Cooking the Books: A Good Dog’s Guide to Murder by Krista Davis
Thanksgiving is coming to the pet-loving town of Wagtail, Virginia! With the holiday comes their annual Dog and Cat Gingerbread House Contest, drawing dozens of entrants from all over the country with its lucrative cash prizes. This year, the competition will be held in the newly built convention center on land bequeathed to the town by late local curmudgeon Orly Biffle. His one proviso for the gift was for a particular oak tree to be kept intact on the grounds, a clause the nature-loving residents of Wagtail have been more than happy to respect.
That changes when the mighty oak begins shedding limbs in a manner that could very well endanger the safety of any passerby, a significant risk given the amount of foot traffic expected at the convention center. Orly’s children, who were unexpectedly cut out of his will, are thrilled at the prospect of Mayor Liesl Miller violating the maintenance clause, as ownership of the valuable parcel of land would then revert to them. But any legal tussle is brought to a screeching halt when a body is discovered hidden within the oak tree itself.
Holly Miller, Liesl’s granddaughter, volunteers to help Wagtail’s sole police officer collect the statements of anyone who thinks the John Doe might be a missing loved one. This is made easier by the fact that her hotel, the Sugar Maple Inn, happens to be a central location for their town. She’s quickly surprised by the number of local disappearances reported as well as by the number of scandals associated with the missing men. But when someone starts attacking her own loved ones in a seeming warning for her to stop looking into the issue, she knows she’ll have to work fast not only to solve the cold case but also to help keep herself, her friends, and her family safe.
This was another satisfying installment of the Paws & Claws Mystery series, chock full of diverting subplots that handily obscure the identity of the killer until the big reveal. I especially loved the major new development in Holly’s personal life: the reappearance of her mother, Nell, who’s thinking about moving back to Wagtail after years in California. But I was perhaps most charmed by the inclusion of little notes from Trixie, Holly’s beloved dog, on how to sniff out murder victims and, even more importantly, bring them to the attention of your owners (or parents, as Trixie adorably calls them). This was a very entertaining mystery that is an absolute must for pet lovers.
There were nine recipes included here, many of them pet-friendly, with notes on possible issues to do with cross-species consumption. As I felt I’d had enough of baking for a while, I decided to make this stovetop treat for humans—that pets can snack on a little bit of too:
Pumpkin French Toast
4 large eggs
½ cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
½ cup 2% milk
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ teaspoon cinnamon
8 ½-inch thick slices challah
Maple syrup for serving
Combine the eggs, pumpkin puree, milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon in a large bowl and whisk together until smooth.
Lay the bread slices in a large, rimmed baking pan and pour the pumpkin mixture over them. Flip the bread to cover on both sides.
Heat a skillet over medium to medium-high heat and add roughly ½ teaspoon canola oil. Place a couple of bread slices in this skillet with space between them and cook until lightly browned on both sides. Repeat with the remaining slices, adding oil and lowering the temperature as needed.
Serve with maple syrup.
With the weather getting cooler in the northern hemisphere and (at least my) thoughts turning to fall flavors, this is the perfect way to infuse a little seasonal magic into your breakfast. The pumpkin seems to counterbalance the denseness of the French toast with a refreshing lightness, flavor-wise. You do have to dredge the bread a bit in the puree mix to get a good coating, but it comes out perfectly, almost dessert-like. I’ll definitely be making this again for family breakfasts!
Next week, we travel to another dog-loving occasion that turns surprisingly murderous while whipping up one of the best-composed salads I’ve ever tasted. Do join me!