Ree Drummond is packing up her chuck wagon and heading off to a new frontier -- television.
Drummond is better known by her online moniker, the Pioneer Woman, also the name of her wildly popular blog where the former University of Southern California student writes humorously and affectionately about being a woman who once held big-city dreams and now wrangles with the world of country living. It logs more than 20 million page views per month -- making it one of the most well-read food and lifestyle blogs -- and has turned Drummond into a publishing sensation.
Now it's poised to turn her into a TV star. Her new show, titled "The Pioneer Woman," appropriately enough, premiered recently on the Food Network (10:30 a.m. Saturday), taking viewers into the kitchen of her working cattle ranch in Oklahoma as she serves up vittles for her husband -- better known to readers as the Marlboro Man -- their home-schooled children, and any hungry cowboys and cowgirls who happen to mosey on by.
We're talking gloriously decadent ranch fare that would make Paula Deen proud: A recent episode included chicken-fried steak with gravy and creamy mashed potatoes that call for one and half sticks of butter, cream and cream cheese. In the meal's defense, it is served up with a tomato salad.
"I'm excited," Drummond said during a telephone interview. "But I'll be watching through my fingers. I just don't like seeing myself."
Unlike many other bloggers, Drummond does not use videos on her site -- only still photography. As a result, she was unaccustomed to the unblinking stare of the camera.
"On the first day of filming, I had to step out of the room and have a talk with myself," she said. "Somehow, it was like, 'Wait a minute. It never occurred to me that I was going to have to talk to a camera. I don't know if I can do this.'" She does, and manages to inject her trademark sense of humor. (In one episode, she jokes about using a highfalutin' word like "chiffonade" when prepping the basil for her salad.)
Drummond's charm lies in her relaxed, easygoing style. She doesn't consider herself a chef-y type, and she embraces easy-to-get ingredients and no-fuss recipes. She considers it a compliment when readers tweak her dishes to please their own families.
The network has long had Drummond on its radar. She is credited in the online food world with being among the first to document her recipes with step-by-step photographs so the novice cook could easily follow along, and it helped endear her to the masses. (It's not unusual for her recipes to tally up hundreds of rave comments.) Her first cookbook landed at No. 1 on Amazon's preorder list more than a month before its 2009 release. A second cookbook is due in 2012.
Drummond was game to try shooting a food TV show, but scheduling was a long-standing problem. She wouldn't leave her family for an extended period to go to New York or L.A. to shoot, and between cattle ranching and home schooling her kids, there just didn't seem to be time. So the cameras came to Drummond and shot all six episodes during a frantic, frenzied 15-day period.
"The good thing is that it was summertime, and the bad thing is that it was summertime," Drummond said. "We were done with home schooling. But it happened to fall on the busiest two-week period of our ranch. We already had all this cattle stuff scheduled, and shipping and receiving. My husband and I would look at each other at night and say, 'Oh, my gosh, what did we do?' It was 18-hour days, basically, for 15 days."
She said that she hopes the season shows the difficult life of a modern-day rancher, a lifestyle that seems to be quickly fading from view. "On the blog, the only perspective people get to see is from my camera. I want people to see how hard my husband and kids work on the ranch."
Drummond, who gives her age as 42 "and two-thirds," said she still can't believe she's going to be on TV. Her blog started as a way for her to stay in touch with extended family and show off pictures of the kids. But when she started posting photos of her food and recipes -- specifically, a tutorial on grilling a steak -- readers started coming in droves.
And they stuck around for details about Drummond's "how did I end up here" storytelling.
A story for the masses
For the uninitiated, Drummond grew up in Oklahoma and high-tailed it out of there for Los Angeles and the University of Southern California. She had plans to become a big-city lawyer, travel the world and eat in as many sushi restaurants as humanly possible.
That all changed during a visit home. While there, she crossed paths with a rugged, handsome, honest-to-goodness cowboy, and the rest is Pioneer Woman history. Today, life is about laundry, and home schooling and shooing away the occasional cow that wanders too close to the house, which is located on a fourth-generation cattle ranch with more than 4,000 head of cattle and 2,000 wild horses.
She says she hopes her blog readers tune in but feels no pressure to deliver big ratings, or even a second season. "If people do watch it, I hope they enjoy it, I hope they get something out of it," she said.
And if they don't, she'll know she should just stick to blogging. "I got to the point where I thought, 'Why shouldn't I try this?' It will be an adventure, if nothing else."
Then, she confesses that she does feel a tiny bit of anxiety. "I'm wondering if I made the right decision about hair and makeup."
What's that? In true Drummond fashion, she passed up the opportunity to have professionals come in and get her camera-ready.
"They told me I'd have to report in earlier," she explained. "But if I did it myself, I could sleep in a little bit and do my own hair and makeup in between getting the kids ready in the morning and getting my husband out the door."