I've never met her, but she's been to my house for dinner more times than I can count.
The truth is, I would only know her face. I wouldn't know her voice. But, I bet if she showed up on my doorstep, she'd bring cookies. Or maybe a cake. Or home-canned pickles.
Longtime recipe editor and food columnist Joyce Michels is retiring at the end of this month.
Why is that news here?
Because I didn't want you to miss it.
If you didn't get all the way to the end of her column "Just Ask Joyce," on Wednesday, you might not have seen her announcement, which reads kind of like, "Oh by the way, I am hanging it up after decades."
Just as simple as that. As if she were telling us to stay tuned for her next column on the different uses of rhubarb.
And yet to let Joyce get by with just those few words would be both fitting, in one respect; and horrifying in another.
We asked her if she'd let us do a story about her, about her cooking, about her near-iconic status.
Mary Pickett, a former staff member who still writes occasionally for us, tried leaning on her, but to no avail.
Joyce, the consummate professional, politely declined again. As a journalist, the story or the recipe was always about the reader or someone else — anyone but her. So it's fitting that she would take a pass on one last story.
Yet I cannot let her just quietly slip off our pages without saying thank you for her years of service. It's not only my thanks on behalf of a newspaper that has benefited from her years of contributions both as a staff member, editor and freelancer, but it's also thanks from the readers who love the column.
On Wednesday, Joyce broke the news to readers. At an event on Wednesday night, folks stopped me to say how much they'll miss her and hope we can find another.
We can indeed find other recipes (more on that in a moment), but she'll be a tough act to replace.
Countless readers have searched for recipes for a favorite food they couldn't quite figure out, or for a nostalgic recipe from childhood.
Joyce took requests, she took submissions and she helped countless cooks prepare meals to bring happiness around dinner tables across Montana. In a fast-food culture, Joyce made it easy to cook something that didn't require vegetables only found in south Asia or drawers full of kitchen gadgets.
As newspaper folks continue to find new ways to interact with our readers, Joyce had figured it out years ago. She took requests, she asked other readers and she worked to keep a variety of recipes grouped together by season.
German potato salad
Among my personal treasures are some of the recipes my grandmothers saved for me (yes, I do the cooking — big shocker there: The fat guy likes to eat). One of them is a roundup of favorite German and Russian dishes that Joyce found. They were favorites for one of my grandmothers, too.
And then there's that recipe Joyce recently had about a hot German potato salad. I remembered a similar dish from a long time ago. I made Joyce's recipe and it instantly became a favorite.
I hope and suspect you have your favorites, too. I can't wait to try the rum punch from this week (another surprise: A journalist likes rum).
Saying "goodbye and thanks" is the easy part, though. I can't help but wish her the very best in the future.
Instead, The Gazette has a big task before it. We will now have to find someone to fill Joyce's Wednesday column, and she'll leave big oven mitts to fill.
Call for new columnist
And that's why I want readers to know we'll be looking for the next food and recipe columnist. If you think you have the (baking) stones to do it, I'd love to hear from you. We might even audition a few for our readers' feedback.
Until then, cheers to Joyce.
If you'd like to be considered for the next Gazette food columnist, or if you have a suggestion, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write: Darrell Ehrlick, Billings Gazette, 401 N.Broadway, Billings, MT 59101.