You’d think the position of “ranch cook” would require some sort of test, like swimming the length of a pool before diving into the deep end. But I don’t think I’d ever lit a bed of coals or built a proper campfire before taking a job to cook on a guest ranch in the Texas Hill Country. Not that I wasn’t game for the challenge—at that point, I’d been cooking and writing for years. But when I arrived in Texas, I still considered a crackling, popping fire a sensual pleasure to gather around, and not necessarily a means to dinner.
That adventure set a lot of things in motion. It led to four years of ranch life (including two Quarter Horses and our first saddles, stand-offs with feral hogs, bottle-raised orphan goats, and developing an uncanny skill for spotting scorpions). Because of the way our jobs were divided early on—I was hired as the chef, and my then-boyfriend/now-husband, David Norman, was hired as a baker and ranch manager—we embraced tasks that suited our strengths and personalities. I was typically in the lodge wearing boots and an apron, shaking skillets, whisking vinaigrettes, juggling guests; David was happily “on the range” (an elusive activity that I envy to this day) or “out back,” firing up his bread oven or the grill. And, I’m quite sure, sipping a cold longneck or two on the sly.