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Fried okra and corn syrup - Ronda Rich

A while back, I was on a book tour when my publicist called to say I had been asked to cook on a television show.

"They just want you to come on and share three of your recipes," she explained. "One, you will prepare on the air, and the others you'll just show and talk about."

Later, we discovered that the show wanted three fully prepared dishes "for show and tell," and we were to have all the ingredients on hand for the one I would demonstrate. Normally, a food dresser is hired for this. That would be someone who does all the shopping, cuts up the onions and what not and cooks up the final product. When the publicist had trouble finding someone, I suggested that she hire my assistant, Patti.

Now, Patti has been my good friend for many more years than she has worked with me. I know her well. Just like she knows me. Since she is a fantastic, down-home cook, I knew she'd be perfect. The publicist jumped at the suggestion. Patti agreed and all seemed to be hunky dory. For the record, I chose the recipes for my famous-but-stolen-from-Aunt-Ozelle macaroni and cheese, my specialty; okra fried with chopped-up peanuts; and cornbread.

All was fine until Patti called me in my hotel room the night before the show. I could tell by her voice that something was amidst. She scares me sometimes when she rings me up and begins with that worried sound to her voice.

"Huh, I'm getting ready to make your fried okra and, uh, I need to, uh, ask you something," she said.

"What?"

"I, uh, make okra all the time but, uh, I don't fry it, so I don't know how much cooking oil I'm suppose to use."

Then I knew why she was scared. "You don't fry okra?"

"No, I bake it."

"Bake it! You've got to be kiddin' me," I exclaimed. "Patti, you are going to get kicked out of the club of proud Southern cooks. Everyone knows you're supposed to fry okra." I then gave her a tutorial on the fine art of frying okra, Southern-style. She listened carefully and as she always does, wrote down every detail.

The next day after having been run through hair and make-up, I was in the green room, waiting. They had baskets of snacks, water, tea, coffee and such. It was extremely fine Southern hospitality in Atlanta. Since I hadn't had breakfast, I picked up a package that held a bar of oatmeal. It was something like "Oatmeal to Go" or some such. It was so delicious and filling that I picked up another bar and put it in my purse, so I would know what to buy the next time I was at the grocery store.

I got to the set and discovered that Patti, despite her non-experience at okra frying, had done a good job. She was much relieved. That girl worries a lot. Anyway, we shot the segment and everything went well. As we packed up the dishes, I said -- now here's where I made the mistake; some things are better left unsaid to Patti -- "Look what I got in the green room." I held out the bar of oatmeal to her. "This is so delicious. I'm going to get a box of these. They'll be great to grab as I'm running out the door and don't have time to eat."

Most people would have said, "Good idea." Not Patti. She, the Queen of Baked Okra, took the package and began reading the ingredients. "Oh," she said in her best mom voice. "You shouldn't be eating this. It has corn syrup in it."

"Give me that," I said, snatching it back. "I am not taking food advice from someone who doesn't fry okra."

She may live longer, but I'll be fatter and happier.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.