Getting Out Of The Way Of Good Meatballs

In my mind, somewhere in that lofty realm of perfection we call, “ideas,” there were succulent lamb meatballs. Lebanese style. They were just waiting to exist, waiting to be. I could see them, taste them, smell them.

Meanwhile, way down here in this particular corner of reality known as our kitchen, there was a collection of grocery bags, spices, a square wooden spoon, a kitchen knife, a can opener, and a cast iron pot heating on a gas stove.

And there I was, in the middle, lodged between some Platonic ideal of lamb-y deliciousness and a counter top spattered with items, willy-nilly style.  I realized I had to keep an ideal in view while miring my hands in delicious details. I could make these meatballs happen—I could make them be. I had to try hard and do something! Or, more likely, some things.  Lots of things.

It is natural to conflate the concept of Try hard with Do more! Lebanese lamb meatballs? I should use a lot of spices, peruse several online recipes, and really labor over this meal. More equals better results, right?

Not every time. In spite of myself I did the minimum and limited my intervention in matters. I was careful to do not a jot more. Cinnamon, allspice, kosher salt, and pepper. No more spices! I arranged the meeting of a few ingredients that brought out the natural goodness of things. Fresh mint and parsley. Stop! I worked with it, not against it. Blend san marzano tomatoes for the braise. That’s all the acidity needed.

I got out of the way and good things happened—Lebanese lamb meatballs came to be.  It was good to try hard by doing less. With every bite I could taste what I did and, more importantly, what I did not do.


Braised Lebanese Lamb Meatballs (Oct. 2016)

Prep time: 15 minutes Braise time: 3 hours

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup chopped parsely
  • 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 28 ounce can San Marzano tomoatoes

Combine and mix lamb, egg, bread crumbs, parsley, mint, allspice, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Form into four to six large meatballs.

Heat pot (black iron if possible) to medium-high. Place meatballs in dry pot (no oil). Let fry until brown and caramelized. Roll the meatballs to new side and repeat until most of the meatballs have that nice brown, caramelized exterior.

Remove meatballs. Use spatula or square wooden spoon to scrape and loosen what is stuck to the pot. Put in wine. Let heat reduce the wine for about two minutes.

Put in chopped onion.

Reduce heat to lowest setting. Place meatballs in pot.

Blend san marzano tomatoes and pour over meatballs.

Cover pot. Adjust heat to get the braise to bubble up, just above no bubble and well below a simmer. Low and slow! You may have to check every few minutes at the beginning to ensure heat is not above a slow braise.

Approximately three hours, or until cooked to preference.

Serve over jasmine or basmati rice. Pour braise over dish to liking. Best served in wide mouth bowl.



Enlightened Self-Interest, Five-Year-Old Style

“Hey, Daddy. I think I figured out what to buy with my money,” Vivian quietly announced.

Gammy Jones recently sent Vivian $5, with instructions to buy whatever Vivian wishes. Making a consumer decision had been weighing heavily on this five-year-old mind.

“Oh? What did you decide?” I inquired.

“I would like to buy food for my family,” she said, softly.

Her response halted me, literally and figuratively. I looked down at her. I could see the tops of her long, dark eyelashes. She was gazing at the five dollars in her little hand. My heart swelling, I knelt to look eye-to-eye with this sweet child. Vivian frequently thinks of others and their welfare, more frequently than most adults, I’d guess, let alone children her age.

We looked at each other. I said nothing, smiling.  She continued: “I would like to buy broccoli, carrots, apples,…”

She paused, slowly swinging her gaze to the ceiling. She pondered, beginning to massage her little chin with the forefinger and thumb of her right hand.  This is getting good, I thought.  The $5 dangled in her other hand dangled toward the floor, in the opposite direction of her gaze.


Something fun or touching is about to occur, sprang to my mind.  I’ve been tangled up in these delicious little moments before.  I’ve also, probably and sadly, missed a few.  I have learned to keep my radar on full alert and, if the slightest BLEEP! ticked on the screen, drop whatever I’m doing,  pull up a chair, and prepare to enjoy the show.  Live in the moment?  You know it!

“…ummmm, annnnd, mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, candy, and toys.”

And there it was.

After another pause her lazy upward gaze snapped into a sidewards stare at me, her face blank but her eyes ablaze. The hand that moments prior was pensively massaging her chin opened up and swung out wide, palm skyward. Did I make the sale? those beautiful, brilliant eyes inquired as they bore into Daddy’s delighted soul.

Daddy’s soul smiled wider, and so did his mouth.

What an adorable combination of thinly-veiled motives, sweetly-innocent economic ignorance, and an intellect that gets nimbler every day—all packaged in the enlightened self-interest of a sweet, intelligent child.


Out Of Square

“I have bad news about your deck, Adam. It is not square to the house.”

This observation came from no casual observer. Brian is an experienced professional, and he was in our back yard preparing to install a paver patio. On paper his new patio and the existing deck attached to our house would meet up beautifully and geometrically.

On dirt, they did not.

His pavers were rectangular and square. The builder’s square he used to set the corners of patios was three feet long on each side. Clearly, the outward side of his patio that was going to meet up against the deck would extend from the house and into the yard at a clean and aesthetically-pleasing 90 degree angle. His patio was going to be just how it should be.

Also clearly, the existing deck did not extend into the yard at 90 degrees. It was not square, not at right angles. Not right, literally.

Brian said your deck, not the deck. Moments prior to his announcement I proudly informed him that I built our three-level deck with three sets of stairs. All by myself. Yep! I took full ownership of the deck’s existence. I did not say so much, but my face probably exuded a look of, Not bad for a guy who is not a real carpenter but occasionally plays one in real life, eh?

Well, as Brian’s professional eye noticed, it was bad.

What is it, by the way, about talking to a person good at their craft that encourages one to seek their approval, maybe impress them a bit? I’d like to think I was trying to make a connection with a person who would be working in our back yard for a few days, maybe learn something in the process. I don’t know.

(In my defense, it is a difficult task to not confuse our imagination with our memories. Add pride to the process and, like the deck in our yard, memories are likely to be out-of-square to reality.)

So there we stood. Brian, with his geometrically irrefutable truth, and I, with a cup of coffee and a freshly-fractured male ego, looking at the out of square deck. My deck. The choice was clear: conjure up and mumble a pathetic excuse or own up, learn something, and move on.

I went a third way. Weasel out of the moment with humor: “Yea, well, Pfft! Doesn’t surprise me. I know the carpenter.”

He smiled.

It would be nice if I always had Brian along, or someone or something, to keep everything I make, think, say, or do square and at right angles. Right, literally and figuratively—just how they should be.