I stopped on the top step of the Marriott Hotel entryway and sucked in as much fresh San Francisco air as I could.  In my hand I held a check made out to me, Shanna, for $1 million.

Winning the Pillsbury million dollar bake-off was as nerve-racking as a teenager out past curfew, as painful as a root canal, and as difficult as preparing your taxes.

I ought to know, I can now afford to chuckle, but up until this minute, I vowed never to be so humiliated again.

You might think a cooking aficionado, such as myself, would be thrilled and honored to participate in such a wonderful time-honored event. But cooking is not without its dark side.

This is what happened to me.  This is my story.

Last December, 100 Bake-Off entrants were notified that their recipes had been selected for the contest finals, which were held last month.  For me, this meant an expense-paid trip to the competition finals in San Francisco, the opportunity to win $1 million and most importantly national recognition.

If only my Aunt Maddie had lived to see this-she had won every blue ribbon at every state fair for the last 60 years of her life for her famous apple pie.  If she had found out I put her recipe in the Pillsbury Million Dollar Contest she would have throttled me.  She was a mean old bat.

Only on her death bed, when all the relatives were lined up around the bed, did Aunt Maddie point her crippled, arthritic, 90-year-old finger at me.

At a whisper Aunt Maddie said, ‘Tell the family the jokes on them (sickly cough.) The secret in my famous apple pie, (a very long silent pause) I never used apples, (weak laugh). It was pears!” I tore out of that room and immediately sent the recipe in.

Me and a zillion others were flown straight to an oven, where the immense pressure began.  Immediately, when I saw the new crust-free, stainless oven, I became confused and disoriented.  There was no messy kitchen attached to it.  There were no toddlers hanging on my ankles, nor teenagers yelling that they refused to eat that slop another night.

I announced to the group that I could not cook under these sterile circumstances and I threw down my apron ready to walk home a beaten women.

If it wasn’t for Pills, the Pillsbury Doughboy, I–I don’t even want to think about it.   He was not considered a very smart cookie, wasting much of his dough on half-baked schemes.  Still, even as a crusty old man, he was a roll model for millions.  He persuaded me to stay.  I rolled up my sleeves and began to dirty up that oven.  I threw flour in all directions. I greased the burners and started a smoke fire.  Finally, I was comfortable enough to cook.

Panic ensued anyway.  Even a cool-headed cook such as myself began to succumb to a culinary meltdown.  Unfortunately, I set my finished creation, Aunt Maddie’s Apple Pie, onto the chair to cool, then absent-mindedly sat on it after hearing this doozy from a co-contestant:

My personal new best friend, Veteran Pillsbury spokesman.  The Pillsbury Doughboy, had died of a severe yeast infection and complications from repeated poking to the belly.  He was only 71.

My co-contestant explained to me (she is from Jersey) “Hey, get over it! You’re not his only friend, ya know. I hear Mrs. Butterworth, The California Raisins, Hungry Jack, Betty Crocker, The Hostess Twinkies, Captain Crunch, and many others gonna be thar to help deliver the eulogy.”

Lucky for me, and so typical of Pills good nature, one of the rules he created was to allow for making the recipe three times. I figured, good enough.  That is when I baked a new pie for the judges…it was the winner.

But naturally I knew this would happen because a dessert always wins. One top winner will be chosen in each of the four recipe categories: Yada, yada, yada. BUT first place is always the fourth category: desserts and treats.

What judge is going to remember that simple shrimp taco when dessert is coming around the corner?  I know I’m not alone here because what it boils down to is what does everyone remember about a meal–DESSERT!  What tastes best in a meal–DESSERT.  Why do you eat a meal–DESSERT.

I returned home to an ungrateful family. “Shanna, don’t you think you’re crying over split milk,” my husband said. “I can handle it!” I would holler. “Without Pills do you think I would have won? Huh? Huh?

I’m feeling stressed again.  Having money is nothing but work.  This is my last column. OVERDONE and UNDERCOOKED is POOPED and EXHAUSTED.

Besides, I don’t need the money.