Every morning when I head to the sink to brush my teeth, I am greeted by a picture of my grandfather. It is a small black and white framed picture of him several years back when I was still in college. The picture is of him laughing. It is the kind of laugh where there is truly a twinkle in his eye. It is one of the most vivid memories I have of all the family gatherings we have had over the years around the dinner table. It is funny how one picture can so pointedly capture someone and be so symbolic all at the same time. So how does that picture have anything to do with a healthy pasta recipe? I will get to my point eventually and bring it full circle before you nod off!
A surprise at the dentist
I am a regular at the local orthodontist office since I have 3 children cursed with dreaded overbites and crooked teeth. I will be paying for their pearly whites for a good chunk of my adult life at this point, but at least they will have pretty little smiles, eventually, along with the fact that they can’t be grumpy teenagers forever! So the other day, when I settled in for a lengthy appointment with my son, who was having his second set of braces put on, I noticed he has changed the picture that graces the screen of his phone. It was the same little black and white photo of my grandfather. I must admit, I was touched, but in true teenage mom fashion, I did not gush about it in public or he would not have spoken to me for a week due to utter embarrassment. Give me a little credit… I am way smarter then that!
I did, however, tell the family a little story that night around the dinner table when I served Popeye Pasta due to someone not being able to crack his mouth open all that far due to his shiny new braces!
When I was a kid at my grandparent’s house, my grandfather would use dinnertime to entertain us, often at my grandmother’s expense. He would tell stories or crack inappropriate jokes, and occasionally reminisce about when he first met my grandmother. No matter what the subject was, he always had the undivided attention of the six of us kids. One day, though, we had come into dinner after working with cattle, and he noticed he had ripped the sleeve right off his shirt. Unbeknownst to us, he had giant muscles that went well with his farmer’s tan! So giant were his arm muscles, we had to inquire as to how a grandpa could get such ginormous muscles, and his reply was mesmerizing to our imaginations. He said he first started to have real muscles when he enlisted in the Navy. He went on to explain that chow time in the Navy was not always ideal to his Midwestern taste buds, and he often was left with just a can of spinach to choke down at the end of the day. We were fascinated and thought for sure he was a prisoner of war. That was the only rational explanation in our minds as to why he would have to endure such a deplorably cruel dinner.
A Navy injury
Years later, he finally told us the truth behind his giant muscles. While in the Navy, he was assigned to help tie their large battle ship to the dock. He was a tall, gangly kid fresh off the family farm at the time and was anxious to make a good impression on his captain. So anxious was he that he tore both his biceps from the bone while straining to tie the large boat to the dock. Not wanting to draw attention to himself, he never said a word to his fellow shipmates about the painful injury and continued to perform his daily tasks, never allowing the muscles to heal properly. As a result, he would roll the sleeves up on his arm super tight to create enough pressure on his biceps to help alleviate some of the pain. The muscles eventually healed, but due to his makeshift pressure bandages, his arms looked like those of the cartoon character Popeye.
And the little story about bad chow, well, that too was self-inflicted. When one of his fellow crewmen realized what my grandfather had done, he testified that eating a can of cooked spinach would aid the healing process along. So long story short; how could I not feed the little man a tribute dish of spinach pasta after seeing that visual memorial on his screen shot!
1 lb Italian sausage
2 tsp butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 carton fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 T organic chicken base
1 – 13 oz. pkg. angel hair pasta
1 – 10 oz. package fresh baby spinach
2 T olive oil
2 T flour
2 T Activz spinach powder
1 pint cream
Parmesan cheese (to taste)
In large saucepan, cook Italian sausage until browned. Set aside and sauté butter, garlic and sliced mushrooms. Set aside. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil and add chicken base right before adding your pasta to cook. Once pasta is cooking, add fresh spinach to the cooked sausage and return to heat until spinach is wilted. Combine the mushrooms with your spinach and sausage along with 2 ladles of your pasta water. Drain the pasta and toss with 2 T olive oil. Add flour and spinach powder to the cream and stir until there are no lumps. Add pasta to the sausage and spinach along with the cream. Stir and warm over stove for just a few minutes. Serve with fresh Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.