“Hey buddy, these fancy meatballs are great! Thanks!”
“No problem. It was the least that I could do.”
And I meant it. It really was the least that I could do.
My grandmother used to say “be friendly with the neighbors but don’t be friends”. That pearl of wisdom sums up our relationship with Brad, our neighbor to the right. This may sound like callous advice but to others of you might it rings practical. My grandmother’s own inseparable best friend (of over 30 years!) was her next door neighbor — so I have no choice but to file this admonition of hers in the “do as I say, not as I do” section where I store the many of her colorful bon mots . Had lived next door to Brad, she would have surely had an easier time taking her own advice. Brad is an enigma. A big boring enigma. Had Gertrude Stein met Brad before she famously visited Oakland, I’m sure it would have been Brad forever described as “there isn’t much there there. ” It should count for something that the best word I can come up with to describe Brad is ‘ nondescript ‘. ‘Enigma’ might imply that real time is spent figuring him out — its not. Quite the opposite…
As I tell you all this right now I can’t recall what he does for a living, how long he’s lived next door to us, where his family is from, or what his hobbies might be. I’m sure he has told us all this at one time in the last 10 years but just never really sinks. On those rare occasions where we do speak I’m usually distracted by his overall plainness to remember anything about him. His voice is a strange monotone and his clothes are absent of any personal style. His new gray Honda (or is it a Subaru?) looks just like his old gray Honda (or is it a Subaru?) A favorite past time of ours has been to project onto Brad all manner of personal stories and traits. In the absense of any real personal Brad knowledge we discuss his imaginary family, his exciting and unusual hobbies and amusements, and even peccadilloes. Over the years we have constructed an elaborate (yet entirely imaginary) back-story (and ‘present-story’) that not only explains the reasons for his plainness but adds much needed splashes of color to the otherwise nondescript details of his life. Suffice it to say that knowing too much about Brad would wreck all our fun!
So what does this have to do with meatballs? Trust me. Don’t I always get there?
Each winter Brad reaches out to us and sends us into a panic when he invites us to his annual ‘big party’. With any luck at all we won’t be caught off guard by the invitation so we can tell him of our plans to be away for the weekend; and then rush inside as fast as we can and make plans to be away for that weekend.
“ Oh no! Why do we keep missing your party Brad? “
We have our reasons.
We feel very protective of the “Brad” constructed over years of our creative and inventive storytelling. Each bit of Brad knowledge would be a serious loss of creative capital requiring us to modify our stories to accommodate.Several years ago we weren’t quick enough on our feet to make excuses (either that or we weren’t flush enough to afford a hotel) and we got stuck accepting Brad’s invitation. We are under no illusion as to Brad’s motives for inviting us to his party. Its an old trick to invite your neighbors to your party to inoculate you from charges of inconsideration — especially if you plan to unleash hoards of drunken twenty-somethings onto the neighborhood for a night. Brad’s parties are about insanely loud music going until all hours, hundreds of people going in and out of the house, excessive drinking, dancing, and just loud screaming in the yard until four in the morning.
“Don’t your neighbors complain dude?”
“Why man? I invited them!”
How had Brad managed to have over a 100 friends with nothing better to do that go to his house on a Saturday night? Who were these people and where did they come from? God knows none of them had ever come over during the other 364 days of the year! As we made our way through the crowd looking for the bar I could feel the pressure to re-script our tale ‘o Brad. One thing was immediately clear: Brad’s friends weren’t there for good food and drink. The bar consisted solely of bottles of supermarket brand vodka; the kind found in large plastic bottles tagged with vaguely Russian sounding names — fooling nobody. The only food was a few opened bags of chips and a round supermarket crudite platter with carrots, celery and ranch dressing. (This sat untouched in the kitchen.) That was it. Surely this explained the faint smell of vomit in the back yard everyone tried hard not to notice. Perhaps these young people hadn’t yet learned this important party requirement? I would have felt sorry for Brad’s guests who gave up their Saturday night for a party without food but to our surprise everyone was having a great time ! Admittedly, it was infectious. Our sense of adventure took over and we stuck around to see what the draw was. We never found the actual reason for the success of the party but then again most things about Brad were unexplained and had to be invented. Brad obviously had more of a life than we gave him credit for even though many in attendance didn’t even actually know him! Maybe they were inventing stories too? After an hour or so when enough people could give testimony that we had shown up we decided to leave the melee and return to our not so peaceful but much less crowded living room next door and wait it out. We had an unexpectedly great time even though we didn’t learn too much about Brad or how he had managed to attract so many people to a party. Brad came over the next morning to apologize for the loud music and the vomit on our front walk.
“Well, thats ok. You invited us.”
So now we are a bit conflicted each year when we see Brad come up the front walk to invite us to his annual “big party”. Its not something we would want to do regularly but an hour or two can be a fun adventure exposing us to things we don’t usually get to see up close. Much like a trip to the zoo.This year when Brad came up the walk and invited us I gave my usual knee jerk response in the affirmative:
“Sure, what can I bring?”
What could I possibly bring to an event like Brad’s? Lysol perhaps?
“Food? Do you think you guys could bring some food?”
I really have to stop asking what I can bring. In hindsight I think Brad was probably suggesting I bring an extra bag of Doritos as that is all he usually serves at his parties — but I knew I would have to do just a bit more than that. But how much more? When I realized that if I could get a bit of food into this party there might be less vomit for Brad to clean up the next morning I saw this request as a public health issue. I had an obligation.
Then I remembered these meatballs. Easy, cheap. I don’t even consider them real cooking but to Brad’s guests they were gourmet. Its all relative I suppose. If you’ve never had steak, pre made Costco meatballs swimming in condensed soup tastes just fine! And truthfully, these are doctored up enough so that if you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t know any better.Brad was appreciative, but to my way of thinking it was the least that I could do. The very least . But fun.
Meatballs: Vintage Style
This is what you will need:
- 1 (38 ounce) package frozen swedish meatballs (precooked)
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 (10 ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
- 1 (10 ounce) can beef or veal broth
- 1 (12 ounce) jar beef gravy
- 1 tablespoon Kitchen Bouquet
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 1/4 grated parmesan cheese
This is how you make it:
- Saute one chopped onion in the olive oil until translucent and soft.
- Add the can of cream of mushroom soup and broth and mix until combined.
- Add the can of gravy and Kitchen Bouquet and mix until well combined.
- Adjust consistency with more broth, salt, pepper and Kitchen Bouquet.
- Add red wine and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
- Add meatballs and simmer until meatballs are warmed through.
- If mixture gets too goopy add more broth.
- The longer you simmer the better as the onions will dissolve into the gravy.
- You can transfer to a crock pot or warming dish to serve topped with a dusting of parmesan cheese.
(Note: I think I tripled this recipe and used one of those big bags of Costco meatballs. Some where left over. I’ll use them next year.)