At first blush, Ree Drummond's life on an Oklahoma ranch sounds like something straight out of a romance novel — maybe one about a smart and sassy redhead who wins the heart of a taciturn rancher and settles down to raise a passel of winsome kids.
Drummond's certainly got the husband (she refers to him as Marlboro Man for his rugged appeal) and the kids (four — and she home schools) and they live happily on a cattle ranch in Pawhuska, Okla.
Yep, it's a romance novel, alright. Except dirtier.
"Soooo dirty," Drummond said.
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As in cow manure, mostly.
But she's turned that into pure prairie gold: her Pioneer Woman cooking and lifestyle blog has collected a huge following in the last eight years. She now has a show on the Food Network, cookbooks, even a series of children's books about one of her two basset hounds, Charlie.
Drummond will be the celebrity chef at the Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show on Saturday, following in the footsteps of kitchen luminaries Bobby Flay, the Voltaggio Brothers, Giada De Laurentiis, Tyler Florence, and Jamie and Bobby Deen.
General admission seats for her two presentations are still available, but floor and stage seats sold out immediately when tickets went on sale in June — a testament to the popularity of the one-woman media whirlwind.
Drummond is keeping her food show presentation under wraps but said she plans to incorporate some local flavors.
"I'm going to try to fit in a combination of recipes so people can go away with a week's worth of dinners. Things that can turn into other things," she said. "I didn't want to share just one recipe."
She and her husband have been to Lexington once before but only by accident. They were driving in for a wedding, which turned out to be actually in Louisville.
But while she's here this time, Drummond said she wants to "take some time for serious eating, my favorite activity."
She writes what she lives, so her blog isn't what Ma Ingalls would cook because Drummond is a modern mom, wife and businesswoman who cooks up a storm and takes great pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.
"I think people come to the site for different reasons," Drummond said. "Some come for recipes, some for personal blogging about the ranch and family. I have a home-schooling section, so some come for that. ... The overriding tone is that it's a pretty safe place to visit. ... People aren't going to leave agitated. It's kind of a slice-of-life place on the web. People probably do go away feeling a little lighter. Not literally because I do use a lot of butter when I cook."
Drummond's cooking often is, shall we say, hearty. She has a whole section on her blog called "Cowboy Food," for people who have no issues with calories because they burn up about a million a day working outdoors. She keeps things under control with portion control, she said.
She is not the woman to flinch at using a little of butter. Or cheese. (Her mashed potatoes have butter, cream cheese and heavy cream in them.)
Drummond balances her cooking with lots of seasonal vegetables and fruits.
But how does she balance her life, between the demands of a farm, a family and a career? By mixing it all into one great big dish.
"It all sort of works together. My cooking show includes my family, so I'm with my family a lot when I film the show," she said. "Sometimes I will knock out a food post while I'm cooking dinner, take pictures of what I'm doing and that becomes my blog post the next day."
Her typical week of cooking includes a rotation of family favorites, like chicken quesadillas, chicken fried steak, pan-fried pork chops and those killer mashed potatoes.
Home schooling gives her family the flexibility to work, study and play, all together at any given time.
"Nothing is mutually exclusive. I'm able to weave everything together," she said.
"That doesn't mean I get everything done — I go to bed at night and still have a million things left on my to-do list. But it all does work together nicely."
We posed the following questions to Drummond:
■ Why Pioneer Woman? "There was nothing rural or country about me when I met my husband," Drummond said. "When I told my childhood friends I was marrying a cattle rancher and moving to the country, they all fell on the ground laughing. ... They joked around and called me 'pioneer woman' back then."
Drummond said she has since earned her stripes: for a time, while her children were babies, their house lost water pressure and they had no running water. "So for four months I had to haul and boil water. Then I got a little credibility in the pioneer realm," she said. "It's always been a little tongue-in-cheek ... It's a way of thinking, a state of mind. Anybody can be a pioneer woman."
■ What does she never cook? "I never fix anything having to do with bananas — bananas are the one food I hate with a fiery passion. ... Never make banana cream pie, banana pudding," she said. "Once, for a cookbook, I went out on a limb once and made bananas foster for one of my cookbooks, but I just ate the caramel sauce around it. ... My kids have to remind me to buy bananas."
■ What about tofu or quinoa? "I love tofu and quinoa," Drummond said. (Check out her Cowgirl Food recipes.) "Now, I would never make it for my husband, or make it to take to a cattle working."
■ Why has her blog struck such a chord? "There are a lot of people who have never seen the agricultural way of life in America. ... I think they like that slice of American life that isn't as prevalent as it once was. And a lot of people who grew up in rural areas ... and this reminds them of their childhood or their grandparents' farm," Drummond said. "I do see the country through rose-colored glasses. I definitely have a romantic notion of the ranch, but I get the flip side, when my husband's working from before dark to after dark, for days on end. It's a tough life. ... And soooo dirty."