You’re welcome for the single blog entry. I’m glad so many of you found it comical. I’m writing to let you know that I was unable to get my second post to come together into a cohesive story and I freaked out and quit. If you need me, I’ll be in the process of dying without having lived my dreams. I’ll be easy to spot because I’ll be the one in the corner, alone in my pajamas, eating cheesecake directly out of a spring form pan. The cheesecake will be flat and dry and cracked on top because I couldn’t stand leaving it in the oven to cool per the instructions. Instead I opened the door and stuck a knife in it. Ten or fifteen times.
But seriously. I’m having a particularly difficult time putting my thoughts to paper at the moment. I have quite a lot to share that I think will make for decent blog fodder but I can’t get it to gel. So in keeping with my “I don’t care about a theme, I’m just writing” mantra, I have decided to scrap my entire first attempt to create a fluid tale and go with a series of anecdotes detailing a 48-hour span of my life. As always, I promise no particular value other than entertainment. It might not even work. And now I present:
The Pioneer Woman Signs. And other stories.
A collection of events: November 17 – 18, 2013
Story #1: Sunday, November 17, 2013. 12:15 a.m.
I was walking home from a party and thinking about cupcakes. I had sampled a handful of varieties that evening and although cupcakes are not largely one of my favorite desserts, these were among the best I had ever tasted. Most of my previous cupcake experiences had involved trendy bakeries with odd flavor combinations that almost always had some kind of sea salt involved. I’m really over sea salt. People seem to think they can just throw some on chocolate and suddenly their recipe is original and gourmet. It’s not. I have sea salt in my cabinet. It’s not a big deal. In fact, I have two kinds of sea salt in my cabinet. I’m practically a world-class chef.
Anyway… I continued walking and thinking about cupcakes and coming up with flavor combinations that didn’t involve any kind of sea salt when a beat up truck pulled up next to me and matched my pace. Feeling a little strange about this, I picked up the pace only to have the truck speed up to match my pace a second time. I’m typically not a person who scares easily, but I have to admit that my heart began to beat a little faster while my mind began to look for an escape route. I tried to talk myself out of a panic by taking a deep breath and slowing down, only to have the truck slow down to match my pace a third time.
I began to alternate between thoughts at images:
Thought: Oh my… I think this guy is following me. Ohmygodohmygodomygod. Act calm. Nothing’s going to happen.
Image: Me being dragged into truck.
Thought: Should I get the license plate? I don’t want to look back. I don’t want him to know that I notice him following me.
Image: Multiple kidnap scenarios. Failed ransom exchange.
(Sweat begins to trickle down the back of my neck)
Thought: Okay. Stay calm. The house is only about fifty feet away. Look as nonchalant as possible, count to three, then run as fast as you can. When you get to the door, ring the bell as many times as you can to wake everyone up while you unlock the deadbolt.
(Insert sound of something hitting the pavement)
Thought: Is he throwing something at me? What is that? Is he trying to distract me? Okay, one…two…
(Insert sound of something hitting the pavement a second time)
Thought: What is that? Deep breath, look over your shoulder then run.
I looked over my shoulder just in time to see the driver hurl a third item out of the window. As it hit the ground I caught a glimpse of a familiar yellow bag. The kind typically used to cover newspapers… I walked home slowly, without a need to ring my doorbell.
And that is the story of how I escaped death by newspaperman.
Story #2: Sunday, November 17th, 2013. 6:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m
Because the universe finds it very important to keep me sleep-deprived and therefore unable to make rational decisions, I awoke around 6:30 a.m. after having fallen asleep around 2:30 a.m. I feel asleep particularly late due to the fact that I was almost just abducted been by a newspaperman while thinking about cupcake flavors that didn’t involve sea salt and I couldn’t settle down.
I figured this rare, early-morning alone time would be an excellent opportunity to wrap up my still-in-progress attempt to reorganize my kitchen. I was mostly done but I still had a few odds and ends to find places for and a load of dishes (or two) in the sink. I find completing organizational task to be extremely difficult, as reminiscing about the treasures I stumble across often sidetracks me. In this instance, these were my favorite items:
- Vintage salt and pepper shakers, circa 1975.
How did I not know about these? These are awesome. Why haven’t I had these out? Mr. Husband claims we’ve always had these and they’re hidden away because I called them “tacky” and made him put them out of sight. I highly doubt that. That seems like something only an unusually impulsive person would do.
- Easy Bake Oven with accessories.
This thing is headed straight for the Easy Bake trash. Who invented this and why did Santa bring it to my house? I have an actual oven that bakes actual brownies that are greater than ¼” in diameter that I can teach my daughter to actually cook with. And I almost never have to turn that oven upside down to shake the brownies out.
- A not-so-very-happy Hippo.
This poor guy traveled here all the way from Germany with hopes and dreams in tow only to wind up dying a horrible death of being squashed by a Camelback water bottle. Farewell, Hippo. I hardly knew ye.
Amazingly enough, I did eventually break free from all the finding and reminiscing to finally reach the end of the kitchen project (yay!). It was Sunday morning, it was quiet and I had no plans. If you’re still in the “getting-to-know-Amy” phase of your blog readership, I’m going to help you out by providing a useful equation for future reference:
Amy + alone + unstructured time = comical disaster
You should probably also know that I can never, ever not be doing something. Ever. I was running through a lengthy list of possibilities for the wide-open day when the cupcakes popped right back into my head. Only this time I wasn’t escaping from a murderous new courier so I was really able to put some thought into it. It went something like this:
“I really liked those cupcakes. Especially the raspberry filled ones. I love stuff that’s filled with raspberry like the Hostess donuts. I wonder why you can only buy those in the Pacific Northwest? It’s not like people wouldn’t eat them in Nebraska.”
“You know what would be good? White chocolate raspberry-filled cupcakes. I bet I could make some. I’m totally going to. Ohhh… wait. I should make lemon-filled cupcakes. With lemon frosting. Yay! Okay, here’s the plan, I’m going to put together some recipes, run to the store for what I need and then come home and make them. Only this time I’m going to be extra, extra-careful to read the recipes very carefully so I don’t wind up missing any ingredients and find out I don’t have what I need right in the middle of baking them.”
So I spent a bit of time (1.5 hours) on cooking websites reading reviews and eventually coming up with a winning combination of frostings, batters and fillings. I very carefully printed each of them, then highlighted the portions I was using, then stapled them together by combination, then numbered them in the order I’d need to prepare them for maximum time efficiency. I took pictures in preparation for blogging about how I was able to bake sea salt free cupcakes that were much better than the ones from trendy bakeries. From scratch.
And then I ran to the store with the following list (it was still in my purse for me to photograph):
Unfortunately my local grocery store didn’t have the white chocolate melting chips so I dropped my purchase off at home and headed out in search of them. Then it occurred to me that while I was out I should probably run by Bed, Bath and Beyond to buy a better quality decorating kit. I Googled “how to decorate cupcakes” in the parking lot, so I was pretty sure I knew exactly what I needed. After 45 minutes of meandering around, mesmerized by aisle after aisle of luxurious cooking tool, I settled on one. But only after putting a different one in my cart and then getting to the checkout and then putting it back and picking up a cheaper one because I am unemployed and shouldn’t be spending the extra $5.00.
I’m not exactly sure how or when, but at some point during all of this I remembered that my daughter had asked to make chocolate cupcakes with Christmas trees on top. So I added that to my list. I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal since I had made the recipe a number of times and I didn’t need anything special for it.
Then I went to HyVee in search of the melting chips to find they didn’t have them either. Then I went to bakers in search of the melting chips to find they didn’t have them either. Then I went to Target and they did have the melting chips, which validated my belief that Target is the best place in the universe. I bought them, along with some other decorating items, which were wholly unnecessary, but really cute, and I was pretty sure they’d be useful in the future.
I arrived home with supplies in hand. My wallet was about $75.00 lighter and it was nearing one o’clock, but I was about to become a famous cupcake chef so it was a small price to pay.
I pulled everything out and began recipe 1, step 1: Pour the (hard to find) 11 oz. package of white chocolate melting chips into a bowl. I thought to myself “hmm… it’s funny that the recipe calls for an 11 oz. bag of melting chips when these clearly come in a 12 oz. bag…. Wait…”I looked at the bag. Then the recipe. Then the bag.
“No. This is not happening. Nonononononono. I did not.”
And there it was, clear as could possibly be. Highlighted and numbered in time efficient sequence, “white chocolate baking chips”, which I did not have. NOT white “chocolate melting chips”, which I did have.
And so I went back to first store I started at hours ago and found white chocolate baking chips in under thirty seconds.
Here’s what I spent hours tracking down and didn’t need:
Here’s what I spent five minutes tracking down and needed:
It was nearing two o’clock when the actual baking started. My daughter decided to assist, which was quite useful because she was able to prepare all of the ingredients for the second recipe while I was working on the first. Baking is one of the few instances where eight-year-old helpers are actually helpers. And I discovered that she knows what a zester is and can separate an egg, which I’m 99.9% positive she learned from me. So maybe I’m not a total failure of a parent. Hopefully when she looks back at her childhood her memories will focus more on the mother who baked treats and taught her about egg separating and zesting lemons and rather than the one she visited in rehab. Saying that made me really sad so I’m going to shove my feelings deep down inside and push on with the story. Pushing sadness inside is always a healthy way of dealing with problems.
At first we had a lot of fun. We made white chocolate frosting (with white chocolate baking chips), then we made lemon filling, then we made raspberry filling, then we made lemon frosting and put them all in the extra garage refrigerator that used to be my private liquor storage unit (along with the basement closet, main refrigerator and trunk of my car) and now is my private Diet Coke/stuff that won’t fit in the house storage unit.
At this point my eight-year-old helper had meandered away and I was sad because the formerly gorgeous day had turned into a downpour, which made taking the aforementioned eight-year-old helper to the park and playing Ultimate Swing Championship: Rematch, was out of the question. This is exactly the type of letting-down alcoholic parents are very good at. Suddenly baking didn’t feel like such a great idea and I tracked her down to see if there was anything else she would like to do instead. We settled on Ultimate Just Dance 3 Championship: Rematch to be played while rotating through cupcake cycles and of course immediately got involved in a Daft Punk showdown and burned the first dozen (chocolate). We put the second dozen in and moved on to Robin Sparkles “Let’s go to the mall”, which is literally the only Just Dance song I can win at. That episode of How I Met Your Mother never, ever ceases to make me laugh.
The second dozen chocolate cupcakes turned out like this:
For real. This actually happened. The cupcakes actually turned out like this. The chocolate cupcakes, which I’ve made a hundred times and have not once failed me. I have no idea what went wrong. Fortunately I had the good sense to take a deep breath and remind myself that the rest of the cupcakes could be made another day. But since my poor child who had already been cheated out of Ultimate Swing Championship: Rematch, was clearly looking forward to decorating, I felt the least I could do was allow her to decorate these to look like Christmas trees. I threw together one last batch of basic white buttercream frosting, which is basically a combination of Crisco and powdered sugar and ultimately pretty disgusting but easily dyed. I divided it accordingly to plan: 3 cups for trees, 1 cup for the yellow stars on top. I started with the yellow, which I turned into a perfect, near-gold shade. Then in an attempt to salvage at least some of my cupcake undertaking, I started on the tree frosting, paying special attention to detail. I thought to myself, “work slowly and add enough food coloring to come out with a strong color because last time you tried to make red frosting, it turned out pink. Wait, red. I am making a batch of RED frosting? To make trees.”
“No. No. Nononononono. This cannot be happening. It can’t. I cannot have just made this mistake.”
But it had. And I had. And the only choice I had was to show my poor eight-year-old helper and ask what she thought we should do. She thought we should add a whole bunch of green to it. So we did. And the best we could do was this extra-earthy shade.
On the plus side, if anyone ever needs to make a cake match a set of ABUs, give me a call. I can help.
We decorated to the best of our abilities using the earthy frosting and some leftover Halloween candy, then promptly ate the evidence before I could even get a picture.
Then my helper turned into a sugar-induced maniac
and my son (who had wandered in just in time to partake in the eating of the cupcakes) promptly made his way into the bathroom to dry heave for a few minutes. Nothing says great cupcakes like dry heaving.
And that is the story of how I finished my kitchen organization project and attempted to become a sea salt-free cupcake chef.
Story #3: Monday, November 18, 2013. 6:45 a.m. – 11:59 p.m
This story actually began a few days earlier while picking up my prescriptions for Lamictal and Wellbutrin and Antabuse from my local Baker’s grocery store (look these up, a lot of your questions about my behavior will be answered). I was walking out after having just completed a particularly humiliating checkout process involving a $22.00 total, a lost debit card, me only having a $20.00 bill in my wallet and several minutes of scrounging around the bottom of my purse for an additional $2.00, when I noticed a large display of Ree Drummond’s latest cookbook The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays.
I’ve loved the Pioneer Woman ever since a few years ago when I stumbled upon her site after deciding my family needed to be fed more than just foods involving cream of chicken soup and reconstituted powdered cheeses. Despite my particular knack for kitchen disasters, I’ve really come a long way since having made that decision, most of which I owe to her blog. If I had to guess, I’d say 80% of what I’ve prepared in the past two years has come directly from her. I was immediately drawn to her style of cooking which is neither intimidating nor overwhelming and is presented in a very humorous series of stories and pictures. She has a way with words that appeals directly to those of us who are willing to laugh at the world around us. I almost never mess up her recipes and sometimes she still lets me cook with cream of chicken soup.
The cookbook alone was enough to excite me, so you can only imagine how I felt when I realized the display wasn’t just for book sales, it was for a book signing with Mrs. Pioneer Woman herself! Right there in my neighborhood grocery store! I almost died in front of Starbucks. I posted on Facebook before even leaving the parking lot:
“OMG. I have just learned that the Food Network’s Pioneer Woman is going to be doing a book signing at Baker’s on Monday. I am unabashedly dying of excitement. Seriously. Freaking. Out. I cannot think of a single person in the world I’d rather meet. ooooohhhh I am such a dork. I love me.”
Through this, I discovered a few friends were also going and we made plans to go as a group.
The day of the book signing was doubly exciting for me. I was to spend the afternoon with a good friend (whose daughter made the delicious party cupcakes) exploring high-end outlets and the evening in the company of Pioneer fans! I genuinely couldn’t think of a way I’d rather spend my time. After having spent so much of the past few weeks cooped up at home, I relished the idea of outings with other adults. The weather was above average for Nebraska on the 18th of November and I felt great. I took the opportunity to wear something other than my standard “mom-uniform” of yoga pants and hooded sweatshirts.
I had a great day of shopping and chatting with my friend. I did not spend a dime. A single dime. If you know me, this is a miracle. If you know me around a Kate Spade outlet, you’ve died and are reading this story post-mortem. I even had three people stop me and compliment my outfit. For me, this is the pinnacle of success.
There was very little time between returning from shopping and the book signing. I left my family with some leftovers, a box of Annie’s Organic Shells and White Cheddar and instructions not to wait up. In my mind I estimated I’d be around three hours. So when I received a call from my friend holding my spot in line (we’ll call her “friend A”) saying the line was a whole lot longer than she’d imagined and she didn’t think either her or our other friend (we’ll call her “friend B”) would be able to stay due to family commitments, I resolved to be the one who stuck it out.
She wasn’t lying. The line was surprisingly long. But I was in good spirits after having exercised reasonable self-control that afternoon and having been complimented on my outfit a few times. I took it in stride and joined the line knowing that I was in for a long night.
My sister has informed me that people like to see pictures of the people whose blogs they’re reading. With that in mind, I began to document my experience. We’ll call this one “Pioneer Woman book signing, the early hours” (Est. 4:30 p.m.)
And so friend A and I chatted and chatted and chatted with the people around us until friend B arrived and then chatted and chatted… and chatted… until friend A had to leave at 6:15 p.m. to meet yet another friend for tap class.
Let me interject here by saying just how much I love that I have two friends (ages 34 and 48 respectively) who are taking tap dancing classes.
……………….. And friend B and I chatted and chatted and chatted and chatted until it got dark. We’ll call this photo “Pioneer Woman book signing, after dark” (Est. 7:30 p.m.)
Then friend B had to leave to make a video of her daughter making crepes for French class.
This is where it starts to get fun.
Even though I anticipated a relatively long outdoor wait and I knew that weather in Nebraska in November is known to be reasonably cold, it never once occurred to me that changing between shopping and book signing might have been a good idea. And it was getting cold. Really, really cold. And because I am well known for being overdressed and fanatical about things like underwear lines in skirts, I was wearing a thong, in other words, I was literally freezing my ass off.
You’re welcome for the visual.
When you’re in a predicament like this, dragging your literally frozen-off ass behind you as you eek toward the front of a never-ending line as the temperature continues to drop, you start to question your sanity and before you know it, the people around you start to question their sanity and you begin hearing people say things like “lean up against the white stripe in the Target wall, it’s warm”. Then conversations start to get a little bit more intimate. By the time you reach the midway point you and your line-buddies are like the 101st Airborne in foxholes outside of Bastogne. Everyone is just miserable and no one has any idea how they got there but you somehow know here is nothing you wouldn’t do to keep each other safe through the end of the journey. You find solace in silly stories. You learn about everyone’s past. The mother and daughter in front of me drove three hours from Hastings to get their cookbooks signed. The woman in front of them used to live one block away from me. 500 miles away.
You learn through world of mouth that they anticipated a turnout of around 1,000 people. They’ve already been through 1,500 and there are still 3,000 in line. No one knows exactly where the line goes but rumor has it you only have to snake around once more after you get in the door.
This woman ran up the street and returned with a hundred McDonald’s cheeseburgers to pass around.
People started ordering pizza.
The store manager had the bakery bring out pumpkin bread. Starbucks started delivering coffee and hot chocolate. People brought blankets back from Target and huddled up together.
It was a regular loaves and fishes deal. Of course I took none of it because I am insane and willing to fall on my own sword by starving to death and succumbing to hypothermia in order to reach my lifetime body weight goal. Which I was one pound from reaching. It seemed logical at the time.
By ten o’clock my teeth were chattering, my knees were knocking together and I didn’t think I could take another second. I had been 15 feet from the door for a half hour with no end in sight. There I was, in yet another predicament that was a result of being not having thought something through and impulsive decision-making. I had been in a line for five and a half hours in a skirt and a thong in 28-degree weather. All to have a cookbook signed. Ridiculous does not even begin to describe how I felt.
And just like that the line picked up.
My foxhole buddies and I moved forward into the very, very warm store. Then we snaked around the corner, just like the rumor said we would. I still felt like a ridiculous mess (in a grocery store entrance, after having stood in line in 28-degree weather, in a skirt… and a thong for almost six hours) but at least at this point I was a warm ridiculous mess. Come to think of it, everyone around me was a ridiculous mess too. Even the priest in the upper right hand corner of this picture. I tried to make it look like I was innocently taking a picture of the crowd but I’m pretty sure he knew what I was up to.
I did finally get to the front of the line and I did finally catch a glimpse of Ree herself, the Pioneer Woman, who was graciously smiling while signing book after book after book.
And here you have it, my meeting with the Pioneer Woman.
Our conversation went something like this:
Me: Thank you so much for keeping a smile on your face through all of this.
PW: Aww thank you so much for saying that. I’m so glad you came tonight. Did you know the women in front of you drove three hours to get here? How far do you have to drive home.
Me: Fortunately I live just around the corner.
PW: Oh that’s convenient. I’m so glad you don’t have to go far.
Me: Thank you again.
PW: No, thank you and have a great night.
And I walked out.
I’m not really sure why the Pioneer Woman, Ree (I can call her by her first name now because I’m pretty sure we’re best friends), appeals to me so much. Maybe it’s her cooking or her red hair or the fact that she sometimes refers to people as “cowgirls” in a silly but charming way. Or maybe it’s that she’s just a regular person who one day decided to write about her not-so-average life and somehow found a voice that others wanted to hear. Or maybe it’s that she’s someone who’s willing to accept that sometimes things turn out very, very differently than we imagined they would and laugh about it.
Yes, I found myself over my head in an absurd situation, again. But at least this time I know there were 4,000 other people who also got themselves into an absurd situation. Even the guest of honor, who at an average of three books per person would have signed her name over 12,000 times in seven hours, probably got a lot more than she bargained for.
Now I’m confused because this story was meant to make people laugh somehow came off as sentimental and dare I say even a bit touching? My life is supposed to be dark and sad and alcoholy and full of sarcastic regret. This is not what I had in mind at all, but it’s late and I’m tired so you’re just going to have to take it for what it is.
And that is the story of how I met the Pioneer Woman.