Jenn McKinlay

New York Times Bestselling Author

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Jenn McKinlay's News #9

December 9, 2013

Book News: READ IT AND WEEP debuted at #10 on the NYT bestseller's list. WOWZERS! Thank you all so much for making that happen. It was a dream come true, and I can't thank you all enough for reading my books and letting me know you've enjoyed them. I appreciate each and every one of you more than I can ever say!

Events: Nothing doing until the Tucson Festival of Books and Left Coast Crime in March 2014.

What’s on my mind: There is no evidence, at least none that I’ve found, to support my theory that people spike the eggnog during the holidays to get through the arduous process of gift giving and receiving, but I’m pretty sure that’s why they do it. Okay, why I do it. Unless you’re a miserable curmudgeon who refuses to buy anyone any gift ever, and here I pause to raise my nog to you, odds are you’re going to have to confront the reality of living in consumer nation and pony up some gifts.

Children make it so easy. I like shopping for kids. You get an itemized list of what they want and if you have a real overachiever on your hands, they’ve already price checked the retailers and will give you a detailed map of the layout of the best store with arrows walking you right to the coveted item. Teens are nice, too. You have to love their clear cut need and desire for cold hard cash. Nothing says “I love you” to them more clearly than a new wallet with cash already deposited inside.

It’s adults who make the whole gifting venture tricky, and unless you’re lucky enough to have only people who collect troll dolls or beer cans on your list, you have now entered the dance of “Do you think they would like this or that or these?”, which is as painful and repetitive as an eighties dance party where they keep playing the Electric Slide.

Gift giving is great if you happen to be the sort of person who enjoys finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list and then revel wrapping it in festive paper, decorating it with a snazzy cloth ribbon that you tie yourself and finish the whole thing off with the gift tag you hand stamped. You know who you are, and I can’t even be mad at you for setting the bar too high for me to reach, because, yeah, you just gave me the perfect gift.

The rest of us poor saps struggle through the gifting ritual, and it’s not because we don’t care. We’re just truly flummoxed when we walk into a store and get a Three Stooges double-eye poke at all the sparkly gee-gaws in front of us. Honestly, if you’re not a shopper, it’s a bit like being a diabetic in a candy store.

Neither the Hub nor I excel in the gift giving arts. Early in our marriage, I tried to help him out. An offhand comment, about as subtle as a brick to the temple, of “I like earrings,” turned into me getting earrings for Valentine’s Day, my birthday, our anniversary, and so forth until he was redirected to small home appliances. I just heard someone smack their forehead and say, “Honey, no, not appliances!” It’s okay. I’m over forty and appliances are cool again, besides I have enough earrings now.

So, why is it, gift giving is such an anxiety maker? I figured it out last year. While doing time in the Providence airport during Thanksgiving, I eavesdropped on a father talking to his five children. Don’t judge me; it’s an occupational hazard…really. He said, “Last year we gave you everything you wanted and it was the worst Christmas ever. This year you get four things; something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.” I wanted to go over and hug him for his genius, but I felt that it might be awkward. Instead, I decided to implement his plan with my own hooligans.

It goes without saying that much debate ensued, as in “Isn’t something to wear and something you need the same thing?” For the record, no, it is not. That particular year, it turned out the much needed item was a duvet to cover up the rather well-loved Batman comforter that was too dear to be parted with but also too embarrassing to have on the bed anymore.

When one of my hooligans opened this “something you need” gift, I fully expected a bored look or a groan of disappointment. Instead, the boy went wide-eyed and said, “Oh, wow, I really needed this. Thank you so much!” He beamed at me, and I felt it all the way down to my toes. In that moment, I understood the responsibility of the gift receiver. It is that person who makes or breaks the entire gift giving deal.

Maybe you’re like me and gift giving makes you reach for the nog. That’s okay. You can excel in the art of gift receiving. Yes, this means you have to dig deep and be expressively pleased by all the gifts you receive even the ones where you’re not quite certain of what exactly it is. Look at is this way, those are awesome because the whole family can contribute to the debate as you try to figure out whether it’s a piece of Native American art or a war bonnet from a relative who is trying to tell you something. Yes, this actually happened in my family. We’re still unclear. Oh, and for those passive-aggressive goodies, like gym memberships and self-help books for issues you don’t have, well I say re-gift their oh-so-thoughtful presents right back at them – on their birthday. Ha!

Whether you shine at giving or receiving or neither, I hope you enjoy a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year! And, as always, thanks for being the best readers EVER! ~ Jenn

Recipe: Here's a fave from SUGAR AND ICED for Salted Caramel Cupcakes! Yum!

Salted Caramel Cupcakes: a buttery brown sugar cupcake topped
with decadent dulce de leche icing.


1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup milk


Preheat oven to 350°. Line cupcake pan with paper liners. In a
large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add
eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in
vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and
salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well
after each addition. Fill paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds
full. Bake 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center
comes out clean. Cool completely. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Dulce de Leche icing:

4 oz package cream cheese

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3 cups powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup dulce de leche *

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and butter on
high speed for three minutes, until light and fluffy. Mix in
powdered sugar and salt until fully combined. Lastly, mix in
dulce de leche. Spread or pipe onto cupcakes. Sprinkle with sea
salt and turbinado sugar (optional).

* Dulce de Leche is carmelized condensed milk. You can usually
find it in your grocery store in the baking aisle next to the
condensed milk.