A ‘Pioneer Woman’ pan­demic

Ree Drum­mond rides it out with help from chuck roast and black yoga pants

Chicago Sun-Times - - TASTE - BY ERIN JENSEN USA To­day

Like many, Food Net­work star Ree Drum­mond has learned to adapt since the COVID-19 pan­demic be­gan. “It’s been a con­stant kind of re­fig­ur­ing and rethinking and re­fram­ing of ev­ery­thing,” says Drum­mond, known to fans of her projects — which in­clude a cook­ing show and re­cently re­launched blog — as “The Pioneer Woman.” “But, that’s not a bad skill to learn any way, just to be flex­i­ble and be open to change.”

Her col­lec­tion of es­says “Fron­tier Fol­lies Ad­ven­tures in Mar­riage and Moth­er­hood in the Mid­dle of Nowhere,” for­merly slated for Oc­to­ber, has been pushed to Novem­ber.

“The rea­son I’m late is be­cause I was all set to kind of dig in and do the bulk of it around the mid­dle of March,” she says with a laugh. “And then ev­ery­thing changed.”

As a re­sult of the out­break, her teenage sons — Bryce, 17, and Todd, 16 — were out of school. Daugh­ter Paige, 20, left her sopho­more year at the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, and the re­cently en­gaged Alex, 23, left Dal­las to re­turn to the fam­ily’s Ok­la­homa oa­sis. “Ev­ery­body ba­si­cally came home to the ranch for a good two months,” says Drum­mond, 51. Think­ing also of her hus­band Ladd and her nephew, Stu­art, she ob­served, “It’s hi­lar­i­ous how much less fur­ther the gro­ceries stretch with three boys over 6’2’’ and big hu­mans in the house.”

Her fam­ily dined on mac and cheese, chicken que­sadil­las and a ver­sion of a drip­beef sand­wich — slow-cooked chuck roast with pep­per­onci­nis, beef broth and Ital­ian sea­son­ing — that proved to be too pop­u­lar

with her fam­ily. “It just be­came this le­gendary sand­wich in our house,” Drum­mond re­calls. “By the sev­enth batch of that I was like, ‘OK (laughs), first of all we’re out of chuck roast and se­cond of all, I can’t make this again for a long time.’ ”

Drum­mond’s fam­ily mem­bers helped her out by re­plac­ing her cook­ing show crew. In April, Food Net­work be­gan air­ing episodes of “The Pioneer Woman” shot by Paige, Alex and Stu­art, us­ing their iPhones. An ad­di­tional dozen of the fam­ily-shot episodes will be­gin air­ing Satur­day.

“It’s good for the time we’re in, I think,” Drum­mond says of the post-out­break episodes. ”And it re­flects, I think, more ac­cu­rately where my cook­ing is on any given day. It’s pretty sim­ple, it’s pretty quick, easy and it’s tasty ’cause I’ve got th­ese picky teenagers to cook for (laughs).”

Drum­mond’s dress­ing — as in cloth­ing and not Thanks­giv­ing sta­ple — is also about sim­plic­ity. She says she’s been riding out the last few months in what she calls her “pan­demic pants.”

“They’re black yoga pants, and I think [it was] the day all the kids came home — I would say it was March 12 or March 13 — and I have not worn any­thing but black yoga pants since then,” she says of the bot­toms she equates to the “cloth­ing ver­sion of com­fort food.”

“And part of it is that we were home and com­fort­able, and there was no rea­son to, but the other part is, I cooked so much and nib­bled so much that I was afraid to put on my jeans.” Drum­mond says she be­gan “ex­er­cis­ing a lot” about six weeks ago, and re­cently tried on her jeans to find “they ac­tu­ally fit pretty nicely. So, I’m feel­ing bet­ter about life (laughs).”

Still, she says her cloth­ing line, which she hopes to launch through her Mer­can­tile store in Pawhuska, Ok­la­homa, and its web­site by Oc­to­ber, will go with her beloved comfy pants. It’s “lots of beau­ti­ful flo­rals and vivid col­ors and noth­ing that is fit­ted,” she says with a laugh. “Ev­ery­thing goes re­ally well with pan­demic pants.”

Drum­mond wrote about her “pan­demic pants” on her re­vamped blog, the start of her flour­ish­ing em­pire. As she had more busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties and her kids got older, Drum­mond found she had less time to de­vote to her site.

“My blog over time had sort of started to wither a lit­tle bit just from a lack of at­ten­tion from me,” she says. “And I re­al­ized that at a cer­tain point I wasn’t go­ing to be able to keep up with do­ing the con­tent all my­self.”

She part­nered with Hearst, who pub­lishes her Pioneer Woman Mag­a­zine, and the new site launched in June. “The dif­fer­ence is just so much more con­tent that I would never in a mil­lion years be able to ex­e­cute my­self.”

She says of the new site that “food is cer­tainly the fo­cus,” and nat­u­rally, we couldn’t speak to a foodie on the fron­tier with­out nab­bing a recipe. Drum­mond has shared the in­struc­tions for her In­stant Pot BBQ chicken grain bowls, fea­tured in her mag­a­zine’s Sum­mer 2020 print is­sue. She says she loves an In­stant Pot for “braised meat of any kind,” not­ing the ap­pli­ance’s ef­fi­ciency.

“I love this recipe be­cause the chicken is done so quickly, the sauce is rich so quickly and then to build a kind of pretty up­dated bowl out of it is the best of both worlds,” she says. “I love bowls like this be­cause there’s a lot go­ing on and ev­ery lit­tle bite is dif­fer­ent.”


Ree Drum­mond pre­pares mac­a­roni and cheese for her fam­ily as seen on Food Net­work’s “The Pioneer Woman.”


Grow­ing up in a town she con­sid­ered “too small,” Ree Drum­mond sought the bright lights of a city and con­sid­ered mov­ing to Chicago, but wound up in an even smaller town where she has built a vir­tual me­dia em­pire on the Plains of north­east Ok­la­homa.


Dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic, Ree Drum­mond (cen­ter, in 2017) saw a lot more of sons Todd (from left), daugh­ter Paige and hus­band Ladd. With teenagers to feed, she said, “It’s hi­lar­i­ous how much less fur­ther the gro­ceries stretch.”

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