Sunday, May 13, 2007

Cookies and Contests

by Joan Kayse

By nature I am not a particularly competitive person. Sure, I've been competing in various contests with my manuscripts THE PATRICIAN'S FORTUNE and THE PATRICIAN'S DESIRE, my GH finaling manuscript. Both have placed in a handful of contests and while pleased with such, felt no particular rancor to those who placed higher than me. I just added it to my repertoire of experience and plowed onward. But I am driven in one area of my life: competitive baking at the Kentucky State Fair.

When the Fair rolls around, I roll up my sleeves, fire up my oven, turn my new, bright blue KitchenAid mixer on high and grease my pans.

It started innocently enough. I had been taking cake decorating classes and heard about how to enter that category. I labored long and hard on the perfect "Cabbage Patch Babies" sheet cake and won a green honorable mention ribbon.

I was hooked.

The next year I thought "Hm, how hard could it be to make a cake from scratch?" I entered a chocolate cake and won a BLUE ribbon. Stars shone in my eyes and a gnawing thirst for the grand prize...the cake sweepstakes began to bloom inside me.

Over the next decade I would bake and enter a cake in every category; coconut, pumpkin, devil's food, name it and I baked it. I got to know the "inner circle". Oh, yes. There is definitely an inner circle to the state fair competition. You begin by recognizing names, you surreptitiously survey them at the display cases. You find yourself analyzing (critiquing, if you will) their icing techniques. You pretend to be eating a corn dog when in truth you're eavesdropping on their boasting about the type of butter they use. Grudgingly, you admit the 80 year old lady whose farmer husband dutifully drove her all the way from central Kentucky just to bring her mama's caramel cake in probably deserved to win.

But I still wanted that sweepstakes!

One year I had a wake up call as to how far I was falling into the dark world of powdered sugar and heavy cream the year we had a specialty contest for cookies.

These special contests are as nerve racking as sitting in the audience of the GH ceremony with Nora Roberts only three feet away. You bring your entries and sit and WATCH the judges eating your entry. You chew your nails, you whisper with your baking friends (yes, you do have some of those...Loretta and Juanita :-) and wait to see if you win.

The year I sank to my lowest low, I was having strained conversation with "The Queen" of cakes. Her ten year old granddaughter repeatedly interrupted us to tell me about her having won the junior division and having an article in the paper about it.

The girl was happy, giddy, ecstatic. I was doing my best to ignore it. I was the adult here, I kept reminding myself. She's a child, ignore it. But on the fifteenth time of hearing "I was in the paper" I snapped. Leveling her with a stern glare I said "Well, Nanny nanny poo poo."

I know. I'm horrible.

The girl, thankfully did not seem to understand the level I had fallen to. She gleefully skipped over to another section to fill them in on the news of her luck and I sank lower into my chair. To say it brought me to my senses is an understatement. It taught me a valuable lesson about keeping things in perspective. Thank goodness for Donna MacMeans, the Bandita who won my GH category. She may not remember, but at the end of the ceremony I offered her congratulations. If not for this turning point I might have nanny nanny pooed her LOL.

I did win the sweepstakes in 2003 and my chocolate chip cookies (renowned among my friends-recipe follows) have won a few ribbons. But the best prize I came away with is learning to take it as it comes. Keep it real, Joan. Keep it real.

Joan's Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 2/3 cup all purpose floor
12 oz. bag mini chocolate chips

Beat sugars with butter. Add eggs. Add remaining ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-10 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool slightly before removing to racks to finish cooling. Makes 3 dozen.



Caren Crane said...

Oh, Joan, I ADORE chocolate chip cookies! But only homemade ones. I'll admit, my daughter has gotten hooked on the NC State Fair baking competition. She took third place in muffins in the 9 - 12 category a couple of years ago - her first time out! So, she's convinced she can bring home the blue ribbon. October is very tense at our house! I think she plans on entering cookies this year. Maybe your recipe will come in handy...

Joan said...


I'd be honored for your daughter to try out my receipe. Her victory would be my atonement :-)

PS The secret is that you use a spatula to "smoosh" the ingredients together.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Joan, I'm sitting at work with a lull between pills and charting, laughing my eyes out over this nanny-nanny-poo-poo thing. Too funny! Having worked several summers in a hotdog stand at the Ohio State Fair, I've sworn off fairs forever. But I must admit the decorated cakes and the home made quilts were the two exhibts I managed to see those three summers. I'll be trying your recipe for the testosterone crew at my house!

Anna Campbell said...

Ooh, Joan, I used to be a killer baker (although probably not in the sense that you sound like a KILLER baker - eeep!). Life lately seems to have stopped me which is rather sad, now I think of it. I'll have to try those cookies. Laughed at Nanny nanny poo poo! Lucky Donna, that she missed out on that! Unlucky me that I didn't get to hear you say it to her. Would have made a great story!

Anna Sugden said...

You wicked, wicked woman, Joan. You know I'm going to have to test my very limited baking skills on these cookies! (Or maybe I'll get my more talented hubby to have a go.

Loved your story on the hard fought world of the baking contests. Sounds like our Women's Institute (of Calendar Girls fame) contests. And I'm glad you're as human as I would be!

Joan said...

Suz glad I could lift the weight of being at the hospital for ya. Some days, it isn't easy to be there. Remember, I work at one with "the crazies."

Anna, I do not write romantic suspense so the worse I could have done was dampen the child's enthusiasm...or not.

Anna, whoever tries out the reciepe be sure to "smoosh" not stir. It's a very versatile can add anything to it. I've also done dried cranberries, Heath bits, white chocolate name it, you can add it. Hope they enjoy!

Michelle said...

As a fellow hard core competitor, I concur with the feeling of victory, but I must give you my thanks for the warning. Fair competitions are not something I have as of yet ventured into, and now because of your warning, I probably never will! He He. I will however continue to be the family member who is avoided at all cost when board games appear at functions, and last to know of any "friendly" competions started among friends.

Joan said...


Do not let my experience keep you from something you might enjoy....

I suspect though that it is something inherent to the Fair competion experience. Two historical examples (not as far back as Roman times...but whose to say they didn't have some fierce battles for the best garum or fish sauce) come to mind.

The original movie "State Fair" where the kindly mother is preparing with painstaking effort her famous mincemeat. She tries to keep her "I just want to do my best" demeanor intact but when she and her daughter played by Jeanne Crane watch the competition there is a glint of "nanny nanny poo poo" in their eyes. And a lot of cooking sherry in the mincemeat.

And who could forget Aunt Bea's pickle hopes on "The Andy Griffith Show". Clara out.

Kimberly L said...

Oooh sounds yummy. I'm going to have to try those. Happy Mother's Day.

Trish Milburn said...

LOL. What a funny post. And I can't wait to try that recipe. Maybe you should bring a bunch of those to the book signing so we can hand them out with the buttons and cards. :)

My absolute favorite cookies are oatmeal chocolate chips, but I must admit that mine usually have the words Betty Crocker attached them them. :)

Keira Soleore said...

Joan wrote, "...whoever tries out the reciepe be sure to 'smoosh' not stir."

Joan your recipe sounds delicious. I have to try it. Just to be sure I understand: You use the electric beater for the butter and sugar, then use the spatula to blend the rest of the ingredients in, right?

Trish: Now would that be the book signing in Dallas? :)

Joan said...


No, no beater or mixer. The butter is melted so you just throw in the sugar etc. and start smooshing.

I had a friend one time who used a mixer...her cookies came out flat!

Christine Wells said...

Choc chip cookies are my favourite! Thanks for that recipe, Joan. You made my mouth water with all that talk of baking and I snorked my tea down the wrong way about the nanny poo comment! Great post.

DMacMeans said...

Joan -

After writing for so many years, and coming so close only to receive yet another rejection, I certainly would have understood if you had said nanny-poo-poo. But you know the tide is turning, historicals are coming back, and I think the market will be coming around to the less traditional settings. Then you and I can sit and eat cookies and share some wine and nanny-poo-poo the world away.

Donna MacMeans

Joan said...


You may believe this or not, but for several weeks before the GH ceremony whenever I contemplated if I might win or not, YOUR title kept popping into my head. Psychic? Not particularly, but I was not surprised at all when they announced you.

I've been catching hints of a historical resurgence from different places and certainly with fine authors like yourself and Anna and Christine leading the way it cannot be anything but true. Thanks ladies!

Oh, and yes. I'll make us a big batch warm from the oven....a couple of glasses of wine reinforced with chocolate and I'll nanny nanny poo poo myself! LOL

Trish Milburn said...

Keira, yes, the book signing in Dallas. :)

BTW, every time I see your name, I think of Keira Knightly. Of course, I was just reading the cover article in my most recent Entertainment Weekly on the new Pirates movie. Can't wait!

Anna Campbell said...

Joan, if you bring cookies, I'll beat up anyone who nanny nanny poo poos you. Even if it is your good self!!!

Aunty Cindy said...

Let this serve as a warning to anyone who would even CONSIDER crossing a Bandita. You will run the risk of being nanny-nanny-poo-pooed!

Now THAT is a truly frightening possibility!

Beth said...

I'm dying to try those cookies -- especially since the recipe is courtesy of a Blue Ribbon Winner/Nanny nanny poo pooer ;-)

I shall think of you, Joan, as I smoosh ingredients!