The Key to Happiness is Inside
Kids love meatballs. People love meatballs. To many, they’re a simple, meaty bite of circular happiness.
The beauty of meatballs is there’s no one right way to prepare them. For the meat lovers out there, the traditional ground beef or a pork, beef, and veal combo is the only way to go. Exotic foodies might be eager to sample buffalo, lamb, elk, or other protein-based mixtures. Vegans experiment by forming tofu, tempeh, beans, nuts, and other veggies into tasty, meatball-like morsels. Then there are binding agents to consider, like breadcrumbs and eggs, and the vast seasoning options. How big – small, medium, large? How to prepare – boil, bake, stew? Ah, the possibilities seem endless…
By a stroke of epiphanic luck, a few years back I had this great idea to give my soon-to-be college freshman son some sage advice, as he was indecisive about selecting his college major. Like many 18 year olds just starting their journey into adulthood, there can be varying degrees of naive, fanciful, and nonchalant readiness about embarking on their first “post nest” flight path. And so, as the momma bird seeing my not-so-baby-anymore bird perched at the edge of our nest, on the verge of spreading his wings to jump and fly into the great unknown, I felt compelled to offer him the following analogy.
“You know,” I said, “declaring your major is like making meatballs.”
He looked up at me from his phone a little dazed as if he hadn’t quite heard me correctly through his half listening ears, “Huh?”
But I knew I had peaked his interest – because I knew he loved meatballs!
I went on to explain, “Well, yes. It’s really quite simple. Think of it this way. When you pick a focus of study in college, you are setting yourself up for a job once you graduate. Just like making tasty meatballs, there are three critical considerations.
First and most importantly, do something that is very interesting and enjoyable for you. This is the “meat” – and it’s the most important ingredient. You’re a smart young man and could do well at several things. Pick something you like and can be good at, not something you’re good at but don’t like. There’s a good chance you’ll have to go to work five days a week and put in eight or more hours a day. Even though it’s hopefully a job you really like, there will be days you don’t like it. Imagine doing something you don’t like to start with just because you’re good at it – and then having to do it every day. So, if you don’t like pork, don’t use it in your meatballs. If you love bison, that’s the main ingredient you should start with.
Second, do something where you can make enough money to live comfortably. I’m not saying you need to become a brain surgeon or an astronaut, just because you can (unless of course you want to!) I’m saying that you want to be able to relish life. You may put in a lot of hours at work and you want to be able to balance that with a quality of life you define. You know, like a house, a car, a phone, food, clothes… Money is required for all that stuff. Only you know what you’ll need to support the lifestyle you desire. It’s like the mixing ingredients used to make your meatballs taste good – and to make your meatballs more than just balls of meat. It’s the flavor only your watering taste buds can discern.
Third, do something where you have a good shot at landing a job after college. While it’s great to strive for doing something you love and which has lots of earning potential, you should also consider some level of practicality about securing employment. I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but let’s face it. As much as you admire Peyton Manning, and you know he makes a lot of money doing what he loves, it’s probably unlikely you’re going to land a multi-year multi-million dollar contract and be the next NFL star quarterback. It’s like mixing the perfect batch of meatballs and then leaving it in the bowl. You can’t eat them until you roll and cook them.
Now, you might change your major one or more times over the course of your college career, and that’s perfectly fine. You may take a different direction once you graduate, and that’s fine too. Or, you may take a first job related to your major and then decide you want to do something completely different after a period of time. That’s also okay. You can mix up a new batch of meatballs when the time is right – use new ingredients and new cooking methods. This is just your first batch so follow these three steps to get started. You’ll perfect them over your lifetime. You may always love your first recipe the best. Or you may change it up over and over again as time goes by.”
This past week, I was standing in the kitchen with my hands immersed in a bowl, mixing a concoction of ground turkey, breadcrumbs, eggs, white wine, veggie broth, Worcestershire sauce, fresh basil, parsley, thyme, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper. It was the first time I had combined these particular ingredients, but I had a feeling they would taste good together based on years of making varying meatball recipes and learning to trust my instincts. I had just lost my job the week before and at a point in my day when I’d normally be on a conference call or preparing a presentation, I realized as I methodically rolled and laid out the meatballs on a baking sheet that even a 25+ year business veteran needs to mix it up once in awhile. Using the same recipe over and over can be methodical and efficient. It can also get boring and antiquated. We all need to be brave and open to trying new recipes and experiencing new flavors when the opportunity presents itself.
So, once again, I had the epiphany, but this time it was for me and not my son, that happiness really is like making meatballs.
I looked at the neatly rolled meatballs on the cookie sheet waiting to go into the oven. It was time to finally start the blog I’d been thinking about for the last few years.
I gave my son the “making meatballs” advice three summers ago. Today, he’s a junior in college, has evolved his major three times, and is now settled into Mathematics course work in which he excels and enjoys. He’s focused on the present and also thinking about the future – possible research, an internship and post-grad studies.
Already a fine meatball maker, I can’t wait to try his next batch!
By the way, here’s my most current meatball recipe, if you’d like to try it. It turned out really yummy. After they came out of the oven, I dumped them into a big pot of homemade spaghetti sauce I had made recently using four varieties of freshly-picked tomatoes from my garden.
Ah, but that’s a recipe for another day.
1. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
2. While oven gets to temperature, whisk together the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl:
• 1 egg
• 1/4 cup wine (I like white wine or sherry.)
• 1/4 cup vegetable broth (Sometimes, I use milk instead.)
• 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil (or 1 tablespoon dried basil)
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
• 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme (I didn’t have fresh, but if you do, use it. Fresh herbs are always better!)
• 2 minced garlic cloves (What the heck, add a third if you’re feeling feisty!)
• 1 finely grated small onion and the juice
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon pepper
3. Hand-mix in 1 lb. ground turkey. (Yes, that’s right, get your hands in that bowl!)
4. Gently hand-mix in 1/2 cup bread crumbs, just until combined. (I like Italian flavored bread crumbs for an extra level of flavor.)
5. On a cookie sheet, loosely roll meatballs. (I prefer them bite-sized – a generous 1/8 cup. But, in this case, size doesn’t matter! Whatever you like best!)
6. Place cookie sheet on a lower oven shelf for 30 minutes. Flip meatballs after 15 minutes.
7. When done, let sit for 5 or so minutes.
8. Then, plop one in your mouth straight from the cookie sheet…or put them in a pot of sauce and heat some pasta for traditional spaghetti and meatballs…or come up with your own final preparation.
9. Most importantly, enjoy!