As I thought about lunch today, I couldn’t decide what to make. It was just me, if you don’t count the pups. Caught between the hunger pains in my stomach and the awaiting chore of cleaning the garage, I was torn. I could eat something quickly, right from the fridge. It wouldn’t take much, just a nibble or a bite. A slice of cheese, and a swig of beer, a scoop of avocado with a big ol’ squeeze of lime. I could eat the steak I couldn’t finish last night or the pork chop from the night before.
Something warmer was calling me though and as I stood pondering, I found myself opening a can of tuna. I love tuna salad sandwiches; they have been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. Except now I enjoy mine minus the mayonnaise. And no Miracle Whip, no sweet relish, no Wonder bread.
Just a really good can of tuna, lots of lemon juice and a drizzling of olive oil. If I want to be fancy, a handful of fresh parsley goes in, perhaps a chopped pickle too, some celery, a little onion, a dab of Dijon. I used to always eat my tuna sandwiches cold, bread un-toasted, like you might take on a picnic.
But I wasn’t going on a picnic. I was cleaning the garage. It was cold outside and out there soon I would be. I wanted my sandwich warm. With a melted piece of cheese. The only bread I had was small and truth be told, one week old. I thought perhaps it would be okay. As I pulled it from the fridge, I saw my Niçoise olive tapenade left over from Mom’s birthday. Next thing I knew I was spreading, just a little bit, over the first slice of bread. I topped this with a good scoop of the tuna salad (which I had mere moments prior-prepared) then added a few thin slices of Gruyere.
I went to turn on the stove and spied one lonely fig sitting next to me on my cutting board. It was a straggler from breakfast that didn’t fit in. As an after-thought, I quickly sliced the fig and added it over the cheese and under the second slice of bread. I put the sandwich in the heated pan, topped it with my cast iron press and anticipated the result.
I was stalling I guess. I have never gone willingly to clean out a garage. When I was young, once or twice a year my Mom would, with very little notice, knock on our bedroom doors early on a Saturday morning and tell us to get dressed; that day would be given over to cleaning the garage.
I always stalled then too.
Our garage was often a mess. I get a little queasy when I recall standing there, unable to determine where I was to begin. The clutter was consuming. I would push a few things around, groaning, then put them back again. I had to look like I was busy but I really didn’t know what I was to do. I am not sure how I ever managed to escape but somehow I usually did. I would come back in at the end of the day as my Mom and Dad were sweeping up the last of the debris and tidying the clutter of the remaining boxes.
I was always amazed at the transformation, and that my brother Scott, managed to hang in until the end. I think he secretly enjoyed the task (and yes, his garage is pretty tidy now too).
Yet here I am today, ready to dig in and one by one, go through some old boxes, throw lots of stuff away, and hopefully, I will be the one sweeping up the last of the debris. And hopefully, I will finally get that second car to fit in.
But first, there is the subject of my sandwich.
I bit in and on my first bite, I knew that I had improved on two old favorites. A cross between a grilled cheese and a tuna salad. I know you think I was eating a tuna melt, but this was different in a few subtle, but important ways. First there was the bread. It was delicate and thin like one should use for a grilled cheese (so that the surface is just browned but remains a little soft within). The tuna was moist and hot but not gooey and it retained the perfect crunch. There was the cheese that melted fully and hugged the tuna as if it were it’s second skin. A tuna melt would not have olives, yet tuna salads sometime sneak them in. Grilled cheese likes to dress up with tomato, which is where fig is standing-in now.
But just as I had bit into my sandwich, I bit into the task of the garage. It was cold outside but I didn’t notice as I lit up from my progress. I thought I would stand frozen in my tracks, unable to find a place to start, but instead I dug-in and found a happy rhythm that ended with a broom. Piotr came over to help with the heavy things I couldn’t manage alone.
All the while, Tom was away on business, unknowing, as he spent his time freezing in Boston, including a brief respite under the Legoland giraffe. His birthday present was being constructed of one clean garage and two cars that actually fit in!!! A first since we moved in, more years ago than I would want to disclose. Hopefully, it would be a happy surprise (and it was).
Thankfully, neither of us are freezing today as we finish editing from the beach in Hawaii (again)(Tom’s other birthday present). So, the best of both worlds, warm cars and warm us.
Grilled (Tuna &) Cheese sandwich
I usually make more tuna salad than needed for my sandwich because inevitably, I will want another one the next day and a salad after that. I always keep out a good pawful of tuna for Ginger and Buddy to share too.
INGREDIENTS for the sandwich
2 slices, sliced sandwich bread
1/4 cup tuna salad (recipe to follow)
1 tsp Niçoise olive tapenade (recipe to follow)
1-2 slices good quality gruyere cheese
1 fresh fig, sliced
Olive oil for cooking
PREPARE the sandwich
Lay out the bread slices:
Top with the tuna salad:
Layer on the cheese slices and top with the slices of fig. Lay the empty slice of bread over the other and press together.
Heat a small pan with olive oil and when the oil is hot, put on the sandwich and turn the heat down to low. Top with a sandwich press, if you have one, or weigh it down with a small plate. Cook on the one side until browned, 2-3 minutes, then turn. Cook a few minutes more or until both sides are lightly brown and the cheese melted.
INGREDIENTS for tuna salad
2 cans good quality albacore tuna packed in water (water just slightly drained)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 lemon or more, to taste
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, stems removed, chopped
A drizzle of good olive oil
1 celery stalk, diced
1-2 scallions, chopped
PREPARE tuna salad
Mix together all ingredients in a medium bowl. Don’t forget to share some of the tuna with your dog (or cat) first!
INGREDIENTS for the olive tapenade
1/2 cup pitted Niçoise olives
A small handful of fresh Italian parsley
1 TB lemon juice
Drizzle of olive oil
PREPARE the olive tapenade
Place all ingredients into a food processor and purée. You could alternatively chop it all by hand if you don’t have a processor (or use a mortar & pestle).