turkey meatball soup

Friday, November 30, 2012

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

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.


thank you

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is Thank You, it will be enough."
--Eckhart Tolle

Happy Thanksgiving from Joeycake! (And Lena)

whipped sweet potato casserole

Thursday, November 15, 2012

After my Mom married my Vegan Stepfather, a steadfast tradition was born. It involved going around the table during special-occasion meals for everyone to take turns saying nice things--either what we loved most about the person-of-honor (Birthdays), what we were grateful for (Thanksgiving), or what inspiring thing we learned (every single other time we ate together, ever). They meant well (I do love the sentiment) but as a teenager this was somewhat hateful.  Not only did the food always get cold, but what 13-year-old likes being put on the spot?

**Backstory Alert: During this time my Mom and VSF ran a pretty huge personal development business that involved lots of travel. They were home much less than they were away (that's probably why they were hungry to create meaningful memories in the rare times we were all together as a family). While we stayed home with a (usually unstable) nanny, they worked and traveled with an entourage of staff, a mostly normal/lovely bunch comprised of many tried-and-true loyalists and a handful of newbies who circulated in and out, revolving-door-style. This entourage was around A LOT. All this to say: it was not uncommon to play the around-the-table game with loads of people at their frequent work-related dinners. Inevitably someone would cry during their turn and this really upped the ante for everyone else. And it sucked being one of the unlucky souls to go last; it was like grasping at straws to not repeat something nice that had already been said ("Um...I'm also so grateful for my health!"). Or try coming up with a brilliant nugget when you're dragged to a Birthday dinner honoring a brand new entourage joiner ("Congrats on your toupee being hardly noticeable!").

One year our family hosted an Orphans' Thanksgiving and there were upwards of 100 people dining in our living room (entourage and nanny included). The furniture was cleared out and replaced with rows of rented tables swathed in polyester linens and a buffet with multiple chafing dishes featuring all manner of vegetable-based dishes. It literally took over an hour to go around the table(s) while 100 of our "closest friends" pontificated thankfully. And bad idea of the century: we had all visited the plant-based buffet beforehand. I sat there watching my rubbery Tofurkey get tepid and my mushroom gravy get gelatinous and even as a kid I thought: this is bullshit. Its no wonder my brother Josh had the sense to flee to the neighbors' house down the street. Too bad I was such a good girl.

You'd think that particular incident (or much of my childhood, for that matter) would've scarred me for life but now that I'm a grown-up, I adore Thanksgiving. It's my most favorite. There are no presents to buy, it's just about gratitude and togetherness and food and family. I have, however, created some new rules for myself:

1. Food is eaten hot
2. Turkey is happening
3. Gratitude is imperative yet personal

Whipped Sweet Potato Casserole
serves 6-8
recipe from Epicurious

This is so freaking decadent. Plus the topping has CORN FLAKES in it. Genius. Do yourself a favor and remain in denial about the copious amounts of butter and sugar here. It a Holiday, right?:)

22 oz. red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled and cut into 1" pieces
6 T unsalted butter at room temperature
1 large egg
6 T sugar
1 t pumpkin pie spice
pinch sea salt

1 1/2 cups cornflakes, crushed
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
6 T unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the sweet potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer and add the butter, pumpkin pie spice, salt and sugar. Beat until creamy. Taste for seasoning and then add the egg and mix well. Spread/pour the mixture into a greased 8x8 baking dish (Note: the dish can be made into advance up to this point. Cover and refrigerate and then bring to room temperature to continue.) Bake uncovered until the edges begin to brown, about 25 minutes.

Mix the cornflakes, pecans, butter and sugar until well incorporated and top the cooked sweet potatoes evenly. Bake an additional 10 minutes, uncovered, until golden brown and crisp.


P.S.  Happy Thanksgiving!  I'm so grateful for you that I'd get up and say it in front of 100 personal-development vegans!:)

you asked for it, you got it

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I'm being detained in the Toyota Dealership's Customer Lounge for a couple hours while my Prius gets its routine service. Thought I'd give you the play-by-play in a nearly real-time live blogging situation since this customer lounge is rife with people-watching opportunities. To wit:

8:43 am

A fur-clad old lady sleeps on a couch.

A Spanish-speaking woman talks unabashedly loud on a cell phone directly underneath a sign saying, "In consideration of others, please refrain from using your CELL PHONE in the waiting area."

A bespectacled young asian man watches an iPad with one nervous, incessantly twitching leg.

A handsome gal in a head-to-toe bubble-gum pink sweatsuit enters with several full shopping bags and various totes. She situates herself, then leans over and washes her hands by pouring a jug of water over them into a plastic grocery sack on the floor. No one regards this as odd.

A static-y soccer game plays on a giant TV that no one is watching.

9:12 am

Old Lady still sleeps. Her fur looks cozy.

Spanish Cell Phone wraps up her call with a flourish.

Twitchy Leg reaches a twitching crescendo.

Pink Sweatsuit begins clipping coupons and eating dusty nuts out of a loud baggie.

A young woman with superlong fake french tips enters. Beelines for free (stale) doughnuts. Stocks up. Makes her way to a chair and pulls out a giant afghan. It drapes over her entire body and pools at her feet as she begins crocheting its edge. Periodically she crawls out from under it to take a bite of her cruller.

Soccer game ends and slow-cooker infomercial commences.


Old Lady still sleeps.

Spanish Cell Phone receives many dirty looks when she begins a new call.

Pink Sweatsuit scours grocery store circulars and takes copious notes on a legal pad.

French Tips rises to revisit doughnuts. After a long ponder, chooses a jelly-filled.

Twitchy Leg gets the lucky news his car is ready and escapes.

Skinny hipster enters, texting with her keyboard volume on high.

Someone turns the channel so we can all enjoy the 18th hour of The Today Show.

10:13 am

Old Lady may actually be dead.

Spanish Cell Phone gets a call that her car is ready (irony award of the year).

French Tips has doughnut crumbs on her afghan and flicks them off with her talons.

Pink Sweatsuit pulls out a Sherlock-Holmesy magnifying glass to read the fine print on a coupon.

Skinny Hipster clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclicks

The Today Show continues with emaciated fashion experts giving overweight people makeover advice.

10:28 am

Old Lady is eventually roused by a Service Advisor to approve an additional repair. She subsequently resumes slumber.

French Tips and Pink Sweatsuit get released at the same time and their exit produces a flurry of afghan yarn and watery plastic.


Two words: Hoda. Kotb.

10:37 am

I am FREEEEEEE!  Well, they lost my car key so I had to wait an additional half-hour while they rooted around for it, but after that?  I was FREEEEEEE!

Happy Thursday:)

P.S.  Do you guys know where I can pick up the service shuttle?

the most awful conversation i've had more than once

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Annoying Person: "What do you do?"

Me: "I'm an actor."

AP: "You mean an actRESS, right? Ha ha! You're a girl, you know!"

Me: *polite laugh masking irritation* "Yes. Yes, I am a girl."

AP: "What stuff do you do?"

Me, begrudgingly: "Some theatre but mostly television."

AP: "Oh! Wow! What have I seen you in?"

Me: *hems, haws, tries to be humble*

AP: "No, seriously--what SHOWS? Let's hear it!"

Me: "Um...lots of guest stars, mostly."


Me: " a couple episodes on [this noteworthy show that was cancelled] and [this show from forever ago that people seem to have liked]....*sees person expectantly waiting for more*....a handful of pilots that never saw the light of day....*and yet more*....some commercials."

AP, nodding: "I don't ever watch TV."

Me: *stares and blinks*

AP, disdainfully: "I don't even own a TV."

(Kill me.)


{photo from Psych courtesy super-Psych-fans Alicia and Andy}

iced pumpkin cookies

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Once, a million years ago, I took the train from NYC to a tiny (and kinda scary) Connecticut town to visit Shannon while he was rehearsing a musical about the life of John Philip Sousa.

A few things that are sharp in my memory from that weekend include:

1. The sweet man who was playing Sousa was so committed that he shaved his hairline back a couple inches so he'd more closely resemble the actual Sousa. Shannon told me this in advance and while I was shocked someone would consider this extreme measure for a regional theatre production, I couldn't wait to lay my eyes on it. When I finally met him, I couldn't stop staring (I had a problem) and even afterward, spent WAY too much time wondering how that was gonna look growing back in. Like a headband of 5-o'clock shadow? Would he shave the rest of his head so it could grow back together as one unit? I still wonder about this and how it all turned out.

2. We were in our young 20s so we thought it'd be cute/totally normal/romantic to share his twin bed. I literally fell out of it in the middle of the night and remember lying there on the cold floor, rubbing my sore hip and thinking: What am I doing?? This is bullshit. That may have been the exact moment I became an adult.

3. One of his cast-mates used an empty Lays potato chip bag as a purse. As. A. Purse. Think about it.

4. One afternoon, we walked in on his roommate: a sad, bespectacled soprano recluse in her late 40s. She sat cross-legged on the couch with a plastic grocery-store tray in her lap that contained several pale orange, frosted cupcakes. She caught us staring and blurted, "What?! My doctor said I need to include more pumpkin in my diet." 

I think everyone needs more pumpkin in their diet this time of year. And if the carrier is a cupcake (or a cookie for that matter), it's better than no pumpkin at all, right?  So: 

Dear Shannon's Sousa Roommate From 1996, 
Wherever you are.....this one's for you:

Iced Pumpkin Cookies
adapted from All Recipes
yields about 3 dozen

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t ground cloves
1/2 t salt
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 t vanilla extract

3 cups powdered sugar
4 1/2 T milk
1 1/2 T melted butter
1 1/2 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Set aside.

Cream together the sugars and butter with an electric mixer several minutes until light and fluffy. Add the egg, pumpkin, and vanilla and beat until well mixed. Add dry ingredients a bit at a time and mix until just incorporated. Drop on parchment-lined baking sheets by tablespoonfuls; moisten your fingers with water and flatten slightly. Bake 16 minutes or until just beginning to turn golden, taking care not to over bake.

Make the icing: combine the powdered sugar, milk, vanilla and melted butter. Stir with a whisk or fork until smooth. Dip the tops of completely cooled cookies into the icing and dry completely on a rack before storing.

(Alternately, you can make less icing and just drizzle instead of dip. But do you really want less icing?)

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