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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) 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 Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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, Pasta, on September 25th, 2016.

meatballs_tomato_cream_sauce

This post is more about the sauce than the meatball. I’m not even including a recipe for the meatball. It’s the quickest sauce you can imagine. If you have some meatballs (beef or turkey) on hand (or not – it can be served without), this dinner can be on the table in 30 minutes or less.

I’d come home with a “doggie bag” of food from an Italian dinner at Filippi’s in Poway (I had their ricotta and mozzarella lasagna with vegetarian red sauce). I’d also ordered a dinner portion of lasagna to freeze at home (because I don’t have that restaurant chain in my neck of the woods). My dinner came with a side of a meatball, which I’d planned on bringing home anyway. This was a big, honkin’ meatball – enough for a dinner for me!

I had polished off the other half of my lasagna dinner (the other full order one is still in the freezer), and had the meatball. What to do with it?

Over the last several weeks I’ve been working on a project or two  . . . detour here . . .

First, I purchased the MasterCook software for my daughter Sara as a gift (her birthday) and my real gift to her was to input ALL of her collected recipes into the program. That took me about 20 hours of time, I’d guess. I drove to Poway (near San Diego, where she lives) and spent an afternoon there getting it all set up for her (I typed in all the recipes here at home, put the “cookbooks” divided by category onto a thumb drive and just uploaded them to her kitchen computer where the MasterCook program lives). Then I spent an hour or two teaching her how to use the software. She has many cookbook recipes that need to be input, so perhaps I’ll go down there sometime to help her with that too.

While I was at it, though, I looked at my own recipe collections . . . I have hundreds upon hundreds of recipes in my MasterCook software. And over the years I’d collected clippings and printed recipes that I had slipped into plastic sleeves and kept neatly in binders – recipes to try (but NOT input into the software). The binders are huge and because of some work I’m having done in my family room, the storage place for these disappeared. What to do? Well, input all those hundreds of recipes into the software, of course. While I’m at it, I’m looking at each and every recipe and wanting to determine will I REALLY make this? I’ve tossed out about 150 recipes, but I’ve input probably 250. Nearly all of them I’ve found online, which makes it pretty easy to grab them to insert into my software program (there’s a really neat online tool that grabs the recipe and a couple clicks of the mouse and it’s input into my software, including the photo if there is one, without hardly having to touch my fingers to the keyboard). I’m down to my last category, Veggies, and I’ll be done. THEN I have a rattan stand thing that holds hanging folders, and in it are several dozen pocket file folders filled with hundreds more clippings, 3×5 cards, notes – those are older recipes. All ones I’ve never made. I’ll do a bigger culling job on them – if I haven’t looked at these in 5 years, how likely will I be to even make any of those recipes? I mean, really? There are a few family recipes there, so I’ll have to go through each folder. I could probably toss it all out, except for those 3×5 cards that I’d probably want to keep, just for nostalgia’s sake.

SO, back to last night’s dinner . . . I ran across the recipe for the Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce that has been in my software (I double-checked) AND it’s here on my blog too. I had all the ingredients to make it – some cream cheese, canned tomatoes, garlic, red wine vinegar, fresh basil, fresh grated Parmigiana and some pasta. Usually the sauce sits some hours before using it – I made a smaller batch, just kind of threw together the ingredients and let it sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I boiled some penne pasta, warmed the meatball in the microwave (cut into slices) and combined it and out onto my plate it went. I had enough to serve to my D-I-L Karen and grandson Vaughan and me the following evening.

I’m pretty sure I’ve posted this sauce more than once here on my blog – it is such a winner of a recipe. It is also wonderful as a side dish for a summer barbecue – it’s served at room temp – although mine was slightly warm from the hot pasta. I devoured it. SO good. It’s a great thing to take to someone’s house too. Easy to make. It just needs fresh basil, really.

I’ve re-done the recipe below for a quick meal version. If you have some meatballs that need using, throw them in (heat them first, though).

What’s GOOD: this recipe is nothing short of genius. It’s already on my Favs list (see tab at top of my blog, under the photo, far right) which means it met my standard of an outstanding recipe, worthy of making over and over. This version just made it easier to do for a quick meal. I really don’t make pasta very often, but now and then I crave it, don’t you? Make this, okay? Even if you don’t have some left over meatballs.

What’s NOT: absolutely nothing.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Meatballs with Quick Pasta & Tomato Cream Sauce

Recipe By: Original from Mary Anne Quinn, a friend of a friend and I’ve adapted it here to serve with meatballs
Serving Size: 4 (average servings)

15 ounces diced tomatoes — canned, with juice
2 cloves garlic — smashed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup EVOO — or less if you’d prefer
4 ounces cream cheese — chopped up some
1/4 cup fresh basil — shredded or sliced
1/2 pound penne rigate
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated, for garnish
4 large meatballs (ready made, or make your own), optional

1. In a medium sized non-metalic bowl combine the canned tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, EVOO and cream cheese. Set aside to blend the flavors. (Can be made several hours ahead – just cover the bowl and allow it to sit at room temp for up to 3 hours.)
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt (about a tablespoon per gallon of water). Add pasta and cook to al dente (slightly resistant to the tooth, but without any crunch).
3. Have the cheese and basil ready. Drain the pasta and add to the bowl with the tomato sauce. Stir around until you don’t see any streaks of cream cheese.
4. If serving with meatballs, warm them in the microwave. Scoop pasta portions onto plates and top with a hot meatball and the grated cheese and basil. Serve. The pasta mixture (with sauce) can also cool to room temp. Serve portions with a heated meatball on top and garnish with cheese and basil.
Per Serving: 455 Calories; 25g Fat (48.3% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 99mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on September 25th, 2016:

    I’m glad you posted it yet again. Looks perfect for tomorrow when I get home from a little trip and need to come up with a quick supper. You surprised me with the cream cheese.

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