My Cool Nana

I’ve got a cool Nana.

One of the things that makes her so cool is her youthfulness. She’s got that joie de vivre in spades.

She gets her hair did regularly, and always has perfectly polished toes. She wears stylish outfits because she’s in the know. She’s got a beautiful, charming laugh that matches that knowing twinkle in her eye. When she hugs you, you’ll feel better, even if there isn’t anything bothering you. Because she loves you unconditionally and that’s all that’s ever really mattered. She’s funny and sassy, quick-witted and astute. She’s got a keen sense of humour and knows how to use it, much to everyone’s delight. Nana’s so with it, she even reads my blog! Encouraging, generous, compassionate, and wise. I could just keep saying adjectives all day… But simply put, she’s a cool fucking Nana; she’s the best.

my cool Nana

my cool Nana

When I was a puny little girl I always looked forward to the days when we’d all pile into the car and head over to Nana’s house. Going for the day was great, but a sleepover was even better. She had a big house out in the sticks, and a great big backyard with a rickety old swing set that we loved. Squeaky and rusting from the years of gleeful appreciation. And there was a sweet sandbox that housed all of our most inventive sand creations. We didn’t build castles, we built legends. If it was rainy, we’d spend the day inside. There was a pool table in the finished basement that we ran tag based games around. It was also a superb foundation for blanket forts! And there were trunks upon trunks of glorious toys down in the basement. The arsenal of toys within the many trunks had been amassed over the decades and were kept on hand for when her rambunctious grandkids came to visit. It was perfect.

Whenever I’m told to picture my happy place I picture myself, eight years old, on a visit to Nana’s house…

Top priority for Nana was keeping us fed the whole time we were there. And that suited me just fine. Nana loved to feed people, and I loved to eat! The time spent at her house, whether it was a couple of hours in the afternoon or a whole weekend sleepover, was an eating marathon. You’d get there, give Nana a hug, then tell her you were STARVING. At least, that was the first play I’d always run. And she’d happily agree that you were a skinny little thing and had better get some cookies into you quick.

There was a perpetually full jar of cookies on the kitchen counter, just waiting there for you. In the cupboards you would find a surplus of chips, crackers, candies, fruit snacks, and other such sundries that would have fed us through a nuclear crisis. The big old freezer in the garage was loaded with ice cream and popsicles. There would be trays of sandwiches made up for lunch. Tuna salad, egg salad, salmon salad, chicken salad. Anything that could be mashed into salad form for sandwiches was there. And an array of deli meats too. Bologna, turkey, ham, salami, etc. The whole gang was there! The sandwiches would be cut into fours, diagonally of course. To this day, I still eat my sandwiches that way. They must be cut into fours, diagonally, like Nana would do.

We’d eat, then play. That was what you did at Nana’s house. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Then eat some more!

Nana was funny. She played with us, and goofed around a little herself. She’d clean us up when our adventures got messy. Then she’d encourage us to go have another one. She’d feed us whether or not our tummies rumbled. She taught us lots of jokes and games. And we learned lots of endearing colloquialisms from her too. Saying kitschy things like “Jesus H. Murphy”, “piss ‘n’ vinegar”, and “shakes of a lamb’s tail” she was a regular old poet to us. There wasn’t a problem in sight that Nana couldn’t solve. Nothing too big or too sticky that she couldn’t handle.

…what I wouldn’t give to go back in time and have one more childhood visit at Nana’s house.

I’d long ago forgotten one of my most cherished of Nana’s culinary delights, though. It just slipped through the cracks of my mind, evading recollection for many years. It pains me to have forgotten this at all, but I guess that’s just how it goes sometimes, when you’re growing up. You’re always pushing and being pushed forward. Forsaking the childishness of your past for pursuits more befitting your current age. But I still felt bad about forgetting.

My sister and I were talking, I’m not sure how it came up, but she mentioned Nana’s Pizza Sandwich. I was a little puzzled at first, brows furrowed, straining to grasp onto the memory. Then it hit me. It was if someone had reached into my head, grabbed the two halves of my brain, wrenched them apart, and blew all of the cobwebs out with a formidable gust of wind. Nana’s Pizza Sandwich.

OF COURSE I REMEMBER IT! I LOVE THAT SANDWICH!!!

We were picky eaters. Not Mar so much, she was more open. But Erika and I were, without a doubt, picky little bastards. I spent most of my childhood turning my nose up at the shit on my plate that I didn’t understand. It’s gotten better over time, it usually does. But there are some things that shall never grace my plate again. Things like broccoli, Kraft Singles or Cheez Whiz, lasagna, and scalloped potatoes. Shit like that, you know, things reasonably deserving of my ire. Because of our picky eating habits, Nana invented this slam-dunk sandwich. Sure to please even the pickiest of eaters. She knew that we were fiends for pizza, so this would be an easy victory.

And it was. We wolfed our pizza sandwiches down like mongrels. Then asked for seconds!

She used a sandwich maker. An old, electric sandwich maker. You could hear a faint buzz when it was plugged in, starting to heat up. The most minute humming as it awakened. It filled the kitchen with a strangely delicious aroma. The smell of sandwiches past. Once it was nice and hot, the sandwiches would be popped into place, and the lid would close. You could hear them sizzling immediately, the blackened cooking plates pressing their magic into the bread.

Oh yeah, I remembered it all so clearly now.

A couple of weeks after we’d had that conversation I got an email from Mar, with an online coupon for a similar type of sandwich maker. I immediately printed it, and headed over to the Kitchen Stuff Plus store in my hood after work. With my coupon, I only paid 10 bucks! Even if my sandwiches turned out to be the biggest pieces of shit ever, it was worth it. For 10 bucks? You got yourself a deal!

I rushed home, beyond excited to test this bad boy out.

worth every penny

worth every penny

Basically, you’re just making a standard grilled cheese sandwich with a couple of slight variations. On the inside of the bread, I swipe some pizza sauce, add the slices of cheese, and then some pepperoni.

Nana's Pizza Sandwich in the making

Nana’s Pizza Sandwich in the making

Then you put it in the sandwich maker and let the magic happen. There’s no temperature setting. Just a red light and a green light. You put it in there and wait. Check occasionally to make sure you’re on track, and then take it out when you feel that it has been cooked through to your liking. I like mine just a little bit golden. Crispy, but not burnt.

The wait was agonizing. I was anticipating greatness, trying to recreate something so beloved from my childhood. And I was happy with the end result when I saw it sitting there on the plate, ready to eat.

hot off the $10 grill

hot off the $10 grill

gooey middle

gooey middle

But I was a little nervous, taking that first bite. I bit down gingerly, exploratory. For all intents and purposes the texture was exactly the same. It tasted good. But it wasn’t quite the same as the ones Nana used to make. It was delicious, albeit empty.

Probably because I was hoping too hard. Hoping for a taste of yesterday. Hoping to resuscitate a feeling, long since dead.

Am I crazy? What did I think was going to happen? That I’d take a bite of this sandwich and somehow travel through space and time back to Nana’s house? Back to eight years old? Come on Smash, you didn’t really think…?

Yes. That’s exactly what I’d been thinking. In a secret corner of my dorky little brain, right before I sunk my teeth in, I’d entertained those thoughts. But I guess there’s a little more to time travel than a $10 sandwich grill and some pepperoni. For 10 bucks though, it was worth a shot.

At least I’ve still got my cool Nana, and our memories. I know she remembers those days gone by, just as fondly as I do.

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We Finally Went to That Place

So before I start this post, I just want to point out that I did a little housekeeping. I categorized all of my posts for an easier reading experience, you know, on the off-chance that someone new comes along and wants to read all of my cool shit. And I rearranged the sidebar a little, just for the hell of it. Nothing too drastic, it just makes me feel good to be organized, and I’ve been putting this off.

Anyways, onwards and upwards to more pressing matters. D and I made our big move to the city in May. We take the subway to work every day. Right beside the subway is this awesome looking restaurant called The Construction Site, and it specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches. We’ve walked by it hundreds of times, and we’ve talked about going there just about every weekend since we moved here. But for some reason whenever we’d go out to eat it just wouldn’t occur to us.

I had a really fucking delicious grilled cheese sandwich in the summer when The Magpie and I had lunch in Kensington Market one day. A crispy, cheesy, yummy sandwich on a sunny afternoon, that’s the ticket.

grilled cheese

That sandwich was amazing. Especially compared to the crap I’m expected to ingest at home. I don’t really know how it’s possible that I ate this amazing fucking sandwich in the summer and then went for months without trying the place right down the street from my apartment. Like, what the eff brain? How could you let this happen? Oh, it’s tummy’s fault? Hmm, well I’ll be having words with her too, rest assured. That bitch is gonna pay for this.

Many months went by since that incredible sandwich in the market happened to me. But finally on a cold and blustery day in January, it occurred to us. We should have totally awesome grilled cheeses this weekend. Yes, yes we should. We work hard, and we deserve a decent grilled cheese sandwich for a change dammit!

So we bundled up on Saturday afternoon and went for a little stroll to that grilled cheese place that always looked so awesome, but for some reason we never went in. We pushed the glass door open and walked into what has to be one of the cleanest restaurants I’ve ever seen. Spick-and-span. This little adventure was off to a great start already. The menu was enticing, with lots of options. But I’m a classic kind of girl. I dig simplicity, and there’s comfort in the familiar. So that’s what I ordered, The Classic. Aged cheddar on french white bread, it’s a guaranteed slam dunk. D followed suit on the sandwich, which was surprising because he usually loves to mix it up.

So we were just a couple of classics. Out for a classic Saturday afternoon stroll, stopping in for our classic sandwiches. It was a classic Smash and D day.

The dude behind the counter fired up our sandwiches with a smile, and our mouths watered. It would take a few minutes, as all masterpieces do. So we sat down to wait at an enormous table with double-wide chairs. I’m not a double-wide person per say, but I like to stretch out. I haven’t even eaten yet and I’m totally sold on this place. They have all the secrets to success cracked: clean restaurant, good service, assumed excellent food, and double-wide chairs. That’s how you do it!

Then the dude brought two square cardboard boxes and set them in front of us. Ah, the sandwiches had arrived. I’m so friggen excited just remembering this moment you guys, it was like opening a perfect little present. One that you’d picked out for yourself on behalf of a hapless significant other and forgotten about. We looked across the table at each other excitedly, anticipating greatness. We opened the lids.

yummy sandwiches

Daaaamn, that is one fine lookin’ sandwich. I almost didn’t want to eat it, it was too perfect.

Before putting the sandwich to the grill, the bread had been sprinkled with what I’m guessing was a parmesan cheese blend. It added to the crispness of the bread and the flavour of the sandwich immensely. My first bite, a lovingly long cruuuunch into the bread. An instant explosion of awesome on my taste buds. It’s a good thing I was sitting down, my legs surely would have given out otherwise. And I wasn’t even drunk when I was eating this thing, this is my totally sober recollection of it. Damn, that’s good sandwich!

The chips were incredible too. They were warm. What the eff? They warmed my chips? Holy shit this place is amazing! They warmed my freakin’ chips, that’s so rad! They were crunchy, kettle-cooked little slices of perfection, liberally seasoned with rosemary. What an absolute delight.

As we ate, we could hear another customer talking to the sandwich dude, asking questions about the food. He told her that everything they serve is organic. The bread, the cheese, the chips, the other meats and ingredients. Everything is organic. I’m not very particular about this when it comes to my food, but for those of you who are, then this is great news! These guys give a shit about the food they’re serving, and it shows. The taste is incomparable to any other grilled cheese I’ve ever had. That one in the market was hella good too, but these places are apples and oranges.

You must eat here. As soon as you possibly can. You will not regret it, I’d stake my whole reputation on this recommendation. Do it. Do it. DO IT!

I can’t believe it took us this long to eat here. We’re such idiots! All those wasted months of grilled cheese consumption. Oh, and now I’ve made it a goal to eat more meals at home like some chump. I guess I can make an exception for this place. For those Saturdays when I’m feeling classic.