Cooking the Books: A Sprinkle in Time by Dana Mentink
Trinidad Jones finally feels like she’s settling into life in the small East Oregon town of Upper Sprocket, especially now that the ice cream shop that is her pride and joy has been rebuilt and is back in business. It helps that she has the close friendship and support of her ex-husband’s two other ex-wives—the seemingly imperturbable Bonnie and the more go-getting Juliette—both of whom also live in Upper Sprocket. Trinidad gets even more support from her grandfather, affectionately called Papa by almost everyone who knows him. His long-term plans are as yet unknown, but he seems perfectly happy to spend months on end with his granddaughter—to the chagrin of Trinidad’s mom back in Florida.
With the onset of Alpenfest, a festival spread throughout Eastern Oregon over the course of two weeks, the townsfolk of Upper Sprocket are busy pitching in to help each other rake in as many tourist dollars as they can. Besides serving the seasonal concoctions she’s dreamed up for her Shimmy and Shake Shop, Trinidad is also busy helping out at Bonnie’s recently finished bed and breakfast—with occasional assistance from Papa. It’s after one such trip that Papa goes to unload the trunk of his classic Chevy Bel Air only to discover a corpse stashed inside.
After Trinidad ascertains that the person wrapped up in a rug is, indeed, dead, she and Papa call the cops and head into her home for shelter from the now-pouring autumn rain. But when the police arrive, the corpse has mysteriously disappeared. With no leads to go on, Trinidad is happy to chalk up the whole bizarre episode as no longer her business—until what is presumably the same body floats to the surface of a local lake some days later.
Could this strange reappearance have something to do with another disappearance from decades earlier? And what do these unsolved mysteries have to do with Quinn Logan, the handsome nut farmer Trinidad has recently begun spending time with who seems to know a lot more than he’s letting on about both victims?
Given Trinidad’s past with her cheating, embezzling ex-husband, it’s easy to see how untrusting she can be of romantic partners. Even so, I felt it was a little much of her to be demanding there be zero secrets from a guy she isn’t even seriously dating yet. The lack of trust trope is my least favorite when it comes to manufacturing drama. I did find her sisterhood with her ex-husband’s other ex-wives to be really refreshing though, and I wish she could have extended some of that grace to Quinn too. That said, I also appreciated her interactions with Quinn’s special-needs younger brother as well as Bonnie’s adorable daughter in the course of solving this challenging mystery.
There were two recipes included here, and while the ice cream recipe sounded simple enough that even I might be able to manage it, I opted to make the other featured dish.
Trinidad’s Browned Butter Apple Bar Recipe
1 ½ cups butter
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla
3 medium apples (Pink Ladies or Gala work well), peeled, cored, and diced
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat until light brown, then pour into a large bowl and let it cool for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9- x 13-in baking dish.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl.
In the other bowl, with the cooled melted butter, add the sugars, eggs, and vanilla and beat until smooth.
Beat in the flour mixture until well-combined.
Fold in apples and spread onto the baking dish.
Bake for 45 minutes or until cooked through.
I have a hard time resisting any dish with browned butter, even though the process of browning butter always takes much longer than I think it will. Even after cooking it down, pouring it into another bowl, and letting it stand away from my stove for 30 minutes, the browned butter hadn’t cooled down sufficiently, in my opinion, to not cook the eggs when added. I ended up placing the bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes to get the contents closer to room temperature.
The rest of the work putting the recipe together proceeded smoothly, and the end result was absolutely worth the extended amount of prep! The browned butter really adds a luscious caramel flavor to the dish that only seems to deepen with time. Not that this dish lasted for very long in my household! It also impressed at a potluck outdoor reception I was part of, so I heartily recommend this for anyone looking to make something a little more luxe for company without having to worry about frosting.
Next week, we travel to the East Coast to cook up a savory stew while solving the slaying of a statue-seller. Do join me!