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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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.


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.

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
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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