Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Celebration Complications!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Remember the famous Julia Child moment? She’s carrying a huge roast turkey on a massive tray, bringing it to her glam guests in her elaborately decorated dining room, and she drops it. Drops it! She pauses--and then laughs and says: oh, let me just take this into the kitchen and I’ll bring out the OTHER turkey!  


We all know what happened in the kitchen.

(As my mom used to say, "Parsley covers a multitude of sins.")


Then there was the time I had special guests for Thanksgiving, and everything, all my gorgeous side dishes, came out at exactly the same time, amazing, except the turkey was not done. And then, STILL was not  done. And then STILL not done.


I was baffled..why didn’t the little thing pop and HOW could it be taking this long? My guests were fine and drinking champagne and luckily there were hors d'oeuvres, but it was SUCH a mystery. 


Yeah, I had left the neck and giblets inside. Don’t EVER tell. 


The hilarious Jennifer Chow has some stories of her own. 




by Jennifer J. Chow


Romance isn’t always roses and candlelight dinners. Sometimes our relationships take a knocking. In my newest novel, Mimi Lee Cracks the Code, my main character goes on a trip to Catalina Island with her boyfriend Josh. Crime soon puts a damper on their romantic getaway. What was supposed to be a celebration---well, that’s another story.

I think well-laid plans can often go awry. Right? In my own life, I’ve had several romance-and-celebration-gone-wrong experiences and used those for inspiration in my book. For example…

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad

Even as a child, my parents (and I didn’t realize that this wasn’t a universal thing until I was much older) would make their anniversary a family celebration. We kids were expected to congratulate them and wish them the happiest of anniversaries on their special day. When I secured my first full-time job as a young professional, I figured I’d splurge and give them a fancy hotel stay (in an honest-to-goodness mansion, no less). I whipped out my credit card and made the arrangements. Little did I know that I’d only reserved their spot but hadn’t actually paid for their room—which I found out when my dad called me upon checking out. Whoops. We did eventually sort out the financial tangle, but I’m sure that it put a damper on their stay.

For Better or Worse

After I got married, my husband and I decided to go to Hawaii for our honeymoon. The “in sickness or health” part of our vows hit us early on. We’d booked an extravagant helicopter tour of the island, but… When I got there, I realized, as the lightest member of the group, I’d have to sit right next to the pilot and stare out that huge expanse of glass at the ground below. The swerving flight paired with my slight fear of heights did a number on my stomach. After we landed, my poor new hubby held my hair and rubbed my back while I <ahem> tossed my cookies.

¡Bienvenidos a España!

Post-kids, my amazing parents actually offered to babysit so my husband and I could take a romantic trip. We’d always wanted to travel to Spain, so we did. I’d put a lot of eateries to try in our itinerary, but one day, I decided to be spontaneous. We entered a gorgeous restaurant, where the waiter promised to bring us the chef’s specialties. Using my rusty high school Spanish, I asked about the menu and the pricing, but he assured me not to worry. Admittedly, the food was delicious. But the waiter kept on bringing out more and more dishes. I belatedly realized that I’d gotten the Spanish equivalent of omakase, where I had to actually ask them to stop serving in order to finish our meal. Suffice it to say, that was one lavish lunch.

Do you have stories of celebration plans gone sideways? Holiday plans interrupted?

HANK: Oh, great question! How about you, Reds and Readers?





Jennifer J. Chow is the Lefty Award-nominated author of the Sassy Cat Mysteries and the forthcoming L.A. Night Market Mysteries (Berkley/Penguin Random House). The first in the Sassy Cat series, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue, was selected as an Overdrive Recommended Read, a PopSugar Best Summer Beach Read, and one of BuzzFeed’s Top 5 Books by AAPI authors. Her upcoming Mimi Lee Cracks the Code was listed in BookRiot's Best Upcoming Cozy Mysteries for the Second Half of 2021. She is the current Vice President of Sisters in Crime and is active in Crime Writers of Color and Mystery Writers of America. Connect with her online at .









Monday, November 29, 2021


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I was going to write about leftovers. About how powerful and clever I feel when I make something wonderful out of leftovers. Take leftover vegetables or chicken or both and make a delicious pasta. Or stir fry. Or casserole. Leftover turkey, of course is legendary, with soup and tetrazzini, and, I was thinking this year, turkey tacos. Wouldn’t that be good?

(And our turkey turned out just fine, after I realized the gorgeous new pan I bought two years ago did not fit into our oven. Ahhhhh. Luckily I had other pans. I tried to post a photo but this perverse and persnickety blog thing will not let me do it.)

ANYWAY. But then I honestly started thinking about eggs. Someone the other day was talking about deviled eggs, was it  here on Jungle Red? And I started thinking how good they were. Then I thought: wow. An egg can be hard boiled and it does one thing, the yolk and white are separate and solid. Soft boiled, it behaves completely differently; the white gelatinous, the yellow almost liquid. Scrambled eggs, stirring the two parts together,  altogether different. You can make meringue out of egg whites. And hollandaise out of egg yolks.  And if you use a wash of beaten eggs to coat chicken, it does not taste like chicken coated in scrambled eggs.   Isn’t that amazing? What do you think about eggs?

And I am also writing a blurb for someone’s book, several in fact, and I wondered – – do readers actually care about blurbs? Reds and Readers, do you buy a book based on what another author says about it? I was laughing at someone on social media who said hey, no one is going to put a bad blurb on the cover so— take that for what it is worth.  

Leftovers, eggs, blurbs. It’s a potpourri kind of day here on Jungle Red. Who wants to weigh in?

RHYS BOWEN: What I was thinking about is what ever made Americans think it was a good idea to fly home hundreds of miles essentially for one meal? It’s just not practical to spend so much money and time to eat turkey. Do I sound like Scrooge? Actually I love Thanksgiving with family but it’s not a holiday that makes sense.

Except…. And here comes the segue—leftovers. We love turkey curry and turkey soup.

And blurbs? I have become the blurb queen for historical mystery. I am happy to do it because people were generous to me but it means I never read a book I choose. I have three lined up right now. I am scrupulous about reading the whole book and always try to say something positive but I’m not going to gush over a book I thought was just okay.

HALLIE EPHRON: Eggs truly are a little miracle. They’re the main ingredient in the vanilla custard pie we have only on Thanksgiving. They’re what make popovers puff up the next morning.

And this year kudos to Amtrak who got me to NYC Tuesday on time in a *reserved seat!* train positively packed with college students. I’m so happy not to have to drive, because as crazy as plane travel would be on this weekend, the great Thanksgiving migration turns a 5-hour drive to THE CITY into an 8-hour endurance run… add another hour if you’re headed down to Brooklyn.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: And eggs help save lives! Yes, it’s true - flu vaccines are grown in chicken eggs, and scientists are exploring using them to grow human cytokine proteins, which boost our immune responses. Thanks, chickens!

Hallie, I am a big train fan, and was excited so much money was (finally) going to Amtrak. Maybe I’ll be able to travel by train to San Diego for Bouchercon 2024. It’s such a civilized way to travel, and I feel train riders are a little more chill than folks squeezing onto planes. Or, considering some of the deranged behavior on flights making the news, a LOT more chill. And with more space and fresh air being let in at every stop, it also feels safer, Covid-wise.

Which makes me think of a happy discovery I made. A neighbor had an extra ticket to a matinee at the Portland Symphony Orchestra, and I went along (Elgar’s cello and Dvořák’s 8th.) The Merrill Auditorium had ushers stationed at every door, and everyone crossing the threshold had to show proof of vaccination. These weren’t the retired folks volunteering for free symphonies; these guys looked like very well-dressed, polite bouncers. Of course, everyone was masked, and despite the fact everyone is pretty much cheek by jowl (you know those early 20th century theaters) it was delightfully worry-free.

: Speaking of food (segue from leftovers LOL), I love how many cookbooks and websites and newsletters are dedicated to helping us find just the right thing to eat for any occasion. One of my new gurus is Jennifer Segal with her website and wonderful cookbook called Once Upon a Chef. I made the most amazing pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust, caramel drizzle, and whipped cream for Thanksgiving. Though quite a project, it was universally adored!

Rhys I agree that traveling across the country for a meal seems a little silly. Since we’ve started spending 6 months in Key West, which is challenging and expensive to get to, we mostly have Thanksgiving with neighbors and friends. I miss the family, but know I will see them in a couple of weeks.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Eggs really are nature’s miracle, aren’t they? And a cook’s dream, but do you ever wonder what prehistoric person cooked the first egg? I’m sure our forebears ate them raw whenever they could scavenge them. But that first cooked egg… Did one get left too near the campfire? Or accidentally broken on a hot stone? However it happened, from that first scrambled or fried or hard-boiled, probably tiny, egg, the sky was the eggy limit.

And for a little more happy potpourri, this year’s cast of the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker grew taller! Twelve has always been the cutoff for the children’s parts, but this year the entire cast had to be vaccinated which meant that only kids OVER twelve could participate. All the costumes have had to be remade, a huge and expensive undertaking. But for the kids who thought they would never get to dance the Nutcracker again, a little Christmas miracle, indeed.

HANK: Yes, I saw that, Debs! SO interesting! And they were worrying about The Mouse King being too tall.

And maybe it was a HUGE egg, like a pterodactyl egg. Omelettes for everyone!

Jenn is traveling, and I hope she will show us her photos soon!

And I tried to post a photo of Lucy's gorgeous cheesecake, but see persnickety blog reference above.  But you can see it HERE on Facebook! 

As I said...Leftovers, eggs, blurbs. It’s a potpourri kind of day here on Jungle Red. Who wants to weigh in?

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Happy Thanksgivingkah

HALLIE EPHRON: Each year Hanukah floats around on the calendar like a bird that's hit turbulent weather, and this year it lands practically on top of Thanksgiving. Tonight, in fact.

My family were proudly Jewish, but equally not religious. So I grew up with the Santa Claus and Rudolph and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas... but none of the liturgy; and not the faintest idea what Hanukah was all about (except that my Jewish friends had Christmas trees with blue and silver ornaments and lights... yes, it was a thing, we called it their Hanukah bush)... until I married my husband.

A good Brooklyn boy, Jerry had been bar mitzvahed, and no way were we going to hang a wreath on our door, even if it sported blue and silver spangles.

His mother gave us a menorah and I lit the candles and learned the story the Jews' victory over a tyrant king and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. As the tale goes, a miraculously single-day supply of oil lit Temple's menorah for eight days.

And so tonight I'll light the first candle and remember. Tomorrow two candles, and so on for eight days. It's a small holiday, in the scheme of things. Traditionally no big gift exchange. The children  get Hanukah gelt -- chocolate coins -- and gamble spinning a dreidl.

Sadly Judaism has no full-out, over-the-top gift-giving bash to rival Christmas. But I love Hanukah for its quietness. There's something magical about lighting the candles and watching them burn down.

What I did learn about Judaism growing up was about food. Bagels and lox. Smoked fish. Rye bread and pastrami. Matzo ball soup. At Hanukah it's potato pancakes (latkes) fried in oil. Telling the story, lightning the candles, singing the prayer, eating the latkes, and watching the candles burn down.

Here's my #1 grandgirl watching the first candle burn, the first year she celebrated Hanukah. Her dad (not Jewish but a big fan of potato pancakes) made the menorah.

And here's my mother's recipe for potato latkes. They are truly fabulous and you don't have to be even a little bit Jewish to appreciate them.

The simplest ever potato pancakes
Serves 4

2 large unpeeled potatoes (Russets work well)
1 egg
Cooking oil (vegetable or peanut oil; not olive oil)

Caution – once you start preparing, don’t stop until all the potatoes are cooked. Grated potatoes left to stand will turn dark and yucky looking. They are best eaten right away.

1. Grate 2 LARGE (washed but you don’t have to peel them) russet potatoes (or 4 medium ones). I use the large holes on the grater - you get crisper pancakes if you use a hand grater instead of a food processor.
2. Dump the grated potatoes into a clean linen dish towel; over the sink, wring out as much liquid as you can. Squeeze, and squeeze again!
3. Dump the wrung-out potatoes into a mixing bowl; add an egg and a scant handful of flour. Mix.
4. Heat oil in a frying pan until a bit of potato sizzles when it hits the oil.
5. Ladel in one-tablespoon size pancakes into the hot oil. Flatten and cook until golden brown and crisp on one side, then turn and cook until golden brown and crisp on the other.
6. Drain cooked potato pancakes on paper towel. If they don't get scarfed up immediately, put them on a cookie rack in a warm oven until ready to serve.
7. Cook batches until all are cooked.
8. Serve with salt and your choice of apple sauce or sour cream.

DO NOT stop midway through this recipe. Uncooked potatoes left resting too long turn black and yucky looking. The children in your house will not eat them.