It was January 2013, and I, like many of my fellow competitive cooks, was eagerly waiting for Pillsbury to release the rules for the upcoming Bake Off. This would be the year that I seriously try my hand at becoming a finalist. I had attempted to put together a few recipe submissions for the 45th Bake Off, but they all fell flat. I had tried WAY too hard to create something. None of the submissions were ones that I would feed my family, none of them had my fingerprint, none of them were me. So I wasn’t surprised to be watching the festivities from the comfort of my home.
I don’t normally turn on the television during the day, but I made it a point to watch as Martha Stewart announced the grand prize winner, Christina Verrelli. Wow, oh wow! A million dollars! That’s life changing. I’ve never really been preoccupied with money. My husband and I have always put family before money, and in doing so, have had to make significant sacrifices. We were and still are completely content with our decisions. But as our children grew, it seemed that our expenses did as well. I bet some of you are there. Someone needs new shoes…again. Unexpected medical bills. A monthly food bill that looks more like a mortgage. Orthodontic work. You get it! And while I completely trust that the Lord will fulfill His promise when He says that He will supply all of my needs, I am keenly aware that that may involve some work and effort on my part. Last time I looked, the trees in my backyard were only dropping black walnuts not Franklins. Entering into the competitive cooking arena was a way for me to do something I love, cook, while trying to earn a bit of money from home.
So the day finally came. The rules were up. As my hopes started to rise, my stomach quickly began to fall as I read the rules. The Bake Off had been totally revamped. In the past, finalists were selected by “The Test Kitchen” based on the merits of their recipe. This year, Pillsbury would select semi-finalists for each category, then the public would vote to determine which would move on to the finals. There would be no way I would make it. I wasn’t into the whole social media thing. I had three facebook friends (seriously) and rarely posted anything on my site. I wasn’t into Pinterest or Twitter. It seemed like this would come down to a popularity contest.
I determined that I would enter one recipe, only one. I set off to the grocery store to scope out what products I would experiment with. I picked up two different Pillsbury products and a small assortment of frozen vegetables. I vowed that I would not allow myself to endlessly experiment and spend money that I didn’t have. Something would have to come from what I had. Period.
Before cracking open the blue tubes, I set about to do some research. I took a good look at the finalist recipes from past Bake Offs. I skimmed over the recipes on the Pillsbury site. I wasn’t looking for what was there but for what wasn’t there. I wanted and felt like I needed to create something that hadn’t been done yet. I didn’t want to make a pizza, sandwich, or a dessert. I simply didn’t think that I was creative enough to make any of those things make you say “wow”. After a bit of time I realized that I didn’t see many recipes that used skewers. I decided that that would be my direction. It’s kind of funny that I would choose that direction because I’ve avoided skewers all together. I’m the mom of three boys. Three boys + skewers = trouble or a trip to the emergency room.
I have to admit that I was not feeling particularly inspired. I had no idea what I would actually put on the skewers that I had vowed to work with. Then one evening, while I was rolling out miniature meatballs to pop into a pot of soup, it hit me. My kids love these little meatballs. I bet they’d love them more on skewers, maybe with a breadstick twisted around them, with cheese and a dipping sauce. I had an image in my head of what the finished product would ideally look like, but I wasn’t sure if it would all come together. My kids were busy playing outside so I took the opportunity to give my recipe a try. I remember holding my breath when I opened the oven door and exclaiming, “It worked.” And it had worked. They looked exactly like what I had envisioned, and more importantly, they were tasty. Later that evening I scoured over search after search for meatball sub sandwich skewers. I couldn’t find anything like it online. I knew that this would be my one submission.
The entry period closed. My one submission was in. Now the waiting game would begin. Then one afternoon it happened; an email message from Pillsbury in my inbox. I clicked it and then nearly passed out. I couldn’t believe it; they actually picked my recipe. I called my husband, laughed and shrieked with my kids, and ran barefoot over to my neighbor’s house (she had been one of my loyal taste-testers). The joy of the moment would soon be replaced with reality. I’ve got to get people to vote..a lot of people to vote, and I’ve got to do it now.
I made flyers, lots of flyers. I went door to door. I spoke at a local Women’s Club. I bombarded Facebook pages with requests. I called a local radio station. A few local newspapers ran articles. Local restaurants posted my plea for help. Soon, seemingly everyone in town knew. The receptionist at the dentist, the cashier at the grocery store, the clerk at the post office, the teller at the bank…they all knew! Word was getting around. The voting period came and went. Now I waited. I reflected on how hectic the time had been. I had done a lot to try to get votes, but realistically I knew one thing: if the Lord wants me at the Bake Off, then I’ll be there. If it’s not part of His will, then I won’t. I needed to prepare myself to be content either way. I would have three sets of eyes watching closely. Would I cry and pout if I didn’t make it or would I congratulate and praise the ones who beat me out? Would I heap praise upon myself if I did make it or would I proclaim that the Lord had orchestrated it all?
To prevent this from going on forever, I will simply say that I made it through to the finals. Amazing, truly amazing. My little recipe for Meatball and Breadstick Sub Skewers would be competing for the big money in Las Vegas. Las Vegas? Well now, that will be interesting.
Next up: The Road to Vegas.