The internet tells me that today is World/International Sandwich Day. Ugh. I am so weary of all of these made up “Day”s on the calendar. There is one for everything under the sun: coffee, chocolate, donuts, ice cream…sandwiches, you name it. If you, like me, really love food on a deeper level that just eating it to stay alive, then you probably try to fill your days with morsels of things you love. We don’t need a special day to honor particular foods. We eat what we like. If it is particularly good we thank the maker (lower case m), if we are very grateful and religious, we thank The Maker (big T, big M). I’ve fallen out of the habit of saying grace, but I am very happy and grateful to have food, tasty food, tasty food I didn’t have to cook…always. Are these “Day”s a marketing ploy? Perhaps. I really like sandwiches. If celebrating them means I can get one of my favorites, made by someone else, at a discount…sign me up. I will play along.
I don’t know when my love of sandwiches began. They seem to have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I transferred to a small Catholic school in second grade, I had to pack a lunch most days. Because that lunch had to be affordable and transportable and sit in my tin square suitcase for hours, sandwiches became the norm. During my childhood there were the usual menu staples: PB&J, tuna, bologna, egg salad, ham&cheese. And like a superstitious gambler, you played the same sandwich all week. I didn’t live in a household that offered a buffet of options. If mom bought bologna, that was the sandwich Monday-Friday (unless it was Lent, then it was PB&J on Fri or tuna, or egg salad, but only on Friday). These sandwiches were not fancy. It was the 1970’s, bread, filler, condiment, done. I did also have a matching Thermos in my lunchbox, so sometimes there was soup. But this was pre juice boxes and water bottles, so if a choice had to be made, I chose the beverage over soup. Then those little stubby Thermos bowl thingys became available, but you couldn’t fit one of those, the regular matching Thermos, the sandwich, and all of the rest (fruit, chips, cookies)…so…no. Add to that a parent with a limited income who says “you already have a Thermos…if you bring soup in it, drink water from the fountain…no, you can’t have $.35 to buy chocolate milk…” I recall making my own lunches very early…maybe always. And it had to be perfect. My version of perfect.
I don’t mind the crusts of bread. I was raised on Wonder bread. I realize now that that should hardly be called bread at all. But the crusts were plenty soft and added a mild taste contrast to the sandwich, so the crusts stay. I was floored when I went to a friend’s home and her mom a: made the sandwich for her; b: cut the crusts off, AFTER she made the sandwich; c: threw the crusts in the trash! In my house we didn’t waste food (we weren’t trendy, we were poor) If I were anti-crust and had adults around me who indulged such nonsense, they would have cut the crusts off in advance and saved them to make bread crumbs or add it to meatloaf or stuffing. Funny thing is, the same kid who won’t eat the crusts of bread will eat a hamburger or hot dog with a bun that is MOSTLY CRUST. Ok…I think I’m done.
It was also in elementary school, in the 1970s that I first learned of Nutella. Way before it was a household name and trendy (I don’t even know if it was called Nutella), my Sicilian classmate was eating a sandwich with a dark brown filling. I knew this was not peanut butter. It looked like dirt. She was a shy quiet girl, her mastery of the American English was not certain. I asked her about it. She only smiled and shrugged. Another Sicilian student translated: it is what we eat, it is Italian, it is like peanut butter, but better. She held it out to me. “No thank you.” These Eye-talians were not going to trick me into eating a dirt-pepper sandwich. I don’t even like peanut better and this looks worse. Even now, I’ve yet to try Nutella. And the Nutella I see now looks more like milk chocolate than the ground coffee paste she was eating in 1978,
On special days, say…a class trip, I was allowed to buy lunch to take. Recalling this I don’t understand why, except maybe my self-conscious mother didn’t want me to “look poor” on a school trip, so the lunch I bought and brought was a step above everyday fare. On these days, the same portable and will be in a bag for hours conditions applied (I didn’t bring the lunchbox on trips…what if I lost it!?). Yes. I bought a sandwich. Usually my favorite Italian cold-cut sub, from my favorite deli or Blimpie. I LOVE BLIMPIE. (They are not paying me to say that. But hey Blimpie, if you want to pass a few gift cards along to this chick…oh, and place a Blimpie within 20 miles of my house…I wouldn’t be mad at cha.) There was also a soda, in a can. This was some delicate lunch alchemy. I had to get up early, put the soda in the freezer, then wrap it in foil (some odd belief that this insulated the can) and hope for a cool drink in four hours. I purchased a Hostess snack cake (usually a Chocodile (Google it…so good then, crap now) a bag of chips and a candy bar. Not at all a healthy lunch, but those lunches made my trip experience all the better. Bonus: The whole sub was, and still is, too much for me to consume in a single sitting, so that meant I had sandwich part two for later or a next day.
I think my mom liked sandwiches. Not certain. When I think about it now, I have few memories of her eating them. I do know she loved a good tuna sandwich and would make those for herself. Mom also introduced me to the grilled cheese/tomato soup combo. Another favorite of mine. And my mother introduced me to pastrami. A good pastrami sandwich is THE BEST THING EVER. This girl from Brooklyn loves a good pastrami sandwich. (*I took the Ancestry DNA test and I can’t believe I’m not even a tiny bit Jewish! Not even east African-Israel adjacent. That test lied.) Pastrami, a bit fatty (lean is for wosses), sliced thinly, warmed in the pan, swiss cheese (or meunster if I’m feeling less punchy), sliced raw white onion, brown mustard, seedless rye bread (I hate rye seeds, sue me). Toast the bread and this is the MOST phenomenal sandwich. Pair this with a quality cream soda, a good bag of potato chips and a crisp kosher pickle. To hell with diamonds, this is my best friend: a good pastrami sandwich lunch. Thank you Mommy.
In high school sandwiches became less frequent. I was able to buy lunch more often and couldn’t muster the planning, time and energy to make my lunch every day. There were however days when I would rendezvous with my beloved. Cheesesteak day…yum. Grilled cheese day…more yum. See, while I love a cold sandwich just fine, my heart melts for melty cheese. Add meat to the melty cheese and I will tell state secrets. The tuna melt eluded me until a college hook-up with some dude I met on Amtrak (that’s a story for another day, but suffice it to say the most memorable thing about that trip was the tuna melt he made for me and I got to see Boston). I got a job at a supermarket in high school. I ate many a sandwich on my breaks. The guy at the deli would let me sample the cheeses, so I was able to broaden my horizons. Toward the middle of my high school years, when we began driving, we’d hang out in diners or IHOP after school. Both were places to grab a pretty decent sandwich back in the day.
At some point in my youth I was introduced to Braunsweiger / Liverwurst. I have to believe this too was my mother’s doing. Not sure about that. Few people my age even know what liverwurst is. Fewer black people from urban areas know what Braunsweiger is. The German influence is strong where my mother spent her formative years. Lucky for me, I’ve made that place my home and I can find liverwurst in better delis and grocery stores. I don’t love it. It is a mushy, pungent meat product. I have it maybe once every four years. It just isn’t on my radar. But every now and then when my German genes are active (still don’t care what Ancestry DNA says, nurture over nature) and I am likely embracing PMS, then I find myself craving a liverwurst sandwich. Here is where I need to mention the luxury of a good deli. It is never good for me to buy an entire roll of Braunsweiger or liverwurst. It is the kind of thing I only want one serving of to satisfy my craving. For that, a trip to the deli for a few slices is optimal. Come to think of it, a well stocked, busy deli is superb. You have so many options, the meats and cheeses are fresh and there is usually a great assortment of fresh breads and fancy condiments. My favorite local place gets a bum rap for being elites. They cater to the well-heeled, money-having, privileged set. I DON’T CARE. My money is just as good there, they make superb sandwiches and their customer service is stellar. I do have one complaint about them. I think they are sexist. When I go and get a sandwich it is fine. Made well and tasty. When my husband goes, the sandwich is HEAVY. For the same price he gets way more bang for his buck. I have not and will not complain about this (my feminist peeps hold on…don’t start writing yet). Why not complain? Two reasons: one…I don’t want them to start measuring/weighing the meats and cheeses..I hate that about some of the chain places; two…this is my reason to send my husband to get me sandwiches.
As an adult, my love of sandwiches has not waned. I can eat them every day, in every way. There is a sandwich for every season and occasion. I like sandwiches better than pizza. Burgers are sandwiches, so I include them in the sandwich love. I like to get a prepared sandwich and put it in the “upstairs fridge” near my bedroom. They are perfect for a late night snack or when I am just feeling lazy and don’t want to go down to the kitchen to make a real meal. The two dudes who live with me could probably live on PB&J (my least favorite sandwich), which is fine with me because they can both make them easily without any cooking or help from me. Otherwise, they will not make sandwiches on their own, but will want one if I am making one. (*You make them better. Yours taste so good.) This is especially true if I am making a meaty, melty type of sandwich. I have few requirements when it comes to sandwiches (my husband would probably disagree). I like balance of flavors, good bread, it can’t be too big (the Dagwood is an abomination) nor too skimpy (ratio is important), the add-ons have to be good–dry lettuce, in-season tomato, seasoned vegetables (especially if they are roasted), the condiments have to be high quality. Easy, right. Just put all of that goodness together ok? And flaw in any of these areas can ruin my sandwich. The whole thing, in the trash, ruined because the mayo was off.
So…I don’t need a special “Day” to enjoy a sandwich and I hope you don’t either. But if you want to indulge, go for it. Get your favorite, made the way you like it. Pretend you’re going on a class trip and get all the accoutrements to make it the most wonderful sandwich meal. You’re welcome.