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.

Mountain Telephone’s Back to School Celebration!


Study better with fast Internet speeds!
Sign up for any Internet plan and get one month of Internet service FREE!
(This special runs Sept. 1 through Oct. 31.)

Back-to-school giveaway!
All Internet customers — not just new customers — are eligible for a drawing for a backpack full of school-related prizes. The drawing is Sept. 30.

Bill Pay Savings
Anyone who signs up for Automatic Bill Pay (ACH) during September and October will receive a one-time $10 credit on their bill.

“Thank You!” from your rural cooperative

PrintPlease join Mountain Telephone for our annual Customer Appreciation Days

We are coming to you with four convenient events. Expect food, prizes and special promotions.

Join the fun! Stop by from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Friday, September 18
Morgan County
Mountain Telephone Parking Area

Friday, October 16
Menifee County
Farmers Market Shelter

Tuesday, October 20
Elliott County
Sandy Hook Methodist Church Parking Lot

Tuesday, October 27
Wolfe County
Campton City Park

We look forward to seeing you!

Cooperatives are exceptional

Shayne IsonBy Shayne Ison
General Manager

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.

In some of the recent numbers I’ve seen from the FCC, there is a stark contrast between broadband access in rural America and in big cities, if taken as a whole.
Based on industry thresholds, 94 percent of urban residents have broadband access, compared to only 55 percent of people in rural America.

Sitting in an office in New York or Los Angeles, it would be easy to see those numbers and think rural America has been left behind in today’s technology-driven, connected world.

But that’s not the case here in our part of East Kentucky.

We’re happy to offer speeds well above those industry standards and we’re working hard to continue expanding those services.

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 Mountain Telephone.

Cooperatives like ours were founded by local residents who knew a reliable communications network was important and were willing to join together 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 Mountain Telephone 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 Mountain Telephone 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.

Creating the ‘ski lodge’


How creativity and Lowe’s restored a high school library

By Noble Sprayberry

Sascha Creech, a library media specialist for Wolfe County High School, led the restoration of the library.

Sascha Creech, a library media specialist for Wolfe County High School, led the restoration of the library.

After storms ripped across the county on a March night in 2012, Sascha Creech and her family raced to the building attended by generations of students.

“Our school had been prone to roof leaks in the past — our building had a flat roof,” says Creech, the library media specialist for Wolfe County High School. “When we walked in after the storm, we could hear water pouring like someone had turned on a huge faucet.”

In the library, a partial roof collapse and rain destroyed books, computers, shelves and carpet. “We tried to save what we could, but water was still pouring in from the outside,” she says.

The damage was a blow for the school’s 350 students. “Unfortunately, books don’t take to water very well,” she says. “We lost about 60 percent of our collection.”

A rebuilding partner: The Lowe’s Toolbox for Education
Soon, though, work started to create a new library. The school’s then-curriculum coordinator, Jennifer Carroll, applied for a grant from Lowe’s.

The company awarded the school a total of $93,683. “The first thing I did was to have a good cry, because I couldn’t believe we had this money,” Creech says.

The grant was made through the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation. “The Lowe’s Toolbox for Education program delivers on the commitment of Lowe’s to improve the educational environment for students across the country,” says Maureen Ausura, foundation chairwoman. “We’re honored to work with Wolfe County High School to support the needs of our local students, teachers and families.”

New flooring, faux stone walls and upgraded furniture create a welcoming environment for students.

New flooring, faux stone walls and upgraded furniture create a welcoming environment for students.

Creating the “Ski Lodge”
With finances secured, Creech started the planning necessary to rebuild. She hoped to create a place students would find far more welcoming than the aging library.

“I asked myself what I could do to make this a place students would want to come,” she says. “I didn’t want them to remember the picture of this being a horrible, foul place. Many of them had seen the destruction.”

The 15-year-old carpet, destroyed by water during the storm, was removed, leaving bare concrete.

“We wanted the look of wood, but in a library, the sound of wood is not a good thing,” Creech says. “You want it to be quiet. So, we went with a commercial-grade vinyl tile like they use in the malls. It’s softer when you walk on it, but it looks like wood.”

Not only does the floor absorb sound, but it is also water-resistant and has a lifetime warranty. “It was a no-brainer,” she says.

As the design evolved, she focused on creating a functional, welcoming atmosphere in a windowless library.

“I just kept looking at the concrete walls in here. At first, I thought paint,” she says. “But, I wanted a look that wasn’t like anything else in the building.”

She worked with Lowe’s employees to settle on manufactured stone. “It’s like sheets with runners,” she says. “You screw it into the walls like you would vinyl siding. It looks like stacked stone, but without the mortar.”

With stone walls determined, the rest of the design took shape. “I decided to go with a lodge feel, so it would be warm and inviting in the winter and the summer,” she says.
Students have embraced the redesign, even providing their own spin on the resource. “Some of the student now call it the ‘ski lodge,’ and it does have that sort of feel,” Creech says.

New books and tools

Donations from book publishers replaced much of the library’s damaged collection.

Donations from book publishers replaced much of the library’s damaged collection.

While the library was refreshed, there were some hard losses. While some books were spared, many were not. “We probably lost some old classic books that you can’t replace now. Those books are reprinted and new, but there’s just something valuable about an old book,” Creech says. “It’s how it looks and feels.”

Insurance, however, provided about $15,000 to restock the shelves. Two other businesses also helped.

Creech says Follett books donated more than 1,000 books, and the Garrett Book Company provided about 200 books. “These were all brand-new, high school-level books,” she says. “We were able to exceed the previous collection by a bit.”

Also, a grant through the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative allowed the school to replace electronics, including 22 iPads. Additionally, an accompanying cart for the digital tablets serves as a wireless Internet hub.

The library was not the only part of the school that benefited from the support of Lowe’s. Creech says the company also provided about $1,000 for improvements elsewhere in the school building.
“We had some of the stone left over, so we also spruced up the cafeteria,” she says. Paint, wood trim and other touches brightened the space.

“It wasn’t damaged by the storm, but before it wasn’t a very inviting place,” she says.

Similarly, Creech says she has seen a difference in how students use the library. “I’m not sure if it’s because of how it looks, or because it was closed for a year, but traffic is definitely heavier,” she says.

Building a connected, small-town life

Bob Martin considers innovations in communications technologies, such as broadband Internet, essential to his town’s economic future.

Bob Martin considers innovations in communications technologies, such as broadband Internet, essential to his town’s economic future.

Bob Martin returned to Eastern Kentucky in 1973 after a stint with the U.S. Marine Corps, including postings in Southeast Asia. “I was ready to move to a rural area, and I was ready to get my young self back down here,” he says.

He loved the community, but connecting with family in larger cities was not always easy. Rural communications in the ‘70s sometimes struggled to keep pace.

Now, however, he is wired with the latest technology. In December 2014, he embraced Mountain’s services: a 50 Mbps broadband connection, the complete television bundle and a landline phone.

Retired from a teaching career, he works as an accounts management officer for Commercial Bank in West Liberty.

Thanks to the fiber upgrade, he can now connect remotely to the bank’s system, allowing him to work from home when bad weather makes travel difficult.

Also, Martin says he prefers trading with local businesses, rather than big, national corporations. “When I spend my money and pay my bill, it stays here in Morgan County,” he says.

A rural, connected life
Martin, who lives about 17 miles outside West Liberty, says the service from Mountain compares favorably to the connections his relatives receive in larger cities. “We can converse and do things on the computer that we couldn’t have done a year and a half ago,” he says.

And, he believes the connectivity provides a necessary economic boost. “If you want businesses to come, and you want your community to grow, you’re going to have to have technology and data,” he says. “You have to be able to download information, upload information and do it quick.”

A career of learning, and helping

Martin was born in Paintsville, Kentucky, but his family moved to Michigan when he was 6 years old. Summers with his grandparents kept him tied to the Bluegrass State.

Once he returned to Kentucky, he tried farming. Then, he pursued vocational degrees in welding. He taught high school- and college-level welding for 22 years, and he was a vocational school principal for eight years.

Telling stories to the world from the heart of a national forest

By Noble Sprayberry

Laurel Heidtman lives on a plot of private land within the 
Daniel Boone National Forest.

Laurel Heidtman lives on a plot of private land within the 
Daniel Boone National Forest.

Most days, Laurel Heidtman has a goal: Write 1,000 words. “You don’t wait for inspiration,” she says. “You get out the first draft, and then you clean it up later.”

That work ethic helped the 68-year-old complete three self-published novels.

Heidtman lives with her husband, Earl, inside Daniel Boone National Forest on a 12-mile peninsula extending into Cave Run Lake. While the home has become her favorite place to write, it’s not the first spot where she’s practiced her craft.

Earlier in her life, she worked a range of jobs, including as a technical writer, police officer and a nurse.

Books_6518-The consecutive off days that followed 12-hour nursing shifts gave her downtime to dabble with writing fiction. She wrote three romance novels, submitted two of them to Harlequin and got two rejection letters. “I got nice rejections, if there is such a thing,” she remembers.

Even though the rejections included positive feedback, she put novels aside for years.

After retiring in 2008, Heidtman decided it was time to return to the books, and she spun one of her original romance novels into a mystery: “Catch a Falling Star.”

She self-published, offering the book online through services such as Amazon.

But, she wasn’t ready to give up romance novels. For “The Boy Next Door” and “The Wrong Kind of Man,” she took the pen name Lolli Powell. “It was a combination of my family nickname and my maiden name,” she says.

Living 10 miles from the nearest county road, broadband connects Heidtman to the world.

Living 10 miles from the nearest county road, broadband connects Heidtman to the world.

Romantic advice
Despite being isolated in one of the few houses inside the national forest, Heidtman connects to a community of writers over her broadband Internet connection, which also allows her to market her novels.

“That just blows me away,” she says. “I’m 10 miles from a county road, but we have fiber Internet.”

She found help from an online community that includes writers in Germany and Memphis, Tennessee.

Heidtman understands she needs to build an audience. “Right now, it trickles in,” she says. “I might go several days with no sales, and then I might get one or two. It’s a start.”

She has contacted libraries throughout Kentucky, resulting in at least two book signings. She also plans to attend book fairs.

And while Heidtman strives to expand her audience, she continues to work from a wired home in the heart of a scenic forest. “It’s the best of both worlds,” she says. “You’re able to sit here and make friends across the world.”

Fiber-powered phones keep a business connected

A new MRTC phone system connects clients to the Ison Insurance Agency’s (left to right) Lisa Collins, Amanda Frazier, “Flo”, Kate Kemplin and Ashley Roseberry.

A new MRTC phone system connects clients to the Ison Insurance Agency’s (left to right) Lisa Collins, Amanda Frazier, “Flo”, Kate Kemplin and Ashley Roseberry.

Faced with news this winter that a storm was headed for Eastern Kentucky, John Ison’s six-member staff set the office telephone system to transfer calls to their mobile phones.

As inches and inches of snow closed roads, the team of the Ison Insurance Agency in West Liberty kept working.

“When the blizzard did come, we were basically trapped at home for three days,” Ison says. “But, we didn’t miss a beat.”

The flexible, business-class phone system was relatively new to the company, which turned to MRTC to modernize an existing communications setup.

Running on MRTC’s fiber network, the new system offered a range of key features: call forwarding, automated greetings, direct-dial extensions and “awesome” headsets, Ison says.

Most importantly, the system’s reliability allowed the business to function when insurance customers needed it most.

“We didn’t lose productivity on those days,” Ison says. “And, we were able to help our people. That’s the most important thing. The system worked as well as it possibly could.”