Toasted cheese sandwiches with fried eggs. And a salad on the side. With a glass of wine. And a glass of water.
This does not sound like much, does it? Sounds too simple. Too everyday. Too…dull.
But last night that was what we had for dinner. And it was one of the most perfect meals we’ve ever shared, one of the most thoroughly enjoyable. One of the most memorable.
Why was that, now? I have to think.
It was different all right, from what picture the words conjure up.
The difference, I have a feeling, is in the recipe.
So here is a recipe for: Best Spring Dinner for Two.
Take one cool spring evening, at the end of a long, cool spring. Light a madrone fire in the hearth. Sit with the newspaper and a glass of rose and your husband and the dogs. (These ingredients can be changed to suit what you have in your pantry. For example: Take a warm summer evening, or a nippy autumn evening, or a cold winter evening. Play Mozart low rather than light a fire. Or Brian Eno. Sit with reading material of your choice, or sewing, or knitting, or…or…or… For company, choose from a wide variety of possibilities. You get the general idea, I’m sure.)
Cut four good slices of sourdough bread from a loaf made by a friend, preferably a friend who is the best cook you know and who runs your favorite restaurant. It helps if the bread was delivered to the store by your friend’s brother, and it’s even better if your friend’s brother lets you pick the best loaf out of the basket he’s delivering to the shelves, while you exchange words about how nice it is that the weather has finally warmed up.
Butter two of the slices. Unsalted is best. Unsalted and made within 100 miles is even better. Dijon mustard on two of the slices. It is nice if you live in Dijon and the mustard comes from someone you know, but if that’s not possible, you can spare a moment to fantasize about going to Dijon some day and eating all that Burgundian food without gaining any weight.
Slice some extra sharp cheddar and some Monterey jack cheese thinly, enough for two sandwiches. Best if you know where the cheese comes from. If you have passed the cows who give the milk for the cheese on one of your holidays, and speculated aloud on exactly what kind of cow IS black and white, anyway?, that’s tastier still.
Divide the cheese onto the two slices of mustard covered bread. Cover with the buttered bread.
Turn heat on low under a cast iron skillet just big enough to hold two sandwiches. Add a dollop of unsalted butter. When it’s melted, add the sandwiches, and continue to cook slowly on low while you —
Go into the garden and snip off with scissors the smallest and widest variety of salad leaves you can find, preferably into a wide and beautiful bowl. Arugula. Mizuna. Tatsoi. Red Leaf. Add small leaves from herb plants as you pass–thyme, oregano, mint, lemon verbena, marjoram, chervil. Use the scissors to snip bits of chive on top. Don’t stint on the quantities here. As many leaves as you think you can eat plus a bit extra is good.
Back to the stove. Check the sandwiches. If they’re golden and the cheese is beginning to melt, slide some more butter down the side into the pan, let it melt, and turn the sandwiches over.
Take out another skillet, one just big enough for four fried eggs to fit in a neighborly way together without crowding.
Take out four eggs. These should be eggs from someone like Dawn the Egg Lady, who coddles her chickens in a warm shed built against her house, and feeds them table scraps. Preferably they should have been collected earlier that day by Doug, who is married to Dawn the Egg Lady, after you drove up their drive and he suddenly remembered he’d forgotten to get them earlier. You can talk to Dawn while he grabs them out from under the hens, preferably chatting with her about the madrone stacked in their driveway that Doug is now cutting into lengths for you to burn next winter. Discuss delivery of the wood until Doug runs back lightly holding six eggs (how does he do that?), which he adds to an old egg carton already holding another six, meanwhile avoiding being knocked over by one of their three enthusiastic Labrador dogs.
For some reason those eggs taste best. Don’t ask me why.
Melt some butter in the skillet at medium high heat. When the butter sizzles, crack four eggs, one by one, first into a cup to make sure the yolk doesn’t break, then slide each egg into the skillet. Salt and pepper. Whatever kind you like. For example, Maldon salt is tasty if you had a nice conversation at US Customs when you brought back four boxes of it from the UK about how hard it is to find in Oregon (“but not down here, where you guys are”). Even tastier if the woman at Customs tells you what HER favorite salt is. People in San Francisco airport love to talk about food.
Clap a lid on the pan, turn off the heat. Set the timer for seven minutes.
Set the table. Light the candles. Pour out glasses of water. If the water comes from a spring you share with your neighbor, and your husband has just that day unplugged a lot of leaves from the lines so it’s running particularly clear, that’s even better.
Check the eggs. The whites should be set, but the yolks should still be deep gold and runny. No hard yolks for this dish.
Check the sandwiches. Are they gold on both sides? Yes? Good.
Announce dinner is imminent so your company can pour themselves glasses of whatever else they think will go well with this dinner. Dark beer is nice. Rose is my personal favorite.
Toss the salad leaves with a tiny bit of salt and some grinds of pepper. Then add a capful or two of walnut oil. No lemon, no vinegar–not on this particular salad. Toss again, and pile lightly, divided between two wide, white, Wedgwood plates. Leave room for the sandwiches, though they’re nice nestled on top of the salad, too.
Cut the sandwiches in half. Arrange two halves each on each plate.
Top each half with a fried egg.
Sit down at a table that looks out onto a peaceful scene. A forest. A garden. A neighborhood street. Even a desert. Whatever spot you pick, for maximum tastiness, it should be a well-loved place.
If the light is just starting to turn dark blue green, that’s even better.
Toast your loved one with your glass. Spear the yolk of one egg so it runs all over your sandwich half. Eat a bite of salad. Savor. Pick up the yolk soaked sandwich half and eat with your hands.
Have another sip of rose.
And think about how very lucky you are, and hope fervently that as many people as can be are, that night, lucky, each in her or his own way, too.