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Spaghetti with Creamy Clam Sauce #FoodieReads

I almost didn't finish We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh*, the book that was chosen as our November Lit Happens selection. I  loved Diffenbaugh's first book, The Language of Flowers, and started - and stopped - this book multiple times during the first two weeks of the month. Then I put it down and couldn't find it until today. Seriously. I didn't have the book in my hands until the last day of the month.

Thankfully, R was busy working on college application essays; D was making felted nisser (Danish Christmas gnomes); and Jake was working on his Christmas forest. Yes, not just a tree. You'll see soon...

But all of their activities allowed me to settle in on my bean bag and read this book cover to cover while sipping mulled cider and eating gingerbread cookies this afternoon. Then I ran to the store, inspired by a dish Rick makes for Letty's Christmas party. More on that soon.

On the Page

As I mentioned I loved her first book and had a hard time getting into this one. However, Diffenbaugh tackles some tough issues in an eloquent manner. She addresses a woman who is given a second chance to mother her own children after her parents have largely been responsible for raising them; a young man who is searching for his birth father who doesn't know he exists - all while experiencing his own first love; and a mother and daughter dodging the shadows of immigration control. There are teen pregnancies - Carmen was fourteen when she had Yesenia - immigration status issues, school registration fraud, and bullying.

I had a tough time reading about Letty's questionable parenting decisions, especially when she gets her own son drunk. Oye. But, I was able to look beyond Letty's imperfect character because Diffenbaugh writes Letty's thoughts, doubts, insecurities, and her recognition of her mistakes in a regretful manner. She isn't cavalier in her shortcomings. We can see that she loves her children despite abandoning them to her parents a decade and a half ago. And she is trying. That means a lot in my book.

And I do think the biggest take-away: no action is without consequence. And many actions reverberate for an entire generation...or more.

While I didn't love this book as much as her first. I'm glad I read it. Written before our current administration, I found immigration lawyer Kate's words eerily accurate: "'DACA is an executive order,' Kate explained. 'Not a law. Which means it can be revoked at any time. We elect a new president? It's gone'" (pg. 280). Sadly true.

There was lots of back and forth between the book group about the significance of feathers and wings. As Letty's father had left his feathers for Alex when he returned to Mexico. I thought I'd share some photos of a stained glass feather class my best friend took me to as a belated birthday present recently. It was so much fun...and didn't involved collecting without a permit!

On the Plate

There was quite a bit of food mentioned in this novel and a ton of cocktails, too, since Letty worked at a bar. Letty's mother had left meals in the freezer when she returned to Mexico. "Clear glass casserole dishes were stacked on the left; gallon Ziplocs of soup, tamales, and taquitos were piled on the right. She pulled out a plastic bag of what looked like chicken soup and read the directions written on the front in permanent marker. 1. Thaw in warm water. 2. Transfer to glass. 3. Microwave" (pg. 61).

Rick brings Letty lunch that he learned to make at his dad's restaurant. "'Al mojo de ajo...'. Her mouth full of shrimp and three different kinds of salsa, and she willed her eyes not to roll back in her head from pure ecstasy. She took another bite and nodded as she tracked with his story: the family business his father had every intention of passing over to Rick, his oldest child, but not until he earned it, starting as a dishwasher and working his way through every job - prep cook to line cook to host to runner. He paid for college with his salary as sous-chef" (pg. 135).

But what inspired me into the kitchen was the meal that Rick cooks at Letty's house for Christmas. "Rick arrived at eight, his arms full of groceries. ...[Later] they walked into the kitchen, where a steaming platter of linguine and clams sat on the table. Two salads and a glass filled with forks had been placed on the table beside it. Sara pinched a clam from the tray and popped it into her mouth. 'You made this?' Sara's expression was disbelieving. 'No way...' (pp. 230 and 234).

I love how easy this is, using canned clams and all. When I am feeling more motivated, I like to make this with clams in their shell, like my Linguine alle Vongole. But tonight I wanted quick and easy as R finally asked me to read over his college application essays...after Jake and D got to read them last night. I guess they are finally mom-ready.

Ingredients serves 4
  • 1/2 pound spaghetti (1 pound actually serves 8 though most people cook the entire package)
  • 2 shallots, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
  • 4 T butter
  • splash of olive oil
  • 3 T flour
  • 3 cans (6-1/2 ounces each) minced clams with their juice
  • 1 C milk + more as needed
  • 1 C grated Parmesan cheese + more for serving
  • 1 t fresh herbs (I used fresh thyme) + more for serving

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Mine took 11 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, sauté shallots in 2 T butter and a splash of olive oil. Add garlic and sauté for just a minute until the garlic grows fragrant. Add in the remaining 2 T butter and cook until melted. Whisk in flour until blended and a roux forms. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, then gradually add in the clams, their juice, and milk. Cook until thickened, approximately 2 to 3. Stir in the cheese until melted, then add in the herbs.

Add cooked and drained pasta to the pan and toss to coat. Serve hot. I served this with a green salad and roasted asparagus.

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in November 2019: here.


  1. Love linguini and clam sauce but I had to go with the camarones and yes, my eyes rolled to the back of my head. So glad you persevered with the novel, Cam. I ended up liking it more than I thought I would.

  2. We're doing her Language of Flowers for CTB, but I haven't started it yet. Your creamy clams on spaghetti looks so good! Would like to start that too.


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