A while back I talked about a basic vegetable stock and compared it to the basic black dress Tim Gunn said should be in every woman’s wardrobe, well at least for those who wear dresses. My friends have told me that the basic dark pants and jacket is the equivalent for men. This basic black dress, or dark suit, theory applies to food and our spiritual lives as well. Any thing one creates has its basic elements and then it is accessorized. The secret is to identify the essentials, then accessorize it.
So for example, one can take your classic grilled cheese sandwich. This is a dish that just about anyone, who has not grown up vegan, has experienced. With the development of vegan cheese products, even my vegan friends, can now experience grilled cheese. The basic grilled cheese sandwich has three essentials: bread, cheese, and butter. Together, they are the basic black dress. At its most basic form, the grilled cheese sandwich is American cheese on white bread. There seem to be two different techniques for the butter. Some melt the butter in the pan and then put the sandwich in the butter to toast the bread; others spread the softened butter evenly on the bread and then put it in a hot pan.
While this class grilled cheese sandwich is awesome just by itself. We can always accessorize it and as Emeril Lagasse says, “Kick it up a notch.” You can use just about whatever kind of bread you want. One is not limited to white bread. Walk into any bakery, or bakery department at a grocery store, and you will find a myriad of breads you can use. Each has its own taste, texture, and characteristics. One is not even limited to that which we traditionally think of as bread. For example, one could use flour or corn tortillas, bagels, or even a waffle.
Then there is the cheese. There is nothing wrong with American cheese. However, with the myriad of great melting cheeses available these days, why not experiment. For example, recently I made a Smoked Gouda grilled cheese sandwich on rye bread. I also love Swiss cheese on rye. My wife loves cheddar or a Mexican cheese called Chihuahua cheese. If I am around the Mexican store near us I can also make one with Oaxaca, a great melting cheese that reminds me of mozzarella, and highly addictive. We are not limited to just one cheese either. There is nothing wrong with putting a cheese blend in between those two layers of “bread.” It is also permissible to put cheese on the outside of your bread as well. I have placed my pre-buttered bread slices in parmesan cheese before putting it in the pan, so that it is cheesy inside and out.
There is nothing to say that “cheese” has to be sliced or even shredded cheese. For example, inspired by macaroni and cheese wedges, I once made my wife a macaroni and cheese grilled cheese sandwich. I simply put slices of macaroni and cheese between the two slices of bread and then grilled it. We won’t discuss what is in the macaroni and cheese here, as that could be a discussion of its own.
Nor does the cheese have to be by itself between the two slices of “bread.” For example, I have made a sandwich of goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, fresh spinach, and caramelized onions on olive bread. I have also made a grilled chili cheese sandwich with habanero cheddar, a spoonful of chili, some cilantro, salsa, sour cream, and tortilla chips on cheese bread.
Not wanting to leave the butter out of this, there are days I have actually run out of butter in our house and used mayonnaise in its place. As it is also a fat, it gives the same caramelized exterior and does not burn as quickly as butter. This is great, especially on those days when I might get distracted.
For some of us, spiritually we are your basic grilled cheese sandwich. We have a spiritual belief system that we have always had and never consider experiencing anything other then what we have always known. A friend of mine has some aspects of her spirituality that are consistent (i.e. her bread and butter), but is willing to periodically read something from another spiritual tradition (her cheese). Others have opened themselves up to experiencing the presence of the Divine in numerous ways and in various combinations of tools and guides. For example, another friend of mine has a close relationship with Jesus, but is also open to the teachings of other spiritual teachers and healing modalities.
None of this can happen spiritually or in the kitchen, if you do not have the essentials, that “basic black dress” or “dark suit” upon which you can develop your spirituality or create the next version of the grilled cheese sandwich in your kitchen. Whatever your essentials are, keep them in stock so they are there anytime you need them and even when you don’t