Dear Pioneer Woman,
We’ve spent the last year calling you by name almost daily, believing that you are our distant aunt, cousin, sister, friend, confidante. We have loved your book with the intensity of a favorite novel; pages are splattered with oil, smeared with butter, and have been taped back in after falling out mid-recipe. It started with a friendship, some spare time, a new city, and a mutual love for food.
“Video blog,” I said.
“You’ll never do it,” they said.
“Yes we will!” we said, knowing we wouldn’t.
“Maybe a regular blog, to start with?” she suggested. And so, in September of 2009, we launched our hearts and souls onto the Internet. Like so many before us, we were about to blog for the sake of finding a voice through our hobby-turned-passion.
Emboldened by our friends and family’s warm reception of our start-up blog, and since we’d both recently read Julie and Julia, we decided we needed a project. In February of 2010, after receiving a signed copy of your book for Christmas, and after salivating over many recipes on your blog, we decided our project was you. As new Los Angeles ladies, we yearned to be understood by a country girl who once lived among the palms. And your recipes sang to our heart-songs; a challenge was born.
Since then, we have succeeded in the task we set out for ourselves and cooked our way through your entire cookbook. We wanted to share our thoughts with you.
We learned a little about cooking.
We begrudgingly started using seasoning salt, learned how to use buttermilk, and most importantly how to fake it in a pinch. Jennie was told of liquid smoke, and had to see it to believe it. We became experts in whipping up a roux to turn it into gravy or cream sauce, we discovered that some things are worth waiting six hours for (and some are not). We were delighted by the creative and liberal use of breakfast sausage, and we were tickled when we found things that were unexpectedly delicious. We learned about butter. (By the way, about two weeks ago we learned that you use salted butter unless you say otherwise, but as our main tester has high blood pressure, we figured it was OK to use unsalted.) And, we learned about butter weight. We learned about proportions and moderation. We learned to predict recipes and your tendencies, like how you often mix half & half into your eggs and use equal parts olive oil and butter to sauté things. We learned about the difference between chicken broth and bouillon cubes, consommé, and stock. We learned how to eyeball the groceries in one’s cart and split them up evenly for purchase by instinct alone.
We learned that a strict cooking schedule can sometimes be the perfect antidote to life in times of uncertainty. In 2010, our personal lives went from hard to harder than we ever thought possible (and certainly not what we’d planned for ourselves). Through our most challenging struggles, we relied on your book, our diligent schedule, and each other to make it through.
We also learned a little about our friendship.
We learned to anticipate each other’s needs in the kitchen; To offer an oven mitt before it is asked for, to remind each other that the water is near boiling and you should not stick your fingers in it, to tie on an apron for your cooking partner when she’s in a hurry and diving right into the recipe before pausing to pull her hair back and take precautions against staining, to shout “move” and “coming through” at one another without taking offense, and eventually losing the need to say anything at all, because we could anticipate each other’s moves. We learned to play to our strengths and let Corelyn chop the onions while Jennie cut the meat, and we pushed each other to develop new skills — forcing Jennie to make casseroles and meat loaf and assigning the baking tasks to Corelyn.
And we learned to trust each other sometimes more than the Pioneer Woman.
And about that.
Our motto was “We must trust the Pioneer Woman,” and most of the time we did. But at times, we outright refused. A reasonable amendment to this motto might be: “We must trust the Pioneer Woman on all things related to baking, sweets, and the liberal use of butter, but use our own judgment on most other matters, and exercise extreme caution when dealing with potentially spicy ingredients such as jalapenos and cayenne pepper.” A bit long-winded, sure, but a hell of a lot more applicable to our actual tastes. That is to say, Jennie can’t take spice. Or most traditionally Southern dishes. Or Italian-influenced dishes that stray from her upbringing. But was pleasantly surprised by many of them, anyways.
And after all this, we have a few questions for you, Pioneer Woman.
1. How in the world do you eat this much butter and stay reasonably healthy?
2. Do you have taste buds of steel? And a digestive system to match? Because our stomachs and mouths were not always up for the heat in some of your recipes. Let’s all take a moment to remember the chili disaster. So good, but so spicy… (or the Sherried Tomato Soup disaster, when Jennie accidentally dumped all of the pepper in when the top slipped off…)
3. Did you know that many of your recipes can be prepared gluten-free? We didn’t either, but when our friend Melissa, who has celiac, moved to town, we still had 30 recipes to prepare by the end of the year. We adapted.
4. What do you wear to cook? Do you ever cook in your pajamas, your workout clothes, your Sunday best? We used to cook in our pajamas all the time, but as this blog got more popular we had to start being mindful of our appearance just in case we ended up in a photograph. But we notice that your blog usually just includes the occasional hand or wrist shot. So that makes us wonder, do you ever cheat and just wear your PJ’s??
5. Where are all the vegetable side dishes?? We crave leafy greens!
6. Have you ever considered a recipe for those mushrooms that doesn’t take 9 hours? Because we made some just the other day, and they are LOVELY.
7. Maybe, for your next book, consider a table of contents with page numbers and all the recipes listed? We found ourselves a little lost by the end. Also, it would be helpful to have estimated cook times and prep times, so we don’t encounter another Fried Chicken disaster (Step 1: soak in buttermilk overnight…)
We joke and tease because we love you. We think you’re the bees knees. Sometimes we forget you’re not our big sister or beloved crazy aunt and that we won’t see you over the holidays or that we won’t attend your Fourth of July barbecue. Seriously. Once I even said, “Let’s just call her!” and stopped mid-sentence, and remembered that a) it was too late in Oklahoma, and b) I don’t actually have your number.
While no marriage proposals have happened yet, our friends have been enthusiastic about the food we “make” them eat, and many times, they were appreciative to the point of hugs, sighs, and occasional competition for leftovers (rights to the leftover french breakfast puffs and braised beef brisket were both hotly contested). We have gained some weight. We have been overwhelmed by writing, cleaning dishes, cooking, losing sleep, making oven schedules, muttering “Ree” to each other and shaking our heads. We have cursed the book, loved the book, hugged the book, carted the book across town and back, to work and to friend’s homes, claiming “It’ll only take a minute” knowing a full hour of planning was ahead. We pawned recipes on friends, we’ve said, “You wanted a chocolate cake for your birthday, right?” and we’ve made sure to keep testers on speed dial.
Most important, we’ve had a lot of fun. We’ve had serious conversations over raw chicken, stopped to discuss family matters (for twenty minutes) in the middle of grocery store aisles, we’ve cried over the bake time of a casserole or two, we’ve laughed while frying, frying, frying, and we have been burned exactly once. And that happened only a few days ago. And it was Jennie’s own fault. We have broken no bowls. Only chipped a few. We have cut no fingers, we have made few mistakes, always fixable, mostly because we aren’t reading carefully enough because we’re chattering away.
65 recipes later, these are the ones we’d write home about.
Rib Eye Steak with Whiskey Cream Sauce
Sherried Tomato Soup
Simple, Perfect Chili (with half the chili powder next time, Jennie nearly died.)
Blackberry (or blueberry) Cobbler
Chicken. Pot. Pie.
The Pizza Dough! (It has been the saving grace of Jennie and Jeff’s relationship!)
Enchiladas (and gluten free, too!)
French Breakfast Puffs
Red Velvet Cake and Cream Cheese Frosting. Divine.
Linguine with Clam Sauce
Maple Pecan Scones (with about 1/3 the maple icing)
Also, some honorable mentions that we’ll keep in our back pocket just in case…
Braised Beef Brisket
Iny’s Prune Cake
In short, Ree, Mrs. Drummond, PW, our sorella pioniere, we love you. We thank you. We’d like to think we gained a friend. A fellow kitchen lover who feeds her family out of love. Who wants only what is best (and the tastiest!) for all. We hope you’ve enjoyed our letter, and that you can enjoy our blog, in your free time. Which, if you’re like us, is usually never.
Jennie Palluzzi and Corelyn Coates