken equipment, they repair leaks, toilets, doors, windows, tractors (YES, tractors) and anything else that could possibly break and break things have. At least something once a week…. (Insert sigh.) This week was no exception. As I walked back through the kitchen I slipped and slid ice skater style, “OH CRAP!” now dear ones, you may be saying to yourself “she said something besides crap.” You might be right but I’ll never tell! There was water spraying into the air, across the three compartment sink as if we were trying to do an impression of the fountains at the Bellagio!! I rushed to turn it off, no luck. I twisted and turned hoping the spraying would stop. NOPE. As I stood in front of our latest challenge the thought occurred to me how many “I don’t know how to…” have turned into “I know how to….” I have been faced with every challenge you can think of. Each situation was unique. I have gained skills I never thought I would have or even that I wanted but now that I DO have them, they are valuable. When I think of it that way is frustrates me less and makes me a little proud. It’s the kind of knowledge nobody can teach you. Life has to teach it to you. Experience has to teach it to you. So, now when I face a new challenge I find myself thinking, “I have to figure out how to.” That’s a good thing. It’s sometimes a scary thing, but I have found that the growth and learning doesn’t really occur in the comfortable places. It occurs in the uncertainty. In the scary places. When I was looking at our new “learning experience” spraying water all over the kitchen, I started brainstorming ideas. I am not afraid to ask for help. Yet another thing I have gotten better at this year. My dad is a good problem solver. An engineer for over 30 years, he tried to help me repair it first. No luck…so he instructs me to start looking for something that can deflect the water down. That would be great since we are about to be swimming! We fiddle with this and that and get the spray slowed down from Bellagio level to annoying level. Next step, deflect downward instead of upward and floorward! We settle on a funnel over the hose and slid down to cover the leaking bits. HA! Success. My dad chuckles that he has an engineering degree and just had to fix a sink with a funnel. I chuckle because we solved the problem and saved the budget for at least one month because faucets for industrial sinks are PRICEY! We both smile and move on to the next task. So stay strong fellow humans! We are all struggling to find solutions for the day to day. The point is, whatever you face in your day start finding a way to say “I have to figure out how to…” I bet you can figure out a solution. Even if it’s just a temporary one that gets you to the next month!
We had a chance once again last week to debut a new product on Talk of Alabama morning show! Sassy pineapple jam. It is delicious. Everyone who tries it has given rave reviews. It was the wonderful creation of our beloved jelly queen, Janet. As I found myself prepping Friday morning for our t.v. spot I was missing my jelly queen. The message she sent me the night before read as follows, “love you more…you go sell that sassy pineapple!” You see, there are some days that are great and some days you wish you could forget. A week ago, the Alabama Sunshine family had one of those days we wish we could forget.
In the past year of owning this business I have had several of both. I find life whizzing by me at the speed of light and for a while I would say things to people like, “ok, when I can.” Or “when work slows down I will try to” Then I realized the place we live is in the midst. In the midst of the chaos and the busy is the extraordinary. The everyday special will pass you by if you don’t take time to enjoy it now. When I look back at this year I see times I have recognized that and times I have been completely blinded by chaos and let precious moments pass me by. We have celebrated triumphs and suffered defeat but at least we’ve done it and we are still hanging on. We have laughed and we have cried and somehow in the midst we manage to live life.
So I leave you with this. Do the things you think you don’t have time for. Go, be bold, tell others you care, love BIG. Because you see, our time here is short. If you lose yourself in the midst you will miss the best parts. This week we remember one gone far too soon and we let it be a reminder to us all. Life is precious and never to be taken for granted. R.I.P. Mike, you made our jelly queen smile and for that we are eternally grateful! We know you are looking down on us and probably already passed along the recipe for sassy pineapple in heaven’s kitchen!
I own a thoroughbred. Well, now 2, but that’s a detail for later. You see, When a thoroughbred is young they take lots of preparation to make things go right. Or right…ish or at least right adjacent. As we planted almost 5,000 pepper plants this week I started to think about the similarities between pepper farming and horse training.
The whole thing is a gamble. You look at the upcoming year with anticipation of what might be. You see the work ahead, the potential problems and you make the best decision you can based on the knowledge you have at the moment. With horses this can be a lot of fun. Well, fun is a loose term, but it can definitely be an adventure. My first thoroughbred was 3 when I bought him. He was big, unpredictable and occasionally just down right stupid. When he gets it right though, he is majestic. A real looker…He knows how to shine and, when he does, he is a winner. Many hours of training and preparation go into hoping that at the right moment he will produce. We have great moments of triumph and moments where I lay on the ground asking God, why was it again I bought a wild beast that disguised itself as a big red horse?
Now this is my first year as a farmer but I have experienced many of the same emotions pepper farming as I have watching that big red horse. The fields are prepped and ready. The plants are babies. We carefully place them in the soil and we wait. It’s difficult work. It’s hot, it’s dirty, seems never ending when you are staring at 5,000 plants.
Somehow though in the midst of all the dirt and work and sore muscles there is hope. You look at the field as you plant row by row and you hope. I hope you grow big and beautiful and produce. Grow peppers grow! I remember my statement to a lifelong farmer last year as I looked out on my first crop. “What if they all die?!!?” I am pretty sure I have fear of failure issues but that’s another BLOG. “Oh, they won’t all die”, he replied. “You did what you were supposed to now you got to let them do what they are supposed to.” Profound…… So, it is with many things in life. You do what you are supposed to and you wait.
Last summer we had the best pepper crop according to experienced farmers that anyone had seen in years! Now the time has rolled around to plant and start anew. As I ordered plants I thought about how scary the whole process was last year and smiled a little as I waited on delivery of our little fields of hope this year.
Now you may be wondering where that 2nd thoroughbred I mentioned comes into play. Well, a few months back we started to horse shop with my youngest daughter. She has sadly outgrown her beloved pony. Best pony that has ever or will ever live! As we started looking I vividly remember the conversation with her trainer. “We don’t mind something young, a project. She’s up for the challenge but hey, one thing, NO THOROUGHBREDS.” Even though I love our big red boy, who is now 10, I have been down that road. I know better. I have matured.
So when I got the picture one night of a cute bay baby OTTB (that’s an off the track thoroughbred for those that want to know my exact level of insanity) I would be lying if I didn’t admit to screaming, “WHY?!?!” out loud before saying, “Ok, yep. Let’s look at him.” He is fabulous. A baby, fresh and full of potential. Hope on four legs. As I agreed to purchase him I laughed at myself. I am crazy, it’s a gamble. Just like those pepper plants we are going to do what we are supposed to do and let him do what he’s supposed to do.
As we approach a brand new freshly set out field of hope this year I am a little less scared and a little more excited. So, do whatever it is that scares you. Take a gamble, set out that field in your own life you never know what it’s going to grow into. Heck, buy a horse! If it’s a thoroughbred though, call me first, I got LOTS of stories about that!
Since I became a small business owner, there have been many moments that have surprised me. Probably none more than a late afternoon call asking about gourmet syrup that we carry in the shop from time to time.
I was getting ready to leave when a phone call came in. I decided to answer and what an adventure it lead me on! “Hello mam, I want some good ‘ole sorghum syrup”. Now growing up in small town Alabama, I did know what sorghum was and we happened to have some. “Yes, sir. We have some right here and we will be open in the morning.” Since it was already past closing time I thought surely in the morning was a good offer. “Well mam, you see, I am blind and will have to find a ride into town so it may take me a few days. Do you like good ‘ole sorghum? It’s the only REAL old time syrup. You see, syrup used to come in a can. Do you remember syrup in a can?” No sir, I can’t say that I do. Sorghum isn’t my favorite but I have tasted it before.
Now if you HAVEN’T tasted sorghum before, it is difficult to describe. Somewhere between sucking on wood chips while smelling a rag soaked in turpentine comes to mind, but I digress. If a person loves Sorghum, they love it and that’s that. So I proceeded to tell my elderly caller I would sit some back for him until he could get a ride. “Well, if I can get there I will let you know but I sure do love me some sorghum.” Now here’s the part where it gets interesting. In a moment of heart-string weakness, I blurt out, “I could bring it to you sir…if you really like it that much I could deliver if you are close to town.” Now why I did that I may never know. I could hear excitement in his voice. “OH MY GOODNESS!! I would love that I could have good ‘ole sorghum for dinner tonight. You know syrup used to come in a can.” Yes sir, I remember you said that. He proceeded to give me directions. Now carefully remember the part from earlier where I said he was BLIND.
So I stand there with Sorghum, pen in one hand about to take directions forma blind man. “Well, you go like you might be a going out of town.” Good start. “Then when you pass that old plant but it ain’t a plant no more you turn left on the paved road. Then go a piece and take the second dirt road. When you do that keep going until you see a road that don’t look like nothing on the left and that’ll be my driveway.” So armed with those as my directions I head out. What could possibly go wrong? Believe it or not in about 15 minutes there I sat at a road that didn’t really look like nothing that I assumed was the driveway. I slowly proceeded down the drive.
It was an older small farm with collections of this and that on either side. I noticed a sign up ahead. Oh good, maybe a helpful name. I could possibly confirm I am in the right place. As I got closer the sign read, TRESSPASSERS WILL BE SHOT ON SIGHT. Hmmmm…I I thought about this for a second. I wasn’t REALLY a trespasser. I was invited and I did have the good ‘ole sorghum with me soooooo it’s probably ok. I decide in the spirit of adventure to press on. I come to a small house that looks like over the years it’s been added on to accommodate this and that. It looks like thoughtfully arranged legos which are painted whatever might have pleased it’s designer at the time. Or maybe the paint was on sale.
I recall the part where my elderly friend is indeed blind and it makes more sense. I get out of the car and have a flash of “I wish I had told someone where I was going….” Too late. I knock on the door and hear what sounds to be a small terrier dog who is under the impression that it is a Doberman pincer! No answer. I call the number I have on my scratched out directions. “Hello? HUSH PATRICIA! HUSH PATRICIA! ” I can hear him shushing the pint sized beast both through the phone and through the walls. Hi, this is Julie from Alabama Sunshine. I think I am out front with your syrup. “OH, GOOD.. I’ll be right there” I hear footsteps and breathe a sigh of relief. Adventure over, I thought. Then he opened the door. Out dashed pint sized Patricia yapping and barking and growling at my feet.
A little slight man that might weigh 100 pounds soaking wet. He was stooped over and is indeed feeling his way around the door handle before he steps onto the porch. Then I see it. There, on his hip, in a holster is a Clint Eastwood sized revolver! Now here I am with syrup. A terrier biting at my ankles face to face with a blind man armed with a revolver! My mind flashes to the trespasser warning for a split second. “Here is your syrup.” I carefully make sure he has the jar before releasing it. “OH good ‘ole sorghum, delivered right to your door! Who could believe that! You know syrup used to come in a can.” Yes sir, you mentioned that. I told him his total and he produced the biggest folded stack of $100 dollar bills that I have ever seen and asks me to help him dig for the appropriate amount. He stumbles a little sideways and I whisper a prayer that he doesn’t fall setting off the Western movie sized revolver.
We get the money sorted out and I tell him I hope he enjoys the sorghum. “Oh, I can’t thank you enough. I am so looking forward to dinner tonight! Good ‘ole sorghum and biscuits. PATRICIA! PATRICIA!! Where’s my little dog?” She’s just there to the left sir, let me get her. I gently pick up Patricia and place her inside. I tell him to have a good day and I smile and shake my head all the way back to the car.
He hasn’t called again but I sure do hope he had good ‘ole sorghum and biscuits for supper, even if it wasn’t in a can.
Sometimes life has the most unexpected moments. A moment when you just stop and say, “hang on….let me take this in a second.” This moment happened to me last week as I prepared to be on live television for the first time. The hustle and bustle was surprising, we received all kinds of instructions about what would happen. “Ok, I am ready. Got this. Whew, is it hot in here? I am sweating!”
My cousin and queen of all things jelly was with me to help me prepare so we worked busily beginning the dishes we had rehearsed so many times. Everything was rocking along until I looked for a pan. See, we were only allowed to use the pans in the studio that were specifically for their cooktop. I rummaged for a non-stick pan. There had to be one. Right?? I pulled out everything and took inventory, stock pot, sauce pan, sauté pan. NO NONSTICK PAN!. Panic washed over me. I practiced this recipe at least 20 times in the weeks past. Getting ready for this moment. I knew exactly what to do, that is, I knew exactly what to do with a non-stick pan. I glanced toward the jelly queen. “psst….no nonstick pan! I NEED it for the spicy chicken bites.” She shook her head in sympathy and looked me squarely in the face, “Roll with it! We are live in less than 10 minutes.”
Before I had a chance to absorb what she said t.v. personnel were sweetly buzzing around again. They were hooking us up with microphones and reminding us what camera to look toward and “Oh don’t trip because your microphone is attached to the floor.” Wait, who? ME? I’m sorry, did you say floor? Whoosh they were gone again. Having wisely given Janet the jelly queen the wireless mic because she needed to move around more to help me prep. There I stood, a tangle of wire at my feet. I glanced down and the theme from Deadliest catch lightly played in mind mind….”great! trip and overboard I go I thought!” I hear “We are live in 1 minute” Well, there I was. A sweaty, nervous wreck tied to the floor with no nonstick pan! As they say though, the show must go on and so it did.
Running through ideas in my head I told myself to just add a little extra oil to the pan with a pat of butter and it would work. It had to work. So, I whispered a prayer over chicken bites and pressed on. Though not as smoothly as I had practiced at home we produced spicy chicken bites right there live in living color! When it was all over everyone raved about the food and told us it was great. I was relieved it was over and untied from the floor.
At that moment, I looked around and realized “hey, we did it!” Just like in life sometimes you don’t have exactly what you need when you need it. You won’t always have a nonstick pan. You will have practiced and prepared and told yourself exactly how it would go and it won’t go that way. In those moments, you can find your courage. You may be lucky enough to have a jelly queen nearby to whisper “ROLL WITH IT” and if not, tell it to yourself.
Sometimes you gotta roll with it, say a prayer and wait for the results. When you do, you will be able to step back and say “Whew…we did it!”
Alabama Sunshine Chicken Bites
2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken tenders cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 C. Alabama Sunshine hot sauce
2 C. panko bread crumbs
1/4 C grated Romano cheese
kickin' dippin sauce:
1/2 C. Alabama Sunshine cayenne pepper wing sauce
1/2 C. ranch dressing
Mix buttermilk and Alabama Sunshine hot sauce in a deep sided container. Mix panko bread crumbs and grated Romano cheese in a separate container and set aside. Soak boneless, skinless chicken bites in buttermilk and Alabama Sunshine hot sauce mixture for 30 minutes to an hour in the refrigerator. Remove chicken bites one at a time from buttermilk and Alabama Sunshine hot sauce mixture one at a time and dredge in panko bread crumb and Romano cheese mixture. Place chicken bites into a sprayed pan with olive oil. Brown on both sides turning once until Chicken bites are cooked through. Place onto a serving tray. Mix Alabama Sunshine wing sauce with ranch dressing. Serve alongside chicken tenders for dipping.
If you grew up in the South, you know about deviled eggs. If you didn’t, well, mercy! Let me introduce you. Deviled eggs are a wonderfully Southern treat in which a perfectly boiled egg has the inside yolk scooped out and whipped into submission with other wonderful creamy ingredients then scooped back into its perfect yummy white which we can get into later.
You also learn there is a TIME and a PLACE for deviled eggs. You don’t just make deviled eggs on a random Wednesday. There is a reason you make them. Like so many other things I have learned this past year, there is a time for everything! My entrance into the farming world has been a swift. It has been lesson after lesson on how there is a TIME for everything. There was a time to prepare, a time to plant, a time to harvest, and well, you get it, there are a LOT of times that must be tended to if you want results.
As we quickly approach a new planting season I look back at the lessons I have learned about time. When you are presented an opportunity you often try to decide if it’s the right TIME to take action. When you face these decisions, I have learned it’s always best to ask someone who’s been there. When you ask, you learn, and learning is good. For the many lessons, I have learned this year I will be forever grateful. To all the farmers, business owners, faithful friends and good family who have listened and offered advice this year I thank you.
I face the new planting season with new knowledge and skills I never had before! As for those deviled eggs, I know the perfect times for those and I hope you do too! Debut these on your Easter menu…where EVERY perfect deviled egg starts!
Alabama Sunshine Deviled Eggs
12 large eggs
1/4 C mustard
1/2 of an 8oz jar of Alabama Sunshine pepper relish
2TBL Alabama Sunshine Cayenne Hot Sauce (*more if you like spicy, less if not!)
salt and pepper to taste
Bring eggs to a boil (hint...starting eggs in cold water and adding 2TBL of vinegar will prevent eggs from cracking). Boil 5 minutes, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Dunk into ice water to shock and stop cooking (This also allows for easy peeling of the shell). Peel shell from eggs.
Slice freshly peeled eggs in half lengthwise. Scoop yolks out into a separate bowl. Set cooked egg whites aside on a tray. Mix cooked yolks with mayo, mustard, Alabama Sunshine pepper relish and cayenne hot sauce, salt and pepper until yolk mixture is creamy. Spoon/or pipe from piping bag yolk mixture back into egg white halves. ENJOY! Garnish with more hot sauce to spice it up!
Growing up in the country, you are taught how to help in the garden. Every year as the vegetables begin to come in you realize the mornings of sleeping in must sadly come to a halt. Harvest is coming and it waits for no man…..or woman……or sleepy teenager. You are summoned out of bed given a basket and instructed to begin.
This was a normal routine for many years. It was one that was not my favorite. I would often dream of when I would be all grown up and leave my country life. I would make it to the big city. I would wear fancy shoes. I would attend important luncheon and life would be so fabulous! One particularly hot morning in the corn patch, I was vocal about my dislike for my current job detail. “I HATE the garden! When I grow up I will NEVER have a garden. I won’t work in one either! There are BEES and its hot and you can buy this stuff at the store!” I don’t remember the response I got from my declaration. Only that I was instructed to keep working.
I had long since forgotten that hot day until the Summer of 2016.
See, I did escape the garden. Off to college I went. Then followed marriage, children a house and life in the city. I made it! I was a city Mama. I ordered Starbucks. I chilled at the mall. I lunched and talked to grown up people and even got to wear a few pairs of those fancy shoes. Children got older, lives got busier and the heart started feeling a tug. A tug for home. Then the unimaginable happened. A chance to go home. To our roots, back to the country.
Country life welcomed us home with open arms and we embraced it too. We had the whole experience, horses, goats chickens. Then the ultimate challenge presented itself. A chance at farming. A new country dream was born. We would plant peppers! Lots and lots of peppers!
Purchasing Alabama Sunshine was a leap of faith. A whole new lifestyle. An entrance into the farming community. It was exciting and new. Suddenly, this past August, in the midst of extreme heat and awful drought my speech from the corn patch came flooding back to me. Standing in the pepper patch, suddenly I cried. It was 6am and I was hot and sweaty. I was picking peppers on my Grandparents land. The land they worked so hard for. They put their whole lives into making that land something and it WAS something. It had a new life. A pepper farm! Through my tears, I started to laugh. My speech so long ago rang in my ears. “I will NEVER….” Oh well, some of the best beginnings begin with laughter through tears.
Those fancy shoes weren’t that comfy anyway. Maybe we should get some BEES!