Scarlet Letters

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

Friday, November 29, 2013

Chocolate Truffle Ice Cream

I made this for my family while my mom was visiting, but I started it too late and so nobody had any. It is delightfully still in the freezer and all mineminemine. As soon as I crowed about this on Facebook, y'all were asking for the recipe.

Always happy to oblige...


1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. milk
3/4 c. sugar
2 tbsp. cocoa
1/8 tsp. salt
2 egg yolks
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1 tsp. vanilla

In a heavy saucepan, combine milk, cream, sugar, cocoa and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved and cocoa is well-mixed.

Whisk yolks in a small bowl. Stir in about 1/2 cup of the hot mixture into the yolk and whisk to temper them. Return egg mixture to the pan, whisking constantly.

Cook mixture on stovetop until it reaches 160 degrees or it coats the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate (chocolate chips are better than the one-ounce blocks for quick melting). Then add vanilla.

Let cool, cover and chill in the fridge for at least six hours. (You can speed this up in the freezer, but the consistency will suffer.) Whisk to blend.

Pour into ice cream maker according to its directions. Allow to mix until desired consistency; freeze in airtight container if you don't like it soft serve.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks

I'm calling out everyone who bitches that we don't need Thanksgiving or the 30 days of thankfulness because "we should be thankful every day." That's true, of course. We should be thankful and remember our blessings every day of our lives.

But human beings are what we are: imperfect. And anything we do every day, see every day, think every day becomes just that: everyday. Normal. Background. We no longer notice the beauty of daily blessings when they are our normal state of being.

The menfolk left Wednesday night after Jimmy got off work, so he could deliver Ian to his father for Thanksgiving (it's his turn) and spend the weekend with the enormous Gillentine clan and with his kids. I have to work on Friday, so I could not go with them. In fifteen years, I have not traveled for Thanksgiving or Christmas. That's the job. I did bake a pie, however, and Jimmy is under strict orders to bring back my pie pan.

I'm not really used to the house being completely silent. Our normal schedule has us on a staggered sleep schedule: Boy is up at 4:30 a.m., home from school at 2:15 and goes to bed by 9:30. I am up at 8:30, work until 5:30 and in bed shortly before midnight. Jimmy is up about 11 a.m., works from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. and goes to bed about 4 a.m. So there's always someone up, someone moving around. It's too quiet, and I find myself talking to Isabel the Ghost, who responds with the occasional thump.

I was determined to sleep in very late, which my brain translated to 8 a.m. I told Jimmy I intended to be a degenerate bachelor, just like he is when I go out of town. I live-tweeted the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, ate still more turkey leftovers and resolutely sat around in my pajamas. That lasted about 5.5 hours, until I couldn't stand it anymore and bathed and dressed.

I had plenty of work to do, mind you. I have an editing project I'm trying to finish, a writing project I need to work on, holiday cards to make for the etsy shop and I had to program for the Black Friday-Cyber Monday sale. And once all that's done, I'm supposed to record the audiobook for Dreadmire. Me, busy?

So I worked on all that crap while I let a sadly edited version of the Godfather saga play on the TV. Until I realized I didn't have enough photos to make the cards. And I have to work tomorrow. And I'm envisioning the glut of orders I'm about to get.... Okay, I'm hoping to have SOME orders. Shaddup.

That meant going out on Thanksgiving. The only places I could get photos made were Walgreens and Walmart, and I was SO not going to Walmart on Thanksgiving. It also enabled me to grab some more stamps and a gallon of milk. I enjoyed a tasty pancake supper at IHOP, just like the Pilgrims.

To be honest, it was not the horror I expected. Everyone I saw was polite and friendly - extra friendly, warmed by the holiday to hold doors open and say excuse me. Everyone wishing each other a happy Thanksgiving. No horrific lines or snotty attitudes.

I have never shopped on Thanksgiving. I always spent it with my family or friends. And frankly, I was in a bit of a sour mood. Don't get me wrong; a few dear friends had invited me to join their families, and several others I'm sure would have welcomed me. But I didn't want to intrude on them, and I was pretty sure I would be lousy company.

It was a bright spot when I thanked my waitress for being there. She smiled and said she likes the holiday pay. Then she pitched her voice lower and told me they had a king's feast laid out in back for the workers; everyone had brought something in, since they all had to work, and it was a light enough crowd that it was almost fun. I tipped her extra.

David Gerrold wrote today that we could all use a day in which we are reminded to be thankful for family. And he's right. It's the same reason I have never minded Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day or any of the other holidays that some dismiss blithely as "Hallmark Holidays." Because we should remember our loved ones every day, but sometimes we need little reminders. Sometimes we have to be kicked into remembering how rare and special our families are, whether they are families of blood or families of choice.

Two of my friends lost family members today. I can't imagine how hard it is to lose a family member on a day devoted to family. 

I miss both my menfolk. I know Jimmy was looking forward to seeing his family and his kids, and it was good to talk with them by phone. It's also a touch bittersweet to face another holiday without my boy. He's 14 now, and I can count the number of holidays I have left with him on one hand. Then he'll be grown and gone, and it'll be his choice whether he comes home for the holidays. He's still a teenager, so of course he promised he would call and of course he hasn't and of course it's weighing on me even though I know it shouldn't. So yeah, I'd have been lousy company.

Family of blood, or family of choice, it's time we all stepped back from the constant bitching and finding ways to criticize our culture of consumerism and the endless debate over the morality of our choices... at least for a day. We can all go back to skewering the stupid on Monday.

In the meantime, hug your family. Whether you feel like you've said enough, done enough, hugged and kissed enough... you haven't. Give them that extra moment. And give thanks for them.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Recipes By Request

Tis the season to cook until your family begs you to stop, the fridge is full already. I suppose I should be happy that the Boy snuck the green bean casserole out of the kitchen this morning, because nothing says "teenage boy breakfast" like vegetables. *shrug*

So here's a few recipes folks have requested! With special thanks to Mom for her recent visit, which gave me an excuse to cook a lot!


6 potatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. butter + 1/2 stick
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. sour cream
2 tbsp. parmesan
2 tbsp. chives
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. onion salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. fines herbes

Chop and boil potatoes until tender. I prefer my potatoes to still have some chunks to them, and I never peel them because I like the skins. So mine still have a little firmness to them when I'm done. If you like yours super-smooth, skin the potatoes before you chop them and boil them a little longer, until they break apart when you hit them with a spoon.

Meanwhile, saute garlic in 1 tbsp. butter. Drain potatoes and put in very large bowl. Drizzle garlic over potatoes and mash. Add remaining ingredients and blend with hand mixer until desired consistency is reached. You can use more butter; we like ours very buttery, so I end up using a whole stick of butter on a big batch.

Transfer to a casserole or large oven-safe dish and bake uncovered 35-40 mins. at 350 degrees.  While it's best right out of the oven, it microwaves perfectly, so you can make this in advance of a major meal and just warm it up if you need to. The potatoes can be eaten without baking, but I find it gives them a better texture and lets the flavors blend.


This recipe makes for a small casserole; my family adores this recipe, so I usually double it for a large pan (9x13) and they still devour it without leftovers. Downside: my hands smell like onions for two days no matter how much I wash.

3 tbsp. butter
3 large sweet onions (or 4 medium onions)
2 c. Swiss cheese (or 8 oz.)
1 can cream of chicken soup
2/3 c. milk
1 tsp. soy sauce
French bread

Slice onions; you can do rings, though I prefer long strips. Melt butter in very large saute pan over medium heat and add onions. You may need more butter; feel free to add as much as is necessary to saute the onions. Stir regularly until onions are clear with a little browning.

Meanwhile, head soup, milk and soy sauce in a saucepan until hot and well-mixed.

Layer onions in a casserole and top with 2/3 of the cheese. Shredded is best, but I have usually been abe to find slices only and just rip them into pieces (and I'm too lazy to shred a block of cheese; your mileage may vary). Dash a little pepper over the surface; I use white pepper with a bit of salt, but I'm not a pepper fan. Pour the soup mixture over the cheese.

Next slice the French bread into slices less than an inch thick. Layer them across the top of the casserole, making sure it's entirely covered.

Bake at 350 degrees uncovered for 15 mins. The tops of the bread slices should be nicely toasted. Carefully use the back of a spoon to push the bread slices under the surface of the sauce. Then top with the remaining cheese and bake another 15 mins.


Note: This recipe came with the small clay bread bowl I bought at an art fair. You will need something similar, or perhaps you can adapt it to your own smallish bread pan. I have no idea how it will bake without the clay bread bowl, so let me know how it works for you! The clay bowl works fanastically and is available from Clement Clayworks, if you're interested. 

2 c. flour
3 tbsp. milk
3 tbsp. oil
1 pkg. rapid rise yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 c. whole wheat flour
3 tbsp. sugar
3/4 c. hot water

The recipe actually calls for 3 tbsp. dry milk, but I never have that on hand and so I use regular milk. If you use dry milk, increase the hot water to 1 cup.

Combine 1 c. flour, yeast, sugar, milk and salt. Add hot water and oil and mix. Add whole wheat flour and mix. Gradually add the second cup of flour, mixing to create a stiff dough that pulls away from the mixing bowl.

On a floured surface, knead the dough for 2-4 mins. Let it rest for 10 mins., then roll it out in a rectangle. Roll up jellyroll fashion, pinch ends together, fold in half and stuff it in the clay pot.

Cover pot with a tea towel and let rise for 30-40 mins. DO NOT PREHEAT OVEN.

Place pot in cold oven. Set temperature to 350 and bake 25-35 mins. or until golden brown. Enjoy quickly; it dries out in a day or two. Remember: never put a clay bread bowl in a hot oven!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Dreadmire Party Playlist!

Every author does this, I don't care what they say. We compile playlists of music that we listen to while we write. Jimmy's currently on the Les Miserables soundtrack. I wrote one of my best books listening to the Schindler's List soundtrack on repeat.

In honor of the official release party for Dreadmire, here's the playlist. I always save them, to play at room parties. Save your mockery - I have eclectic taste in music. That's the word for it. Shaddup.

  • "Fields of Gold," Sting
  • "As Long As You're Mine," Wicked soundtrack
  • "Bad Moon Rising," Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • "Bring Me to Life," Evanescence
  • "That's All I've Got to Say," America
  • "I'll Be There," Escape Club
  • "The Unforgiven," Metallica
  • "The Last Unicorn," America
  • "Love Walks In," Van Halen
  • "Somebody Help Me," Full Blown Rose
  • "Whithin You," David Bowie
  • "Iko Iko," Zachary Richard
  • "Man's Road," America
  • "Not Enough, " Van Halen
  • "Nothing Else Matters," Metallica
  • "El Tango de Roxanne," Moulin Rouge soundtrack
  • "King of the Fairies," Aine Ni Dhubhghail
  • "One Year of Love," Queen
  • "Samson & Delilah," Shirley Manson
  • "The Ship Song," Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  • "Gravedigger," Dave Matthews
  • "Unicorn and Lear," America
  • "Moon River," Afghan Whigs
  • "Who Wants to Live Forever," Queen
  • "Black Velvet," Alannah Miles
  • "Amanda's Walz," Amanda Shaw and Steve Wood
  • "Darkness," Tab Benoit
  • "The Unforgiven," Apocalyptica
  • "Don't Fear the Reaper," Blue Oyster Cult
  • "Darkness on the Delta," Cherryholmes
  • "As the World Falls Down," David Bowie
  • "Stand By Me," Mavis Staples
  • "Taking Over Me," Evanescence
  • "Cry Little Sister," Gerald McMann
  • "Tall Dark Handsome Stranger," Heart
  • "White Rabbit," Jefferson Airplane
  • "This Woman's Work," Kate Bush
  • "What Can You Lose," Madonna
  • "Fade to Black," Metallica
  • "Right Here Waiting," Richard Marx (shut up)
  • "When a Cajun Man Gets the Blues," Tab Benoit
  • "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," Warren Zevon
  • "This is My Home," various
  • "Into the West," Annie Lennox

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Remember remember...

... or, please don't.

I think I'm going to end up running this every year, because ever since Alan Moore's damn graphic novel became a damn movie, we're going to see people running amok in V for Vendetta masks advocating freedom from some oppressive evil government force. Or something. It makes me historically cranky.

So let's get this straight:

• Guy Fawkes was not trying to overthrow a theocratic, repressive government; he was trying to create one. King James began his reign by offering religious freedom, at least the best that time period could envision. Only after constant threats of violence if he did not convert to the Catholic faith personally, and the Bye Plot, which was a failed plan to kidnap the king and hold him until he agreed to reinstate the Catholic Church as the sole faith of England, did James get cranky and begin persecuting Catholics.

• The November Plot was to assassinate King James, to kidnap and install Princess Elizabeth, all of (I think) eight years old, because she could be easily controlled. It was not the work of anarchists who believed in no government; it was exchanging a legal monarchy for a totalitarian theocracy. They also tried to convince Spain to invade England and ignored the pleadings of the Pope, who thought it was a bad idea to reinstate Catholicism by violence.

• The Fifth of November was not a heroic martyrdom of patriots; it was a failed terrorist plot. Fawkes was caught attempting to blow up Parliament, not just King James. If it had succeeded, hundreds of innocent people would have been killed, including all of Parliament.

• The "remember remember" chant grew into popularity in England cheering the failure of the plot, not supporting its aims. It ends by cheering on burning Guy Fawkes at the stake, though that didn't happen; Fawkes managed to kill himself on the way to his execution, though his effigy was burned on Nov. 5 each year for centuries.

• The fact that Fawkes' face mask has been used by Anonymous and Alan Moore wrote a graphic novel in which a terrorist co-opts Fawkes' image to blow up a pastiche of Margaret Thatcher's Parliament does not make the Fifth of November a holiday for freedom. The current gross misunderstanding of the November Plot is one of the reasons I dislike V for Vendetta so much.

• I personally don't intend to remember remember the Fifth of November. I'm not even British.

Instead, I like what Joy Coop posted today. It's a saner, smarter and less historically cranky response than my grumpification:

Forget for the moment Guy Fawkes was trying to institute theocracy, and instead take the modern-day meaning of the day: DEFY SOMETHING IMPORTANT TODAY! Whether it's your own stubbornness, procrastination, or laziness. If it's something that should have been said months ago. Make a positive change you once thought impossible.

Making a positive change sounds like a good thing to me. Maybe it's the weather, or our finances, or my continuing creative struggles, or just the blah that seems to envelop everyone after Daylight Savings... but the level of crankiness within and without is reaching epidemic levels. I've seen a record number of posts from people angry not about politics or family drama or financial crisis, but about other people's happiness. Angry about hearing Christmas carols. Angry about other people's "Thirty Days of Thanks" statements. Angry about the gleeful and overcaffeinated Nanos typing madly away at their novels. Angry about other people being happy.

So instead of remember-remember yet again, let's forget a failed terrorist plot in another country centuries ago, and let's make a positive change today. Vote, if you're in a state that's doing it (not here, alas). Call someone you've meant to call for a long time. Donate your extra cash to a cause. Don't have a cause? Find one! 

Hell, if you have no other ideas, buy a few flowers and go to the poorest cemetery in your town. Place your flowers on graves that don't have any.

Do something to make the world a better place by sundown than it was when you woke up this morning. I don't know of a single religion that would call that a bad goal. To hell with Guy Fawkes. 

Note: For those who care about such things, last week's post The Little Monsters of Edwardsville is apparently the 500th post on this blog. Which just goes to show I need to blog more often. Happy milestone to me.