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Closed Saturday for Snow! January 29, 2010

Posted by Janet & Hich in : SANDWHICH musings , comments closed

SANDWHICH will be closed Saturday, January 30th, because of the really cool snow that is falling all around!

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, so I know about snow…I know a LOT about snow. And still, I find something incredibly magical about the particular kind of snow and ice we get here in North Carolina. Enjoy it, everyone, and we’ll see you Monday! …or Tuesday…or whenever you come in next!

…or whenever you want some perfect soup and a Nice Green Salad…
…or whenever you need a cozy meatloaf sammich…
…or whenever you just have to have an O.B.L.T.
…or whenever you crave a burger cooked medium…
…or whenever you need a brownie…
…or if you’re just thirsty for some Moroccan Iced Tea…

Whenever it is, see you then!

(and sorry to make you hungry!)

Janet, Hich & Staff

Janet’s Thanksgiving Missive December 2, 2009

Posted by Janet & Hich in : SANDWHICH musings , comments closed

I’m feeling a little bit grateful about a few things and I suppose it makes sense to go ahead and get them out in the open.

First of all, I’m feeling pretty good about the egg sandwich I just ate – the “Lex’s Favorite” which was named after our former neighbor of 3 Cups fame, Lex Alexander because it was, well, his favorite thing to eat at Sandwhich. It is an over-medium egg with lettuce and tomato and bacon (but I had mine with avocado instead), and it is served between two slices of whole wheat bread. It was salted perfectly. When Umberto, our friend and line cook, cut the sandwich after he assembled it, one of the yolks broke and that made a type of mess that I liked because the yolk went all over the cut side of the bread and seeped into the tomato crevices. I used not two napkins, but two paper towels. Umberto forgot the avocado, but then he remembered and put five thin slices on a little plate. He asked me if I wanted salt and I said no (feeling all virtuous about that), and then, on my way to my table, because I was eating in the dining room for a change, I stopped by the hutch and got the salt shaker and shook it a few times over the gently fanned-out avocado slices. I had to shake it hard because the little beautiful flakes of kosher salt needed to get out. They didn’t pour out like ordinary salt would have. It was a good sandwich.

Second of all, while I’m on the topic of 3 Cups, a perfect thing for after work is to go have a “wine flight” at 3 Cups. I did it recently with a friend and it was PERFECT. The wine was very, very special and it only cost about $6 to try three wines. Sometimes it costs $7, but anyway, you should try it. You can be out of there in half an hour and you’ve had a perfect glass of wine and maybe a chunk of baguette and you’re the happiest person in the world. That’s what I think. www.3cups.net

Third of all, my Moroccan sister-in-law made couscous on Sunday and invited me over and I couldn’t get there in time and they all really just had to go ahead without me, which is fine. Traditional Moroccan couscous (pronounced, css-cssu’, really, I swear), is served in a big huge vessel (a platter as big as a circle of both of your arms). Everyone has their own spoon and their own “territory” and you aren’t supposed to steal couscous or vegetables from anyone else’s territory. It becomes a little bit iffy to know whether or not something in the center is your territory or not, so you go at it with the spoon and drag it over to your own spot, just to be sure, like a piece of butternut squash. Everyone usually obeys this rule except on the occasions when Hich and I are both there and if we happen to be seated side-by-side, and if I happen to get something really good in my territory, like the clump of parsley, which looks like spinach there is so much of it, or one of the jalapenos, then he might “accidentally” steal some of my good stuff. But usually there is plenty to go around.

Aside from the territory rules, couscous is shared like this: the meat is buried in the middle and you are supposed to eat the veg and the couscous first and get sort of full on that. Then you uncover the meat and although there is less meat than veg, you aren’t as hungry for it, now that you have eaten so much other stuff (especially considering the Cheetohs factor which I’ll discuss later), so you all share the meat nicely. I am shameless about it. I am always the last one eating, just digging and digging with my spoon. I can’t stop. Moroccans – or at least the Moroccans in my Moroccan family – take little bits of couscous and then maybe a bit of turnip, or some meat, or both and then they take that spoon and go chop, chop, chop, against the edge of the bowl, working away at the little bite until it becomes a puree. Then they might spoon some of the broth on top of that little bite – the broth is always provided in a bowl near the gigantic vessel. Chop, chop, chop and they work at it. It can take a long time, even for a whole family, to go through a mountain of couscous in a big bowl. Me? I go for the speed round. I’m busy, busy. They know that about me, and nobody seems to mind, even though I am the ex-daughter-in-law.

To prepare it, the couscous “grain” (in quotation marks b/c couscous is really just teeny tiny pasta) is steamed and steamed for about an hour. The steam is actually broth: in the bottom of the steamer, you put a whole chicken, or you put a piece of beef (you can also, really, put a sheep’s head in there, but that’s not my favorite, even though me saying this out loud to 700 e-mail subscribers might actually get me in trouble, but anyway I don’t like it as much as I like the chicken or beef, and let’s leave it at that), and then you also put turnips and carrots and zucchini and onions and butternut squash with the peel on, and you throw in 1-2 jalapenos and a nice handful of parsley and I think there is another vegetable in there, but I can’t remember which. The broth is underneath and the couscous is sitting on top, like in a double boiler, but with holes in the bott om of the top part. Every once in a while, you dump out the couscous and knead it with butter (and if you really know your stuff, the butter is “smen” which is more like blue cheese) and then you put it back in, and then take it out and knead it some more and then put it back in. You do the kneading three times. It takes forever, but my mother-in-law can do it in like 10 minutes, or that’s how it seems. I’m sitting there drinking tea, trying to understand what everyone is saying, and maybe I’m eating some cookies and some Cheeetohs (I kid you not! They sometimes appear at Moroccan tea and I’m glad about it! It is perfect to eat cookies and Cheetohs before dinner, don’t you think?). But usually it is some incredibly fancy cookie, believe me. And when there is a big plate of cookies, I have to have one of each kind. Anyway, there I am, drinking tea and listening to everyone speak Darija (Moroccan dialect) and I’m feeling pretty cool and international about myself, and POW out comes the couscous like no time passed at all. My sister-in-law is fast too, but not that fast. Still, she was too fast for me on Sunday and I wasn’t ready, but when I got there, guess what? Everyone had eaten and was splayed about on the couches in the adjoining living room, but over on the table, there was the big couscous vessel, with a perfect isosceles triangle of territory – my would-have-been territory – waiting for me, still super delicious.

While I spooned broth on my territory and got busy digging, my sister-in-law and I talked about “stuff” which included such topics as how Americans play spin-the-bottle in junior high school. My sister-in-law, who has two young children, was so horrified that I worried she was actually going to get mad, but instead, she just listened to me with her arms crossed,, occasionally interjecting words of disbelief. She is very open-minded about so many things, but this spin-the-bottle business was completely new to her. She had no idea we were so brazen. Crazy Americans…. I talked in third person about “people I know” who might have taken a boyfriend home for Thanksgiving during college and she was like all, “without a pretty definite plan to marry him????” And I was like, “nope.”

Horrors.

Then I’m sitting there, and for the tiniest split second, I wonder: is it ok for me to be sitting at her nice table, digging away at what remained of the yummy couscous she made. And by “her table,” reader, understand this: although, for me, she is always my sister-in-law, she is, technically speaking, my “ex” sister-in-law, since her brother is my ex-husband. Believe me, I cook for her, but I can’t possibly reciprocate the many feasts I’ve had chez Elbetri family. So there I am and I’m telling her all these terrible things about spin-the-bottle and makeouts and college boyfriends and she’s all up-in-arms about it and for a second I wonder if it is all OK. If I shouldn’t be a little more demure. If I shouldn’t just be sort of, well, quiet.

So I look at her and I say, “I hope I’m not really making you mad, gosh,” and then I add, trying to be light-hearted, “are you gonna be ok?” And she says, chuckling at my worry, “Janet, you are OUR FAMILY. You can come here and say whatever you want.” I say: “and still eat couscous?” She laughs, “and still eat couscous.”

(and I’m thinking, “and Cheetohs too…….”)

This Thanksgiving I will spend with my American family, the one into which I was born, the one that made me who I am, and the mother and siblings and aunt and others to whom I am incredibly grateful. And I think of my Moroccan family too, who has made me so welcome in their own family – me, the loud-mouthed couscous vacuum, laughing and joking, and finding cross-cultural common ground more often than not.

We are the same, everywhere, really — stories-of-adolescence notwithstanding. We are much more alike than we are different. I know that’s cliché, and there’s a reason it became so. Think of how many times people have said it, like I am now saying it, because they needed to point it out.

We are all so alike. And that’s a nice thing in this world, don’t you think?

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Janet

Zen and the Art of Food October 14, 2009

Posted by Janet & Hich in : SANDWHICH musings , comments closed

Janet’s Cheat Sheet (this is a VERY long post)

1. Comparing my refrigerator to my neighbor’s, and me trying to not sound judgmental about it which I am not.

2. A secret about me and foil-covered rectangles and if I tell you more, I’ll give it away.

3. My friend, Michael’s extremely delicious Tumbador Chocolates www.tumbadorchocolate.com

Dear Friends,

I probably should just reread it, because I might be about to make a memory-related mistake. Still, if memory serves (and again, not to be repetitive, but really, it doesn’t: two years ago, I forgot my own birthday. My sister called me and I was like, “oh, there’s Cackie calling me, I wonder what for?”). But if memory should happen to serve on this particular occasion, Robert Pirsig’s main idea in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was that we should practice acts of quality. It is not unlike practicing random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty. All three of those acts – quality, kindness and beauty — are a way of paying homage to the universe, in some way.

Which brings me to today’s topic: my refrigerator in Brooklyn. One day, after returning from vacation, I spoke with my neighbors, a newly-married couple, who had been my cat sitters while I was away. They said, “hi, welcome back, how was your trip?” And I said, “the trip was great, thanks, and thanks for cat sitting!”

Then Matt, the husband, looked at me apologetically and said, cautiously, “uh, Janet — I hope you don’t mind, but, well, I was wondering — whenever we cat sit for you, well, we happen to notice that you don’t have any food in your kitchen or refrigerator, and so I was just wondering: what do you eat?”

Now the funny thing is this: I had the exact same curiosity about them. Every time I would cat sit for them, I would end up inadvertently exploring their kitchen, maybe looking for the extra bag of cat food, or looking in the fridge for the already-open can. I’m explaining all that to you, reader, so you don’t think I snoop when I cat sit. No — no snooping, just innocent kitchen exploration.

Inside their fridge would be some lunch meat, some pre-sliced havarti, a huge container of “Country Crock,” maybe 5 eggs, and some extra extra extra “cholesterol-free!” skim milk, some ketchup and some “honey mustard sauce,” and possibly a pink tomato or two, on its styrofoam tray still covered in plastic and placed in the “crisper” section (where, of course, was NOT where the open can of cat food would be, but still…).

In their cupboards might be some “beef stroganoff mix” complete with 500 ingredients, and maybe a few packages of ramen and a can or two of soup. And in another cupboard, I might find canned refried beans and “taco shells.”

My kitchen, on the other hand, was so over-packed with what I consider to be food, that I was constantly running out of storage space (remember, this is Brooklyn, New York, which counts as “New York City” in terms of apartment sizes). I had big glass jars on top of the fridge — one for green lentils, one for red lentils, one for jasmine rice, one for barley, one for dried cherries, one for dried apples, then quinoa, all-purpose flour and semolina flour. In the cupboards were cans of white beans and pinto beans, an ample supply of canned tomatoes — I would buy the 28-oz size by the case, a jar of raw honey, extra-virgin olive oil, blackstrap molasses, rosewater from my mother-in-law, vanilla extract, whole peppercorns, dried mushrooms, and kosher salt and turmeric and cumin and you get the picture. Tons of food, for crying out loud.

When I’d go on vacation, I’d try to make a point of eating the perishable food in the refrigerator, but in any case a person could always find in there nearly a dozen eggs, a hunk of parmigiano-reggiano, unsalted butter, ancient miso that never got used, plain yogurt, milk, carrots, a cut onion in plastic, a mason jar of homemade tomato sauce and expeller-pressed canola oil and mustard, hot sauce and the other regulars.

The point here is not that I was far, far superior to my neighbors in my food choices and if you are thinking that’s what I’m saying, please here me now: I don’t think I was superior IN ANY WAY. But I did have a heck of a lot more food than they did. What is interesting to me — really, very interesting — is that they were genuinely curious about what on earth I ate because when they came to my house, they didn’t SEE any food. Most of my food was cluttered about — the “bulk” containers on top of my fridge. They wouldn’t have had to snoop to see my food at all. It was right there in front of their eyes. But they didn’t see it.

So the question is, WHY were they unable to see all that food I had? At the risk of sounding foodie-cliche’, we live in a culture that thinks “lunchables” is food. We live in a culture where food is there, waiting for you — it doesn’t need to be boiled and seasoned, as with my lentils (but did you know that lentils don’t need ANY seasoning? Cook them absolutely plain and then taste the WATER they were cooked in and tell me it isn’t delicious!). Today’s food doesn’t need to be “turned into” anything, as with my canned whole tomatoes becoming tomato sauce with the addition of that half onion, the other half of which can be found in the fridge, and salt and extra virgin olive oil and absolutely nothing else.

So my friends and neighbors felt a little sorry for me, and I felt a little sorry for them — especially sorry for them because of how sorry they felt for me.

A work of quality, then, is something that you thoughtfully create for a specific function. It isn’t of very much quality if it doesn’t ultimately serve that function, although I think it is more about the process of thoughtful creation than it is about the end product. My lentil soup might not taste good to you, but putting the little seeds in water to cook is something so elemental and so very beautiful, that the act in itself is a work of quality: it is my mindset that causes the quality, not the result. If the mindset is about peeling off the plastic seal from a pre-fixed lunch packet in order to ingest calories, then there is little room for the process, and therefore not much space for quality.

As an aside, I’ll throw in here that I ***love*** airplane food. And I do think the opening of those tiny little packages to see all the surprises inside somehow might qualify as an act of quality. I’d like to wrestle with my words here to make it so. I do love airplane food. It isn’t very often delicious (but if you order the vegetarian meal, you might be surprised — sometimes it IS good), but there is something so wonderful about hearing those carts being pushed through the narrow aisles and knowing that you’re going to get a too-cold drink soon and a miniscule package of peanuts and a little square napkin and that then, 20 minutes later, with cart passage number two, a warm, foil-covered rectangle will arrive with some sort of rice pilaf inside and maybe a roll with real butter and a tiny square of cheddar. Maybe the quality in all that is that, these days, in order to be on a plane that serves food, you have to be going somewhere pretty nice. I don’t know.

Skipping ahead: today a box arrived for me in the mail. It was a thank you from a colleague in the chocolate industry who had asked me for a chocolate-related favor which I gladly did for him because he is a cool, smart and totally irreverent guy, and because his product is delicious. (Some of you may know I worked for many years in the chocolate industry and still do some chocolate consulting — can you believe that there is a job called “chocolate consulting?”). The thank you was a beautiful box filled with totally delicious chocolate treats. I rarely charge anymore for my consulting — my chocolate consulting — because it is a pleasure to do, and anyway I’m sure someday these folks might be in a position to help me if I needed a favor. I never expect chocolate presents, but today I got one — a chocolate present of pure, Zen-and-the-Art-of quality. May I plug the company? www.tumbadorchocolate.com. Outstanding, wow – I just ate some more. Yum.

Thank you, reader — this was a long one, but I feel better now that it’s out. I don’t write these — they write me.

Janet

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