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.

Employee Spotlight: Mooovin’ on up!

Jeff Carter manages three crews that are installing fiber optic cables on a daily basis.

Jeff Carter manages three crews that are installing fiber optic cables on a daily basis.

By Matt Ledger

Jeff Carter raises Limousin cattle, named after a region in France and not a misspelling for luxury auto transportation. Still, the cattle have kept him and his sons on the road.

For five years, Carter has served as president of the Tennessee Limousin Association. Each of his three sons have shown cattle competitively. For Carter, that’s all part of life on a family farm, but it’s not his only business responsibility.

Jeff Carter always takes a week of vacation to volunteer in the chicken barn at the Warren County A&L Fair.

He is also the installation and repair supervisor at Ben Lomand, overseeing three crews who add fiber optic lines daily. In 1999, he started on a line crew before moving to residential installations. “When I started, we were basically a telephone company,” Carter says. “I was installing dial-up Internet. Most kids today don’t even know what that is. Now, we’re a broadband company that still does telephone.”

Encouraging the next generation

The primary animals on the Carter farm are 20 to 25 cattle, mostly registered show cattle his sons have entered in competition. While they played baseball and basketball for many years, each boy really found the farm to be their favorite pursuit.

“We live on a farm with sheep, goats, cattle and horses, and we’ve got a little bit of everything,” Carter says. The Carter teens, Matthew and Jacob, attend Warren County High School and plan to enter the family profession. Their eldest son, Daniel, is now in college at Tennessee Tech, studying agriculture business.

“We travel around to all of the county fairs in this area and some national shows,” Carter says. Those efforts netted two consecutive trips to the Junior Nationals, with the family traveling to Amarillo, Texas, last year. Matthew went to Tulsa, Oklahoma, earlier this year. Also, two years ago, one of their cattle was the reserve grand champion, and several heifers have placed high in state rankings.

The Carter family, (from left) eldest son Daniel; Jeff; his wife, Jennifer; and teens Jacob and Matt.

The Carter family, (from left) eldest son Daniel; Jeff; his wife, Jennifer; and teens Jacob and Matt.

While he worked at Ben Lomand, Carter’s wife, Jennifer, went to college and became a kindergarten teacher. She likes to incorporate her knowledge of agriculture into her classroom lessons, including hatching chickens for curious youngsters.

Serving the Community
“I’ve worked at the Warren County A&L Fair since I was 8 years old — started off showing chickens,” Carter says. “All through school, I volunteered doing different chores as it went on, and everything just grew from that.” His father also taught him to raise chickens, ducks and pheasants.

Since 1992, the family has served in many roles at the A&L Fair. “All three of our boys have been at the fair since before they could walk,” Carter says. He now helps out with competitions in that same chicken barn where he started off, weighing and evaluating 700 to 1,200 chickens at one of the largest poultry shows in the state takes time.

Carter has taken vacation the same week each year to volunteer at the fair. “Working at the fair is what we love to do,” Carter says. “The whole family enjoys it because we’re doing it together.”

Fiber Update

BIMG_4779en Lomand continues to add fiber optic Internet capacity. The Westwood project in McMinnville is in the third of four phases to completion. The Bockman Way build in Sparta was completed only a few weeks ago. The Margaret Circle area was also completed in 2015. These projects will give fiber access to between 2,500 and 3,000 customers, with more than half of those already completed. Local fiber optic speeds are among the fastest in the country — ranging from 50 megabits per second to 1 gigabit per second. More than 7,000 customers have already made the switch to fiber, and Ben Lomand crews are working hard to make that number grow.

Empowering members to be advocates for rural telecommunications

By Ray Cantrell
General Manager/CEO

The results are in. Almost 200 readers responded to The Ben Lomand Connection readership survey in our January/February issue. Your responses gave us good insight into what we’re doing right and how we can serve you better.

I appreciate those who took the time to share this valuable feedback with us.

Not surprisingly, the stories about local people in our community and the articles about food are the most popular pages among respondents. But I was pleased to see readers also enjoy the articles with information about your cooperative.

Perhaps that readership is why 85 percent of respondents said this magazine gave them a better understanding of technology, and 90 percent said they have a better understanding of the role this cooperative plays in economic and community development because of The Ben Lomand Connection. It’s very gratifying to know our efforts are working.

I shared this data not to boast about how proud we are of this magazine, but to explain the reason why I’m proud of it. I believe having informed and educated members is a key factor to the long-term health of this cooperative.

In fact, educating our members is one of the seven core principles that lay the foundation for a cooperative. The National Cooperative Business Association says members should be informed about company and industry news “so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative.”

Informed and engaged members make our cooperative better.

Broadband has been in the news quite a bit lately, from net neutrality to the president discussing high-speed network expansion. It’s important for our members to know how federal regulations, state policies and shifts in the industry can affect their broadband and telephone services.

Educating you on issues that matter to rural telecommunications and your community empowers you to become advocates for rural America. Big corporations and urban residents certainly find ways to make their voices heard, and it’s up to cooperatives like us and members like you to let legislators and policymakers know that rural America matters and decisions that affect telecommunications cooperatives matter to rural America.

I hope you enjoy the stories and photos in this magazine. I always do. But I also hope you come away with a little better understanding of your cooperative, the role we play in this community and the role you can play in making rural America better.

My BLTV provides unique television content at an inexpensive rate

MYBLTV LOGO (1-14-15)

Ben Lomand is proud to introduce My BLTV!

Roku 3 Announced Last Night

Roku 3

This new video service, which uses a Roku entertainment console, provides members with a low-cost option for HD television service.

For as little as $14.95 per month, Ben Lomand Internet customers with at least a 5 Mbps connection, can watch programming from major networks — such as ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS, CW and PBS — in HD. Plus, My BLTV will deliver the quality content members can’t find with any other provider — members will have access to local channels like Local Weather Channel 1; BLTV Channel 6; and WCS-TV, the Warren County School System Channel.

The Roku console, provided by Ben Lomand, also gives users access to additional apps, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and thousands more.

“My BLTV is a great way for Ben Lomand to meet the needs of people concerned with the rising cost of their entertainment budget, as well as the younger Ben Lomand members who are looking for non-traditional ways to receive their entertainment and information,” says CEO Ray Cantrell. “We’re incredibly excited to offer this new service. We believe that finding creative solutions with products like My BLTV on Roku will position the cooperative for continued success in the future.”

Ben Lomand campaigns for the concerns of rural consumers with fellow telcos at Tennessee state Capitol

As new legislation presses forward in the Capitol, Ben Lomand leaders, joined by fellow telcos, recently met with Tennessee government leaders to discuss legislation impacting rural consumers.

The Tennessee Telecommunications Association (TTA) held its annual “TTA Day on the Hill,” with executives from cooperatives and independent broadband and phone providers gathering at the state Capitol to express their concerns about bills that would threaten their ability to deliver affordable broadband service to the state’s rural regions.


Several TTA members participated in the event, including Ben Lomand CEO Ray Cantrell. Participants met with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell. Other sessions included meetings with Kelly Keisling, chairman of the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee; Ryan Williams, chair of the House Health Subcommittee; Jason Powell, democratic floor leader of the State House of Representatives; and State Sens. Joey Hensley, Janice Bowling and Becky Massey.


Taking education outdoors

Students ‘experience education firsthand’ during the Young Scholars Institute

By Elizabeth Wootten

Students participated in the YSI program

Students participated in the YSI program recently by building a “survivor hut.” (Photo courtesy of Margaret Hobbs/Southern Standard Newspaper)

Jimmy Haley knows education can happen anywhere.

“Learning can be more than just a classroom,” says Haley, co-director of Young Scholars Institute (YSI), a summer enrichment program designed to help meet the needs of students through hands-on learning experiences.

For example, the theme for this summer’s YSI program is transportation. So instead of just reading about it, students will visit a railroad station, automotive museum, kayaking company and tour the Bridgestone tire plant in Morrison.

“We like to get out and experience education firsthand,” says Haley. “We like it one-on-one. They get to see it, touch it, feel it. They have experiences that they can take with them.”

This hands-on approach is part of what has made YSI successful over the past 31 years.

Hands-on approach

YSI is usually held the first two weeks after the beginning of summer break, and about 300 students participate per week, with 60 students per grade level. The students are divided into five groups based on the grade they will be entering the next school year.

In 1984, Donna Trevathan organized the first YSI program. Today, Jimmy Haley, mayor of McMinnville and a high school economics teacher, and Carol Neal, also a teacher, co-direct the program.

The program is self-funded, and the $100-per-week tuition covers the cost of breakfast, lunch, site visits and all other expenses. A discount is available for students who attend both weeks, and each week covers different material, all associated with the state’s Common Core curriculum.

Scholarship opportunities are available as well. “We oftentimes do scholarships for kids who can’t afford the tuition,” says Haley. “We always have several local citizens who help sponsor children for YSI.”

Teachers recommend students from their classes for the program, and those students are sent invitations with the year’s theme and a program of events, as well as registration information.

During the program, students and staff assemble at Bobby Ray Memorial Elementary School each day for breakfast, birthday announcements and a guest speaker who talks about the theme. From there, each group will dismiss and learn more about the theme with a hands-on approach.

Teams include qualified teachers and assistants, as well as high school student volunteers, many of whom are former YSI students themselves. The groups rotate each day so that each child can experience each new and exciting location. “Through YSI, they get to enjoy adventures they never would have experienced without the program,” says Haley.

Teachers, assistants, high school students and children all enjoy the learning experience and are eager to volunteer each year, says Haley.

He adds that some high school volunteers have decided to pursue a teaching career because of the program. “A lot of them become teachers because they say, ‘If teaching can be this much fun — if teaching can engage students this much — then that’s what I want to do,’” says Haley.

Best in the Field

Ben Lomand’s IT manager scores the goal as a certified soccer coach

By Jeremy Wood

 Ben Lomand’s IT manager, Chris Centracchio

Outside of his work as Ben Lomand’s IT manager, Chris Centracchio is a certified soccer coach through the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Chris Centracchio never expected to enjoy soccer, much less coach the game.

“I was a baseball, basketball, football kind of guy,” he says with a laugh. “I never played soccer; it wasn’t even on my radar.”

The Ben Lomand IT manager and father of three only got interested once his oldest daughter started playing soccer. After several years of volunteer coaching, he recently opted to obtain a U.S. Soccer Federation Class E coaching license to further his understanding of the game.

“I coached for two years without a license, and then I realized that there was so much more that I could learn,” he says. “The more I know, the better coach I can be for my kids.”

U.S. soccer’s governing body offers several levels of certification for coaches, with the ultimate goal of developing and growing the game in America. The lowest level is an F license, which is designed for volunteer coaches and consists of a two-hour online presentation. Centracchio wanted to learn more, so he completed a class E license, which required homework, three days of classroom training and on-field tests. The highest level of coaching license offered by the federation is an A license, which qualifies a holder to coach high-level travel teams.

“I plan on taking it all the way up,” says Centracchio, who adds that he hopes to go for the D license this summer. “I’d love to coach a select team, but it’s just a matter of finding the time.”

He was galvanized to improve his coaching skills when his younger daughter had a bad experience with a soccer coach and wanted to quit playing. Centracchio says he wanted to improve his coaching skills so that other children and parents wouldn’t have similar issues.

“At that age, you really have to have a certain mentality to teach them about the game and keep them engaged,” he says.

Now, he’s becoming a rabid fan as well as a dedicated teacher. He says he and his older daughter, Journey, watched the World Cup “religiously” last year, and she even asked to go to Brazil to see a game live.

He’s also a member of the board of directors for the Warren County Youth Soccer League, where he’s encouraging other volunteer coaches to improve their soccer educations.

“We’ve got a good team of directors here, and we really want to encourage our volunteer coaches to push themselves and not just go through the motions,” he says.

Centracchio started at Ben Lomand in 2000 as an LAN technician and rose through the ranks to the IT director role. He says one of the things he likes about the cooperative is its support of volunteer ventures like his soccer coaching.

“The employees are great, the management’s great and Ben Lomand really goes out of their way to give back to the community and work with volunteers,” he says.