Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

Written by Bill Leebens

There are days for haute cuisine, hipster toy food, meals that challenge and provoke and lead one to question the nature of food itself: nourishment? Art? An act of rebellion against convention and tradition?

Then there are days for comfort food, a physical reassurance that maybe everything will be all right, a remembrance of meals past with loved ones long gone. These are days that put questions on hold, that quell anxieties, that bring a pause to the strings of days that move too too fast.

These are the days for grilled cheese and tomato soup. These are the days for buttered popcorn and a crisp cold apple by a crackling fire, like your mother used to serve on cold winter days when the windows were frosted and breath would freeze if you went outside. Days when the act of movement itself required preparation and consideration and was almost too challenging to bear.

That grilled cheese sandwich: with or without the soup, it can become an act of contemplation and reverence, almost an act of prayer in which every aspect is vital, every element has to mesh. Discord is not allowed, innovation is unwelcome.

The bread? Pillowy white fluff from a plastic bag. This is not the time for artisanal or seeded or sprouted or gluten-free. The cheese? Sorry, American. Perhaps a little cheddar or even pepper jack blended in if one is inexplicably adventurous or upbeat, but no chevre or dear God, bleu. Butter. Lots of it. A pool melted in the pan or on the griddle, more carefully spread on the bread. Heat, high, but not so high as to blacken the butter.

The result should be a perfect golden brown, crusty, crispy, almost caramelized. The cheese should be viscous and stretchy and gooey and should erupt like slow-moving magma when the crust is broken and yields.

To this midwestern WASP, making a grilled cheese sandwich is as close as I can come to preforming a tea ceremony. That likely sounds ridiculous, but it can be a contemplative, conscious act, not just a thrown-together drippy mess hurriedly and thoughtlessly gulped down.

There are parallels in music.

There is comfort music, familiar and perhaps a little wistful, like a patiently-paced performance of Trois Gymnopedies.


Or perhaps the thousandth play of Nilsson Sings Newman, forty-five years on.


Then there are days that require a kickstart. Decades ago in my blue collar —actually brown collar— days when I made my way to a demanding and diminishing job I hated, I would fire myself up with The Call’s “Let the Day Begin”, played over and over on my Dasher’s cassette player, laboriously rewound at stoplights.


More recently, Richard Thompson’s sardonic “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me”, played at very high volumes, has accomplished the same thing, an emotional doppio espresso. Fortunately, no rewinding is required.


On a gentler level, Simone Dinerstein’s Goldberg Variations are just the thing to get the heart and brain moving and get a reluctant worker bee up and out the door.


We are all different; we are all the same. Whatever works for you, says I.

Whatever works for you.

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