Powwow

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 29, 2017 10:20 PM

I got a text from my neighbor earlier in the week about going to the powwow this weekend. If I was interested, we’d have to leave fairly early as it started at 7 and if we got there too late, it would be over. Or there wouldn’t be any goodies left to be got. I had tried to go to the one last week but got there too late so I know of what she spoke. I texted back “absolutely.” This morning at 7:17, I texted her that I was on my way.

I was first introduced to the idea of powwow just over a week ago. It’s actually an acronym: Produce On Wheels With-Out Waste. POWWOW. This program “rescues” 30 million pounds of fresh produce from the warehouses of produce distributors. For whatever reason – and based on what I “rescued” today – it has been deemed unmarketable. The grocery stores don’t want it; neither do the restaurants. You show up at one of their locations around the city, and for a $10 donation, you leave with a box full of fresh stuff, up to 60 pounds worth depending on what they have for that week. The donation goes to help feed the homeless and the needy. Each year, they help with over 4 million healthy meal supplements.

Susan (my neighbor) and I got to the powwow around 7:45 or so. We paid our $10 and then we started through the rows. There was eggplant and Brussel sprouts, neither of which did I take. Try as I might – and I have – I just don’t like eggplant. I think it’s one of those vegetables that you’re either for or against. Nothing in between. I’ve parmesan’d it; I’ve fried it. It just has a weird texture. 

Brussel sprouts I don’t mind especially if you cover them in garlic and mushrooms, but Kevin absolutely. Will. Not. Eat. Them. 

But then I came upon chilis. There were hatch chilis and the fiery red chilis. There were sweet peppers and red and yellow bell peppers. There were onions. And tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes. I felt myself starting to grin. I was in my element. Since we moved to Tucson, I use chilis and peppers a lot more than I ever did before. I put them in everything. Needless to say, I loaded up my box and came home from POWWOW with a bunch of stuff.

Stuff that I immediately set about using once I got home. I made a big pot of marinara sauce, using one of the onions and all of the tomatoes. I found my garlic in my veggie drawer, along with some celery and carrots, all diced very thin. I cooked and simmered and stirred and tasted. I added spices; I cooked some more. 

Then I turned it off and let it cool. Once cool, I put it into my food processor, added some fresh basil (coincidentally from a plant given to me by Susan) and distributed it into several containers to freeze. 

Cooking all day is not something everyone likes. But for me, it was the perfect way to spend my Saturday. In fact, I’m not sure I could have been happier. 

I powwow’d today. I got veggies. I cooked. I lived it out loud.

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So this came in the mail

by Lorin Michel Friday, April 28, 2017 9:08 PM

Once upon a time, it was 1957. I was not yet born and wouldn’t be for several more years. This was back when a crooner named Perry Como was popular and that year he gave the world his second RCA Victor 12” long-play album. It was called We Get Letters and it was a concept record, based on requests from the singer’s television show. It was a soft, breezy record and did not include a song by the same name. Years later, David Letterman had a regular skit on his show where he sang, gleefully, “letters, we get letters” while opening his mail. 

This morning, Riley was on the deck and I was in my office, a ritual we engage in daily. He had just had a bath and was drying in the cool desert breeze; I was working. It was about 9:30. I had just taken a sip of coffee when suddenly, from the general direction of the deck, came the apoplectic barking and carrying on of my dog. I got up as I usually do and went to the door with the intention of asking what I usually ask when the dog is apoplectic. What is the issue? But before I got the door open I saw exactly what the issue was: trotting up the hill toward the house, as nice as you please, were two dogs, one a beagle, the other what looked to be a beagle mix.

I sprang into dog wrangling mode and headed toward the front door, yelling behind me that there were two dogs and for Kevin to grab a couple of leashes. As dog people, we have at least six leashes, only one of which do we use on a regular basis. Outside, I crouched down and in my friendliest voice called to the dogs who both came to me willingly. Kevin got the leashes, I attached them, and down the hill we went. 

I hadn’t met them but knew they were our new neighbor’s dogs because I knew they had beagles. I also know every other dog in the neighborhood. It’s not that big of a ‘hood. My neighbor, Alan, who had several workers at the house, couldn’t believe the dogs were out. 

“How…?” he asked, his question trailing off. 

“Gate’s open,” I said just as the worker – a pool guy – came in apologizing for leaving the gate open. 

Mission accomplished, I decided to head back up to the house. Alan remembered something as I started out the door. 

“Oh, hey,” he said. “I have some mail here. It has your house on it.” 

My house? How could that be? Someone was sending mail that showed my house? Our house? What? 

Alan handed me an oversized postcard and there, sure enough, in the place of honor taking up the top two thirds of the card, was the home we affectionately refer to as Il Sogno. The card had been sent by our architect/builder because our neighbors had pulled permits to build a house and he was advertising his services. Better late than never, since the house is already built and the card was stamped 4/18. 

So our house is being sent all over the city, perhaps further. We’re famous. Just like Perry Como. Without the crooning.

Pretty biting

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 25, 2017 10:27 PM

Everything bites. Angrily. Heartily. Hungrily. Feedingly. Dogs bite, cats bite, horses can bite. Spiders, turtles, snakes. Until we immersed ourselves in the luxury of the desert, we didn’t realize how much plants bite. 

In Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey is a plant that bites. It needs human blood to survive. The Venus fly trap, described as a carnivorous plant, has teeth-like leaves that open and trap its prey. Neither one of these plants is particularly attractive; they’re not pretty.

In the Sonoran desert, the plants are majestic, flowing and, in my opinion, beautiful. They’re not like the plants of other parts of the country. I’m not even sure they’re like plants elsewhere in the world. I know there are other deserts, but each environment, each landscape is different. The desert in Tucson is different than the desert going up to, through and beyond Phoenix. That desert is desolate, brown. It looks dirty. Our desert is green. It might be considered lush except lush normally means rich, soft, plush; intoxicating. Our desert is green and gorgeous, and now that it’s spring it’s bursting with color and flowers. Also, it’s prickly. It bites. 

Today there was a Gila monster skirting the outer edges of the driveway. He turned into the rock wall and free-climbed vertically, up and over. It was pale pink and washed out black with hardly any tail. It disappeared over the wall and into the desert. Gila monsters bite, scarily. They move relatively slowly and when someone or something, like a dog, get in their way, they bite. Their jaws snap and lock. It’s not pretty. 

All around the Gila monster were prickly pears and hedgehog cactus and munz cholla and whipple cholla. All were flowering. All have needles. If you get too close, they all bite. Definitely not pretty. 

The trees have thorns, the brush have thorns, the thorns have thorns. If you get too close to anything, it bites, sometimes harshly, sometimes just a little nip, but it’s always a bite. 

I looked at the flowers on the prickly pears and the whipple cholla, gorgeous yellow, dancing in the sunlight and all I could think of was how beautiful they were and are. Pretty. And each one also maintains the ability to stick, to bite. 

Pretty and biting. A beautiful combination worth celebrating.

 

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The list

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 24, 2017 10:11 PM

Many years ago, cocktail party conversation often veered into discussions of “the list.” This was before we all got too old and cynical, before we started worrying regularly about what was going to happen to all of us at any given moment; about the decaying state of the world. We’d get together with friends, and we’d laugh and talk and drink. The list – the frivolous and fun list – would come up.

The list mainly consisted of musicians or actors who, if allowed, we would have a fling with. It was a stupid game and also ridiculous since it was never going to happen and even faced with the possibility, most of us wouldn’t have taken advantage of anyway.

My list, once upon a time, included Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell. They were both so gorgeous. It expanded to included Antonio Banderas especially after I saw The Mask of Zorro. Then it expanded again to include Pierce Brosnan. And Taye Diggs. 

Kevin’s list included Sela Ward, Rene Russo, and for a while Angie Harmon. These lists were great sources of amusement in the house. I actually loved that the women on his list, with the exception of Angie Harmon, were older than me. It made me feel secure. He had no trouble that I loved the way Antonio Banderas moved or that I drooled over Pierce Brosnan. For the longest time whenever Pierce Brosnan’s name was mentioned it was immediately followed with the words “he’s a beautiful man” because he was. If you haven’t seen The Thomas Crown Affair, see it. I dare you not to drool.

I have since moved on from my list. I completely lost interest in Mel Gibson when he imploded. Actually, I think I started losing interest when he did The Passion of the Christ, for a number of reasons. I haven’t seen him in anything in a long time, though I still have a poster from the film Ransom hanging in my office. It’s the eyes. With Kurt Russell, it was the hair. 

I’ve dabbled with putting George Clooney on my list should I resurrect it. But as much as I like him, he’s not really list material. At least not for me. I’ve never felt particularly strongly about Brad Pitt though Bobbi is a huge fan. I never cared much about Ben Affleck and as much as I like Matt Damon, he’s not really list material either. I love Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks but again, not list material. I liked Patrick Dempsey for a while but not enough for him to make the list. 

Which brings me the guy who would probably be near the top of the list today. Matthew McConaughey. I love his smile, his Texas drawl; his hair, and his smile. And he’s a good actor. Forget the stupid romantic comedies. Revisit A Time to Kill, or The Lincoln Lawyer. Or even Contact or Interstellar. Watch Magic Mike or the Lincoln Commercials on television. Be still my middle-aged heart. 

I saw a bit of Contact today. It was made in 1997 and he looked so young. But he’s magnetic. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him, even though I’d seen the film several times; even though after seeing it several times, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

But the man at the top of the list is someone who’s not an actor or a singer, someone I saw today during a live broadcast from the University of Chicago. A man I miss every day. A man of grace and intelligence, who remains completely in love with his wife. A man with a great sense of a humor and an easy smile. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you 44, otherwise known as Barrack Obama. I just love that man. 

This is how far I’ve come, or at least that’s how I like to see it. That my infatuation with actors has waned a bit (except for McConaughey) and has been replaced, instead, with a man of known substance, the former President of the United States. I don’t know if it’s something to celebrate, but it something that’s causing me to smile out loud.

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I’m watching a fire burn

by Lorin Michel Sunday, April 23, 2017 11:10 PM

When you live in the southwest, you have brush fires. It’s part of the dark magic of the desert and whether talking about the Sonoran or about Los Angeles, it’s definitely desert. Our desert is not sand, though; it’s nothing like the deserts of the middle east or Africa. There is much plant life and desert grasses, things that grow dry in the 100 plus degree temperatures that are normal for several months of the year. 

We lived in Calabasas, off of Las Virgenes Road/Malibu Canyon, in 1996. On October 22 of that year, when the Santa Ana winds were violent, the air was dry and the canyons drier, a transformer blew and a fire started. It was about a mile from where our townhouse was located. The fire department responded quickly, as always, but the winds were horrific and there was no shortage of fuel for the fire. The winds were blowing west, toward the ocean, so we were never in any danger but the road was quickly closed. Kevin and I went to the barricades and watches as flames of up to 100 feet consumed towering trees and everything else in its 13,000 acre journey through the canyon and into the ocean. Six days later, it was finally declared contained, after destroying six houses and four mobile homes.

Several years later, we drove to a wedding in Santa Barbara and drove into something that can only be described as Armageddon. Fires were burning in the hills, and when fire is consuming fresh vegetation, the smoke is thick and black. It billowed out across the freeway, obscuring the sun and giving the day an eerie, apocalyptic feel. The same thing happened another morning as I drove to an early meeting in Santa Monica. In my rearview mirror, I could see the orange glow of hillsides on fire. After my meeting, I drove into smoke and ash. In neither incident was the fire close enough to close the freeway, but it was close enough to feel dangerous. 

In Arizona, there was a fast moving brush fire in June of 2013, in the more northern part of the state. It started on June 28 and on June 30, it flared, trapping and killing 19 firefighters from the city of Prescott. It was horrific. 

Ten years before we moved to Tucson, to our little corner of the world in the north east corner, there was the Aspen Fire which that consumed Summerhaven in Mount Lemmon above us. Neighbors who lived here at the time talk of watching the sky, seeing the billowing smoke rise as if from a spewing volcano. Ash rained down like snow. The fire ate everything in its path as it descended the mountain. The last line of defense was Catalina Highway. Firefighters had told residents below to pack. If the fire jumped the road, they would have to evacuate. Our neighbors were here at the time and said watching the flames come over the mountain and knowing that all could be lost was serenely terrifying. As it was, the fire destroyed nearly every structure on the mountain, 340 in total. It burned 84,750 acres and there are still remnants of the destruction visible as you drive up the hill. 

Today, we watched as a fire burned in the Santa Rita Mountains just to the south of us. The mountains, one of the four ranges that rim Tucson, is at least 10 miles from us and perhaps farther. The telling smoke billowed up and hovered in the sky, hugging the mountains themselves. As I write this, it’s still burning, aided and abetted by the hot, fierce winds.

Another fire, more south and to the east, in Sierra Vista was contained early. But there was a chyron scroll on one of the local news sites about Fire Weather Warnings in effect for, among other places, Eastern Pima County. Where we live. I’m watching. I’m not apprehensive at all, but it reminds me that the dark magic is still at work. And while not something to celebrate, at least something to appreciate, in all of its destructive glory.

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Science (n.)

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 22, 2017 11:14 PM

Once upon a time, science was discovered. You know, that niggly little idea that finds a distinction between something theoretical and something tangible.

The word itself stems from the Latin scientia and from sciens and has been with us since the mid-14th century though the practice has been around for much longer. Science was the guiding force to build the pyramids and the coliseum in Rome. It was at play in Ancient Greece when Hippocrates used it to begin the practice of medicine. He called is skhizein. 

It is described as “what is known, knowledge (of something) acquired by study; information.” Old French science describes it as “knowledge, learning, application; corpus of human knowledge.” It evolved to become book-learning and, in more modern times, a “body of regular or methodical observations or propositions concerning a particular subject or speculation.” Modern being 1725. 

Very modern times, as in the 21st century, have various ways to describe it. Some call it essential knowledge. Some call it a hoax. I’m not entirely sure how you can refer to it as a hoax since it is provable fact (in many cases) but we also know how pesky those things called facts can be. 

I was never very good at science in school. I never liked the class; it bored me. As someone who was more drawn to the arts, it didn’t seem relevant to my life. 

And then I grew up and realized just how relevant it is to everything. It is responsible for some of the greatest medical discoveries – like the cure for polio and penicillin; organ transplantation and the ability to create a mechanical heart; prosthetic limbs. It is at the heart of our ability to go into space and to send probes to Saturn. It allowed mankind to extract oil from the ground and to create planes and automobiles that run on its refinement. Oil, you would think, would cause some of those who express skepticism to embrace science since they also seem to embrace this type of fuel.

Science enabled men to split the atom, giving us the power to destroy the world. Those who are in love with the military would seem to love that particular type of science. Without it, we wouldn’t have napalm and stealth fighters, bombs and planes that can exceed the speed of sound. 

It gives us clean water and clean air, in spite of the havoc we insist on wreaking on both. It gave us computers and smart phones and twitter; the internet. It gave us power.

In 1981, Stephen Jay Gould wrote this in the introduction to The Mismeasure of Man:

Science, since people must do it, is a socially embedded activity. It progresses by hunch, vision, and intuition. Much of its change through time does not record a closer approach to absolute truth, but the alteration of cultural contexts that influence it so strongly. Facts are not pure and unsullied bits of information; culture also influences what we see and how we see it. Theories, moreover, are not in exorable inductions from facts. The most creative theories are often imaginative visions imposed upon facts; the source of imagination is also strongly cultural.” Deep. 

Science gave us art and music and philosophy. It gave us the ability to recognize and to reason. And today it gave us hundreds of demonstrations around the world. People stood up to say that science is good, it’s necessary. It’s human. 

That we have to say such things in the 21st century is more than ironic. It’s disgusting. Embarrassing. Frightening.

And yet I remain hopeful because to do otherwise would be to completely despair. I have too much faith that someday, just as science was discovered, the idea that it’s good will be embraced. Because without it, we’re nothing. Without it, we have nothing to celebrate.  

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The birth of a tradition

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 18, 2017 10:05 PM

When Justin was little, we created shortcut phrases to communicate quickly and relatively painlessly. Like most kids, we couldn’t just spring the idea of bed on him. We had to work our way up to it. So we invented “brush and flush,” a handy phrase that allowed us to tell him when he was going to have to go bed. We’d start it around half an hour before he actually needed to go to bed. It went something like this:

“Honey? Why don’t you go up and brush and flush before the show starts?” And he’d dutifully trudge up the stairs to brush his teeth and pee before coming back down to watch a bit more TV. From there we’d count down commercial breaks. “20 minutes.” “10 more minutes.” “Ok. Time for bed.”

Eventually, we shortened the “why don’t you …” to simply “brush and flush.” Short, sweet, to the point. Plus it rhymed. 

We were very proud of our alliteration, and it worked well for a lot of years. We also added other shorthand communiques as Justin got older, like “PR” for personal responsibility. But the brush and flush stayed. Kevin and I still use it sometimes between us, which is kind of funny when you think about it since we don’t have to give ourselves a countdown to bedtime. We can just, you know, go. And usually we want to go because we’re exhausted as opposed to Justin (and every other kid on the planet) who never wanted to go, not when he was little.

Justin is home visiting for five weeks. He got laid off from his job which sounds worse than it is because he’ll be rehired in five weeks. The entertainment industry is weird that way. They don’t have paid vacations. When you’re not working, you’re laid off. He just wrapped a 10 month Japan–Europe gig and now they’re on hiatus until Australia at the end of May. 

Somehow “brush and flush” came up. Maybe because we were all finishing up for the evening and I laughed and said “OK everybody. Let’s brush and flush.” Both of my boys laughed, and Justin said that he actually uses the “brush and flush” line with his girlfriend. And that they both laugh about it all the time. 

This is how traditions are born, how things are passed down from one generation to another. We all carry things from our childhoods, both good and bad, things that we learned from our parents that became how we did things as adults. A minor example: I always remember how my mother taught me to fold bath towels. It seems stupid and unnecessary, but she was very particular about it. If they weren’t folded correctly, she redid them. Now I can’t fold a towel any other way than how she showed me years ago when I was a kid. If Kevin folds one differently, when he leaves the room, I refold it.

Is that a tradition? Or is that just me being anal retentive? Either way, the idea of something I learned in childhood staying with me this long is cause for celebration.

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My husband's shorts

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 15, 2017 10:12 PM

We sold our house in Oak Park in July 2013 which meant that we were actually and finally going to move to Tucson, something we'd dreamed of doing since we bought our property in 2010. There was one issue: we had dirt but no place to live. And we had a month to get out of our house.

We booked a flight to Tucson for the following Saturday morning. And that's where it all started to go wrong. We got to the airport and waited at the gate. We were delayed. And then they changed gates and terminals. We dutifully followed the herd and waited some more. Finally they cancelled the flight. We scrambled to find something else but nothing was going to Tucson. We found a flight to Phoenix, and decided we'd do that and then drive the two hours.

We were supposed to meet our real estate agent/friend at 10 am. She had a bunch of interim places for us to look at where we could move and live while the house was being built. We finally got to her at 2:30. We had lost four plus hours, hours we needed that American Airlines stole.

We went to look at 13 houses. They were all fine, all in the price range but nothing seemed right. After leaving Stephanie and driving back to the Westward Look, where we were staying, we were quiet at first. Then we started to talk and then we started to fight. We weren't finding anything. Our day had been blown up, we were stressed and tired and hated our beloved Tucson.

The hotel had changed from our previous visits. It had been purchased by a big chain – I think Wyndham – and it had transformed from quaint to ordinary. Even the rooms seemed less charming. We went to the restaurant and ordered salads and a bottle of wine. The waitress who took our order had one tooth. There was a party going on in the bar, and it was rowdy. We ate a bit of our salads, then took our bottle of wine and went back to our room.

It was probably 9:30 by then. The black sky was lit up by lighting in the distance. We could smell rain. We hadn’t planned on being there long, literally just overnight, leaving early the next morning, so we hadn’t brought much with us. We stripped off the clothes that had become glued to us in the heat and disaster of the day. I pulled on a clean t-shirt, but hadn’t brought anything to lounge in. Luckily, we’d brought several pairs of shorts and boxers for Kevin – I have no idea why. I pulled on a pair of his boxers, grabbed the bottle and we went out onto the balcony to watch the sky, and wonder if we were about to make the biggest mistake of our lives. Both of us were wearing his shorts. 

Sitting in the cooling desert night, sipping a decent though not fabulous wine, we came to the conclusion that the reason we hadn’t liked anything was because none of the houses we’d looked at during the day were better than the house we were leaving. And while it was only going to be temporary, while our dream house was built, and even though they were all in the price range we’d requested, psychologically it bothered us that we were moving “down” in the world. 

The next morning, Kevin got up and went to the business center of the hotel, looked up rentals rather than places to buy, and we went and looked at several. One of them was perfect. Bigger than what we were leaving, relatively new, and for a rental price about what we paid in mortgage in Oak Park. This allowed us to keep all of the money we were going to invest in a temporary home and ultimately put it toward our eventual home. The trip was saved, our faith was restored. We caught a flight on that Sunday afternoon, and flew home to continue packing. 

I thought of that horrible weekend this morning when I finally got up. I’ve been burning the proverbial candle at both ends and at the nubs. We had company last night for sunset and tapas. Justin is home. I’m exhausted. Kevin let me sleep later than I had requested. He made an executive decision he told me once I finally got up. 

He and Justin had been on the deck having coffee and he must have seen me stirring. He came into the bedroom with a cup of a coffee as I was trying desperately to find a pair of loose, sloppy shorts to put on. Morning shorts. Everything was in the hamper reminding me that I needed to do laundry.

He went into the closet and grabbed a pair of his, and handed them to me. Big, sloppy, comfortable. And perfect.

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Vindicated

by Lorin Michel Friday, April 14, 2017 9:48 PM

Justin is home. He got in late last night and has been regaling us with tales from the road for a good part of the day, or at least when I can get my butt out of my office for a cup of coffee, a bit of lunch. He spent nearly three months in Japan before traveling to Europe where he spent another six and a half. We asked him what his favorite place was, or if it was too soon to know. Without hesitation he said Japan. This didn’t surprise Kevin and I. Justin has had a symbiotic relationship with Japan since he was little and started collecting Pokemon cards. We still have a full set of the original cards, all first editions. 

He loved the culture, the people, the food, even when he couldn’t get a piece of cheese, or a cup of coffee. He felt at home there. I get it. It’s much how I felt when I traveled west. I knew it was where I belonged. 

I went to Japan years ago, and didn’t like it. I had no affinity for it. But I appreciate and applaud his love of the place. Maybe it is because I understand the draw of another place, far from home. Maybe it’s because we know that he knows his own heart.

One of the things he loved most were the hot spring baths. We haven’t ever really indulged in something like that though from the pictures he showed us, they looked gorgeous. Even if we had the opportunity, I’m not sure we’d do it. It’s not really our thing. Neither of us is big on baths. 

But I just came across something that may change my mind. According to a new study, dipping into a hot bath burns as many calories as a 30-minute walk. It has something to do with the physiologic effects of heat exposure on the body. The researchers set out to see how exposure to heat can alter the molecules in the body. They had 14 men take hour-long baths in water at 104 degrees, which burned about 61 calories more than if they’d been sitting in a room that was 98.6 degrees. They then had the men exercise on a bike for an hour and they burned between 515 and 597. 

But 61 calories is nothing to sneeze at. It’s also, evidently, the amount of calories that you burn when you go for a walk, albeit probably not a very brisk one. 

The point of the study, interestingly, wasn’t about the amount of calories burned but rather the fact that counting calories is ridiculous. I’m not a calorie counter though I do admit to looking at labels on foods to see how many calories, how much fat and from which group, how many carbs, etc. But I long ago came to the realization that calories are like just about everything else. They’re different for different reasons for different people, based on metabolism, and genetics. And whatever. 

I exercise. I try to eat right. I don’t take baths. And today I feel a little vindicated. Because it’s not about how many calories are burned.

Because ultimately, what matters is… my kid is home and he’s happy and he loves hot springs and Japan. Burning calories doesn’t mean a damn thing if you don’t have that.

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Say cheese

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 12, 2017 10:21 PM

Back somewhere around the time that time began and Romans started writing cookbooks they included a lovely little dish that seemed impossibly easy to concoct. Take two pieces of bread and slap some cheese between. Eat. Then, sometime in the distant future, some industrious body looked at those pieces of bread and thought “hmmmm. Wonder what it would taste like toasted?” Thus the first grilled cheese sandwich was born. 

Before the 1960s, the gooey delicacy was called toasted cheese or melted cheese. As early as 1902, a recipe for a “Melted Cheese,” designed to be cooked in a hot oven, appeared in Sarah Tyson Rorer’s Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book; a recipe published in 1929 in Florence A. Cowles’ Seven Hundred Sandwiches called to broil the ingredients to make “Toasted Cheese.” “Toasted Sandwich,” published in 1939 in The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, encouraged the ingredients to be broiled or even — gasp! — sauteed in a frying pan coated with butter. 

Initially served as an open face sandwich with grated American cheese, once the Great Depression began, it became a mainstay of the American Diet. People couldn’t afford much but they could afford an inexpensive loaf of bread and cheap cheese. The sandwich also provided enough nutrition to keep stomachs filled and bodies somewhat nutritionized. 

Then came World War II, and the grilled cheese became a favorite of the Allied armed forces. School cafeterias began serving them soon after, and housewives looking to provide quick easy meals put them on plates in front of their families.

In the 1953 edition of The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer wrote that bread and cheese should be heated in a commercial waffle iron. She listed it as an easy meal for even “the maidless host” to prepare. Maidless. The horror!

Today, grilled cheese sandwiches remain a necessity for just about everyone, except, naturally, those who are vegan. Upscale restaurants serve upscale versions, using different types of cheese, including blue, and adding vegetables and other condiments. Most kids love grilled cheese; most adults do, too, making it one of those rare cross over meals. Serve one up for lunch with a bowl of tomato soup and it remains a crowd pleaser. Slip a couple of slices of tomato between the cheese before grilling, and it’s even better, maybe because it sounds healthier.

When Justin was little, his diet consisted of cheese pizza, mac n’ cheese, cheeseburgers, and grilled cheese. If you’ve ever had kids, this is a completely normal menu. He also liked chicken fingers and corn dogs and French fries. His menu has evolved a bit now that he’s 26, thankfully. I know he still enjoys a good grilled cheese though, especially the French version, the croque monsieur which come with ham,and I expect I’ll be making them a few times in the next five weeks since he’s coming home from the tour tomorrow night.

Today is National Grilled Cheese Day. April 12. It’s an international meal. In addition to the Croque Monsieur of France, you can also indulge in Bauru in Brazil, or the Bombay Masala Cheese Toast Sandwich in Mumbai, the Arepa de Queso in Venezuela, a Cuban from Cuba, a Mexican Quesedilla, a South African Braaibroodjie, and the ever popular Vegemite Grilled Cheese in Australia. In our house, we like to grill fresh sourdough bread and cheddar cheese, or an open-faced brie. Then again, sometimes, we like American cheese, or maybe Swiss, or both. Marble rye with gouda and blue cheese. Or …

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