Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Four Fab Appetizers for New Year's Eve


I usually save recipes for Sundays, but today I'm going to share with you my hacks for super quick and super easy appetizers. Why? Because it's New Year's Eve. You're going out to a party. You're having friends in. Maybe you just want something fun and a little elegant to go with the Champagne or Prosecco you and your sweetheart are going to enjoy while watching Rockin' New Year's Eve 2020 or New Year's Eve or just streaming The Mandalorian because really, you can't have too much Baby Yoda.

I love him so much!!!!
Maybe you're one of those fab hostesses/hosts who plans the evening starting with the appetizers, and so you've been all set for days, with a tray of homemade quiches waiting in the refrigerator. If so, this is not for you. This is for the rest of us, who know what the main dish is, and we have most of the ingredients, but we suddenly realize while in the booze aisle of the grocery store that people expect to eat something with their cocktails. Or those of us who didn't call the hostess soon enough to be assigned one of the easy dishes to bring (bread, salad in a bag) and are stuck with the starters. 

You don't have time to wrap bacon around scallops; you need a dish with three ingredients, something you can whip up in fifteen minutes after getting home from work. Ten would be better. I've got you, fam.

Looks fancy to bring: Cream cheese dip with chutney
Cream cheese with chives, 1 or 2 containers depending on the size of the crowd.
Jar of chutney (If they have it in my rural Hanneford, you can find it at your grocery store.)
Salted peanuts for garnish (skip this if anyone might be nut-allergic, obvs.)
Fancy crackers.

Spoon the cream cheese into a really nice looking, shallow cut glass or china bowl. Smooth it out. Spoon the chutney over the top. Sprinkle the peanuts on to make it look like this actually took time. Serve with the fancy crackers. 

Oh, no, there are vegans at the party: Bruschetta with fake homemade hummus
Container of hummus
Jar of sun-dried tomatoes
Bunch of fresh parsley (Italian if you can get it) chopped
Olive oil.

Slice the baguette into diagonal pieces and toast in the toaster oven or under the broiler.
While the bread is toasting, scoop the hummus into a mixing bowl. Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes and the chopped parsley. Does it look lumpy? Good, people will think it's homemade. 
Take the bread out and drizzle a little oil on each slice before adding a spoonful of "your" hummus. Tell the guests you soak dried chickpeas for 24 hours before making this. 

I need something hearty to counterbalance all the drinks my friends are going to put away: Meatballs on toothpicks with sauces 
Frozen bag of meatballs (yes, you could make your own, but that would kind of blow the whole "fast and easy" vibe out of the water.)
1 jar each: Marinara sauce, BBQ sauce and Sweet and Sour sauce.

Cook the meatballs as directed (usually under the broiler.
Stick toothpicks in 'em.
Decant the sauces into bowls and let your guests go to town. If you want to up the heartiness quotient, serve with a basket of small finger rolls and encourage  everyone to dip those as well.

I'm stopping at Target/the grocery store and that's it: Archer Farms individual quiches or Snyders Honey Mustard Pretzel Bits
Seriously. I served the Archer Farm quiches as an appetizer for my Christmas dinner. I hid the boxes they came in (12 per box, which I think is a nice amount) and everyone loved them. As for the honey mustard pretzel bits, they are simply irresistible. I don't know what it is, but I have yet to see anyone who can stop themselves from reaching into a bowl.

Okay, Dear Readers, what are your hosting hacks? And do you have plans to ring in the New Year tonight?

Monday, December 30, 2019

2019- Look Back in Gratitude

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Whoosh! Here we are. The end of 2019, the end of the decade, the end of the teens or tens. (Aren't we all glad we're about to move into the much more easy to say twenties?) We have a theme for this week, and it's all about the transition from old year to new year, from past to future. First up: a look at the year that's just about to pass into the history books.

I have to confess, I started doing this "thing" after Ross passed away. I would ask myself, "If I could relive one year, what year would it be?" I'd go over the highs and lows, the achievements and disappointments, and I found quite a few good years I'd be happy to have all over again. Then it struck me - what if I'm living in one of those years right now? Ten or twenty years from now, would I think back to 2018 or 2019 and say, "I'll take that again, please." 

So I began to notice and be grateful for the good things that were happening to me and to my loved ones, from the big - I finished the book! - to the small - I read a good book! I've been trying to practice gratitude, or mindfulness, or conscious observation for some time now, as an antidote to depression and as a technique to make life better and happier overall. And what better time to take stock of what we've been grateful for than at the end of the year?

First, for me, it's definitely the aforementioned book. Completing HID FROM OUR EYES after six years felt huge, and was a shot of much-needed confidence that I could step back into my career. I'm filled with gratitude for the travel and conferences and meetings I've taken part in, as a confirmation that the publishing world hadn't forgotten my name. 

On a personal note, my son was deployed to the Persian Gulf for seven and a half months this year, and returned home safe and sound to spend Christmas right here in Maine with us. Grateful? You bet! I'm happy my daughters are doing so well at their studies and professional lives, and while we had a bit of a bump this past month when the Smithie and her boyfriend broke up (we're sad) I'm thankful I was here for her and was able to provide a home when she had to leave her apartment. I am trying to be grateful for the dog, cat, and 57 bags of clothes she brought with her. 

And of course, I'm grateful for the community I find here, with the Reds, and all our commenters, and the people who start out as guests and become friends. How about you, Reds?

JENN McKINLAY: Things that I’m grateful for always seem to start and end with family and friends. When I look at my life, I am truly blessed by the amazing people I get to share my journey with and I am ever grateful for all of them, including the fabulous Reds and the Jungle Red community. 2019 was a rollercoaster of a year, a case of Shingles and a trip to Paris, an opportunity to try another genre, along with an endless truck load of revisions. Thankfully, the awesome always outweighs the not so much, and I try to maintain an attitude of gratitude and look forward to what the next year will bring! 

HALLIE EPHRON: I can only hope next year is as good as this one’s been. My book did as well as any I’ve written (Careful What You Wish For - third printing just before the holidays!). watched the grandbabies grow and marveled at what fabulous parents they lucked into, enjoyed watching my daughter discover which of her considerable talents she’ll choose to nurture… And mellow out. We’ve had some health scares that fortunately fizzled.  And are planning a busy January. It’s an adjustment for me, looking just a few months ahead instead of having a year planned out.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What an amazing year! THE MURDER LIST was such a hit, yay, and I had been SO worried. I was a Guest of Honor at Bouchercon, wow, something I wonder if I even ever more than imagined. I was floating the entire time! The grandkids are hilarious and grownup, 10 and 16, which is shocking and they are both cool as pie.  Jonathan continues to be adorable and such a warrior for justice. 

Writing is becoming such a passion, and I am working so hard to get better and better--I can really feel myself changing. And at age 70 , yes, that happened in 2019, I am learning that it’s a now or never kind of deal, and that it is now time to let go and be happy and say what I want and continue to be so incredibly grateful for everything.   My new book comes out on August 4, and I am already excited. What will I say in this place next year? You reds and readers are such treasures...and what a joy to share it all with you.

LUCY BURDETTE: Like many of you, highlights revolved around family and friends and books and readers--we especially love watching our grandchildren grow and wish we lived closer. In January there was the arrival of T-Bone the wonder cat! With a lot of help, I selected him at the Florida Keys SPCA and he’s been a joy ever since. In fact he makes his debut on the cover and pages of THE KEY LIME CRIME in July. I also adored a trip we took to Ireland and Scotland--music, family and friends, gorgeous scenery, and inspiration for another book. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this Jungle Red community--and oh was it ever a treat to meet in person with all seven reds for the first time at Bouchercon. This writing life is not so easy, but the rewards have been amazing!

RHYS BOWEN: I have no complaints about this year, apart from some small health blips—enough to remind me how grateful I am for my usual good health. I’m still amazed at finding my books on bestseller lists and having the chance to write what I want. The best parts were sharing time in France with my daughter and family, doing research in Venice and getting together with college friends as well as with the Reds. I’m now gearing up for my next stand-alone novel in February. Who’d have thought my twilight years would be full of fireworks!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Wow, what a year! Topping my list, as for all of us, is gratitude for family and friends, and readers, and especially our Jungle Red community. I am so thrilled that A BITTER FEAST did so well. Getting to meet readers and booksellers on book tour was fabulous, and a special highlight was my daughter flying to Phoenix for just one day for my event there. 

Then, Bouchercon. It was such a thrill to be a guest of  honor, and in my own city. I loved spending time with ALL of the REDs (our first time ever) and I loved getting to show friends a little of my city. (Still apologizing for the weather the first couple of days!)

London in November was cold and rainy and I loved it no less. I’m always so happy to see my UK friends, and to soak up the atmosphere. A really special treat this trip was my first ever visit to Liverpool with a dear friend. 

JULIA: Now it's your turn, dear readers. Share the people and events of 2019 that you're grateful for in the comments!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Black-eyed Pea Soup with Salsa

DEBORAH CROMBIE: In the South we consider it good luck to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. This is our traditional New Year's recipe, adapted from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Book by Crescent Dragonwagon.  The original recipe calls for homemade salsa (Arkansalsa) and garlic oil as garnishes, but I'm too lazy to make them so just go with our favorite fresh salsa. Don't skimp on the creme fraiche, however!

Makes 8-10 servings

1 pound black-eyed peas
7 to 9 cups chicken stock, divided
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon cracked coriander seeds
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup Spicy V8 juice
1 tablespoon
Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
3 cloves of minced garlic
1 to 2 large Vidalia
onions, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 carrots, scrubbed and diced
1 red or yellow bell
pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
3 ribs celery with leaves, diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes: salsa, sour cream, cilantro

1. In a large, heavy soup pot, cover black-eyed peas, washed and picked over, with water (add more water than you think since the peas absorb the water). Let them soak overnight.
2. Drain the beans in a colander, then return the beans to the pot. Add 6 to 8 cups chicken stock to cover beans by 2 to 3 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Add bay leaves, oregano, ground cumin, basil and coriander. Cover the beans and let them simmer, stirring occasionally—until you can easily squash a bean against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Keep the soup over low heat.
3. Dissolve tomato paste in 1 cup chicken stock. Add to simmering black-eyes, along with V8 juice, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Tabasco sauce and minced garlic. Give the mixture a good stir to combine.
4. In a separate skillet, sauté chopped onions in olive oil until transparent, 3–4 minutes. Add carrots, red or yellow bell pepper and celery. Continue cooking until they soften a bit, another 2 minutes. Stir these vegetables into the soup, scraping the skillet to get the flavorful bits. If you think the soup is too thick, add additional stock.
5. Now it’s time to taste. Add salt and pepper if needed. Simmer another 15 minutes or so uncovered.
6. Ladle the hot soup into bowls, and top each serving with salsa, a dab of sour cream and a sprig of cilantro, if desired. Bon appetit!

We leave out the bell peppers, as hubby is allergic. Also, I crack whole coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle, and I think that is the absolute key to this soup.

It's delicious on the day, but if you can plan ahead and make it the day before you intend to serve it, it's even better. I serve mine with Skillet Sizzled Cornbread, from the same cookbook. (If you can find a used copy of this book, snap it up!)

REDS and readers, what's your New Year's good luck tradition?

Saturday, December 28, 2019

10 Best Books of 2019--The Quiz

DEBORAH CROMBIE: The 2019 BEST lists are upon us!

Photo courtesy of Oprah Magazine
I've had a look through four of them:

The New York Times

The New Yorker

The Washington Post

Publisher's Weekly

And I have read


Not a single book. Ouch! Not that this is unusual for me--I tend to run a year or two behind the times, assuming I get there at all. One of my personal top ten books of 2019 was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which made lists in 2017!

I give myself a tiny pat on the back for actually having bought ONE of the listed books for this year, Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernadine Evaristo, which is also the co-winner of the Booker Prize. It is, in fact, next up on my reading list.

There were others that piqued my interest; The Club, by Leo Damrosch, a nonfiction book about Boswell and Johnson; Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, another nonfiction, this one about Northern Ireland and the Troubles; Black Leopard, Red Wolfe by Marlon James, a fantasy novel inspired by African mythology; Strangers and Cousins, a comedic novel by Leah Hager Cohen; and The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy.

I won't take bets on whether I'll get to any of them any time soon, but they will at least be on my radar.

REDS and readers, I challenge you! Have you read any of these listed books, or books from other BEST lists?  If you have, what do you recommend? And if not, do any tempt you?

(I haven't dared look at the MYSTERY lists. I'm afraid I would bury my head under my to-read pile...)

Friday, December 27, 2019

G.S. Norwood--Everyday Magic

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Here on Jungle Red Writers we have few bigger thrills than introducing a friend to our readers. So it is my great pleasure today to bring you G.S. Norwood--or, as our regular readers know her, Gigi Norwood! Gigi and I have not only been writing buddies for many a year, we share a love of urban fantasy as well as mystery. And although she writes in both genres, DEEP ELLUM PAWN hits all my favorite urban fantasy notes. Here's Gigi to introduce you to Ms. Eddy Weekes and a bit of magic.

GIGI NORWOOD: I believe in magic.  Not the David Copperfield, big stage illusion kind.  Not the Harry Potter wave-a-wand-and-say-the-right-words kind.  I believe in the natural kind that arises from the energy shared by people who gather around a common belief.

You’ve probably felt that energy yourself, humming through a crowd of grandparents, parents, grand and great-grandchildren at the start of last movie in the Star Wars triple trilogy.  If you gasped along with the little ones as the snowflakes began to fall at the end of the first act of The Nutcracker, you have felt it.  It’s the energy that whispers amazing things are possible, and Tinkerbell will survive, if only we believe.

To write urban fantasy, as I do, you have to believe that kind of life-force energy hums just under the surface of even the grittiest city.  You have to peel back the layers of concrete and asphalt right down to the dirt, then call on the folklore and fairy tales, old songs and old wives’ tales that have grown up around a place. You weave in history and legend until the story has one foot in reality, and one foot in fantasy.

My novelette, Deep Ellum Pawn, began with that mix of practicality and possibility.  I had an old Charlie Daniels song stuck in my mind.  The Devil Went Down to Georgia is catchy, but I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would want a fiddle made of gold.  Gold is a dense metal, heavy to hold, and not very resonant.  A golden fiddle—particularly one from the Devil himself—would likely sound less than musical.  So, what do you do with it?  Melt it down? Take it to a pawn shop?

The moment that thought popped into my mind a character followed.  That’s how I met Ms. Eddy Weekes, owner of Deep Ellum Pawn.  It’s a dusty pawn shop in one of Dallas’ oldest neighborhoods, but there’s more going on behind the façade than anyone might suspect.

The story flowed quickly, and I began to wonder if I’d made it up, or if some force beyond my imagination was prompting me to write it all down the way it “really” happened.  Every time I paused to research a new plot point, I found not only the answer I was looking for, but reams of additional information that made the whole idea even richer and deeper.

For example, hellhounds make an appearance in the story.  And why not?  The dance halls and street corners of Deep Ellum gave many American blues legends an early career boost.  The district is only a few short blocks away from the building where bluesman Robert Johnson recorded his song, Hellhound on My Trail.  Johnson himself gave me my first clue about how to manage hellhounds when his lyrics mentioned hotfoot powder—a folk charm used to harden the threshold of a home against supernatural invaders.  A bit further down the hellhound trail I learned that to look one in the eye three times means death.  Great stuff for an urban fantasist.

When different ideas, drawn from history, folklore, and my own imagination, all fall together to make a coherent and entertaining whole, that feels like magic to me.

So what about you, Reds and Readers?  Have you ever had a project come together “as if by magic”?  Have you felt the energy that moves through a crowd to make magic seem real?  Do you believe?


Deep Ellum Pawn cover art © 2019 by Chaz Kemp
Amazon Kindle Edition Link: https://amzn.to/36Z8GNT
Dance of the Snowflakes credited to the Royal Ballet
Author photo: Marcy Weiske Jordan

G. S. Norwood is the younger of two sisters behind the independent publishing company, Weird Sisters Publishing.  She has spent the past thirty-seven years getting paid to put words on paper, including work as a reporter, feature writer, and composer of program and liner notes for the Dallas Winds.  Deep Ellum Pawn is her first published fiction. 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Boxing Day Books

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I love Christmas, and we had a fabulous day, with family, friends, delicious food, and silly paper hats. But Boxing Day always finds me heaving a sigh of relief. 

It's QUIET. The gifts are gone from beneath the tree, the wrapping paper all tidied away, the dishwasher finished with multiple cycles. After the mad rush leading up to Christmas, there is time for a cup of tea and a bit of contemplation. 

And there is time to enjoy my new books! To paraphrase Jo March, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without any books!

From my daughter, a cookbook, Carla Lalli Music's (food editor of Bon Appetit) newest, called WHERE COOKING BEGINS. She's my new favorite food writer, and I'll enjoy this one as much for the prose as the recipes.

And from Santa hubby, the first of the Harry Potter books illustrated by Jim Kay. I had been swooning over these (THE GOBLET OF FIRE was just recently released) since I read an interview with Jim Kay while I was in London.

And it is gorgeous!! A book to be savored--and in a few years, read with granddaughter Wren, but in the meantime it's very much a book to be enjoyed a chapter at a time with the aforementioned cup of tea.

REDs and readers, were there books in your Christmas? Please share you faves, or tell us if there was something on your list that you are still pining for. We promise we will pass it along to Santa!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Happy Christmas from the Jungle Reds

DEBORAH CROMBIE: No matter what or how you celebrate, we want to take a moment to wish you joy today, and to say how much we appreciate all of our wonderful readers, and the time we are privileged to spend with you, every day of the year.

I'll be spending today (after a big family Christmas Eve get together with Rick’s side of the family) at home with Rick and the kids and granddaughter Wren, and our dear friend Gigi Norwood. We enjoyed our quiet Christmas so much last year that we decided to do it again. We’re making a pork roast that a friend ensures me is fabulous (fingers crossed), roasted Yukon Gold potatoes in duck fat, Jamie Oliver’s creamed spinach and another Jamie recipe for braised red cabbage with apples. We’re cheating on the desserts and going for sticky toffee pudding and a Chantilly Cream cake from Whole Foods. I suspect there will be a bottle or two of Proseco drunk, and some traditional Christmas crackers pulled.

But mostly we will be enjoying friends, family, and the delight of the almost four-year-old’s Christmas.

Now, we would love to know how you’re spending the day!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We are home, and will make rack of lamb and have champagne and I hope we will be able to take a walk and look at the world and relax a bit. The baby children are in California and Brooklyn, and we have plans with them for later.  I am trying to convince Jonathan to watch The Man Who Invented Christmas-- a wonderful wonderful writers’ movie, highly recommended, but mostly we will just soak up the niceness. Love you all, so much, and all of you are my gifts.
Happy happy holidays!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Home, and hosting the traditional Hugo-Vidal Christmas dinner, this year with 28 guests, one dog, two fires, three tables and four instruments for the after-feasting music.  As a gift to the Smithie (aka The Maine Millennial) we’re having an alcohol-free party this year - she’s celebrating 18 months of sobriety, and we all want to support her.

So grateful to have all three of my children home safe and sound, to have family and friends to share the day with, and to have this wonderful community today and every day! Welcome Yule!

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh all your days sound fabulous! We did most of our big events before Christmas (trip to California, dinner with friends and family, Christmas Eve service (beautiful!), so will have a quiet day on Christmas. It won’t hurt us a bit to have that time to be grateful for all the family and friends in our lives (including you Reds and red readers!) Luckily, we have leftovers of the yellow cake with caramel frosting and some Key West pink shrimp, so we may have that for dinner!

HALLIE EPHRON: Our gala dinner is Christmas eve… and since Christmas and Hanukah overlap we’ll be celebrating both. Lamb chops, as my kids requested. With potato latkes, of course. And mandelbrot cookies and iced gingerbread cookies for desert. We’ll play some holiday music and play games so the kids are truly tired out by the time they get in bed. Christmas day we have the morning together, the disperse--my daughter and her family to her husband’s family, my other daughter and us to have Christmas dinner with friends. Happy holidays, everyone!!

JENN McKINLAY: I’m attempting raspberry macarons, a nod to Paris, this year. I used to host the holiday meal but the past few years I’ve always been on deadline so I’ve been relegated to chief dessert baker. Peppermint bark, macarons, and apple pie. The eve is spent at church  and then we head home to watch A Christmas Carol with Alistair Simm (tradition!). Our mornings are usually quiet and then we’ll go to family for a meal with me bringing dessert. It’s not the chaos it was when the hooligans were little but it’s a joy just the same. Happy Holidays to all who celebrate whatever you celebrate. Peace.

RHYS BOWEN: just returned from carols by candlelight with the family. On Christmas Day it’s a big brunch, hopefully a walk if the weather allows, an English tea then a big turkey dinner with all the trimmings. I wish you all the merriest Christmas ever!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Holiday Decoration You Love to Hate

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We’ve all been given some odd things over  the years, right? There is that moment when you think (but don’t say), “Gosh, what on earth am I going to do with this?” This happened to me a few years ago when my hubby brought home a gift from a friend and business client. It was a little LED wire tree, and it... blinked. I don’t like things that blink. But he was tickled, so we plugged it in on our kitchen counter.

Well, it grew on me, that little tree. I straightened its branches, and the more I looked at it, the more cheerful I found it. Now, it’s one of the first things we put out every year, and I’m always a little sad to see it go back into the storage box. I guess it’s our Charlie Brown tree.

(The lights are actually bright red and green, but LEDs photograph weirdly.)

REDS, have you grown to love things you would never have chosen?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Can I talk about the decoration I DIDN’T grow to love? So, Ross in his childhood had had a contraption called “Santa’s Band” on the mantlepiece. Santa leading a whole line of marching band musicians in cheery red coats. You plugged it in and they played Christmas songs. Enchanting, right? That’s what I thought the day he, overjoyed at his good luck in finding his childhood decorating must-have, came home with santa’s band.

Dutifully, I strung Santa and the musicians atop our mantel, removing my own very tasteful display of candles twined with white fairy lights. But the Santa Band contraption looked cute enough, after I spent a half hour hiding (and eventually taping down) the multiple twisting green wires that powered it. Then we turned it on.

OMG. The cacophony. The Santa Band played at the same decibel level of jackhammers in NYC, every note high-pitched and tinny. I had to retreat to the kitchen while Ross sat in his chair beside the fireplace, happily bobbing his head to the so-called “music.” But then--

Oh no! Turns out the band members vibrate as they play! They jiggled themselves to the edge of the mantle and began to leap to their deaths, prevented from disaster only because they were all linked together with the wires I had painstakingly hidden, and which were now sagging across the lip of the mantle. It looked like a troop of identically dressed hikers carrying instruments had fallen off an alpine cliff, all roped together.

As the engineering sort of the family (really!) I was called on to fix the problem. The Santa Band members needed to be individually duct-taped into position, and THEN the wires could be hidden and taped down. A task I performed year after year after year - and then made myself scarce whenever Ross turned on the music. Which he liked to do OFTEN.

Friends, you know I loved him dearly. But the first Christmas we spent at home after his death, I took that GD Santa Band down to the Transfer Station and left it there for some other sucker. You know what’s on my mantle now? Candles and fairy lights. AND I LIKE IT.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I am not much for decorations, but can I do the gift I hate that I grew to love? So. My husband's office has a gift exchange. He is famously known (at our house) for coming home with disaster gifts. Seriously, salsa lessons. Second-hand candles. Expired candy.  ANYWAY. Last year, he came home with an apple corer. AN APPLE CORER. And ordinary apple corer, red handle, sharp jagged metal prongs.   I said to him--no way. You have to go back to the office and tell them we are not accepting this apple corer. It's stupid. What kind of a present is that? And of course, that was silly because it was a Secret Santa, and no one can  even know who gave what to whom.. But then! I tried the apple corer. And it was MAGIC. I mean, magic. It works perfectly.  I love it every way. I wash it carefully, and protect it, and  care for it.  And I don't even know who to thank.

HALLIE EPHRON: I want that apple corer. Best gift anyone ever gave me that I didn’t know I wanted was an immersion blender. I didn’t even know such a thing existed, and now I use it all the time. And in case anyone’s taking notes, I’d love those salsa lessons. I’m not a big fan of pears, and I had a relative who, year after year, sent us Harry & David pears. I turned my nose up at them until one day, I tried one of them. Who knew a pear could taste that good?

RHYS BOWEN: Hallie, my publisher always sends me Harry and David. I’m going to poach some pears tonight. But Hank, Nothing good has ever come from a secret Santa I’ve watched others open bottles of wine, lovely gift baskets and I get….someone’s used clip on earrings!
I love all my current decorations but we have an Austrian angel chimes thingy that turns to the heat of the candles. One son in law always reverses the blades so it spins backward and all the camels get sick! And one year it caught on fire! 

JENN McKINLAY: I love my apple corer, Hank. I’m on my third one, having worn out the first two on apples for Hooligans. They also work on pears! I have a theory that my publisher sends pears to keep me healthy so I can hit my deadline. LOL.

Julia, I am absolutely dying at your relationship with Ross’s Santa band. Too funny! I honestly can’t think of any decoration I’ve received that I didn’t love. I’m pretty easy in that department. Truthfully, I’m probably the giver of gifts that people have had to grow to love, as sometimes my enthusiasm for a thing (one year it was geodes) tends to leave other people perplexed! 

DEBS: Rhys, I have a whole bowl of mixed pears that are all getting ripe at once. Share you poaching recipe!

Readers, confess! What's the decoration you loved to hate, but just couldn't let go? Or, maybe, like Julia, you could!

PS Now I am looking up apple corers!