I woke up on the day of my perfect dinner confident that the next ten hours would be leisurely and perfect. It felt like senior prom; I planned to wake up and go to the gym, eat a fresh almond pastry for breakfast, and wear something soft to make me feel warm all day. I wouldn't worry about money or pimples and I would smile at everyone.
Unlike prom preparation day, perfect meal preparation day took me to the People's Food Co-Op instead of the manicurist and left me grilling local, organic, whole-grain bread in the Trowbridge staff kitchen instead of curling my hair and pinning it up. Less glamorous? Maybe, but I couldn't have been happier to find myself and my two best friends in our pajamas and eating some very decadent grilled cheese instead of dressed in sparkling dresses and dancing in a steamy banquet hall.
I planned the menu for the dinner the day before it was set to happen. I had set rules for myself, but proceeded to break almost all of them. The perfect meal, I had thought before I started, could only include completely locally grown, humanely raised, organic, and fairly traded food from small farms that rotate their crops. If the ingredients were perfect, the meal would be too, right?
Problem; when I thought about dessert, I decided I should serve fruit with heavy cream, but strawberries, cherries, and blueberries weren't in season. All of a sudden, I was faced with a choice: go for flavor or go for guilt-free. I panicked and stressed and immediately wanted some comfort food. There it was: comfort food, perfection.
I immediately started searching for recipes for the ultimate comforting combination: grilled cheese and tomato basil. To me, this sounded like a simple and very delicious meal, one where I could work with local and organic ingredients and still maintain the flavor I so craved.
Comfort to me seems the opposite of guilt, so I reduced my wordy list of restrictions to one that fit my comforting theme: guilt-free. I decided that I would only shop for my ingredients at the People’s Food Co-Op and make the whole meal from scratch. Though I couldn’t locally source every ingredient, I found freshly baked bread and goat cheese from Mattawan Creamery. I purchased Earthbound Farm’s prewashed baby spinach and accepted the distance my leafy greens had traveled from their farm to my plate.
Before I shopped, Pinterest helped me find two recipes for my soup and sandwich: grilled cheese with avocado, basil pesto, spinach, goat cheese, and mozzarella and chunky roasted tomato soup. After I picked up an extra bar of Ghirardelli’s 60 percent dark chocolate to help me cook, I was ready to make my perfect meal.
When I feel sad or lonely, if it’s raining outside or if I just want to feel cozy I go to my favorite restaurant, Butch’s Dry Dock, and order, “a Mackenzie’s Mousetrap with a cup of tomato basil, please.” The grilled cheese at Butch’s is simple: cheddar, Muenster, and provolone grilled on country French bread. I dip the Mousetrap in my tomato basil soup before every bite. The chunky tomato soup mixed with softened cheese and grilled bread feel like home. The tomato basil and grilled cheese combination represents simplicity at its finest. A childhood delight, it evokes calm and replaces anxiety with gooey dairy. What could be more perfect?
I bit into a nearly fried sandwich and let a dollop of goat cheese fall into my roasted tomato soup and I realized this meal wasn’t the same kind of comfort food I’m used to eating at home. My perfect meal sandwich and soup were anything but simple. My friends and I piled pesto, cheese, avocado, and spinach on thickly cut slices of whole wheat bread and pressed the two sides together with both hands. We plopped each sandwich on a skillet with olive oil and butter and listened to the bread crinkle and fry. If Tom, the deli chef at Butch’s, cooked his Mackenzie’s Mousetraps this way, his customers may not tolerate the overstimulation.
My hands were soaked with oil and butter when I finally brought the mess up to my lips. Olivia pried her sandwich open and picked it apart to eat it, Caroline held her grilled cheese with two hands and ate it in measured bites, while I tore it into pieces, dunked it in tomato soup, and scooped it into my mouth with a spoon. We sat on my carpet in a circle and listened to the Avett Brothers singing from my MacBook in the corner. We watched each other eat, unsure of what to do with the richness in our mouths.
Though our roasted tomato soup was free from a cream base, we swirled it with heavy whipping cream before letting our spoons dive in. A sweet sauce surrounded the chunks of tomato meat. I think we doubled the directed amount of sugar in the recipe by accident, but it was perfect. We roasted the whole tomatoes in the oven until they burst and caramelized, and then we poured them in a pot to simmer with diced onions, garlic, and olive oil. The second floor lounge where we did our cooking swelled with heat and sweet tomato scent.
My perfect meal took hours. We started cooking—and slowly eating our ingredients—at 5 p.m. and finished eating and cleaning at 8 p.m. It was far too difficult to resist the sugary tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and grainy bread until dinner was served. I maintained my guilt-free theme and we ate what we wanted, when we wanted it. Half way through a deconstructed sandwich and teacup serving of roasted tomato soup, Olivia fell back on my futon. Snacking filled our stomachs and only allowed so much more rich cheese and avocado to enter.
We broke the eating session to wash dishes and gossip. After a few minutes, my mouth was ready for fruit, honey, more cream, and some chocolate: dessert. We laid the raw ingredients in front of us and ate them in pairs. Apples and honey first and then blueberries and heavy whipping cream. I had finally found simplicity in these sweet treats.
Like tired girls after a high school prom, my two friends and I flopped onto my bedroom floor and dissected the evening’s events. Almost perfect, we decided.