A few days ago, Kingston asked me to try out one of his new markers which are supposed to change colors. So, I skeptically put some scribbles and blobs on a piece of paper with the red-to-yellow marker.
The next day, it was still red. Nothing had happened. No magic, no alchemy. We wondered, how does it turn yellow? The following morning, when we looked at it still sitting there on the table unchanged, we wondered aloud again.
I stared at it for another moment.
"Let’s change it,” I said. Kingston nodded in agreement.
I looked at the shape of it, the blob of ink. Suddenly, I thought it looked something like an alligator's head. So I made it into one.
Kingston, being four and bossy and therefore a natural art director, began telling me what to add.
“Put legs! Then a crow eating the alligator!” I added a body and legs then drew a little crow pecking at it. Hm.
“Now the clouds!” He said. “Oh, and snow! And ants climbing on the alligator!"
Now we were really cooking. The orginal patch of color on the paper had taken on its own life and become something quite other than what it had been.
How elements – ingredients, objects that seem to definitely be one thing, or perhaps a mark on paper – can be quickly transformed into something else has always fascinated me.
Maybe it comes from being a kid and watching my brother, Warren, draw as he sat in front of the TV. If I kept my eye on his hand moving across the blank sheet of paper, a few scratches and lines might turn into something magical like a cat sitting in a window, gazing out at the world.
For me, this was better than anything on television.
Or, maybe my fascination with transformation came from watching women I knew cooking in the kitchen. The essential nature of cooking, after all, is alchemy.
For example. Take a carrot, some celery, onion, chop everything up and add water, and you have a very simple vegetable broth.
Leave some heavy cream out on the counter overnight with a spoonful of buttermilk in it and it becomes a thick and delicious creme fraiche.
But what comes to the front of my mind when I think back to the kitchen and being really little is watching my mother toss a live turtle into a smoking hot wok then clamping the metal lid down before the creature could crawl out.
Later that same day, we took the soup (thank you transmuted turtle) to my Uncle Fish, who was very sick in the hospital. The healing liquid was poured out of a green thermos and spooned into his parched mouth.
Cooking is transformation itself and something we can all partake in. Who, after all, would turn down a bit of magic in their lives? Not I.
Beef, Lamb and Spinach Meatballs with Yogurt Sauce
I have a few people in my life who don't eat lamb for whatever reason. A mental repulsion or perhaps it's "too gamey" for them. The greens and beef used here, along with spices and the yogurt, transform these ingredients into a well-flavored meatball that I think is truly delicious. You can make more small ones for an appetizer or larger ones as a main. Up to you.
Lightly adapted from Jerusalem.
Makes 16-18 medium-sized meatballs.
For the meatballs:
1/2 lb. ground lamb
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 bunch fresh spinach, stems removed and washed or 1 - 10 oz. package of frozen spinach, defrosted
1/4 cup finely minced onion
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 tablespoons neutral oil for searing
For the yogurt sauce:
1 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon sumac, or substitute in another tablespoon of lemon juice
Make the sauce first. Stir together all ingredients in a small bowl and chill until needed.
Preheat oven to 425°F.
If using fresh spinach, heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add spinach leaves and cover for 5 minutes. Leaves will be wilted and will have released a small amount of liquid. Allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess liquid then chop roughly. If using frozen spinach, squeeze out excess liquid then chop roughly.
In a large bowl, combine lamb, beef, spinach, onion, egg, parsley, cilantro, garlic, cumin, salt, and both peppers. Combine gently then with your hands then form into balls, small or medium.
In a large frying pan, pour oil and heat oil over medium-high until it is hot. Sear the meatballs for about 4 minutes, until golden brown.
Transfer the meatballs to a baking sheet and place in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes until they are just cooked through and tender. Serve warm or at room temperature with the yogurt sauce.