Easy Homemade Pasta Sauce from an Expert

This is Sue:


Sue has been in my life since high school. Her son Ryan and my brother Joe were best friends and teammates. She and my mom and dad got close sitting together at football games. Then, since most of Sue’s family lives in Nor Cal, she started coming to holiday meals. Then Family night. Then twenty years ago on Christmas we officially adopted her into the family. Now she is Annie’s godmother.

Sue is Italian on her mom’s side and let me tell you, this woman can cook. And she cooks the old school stuff, off of handwritten recipes from her mom and grandmother. These recipes come two ways: no measurements or measurements enough to feed 40. The cookie recipes she makes at Christmas have things like “2 lbs of butter” and “4 lbs of flour”.

Then there’s this sauce recipe. When I asked her how she made her veggie sauce, this is what she sent me:

zucchini and/or yellow


fresh carrots

yellow onions, shallots and/ or green onions

all fresh tomatoes and/ or canned

artichoke hearts


couple of celery ribs


Itailian black olives

olive oil

oregano, bay leaf, parsley (fresh is best)

salt and pepper or pepper flakes if you like it spicy,

sometimes I put jalapenos in too

toss it all together, roast at 375 until everything is soft and yummy, remove bay leaves/leaf

Transfer to a large sauce pan in which you have already sautéed a few more onions and some anchovies (you will never taste them in the finished sauce) in olive oil, stir in canned tomato sauce (I use San Marzano ) let it combine, then get the boat motor out and puree until you have the consistency you like.

If you let the whole “an Italian lady who is renowned for her cooking and baking sent me this recipe” go to your head, you’d never try it, right? Because Good Lord, how can we ever compete with someone who knows cooking so well that there are no measurements?

But let me give you another way to see it. This is the most powerful lesson I have learned cooking at Sue’s side: Alton Brown be darned, you don’t have to be constrained by measurements. It’s ok to experiment. It’s ok to make it taste the way you like. And recipes like this are very forgiving.

I don’t use everything on her list. I use what I have. I wait until the bag of little red, yellow and orange peppers are on sale, then I make sure I have some roma tomatoes and onions. This time I didn’t have carrots or celery, but I had asparagus and artichoke hearts, onions and garlic and nice juicy tomatoes.

So to review: make sure you have at least peppers, tomatoes, onion and garlic. Any other veggie is also welcome. Chop them up, sprinkle some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast it all at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, depending on how much you have.

In a large sauce pot, combine a bit of olive oil, some more onions, garlic and—if you must—anchovies, then add the tomato sauce. Add the seasoning, then the roasted veggies and let it cook for a while to incorporate. Then you can blend it—a food processor works just fine, but Sue got me a $20 Hamilton Beach hand mixer that goes right into the pot. Then I always let it simmer a bit longer. Salt and pepper to taste.

That’s it.  Fresh food and a nice heavy pot.

A Season of Hope ~ Guest Post by Amy

Amy is how we all got to know Meg. We prayed for her health and then we prayed her through the door of this life into the next. Meg left behind a husband and two young girls, one only an infant. This is their first Christmas without their mama.

No doubt, Meg’s husband Sam will struggle as he learns to walk without his partner, juggling his grief with the responsibilities of his girls and the season. How hard it must be for him to find the light right now.

But Amy wants to share with us a story of how we don’t always have to find the light on our own.

Meg was an AVID coordinator in the Ontario Montclair school district. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a national educational support program, designed for students who will be the first in their families to attend college. As coordinator, Meg was directly involved with the teachers and students, promoting a college education for all.

A few weeks ago, I attended a regional AVID training. Memories came crashing back: Last year when I was here we had just found out that Meg was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her second child.

Meg took off work to fight the disease with a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She lost her hair so Sam shaved his off as well, in support.  By early summer, the doctors felt Meg was on the road to recovery. In July we celebrated the news that her PET scan was clean, showing no lesions.

Somehow, just six weeks later, she was sick again. She had lesions on her liver, which was swollen and losing function. The cancer was aggressive and untreatable.

By October, she was gone. Her daughters were four and six months old.

At the AVID training this year, her school site team, including Sam, wore pink shirts in honor of Meg. Every year, the region raffles gift baskets to raise AVID scholarship money. One of the baskets had a pink breast cancer theme, but all the money donated for this basket would go directly to Sam and his girls. Without hesitation, I dumped all my tickets in this basket.

The next morning, another coordinator stood at breakfast and announced a challenge: that every person in the room donate $1 for Sam and his girls. Sam was stunned. In tears, I made my way to his table and wrapped my arms around him. Together we watched.

In five minutes, people donated $1500.

Sam cried. I cried. Everyone in the place, 400 people, cried.

Miracles are real. This was a miracle. It wasn’t the miracle we had prayed for months earlier, to heal Meg and keep her here. Instead, the healing was for Sam, to show him that all is not lost. Meg had a hand in it, I know she did. She used all those people to give her husband a hug and remind him that people are good, the village is good. And there is light in the world for us when we need it.

Thank you to all those people who donated that day. It was about so much more than money. Thank you to Sam’s school, who love him and hold him up. Thank you to everyone who prayed for Meg. Thank you for reaching out in love and faith to strangers. I want you to know that it’s working. God’s hands are healing this family with love.

We have to remember that we are God’s work in this world. Happy weekend.

Meg and Sam

Meg and Sam

Pennies on the Dollar


It’s October.

You wearing pink?

Dana and I have stayed away from this because even though I am a survivor of not-breast cancer and her dad passed away from not-breast cancer and America is coming to the realization that the whole pink thing is kind of a sham (where the money doesn’t go where they say and cancer-causing chemicals are sold in pink bottles), we do have boobies.

But I just read something that pushed me out of my silence. And that’s saying something. The first week of October I took a phone call from one of those breast cancer faux fund-raising companies where the person on the phone is being paid a commission based on the amount of donations they get, and less than half of the money actually gets donated to research. When I stopped the lady mid-sentence to explain that we donate to another kind of cancer, because I am a survivor, she paused and then said “So?”

This thing that made me get up in the middle of the morning on a Monday when there is laundry to do and a shower to take and Dana and I were going to repost last year’s Halloween posts because we just need a break? Here it is:

A little more than 4 percent of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget goes toward childhood cancers. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society allocates 8 percent of what’s donated to research for cures for kids. In the past ten years, there have been nine drug approvals specifically indicated for pediatric cancer, which is a fraction of the number of adult cancer-fighting drugs approved each year. Even though childhood cancers do account for less than 1 percent of all cancers annually, they remain the leading cause of death by disease in children…

(P)art of the problem has to do with profits. Almost 60 percent of medical research in the United States is funded by pharmaceutical companies, not by the government. Because children’s cancers impact far fewer patients than adult cancers do, the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t have a financial incentive to invest money in developing new chemotherapy drugs for children because there isn’t a way for it to get a return on the investment.”

(“Your Child Has Cancer…”, Elizabeth Foy Larson, Parent Magazine, November 2014)

What does this have to do with pennies?

For every dollar donated to the American Cancer Society, one penny goes towards childhood cancer research. One.

From the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society—covering Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which is the most common type of childhood cancer? Two pennies.

The National Cancer Institute? Using our tax dollars? Only 4% of their annual budget. Four pennies.

Wow. Our childrens’ lives are worth pennies on the dollar.

Are boobies more important than babies?

If you don’t think that’s a fair question then how about this: How many women would trade their boobies for their babies without a thought?

Right. See what I’m saying?

This is not about valuing one life more than another.

And it’s not about a “my cancer is worse than yours” contest. Yuck.

Boobies are important. But the kids need a fair shake, which is something they don’t often get in the good ol’ US of A, where we value too many things more than we value the lives of our children.

Do you have pennies? We have pennies. What if we all took our pennies, turned them in and sent the money to organizations dedicated to childhood cancer research?

You can find a list of those organizations and how they use the money at www.cac2.org

DIY Chicken Broth

I have noticed that more home cooking calls for more chicken broth.

Soups, stews, rice, quinoa, roast—I end up using a ton of it, pretty much all year round. And the only way it comes organic at our store is in a 32 oz container. I never use it all at one meal unless it’s the holidays so I end up tossing whatever is left after a week.

More than once I wondered why they don’t sell it in one cup pouches. And then a few months ago, as I cleaned up a carcass after a roast chicken dinner, I wondered something better: “How hard is it to make my own broth?”

At first I wanted to make Rebecca Katz’s “Magic Mineral Broth” from Cancer Fighting Kitchen, but it has chicken, carrots, leaks, onions, celery, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, garlic, parsley, kombu, peppercorns, allspice and bay.

Yeah, I don’t know what kombu is either.

So I reached for my other cookbook bible, the BHG New Cook Book, circa 1990.

First make this, or buy a roasted chicken at the store.

Keep the carcass in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.

Then into a large pot throw:

1 chicken carcass (I leave bits of meat hanging all over mine)

3 celery stalks, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon sage

½ teaspoon pepper

2 bay leaves

6 cups cold water.

Bring it to a boil and simmer for two hours.

Then I strained it and measured it out into one cup portions to freeze. It’s much less salty than the store bought version so the real flavors come through and it’s wonderful to cook with. I use it instead of water for my quinoa and rice, which gives both enough flavor that my kids are not missing those pre-seasoned salt bomb boxed rices.

Our roasted chicken recipe calls for stuffing the chicken with citrus. The first time I made this broth, I took the lemons out of the carcass before starting the broth. An hour later, I was shocked to find a lemon floating in my broth.

“Who put lemon in my broth?” I asked my husband and son, both of whom have official cooking rights in my kitchen. Blank faces. An hour later, Kate came in and asked “Mom, what’s broth?” Turns out she was the lemon bandit. She thought I was making soup and she was pretty sure—from all her cooking show experience—that it needed some acid.

Thanks, Cutthroat Kitchen.

And she was right. So in this picture, you can see I left the lemon and grapefruit in the carcass.



All about the bucket

Thank you to my SIL Susie for having this cool bucket in her home!

Thank you to my SIL Susie for having this cool bucket in her home!

One of the things that Dana and I have noticed about being sparkly Queen of the Castle moms who happen to make a lot of our food and cleaning supplies from scratch, is that if we say that we order pure goat milk soap from this awesome homeschooling family in Pennsylvania, people will automatically assume that we’re crunchy. Or if I talk about canning jam and baking bread, or Dana talks about homemade deodorant—maybe this one most of all—we can almost see the mental eye roll.

There is nothing wrong with being crunchy. But we aren’t. We both drank a Diet Coke on Sunday.

Our approach is more big picture. We accept that there are only so many days in the week and so many hours in the day. We don’t want to be tied down to our sewing machines and stoves and ovens and laundry trees for most of our day. There are for sure times when we cut corners, from Happy Meals to Maybelline mascara. Sometimes for the convenience and sometimes because the homemade stuff flat doesn’t work.

This is the way we see it. A Diet Coke is not going to kill anyone. Shampoo with pthalates is not going to kill anyone. A juice box or applesauce with artificial sweeteners is not going to kill anyone. Wearing lipstick with lead on a big night out is not going to kill anyone. But when we start piling Diet Cokes on top of shampoo on top of juice boxes on top of lead lipstick every day, then the danger piles up too. If that’s all we eat or drink every day, then we are living a pretty toxic lifestyle. And that is not crunchy drama. That is scientific fact. You can double check me here and here.

So we think of our intake like a bucket and we watch what we put in there. We try very hard to make sure that we are not putting toxins in our bucket. And when we do, we try to make sure that we balance that with something that we know will act as a cleaner in our system. We drink lots of water. We read labels. We don’t keep soda in our homes. We make our food from scratch whenever possible and we’ve taught our kids to believe that homemade treats from scratch say we love them way more than any store bought cake ever could.

Just kidding. Kate had a store bought Frozen cake from Stater Bros for her birthday and it was good, scary blue frosting and all.

What we’re fighting here is accumulation. We don’t want to accumulate toxins in our bodies. That’s why we visualize the bucket because it helps us see what’s in there. If we drank soda and Starbucks and ate GMO and fast food every single day—and lots of people do—then our buckets would be full of chemicals and toxins and hormones. We don’t want that, not with our family histories of cancer. If we eat fresh food, organic food, homemade food and low salt food, then our buckets are not as full and they kind of get bigger too. Think about it: one mini-Snickers, or a whole half pint of fresh, ripe, sweet raspberries.

Lots of times, I have chosen the Snickers. Just not every time, or even every three times. We each have a guilty confession, too. Mine is non-dairy creamer, vanilla flavor. Which is straight up fake. And yes, I’ve tried making my own, and I’ve tried half and half and even heavy cream and it just isn’t the same and yes, I need it. Dana’s is that she uses Cascade dishwasher detergent and Finish, because the homemade stuff makes the dishes look awful and she has a discerning mother-in-law.

Our point is that we aren’t perfect when it comes to this healthy lifestyle thing, but we know our environment is dirty and big corporations are not looking out for us, so we have to balance the crap we can’t control with good stuff that we can. We aren’t judging anyone else and we try not to preach.

Although, I may need to work on this part because just a few weeks ago my dad turned to me in exasperation and said “I’m 68! I don’t care anymore!”

Fair enough.



The Names We Call Ourselves ~ Jen

For a long time I have thought about a tattoo to commemorate that I am a cancer survivor. But for four years, I haven’t done it. The hesitation came from something I read in an illness recovery book, that we have to be careful about the way we visualize our illness and our struggle against it. It makes so much sense not to use images of violence, domination, anger, loss. A sick person does not need to bring these energies into their life.

I didn’t battle my cancer. I told it to leave. And then I shut the door against its return. I guard the door carefully, with all the things that reduce my stress and keep me peaceful: food, exercise, God, family, friends and creating.

This is not new age-y philosophy. This is ancient wisdom, reflected in the scripture of Proverbs 17:22: A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.

So even though the symbol of thyroid cancer is a butterfly–and what could be more peaceful than a butterfly–I wasn’t sure this was good medicine.

Then last week I read this*:

If we stay survivors only without moving to thriving, we limit ourselves and we cut our energy to ourselves and our power in the world to less than half…once the threat is past, there is a potential trap in calling ourselves by names taken on during the most terrible times of our lives…it is not good to base the soul identity solely on the feats and losses and victories of the bad times”.

That’s it.

For a long time, every time I said out loud that I was a cancer survivor, a voice in my head yelled “GOOD LORD! I HAD CANCER! I COULD HAVE DIED A YOUNG WIFE AND LEFT BEHIND MY KIDS WHO WOULD HAVE NEVER REMEMBERED ME!!!!”

Every time, it was like hitting a wall. Or any other metaphor that describes the moment in a perfectly wonderful normal day when something makes you remember: I have been hurt. I have been abused. I have lost. I could have died.

It took me a long time to get past that place. It took a lot of work, prayer, reading and support. That time in my life is still framed in fear and anger and doubt, but those emotions are no longer with me on a daily basis.

If I marked my body with a symbol of that time, then those emotions would permanently be present. And for the love of all that is good, why would I do that to myself?

Whatever we have survived—cancer, sexual assault, violence, addiction, loss, our parent’s ugly divorce,  our own ugly divorce—it’s part of us, but not who we are. It’s a piece of our story, but not the whole story. The story isn’t over yet and we have to choose carefully which emotions and energies we are going to carry forward.

Not just for our mental and emotional health, but for our physical health as well. Because how we feel, and what’s inside of us deep, deep down will manifest itself physically. It will make us pay attention.

If you are in the midst of surviving, in the midst of the battle for your life and your heart, soldier on. Don’t be scared of the scars you are earning. Scars heal stronger than what was there before. I’m proud of my scars.

But if you are past the battle, like I am, then we have to consider the truth in the words: There is danger in calling ourselves by names we earn in the hardest times in our lives. We can get stuck there, in the pain, fear, anger, grief, bitterness, abandonment, addiction. Or worse, bring these things forward into our future where they will constantly demand our attention and make us sick in body and spirit.

I don’t want to manifest anger, fear, illness. I want to manifest joy and health. So no butterfly.

But that doesn’t mean no ink. It just means I am waiting for the right inspiration.


For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. How great are your works, Lord, how profound your thoughts!– Psalm 92:4-5

*From Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Dryer Balls

Update: Aaron is getting a dog! The Angel for Aaron page raised $12,000 in seven days. Seven. It wasn’t just money that made that happen, so thanks to everyone who donated, prayed and shared. The dog won’t be in the house for another 12-18 months, but we’ll keep you posted.


Two years ago Shea had enough State Farm points that we could get a new washer and dryer. Because I dream of appliances for years before I purchase, I already knew what I wanted: a Maytag Bravos top loader and dryer. I was going to wash twelve pairs of jeans at once. Watch my dust.

Then, at the last moment, I changed my mind and went with the trendy Whirlpool front loader and steam dryer.

There has not been one day since that I have been happy with this choice. Not. One. As my dad pointed out, there’s a reason they stopped making front loaders in the 70s.

The clothes smell. It’s because the water never fully drains from the drum, which lays on its side. The steam dryer does not help matters, even with the steam off. I have managed to conquer these issues one at a time: I use less detergent than recommended, I use vinegar as my fabric softener, I double spin the clothes and wash smaller loads at a time.

Our electric and gas bills have actually gone up with these newer more fuel efficient machines, because it takes two rounds to wash and dry every load.

So one day I searched “Make the clothes dry faster”, and found DIY Natural, which is a website founded by a husband and wife team looking to make the world a safer, cleaner place. They have an article about the power and magic of homemade dryer balls. You only need three things: 100% wool yarn, a hook and a pair of old or cheap tights.

All you do—and they have a video tutorial in case you need it—is wrap a skein of wool around and around and around until you have a ball somewhere between the size of a tennis ball and a softball. Then you stick it in the pantyhose, wash it in hot, hot, hot water, dry it on the hottest setting and poof! You have a felted dryer ball. Pop four or five of these suckers into your dryer with wet clothes and they dry the clothes faster by bouncing around and creating pockets for the hot air. They also eliminate static. And they aren’t poison, like every single dryer sheet on the market.

Dryer balls ready for felting

Dryer balls ready for felting

True story: Lesley and I were shopping at a craft fair before Christmas. A woman was selling safe cleaning products with a national brand. I was excited to see that she had dryer balls! They were white and the size of tennis balls! They were just like mine!

They were $29.

Cruise Etsy to see similarly priced balls. Yes, the ones with designs felted onto them are adorable and I wish I knew how to do that. But since no one sees my dryer balls and on more than one occasion Lizzie has mistaken a dryer ball for a chew toy, I am ok with my whatever wool was on sale dryer balls.

I gave them for Christmas presents, and people love them. My dad loves them.

So we want to give a set to one of our readers. All you have to do is comment on this post. Each post will get a number and then my kids will pull a number out of a hat.

Another true story, for a laugh before we go: after Christmas, we had a dinner party where I cooked Aunt Debbie’s ham. It made a mess in the pan, and one of our friends was trying to clean it. Finally she said “We need a dryer sheet! You put a dryer sheet in here and heat it up on the stove and this will come right off.”

My other friend leaned over to her and whispered “You aren’t going to find a dryer sheet in this house”.

How well she knows!