Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sandwiches: The Most Personal Food

Who the hell invented the sandwich? They ought to write a book about him! - Fat sandwich eater in Barfly (1987)

Meatloaf, pasta dishes, Thai food, all kinds of cultural food, really; pizza (which can be turned into a sandwich, but doesn't count because it started as pizza), salads, they're not personal overall. There's individual recipes, and family recipes, and therefore expectations to deliver. A sandwich is private; it's all up to you. You can put meats, cheeses, toppings, vegetables, whatever you want, in a sandwich. There are suggested methods of sandwich construction so that the bread doesn't get soggy from condiments. After putting two slices of bread on a plate, separate from each other, I put cheese down first before mustard if I'm going to eat the sandwich later. I wish I had thought it to be done that way when I was in elementary school. Whenever my mom made me cream cheese and jelly with cheese, the cream cheese was on one slice of bread, the jelly on the other, and the slice of American cheese in the middle. By the time I sat down in the cafeteria for lunch, the sandwich was soggy. I've no complaints because a sandwich is a sandwich. If you eat it right away, then you can prevent that. But if later, then you've got to build defenses against a soggy sandwich. You don't want the contents of a sandwich falling on a table or in your lap.

I also remember that the times I made lunch for myself for school, I loved peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter thick on both slices of bread, with a lot of strawberry jelly smushed in the middle, jam whenever I could get it. Good for peanut butter cravings and for sugar desires. It's why I began to get heavy without noticing it. I just figured it was part of growing. Working in his father's bakery, long before I was even a mildly dirty thought, my dad didn't think in terms of weight or health. All that chocolate, all that bread, all those cookies and cakes and other confections: Yes, yes, YES! It's why he got diabetes later on. He manages it well today.

Lately, I've developed an interest, a fascination, an obsession with the sandwich. After we settle in Henderson, I want to find a decent marinara sauce, a good butterscotch sundae, a perfect fettucine alfredo, a pastichio as wonderful, or better, than the one I had on my birthday at Athena's in Canyon Country, and a few more things I'm probably forgetting right now, but toward the top of the list is a great sandwich. Or, preferably, great sandwiches.

I stopped eating sandwiches regularly when I started losing weight back in late 2010, but I want them again. Not as regularly as before, because I want to explore. I want time in between sandwiches (most likely not more than two days), so I can appreciate the ingredients, the construction, the taste. I'm serious about my personal quest, but I'm not going to be snobbish about it. I believe that most anything can be part of a great sandwich. It depends on how you put it together, how you make the tastes of the individual ingredients blend. Bacon doesn't work alone, though my sister would surely argue that I'm wrong about that. It needs partners and contrasts. I'm not sure yet what those would be for me, but I do know I'd want mustard on a sandwich that includes bacon.

There is an irony lying in wait: How personal is a sandwich if you order it from a sandwich shop, choosing from a menu put together by others, and someone makes it for you? I think it's still personal. You chose a particular sandwich from Subway or from some truly local joint (the best kind to support) because it suits your tastes. And after it's made and you pay for it, and you either eat it right there or take it with you because it's early morning and that's your lunch for while you're at work, that sandwich is yours. It's what you want. When you sit down to eat it, it's just you and the sandwich, whereas with a meatloaf or a lasagna, it's a bigger investment. It takes more time. I believe you get closer to who you are with a sandwich.

I've come to realize over the past two months that I will never be a chef like Meridith. She's gotten enough experience that if there's a hot surface and she touches it, she doesn't feel it right away. She's done that much cooking. She jokes with me, though I know it's probably true, that she's well on her way to having asbestos fingers. She's not worried about calluses. It's part of cooking as well as she does.

When she told me that, I knew I wasn't going to reach her skill level, nor do I want to try. I'm content with reading books by food writers, articles, columns, recipes, learning about the food culture of different states and countries. I am content to limit myself to making sandwiches, because whereas ingredients meld into each other in lasagna and cakes and cookies and whatnot, ingredients in a sandwich remain staunchly themselves before being eaten. Then, bite after bite, they work together, bringing forth flavors not possible when those ingredients are on their own.

One of the few things I've liked about the supermarkets in Southern California is that in Vons and Pavilions for example, you can get freshly-made sandwiches right there at the counter. I've never tried any, but I like that the option's there, and I'm sure I can look forward to it in supermarkets in Henderson and Las Vegas. In the weekly Vons/Pavilions ad, though, in the $5 Friday section, there's "All American Sub Sandwiches," which serve 3 to 4. "Made fresh daily," it says. I plan to see what's in these sandwiches if we go on Friday. Ham or turkey or roast beef, I'm sure, but I hope they're made well. Solid construction and all. A well-made sandwich is a monument to the stomach.

It may well be a good start to my close study of the sandwich. I want to know a lot more. For now, here's links to my two favorite sites for sandwiches thus far: Scanwiches and A Sandwich a Day.