Italian Meat Sauce

Cook date: November 7, 2018

A few weeks ago we belatedly – by four months – celebrated our friends’ birthdays. We had planned to go to Bernie’s Southern Bistro that serves served a great plate of fried chicken. But since we were there last spring it had closed. As a backup we found Ciao Vito a great little Italian place over in Northeast Portland. Jay and I had the Bolognese which was fantastic. It put me mind to cook some up. 

Years ago I made some Bolognese sauce from a Cook’s Country or Cook’s Illustrated recipe but I couldn’t find my blog post on it. The recipes I found looked delicious but were very involved;  I didn’t have time to cook something that complex on the day we asked friends over.

Dad Cooks Dinner and my pressure cooker to the rescue. He has a recipe for a quick Italian Meat Sauce prepared in a pressure cooker. Given the time I had and knowing Mike Vrobel’s recipes are tasty I went for it.

Simple set of Ingredients for the meat sauce.

It only takes a few minutes to prepare the traditional trio of vegetables for the base.

Onion, celery, and a carrot ready to be sautéd.

The recipe calls for hot and mild Italian sausage links to be broken up. Like I said, I was in a hurry, so I just got some bulk sausage from the meat counter. I think this was a mistake – which I’ll talk about later.

Everything in place for the meat sauce.

Step 1 is to sauté the vegetables along with the aromatics and some salt in olive oil. Then we stir in the wine and scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Cook the sausage until the pink just goes away – we don’t want to fully cook it at this stage.

Italian sausage and vegetables ready for the wet ingredients

Stir in the – preferably homemade – chicken stock and tomatoes and pressure cook then allow the pressure to come down naturally.

It was time to pay attention to the pasta. Back when it was on the air, I was devoted to Alton Brown’s show Good Eats. My first real cooking experience was smoking pulled pork using a hot plate and a couple of terra cotta pots. Alton is getting ready to produce some new episodes of the show; in the meantime he has a few episodes of Good Eats: Reloaded, where he runs an old episode then cuts in with new information and better ways. 

I just happened across this show one night when the subject was cooking pasta. In the original episode he cooked it the “normal” way adding dry pasta to a large pot of boiling water. Then he interrupted to tell us “Wait there is a better way”: put the pasta in cold water and bring it to a boil.WHAT!? That’s crazy. What the heck let’s give it a try.

Dry pasta in a pan ready to be covered in cold water for cooking.

The method is to cover with cold water an inch or two over the top of the pasta. Salt well, bring to a boil then simmer. Check a couple of minutes short of the time called for on the box. Then, don’t pour it all through a colander, instead pull the pasta out of the pot into the serving dish saving the starchy water to thicken your sauce if needed.

This method worked well – it certainly cooks faster because you don’t have to boil nearly as much water. But it’s a bit tricky to get the timing down. Normally, I get my pot of water going early and keep it just under a simmer while we prepare everything else. Then it’s quick work to turn up the heat to get a rolling boil. With the new method you need to guesstimate how long it will take to cook the pasta from start to finish. 

It tasted good – but not worlds better than the traditional method. If you do use some of the starchy water to adjust your sauce this method is the way to go.

Back to the sauce.  Release the pressure, carefully remove the lid and season to taste. I freaked out a bit at this stage; there was a lot of grease on top. I think this is because the bulk sausage was so fatty. Well, we can work around that with a slotted spoon. I took a cup of the sauce and tossed it with the pasta. 

Pasta tossed with 1 cup of sauce.

We then portioned it out into pasta bowls and topped each bowl with more sauce and some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Dinner is served. Our guests enjoyed it. Karen brought garlic bread to round out the meal. Good stuff.

Dinner is served. Pasta with meat sauce

It was quite nice but I had to work around all that fat on top. I think next time I’ll use the large link Italian Sausage which I bet has less fat. And maybe cook it the day before, refrigerate overnight, and skim off the excess fat before reheating. Spaghetti sauce always tastes better the next day anyway, right?

RATING: ★★★   I think this can move up to four stars by making the adjustments I discussed above. It’s fast and simple. Take a look at the recipe on Dad Cooks Dinner.

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Tangled Up in Blue

A very serendipitous thing happened when I was reading the Joni Mitchell biography Reckless Daughter. About midway through the book there is a discussion of Bob Dylan’s album “Blood on the Tracks”. Dylan said in a 1978 interview

“he was inspired to write his much celebrated ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ after spending a weekend listening to Blue – not just the title track but the whole album. “

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe – page 199.

Joni loved the early recording of Blood on the Tracks which was played at a party at her house. She felt that Bob was “fully vulnerable” [Yaffe p 199]. But either because people said “‘Oh, it’s like a Joni Mitchell album'” [Yaffe p 200] or his own reasons, he completely recut the album in Minnesota before release. Joni felt

He took the vulnerability out of it, and in the process took the depth out. The New York sessions were touching. The Minnesota sessions were not touching at all.

Yaffe: Reckless Daughter. p 201

The originally released album is excellent but I was intrigued – how different were the original versions? Yaffe said it’s not too hard to find the earlier tracks. Then, within hours of finishing this chapter I learned that a new official bootleg – More Blood, More Tracks –of those earlier sessions was being released. Of course I listened.

The biggest and I think best example of the difference from the original and the released tracks is You’re A Big Girl Now.”  The originally released version is nice, but take 2 of the  original version is haunting – you can really feel his pain when he is “singing through these tears”  

I just can’t stop playing and singing this song. I was singing it – poorly – under my breath as Carla and I were walking around Portland yesterday. Take a listen on Youtube and see what you think. (You’ll probably have to sit through an ad. Hang in there)

I can’t find a usable version of the Blood on the Tracks version on Youtube so I’ll leave it to you to find it on your favorite music streaming service, Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, whatever.

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Reading: Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell

Image from Amazon

Title: Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell

Author: David Yaffe
Type: Biography
Finished: November 5, 2018
Rating: ★★★★

 

 

 

 

 

Joni Mitchell. Oh WOW. She’s been one of my favorite singer songwriters for so long. Her string of albums “Blue”, “For The Roses”, and “Court and Spark” are amazing. If you haven’t listened to Jon much – or at all – I urge you to play these three albums, sit back and be moved.

Her love songs spring from her loneliness. “Rolling Stone raved, ‘Love’s tension is Joni Mitchell’s medium…’”[p 163]

“Trevor Horn … once told BBC’s Radio 4 that ‘People’s Parties’ was the song he’d most like to pass down to his children. He said he’d considered ‘citing Bob Dylan as an example of lyrical excellence and Debussy as a master of melody, but then realized Joni Mitchell did both at once. Court and Spark,’ Horn declared, ‘will stand up in two hundred years’ time…” [p 180]

Naturally, when I heard about this biography I put it at the top of my reading queue. Sometimes it’s not good to learn too much about your heros. This unflinching telling of her life shows what a hard person she is. Before you complain that I’m judging a woman by harsher standards than men, know that she throws shade on everyone in her life. Everyone she worked with or had relationships with came up wanting. To her credit, she was able to work with people after breakups but she disparages almost everyone. Graham Nash is the least scathed.

As we read about her life we understand where this toughness came from. “Joni sized up her parents and found them wanting.” [p 6]. She had nightmares as a child about her father driving recklessly; then she discovered it was actually a real event. “For Joni, it was a powerful affirmation of her childhood suspicion that she was being raised by adults who were not up to the task.” [p 7]  This was later burned in when she had polio and was left on her own in the hospital. Even though it was common for parents not to visit children in the polio wards it scarred her. Thankfully, she recovered to a large extent so it’s little wonder she became self-sufficient.

“It is not hard to imagine why Joni, in her professional career, would time and time again defer to her own instincts. Her fortitude and endurance proved more reliable than her best advisers. Others would underestimate her, but she would not  underestimate herself.” [p 21]

The biography excellently ties together Joni’s life and how her circumstances through the years affected her music. Because polio weakened her hands she couldn’t play guitar chords the standard way.

“Her left had, weakened by polio, is just a single finger running up and down her guitar’s neck. Joni leaves all the work to her right hand, which builds polychords with her open tunings.” [p 172]

There is a picture on the internet of Eric Clapton sitting down in front of Joni watching in amazement at how she gets her rich sounds.

Joni followed her muse which took her away from the popular music space for years. She collaborated with the jazz bassist Charles Mingus in his final year. She steered the focus of the album from Mingus music to her interpretation. She needed musicians who were supportive and it was sometimes difficult to find jazz players who would be content to backing her up.

“Charles Mingus had famously called her a ‘nervy broad,’ and it was perhaps in how she led her bands that Joni showed her steeliness most. ‘Because of my wordiness, I am first responsible to my words,’ she explained later on. ‘So when I play with a band, I have to be the leader. Well, the words have to be the leader. And if there’s any room for anyone to get in, well good luck.” [p 282]

I followed Joni through “Hissing of Summer Lawns” (1975) and “Hejira” (1976). But her muse was taking her somewhere I didn’t follow. It’s an artist’s job to follow her inspiration, not the market.

And of course along the way we are treated to the gossipy side of her life – who her lovers were – Leonard Cohen, James Taylor and Jackson Browne among them – and her mostly one sided feud with Joan Baez. Plus it’s fun to read about all the influences she had on others. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin adored Joni’s work and their “Going to California” is a love song to her.

“Jimmy Page would tell a reporter, ‘That’s the music that I play at home all the time, Joni Mitchell. Court and spark I love because I’d always hope that she’d work with a ban But the main thing with Joni is that she’s able to look at something that’s happened to her, draw back and crystallize the whole situation, then write about it. She brings tears to my eyes, what more can I say? It’s bloody eerie.’” [p 187]

And, “[Jackson] Browne never denied that he wrote ‘Fountain of Sorrow’ for Joni.” [p 344]

At times David Yaffe gets a bit too cute in his storytelling. As when he links her childhood “chasing white lace. More recently, she has been chasing white powder.” [p 235]

As I read this I’d get critical of her; but then I  listen to her songs. It’s all about the songs. As Trevor Horn said, Joni Mitchell is one of – if not the – greatest songwriter of my generation.

Seriously, if you aren’t familiar with her work or don’t want to invest in the time to read this biography, sit down and listen to “Blue”, “For The Roses”, and “Court and Spark”. And don’t be surprised if – like Jimmy Page – you shed a few tears. Still too much effort? Listen to “Blue”. Now.

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General Motors EMD F7

Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad’s General Motors EMD F7

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Trip to Manzanita

Visit Dates: November 2-4, 2018

I’m not sure how this blog post will look; I’m using the new WordPress editor. So please bear with me.

I grew up in Southern California where you go to the “beach” for a day or weekend. For the past many, many years I’ve lived in Oregon where you go to the “coast”.  One word – big difference. On the northern Oregon coast you don’t go sit on the sand and frolic all day in the waves – the water is much too cold for that – even on the hottest day. No, in Oregon you go to a little seaside town, visit shops and walk along the sand – most likely wearing a heavy jacket – and maybe, just maybe, dipping your toes in the water for a moment. The Oregon coast has its charms; but even though I’ve lived in Oregon two or three times as long as I did in California I have to do a little reset when we visit.

Nevertheless, the coast is a great place to spend a cozy weekend in the Fall or Winter; or when it is beastly hot in Portland, then it’s great to get out to our natural air conditioner.

So you see I have a complicated relationship with the coast. This isn’t to say I don’t like it; it’s just different from what I grew up with. Now, my DIL, Sarah, adores the coast (she grew up in Oregon) – and I adore Sarah, so we try to get over there a couple of times a year to rent a place for a weekend with her and our son Jeff.  

We spent the first weekend in November down in Manzanita.  Unfortunately Sarah got sick; because she was leaving for a business trip early Monday she needed to stay home and rest. But Jeff came down. We both brought our guitars and strummed together a bit. 

The house we rented was off Ocean Blvd on the north end of town. We got a great view of the cloud shrouded Neahkahnie mountain.

Looking north from Manzanita to Neahkahnie Mountain
Looking north from Manzanita to Neahkahnie Mountain

As I said, coast towns have their quaint charm. Most of the homes have some sort of nautical theme. Since it wasn’t rainy we were able to walk the mile or so from our house to downtown Manzanita to enjoy the sites. We passed this house whose shape is great for water side. Is it a house boat? Or a boat house?

Houseboat? Manzanita, Oregon

We walked up and down the main street Laneda Avenue. Tucked away off the stree we found this decorated back yard fence.

Manzanita, OR

We enjoyed window shopping at this store…

Shop – Downtown Manzanita, Oregon

After breakfast Sunday morning Jeff wanted to get home to Sarah but Carla and I had extra time so we took the longer way home.Instead of heading north on US 101 up to US 26 – the Sunset Highway – to get home, we headed south toward Tillamook so we could drive up the Wilson River highway. 

As we drove south toward Wheeler, I couldn’t believe my eyes! Was that a train headlight I saw?  We quickly pulled off to the side of the road. The Tillamook Railroad used to run from the coast over to Portland but a big mud slide about a decade ago covered the tracks shutting down most revenue service. So I had no idea what was coming.

I was delighted to see the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad was in operation. And I was doubly delighted to see the tourist train led by a General Motors EMD F7!

Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad’s General Motors EMD F7 – Near Wheeler, Oregon

This is the kind of locomotive -albeit in a different paint scheme -that got me hooked on train watching as a boy when I’d watch the Santa Fe Super Chief and El Capitan passenger trains stop in Winslow, Arizona for refueling.

We pulled into a little parking area in Wheeler to walk down to the Nehalem River and take in the other bank.

Looking across the Nehalem River. Wheeler, Oregon

We continued on down to Tillamook and stopped at the Tillamook Creamery. We hadn’t been there in years and it’s undergone a huge renovation since our last visit. It’s hugely popular, with a large crowd on a random November Sunday. It must be nuts in the summer.

There is a large viewing platform where you can walk along looking down at the various stages of cheese processing. And ice cream! Such good ice cream! We each got a cone and since it was a pleasant day we sat outside to lick them away.

We made our way back out to the car and headed down to the intersection with Oregon Highway 6. The Wilson River highway was a pleasant drive – a nice change from our usual route into Seaside up north. But we made the mistake of turning off into Forest Grove and taking the city streets through Cornelius, Hillsboro, and Aloha. We hit lots of traffic and got every red light along the way. We were happy to be home.

 Despite all my grousing about the Oregon coast we all had a great time although we missed Sarah.

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Reading: The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

Image by Amazon

Image by Amazon


Title: The Accidental Tourist

Author: Anny Tyler
Type: Fiction
Finished: September 27, 2018
Rating: ★★★★★

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Tyler is the real meal deal. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons and was a runner up with this novel – losing to “Lonesome Dove”. She was also a runner up with “Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant”; losing to The “Color Purple.”  It took two legendary novels to keep her off the winners podium.

I read this novel after finishing her “Clock Dance” and was struck by the similarities in the two stories. In both the protagonists are drifting through life following a traumatic death. They are then jolted into the current world and are eventually faced with the decision to go back to their old life or move on with the new.

As the story opens Macon and his wife Sarah are returning from a vacation a couple of years after their son died. “They might have been returning from two entirely different trips.” [p 1].  Sarah is exasperated by the ultra-organized Macon and decides to leave him. Sarah doesn’t want to get caught up in Macon’s way of life. “You’re so quick to be sensible, Macon, that you’ve given up on just about everything.” [p 161]

And she is right, Macon organizes everything in an attempt to get some space between himself and his life.

In some odd way, he was locked inside the standoffish self he’d assumed when he and she first met. He was frozen there. It was like that old warning of his grandmother’s: Don’t cross your eyes, they might get stuck that way.” [p 59]

In “Clock Dance” Willa is jolted from her life by the shooting of one of her sons’ ex-girlfriends. Here, Macon breaks his leg which leads him to getting help training his dog. Interestingly, Daisy in “Clock Dance” has a leg injury that precipitates the central change. The hobbled legs are symbols of the inability to move forward.

In this case, Macon is caught up in the hurricane that is Muriel who takes on the job of training Macon’s dog. She is everything that Macon is not; the relationship puts Macon on a different course:

Then he knew that what mattered was the pattern of her life; that although he did not love her he loved the surprise of her, and also the surprise of himself when he was with her. [p 242]

The Macon at the beginning of the novel would never love the surprises that Muriel brings. Eventually, Sarah returns to Macon forcing him to make a choice – something he has spent his adult life avoiding.

He couldn’t think of a single major act he had managed of his own accord. Was it too late to begin? Was there any way he could learn to do things differently? [p 402]

That is Macon’s big question; is his fate due to entropy or purpose? Well, you’ll have to read it to find that out.

If you’ve read any of my other fiction book reports you know I’m a fan of similes – and this book has some gems.

  • On his cast “The hardest blow felt like a knock on the wall from a neighboring room.” [p 68]
  • “The urge to sleep was like a great black cannonball rolling around inside his skull, making his head heavy and droopy.” [p 72]
  • “The sky was bright but flat, the color of oyster shells.” [p 304]

Finally, I found this passage – in a book written over 30 years ago – speaking to me about our current situation.

“It’s just free speech, that’s all we’ve got. We can say whatever we like, then the government goes on and does exactly what it pleases. You call that democracy? It’s like we’re on a ship, headed someplace terrible, and somebody else is steering and the passengers can’t jump off” [p 208]

 

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Western U.S. Loop: The Oregon Trail

Travel Dates: October 4 & 5, 2018

It’s just under 454 miles (724 kilometers) from Tom and Nancy’s house to home. So coming or going we are usually in a hurry – either to get out of Oregon or to get back home again. But every time we drop into the valley where Baker City is we say “It’s beautiful here; we really ought to stop sometime.”  Also, the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is just out of town so it was only a matter of time before we stopped. And this was the time. It’s only a couple of hours outside of Boise meaning we’d have plenty of time to look around town and hike around the Oregon  Trail site.

The mid 19th century was the time of western expansion in the United States. The “official” starting point of the Oregon Trail  was Missouri and it ended in Oregon City – which is about 30 miles south east of where we live. But in reality there were dozens of trails. The Oregon Trail and its related routes carried hundreds of thousands of settlers from the east out west. The eastern part of the trail also carried travelers destined for California. In Oregon we like to joke that at the cut off point there was a rock painted gold with an arrow pointing south toward the gold rush fields of California and a sign that read “Oregon” pointed to the north. The people who could read went to Oregon.  (I grew up in California so I can tell that joke).

The most infamous travelers to California were the Donner family. They didn’t listen to the practical advice to “hurry along and don’t take no shortcuts”. Nevertheless, Lansford Hastings convinced them to take a detour through the Sierra Nevada mountains. They got caught in winter snow and had to resort to cannibalism for the lucky (?) few to survive the winter.

The Donner Party was but a small part of the death on the Oregon Trail. The trip was not for the faint of heart. Ten percent of the people who set out on the trail died before reaching their intended destination. That is the equivalent of a grave every 80 yards (73 meters) from Missouri to the west!  Contrary to popular belief very few people died as a result of battles with the Native Americans whose land they crossed. Most deaths were accidents – falls, drownings, and such.

The Interpretive Center is north of Baker City at the spot that used to be called – if memory serves –  Flagstaff because a large lone tree on a hill marked the way for the travelers. After arriving at the Center we walked through some wagon replicas.

Replica wagons at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon. (Photo credit: Carla)

Replica wagons at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon. (Photo credit: Carla)

Replica wagon at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon.

Replica wagon at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon.

The museum part of the Interpretive Center was excellent. We wound our way along the exhibits following the diary of one of the families. We got an eye-opening recounting of the rigors of the trail.

There was a group of elementary school kids getting a tour just ahead of us. They were gathered around one of the docents who passed around an object. As we passed we heard the docent say “Don’t put that in your mouth!”  We chuckled – Kids! It gave Linda a refreshed appreciation for being retired.

Out back of the museum is a long winding hiking trail that provided a nice overview of the area. In the next pictures you can get an idea of the beautiful valley Baker City is situated in.

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon

Baker City is in a beautiful valley; but valleys mean mountains – as you can see in the pictures above –  and one of the biggest obstacles of the Oregon Trail was just a few days before them: The Blue Mountains. There is no easy way down the Blue Mountains – even driving down the steep grades today is daunting. Many had to take the wagons apart to lower them down the mountain and reassemble them down below.

As usual,  Carla and Linda jumped out in front while I dawdled behind. Look at that tiny little wagon in the middle of the picture. Can you imagine just how alone and overwhelmed you might be in that vast openness?

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon

You can probably tell from the pictures it was getting cold up at that elevation. We definitely ran out of summer on the trip gine. But we took time to commemorate our visit with some pictures.

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon

Carla and Linda hiking at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon

Carla and Howard on the trail at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Baker City, Oregon (Photo Credit: Linda)

It was getting near to evening and the Interpretive Center was getting ready to close – they started their winter hours a few days before on October 1. On the way back to Baker City, near the entrance to the Interpretive Center, is a turnoff where you can still see a set of wagon ruts – over 150 years old!

Original Wagon Ruts on the Oregon Trail

Original Wagon Ruts on the Oregon Trail. Baker City, Oregon

These wagon tracks evoked some strong emotions. It seemed to tie us together with the original settlers from the 19th century and gave us some small idea of what the trail was like.

When preparing for the trip last summer, Carla and Linda got us reservations at the old Geiser Grand Hotel. We had cocktails in the bar and then a lovely dinner. Apparently the hotel is haunted; but the ghost(s) seem to stay on the third floor. Our rooms were on the second floor and we weren’t bothered.

The Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City, Oregon.

The Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City, Oregon.

In the morning the temperature was well below freezing and the car windshield was encased in ice. No worries we could wait until things warmed up a bit. We walked down the street to the Lone Pine Cafe where we had a fantastic lunch the day before – I had spicy mac and cheese. Among other things I had a delicious cinnamon roll for breakfast.

IMG_0420

Although Baker City is far from just about everywhere – except Boise which is only two hours away – I highly recommend a visit. The Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is stunning and the scenery fantastic. And, the Union Pacific Railroad rolls through part of town. You can tell how much I enjoyed our adventure that I didn’t hang around track side for train pictures. Yet another reason for a follow up visit.

After breakfast we got on the road and drove through the Blue Mountains, down to the Columbia River and through the Columbia Gorge to home. When I checked the odometer as we pulled into the garage I discovered we had driven 3,574.3 miles on our 15 day trip I’ll save you from doing the math; that’s and average of 238 miles per day. But averages lie: we didn’t travel every day. Like I’ve always said if you put your feet in the fire and your head on a block of ice, on average you are pretty comfortable.

 

 

 

 

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