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 Food Network, 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 two 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 recent 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.' "
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 over 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," she said.