United States of Cookies: Sugar-Kissed Sweet Potato Swirls

Cookies! Cookies! Cookies! When it comes to food, nothing makes me quite as happy as a great cookie.

Bob’s Red Mill recently hosted a United States of Cookies contest on Instagram in which they were looking for cookies inspired by your state. I knew immediately that I wanted to make a cookie using sweet potatoes. Why, you ask? Because I had a 40 lb. box of Arkansas sweet potatoes staring at me from my kitchen.

You see, my father-in-law is known locally as the produce guy. He sells a variety of produce from watermelons and tomatoes to sweet potatoes throughout the year. The kids’ favorite is watermelon season!


Throughout the fall and winter he makes numerous trips in his red pickup truck (known to my kids as “The Red Rocket”) to eastern Arkansas and brings home hundreds of pounds of sweet potatoes. Needless to say, he keeps our family well supplied and we’re always looking for new ways to use them. Hence, the sweet potato cookie was born. The great thing about sweet potatoes is that they can be used in any recipe that calls for pumpkin. I created this cookie recipe with a pumpkin roll in mind….cream cheese filling, pecans and all.

I entered the recipe into Bob’s Cookie Contest with little hope of winning. With nearly 400 entries, the contest was filled with fantastic recipes. Imagine my surprise when I received the email notifying me that I had won. I had just pulled in the driveway with my 17-year old son and checked my email. My son will tell you that I punched him twice in my excitement. I don’t exactly remember it that way, but I may have been flailing my arms wildly. In my defense, who wouldn’t get excited about some extra cash, Bob’s Red Mill goodies, and a brand spankin’ new Kitchen Aid stand mixer?

Anyhow, I am thrilled to share my winning recipe with you! Sugar-Kissed Sweet Potato Swirl Cookies are a lightly spiced cookie that pairs perfectly with a cup of coffee. Don’t be afraid to adjust the spices in the recipe if you like something with loads of flavor!  Enjoy!

Pumpkin Roll Cookies 2.jpg
2017 Bob’s Red Mill United States of Cookies Contest Grand Prize Winner


Sweet Potato Cookie Dough:
1 1/4 cup salted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup mashed sweet potato
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached White All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream Cheese Cookie Dough:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup salted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached White All-Purpose Flour

1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup Moreno pure cane sugar


Sweet Potato Cookie Dough:
Beat together butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Add the egg, sweet potato and vanilla extract. Beat until light and fluffy.

Whisk together dry ingredients in a small bowl. Slowly add to wet ingredients and mix just until well combined. Cover dough and let chill for one hour or until firm.

Cream Cheese Cookie Dough:
Beat together cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer until creamy. Add the sugar, egg, vanilla and salt and beat well. Add flour and mix until well combined. Cover and chill until firm; about 1 hour.

On a well floured surface, roll each dough in to a 12-inch by 18-inch rectangle. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush water over the pumpkin dough. Transfer cream cheese dough to the top of the sweet potato dough and roll lightly with a rolling pin.

Sprinkle chopped pecans over dough. Starting from the long side, tightly roll the dough to for an 18-inch log. Roll the log in 1/3 cup of the Moreno sugar then wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Trim ends of dough log then cut dough into 1/2-inch slices. Place on prepared baking sheets 2 inches apart and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake for 15 minutes or until center of cookies are just set. Remove from oven and transfer to a baking rack to cool.

Yield: approx. 3 dozen

Check out all of the other amazing Bob’s Cookie Contest entries by clicking here.

Stirrings Blogger Recipe Challenge: Fizzy Peach Colada Spritzer


A few decades ago, my folks packed up my brother and I and moved us from Dallas to Lewistown, Montana, so my dad could attend college. The college was located in Maiden Canyon just outside of Lewistown and is the site of some of my earliest memories. I built my first snow fort there and learned how to ride a bike. I also developed a insatiable love for fizzy drinks while living there.

Lewistown, Montana, used to be home to one of the coolest old-fashioned soda fountains I’ve ever seen. The Bon Ton first opened on Main Street in 1908. I was maybe 5 when I went there for the first time and got my first taste of a Strawberry Phosphate. It was the beginning of an addiction…one that continues to this day.

When I was asked to participate in the Stirrings Blogger Recipe Challenge, I immediately knew I wanted to do a fizzy phosphate-ish beverage. As a participant in the recipe challenge, I was supplied with two delicious Stirrings Cocktail Mixers and Rimmer Cocktail Garnishes. I chose the Peach Bellini Mixer, Pomegranate Martini Mixer, and Cosmopolitan and Lemon Drop Rimmers.

I went to work creating something my entire family could enjoy. So….no alcohol. I also wanted to make something that I could use again and again as a party punch. Hence….the Fizzy Peach Colada Spritzer was born! It’s the perfect combination of peach and coconut, with plenty of fizz to keep me happy!

Check out the recipe below and order your Stirrings mixers and rimmers at one of the locations listed below the recipe. Enjoy!


1 1/2 Tablespoons cream of coconut, divided
Cosmopolitan Rimmer Cocktail Garnish
2 ounces (1/4 cup) chilled Simple Peach Bellini Cocktail Mixer
1 ounce (2 Tablespoons) chilled peach nectar
4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled coconut flavored seltzer

Pour 1/2 Tablespoon cream of coconut on a small plate. Dip rim of an 8 ounce glass in the cream of coconut then in the Cosmopolitan Rimmer Cocktail Garnish.

Stir together Simple Peach Bellini Cocktail Mixer, peach nectar, and 1 Tablespoon cream of coconut in prepared glass. Stir in coconut flavored seltezer and add ice. Stir gently and enjoy!

NOTE: Arkansas residents can purchase Stirrings mixers and trimmers at O’Looney’s Liquor World. You can also click here to find a retailer near you.

Learn more about Stirrings by visiting their social media sites at the links below.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Stirrings

Twitter: https://twitter.com/StirringsMixer

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stirrings/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/stirringsmixers/

No-Bake Mini-Chocolate Cheesecakes

A few weeks ago, mom and I were asked to prepare dessert for a very special Christmas dinner. The dessert had to appeal to adults and kids and needed to be versatile enough that we could create at least one variation for non-chocolate lovers. We searched Pinterest, Googled, dug through our favorite websites and family go-to recipes before dreaming up this little beauty.

No-Bake Mini-Chocolate Cheesecakes are pretty much fool proof and they’re extremely versatile! You want a peppermint cheesecake layer? Swap out peppermint baking chips for dark chocolate in the first layer. Easy peasy. This can also be made as a full-sized cheesecake. Just bake your brownie layer in a springform pan and layer the cheesecake filling.

If you’re intimidated by using “molds” for the filling, just use cupcake tins. Line the tins with cupcake papers. Spoon 2 Tablespoons of brownie batter into the cups and bake. After they’ve cooled, pipe in the cheesecake filling and chill.

P.S. As a rule, I try not to apologize for my bad photography skills or baking mishaps, but yes, I did notice the green sprinkle in my sloppy plate garnish. And, yes, I did notice that we put the whipped cream on a little prematurely so it’s running down the cake. Let’s just all pretend that we don’t see it, okay? Thanks. 🙂


No-Bake Layered Mini-Chocolate Cheesecakes
Yield: 12 servings

MAKE BROWNIE BASE (recipe courtesy of Nestle):

  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, melted
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease and flour a 13 x 9-inch baking pan.

Combine granulated sugar, butter and water in large bowl. Stir in eggs and vanilla extract. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in medium bowl; stir into sugar mixture. Stir in nuts. Spread into prepared baking pan.

Bake for 18 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out slightly sticky. Cool completely in pan. Use a 3-inch round cutter to cut out 10 to 12 rounds.

Cut 12 4” x 10” wax paper strips. Wrap each brownie round with wax paper, making a “form” to hold your filling. Place on a large baking sheet and set aside.

PREPARE FILLING (adapted from Cooking Classy):

    • 4 ounces dark chocolate
    • 4 ounces white baking chocolate
    • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
    • 16 Tablespoons powdered sugar, divided
    • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened

Melt dark chocolate according to directions listed on package (I use
a double broiler method), then remove from heat.

In a medium mixing bowl, using an electric hand mixer, whip 1 ¼ cups heavy cream until soft peaks form. Add 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar and whip until stiff peaks form, set aside in refrigerator.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl using an electric hand mixer, whip 8 ounces of cream cheese until smooth and fluffy. Mix in 5 Tablespoons powdered sugar. Stir in chocolate then fold in whipped cream.

Put filling in piping bag and pipe over brownie layers and chill while you prepare second layer.

Repeat process with the white chocolate and remaining ingredients. Pipe white chocolate filling on top of dark chocolate layer. Chill for at least 2 hours before removing wax paper. NOTE: You may need to run a knife along the edge of the filling as you remove the paper.

Just before serving, top with whipped cream and garnish with festive sprinkles!


Christmas Breakfast & A Non-Meltdown


I’m in a state of shock right now. It’s less than a week until Christmas and I still have my sanity. Is this for real? Somehow I’ve survived 6 months of travel, work, ridiculous baking, ball games, and kids’ concerts and still managed to get a Christmas tree up, goodies baked, host a Cookie Exchange Party, and bake a wedding cake without having a complete meltdown. I’m kinda feeling like Wonder Woman right now. I’m sure it won’t last. One little glitch in my plans and I’m done. But, for now I’m going to bask in my holiday happiness and try to make it through the rest of the week unscathed.

Part of my unusual Christmas sanity comes from the fact that it’s been an incredible year. While we’ve had our share of sickness and tragedies, God’s been good to us. In addition to crossing some huge items off my personal list of things-to-do-before-I-turn-40,  as a family we got to cross off a major bucket list item.

For years, the kids and I have had a travel wish list. Since Carson was five or so he’s wanted to visit Yosemite and the girls have wanted to snowboard in Colorado. But, the one trip we’ve all dreamed of was a vacation at the beach. And, it was one of those things that I wanted to experience with my kids for the first time. As they get older there are fewer and fewer firsts, so the beach was one thing I was determined to make happen even if we had to drive to the coast, sleep in the car, and live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while we were there.

Thankfully, I wasn’t forced to take such drastic measures. This summer, I received an email telling me that I had won a sponsored trip to compete at World Food Championships in November. When I received the email from Door County Coffee inviting me to represent them at WFC, I straight up cried. Not only was I going to compete at WFC, but I was going to get to take my kids and hubby to Orange Beach, Alabama. I will forever be indebted to my sponsor for their kindness and support, but also for granting me the opportunity to see my kids’ faces when they saw the ocean for the first time. I’m choked up just remembering it.

For that reason, the recipe that earned me a trip to World Food Championships in 2016 will  be printed, framed and hung on my wall along with photos of my kids building sand castles, fishing on the pier, and cheering me on in the WFC tent. But first, I’ll be starting a new tradition of making the winning dish for my crew to enjoy on Christmas morning. Might I suggest you do the same?

Sinfully Delightful White Chocolate Mocha French Toast Casserole can be made a day or two before then baked Christmas morning. Check out the recipe on the Door County Coffee & Tea Co. website by clicking here. I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do!

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? How-To For Mini-Fudge Tins


We’ve lived in the same house for our entire 18-year marriage. It took us more than a decade of that to realize that we were living in a teeny-tiny 5-acre bubble. One Christmas my husband asked if I would make goodies for us to take to our neighbors. Knocking on their doors with a plate full of festive food was a great way for us to introduce our family to those living closest to us.

So, a few years ago we started a tradition that our kids look forward to every year! The first year I mass produced cinnamon rolls and we spent two evenings delivering the goods. The cinnamon rolls were a huge success, but I didn’t want to be predictable every year so we started switching things up, cookies, candies, whatever I felt like making that year.

This year I wanted to make something that we could deliver locally but that I could also ship to out-of-state family. While wandering around our local Michaels craft store, the pieces started coming together and the result was these adorable mini-fudge tins! My strong suit isn’t creating things visually, so recipe development or anything remotely crafty requires a lot of trial and error. As you can imagine, I was thrilled that, for once, what I envisioned panned out the first time.

The concept is quick and simple and I think you (and you’re neighbors) will love it as much as we do!


Step 1: Purchase a box of 30 favor tins from the wedding department at Michaels. Using a 40% off coupon, the box only cost $12. You can either hand wash all of these or line them with parchment paper.

Step 2: Prepare your favorite fudge recipe (Mine is below!) and pour fudge into tins. Allow to cool completely with the lid off.

Step 3: Put lids on tins. Using your favorite holiday Washi tape (also from Michaels), partially wrap the tins. Use the tape to secure a wooden craft spoon to the fudge tin. Complete the look with Christmasy stickers (from…..Michaels).

Now, for one of my favorite fudge recipes…..



1 – 11 ounce bags Ghirardelli white baking chips

1 – 10 ounce bag Andes peppermint crunch baking chips

1 – 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

2 Tablespoons Challenge Dairy unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

1/3 cup Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup peppermint crunch sprinkles or crushed candy canes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Fill a small saucepan 1/4 full with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer.

In a large heat-proof bowl, stir together white baking chips, peppermint baking chips, sweetened condensed milk, butter, and peppermint extract. Place bowl on top of simmering pan of water. Stir frequently until mixture is smooth.

Divide mixture evenly among prepared tins. Use the back of a spoon to press fudge into the tins. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of semi-sweet chocolate chips on top of each tin. Place on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 1 minute or until chocolate is melted. Use the back of a spoon to spread chocolate over the peppermint fudge. Sprinkle with peppermint sprinkles.

Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. Enjoy!

In A World Full Of Kardashians, We Need More Mary Berrys

Several years ago, I stumbled upon The Great British Bake Off on YouTube and my life was forever changed. Who knew that it was okay to bake just because you loved it so much? Not for money, not for sport, but just because you love it.

I don’t remember exactly how or when that fateful introduction to the GBBO happened, but I do remember being immediately entranced. The show spoke to me…an ordinary, home baker who dreamed of using my talent for something great. I dug up every episode of the GBBO I could find and watched it over and over again. As more seasons aired I became more obsessed and found myself waiting up as late as necessary on GBBO nights for the newest episode to go up on YouTube. Eventually our local PBS station started airing the show and introduced the U.S. to what the British have known for years. Home baking is where it’s at!

The show is everything that every other reality show isn’t. There’s no staged drama, no backstabbing or sabotages. No alliances, plans or scheming. Just unadulterated love for baking.

One of the main draws of the Great British Bake Off is Mary Berry. The Queen of Baking, Mary Berry is the epitome of what every housewife hopes to be (or maybe just me). She shows that it’s possible to juggle family and career and to use your domestic talents outside of your home. But, you know what the greatest thing about Mary Berry is? She is proof that it’s cool to be a lady.

As a mom of 3 teenage girls I find that one of my biggest challenges is teaching them how to be a lady. I am a self-professed horrible dresser and semi-tomboy as I’m content to go make-up free in jeans, a t-shirt and a baseball cap (and often barefoot), and teaching my girls to be ladies is especially tough for me. So, I went looking for inspiration elsewhere, and found it in Mary Berry. Everything around us says that only the women with the least clothes and the loudest mouths succeed. Mary Berry is living evidence that the opposite is true.  I often refer to her when my daughters have wardrobe dilemmas. My standard answer when they ask “How does this look?” is “Would Mary Berry wear it?” The question guarantees an eye roll, but they can’t argue.

I had the opportunity to meet Mary Berry earlier this year. It was the cherry on top of one of the coolest experiences of my life and something that I will never forget. I hate to be vague, but every now and then a memory is made that is simply too special to put into words and this is one of those times. I could write every detail of the events leading up to the meeting and how it came about, but I couldn’t do it justice. Another reason I’m not sharing details is because it would make the experience all about me. The fact is that there were a handful of other people there who shared it with me and who deserve to cherish their own memories. So, I’ll just file mine away and you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that Mary Berry is every bit as wonderful as I imagined her to be. She’s pretty much what I want to be when I grow up. And, she’s what I want my daughters to be when they grow up. Classy. Ladylike. Kind. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

NOTE: If you don’t know who Mary Berry is or what the Great British Bake Off is (or if you just love baking), you’re in luck! The U.S. now has its own version of the GBBO called The Great American Baking Show that is set to air on ABC starting Thursday, December 1. It will feature Mary Berry judging alongside Johnny Iuzzini as 10 super talented home bakers vie for the title of the best home baker in America.

WFC & A Spelling Bee

Have you ever noticed that as we get older the negative voices from our childhood grow quieter while the positive ones become louder? All those embarrassing moments become funny, and all those things we used to hate about ourselves become the things we love the most. The hurtful things become less painful and we learn to cherish the moments that shaped us.

It’s been nearly 30 years since I met Mrs. Briney. She was a lifesaver for me in 6th grade as I awkwardly maneuvered through my first year in public school after being homeschooled for most of grade school. I recall my first day in her class as I sat stone still in my desk while everyone else was chattering as they unpacked their brand spankin’ new backpacks and put their shiny new books in their lockers. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, and it was obvious. Mrs. Briney made her way to me and smiled as she helped me settle in.

That wasn’t the only time Mrs. Briney would come to my rescue. It happened again in math class later in the year when she noticed that I was struggling with multiplication tables. For weeks, she would spend one-on-one time with me, teaching me cool tricks for learning those tables while the rest of my class worked on other projects.

When I was in 7th grade, I won our school Spelling Bee. Spelling was one of the few things that came easy to me, but I never set out to win a Spelling Bee. I think Mrs. Briney was more excited than I was about the win. I recall her encouraging me to study hard because she believed that I had it in me to win the county bee that was coming up.

The day of the Fergus County Spelling Bee arrived and I hadn’t studied a lick. I figured that if I could win the school bee without studying then I would be okay. I was right. I won the Fergus County Spelling Bee and have the picture to prove it. I’ve included it for your viewing pleasure. Oh…and that’s me with the hair, in case you couldn’t tell.


The first stop we made on our way home was Mrs. Briney’s house. Mom and I walked to her door and knocked. I will never forget the smile on her face as I showed her my 1st place trophy. She was SO proud of me! Again, she told me to study because she believed that I was capable of winning the Montana State Spelling Bee. Did I listen? Let’s just say, I made it through the first few rounds without any trouble. Then along came “RESERVOIR.” I will never forget how to spell that word as long as I live. I heard the dreaded “bell” and exited the stage feeling foolish and dreading telling Mrs. Briney that I hadn’t won. If I’d only studied.

Now, as I prepare for one of the biggest competitions in my culinary career, World Food Championships (WFC), I hear Mrs. Briney’s voice telling me to study and practice. You see, food sport is very similar to a spelling bee. There is no room for error. There are no second chances. One wrong move and it’s over. The only way to guarantee a performance that you’ll be proud of is to study and practice and study some more.

So, I’m feverishly testing, experimenting, practicing, writing and rewriting until everything is just so. I’ve never been so meticulous about anything in my life! But, I’ll have no regrets when it’s over. The icing on the cake is that my family will be at World Food Championships with me…all 5 kids, the hubby, and my parents. My mom and 17-year old son will be my sous chefs and we’re going to make some incredible memories and learn some valuable lessons that I can file away with the rest.


We’re Famous…In Case You Didn’t Know

In case you don’t know…our family is kinda famous. Not in the wealthy-recognizable-luxurious kind of way.  But, in the you-probably-heard-our-story-and-didn’t-know-it-was-us kind of way.

You see, a few years ago we had the honor of gracing the “Weird News” section of newspapers and were the subject of radio talk shows and newspaper columns around the world. Yes…the WORLD!

Strange and as embarrassing as this story is to share, there are lessons to be learned so hang with me until the end. Keep in mind that everyone involved probably has a different recollection of how things went down, but this is how my memory recalls the event (minus a few insignificant details).

NOTE: Reader discretion is advised for those with weak stomachs.

It was a dark and stormy night….no, not really (But, isn’t that how all good stories start?). It was actually a pleasant Spring day in Arkansas and my husband and his twin brother headed out to Greers Ferry Lake to enjoy some spearfishing. The wives and children anxiously awaited their return hoping they would bring home a bounty worthy of a good ol’ southern fish fry. I don’t recall the guys bringing home many “good” fish, but they did bring home a long-nosed gar.

For those who are unfamiliar with long-nosed gar, they are someone reminiscent of a small dinosaur. They are vicious looking creatures, have virtually no enemies and they are near impossible to eat. Yet, my hubby and brother-in-law decided that they wanted to see what gar tasted like. So, they brought one home. In the process of cleaning the fish they realized that it was an expectant momma gar. My hubby recalled a conversation he’d had with a man in our church in which he was told that fish eggs are fantastic to eat! Before I go any farther, remember that we live in Arkansas. People here eat strange things…squirrel, raccoon, fish eggs….so the idea wasn’t all that odd.

Much to the dismay of myself and my sister-in-law, the guys brought the fish eggs to my kitchen where they proceeded to batter and fry them in my Fry Daddy like any good southern cook would do. When the kids were offered a taste they shied away. Those that didn’t were forbidden to eat them by their mothers…except for my then 10-year old who was more than willing to do anything his dad was doing. The mighty fishermen and my son ate and ate. I wasn’t sure just how many gar eggs they had ingested until my son woke me up in the wee hours of morning. “Mom? I just threw up.”

Like any good mother would do, I jumped out of bed and went to my son’s room to clean up the aftermath. That is, until I saw the mess. I won’t go into detail because it makes me gag to even think of typing it, but you can probably imagine what I found.

My son was sick several more times through the night. The next morning I awoke to find my husband asleep on the couch. He had been sick during the night as well. I walked next door where my brother-in-law and his family was staying. He too had been throwing up all night. This wasn’t just a coincidence.

I went home and opened my laptop and did a quick Google search. “Gar eggs are extremely toxic to humans when consumed.” Two things went through my mind at this point:  The obvious “Why didn’t we Google this BEFORE the guys ate the gar eggs?” and “Phew! At least we’re not the only ones who have tried such a thing!” I found some comfort in the fact that somewhere somehow someone else thought to try to eat gar eggs, because how else would it be known that they are toxic to humans?

I immediately called our doctor’s office. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in their office that day. It’s probably fair to say they had never received a call from a frantic mother saying “What do I do? My kid ate toxic fish eggs!”

They kindly did some research and urged me to call Poison Control and consider going to the ER. I placed a call to Poison Control. By the time I got done explaining what a gar was I knew they weren’t going to be any help. However, they did suggest that I call the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission since they would probably be more educated about the fish.

This is where things went terribly wrong. Listen to me closely, friends. When someone asks permission to share your story and promises that it will only go out to a couple dozen newsletter recipients and that your story could save someone’s life….RUN! Hang up the phone. Block their number. Whatever it takes.

During the time that I was at the hospital with my son, I received calls from Louisiana State University and other southern colleges who wanted to use our story for scientific research. I granted them permission to speak to the doctors working on my son and granted them access my son’s medical records that included lab results from the bazillion vials of blood they took out of his little body that day. In the meantime, the doctors were certain that the toxins in gar eggs were cyanide-based. How did they reach this conclusion? It had something to do with a story about a dog that died back in the 1800’s after eating gar eggs. It took a phone call to the hospital from a knowledgeable professor from LSU to convince the doctors that the toxin was protein-based and would simply have to run its course through. Any anti-toxin they gave my son would do more harm than just letting his body heal itself.

It was a matter of hours before the AP got ahold of our story and it spread like wildfire. Apparently the “little newsletter” that Arkansas Game & Fish sent out had a larger recipient list than we were told.

The next day, we started receiving calls and messages from all over the country saying that they had seen our story on their evening newscasts. I tried to do some damage control, but it was a complete waste of my time. By the next morning, blogs, radio talk shows, newspapers and more were sharing our story.

What made the story so appealing is the fact that we live in Arkansas. If somebody from Oregon had eating toxic fish eggs it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal. But, the Arkansas Hillbilly connection was just too perfect. Another reason this story made headlines is because of my husband’s name. Darwin. He endured more “survival of the fittest” jokes after the gar egg incident than he’s heard his entire life.

The hoopla died down after a couple of days and the guys fully recovered. But, we learned some valuable lessons during that time.

  1. Never. Trust. The. Media.
    Ironically, I am now a member of the media. I write stories about real people every day. I often say that I’m a horrible entertainment writer. I have trouble separating real-life from news. Every time I write I see the face of the person I’m writing about. I think about how they would feel if they read the story that I penned. The pain of being misquoted and mocked is rough, y’all.
  2. Google Saves Lives.
    For real, y’all. When in doubt, Google!
  3. Laugh.
    Life is pretty boring without some great stories to share. The embarrassment about the gar egg incident has worn off, yet 7-years later the story still comes up almost weekly. How many people from rural Arkansas can say that they were a topic of discussion on a New Zealand radio show or appeared in a British newspaper?

The gar egg incident left us wiser and more careful…and with a fantastic story to tell for generations to come. We’ve taken screen shots, printed, and even framed some of the stories that went around about our family. The more time that passes, the funnier they get. As a matter of fact, my son and husband have grown prouder of the story over the years, somewhat owning it as a badge of honor. Can’t say that I blame them. They handled the situation with grace, unlike me.

If you are still aching for some good reading after this lengthy post, check out the links below for a couple of the best stories about our 15-minutes of fame.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I threw away the Fry Daddy. You know…just in case there was a stray egg in there somewhere. Maybe I’ll get a new one for Christmas…


Fish Eggs Do Not Caviar Make (Outdoor Life)

Arkansas Man Attempts To Win Darwin Award


Life Lesson: Never Leave On A Miss

a girl and her softball, glove, and bat

It was the summer before my freshman year of high school. I’d finally reached a triple digit weight, but my hair and feet made up most of it. I was awkward and introverted. But, I loved softball. Summer softball leagues were something I looked forward to every year.

This particular summer softball would change my life. I was playing on a co-ed team and was one of the team’s few pitchers. When I wasn’t pitching I was in right field…or on the bench. Needless to say, pitching is what made me love the sport. There’s no standing around. There’s constant action. It’s the perfect position for someone who can’t sit still (a problem I still have).

Our softball team traveled to other rural Montana communities to play once or twice a week. One afternoon at an away game, I was standing on the pitchers mound. And I was off. Bad off. I couldn’t manage to get the ball across the plate. I asked the coach to take me out, but he insisted I push through it. Throw after throw after throw I walked members of the opposing team. When my own teammates started sitting down on their bases and laying down in the outfield I began to plead with my coach to please take me out.

At one point the coach walked out to the mound where I was in tears…in front of two entire communities, no less. He told me something that I have never forgotten. He said that he wasn’t going to let this get the best of me. We all have bad days and we have to push through them. And, at that point there was no chance of our team coming back for a win, so the best thing he could do for me was force me to work through it. And I did.

I don’t know if it was the humiliation or the anger….LOTS of anger….that got me through the longest softball game of my life, but eventually I got a ball across the plate. Then another. And another. I’ll never forget the smile on my coach’s face and seeing him cheering for me when I finally broke through that wall.

When the game was over I ran to the bus and cried. I didn’t talk to any of my teammates during the ride home. Instead, I stared out my window and seethed. To say I was furious with Coach would be an epic understatement. But, as time passed I learned to appreciate what he did for me. 20-something years later that day still chokes me up when I think about it. Little did I know that one of the most humiliating day of my life would teach me such a huge lesson.

At least once a day you’ll probably hear me say something to my kids about never leaving on a miss. If we’re shooting free throws in the gym…we never leave the court on a miss. If we’re practicing volleyball serves…we never leave on a miss. If I’m learning to bake something new and the recipe is a major failure….I never quit on a miss. I make it again and again until I master it. It’s not about trying to be the best at something, it’s about never letting that something get the best of you.

To Coach: Thank you for not letting me quit.

Dreaming Big & Imaginary Blue Ribbons

It’s icy and cold here in Arkansas. Perfect weather for deep cleaning and reminiscing. I sat down earlier today and went through my cedar chest that holds a lifetime of photos, letters, and a gazillion other keepsakes that I can’t bring myself to part with. I came across a small stack of newspaper clippings from my brief stint as a columnist with our local paper. On the top of the pile was a story I’d written around the end of 2014. It is quite possibly my favorite piece of writing…in a strange, twisted kind of way. There’s no joy in admitting embarrassing moments and failures, but there’s something freeing about throwing them out there for everyone to laugh at. So, I wanted to share the story with you. Warning: It’s long. I write like I talk….a lot. 🙂 Enjoy!


New Year’s resolutions. I don’t make them. I prefer short-term goals as I’m more likely to reach them. Not that I’m afraid of failure. Quite the opposite. I thrive on failure. Well…maybe thrive isn’t the right word. But, I’ve been rejected and suffered enough failure and disappointment in my life that failure doesn’t scare me anymore. A German philosopher once said “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger” (Thank you, Google). So, why not make some realistic goals? If we don’t reach them, so what? We’re stronger for trying.

When I was a kid I used to dream of being on Star Search. I never dreamed it out loud, just thought to myself how cool it would be. I had no talent whatsoever so being on Star Search wasn’t going to happen unless they were looking for uncoordinated, tone-deaf, scrawny middle-schoolers with bad hair. So, I decided I was going to be an astronaut until I learned that you had to be good at math. Through my junior high years I went through phases of wanting to be everything from a doctor to a news anchor. Too bad you had to be smart to be a doctor. My feel of public speaking nixed the news anchor thing.

Hmm…what’s left? CHEERLEADING! Yeah…cheerleading! Anyone can be a cheerleader! My freshman year of high school I decided to try out. I practiced faithfully and learned the routines and cheers. Four cheerleaders would be chosen for the varsity squad and four for the junior varsity squad.

Tryout day arrived. Eight spots were open and nine were trying out. We were to perform a group cheer, a cheer with one other wannabe, and a cheer alone.  No problemo! The judges were representatives from each class, the cheer coach, and a couple of teachers. The group cheer went great. The couples cheer was easy-peasy. As I walked out onto the gym floor for my solo cheer, I panicked. I thought I might pass out. I don’t remember the cheer. I don’t remember anything past “Ready? Okay!” I blinked and tryouts were over.

The nine of us waited in the hallway for results to be posted on the oversized bulletin board on the wall across from the secretary’s office. I got tired of waiting and went to my locker. Wouldn’t you know that they would post results while I was away? As I walked back down the hall, I saw the other girls gathered around the board giggling and hugging each other. As I approached, a few of them scattered. The others looked at me sympathetically and mumbled “Sorry, Tiff.” Seriously? I was the ONE girl that didn’t make the squad? Loser is not strong enough a word to describe how I felt. Humilibarassified pretty much covers it.

Sure…it hurt at the time, but I’m glad it happened. I feel like I’ve felt the worst possible rejection anyone could ever feel (at 14, I thought my life was over). So why not keep trying? And, try I did. I played every sport I could and sat the bench more often than I played until I grew into my feet. I joined every club and learned what it meant to be better. I rarely won anything and have a cedar chest full of red, yellow, and bless-your-heart-thanks-for-trying ribbons to prove it. But, you know what? Without losers there wouldn’t be winners. Think about it. There’s no joy in winning unless you beat someone, right? Every time I lost, somebody else got a certificate or trophy or blue ribbon to hang on their wall…or a spot on the cheerleading squad. You’re welcome!

While I may not be great at any one thing, I love trying. Cooking for instance. I don’t consider myself a fantastic cook or baker, I just do it because I love it. If other people like what I make, then great! If not, that’s okay, too. The most important thing to me is that my family likes what I bake. One of my daily goals is to sit down and have dinner as a family. Dinner time varies depending on hubby’s work schedule, ball games, etc. But, we try to eat as many evening meals together as possible and make them special.

What makes meal time special? Sitting around the table and eating together. That’s it. It doesn’t take fine china and a four course meal to make a meal memorable. My kids are happy with paper plates and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as long as we’re all sitting down together. No phones. No computers. Just good old-fashioned uninterrupted conversation. Every night that we eat together as a family is another virtual blue ribbon on my wall and trophy in my trophy case. Nobody else can see it right now, but I know it’s there. Those imaginary blue ribbons mean a whole lot more to me than any track award, student-of-the month certificate, or Pillsbury Bake-Off ever would. The cool thing is that those ribbons and trophies don’t only belong to me. They belong to my kids too. Only they won’t be able to see them until they’re grown and ready to start adding their own to the case.