DOUGHBOY OBSESSION PART 3
I was officially a Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist. Somehow it just didn’t seem real. This event that I had admired and revered since I was a little girl was now a part of my story. Words can’t explain the shock I was feeling. While I was excited, I also felt undeserving. When the list of 100 finalists was published on Pillsbury’s website, I studied every single recipe, every finalist, every photo. How on earth did my middle-of-the-night inspiration end up competing against these other amazing recipes? I was almost embarrassed at how simple and easy my recipe was. I remember even then feeling like I wasn’t going to win. I just kind of knew. But, I was in and was going to learn everything I could possibly learn so that next time I could come back with a vengeance. Yeah…I’m just a little competitive. Actually, it’s not so much that I’m competitive as it is that I just hate to lose. I’ve lost many many contests in my life. I’ve always been a 2nd-placer. Just good enough to be able to participate, but not good enough to win. That kinds of history makes me want to prove myself. It doesn’t have to be a million dollars (although that’d be great!), but I want to prove to myself that I am capable of winning. Period. So, I documented every bit of correspondence with Pillsbury. I re-read books and blogs. I watched YouTube videos about the Bake Off over and over again. I didn’t want any surprises at the contest. I felt like the more I knew my first time around the easier it would make things the second time…and the 3rd (hopefully).
Shortly after receiving my finalist notification I got instructions as to how to book my travel arrangements and hotel accommodations. I was so thankful that my mom was going to be able to make the trip with me. Since my category (Quick Rise & Shine Breakfasts) was the last to pick it’s finalists, we were crunched for time getting all of our stuff together. We hadn’t prepared at all for guest fees and such, so mom and I scrambled to raise money to cover her $350 guest fee. We baked and sold lots of pumpkin rolls and were able to have the money in hand by the deadline. Phew.
With less than a month until Bake Off day, it was time to approve our grocery and equipment lists. I tell ya, those Pillsbury peeps think of everything! Every pot, pan, bowl, fork, spatula…you name it and it was on the list. The only thing I really had to think about was how I was going to present my dish to the judges. I ended up requesting 4 8-inch plates with plans of fixing up each plate as if I were serving whole servings to the judges. Rookie mistake, but I wouldn’t know this until game day.
With all of the detail work taken care of, it was now time to focus on what I was going to wear. As a mom of 5, my wardrobe consists of several pairs of yoga pants, my favorite hoodie, and numerous 5k t-shirts acquired in my former running life. This was going to be interesting.
As game day approached, I was feeling more and more guilty about going on this trip. I hated that hubby had to take off work to stay with the kids. I hated that I kinda knew I wasn’t going to win and felt like this trip might be a complete waste. I remember making a comment to hubby a few days before leaving for Las Vegas. I told him that I wish they would give us the option to take the money that the trip costs instead of competing. It sure would have made for a nice Christmas.
As I drove to mom’s house early the morning of November 10th, I was beginning to get really excited. As we loaded our suitcases and I hung my cute little Pillsbury luggage tags where everyone could see them, it finally hit me. I was a Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist. This was something that nobody could ever take away. Win or lose, I would always be a part of this amazing, elite group of people. I couldn’t wait to get to Vegas.
I have a confession to make. I was almost more excited about my layover in Denver than I was about getting to Las Vegas. I grew up in Montana where I was spoiled with views of the mountains. Now I’m stuck in Arkansas “in these hills that they call mountains” (thank you Dan Seals) and couldn’t wait for a glimpse of the Rockies. As soon as we landed in Denver, mom and I found a window where we could soak up the mountains until it was time to board our flight. Is it weird that I was feeling a little teary?
The second leg of our trip was when I started to get a little nervous. Butterflies. Nausea. Cold sweat. It probably had a little bit to do with my fear of flying, but mostly it was a fear of the unknown. I had lived inside my little mommy-housewife bubble for 15 years. This was new territory for me. I knew lots of names and faces from my creepy internet stalking, but otherwise knew no one. I was reliving those horrifying days of being the new girl in school. Ugh. I think I’m going to be sick.
As our plane landed in Las Vegas, we were greeted with wonderful, adult billboards that reminded me why my children weren’t allowed on this trip. It took me way too long staring at a billboard on the runway to figure out what The Thunder Down Under was. I was way more sheltered than I gave myself credit for.
We stepped off the plane and made our way to baggage claim where we saw a lady standing with a sign that said “Pillsbury Bake Off”. As we chatted, a couple of other people noticed that we were there for the Bake Off and made sure to wish me well. Our driver arrived and escorted us to a gorgeous black Escalade that would take us to our hotel. I asked our driver if I could sit up front, while mom shared the back seat with a writer for a Florida newspaper that was going to be covering the contest. She stated that she had covered the previous Bake Off so I started firing questions at her. I’m trying to figure out a nice way to say this…..but, I don’t think I can. The reporter was snarky and rude. She wasn’t at all enthusiastic about covering the contest and made it sound as if she was doing it only because she had to. Fine then. I started quizzing our driver who was very knowledgeable about all things Vegas. He filled us in on the Brittney Spears show, Garth Brooks, Tim & Faith, etc. The small talk was a good way to calm my nerves. As we pulled up to the Aria I realized just how hungry I was. I had eaten very little all day and was famished. Our plane had arrived at 12:30 and lunch was only being served until 1. If we hurried we might get a little something to eat and get settled in our room before orientation. By the time we waited in line for our room keys we barely missed lunch. Huge bummer. Thanks to a couple of other finalists identifiable by the badges they proudly wore around their necks, we finally found our way to Bake Off check in. As we came up the escalator, this is what we saw:
My first view of the Pillsbury Bake-Off banners.
I turned to the left and saw this:
No stinkin’ way! Was this really happening? There I was…my recipe and my bad-hair-day-rush-to-Little-Rock-for-a-quick-photo-between-basketball-games picture. Unreal!
I checked in and got my goodie bag…the bag I had read about and dreamed about. The bag that I knew held all kinds of Pillsbury goodies. As mom and I discussed how to find our room, Becky McKay came to the rescue. Becky, I will forever be indebted to you for helping us make the trek across the world…er..Aria to find our room. Thank you! As we boarded the elevator, a lady that I recognized as Jan Attkins, Pillsbury Contest Kitchens Manager, stepped in. Without thinking, I said “Hi Jan!”. She gave me a little smile while looking slightly freaked out.
“Are you a finalist?” She asked.
“Yes! I sure am.” I responded.
“What’s your name?”
“Yes! How did you know? I’m impressed.”
“Let’s test you. Do you know Becky’s range number?”
“No…no. I’m not that good.”
We both laughed.
Mom and I got off on our floor and made our way to the room. I had read all about the Aria before coming to Las Vegas, but nothing could prepare me for how truly awesome these rooms were. Maybe I’m just used to the Super 8, but I was in awe. Remote controlled drapes. My name programmed into the television and alarm clock. And a floor to ceiling view of the strip that I couldn’t take my eyes off of.
I had only a few minutes to unpack and freshen up before orientation. But, not before running back downstairs for a cup of Krispy Kreme donut holes and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. Hopefully that would get me through until dinner.