So, in November of this year I’m marrying Jay, the most fabulous man ever, and he happens to have a son (we’ll call him AC) who is almost 2 years old. Needless to say, I’m crazy about them both and Jay and I get to spend pretty much every weekend with the little man. This past weekend Jay went out to lunch with some of the guys to talk about guy things, and AC and I got to stay home and have some quality time together. As lunch time rolled around I decided we would have one of his favorites. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Now I have to mention that we were house sitting for my parents while they were away, and my father has a serious jelly hoarding problem. I’m not kidding. I truly believe that at any point in time he will have no less than 10 different kinds of jam or jelly in the fridge and/or pantry. Anyway, as AC eagerly sat in his highchair playing with a few blocks and singing to the music that was on the radio, I foraged for supplies. After much discussion, mostly on my end, we decided on seedless raspberry jam and creamy peanut butter on whole wheat sandwich rounds. When I asked if he was ready for his sandwich I was treated to a loud “YEAH” and a toothy smile. Now there is much debate about peanut butter type and jelly flavor when you are making the perfect sandwich, but I won’t say what is “right” or “wrong”. Instead I will say what immediately transports ME back to being a kid is creamy peanut butter with Welch’s grape jelly on soft white bread and I think whatever combo works for you, go for it. As we sat enjoying our lunch, and AC pulled apart the bread to lick out the peanut butter from inside, I began to think of how these simple foods bring us such joy and satisfaction even as we grow older.
How many of these simple dishes bring back the best memories or make us feel most like being a kid or being home? To me there are a few that really stand out, all of which happen to be sandwiches. I don’t know if that just means I like to eat with my hands or what, but here they are. My grandfather’s grilled cheese, my mother’s peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and the caprese sandwiches we had while I was in Italy.
The perfect grilled cheese was made with inexpensive white bread, thick sliced yellow american cheese and ONE thin slice of tomato. My grandfather had what is now probably called a pannini press. However, this one had flat surfaces like a griddle. He would butter a piece of bread, put it on the griddle and add one piece of cheese, a thin piece of tomato, another piece of cheese and another buttered bread slice. He would then close the top of the griddle and let them toast til they were golden brown and all ooozy. He would then cut them in half down the middle, never down the diagonal like I liked, cause that was just silly, and would put them on a plate for us to devour. Now it may sound easy, but trust me, when you try to recreate it and get that exact taste, it’s almost impossible. My grandfather was a wonderful man, very set in his ways and very Italian. He was a soldier, a voracious reader, and he loved history. He also loved us and every time he made these grilled cheese sandwiches you could feel that love all the way through to the warm tomato seeds. After you were done eating you were sent off to play outside or to go see your grandmother but I still remember those lunches and I can see him standing at the counter making them for us. To this day,on the rare occasion that I can get that perfect ratio of cheese to tomato to bread, I am immediately transported back there and can feel him smiling down at me.
The next sandwich is more of a snack than a meal. That doesn’t mean that is packs any less flavor or satisfaction from eating it. There is no bread but its a sandwich in spirit. Its the peanut butter and banana. The absolute best way to have this is to peel a banana, split it down the middle the long way and just simply spread creamy peanut butter on the inside and put the halves back together. For ease of consumption, I also like it cut in half. There is just something about that sweet soft banana and the sticky nutty peanut flavor together that just makes the world seem like a better place. I can still see my Mom eating these by squishing the banana together and making the peanut butter ooze out the sides a bit. Of course the absolutely necessary thing to do then is to lick the peanut butter off in a line down the banana half. Along with a glass of milk of course, there is nothing more perfect. I can close my eyes and eat this little column of peanutty goodness and my Mom is never far away.
Now this last sandwich, I will admit, I did not think of as something fabulous. Until I went to Italy. I had eaten caprese sandwiches before and sure they were good, I mean I’m never opposed to some fresh mozzarella. WOW, I had no idea. The first time I had one when we traveled was for lunch on that first day in Venice. We walked into a small cafe and they had these beautiful little packages of crusty artisan bread loaves with fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil just peeking out from the side. We were going to be doing a lot of walking so I wanted something light and also something portable. So the sandwich it was. When I opened the wrapping and took the first bite, I knew I had had nothing like this before. The sheer freshness and quality of these simple ingredients made the sandwich phenomenal. It needed nothing else at all to make it shine. The acid in the tomato was perfectly balanced by the cheese, and the basil brought a fresh almost lemony flavor that was amazingly fragrant and earthy. The bread had a wonderfully balanced crunchy exterior and soft interior. It soaked up the tomato juice and just gave enough when you bit into it to not be called chewy. Sheer heaven. The entire 2 weeks we traveled through the country, I think we had at least one of these every day. Not once did I get tired of them and not once have I had anything comparable to it here in the states. Now I’m sure you can argue that it was because of the ambiance of Italy, or the wonderful company I had traveling with me but I think it was just simple food done right. Not messed around with and not made out to be something more. Let the ingredients speak for themselves and you will find satisfaction in simplicity.
I think the whole point of this is that you remember the simple things. The everyday things. Those little items that were so insignificant but so wonderful that they stayed with you throughout the rest of your life. I love to go out. I love to eat exciting new foods and experience new things and cultures and tastes, but when I want home, when I need comfort and when I am happiest is when I can sit back and enjoy these simple items and trigger those simple memories. Whether it’s remembering my family or remembering wonderful times in my life, food has always been there, and its the simple things that matter most.