With her powerful voice and bohemian cool, singer Linda Ronstadt has been inspiring women for decades. Though she retired from music due to health issues, she’s still working. Her latest project is a new book, Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands (Buy from Amazon, $29.49), that she co-wrote with Lawrence Downes. In it, Ronstadt discusses her background and artistic inspirations through a combination of memoir, travelogue, cookbook, and scrapbook, complete with old family photographs.
In 2013, Ronstadt wrote a more traditional memoir about her career titled Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir (Buy from Amazon, $18.99), and in 2019, she was the subject of a biographical documentary titled Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (available to stream on HBO Max). Her new book, however, goes much farther back, diving into her personal history, tracing her family’s Mexican roots in Sonora, and fondly recalling how her musical childhood in Arizona shaped her as a performer.
Embracing Her Roots
In the book, Ronstadt says that while she didn’t grow up in Sonora, Mexico like her older relatives, she feels a deep connection to the land and its traditions: “My sense of connection to my ancestors is strengthened by my own vivid sensory memories of Sonora and things they also knew and loved, particularly those involving music and food.” Throughout the book, Ronstadt brings these memories to life with family photos and letters from loved ones, simultaneously telling her story and imparting the value of ours.
Ronstadt’s stories of her childhood on the cultural border are evocative and nostalgic. She recalls living off the land, shooting doves for food (“I could shoot a rifle when I was six… I wouldn’t want to ever do that to any dove again”); riding horses from the time she could walk (“the world I’m from has been horse country for 500 years”); and of course, singing with her family (“not all Ronstadts made a living at it, but music was the homegrown magic we all learned to conjure”).
Fittingly, the book has an accompanying Spotify playlist, Feels Like Home: Songs From the Sonoran Borderlands — Linda Ronstadt’s Musical Odyssey. It also features a collection of Ronstadt’s notes on the the music that shaped her, including “Songs We Ronstadts Loved and Sang” and “Songs of Mexico and the Borderlands.” Reading Feels Like Home, you see just how far back her passion for music goes.
The Power of Traditional Recipes
Feels Like Home isn’t a cookbook in the traditional sense, but it includes 20 recipes. “As for the Ronstadt recipes, these are the real ones that I grew up with and that have reappeared at holidays and other family gatherings for generations,” Ronstadt writes. It’s something everyone can relate to — family culinary staples passed down through generations. While some of the ingredients in Ronstadt’s recipes may be hard to find at your local grocery store, they can easily be found online (she recommends the site nativeseeds.org for traditional Sonoran ingredients). The book includes recipes for hearty dishes like beef stew, cheese soup, and enchiladas, of which Ronstadt’s descriptions are both entertaining and appetizing. “If pizza dough could dream, this is what it would wish to become: thin enough to see through, strong enough to wrap a burrito,” she writes of the traditional Sonoran tortilla. For the singer, both music — “the unbreakable chain of melody,” as she calls it — and food continue to be her faithful companions.
A Simple Recipe: Ronstadt Family Meatballs
Eager to immerse myself in Ronstadt’s world, I decided to try making her family’s meatball recipe. Spicy or sweet, saucy or soupy, meatballs are a comfort food in almost every culture. Ronstadt’s family recipe is unique in that it contains no binding agents like breadcrumbs or eggs; it’s just meat, tomatoes, herbs and spices, and some olive oil (or lard, if you want to keep it authentic). The meatballs are cooked quickly in a pot of boiling water and served in their liquid, which becomes a mellow broth that pops with a drizzle of lime. Here’s the recipe:
Ingredients (Makes about 65 meatballs, or 6 to 8 servings):
- 6 medium-sized tomatoes, preferably plum
- 3 pounds ground beef, preferably flank and round steak
- ½ cup fresh mint, finely chopped
- ½ cup cilantro, minced
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 1 medium scallion, minced
- 2 tablespoons oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¾ cup olive oil or melted lard
- 6 cups boiling water
- Lime wedges for serving
- Set oven to broil. Place tomatoes on rimmed baking sheet and broil until skin can be removed easily, approximately 10 minutes.
- Peel tomatoes and remove seeds. Purée in blender to yield 1 ½ cups. Set aside.
- Place ground beef in large bowl. Add mint, cilantro, garlic, scallion, oregano, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
- Add tomato purée to meat mixture. Knead until well combined.
- Add oil or melted lard to mixture, and knead until fully incorporated. (Mixture should be neither dry nor too wet.)
- Shape small portion of mixture into walnut-sized ball. (It should hold together.)
- Continue forming walnut-sized balls, dropping into boiling water in sets of 5 to 10. Cook 5 to 8 minutes per set.
- Serve meatballs in liquid they were cooked in, with lime wedges on the side.
My Taste Test
I have to admit, I was skeptical — I assumed the meatballs I made would either fall apart instantly, or result in a dreary brown bowl of wannabe meatball soup (or both!). However, my meatballs came out perfectly, and their brothy goodness was both comforting and nostalgic. Digging in, I imagined Ronstadt’s family doing the same many decades ago, and I felt a profound sense of connection.
The dish isn’t fancy, but it highlights several of Sonora’s unique flavors. To maximize the experience, listen to Canciones de Mi Padre (“Songs of My Father”), Ronstadt’s 1987 Spanish-language album (which remains the biggest-selling foreign-language album in American music history) while you cook.
Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands is available now from Heyday Books.
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