Turkey Meatballs, prompted by my better half.

fennel seeds

The other day, after din­ner, my ‘bet­ter half’ men­tioned that he was “kinda over sal­ads, I think”. This being said after a din­ner of, you guessed it: salad. Now, you may (but prob­a­bly don’t) remem­ber that all we craved in China were sal­ads. So after that quip, there was clearly a ‘lesser’ half at the din­ner table.

As much as I force­fully will things to hap­pen — say, for instance, eat­ing sal­ads every night for din­ner — minds change, peo­ple change, ideas change, and cir­cum­stances change. Pretty soon I’ll be hear­ing crazy talk like, “let’s have Chi­nese food for din­ner” (which hap­pened this week­end, so crazy!). I hate being thrown curveballs.

I like things to be con­sis­tent. I like to estab­lish solid rou­tines, and I hate get­ting told things are prob­a­bly bet­ter oth­er­wise. This is why I pre­fer to keep the friends that I already have over mak­ing new ones– no offense. I don’t care how nice our neigh­bors are, they’re not my friends (yet). I’d pre­fer to set­tle in a nice apart­ment for sev­eral years if I can and really mak­ing it my own, rather than pick­ing up and mov­ing every two years into places with ugly walls and even uglier fur­ni­ture I don’t care if we can buy slip­cov­ers. Actu­ally, I care, because slip­cov­ers are ugly too.

dry meatball mixture

I get ner­vous when I am unfa­mil­iar with a neigh­bor­hood, or a per­son, or say, when I’m rid­ing a bike at a com­fort­able speed and my hus­band tells me to go faster. I can’t! Not out­side my com­fort zone! And don’t tell me I can, that just pisses me off. I’ll do it at my own pace. My pace includes a good, solid rou­tine wher­ever I am. Trust me, I’d get lost in a whirl­wind of to-do lists and Face­book searches with­out a good routine.

Do you hear how ridicu­lous all of this makes me sound?


I try (pre­tend) to be the ‘go-with-the-flow, throw-me-a-curveball’ sort of girl. And for many of you, I’ve got your fooled! Suck­ers! Because I can actu­ally play this part really well, and by now I’ve had a good ten-year run at prac­tice. But at the heart of it, I’m always think­ing, always plan­ning, always com­par­ing one sit­u­a­tion or per­son or instance to the next. Chances are, I’m always more anx­ious than you think.

And no, I’m not on any meds. Yet.

At the end of my yoga class yes­ter­day, the instruc­tor reminded us to be mind­ful and take inspi­ra­tion in the every day. Maybe I was hyp­no­tized by yogic bliss, but it her sim­ple reminder stuck with me in a more pro­found way. Because, being a someone’s ‘other half’ doesn’t fare well with this ‘no-change’ pol­icy. Nei­ther does hav­ing to move around every two years for said ‘other half’s’ job.

meatballs in the pan

So I’ve got a new mantra, which is to embrace the recent changes in my life with­out too many of my pre-supposed stan­dards : mar­riage, mov­ing back to DC, estab­lish­ing a career from home. If I’m going to be a ‘writer’, well, I’d bet­ter go ahead and start writ­ing. If I’m going to go to yoga every day, I guess I’d bet­ter put on my leg­gings as soon as I wake up in the morn­ing. And finally, if my hus­band says he doesn’t like sal­ads any­more, then for eff­ing sakes, I’ll make a huge batch of meat­balls instead. It’s the lit­tle things first, people.

This blog has recently been a lot of show­ing off pic­tures and brag­ging about where I’ve been. A lot of mun­dane activ­ity, in other words. These are slightly deeper thoughts, and more impor­tantly, help to get me back to what I’ve always loved to do, which is write, and also make and share some food. So here, here’s a recipe for some turkey meat­balls. At least here, when my din­ing com­pan­ion sug­gests for a change, I can make it hap­pen, now. As far as this writ­ing thing goes, well, we’ll see.

Turkey Meat­balls

inspired by a recipe from the blog Arugula Files, here

  • 1 tsp. fen­nel seeds
  • 1/2 medium white onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium cubanelle pep­per (or poblano pepper)
  • 6 crem­ini mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup grated parme­sano reggiano
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 lbs. ground turkey thigh
  • 2 eggs
  1. In a small skil­let, toast fen­nel seeds for 2–3 min­utes over med-high heat, shak­ing pan often to pre­vent burn­ing. When seeds are browned, trans­fer to a spice mill or grinder. Grind to a fine powder.
  2. Place white onion, gar­lic, pep­pers, and mush­rooms into a food proces­sor, and pulse until chopped very finely. Alter­na­tively, if you do not have a food processer (as I don’t), chop each ingre­di­ent very very finely the old fash­ioned way — with a good chef’s knife and a big cut­ting board — and trans­fer to a medium-sized bowl. Add ground fen­nel seeds as well. Add 3/4 cup grated parme­san cheese and 3/4 cup bread­crumbs. Stir and mix very well, until all ingre­di­ents are incor­po­rated. Add a few good pinches of salt, and freshly ground pep­per. The bril­liant thing about this method of mix­ing all the ‘dry’ ingre­di­ents together is that you can still taste and adjust for sea­son­ing before you add your meat.
  3. Place your turkey meat in a large bowl, and sea­son with salt and pep­per. Beat eggs, and add them to the bowl. Using one hand, fold turkey once or twice to slightly mix in eggs, being care­ful not to squish the meat between your fin­gers. Add about 1/3 of the dry onion/breadcrumb mix­ture to the meat, and fold sev­eral more times again. Repeat two more times, adding 1/3 of the mix­ture and incor­po­rat­ing it into the meat until well-mixed. Stir­ring and mix­ing too vig­or­ously and too much will cause a firmer, harder, and thus drier meat­ball, so make sure you are con­scious to use your hands lightly.
  4. Using a spoon, scoop 1-oz. sized meat­balls, gen­tly form­ing or rolling with your hands. Again, don’t play with the meat­balls too much or pack them too tightly. Weigh­ing each meat­ball is encour­aged, although feel free to eye­ball your amounts if you’re short on time. I like my meat­balls on the smaller side of things. Feel free to dou­ble the weight and make ‘em big­ger if you like! Place the balls on a non­stick sur­face, such as a bak­ing sheet lined with sil­pat or foil.
  5. Once all the meat is formed into balls, wash your hands thor­oughly. Heat about 2 table­spoons of extra vir­gin olive oil in a non­stick skil­let over high heat, or enough oil to thickly coat the bot­tom of the pan. Place as many meat­balls as can com­fort­ably fit onto the skil­let, and turn heat down slightly to med or med-high. Using a spat­ula, roll meat­balls every 20–30 sec­onds to ensure an even, brown fry. Cook for 3–4 min­utes or until the out­sides are com­pletely browned. Trans­fer to a rack to cool. Add more meat­balls into the skil­let, and repeat. Con­tinue until all the meat­balls are cooked, wip­ing pan and adding more oil only if necessary.
  6. To fin­ish meat­balls, place a desired amount of sauce (prefer­ably home­made) into a large pot. Place cooled meat­balls into the sauce, mix a few times to ensure all meat­balls are evenly coated, and turn heat down to med-low. Cover and sim­mer for 40–45 min­utes. Serve hot, over noo­dles. Or, in a baguette with some pro­volone for a deli­cious sandwich!
**Freez­ing Option: Once your meat­balls are com­pletely cooled after step #5, trans­fer to seal­able freezer bags or con­tain­ers. To cook, place meat­balls and sauce and cook accord­ing to direc­tions in step #6.

Yield: 4 dozen meat­balls, enough for 8–10 serv­ings with pasta and sauce.


Finally, no offense, but what’s with food in the shape of balls? Cake balls? Fish balls? No good. The only food that is accept­able in the form of balls, on my din­ner table, is the rus­tic, authen­tic, meat­ball. I can only accept so much change, people.

The Spaghetti Chronicles, because it’s a long story.

As I may have men­tioned before, I am still await­ing the ship­ment of my kitchen (ando­hyeah, the rest of my things too), which should arrive at my door some­time next week. In the mean­time I’ve made do with the DiploMan’s kitchen goods, which are fine but you know, they’re just not mine. Plus the Diplo­Man doesn’t have crazy kitchen girl things, like a man­dolin, a scraper, mini whisks and mini spat­u­las, and not even a French Press. But he has lazy kitchen boy things, like an auto­matic wine opener. Why?

Any­way lest I stray too far into gad­get land, despite the lack of kitchen gear avail­able as well as sta­ple pantry items, I really wanted to make a big pot of spaghetti last week. This weather has me look­ing for one-pot won­ders, as the week before I made my mama’s chicken curry (which lasted us through the week). I fully accept the fact that I am a food snob (and proud of it!) like to use the best, most authen­tic ingre­di­ents (par­tic­u­larly when cook­ing Ital­ian food) and gen­er­ally try to make every­thing out of scratch. Because it’s always bet­ter that way. Before I left Brook­lyn I loaded up on essen­tial spices, pas­tas, canned goods, salsas.…my ship­ment looked like my 3rd grade earth­quake kit on MAJOR STEROIDS. But since none of this has arrived yet, I had no choice but to throw up my hands in defeat and head to the store to see what I could find. And here are a few things I brought home:

I know, I gri­maced in hor­ror too when I was forced to use these “chopped peeled toma­toes” instead of the req­ui­site San Marzano brand I’ve been spoiled with back home. And, don’t even get me started on the “Spaghetti Bolog­nese” mixed dried spices. The food snob inside of me is kick­ing my own arse. But, spices Ital­ian Spices are expen­sive here, and with some com­ing in the next week, I couldn’t afford to stock up on every spice in the store. Right?

Aside from these dried goods and the parme­san cheese nabbed at the super­mar­ket, I also went to my favorite wet mar­ket just across the island, where I was able to find the base for my ragu sauce: car­rots, cel­ery and onion for a mire­poix and lots of toma­toes, which I roasted to add in the sauce for extra fla­vor since I didn’t have any tomato paste avail­able. I took a cue from Smit­ten Kitchen and my friend Donna, and though I didn’t have beau­ti­ful sum­mer baby toma­toes to slow roast, these turned out just the way I wanted. Sud­denly a lit­tle ray of sun­shine shone on my mis­sion to cook Ital­ian with Chi­nese ingredients!

with gar­lic, ready to be peeled, chopped and tossed into basic tomato sauce

I also bought some ground beef, from a lady sell­ing all sorts of ground meat and meat fill­ings to wrap in dumplings– a com­mon sight to see in the mar­kets here in Guangzhou. There were two major dif­fer­ences with this meat, than with the meat I would have bought in an Amer­i­can Super­mar­ket. First, the grind was much finer, almost to a paste con­sis­tency, it was ground so thin. I real­ized the Chi­nese most often use ground meat to make chi­nese meat­balls, or stuff inside tofu or veg­gies, or wrap inside of buns– the Chi­nese would never be so bla­tant as to sautee their ground beef into a sauce! Addi­tion­ally, the fat to lean con­tent was higher than I was used to, which was dis­turb­ing only because I knew it would affect the tex­ture of the meat once cooked. And with these two obser­va­tions, I threw it into the pan.

As a side­note, I was ini­tially extremely wary of buy­ing any meat in China, and am now only mod­er­ately wary but have marched on and even bought myself a whole chicken from the butcher the other week (more on that later)! Buy­ing the ground beef for this sauce spawned an inner debate with myself about how exactly to go about buy­ing meat in China, espe­cially ground meat. Just because I am buy­ing all my food at my local mar­kets here doesn’t mean it comes from farm­ers with eth­i­cal and envi­ron­men­tal prac­tices, nor does it mean that the food is the fresh­est, untainted or unadul­ter­ated. You can’t trust that the prac­tices for rais­ing or slaugh­ter­ing these ani­mals is reg­u­lated, and fur­ther­more I am not in any place (in my lan­guage skills nor being in a host coun­try) to raise these ques­tions at the mar­ket. It puts me, an ulti­mate omni­vore, at the con­stant crux of a huge dilemma– one to be continued.

Any­way into my sauce even­tu­ally went mush­rooms and zuc­chini, because my mom always put zuc­chini in our spaghetti sauce grow­ing up. It also got a hunk of salted dried ham, for fla­vor, while it sim­mered on the stove­top. I sauteed a side of spinach, boiled the noo­dles al dente and voila! A spaghetti din­ner to warm our hearts and stom­achs. Pretty good for cook­ing out of my own com­fort zone, if you ask me!

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