Monday, July 31, 2023

Should We Talk About Barbie?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: So, should we talk about Barbie? Seems like we kind of have to. 

Like… What, though? Here are some random thoughts.

This is a photo I got from WIkipedia of Ruth Handler, the person who invented the doll we think of called Barbie. She reportedly did not keep any of the original dolls. And there's a whole lot more interesting stuff, including that Ruth's daughter was named Barbie, and so far, more than a billion Barbie dolls have sold.

The movie? I will never get my husband to go see this movie with me. Even if I frantically eagerly wanted to go, he would not go. And actually, I would not even ask him. 

Last year I bought an absolutely gorgeous hot pink blazer. It is beautiful, and I have worn it on book tour several times. However. Now, if I wear it, someone will point to it and say: "oh, a Barbie jacket." It is not a Barbie jacket. It is a pink jacket that I bought a year ago. But now it is unwearable. Likewise, my perfectly gorgeous ballerina pink kitten heels. Which I adore. Which are now off the rotation. 

This is a Barbie you can buy at Target right now. I was thinking about all the people who had Barbies. (I can’t remember if I had one. Clearly, if I did, it did not make an impression. I would have been 10 when they came out in 1959, so I  was the demo, theoretically.)  Anyway, it struck me this morning that all of the kids who had Barbies all  named them Barbie. They were just instantly Barbie. Like, Cabbage Patch kids probably had different names depending on who owned them. And other dolls probably were named by the people who played with them. But Barbie is/was always Barbie. That’s kind of weird.

I have heard that people cried at the Barbie movie. That is a  very complicated thing, and makes me want to see it even less. I guess it's triumph of the human/doll spirit, which is making me tear up just to think about it.

I am curious, though, and I don’t want to mislead you. I do kind of want to see it.  But I would not dress up like Barbie – – although I could wear my pink jacket ha ha – – to see the movie. Are people in your town dressing up in pink when they go to the movie? When was the last time you dressed up like something to go to a movie? 

I am constantly baffled and amused by the things that become national obsessions. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, truly, it’s just always so fascinating to see what becomes a thing.

What are your random thoughts about Barbie— whether movie, doll or experience?

RHYS BOWEN: I was too old for Barbie when she came out. Actually I would have loved one when I was eight or nine as I was quite into dolls and dressing them and doing their hair. I made a whole family of pipe cleaner dolls for the doll’s house and I had a doll put out by Girl Magazine that must have been a forerunner to Barbie because you could brush her hair and get patterns to make her clothes.

My girls loved Barbies and Ken and Midge and the whole tribe. We had Barbie’s dream car and dream kitchen and loads of clothes. My mother, the craft expert, made them gorgeous outfits, both sewn and knitted.

But I don’t intend to see the Barbie movie and I’d never wear pink to it. The only time recently we did dress up was for an Abba cover band. Most of the audience in sparkly things, some in bell bottoms and big shoulders and everyone standing up and singing. That was fun.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I want to see it! Rick will probably watch it (although maybe not GO to it) as he's a big fan of Margot Robbie. I think Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie are smart and creative and I want to see what they do with this.  I've never dressed up for a movie so not sure I'd go that far, however.

As for Barbie, I didn't play with dolls normally, but I can remember making up some pretty wacky stories involving Barbies with my cousins. My daughter had Barbies, but much preferred My Little Ponies for her invented adventures.

LUCY BURDETTE: Yes I want to see the movie! And yes, I had a Barbie doll. I played a lot with dolls and other creatures, especially my collection of stuffed animals (mostly cats.) However, I loved Barbie. I craved more Barbie paraphernalia, but there were four of us and the budget did not include the Barbie Dream House and convertible and Ken and Skipper etc. However, my cousin, who was an only child, had everything. When we went to their house for family events, I would disappear into her room by myself and play and play and play.

Hank, it’s such a good question about what phenomenon becomes a national obsession. I’m sure there are marketing people studying this, right? Meanwhile, I say to you, embrace the pink jacket and the pink shoes!

HALLIE EPHRON: I had a Betsy McCall doll, which was THE doll before Barbie. With her it was about the clothes. My kids had Barbies, and they never forgave us for getting their Barbies from yard sales. Major Faux Pas. What can I say, I’m cheap. To make up for things I have given my granddaughter Barbies and Little Mermaids and…

I’m sure I’ve shared this before, but my daughter Naomi and her friends Kate and Laura used to play Headless Barbie’s Clothing Store. All of their dolls had come apart and the store sold doll parts. Sounds gruesome but it was just sweet.

Oh gosh YES I’ll see the movie. (This is Greta Gerwig’s take on Barbie!!!) And nothing could stop me from wearing hot pink.

JENN McKINLAY: LOL! Hallie, I love Headless Barbie’s Clothing Store - it’s like something out of the Netflix show Wednesday. I didn’t have a Barbie. My mom was a hardcore feminist and Barbie was a big old hell no, which is why I’m fascinated to see the movie’s feminist take. So, yes, I will go see it. I was a big time tomboy and never asked for a Barbie so I didn’t feel the lack. I much preferred being rough and tumble outside than being inside with dolls. If I was inside, I was reading. Lest, you think I was deprived, I did have a Tuesday Taylor doll - very on point in the late 70’s. She was super cool because her scalp swiveled, so she could be blonde or brunette. Take that, Barbie! LOL. 

Also, I frequently wonder if there would be such a big hullabaloo about pink if we called it what it is – light red. Thoughts?

HANK: Hmm. Is pink really light red? Now I am thinking about this…

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I was the perfect age for the
original Barbie, and
I actually had the first, rather immovable model, in the black and white striped bathing suit.

By Original uploaded by Barbieologin at Wikimedia Commons (Original uploaded at 2009-08-11 10:16) as File:Mattelno1br.jpg. Permission CC-BY-3.0; Released under the {{Cc-by-3.0}} license (Transferred by Crakkerjakk 12:05, 16 June 2012 (UTC)., CC BY 3.0,

Alas, as we relocated constantly from one military post to the other, my mom got rid of any toys we weren’t currently playing with, so I think that particular doll went into the yard sale box when I was seven, and had moved on to Barbies with bendable joints and “real” eyelashes. 

I don’t recall ever having the Dream House, but I had several cool boxes that fit one or the Barbies and their clothes and accessories. And did mine ever have clothes - my mom was an expert seamstress and sewed whole wardrobes as Christmas presents for me. 

Great Barbie moments I recall: there was the time I washed one of my doll’s hair and decided to dry it by sticking her head in my Easy Bake oven. That’s when little Julie learned plastic melts into horrific shapes. Then there was Growing Hair Barbie, with a button in her stomach that made a long fall sprout from the top of head. The most extraordinary was my sister’s Growing Up Skipper. You turned Skipper’s arm and she went through puberty, getting longer in the waist and developing, yes, breasts. I myself was going through the same process, and remember my mom and I laughing hysterically as we made Skipper’s chest go from flat to fluffy and back again. My sister got quite peeved.

Oh, and my sister, Barb? I’ll let you guess what she was called throughout her entire childhood.

HANK: Let me be clear–I adore the fun people are having with this! And I think the whole phenomenon is fascinating. But do you dare me to wear my pink jacket on book tour this week? I’ll be in Jacksonville FL on Wednesday, and Atlanta on Thursday and Friday. Should we predict how long before someone says Barbie? I could be…Gramma Barbie.

How about you, Reds and Readers?  Going to the movie? Seen it? Comments on the movie’s big speech? Headless Barbie? Wearing pink? Did you have a Barbie?

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Pickle pizza?

 HALLIE EPHRON: The dog days of summer are here, and who feels like cooking? Not me. So of course I’m ordering takeout, and pizza is always a favorite–year round really, since it’s not something I’m equipped to make at home.

I like a thin crispy crust, straight up with a zesty tomato sauce (not fresh slices, please - too wet and bland) and cheese (mozzarella, parmesan) with lots of oil and seasoned with fresh basil or oregano. A mushroom or two might find its way onto my slice, but no kale or pineapple, please.

I am in mourning because my all time favorite pizza place, two blocks from my house, closed a few years ago (replaced by an Irish pub) and I’m on a fruitless quest ever since to find somewhere that makes pizza their way.

The other day I saw a recipe for pickle pizza, and I thought: Feh!

But apparently I am alone because when I googled “pickle pizza” I got 250K hits. Even Pizza Hut is making Pickle Pizza.

Here’s how they describe it: “crust, sauced with Buttermilk Ranch, and topped with cheese, crispy breaded chicken breast seasoned with a kick of Nashville Hot Seasoning, sliced white onions, and then loaded with spicy dill pickles and a drizzle of Buttermilk Ranch to finish it off.”

I repeat: Feh.

Next thing you know, they’ll be putting sardines and chocolate sauce on pizza.

So how do you like your pizza, and what do you want kept OFF your crust?

RHYS BOWEN: I’m a big fan of veggie pizzas— spinach and mushroom, onion, peppers, olives. ( although probably not broccoli) Husband John has to have chicken bacon ranch. And always thin crust. And never pineapple or pickle!

We also love Trader Joe’s tarte d’Alsace.

JENN McKINLAY: Pizza snob here. New Haven has the best pizza hands down. Back me up, Lucy.

Sally’s Apizza or Pepe’s Pizzeria in Wooster Square - apparently, they’ve been using the same brick ovens since the 1920’s.

When I bartended at Toad’s Place decades ago, Sally’s used to provide the happy hour pizza on Fridays. My fave night to work! Absolute best pizza ever is the white clam pie. Period. Full Stop.

I can’t think of anything I won’t try on a pizza. During Covid, Hub made a cheeseburger pizza that was actually damn good, ground beef, cheese, mustard, ketchup, pickles and all. But I’m still a snob and no one lives up to Sally’s or Pepe’s - and, no, I won’t choose between the two.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I figure pizza is bread, and you can put pretty much anything on bread. When I'm in England I try to have my favorite pizza from Pizza Express at least once. (Pizza Express is a chain, but nice restaurants, not like US pizza chains.) Pizza of choice is the Padana, a very thin crust with goat's cheese, sweet caramelized onions, spinach, tomato, mozzarella, garlic oil, and red onions.

So good. But it will not fly in my house–Rick only wants marinara sauce and cheese. Sigh.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I could live on pizza. I love it so much. That fragrance of PIZZA! The first cheesy bite. Yum yum yum. With extra oregano. Anyway. NO HAM. NO PINEAPPLE. I mean, not for me, thank you so much.

I love pepperoni and mushrooms. Extra cheese. Veggie, with peppers and onions and mushroom and whatever they put, is fine, but not as transporting as pepperoni. Hamburger and green pepper and mushrooms is delish, too, although I know it sounds iffy. It's all about fabulous mozzarella and chewy crust and oregano. Now I am SO hungry.

I'm interested, Debs, in your pizza is bread concept. So I thought—peanut butter on pizza, how about THAT? Ha ha. And then I thought, well, just pb and crust would be pretty good....with maybe, bacon. Oh. I want this.

LUCY BURDETTE: Yes Jenn! New Haven pizza is the absolute best! People stand in line for hours to get seated. I adore pepperoni pizza, nice and crispy, but I will eat a slice of their white clam pizza if someone else orders it.

When I’m making pizza at home, my favorite is BBQ chicken pizza with BBQ sauce on the bottom, then rotisserie or leftover chicken, red onions, cheddar cheese, and topped with cilantro. Mmmmm.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I will cross swords with Hank and say if you don’t like Hawaiian pizza, it’s because you haven’t had really good ham and pineapple on it. It’s one of my faves, along with Greek pizza, which also needs to have good quality ingredients on it.

Probably the best pizza in the greater Portland area is Otto’s, a local chain that makes crust to die for and some truly interesting specialty pies. One of their award-winning combos? Mashed potato, bacon and scallion. I know, the first time I saw it I said, “Are you kidding me?” But it’s amazing, with a blend of textures and and seasonings that are so good.

I’m in the pizza-is-bread column, and the cool thing about all bread products - tortillas, dumplings, baguettes, flat bread - is that eventually, in our country, they’ll get used to hold ingredients the original cultures never would have dreamed of. That’s what makes us great, folks. USA! USA!

HALLIE EPHRON: This is making me very hungry. What about you? Are you eating pizza out or ordering in? What’s on your crust and what had better not be?

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The newspaper as Rorschach


HALLIE EPHRON: I read the three newspapers ever day: The Boston Globe (delivered to my door, thank you very much), and the online versions of the Washington Post and the New York Times.

When the Sunday Globe lands on my front walk, usually I've been up for an hour or two, waiting for it. I used to start with the ads. Remember the many pages of Sales that department and grocery stores used to publish? 

With fewer and fewer stores springing for paper-based advertising, and no need for a single additional item of clothing in my closet, I head straight for the Comics. Then the bridge column. Then Meredith Goldstein's sensible advice column, Love Letters.

After that, I do not go to News. Or Food. Or Arts. Or, heaven forbid, Sports. Next stop: Real Estate.

I am endlessly fascinated by which houses in my town have sold and how much they went for. And part of me is fantasizing about where I'll go when I shed this big house I'm carrying around, it feels sometimes like it's on my back. I wonder, wouldn't it be nice to live somewhere that I don't have to change the ceiling light in the kitchen and replace the fan over the stove and get a new door to the patio and figure out why the basement gets wet in torrential downpours.

The "assisted" of Assisted Living sounds like the magic bullet, though my friends who have moved there tell me it's often not quite what it's cracked up to be. And, well, I'm just not ready for that.

What keeps me here are my garden and my wonderful neighbors on all sides. We're not exactly friendly but we're totally there for each other. Also I've got beds for all my kids and grands and off-street parking for the lot of them, and plenty of room for my granddaughter to do cartwheels and backflips and for my grandson to practice his soccer skills. It's also a great house for playing hide and seek.

Still, here I am on Sunday morning, browsing through the houses that have sold in my neighborhood.

The next section I go to is obituaries. Yes, I look at who's died in my town, and how old they were when they kicked it. (Hoping and praying there's no one I know.)

Always there are all too many dearly departed who are younger than me, but fewer now than at the beginning of the Covid epidemic. Thank goodness.

After real estate and obituaries, I go to the crossword puzzle, though Sunday's is always challenging.

What about the actual news? World and local news? Book reviews? Movie and TV?  I do get to them. Eventually. In a speed reading kind of way.

Do you have a newspaper ritual? Do you read on paper or online? Where do you start, and what do you skip. And what does it say about your priorities at this point in your life?

Friday, July 28, 2023

Hallie looks back at Chicken Marengo

HALLIE EPHRON: Decades ago, when I was newly married and inviting friends to dinner, in the days before you could search the Internet for recipes, my go-to cookbook was The Joy of Cooking, and my go-to dish was Chicken Marengo. (Chicken with wine, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and olives.) It's nearly impossible to screw up. And the Joy's recipe format (short, clear) is super accessible.

You can see from the stains on the page how many times I must have made it.

Then I got fancier with Julia Childs’s coq au vin (begin by rendering pork fat… and making my first acquaintance with shallots instead of onions).

On to Julia’s bouillabaisse (hello saffron threads), Michael Fields grilled butterflied leg of lamb with Greek lemon sauce (has to be marinated overnight), and on to the sublime New York Times lobster bisque.

All the while I have not been able to master the simplest things -- like fried chicken, and consistently crisp bacon, and brownies, and pie crust. Bread I've barely attempted. I'm sure it's because I had no one to watch in the kitchen (my mother didn't cook)... there are certain things you just can't get out of a book.

In your "salad days" did you have any go-to recipes for company, and how were you with the supposedly more straightforward stuff.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Moving to mindfulness with Coralee Hicks


HALLIE EPHRON: It’s always a lovely surprise and a pleasure to hear from one of our regular commenters (who feels like part of our family) is having a piece of their writing published. Today, it’s HATS OFF to Coralee Hicks, one of the “mindfulness practitioners” who contributed to an anthology coming on Amazon October 10, 2023: Tears Become Rain: Stories of Transformation and Healing Inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen master who passed away a year and a half ago.

The essays explore themes of coming home to ourselves, healing from grief and loss, facing fear, and building community and belonging. Coralee is one of 32 “mindfulness practitioners” who write about their encounter with the teachings of Zen master. I asked Coralee to share with us how her chapter (“Becoming alive: Finding a sensible way to live with food") came to be.

CORALEE HICKS: In 2014, I found a community of meditators nearby, and visited. I was hesitant, but did feel welcomed. When I told them of my disability, they made an effort on my behalf, providing an assisted hearing device. (In the photo below, Coralee is in the red shirt.)

It was a few months before I asked what tradition they followed. To my surprise, they told me: “We follow the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn”.

“Oh, not me, I thought. I could never understand Zen. Truth be told, I could never understand any Buddhist text.

This was frustrating for me. I grew up with Buddhists, and was very involved with Tibetan Buddhism when I was a teenager. However I did know of Thich Nhat Hahn. The poet, the activist, the scientist, the bodhisattva.

I began to settle down and listen.

I was amazed with the kindness, and strength of purpose I found in this group of people. One of the first things that convinced me of their sincerity, was being advised that I did not have to give up my core religion in order to become a member of this community.

I was lonely, adrift, and nothing was working. Maybe I could renew myself here. I discovered why Thich Nhat Hanh was so loved.

Often called Thay, Vietnamese for ‘teacher’, he saw that Buddhism needed to become more in touch with lay people. Monks chanting in refuge, no longer could solve problems of today. While in Viet Nam, and continuing in exile, he began to develop the principles of Socially Engaged Buddhism.

However, Thich Nhat Hahn is best known for his teachings on the practice of living in the present moment.

For me, his modification of the Bodhisattva precepts in the Mahayana tradition, which led to the development of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings was a revelation. Reading them I knew that this was the way I wanted to live.

Four years after Thay’s catastrophic stroke, a group from the Washington DC Sangha proposed to create a book as a fundraiser for Thay. Notices were sent to all monasteries and Saghas requesting submissions.

Hearing Hallie’s words of encouragement, I thought why not? I submitted a piece.

The journey from idea to book took 5 years. There were many editorial changes over this time. My chapter heading changed several times, and now is listed as “What is eating me”. My piece is found in the final section: Being Here Now: the Wonders of the Present Moment.

We came from all over the world to write and celebrate Thay. All of the proceeds from the book's purchase will go to The Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. I am deeply honored to be included in this endeavor. I owe so much to my friends on Jungle Red Writers. Without your support I would not have my very own ISBN.

I bow to you in deep gratitude.

HALLIE: Oh, Coralee, we bow back to you!!

I am so delighted to have been one of the voices encouraging you! Yes, the book can be pre-ordered. Congratulations, Coralee! And congratulations to the other writers who contributed to the anthology who were fortunate enough to be touched by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

John Lescroart offers advice like: Don't be afraid to hang out in Idiot Mode

HALLIE EPHRON: This past weekend I taught at the annual Mystery Writers Conference at Book Passage in beautiful Corte Madera California.

If you’re in the Marin area, put Book Passage on your itinerary. It’s a gorgeous, rambling store and their events and classes are world class. They host events just about every night I’ve been going to teach at the conference since 2007 and it never disappoints.

The bookstore is owned by Elaine and Bill Petrocelli, and the conferences are run by their amazing daughter, Kathryn Petrocelli (I'm her #1 fangrrrl).

What’s especially nice is when a writer who was working on a manuscript comes back later with a PUBLISHED book. That’s what happened with Cara Black and Tim Maleeny (the authors who chair the conference) – they both came to the conference as participants and now, many published books later, they run it.

This year, a featured speaker was John Lescroart (pronounced Le-squaw – and we all love to say it.) His new book, THE MISSING PIECE, is the 19th in the New York Times bestselling Dismas Hardy series… but he didn’t talk about his book. (Because this was a writing event, not a book event!)

Interviewed by Tim Maleeny, he talked about writing, and it was fascinating. I furiously took notes and I only hope I can do justice to some of what he shared about his writing process.

  • In each chapter he sets the scene, “I put the characters on the page and get them interacting with each other. If you’re lucky, a little conflict arise. Something has to happen.” 
This sounds SO obvious, but let me tell you it is not and it’s absolutely fundamental. 

What about editing? Or is what comes out in rough draft close to the finished product?
  • He talked about writing in two modes: “Genius mode” and “Idiot mode” – genius mode is where he lingers when writing in first draft.
    “When I’m getting the story out, I cannot make a mistake. I don’t question it."
    But when he gets in to edit what he wrote, “I look at it and say, this is awful. I’m an idiot.”
    He gets into a rhythm, swinging from Genius to Idiot. 

What advice does he have for writers? 

  • Don’t be afraid to be terrible or good. - Try to make dialogue as real as possible (when you revise) 
  • Create unique voices in dialogue that are so distinctive that you don’t need attribution (so-and-so said) 
  • Get the FIRST SENTENCE written and that will lead you to the next. 

When does he let other people read his manuscript? 

  • Not until he’s done with ALL the revisions ("Otherwise you have other people saying you’re an idiot, and you don’t want that.") 

And by the way, when he started writing, it took 14 years before he submitted his first book to a publisher. 

A final word: 

  • "Sometimes you have to kill someone in a mystery. Most of the time I’m shocked when it happens, especially for a recurring character.” 

(And if you’ve somehow missed his wonderful series/writer, his advice on the first book to read is HARD EVIDENCE, the first in the Dismas Hardy series.) 

Have you ever found yourself trying something new and having to give yourself permission to be in Idiot Mode?

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Hallie's early essay on growing up a closet athlete...


HALLIE EPHRON: Last week I wrote about applying to be my local library's new Writer in Residence, and reminisced about an early piece I wrote about growing up a closet athlete in the years before Title IX funded girls' sports. 

When commenters asked me about it, I realized my FIRST task, whether I get named Writer in Residence or not, is to find that piece and start building an archive of my work.

I'm happy to report, I found it! ("Never throw anything away!") And I'm happy to share it with you now. 

Hair (1998)

"I want my hair cut like that," I'd beg Mr. Latour, offering up my dog-eared third grade picture. What I wanted was a shaggy, unplanned look. What I got were bangs hacked across and sides that flipped up, giving me the dreaded Bozo the Clown look.

I tried to salvage the mess by setting my hair. Each morning, I brushed and brushed to make the hair curl under.
In the afternoon, I'd be standing out in right field during one of the boys' pick-up games I'd wheedled my way into. I can still feel my socks scrunched halfway down inside my Mary Janes. If I ran my fingers through my hair, I'd realize that my perfect pageboy had erupted and just then, the fly ball with my name on it sailed past.

When I was twelve, someone invented the bubble. You had to back-comb your hair into tangled clumps, then smooth it into one massive hair ball. Waves of hairspray turned the spun confection rigid. Sometimes we added a guiche -- this is French for spit curl. But we used clear nail polish, not spit, to glue down the curl.

I got a bubble the same year I won Best Sixth Grade Girl Athlete. Only Sixth Grade Girl Athlete was more like it.
That year, I spent lonely afternoons shooting hoops. I'd be aiming a tired volleyball, imagining the clean arc that would take it whooshing through the hoop, when I'd have to drop the ball to hold down the hair mats that were flapping up and down in a sudden gust of wind.

My daughter gapes at my sixth grade picture. She thinks I personally invented big hair. The French word for this, she informs me, is choucroute. And in that photo, it does look as if I've got a perfect mound of sauerkraut on my head.

My daughter keeps her hair sensibly restrained in a pony tail as she streaks up and back on the soccer field or anchors the 4X4 relay. When I tell her she gets her athletic ability from me, she does a double take. "You?" I dig out my Best Girl Athlete award. She eyes it skeptically. "So what teams were you on?"

"There were no girls' teams back then," I tell her, "unless you count cheerleading. But still, I played. A little baseball. A little basketball. And I think I could have been really good if it hadn't been for my hair."
Reading this ancient piece makes me smile. Isn't choucroute a wonderful word? 

I expanded the essay a few years later for an essay that was published in Elizabeth Benedict's wonderful anthology, Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession. (I repeat: Never throw anything away!)

Which brings me to ask, what might you have excelled at if there'd been the opportunity to learn and practice when you were growing up?

Monday, July 24, 2023

Midsummer Ice Cream Dreams


HALLIE EPHRON: It’s hot hot hot out there, which means it’s ICE CREAM TIME! In my neck of the woods that means it’s time to go over to The Ice Creamsmth – a tiny store where they make their own ice cream and the best hot fudge sauce ever in the basement of a tiny store on a busy street.

It opened in 1976 and I’ve been patronizing it ever since—the first owners were Robyn and David Mabel who’ve now retired and their kids, Sarah Mabel-Skillin and Chris Skillin, have taken over. (Jerry and I used to go ballroom dancing with Robyn and David. They're amazingly slender and nimble for a couple who have spent half of their lives making great ice cream.)

There’s usually a line out the door. Their special flavors this month: Birthday Cake, Blueberry, and Coconut Pineapple but I’m a sucker for their Sweet Cream (with hot fudge of course).

So are you drawn to a local ice cream spot as the temperature hovers in the 90s (or worse), and what’s your pleasure when you get to the front of the line and it’s your turn to order?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, that sounds fabulous. I love ice cream– maybe…one bite or two. (And then I don’t need any more because the fear of calories takes away the fun. And the first bites are always the best.)

But my fave of all time is Jamoca Almond Fudge, remember? From Baskin Robbins, and it was coffee ice cream with chocolate-covered almonds. SO delicious! I also love lemon sorbet with chocolate sauce, or with blueberries. Or raspberries. And that coconut pineapple sounds DIVINE! Could we put it in a blender with rum?

RHYS BOWEN: We’ve just come back from Cornwall where we had to eat the clotted cream ice cream. So sinfully good! My favorite flavor is always salted caramel although I’m also addicted to Baskin Robbins pralines and cream.

And when I’m in Italy my favorite gelato is stratiacelli which is like chocolate chip but better.

We do have a local shop here called Silberman’s. It’s been around since our kids were small and every sports team–soccer, baseball, swimteam etc. would wind up there after Saturday games. I’m glad it’s still going strong and the ice cream is still good.

JENN MCKINLAY: Give me all the ice cream. It’s supposed to be 110+ here in AZ so I’d bathe in the ice cream if I could. My flavor preference changes from day to day and there is no flavor that I don’t like but I can give my top three: coffee, salted caramel, or mint chip.

These flavors have endured as my go to choices over decades. I don’t see it changing any time soon and they all pair quite well with hot fudge and whipped cream. Yum.

LUCY BURDETTE: In our CT hometown, the best ice cream is at Ashley’s.

It may sound a little odd, but my favorite thing to order is a root beer float with sweet cream ice cream. I don’t think too much about calories as Hank does–everything in moderation, but since my triglycerides came back a little high this time (everything else excellent!), I’m going to have to eschew the hot fudge…

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: In my area, there’s a favorite ice cream shop called Beals - no indoor sitting, just a couple of benches and picnic tables, but the line always stretches to the parking lot.

Lots of happy memories of stopping there with the kids as a special treat on a hot day.

My faves? Homemade strawberry (not the boxed kind, it has to be really thick with macerated berries,) mint chocolate chip (always good everywhere) and my new fave, salted caramel, which I only had for the first time a couple years ago.

Oh, and I haven’t been, but there’s a small shack on Sabbathday Lake, Bresca & the Honeybee, which is getting national attention for its ice cream. The chef/owner is a multiple James Beard nominee and ran a highly regarded restaurant in Portland until it all got too much, and, much like many heroines in a cozy mystery, relocated to a very small town to start her own ice cream business!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hallie, you got me started looking up gelato places on our town square and there are three! Obviously we need to make a point to go out for ice cream…

I'm not normally a big ice cream eater, but when I was in London it was ice cream, ice cream, everywhere! I had a scoop of strawberry gelato a couple of times at restaurants, but the biggest treat was the day I went to Teddington Lock. Everyone walking along the river had ice cream, sold from an Airstream trailer called The Flying Cloud Cafe, so i couldn't resist. I got a scoop of Marshfield Farms (made in the Cotswolds) Black Currant with Clotted Cream, and it was so good that I'm still thinking about it. Maybe it's a good thing that it's very far away now…

HALLIE: Now I'm on the hunt for "clotted cream ice cream" to have in my rootbeer float... So, where's your favorite ice cream place in your neck of the woods, and what are you craving from there?

Sunday, July 23, 2023

What We're Writing - Fatal First Edition by Jenn McKinlay

 We have some winners!!!

Diana, you are the winner of Rhys's giveaway of The Paris Assignment! You can email her with your email address at authorrhysbowen at gmail dot com 

Celia, you are the winner of Lucy's giveaway of the paperback of A Dish to Die For ! You can email her with your address at raisleib at gmail dot com


JENN: I'm not writing so much as doing page proofs on FATAL FIRST EDITION. I found a massive error on page 77, so I'm trying to correct it and not change the page layout. What a dope! I knew I needed to fix it during copyedits and somehow I missed it. Argh!

Anyway, here is the newly finalized cover! YAY! 


As you can probably deduce, there is a train involved. Even better than that--what could be better, you ask?--well, the opening of the mystery takes place at an archivist conference and the guest speaker is none other than Brooklyn Wainwright from Kate Carlisle's bestselling Bibliophile mystery series. 

Coming October 24th

Yes, Kate gave her permission. In my mind, I love to believe that Brooklyn and Lindsey are as good of friends as Kate and I.

Here's a snippet from their meeting: 

     Lindsey tried not to be nervous as she approached the famed book restorer. She’d read articles about Brooklyn Wainwright and watched online videos where she discussed her various projects. She was everything Lindsey had hoped to be when she’d been in library school, studying to be an archivist. 
     “Excuse me, Ms. Wainwright,” she said.
     Brooklyn turned away from Standish and gave Lindsey her full attention. “Hi, how can I help you?”
     “I’m sorry to bother you, but I have a book here that I was hoping you’d take a look at?” Lindsey used up speak, turning it into a question so that she didn’t sound demanding. She held out the bag and the man beside Brooklyn took it before Brooklyn could. 
     “Really, Derek?” Brooklyn asked the man but he ignored her and opened the bag, peeking inside.
     “Yes, really, darling,” he said. Lindsey noted his British accent and immediately warmed to him as he reminded her of their friend Robbie Vine, also Brit, back home in Briar Creek. “If I’ve learned one thing whilst being married to you, it’s that books can kill.”
     Sully turned to Lindsey with his eyebrows raised. “He’s not wrong.”
     Lindsey glanced at Brooklyn and in that moment she knew she was right and they really were kindred spirits. Not just in their love of old books but also in the men they’d married. 
     “It’s clear.” Derek handed the bag to Brooklyn. 
     “Thank you,” she said. She took the book out of the bag holding it gently just as Lindsey had. 
     She examined every bit of it, cloth cover, edges, and spine, and when she opened it and read the inscription, she gasped. “This could be worth a fortune. It’s a first edition with what appears to be the original dust jacket and it’s in amazing shape. It’d go easily for several thousand but the inscription, if authenticated, makes it an extremely rare collectible for both fans of Highsmith and Hitchcock. The bidding war at an auction for this book could be off the chart.”
     Henry Standish who’d been speaking with one of the conference volunteers, identifiable by the lanyard and badge that he wore, joined them. “Thank you again, Brooklyn, always a pleasure. Our next speaker is here, however, so…”
     He made a shooing motion with his hands. Well, that was abrupt. 
     Brooklyn and Derek exchanged an amused glance. She put the book back in the bag and handed it to Lindsey. “It appears to be in excellent condition. You have quite a treasure there.”
     “It’s not mine,” Lindsey said. “I found it under my seat.” Henry glanced between them clearly impatient for them to depart. Lindsey held the tote bag out to him. “Do you have a lost and found for the conference?”
     “Yes, of course. You can check with the registration staff,” he said. “I’m sure they have one set up right there by the main doors.”
     He began to walk, ushering them like a flock of ducks across a busy road.
     “I’ve only taken a quick glance at the book and I’d need more time to be certain, but I think that book is very valuable, as in tens of thousands of dollars,” Brooklyn said. “Potentially even more than that.”
     Henry stopped ushering. “Excuse me?”
     Brooklyn nodded. “First edition, excellent condition, and inscribed by the author to a famous movie director? We’re talking big money.”
     “And probably a murder,” Derek muttered under his breath. “In fact, I think we need to go so you don’t get involved in yet another life threatening situation.”
     “Me?” Brooklyn put her hand on her chest, the picture of innocence.
     “Sound advice,” Sully said. He and Derek exchanged a look of complete understanding. “We should go to.”
     “But the book,” Lindsey and Brooklyn protested together.

I had so much fun writing Kate's characters into the mystery, although I did tease her and tell her I was going to kill them off - LOL!!! I know, I'm a terrible friend. Also, I would never. I love Brooklyn and Derek!

So, how about it, Reds and Readers, do you enjoy it when characters from one series pop up in another?