Railroad 4

The Railroad

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.


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36 comments on “The Railroad

  1. Jaya
    September 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Julie, I hope that life takes a turn toward sunnier days. I’m just down the street if you ever want to come knocking for some company! P.S. I love this sandwich sitting technique. It’s like the most rudimentary version of a sandwich press!!

  2. Barb
    September 1, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Hey! I like that sandwich press analogy! Clever.

    I know and understand the good day/bad day scenario. I ususally find cooking theraputic but some days it’s hard to muster the energy to even do that. Being positive is something you are very good at, however. You’ll find a way to weather the storm.

  3. Erica B.
    September 1, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    ((hugs)) ♥

  4. Lisa @ Dinnerversions
    September 2, 2012 at 12:09 am

    Sometimes the simplest sandwiches are the best aren’t they? Hope life gets easier soon.

  5. Nicole Boyhouse
    September 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    I’m sorry your summer has been less than ideal. Character building sucks. Seriously, I would prefer having no character.

    The old cheddar makes me wistful for the days that I was digesting cheese just fine. I lurve old cheddar. My husband gave me an old cheddar from Janice Beaton’s one Christmas and it was like the best gift ever.

  6. Jen
    September 2, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Julie – you’re the best! I love your blog and your fantastic food ideas for myself and family. Thanks!!

  7. margo
    September 2, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Extra old white cheddar re-ignited my 18 yr old hard-working son’s energy for bag lunches (and making them), as the summer came to an end. Now he’s off to University and I dare say they won’t be able to afford quality cheese like that. : )
    I know it’ll get them home again, though. : ) My guys are gonna love the sandwich sitting concept; brilliant and crazy, all at once.
    I’ve been gettin’ some character building this summer too. I’ve been saying my Happy Place this summer was raising a little basil farm… something I’ve never succeeded at before; oh yes, and making batches of Pesto. One other good thing: I do love Fall!! Let’s hope for a new season in more ways than one. XO

  8. ERNurseJennifer
    September 3, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Another fabulous entry. Love the idea. My nieces and nephew would love to sit on a sandwich! A ham and cheese sandwich brings back many school time memories.

    May your Fall, fall into place and lighten your load. Building character sucks …


  9. Deb
    September 3, 2012 at 11:26 am

    A sandwich that is Meant to be Squished. The perfect thing to pack in school lunches tomorrow! Thank you, and best wishes for a better fall.

  10. kickpleat
    September 3, 2012 at 11:51 am

    So sorry to hear you’ve had a rough summer. If you are in Van again, I’d love to meet up for drinks and a chat. I was actually going to say that summer bummers are the worst and realized that it might do double duty for this post! Love the sandwich idea!

  11. Maureen
    September 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    I have always thought you led a charmed life…like so many blogs full of excting travel, amazing food and events. Sorry to hear it has not been a great summer.

  12. natalie
    September 3, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Ah… sorry to hear it has been tough. *Hugs*

  13. Melanie
    September 3, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Ugh. “Guts are hard to clean up once spilled.” A more true sentence couldn’t be found. I was in a spot where I lost my ‘cook’. It’s been the better part of a year since I’ve really seen her. Sometimes she visits – sometimes she hides for days even weeks. I just keep gathering those spilled guts up in bags and shuffling them out the door for this is my road and, one foot in front of the other, I will walk it (some days I try to dance it, some days I take a little break and stare at the scenery). Plod on sister.

    • JulieVR
      September 4, 2012 at 10:44 am

      Awesome reply – so well put. Thank you!!

  14. Shelagh
    September 4, 2012 at 7:56 am

    Been reading your blog for quite some time now. This latest entry really hit a cord with me though since my summer also went “south”. I knew I lived a charmed life…well, no more. Like most people whose life falls apart, I’m dealing with it one day at a time and for the most part, that works. Although I still read my favourite foodie blogs for diversion, I’m not inspired to either cook or eat for the first time in my life. I hope you see some sunshine in your life soon.

    • JulieVR
      September 4, 2012 at 10:45 am

      Shelagh, I’m so sorry to hear it. We all think it won’t happen to us, right? You just never know what life will bring. Living one day at a time seems to be the best way to handle the hard stuff.

  15. Andrea
    September 4, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Sending you a big hug and hoping and praying that the clouds clear soon for you.

  16. Corinne
    September 4, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Julie I am sorry you have had a tough summer.I hope autumn brings more joy for you. Thank you for inspiring a fall picnic. All of the best.

  17. bellini
    September 4, 2012 at 8:38 am

    It doesn’t sound like you have a great summer but you have memories of Kelowna and sandwiches to sit upon.

  18. Jan @ Family Bites
    September 4, 2012 at 9:15 am


    • JulieVR
      September 4, 2012 at 10:44 am

      You guys are awesome, thanks for all the good wishes. It’s funny how idyllic life seems filtered through a blog, isn’t it? Even the most mundane meals seem far more exciting than they actually are. And it’s tough to navigate just how much to share here, even though I’d just love to curl up with a gin & tonic and spill all…

  19. Alex
    September 4, 2012 at 12:59 pm


    Thank you for getting me through some of those character building days, with your posts of what I could create from my fridge and cupboards, you cheered me up! Don’t forget how wonderful you and how much we all enjoy your posts, even if you are suggested that we intentionally sit on our sandwiches.

    I could have pressed this sandwich this weekend without sitting on it just by putting into my backpack on my trip into the mountains!

  20. Haruko
    September 4, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Hope you are doing better Julie. I think that is what we admire most in people, how they handle bad circumstance and bad luck. How they make the best of things and manage to turn things around. It sucks going through it though. Drag your feet until they feel like walking, then marching or running and then possibly until they feel like dancing….Move forward though…things will get better. We believe in you!

  21. christine
    September 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    As the card on my desk reminds me:

    “The best way out is always through”

    Take care,


  22. Meta4
    September 4, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    Open a bottle of whiskey and throw away the cork!!!

  23. Holly
    September 4, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    There’s something about the modern age that has us believe that life should’t really happen. When I read Georgia O’Keefe’s biography, I was heartened to learn that “real” artists historically have taken long hiatuses when life happens – in her case, a year or two at a time, even. It made me feel less guilty when I needed to do the same. After all, she managed to be great, and so maybe the rest of us can, too. Maybe part of what made her great was the willingness to simply BE when life happened.

    Sending you love and strength…. and permission to only Blog when it truly works for you. Until then, we can wait.

  24. Maureen
    September 5, 2012 at 9:40 am

    My family has experienced some VERY tough things the past few years and yet very few people know what we have been through. When you are dealing with mental health issues and addiction very few people will understand. So we have kept it to ourselves all the while listening to others complain about the most mundane and trivial things. It takes a toll.
    I love reading food blogs but after awhile it just gets depressing-does everyone else have the perfect life with the perfect parities and table settings and excting trips and endless amonuts of money? (don’t get me started on fashion blogs) I have had to cut a number out of my reading list because I admit to feeling envy and despair.

    I don’t what you are going through Julie but many of us have probably been there. I will enejoy your blog all the more now knowing your life isn’t perfect ! :-)

  25. Sue (London, ON)
    September 5, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Sorry to hear your summer hasn’t been stellar. I too have had a less than perfect one and feel your pain. Hang in there. You have so many people sending you good thoughts, I hope that will help.

  26. natalie
    September 6, 2012 at 5:42 am

    @ Maureen ~ not sure if you will see this… but I wanted to tell you I feel your pain and understand. My brother has battled severe mental illness for 18 years. It is only by God’s grace that we were able to endure some of the very darkest days. It is so hard to understand. You also notice how much society degrades and make fun of “being crazy” and “being committed” etc. Blessings and hope to you!

  27. Elaine
    September 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    I feel so torn: half of me is all, “This is such a beautifully-written post!” and the other have is like, “damn, character-building summers are the pits!” — very mixed emotions about this.

    Still. It is always a comfort, at least for me, that sandwiches exist, as do people who refer to the “dentally daunted” in their writing. Keep your chin up, pal. Nothing bad lasts forever.

  28. Laura
    September 6, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    I loved everything about this post. :)

  29. Laura
    September 6, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    (Except whatever parts of your summer were crappy, I mean!)

  30. Maureen
    September 6, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    Hi Natalie-thank you for your kind words. I am fine both mentally (I think anyway! haha) and physically. The people I am talking about are in my family. If they had had cancer we could have shared freely and the sympathy and support from both the government and friends and family would have been amazing. BUT when it is the two last stigmas in our society -well you are on your own. People may think oh no that is not true..and as a Canadian that is what I thought too, until the reality of seeking resources and help becomes real life and not theory. It is tought to not be able to talk much about it(people who have no experience with it do judge) and also listen tho others whine about what is so trivial and easy to fix. Anyway this ain’t my blog. and I just hope that whatever Julie is dealing with is fixable soon. I never wish hardship on others. I do know that hard times make you a more compassionate and empathetic person. I know people who indeed have it all and yet they often truly do not understand what real suffering is. I and others like you have been given that gift and that is a good thing.

  31. Theresa
    September 7, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Sending hugs, good wishes and reminding you that my kettle is always steaming for a fresh cup of tea. I’m quite partial to gin & tonic though….. And I’ve got a spare room now that Robyn’s in university! You’ve got my number? Red deer is an almost escape. <3

  32. kael
    September 9, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    Oh.my.EFF…that looks so good.
    And, I don’t know why, it reminds me of the baguettes stuffed with french fries they sell on the beaches in the south of france…drool.
    I love your site, although this is my first time commenting, and sincerely hope that the fall brings you a little less “character building”.

  33. Anita
    September 10, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    I’ve been there. I hope that your autumn is better. Take care of yourself.

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