Friday, December 2, 2022

Sticky Toffee Pudding by Jenn McKinlay

 Jenn McKinlay: Originally, I was going to write a lovely post about my recent trip to Ireland full of sheep and green hills, rainbows and ancient buildings. But no. I was lucky enough to have a foodie in my crew and the eating was SPECTACULAR on this trip, which is not what one normally thinks of when thinking of the Emerald Isle. Guinness, sure, but food? Not so much.

Y'all, we need to do a rethink. I had some of the best food whilst tripping along the Wild Atlantic Way and I just want to share a few highlights with you. In no particular order, here are my three favorites and it was hard to choose, let me tell you!

All right, who here has watched Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix? My SIL showed the Dublin episode (my first) the night before Mom and I headed out to Ireland and, let me just say, Phil nailed it. His is a food and travel show that is full of heart and warmth and gentle humor. I've become a fan and have mentioned the show to everyone I know who loves food or travel or both. You may know Phil Rosenthal as the writer for Everybody Loves Raymond. 

On the Dublin episode, Phil stops by a place called Gallagher's Boxty House in Temple Bar (if you click the link to their website, there's a visit from Paul Hollywood that's delightful). Our first night in Dublin and we headed out to eat and just stumbled upon it. Felt like fate, so we ate there and it was amazing. Their specialty is the potato pancake (the boxty) reimagined and I have to say it was delicious! My favorite was the boxty chips (french fries made out of boxties with an arugula garlic mayo - OMG!) as an appetizer and then the Gaelic Boxty, finely sliced, perfectly seasoned beef on a boxty. Fabulous. The showstopper for me was their sticky toffee pudding - I still think about it. My friend Annette and I are on a quest to find the recipe. 

Next up was a castle dinner family style at Bunratty Castle. It was glorious! The only utensil they gave you was a knife. You were to eat with your hands! I expected the food to be dashed out as it seemed the draw would be the actors in medieval dress who put on a delightful show (which has been running since 1963). Yeah, no. The food was terrific. My fave being the fresh soda bread and the spare ribs.

And then it was on to Dingle where we happened to luck out and get a table at one of the most popular restaurants in town - The Fish Box.
Family owned and operated, brother Patrick catches the fish on the family trawler and Mom and Dad, Deirdre and Michael, cook it. It was by far the best fish and chips I've ever had. Deirdre is a chef and her batter recipe is a secret - an amazing one, clearly.

So, those are my top three but there were so many more delicious stops along the way - Milano in Temple Bar had amazing dough balls, Gatto Rosso in Galway had incredible spaghetti carbonara and a tiramisu to die for, and for real down home pub grub and trad music, I loved The Celt Pub in Dublin with their Guinness beef stew, ham toastie and mash, bangers and mash, and Granny's bacon and cabbage. Yes, we went hardcore Irish for our last night and it was glorious!

And the really wonderful thing was that the food was not outrageously expensive. Meals were cheaper in Ireland than in the States by far. So, if you're thinking of hitting the Emerald Isle, bring your appetite!

Reds and Readers, what food stops have surprised you in your travels - good, bad, other? Share!

Thursday, December 1, 2022

To Tradition or not to Tradition by Paige Shelton

Jenn McKinlay: It's always a great day when we get to chat with our friend Paige who has a new Alaska Wild mystery coming out on Dec 6th! 

This is the fourth in the Mary Higgins Clark Award nominated series and it sounds thrilling! 

The fourth installment in the gripping, atmospheric Alaska Wild series, Paige Shelton's Winter's End.

It’s springtime in Benedict, Alaska, and with the warmer weather comes an unseasonably somber local tradition...the annual Death Walk. At the end of each brutal winter, citizens gather downtown and then break into groups to search the community for those who might have somehow gotten stuck at home. Beth Rivers sets off with her friend Orin and dog Gus, toward the cabin of an elderly resident, intending to check on him.

When they reach the cabin, the old man is alive, but not in the best shape. Beth stays with him while Orin hurries to town for help, but it’s not Orin who returns. Gril comes back with shocking news, and it soon becomes clear that Orin has also vanished. When they discover that their friend has been doing some top-secret research, they start to worry he’s been exposed, or worse.

Meanwhile, Beth continues on her own search, for her father, who allegedly is alive in Mexico, but won't return her calls. Still, she's making progress in healing from her own trauma, though can't quite shake the feeling she's being followed...

Paige: Happy Holidays to everyone! Thanks to Jenn and all the Jungle Reds for letting me stop by today. 

About ten years ago I was talking to a friend about the holiday traditions of my childhood. All those (long ago) events centered around my grandparents; my family, aunts, uncles, and cousins meeting at my grandparents’ small Missouri home, where my grandmother would make sure we all ate delicious food, even if it meant we had to eat in shifts because the kitchen was so small. I loved those days. After my grandparents passed, we all floundered for what to do and where to go for holiday celebrations. No one’s house or cooking, or anything really, was close to the same type of down home hospitality my grandparents offered. Mostly, the rest of us ended up not doing much of anything for a lot of years. My friend, the one I was talking to about ten years ago, said, “That’s the problem with traditions. They can’t go on forever, because nothing goes on forever. You should work to make different memories with each new trip around the sun or you’ll just be stuck in that melancholy mode of missing what used to be.” 

Well. I was quiet for a long moment as I worked through her words. I had to get past a few moments of “what’s wrong with her?” and “how dare she?” I realized quickly, of course, that she meant no disrespect to my memories. And much to my dismay, I finally concluded that she might be on to something. At least partly. 

I am grateful for those childhood traditions, but after my grandparents were gone, they would have wanted the rest of us to find new ways to enjoy ourselves without them, not just be sad they weren’t there. Even if it was something as simple as going to a movie one year, going for a hike the next. Mix it up. Make new memories that would only complement the old traditional activities. 

Since that conversation, I’ve tried to do exactly that – make sure new things, even small things, are a part of any of my family get togethers. It’s given me a sense of purpose, and I think everyone has had a good time. It has given us all a chance to partition the years as well – they don’t all mix into one similar picture. There was that year we all visited the observatory, then the one with the zoo. That year we watched a parade, or the one where we had Italian food instead of turkey. 

This year for Thanksgiving, my son, daughter-in-law, and brand-new grandbaby boy visited us in Arizona. I am so fortunate to have these wonderful people in my life. I’ll never be as amazing as my grandmother, but I can cook okay enough. We ate good food and, activities being dictated by the almost brand new human, spent lots of time inside cuddling the baby. Next year, we’ll do some of the same things, but I’ll work to come up with something different for new memories. Grandbaby’s age will probably dictate things for a while, and I love that, feel fortunate for it. 

Before they arrived, I’d cleaned and rearranged some pictures. I found a tiny photobooth picture of my grandparents and my mother when she was a brand new baby. I set the small picture on a shelf, leaning against another framed picture. As I was cleaning up after son, DIL, and baby left to go back to Omaha, I closed a sliding door near the shelf. That sepia-toned picture fluttered up and landed on the floor at my feet, face up. Of course, it was probably just the wind from the closing door, but I’ve decided that I’m going to think of it as a lovely hug and an approving fist bump from the people I still miss and love to this day. Tradition or not, we all need a little magic during the holidays, right? 

What about you, Readers, do you have traditions that you've kept or ones that you've had to let go of?

Speaking of new traditions – this coming Saturday, December 3, at 2:00 PM, Arizona time (currently the same as Pacific Time) Jenn McKinlay, Kate Carlisle, and I will be at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale to kick off my new book, the fourth in the Alaska Wild Series: Winter’s End. We’ll be in ugly Christmas sweaters, and we encourage others to join in, either live, or via the links below. We’ll be awarding a prize to our favorites.

Links to the event:

Paige Shelton is the New York Times Bestselling author of the Farmers' Market, Country Cooking School, Dangerous Type, and Scottish Bookshop mysteries. She's lived lots of places but currently resides in Arizona. Find out more at

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Boyfriend Sweater by Jenn McKinlay

 JENN MCKINLAY: It was 1989 in New Haven, CT. I was at university and doing the typical on again off again with the rugby playing college boyfriend. We both had apartments with friends, but my stuff mingled with his and vice versa. Neither of us minded as it was an unspoken way to leave the door open for the next session of "let's get back together" after we inevitably broke up again. This lasted until senior year when we went through our final unentanglement-disengagement-whatever-you-want-to-call-it in those glorious pre-Internet days when saying good-bye actually meant "I'm never speaking to this person again". 

Love in the 80's was complicated!

Several relationships, five moves, one marriage (still going strong) and two children later, and I decided this empty nest needed a powerful decluttering. So long beloved broken action figures, preschool artwork (I took pictures), and essays written on the SparkNotes versions of books the Hooligans should have read but likely didn't :) 

While doing this excavation, what should I find in an old box that had been carted through every move and never opened? You guessed it! The boyfriend sweater--which in my case was/is a rag wool sweater that I wore during every winter in my drafty dorm rooms and freezing first apartments where the steam radiator was situated directly under the shoddy single pane window, causing my windows to fog up every time the heat came on from the months of November through February. I loved that sweater, potentially a bit more than the on again off again boyfriend from whom I filched it during our freshman year. I hadn't seen the beloved cardigan in years, and it felt like meeting an old friend while on vacation in an exotic foreign land.

The Boyfriend Sweater!

Now I live in Arizona and have for thirty years. I don't have much use for an overly large rag wool sweater. And yet, I could not toss it into the trash or the Goodwill bag. This sweater had been worn to scores of keg parties, midnight diner runs, girl's nights out when I didn't want to be pestered (it was clearly a boyfriend sweater, acting as an off-the-market protective shield), and it had comforted me through our many breakups.

So, what did I do with it? I washed it and blocked it (a knitting thing), returning it to its former shape. Then I put it on and felt like I was nineteen again. I suppose I should mail it back to the ex-boyfriend. He lives in Colorado and could use it more than me. Yes, we are in touch (thanks, Facebook) and friends again. It's actually really nice to know that we've both found happiness. Maybe I will send it if he sees this post and asks for it back, but I'm rather attached to it as a reminder of the Jenn back then :) 

So, Reds and Readers, have you ever had a "boyfriend sweater"? What artifacts from former relationships have popped up in your life? Would you return them or keep them--asking for a friend? Okay, yes, it's me. It's always me.