I thought, in honor of Thanksgiving, I'd write about cooking. A few years ago, before my first book came out, I contributed a short story to an anthology and met some other writers, including Amy Alessio. She wanted me to contribute something to her blog, except that her blog is about cooking, which has nothing to do with mystery, unless you're at my house. Just kidding - I know how to follow a recipe. Don't ask me to wing it, though, or you'll never know what you're gonna get.
In an attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole, I wrote a little story about how my gal, Peri, can't cook but is trying to bake a cake. I've re-interpreted it here for your enjoyment:
* * * * *
"Beebs, you gotta help me." Peri stood in the aisle of Albertson's Grocery Store, an index card in one hand and her cell phone in the other.
Blanche Debussy, Assistant Coroner for the Orange County Sheriff's Office and Peri Minneopa's best friend, was nothing if not sympathetic. "Make it quick, Girlfriend. I'm in the middle of an autopsy."
"It's not a tisp. It's the abbreviation for teaspoon."
"This recipe you gave me calls for sugar, but there's so many different kinds." She curled the index card in her hand as she spoke. "There's brown stuff, and fluffy stuff, and stuff in paper bags. And what's a tisp?"
"You mean I gotta buy a whole bottle of vanilla just for one teaspoon?"
"Don't be a baby." Blanche's deep voice was stern. "You can flavor your coffee with it later. And get the kind of sugar you use in your coffee. How did you manage to grow to female maturity without knowing how to cook?"
"My mother figured, if I wanted to learn, I'd ask. I never asked. I can make a salad and grill a steak. Why should I know how to bake a cake?"
"So why are you baking one now? You know there are places that sell cakes."
"Because Skip bet me I couldn't do it. And no, you can't help me. That's part of the bet."
"Then I'd better let you get back to shopping."
"Not yet." Peri read the recipe again. "Where do I find baking powder? How do I crush a pineapple? I still have questions."
"And I'm apparently not supposed to help you, which works for me because I'm in the middle of a dead man. I'll check in with you later."
Left with silence on the other end of the phone, Peri went back to reading the card, studying the boxes and mumbling softly to herself about getting into this mess. Why did I have to tell my boyfriend that anyone could bake a stupid cake, even me?
Later that evening, a car pulled into Peri's driveway and the sound of women's heels clicked around the corner and up the back steps.
"Peri?" Blanche opened the door. "How'd the cake turn out?"
Peri looked up from her seat at the kitchen table to see her best friend's eyes grow wide. She followed her gaze and regarded the room. On one side of the sink, the counter was strewn with bowls of various sizes, serving spoons, and a frying pan. On the other side were bags of sugar and flour, a carton of eggs, and other ingredients. Everything had been dusted with white powder.
Blanche continued to walk in. She picked up a plastic cup. "What's this from?"
"I needed a measuring cup, so I used the one from my detergent," Peri said. Blanche scowled, so she added, "I cleaned it before I used it on the sugar. And how do you work with flour without it - foofing - all over the place?" She splayed her fingers to mimic an explosion.
"It's a skill," Blanche told her. "Did you at least get some of it in the pan?"
Peri pointed to the stove, then resumed picking the batter from her fingernails.
"Peri…" Blanche looked at the brown and orange layer of lumps, a quarter-inch thick, crusted across the bottom. "What the hell happened?"
"I have no clue. I followed the directions. They're obviously wrong." She picked up the recipe. "I put the sugar and oil together."
Blanche looked at the bottle on the counter. "You used olive oil?"
"The recipe says 'vegetable' oil. Olives are veggies, aren't they?"
"Only on a pizza, dear. How did it stay so flat?"
"How should I know? I scrambled the eggs, then added them to the sugar-"
Blanche interrupted. "Wait. You 'scrambled' the eggs. You just mixed them, right? You didn't cook them."
"Well, of course I cooked them. Raw eggs are unhealthy, right?"
Blanche sat down beside her flour-spattered friend and began to laugh. She kept laughing until her sides were sore and eyes wept.
"I'm glad I can provide your comic relief," Peri told her, before breaking into laughter herself.
"By the way, what was the bet about?" Blanche asked, as her giggles subsided.
"If I won, Skip was going to treat me to a day at Glen Ivy Hot Springs."
"And if Skip won?"
Peri stopped laughing and frowned. "I have to take a cooking class."
The two women looked at each other, and their laughter began again.
* * * * *
In case you're dying from curiosity, here's the recipe she was trying to follow -
1 1/2 cups sugar1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups carrots, grated
1/4 cup pineapple, crushed
Preheat oven to 325. Combine sugar, oil & eggs. Sift dry ingredients. Add to sugar mix, beating well. Add vanilla, carrots & pineapple. Pour into greased & floured pan(s). Bake approx. 45 min or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Just top it off with some cream cheese frosting and you've got a little slice of heaven. Easy, right?