When Kathlyn Pattillo graduated from high school last year, her mother, Katy, asked that instead of giving a gift we older and wiser types would write down some words of advice. Little pearls that would guide her through the treacherous waters of the freshman dorm and on into the mainstream of life.
I had a hard time thinking of anything that didn’t sound like those sappy graduation-day platitudes (Be true to yourself. Follow your dream. Blah, blah, blah.) until I slapped myself on the forehead and came up with the only tidbit that might be useful: Learn how to make a good grilled cheese sandwich and you’ll never starve. It’ll nourish body and soul. And it’s really cheap besides.
When I was a kid in the 1950s, grilled cheese was a slice of American cheese on squishy white bread, buttered generously and toasted to gooey perfection in a well-seasoned iron skillet. Add a bowl of tomato soup out of a can and you more or less had a complete meal — at least for a 6-year-old. My own grilled cheese has changed over the years, and the standard now is low-fat extra-sharp cheddar on whole wheat, lightly buttered and browned in a non-stick frying pan. A little boring unless you add a slice of Vidalia onion, but if you’ve just taken a look at your 401K, it can be just what you need.
There are gourmet variations, of course. When my husband and I lived in Los Angeles several years ago, our favorite indulgence when we were homesick for Atlanta was Grilled Cheese Night at the tres chic Campanile restaurant. Nancy Silverton, who was the proprietor at the time and who also ran the LaBrea Bakery next door, served up maybe a dozen different grilled cheese sandwiches. After agonizing deliberation, our choice was always ham and gruyere, smothered in a béchamel sauce with an arugula salad on the side. Perfection on a plate.
Hollywood types would flock to the place, despite the fact that you couldn’t make a reservation for that evening and they had to stand in line with the rest of us. For most of them it was just as good as a visit to the shrink, all for less than 15 bucks, not counting the martinis. Grilled Cheese Night is still going strong, and there are even more hoity-toity sandwich variations, including a fresh burrata mozzarella and a sheep’s milk ricotta with slow-roasted tomatoes, olives and pesto. Yum.
According to the World Dairy Diary, April is Grilled Cheese Month. (We suspicious types think maybe Kraft foods had something to do with that declaration, but who gives a flip when grilled cheesiness recognition is long overdue.) And get this. Grilled cheese making is even a sport! On April 25 there’s the world’s largest grilled cheese championship, the Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles, complete with trophies for the best “sammiches” in three categories.
Let’s see. There’s the Missionary Position category (plain bread, no flavored cheese, no flavored butter); the Kama Sutra (the most liberal and popular category with exotic breads, cheeses and just about anything else you want to cram between the slices); and the Honey Pot (a dessert sandwich, hooray!).
No telling what these contestants will come up with. I suggest you keep an eye out for the winning combinations. They might come in handy as you watch the roller coaster ride that is the stock market. Or next month, instead of sending an expensive graduation present, you can just pass along a really good grilled cheese recipe.