Pasta Sauce, Book Club and the Wrexham Writing Workshop

Firstly, I have decided to revert to weekly blog posts. The monthly thing lasted six months, but it hasn't quite been as I had anticipated. So I'm changing it back.

Secondly, this post contains a recipe, a book review, and a bit about a writers workshop that I attended recently.

Pasta Sauce:

After a discussion about pasta sauces, I actually sat down and thought about what I use. Occasionally, I use a cream and white wine mix, with a few herbs. Sometimes, I simply cook the pasta in a chicken soup and leave it to stand for a minute once it's cooked so the soups thickens slightly and forms a sauce. More often than that, I use half a tub of cream cheese and add a teaspoon of pesto - this goes really well with gnocchi and chorizo which have been fried off.

However, my go to pasta sauce, is actually a base to most other sauces. We call it the hidden veg sauce. 

  • 1 tbsp of oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 leeks
  • 3 or 4 celery stalks
  • 2 carrots
  • (any other veg you need to use up)
  • 1 tin/packet of chopped/peeled tomatoes
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • Red wine (optional)
  • bay leaf
  • garlic
  • herbs (your choice)
I use cheap cooking oil. I quite like rapeseed oil for this, as it's the first thing in the pan and it's a bit of a waste of olive oil - save that for when you can taste the oil. Besides, according to Eat Well for Less on telly last week, rapeseed oil has a higher smoking point and is better for this kind of thing anyway. (Yay, vindicated!)

  1. Add the oil to a large saucepan on a medium heat.
  2. Add the onion (diced) and a bay leaf.
  3. As the onion starts to soften, add the garlic (I use about 1 tsp of garlic paste or 3 finely minced cloves, but add as much or as little as you prefer).
  4. Stir the garlic in and then add the leek and celery, sliced and diced.
  5. Add your herbs and spices... I usually add some oregano, some thyme, some basil, some ground cumin, a little cinnamon, and some coriander leaf. You can vary this based on whatever you have in, or what you prefer.
  6. Add the carrots (sliced).
  7. Add the tomato puree. This will be quite a thick mixture and you will have to keep stirring it to prevent burning. At this point I add a glug of red wine. This is entirely optional. If the mixture is looking likely to burn, add a dash of water.
  8. Stir it for about a minute, and then add the tomatoes.
  9. At this stage add any other veg you have to use up (if you don't have other veg to use up, you don't have to).
  10. Stir and allow the mixture to cook down to ensure that the veg is softening for around 10 minutes.
  11. Remove from the heat, and take the bay leaf out.
  12. **This bit is important** leave the mixture to cool for a few minutes. It doesn't alter the flavour, but it does prevent a trip to A&E!
  13. Blend/Blitz or generally pulverise the mixture. We (Ok, Beloved does this bit) put it in a jug and assault it with a hand blender.

And that's it.

When we did the batch in the pictures, we used half straight away. We fried off some meatballs, and boiled some fusilli.

We divided the sauce into two portions, and returned it to the heat (we used the same pan to save on washing up).

We then added the meatballs, and then the strained pasta, into the sauce, stirred it around a bit, and then served it with some grated cheese on top.

We left the other portion to cool, and used it the following day as the base of a Mexican chicken stew.

Firstly, I added half a teaspoon of chipotle sauce, put the sauce on the heat and added a small amount of water (really should measure these things, it was half a small glass if that helps). Then I added two raw chicken breasts (whole) into the sauce, and allow it to cook until the chicken is cooked.

Then, carefully remove the chicken from the sauce and shred it with two forks... Beloved did this bit, and I videoed him.

Return the shredded chicken to the pan, add chorizo if you like (we didn't this time, because we didn't have any left in, but we usually do). Heat it through and then serve with rice and/or cornbread, and some sour cream with chives and some grated cheese (we'd run out of ordinary cheese and used cheapo grated parmesan).

I apologise for having not wiped the plate, but it was a speedy supper, before the pub quiz, and I'm no Masterchef contestant!

Book Club

This month the group read was Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.

Confession time, although I have finished the book, I didn't finish it in time for the meeting (I know, I'm terrible).

Overall, its a good story, the blurb reads:
Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn't remember to drink it, She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Sometimes her home is unrecognisable - or her daughter Helen seems a total stranger.
But there's one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so, And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.
Because somewhere in Maud's damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. One everyone has forgotten about. 
Everyone, except Maud...
Exactly what the cause of Maud's memory loss is, is never disclosed, but I don't mind that. It avoids the cardinal sin of info-dumping. Maud seems only vaguely aware that she has any memory loss issues, and probably couldn't remember what was causing them, if she knew. The book is very much written from Maud's point of view, it's written in the third person, but we're privy to Maud's innermost thoughts.

The writing/narration reflects Maud's memory loss, and the story is almost a time slip between her current life, and her memories, which seem clearer.

It's harrowing. It's uncomfortable, it's distressing to read because it's a scarily realistic depiction of dementia, or a similar illness. Being written from Maud's point of view, puts the reader in the position of the owner of the lost memory. The fear, the not knowing, you're not just reading it, the writing makes you live it. 

It wasn't just me, there was almost universal agreement at book club that this was uncomfortable, the outcome predictable, but it was also good.

I couldn't read it non-stop, this book is not "un-put-down-able", in fact it's the opposite. I became distressed and purposefully put the book down a few times. I wanted to know the outcome. No, I needed to know the outcome, I was compelled to keep reading it. I just needed to keep taking breaks. I phoned my Nan. I read something else. I procrastinated so much I actually hit my step count on 3 consecutive days!

Would I recommend this one? Yes, I would, but be warned, as a vision of your own future, this is one of the scariest novels I've ever read.

Wrexham Writer's Group Open Day - Carnival of Words:

Back in April, you may remember that I blogged about attending the Romans to Readcoats event during the first Wrexham Carnival of Words. While I was there, I signed up to the email newsletter for the writing group that they were starting off the back of the event. 

Sadly, Wrexham is a bit far for a regular attendance, but I couldn't miss the opportunity to attend a writing workshop (with buffet lunch).

The Event schedule had a choice of two workshops in each of the two morning sessions, with another two workshops after lunch.

I didn't take photographs, but I did take notes. Lots and lots of notes.

I was a teensy bit cheeky, and I did wait until the end of Robert Low's workshop, and then invite him to our book club meeting... he kindly gave me his email address and I have since managed to arrange for him to come along next time, where we will have read the first of his Kingdom novels, The Lion Wakes. It's not until the 8th of November though... but watch this space!


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