When the library roof collapses from the harsh winter weather, diner owner and comfort food chef Trixie Matkowski decides to organize a mac-and-cheese cook-off to raise funds for repairs. Priscilla Finch-Smythe, famous TV chef and former Sandy Harbor resident, is not only available to judge the contest—she’s offering an appearance on her show as the grand prize.
Trixie hopes that winning first place in the cook-off will help boost publicity for her Silver Bullet Diner. But when another winner is announced, and Priscilla is later found frozen in a snowbank, Trixie starts getting attention from the police instead. Now she’ll have to noodle over this mystery before everything really goes to pot….
Includes Delicious Home-Style Recipes
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“Christine Wenger serves up a delicious helping of comfort food with a dash of mystery and a cast of lovable characters that’ll keep you laughing long after the book ends.”
“A delightful series with colorful characters in a to-die-for setting, nicely seasoned with humor. As down-home and satisfying as the daily special served at the Silver Bullet Diner.”
“Sandy Harbor delights with its unique characters. . . . Readers will enjoy ample amounts of humor, indulgent cooking, and the often shady side of the restaurant business.”
“Boasting a quirky cast of characters, good dialogue, and a comfortable atmosphere, I look forward to the next book in this pleasantly charming series.”
“Like good old-fashioned comfort food, A Second Helping of Murder will satisfy your mystery-loving taste buds. Trixie Matkowski is a frisky, sassy sleuth with a heart of gold.”
“All the right ingredients: humor, good food, a charming heroine, and a compelling mystery. Trixie is instantly likable with her sharp wit, warm heart, and hardworking attitude. . . . Well-developed secondary characters enhance the story line and add local flavor. Overall, an impressive mystery with recipes that will surely satisfy cozy lovers.”
“A Second Helping of Murder is a fun cozy mystery with a likable female sleuth, great supporting characters, and lots of puzzles to solve.”
“Good humor, down-home food, and fun diner dialect all make this a very lighthearted mystery with a feisty heroine, steadfast deputy, and even more adorable rescue dog companion.”
“The first Comfort Food Mystery is a real treat! Well plotted, it’ll keep you guessing right up to the last chapter. Trixie’s involvement as an amateur sleuth is well motivated, and her witty sense of humor makes her instantly likable.”
“Plenty of local color and warm characters add to the investigation with a surprise ending that few will see coming. Readers will enjoy spending more time in Sandy Harbor as Trixie makes it and the Silver Bullet her own.”
“A spunky heroine, a handsome cowboy from Houston, a Latino cook, and assorted colorful others make for a fun read.”
“This is the first book in a new series that I hope will be around for a long time. It was such a fun read. It had me laughing and at the edge of my seat. The author knows how to plot a great mystery. I loved the characters.”
“This is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery with a plot that keeps the reader engaged and very surprised by the reveal, always a joy for mystery-reading veterans. In this debut Comfort Food Mystery, recipes are of course included as are delectable descriptions of decidedly low-fat but down-home cooking. Trixie is a very relatable and likable character deserving of her starring role in this promising and very well-written series.”
“Culinary mystery fans have a new series to sample.”
“A comfort foodie and cozy reader’s delight.”
ALSO BY CHRISTINE WENGER
I just loved wintery Sunday mornings in my Silver Bullet Diner.
It was organized chaos as families filed in after church, workers came in for breakfast after their shifts, and snowplow drivers shuffled in to get warm, refill their coffee, and get something to eat.
I loved how the cold weather brought people together and was glad that they came to my diner for good food and to warm their bones. The diner’s windows were frosty and gave the feeling that everyone was inside a cozy cocoon.
As I was refilling my mug behind the counter, I paused to listen to the chatter of my customers and the clatter of silverware on plates—another one of my favorite things.
The smell of bacon frying and bread toasting permeated the air along with the strong aroma of coffee brewing. Mmm . . .
Arriving customers shrugged out of their winter regalia and helped their children out of theirs. They stuffed mittens, hats, and whatnot into the pockets of their coats and hung them on the pegs near the front door. If they were lucky enough to find a red vinyl booth right off the bat, they shuffled over to claim it as their own by hanging everything on the brass treble hooks screwed into the frame.
Heads were hunched over my big plastic menus, and fingers were pointing to the colorful pictures as my morning-shift waitress walked around with pots of coffee—regular and decaf—and exchanged friendly banter.
Because Sandy Harbor was such a small village, most everyone knew one another. Joking, shouting, and table hopping were common, much to the confusion of my waitresses. But that was the way of it here. There were plans being made for ice fishing, shopping trips to Syracuse or Watertown for clothing and after-Christmas sales, and a rather in-depth discussion about dairy cows and where to buy hay if there was a shortage.
And as always, weather was a big topic. I tuned in to a conversation between Guy Eastman, who owned a zillion cows and grew the best butter and sugar corn during the summer season, and Dave Cross, who was our area plumber and fishing guide.
Dave stirred his coffee absentmindedly. “My bunions tell me that we are going to have one hell of a blizzard. And that it’s going to be bad.”
“My right elbow was aching this morning, so I think you’re right, but my left knee was calm, so you might be wrong,” replied Guy. “My hammertoe was throbbing, and so was this blister I got from my new work boots. I wonder if that means anything.”
Dave shrugged. “My right knee was creaking this morning. That’s usually a sign of frost, but we’re beyond frost. Maybe it’s warning me about more sleet coming.”
“Creaking? Both of my knees were creaking when I walked in here—it’s my bursitis and arthritis. Oh, and I had pain shooting up and down my right leg. That tells me we’re in for a couple feet of snow.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Guy!” Dave exclaimed. “That’s not a snow predictor; that’s your sciatica.”
A big laugh started in my stomach, and it was just about to make its way to the surface. I was in trouble. I had just taken a big gulp of coffee, and I was going to spray it all over my pretty diner if I couldn’t swallow both the coffee and the laugh at the same time. Leaning over, I opened one of the cooler doors below the counter and made like I was looking for something until I could tamp down the laugh and the liquid.
These were the sights, sounds, and smells of my diner this Sunday morning in January. And I could think of nothing better in this world.
But both Guy and Dave were right, according to our local weatherperson, Heather “Flip a Coin” Flipelli. She was the daughter of the station manager and had no training in meteorology, and she was too young to have weather predictors like Dave’s bunions and Guy’s sciatica. Too bad she didn’t have them, though. Maybe she’d do a better job predicting the weather.
Heather’s morning segment was currently closed-captioned on an ancient TV hanging from the rafters at the end of the counter. I shivered when I saw that she was wearing a sleeveless tank top and denim miniskirt. Heather noted, with a toss of her shiny black ponytail, that it was sleeting outside—a combination of rain and heavy snow and whatever else Lake Ontario was throwing at little Sandy Harbor, New York. Heather named it a “weather event” and identified it as a “lake-effect polar vortex,” but I, Trixie Matkowski, just called it another “massive weather mess.”
“It’s supposed to turn into a blizzard,” said Huey Mobley, making a general announcement to everyone in the diner and who, having just walked in the door, had missed the bunion weather debate. Huey was delivering the Sunday edition of the Sandy Harbor Lure, our local newspaper, and stocking the paper box. “And this new bout of sleet will make the roads slippery and icy. It says so right here in the Lure.”
And the Lure was sacred in this area.
“Don’t you worry. Your friendly Department of Public Works has the icy conditions under control, Huey.” Snowplow driver Karen Metonti set her fork down on her plate, which had once held a stack of blueberry pancakes and crispy bacon, and raised her coffee mug in salute. “My hopper is loaded with sand and salt, and I’m ready to go at it again just as soon as I refill my coffee.”
“It’s on me, Karen,” I said, bobbing to the surface of the counter. “And help yourself to a couple of donuts for the road on your way out.”
“Thanks, Trixie. It’s going to be a long week if Flip a Coin is right,” Karen said, zipping up her insulated orange jumpsuit. She slipped on sheepskin mittens and a matching hat, which were both so stuffed with fur they looked like they lodged a whole sheep. Then she clomped out in snowmobile boots, stopping to get a refill on her coffee from Nancy, my day waitress, and slip a couple of donuts into a white bakery bag.
Spotting several fruit hand pies my Amish friend Sarah Stolfus made revolving in slow circles in the pastry carousel, I walked toward it as if in a trance.
“Beatrix Matkowski, don’t you dare eat one of those hand pies, particularly not the cherry one. You just started another diet this morning,” I mumbled to myself. I was hoping that maybe myself would listen, since I hated to be called Beatrix.
Before the hand pie could jump into my hand, I zoomed past the carousel and hustled back to my usual spot in the kitchen between the steam table and the huge black stove.
Phew. Crisis averted.
I’d been here since midnight, and my shift would end at precisely eight o’clock—in about ten minutes. I enjoyed working the graveyard stint because I always found that the customers who came in to eat then were an interesting group. We had the extroverts who relished the camaraderie in the diner, loners who just wanted to be left alone, and customers who were full of energy and thrived on the night. Almost every shift, I had customers who simply ran out of steam, maybe after a long work shift, and happily snoozed in a booth.
But no matter who they were, they all wanted something to eat—something warm and comforting—and that was my specialty.
Right now I had four different kinds of soup on the stove in huger-than-huge pots: chicken noodle, broccoli and cheese, New England clam chowder, and bean soup. That was quite a variety, but there were a lot of people in Sandy Harbor who worked out in the elements and needed thawing out, and that meant soup—lots and lots of comforting soup.
It also meant chili, mac and cheese, meat loaf. . . . I could go on and on, but before I got carried away by my thoughts, I needed to get some batter started for chocolate chip cookies, for the lunchtime rush.
I looked at the clock on the wall. Juanita Holgado, my morning cook, should be arriving momentarily. She loved to bake, so she could finish them for me. I was dead on my feet and yawning.
Maybe it was the weather. Thank goodness I didn’t have any bunions or other body parts that could predict the weather. I usually took my chance on Flip a Coin’s predictions.
But today all I needed to do was look outside the diner window—the snow was falling fast in big, wet flakes. I could barely make out the outlines of Max and Clyde through the plummeting snow. They were my jacks-of-all-trades when they weren’t taking long breaks to talk. Right now they were trying, in vain, to shovel and snow-blow the sidewalks around the Silver Bullet so that my patrons wouldn’t slip, twirl, and triple flip and get a low mark from the Olympic judges.
But thank goodness for Karen, the first female snowplow driver in Sandy Harbor, who let the blade down on the village’s snowplow and made a couple of swoops in my parking lot.
Karen wasn’t supposed to use village equipment to do personal things or for local businesses, but sometimes we close the rule book here in small-town Sandy Harbor. The people here like to look out for their own and help out wherever and whenever they can.
In gratitude, I was going to make sure that Karen was well supplied with free coffee and donuts every time she stopped by the Silver Bullet this winter.
Deputy Sheriff Ty Brisco, a Texas transplant who lived above the bait shop next door, would accuse me of bribing a governmental official. But I’d just call it being neighborly.
Ty was getting too stuffy lately anyway. He needed to loosen up. But then again, maybe he had weather-predicting body parts that were giving him a hard time. Or perhaps he was just grumpy about the snowy weather since he was from Houston.
Just then I saw Ty’s big monster of an SUV do a half spin into the parking lot. He easily got the big black machine under control before he ended up in the ten-foot-high snowbank, and he safely parked in a spot cleared by Karen.
I peeked from the corner of the pass-through window, waiting for Ty to walk into the diner. It wasn’t because I loved to watch the way he walked or liked to listen to his sexy cowboy drawl or because I enjoyed bantering with him.
I just liked to talk to him.
I wasn’t interested in any kind of a personal relationship with Ty. I was still busy building and cementing a brick wall around myself and my heart—mainly due to my divorce from my ex-husband, Deputy Doug Burnham, slimy cheater. A couple of years ago he’d found a fertile twentysomething-year-old who gave him twins, Brittany and Tiffany, and I became yesterday’s birdcage liner.
After all was said and done, I’d left Philly and headed for my favorite place on earth: Sandy Harbor, New York. And then the planets aligned when my aunt Stella decided that the diner, cottages, and Victorian farmhouse she owned weren’t going to be the same without her beloved husband, Porky, and she offered to sell everything to me with for a “family discount and easy-payment plan.”
We worked out the details on a Silver Bullet place mat. After the dust settled, she handed me a wad of keys and I handed her the contents of my purse, my bank accounts, and all the change I had in the ashtray of my car. Aunt Stella then took off for Florida and an Alaskan cruise with her gal pals, leaving me with balloon payments scheduled through our lifetimes and a diner that was OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY, AIR-CONDITIONED, BREAKFAST SERVED ALL DAY.
Trying to be casual, I took another peek through the pass-through window to see if Ty had appeared yet.
The pass-through window didn’t have any glass in it and wasn’t used for passing anything through it, but it was my way to see what was going on in the front of the diner whenever I was in the back.
And right now I was hoping to enjoy some cowboy eye candy.
The door opened and there was a collective groan when snow blew into the diner and landed on some of the customers seated near the door.
Ty should have waited until the outside door had closed before he opened the inside door, but the wind took it. He mumbled a sheepish “sorry” to the folks sitting nearby, took his cowboy hat off, and brushed off the plastic bonnet that protected his hat.
The plastic bonnet reminded me of my aunt Helen’s living room, with her plastic-covered sofa and chairs. I used to stick to the sofa whenever I wore shorts, and my father loved to joke about the covers as he drove us all home after our visit. But Aunt Helen was proud of how the plastic kept her furniture just like new.
“Isn’t it way too early for this kind of weather? When is this stuff ever going to stop falling?” Ty snapped, unzipping his bomber jacket, shaking it out, and hanging it on a peg.
“August,” someone shouted.
“I believe it,” Ty said.
“Amateur,” I mumbled. “It’s only January.”
But then I remembered that this was only Ty’s third winter in Sandy Harbor. It was my second as owner of the Silver Bullet and the eleven housekeeping cottages on the point (there used to be twelve, but that’s another story). I also own a big Victorian farmhouse with three floors, a bunch of rooms, and a bunch of bathrooms, because my late uncle Porky loved company and loved porcelain.
I loved it here in Sandy Harbor. I loved my staff, the villagers, the closeness, and the camaraderie. We were a tight-knit community, and if someone needed help, then help they’d get—no questions asked!
Nancy arrived with some orders, interrupting my ogling. “Two cowboys on a raft, wheat. One deadeye with sausage, sourdough. One pig between two sheets, sourdough. And two cows, done rare—and make them cry. And, Trixie, the two cows are taking a walk.”
Nancy loves her “Dinerese.” And over the years I’ve come to love it, too. It’s like our own special language. I got the two Western omelets frying and the wheat bread onto the toaster Ferris wheel. I got the water boiling for the two deadeyes—poached eggs—and put two orders of sourdough bread on the wheel. I cut slices of raw onions to make the cows, or hamburgers, “cry” and toasted their buns. When the meat was ready, I plated everything and boxed up the hamburgers for their walk.
Just then the back door opened and Juanita Holgado came bustling in.
“This weather sure is something. I need a vacation, Boss Trixie. Like now!”
“Whenever you want a vacation, just let me know.”
Juanita shook off her coat, pulled off a brightly colored hat, and stomped the snow off her boots. After unzipping and removing her boots, she slipped into a pair of rubber clogs.
Today Juanita wore her signature chef pants with red and green peppers on them. My signature pants were covered in red tomatoes. The other cook, Cindy Sherlock, had pizza slices on hers.
I ordered them especially for us because they all had special meanings for us. Juanita loved to eat peppers and feature them in her recipes.
Cindy was a wonder with her crispy-edged pizza dough, and everyone loved her specialty pizzas. Sometimes she couldn’t keep up with the pizza orders and one of us would have to help her.
As for me, I loved tomatoes, especially in the summer, when I could pick them right off the vine and eat them. As I looked out at the blizzard, I remembered how warm and sweet they taste fresh from the garden. Yum. I know I shouldn’t, but I carry a salt shaker in my pocket for occasions just like that.
And when I do pick the tomatoes, I can them and freeze them. Then, all throughout the year, I make spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, marinara sauce, and anything else I can think of.
As I loaded more bread onto the Ferris wheel, I thought of my other alleged cook, Bob, who had come with the diner and whom I’ve never met.
Bob served in the army with Uncle Porky, and it was Uncle Porky who’d hired him as a cook. When I took over, Bob kept calling in sick from Atlantic City, Vegas, Connecticut, and other casinos . . . er . . . I mean specialist physicians.
Bob only ever called in sick to Juanita, but the next time he called, I told Juanita that I wanted to talk to him. Bob was probably in Vegas right now, I thought, sighing to myself. At least he was warm, unlike us.
Juanita’s arrival meant that she was ready to start her shift and that mine was finally over. I grabbed my mug of cold coffee, tossed it down the drain, and rinsed it off. I figured I would get a fresh cup in the diner and unwind for a little while before I headed home for my morning nap.
Pushing open the kitchen doors, I paused to take in the scene. The diner patrons were completely silent, which was unusual, but then I realized there was relentless pounding on the roof. It sounded like the place was going to shake apart.
“What on earth is going on?” I asked, to no one in particular.
Ty answered. “It’s hail. And they’re as big as softballs. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“Terrific,” I grumbled. “What’s next?”
Just as I said that, lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. There was a collective gasp from my customers as the building creaked and groaned.
I hope the Silver Bullet holds up.
While refilling my mug with fresh coffee, I replenished everyone’s coffee at the counter. Just as I was about to do likewise for those in booths and at tables in the side room, Colleen, another waitress, took the pots—regular and decaf—away from me.
“You finished your shift, Trixie. You must be tired. Go sit down and talk to that delicious cowboy,” she said with a pointed smirk, her dark ponytail dancing as she spun on her heel and walked away to make a lap around the diner to refill coffee.
I had to lean in to hear her, though. The hail seemed to be pounding on every side of my diner.
I hoped that Clyde and Max had taken shelter somewhere safe. No sense trying to keep up with the current massive weather mess.
The hail eventually slowed, then stopped, and everyone started to breathe easy again. Pretty soon the cordial din of chitchat and people eating returned.
Ty and I both walked over to the side window at the same time to see if there was any visible damage.
“It turned back to snow,” he said, as we looked out. “And it’s really coming down again. I’d better get going. I’m sure some crazies are trying to drive in this.”
I sighed. I couldn’t understand why anyone would risk their life or anyone else’s to drive in these conditions. But it happened regularly.
Then Ty’s radio went off. And so did most everyone’s cell phone or radio. He listened to the static-filled device as Deputy Vern McCoy’s disjointed voice came through.
I flashed back to my days with Deputy Doug and the “let’s get together code” that he and his young chickie had devised via his radio.
From the grim look on Ty’s face, I could see that this wasn’t a booty call but something rather serious.
“What?” I asked Ty. “What’s going on?”
But Ty didn’t have to answer my question. “The roof of the library collapsed” was the response twittered around the diner.
Right about then all my customers stood up at the same time, shrugged into coats, pulled on their gloves, and plopped hats on their heads. That was the thing about small towns—in a crisis, everyone helped one another out, no questions asked.
“Thank goodness the library was closed,” Ty said, slipping into his own jacket.
I sighed. “A couple of years ago it was the courthouse. Last year it was the American Legion and now the library. What’ll it be next?”
He adjusted the rain bonnet on his cowboy hat. “Maybe we need some roof inspectors to come in and take a look at some of the buildings to make sure they’re structurally sound—at least before anyone gets seriously hurt. The weather here is just plain . . .”
“Hideous?” I supplied.
“Yeah.” He swung his hat and plopped it on his head, tapping it with a couple of fingers into a comfortable spot.
I glanced out the window again at the fast-falling snow. “Ty, can you at least call Karen and get her or someone else to plow your way? It’s going to be tough to drive out there, and all these people are going to drive either down the highway, where there is zero visibility, or into downtown, where there are narrow streets and there is nowhere to put the snow.”
“It’s already been done. You must have missed that on the radio.”
“A police radio is like Dinerese,” I said. “You have to develop an ear for it. I never did.”
“See you later, Trixie.” He put his gloves on and turned to the big line of villagers who were gathering in the center aisle of my diner, ready to respond.
Ty raised a hand for quiet. “Ladies and gentlemen, please listen up really quick. I want everyone to take their time driving in this weather. The village plows have cleared a path for us, but it’s still treacherous out there. And from what I understand, no one was in the library, so there is no rush. We’ll try to tarp it to save what we can, but first the village engineer, Emmett Woolsey, will decide if what’s left of the building is stable enough for us to go in there and do some damage control.”
Ty’s radio went off again. Same type of mumbling, same static.
“I stand corrected,” Ty said. He hooked his radio onto his belt and was ready to rush out the door as if his jeans—which fit perfectly (not that I’d noticed)—were on fire. “I have to go.”
“Is anyone hurt?” I asked.
He never can say.
“Please call me. I have a diner full of people who care,” I instructed.
He didn’t answer. He was sliding down the sidewalk to his big black monolith of an SUV. I kidded him about it, but a mega truck or an SUV was pretty much mandatory in these parts, especially in the winter months.
“Did I hear the police dispatcher say something about the ‘Tidy Trio’ on the radio?” Leo Sousa, an EMT, asked, just as his own radio went off.
“I heard that, too,” Megan Hunter said, then turned to me. “The Tidy Trio is the town’s nickname for Donna Palmeri, Sue Lewandursky, and Mary Ann Glading. They’ve been cleaning the library for years.” Megan owned an antiques shop and restoration business in downtown Sandy Harbor. I hadn’t spent a lot of time getting to know her, but from what I knew, she was a bundle of energy, like an elf at Christmas. “I sure hope they’re okay.”
Everyone’s phone went off again. “Tidy Trio” was murmured throughout the diner. And what few customers were left dropped their forks and stood, slipping into their coats, boots, and hats.
I held open the exit door as almost everyone hurried out.
“Be careful!” I said.
My plea was echoed by all the people who had been left behind, with unfinished meals on the tables and the bills.
The Silver Bullet was quiet now. Only a handful of customers dotted the inside of the diner, eating in relative silence, thinking and praying that the Tidy Trio were okay.
It seemed like an eternity before Ty called, and I was buzzed on enough coffee to float a battleship.
“They’re all okay,” Ty said in answer to my unspoken question. “They were just scared out of their wits by all the noise. The big stained-glass dome is now in shards on the floor. Luckily, they were away from the worst part of it when the roof collapsed.”
I looked up to see that every pair of eyes was trained on me. “They’re all okay, Deputy Brisco said. Just scared.”
There was a round of applause, and a semijovial atmosphere returned to the Silver Bullet.
“How did the rest of the library fare?” I asked Ty.
“Everything’s either completely ruined or damaged with the exception of the archive room and a couple of offices. When this roof decided to cave in, it did a bang-up job. It’s too late to tarp the books. They are gone. All gone.”
“Oh no! Not all those beautiful books,” I said. “And all that marble!”
“The marble is okay. But it’s now a marble skating rink.”
“I gotta go, Trixie,” he said.
“Wait! Ty, tell everyone there that I’ll deliver hot coffee and sandwiches.”
“You’re a good egg, Trixie Matkowski.”
I smiled. “Good to know.”
“Bye,” Ty said.
I turned to the patrons again. “Deputy Brisco said that almost all of the books are ruined.”
My heart was breaking. I’d grown up in libraries and I loved the sounds and smells of them. As a voracious reader, I loved to touch, feel, and smell a book in my hand and get lost in the world of words.
“I sure hope all that beautiful wood wasn’t ruined,” Megan Hunter said. “Or those beautiful desks and brass lamps! That would be such a shame!”
Nursery-school teacher Jane O’Connell stood. “We definitely have to have a fund-raiser to repair the library and get replacement books.”
“Yeah!” Several fists pumped the air.
“Maybe we should have a chili cook-off contest,” Lorraine added. “A cooking contest is something we haven’t tried lately.”
“Please, no.” I shook my head, getting into the excitement. “Everyone does chili cook-offs. We need to come up with something bigger—something different and more original, something that will get some real attention.”
“What do you have in mind, Trixie?” Megan asked, listening intently.
I thought for a while, then snapped my fingers. “How about we host a macaroni and cheese cook-off? It’s a pretty easy dish to make, so a lot of people could participate, and we’ll see who can make theirs stand out the most. They’ll get first prize. We could have three prizes—gold, silver, and bronze.”
“I nominate Trixie Matkowski to be the chairperson of the library fund-raiser,” said Jean Vermer, whom I’d hunt down later.
“Don’t worry, Trixie,” Megan assured me quickly. “I’ll help you out. So will most of the village—whoever’s able.”
“I second the nomination,” said Tess Drennan.
“All those in favor, say aye,” Megan yelled.
Oh no! I’d love to take on something so much fun as a cooking contest, but these days I didn’t even have the time to tie my sneakers.
I smiled, grateful that my friends had so much faith in me. It’s not like I didn’t want to help, but I had just chaired the Miss Salmon Contest and had housed way too many of the contestants for way too long.
I was simply pooped! But as long as I had a lot of help, I could do it and would have a lot of fun.
“The ayes have it!” said Megan. “You’re the chairperson of the library fund-raiser, Trixie, and we are having a macaroni and cheese cook-off.”
“I’ll do my best, but remember, I’ll need help—lots of help.”
“Like I said, I’ll be your cochairperson,” Megan announced to a round of applause. “I’ll contact an old sorority sister of my mother’s from Sandy Harbor High. They’ve kept in touch throughout the years. My mother tells me that this certain sorority sister is breezing through town on her way to Ottawa so she can tape her TV show there. I’ll call Mom and ask her to contact her for us. Just wait until you all hear this name: Priscilla Finch-Smythe.”
There was a general sense of awe around the diner. Add me to the list. I loved watching Priscilla on TV. She was famous for making basic comfort food and was renowned for her many published cookbooks, her latest being Comforting Comfort Food by the Countess of Comforting Comfort Food.
“So what do you think about Mabel Cronk coming to town to judge the contest, Trixie?” Megan asked, blowing on her nails and then buffing them on her blouse.
“Mabel Cronk? Who’s that? I thought you said Priscilla Finch-Smythe was coming to judge it.”
“They are one and the same person.”
“I guess you can’t be a TV personality with a name like Mabel Cronk,” I said with a wry smile.
“Oh, Trixie!” Megan shook my biceps until my teeth were ready to fall out. “You’re a scream.”
Megan continued chatting. “If Priscilla agrees, and I can’t see why she wouldn’t, I was thinking the first prize could be a weekend in New York City with Priscilla and an appearance on her TV show to cook the winning mac and cheese recipe—since it’s a comfort food. Wouldn’t that be incredible? We could get real chefs and wannabe chefs from all over the world by relentlessly using her name. We could charge an enormous entry fee. Good idea, huh?”
“Just incredible,” I repeated, and I took a deep breath. “And everyone will help?”
My patrons nodded and clapped, excited to rebuild the library. But I had to admit that I was little overwhelmed. All I said was “macaroni and cheese” and now I was in charge of a national cook-off?
With enough help, though, I thought that, just maybe, I could pull this off. And it was obvious that everyone else felt the same way, too.
So why didn’t I feel comforted?
A week later I was putting out orange plastic cones on the floor of my diner—the ones that said WET FLOOR! DO NOT FALL!—wondering if the warning would actually stop anyone from falling. Midthought, Megan Hunter came bustling through the door.
She didn’t fall, but she did slide a foot or two before regaining her balance.
“Geez, it’s snowing like crazy again,” she said, uncoiling a bright, colorful scarf from around her neck. “Are we ever going to catch a break from all the white stuff?”
“In about August,” someone quipped from one of the red vinyl booths.
That joke never got old in Sandy Harbor.
“You got that right,” Megan said, then turned to me. “I’ve got some news about the library fund-raiser, Trixie.”
“Great. Let’s get a booth in the back and we can talk.” I handed Max the mop, hoping that he’d get the message to finish up. “When you’re done, maybe you should put the air machine on to dry it.”
Max nodded and shuffled to the small maintenance closet near the restrooms, dragging the wet mop behind him. Max had come to visit my uncle Porky way back in the day and had never left, so my uncle had hired him as a maintenance man. The same thing happened with Clyde, incidentally. Clyde and Max are inseparable, and they miss my uncle Porky something awful.
“Cup of coffee?” I asked Megan.
She seated herself in the last booth as I went and got two coffees and two of the cherry hand pies I’d been dreaming about the other day. Oh, I was still on my diet. It’s just that I didn’t think it was polite to let Megan eat alone.
“Trixie, I’m so excited!”
“My mother got the Countess of Comforting Comfort Food, Miss Priscilla Finch-Smythe, to agree to come and judge and to host the winner on an episode of her show! She’ll be returning to Sandy Harbor after an absence of more than forty years!”
“Why has she stayed away for so long?” I asked.
“She’s been busy with her TV show!”
I had to wait until Megan finished fixing her coffee and took her first sip to hear more. By then I was just about ready for another hand pie.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Comfort Food Mysteries
“A delightful series…nicely seasoned with humor.”—New York Times Bestselling Author Krista Davis
“Delicious…a cast of lovable characters.”—New York Times Bestselling Author Kate Carlisle
“A frisky, sassy sleuth with a heart of gold.”—National Bestselling Author Daryl Wood Gerber
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Enjoyable, even tho who dunnit was pretty obvious. Will buy more from this author and look forward to them.
Dollycas’s Thoughts Never a dull moment when Trixie is around. That woman get herself into all kinds of predicaments. This time too much snow collapses the roof of the local library. Everyone got out safe but it is going to take a lot of money to repair the building and replace the damaged books and equipment. Trixie’s mouth gets ahead of her brain and before she knows it she is planning a Macaroni and Cheese cook-off fundraiser. Things snowball and soon famous chef, Priscilla Finch-Smythe is on her way to Sandy Harbor to judge the competition and offering the winner a guest spot on her tv show. Trixie had no idea the woman was from Sandy Harbor. The woman has all kinds of demands and a big motor home. She also has her staff of two, one is her stepson, along for the ride and they sure don’t see eye to eye on anything. Trixie just hopes they can make enough money for the library and get a little bit of publicity for the diner. The contest brings a slew of cooks to town including a couple of professional chefs looking to win and gain or regain a little fame with the grand prize. Soon after the winner is named, a stiff is found in the parking lot. Priscilla Finch-Smythe’s life has come to a chilly end and there are plenty of suspects. Who killed the tv cook and left her out in the cold? Trixie plans to find out but she may end up getting a deep freeze herself. Reading this book during a cold snap here in Wisconsin I was literary feeling the “freeze” in this story and it was funny, my hubby had whipped up a batch of his homemade mac and cheese for supper. He saw the cover of the book and we had a little chuckle. The cover of the book is wonderful but the Sandy Harbor Library sounds like it was a truly beautiful place, complete with some stained glass. I loved the way the town rallied together to make this fundraiser happen even when it was snowing and blowing and travel was a bit treacherous at times. This time Trixie is one of the suspects, of course, hunky Sheriff Ty Briscoe doesn’t think she had anything to do with it but he basically puts her under house/diner arrest with Antoinette Chloe Brown (ACB) as her gatekeeper. He really just wants to keep Trixie safe and out of his investigation, like that is going to happen. Christine Wenger has the perfect recipe for an absolutely delightful cozy mystery. The residents of Sandy Harbor are like old friends and the welcome us in with open arms and delicious food. The new characters make a nice offset to the gang we have come to love. The plot is tight and the twists are plentiful. The romantic tension is palpable. I can’t be the only one that wants to see Trixie grab Ty and just kiss him already :) I also want to get ACB a pair of boots with flips flops painted on them. Flip flops in the snow?? Girl you are going to lose some toes!! This was a fun read from start to finish. I am glad I had some Mac & Cheese to snack because damn, a girl can get hungry when reading these stories!
This book, like all the other books in this series, was fantastic. Out of all of them i think this is my favorite one!!! The characters are amazing and complex, the plot is always great, and the mystery is always very well thought through! I'm counting down the until the next book in this series comes out!
Author Christine Wenger is a gifted author who has written another winner. The entire plot was well thought out and expertly penned. Her characters are muti-layered, but well defined. And her way of mixing an excellent mystery with humor is top notch. Diners always seem to have the best food. But I never really gave thought to owning my own or working in one. Then I read the first three pages of this book and author’s description of how her lead character Trixie Matkowski sees her diner and why she loves it so much. It made me want to run to my local diner and spend the day! Spending several chapters with just the characters, their lives and businesses, and the buildup of the story, is my favorite way for a book to start. So, I was thrilled when the murder happened a little further into this book. It gave me time to like or dislike the character that was going to be killed. For me, that makes the who and the why of the mystery and investigation more intriguing. And that was very true of this story. The previous installments of the Comfort Food Mystery series were such yummy delights, I wasn’t surprised when I found MACARONI AND FREEZE even more delicious than the first three courses (books). I could feed off books like this all year! It filled my mental tummy with treat after treat of mystery, fun, and the wonderful satisfying feeling that only comes with an amazing book. Make sure to check out the back of the book for ten amazing comfort food recipes, as well as an excerpt from book five, IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE.