Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Recipe: Herbed Pork Roast

Today on the Food Network, Chef Elizabeth Donald. Shush. Let me have my delusions of adequacy.

By request, the herbed pork roast recipe I experimented with on Sunday. I've tried to do pork roasts many times, and always ended up drying them out unless I used the crock pot and drowned them in liquid.

Now, that works perfectly fine if you're aiming for pulled pork. That's easy: slice an onion into rings and put them in the crock. Put the roast on top of the rings, and insert a half-dozen whole cloves into the flesh (more or less to taste). Toss more sliced onions on top if you want. Pour in two or three cups of water. Set the crock pot to cook on low 8-12 hours - the longer the better. When it's done, pull it out (as best you can; it will fall apart if you did it right) and discard the water, onions and cloves. Shred the meat like crazy and dump it back in the crock pot with another onion, diced. Pour in a full bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce (I strongly recommend Corky's of Memphis) and let it cook on low another half hour to one hour. Voila.

Here's how I finally managed an herbed roast without turning it into a bouncy ball:

Set the oven temperature at 300 degrees. Trim fat off the roast if you wish, though I prefer to keep a healthy layer of fat to season the meat as it cooks and render crackling skin.

Season the roast all over with your preferred rub. My standard go-to is 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt flakes, 1 tsp. onion powder, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, a dash of white pepper, and paprika, rosemary, tarragon and coriander to taste. But I like it salty. For this round, I added a dash of a seasoning blend from a little tourist-trap restaurant in Nowhere, Tennessee where I had the best pork chops of my life. My supply is getting low; I really need to make sure to stop by there the next time I swing through middle Tennessee.

You can use whatever seasoning rub you like - jerk seasoning for spicy, or add brown sugar for a sweeter taste. A Montreal rub would include paprika, black pepper, kosher salt, garlic and onion powder, coriander, dill and crushed red pepper flakes. Emeril's Essence Creole seasoning goes like this: 2 1/2 tbsp. paprika, 2 tbsp. salt, 2 tbsp. garlic powder, and one tbsp. each pepper, onion powder, oregano, thyme and cayenne pepper. (I omit the last from my Emeril seasoning because I'm a spice wuss.) This makes about 2/3 cup of the mix, enough for several recipes - it's great on beef.

Be sure to measure your seasoning out into a small bowl and mix it up, then begin the rub on all sides of the roast. Discard any leftover seasoning if your hands have touched both it and the meat.

Place the roast in a large roasting pan, fat side up. Use a roaster liner if you cannot trust the coating at the bottom of the pan - you want to be able to use the drippings. (My roaster has decided to shed its lining, so we bought a roaster liner while we wait to magically save up enough for a good stainless steel roaster.) Use a roaster rack to keep the roast up out of the drippings. You can also use a rack in a lasagna pan, but make sure whatever you use has high sides to hold those drippings.

Pour enough chicken broth in the bottom of the pan to cover the entire bottom at about half an inch deep. Put it in the oven uncovered.

Plan on 40 minutes per pound to start, but anticipate much longer. You’re aiming for a minimum of 160 degrees internal temperature, up to 180. I cooked a 7.5-pound roast for nine hours, and it could have gone longer. Check every 30 minutes, and if the liquid in the bottom evaporates, add more chicken broth, enough so that it goes back up the sides of the pan. You want all the liquid you can get, and you don't want your drippings to burn on the bottom. Your house will smell like yummy seasoned pork all afternoon. 

When the roast passes 160 degrees, keep roasting until it seems nicely loose and tender. This is more a matter of feel than degrees. When it feels softened and tender, remove the roast from the pan and put it in a covered container to rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the drippings into a fat separator and let the fat rise to the top. Scrape browned bits into the drippings. If some of it is baked on, pour a cup of water into the pan and deglaze it - you want all that nice browned stuff at the bottom in your gravy.

Melt 4 tbsp. butter in a saucepan (or you can use fat from the drippings, if you wish). Mix in 4 tbsp. Wondra flour a bit at a time, whisking constantly. You can reduce or increase the amount of butter, but then be sure to reduce or increase the Wondra as well. (I always use Wondra for sauces and gravy; you can use all-purpose flour if you must, but Wondra is nicely fine and makes a smoother sauce.)

Add in the drippings and the deglazing liquid, measuring all the way. You want a total of 3 cups of liquid going into the gravy. If you don’t have that much juice, add chicken broth for the rest. Taste as you go - if you used a lot of salt on the roast, your sauce might come out salty. In that case, use water instead of chicken broth to get your 3 cups. Simmer until it thickens. Add a half-cup of milk if you like a creamier gravy.

If you don’t have a nice, crispy crust, you can sear it at this point: Raise the oven temp to 475 degrees. Put the roast in a clean pan or on a baking sheet and put in the hot oven for 13 to 17 minutes. The outside should turn nice and brown and the fat crunchy. I have found this happens anyway if you let it slow-roast long enough - I skipped this step and still had wonderfully crispy layers on top.

Carve and enjoy! We did.

Pictured in a Pampered Chef roaster; this sucker did not fit before it was cooked, just sat in it to rest. If you have a smaller roast and a rack to keep it up off the bottom, by all means, use a PC roaster! They're awesome.


Friday, July 15, 2016


MAN: (from downstairs) Yes! Yes! Yes!
ME: ...
MAN: *ascends stairs*
ME: What.
MAN: Finally! *places his laptop in front of me*
ME: *reads* They finally fixed your pension information?
MAN: We're finally married again!
ME: Dang. *starts to remove rings*
MAN: Stop that! You have to wear them now!
ME: That's what you're so excited about? What you shouted about and came up here to interrupt me? Your pension beneficiary information?
MAN: It only took four tries.*
ME: Shoo. I'm working.
MAN: We're married!
ME: *snaps fingers*
MAN: *descends stairs* Mean...


ME: It's time to play "Good News, Bad News!"
BOY: Oh no what.
ME: The good news is, the evil phone insurance from Verizon does cover cracked screens.
BOY: Thank God!
ME: The bad news is that the deductible applies.
BOY: What's a deductible?
ME: It's the fee you pay to be able to use your insurance. Most plans have them, like cars or medical, etc.
BOY: What's the fee?
ME: Your deductible is $199.**
BOY: Aaaaaaaaargh.
ME: Yeah. The deductible in this case is actually more than the cost of repairing the phone.
BOY: Can we just pay it, please? I'm begging you.
ME: WE? Oh no, dear spawn of mine. This is on you.
BOY: Whaaaat?
ME: I am not paying to repair your phone after you used it for a hockey puck.
BOY: I didn't use it for a hockey puck, someone at church made that joke and you thought it was hilarious.
ME: It was hilarious. It perfectly describes what your phone looks like after whatever you did to it. Your screen looks like a hardboiled egg after you roll it around in the pan.
BOY: *moans in pain*
BFG: *consoles* My sister got the same response when she cracked her screen.
ME: See, I have had two smartphones and I have never cracked the screen.
BOY: Because you don't do the things that we young people do.
ME: Oh, you mean juggling my phone over concrete? You're right, I just use it to, y'know, call people.
BOY: *ignores* We run around, play outside...
ME: And what does that have to do with your phone?
BFG: *to Boy* I think you're losing.
BOY: *facepalms, stares at phone*
ME: Your best bet at this point is to research around for a service that will replace your glass for less than $199. And then start saving.
BOY: *moans*

For the record, the phone works, it's just annoying. Also: If you locals can recommend a place, Boy would be greatly appreciative. Also also: I am totally canceling that insurance.


BOY: *delivers coffee* Courtesy of Jimmy.
ME: Coffee! Thank you. It is his husbandly responsibility.
BOY: Oh really.
ME: Yes. It says so in the Bible, in the Book of Hebrews.
BOY: *sigh* Did you come up with that one all by yourself?
ME: Mean! I'll have you know people who don't live with me think I'm hilarious.
BOY: They must have low expectations.
ME: Get out of my office.


ME: I'm anticipating that Ian's registration fees will be $350 this fall.
JIM: Ouch.
ME: Yes, they increased the fees, so it's $125 for orchestra, $125 for theater, and $100 for textbooks. I don't want to tell him he can't do theater because we can't afford the fee, but...
JIM: There's my financial aid.
ME: *sigh* I know this town is generally richer than we are, but there must be other people in the same boat with us. They can't all be able to just write the check.
JIM: You've got to think, if a family is making $100,000 a year...
ME: Yeah, the Scouts all had the $100 boots, except Ian in the Army surplus boots. I guess for them, they can just write the check.
JIM: How much is that a month, out of sheer curiosity?
ME: *taps on phone* $100,000 divided by 12... Holy....
JIM: How much?
ME: $8,333 a month.
JIM: Yeah, I think they can afford it.
ME: Their taxes would be higher than ours.
JIM: Yeah, then they might bring home $6,000 a month.
ME: Curse me with such problems.
JIM: So yeah, they can probably afford the school fees.
ME: *sigh* I hate being poor.
JIM: I'm working on my degree.
ME: *eyebrow* Wait a second, mister. Who says it's up to YOU?
JIM: I don't know that I'll snag a job that pays $100,000 with a bachelor's, but -
ME: We'll jump off that bridge when we come to it. Back up to the part where you assume that if we're poor, it's your sole responsibility to fix it because you at the possessor of the penis?
JIM: Yes.
ME: So I'm just the helpless, dependent female.
JIM: Uh...
ME: Get out of my office, Cro-Magnon.
JIM: *pitches voice low* Yah, yah, me man, earn money for woman, yah yah
ME: *pretends to throw pica pole at retreating man*
JIM: *keeps talking Cro-Magnon down the stairs*

* We have been trying to get his pension information sorted out since we married. In November 2014. Four tries is just the number of times we've had to re-send our marriage certificate, birth certificates, etc.
** For reference: Boy made $15 a month working in the church nursery until recently. $199 might as well be $19,000.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Snippets, writing edition

Last night's editing session found the use of the word "suddenly" nine times in one scene. Just to be sure, I did a find/replace and found a handful of other uses, most of which were decidedly superfluous to the book. My writers' group is still teasing me about my suddenlys. This will become relevant...

ME: What is with me and the -ly adverbs in this book?
SELA: *looks*
ME: 'Sam said confidently.'
TICIA: 'Sam said with conviction.'
ME: 'Sam said, confident.' Or to hell with it. 'Sam said.'
SELA: 'Sam said. Confidence colored his words.'
ME: *gags* Bleeeeeeech.
TICIA: *stares in disbelief*
SELA: I like it!
ME: Don't make the soup come back up, please.
TICIA: *gestures to Sela* Romance. *gestures to me* Not romance.
ALL: *guffaw*
SELA: I like my fluffy descriptive words.
ME: 'Sam said.'
TICIA: With conviction!
SELA: Confidently!
ME: But he said it suddenly.
ALL: *loses it*

ME: Oh my god. What is the matter with me??
SELA: What now?
ME: Colin said quietly. Sam said confidently. Quinn said earnestly.
ME: Die die die. Is there any attribution where I didn't use an -ly adverb?
SELA: *stares at her own book* Oooh, she nodded firmly.
ME: No.
SELA: I can do it.
ME: No you cannot.
SELA: Yes I can. 
TICIA: Romance.
ME: How else would you nod? Hesitantly? *attempts to nod hesitantly*
TICIA: Suddenly.
SELA: I get one. 
ME: One per scene, no more.

ME: Honestly, the best advice I can give is to go to Imaginarium. The panels, the networking, the workshops, the number of small presses who attend and are actively looking for writers... 
SELA: I'm really excited about it.
ME: Actually, I think Jimmy was going to approach you about doing something about writing in romance. Because he writes romance -
TICIA: Whenever he posts about you on Facebook.
ME: *sporfle* I married the World's Sappiest Man.
SELA: Yes, you did.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Happy Proposalversary

Okay, I know that's not a thing. And if Hallmark suddenly starts printing cards for "Proposalversary," you have my permission to blame me, because I totally made that up.

But on this day four years ago, Jim tripped on something and fell down to one knee. I tried to help him up and got my finger caught on a ring. And we've been stuck with each other ever since.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

If you want to know all the gory details, we already wrote that up. In fact, we detailed the entire engagement, the wedding planning and all the attendant silliness on our joint blog, Dancing Toward the Castle.

We went back to it on our first anniversary, though we haven't yet figured out what to do with that blog now that we're actually married. Maybe turn it into a book, maybe just let it rest. Save it for my memoirs or something.

I'll just tell you this: Last week, when I was actually writing this blog entry, I had a rotten day. Jim chose the worst possible moment to stick his head in the room, and I completely bit it off. I apologized right away, because I knew he was absolutely not to blame for my foul mood and terrible day, and I could tell I'd hurt his feelings.

So what did he do? He went and made dinner, bringing a plate of chicken, pasta and peas up to my desk so I wouldn't be so stressed after work. I pretty much lucked out in the husband department.

Eventually I need to finish the wedding slideshow and scrapbook. Any day now, just as soon as I catch up my scrapbooking from Ian's fourth-grade play, which is pretty much as far as I've gotten. 

In the meantime, we have photos and memories, and so far, he hasn't regretted tripping on those paving stones in front of Cinderella Castle. At least, not that he's admitted!

It was the perfect day, and the perfect memory. Including the part where I never actually said yes, but he slid the ring on my hand anyway - claiming he was hedging his bets. I can't imagine why...

I love you, babe.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016


For the purposes of this, you must understand a few things about Boy. He does not have a debit card, so when he orders things he gives me money and I order it for him. His father lives in Memphis, so gifts he purchases for his father are often managed this way. And he hates tomatoes with a living passion.

At Subway...

BOY: I'd like a ham and cheese on monterey cheddar.
ME: Please.
BOY: Please.
SERVER: *makes sandwich* And what would you like on it?
BOY: Extra onions, lettuce, pickles -
ME: Ew.
BOY: Hush.
ME: Ruination of a good sandwich.
BOY: And what are you ordering?
ME: Subway Club. Nunya.
BOY: And mayonnaise, please.
SERVER: Anything else?
ME: Extra tomatoes.
SERVER: *looks at Boy*
BOY: She's kidding, no tomatoes.
SERVER: *is giggling*
BOY: You're not funny.
ME: I'm hilarious.

Later, I texted him to let him know his Father's Day present for his father was ordered.

ME: Ordered and on its way. One Chicago Cubs wall pennant.
BOY: Mom no you were supposed to order a Saints football
ME: Man, you're so easy. :) Saints football, on its way with extra tomatoes.


ME: I'm dithering.
MAN: About what?
ME: Actually launching the new photography site. It's so long.
MAN: What about
ME: ... I don't know. I think people will miss the E and go to, which is taken.
MAN: I'm just throwing things out there.
ME: Heh. I haven't been Beth since the second grade.
MAN: I've got nothing.
ME: Why is my name so LONG?


Understand that when Jim and I talk at night, it's while he's working, cleaning the classrooms at SIUE. I'm a voice in the earbuds, and I often hear other people walking around the classrooms and he will sometimes pause to speak to them.

ME: I know that this level of photography is a few levels above my current ability, but it's interesting.
MAN: Hold on a sec, hon.
VOICE: *indistinguishable*
MAN: Good night, pretty girl.
ME: Stop flirting with the college students.
MAN: I was talking to a dog, woman.
VOICE: *faint laughter*
ME: *giggling*
MAN: You gave a good laugh to the woman in the wheelchair. She has a service dog and I was saying goodnight to the DOG.
ME: *giggling helplessly* Wait, you aren't supposed to bother service dogs!
MAN: I didn't pet her. I just said good night to her.
ME: I thought it was slightly out of character for you to be flirting with the students.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Father's Day Drive

Jim and I were alone on Father's Day, so we drove up the Great River Road and had wine at the Pere Marquette Lodge. Jimmy got sleepy and I did some shooting. We love Pere Marquette; the views are so spectacular they can't really be captured with my photographic skill (yet) and it's a giant no-cell zone, which was poorly timed since the phone died in the middle of chatting with my dad.

This was my second experiment with manual focus. I switched back and forth between manual and autofocus in the prom shoot, but that was different; I was using a tripod with humans who mostly stood still. This was handheld on a floating dock or by the side of the river on unstable rock. Turns out there's a few kinks in the system. One of them: It's really hard to adjust manual focus when the sun is shining directly in your eyes. I tried sunglasses, but then I could barely see at all.

Here's a few of them. I will have to decide which go up on the shop; I can't afford to put all of them out there anymore, and I'm slowly phasing out the ones that don't sell as well. If I ever get a handle on this new software, I'm planning to build a separate photography site. If I get a handle on this software...

Pick two for the site!

River Shed across from Pere Marquette

Feeder stream to the Mississippi. Jim thinks there are mega-bass in this inlet.

Grafton Lighthouse

Fishing Boat - the color was unremarkable here, so I tried black and white

Sunset on the Great River Road

Birds on the Bluff - I'd need a much better lens to get close to that eagle

Full Moon - I think this one is my favorite.

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dream office

I must have made some kind of enormous salary leap in my dream world, because my office was amazing. A lovely, sunlit room with a comfortable sitting area apart from my desk, a fireplace that was clearly for cooler days, and windows everywhere.

There was a patio door that overlooked a lovely pool, clean and inviting. Beyond the pool patio lay a strip of beach clearly shared with the two mansions on either side, running all the way to the shining ocean.

Someone had been busy. The sand castles out there were worthy of a TV special. I wanted to go snag my camera and get some pictures. It was a staggeringly beautiful day, with blue skies and an inviting beach not dissimilar to Jamaica.

But first I had to interview security guard candidates, and I was trying to come up with intelligent questions and scenarios while I made them wait. It's not like it would matter; the first was such a total bozo I'd already decided not to hire him; he fell asleep while waiting and he'd brought his swimsuit. 

I never got to take pictures of the sand castles, because Jim's alarm went off. No fair. Can't I go back? I have better interview questions now!