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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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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