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Thankin’ my Lucky Stars for These Beautiful Women

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I could never choose just one thing that I’m especially grateful for this Thanksgiving, but I can narrow it down to six—the six women I can’t imagine living without: Aunt Peggy, Corrie, Michelle, Brooke, Claudia, and Ashley. These women are a constant source of strength and inspiration to me. They’re also fabulous cooks. So in the spirit of the season, I want to share these women and their signature dishes with y’all. And I think you’ll be thankful I did.

Mama was the first great woman in life, but when she passed away, my Aunt Peggy stepped into that gaping hole in my heart and showered me with so many blessings. I suppose we both filled a need in each other since she never had a daughter of her own (she has two boys). The fact that she didn’t was sure great for me. To this day, Aunt Peggy is my biggest cheerleader, my mentor, my best friend, and the woman I want to be when I grow up. She’s also Queen of the Sweet Potato Soufflé. She makes it from scratch every Thanksgiving. And if that soufflé isn’t on my Thanksgiving table, then I must have the wrong day.

When Bobby first told me about this girl he had met at the gym, I could just tell something was different about him. He told me her name was Claudia, she was from Venezuela, and they shared a passion for health and fitness. And the moment our family met her, she became a part of it. This fiery, tiny little girl can hold her own in a family of big personalities, but she’s also incredibly generous. She and Bobby actually allowed Michael and me to live in their guest house for nearly a year while we renovated our home, and, let me tell you—it was an absolute gift. It allowed me to spend so much time with my grandbabies, their triplets, time that would have been a lot harder to come by had we not been living next door. And let me tell you—no one in my family, except for maybe Bobby, cooks quite like Claud. She creates such incredibly healthy dishes for her family, like her Banana Nut Oatmeal.

And then there’s my precious daughter-in-law, Brooke. From the moment I laid eyes on her, I thought, “Oh my goodness, it’s game over for Jamie.” I just knew she was the one. And in addition to being a loving wife, Brooke is a fabulous mother. I know that Brooke cares about her boys with all her heart. This allows me to just enjoy my grandchildren as a grandmother should, and that’s a real gift. Brooke is also doing her part by passing along the “Deen cooking gene” to her sons. She always has Jack & Matthew in the kitchen, helping her mix up the ingredients for her Homemade Meatloaf and I know that once Davis is big enough, he’ll be right there too.

And Corrie, well, she’s my angel. She’s the little girl I hoped to have one day—and in a lot of ways we’re two peas in a pod. Growing up, she’d stay with me every Friday night and I’d take her out to eat. You know what that child would order? Catfish. Every time. And then on Saturday mornings she’d beg me to take her to yard sales. “We goin’ bargain sale?” she’d ask. I couldn’t love that child any more than if I’d given birth to her. In fact, I think I love her more because I didn’t. Corrie was the cutest little thing you’ve ever seen, but, boy, was she bad. And demanding. I don’t think she slept a full night until she was five years old. It didn’t help that I spoiled her rotten, but I would’ve done anything for that child. Perhaps in spite of me, Corrie has grown into an incredible woman. She loves the home and everything to do with it, from decorating to cooking to taking care of her beautiful family. And y’all, that girl can make a Kentucky Pie like it’s nobody’s business.

Like my niece Corrie, Michael’s daughter, Michelle, is the best daughter a woman could have.

Michelle once gave me the most unselfish gift I’ve ever been given; she allowed me to stay in the delivery room when my grandson Henry took his first breath. So you know that there’s a real connection there—a love connection. Y’all, that woman cooks with her whole heart. I suppose that’s why her Banana Chocolate Gorilla Bread is to die for. There’s nothing better.

And the last to join the family, but certainly not the least, is my sweet daughter-in-law, Ashley, who is a wonderful wife to Michael’s son, Anthony. This sweet Southern woman is endlessly supportive of our whole family and will do anything for anyone who asks. She’s the epitome of selflessness, and I’m proud to be her mother-in-law. Her go-to summer recipe, her Watermelon & Cucumber Salad, has become a favorite among our family members too, and you’ll find us countin’ down the days until good watermelon is back in season so we can have it again!

Y’all, these six women bring me more pleasure to my life than you could ever imagine. I love ‘em all so dearly, and I’m proud to say that they’re part of my family. And I hope you make their signature dishes part of yours.

Paula Deen - As a young girl growing up in Albany, Georgia, Paula Deen never dreamed she would become an American icon. As a young mother, Paula was living the American dream — married to her high school sweetheart and raising two adorable boys — when tragedy struck. Her parents died, her marriage failed and she began a prolonged battle with agoraphobia. With her boys in their teens and her family near homelessness, Paula took her last $200, reached deep inside her soul and started The Bag Lady, a home-based catering company that marked the start of Deen's professional cooking career. With sons Jamie and Bobby delivering lunch-and-love-in-a-bag, beginning in June 1989, Paula turned her life around by sharing what she knew best, traditional Southern cooking.

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