Like many MFA programs, my time at American University gathered together word lovers & English majors with a somewhat amorphous vision of what it actually meant to be a "writer." So one of the great pleasures of growing older is seeing the varied paths that my classmates (and in particular, a group of women with whom I shared many a birthday and brunch) have gone forward and taken in the world. One became a media specialist for the National Endowment for the Arts; one just took a job assisting in the direction of a university institute of ESL & American Studies; one has found happiness in freelancing and motherhood; one is a government worker by day, a renowned slam poet by night. 

Meaghan Mountford has taken one of the bravest paths by bringing her smart, funny voice to a genre so often riddled with banality: cookbooks, specifically baking books. Drawing upon years of experience as designer and manager at Bundles of Cookies in Bethesda, in 2007 Meaghan published Cookie Sensations: Creative Designs for Every Occasion. Her creations have been featured everywhere from Brides, to The Washington Post, to The New York Times, to umpteen thousand websites; her cookies were a finalist for favorite favors on "The Today Show Throws a Wedding." At her own Las Vegas wedding, each of our tables were adorned with individually wrapped, handmade, and incredibly detailed cookies depicting everything from a splay of playing cards to Elvis himself. 

This month marks the publication of Sugarlicious, her second collection of recipes. You can watch the adorable trailer here (1,300 views already! and I can't get that sweetly chipper banjo song out of my head!). There are also a number of giveaways, chats, etc. going on around the web that you can find details on here

When my copy arrived in the mail this week, I first took this glamorshot with my Valentine tulips--appreciating the great deal of care that Harlequin took with the production values. What a physically gorgeous book, and perfect page weight, too: heavy enough to stay flat when you open it. But I opened my copy with a touch of trepidation. As an allergy girl--totally unable to work with milk or eggs in my kitchen--would I be able to relate to these concepts? Or would it be a bittersweet survey of all I could never experience firsthand? 

I need not have worried. Anyone with a flair for design can appreciate Sugarlicious, which will develop in even the most timid baker an accessible and modular set of skills--melting coatings, shaping and coloring fondant, drawing with edible-ink pens--that can then be combined into any number of vibrant creations. One of Meaghan's niches is her innovation with using marshmallows as a focal point; she takes sweets that were once useful for nothing more than the garnish on a gingerbread house and turns them into canvasses for villages, zombies, and "kabobs." Here is the layout telling you how to make the latter:

...while I realize you might need to squint to see it, note that she shows you how to draw each one of those fruit and veggie designs. Swift, funky cartooning is an art; having labored over many a step-by-step guide to drafting horses and bunnies way back when, I appreciate how difficult it is to create a formula for an recognizable, iconic shape. Marshmallows were one of my favorite (read: only) treats as a kind--no egg, no dairy, just sugar and gelatin--but they were a bland afterthought to the other kids, who obsessed over decorating cookies and cupcakes I could not touch. I'd have loved a party where the entertainment was making marshmallow kabobs! A new generation of allergic kids can take advantage of Meaghan's insight and handy instructions. 

The book's attention to detail is a pleasure throughout, as are the vibrant photographs. While the designs are whimsical (garden gnomes partying down with pink flamingoes? Yes please~), Sugarlicious is organized in a practical manner that features articulated lists of "supplies" and "techniques" for each recipe, section dividers such as "Holidays & Seasons," a glossary of ingredients and tools, and a thorough index. Showing she hasn't lost her touch since Vegas, Meaghan is particularly good at designing desserts that double as table decorations. Why pay for flowers if you can have a centerpiece that is 10x as unique...and edible at the end of the night? Or, in the case of the layout below, you can use treats in lieu of place cards. It's a heck of a lot more appealing than a few Jordan almonds scattered around a tent-card lettered with pseudo-calligraphy.

Meaghan Mountford is an incredible writer, with a curious eye and unfailing energy. You can find evidence of that at the two blogs she simultaneously maintains, The Decorated Cookie & Edible Crafts. She's also an MFA-er savvy to the larger world of publishing, as this blog post detailing her road to a book deal attests. Harlequin and the cooking world are lucky to have her; you'd be lucky to have this book. Sugarlicious makes me want to get my hands messy--with flour, sugar, food coloring--and for a perfectionist neatnik like me that's a true compliment. This is the kind of book that guarantees an amazing Saturday afternoon.