Monday, March 24, 2014

Bake the Blahs Away

by Olivia Greyson and Maddie Briggs, from THE COOKIE CUTTER SHOP MYSTERIES by Virginia Lowell

“If April is the cruelest month, March is the dullest,” Olivia said as she constructed a display of flower-shaped cookie cutters. She carefully centered a tulip cutter on top, stood back to admire her creation, and watched the entire display topple to the floor, flower by flower. Olivia sighed wearily. Her little Yorkie lunged toward a pansy cutter, but she rescued it just in time. Spunky yapped his disappointment.

Maddie opened the kitchen door and poked her head into The Gingerbread House sales area, releasing a lemon-scented cloud. “Livie? Are you and Spunky playing catch with the cookie cutters again? Because it really messes with our inventory. I’m just saying.”

“Sorry,” Olivia said. “We’re feeling bored and cranky. Winter was grueling, spring is slow, and we haven’t had a customer in an hour. Mom thinks I should go to a yoga class with her, but seeing all those flexible women would only make me want to eat a dozen decorated cookies. And don’t suggest I cheer myself up by baking cookies. I tried to cure my late winter blahs by making Ides of March cookies, but that didn’t go well.”

“Yeah, that black icing was kind of a downer.” Maddie had finished her baking, so she joined Olivia in the store. “Hey, remember that cake we made for a summer picnic when we were teenagers? Now that was fun.”

Olivia poured herself a cup of coffee with generous amounts of cream and sugar, then threw Spunky an extra treat. She felt a smile coming on. “I do remember that,” she said. “It was supposed to be pudding, but we didn’t have a recipe, so we decided to wing it. The stuff never set. It reminded us of cake batter, so we thought it wouldn’t be hard to turn it into a cake.”

“Ah, youth.” Maddie fixed herself some coffee and followed Olivia into the cookbook nook, where they settled in roomy armchairs. Spunky jumped onto Olivia’s lap and curled into a ball. “As I remember,” Maddie said, “we didn’t have an actual cake recipe, either… at least, not one that could transform failed pudding into an edible cake. So we made it up as we went along. It’s a wonder we didn’t poison anyone.”

Olivia found herself laughing. “We threw in a boxed cake mix that Mom had in the back of her pantry. Then we poured the stuff into a cake pan and baked it. As I recall, only one side of the ‘cake’ actually managed to rise, and the other side was a sunken, gooey mess.”

“Good times, good times.” Maddie sipped her coffee. “Remember how we tried to use icing to hide the fact that the cake was lopsided? We added extra sugar to make the icing thicker, and then…” Maddie started giggling. “Then we just threw stuff into the mix, anything we could find in the kitchen.”

Olivia almost spit out a mouthful of coffee. “Yes! I threw in a handful of peppercorns.”

“And the celery strings were my idea,” Maddie said. “I’d have to say, the concoction looked more or less normal from the outside… as long as no one cut into it. At the picnic, I noticed a couple pieces had disappeared from the pan, but I figured someone surreptitiously scraped them into the garbage can.”

Olivia raised an eyebrow at her childhood friend and business partner. “You’re kidding, right? You really didn’t know?”

“Know what? Did you see who dumped those missing pieces of ‘cake’?” Maddie’s emerald eyes narrowed. “I can’t believe you never told me. Spill it instantly.”

Olivia laughed so hard that Spunky woke up and yapped at her. “It was Jason,” Olivia said, gasping for breath. “My beanpole, twelve-year-old brother… And he didn’t dump the evidence in the garbage. He ate it. I think he would have eaten more, but he saw me staring at him.”

“You’re making this up,” Maddie said.

“I’m not, I swear on my antique cookie cutter collection.” Olivia’s sigh was happy this time. “You were right, Maddie, my friend. Simply talking about baking cheers me up.”

Do you have a sure-fire way to cheer yourself up when you are blue? Or a funny memory that makes you smile?

The fifth book in the COOKIE CUTTER SHOP series, COOKIES AND SCREAM, will be released July 1, 2014. Meanwhile, visit Virginia Lowell at


  1. I thought that reading a recipe was all you needed. Plus the ingredients. And maybe that would have been true, if I had followed the directions...

    1. I hear you. But really, isn't it more fun to just make it up?! Unless, of course, you happen to poison someone...

  2. I have to happy places. Spending hours in a bookstore. I'm surprised I've never been asked to leave. And I love going to the beach in the evening. Actually, the boardwalk. I enjoy sitting there breathing in the ocean air and people watching.

    1. Ah, bookstores... In Chatterley Heights, we have the BookChat Bookstore. When I walk in the door, what I first notice is the smell of new books. Almost as good as the ever-present lemon fragrance in The Gingerbread House!

  3. Cookies and gingerbread houses invoke so many fun hours with kids and grandkids!

    1. I agree! My mom always says that, too, but I get the feeling she is hinting about wanting grandchildren!