Our November site artist Kari Arroyo, aka @Yankee Girl Yummies, is no newcomer here! From January to December 2014, she contributed a wealth of wonderful tutorials to Cookie Connection, all under the title of Dear Yankee Girl. Kari was our very first tutorialist, and, as you’ll certainly see in reading any of her posts, she set the bar extremely high for all who followed.
We caught up with Kari about a year ago in a live chat, where we learned about her video-making and photo-staging methods and her teaching experience at CookieCon 2015. A lot can change in one short cookie-year . . . so I’m excited to find out what Kari’s been up to more recently.
But before I pepper her with questions, please take a moment to behold the beauty of her “Thankful” banner and fall leaf backdrop, the winning November entry in Practice Bakes Perfect Challenge #13 – and what earned her this Close-up!
JMU: Hi, Kari! It’s been so long since we last spoke . . . I feel like I ought to call this interview a Cookier Catch-up rather than a Cookier Close-up. But, hopefully, we’ll quickly make up for lost time and have a chance to scratch more than the surface here!
So, first off, for the benefit of those who don’t know you, can you tell us when and how you first started cookie decorating? Who or what inspired you to take the plunge?
KA: Hello, thanks so much for having me! It’ll be great to catch up! I started making cookies in March 2011. I had two small kids at home, and we were moving a lot for my husband’s job. It was hard for me to work outside the home. At the time, I also felt like I needed a break from nursing. So, I started baking for fun! A few weeks later, I was asked by a friend to make some desserts for a baby shower. I’ve been making cookies ever since!
JMU: Can you also remind us of how you were involved with cookies when we last spoke about a year ago? For example, were you in cookies as a business or primarily as a hobby? Did you make and sell cookies, or were you primarily making videos and teaching classes? How many hours per week did you work on cookies or cookie-related activities?
KA: About a year ago, I had just taught a series of pre-CookieCon classes with Rebecca (aka @RebeccArchitect) and Melissa (aka @Melissa Joy Fanciful Cookies). At the time, I was contemplating scheduling more hands-on classes. I had been making cookie tutorial videos for a while and loved the idea of offering more classes. I think it’s safe to say that, at that point, I was spending an average of 20 to 30 hours a week on cookie-related activities. The cookie sets that I made were usually gifts - or an occasional order for a friend. Though, when it came to scheduling instructional cookie classes, life just got in the way! And it never happened.
JMU: Our loss, for sure!
In chatting with you on email before writing this post, I learned that you recently went back to work as a nurse, and that you aren’t doing as much cookie decorating as you used to. When did you make this transition, and can you tell us why? What, if anything, do you miss about not cookie-ing as frequently as in the past?
KA: I did go back to work! I work about 20 hours a week as a school nurse. So, I’ve essentially traded my cookie time for nursing. I went back in January 2016 for a lot of reasons. I really felt like I needed to use my education/license before I forgot everything I knew. And I love working with kids. I’m still doing a lot of teaching, just in the way of health instead of cookies!
I do miss cookies, but they have become an occasional activity for me. Making cookies every week used to be a "given" for me. Not any more! I think the thing that I miss most about cookies is the challenge, the experimenting. Can I do this? What if I do it this way? Will this work? I love challenging myself with cookies. I also miss peer critique - posting a photo of a cookie set on social media, waiting to see what others think . . . It’s silly, I know!
JMU: No, not silly at all - very relatable, in fact.
When you get time to work on cookies now, how do you choose to spend that time, and why? Are you still making videos and teaching classes? Or decorating for the sheer enjoyment of it? How many hours per day (or week) do you now spend on cookie-related activities?
KA: No classes or videos for now. I have done cookie orders for friends recently. I still make the occasional cookie set as a gift – which is very much about the love of cookie decorating! But I don’t feel like I have time to spend on elaborately detailed cookie sets any more. I decorated a set of cookies in three hours the other day. And then I was amazed at how easy that was! I probably spend 15 hours a month on cookies now.
JMU: Wow, you really have made quite a metamorphosis (butterfly pun intended - and triggered by your gorgeous butterfly cookies above )! Do you expect to ever return to your “cookie state” of a year ago, where you worked about 20 to 30 hours per week on cookie stuff? Why or why not?
KA: I don’t know! It’s possible. I believe that, artistically, it’s a good thing to take breaks. Part of me thinks that maybe I’m just recharging my creative side. And while I do miss certain aspects of cookie decorating, I do love having a clean, clutter-free kitchen!
JMU: Oh, how I long for a clutter-free kitchen! My basement work area is an obstacle course of boxes filled with cookie tools and ingredients. It's overwhelming at times (correction: all of the time).
If and when you return to a more cookie-intensive life, do you envision participating in the cookie world in the same way, doing essentially the same things? Or do you hope to shake things up a bit?
KA: That’s a tough one. I feel unsure of my future in the cookie world. Most days pass, and I only think of cookies when I look at my Instagram account! This is such a huge shift for me. I think that when and if I were to get back into cookies, I would ease my way in. Feel out the water, and go from there!
JMU: I imagine your newfound “distance” from cookies gives you a different perspective on them too. Do you view cookie decorating any differently than you did a year ago? If so, why, or why not?
KA: I feel like everyone is SO GOOD at decorating with royal icing. Scrolling on Instagram is like eye candy, with photo after photo of beautifully decorated cookies. I am proud that cookies have come so far in the past few years!
JMU: They really have, haven't they?!
Let’s talk a bit about the lovely cookie sets you did do last year, many of which are displayed throughout this post. Can you pick a couple of them and tell us why you chose to do those sets in your limited time off? Were they for a special customer or occasion? Or did you use them to practice a new technique or approach?
KA: The butterfly set (above) was made for a cookie friend. I’ve always found butterflies to be a challenge - by that, I mean achieving their delicate look with royal icing. I ended up making them with the wet-on-wet technique and detailing with a food writer. I love the way they came out, and I think that they were really enjoyed!
The peacock puzzle set (below) was one that my family ended up eating! I just got this idea in my mind that I wanted to create a peacock with feathers that all fit together like a puzzle, yet flowed. Each cookie is hand-cut. I love henna-styled designs and decided to work them into the body of the peacock. I do wish that my color choices were different, but I was very happy with the set in the end!
JMU: Ooh, I love everything about your peacock, including the colors!
Onto some broader industry questions! I believe you have a unique vantage point on the cookie world, having been both deeply immersed in it and now a little bit more removed. Over the last year, what have been the biggest changes you’ve observed in the cookie world, and what factors are driving these changes, in your opinion?
KA: One of the biggest changes that I’ve noticed over the past year is availability of cookie-ing products. Cookie cutters, stencils, cake lace, wafer paper sheets, etc. Products are so accessible and there are so many choices! It’s so fun! I think that product choices are just going to continue to grow as the cookie industry continues to grow.
JMU: I concur! What do you like most about the cookie world? And how would you change the cookie world to make it a better place for you?
KA: I love cookiers. I love this embracing, supportive cookie community! I don’t know that I would change anything. I’d love to be able to meet more cookie people. You know, hang out and eat cookies with them.
JMU: What’s been your greatest cookie moment, or fondest cookie memory, over the five-plus years that you’ve been decorating?
KA: I’ve had a few memorable moments over the years. I love seeing someone use one of my tutorials, and getting emails asking me for advice or to say thank you. But the BEST thing that has come out of cookie decorating has been the friendships. I have met some of the most wonderful people on this journey. I wouldn’t trade that for anything!
JMU: And, my classic parting question as of late . . . How do you see yourself participating in cookies, if at all, three years from now? What are your cookie dreams and goals?
KA: Another tough question. While I do consider myself a planner, I’m really not sure where I see myself in the future cookie world. I’m sure that I’ll never stop making cookies, but I’m not sure that cookie decorating will ever be more than a hobby. Honestly, I find that I’m able to be more creative when I’m under no time constraints or guidelines. Maybe I was always meant to be “just a hobby baker”.
JMU: Well, there's certainly nothing wrong with that! Wherever your cookie journey takes you, I wish you lots of happiness and creativity. It was great catching up with you. Thanks for taking the time to update us!
All cookie and photo credits: Yankee Girl Yummies
Cookier Close-ups is the place on Cookie Connection where we celebrate the change-makers of the cookie decorating world. Whether forging new enterprises, inventing novel decorating techniques, or consistently charming us with their cookie decorating prowess, each of our featured thought leaders has redefined in his/her distinctive way how we interact, create, or otherwise do business here in cookie space!
If there are other cookiers you'd really like to get to know, please post requests in this forum. We'll do our best to round them up for an upcoming Cookier Close-up! Thanks!