I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t have a favorite comfort food.
For my husband, who grew up in a red-shuttered farmhouse in Ohio, it’s his mother’s meat loaf, made with uncooked oatmeal instead of bread crumbs. (Given that her simple recipe is identical to the one that even now might be found on those still-round boxes of Quaker Oats, this entrée was no doubt a favorite for millions of other Baby Boomer kids, too.) As for my teenage daughter, she has been a French fry girl for as long as I can remember, eaten with no adornment except salt. Whether ordered at a fast food place or upmarket restaurant, for her, a potato is a potato.
Then there’s me. I’m pretty easy, too.
All you have to do is make me a good grilled cheese sandwich and within moments after handing it over, you will see a very happy girl clown.
By good, I mean it shouldn’t be fancy.
Don’t bother with imported cheese (say, Gruyere) or even fancier meat (say, prosciutto) or some overly-priced European style bread. And definitely, please don’t look up whatever Martha Stewart’s version of this all-American classic might be.
Nope, slather lots of butter on the outside of two slices of fluffy white bread; set it gently in a heated skillet over a medium flame, and make sure there’s plenty of Velveeta between those slices. (Yes, it must be Velveeta, not a generic knock off, and please, do not use those absurdly thin, waxy slices encased in plastic.) Don’t leave the room, because you’ll need to flip the skillet side over the moment it turns butterscotch brown. Do the same for the other side, then serve immediately. You’ll make my experience even more memorable by adding bread and butter pickles on the side.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the fancy-schmancy version.
In the 2014 film Chef, a food porn movie if ever there was one, the grilled cheese sandwich is piled so high with so much expensive-looking cheese that a good portion of it oozes over the bread’s sides. And speaking of the bread, it’s actually massaged by hand before the cheese is put on, on a super-hot grill with extra butter, to presumably make it extra yummy.
Even in my modest kitchen, I once hosted a dinner party—cast iron skillet hot, apron tied and spatula in hand—making thick sandwiches to order that boasted three kinds of cheeses; two varieties of bread baked that very morning, and an array of sliced meats. Fruits and from-scratch tomato soup were also in the mix. The food was divine, my guests raved, but then again, this wasn’t meant to be a meal to remind one of childhood and comfort, which my Velveeta sandwich always does.
You see, I was a sickly kid and, especially during the winter, caught a lot of colds. Feeling terrible and being made to stay home wasn’t fun, but I did look forward to this: my mom’s grilled cheese sandwich lunch made with her homemade white bread.
My stay-at-home mother, also from Ohio, called them toasted cheese sandwiches, and would serve mine with—you guessed it—crisp bread and butter pickles. Topping it off was an icy glass of chocolate milk, made with the sinfully whole stuff that was actually delivered to our doorstep.
I’m not the only one who thinks that putting buttery toasted bread and gooey melted cheese together ranks number one in the comfort food circus.
In fact, across the United States, there are food trucks aplenty that serve only grilled cheese. Probably best known is The Grilled Cheese Truck in Los Angeles, which has more than 54,000 Likes on Facebook. Head north to Portland (the place for food truck aficionados) and you’ll find The Grilled Cheese Grill, whose motto is “Come by for a taste of Your Childhood.” And let’s not forget C’est Cheese in Cincinnati, which is not only a super cute play on words, but features the Oscar Mayer Robertson sandwich, made with fried bologna and American cheese.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Grilled Cheese Incident, my own little town’s truck. Easily spotted around our streets thanks to its neon orange exterior, the Incident’s specialty is the Quintessential California, made with Havarti and jack cheeses, tomato and smoked applewood bacon. (Read about other cheese trucks here, at http://culturecheesemag.com/blog/10-best-grilled-cheese-trucks.)
Want to hear more?
Well, just last month (not coincidentally, April is National Grilled Cheese Month), news came out that you might be happier between the sheets if you’re a regular consumer of this sandwich.
At least that’s what Skout, a social/networking dating site, concluded after it asked members if loving grilled cheese might also say something about their sex lives. Amazingly, close to 5,000 people responded, with the results being that 73 percent of grilled cheese devotees have sex at least once a month, compared with 63 percent who don’t love grilled cheese. In addition, 32 percent of grilled cheese fans have sex at least six times a month, compared to 27 percent of non-grilled cheese lovers. The poll also says that 81 percent of those who eat grilled cheese sandwiches donated time, money or food to those in need. (Find out more at http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-dd-survey-grilled-cheese-sex-20150408-story.html)
To me, these conclusions are just common sense, and here’s why:
First, I adore the taste, texture and perhaps most of all, the comfort food memories of a perfect grilled cheese sandwich.
Second, because of all of the above elements, I become instantly happy and content while eating (okay, more like inhaling) this perfect treat.
Third, in this heightened state of bliss, of course I’m going to feel like doing some serious canoodling with my honey, and of course I’m going to want to share the love by wanting to reach out, and help, with causes near and dear to me.
It really is that simple, and that powerful.
Exactly like the grilled cheese sandwich.
What’s your favorite comfort food, and what’s the story behind your choice? I look forward to hearing from you!