Some sensible person once remarked that you spend the whole of your life either in your bed or in your shoes. Having done the best you can by shoes and bed, devote all the time and resources at your disposal to the building up of a fine kitchen. It will be, as it should be, the most comforting and comfortable room in the house.” -Elizabeth David (1913-1992)
After a week of pouring over the twenty entries for Comfort Me: A Cookbook Giveaway Contest, and absolutely agonizing over the decisions they had to make, the verdict of the judges is in. My thanks again to all the bloggers who participated; the race for first place was a very close one, and that's all down to you. I said another silent prayer of thanks to someone (anyone!) that I didn't have to be involved in the judging process...I would also have found it very difficult, indeed.
Without further ado, I am proud to announce that the winner is...
...the lovely Jen of Prepare To Meet Your Bakerina! Her entry, on mustard and cheese, is a sublimely well-written piece, simply a delight from start to finish. In the words of one judge, "I didn't want it to end." Her prize, Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros, will be forwarded to her from the generous folks at Murdoch Books. Congratulations, Jen!
Congrats also to the 2nd prize winner, Julie of A Finger In Every Pie and the 3rd prize winner, Dawn of My Life With Garlic, who will each receive a goodie box from England, which shall include an i.o.u. for a photo or a magazine mock-up if they'd like. Great entries, you two!
Here, in its entirety and with permission from the author, is the winning entry:
On mustard and cheese
by Jen of Prepare To Meet Your Bakerina
Note: This is my entry in the contest hosted by Moira at Who Wants Seconds?, Comfort Me. You can read the other entries, entertaining and compelling reading all, by following the links in the comment field here.
Among the phrases I'm sure my mother never wants to hear again, "mustard and cheese!" has to rank highly, somewhere above terrible advertising catchphrases but somewhere below the catchphrases of terrible children's television, with which my brother and I tortured her for years. While Mom will admit freely that she has shed tears at certain rites of passage and the accompanying knowledge that we're not her little ones anymore, she will also admit that there are benefits to having one's children all grown up. For starters, she no longer has to cater to our various food quirks and aversions. No more faces being pulled at the sight of a beautiful bowl of homemade cream of tomato soup, with fresh summer tomatoes from the farmstand. No more discovering that the gallon of milk she had bought the day before was just about gone, thanks to my brother's "milk as the only staff of life" phase in kindergarten. No more offering me anything I wanted for lunch on my own daily arrival home from morning kindergarten, only to hear the same damn thing from me: "mustard and cheese!"
I went to a Methodist kindergarten in northeast Philadelphia, not far from where I lived, the house where my grandmother and mother and uncles had grown up. (This house has never had its story properly told in this space, despite my repeated promises to do so, but you can read a bit about it here and here.) My memories of kindergarten are a bit vague, except for the day when we had to talk about our families, what they liked to eat and drink and do for fun and watch on television; when asked, I told my teacher that my mommy's favorite tv show was the Senate Watergate hearings. Although the memories of kindergarten are vague, the memories of coming home from school are as sharp and clear as diamonds. The teacher would announce whose mother was here to pick them up; we would all run shrieking "Mommymommymommymommeeeee!" like banshees; my mom would drive me home. Home was a two-family house on Bustleton Avenue that my great-grandfather had built when my grandmother was a girl. At the time we lived there, my grandparents and teenaged uncles lived on the top floor, my mother and I lived on the ground floor, and my dad, who was in graduate school at the University of Delaware, came home to us on weekends. Even though our own kitchen was fully stocked -- it was where Mom and I did all of our baking together -- most of our meals were taken upstairs with my grandparents and uncles. By the time I got home from school, my uncles were off doing their own thing, and my grandfather was at work, so it was just the three of us for lunch. Poor Mom: Like Mrs. Welsch in Harriet the Spy, who tried in vain to get Harriet to eat something besides tomato sandwiches for lunch, my mom tried to get me to eat something, anything, more interesting; like Harriet, I was stubborn in my refusal.
I can't begin to imagine how revolting Mom found my favorite sandwich, and yet, she made it every day. On paper, it really does sound terrible: two slices of Arnold Brick Oven bread, the only store bread Mom would countenance; several slices of white American cheese, never yellow American, probably because I associated yellow American cheese too closely with Velveeta, which was acceptable for grilled cheese, but impossible to eat raw due to its slippery, petroleum-based texture; mustard, lots of mustard. Usually a brown mustard like Gulden's was what we had in the house, but occasionally my grandmother would pick up squeezy bottles of yellow "ballpark" mustard like Plochmann's, which came in a fat barrel-shaped bottle that drove me wild. Mom was always careful to keep the Plochmann's bottle out of reach, because left to my own devices, half the bottle would end up on my sandwich. I can't remember what else I ate with this sandwich, or what I drank (although I'm betting it was cold milk), but I do remember how it felt to eat this sandwich, how I loved that combination of cheese and mustard: the vaguely buttery dairy hit of the cheese, the palate-clearing vinegar hit of the mustard. The thrill of it used to make me drum my heels on the floor, to be wearily admonished by Mom and Grandmom to stop doing that and just eat my lunch, please. When I came down with a whopper of a flu bug one day, my mom knew just how sick I was when I took two bites of my sandwich, left the table without a word and lay down on the love seat in the dining room, my forehead hot, my eyelids too heavy to keep my eyes open.
Even now, even as I recognize that Arnold Brick Oven Bread has only marginally better texture and no more flavor than the Wonder Bread I won't eat, even as I confine my consumption of American cheese to an occasional grilled cheese sandwich, even as I grew into a right mustardhead, with a refrigerator full of Dijon and Bavarian and English and Chinese mustards and mustard sauces, even now, my mouth still waters at the memory of Mustard and Cheese, and its daily appearance on my rabbit plate. But although I proclaim my love of these silly little sandwiches, I have no desire to test that love, to see if they still taste as I remember them. I don't need to. Unlike some of my more grotesque food quirks (strawberry-flavored Nesquick, heated like hot chocolate? Mom, forgive me, please), this is one that can be adapted for my adult palate. I know that I'm not the only one who appreciates the combination of a tart, pungent mustard with a rich, slightly biting cheese. It is this combination that is the foundation of Welsh rabbit, which, along with a little butter, a little beer and a few pieces of toast, makes one of the best antidotes to a freezing wet night that I know. But I still adore this as a cold sandwich. The ingredients are better now: Take any honest loaf, a well-made sandwich bread, a pain au levain, a San Francisco sourdough, a ciabatta full of holes and texture, a semolina loaf with almost no holes or texture, a dense German or Swedish limpa rye; a hard or semi-hard cheese (I tend to go with raw-milk cheddars, but I have also used a semi-aged Spanish Mahon, raw goat-milk Gouda from a fancy cheese shop in Brooklyn, Asiago from my neighborhood Italian deli and a salty, sheepy Kefalotyri from my neighborhood Greek deli); and a mustard that plays nicely with both of them, sweet, hot or both, smooth or grainy, augmented by tarragon or champagne vinegar or maple syrup, or made of nothing but ground mustard seeds and a little water. These sandwiches are a far cry from the ones that made my mother wince over 30 years ago; then again, when I eat them, I still find myself wanting to drum my heels on the floor, murmuring mmmmmm all the while.