1 year ago

Wildflower Café is a beauty of a mountaintop restaurant

Over the years, Wildflower Café has become a dining destination in Mentone, which is, of course, its own awesome destination atop Lookout Mountain.

Café owner Laura Catherine Moon (just “Moon” to everyone she knows and meets) is as much of a draw as the regionally famous tomato pie or the carefully curated small general store with handmade art and crafts or the eclectically furnished, hippie-chic dining rooms or the colorful, peaceful wildflower garden surrounding the 1800s log cabin that houses the café and store.

Moon has owned Wildflower Café for more than a decade, but she never really intended to go into the restaurant business.

“It’s true,” she says. “I didn’t mean to.” She had owned several shops in and around Mentone throughout the years. One of them was a natural health food store called Mountain Life. “I sold organic produce and natural foods,” she says. “I sold herbs and my herbal blends. It was a store for wellness. It was sort of a convenience health food store up on the mountain.” Whenever the produce would start to wilt, she would think to herself: “Well, if I could just cook it, then people could know just how good this food is.”

About this time, the Wildflower Café became available for purchase after being open for about a year. Moon first wanted to team up with the café’s chef, thinking he could run the restaurant and she would run her store. When he left three months later, she stepped up.

“I never even worked in a restaurant before I owned this one,” she says. “So it was a huge challenge to learn the ins and outs and the ropes and how to do it. And it just turned out that I’m really good at it.”

Wildflower Café’s cuisine is as fresh as the mountain air from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Wildflower Café is a total experience, Moon says. “When you first walk up, you have the beautiful gardens and the old home. … And then, when you walk in the door, you have the local art surrounding you, and you’re welcomed by the staff. … Our staff is super friendly. … Everybody here is like family and loves working together. And all of the food is as locally sourced as I can get and as natural as you can possibly have, and it’s fresh. It’s a solid place where you can also get music and a great feeling.”

Wildflower Café sits in the heart of Mentone, which, with more than 1,700 feet of elevation, has long been a mountaintop retreat for people in Alabama and neighboring states. It’s home to an impressive number of summer camps, too, like Camp Skyline RanchCamp DeSotoRiverview Camp for GirlsAlpine Camp for BoysCamp Laney and more.

But not everyone who eats here has a mountain home or a young camper nearby.

People come up from Birmingham and Montgomery to visit the café; they drive down from Nashville and Chattanooga. They travel over from Douglasville and Atlanta. They come to Wildflower Café for the grilled or blackened wild-caught salmon and trout; the gourmet chicken salad with grapes and almonds; the big Canyon Burger made with freshly ground sirloin and filet; grilled chicken smothered with sautéed onions, bell peppers, honey mustard sauce and cheeses; prime rib with a crust of cracked peppercorns and spices (all meats are hormone-free); angel hair pasta with a flavorful strawberry-balsamic sauce (there’s a vegan version, too); and signature shrimp and grits made with polenta. They come for hummingbird cake and old-fashioned chess pie and homemade crepes filled with sweet cream cheese and topped with house-fresh strawberry puree. And a great many of them come for the savory, cheesy tomato pie, which is so popular that Moon offers a tomato pie wrap, a tomato pie salad, a tomato pie burger and a loaded tomato pie entrée (vegetarian and not).

A few words about this famous tomato pie: It is worth a drive of any distance. Ripe roma tomatoes are cooked down to sweetness and marinated in balsamic vinaigrette. Cheddar, mozzarella and a flaky crust make it delicious.

“I don’t have a culinary background other than the fact that I love food,” Moon says, “and I just had a natural knack, from the time I started cooking, that if I tasted something, I could recreate it.” She and her daughter travel a lot, and Wildflower’s menu of local, healthy, natural, organic and gluten-free items reflects their trips across the country and around the world. Moon talks about her Costa Rican chicken dish with pineapple-mango chutney, which was inspired by how people in that country eat beans and rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She brings the bright, fresh flavors of Mediterranean cuisine (which she loves) to her Alabama restaurant along with the pretty presentations she’s seen on plates in Paris.

Moon relies on area farmers for lots of her fresh ingredients like the humanely raised pork and poultry from Mildred’s Meadows Farm or fresh tomatoes, squash, corn, herbs and lettuces from The Farm at Windy HillMountain Sun Farm and Feel Good Farm. “Nena’s (Produce and General Store), in the valley down here, carries some of the local farmers’ stuff,” she says. “So I’ll go down and buy from her as well.”

She brings local musicians to Wildflower on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and sometimes Thursdays, and, occasionally, between talking to visitors and bussing tables, she’ll join the musicians on the stage. The country store is a gallery of local and regional arts and crafts: clothing, woodcrafts, jewelry, soaps, pottery, paintings, candles, music, books, foods like honey, jams and organic chocolates, and Moon’s natural lip balms and skin care (when she has time to harvest the ingredients).

Originally from Birmingham, Moon did a stint in Hollywood as a model, but her heart remained back home in the South, where she spent childhood summers exploring the woods. So, eventually, she came back to Alabama.

“I’ve been studying wildflowers since 1995,” she says. “I moved into the woods without power and running water in 1998. And then that’s when I really got very serious about studying the edible and medicinal plants and the wild crafting and harvesting medicines and things like that. It’s surprising to me the number of things that are out there that you can use for food and medicine. I’m still learning. Every year, I learn something new.”

Nonetheless, she’s an expert on what grows in our woods, and Moon occasionally leads walks and workshops on the native flora at nearby DeSoto State Park. She talks to garden clubs and writes about native plants. And she looks forward each spring to seeing plants emerge. “It’s just wonderful,” she says. “They’re like my friends now, because we’ve gotten so acquainted with each other. So every year, I look forward to seeing them again.”

In some ways, Moon’s entire life has been evolving to this place, at this time. The atmosphere of serenity she cultivates at Wildflower Café is evident everywhere — from the to-go boxes brightly decorated with Magic Marker art to the “words of affirmation” she writes in chalk on the porch railings: “Blessed by divine grace and love.” “Align with your greatest joy.”

“I love inspiring people to tap into their greatest happiness and joy and what brings them to their highest best,” she says.

She adds, “One of the things I’ve been most proud of is helping other people feel special and appreciated, whether they work for me or they come in as a customer.”

She’s also proud of the opportunities owning the restaurant has brought: “The peace of mind that it gave my parents – that I wasn’t going to be just a free-spirited hippie running around the woods in Mentone. That I have been able to create a real livelihood for myself through my passions and through the things I love.”

There are dozens of welcome signs at Wildflower Café, inside and out. And that’s another reason people come here: They feel at home.

“So what I tell my people is … ‘We’re here to … make people feel welcome. As soon as they walk through that door, you make them feel welcome in whichever and whatever way. From the moment they get here to the time they leave, I want them to feel welcome and nurtured.’”

Moon says she’d like for customers to tell other people that “they came here and had an amazing experience and that the staff was friendly, the food was great and they just felt good when they were here. That’s what I want them to say,” she says. “And that the Wildflower is a great complement to Mentone. That would be a huge compliment to me, because Mentone is one of my favorite places on the planet. No matter where I’ve ever traveled, Mentone is the best.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 hour ago

Alabama Power completes restoration following historic Hurricane Sally

Alabama Gulf Coast residents are a step closer to recovery following Hurricane Sally, which battered the Alabama and Florida coastline Wednesday.

Sally was the first hurricane to make landfall in Alabama since Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and brought severe flooding and high winds that knocked down poles and power lines in southern and central Alabama before the slow-moving storm exited the state Thursday. Power was disrupted for more than 680,000 Alabama Power customers.

As of Sunday, power had been restored to 99% of Alabama Power customers able to receive service.

Throughout the multiday restoration, teamwork was paramount as company crews worked diligently to address outages in affected communities, getting the lights back on before originally projected times.

294

By Friday, outages in central and southeast Alabama had been resolved and all efforts were focused on the Mobile area, as the coastal communities sustained the most damage.

Prior to Sally making landfall, Alabama Power positioned extra crews from across its service territory in the Mobile area so that they were ready to move quickly once the weather improved. From the moment it was safe, company crews were in the field, working day and night.

“Hurricane Sally will be remembered as the most damaging storm to affect Mobile since Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” said Patrick Murphy, Alabama Power Mobile Division vice president. “We appreciate our customers’ patience as we worked to restore power, and we’re committed to working alongside community leaders on full recovery efforts for the area.”

More than 4,000 lineworkers and support personnel from 14 states joined forces working to get the lights back on along the coast. Crews worked through rainy conditions over the weekend as Tropical Storm Beta loomed offshore.

By noon Sunday, crews had replaced more than 400 poles, more than 500 transformers and more than 1,500 spans of power lines that were damaged or destroyed during the severe weather.

“Our crews and industry partners worked safely and quickly through difficult conditions,” said Scott Moore, Alabama Power senior vice president of Power Delivery. “I am proud of their hard work and steadfast commitment to our customers, especially during times of need.”

Sally is just the latest severe storm in what has been a very active hurricane season. With more storms possible before the season ends later this fall, Alabama Power customers should remain vigilant and have their storm-readiness plans in place. Learn more about how to prepare at AlabamaPower.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 hours ago

VIDEO: Gov. Kay Ivey signals no end to mask order in sight, media trolling for Tuberville dirt, State Rep. Mike Ball appears to regret vote on Alabama Memorial Preservation Act and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through Alabama’s biggest political stories, including:

— Are we really looking at wearing masks in Alabama well into 2021?

— Did Sports Illustrated attempt to dig up dirt with Tommy Tuberville’s former players as part of an October surprise?

— Does State Representative Mike Ball’s shift on the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act signify a notable shift in the Alabama Republican Party?

81

Jackson and Handback are joined by Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) to discuss Confederate monuments, prison reform, the Jones/Tuberville race and 2020.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” aimed at those who refuse to accept that President Donald Trump’s peace deals in the Middle East are a good thing.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

9 hours ago

Doug Jones fundraises off of late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death

Less than 24 hours after it was announced that Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on Friday evening, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) was fundraising for his own reelection campaign off of her death.

In an email sent out at 5:46 p.m. CT on Saturday, Jones began by saying, “This is a time for us to reflect on the life and legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg – to honor the barriers she broke and those she helped break for others. She always fought for equality and civil rights, even and especially when she was outnumbered.”

Alabama’s junior senator then pivoted to politics in the second paragraph, selectively pointing fingers at Republicans.

485

“I’m saddened – though not surprised – by how quickly this has turned into a political power play by Trump and McConnell,” Jones claimed. “It not only dishonors the legacy of an American icon, it distorts the Constitutional process – a deliberate process that the Senate has always used to uphold the independence of our judicial branch.”

Jones did not mention that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was the first to bring politics into this discussion on Friday evening. Before Schumer even tweeted condolences for, or honored Ginsburg, the senate minority leader wrote, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

In contrast, President Donald Trump did not mention anything about filling the seat on Friday night, and McConnell’s comments came as a rebuttal to Schumer.

Additionally, it is not clear what “process” issues Jones could already have — as a nominee has not even been named yet, nor has a confirmation process been outlined.

Nevertheless, Jones in his email continued to use Ginsburg to fit his political purposes:

She stood for what was right and for the constitutional principles of equality and democracy that she held dear, even if it meant she was in the minority on the Court. She knew we are on the verge of a crisis for our democracy:

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she said this week.

The “Constitutional process” Jones touted earlier in the email, of course, does not allow justices to dictate to the president or the Senate regarding their successors. It is unclear how this would “uphold the independence of our judicial branch,” as Jones asserted he aims to do.

Jones’ email subsequently contained a clear falsehood.

“Mitch McConnell has other plans,” Jones continued. “He is systematically dismantling the rules of the Senate. He’s changing the rules to fit his own agenda.”

To be clear, the Senate rules are not being dismantled, changed or ignored if the Senate proceeds to consideration of a nominee made by Trump in the coming days. Presidents have nominated justices to the Supreme Court of the United States 29 times during an election year previously in history.

Jones’ email concluded as follows:

So much depends on this Senate seat. Our win in November will be a defeat of Mitch McConnell’s hypocrisy and cynicism.

As Justice Ginsburg said in 2015: “Waste no time on anger, regret or resentment, just get the job done.”

Immediately below Jones’ electronic signature on the email is a large, blue “Donate Now” button. This links to a donation page for Jones’ reelection campaign headlined in all caps, “PROTECT JUSTICE GINSBURG’S LEGACY.”

RELATED: Doug Jones has previously vowed to oppose Trump’s Supreme Court nominee — ‘I’ll do everything I can’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

9 hours ago

Redistricting and Alabama’s room where it happens

No one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens

This description of 1790s American politics in the well-known musical Hamilton echoes a still-relevant sentiment–that regular Americans really don’t know how all of this happens.

852

But is that feeling accurate? Looking at our inability to pass a federal budget, the process of choosing Supreme Court nominees, and even our own recently-increased gas tax, it’s hard to say it’s not. Often it feels like we don’t know how any of this really gets decided (and that attempts to find out would be futile).

Soon enough Alabama will be dealing with another potential “room-where-it-happens” scenario, one that will have lasting impacts for residents across the state.

The scenario? Redistricting–the process of redrawing state and congressional legislative district lines.

Unfortunately, in some states the definition might more accurately be “the power of legislators to decide who they want to represent and who they want to get off their backs.”

One state where that definition has proven true is Illinois. And you need not look further than the story of President Barack Obama for confirmation.

In 2001, when the Illinois state legislature was drawing new district lines (a requirement after every census), then-State Senator Barack Obama made a decision. Set on higher office, Mr. Obama had already run and lost a congressional race in a heavily poor, heavily African-American district. He needed a stronger base. In a shrewd political move, Mr. Obama calculated that he would benefit from a district with more affluent and higher educated residents who might better identify with an academic from the University of Chicago.

As a member of the state legislature, Mr. Obama was able to draw the new lines to his exact needs. His revamped district was still majority African-American in makeup, but it now included many of the wealthiest neighborhoods of Chicago. It was this richer, more-connected demographic that Mr. Obama leveraged to launch and fund his successful campaign for U.S. Senate in 2004 and, from there, his bid for the presidency.

Now that’s Illinois. Is Alabama just as bad?

The short answer to that question is that – if residents don’t pay attention – it could be.

In 2020, the Census may strip a congressional seat from Alabama (seats are allocated based on a state’s total population as determined in the Census). That’s because, in addition to growing at a slower rate than other states, Alabama finds itself dead last in the country in responding to the Census as of mid-September. This should not be tenable to Alabamians. If more people don’t respond to the census, states like California will get both our congressional seats and the federal funding (your own tax dollars) that we otherwise would receive had more of us answered a simple form.

This means that, on top of the normal changing of district lines to account for population shifts, Alabama’s congressional delegation will be influencing hard to not end up in the district with two incumbent Members of Congress vying for one seat in the House (although that election will certainly be one of the more interesting ones of Alabama history).

As for the state legislature, the Census will also require those districts to be redrawn to account for an increasingly urban and suburban population (although there will remain 105 House and 35 State Senate districts). This promises to take up all the air in the State House, making large policy shifts in other areas even more difficult. This reality is another reason Governor Ivey should consider a special session this year to address coronavirus-related issues in which legislators won’t be distracted by redistricting.

Regardless, the redistricting process, which will occur during the 2021 regular session, is lengthy and detailed. Multiple public hearings will be held, maps will be drawn and redrawn, and the legislature will have to debate the fully redistricted Alabama in open session. Compared to other states which allow their legislatures to draw their district lines, this process is notably transparent.

As with any situation in which power is at stake, there is, however, the opportunity for corruption. Legislators looking to benefit themselves through the redistricting process, whether by following Mr. Obama’s lead and giving themselves a wealthier constituency or by ensuring their competition is in another district, will be given the chance.

Thankfully, there is a check on this power: the people. The system, in order for it to work correctly, requires residents of Alabama to understand that they have a role and a responsibility in government decisions, including the redistricting process. As transparent as the redistricting process is compared to other states, a window is worthless if it isn’t used.

When the Alabama Legislature holds its hearings across the state regarding newly-drawn district maps, the audience should be full of residents ready to look through the window and give a well-informed opinion. As the process continues, Alabamians ought to be calling their representatives with input. Believe it or not, these small efforts create real impact and reduce opportunities for smoky secret deals.

If, however, we sit back and ignore the entire process and the window into it we’ve been given, we best not be surprised when we later find out what’s gone on in the room where it happens.

To see a new report on the status of the 2020 Census in Alabama, click here or visit alabamapolicy.org.

Parker Snider is Director of Policy Analysis for the Alabama Policy Insitute.

, and 10 hours ago

College football power rankings: Bama stands ready at No. 1; Ohio State welcomed back

The big kids come back to play on Saturday. Until that happens, there is one more week of the Yellowhammer college football power rankings without the SEC having been on the field.

Yellowhammer’s rankings are determined by the combined votes of our experts. Their individual votes can be seen with an explanation of their rankings.

Here is where we are after week 3.

781

Zack Shaw

1. Clemson: Clemson has badly beaten two overmatched opponents in the first two weeks. That is exactly what you expect great teams to do.

2. Alabama: Nick Saban and company deserve the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

3. Ohio State: Welcome to the party! Simply by announcing their intention to play this season, Ryan Day, Justin Fields and the Buckeyes deserve heavy consideration.

4. Oklahoma: The explosive Sooner offense and consistent success, recently, give Oklahoma the nod over the remaining teams at this point.

5. Texas: The Longhorns have one win under their belt already and are poised to add many more in 2020 led by QB Sam Ehlinger and coach Tom Herman.

6. Georgia: Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs will get their opportunity to move up on this list as the SEC kicks off this week.

7. Miami: The Hurricanes have the best resume in the country, so far. Led by explosive playmaker D’Eriq King, and a talented offense, Miami could move up this list even further if the defense improves.

8. Auburn: Gus Malzahn’s Tigers get their first chance to prove they belong in this list against Kentucky in week 1. Auburn has enough good players, will the Tigers have enough consistency?

Tim Howe

1. Alabama: Without even playing, it has become more obvious that the Alabama Crimson Tide is the best team in the country.

2. Ohio State: Complaining, threats and chest thumping was Ohio State’s reaction to ____. (Possible answers: 1) last year’s playoff loss, 2) the Big Ten cancelling its season, or 3) pretty much anything.)

3. Georgia: The D’Wan Mathis hype train picked up considerable speed this week. We are buying stock in that version of the Georgia offense.

4. Clemson: Dabo Swinney’s second team never scored against The Citadel, a team playing a four-game schedule this season.

5. Florida: Kyle Trask’s journey to become a starting quarterback on a top-5 team is not highlighted enough.

6. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost another key player to an opt-out this week. We want to believe this is the year for the Jimbo Fisher-Kellen Mond combo to break through, but we’re getting awfully anxious.

7. Texas: Same scenario in Austin as with their in-state rival…”we want to believe this is the year.” The Longhorns enjoyed a solid win against a bad team last week. Not too much else was learned.

8. Auburn: Gus Malzahn’s Tigers occupy the spot previously held by a North Carolina team which will not face an opponent between September 12 and October 3. We cannot wait to see what Chad Morris does to the Auburn offense.

Paul Shashy

1. Alabama: Game week is here! RTR. Last year was unusual because the playoff did not include Alabama. This year will be different. Alabama is reloaded and ready to roll. Linebacker Dylan Moses returning is huge, and Alabama’s defense will be back to their standard. Mac Jones, Najee Harris, Brian Robinson, and Jalen Waddle will lead the offense.

2. Clemson: Clemson will have college football’s most explosive duo in running back Travis Etienne and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Clemson has the two best players in the ACC and one of the country’s easiest schedules; they’ll be in the playoff.

3. Ohio State: The BIG 10s sudden return has jolted projections and rankings. Look for Ohio State to be playoff contenders, especially with Justin Fields at QB.

4. Texas A&M: Texas A&M brings back nearly everyone from last year. I believe this is the year Jimbo Fisher gets his shot. They go to Auburn and Alabama, which is rough, but I think they’ll win one of the two.

5. Notre Dame: 2-0 is a good start, but they didn’t look all that strong vs. Duke. Notre Dame is one of the more experienced teams in college football this year; that’s why they hold the five spot. As usual, they have a much easier schedule than most other teams in my top 8. Notre Dame vs. Clemson in November will be one of the great games of the year.

6. Texas: They looked fine in their first game against UTEP. Texas brings back much of their talent, and I think it’s time for Tom Herman to finally get Texas back to what they once were as a powerhouse in CFB.

7. Auburn: Bo Nix is returning and should be much improved, especially considering the depth and speed at wide receiver. They should be a popular dark horse choice for the college football playoff.

8. Oklahoma: Easy cupcake game to start out, but they looked strong. Since they were stomped in the playoff last year, Oklahoma’s defense is returning eight starters. Because of this, they’ll be much improved. Oklahoma vs. Texas in October will be one of the biggest games of the year.