This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a week. Every night I write, delete, edit, and then close my laptop and go to sleep until I know what to say. Guts are hard to clean up once spilled.
It’s probably evident that it has been a less than perfect summer, despite the endless sunny days and idyllic locales. Situations came along, as they tend to do, that I didn’t anticipate. Some were better suited to an episode of Real Housewives than to my own life, and depleted my appetite and hoovered my emotional resources. It happens. But. Navigating stormy waters makes you better able to steer your ship, or something like that, right? Building character is what I’m doing… look at me being all productive and becoming a better person.
I’ve been less culinarily inspired than usual, but one exception was this ham sandwich, one M.L.K. Fisher wrote about in A Stew or a Story, which has lived by my bedside for most of this year. It’s a series of short works; once in awhile I pick it up and read one, and earlier this summer, in Personal Gastronomy, I read The Pleasures of Picnics, featuring something her family calls a railroad.
It’s a boiled ham sandwich named for the ham sandwiches on buttered buns you can apparently buy (or could once) from carts in Parisian train stations. Slabs of boiled ham (roast ham, or those half-football ones that are usually honey or Black Forest, or thinly sliced deli ham, even) fill an entire baguette, which M.L.K. instructs to cut lengthwise, then “pull out every possible crumb from the middle”. I could not bring myself to do this – not least of all because I knew every soft crumb would wind up in my mouth. So I cut lengthwise fresh baguettes from Beaches Grocery (drag yourself into the map – you’ll see it!), buttered them and filled them with thickly sliced ham – the one W convinced his grandma to buy at the store. I added cheese – blasphemous, perhaps, but we had old white cheddar in the fridge – and then slid the lot back into the bag the baguette came in, twisted the top and took it to the beach.
Here comes the good part. This particular sandwich must be sat upon.
Here is M.L.K.’s procedure (since it requires one human being, she says, a less cannibalistic word than recipe is needed): fifteen minutes before it is to be eaten, have someone sit quietly upon it. When selecting the sitter, candidates should be between 100 and 160 pounds; any more and they might flatten the sandwich a little too much. “It will be squashed quite flat and pressed firmly into a loaf that can be cut in generous slices and eaten by people who are daunted, dentally at least, by tackling a thick crusty piece of bread and ham,” she writes.
We have until about Thanksgiving to keep on picnicking, but I’m thinking a railroad might be just the thing to pack in a school lunch, when squishing a sandwich flat is all but inevitable. It could be called The Backpack, or The School Bus, for those of us not taking a train to work or school in Paris.