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I’m going to write up an entire blog post about this book. It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Florence as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

Also finished The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. It popped up on a list I subscribe to and was available for $1.13 as an e-book. As it begins, you’re hearing from A.J., a grieving widower who owns a bookstore on an obscure island off the East Coast. He’s angry, rude and every other negative adjective you can imagine. A book rep comes to visit and he’s awful to her, yet she perseveres and manages to sell him a few books. You get to know his friends (a friendship with him is full of sharp points) and one day an abandoned toddler is found in his bookshop. In between the story line about A.J., the book rep, the little girl and others, you will learn all about A.J.’s book tastes. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll really enjoy that part. It’s a charming book; loved it.

Also read a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you need that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Beef, on September 9th, 2016.

meatloaf_ital_sausage_parmigiano

What makes meatloaf Italian? The addition of Italian sausage, Italian seasonings AND some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, of course! Was it good? Yes, indeed!

Family was visiting – the part of my family that’s likes the basics – a good hunk of meat, carbs, veggies and maybe a salad. The first night of their visit we had grilled pork chops with a cold orzo salad. Nothing fancy. The next night I decided to make meatloaf – I hadn’t made it in ages. As a widow/single person, making a meatloaf sounds like 5 dinners in a row and I’d be bored with it after about two. I could have used my old-favorite recipe, Meatloaf with Sweet and Sour Sauce, which has been a family favorite for decades. But I thought I’d change it up a bit. Not knowing what to do exactly, I went on the ‘net and searched for how all the Food Network chefs make their meatloaf and I picked and chose amongst the variations and made up my own. I suppose it could be said that as long as the basics are there, it’s hard to screw up a meatloaf, no matter what you put in it.

meatloaf_raw_readytobake

This one . . . first I minced up carrot, celery and onion and sautéed it in a little oil until the veggies were completely wilted. Meanwhile, into a big bowl I added lots of lean ground beef, some Italian sausage (actually what I had was turkey Italian sausage that I squeezed out of its casing), a heaping handful of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, seasonings (including a hearty bunch of Slap Yo Mama Cajun seasonings), bread that I soaked in milk and squished up with my hands so there were virtually no visible pieces left, 3 eggs and the cooled veggies. I mushed that up, as you do have to do with meatloaf and I literally poured it into a big oval baking dish. I shaped it a bit and topped it with loads of Heinz ketchup (my favorite brand, when I do use ketchup, which isn’t all that often) and baked it for 1 1/2 hours until the internal temperature reached about 158°F. Websites say to remove meatloaf between 155-160°F.

Usually mashed potatoes are my carb of choice for meatloaf, but I made lime cilantro rice instead (recipe coming up soon) which actually was a very nice side dish for it. It was a hit.

What’s GOOD: I really, really liked this mixture. The addition of Italian sausage added a different flavor component – I could taste it – it was probably the fennel that was what I tasted that made me think of Italian sausage since I’d used turkey Italian sausage. But I also added the grated Parmigiano too, and oodles of Italian seasonings. The bread/milk mixture lightened the meatloaf – it was amazingly tender when sliced, and although you really couldn’t taste the carrots and celery and onion, you could barely see them peppered throughout the meatloaf. An altogether great recipe. I’ll make it again for sure.

What’s NOT: hmmm. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this. My family enjoyed it – no complaints from them.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Meatloaf with Italian Sausage

Recipe By: My own combination, 2016
Serving Size: 10-12

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 pound Italian sausage — removed from casing (pork or turkey)
3 large eggs
2/3 cup onion — diced
2 small carrots — finely diced
1 cup celery — finely diced, including leaves
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon Slap Yo Mama seasoning — or other spicy Cajun-style dry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 slices white bread
1/2 cup milk — (may need slightly more)
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
2/3 cup ketchup — for topping

1. In a small bowl break up the white bread with milk and let sit about 5-10 minutes. Using your fingers, break up the mushy bread so there are almost no visible pieces.
2. In a medium saute pan heat the canola oil and add the vegetables (onions, carrots and celery). Cook them until they are completely limp. Set aside to cool.
3. In a very large bowl combine the meat, eggs, thyme, basil, Slap Yo Mama seasoning, pepper and Parmigiano cheese. When vegetables have cooled sufficiently, pour into the bowl along with the bread/milk mixture. Gently massage the meat until there are no streaks of egg or any chunks of bread and more-or-less the mixture is homogenous. The less you “work” the meat, the more tender it will be.
4. Preheat oven to 350°. Use a large, rimmed baking dish and carefully pour the meatloaf mixture into the dish, using your hands to mush it into a very long and wide oval. Press ends in so they are not pointed, if possible. Pour ketchup over the top of the meatloaf and spread out to the edges without it dripping down the sides (it will burn there). Bake for about 90 minutes, or until the meat reaches 155-160°F on an instant read thermometer. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes, tented with foil. Using a baster, remove the grease from the pan and carefully, using 2 large spatulas, remove the meatloaf to a serving dish larger than the meatloaf. Or, slice the meatloaf in the baking dish. Once meatloaf is cool it will be easier to remove and store leftovers. Makes wonderful sandwiches.
Per Serving: 418 Calories; 32g Fat (69.0% calories from fat); 22g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 140mg Cholesterol; 557mg Sodium.

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