For the love of food

A Q&A with Stephanie Parker, a blogger from Birmingham, Alabama, who loves to share recipes and family adventures with fellow foodies on her blog “Plain Chicken.” Check out her blog …

What do readers find at your blog in addition to recipes?
Stephanie Parker: In addition to recipes, Plain Chicken posts about our world travels and our three cats, and we also post a weekly menu on Sunday to help get you ready for the week.

Why did you become a blogger, and how has blogging changed your life?
SP: Blogging started as a way for me to store recipes. I would make food and take it to work. People would ask for the recipe later, and I had to search for it. I decided to make a blog and store everything online. The blog started expanding because we were in a dinner rut. I decided to make one new recipe a week. Well, that morphed into four new recipes a week. Plain Chicken has totally changed my life. I was in corporate accounting for over 18 years. Plain Chicken took off, and I was able to quit my corporate job and focus solely on I am so lucky to be able to do something that I love every single day.

Everyone has different tastes, so when the extended family gets together, what kind of menu can you plan to please everyone?
SP: Pleasing everyone is always hard, especially nowadays with all the different diet plans people are on. I always try to have something for everyone. If you know someone is vegetarian or gluten-free, make sure they have some options. But for me, at the end of the day, I’m their hostess, not their dietitian.

What are some ideas for getting the children involved in preparing the holiday meal?
SP: Getting the children involved with preparing the holiday meal is a great idea. When making the cornbread dressing, let the children mix up the batter and crumble the cooked cornbread. Have the children mix the cookie batter and form the cookies. For safety’s sake, just make sure the adults put things in the oven and take them out.

Budgets play a big role in planning holiday menus. What are some ideas for hosting a party with “champagne taste on a beer budget?”
SP: Plan your menu early and watch the grocery store sales. Buy ingredients and store them for the holidays. Freeze what you can, and store canned/dry goods in the pantry. Wholesale clubs, like Sam’s and Costco, are also great places to buy large quantities of items and meats.

Do you have a good recipe for the holidays you’re willing to share?
SP: Yes. Spicy Ranch Crackers are a great snack to have on hand during the holidays. The recipe makes a lot, and the crackers will keep for weeks. They are perfect for unexpected guests and are also great in soups and stews.

Spicy Ranch Crackers
Spicy Ranch Crackers
1 (1-ounce) package ranch dressing mix
1/2 to 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups canola oil
1 box saltine crackers

Combine dry ranch mix, cayenne pepper and oil. Pour over crackers. Toss crackers every 5 minutes for about 20 minutes, until all crackers are coated and there is no more oil mixture at the bottom of the bowl. Store in a resealable plastic bag.

Other food blogs that might tempt your palate:
This site combines a love of reading, writing and cooking into a blog that will keep you busy in the kitchen creating recipes that have been tested and tweaked for delicious results.
Even for people who work with food for a living, the editors at Saveur “were overcome with desire,” and named this blog its “Blog of the Year” for 2014.
This Prattville, Alabama-based blog focuses on Southern food with the idea that “food down South is not all about deep frying and smothering stuff in gravy.”

Connected Christmas

Your 2015 Gadget-Giving Guide

Ah, Christmas. It’s approaching quickly, and it’s never too early to start shopping. But are you struggling with what to buy that someone who has everything? Here are some of the season’s hottest items that are sure to impress that technologically savvy, hard-to-buy-for family member, significant other or friend.

Wocket Smart Wallet


If you’re tired of keeping up with all the cards in your wallet, the Wocket is for you.

The Wocket Smart Wallet is the world’s smartest wallet. How does it work? First swipe your cards using the card reader included in the Wocket. Information like your voter registration or any membership or loyalty cards with bar codes can also be entered manually.

The information stored in the Wocket is then transmitted through the WocketCard.
The WocketCard gives the information to the point-of-sale device when it is swiped, just as with a regular credit card.

For only $229, you can own the smartest wallet on the planet. Order yours at


The Lily Drone

Have you been considering getting a drone, but can’t bring yourself to pull the trigger? Meet Lily, the drone that takes flight on its own, literally. All you have to do is toss it up in the air, and the motors automatically start.

Unlike traditional drones that require the user to operate what looks like a video game controller, Lily relies on a hockey puck-shaped tracking device strapped to the user’s wrist. GPS and visual subject tracking help Lily know where you are. Unlike other drones, Lily is tethered to you at all times when flying.

Lily features a camera that captures 12-megapixel stills, and 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second, or 720p at 120 frames per second. You can preorder today, but Lily will not be delivered until May 2016. Expect to pay $999.

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

If you’re looking for a new personal assistant, Amazon has you covered. The Amazon Echo is designed to do as you command — whether it be adding milk to your shopping list, answering trivia, controlling household temperature or playing your favorite music playlist.

The Echo, which uses an advanced voice recognition system, has seven microphones and can hear your voice from across a room. The Echo activates when hearing the “wake word.” The Echo is constantly evolving, adapting to your speech patterns and personal preferences. “Alexa” is the brain within Echo, which is built into the cloud, meaning it’s constantly getting smarter and updating automatically.

It’s available for $179.99 on



Have you ever wondered what your beloved pup is doing while you’re not at home? Wonder no more. iCPooch allows you to see your dog whenever you’re away. By attaching a tablet to the base of iCPooch, your dog can see you, and you can see them — you can even command iCPooch to dispense a treat.

Just download the free app to your tablet or smartphone and never miss a moment with your pup!

iCPooch is available for $99, not including tablet, from Amazon and the website

Classic Christmas Cookies

Hope Barker, of West Liberty, Kentucky

Hope Barker, of West Liberty, Kentucky, makes family cookie recipes her own.

Cookies so good Santa won’t want to leave

By Anne P. Braly,
Food Editor

We all know that holiday cookies are a lot more than sugar, flour and eggs. They tell a story. Remember walking into grandma’s house only to see warm cookies she just took from the oven sitting on the counter?

Hope Barker has similar stories when she reminisces about baking cookies with her mom. Her favorite recipe is a simple one: sugar cookies.
“My mom and I used to make these when I was young,” she recalls. The recipe came from an old cookbook — now so yellowed and worn with age that it’s fallen apart, but, thankfully the pages were saved and are now kept in a folder.

She learned to cook at the apron strings of her mother, Glyndia Conley, and both grandmothers. “I can remember baking when I was in elementary school,” Barker says. “My mom and I made sugar cookies to take to school parties. And Mamaw Essie (Conley) taught me how to bake and decorate cakes. From Mamaw Nora (Cottle), I learned how to make stack pies — very thin apple pies stacked and sliced like a cake.”

She honed these techniques and soon became known for her baking skills in her town of West Liberty, Kentucky, so much so that she opened a bakery business that she operated from her home, making cookies and cakes for weddings, birthdays, holidays and other special events.
During the holidays, cookies are in demand. Not only are they scrumptious, but just about everyone loves them, too. They make great gifts from the kitchen, and if you arrange them on a beautiful platter, they can become your centerpiece.

“Cookies are easy to make and easy to package,” Barker says. “They don’t require plates and forks, so they are more convenient than many other desserts. Also, because they are less time-consuming, you can make a variety in less time than many other desserts. They can be decorated many different ways. And who doesn’t love to get a plate of pretty cookies?”

But there is one big mistake some less-practiced cooks often make when baking cookies — overbaking.

“If you leave them in the oven until they ‘look’ done, they are going to be overdone,” Barker warns. “The heat in the cookies will continue to bake them after you have taken them out of the oven.”

She says the best outcome for pretty cookies is to start with the right equipment — a good, heavy cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. “This will keep them from sticking to the cookie sheet and help them to brown more evenly on the bottom,” she says. And when finished, remove them from the oven and let them cool completely before putting them in a sealed, airtight container to keep them moist.

Barker no longer caters, but she continues to do a lot of baking during the holidays for family, coworkers and friends.
Cookies, she says, just seem to be a universal sign of welcome, good wishes and happy holidays.

Sugar cookies are a delicious and versatile classic during the holiday season. This is Hope Barker’s favorite recipe. They can be made as drop cookies or chilled and rolled for cut-out cookies. You can use the fresh dough and roll balls of it in cinnamon sugar to make Snickerdoodles, or use it as a crust for a fruit pizza.

Classic Sugar Cookies
2/3 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/4 cup milk
Additional sugar (optional)

Cream together the shortening and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix very well. Add flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with flour. Make sure all ingredients are well-incorporated.
For drop cookies, scoop fresh dough into 1-inch balls and place a couple inches apart on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Smear a small amount of shortening on the bottom of a glass, dip the glass into the sugar of your choice and flatten each dough ball into a disk about 1/4-inch thick. Continue to dip the glass into sugar and flatten the dough balls until all are flattened into disks. Sugar can be sprinkled on cookies at this point, if desired. Bake the cookies at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven when they begin to color at the edges.
For rolled and cut cookies, refrigerate the dough for at least 3 hours or overnight. Roll out portions of the dough on a floured surface to about 1/4-inch thick and cut into desired shapes. Sugar can be sprinkled on cookies at this point, if desired. Place the cookies at least 1 inch apart on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes, depending on the size/thickness of the cookies. Remove from the oven when they begin to color at the edges.

Sugar Cookie Variations

Various Sugar Cookies Frosted Cookies
Bake either the rolled or drop cookies. Prepare your favorite frosting recipe (or buy canned frosting) and frost the cooled cookies. Frosting can be tinted with different colors and piped on in seasonal designs.

When making the drop cookies, mix together 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon with 1 cup granulated sugar. Roll each ball of dough in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and then put onto the cookie sheet. Flatten with the bottom of a glass into a disk shape and bake as directed.

Maple Cookies
Replace the vanilla flavoring in the recipe with maple flavoring. Make rolled cookies with no sugar on the tops. On the stovetop, stir together 1/4 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and let boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons milk; stir well. (Be careful as the mixture will splatter a little when you add the milk.) Put saucepan back on stove and bring back to a boil. Remove from heat. Pour the mixture over 1 1/2 cups of sifted powdered sugar and mix on low/medium speed until smooth. Drizzle the warm frosting over the cookies with a spoon. Allow to cool completely.

Jell-O Cookies
Make rolled cookies with no sugar on the tops. When the cookies come out of the oven, spread a thin layer of light corn syrup on the tops with a spoon. Immediately sprinkle with Jell-O gelatin powder of your choice. Allow to cool completely.

Fruit Pizza
Use about a half batch of the dough and spread evenly in a greased jelly roll pan. This will be the crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough begins to get some color at the edges and on top. Let the crust cool completely. Mix together 8 ounces softened cream cheese with 7 ounces marshmallow creme. Spread this over the crust. Cut up about 4 cups of fresh fruit (strawberries, kiwi, bananas, mandarin oranges, grapes, apples, etc.) and stir together with a package of strawberry fruit gel. Spread the fruit mixture over the cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate before slicing and serving.

Exceptional speeds from WCTEL

WILSON-smallBy Jeff Wilson
Chief Executive Officer

Every month or two a news story will appear that looks at the so-called “digital divide” between big cities and rural areas like ours. This narrative paints a picture that rural Americans have a more difficult time getting reliable Internet access through broadband.

While statistics may back up that idea in some parts of the country, I’m proud to say our area is the exception thanks to this cooperative and our new gigabit service.

WCTEL is proud to offer broadband speeds most urban residents only dream of!
In some of the recent numbers I’ve seen from the FCC, 94 percent of urban residents have access to broadband of at least 25 Mbps, compared to access for only 55 percent of people in rural America. From those figures, it would be easy to assume rural America has been left behind in today’s technology-driven, connected world.
But that’s not the case here in the Freshwater Coast region.
In fact only 8.9 percent of urban Americans and 3.7 percent of rural residents have access to the gigabit Internet service we have in Abbeville, McCormick and southern Anderson counties. As a WCTEL customer, you have access to Internet speeds that 91 percent of big-city residents don’t have!

We are proud to be the exception to those numbers because it means we’re serving our customers. But we’re also proud to be exceptional because it means our founders were right about banding together to create West Carolina Tel.
Cooperatives like ours were founded by local residents who knew a reliable communications network was important and were willing to bring such a network to our area.

The statistics clearly show that corporate America is not meeting the needs of rural communities like ours. Companies focused on pleasing stockholders don’t see enough profit in our region to invest in building a network.

That’s where cooperatives like WCTEL come in. We answer to our customers, who are member-owners of the cooperative.

October is National Cooperative Month, which is a great time to think about our business model and how it benefits families and businesses in our area.
In a news release from the USDA published in July, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said “Broadband is fundamental to expanding economic opportunity and job creation in rural areas, and it is as vital to rural America’s future today as electricity was when USDA began bringing power to rural America 80 years ago.”
Sec. Vilsack is correct. Without access to broadband, our community would be at a disadvantage. And without WCTEL our area wouldn’t have such access.
Please join us in October (and throughout the year) in celebrating what our founders created and all the advantages we enjoy today because of their vision and dedication to their communities.

Helping hungry kids

Mary Ann Nickles launched Bags of Blessings in 2009. The program sends bags of food home with children in need.

Mary Ann Nickles launched Bags of Blessings in 2009. The program sends bags of food home with children in need.

Bags of Blessings delivers food for children in need
By Andy Johns

Mary Ann Nickles was chaperoning a field trip when she commented to a teacher about how one child scarfed down his lunch. “The teacher said, ‘He probably hasn’t eaten since yesterday,’” Nickles remembers.
She knew right then and there she had to take action.

“There is such a need,” Nickles says. “If people knew what was going on right here, I think they would be surprised. The things you see on TV, that extreme poverty is happening right here.”

Ravioli and chicken noodle soup are two of the staples for Bags of Blessings.

Ravioli and chicken noodle soup are two of the staples for Bags of Blessings.

A few months later in 2009, Nickles launched “Bags of Blessings,” a program that collects and distributes bags of food for children to take home over weekends.

Many children in need receive breakfast and lunch at school, so the bags are intended to keep their bellies full on Saturday and Sunday. Each bag gives a child enough food for two breakfasts, two lunches and three dinners. The bag also includes a snack and water.

Nickles started with 10 bags, then increased to 30. By the end of the first school year, Nickles and Bags of Blessings volunteers were stuffing bags in her garage to send home with nearly 60 kids each week.
Now, the program has its own room at Grace United Methodist Church, and volunteers carry almost 200 bags to nine schools each week. “This is the Lord’s will that I do this,” says Nickles, a mother of four. “It isn’t me.”

The donations continue to astound Nickles. One business donates fruit each week, and another routinely writes $500 checks.

“People are just ready and willing to help because they care,” says Nickles, whose husband Tom is an employee at WCTEL. “Everybody has just come willing to help.”

Donations arrive from churches, businesses and individuals.

Mary Ann Nickles and Barry Creswell stock bins and organize supplies in the Bags of Blessings room at Grace United Methodist Church.

Mary Ann Nickles and Barry Creswell stock bins and organize supplies in the Bags of Blessings room at Grace United Methodist Church.

“I’ve never worried about the financial part of it,” she says. “It was just like Jesus feeding the 5,000. Where did all this food come from?”

Most of the shopping is done at Ingles, where managers find ways to help the program’s dollars go further. Usually, the volunteers can fill the bags for between $3 and $4 each. “It is a great ministry,” says Mike Erwin, a Bags of Blessings volunteer. “It breaks my heart for those kids to go hungry.”

Originally, the program focused on elementary school students, but now the majority of bags go to the middle schools. Local teachers are the main contacts for Bags of Blessings, alerting the volunteers of students who need the bags. “We don’t know who the children are, and we probably shouldn’t know,” Nickles says.

The Feeding America organization published a survey in 2012 which reported that 28 percent of children in South Carolina are “food insecure,” meaning their homes don’t have a consistent supply of healthy food. The study found more than 290,000 hungry children in the Palmetto State. Nationwide, one in five children fall into the “food insecure” category.

Volunteer Barry Creswell says teachers have told him hunger can sometimes be the cause of disciplinary problems or other classroom struggles. “When a child is hungry, they can’t concentrate,” Creswell says. “When you’re sitting there and your stomach is growling, you can’t concentrate.”

Studies from the National Institute of Health and Harvard University have found that children who don’t have enough to eat don’t learn as quickly as others, are sick more often, have more behavioral problems and are less likely to get along with other children.

“People need to realize it’s going on right here,” Nickles says. Awareness is growing. Churches in Greenwood, Donalds, Iva and Starr have either started, or are looking to start, similar programs.

Everyone associated with Bags of Blessings volunteers their time, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get anything back for their work. “It’s caused my faith to be so much stronger,” Nickles says. “Those kids are so excited to get their bags.”

Get involved!

Donations to Bags of Blessings may be made at:

Grace United
Methodist Church
145 Grace Drive
Abbeville, SC 29620

Monetary donations are encouraged, but Nickles and her volunteers will also accept cans of ravioli or chicken noodle soup with pop tops (no can opener needed).

With check or cash, be sure to specify “Bags of Blessings” to ensure the money is properly delivered.

Mike Erwin, left, Nickles and Creswell load up the bags to be transported to a school.

Mike Erwin, left, Nickles and Creswell load up the bags to be transported to a school.

Major Opportunity: McCormick drum major earns trip to Washington, D.C.

De’Marcus Moore, who recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by FRS and WCTEL, is involved in band, track and JROTC at McCormick.

De’Marcus Moore, who recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by FRS and WCTEL, is involved in band, track and JROTC at McCormick.

By Andy Johns

De’Marcus Moore is a busy guy.

Between running track, participating in JROTC, leading the McCormick High School band as drum major and taking college courses his junior and senior years, he doesn’t have much free time.
But when WCTEL and the Foundation for Rural Service offered him a trip to Washington, D.C., as part of the annual FRS Youth Tour, he cleared his schedule.

“They’ve given us a good opportunity,” says De’Marcus. “I wish more kids got this opportunity. It opened my eyes to see there are bigger things than high school.”

De’Marcus, a rising senior at McCormick who returned from the trip June 3, says a highlight was meeting Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham.

“It’s different when you actually get to see who is making the decisions for your state and see them do their jobs in their offices,” he says.

Among visits with officials, touring historic sites and seeing monuments, De’Marcus says he enjoyed meeting the 150 other students from the trip — some of whom came from as far away as Alaska.

“I got to meet every one of them,” says De’Marcus, who was one of five students from South Carolina. “We actually did better than I thought we would do, because we were all from different states. Since we were all from rural areas, that made it easier.”

A ‘whole student’

Principal Steve English says De’Marcus has the drive to be an important leader.

Principal Steve English says De’Marcus has the drive to be an important leader.

De’Marcus was nominated for the FRS trip by McCormick Principal Steve English. “He excels at everything he does,” English says. “He’s a whole student. This is an opport
nity I wanted someone like De’Marcus to have.”

The trip exposed De’Marcus to the world of politics and business. “He might be a congressman some day,” English says. “He’s got that kind of drive.”

While De’Marcus wouldn’t rule out trying his hands at politics one day, he’s focused now on his senior year with a goal to graduate in the top 10 of his class. At the end of his junior year, he was ranked No. 11.
As a dual-enrollment student, De’Marcus will graduate from high school with his coursework complete to get an associate’s degree from Piedmont Technical College. His plans are to go to a four-year school to pursue nursing and eventually work as a physician’s assistant.

But before that, there are plenty of band practices, track meets and drilling with JROTC to focus on during his senior year.

“Extracurriculars keep you on your toes,” says De’Marcus. “It does get hard at times, but you have to work through those things. They’re teaching you to be a leader not just in high school, but in the real world.”



4G LTE a ‘game changer’ for WCTEL Wireless

Alison Stone, WCTEL’s cellular specialist, says new 4G LTE technology will allow WCTEL Wireless to offer the latest phones.

Alison Stone, WCTEL’s cellular specialist, says new 4G LTE technology will allow WCTEL Wireless to offer the latest phones.

By Andy Johns

WCTEL Wireless has struck a deal with a national cellular provider to bring wireless customers the fastest mobile data speeds available.
The agreement allows WCTEL Wireless to offer 4G service and the newest phones to customers.
“The ability to offer 4G LTE service is really a game changer for WCTEL Wireless,” says CEO Jeff Wilson. “We offer the same great cellular and data service on one of the nation’s largest networks, but with our local service team to help. I’m not sure why anyone in our local area would go with anyone else.”
4G LTE is the fastest available cellular data network, with speeds four to five times faster than 3G connections. The term 4G represents the fourth generation of mobile data networks. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, which is the fastest and most reliable form of a 4G network.
“There are a lot of people who have been waiting for 4G,” says Alison Stone, WCTEL’s cellular specialist. “We’re so happy to be able to provide it.”

New phones, including some of the latest and greatest on the market, also come along with the new network. WCTEL will be selling the iPhone 6 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S6, in addition to a full line of other smartphones.
WCTEL wireless customers will have access to a nationwide network using cell towers from a national provider. Current coverage maps indicate many parts of the WCTEL service area will have 4G LTE coverage, including Abbeville, McCormick, Starr and Iva. Weather conditions and buildings may limit 4G coverage in some areas, according to Stone and other wireless experts.

Beyond the quality phones and a reliable network, Stone says customers enjoy combined billing, bundle discounts and the great customer service they’ve come to expect from West Carolina.
“Our wireless customers get personal attention they won’t get anywhere else,” Stone says. “With us, they won’t be taking a number and standing in line.”

While hundreds of members already enjoy their cellular service from West Carolina, Stone says many members are not yet aware that the cooperative offers wireless plans. “Even longtime members are sometimes surprised to find out we offer mobile phones,” Stone says. “Then when they learn they can get the same phones and same network as national providers, but deal with local people, they realize it’s a pretty good offering.”

Many members who switch their cellular service to WCTEL are eligible to bundle their cell phone plan with WCTEL broadband, DE Plus video service and landline phone service to get discounts on multiple products.


West Carolina and FRS Scholarship Winner

Scholarship2015The West Carolina Tel scholarship is awarded to a member of the cooperative who exhibits a motivational drive toward accomplishing his or her future educational goals and is seen as a positive influence in his or her community. This year’s scholarship winner is 2015 Abbeville High School graduate Alexandria Temple. Alex plans to attend Anderson University in the fall to pursue a degree in biology and a future career as a physical therapist. Alex also won the FRS scholarship for $3,000. She will receive a total of $11,000 toward her four years of education.

At Abbeville High School, Alex was student body president, captain of the varsity volleyball team, a FCA Leadership Team member and a Beta Club member. Alex is also active in the community, volunteering with Bags of Blessings, Angel Tree and Friendship Worship Center.

TV subscription price increases

This year, television viewers have more quality programming options than ever before, and almost all of these channels are delivered in HD.

Unfortunately, some of these TV networks have decided to raise the fees they charge for providers like West Carolina to deliver these shows, news and sports to our viewers.

Greenville affiliates for FOX, CBS, ABC and NBC have added a total of $8.04 in fees for every West Carolina TV customer. While we do everything we can to negotiate and keep the costs down for members, we are unable to absorb this fee increase. Beginning in August, West Carolina TV customers will see an increase on their bills.