Savory 3-Cheese Bacon & Poblano Ranch Souffles

When I started entering cooking contests three years ago I never dreamed where this little adventure would take me! At the time it was simply a hobby that forced me out of my cooking comfort zone and gave me a little nudge to explore my creative culinary side.

In the months since, I’ve traveled to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City and many places in between. But, one of the most fulfilling culinary adventures was in Orange Beach, Alabama, where I competed at World Food Championships in 2016. The competition itself is enough to ignite a fire under any home cook who wants a fierce challenge, but the fact that I was able to take my family along and cook with my mom and son by my side was the real prize!

This year I’m attempting to earn a coveted sponsored position at World Food Championships once again. One of the sponsors offering spots to home cooks is Saucy Mama. Each year they choose 20 bloggers/home cooks to compete in an online recipe contest where one lucky winner will be chosen to be a part of Team Saucy Mama.

If you’re not familiar with Saucy Mama you’re missing out! With products ranging from marinades and mustards to olives and dressings, they offer some of the best cooking ingredients I’ve ever had the honor of cooking with!

This year I chose to feature Saucy Mama’s Poblano Ranch Dressing in my contest entry. The natural assumption would be that one would use a dressing as a sauce or a topping. I wanted to do something different….VERY different! I chose to incorporate the dressing into a savory souffle. I added a variety of cheeses (cream cheese, parmesan and romano), crispy bacon, and sun-dried tomatoes. The result was magical!

Try it for yourself using the recipe below!  To order your own Saucy Mama Poblano Ranch Dressing, click here. Or, leave a comment below to enter to win some fantastic products from Saucy Mama! Winner will be chosen at random on June 23.

Saucy Mama Souffle Crop1
Savory 3-Cheese Bacon & Poblano Ranch Souffles
Serves 8

Ingredients:

6 Tablespoons butter, divided
3 Tablespoons plain bread crumbs
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup plus 3 Tablespoons finely grated fresh parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated romano cheese
1/3 cup Saucy Mama Poblano Ranch Dressing
4 egg yolks
8 egg whites
3/4 pound bacon, fried, dried and crumbled
2 Tablespoons finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Use 2 Tablespoons of butter to grease eight 8-ounce ramekins then coat each well with bread crumbs. Place on a large baking sheet and set aside.

In a 2-quart saucepan, melt remaining 4 Tablespoons of butter. Whisk in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until bubbly. Slowly whisk in milk and cook for 3 minutes or until thick.

Remove pan from heat and add cream cheese, 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, and the romano cheese. Stir until smooth and all cheese is melted. Stir in Saucy Mama Poblano Ranch Dressing.

Place egg yolks in a medium bowl. Quickly whisk half of the hot cheese mixture into the yolks then pour into remaining mixture in saucepan. Whisk until well incorporated.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat egg whites on high until stiff peaks form. Gently fold half of the egg whites into the cheese mixture. Add bacon, sun-dried tomatoes and remaining egg whites, folding gently until no white remains.

Gently spoon mixture into prepared ramekins and top with reserved parmesan cheese. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. NOTE: Avoid opening oven while soufflés are baking. Serve immediately!

Advertisements

The P.W. Merc: The Good, The Bad and The Opposite of Ugly

I’ve never been much of a follower. I wouldn’t call myself a leader either. I’m just kinda….here. I’ve never been afraid to say “no” or be the only one on one side of the fence. Instead of taking someone’s word about a person, a recipe, a restaurant…I would rather draw my own conclusions.

This little character trait came back to bite me in a big way as I fought against being drawn into the phenomenon that is Ree Drummond: The Pioneer Woman. For years friends would forward me her recipes and she was the talk of many a church potluck conversations. But, I stood my ground and resisted the temptation to visit her website. Not because I had anything against her, but because I tend to think that mega-bloggers are way over rated (please don’t send hate mail).

But, one day I stumbled across a post on Facebook by the Pioneer Woman. It was around Christmas time (I think) and she was giving away cowboy boots. Like every self-respecting housewife who loves free stuff would, I followed the link in hopes of winning some boots. Crazy thing is….I don’t wear cowboy boots. Never have. Never will.

The rest is history, as they say. I found myself rushing to thepioneerwoman.com almost daily for recipe ideas. She even threw in these crazy fun quizzes about things like The Wizard of Oz and Meg Ryan. It’s as if she was intentionally luring me in. If that was her plan, it worked.

For the last several years, Ree Drummond’s Sloppy Joes have made their way to our family dinner table once a week, and her to-die-for Pasta Carbonara and Cinnamon Rolls have made me fat (yes…I’m blaming my chubby on Ree).

It wasn’t long after I became a faithful Pioneer Woman follower that she landed her own Food Network Show and a line of kitchen goodies at Wal-Mart. And, she hasn’t slowed down since.

A few months ago, Ree and her family opened the Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. In true, obsessive, creepy-stalker-like fashion, my mom, three daughters and I made the five hour pilgrimage to The Merc. I don’t know if it was the fact that I’d been holed up in my house with the flu for a week, but it seemed like a really great idea to jump in the car at noon on a Thursday and drive to Oklahoma to see first-hand what all the hype was about.

We arrived with an hour to spare before closing time. After taking the required photos in front of the lit “Mercantile” marquis, we made our way inside. I was in a haze as I made laps through the store. The colors. The vintage designs. The cuteness. The Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson playing on the radio. It was too much to take in all at once, but the attention to detail wasn’t lost on me.

We made our way upstairs to the bakery/coffee shop so we could get our caffeine fill before making the 5 hour drive home. I ordered a caramel macchiato…to which the barista responded, “Do you want it like a Starbucks macchiato or a regular macchiato?” Um….I don’t know the difference, so I told him to make it however it tastes best. And, he did. That was one fantastic cup of coffee! It paired perfectly with the cream cheese croissant I devoured.

The girls ordered gigantic rice krispie treats and I took home cookie sandwiches for the rest of my crew. Overall, the treats were delicious! My only complaint was that my pastry had been frozen and was still cold and firm in the center. But, it didn’t keep me from eating it!

While we were enjoying our treats upstairs, my daughter pointed at a man across the room and said, “Is that Pioneer Woman’s husband?” The only man I saw was about 80-years old and weighed about 100 pounds. Um no…that was not the infamous Marlboro Man.

But, as we made our way down stairs, there he was. Marlboro Man in the flesh standing at the bottom of the stairs taking photos with a couple of patrons. Not gonna lie…I got a little giddy. I’ve read Ree’s book “From Black Heels To Tractor Wheels” and know all about Ladd Drummond aka Marlboro Man. We waited for our turn then took a pic with Ree’s beloved. In case you’ve ever wondered…..Yes, his eyes are really that blue in person. And, yes….he’s as kind as you would expect him to be, but much more talkative. (I imagined him as a super quiet, tip-your-hat-instead-of-say-hello kinda guy. But, he was quick to start conversation and answer any questions.)

img_8204

Part of what attributed to the charm of The Merc was its location. Tiny Pawhuska reminded me of rural Montana where I grew up. I fell in love with it immediately. My only regret is that we didn’t arrive earlier in the day so we could spend more time taking in the town and enjoy a meal at The Merc. Maybe next time, eh? Because…there will most definitely be a next time.

 

P.S. I never won the cowboy boots, or anything else from Ree. But, I’ll forgive her….only because I’m kissing up in hopes of writing for her world-famous blog. 🙂

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!

watermelon-kids

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
SUGAR-KISSED SWEET POTATO SWIRL COOKIES
2017 Bob’s Red Mill United States of Cookies Contest Grand Prize Winner

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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!

FIZZY PEACH COLADA SPRITZER

Ingredients:
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
Ice

Directions:
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. 🙂

chocolate-cheescake

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!

img_6871

Christmas Breakfast & A Non-Meltdown

wfc-dish

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

fudge-2

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!

fudge-1

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…..

fudge-5

PEPPERMINT BARK FUDGE

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.

spelling-bee

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…

LINKS:

Fish Eggs Do Not Caviar Make (Outdoor Life)

Arkansas Man Attempts To Win Darwin Award