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Simply saying the word “sandwich” conjures up all kinds of images that make me feel soothed and bored at the same time. Sandwiches are home. Sandwiches are America. Sandwiches are compact mini-meals that come in their own living to-go container. They’re easy, look compelling, smell inviting and feel gnawingly familiar. Two grainy blocks of baked flour lie missionary style embracing one another as tufts of turkey and tips of lettuce leaves peek out. A touch of tomato dampens the doughy mound. That acrid but soothing smell of yeast and mustard causes the salivary amylase to flow and the lips to part in anticipation.
When I was a kid, my mom made me sandwiches almost every day: meatloaf sandwiches (yes, just meatloaf embedded in bread,) ham and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, of course, and periodically peanut butter and pickle with mayo. This was my dad’s favorite and I tolerated it because it seemed so novel and bizarre that I was determined to partake of the culinary adventure. Although I knew I liked the flavors individually I wasn’t sure it was a trio made in heaven, but it was a most curious combo so I didn’t complain when I found it staring up at me from my lunch sack.
In my early 20’s when I lived in New York City, I discovered an odd match of ingredients at a New York City Deli on 54th and Broadway which I loved enough that I thought about it when I was out of town for long periods of time. “What was it?”, you ask, drool settling into the corners of your mouth. It was a whole grain bagel with cream cheese, avocado, pineapple, a touch of salt and pepper and a whole lot of New York City attitude. Good lord, that was delicious. (The sandwich, that is. The attitude was tolerable but often extra flavoring I didn’t need.) I can still feel my teeth gripping onto that doughy half-disc, taking the first bite straight from the middle, avoiding the crusts initially to get right to the heart of the matter: the innards – the prize- that delectable mixture of fatty, tropical, salty creaminess encased by those two wheaty slices that gave between my teeth as I nibbled away, eyes to the heavens in appreciation, cream cheese and pineapple bits smeared on my cheeks.
Nowadays, sandwiches have both that commonplace yet comforting association for me. I admit that I feel moderately unoriginal when I order a sandwich out at a restaurant, especially when it takes about three specs of effort to throw two slabs of rye together and scrounge around for content to smush in between them. I’d rather pay $8 for someone else to make me something like Pho, which took me about an hour and forty five minutes to whip up in my own kitchen, (and by “whip” I mean stir and sweat over a steaming pot while grumbling about hard-to-find ingredients). Additionally, in an effort to up the nutrient quotient of my meals, I’ve delighted in getting creative about finding replacements for my Panini and pitas. Collard greens wrap around my avocado and smoked salmon, drenched in mustard; Cabbage leaves cradle my hummus and tomatoes, adding a peppery crunch; Red peppers: a tureen for my southwestern black bean dip crowned with salsa. These are still “sandwiches” but not as Sir John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, might have designed them, and that is just fine with me. I get excited when I eat food that is replete with extra antioxidant verve. I enjoy my meal all the more knowing my bloodstream is being flooded with additional super power support.
However, mayonnaise, the staple of many a hoagie, hero and high end tuna melt is no longer allowed to sully my sandwich in whatever form. The sweet yet sour, slimy goop that dominates any other apparent flavors present in a dish leaves me with a sorry mouthful of blech! This is a condiment never invited to my sandwich party, or any party that I might have in my kitchen. With my discovery of the perfect mayo replacer, “Karam’s GarlicSauce” sandwiches can still appear to others as they should, but aren’t overpowered by cheap soybean oil and time worn eggs.
My sense is that sandwiches are here for the long haul, like cockroaches and rosemary (my goodness, how do I still have so much of it in my yard!?) The idea is to stay open, discerning, and grateful. I’m not sure why, but those all sounded pretty good and actually, can be applied to almost every aspect of your life. You can learn a lot from a sandwich.
What’s your favorite?