Let’s Eat — A Writer’s Guide to Cooking
When I was eighteen and “away at college,” my brother and I shared an apartment near the university in Fresno. We both had big appetites, but our cooking skills were limited to just a few basics. I made madzoon once a week, my brother made tubs of rice pilaf, and we ate a lot of salads. Breakfast was no problem. I knew how to fry and scramble eggs. Oddly enough, we weren’t big consumers of fast food, though from time to time we did fall back on a commercial sandwich, pizza, or hamburger. And of course beer was filling.
Ironically, after enduring about three or four months of this balanced diet, I got a job as a cook in a popular family restaurant. I had made a list of four or five jobs from the classified section one evening — the venerable Fresno Bee hadn’t yet switched to morning publication — and was hired the next morning by the owner of the first place I tried. He said, “Have you ever cooked before?” and I said, “No, but I’m not stupid. I can do anything.” He looked at me and laughed. “You know,” he said, “I believe you. Come back tonight. You can start at six.” After that, I had plenty to eat, at no extra charge.
There is one other “dish” my brother and I relied on, and that was the remarkable toasted tuna sandwich. This is something we had learned to make at home. All you have to do is mix a couple of cans of tuna with a little mayonnaise, slap the mixture on a slice of bread, put some cheddar or American cheese on that, and top it off with another slice of bread. Then you put the sandwich into your preheated sandwich griddle and squeeze the life out of it until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted and voila! you have a wonderful, nourishing sandwich. An even better way to go about it is to melt some butter in a frying pan and toast the sandwich one side at a time until it’s a delightful golden-brown. But this not only takes butter, it doubles the time you have to wait for your sandwich. And after that — in theory, at least — you also have to wash your frying pan — a real nuisance when you’re just dying to get back to your “studies.”
We had toasted tuna sandwiches at least two or three times a week. When they found out how easy they were to make, several of our friends became hooked. A day rarely passed during which someone didn’t mention that he had polished off two or three toasted tuna sandwiches. Finally, one of us, I don’t remember who, had the brilliant idea of staging a day-long toasted tuna sandwich-eating contest. The rules were simple. Participants were to eat nothing but toasted tuna sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and supper, and they had to keep track of how many they ate. At the end of the day, a winner would be declared.
My brother and I each ate two for breakfast. One friend ate three, and another ate four. The pressure was on. At lunch, we heard from a notorious eater who had already polished off eleven. Somehow, I managed to work my way up to seven. Due to the salt in the tuna, the more we ate, the more water we had to drink.
Finally, at about six in the evening, our phone rang. It was one of the contestants — a butter and frying pan man — calling to say he had eaten nine sandwiches and couldn’t take it anymore, and was officially withdrawing from the contest. When I saw him about an hour later, he was positively green.
It was at least a month before I could face another toasted tuna sandwich. They haven’t tasted the same since. Just for the record, though, I did have one a few weeks ago. My loving bride toasted it in butter in our frying pan.
Also by William Michaelian
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Another Song I Know
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