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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 November 3rd, 2016.

Image result for beef burritos

Nothing like a good, old-fashioned beef burrito. Laden with cheese and in a thickened chili and tomato spiced sauce inside and out. And mostly done in a slow cooker! Photo: recipeshubs.com

Since I’ve been working on this project of ridding myself of hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands) of recipe clippings and notes that date back to the 1960s, I’ve uncovered a bunch of recipes that I have made in the past, but they’ve laid dormant in these old files for a long time. A really long time.

In this case, the reason is simple. I have lived in California for ages. I was born and raised here in the 40s and 50s and went to college in the 60s, left for some years, then returned here in the mid-1970s. Lucky for me, Mexican restaurants abound in my neck of the woods. Excellent ones, as a matter of fact, because we have a heavy Mexican population, and many of them have opened cafes, walk-up counters, fast-food joints and sit-down restaurants. Most people who live in SoCal love-love Mexican food.

But during a 10-year span from the mid-60’s to mid-70s I lived in various places around the U.S. and had little or no access to Mexican food. So I had to improvise. If there were Mexican restaurants in those places, the food bore little resemblance or taste to what we were used to from living here.

Creating this recipe offered my family a taste of (California) home, and usually there was enough for my then family of 3 to have at least one or two additional meals of leftovers. Back in the days when I entertained quite frugally, this recipe also provided an inexpensive meal (then, not now since beef of any kind is pricey) rounded out with a big green salad, an appetizer and dessert.

Some Mexican restaurants (in fact, most) make beef burritos or beef enchiladas with ground beef. It’s easier, I’m sure. But back in the day, all I knew was shredded beef, so that’s what I created. If your family likes beef, then try this recipe.

The meat isn’t even browned – you just add all the beef chunks to a slow cooker, toss it around with the herbs and spices, a package of chili mix, and a little flour, then add beef broth. Let it slow cook for 8 hours (high) or 12 hours (low). If you can, make this the day before and shred the meat while it’s lukewarm and chill overnight with the sauce.

Before baking, reheat the meat and sauce together, shred the cheese, have a baking dish handy and start assembling. It’s pretty easy to do. You can freeze these, but because the tortillas are bathed in sauce, they tend to get really soggy if you freeze them. I’d suggest assembling them, freezing them dry (individually, on foil on a flat sheet), then defrost, heat the sauce to bathe the top, add cheese and proceed from there.

You can also make these as beef enchiladas, just use corn tortillas, use less filling and only put cheese on the top as they bake, with no cheese inside. I’d suggest not adding beans to the chili, either. I always made these as burritos, as I recall.

What’s GOOD: it makes a bunch. It’s easy in the slow cooker. You’ll have leftovers. Assembly is very easy, though don’t do it ahead of time because the sauce makes the tortillas soggy if you do so. Just add the sauce before baking, then cheese. Delicious.

What’s NOT:  you have to plan ahead to do this, but it can be made the same day you slow cook the beef.

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

Texas Chili Burritos

Recipe By: My own recipe I created in the 1970s
Serving Size: 12

CHILI:
3 pounds chuck roast — 1″ cubes
3 cloves garlic — chopped
4 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your palms
26 ounces low sodium beef broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
15 ounces canned pinto beans — drained (or more if desired)
BURRITOS:
12 large flour tortillas — 12″ or larger
3 cups jack cheese — shredded (or a mixture of jack and cheddar) or more if needed
GARNISH:
1 cup sour cream
1 cup cilantro — chopped
1 lime — wedges (optional)

NOTES: True Texas chili doesn’t contain beans, yet I adapted the recipe for chili to make burritos instead. I left in the Texas attribute just because it began as Texas chili.
1. Add meat, garlic, spices, flour, salt and pepper to a slow cooker. Stir so all the meat is covered with the spices. Then add beef broth. Cook on low heat for 12 hours, or on high for 8 hours, or until meat is falling-apart tender. During the last hour, add the beans. When cooked, remove all the meat from the slow cooker, and place on a large sheet pan or platter to cool. Cool the sauce too. If time permits, shred the meat while it’s lukewarm (it’s easier then, than when it’s chilled). Refrigerate overnight if time permits.
2. Shred the meat if you haven’t done so when the meat was cooling, heat the meat and the sauce together until it’s heated through.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
4. One at a time, heat each flour tortilla in the microwave for 10-15 seconds until it’s very warm and pliable. Place it on a large flat surface. Scoop about 1/2 cup or more of the meat/bean mixture into the center, add some shredded cheese and roll the edge closest to you over the meat, fold in the two sides, then snugly roll the burrito until it’s a nice cylinder.
5. In a large baking dish pour a little bit of the sauce (not meat) into the dish and add the burritos, fitted like snug sardines. Spoon some of the sauce (without meat if possible) over the top and add more grated cheese on top.
6. Bake casserole for about 20-30 minutes until the cheese is melted and the burritos are hot throughout.
7. Serve a burrito onto a heated plate and garnish with sour cream, cilantro and a lime wedge, if desired.
Per Serving: 581 Calories; 28g Fat (42.9% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 74mg Cholesterol; 778mg Sodium.

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