Snacks are quite an interesting part of our eating culture. We (at least in America) have a very defined eating infrastructure that separates our foods and consumption into four distinct meal categories: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. The snack, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a portion of food oftentimes smaller than that of a regular meal, that is generally eaten between meals.” Though snacks are not inherently junk food, they very often are and thus have a reputation for being unhealthy due to their nutritional value (or lack thereof). In addition, the quality of the snack has a lot to do with convenience. Snacks come into play when a person is in between meals and suddenly finds that they are hungry. If you consider the times of day that this happens, its usually not a time that allows you to prepare either a full-blown meal or even a healthy snack. Often, it is much easier to grab a bag of chips and go on with your day.
On the other hand, there is another eating infrastructure that utilizes a six meal plan which incorporates the inevitable snack. This system encourages you to snack, but at the cost of that big fat steak and potatoes dinner you so cherish, as well as the bag of chips that gets you through your 2 o’clock meeting. Instead, it asks you to opt for healthier choices all around, such as snacking on a handful of almonds and following it up with a dinner of chicken and asparagus.
But, you’re probably asking, what does this all have to do with sandwiches??? Interestingly enough, Wikipedia includes sandwiches among its list of snacks (which, by the way, includes both nutritional and junky snacks). But when is a sandwich a meal, and when is it a snack? I’ll use this tuna melt as an example to illustrate the three important things to consider in this meal vs sandwich categorization: the timing, the ingredients, and the mentality.
A sandwich can be a meal if you choose to eat it at a mealtime, or, if you choose (as I did with this tuna melt) to eat it at a “snack time” it can be considered a snack. This tuna melt was made after I got home from a night with friends to sit down on the couch and decompress with some good tv before bed…a classic midnight snack. Had this sandwich been consumed around noon, or even 6pm, I would consider it a meal. However, there is no meal associated with midnight, unless of course you count the Taco Bell Fourth Meal.
This is another facet to the meal vs snack debate: what’s in your sandwich. One of the great things about sandwiches is that they can be made with leftovers. Thanksgiving sandwiches anyone?! Unless the timing is at mealtime, I would say that a sandwich made from leftovers could be considered more of a snack, mostly because if it was a meal, it wouldn’t be in the sandwich form. This tuna melt was made with the leftovers of a tuna salad my dad had made earlier in the day. More importantly, though, is the size of the sandwich. If your sandwich has eight billion ingredients, but the size of these ingredients create a bite-sized sandwich, I’ dont think it’d be hard to argue that it’s a snack. But it’s not always this simple, and I think that more generally, sandwiches with fewer ingredients have a higher probability of being categorized as a snack then those with more layers.
The most important factor in the decision, however, simply comes from how you view the sandwich. When I say mentality, I mean that every part of who you are and how you’re thinking at that moment really determines whether your sandwich is a snack or meal more than anything else. Does your five-layer club sandwich feel more like a snack to you? Then it is. Can your PB & J constitute your lunch meal? Sure. So really then, if it all comes down to how you feel, then what is the point of this debate (Chris kept asking me this as we talked about this post)? The point is that you CAN debate this. The fact is, food is enough a part of our culture (and not just our survival) that I can actually argue with you over the role that a sandwich plays in your day’s eating. Though there are other foods that straddle the line between meal and snack, I think that the sandwich is among the most versatile of foods when it comes to defining its place in the meal system. Some foods are considered breakfast foods, some are considered dinner foods, and some are considered to be just snacks, but there is no way that you can categorize a sandwich that easily. Yet another reason why sandwiches are a great way to examine the way we eat and our relationship with food.
For those of you who have been following along, you may remember my friend Molly from her delicious meatloaf-style burgers. On my trip back to Connecticut, Molly once again busted out her serious cooking chops and whipped up an amazing Eggs Benedict breakfast for us.
Now, even I think Eggs Benedict pushes the sandwich envelope a little bit, mostly because there is no easy way to eat this dish, and using your hands is out of the question (at least in civilized company). This issue disqualifies Eggs Benedict from the category based on lack of convenience. On the other hand, the ingredients and composition fit in perfectly with the concept of the open-face sandwich: bread on bottom, meat, condiment, plus additional fixings layered in the order of any breakfast sandwich, minus the bread on top. I think the aspects of Eggs Benedict that qualify it are more important than those that don’t, and so in my eyes (and mouth and stomach) that makes it enough of a sandwich to put it in this blog.
The more important question is, what makes Molly’s Eggs Benedict so utterly awesome? Let’s start at the bottom: instead of using the classic English muffin as a base, Molly made biscuits from scratch, which were everything a biscuit should be: fluffy, yet dense, buttery, and just plain delicious. The Canadian bacon was pretty generic, but, let’s be honest, fry anything in butter and it will be tasty. Poached eggs are tricky (also my favorite preparation of eggs), and, in my opinion, are generally overcooked. As you can see from the second photo above, Molly poached the eggs PERFECTLY and is therefore my egg hero. Top it all off with a tangy, thick, homemade hollandaise, and I dare you to tell me this breakfast wasn’t awesome.
Eggs Benedict is a classic breakfast dish, made more famous by the fact that there are so many variations available, such as Eggs Florentine, Artichoke Benedict, Smoked Salmon Benedict, and dozens others. There are a few origin stories of this delicious egg meal, all involving someone named Benedict asking for this combination of ingredients. Today, Eggs Benedict can be found on almost all breakfast menus, and back when the New York Times wrote about it in 1967, it was noted that “Eggs Benedict is conceivably the most sophisticated dish ever created in America.” Even though Eggs Benedict is often one of the most expensive breakfast items on a menu these days, I’m not sure that most people would agree with this statement any more. So while this dish is very questionably a sandwich, and has obviously moved down a few spots on the elegant foods list, it still has a history that places it solidly in American food culture.
I spent 4th of July weekend at my friend’s house in Welfleet, MA, out almost at the end of Cape Cod. All of my friends from school were there, and let me tell you, it was quite a blast. One of my friends, who was living in the Welfleet house, is currently a student at the Johnson and Wales culinary school in Providence, RI. Needless to say, the girl can cook.
One night, we were getting ready to grill up some burgers when we realized that we were out of propane. Many delays and failures later, Molly offered to make the burgers meatloaf-style. Now I must admit, I was quite hesitant, as I am not the biggest fan of meatloaf. After the first bite, however, I was a convert. This was probably one of the most delicious burgers I have ever eaten. It was juicy and rich in a way that I have never found in a meatloaf, and it was seasoned to perfection.
Now back in California, I recently had some friends over for some BBQing and pool, and once again, one thing led to another and as it got later, the idea of getting the grill going to make burgers was becoming less appealing. I then decided to attempt Molly’s meatloaf-style burgers, since they had been such a success in Cape Cod. Unfortunately, my burgers did not turn out as well as Molly’s but I think the next try will bring much better results. Pictured above is my version of Molly’s burger, made with cheddar cheese, lettuce, and avocado.
Ultimately, this burger is a great example of how to combine cooking techniques to create a new dish. It also illustrates that even the most serious of situations, such as running out of propane, can be remedied with a little outside-the-box thinking.
When we broke for lunch, I felt like I had to make a second sandwich. I went with a sandwich on a baguette based on salami and pepper jack that was along the lines of what I usually make (cucumbers, lettuce, mayo) but spiced it up a little bit in honor of the earlier sandwich (tabasco, no avocado),.
Making this sandwich was revealing about food on a very different level than anything I have discussed so far. Yes, what you eat can say a lot about who you are. Yes, food helps define social groups and boundaries. But food can be so much more: today, I turned to making a sandwich to help me relax and focus on a difficult decision that I have to make. Everyone has a way to take a step back from their problems, and mine happens to produce sandwiches. So even though my first sandwich of the day gave me the desire for a second one, it was the need for calm and to take my mind off the stress that led me into the crafty truck at lunchtime.
I managed to get into the craft services truck on the early side today, which meant that I had more options and was therefore undecided about what i wanted to make. I am very indecisive when it comes to food, mostly because I’m generally alright with anything. Luckily, someone recommended Hawaiian bread to me, and thus a starting point was found. The roast beef is usually one of the first things to go, so I figured I would take advantage of it still being there, and obviously, cheddar is the appropriate choice for this sandwich meat.
When I make a sandwich at work, I always give half of it to Tony. This is great for me because he gives me his critique on the sandwich, and great for him because he gets half of an awesome sandwich. Even though (as previously mentioned) I am a big fan of mayo, Tony isn’t, so today I used mustard and no mayo, which meant I had yet another decision to make: what kind of mustard? The Jack Daniels southwest spicy mustard appealed to me because I felt that it went well with not only the roast beef, but also with the Hawaiian bread. This is another advantage of sharing my sandwich: it helps me understand how to make sandwiches that appeal to other people. Knowing that the condiment will be different means that the other sandwich fixings have to be compatible in a different way. On the other hand, I have a very hard time letting go of my other two favorite ingredients, lettuce and cucumber, so those were included as well.
It is this practice of substitution and experimentation that makes sandwiches so intriguing. There are an infinite number of sandwiches possible…and I want all of them.