By Ann Cipperly

Angela George is a busy mother of three children balancing family time with owning two businesses: O Town Ice Cream Shop on Second Avenue in Opelika and at Midtown in Auburn, with her husband Chris. The COVID-19 pandemic  has made operating a business more complicated and  stressful, as well as changing family life. Angela went back to her roots of cooking meals from scratch at home.

The Georges opened the first O Town Ice Cream Shop on a cold January day in 2016 in downtown Opelika on Railroad Avenue. In 2018, the business moved to Second Avenue. The second location at Midtown opened this summer. Along with ice cream, a lunch menu is offered with sandwiches and a soup of the day.

When Angela was 15 years old, her family moved from West Warwick, R.I. to Opelika in order for her mother, Amanda Venafro, to accept a physical therapist position. The family was immediately smitten with the area.

“Little did we know that Alabama would become our home base,” Angela said. “We loved it.”

When Angela graduated from Opelika High School, she received a theater scholarship to Southern Union. A week before classes started, Angela began to feel like she was going in the wrong direction.

Her mother suggested she attend the Montgomery Massage School, saying it would only take seven months. It would allow her to have a skill to work part-time if she decided to go to college.

After graduating, Angela enjoyed the work, contracting with local day spas.

When she met Chris, it was love at first sight. Chris was a co-owner of APR until 2008. He went to work at IMGlive and was a DJ and MC at NASCAR and live events for Coca Cola.

When Angela’s mother passed away suddenly in 2012, it was a difficult time. Chris, who is from Atlanta, had a job opportunity in Atlanta. They decided to make the move with their three children, Sophia, Stella and Samuel.

“When we got there,” Angela said. “Werealized how much we loved Opelika. I told God if there was any way to get us back, I would embrace the community.”

While she missed Opelika, Angela is thankful for the time in Atlanta as it led her to know she wanted to open an ice cream shop.

On weekends the family visited historic districts around Atlanta and found ice cream shops for the children. One weekend they visited Covington, Ga., where they discovered a handsome ice cream shop with rocking chairs outside.

Angela knew then she wanted to return to Opelika and open an ice cream shop. “Within a month,” she said, “The gates opened for us to move back.” Angela and the children returned to Opelika in July 2013, and Chris came back in October.

In the spring of 2015, Angela and Chris met with the creamery and asked if they could name their chocolate ice cream Choo Choo Chocolate and the banana ice Chunky Monkey Park, sharing the history of the names.

“The creamery thought it was a brilliant idea to embrace the community with ice  cream,” Angela said. “They have been wonderful to us and have let us create custom flavors.”

To test the Opelika market for ice cream, they started with a cart. The first outing was a Main Street First Friday event. The Red Clay Brewing Company allowed them to place the cart outside their business where they made root beer floats.

“The community saw how hard Chris was working pushing that cart around on hot days and being at the farmers’ market every week,”  Angela said.  “Our kids would be playing in the fountain.”

The Georges talked to the owner of a building on Railroad Avenue in downtown Opelika that was being restored. They had a vision of how it should look. They spent many nights working at the shop to get it ready.

O Town Ice Cream opened its doors Jan. 24, 2016, with over 340 people walking in the door in four hours. Over time, though, the overhead in the downtown location became a struggle.

In the summer of 2017, Angela and Chris drove past the former location of Bubba’s Medicine Shoppe on Second Avenue and thought it looked promising as a new site for their ice cream business. They discussed the idea with the owners, Jeff Jerkins and Craig Davis, who were also selling Italian ice and had a food truck.

Angela thought since they had the O Town shop and a cart, they could merge the Scoops Real Italian Ice and become one business to serve the community. Jeff and Craig became their partners.

The building was gutted and remodeled. Before they opened, Angela asked a teacher at Morris Avenue School to have her students draw pictures of where they think the monkeys went after they left the monkey park. The children were creative in their painting with monkeys in space, eating ice cream at the courthouse and playing football. She only had 13 spots for the artwork, which was laminated and framed.

Angela and Chris moved the large photo of the train at the park from the previous location to cover one wall. The tables were handmade, while the booths were refurbished from an old Captain D’s.

O Town opened at its new location in January 2018. New ice cream flavors were added, as well as sundaes, featuring brownies with a choice of ice cream. The lunch menu was expanded.

When COVID-19 hit, everything changed. “People realized that we have a drive through,” she  said, “And I think that helped save our business. It got a lot of people coming out since we did no-contact, social distance business. It was something to take your kids to do for a treat during this uncertain time.”

Angela’s massage work was put on hold. Chris did the grocery shopping.

“The virus ran us back to our roots, having to use what we had at home,”  Angela said. “When the kids were home, she went back to old ways of cooking. We realized how much we went out to dinner because we were so busy and did a lot of take out.

“We joked around about it, and said it was ‘Pantry Surprise.’”

Angela stocked up on canned beans and vegetables, along with 10-pound bags of all-purpose flour and self-rising flour. She began making homemade biscuit, and taught Samuel how to make them.

“We have a flour bowl now,” she said. “The downfall of it is how much weight we have gained. Everyone wants homemade biscuits.”

Chris has been grilling at home, cooking pork chops, chicken and steak to have enough to last a few days.

Angela prepares spaghetti and meatballs often, which is Samuel’s favorite meal. Along with Italian dishes, she has been cooking a lot of Mexican. Her mother was Mexican and would make tortillas. Angela finds Mexican food has layers of flavors and is filling.

Casseroles have been comfort food that will feed everyone for two days.

“If you have corn, beans and pasta in your pantry” she  said. “You can always come up with some dishes. You can use Rotel on pasta. If you have tortillas and beans, you can make nachos.

“We have been baking dump cakes on Sundays. Keep cake mix, canned pineapple and canned fruit pie filling in the pantry for making an easy dessert.”

Currently at O Town in Opelika, the drive through is open and people can come inside to order. They have not resumed indoor dining because the area for dining is small. They put all the tables outside. People can dine at tables under the pavilion or at the rocking chairs. They also have picnic tables with new umbrellas.

Along with ice cream, they are still serving lunch and have started back the soup of the day.

The children are back in school. Sophia is a student at Opelika High School, Stella is an 8th grader at the middle school, and Samuel attends Morris Avenue School.

Angela is thankful to call Opelika home. “After the community pulled together for the storm victims,” she said. “I remembered why God has us in Opelika. We love this community. We want to live here and raise our children here. It has been an experience that sometimes doors close to open doors that are better.”

Manda’s Migas

4 corn tortillas cut into 1-inch strips

2-3 eggs

3 Tbsp. oil

Pat of butter

Heat oil in frying pan.

Put in cut corn tortillas and flip around until barely brown and lightly toasted. Remove from heat.

Mix eggs together. Put pan back on heat and pour eggs in with tortillas.

Remove from heat when desired egg consistency is achieved. Remove from pan and serve from pan. Add salt and pepper to taste.

You can also add salsa, cheese, cooked chorizo, peppers and onions. I like mine plain!

Ravioli and Fresh Spinach Bake

Two 10-oz. pkg. fresh cheese ravioli (found in refrigerated section of grocery store)

4 cups fresh baby spinach

24 oz. jar vodka pasta sauce

5 oz. jar pesto

2 cups grated mozzarella

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook pasta in boiling water for slightly less time than stated on the package directions. Drain and place in a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Top with the spinach.

Pour vodka sauce over spinach and pasta. Dot pesto all over the sauce. Sprinkle mozzarella on top. Bake until the sauce is bubbling and edges are brown, about 25 minutes, then serve.

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium white onion, peeled and diced

1 large red bell pepper, cored and diced

1 (4 oz.) can diced green chiles

2 (15 oz.) cans beans, rinsed and drained (I used one can pinto, one can black beans.)

1 (8 oz.) can whole kernel corn, drained

3 cups (about 1.5 lb.) shredded or diced cooked chicken

3 cups red enchilada sauce, homemade or store-bought, divided

12 corn tortillas, halved

3 cups shredded Monterrey Jack or Mexican blend cheese

Toppings: chopped fresh cilantro, diced red onion, thinly sliced green onion and/or diced avocado

Heat oven to 375. Mist a 9×13-inch baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.

Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and bell pepper and sauté for 6-7 minutes, or until softened. Stir in diced green chiles, beans, corn, chicken and 2 cups enchilada sauce, and stir to combine. Remove from heat and set aside.

Pour about 1/2 cup of the remaining enchilada sauce in baking dish and spread until the bottom of the dish is evenly coated. Top with a layer of about 8 tortilla halves, so that the entire dish is covered.

Top evenly with 1/3 of the chicken mixture, followed by 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat with another layer of tortillas, chicken mixture, and cheese, followed by a final layer of tortillas, chicken mixture, remaining 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce and cheese.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil, then bake for 20 minutes.

Remove pan and remove aluminum foil. Bake for 10 more minutes, until cheese is thoroughly melted.

Remove from oven and serve warm, garnished with your desired toppings.

Easy Bolognese Sauce for Pasta

1/2 cup olive Oil

1 1/2 cups grated carrots

1 large red onion, diced

2 lbs. ground beef

2 Tbsp. dried oregano

2 Tbsp. dried basil flakes

1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup (to 2 cups) red wine

2 Tbsp. Worcestershire

2 cans (28 oz.) whole tomatoes

1 cup milk

Salt and pepper, to taste

Fresh Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or skillet over medium heat. Add grated carrots and onions and cook for a few minutes. Make a well in the center of mixture, then add ground beef. Cook for a few minutes until brown, gradually stirring it into the carrot mixture.

Add oregano and basil. When the meat is browned and combined with other ingredients, make another well. Add tomato paste and heat. Add garlic and stir to combine.

Make a well in the center of the mixture and add red wine. Stir together. Add Worcestershire and stir. Add canned tomatoes. Finally, pour in milk, stir and let simmer for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Serve with pasta and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Makes 8 servings.

Gluten Free Eggplant Parmesan

1 ½ cups gluten-free breadcrumbs (such as Hodgson Mill®)

1 eggplant, peeled into long strips 1/4-inch thick

2 eggs, beaten

¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 (16 oz.) jar spaghetti sauce, divided

1 (8 oz.) pkg. shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

1 pinch dried basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl.

Dip eggplant into eggs; coat with gluten-free breadcrumbs. Place in a single layer on prepared baking sheet; lightly sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven for 6 minutes; remove from oven. Flip eggplant with a spatula; brush with olive oil. Bake until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Remove from oven; reduce heat to 350 degrees.

Spread enough spaghetti sauce into a 7 x 11-inch baking pan to cover the bottom; layer on some of the eggplant slices. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over eggplant; top with Parmesan cheese. Repeat layering sauce, eggplant, mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese, in this order. Top with basil.

Bake in the preheated oven until cheese is bubbly and lightly golden, about 25 minutes.

Blueberry Dump Cake

I keep a variety of pie filling on hand to make this cake.

21-oz. can blueberry pie filling (other fruit pie fillings can be used)

15-oz. can crushed pineapple

1 (18 oz.) box white cake mix

1 1/2 sticks butter

Ice cream or whipped cream to top cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Dump the blueberry pie filling and crushed pineapple into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Stir together. Sprinkle cake mix over top of pie filling and pineapple. Slice butter into Tbsp. and distribute evenly over top of the cake mix.

Bake until the tops are brown and bubbly for about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until top is brown and bubbly. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Favorite Fried Green Tomatoes

2 large eggs

2 Tbsp. water

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

Sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 pounds green tomatoes, sliced

1 cup canola oil for frying, or as needed

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper.

Beat eggs and water in a shallow bowl. Place flour and cornmeal in 2 separate shallow bowls. Season cornmeal with salt and pepper.

Dip each tomato slice into flour, then dip into egg mixture. Press tomato into cornmeal mixture, shaking off excess. Transfer tomato to prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tomato slices, arranging tomatoes in a single layer.

Heat about 1/4 inch canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat until oil begins to shimmer. Fry tomatoes in batches until golden and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Drain on paper towel-lined plates. Repeat with remaining tomatoes.

Homemade Biscuits

4 cups self-rising flour, sifted

1 ½ cups buttermilk

¼ cup Crisco or lard

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Lightly grease a baking pan or skillet with lard or Crisco.

Fill a sifter with flour, about 4 cups. Sift flour into a large wide bowl.

Make a well in the middle of the flour with your hand.

Add Lard.

Add buttermilk.

Squish the Crisco and buttermilk together with your fingers until shortening is in small clumps.

Place fingers straight down into the center of the bowl and start making small circles.

Continue to stir, in small circles, while gradually working in flour from the sides of the bowl.

You will work in most of the flour but probably not all it.

Sprinkle dough ball with more flour and fold dough over on top of itself a time or two.

Knead the dough only a few times until it is fairly smooth then shape into a rectangle.

Clean any dough off your hands before proceeding.

Flour both hands prior to starting to shape and form the biscuits.

Use your fingers and pinch off a section of dough just a little larger than a golf ball.

Roll this ball in the palms of your hands to smooth it out using slightly firm pressure at first and then lighter pressure as it becomes a bit sticky again. Try not to overwork the dough at this point.

Drop the ball back in the flour and coat lightly with flour.

Roll the ball in the palm of your hand another second or two and then flatten it like a hamburger patty.

Place the biscuit dough on your greased baking sheet or in a cast iron skillet.

Sides should be touching for a softer biscuit edge or separated one inch for a crispy edge.

Repeat process until the dough is used or your skillet is filled.

Use the back of your fingers and gently press down on each biscuit.

Place the pan of biscuits in the preheated oven and bake 8-12 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Use caution because the pans are hot as you remove the baked biscuits from the oven.

Brush melted butter on top of each biscuit.

Cover biscuits with a clean towel and let rest for a few minutes prior to serving.

Serve while still warm and Enjoy!