Let’s talk about ruts. Specifically the rut I’m in right now, which involves waking up committed to getting some good writing done, and then going to bed twelve hours later with almost nothing to show for it. (Unless you count a few facebook and instagram posts, a lot of soccer-related emails, and a screentime-overload-induced headache “something to show.”) Ruts, no matter what form they take, can be soul-crushing, but I have to believe a writer’s rut is a special kind of torture, because if I sit in front of a computer all day in a small, dark office, and get nothing done, I am haunted by all the other healthy-minded, Vitamin-D-absorbing ways I could have been spending my spring day. I could’ve planted some flowers in the backyard, or gone for a run, or taken my poor ignored dog, Iris to the park. In under 20 minutes, I could’ve been wandering the Garden Court at the Frick**, a quick shot down the West Side Highway. But instead, Iris and I sit there at the end of the day, two lumps, as uncultured and dull-witted as we were when we woke up that morning. (I will also add that all this non-productivity doesn’t exactly make me Mother of the Year. I notice my capacity for yelling is absolutely in converse correlation to the day’s wordcount. Sad, but true.)
I have been at this long enough to realize that I’ll come out of it (and as soon as I get something down on paper, I’ll write off the whole rut as “process”) but until then, I’ve discovered a neat trick that goes a little ways towards making myself feel better. Last week, after re-writing my next book’s introduction for the fourth time (Note to my editor: JT! Still isn’t quite working!), I was seriously craving progress that was measurable. So I browned a pork loin, adding some garlic and onions to the pot, then braised the sucker low and slow all afternoon in some barbecue sauce. (There you have it: my BBQ nod to Memorial Day.) That way, while I was upstairs in the office, deleting and writing, writing and deleting, and burning my eyeballs out all the while, at least I could say something was getting done somewhere else in the house.
Pulled Pork Sandwiches
2 1/2 pounds pork loin roast (or shoulder if you want it fattier, meltier, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did), patted dry with paper towel
1 teaspoon-ish dried thyme
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup barbecue sauce (homemade would be lovely, but no pressure; see page 238, Dinner: A Love Story)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 dried guajillo chiles (if you don’t have, just add a few drops of hot sauce)
Heat oven to 325°F.
Rub pork all over with thyme, salt, and pepper. Place a large Dutch Oven or deep ovenproof pot on medium-high heat and add oil. Brown pork on all sides (about 5 minutes a side) and remove.
Turn heat to medium/medium-low and add onion and garlic. Cook until softened. Add barbecue sauce, cider vinegar, bay leaf, and chiles and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and add pork. The liquid should come about 1/3 of the way up the pork. If it doesn’t whisk in a little water.
Place the pot in your oven and cover, leaving lid slightly ajar. Keep it in there for 3 to 4 hours, flipping every 30-45 minutes.* When you’re ready to eat, remove pork from pot. Discard bay leaf and chiles. Shred pork with a fork and place back into the pot. Toss with sauce, which should now be thick and glazey. (See above photo.)
Serve shredded pork on potato rolls with slaw or pickles.
*At one point, I left the house for an hour and a half, turned off the oven, came back, turned it on again. I’m telling you this not because I think you should do the same, but to make the point that when the heat is low and you have a nice block of time, it’s really hard to mess up.
**Weekday museum visits have been on the agenda for roughly four years, ever since I lost my 9-to-5 office job and made a vow that I would see more movies and more exhibits. The movie part of the pact is alive and well (Who wants to talk Godzilla???) but the other part…well, let’s just say there’s room for improvement.
In a dinner rut?? Behold your almost-published solution, available for pre-order.