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(Appeared in Highlights for Children/Art by Bob McMahon)

“Cooking contests are for girls!”

I didn’t mean to shout. But how would you feel if your best friend woke you up on a Saturday morning, carrying a grocery sack and wearing an apron dotted with smiley faces?

Hayden dropped a bag of flour on my stomach. “Not true, Rick. Most of America’s great cooks are men.” He patted his pocket. “I have the numbers to prove it.”

Ever since Hayden had run for class president and lost, he had become a big fan of polls. Last week, he polled students in the cafeteria to find out how many of them thought lemon sours were fruit. Now he dug a wrinkled paper from his pocket and read:

“Fifty-six percent of women chose a male chef as their favorite TV cook. Sixty-seven percent of women eat at a restaurant where men wear white floppy hats. And ninety-nine percent of married women wish their husbands would cook dinner.”

He grinned. “Not even Spider-Man gets those numbers, Rick.”

As I struggled to sit up, the flour bag thudded onto the floor. A white cloud puffed into my face.

Coughing, I sputtered, “You made that up.”

Hayden thumped my back. “Nope. Found it on a Web site. In fact, I’m thinking about posting my own results.”

I snorted. “Right. Like people care what color hair gel our classmates use. What do those numbers have to do with winning the contest, anyway?”

Hayden sighed and began ticking answers off on his fingers. “It’s a Women’s Club contest, so the judges must be women. Most of the contestants will be women. Women prefer men who cook–I’m a man.” He paused, then curled his third finger down again. “OK, I’m a boy. But I have a winning recipe.”

He turned the paper over and read: “Women’s top-five sweets.”

I studied the scrawled words: Hot fudge. Sugared dates. Butterscotch. Candied peaches. Chocolate. ” You’re putting all those in one recipe?”

He nodded smugly. “Giant brownies. Tucker’s Temptations.”

More like Hayden’s Half-Baked Hope, I thought.

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