ONE FOR THE TABLE: My dad's sleeping disorder and his amazing grilled cheese sandwich
Grilled Cheese and Tomato Sandwich. (Matt Armendariz / April 17, 2013)
He was a great barbecue, but that's a different story.
He also had a ridiculously high metabolism and ate more than anyone in the family practically until his dying day (seemingly without much of a weight problem, or cholesterol problem, I might add). When we were little, he used to get up in the middle of the night sometimes, wake one of us, and we'd tiptoe down to the kitchen for a slice of home-made pie or chocolate cake or Dad's one and only specialty not cooked on a grill -- although curiously with grill in its title -- grilled cheese sandwiches.
My dad had a theory that one of the reasons people wake up in the middle of the night is because they're hungry, so if you ate a piece of pie or cake or a grilled cheese sandwich (preferably with a glass of milk), you would fall right back to sleep. Note: I have not tested this theory since childhood.
My dad made a great grilled cheese sandwich. It was completely simple. Pasteurized, pre-sliced American cheese, Pepperidge Farm thin sliced white bread which he buttered the inside of with soft sweet cream butter before putting two pieces of cheese in-between the two pieces of buttered bread. Melt more sweet butter in a frying pan, being careful to let it melt and bubble but not turn brown (like when you're making scrambled eggs.)
Drop the sandwich in the pan. Let cook for a couple of minutes. Flatten with a metal spatula, and then flip. Brown the other side, and flip again. If it's not a perfect golden brown and the cheese hasn't totally turned into something that almost resembles heavy liquid, feel free to flip again, before removing from pan to a plate. Slice on a diagonal either once or twice, just because it's more festive!
And that was it, plain and simple, until one day he made a discovery. I do not know whether he made this discovery when he was out somewhere or if it was simply his own invention, but one night -- in the middle of summer, in the middle of the night -- he announced, as we were staring at a bowl of beautiful red tomatoes purchased from a farm stand vegetable truck that used to make the rounds in the neighborhood, "Why don't we try it with tomatoes, too?"
Same recipe as above, just thin slice tomatoes and layer them on top of the one slice of bread, already layered with two slices of cheese, sprinkle the tomatoes with fines herbes (this is why I don't think my father made it up) and slap the top buttered bread on and follow the above recipe! Delicious. Even when he got really adventurous one night and added burned bacon.
(Amy Ephron is a writer. Her latest book is "Loose Diamonds" published by Wm. Morrow & Co. One for the Table is her online magazine that specializes in food, politics, and love. http://www.oneforthetable.com)