“A sandwich may be egg or cheese
Or even peanut butter
But they all taste so good to me,
It doesn’t even matter
Jam or ham or cucumber,
Any kind will do.
I like sandwiches,
How about you?” Bob King
We’ve all been to funerals, right? A common sight at many funeral receptions are plates of fancy sandwiches. Are well all aware of what I’m talking about? And I should preface my remarks by saying that funerals are certainly not the only place where one will find fancy sandwiches, as this post will eventually demonstrate. You can find them at tea receptions, bridal showers, anniversary open houses, but I think you’ll find them most consistently at funerals.
I don’t know if they have a proper name: “finger sandwiches?” “soft nibblers?” “dandy slices?” I’m going to stick with “fancy sandwiches” for the duration of this post (and perhaps for the duration of my natural life) for clarity and simplicity. You’ve got your “cold cut” fancy sandwiches, like roast beef, pastrami or ham. These are the least desirable of the bunch. They’re cold cuts, people! Ham is not fancy! But cut the crusts off and as Carl Weathers might say, “Baby you got yourself a fancy sandwich“. A step up the fancy sandwich pyramid are the “salad” fancy sandwiches. You’ve got your egg and your salmon and sometimes but not often tuna. Often you’ll see these in the “pinwheel” formation. At the top of the fancy sandwich pyramid, you’ve got the holiest of holies, the cherry cream cheese pinwheel.
It’s become a bit of a sport amongst some of my friends to see who can score the most cherry cream cheese sandwiches at a reception. It takes a bit of gamesmanship and skullduggery, because you can’t look anxious, and you can’t push yourself to the front of the snack table before the immediate family (I learned this the hard way, but that’s another story). You have to pretend you’re just perusing the table, and you must act surprised and delighted when you spot the fancy sandwiches, and then, without too much notice drawn to yourself, fill your plate with as many cherry cream cheese pinwheels as you can reasonably muster and then go gloat. A real baller move is to also throw a ham or pastrami on top and “pretend” you didn’t get any cream cheese and then reveal them like Doug Henning. Spectacular!
Well, anyway, for the longest time, I assumed “fancy sandwiches” were way too complicated to make at home. There’s a restaurant in town that sort of specializes in them, and these fancy sandwiches are usually the kind you find at funerals. A grieving family normally doesn’t have the time to sit down for an afternoon and conjure a batch of these damn things up themselves. And as an aside, it’s a bit paradoxical to have food at a funeral reception, at least for me, because if the deceased is someone I really cared about, I usually am too upset to even eat anything, and if it is someone who I didn’t really care about, I probably wouldn’t even be at the funeral anyway. I may be a weirdo, but I’m no funeral crasher. But having said that, creating a wee competition re:cream cheese is a bit of harmless fun, right?
So my eyes were opened at one party when a friend had produced a lovely batch of these sandwiches on her own. I asked her where she got them, and she looked at me like I was dumb and say that she made them. “How?” was all I could get out. And she kindly actually went through the process with me. It still sounded finicky and time-consuming, but at least I knew it could happen.
This past Spring our daughter was turning four, and my wife thought that fancy sandwiches at her party would be kind of fun.
“I’m on board, but we have to have cherry cream cheese” was my only input. That very same friend who dazzled me with her fancy sandwiches years before, kindly offered to come by the afternoon before the party to make them. It thought it best to take our daughter and clear out for the afternoon and let the magic happen undisturbed.
I learned another thing about fancy sandwiches. You can go to a grocery store that has a bakery and ask them to cut the bread in a fancy way. By “fancy way” I mean instead of vertical slices, they will slice it horizontally, so that instead of let’s say 12 normal slices, you might get 4 really long slices. It’s kind of crazy, but it helps when you make the pinwheels, I guess.
My wife explained her intentions to the person working in the bakery, and was sold 14 loaves of bread, cut fancily. Our friend came by and off we went and off they went. It sounded like they had a super productive afternoon. I don’t think they even made any of the lower echelon cold-cut sandwiches and jumped right to the salads. Our daughter has a weird default answer of “eggs and tuna” whenever you ask her what she wants to eat.
A typical exchange: “Audrey, what do you want for breakfast?”
“Eggs and Tuna”.
I don’t actually think she’s ever had eggs and tuna together, but my wife and our friend thought it would be fun to do a “double-decker” fancy sandwich of, you guessed it, eggs and tuna. And I’m telling you, it was PRETTY TASTY. There was some salmon, and something that was new to me: cheese whiz with a little dill pickle in the middle. The creaminess of the whiz was balanced nicely with the tartness of the pickle and it rivaled the crown jewel: the cherry cream cheese, of which there was an abundance. Bless.
The sandwiches were a hit, and all was well.
The only thing, was when we got home from the party, or maybe it was the next day. I went downstairs and was stopped in my tracks by a freezer full of fancy sandwich bread. I counted 9 loaves! That means they only used 5 loaves for all the party sandwiches. Either my wife told the baker that we were expected 2000 guests, or the baker was terrible at math, because we clearly were sold way more fancy loaves than we needed.
Now, what to do with them? My wife was optimistic and said, “Well, I can just make a bunch more fancy sandwiches!” but I was thinking that was a bit weird. For a party or a funeral, sure. But for everyday living? That’s another story. I couldn’t really see myself sitting down with a bowl of soup in the lunch room and opening up a half-dozen wee sandwiches for days or weeks on end. Sure, I could see using up leftover sandwiches that way, but nine loaves is a huge investment. We’re talking months here.
I did discover that if you take one of the long slices, you could almost cut it into three equally sized pieces that were slightly smaller than a regular slice. Sure the end pieces would be missing the crusts on one end, and the middle piece would be missing crusts on two ends, but you could make it work for toast in the morning at least. But most toasters have two slots. We live in a two slot world, people! A third piece meant that I would waste it, or I would feel like I had to cut another long slice, so now I had six slices to deal with. Would I ever eat six slices at breakfast? No way, and even if my wife had two and I had two, our daughter really might have a bite of one, so there was inevitable waste.
Since the party, I’ve occasionally broken down and bought “real bread” and brought it home. I get that look from my wife which says, “What the hell? You realize we have a whole freezer full of bread, right?” and I give her that look back that says, “Damn it, I just felt like some sour dough, okay?” and on we go.
My one bit of brillance with the whole overabundance of fancy bread was on Mother’s Day, about a week after our daughter’s birthday. We had our Moms over for a Sunday lunch, and I took two of the long slices, slightly cut off about an inch of bread from each, and placed them both perfectly on our panini maker. I added to the bread some roasted chicken breast, provolone cheese, and pesto, and covered it with another two slices of long bread. I could grill two long sandwiches at once, and then I would cut them in smallish pieces and put them on a platter. The Moms thought this was planned, and I didn’t let on that I was actually trying to use up fancy bread. I think I killed three loaves that day, and I was hailed a hero by those who did not know.
But here we are, a good six weeks after our daughter’s birthday, and I am happy to report I just opened the last of the fancy loaves this morning for toast. I’m still stumbling over that awkward third wheel of a slice, but I’ve just gotten used to eating three slices at breakfast. Actually I’ve been poaching eggs, sticking two poached eggs on one of the slices, and then I still have two slices for peanut butter or jam or whatever. I’m actually going to miss going back to just two slices at a time when I get through this loaf. I’ve turned into a bit of a fancy-pants, I’m afraid.