Month: February 2015

Spaghetti and Meatballs


I love spaghetti and meatballs, but I don’t love jarred spaghetti sauce, and I’m not big on frozen meatballs from the store. Obviously, not all frozen meatballs are awful and some jarred spaghetti sauce is better than others. Still, I prefer to make my own, mostly because it’s so easy. I’ve been making spaghetti sauce for years, but I only just started making meatballs. If I’d known how easy they were to make, I’d have been making my own all along.

I use this recipe for meatballs.

For the sauce, I use a modification of June’s sauce. Who is June? My friend Jill’s mom, of course. This is what I do. It varies from time to time, but this is the essential sauce.


28 oz. can of Diced Tomatoes (I’ve used fresh Roma tomatoes, but it’s a lot of work to do that)
14.5 oz. can of Diced Tomatoes
6 oz. can of Tomato Paste
1/2 an onion chopped (or whatever is left from another recipe)
2 cloves of garlic (or 3 or 4 if that’s what’s left in the bulb or more if you really like garlic)
1 c. red wine
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tbsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

I eyeball spices by pouring them in my hand. Rub dried spices in your hand to release oils. In the summertime, I use fresh tomatoes and fresh herbs, but that requires more of both, and a lot more time. If you’ve never made spaghetti sauce, use canned tomatoes and dried herbs the first time, because it’s easier, and it will give you an idea of what the sauce should be like when you make it with fresh ingredients.

In a 4 or 5 quart pot, heat the olive oil. When it’s hot, add the onions. When the onions are almost translucent, add the garlic. When the onions are translucent and the garlic is smelling good, stir in all the herbs and let them blend with the onions and garlic for a minute. Add all the tomatoes and the tomato paste. Break up the tomato paste with a spoon and stir to incorporate it into the diced tomatoes. When it’s incorporated, let the tomatoes simmer for a few minutes. Add the sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer a few more minutes and add the wine. The longer you let the sauce simmer the more the tomatoes will breakdown and the more the sauce will look like what you buy in a jar. You might have to add more wine. You might want to add more sugar or less or none at all. I like the sugar, because it takes away any bitterness in the tomatoes. Taste the sauce. Adjust the spices to your liking. If it cooks down too much and is getting too thick, add wine. How you like the tomatoes determines cooking time. The whole thing can be done in half an hour or three hours. I like the tomatoes to still be in pieces just starting to breakdown, which takes about 30-40 minutes. Have a lovely glass of wine while you wait. Share if you want to. If you’re using fresh tomatoes, you have to blanch them and remove the skins first, then deseed them. The sauce takes much longer to cook with fresh ingredients. I’m mostly lazy and impatient, so I like it done fast.

This makes enough sauce for a pound of spaghetti noodles. I don’t make noodles. I just buy them in a box. I’ve made noodles and it’s not for me. Fair disclosure, there is nothing Italian about me (or June for that matter), so I’m not claiming this sauce is authentic in anyway.

Spaghetti Sauce
Spaghetti Sauce

Coffee of the Month Club: Peruvian

Trager Brothers Peruvian Organic Coffee
Trager Brothers Peruvian Organic Coffee

The second bag of our Christmas gift from Jen arrived this week. Once again Trager Brothers did not disappoint. This month’s offering was Peruvian Organic. The aroma upon opening the bag was refreshing on its own. Once I started running the coffee through the grinder, the aroma really kicked in as the beans released their oils. Recently roasted, it bloomed beautifully the moment I added water. That’s one of the joys of drinking freshly roasted coffee. Just wet the grounds slightly and watch the coffee rise in a fluffy pillow of joy. So what did I think? Nicely done. The Peruvian produced a nice cup of coffee with a slightly sweet taste and a smooth finish, so there is no need for milk or sugar. Trager Brothers roasted the beans slightly darker than I’m used to with Peruvian beans, but they did a good job of it. I’ve come to learn that different roasters have their quirks. Trager Brothers lean toward dark. Catoctin Coffee leans light, which is the way I’d lean if I was a coffee roaster. Why? Because the lighter the roast, the more caffeine, and I’m all about more caffeine (at least until noon). Then you have Lexington Coffee Roasters, which as far as I can tell, are perfect.

But I digress. Trager Brothers makes a solid product and this Peruvian Organic is another fine example. If you haven’t treated yourself to freshly roasted coffee, you should do so immediately. Trager Brothers is a good place to start, especially if you’re anywhere near Charlottesville, Virginia. You can sample their wares at Higher Grounds. If you aren’t local, you can always order online at the link above.

Rules for Writing

Rules for Writing
Rules for Writing

Robert Heinlein famously had six rules for writing. I used to have them framed in my office, but after a conversation with my nephew, I realized I now have my own rules. I have ten.

Rules for Writing

• Fingers-on-keyboard is the only way writing happens.

• Inspiration is nice. A high daily word count is nicer.

• Writing is challenging, not hard. Digging ditches is hard.

• Don’t start revisions until the first draft is finished.

• Laziness is the biggest hurdle.

• Get feedback. Everyone needs help.

• Revisions are not as fun as first drafts. Suck it up.

• Finish.

• Marketing is part of it. Stop whining.

• Start the next story.

Savory Pies

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

A few years ago I went to Scotland with my friends Heather and Kristin. Heather was there to speak at a conference on the European Union. Kristin and I were just there for a good time. While we were in Edinburgh, I had a cheese and onion pie that was profoundly delicious. Sadly, I ate it late in the week, so I couldn’t insist we go back there every day for lunch. Probably this was a good thing for Heather and Kristin.

Fast forward several years. My nephew lives with us. He’s also awesome, because he sometimes makes dinner, and he also loves savory pies. I tell him about the joy of the cheese and onion pie in Edinburgh and he says he’d like to try to make it. I look online for something that sounds good and find this recipe. It doesn’t taste exactly like the pie in Scotland, but it’s really good.

The first time he made it, he didn’t make the crust, but he followed the recipe for the filling exactly and it was good.

Last night he made it again. We didn’t have a pie crust ready for the top, so he substituted puff pastry, and we didn’t have heavy cream, so he substituted sour cream. It was AMAZING! This is a perfect winter meal and goes wonderfully with a simple salad. If you have the time to make the crust, let me know how that goes, but the puff pastry top was delicious.

Organizing as Coping

Japanese Maples
These reddish twigs are apparently Japanese maples that forced their way from under a pile of wood and bricks. Cool.

As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, my father has liver cancer. The most recent news was not as good as we’d hoped, but not any more dire than the initial diagnosis. He still feels pretty good right now, so that’s what matters. Basically, it’s a lot more waiting and watching, and not a lot of being able to do anything about it.

Here’s a news flash: I’m not good at any of that. I much prefer an action item. Absent one, I tend to invent them. So today my nephew and I rearranged the basement while my husband ran screaming into the woods. (or to go play D&D, I forget which) Having been married to me for many years, my husband can sense a frustration fueled organizational frenzy from miles away. Like a meerkat, he can pop up from his car, sniff the air, and quickly drive away again. I didn’t marry a fool.

My nephew, I think, may be a bit more like me. I think he appreciated what was happening in the basement. After all, his grandfather is my father, so we’re going through some of the same feelings. I also think he may tend toward control-your-environment coping, because after helping me sort out the basement, he went into the yard and began clearing out stuff and loading yard debris into the back of the truck. It’s a beautiful day, probably the nicest one we’ll have for a while, and pulling vines and breaking up old fencing is probably more than a little therapeutic.

In the midst of all that mess, my nephew found two Japanese maples that had taken root. He disentangled them from some old lattice work, and moved some rotting firewood away from them. After a few hours, they were already starting to straighten up. Silver linings. Take them where you can get them.

Super Bowl


I like the casual enjoyment of the Super Bowl when my team isn’t playing. There is so much pressure when I really care about the outcome, but this year, not so much. I’m a fan of Washington (I wish they’d change their name), so it’s been a while since I really cared who won the Super Bowl. This year has it’s own interesting twist with accusations of the Patriots cheating. Regardless of how you feel about the New England Patriots, this article is interesting.

So my question is, how closely will the NFL be looking at the footballs in tonights game? My guess is, pretty damn close. Generally, when my team isn’t involved, I cheer for the team that is geographically closest to me. Tonight, I will be breaking that tradition. Other than that, the Super Bowl is a great opportunity to get together with friends and eat snacks. It’s all good. Go Seahawks!

*Image made by Idea go courtesy of Free Digital Photos.