Friday, November 30, 2012

turkey meatball soup







Weather-wise, LA is finally feeling wintery and I'm so grateful, even for variety's sake. And while most of me adores our overcast gloom, there is a part of me that feels blue in spite of myself. It's a curious thing to witness. Maybe since I'm usually go-go-going, it's nature's way of coaxing me inward. So, embracing introspection, I walked myself on the wet leaves, through the mist to our neighborhood Starbucks today. The heaviness of the white sky outlining all the trees sparked a sharp memory of a cold spring I spent in Calgary, Alberta a million years ago, during which the sun made zero appearances. It was one of the darkest, loneliest times of my young life. (I'm aware I'm being overly dramatic but it did absolutely suck.)

I had only been living in NY a couple of months when I got a job singing and dancing in Canada. I was to perform at a "famous" dinner theatre where C-list actors were invited to headline musicals for three-month stints. I played opposite the lead "star" (despite being 20 years his junior), who was a piece of work. He was not a bad person--just a complete narcissist oaf. Imagine someone who had one claim-to-fame as a teenager and exploited it their whole life. Sad, right? Now imagine that same someone having a mullet. Gross, right? Now imagine him being an arrogant yet mediocre singer who pointed up and down to imaginary "notes" in the air while singing them. Horrifying, right? 

Early in the rehearsal process we were working out some partner choreography. He kept swinging me around haphazardly and his grip was pinching my waist. "That kinda hurts," I said. "Maybe we can figure out a different way to do that lift." He seemed game but the next try hurt even more and after a few more attempts to be diplomatic, I spoke up louder. "Ouch!" I said, "Please put me down!" He did and I turned to the director to intervene. He just stood there, blinking at me.

"Jolie? Can I speak to you privately please?" The director asked. "Absolutely," I said, feeling grateful that I was about to get a much-deserved apology/explanation. We went into his dim, cluttered office and sat with a giant desk between us. "Don't you EVER speak to my star that way again," he said. My mouth hung open in speechless shock. "I was this close to firing you on the spot just now." To make his point he leaned forward and held his wrinkled fingers an inch apart in front of my face. I think I tried to mutter something about not wanting to get hurt, safety first and all that, but mostly I was trying to make it through the conversation before bursting into tears. I felt ambushed.

It was then I knew I was in for a long road ahead.

Rehearsals plodded along. The show was terrible. The director hated me and I had no friends. Not that my cast-mates weren't nice people, I just didn't connect with anyone. My co-star was impossible and all this added up to the perfect storm of homesick loneliness. I tried my hardest to make the best of it. Which basically meant counting the days until it was over.

I shared a sparsely furnished cookie-cutter apartment with a fellow actress in the show who brought (surprise!) her 5-year-old daughter without first clearing it with the producers. She was a red-headed Christian who casually dropped bible verses into conversation like it was normal and ate only Romaine lettuce. She'd lay it directly on the countertop and slice it like a loaf of bread with a long serrated knife and proceed to eat it with Russian dressing that exactly matched her hair.

Once the show opened, we had a lot of downtime and only one shitty car between the eight of us out-of-towners who lived in the building. So when I wasn't staring at the white, sunless sky from my small bedroom window or crying to my long-distance boyfriend into the beige rotary phone, I'd venture out to the communal living room to watch bad TV with the 5-year-old.

We got 3 channels (on a good day) and would suffer through whatever had the least static. One day, in a rare moment when I had the apartment to myself, Sweet Charity came on and I weeped throughout the entire movie. Shirley Maclaine was just so full of life and all those dancers looked so carefree and hopeful. And no one was pinching them during their dance numbers. They sang "There's gotta be something better than this!" and I couldn't agree more. (Watch it and you'll see what I mean.) My roommate came home to find me red-faced and she sweetly godblessed me and called me "tender-hearted" which was such a kindness. She could have easily called me a depressed, weepy sad-sack. And it would've been true.

I finally found a somewhat decent reason to quit the show. I kept getting calls to come in for CATS (which at the time was in its ninth Broadway life) and I was so desperate to get out of Canada that once I even flew all the way to New York for an audition during my one day off. I literally took a cab from the airport straight to the theatre, auditioned, ate some soup in a diner and steeled myself to get on another plane back to Calgary. I didn't get the job but rationalized quitting anyway. When I crafted my two-week-notice letter I actually wrote: CATS could call at any second! I told the narcissist my reason for leaving and he said he'd love to do CATS but wasn't interested in the face makeup or wigs. "I'd only wear the suit from the neck down," he said. "I don't know if they'd go for that," I replied, "since the show isn't called PEOPLE--it's called CATS." He shrugged. What I really wanted to say was, "I hate your mullet." But I didn't.

All this to say: I think this is a good day for soup.

Or some sliced Romaine lettuce with Russian dressing if you're into that.


Turkey Meatball Soup
serves 6-8

This is my version of Italian wedding soup, minus the pasta. It's sooooooooo good!  I cannot recommend this more.

2 quarts good chicken stock (my most favorite is Trader Joe's organic version)
1 head garlic, sliced width-wise through its equator (leave on all the skin)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
2T evoo
1 bay leaf
a few sprigs fresh thyme (don't bother taking the leaves off the sprigs, they'll fall off and you can fish out the stems later)
juice of one lemon (zest it first for the meatballs--see below)
1 parmesan rind (approx. 1"x4" or whatever you got)
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
fresh baby spinach (about 1/2 cup for each bowl) and more parmesan for serving

Meatballs:
1 egg
2T milk (confession: I used almond)
1 t minced garlic
1 1/2 t Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute (or other multi-herb seasoning blend)
1 package ground dark meat turkey or a blend of light/dark meat (about 1.25 lbs.)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 1/4 t kosher salt (as a rule, use 1t salt for every 1lb. ground meat)
several grinds of freshly cracked pepper
zest of one lemon


In a large pot, combine the chicken stock with the whole head of garlic. Cover and simmer 30 minutes while you get the vegetables going and make the meatballs. This is an extra step that will give you great depth of flavor.

Make the meatballs: Beat the egg and milk. Stir in the lemon zest, garlic, seasoning and salt and pepper. Add the meat, cheese and breadcrumbs and combine everything gently without overmixing. Roll/form into 1" balls and set aside.

In a separate large soup pot, sauté the onion, carrots, celery, bay, thyme, salt and pepper in the evoo over medium heat until translucent and soft, about 8 minutes (stirring occasionally). Add the hot, garlicky chicken stock (first straining out the garlic and its skin), the parmesan rind and then the meatballs. Bring to a simmer again for about 8 minutes or until the meat is all cooked through. Add the parsley and the lemon juice. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary. Simmer another few minutes on low to let all the flavors come together.

Place the spinach in each bowl* and ladle the hot soup on top. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

*This is a trick I do with many soups--a great way to get more greens in your diet this way without overcooking delicate spinach by adding it to the whole pot.

xoxo
jolie

5 comments:

  1. I love your stories. And your words resonate so much with me. Thank you for sharing! :) xoxo

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  2. Come on, man, that looks delicious! More importantly, I've fought too hard for this zip code to go home now...

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  3. You are a great writer. And I can't stop trying to figure out who the "star" was. I know -- Barry Williams.

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  4. Heck of a story. True example of suffering for one's art. Don't know how the storms did down south but up here in NorCal they were quite impressive for this time of year.

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