Guest Chick: Mary Angela

Please welcome Mary Angela, author of the Professor Prather academic mysteries! The third book in the series, A VERY MERRY MURDER, is out this month.

Sugar Cookie Countdown

Sugar cookies grace the covers of every supermarket magazine during the holidays. Stars, bells, trees—shapes we mastered in kindergarten. No wonder we fool ourselves into thinking they’re simple. But let’s admit it: sugar cookies, like all good traditions, are a test of patience and endurance.

In A Very Merry Murder, Em describes her cookies as “wrinkled Michelin men.” I can totally relate. The kids and I have made our fair share of man blobs, one-winged angels, and headless Santas. Over the years, I’ve found a couple of solutions to the renegade rollout: refrigerating the dough—regardless of what the recipe says—and using smaller cookie cutters. These changes have fixed fifty percent of my cookie conundrums.

The other fifty percent would take a Spartan soldier to solve. Think about it. By the time you’re ready to decorate, you’ve already made, refrigerated, rolled, and baked the dough.  If you’re like me, you’re starting to wonder if you shouldn’t swap out the Christmas CD for the Rocky soundtrack. The kids, who graciously allow me to make the last ten or twelve trays of cookies by myself, usually rejoin me in the kitchen at this point and are ready to help.

Any good holiday cookbook will show you what to do next. Pipe icing for hats and hair. Use chocolate chips for buttons, licorice for scarves, M&M’s for eyes, Skittles for noses, Red Hots for mouths. What could be easier? Anything. In theory, a handful of candy fixes most problems, but it can’t replace skilled bakers and photographers. I came to terms with this reality early on in my cookie-making career. It’s the same lesson my daughter Maisie learned at the age of two.

Most years, gifts at my house are small but plentiful. One year, though, I decided to go for the big gift. Maisie had seen a Cinderella vanity advertised on TV and adored it. Every time it came on, she grabbed me to watch it with her. In the commercial, a girl opens a pumpkin on the vanity. A ring, shaped like a glass slipper, waits inside. When the girl slips it on her finger, voilà. She turns into Cinderella. Magic!

I shouldn’t have been surprised when Maisie thought she would turn into Cinderella when she put on the ring, but I was. I was shocked she actually believed she could become someone else. I realize now I made the same mistake when I rolled my first batch of sugar cookies. I thought if I followed the directions my cookies would look like the cookies in the magazines. But it would have taken a fairy godmother to produce those kinds of results.

We’ve all heard the saying life’s about the journey, not the destination. I think the same could be said about baking. It’s not about the cookie; it’s about the time that goes into making it. So sit back, give the kids those sprinkles, and enjoy the season!

© Julie Prairie Photography 2016

Mary Angela is the author of the Professor Prather academic mystery series, which has been called “enjoyable” and “clever” by Publishers Weekly. She is also an educator and has taught English and humanities at South Dakota’s public and private universities for over ten years. When Mary isn’t writing or teaching, she enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family. For more information about Mary or the series, go to



Twitter: @maryangelabooks


28 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Mary Angela

  1. Whenever we have kids visiting for the holidays we make cookies together. And yes, usually our sugar cookies look more like blobs than animals or whatever else they’re supposed to be, but that doesn’t stop anyone from eating them!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. *waves to deep valley book festival neighbor* what a great surprise to see you here, Mary! What a fun interview! And about the kids and cutout cookies; just wait until Maisie is older. She’ll do them on her own, maybe with some friends invited over, and you won’t have to do a thing! Well, except maybe mix up the dough…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Julie! So glad we had a chance to meet in person last weekend. We’ve decorated gingerbread houses with friends, which is so fun. A cookie party is a great idea!

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  3. This: “If you’re like me, you’re starting to wonder if you shouldn’t swap out the Christmas CD for the Rocky soundtrack.” Yes!

    Last year The Boy did the majority of the rolling and cutting. Whew! And we learned a long time ago: stick to bells and stars. Makes the whole process so much easier (and you get more cookies from the smaller shapes).

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Thanks for visiting the Chicks, Mary! Brought back memories of many a Christmas cookie-making afternoon when I was young. My artist mom would encourage us to be “creative,” and after several years we all started reimagining the shapes–Santa would become a space ship, a reindeer would now be a Dalmation dog, and angels would end up with Picasso-esque colors and diamonds on their faces. Good fun!

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  5. You are so wise and right! > “It’s not about the cookie; it’s about the time that goes into making it.”

    Great post. We are terrible at producing appropriate cookie shapes (I so recognized the “man blob” you mention), but we ice them earnestly anyway and laugh our way through the entire thing because they look so ridiculous. (It’s funny, I actually wrote a little group post item about that last year for Chicks but we went with a different prompt. It’s still sitting in my draft folder. I couldn’t bear to delete it because it reminded me of laughing with my kids. Maybe this year, ha.)

    So sweet about Maisie! (And what a beautiful name.)

    Thank you for visiting us. I’m so very excited about your new book (already on my nightstand pile) and love love love this series. Hope that your cookie-baking and book-launching are both huge successes.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thanks, Cynthia. Hopefully we’ll get to read about your cookie experiences this year! And congrats on The Spirit in Question. I just started reading, and it’s fantastic!


  7. I bake Christmas cookies every year with my daughter and two granddaughters (at their house, because they have a gorgeous, fully-tricked-out kitchen). We have special aprons and I bring the same cookie cutters and psych-up decorations and Xmas CDs (Alexa is there, but not invited). And every year, the girls literally chug the colored sugar from the little bottles, which adds fuel to the festive frenzy.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thanks so much for visiting us today, Mary–adored (and completely related to) your post! We Chicks are already looking forward to the holidays, because we’ve all been especially good this year, and what better way to kick off the season than with cookies? (Keep your stale candy, Halloween.) Just bought your book, which sounds great–and who could resist that gorgeous cover?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thank you for having me, Lisa, and thanks for buying my book! You’re definitely on my “nice” list. I hope Santa brings you something wonderful this year–leave him lots of cookies just in case!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry I’m late to the party, Mary — hope you saved me a cookie! I’ve given up on pretty cookies (unless I buy them). I make Jack Daniels Whiskey Balls (heavy on the whiskey), put them in pretty little tins, and hand out a bunch of those at the holidays. Thanks for hanging out with the Chicks today — A Very Merry Murder looks like a fun holiday read!


  10. Sorry I’m late to the party, but what a fun post! You make me want to put on my apron and get to baking. Your books sound like a lot of fun — and now I know what to snack on while I’m reading them! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Mary, so sorry I’m late! I spent the day putting out fires. But I’m madly in love with your cover. I finally figured out how to make ghosts and alligator cookies that are super cute. That’s it. And you know what I discovered the hard way are impossible to make? Pralines. I threw out three batches and turned two into topping

    Liked by 1 person

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