Most of my understanding of the category of diner sandwiches we know as “melts” comes from the hyper-local archive of culinary amusements I know as Foods My Husband Will Order For Himself When Left To His Own Devices. I can’t give away all of his secrets — well, I can, but for a fee — but I have been given permission to tell you that the list is topped with Regrettable Chinese Takeout With a Life-Threatening Amount of Sichuan Peppercorns (to be repeated next time, no lessons learned), and somewhat further down the list, only if the day has been long and terrible enough, is a tuna melt — as in jarred mayo meets canned fish meets something square and flat that only passes for cheese in America. Did it not always come with a side of steak fries, which I want to steal because you should know by now that fries don’t count when I say I’m not hungry for dinner, I’d probably be breaking our house “don’t yuck my yum” rule even more often than my offspring.
Several years ago, my job required that I occasionally fly here and there for conferences and, oh, they were not fun. I know that many conferences today are wonderful events where wonderful people meet and expand their professional horizons but those for me were all about windowless conference rooms, buzzing fluorescent lights, and all hopes that I would be able to “get out!” and “see a new city!” dashed when I realized I would, in fact, need to file articles from my hotel room that night. On the lowest of these trips, I found myself gazing at a painfully unappetizing room service menu and came across an item called a “fried cheese collage” and this, I am sad to say, was the last straw.
A few years ago, I made ricotta for the first time. I suspect a good lot of you just read that — the part where I made cheese/played cheesemaker/fiddled with curds and whey in my shoebox kitchen, not because I maybe forgot about a carton of milk for a few weeks in the back of the fridge and conducted an unintentional science project, but just for a good time — inched your cursor to the little X of your browser tab and navigated away. Clearly, this wasn’t the act of a sane person, though that does seem to be the theme this week. The thing is, a good amount of cheese that we eat — mozzarella, goat cheese, paneer, cottage cheese — come down to milk plus acid. What you do from there is your art. Except my first ricotta wasn’t particularly artful. It was a little dry and coarse. We spread it on pizza with jammy caramelized red onions and ate it happily, but it wasn’t the kind of ricotta you dream of. I moved on.
My kid doesn’t like cheese. While this is in some ways a relief — I was dreading what seems to be the inevitable toddler mac-and-cheese habit, mostly because I would share it and lack his metabolism — it is in other ways disconcerting, as in, could this really be our child? Someone who doesn’t like cheese or sleeping late?
This is pretty much October on a parchment-lined baking sheet. They want to be packed in a basket so they can go apple picking with you and to sneak in the car to join you for a leaf-peeping drive. They want to come to brunch with you and deserve to be served with warm apple cider, whether getting lost in a corn maze or searching for the best pumpkin to carve.
On Monday, I went foraging. Well, urban foraging, that is, at the Greenmarket. I set out to find these mythical local provisions that many of you have assured me now exist in New York City, things like ramps and aspargus and even strawberries and I’m now convinced that someone is playing a mighty joke on me.*
I spend an unhealthy amount of time trying to figure out what makes a cracker a cracker, and how to drum up whatever I have most recently concluded at home. Is it a two-ingredient mix of spelt (or other) flour and water with some seeds on top? An olive oil-brushed flatbread with rosemary? A cheese straw rolled thin and flat? Need it be something sturdy and neutral enough that you can spread cheese or tapenade upon it? Is it acceptable if it is too tender, rich and loudly flavored to have anything piled on its belly?