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September 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

My class discussion flopped today. Despite preparation in class and posting discussion questions in advanced, none of my ENG I students prepared. It was a stark contrast to ENG II where the discussions have been thoughtful, deep and my students brave in offering up stories of their own to share. I think if I had showed up with pliers to pull teeth, the class would have been easier.

At first, I thought I might respond with a pop quiz to see if they are even reading the book. A few students displayed knowledge of the story. But pop quizzes feel punitive. I realized, I’m the teacher and I need a different tool. Maybe they aren’t engaged, or maybe they don’t know what is expected of them in a discussion group. That job falls to me.

This is the same class who groans over flash fiction. On Tuesday, none groaned. A few even appeared eager. And I can already see the difference between

Next week we are going to watch Brené Brown’s classic TedTalk on vulnerability and I plan to use it as a practice discussion. Plus, the message might help some get over their reluctance to speak up. For the next book discussion, I’m going to require each student to read one passage (of their choosing) and say why they selected it. We’ll see how it goes. I’m still learning, too! And I understand feeling vulnerable as a new college prof.

Since we can all use a little Brené Brown inspiration in our lives, here’s a refresher on vulnerability.

After class today, I drove to a friend’s house who is also a writing client whom I coach. She’s an authorpreneur working on several creative projects at once and wants to have accountability for her progress. She also knows that she doesn’t know everything she needs to be successful. I thrive on coaching people with a vision. Many people find vision work too vulnerable and prefer stumbling around in the dark. If you don’t know what success and the work is to get there, then you don’t have to be accountable for a lack of success. I get it. It scares me to share my vision work because if I don’t do it, everyone knows I failed. But I believe less and less in failure. (Thank you, Norah Colvin, for introducing me to the growth mindset that says, “not yet.”)

Everything becomes possible when you can say, “not yet,” until you can declare “done it!”

When I was in school, learning effective ways to teach creative writing, I didn’t think I’d make it to a university campus. Maybe, I thought, after I published a few books. Even though many colleges are hiring adjuncts (a fancy academic way of saying faculty hired on contract), they still want to see university classroom experience. I get that, too! My learning curve as a newbie is huge and some days I get butterflies in my stomach riding that arc.

I’m learning technology, systems, access, resources, and responsibilities. I’m finding out that I’m responsible to track academic success and alert the college about struggling students, yet, intuitively, I was already doing that. Now I know there is a formal process. I had already set up a meeting with a struggling student and planned to coach him to get back on track. It is not failure to delay or get lost. Yet, it takes courage to get back into the game.

By January, I plan to embark on a journey with a motivated cohort of writers I’m calling The Thirty. Thirty writers will participate in a group coaching experience for a year to practice craft, strategy, critique and platform construction in real time with real submissions and real feedback. This will be the foundation of an education platform I want to build with writers from our community. Carrot Ranch will remain a place of mentoring and fellowship but also give me a launching pad for my next career move.

But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I’m working on small steps and incremental development. I’ve always believed that we should love what we do and do what we love. I also find it exciting that when we follow our vision, we evolve and what we love becomes more accessible. I don’t believe we ever change dreams; I believe we refine dreams as we grow.

My ENG I class is reading The Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. The author has a fantastic story of perseverance as a writer. You can listen to her here:

Coming off my learning curve this week, I’m going to make a left turn with the prompt. I had been thinking about an event I loved when I worked in the natural food industry in the Twin Cities. The Mall of America, known regionally as the MOA, hosted a live cooking show where local celebrity chefs competed to prepare a series of dishes using a fully stocked pantry and unexpected food ingredients, like beef tongue or purple cauliflower or quinoa. It was always great fun (accept for that one year the MOA received a bomb threat and the chefs and hosts were whisked away to a safe room while the rest of us contemplated our lack of social standing, left to be potentially blown to bits, though nothing came of the threat and the show resumed).

Anyhow, after a week of prompting my students, I’m feeling inspired!

September 9, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about the cooking show. It can be any cooking show, real or imagined. Who is there? What happens? Make it fun or follow a disaster. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 14, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

The Cooking Show Bombs by Charli Mills

Carl chewed on his bottom lip. The basket revealed to him contained squid, maple syrup, goat cream, and volcanic black rice. The crowded rotunda erupted as the host of the MOA Cooking Challenge explained the secret ingredients. Sharon, fellow chef-restauranteur in downtown Minneapolis, gave Carl the side-eye. The squid. How in the world…? Ink. Black. Rice. Cream. But goat? He released his lip and ran to the pantry nearly colliding with Li Sun of the Golden Dragon Sushi Bar. She’d be his competition this round. Sharon froze on stage, flummoxed. Then, security rushed the stage. Saved by a bomb.



  1. Oh my lawd, you know I love me some Brené. 🥰 *fangirling*

  2. ellenbest24 says:

    What a week, maybe one class needs to partner with the other, paired off to complete a one off task. Like a top of amarmalade sandwich somehow was mixed with the bottom of a marmite one. That sweet and salty sandwich could work. (That is actually my favourite sandwich) 🙏 good luck Charli and remember if it wasn’t a challenge you wouldn’t want it. X

  3. Vulnerability is one of the hardest things. Our millennia-old survival instincts kick into overdrive, especially if we haven’t had the guidance to work through it from an early age. And then to have others depend on our vulnerability in order to learn and grow, that’s layers upon layers of anxiety-inducing responsibility. I unexpectedly found myself having to take over coaching two under 8s basketball teams this year – as someone who has never been comfortable with sport or with talking to others, this was a personal nightmare, week in, week out. But each week, I’d show up for the kids, I wouldn’t quit, I’d watch and learn and try different things no matter how much my heart pounded. I’d research and have discussions with my other half (who lives for basketball) and I’d actively tune out the watching eyes of the parents on the side lines. I’ve reduced it to one team now, and then will stop altogether next season, but that fear of having to guide these kids, to find ways to keep them engaged even when they’d lose week in and week out, was hard. I have the bonus of under 8s being mostly self-focused though, I had less fear of being judged by the team than I would if I were in your shoes, in front of a class of adults. Thank you for the “not yet” reminder. I found that one a while ago, and I’ve used it occasionally but being so entrenched in my own projects, I‘d forgotten that such a broad statement was still relevant.

    As for the prompt, as soon as you mentioned food, I groaned as if I were served a plate of the few foods I don’t eat and couldn’t move till it was done. Self imposed, I know, but I refuse to quit. I have a hilariously dark idea in mind but I’m not sure I could do it justice- not yet! Perhaps some brainstorming might help..

    I’ve never written food before, these prompts never cease to challenge me.

  4. Hi, Charli. I ended my nascent teaching career when I faced the ‘challenge’ of enthralling a class of sneeringly uninterested senior high school students with King Lear.
    You are, of course, are made of sterner stuff and will prevail. 🙂

    Here’s my little cooking show piece.

    Cooked rat

    The famous chef strolled onto the TV kitchen set and, after he’d waved the adoring response of the audience down, he announced he would be showing them how to make perfect ratatouille.
    Suddenly, a woman stood up in the audience and yelled, ‘No. Today you’re going to make perfect amends. Sixteen years ago you got me pregnant and promptly disappeared, leaving me to raise our son alone.’
    She turned to the young man seated next to her and said ‘Stand up, James’. As the boy stood, she turned back to the chef and said ‘Meet your new apprentice, Gordon.’

  5. Leanne says:

    Sorry about the discussion in your ENG I course flopping. I know that can be tough and awkward. I’m curious about your writing group The Thirty. Can anyone join? I have a friend who’s a new author, and I think he would benefit from this.

    • Charli Mills says:

      At least we can learn and adjust. Thanks for the understanding, Leanne. As far as The Thirty, I’ll have more details next month. It is fee-based and a year-long commitment. But it’s going to be exciting for those ready to act on their dreams with a growth mindset.

  6. […] September 9: Flash Fiction Challenge « Carrot Ranch In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about the cooking show. It can be any cooking show, real or imagined. Who is there? What happens? Make it fun or follow a disaster. Go where the prompt leads! […]

  7. Hi Charli, I would love to teach English, but only to top English students. Hehe! I do not like lecturing although I have to do it often. There are so few people who actually appreciate the effort I put in. I wrote a poem about it and I think I must share it again. You will be fine and you will have success with those who want it. Some people are just not interested and are in the class for other reasons, you will tolerate them and do the best you can for them.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha! I have actually thought that, too, Robbie. I have one student out of both classes who is interested in using writing skills in his career. But I strive to make each week’s lesson relatable and build on self-discovery and the development of writing as thinking. I’m sure I’ll be doing much of the learning — how to relate, how to reach, and how to engage. I’m already excited to see their “stiff” writing easing up. And I have a budding horror writer! May your efforts to lecture be appreciated, too.

  8. Chel Owens says:

    Wow. I take some time off and come back to your being a college professor!! Congratulations.

  9. Sometimes when I’m preparing a meal I pretend I’m on a cooking show. As I’m chopping up the ingredients I tell the (non-existent) camera what I’m doing… I guess that’s what happens when you live alone 🙄

  10. denmaniacs4 says:

    Able Canning-Celebrity Chef

    “Louie, caught your new show last night. Breakfast with Bernie.”

    “That was episode two…you missed the pilot. What did you think?”

    “No, I caught the pilot. Porridge! He ate porridge, Louie.”

    “Bernie’s all about healthy breakfasts.”

    “Last night he ate Gruel. Gruel is porridge.”

    “No, it’s porridge-lite. There are innumerable porridge possibilities.”

    “I don’t know. Shoulda went with Able Canning. The Dark Web’s feasting on his cooking show.“

    “We looked into it.”

    “It’s got fantastic numbers. Excellent audience participation.”

    “Yeah. Once. Then they become filet mignon.”

    “Earth’s overpopulated.”

    “True enough. Still…”

    “Food for thought, Louie. Food for thought.”

    • Makes you think about a hearty meal in a whole new way. Loved the name. A delight as usual, Bill.

      • denmaniacs4 says:

        Being pretty close to a vegetarian, I find certain subjects make for a “hearty meal”, Doug…

      • Then I hope you enjoy this snippet from one of my stand-up comedy routines.
        “We’ve just moved into our new home and we’ve got one of those neighbours who wants to be your best friend from Day 1. They came over the other day to invite us to dinner and they said, in the way only vegans can, ‘We should let you know we’re vegans. We know some people think that’s strange and say very cruel things.’ I know how you feel, I said, we get the same thing just for being different. I mean, the grief we get for being cannibals.”

    • Liz H says:

      We went in a similar dark direction, with humor, cuz how else do your talking about
      “People. People who eat people. They’re the HUNGriest people…in the world.”

    • Delicious humor here. It reminds me of a story I read decades ago in Alfred Hitchcock Magazine; a terrific sale on leather coats, people lined up and fighting to get inside the store. Of course once in they were trapped and fodder for the next sale.

    • Jules says:

      I am again remined of “How to Serve Man” …I think it was an Outer Limits episode. Also a bit like ‘Soylent Green” 😀

    • Charli Mills says:

      That’s the really dark Dark Web! Funny, but the last food article I ever wrote, the person I interviewed told me all about the Dark Web and I was surprised how appealing it is to foodies. Good job, working porridge into your cooking story, too! Feels like a Monday.

  11. […] the Flash Fiction Challenge by Charli […]

  12. Being a teacher esp to teens is very challenging. I look forward to many such stories from you 🙂

    Wishing you patience and fortitude Charli.

    Author Boulley took years to master her craft. Hats off to her. No doubt her patience got rewarded.

    My take on cooking attached.

  13. Hi Charli

    Enjoyed the great variety of “dishes” in this week’s “prompt (!) cooking show cook-out” at the Carrot Ranch! (Sorry – couldn’t resist that!)

    I always enjoy the visit to the Ranch because you share so much about different aspects of writing. And this week it got more interesting as you shared what you are learning as you teach others to write. And the “not yet” step pulling you onwards!

    I also like the way “real-life stuff” makes its way into the blog!
    Someone new to me: I really enjoyed listening to Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability – a lot to think about.

    Thank you, Professor Charli!


    • Charli Mills says:

      That’s a good one, Saifun! “Cooking show cook-out” at the Ranch!

      Writing circles around like a drill bit, going deeper with each rotation. Sometimes we think we know the lesson, but we can always learn more. And I’m glad you have much to ponder after listening to Brené Brown. I gain more insight with each listen, too. I was amazed (and pleased) that she held the attention of my class today.

  14. […] Carrot Ranch FF Sept 9 September 9, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about the cooking show. It can be any cooking show, real or imagined. Who is there? What happens? Make it fun or follow a disaster. Go where the prompt leads! Respond by September 14, 2021. […]

  15. Jules says:


    I can’t imagine being in a cooking show and given ingredients that I can’t eat! I’ve seen some of the things in baskets in cooking shows and wonder who gets to make up these baskets.

    I went with an old favorite cooking show; Iron Chef. I’ve got some additional fact links at my post… Go! Kitchen! 😀

    Hosting Facts and Fictions
    (in the Early Iron Chef Kitchens)

    “Allez! Cuisine!” or “Go! Kitchen!” was the instructional lead of a favorite cooking show “Iron Chef”. Katsuta Shigekatsu was an actor who played Chairman (Takeshi) Kaga. Kaga loved musicals; starred as leads in the Japanese theatrical company Gekidan Shiki as ‘Jesus’ and ‘Tony’

    Mark Dacascos (born in Oahu, Hawaii) hosted the American version and was introduced as Kaga’s nephew. The only thing they had in common was that they were both actors. Apparently Mark did do the opening flips for that cooking show. Dacoscos could still flip in 2009 at the age of forty five! But could they cook?

    © JP/dh

  16. Norah says:

    Oh, Charli, that’s teaching for you – some days are diamonds, some don’t shine so bright, but on each and every one, we learn. That’s what it’s all about. It can be a bit demoralising when our lessons don’t work as planned, but sometimes our dreams don’t always work out how we’d hoped either, sometimes they help us readjust to a new path that works out better. Sounds like both you and your students have adjusted. Way to go! Your lessons sound brilliant, and I love the idea of your cohort of thirty. How special that makes them all sound.
    I haven’t watched the videos yet but will. I may have heard Brene’s talk before, but I know I’ll enjoy it and learn from it again.
    I love the story of your bombed out cooking show. When lessons aren’t going the way we want, we sometimes describe our situation as being ‘saved by the bell’, if indeed we are. I love the way your chef was saved by the bomb.
    I’ve already thought of the first ‘cooking show’ I saw. It was two clowns on stage when I was but a mere child. I won’t say any more yet as I may work on it for my flash.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

    • Norah says:

      Here’s my story:

      Cake in the Pan
      Deidre laughed, sang and clapped on cue at her first-ever real live Christmas pantomime, until … the clowns prepared the cake. Deidre knew how to make cakes — she’d made them with her mum. The clowns obviously didn’t — tipping more flour over each other than into the pan, splashing the milk, and cracking in eggs, shells and all. The audience roared as the clowns placed a lid on the pan, shook it vigorously, then tipped out a magnificent cake. When offered a slice, Deidre folded her arms and clamped her lips. A cake made like that could never taste good.

    • Charli Mills says:

      You are a great educator mentor to have, Norah. I think of channeling you into my lesson planning. I will keep learning. Ha! Yes, saved by the bell was what I had in mind. Glad you picked up on that reference.

  17. Pot Luck

    “Whatcha cookin’, Kid?”

    “Makin’ beans fer Ernie an’ Wanda’s potluck gatherin’ Pal. Problem is, I got wind that Pepe’s also makin’ beans. An’ so’s Shorty. I cain’t no way compete with Shorty’s beans.”

    “Is it a competition?”

    “No. Jist a frien’ly gatherin’. But my beans is dif’rent. Folks’ll compare ‘em ta the other beans.”

    “An’ they’ll notice thet each bean dish’s dif’rent, each good in its own way, reflectin’ the maker’s hist’ry even. Folks’ll be glad ta sample ‘em all. Kinda like the buffet a flash fiction responses thet Shorty puts out ever week.”

    “So it’s all good?”



    “So whut’s some a the others bringin’ ta the table, Kid?”

    “Wanda’s makin’ her fire-in—the-hole chili. Ernie is a course makin’ his special cookies. Frankie says she cain’t deliver on cookin’ but will bring olives.”

    “She did thet last time. Ate one a Ernie’s cookies an’ spent the rest a the night in a starin’ contest with one a her olives.”

    “Ha! Yep.
    Heard Logatha’s bakin’ up loaves a brown bread. What about you Pal?”

    “Think I’ll roast corn over the fire.”

    “There’s always a good fire ta set aroun’.”

    “Thet’s where we share our stories.”

  18. ellenbest24 says:

    I AM IN X

  19. […] was written for Charlie’s 99 word prompt press the 》Link here 《 to join in or […]

  20. […] This was written with the prompt about a cooking show provided by the Carrot Ranch September 9 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

  21. Your classroom flop reminds me of when I used to teach a session on group processes. It included a taster of a psychoanalytic experiential group which was always a little awkward as it is such a different kind of learning. But there was one time when it was much more awkward than usual, as if they felt they were being punished. What I didn’t discover until afterwards was that something had happened on the course that made it unsafe for these trainees to play. I learnt it was too tricky to run on my own!

    Quite a leap from that to my cooking show flash:

    Intercultural cooking contest

    I hope she doesn’t cook curry, thought Mary, offering the other finalist her hand. The smell!
    Please don’t cook beef, thought Manju, greeting her rival with palms joined as in prayer.
    Winking at the audience, the compere showed them their separate kitchens …

  22. Ann Edall-Robson says:

    Can anyone relate?

    Missed It
    by Ann Edall-Robson

    “What channel is it on?”


    “That’s the cooking channel. We want local.”

    “It’s being televised on the big network.”

    “You sure?”

    “Yes! Your channel surfing is getting us no where.”


    “We are going to miss it. Their group is on first.”

    Flashes of shows popped up on the screen one after another after another.

    “Stop. Back up. Whoa! This is the one. They’re at commercial. Don’t go to another channel!”

    “And now we return to the teen division. The judges have made their decision.”

    “We missed the beginners. Why do you insist on not sharing the remote?”

  23. […] The 99-word story above was inspired by something delicious cooking up at Carrot Ranch! […]

  24. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (09/06/2021): In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about the cooking show. It can be any cooking show, real or imagined. Who is there? What happens? Make it fun or follow a disaster. Go where the prompt leads! […]

  25. Liz H says:

    A little tail about family cooking lessons. Hope you enjoy!

    Fishermen’s Stew

    “The first part of your feast begins with a kettle of cold mountain water, placed over the fire like so,” Sonja swung the kettle arm over the flames. “Tussen Takk for hauling water from the waterfall, Narn.”
    [Continue ]

  26. “Witch’s Brew with Morgana Blackwing”

    “Welcome to this week’s broadcast of Witch’s Brew. Please welcome our guest, Morticia LeFay. This barista-witch knows how to mix her infusions!”

    “Thank you, Morgana. This week, we’re brewing up a new concoction called Writer’s Essence.”

    “Sounds perfect for all the writers out there.”

    “That’s right, Morgana. It’s guaranteed to stop writer’s block!”

    “How’s it made?”

    First, bring a kettle of water to boil. Drop in a pinch of periwinkle, a shot of vodka, and some lemon juice. Let the tincture cool. Next, set your intention. Drink up!”

    “Thanks for stopping by witches! To your health, bottoms up! Wassail.”


    Charli, you are the kind of professor the kids will remember. Like most jobs, some days are good and some are not so good. Always move forward and the kids will follow you. Huge hugs to you! <3

  27. […] September 9, 2021, prompt from Carrot Ranch: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about the cooking show. It can be any cooking show, […]

  28. On Course

    It was a marvel what she produced in such a short time and with so little space, just a narrow counter top and a butcher block kitchen island.

    She commandeered the small kitchen, flour clouding the roiling tempest of her activity. Then, while the oven did its transformative work, she swabbed the surfaces and restored calm as she stowed the dishes and debris from her preparations. Snapping a table cloth over the butcher block, she displayed her confections. There was Black Forest cake, lava cake, and even rocky road ice cream. The butcher block was an enchanting desserted island.

  29. […] From Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch is this week’s challenge. […]

    • suespitulnik says:

      Your chef had a big challenge to overcome before the cooking started. Good one.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Your story reminds me of the first time I made steamed clams and found out they were alive! My parents used to clam near Monterey and I thought to recreate a childhood dish. My dilemma was “how” I’d end their lives — boiling water or the garbage bin.

      • Yes, I used to cook at a seafood restaurant and steamed clams and linguini and clams were two of dishes I had to cook. For steamed clams they went into a steamer but for the linguini and clams the raw living clams had to go into a skillet of hot cream and I had to watch them die. The only other way to kill clams is to slice them in half with a clam knife, that was done for orders of clams on the half shell.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Hot cream or the half shell seems a worse fate than steam.

  30. GBBS

    Weekly, Julia watched mesmerized as twelve amateur bakers were whittled down to the best baker during this reality cooking show. Each baker was tasked with making baked goods based upon the theme.

    There were three timed challenges: the Signature Bake, a special themed recipe that the contestant was comfortable preparing; the Technical Challenge, which consisted of one of the judge’s tricky recipes. Ingredients and minimal instructions were given to each baker, prepared, and then blindly judged; and the Showstopper, an over-the-top concoction.

    Julia was most impressed with the unique flavor combinations, the imaginative designs, and each baker’s baking skills.

    Nancy Brady, 2021

  31. Your experience of your ENG 1 students reminds me very much of my first few weeks in the world of blogging, Charli. Then I discovered ‘prompts’, and the floodgates budged a little before breaking open several months later. You seem to be on a badly lite path with them, but I’m sure it won’t be long before you light the way and have their full engagement.

    • Charli Mills says:

      The beginning of anything puts us out of our comfort zone, doesn’t it? Well, today I sent them outside and on Monday, I agreed to let them work on their research papers or reading outside on the green (it’s supposed to be a sunny fall day).

  32. suespitulnik says:

    Hi Charli,
    I can’t imagine any of your classes flopping. Perhaps you are dealing with young minds who are still thinking college is for play not learning.
    I had heard much about Brene’ Brown but never heard her speak. That was a quick twenty minutes with lots of food for thought. Thanks for sharing.
    I don’t want to admit how much time I spent on this prompt before I got a story that worked. but “I did it.”
    All the best in maintaining your own learning curve. I hope the excitement of newness carries you onward. Big hugs. On to the prompt…

    A Hare-brained Idea

    Normally Michael had other band members along when he drove the Veterans Music Van to the VA. Today he needed silence to brainstorm. The Irish Dancers needed money so they could attend a competition. How could he get enough people involved so it wouldn’t be a hardship on any wallet? His mind wandered to his stomach. He hadn’t eaten breakfast. Food! What if they had a cook-off? Each group he belonged to could make the same meal using their own recipes. Voting for favorite dishes could be done with dollars. Cooks would get ribbons, and the dancers the money.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you for that encouragement, Sue. I think the greater the stakes the greater our nerves to overcome. I do love the experience and challenges, though.

      The 5-minutes is for drafting ideas. It does take longer to revise and I think when we respond to a challenge like this one at the Ranch, we are combining dreaming, drafting, and revision into a longer act of writing. I do the 5-minute increments to teach the process in its separate elements.

      Michael was thinking with his stomach and came up with a good idea to plan!

  33. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about the cooking show. It can be any cooking show, re… […]

  34. Norah says:

    Charli, I’ve just watched both videos. They were just what I needed this evening, each for different reasons. Both healing. Thank you. 💖

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