Crockin’ Girls to visit Liberty Hill
By Christine Bolaños
Jenna Marwitz and Nicole Sparks of Brownwood are more than just best friends and business partners. They say they are sisters from different mothers.
Both ladies grew up learning how to cook alongside their mothers and grandmothers. The women in their families instilled in them an understanding that kitchen time and preparing foods was about more than just fueling their bodies. It was about spending time with loved ones.
Once they became wives and mothers, Marwitz and Sparks realized how challenging it could be to fit in home-cooked dinners every night when there were so many activities going on. They met for pot luck on Wednesdays with other mothers in the area who also yearned for home-cooked meals. That’s when they decided to create a Facebook page where the ladies could exchange recipes with one another.
“We wanted it to be a recipe you had actually cooked for your family,” Sparks said.
The page exploded overnight with thousands of people joining the page. They either contributed their own recipes, learned new recipes or asked questions or gave advice about cooking.
Sparks and Marwitz are known as The Crockin’ Girls. They will be having a book signing April 23 in Liberty Hill as part of the release of their second cookbook, It’s Our Crockin’ Life. The special event will be from 1-3 p.m. at Simply Home Décor & More, 15280 W. State Hwy. 29. The ladies still remember how surprising it was when the Facebook page took off as quickly as it did.
“It was never a strategy,” Marwitz said. “It was just a group of 30 moms who wanted to exchange recipes.”
At the time, Sparks had run a dance studio for 10 years. Marwitz, a certified teacher, had left her job to become a stay-at-home mom. Marwitz began babysitting Sparks’ children. The timing was right for their business to blossom.
Today, their website, www.CrockinGirls.com, receives more than 20,000 visits a day. Within eight months of launching their Facebook page, the Texas gals published their Barnes and Noble best-selling cookbook, Slow Cookin’ Companion.
Their first magazine, Crockin’ for the Holidays, reached newsstands across the country.
Throughout all of their communication with fans and fellow mothers across the country one thing is certain: their recipes are more than just food for others as well. It allows families to enjoy dinner and quality time reminiscent of the time before electronics, hectic work schedules and children’s never-ending extra-curricular activities took over.
“It’s a sense of home,” Sparks said. “Whether you’re in a hotel or in a hospital with a sick child or whether you’re a trucker driving long hours.”
In putting their first book together, the Crockin’ Girls knew they wanted to reflect their love of mixing patterns and bright colors.
“Jenna loves to sew and I love to scrapbook,” Sparks said. “We wanted our personalities to shine through our books. One of our biggest compliments besides the photography is that our books have personality. That’s what we really wanted to shine through,” Sparks said.
They did not want their cookbook to be just like any other. And the number of loyal followers may be a strong indicator of that.
The ladies remember their grandmothers clipping recipes out of magazines and then later turning it into something of their own. If they wanted to spend time with the matriarchs in their families then they knew they had to spend time in the kitchen: whether helping prepare meals, or washing dishes.
A good chunk of their recipes would qualify as “comfort food” because this type of food remind them of those matriarchs.
Marwitz remembers asking her grandmother how many crackers she used in her meatloaf and how she did not get a concrete response. Her grandmother would respond with “just enough.”
She admits that once Sparks and she began sharing their recipes with the world they had to train themselves to measure quantities.
“Now we had to learn how to really measure,” Marwitz said. “We were brought up to cook with whatever tasted good.”
In a sense, coming up with exact measurements takes the fun out cooking. However, they understand that’s just the nature of what they do. The ladies encourage those trying their recipes to be unafraid to make it their own. To use pinto beans, for example, instead of black beans like a recipe calls for, to see if they like it better.
“It’s okay to make a recipe your own,” they said.
The Crockin’ Girls have heard from people from all different walks of life about how their recipes have changed their lives. From elderly people who cannot cook on the stove or oven, to a surviving cancer patient who has the energy to make crock pot recipes, to busy working moms who have to split their time between the hospital with one child and at home with her spouse and other children.
They know of a soccer mom who cooks crock pot dinners out of her van.
“We have widowers on our page who only cook for themselves and occasionally cook for their kids or grandkids,” Marwitz said. “Probably the most heartfelt story are people who have some kind of medical issue where they cannot cook over a stove or use an oven but a slow cooker is very safe.”
In preparing their first cookbook, the ladies hosted their first crock-a-thon, where they cooked every recipe and photographed every recipe that was published in the book.
They cooked some 200 recipes in 30 to 40 crockpots during January 2012. The goal was for the ladies to do 50 recipes a day.
In the second book, there are some changes. Instead of categorizing recipes by type of meal they categorized them based on lifestyles. Lifestyle categories include budget friendly, empty nester, healthy, holidays and the like.
“They represent different stages in our lives. We see ourselves in all of them,” Marwitz said. Their alma mater, Tarleton State University, granted them access to their student center and cafeteria to allow enough room for the Crockin’ Girls to bring their recipes to life. They also had a crock-a-thon for the second cookbook release and had photography completed within a few short days.
Sparks said another difference from the first publication is that the second book is self-published.
The ladies are looking forward to their book signing at Simply Home in Liberty Hill.
“We love the small town feel. We enjoy doing signings for people,” she said. “We do signings everywhere. We are excited to be there and enjoy coming to the store because we shop there.”
Simply Home carries both cookbooks by the Crockin’ Girls.
In spite of their success, the ladies still consider themselves stay-at-home-moms. They emphasize they do not consider themselves professional chefs. They believe they are flawed and are always open to changing up recipes and learning new things within the cooking world.
“Jenna and I said from the get-go we’ll always stay true to ourselves,” Sparks said. “Our families don’t see us as anything different. It’s nice living in a town where people knew us before and people know us now and still consider us ‘Jenna and Nicole.’ They don’t think, ‘Oh, here come the Crockin’ Girls.’”
They said building their own successful business has helped ground them and realize what is important in life. They feel nowadays mothers put a lot of pressure on themselves to get everything on their to-do-list done to perfection, but that is nearly impossible and sets them up for daily defeat.
They said when they first came across negative comments about the work they were doing they were taken aback. Now, they can laugh about it.
“When I’m in the moment I really need to be in the moment and not have 50 other things going on,” Marwitz said.
The Crockin’ Girls share their top 10 favorite recipes on their website. Among the favorites is the Green Chicken Tacos as Marwitz can never pass up a good taco. A favorite of Sparks is the Chinese Jambalaya.
Directions for each recipe are below.
Green Chicken Tacos
5-6 chicken breasts
1-2 tablespoons chicken fajita seasoning
1 (10-12 ounce) jar salsa verde
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 yellow onion, diced
Juice from 1 lime
Cilantro, to taste
Combine when chicken is unfinished
4 ounces sour cream
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup juice from chicken
Juice from 1 lime
Cilantro, to taste
Corn or flour tortillas to make tacos.
Place all ingredients for chicken portion into slow cooker. Cook on LOW for 6-7 hours. Remove 1 cup of juice from slow cooker and place in a mixing bowl. Add additional topping ingredients to mixing bowl and stir until combined. Shred chicken, and place it in corn or flour tortillas, add toppings, then drizzle with dressing.
2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 1/2 -2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 (6-7 ounce) box long grain and wild rice
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon garlic and herb seasoning
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 small red onion, coarsely chopped
1 (8 ounce) can water chestnuts, drained
1 cup snap peas
1-3 squash or zucchini (we mixed)
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (we used frozen with tails on)
Add all ingredients (except shrimp) to slow cooker. Cook on LOW for 5-6 hours. Add in shrimp and cook an additional 30 minutes to an hour.
Learn more about the Crockin’ Girls by visiting www.crockingirls.com or find them on Facebook.