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 … plainchicken.com.

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 plainchicken.com. 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:

www.brittanyspantry.com
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.

www.iamafoodblog.com
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.

www.southernbite.com
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

wocket_smartwallet

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 www.wocketwallet.com.

Lily

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. www.lily.camera

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 www.amazon.com.

iCPooch

iCPooch

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 store.icpooch.com.

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.

Snickerdoodles
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.

Device of the month: Intel Compute Stick

getimageIntel’s new Compute Stick transforms your TV into a fully functional computer quickly and easily. All you need is the stick and a wireless keyboard and your TV becomes a streaming machine. The stick, which is about the size of a pack of gum, plugs into your TV’s HDMI port. It has a quad-core Intel Atom processor, 2 GB of memory, 32 GB of onboard storage, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a USB port and a micro SD card slot for additional storage. It comes loaded with McAfee Antivirus Plus and Windows 8.1 (with a free upgrade to Windows 10).

A new era in area codes: 854

PrintBeginning Sept. 19, all Lowcountry callers must dial area codes when placing phone calls

A new area code is coming to the Lowcountry, but PRTC and other telephone providers expect a smooth transition.

The new 854 area code will not affect existing phone numbers, but will require one change for local callers. Beginning Sept. 19, callers in Colleton County, Hilton Head, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Florence and the rest of the coastal region must dial 10 digits, including the area code, to complete local and long-distance phone calls.

“Our region of the state is thriving, which means more people and more telephones,” says Valerie Ancrum, Regulatory Affairs Manager at PRTC. “PRTC has known this change is coming, and we’re prepared, but we’re working to be sure all of our members are informed.”

PRTC and other providers can begin issuing new 854 numbers on Oct. 19.

The additional code is necessary because the 843 area has almost run out of phone numbers. Fortunately for existing phone numbers, the new area code comes as an “overlay,” meaning the new area code mixes with an existing code rather than replacing it in the area.

“The overlay is really the best option for our region,” Ancrum says. “Nationally, most every region getting a new area code in the last few years has gone with an overlay as an easy, practical solution.”

Since 2010, 31 new area codes have been created in the U.S. and Canada, with six new area codes planned for North Carolina, New York, Indiana, Ohio, Ontario and Alberta next year.

“Any change can be difficult, but we believe our members will grow accustomed to the new 10-digit dialing very quickly,” Ancrum says.

854 FAQs

Q: What is the new area code and when will it come into place?
A: Phone service providers like PRTC may start issuing new 854 numbers on Oct. 19.

Q: Why is this happening?
A: With a growing population and the rapid increase in the number of wireless phones, coastal South Carolina is running out of telephone numbers with the 843 area code. Adding the 854 prefix allows for more numbers.

Q: When should I start dialing 10 digits?
A: Now! Your calls will still go through with just seven digits until Sept. 19, but PRTC is encouraging members to start dialing the 843 area code in front of all calls within South Carolina now so that they are in the habit when the changes come. After Sept. 19, seven-digit phone calls will not go through.

Q: What do I need to do to prepare?
A: Reprogram speed dial numbers or contact lists to include 10-digit numbers with the 843 area code.

Area Code Timeline

1947
The 803 area code, covering all of South Carolina, becomes one of 86 area codes in the country.

1995
Upstate South Carolina gets the 864 area code.

1998
The familiar 843 area code is created for Coastal South Carolina.

2015
The 854 area code joins 843 in Coastal South Carolina.

2017
The 803 area code is expected to run out of phone numbers, requiring a new area code for Central South Carolina.

2025
The 864 area code is expected to run out of phone numbers, requiring a new area code for Upstate South Carolina.

Broadband access remains a major factor for economic development

Whenever economic development officials talk to potential businesses looking to build in Colleton County, broadband access always comes up.

And Colleton County Economic Alliance Director Heyward Horton says a high-speed fiber optic network like the one PRTC is building can set the county above other options.

“Broadband has become very important for these companies,” Horton says. “PRTC is satisfying the needs.”
Due to good access to the ports of Charleston and Savannah, many of the potential businesses eyeing sites in Colleton County are international.

“They’re not just interested in doing business here in their American market,” Horton says.
Reaching those international markets is a lot harder without high-speed broadband.

“We’re proud of the role we play in helping Lowcountry businesses bring their products to market and bring jobs to Colleton County,” says PRTC CEO Jason Dandridge. “Being a local company, we’re out to make our community better by supporting the companies driving our area’s economy.”

Fiber Update

FIBER_1047

After a busy and productive summer, PRTC crews and contractors have finished mainline construction of the new fiber optic network in the Brittlebank area and much of Cottageville. With those areas complete, a PRTC representative will be contacting residents to schedule a fiber conversion. The next phase of the project involves work in the remaining areas of Cottageville.


Mainline fiber work is now complete along the following roads in Cottageville:

Peirce Road
Salley Ackerman Drive
Spelltown Road
Rhode Drive
Brocktown Road
Blocker Lane
Miller Williams Lane
Milton Carter Ave.
Cooke Lane
Ohio Court

Womble Lane
Red Oak Road
Hartley Place
Bridge Road
Timber Bay Drive
Starlight Lane
Old Hickory Lane
Clydeville Lane
Gatch Lane
Ginger Lane
Zoyie Lane
Rice Plantation Lane
Kennedy Lane
Mistletoe Lane
Farmer Street
Reevestown Lane
Jenkins Club Road

PRTC Wireless now has 4G LTE!

2015-09-16_01h56_25d4G LTE technology has come to PRTC Wireless, bringing the fastest mobile network anywhere and the latest phones to the Lowcountry.

The network, called 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.

With the network, PRTC is now able to offer new lines of phones, including some of the latest and greatest on the market. PRTC will be selling the iPhone 6 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S6, in addition to a full line of other smartphones.

PRTC has plans for as low as $25 per month and a new Smartline finance plan that allows customers to pay for top-of-the-line smartphones a little at a time.

Best of all, this powerful network and these great phones are available through PRTC — the local partner you know and trust — rather than a national carrier.
Stop by our Retail Center to try out the phones and learn more.

Tech Tips: The fall sports season is a great time to upgrade your TV and streaming device

TECH_4672For so many people in the region, the cooler temperatures and fall colors are really just a reminder of one thing — SEC football.

Whatever team you follow, there’s no better way to experience the season than on a big-screen television. And if you’re purchasing a big-screen TV, one of the many streaming devices available is becoming a must. If you’re a sports fan, movie buff or someone who likes to keep up with your favorite shows, a new upgraded TV and streaming device will pay off as a fun and exciting entertainment experience for everyone watching.

BIG-SCREEN TVs
There’s a lot to consider when purchasing a new TV. For sports, sometimes it feels like bigger is better. And some days when it’s cold or rainy, a 70-inch TV might be better than seeing the game in person, but think about the size of room where the TV will be located and buy a size that feels most comfortable for you.

Another thing to remember is that different TVs display images at different speeds. This is called the refresh rate, and it can have an impact on viewing quality. If you’ve ever seen a photo of an older standard-definition TV and noticed a bar moving from the top to the bottom of the screen, that’s how quickly the image is refreshing. It’s become faster on high-definition TVs, typically 60 Hz or 120 Hz. This means the picture will update 60 or 120 times each second.

If you’ll be primarily watching sports, a 120-Hz TV is recommended for a more seamless image. A 60-Hz TV may be less expensive, but you may notice images that are blurry and jump across the screen more.

STREAMING DEVICES
Streaming devices allow users to not only watch television shows and movies, but also to play music and games by downloading apps. The devices can create an experience similar to what you can do on a smartphone. When the big game is on, some apps even let you access the latest player information and fantasy league statistics.

Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick — Both Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick give users access to great streaming content. The Fire TV Stick is a less expensive model for streaming content and access to some games. The Fire TV gives users double the processing power and memory, compared to the Fire TV Stick.

Roku 3 — The Roku 3 is the latest option from Roku, with many features similar to the Amazon Fire TV. It gives users voice control, as well as the option to use your smartphone or tablet as a remote in addition to gaming options. It also gives users the option to plug headphones into the remote for a great entertainment experience that doesn’t keep the whole house awake.

Google Chromecast — The Google Chromecast is the least expensive of the options mentioned, but it requires you to use a smartphone as a controller for the device. It often leaves users unable to text or surf the Web on their phone. But, if you’re looking for an inexpensive option, the Chromecast is definitely something to consider.

The PRTC Retail Center offers a variety of streaming devices and can equip you with the know-how to set it up. Visit the Retail Center today to check out everything available.

Cooperatives are exceptional

Jason_2040

Jason Dandridge

By Jason Dandridge
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.

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.

As you’ve read in these pages before, the FCC has redefined broadband as Internet speeds of at least 25 Mbps. Based on that threshold, 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 the Lowcountry.

We’re happy to offer speeds well above those thresholds to some customers, and we’re working hard to bring those connections to everyone across the service area.

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 PRTC.

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 PRTC 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 an 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 PRTC 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.