LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Dining with Debbie) - Gracie Lee Eudora Abbott, the ten-year-old protagonist in Arkansas native Talya Boerner’s The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee, struggles to understand the meaning of life beyond her family’s Arkansas cotton farm. She’s precocious and mature for her age, doesn’t take things at face value, and consumed with a mysterious gray house at the end of the field. Set in the 1970s, Boerner's book brings the rich Mississippi River Delta to life and leaves the reader with much to contemplate about family relationships. Critics have compared Gracie Lee to literary greats Scout Finch and Huck Finn and Boerner’s writing has been called undeniably charming. Filled with both honey and vinegar, Boerner’s characters are sure to tug at your heartstrings.

I can’t wait for you to read it!

Like many in the South, the family meal was a central part of Gracie Lee’s life. It was served up with simple, uncomplicated and delicious food. Collard greens. Fried chicken. Funeral Potatoes. Meatloaf. And, of course, buttermilk biscuits with gravy most likely. It was meant to be shared whether in the home with the preacher, with ailing or grieving neighbors or at the church potluck. Cupcakes, of course, were always baked for the school’s Fall Harvest Festival.

Gracie Lee’s favorite cake in the whole world is her Nana’s Strawberry Cake, and it’s sure to become a favorite of yours as well.



Talya Boerner


• 1 package white cake mix

• 1 (3 ounce) package strawberry Jell-o (do not dissolve)

• 3/4 cup cooking oil

• 1/2 cup water

• 1/2 cup frozen strawberries (thawed and chopped)

• 4 eggs


• 1 stick butter (melted)

• 1 box (pound) powdered sugar

• 1/2 cup frozen strawberries (thawed and chopped)

For complete instructions, follow this LINK to Talya’s blog Grace Grits and Garden.

Sometimes Gracie Lee needs a little comfort in her life. Next to Nana’s Strawberry Cake, she probably would want a big bowlful of The Best Mac & Cheese in All the Land. Is there anything in the whole wide world any more comforting than ooey-gooey macaroni and cheese? With 5 cheeses, this one is mac & cheese perfection!


Talya Boerner


Cheese Sauce:

• 1/4 cup unsalted butter

• 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

• 3 cups 2% milk

• 14 oz white medium cheddar, grated

• 2 oz mozzarella, grated

• 2 oz smoked gruyere, grated

• 1 oz asiago, grated

• 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne

For Noodles:

• 12 oz large elbow macaroni noodles

• salt for boiling water

For Topping:

• 4 oz medium cheddar, grated

• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

• 1/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs

Follow LINK for complete instructions.

And what goes better with The Best Mac & Cheese in All the Land but the Very Best Meatloaf ever!



Debbie Arnold


• 1 1/4 pounds lean ground beef (85-15)

• 3/4 pound ground Italian sausage

• 2 eggs

• 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs

• 1 cup chopped onion

• 1/2 cup chopped celery

• 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

• 1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

• 3 cloves garlic, minced

• 1 Tablespoon olive oil

• 1 teaspoon kosher salt

• 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

• 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

• 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram

• 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (Substitute 1/2 teaspoon dried if you cannot possibly use fresh.)

• 1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

• 1/2 cup milk

• 1/2 pound hickory-smoked Petit Jean Meats bacon

• 1 12-ounce bottle Heinz Chili Sauce (do not substitute)

To make The Very Best Meatloaf (ever!), you really have to follow these unique cooking directions from Dining With Debbie.