I'm not so good with to-do lists, but I like the part where I can cross something off. The thing is, that's usually how my to-do lists start....I write something down that I've already done and then I get to cross it off, hee hee. So it is for my Bucket List; a list that I never started until I got to cross off a really neat thing: Become a finalist at the Pillsbury Bake-Off®.
It was about a year ago that I pressed the send key on my 10th and final entry into the Pillsbury Bake-Off® contest. That last entry was a revised one as I had thought to look over all of my entries and I noted a major error on one of them. It was a waffle recipe...one that I hadn't really given all that much thought to. I had thrown it together one Sunday morning, a waffle made of Pillsbury Sugar Cookie dough and some toasted pecans. Truth be told, I didn't taste it right away. I put it aside, conferred with one of my friends (Shane, that's you!) on BakeSpace.com about what a good topping for a pecan waffle might be, whipped up a little honey cinnamon butter and went on with my day. Later that afternoon, my daughter asked if I had any more of those waffles left. Apparently, they were tasty, because not a crumb remained......
Flash forward to September 1st, 2009. I knew from my cooking contest website that Pillsbury was calling. I'd gone through this before....every two years I'd wait with much anticipation for that call and always my hopes were dashed. But on this day, at about 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon, as I sat in my cubicle at work, my phone rang.....and the caller ID said General Mills.
I won't go into boring detail of the months before the actual event. Suffice to say, my life from the moment I received "the" call until my arrival in Orlando for the Bake-Off® was a non-stop Pillsbury blur. There were videos to be made, official pictures to be taken, media events to be planned and, most significantly, friendships with other finalists to be formed.
A few of my Facebook Bake-Off friends. From left, Brett Youmans, Joan Cossette, me, Betsy Chan, Linda Bibbo, Cynthia Bowser
There were about 40 of us that found each other, mostly through our connection with Contest Cooking Central, a website devoted to, you guessed it, cooking contests. We formed our own group on Facebook; a support group, if you will, that kept us sane for the duration of the journey to the Bake-Off®. Here, we could talk to each other about all things Bake-Off®. What were we going to wear? Who's getting interviewed? What kind of crazy dreams were we having? We were all sharing the same fantastic experience, and we could log in and talk about our Bake-Off® obsessed thoughts when our families and co-workers started getting tired of hearing about it.
Laura Stanke, Joan Cossette, Tammy Love, Joann Belack
Oprah correspondent Ali Wentworth with fellow Minnesotan (and GE Imagination Award winner) Laura Stanke. Check out her Pepperoni-Pesto Popovers.
Laureen Pittman, Jannine Fisk, Dennis Deel
Kim Rollings, Karen Stuber, Tammy Love
Yet another Minnesotan, Michelle Gauer
Not that friends and family weren't supportive---suddenly everyone was a waffle fan! There was talk of waffle parties and get-togethers to watch the big event (unfortunately, Food Network didn't film this year, so those hopes were dashed). There were no bigger supporters than my co-workers, who threw me a huge surprise send-off with a gigantic Doughboy themed cake.
Along with such a terrific send-off, some of my friends gave me good luck keepsakes to take along. I had good luck socks, a good luck doughboy, and an incredible gift from my friend Tresa Hargrove--a lucky ladybug--the same kind her daughter kept in her pocket during each of Tresa's successful kidney transplants.
I had always heard that Pillsbury treated their Bake-Off® finalists like royalty and, as it turns out, they really do! The event was held in Orlando, Florida at the Bonnet Creek Hilton---a beautiful new hotel in the heart of Disney World.
As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by a familiar personality....
Once at the hotel, there was a non-stop flurry of activity. Registrations, orientations, a fabulous welcome dinner, official photos, questions & answers, an early morning breakfast, the official grand march, music and hoopla and then....it was here...I was in front of my stove, and a large voice was announcing the start of the 44th Pillsbury Bake-Off®!
Sandra Lee was on hand to give us a little speech at breakfast. Later, she was the emcee at the awards ceremony.
Getting ready for the Grand March
There was calm before the storm...and then the chaos began. 100 mini kitchens, close to 100 media people, including Ali Wentworth from the Oprah show, cameras, microphones and the ever-present Pillsbury Doughboy.....
As we stood before our stoves, we had 20 minutes to take it all in and orient ourselves before the media was let loose. My range number was 85, and this put me in the very back corner of the room, isolated somewhat from the chaos in the middle of the floor. My range neighbor to the left, Maurice Chinn from Georgia, was making his Oatmeal Raisin Cheesecake Crumble and my range neighbor to the right was Sue Compton from New Jersey, who was making her Mini Ice Cream Cookie Cups. I know, right? The million dollar recipe was right next to me and I didn't even know it!
My range neighbor, Maurice Chinn with his tasty Oatmeal Raisin Cheesecake Crumble.
The enormity of the whole experience did not hit me until I was standing in front of that stove. There was a million dollars at stake!! That General Mills took it seriously was very evident. There were Bake-Off officials standing guard, one for every 4 or 5 stoves, to make sure we were following the rules. We had 4 hours in which to complete our recipes up to three times; once for the judges, once for the official photo, and an optional third time in case we needed it, or in case we wanted to provide samples. The recipes had to be made exactly as we had submitted them, using equipment and ingredients provided by General Mills. Several months previous to the event, we had signed off on lists of equipment and ingredients----a list that I should have paid more attention to back then. One look at the waffle iron provided and I knew I was in trouble. From the very beginning, I had made my recipe on a Belgian waffle iron. I didn't even realize a regular waffle iron existed anymore....I did look in the stores. But here, at my station, was a waffle iron (obviously used) that seemed to come out of the '70's (I did look the brand up online afterwards, and it is a current model). Now, I had to make my waffles on equipment I wasn't familiar with. To make matters worse, there wasn't a mixing bowl to make the waffles in---I had actually approved a list with no mixing bowl! Oh well, I had to make do---I was getting ready to mix my waffles in a small butter bowl, when a large mixing bowl was brought to me---whew (am I an idiot, or what?)!
At this point I was wondering how the hell I was going to get a decent waffle out of the waffle iron I had. You will notice the stunned expression on my face.
Just as I was getting started, the media was let loose. The first person I saw was Sandra Lee, of Food Network fame. She stopped at my kitchen to see what I was making and seemed very interested in the fact that my waffles were made out of cookie dough. She wished me luck, gave me hug and an air kiss and was on her way. Then came some cameras and a mini interview and I was back to making my waffles.
That Doughboy was everywhere!!
The waffles were not turning out as I had hoped, but I decided to use my first batch for the judges as I was afraid that subsequent batches would start to stick (we didn't have running water to clean the waffle iron between batches). My second batch went to the photographer and I bagged the third batch as it was actually getting close to noon. Who knew time could go by so quickly?
Giant pictures of our food on billboards in the hotel.
One of the things that I was looking forward to with my trip to the Bake-Off®, was the opportunity to meet up with Babette Papaj of BakeSpace.com. BakeSpace, after all, is where I spend the majority of my time online (and I did get the honey butter suggestion from my friend Shane on BakeSpace). Babette had been invited to come to the Bake-Off® by General Mills and was there as one of the media. Of course, she made sure to keep her distance from me during the actual competition (we don't want anyone to think there was funny business going on), but once the recipe was turned in, we had a chance to catch up.
We tried for a group photo, but everything was so rushed that not everyone made it.
Jannine has a final dance with Poppin' Fresh®.
Until next time.......