CORONA DEL MAR — Jenny Flake can't wait for the holidays.
"This is the baking season," she said. "I love it."
For Flake, the baking and cooking season is pretty much year-round. When she's not inventing recipes in her home kitchen, or winning national cooking and baking contests, Flake writes the Picky Palate blog, which includes recipes as well as news about her food-blogging travels.
Flake, a former dental hygienist, describes herself as a self-taught cook who became inspired by television cooking shows.
"I made it my goal to start learning to cook," she said. "I was really enjoying it, and I began experimenting and making up my own recipes."
On a whim, she entered her "Taco-Ranch Chicken Sandwich" in the 2004 Pillsbury Bake-Off contest.
"It looked like fun to me, so I sent the recipe and I totally forgot about it," she said. "Six months, later, they told me I made it. I couldn't even believe it. One woman told me it took her 20 years to get in. It was beginner's luck, or something."
She won the contest again in 2006, as well as several other contests including the Food Network's Ultimate Recipe Showdown in seasons one and two.
Currently, she's writing a cookbook as well as keeping up with the Picky Palate blog, which means tons of cookies and cupcakes and other goodies taking over her kitchen.
Her sons, Harbor View students Mason, 8, and Brady, 5, take it in stride — even during the trial-and-error stage when the results aren't quite perfect.
"My sons say, 'Mom's got cupcakes — again,'" she said, adding that they give away most of the goodies to friends and coworkers. "They are so used to it. They will pretty much try anything new that I pass their way."
Her family, she said, has been surprised but totally supportive of her foodie career.
"It takes a lot of organization, but doesn't feel like work to me," she said. "I feel so lucky. I can't even believe it's my job."