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Just finished reading The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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, Pork, on June 8th, 2010.

Yes, I can hear it already . . . spaghetti sauce and meatballs . . . how terribly bo-rrr-ing, you say? And don’t we all have such a recipe? I suppose, but not THIS one. It’s an oldie but goodie for me. I’ve been making this version of spaghetti sauce and meatballs since about 1966. And before I lose you, let me just say that what makes this version a bit unique is the fresh celery leaves and the freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano IN the meatballs. That’s not common, I know it’s not.


So hopefully you’ll continue reading about this recipe and maybe print out the PDF to try sometime. I’ve not shared this recipe before – I haven’t made spaghetti and meatballs in the 3+ years I’ve been writing this blog. I’ve been meaning to, but we don’t eat much pasta anymore, even though we love it. I do serve it now and then, but haven’t felt the desire to make this old tried and true recipe in a long time.

The recipe came from an old homespun Military Officer’s Wives’ Club cookbook I have. One I’ve referred to over and over, and have shared many a recipe from its pages. And it’s certainly not a 30-minute meal. You’ll want to do this when you have half a day to devote to the different steps. My daughter Dana is visiting and she helped me make it, thankfully. Otherwise I’d have been in and out of the kitchen for upwards of 4 hours. I hope that doesn’t scare you off from making this, though. I always make this in a large quantity so I’ll have some to freeze. I freeze the meat sauce and the meatballs separately – that way I know what I’m getting, quantity-wise – when I defrost both packages. This recipe is something I used to make frequently when our hungry teenagers were in the house. And I heard the other evening, from my daughter, as she slurped up her meatballs from this batch, “oh, this takes me back to my childhood.” Indeed.

So what’s involved? The sauce contains ordinary things like ground beef, onions, garlic, oodles of herbs and spices, canned tomato stuff (paste, sauce and puree). The meatballs are the different stuff: good, highly seasoned Italian sausage, some ground beef too, bread crumbs, onion, milk, eggs, garlic, some cheese and the minced celery leaves. And if you  happen to have ample celery leaves, add more. The new celery head I used only had about 1/2 cup of chopped leaves. Not nearly enough for my taste. The meatballs, by the way, are baked for 20 minutes, rather than fried. So much easier!

The sauce doesn’t require anything special, really. I’ve learned to wing it here and there, adding a bit of water sometimes if the sauce is spending too much time spouting medium-sized plops out of the pot. It all depends on the thickness of the tomato products – some are more watery than others, you know. So use your own judgment. Over the years I’ve made some changes to the recipe – different tomato stuff, less water, and a lot more seasonings. Originally the meatballs had that awful dry parmesan cheese in the green foil can. The addition of the real cheese made a huge flavor jump for me! I’ve made it with ground turkey (not as good, so I sometimes use half beef, half turkey) but I always add in the real pork Italian sausage. We buy our Italian sausage at a local Italian deli that makes their own. This batch had some of those and some Sicilian sausages (which contains mozzarella cheese) in it. Whatever I do, I never compromise, though, on the sausage. I buy good stuff. For many years I made this recipe exactly as written (using canned tomatoes with the juice) and the watery sauce always spread all over the plate. Once I changed to using only tomato puree, paste and sauce that didn’t happen any longer. I prefer thin linguine for this sauce, or regular linguine works too. But really, it doesn’t matter what kind of pasta – your choice.

This recipe is going onto my “Carolyn’s Fav’s.” It’s really good. Just ask my daughter. She’ll tell you.
printer-friendly PDF

Italian Spaghetti Sauce & Meatballs

Recipe By: Adapted from a Military Officer’s Wive’s Cookbook, circa 1965
Serving Size: 14
Note: Usually I serve this on linguine – thin linguine if you can find it. Or any kind of pasta will work.

SAUCE:
1 cup onion — chopped
6 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves garlic — minced
3 pounds lean ground beef
12 ounces tomato paste
16 ounces tomato sauce
3 pounds tomato puree
4 teaspoons sugar
12 ounces mushrooms — chopped
1/2 cup parsley — chopped
2 small bay leaves
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 cup water — approximately
MEATBALLS:
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 pounds Italian sausage — if using ground pork increase seasonings
1 cup onion — minced
4 tablespoons celery leaves — chopped
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup Italian parsley — minced
1/2 cup milk
2 whole eggs — beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes — or to taste
2 cloves garlic — minced
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese — grated

1. SAUCE: In a large pan heat olive oil and add onion. Partially cook, then add the garlic and cook just a few minutes. Add ground beef and sauté for 5-10 minutes until meat is no longer pink. Add the remaining ingredients for the sauce, heat almost to a boil and simmer for about 2 hours. During last 20 minutes add the meatballs and allow them to heat through.
2. MEATBALLS: Combine all of the meatball ingredients and form into small 1-inch balls, or smaller. Bake in a 350° oven for about 20 minutes. Pour off grease and add meatballs to the spaghetti sauce. Or, you can freeze the meatballs separately and add to the sauce before you serve it.
3. FOR FREEZING: Measure cups of the sauce into freezer bags, lay flat to get out all of the air bubbles and seal well. These are best if allowed to freeze on a flat surface (like a cookie sheet), then you can stack any number of them together in the freezer and they don’t get crunched (and stuck) together. Defrosted overnight, the sauce and meatballs will be ready for reheating and serving a quick meal.

A year ago: Grilled Caesar Salad, a how-to
Two years ago: How to Pick a Peach (a foodie book)
Three years ago: Cream of Tomato Soup (sometimes I just crave this soup it’s so good)

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