My Nana’s Sauce with Meatballs

The finished product. I can’t wait for dinner.

When we moved to our house 25 years ago, we started a garden the first spring we lived there and every year after that for about 10 years. However, as the kids got older and began to become involved in spring sports, we stopped planting a garden because we didn’t have the time. About five, maybe six years ago, we started planting one again. The kids were older, had an interest, and enjoyed helping us. That said, every year since we started gardening again, my husband bought far too many tomato plants, so we had a ton of tomatoes. As a result, beginning annually in August I made my Nana’s spaghetti sauce in gallons. Two years ago I didn’t because I was recovering from a craniotomy, but all the other years I did.

In years past, usually around Labor Day weekend, Jeff and I had a “sauce-off.” We each made a batch of sauce, because we have that many tomatoes, and then invited friends over to pick a winner. Last year, Jeff won. Two years before that, I won. This year would be the rubber match, so I’ll let you know if we decide to have our sauce-off. We may not do it though because we kept Jeff under control this year and only let him plant six tomato plants. Last year we ate so much sauce, Maddy had non-stop canker sores in her mouth until Thanksgiving.

Anyway, for those who would like to try and make my sauce and meatballs, I will try to give you the recipe here. My sister Lynda taught me how to make both the sauce and meatballs eons ago and neither of us wrote it down; it’s just in our heads. But, here you go.

Ahead of time you will need to buy three pounds of beef, pork, or whatever meat you’d like to make meatballs with. Two cans of seasoned tomato sauce, (I always use canned sauce to fortify my recipe), one small can of tomato paste, one large sweet onion, one large white onion, green pepper, orange and/or red pepper, fresh basil, and any other seasoning I mention that you don’t have.

To remove the skins, I take the stems off with my little Pampered Chef tomato corer, then I boil them in small batches in a small sauce pan for about two minutes. Usually, I’ll see the skins lifting from the top of the fruit where the stem was, and then I take them from the water. I put them in a colander in the sink and keep the process going until they’re all ready to peel. Keep the tomato water; you’ll need it later.

Before I begin taking off the skins, I’ll dice up the peppers, onions, and basil and have them waiting. When I began the small pot of water boiling for the tomato skins, in the large pot for the sauce I drop half the fresh cut basil, peppers, onions, and begin to sweat them; I add some olive oil to this and keep sautéing it on medium while I’m skinning the tomatoes. The mixture should gently cook.

When the mix in the sauce pot is ready, the onions will be translucent, I add the two 16oz cans of tomato sauce, the can of paste, and season with half of the remaining fresh chopped basil, onions, and green peppers. I also add, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, oregano, and Italian seasoning. Stir. Then I peel, seed, and chop my tomatoes. The seeds come out of the Roma tomatoes pretty easy. I just cut them the long way, scoop out the seeds, trying to leave the center meat.

If I have Big Girl or smaller beefsteak type tomatoes, I’ll quarter them and scoop out the seeds with my fingers. Sometimes, I’ll run them under some cool water from the tap if I have a bigger tomato and there are lots of seeds.

After everyone is in the saucy pool simmering, I’ll add three teaspoons of sugar, this helps to offset the acidity and sweeten a bit, and then I begin to make my meatballs. At this point, I keep the sauce on medium heat to keep on a high simmer to cook the tomatoes, so you need to keep stirring while you make the meatballs. I’ve never made the meatballs in advance, but to keep you from having to stir and make meatballs, you could prepare them ahead of time. I always think of this when I am knee deep in meatballs, turning back and forth from the stove. It’s your call on how you do this. I just have my process down to a science after all these years, so I sauce first and meatball second.

For the meatballs, I take 3lbs of 85% beef. You can use whatever you’d like. I’ve seen recipes with pork or a combination of both. If you use turkey or chicken, you should season heavily because without the fat, they will be lacking in flavor.

Into the bowl I put the meat, remaining chopped fresh basil, peppers, and onions. I season with onion powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and about a teaspoon of steak seasoning. I like this flavor but if you put too much steak seasoning, it will overwhelm the other flavors, so use sparingly. Then I add two eggs and about a cup of seasoned bread crumbs. I think it’s a cup, I just sprinkle it in and hope for the best. Then I take a Ziplock bag and put in on my hand to mash the mixture together. You can skip the bag if you don’t mind getting your hand dirty, but I do. I hate the meat under my nails.

Ready for a bath

After it’s all good and mixed, I scoop up some meat in my hands to form balls. I do take the bag off my hand, otherwise it’s really hard to form them properly. To cook them, I boil them in the water I boiled the tomatoes in. Yes, I said boil. I don’t like my meatballs with a crunch, so I don’t cook them in the over, and I don’t like putting raw meat in my sauce, so I boil them first. My Nana did, and so I do too. Also, the boiling removes some of the fat and firms them up before they go in the sauce bath.

The water doesn’t need to be a rolling boil, just as long as it’s hot it will steep the meatballs.

Boil them in batches of six to eight, depending on the size of your water pot, for about two minutes. Scoop them out one to two at a time with a slotted spoon and put then gently into the sauce. Repeat until all the meatballs are swimming together in the sauce.

Let the sauce boil on medium for about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, move it to your simmer burner and let it cook for about three to four hours. It will thicken as you cook. Stir every 30 to 40 minutes. Some of the meatballs may fall apart. It’s all good if that happens. It just enhances the flavor.

You can make meatball subs and dip the bread in the sauce. I like to just have straight-up spaghetti with mine. I love angel hair, but they don’t make it gluten free, so I have spaghetti. If we have subs, and there is sauce left, I’ll freeze the left-over. It’s good for about six months in the freezer.

Sorry, I can’t give you precise measurements or how many tomatoes to use because I always use what I have on hand. If I use more tomatoes, I have a bigger sauce and season more. To get the flavor you want, just keep tasting; it’s what I do. Good luck, and you can always message me with questions.

This is when I’m finished skinning and ready for the stir before I begin making the meatballs.

Update: Charlie Brown Apple Tree

Can’t believe we accidentally made an apple tree

So, If you didn’t read my post about our homemade apple tree, you should. The Spark Notes version is that Jeff chucked some old apples out on the hill near our house about three years ago and now we have an apple tree. I think they’re Cortlands.

Not knowing when they were ready, last year I let them go too long and they fell off the tree and rotted. So, this year I’ve read up on determining when they are ready. They are not ready yet; I checked last night. Apparently, they are ready when you touch them and they fall off in your hand. They aren’t there yet. I suspect they will be ripe in a couple weeks.

Other garden plunders

In the mean time, I will be making sauce today. Our garden runeth over with tomatoes. Oh, and we have green pepper too. I love my sauce, so I’m looking forward to tonight’s dinner.

I’ll let you know how the apples are when I pick them. I didn’t even know they were there last year, so I’m monitoring their progress this year. Isn’t nature amazing? Enjoy the rest of your summer. I hope your gardens, if you have one, are fruitful and well.

Look at that poor stem try to hold all those apples. This poor sapling looks nothing like the apples trees in the orchard we pick our apples from. I have no idea how this tree fought all the odds to come to be, but I’m happy it did.

Damn Foot, the Saga Continues

So, as it turns out, the event which is the namesake of my blog – Falling Upstairs – is the reason my foot is being miserable. Here’s the Spark Notes version of foot problems: my left foot began bothering me last fall; I noticed a pain on the medial (inside) part of my heel when I stood for a length of time, and it came to a boiling point right as Covid hit. I tried to treat it myself, thinking it was Plantar Fasciitis, but failed miserably at it. I don’t have Plantar Fasciitis like the P.A. I saw thought, it’s a lot worse.

Essentially, I found out my foot hurts because my hips are weak and need to be strengthened. My left foot is in really rough shape because my left knee has been off kilter because of the complications I endured following my knee surgery about five years ago. I never fully rehabilitated my left knee and hip, and now my foot is paying the price for the poor alignment. Also, I noticed that I still tend to stand really odd on my that leg, such as when I’m brushing my teeth or doing the dishes, I unconsciously unweight my left foot and let that knee collapse, resulting in my Achilles Tendon shortening and the tendon in my foot becoming really stiff. I started doing that after my knee surgery and I never quite got the correct alignment back.

The physical therapist pointed out all the problems with my gait and stance when I began seeing him in June, and I’ve been on a roller coaster of good days but mostly bad days since. I have now invested hundreds of dollars into my foot because, obviously, I need it. I have a copay on all my physical therapy visits. I’ve bought new sneakers (kicks, trainers, athletic shoes; not sure what you call them) to prevent me from pronating, which happened because of my weak hip and knee, but I don’t like them. Last week I bought orthotics. Yes, I now own orthotics and I feel quite old as a result.

I’m pouty about my new sneakers because I really like shoes and only used to wear sneakers to the gym. And, during the summer months I look forward to wearing cute little sandals, flip-flops, or flats. But I mostly like walking around barefoot in my home and around my yard. This year, I’ve been relegated to wearing my damn sneakers Every. Damn. Day. All. Day. Long. I really, really don’t like that my feet are closed up all day long when it’s hot outside.

There they are, my thick-sole beauties! They are helping, but I still don’t like them.

The problem is, and why I’m extra pouty is because if I don’t wear my sneakers with orthotics, my foot really hurts. Without footwear, when I walk and my heel hits, it’s painful. So, I’m stuck. For my own comfort, and to hopefully help me heal, I need to wear them. But, besides the discomfort of having my feet covered up all day, as I said, I actually don’t like the shoes I picked out. The really cute ones I wanted to buy at the shoe store didn’t give me enough support. I tried many pairs but kept returning to the ones I now own. They offered me the correct support I needed and were sensible. And, I just wrote the S word – sensible. I can’t even believe I own sensible footwear.

I knew they were bad when my physical therapist approved of them. I mean yes, I want to make my physical therapist happy. But when he approves of my sensible footwear, I know it’s bad.

He explained, “The thick sole is great because it will prevent you from pronating, but it will also absorb more impact, so you’ll feel the heel strike less. You should feel less pain and walk better now.”

He’s right. Since I bought the new sneakers, my walking is better. See, because most of the pain I was feeling was in my heel, I had begun to walk on my toe. That action put a lot of pressure on my ankle and further contributed to shortening my Achilles tendon and added more stress to the tendon on the base of my foot. It really has been a painful experience trying to get everything lengthened again, so I am doing everything in my power to facilitate healing, including wearing ugly shoes and orthotics.  

And, the orthotics feel like they’re helping. My foot is marginally better, but I’m still pouty about how ugly my sneakers are. I was visiting friends the other day and saw a really old lady wearing the same shoes I have. I tried to keep my feet hidden. I wanted to prevent any conversation about our matching footwear to avoid insulting her. She probably bought them because she liked them! I bought mine out of necessity. After seeing them on her, I felt older and a tad bit feeble.

Anyway, we all know 2020 has been a bona fide struggle. My foot has only complicated things for me. I’ve been in pain for months. I can’t go for walks. The upside is I’ve been biking more, but sometimes a girl just wants to go for a leisurely walk and that’s been taken from me. And, I’ve always had fun footwear, and my sneakers just don’t fit that bill. I remember the first time I saw the style of sneakers I now own, the thick sole type, it was on an old person who was walking the mall. I imagine when winter gets here, I’ll feel this strange pull to go walking the mall in my sensible footwear trying to improve my gait to increase flexibility in my foot. Honestly, I really hope by winter my foot is better. I can’t imagine my fussy foot will be a big fan of ski boots. I’ll keep you posted as events unfold on the foot front and recovery. Send me prayers and all the good vibes please!

Forgive and Love, Always

Fear is a thief that enters your life and steals your happiness, contentment, and peace of mind. When it arrives, mayhem ensues. It takes your joy and leaves you unsettled, full of anxiety.

It arrives upon the backs of what-if or maybe. It’s never alone, and the pack of pals it travels with brings chaos and corruption to your life. When they come, they take you from your moment and make you fear today, tomorrow, and the next.

Do not allow fear to rule. Do not allow grief to rule. You are the only one who can allow those feelings to steal real estate from your life. By worrying about the future, you lose the present. By grieving for the past, you lose tomorrow.

Instead, be content with where you are now. Embrace this day that you woke up to. It’s yours to live. It’s yours to make memories in. It is yours to share with a loved one, friend, or with yourself. No matter your choice for the day, be happy with how you spend it.

I don’t quote chapter and verse very often. To be fair, I have a strong faith, but I only know prayers and a few verses. My favorite is Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I have this verse on a sticky note on my work computer. When I become anxious, I read it and take big yoga breaths. That verse and breathing always recenters me and takes away my anxiety.

Be present in each day. Be happy for what you’ve been given. Forgive and love, always.

Masks and Their Characters

Mine and Maddy’s favorite masks

I wrote the other day about how I’ve finally found my new normal, and it’s because my work life has found a groove. Now, and maybe because I have my work life situated, I feel like life is becoming normal, sort of. I’m seeing people, albeit fewer of them. But, I am reconnecting with dear friends, and that feels normal. I’m still a bit weary of all-out social situations, but even that’s began to feel normal. Finally, shopping isn’t nearly as scary as it was a few months ago. I don’t mind going now, and masks, while they’re just an accessory for me now. I won’t say I’m used to mine, but it’s kind of like a security blanket at this point. I know some people will still argue about their safety or the necessity for them, but they are here to stay for a while so deal with it. However, it still feels like an alien world to me to be out with one on and seeing everyone else with their faces covered as well.

At the grocery on Sunday I saw such a variety. Many cloth ones, just as many surgical ones, you know the disposable blue ones. But I also saw some bandanas, pretty cool I might add, and those were sported by the cool kids in the checkout line. A few had the neck gator variety, like the ones many of my friends wear skiing. I guessed those were my peeps and especially loved those characters. I thought I’d seen it all in the face covering department, but I hadn’t.

Round about aisle five. Oh, I need to back up first. This is more Covid ridiculousness, Jeff and I got in a maze shopping on Sunday. All the aisles at my grocery are one way, as many of yours probably are. Anyway, somehow, we began one aisle over from where we needed to begin. If you’re facing the aisles, with your back to the entrance of the store, we shop from left to right, beginning in dairy, the aisles to our right. We skipped the deli that day, and didn’t need the first aisle, but needed the second. That was exit only our end, so essentially, we started in aisle three and had to back track to two. We did the odd merry-go-round of walking right to work our way left down the aisles for three turns and got sick of taking two steps forward and one step back before we decided to do the same aisle twice to right ourselves.

Ok, back to face coverings. We were finally in the aisle we wanted to be in, going the right way, and we saw them. An older, shall I say portly couple, staring at beans or soup or something, they were chatting with each other, and then I saw them – they were wearing plastic face shields. You know, the kind healthcare workers wear. Seriously! Now, I would have been cool with them wearing the shields, even respected it, except they didn’t have a mask on. I had to do a double take when I saw them. I appreciated the effort but didn’t understand it. Like, the germs are gonna say, “Darn, face shield! Turn around, we can’t do any damage here.” NO! Instead, they will be like, “Wahoo! Open face. Let’s go up the nose!” I couldn’t warp my head around that one. You do you and hope for the best I suppose.

And don’t get me started on the people who wear their masks below the nose. *face palm with giant eye roll! That one I don’t get at all. The face shield, OK. If someone sneezes, you may not take a direct hit. But the mask below the nose. Are you for real? What’s the point? You may as well not wear one for all the good that mask is doing while you breath in through your unprotected nose. Yup, your mouth is covered. Good for you, but unless you’re a bona fide mouth breather, you’re basically screwed.

All kinds of masks to choose from

End rant! Masks. They’re here to stay for a while. Get used to them. Embrace them. Stop fighting them. They seem really weird, and they are becoming part of the norm. I even have a basket by my door so my loved ones and me can remember to take one on the way out. And, it takes all kind of characters to sport the variety of them out there.

Finally Found My New Normal

I have found it; I’ve finally found my new normal. I knew it had to be out there somewhere because everyone was talking about it for so long, but it took me months to find mine. In the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you I really disliked that term after about three weeks into quarantine. It was in every commercial on TV, and I really disliked all the commercials about our new normal, so it became my least favorite phrase. Mostly because at that time, nothing felt normal. I understood the reference; the change in our routine was supposed to become our new normal in order for us to be settled and happy. However, I resisted it. I was happy with the change in my routine, I’ve written about it a couple times in this blog, but my life from March 13 to July was not normal. I kept trying to find a routine that felt like my life but couldn’t find it.

One reason was because in the midst of quarantine, I started a new role working with the Information Security Management Office. I now create and present awareness trainings to teach best practices surrounding information security. I am also creating trainings pertaining to security policies, and I will be writing a blog for my team to give an insider’s look into the world of information security. It’s really a great gig and it aligns perfectly with my chosen profession – writing. When I was transitioning to this role, since my world was in flux, the change really didn’t bother me. It was another new road to navigate, and I liked the anticipated destination that the road offered, a career change that aligned with my new master’s degree, so I was happy.  

Sidebar here: The strangest aspect of my new normal was that I work with all these really talented people who I’d like to be friends with, but I hadn’t met except through video meetings. I’m terrible with names and faces, so I wouldn’t know any of them if I ran into them in the grocery store. It’s really weird. We work together but don’t.

Anyway, there I was in a Covid flux. Working from home for the first time in my life, learning a new role, and trying to find a routine. I was happy with all the changes in my life, but nothing felt normal. My old normal was gone, and as of July I had not successfully found a new one. But then I learned after things return to our old normal, i.e. return to the office, I would continue to work from home a minimum of three, more than likely four days a week. When I found out that little tidbit of news, I decided I would finally need a home-office.

See, since March, I’ve been working from my kitchen island, kitchen table, recliner, or screen porch. When I signed on for the ITS role, my manager offered to get me office equipment, but I figured I had been working like a nomad with a laptop for months, why change just because I got a new job. But after I learned about the permanent opportunity to work from home, two weeks ago I requested all the components I would need for an office – I was given two monitors, a docking station for my laptop, a keyboard, and a mouse. I bought a desk and office chair. I was offered a chair, but when and if the times comes that I part ways with my current employer, I feel like I would want to have a chair to go with my desk.

Anyway, in my office I also created a nice writing area. When I’m not using my desk, and I need to write a blog post for my job, I like to sit in a chair with my laptop; it’s how I’ve taught myself to write. I seem to be most productive with my words when I’m rocking with my feet up.

My writing nook! Yes, that is a scoreboard above my chair. I’ve carved my office out of the family’s game room. My area is cozy, but the room has a split personality now.

I’m happy to report that when my office was set up last week, I became uber productive. It’s been so long since I worked with two monitors, I felt like I had new glasses because I could see everything so well! The moral of the story is that I have a real office in my home, and I have a new job that thus far is my favorite job ever, and because of that It’s clear to me that the stars have finally aligned and I feel like I’ve found my new normal. I hope you have found yours or will soon.