Cooking the Books: Marry Christmas Murder by Stephanie Blackmoore

Wedding planner and B&B owner Mallory Shepard is in for a December of surprises when her mother, Carole, decides she’s had enough of retirement and wants to move to Port Quincy to be closer to her daughters. However, she’s not the only one interested in coming to live in their small town located two hours outside Pittsburgh. The wealthy March family, a powerhouse in real estate development, are looking to make a permanent move to the area as well, instead of merely maintaining seasonal residences there. Carole immediately has the bright idea of applying for a staging job with their development company, despite the position already being filled by hometown girl Lacey Adams.

Mallory has a lot of conflicting feelings regarding her mom’s machinations, but the whole March situation has an upside: she’s hoping it will encourage her best friend and youngest member of the March family, Olivia, to come live there too. Olivia is a high-powered Pittsburgh attorney whom Mallory set up with local doctor Toby Frank—so successfully, in fact, that the two have hired Mallory to plan their spring nuptials, or Christmas nuptials, as they suddenly decide. Unable to refuse her best friend, Mallory pulls out all the stops to create a winter wonderland wedding despite having only a few short weeks to plan it all.

Added to all this stress is Mallory’s anxiety over her cooling relationship with her beau, Garrett Davies, as well as her sister Rachel’s insistence on getting her help with matchmaking. It’s a lot to juggle, but then things get even worse. Lacey drops dead at a holiday party, and the number one suspect is Mallory’s mom. Clearing Carole’s name becomes Mallory’s number-one priority, even as she has to keep all her other metaphorical balls in the air while literally dodging a killer determined to keep her from discovering the truth.

I loved the many varied plot strands here as poor Mallory was plunged into chaos yet still managed to solve not only the murder but a Christmas gift heist, a catnapping, and the mystery of a baby left in a manger 30 years earlier. Mallory’s life was surprisingly realistic for all the drama, as Stephanie Blackmoore fills the briskly paced plot with tons of meaningful detail.

Three tasty recipes were also included here. I picked the first, neglecting to notice that the second was actually the recipe for icing them, whoops!

Cardamom Men Cookies

Ingredients

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon cardamom

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup coconut oil

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup molasses

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Sift together flour, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt.

Mix coconut oil, brown sugar, and molasses in a separate bowl.

Combine with flour mixture.

Chill cookie dough for one hour. Roll dough flat on a floured surface between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper.

Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes, including gingerbread men.

Bake for approximately ten minutes, or until cookies are brown and crispy.

Neither my lovely assistant Karin nor I had the usual cookie cutters, but we both like star shapes, which worked out quite well and turned out about 45 star-shaped cookies with this recipe. Please note that these treats are both vegan and amazing. I’ve already made another batch to share with friends for the holidays and am seriously considering baking more soon. While crispy at the edges, the centers are delightfully chewy—exactly the way I prefer my cookies.

The taste is also outstanding. Most people will just assume that they’re gingerbread and be pleasantly surprised to learn that they feature a different spice instead. I actually didn’t miss the icing, though I imagine people interested in making more traditionally shaped and decorated cookies will find that recipe useful too.

I do have one caveat, and I’m not sure whether it’s due to the recipe as printed or due to my use of organic brown sugar, which I’ve found has a rather odd granularity compared to regular. The dough that came out of the fridge was very crumbly, as you can see from the photos, so I added more coconut oil and kneaded it until it came to a consistency more in line with typical cookie dough. Let me know if you try this at home and have a different result using regular brown sugar.

And that’s it for our year here at Cooking the Books! It’s pleasant to end on a nice seasonal note, so here’s to hoping your holidays are even sweeter than these delightful treats. Do join me in 2020 with a dish to help roll in the New Year!

See alsoCooking the Books: Silent Knit, Deadly Knit by Peggy Ehrhart

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