Tag: spaghetti

How Spaghetti Changed My Life

spaghetti singing

I know this is an odd post for the holidays but I am working on a personal essay for the BYU Studies contest and it is due Dec 31st.  I was wondering if any of you would be willing to read over my rough draft and offer me some guidance, editing.  Whatever you feel comfortable or have the time for would be great.  I can email you the .doc if you would like.  Just put your email in the comments section and I will send it your way.  Thank you in advance.

Most everyone has heard this story.  I have posted it in 2 different forms on this blog but this one is more personal and in depth than the 2 others.  I love it.  I think it is one of the best moments of my life.  I hope I have captured it even a little.

(and don’t worry I don’t love it too much to be unwilling to have it critiqued).

How Spaghetti Changed My Life

The stack on my desk seemed to be screaming with each piece of paper “Go home” and yet the existence of the stack meant I could not go home.  My boss Tanya had already read me the riot act about entering all the AP by the end of the day if you ‘can do something right’.

“I’m sorry.  I will try” I mumbled.  I had given up arguing with Tanya years before.  She was convinced I was an idiot along with most everyone else in the office.  If she had her druthers she would do everyone’s job because it would all finally be done right.

Normally I didn’t mind working late and doing the mind numbing work but today I had a reason I had to be out of there and the longer I stayed the more frustrated I felt.  It was like each invoice was a slap in the face.  I wanted to speed up but that would make for more mistakes so a slow well-done data entry was required.  Ugh….

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.  Every now and then I would look at a photo of me at graduation and the excitement on my face would both inspire and confuse me.  How had I ended up here? I wasnt supposed to be the girl with a stack of papers to enter and boss breathing down her neck, yet here I was

The truth is I looked around, interviewed and the only offer I had was to work in accounting for our corporate office.  It was the last thing I ever imagined I’d be doing, balancing books and entering AP but it was a job and in 2008 you took what was offered and felt grateful.

It was never a great fit, but I worked hard and gained many new responsibilities.  In fact, 2 people had quit and I had absorbed most of their work in addition to my own. This despite receiving little to no training and working with a manager who treated me like a bug she wished she could squash.

Somehow I had managed to last 2 years but each day I felt lower and more despondent about my life.  It seemed like madness to quit my job and dive into nothingness but the staying was like one of those Roadrunner cartoons and I’m Wyllie Coyote getting hit with the anvils of misery and depression.

Indeed, God had told me to make a change many times. Prayer after prayer I heard the words ‘make a change’, but I set it aside as impossible. Sometimes I would ask God ‘how?’  ‘How does a sane person quit their job that has benefits in a recession?  That’s nuts!’ but on the other end, ‘how does someone live life with a cloud surrounding their every movement, a cloud of stifled dreams and confusion that weighs you down until you  want to cry.

So on this day, like many others, I continued down the pile until all the AP entry was done.

“There!”  It was 6:30.  I had worked overtime again but I had done it and at least Tanya knew that my 10 key was insanely fast, faster than hers, so if that’s how long it took me that was the fastest it could be done.

Of course she didn’t praise my speed but offered me a curt goodbye.

Like a prisoner getting a pardon, I grabbed my bag and raced home.

You see there was particular urgency to get home tonight because I had a meal to prepare.  Most of the times I was too exhausted to cook, but when I did I loved to make a big to go of it.  There is nothing grander than the large pot of soup simmering for hours or a turkey with crispy skin on the outside but moist meat on the inside.  Yum! My roommates and I lived in the tiniest apartment in a basement with basically a bar-sized kitchen, but I could make masterpieces when given the encouragement.

Luckily such encouragement had come a few months before.  My ward did a service auction every year to raise money for sub 4 Santa.  It was something I had spearheaded many times, even in high school, and I would have liked to this year but I was too busy at work, especially in the busy holiday accounts and end of the year reconciling.  January, the month of my birthday, was even worse.  I thought about it with a shudder….

At the auction I didn’t know what to donate but I knew that many knew what a great cook I was so I offered up 3 meals of your choice made by Rachel Wagner.   The bidding started and it was pretty brisk than Darren came through with the win.  I must admit I groaned.  He was the last person I wanted to win. Not because he wasn’t a nice guy but he was so boring.  I had tried so many times to start up a discussion and nothing, no opinions or thoughts on anything!  It kind of made me nuts (and not a nuts you kind of like him nuts, just nuts!).

After the auction I met up with Darren and I asked him what meals he would like.

“Well, whatever.  I’m sure it will be great”

“No, it says your favorite 3 meals?” I pressed him further.

“I don’t really have a favorite”

“Ok.  Is there something you don’t like?” I asked

“Mustard.   I don’t like mustard”.  I was honestly proud of the boy.  An opinion had been shared for the first time in 2 years of our friendship.  The boy didn’t like mustard!  But that really doesn’t help me with my meal.

“Well, if you aren’t going to decide than I will.  I will make my favorite 3 meals without mustard, which is basically all my favorite meals!”

So he agreed and I made a couple of unmemorable if tasty meals and tonight was the coup de gras- my favorite food period: spaghetti and meatballs with homemade marinara sauce.

This was to be a meal never to be forgotten.  A sweet and spicy sauce with tender meatballs, spaghetti, parmesan cheese.  Perfect.

I had done all the shopping beforehand but by the time I got home I had an hour to make the entire meal.  My roommate doubted if I could pull it off and kindly said:

“Maybe we should just go out to eat”

“No! I’m tired of mediocre food.  I had promised this meal to myself (and Darren) and I was going to get it!”

“Ok.  Let’s help.  I’m mixing the meat and then we will be rolling meatballs.  Can you fill the pasta pot up with water and get started on the sauce?” I asked my roommate.

At this point my hands were submerged in meat.  Going against the grain I used pork, beef and Italian sausage (which I realize is pork but different).  Veal was out of my budget but the sausage has a bit of spice and tastes great.

I had learned that both dry and wet breadcrumbs are key to a moist meatball and a cookbook I read also suggested putting a tablespoon or two of water when you are mixing.  How can water not make something moist!

Eventually the meat mixture was done and I started rolling.  It was already 7 by then and I had just started. The sauce was bubbling and smelled great.   My phone kept ringing but as long as it wasn’t Darren I kept my head down and rolled as fast as I could.   Finally, after what seemed like forever it was done and the raw beauties sat out in front of me ready to go into my Dutch oven for browning.

The meat sizzled as it went into the hot oil and all the spice and fat smelled delicious.  I felt myself deeply breathing in the glorious aromas and my cloud of anxiety and depression went away for a few minutes.  I felt lightness and happiness I hadn’t felt in many months.

Unfortunately as I looked up the pasta water had boiled down to nothing and our kitchen looked like a sauna with the windows fogging up.  So I filled the pot again and literally waited for it to boil.  It really feels like it will never boil!

Eventually we had pasta cooking and I moved the meatballs into the sauce to cook together for a time.  Darren was there by now, and he was giving my roommate his normal annoying answers- poor girl.

I cooked with a form of devotion veering on madness.  This one thing in my life I would do perfectly right.  I was tired of screwing up all the time and having my boss remind me of each and every last time.  Goodness knows she’s totally ignorant of all that I do and how to do it so it’s easy to criticize me for my flaws.

I took a deep breath and said to myself ‘I need to not think about her the rest of the evening.  No more’

Easier said than done but I sat down in a dining room chair waiting for the meatballs to finish cooking.  I felt exhausted.  My whole body hurt.  My brain hurt.  I was ready to hibernate for months, preferably until summer.  I was totally spent.

Eventually the water bubbled up over the pan so I checked the pasta and it was al dente.  The meatballs were cooked all the way through and we had a light salad made on the side.   It was finally done and only 1 ½ hours late!

So we sat down my friends and I and said a prayer over the food and then dove in…

The spaghetti noodle rolled around my fork for a few minutes until it was about the size of the meatball.  I cut the meatball in half and it became the perfect bite.  As I feasted on all those flavors I tasted acid, sweet, earthy parmesan, hearty pasta.  The meatballs were light and full of flavor.  Everything was delicious and I said to myself:

“This is the best meal I have ever made and I feel sublimely happy. I feel like I could conquer the world!”

And then in one of those moments of clarity we all have in life, I looked up at my friends and said

“Why isn’t the rest of my life this good?”. The question hung in the air like the steam from the boiling water.

Indeed, why wasn’t the rest of my life as good as this amazing plate of pasta? I had every life advantage and there was no reason to be miserable all the time. It was a question I pondered on for many weeks.  Eventually I realized that I could either be keep being unhappy and have a true nervous breakdown (already had a panic attack so it was coming) or I could start having joyous experiences again. I could find things that make me as happy as that spaghetti.

So I quit. I quit and I’ve never looked back.  It was the best decision of my life and it was all from a bowl of spaghetti.

Cooking Lesson: Spaghetti and Meatballs

As many of you know my favorite food is spaghetti and meatballs.  I love it because of the carb-fest, the mix of flavors and a certain sentimental value.  When I was super down in life I made a spaghetti and meatballs and as odd as it might sound I had an ‘ah, ha’ moment about my life.  I recounted that experience in the chapter of my nanobook I entitled ‘The Spaghetti Incident’.  You can read about it here:


Basically I said to myself ‘why isn’t the rest of my life as good as this spaghetti’.  6 years later my life is close to as good as that spaghetti, which I am very grateful for.  Hopefully some day I will get all the way as good but a girl’s got to leave some room for dreaming. 🙂

Anyway, my friend and fellow bookclub buddy Rachel Bey asked if I could do one of my famous cooking lessons.  She didn’t know what she wanted to learn how to make and so I suggested making spaghetti and meatballs (if she doesn’t know why not make my favorite food).I think this is the 6th lesson I’ve done over the last year and a half or so and I really enjoy it.   Its fun to cook with friends, share talents and make delicious food all at the same time.  I’ve been thinking I may want to come up with a mini-cookbook and update it as I do more lessons.

I started this recipe with Ina Garten’s spaghetti and meatball recipe and then added my own flare (and yes to you Italian purists I put sugar in the sauce, so good).

spaghetti 5
Rachel making meatballs
spaghetti 4
Stirring the sauce. The water for the pasta for some reason took forever to boil.
spaghetti 1
A good meal, good friends. Happy day
spaghetti 3
Rachel liked it too.

Spaghetti and Meatballs (my recipe inspired by Ina Garten with a bunch of my additions)

For the meatballs:

1/2 pound ground Italian sausage (Ina calls for veal but who can afford that)
1/2 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs (4 slices pulsed to crumbs in food processor)
1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 extra-large egg, beaten

3/4 cup of water
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

For the sauce:

1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup chicken stock (Ina calls for wine but I don’t cook with that)
2(28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp sambal or other hot sauce
3 tbsp sugar
Italian seasoning

For serving:

1 1/2 pounds spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
Freshly grated Parmesan


Place the ground meats, both bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl. Mix all ingredients together with your hands or a spoon if you aren’t brave. Then lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. I like to put them on cookie sheets as I make them.

Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don’t crowd the meatballs. I then put them on a cookie sheet in the oven at 350 to keep warm and bake all the way through.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the chicken stock and cook on high heat deglazing the pan. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.  Once it heats through add hot sauce, sugar, Italian seasonings to taste.  Heat all the way through and then let simmer as long as you can

Put meatballs into sauce and let cook a few minutes together until spaghetti noodles are done (follow package instructions.  Our water took forever to boil).  I personally like to keep my pasta and sauce separate and then plate them together but if you like to mix them all up in one pot that is fine.  Top with parmesan cheese and a little basil or parsley.
The finished product.  So good!
The finished product. So good!


NaNoWriMo: The Spaghetti Incident

So I’ve been madly writing my book.  I knew that I would come out with a bang but I must say I’ve surprised even my own expectations.  Even though I started with my own story as a basis it has gone in some fun directions and I wanted to know what was going to happen as much as anyone else.  For the last 3 days I’ve written through until late at night, in my lunch break, while I’m watching TV, whatever.  By the end of the tonight I will be half done my book!!!!  I’m completely confident I will have it finished by the end of next week.  Crazy!  I’m not saying its the best book in the world but I like it.

I knew going into that certain scenes would be fun to write (and some would be painful to be frank).  I just completed one of my most anticipated chapters and it was such a satisfying experience.  I really felt like I relived one of the best moments of my life.  To read a different account of the actual incident read this post https://smilingldsgirl.wordpress.com/2010/12/09/dinner-parties-make-me-happy/

When I was struggling in 2007 I had an experience where I cooked homemade spaghetti and meatballs for my roommate and guy in my ward who had one the meal in a ‘service auction’ (auction where people donate services for money to give to a charitable project).  While I have made the incident more dramatic for the book and added some humor it is something I will never forget.

I was about 2 hours late in cooking the meal for my friends because my job had kept me late.  I was tired and frazzled but knew I needed to make this meal if it killed me.  By the time I finished I was tired and my whole body ached.  I sat and ate the most delicious meal of my life (spaghetti and meatballs has always been one of my favorite foods but this sealed that forever).  It tasted so good that it made me happy in a primal, basic way.  As I was eating the thought came into my head ‘why isn’t the rest of my life this good?’

Why indeed?  I’m proud to say I made a lot of changes, took chances and my life much happier now than it used to be.  I wish I could say I’ve figured it all out but I will always have that moment to look back on and ask myself the question ‘why isn’t the rest of my life this good?’.

I thought it would be fun to share this section of the book with you.  Its still in rough stage but I’d like to give you a feel for what I am working on.
Please no critiques just yet.   Just enjoy!

I’m hungry for spaghetti and meatballs!

Chapter 7

“I’ll figure it out but in the meantime I have meatballs to make” I say with conviction.

“Are you sure?”  she says “We could just go to Schultzy’s instead.  They will all get here any minute.  There is no time for a big production.”

She adds with caution “we could heat up the frozen lasagna I bought as a back up”.

“No.  I’m tired of mediocre food and I’ve set my heart on this recipe.  Plus, there is nothing that is going to get me to cook another meal for Roy.  I don’t care if we eat at midnight. I promised him your favorite, well my favorite, home cooked meal and Gosh darn it that’s what he will get”

She smiles and says “Well, tell me what to do”.

“You are the best”.  I get out the recipe card and start a big pot of salted water for the pasta, a cast iron skillet to brown the meatballs in oil, another pot for the sauce and turn the oven up to 400 degrees.    With Jamie’s help I’m sure we can pump this out quickly.  How long can it really take?  Sammy must have been exaggerating.

She wasn’t.  An hour came and left and we chopped all the vegetables and got the sauce started pretty easily; albeit slow simmering away with only two incidents of tomato burping all over the stove and into my hair.   I wanted to start the pasta but the darn meatballs were taking forever.   Sammy was right.  These were way more work than I bargained for.  From now on I would look at the spaghetti and meatballs on the menu at Schultzy’s in a whole new light.  Someone was rolling meatballs for their job and it was not easy.  (Actually that job didn’t sound so bad. At least you would get to eat something delicious at the end of it.  There I go again…)

Roy and Oliver arrived just as I was getting started with the meatballs and I sent Jamie off to entertain them (in my eyes she had the harder task entering into any sort of conversation with Roy but she didn’t seem to mind the one-ended chatting).  Oliver had offered to help but I demurely refused.  This was supposed to me my ‘fun night’ to give back to everyone else.  Not the other way around.

My arms felt tired from grabbing meat and rolling little balls (The card had said to make the meatballs small or they wouldn’t cook all the way through.)  It was slimy and the meat mixture looked so unappealing that it was hard to imagine anything good coming from the whole endeavor. Roll, roll, roll, if I never rolled another meatball it wouldn’t be too soon.  After what felt like hours, I had three cookie sheets full of meatballs and my whole body ached of meat.  No wonder they were so fit in Italy.  This was how they burned off all those carbs!

As I looked at my pretty balls I noticed a smell like a greasy vendor at the county fair.  “What is that? I said as I followed the smell”  To my shock,  the oil in my cast iron skillet is smoking and there is a small flame!

“Oh my gosh! “ I yell.   It smells awful and I begin to panic.  Without thinking  I dunk  the entire skillet into the sink and turn on the water.  This makes the pan go up in flames.  Terrified I run out of the room (never been much of a girl for intense situations like this!).

“Ahh! I scream and think about what items I want to grab before the whole house goes up in flames, dinner and all!  Should I call 911? I grab the phone while searching for an extinguisher or something.  The fire alarm goes off  (for once when it is supposed to) and the sound starts escalating until I can’t hear myself think.  “Crap, this is awful”.  My heart is beating fast and I feel like I’m going to swallow my tongue.  “I’m allowed to panic” I say to myself, “It is after all a fire in my house!”

Without missing a beat Oliver starts looking through the pantry and finds the box of banking soda and dumps it over the blaze.  The white powder creates a puff like one of those atomic bomb photos from the 40’s and the air tastes like the fizz in a new can of soda.  It takes a second to realize what has happened but when the powder dies I realize it has stifled the fire almost instantly and the sink is left with a skillet sizzling in a puddle of brown, foam and oil infused water.  It looks like some kind of chemical experiment gone awry, not dinner.

“Never put out a grease fire in water” he says with a voice of frustration and amazement.

I remember hearing that somewhere but in the heat of the moment and with my exhausted state of mind I had forgotten.   Still, somehow Oliver doesn’t seem annoyed but more concerned than anything else.  I feel less embarrassed than I probably should.   The feminist in me didn’t want to admit it but it was kind of nice to be the damsel in distress for once.

“That’s right.  Shoot.  Thank you for using your head. I’m sorry.” I take a look around the room and everyone’s rather stunned faces and wonder  if this night could get any worse?  I guess the house could have actually burned down.  “I’m sorry”  I say to the whole group and they all give a relieved ‘It’s ok’ in response.  Then I look dejectedly at my poor sad, raw, meatballs.  Maybe it was a lost cause?  Why does this meal matter so much to me? It was just food after all.

As if sensing my near abandonment of the project Oliver gives me a nudge and lets out a little chuckle.  Then Roy starts to laugh and Jamie and finally I get into a complete laughing fit.  For once wiping away a tear of laughter not pain, I resign myself to the giggles.   It’s almost hard for me to stand and my side aches from near hysterics.   I can’t think of when I laughed so hard. My soul feels bright and I look at Oliver, Jamie and then Roy and smile. Not my normal I’m surviving smile but a happiness smile.  They all look genuinely grateful to see me happy, even Roy.  What great unselfish friends.

“Maybe that is the magic of the meatballs?”  I smile and say a quick thank you to God for giving me a happy moment with such great people and for helping out with the whole fire thing…

I say to the whole group “Well, we could just have pasta and sauce without any meatballs? The skillet is going to take forever to cool down and then I’ll have to clean it or everything will taste like burned oil”

“That seems like such a shame when they are all ready. “says Jamie as she opens our windows and props the door open with a chair to air out the space.  Oliver has just turned off the smoke alarm using a damp dishrag.

“Wait I’ve got an idea” Jamie says and  jumps into the air and runs upstairs towards our neighbor Janna’s part of the house.  Knocking on the door they chat for a few minutes and she comes down with a beautiful, large iron skillet.  “I think this will do the job” she says with a smile “We will have meatballs after all”

“Jamie you’ve saved the day!”  I grab the skillet like it is my first born and put it over the burner.

“This time I will watch the oil like a hawk! I promise no more fires and at least I know how to put them out if they come”.  I say with a wink towards Oliver.  He smiles back.

In just a few minutes the oil gets to the right temperature (no fires) and I brown all of the meatballs on both sides.  Then into the oven they go for 20 more minutes.  Finally they simmer with the sauce for another 10 minutes (this must be why they call it Sunday sauce in Italy.  It’s the only day where you have time to slave in the kitchen this long!).  As they cook I finally put the spaghetti into a whole new pot of water (the previous one had completely cooked down until the pot was bare and the air filled with humidity).    It bubbles over for a second but I turn down the burner and it boils away.

At least I know how to get pasta made to a perfect al dente and no, I did not throw it against the wall like they do in the movies.  I simply looked at the package and took off a minute or two and it was perfect.  Pasta drained.  Salad prepared.  Meatballs perfect.  I set the food out on a beautiful table.  Never mind the baking soda kitchen and the giant splotches of spaghetti sauce in my hair and all over my apron or the lingering smell of burnt grease, to me it looked perfect.

We sat down and I looked at the clock 10:30. It was 10:30!  Every bone in my body ached and I was starving and completely drained but I had done it!  I felt sorry for my friends but also grateful that I had stuck through it and I think we all agreed this better be the best darn pasta ever eaten.   Heck, it better be the best meal ever eaten!

We sat down and thanked God for the food (Boy did I ever thank him) and we all chuckled a little bit when Jamie added ‘thank you Heavenly Father for not letting the house catch on fire”.   It was funny but true.  Then she added ‘thank you to Rachel for making this meal and bless her to find happiness in her life.  Amen”

“Amen” we all agreed enthusiastically and dove in.

On my plate I piled a huge swirl of pasta and ladled on my sauce getting 3 or 4 meatballs.  I didn’t even go for salad first.  Just my pasta and sauce creation with a heaping tablespoon of parmesean cheese.

“Oh my gosh” I said probably too loudly and with great gusto. “Can you guys believe this?  This is so good!  It’s like the best thing I have ever eaten without a doubt”.  I looked up and they nodded that they all liked it.

“It’s very yummy” Jamie said.

Oliver praised it as ‘the best pasta he’s had since New York City”.   Roy said ‘it was delicious’ but wouldn’t branch out enough to say it was his favorite.

While I appreciated their praise it didn’t seem to encapsulate the experience I was having.  My mouth had never tasted anything like this.  I felt like my whole body was saying thank you to something so delicious.  It was an experience not just a meal.

Normally I would just throw something together because cooking for one seems too hard and hardly worth all the trouble, but just like the rest of my life it never left me very fulfilled.  This felt fulfilling.  It’s like I was starving physically and emotionally and I didn’t even know it.  Eating the pasta was exciting, passionate, and worthwhile in a way I hadn’t experienced since teaching for Mr. Thomas years ago.  It made me want to sing and even though every muscle in my body ached I felt happy. Not a passing happiness but a happiness that means something.  That lets you know you are human.   All of the sudden the thought occurred to me “why isn’t the rest of my life this good?”

Indeed “why isn’t the rest of my life this good?”  The statement hung there like a tightrope walker on the verge of falling.  Don’t I have the right to be this happy and certainly over an experience more meaningful than a plate of food?   It was a moment of clarity for sure.  Something to think about for sure.  What did it all mean?  Creating this kind of happiness had to be new goal, but how?   How do people achieve happiness?  Real happiness like these meatballs.

Truth was I was too tired to get an answer tonight but I’d touched a nerve for sure.  Despite my haggard appearance and rocky road to the finish line I had done it.  I had finished my goal in spectacular fashion and life had taught me a mini lesson along the way.   I raised my glass of cider and proposed a toast to “good meals, great (and very patient) friends and little moments of sublime happiness”.

“Cheers” we all said as our glasses clanked together.   It had taken everything but I had a feeling this would go down as one of the best days of my life.  They really were magic meatballs…