For lunch the other day, I went back to an old-time favorite — a grilled cheese sandwich — something I hadn’t had in years. As I prepared it, I was transported to a time when my children were young, and I was young with them. Then, grilled cheese sandwiches were our food of choice. We ate them two or three times a week, making them as much a staple in our house as peanut butter and jelly.
Though we called the sandwiches grilled cheese, I cooked them on the stove, not the grill. I melted a little butter in a frying pan. Then I added slices of white bread, topped them with two pieces of soft American cheese and closed them with another slice of bread. I covered the pan and let the sandwiches simmer for 3-5 minutes until they browned. With a spatula, I flipped them to the other side. Within minutes, our nostrils perceived the scent, salivary glands readied for the taste and gastric juices flowed in anticipation.
I can remember the games I played with the children as we ate together. “Here come the airplanes,” I’d announce, as we swirled pieces of the sandwich in the air. We also played games cleaning up, pretending we were the Mad Hatter bringing dishes and spoons to the dishwasher as fast as we could. In no time, the older children were free to play with their toys and the baby to take a nap. On sunny days, we’d swing on the glider in the backyard and sing Christmas songs, even in summer.
What golden times they were! Like childbirth, the hard times of endless diapers, croupy coughs, fevers or colds that would exhaust me, are dim memories now. All I retain is how much I enjoyed being their mother, teaching them right from wrong, reading to them before bed, raising them to love learning and to become caring individuals who contribute to society.
In cooking my most recent grilled cheese sandwich, however, I must confess there were a few differences from the past. I used cold-pressed, 100 percent extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter. The bread was whole wheat and the cheese, hard Vermont cheddar, aged for three years. Also I ate the sandwich with my husband, now that he’s retired, instead of with four, active children.
The changes are not surprising. Many years have passed since the children and I were young. All four little darlings are grown and gone. Five grandchildren, with possibly more on the way, have entered our lives.
As I was savoring my grilled cheese sandwich along with the memories, I reminded my husband of the time when, for reasons I can’t recall, I had left him in charge of making lunch for the children.
“Yes, they wanted grilled cheese and I made it for them,” he said.
“But how did you make it?”
“I put two pieces of bread in the toaster. When they popped up, I put them on a plate with a piece of cheese in between and gave it to them.”
“And what happened?” I asked, knowing quite well how appalled the children had been.
“They wouldn’t eat it. They said something was missing.”
Rose Marie Dunphy,
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