the little book that grew

mum’s spag bol

Can you believe that it’s amost May? That we’re pretty much a third of the way through 2009 already? I know. Time is definitely passing way too quickly. I can’t believe that it’s almost been four months since I first shared my book project with you. But the good news is that is does feel like a lot has been happening.

The last (and first) time I spoke about it was back in January when I was fresh and relaxed after a lovely holiday at home. I was excited about sharing my new project. You see I’d spent the better part of two weeks pulling together a collection of my late mother’s recipes.

And boy did I have fun doing it. Spending some days recipe testing and photographing – there was a lovely comforting feeling almost like Mum was there in the kitchen with me. Not to mention the cosy nostalgia that went with eating food that tasted almost as good as my childhood memories.

Then there were days of writing. Hanging out on the balcony with my laptop. Soaking up the sun. Reminiscing about meals past as I leafed though Mum’s handwritten recipe book. Stopping to picnic in the park with Glen for lunch. To be honest the writing days were just as much fun as the cooking ones. A chance to be creative in a different kind of way.

At the time, it was more a personal project than one I intended to commercialise. I saw it as a chance to remember and celebrate Mum’s life through stories and recipes. I’d decided to release it for sale with the brilliant print-on-demand site blurb. This would be a chance to give family and friends of stonesoup the option of buying a copy if they wished, without any financial risk on my behalf. Easy.

But with the global financial crisis and the resulting weakening of the Aussie dollar, the blurb pricing based on the USD started to look a little less viable. Add in the compounding cost of shipping books to the other side of the world and things just weren’t stacking up.

So I did more research, trying to find a similar Australian based outfit. But none came across my path and I realized I might have to think of an alternative. As luck would have it Glen noticed an ad for a seminar on self publishing books in Australia. I figured I didn’t really have anything to loose and signed myself up.

Sitting in a hotel conference room, with a handful of other aspiring writers, I started to learn about the big bad world of book publishing. Of course we only scratched the proverbial surface in those four hours but it opened up many possibilities. Maybe I could do a small print run of my own and have a go at selling them myself?

Since my initial work at Christmas, the book itself has come a long way. I had printed my first draft via blurb and been amazed by just how good it looked in print. I’d also expanded the content from the early days. Initially I had only planned to take photos of half the recipes and leave the others as text only. But it seemed wrong not to treat all of Mum’s recipes with the same respect. So I continued cooking, testing and photographing on the weekends.

From the beginning of the project, I wished that I’d taken the time to write down Mum’s classic savoury recipes. The things that she cooked so often that she knew by heart. No one had recorded her instructions for how to roast a chook or whip up a quick meal of steak and veg. The sweet classics were all accounted for from lemon meringue pie to scones with jam and cream. But the book just felt a too skewed towards the sweet tooth – something that my slender Mum certainly wasn’t.

The answer was obvious really. I just needed to come up with my own interpretations of the things that were missing. Sure they wouldn’t be exactly the same. But it would give everyone more of a representative idea of my Mum’s kitchen talents and make it more complete.

So my little book has grown. Now it really is a collection of classic family dishes. Simple food, comforting food, frugal food, real food. Food that was enjoyed over so many years by a family united by the love of their Mum.

As I sent off the final draft to be printed last week, I felt so excited and proud and more than a little nervous. If all goes to plan, ‘and the love is free’ will be printed and ready for sale on this very website on Mum’s birthday – June 29th. If you’re curious about the story behind the title I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait until then to pick up your copy, although to be honest I am quite partial to bribes.

mum’s spag bol
serves 4-6

With the spaghetti bolognse extravaganza in this month’s Australian Gourmet Traveller out and about, I’ve been inspired to share my Mum’s version this week. The dish that gave me a deep love for the comforts of pasta and one of the things that gave me massive respect for my Mum’s cooking, especially when I got to boarding school and tasted the poor excuse for spag bol dished up by the nuns.

While vermicelli (very thin spaghetti) was the most common accompaniment to this meat sauce, it was also the base for Mum’s delicious lasagne. Occasionally leftovers would be used for a quick lunch served on top of toast with a handful of cheese and a quick spin under the grill.

 2T olive oil
 750g (1 2/3lbs) minced beef (ground beef)
 1 large brown onion, peeled & diced
 500g (18oz) jar commercial tomato pasta sauce
 1T Worcestershire sauce
 2t crushed garlic
 1t dried oregano leaves or small handful fresh oregano
 1t marjoram leaves or small handful fresh marjoram, optional
 1t Basil leaves or large handful fresh basil leaves
 500g (1lb) vermicelli or spaghetti
 parmesan cheese, to serve, optional

Place oil, beef and onion in a large frying pan and cook over a high heat stirring regularly until the meat has browned and the onion is soft. 

Add the pasta sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and herbs. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Cook for approximately 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until sauce has reduced and thickened.

Cook pasta as per the packet directions. Drain and divide between plates and top with a generous amount of the meat sauce.

Serve immediately with cheese passed separately if using.

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