The Winter Warmer

The weather took a foul turn yesterday, even by the dismal, gray standards of a Columbus winter. We got freezing rain in the morning that turned the brick sidewalks of German Village into a treacherous skating rink, and then more freezing rain mixed with sleet as the day progressed.

When one must endure such a cold, dreary day, it helps to turn to old favorites in the hot nourishment category. So, last night I prepared grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell’s tomato soup made with whole milk for us. I grilled the sandwiches on our big skillet, lightly buttering some flax bread to get a good crust and using Kraft American cheese for maximum meltiness. (Technically, the classic version of grilled cheese sandwiches requires Wonder Bread, but I haven’t consumed a slice of Wonder Bread since, like, 1974.)

The soup was piping hot and deliciously creamy, the grilled cheese had a good crunch and great gooiness, and I cut the sandwich diagonally to facilitate the required dipping of the sandwich halves into the soup — because even though the soup and sandwich were each tasty on their own, they only achieve maximum home cooking greatness when the soup directly infuses the crunchy bread and melted cheese. The combination was washed down with a glass of milk, and it definitely hit the spot on a gray winter’s day.

After eating my soup and sandwich and thinking about the countless grilled cheese and tomato soup family meals we enjoyed at our kitchen table when I was a kid, I felt better. Warmer, too.

Missing Out On The Greatest School Lunch Of All

The revised guidelines of the National School Lunch Program seek to limit carbohydrates, sodium, and calories in the lunches that schools serve to the growing children of America.  Some school districts are finding, however, that kids think the new lunches, well, kind of suck and aren’t buying them.  That exercise of the right to put your money where your mouth wants to be is threatening the financial viability of some school lunch programs, so schools are dropping out of the NSLP.

The Superintendent of the Baldwinsville School District in central New York, for example, says that the revised NSLP guidelines required the school to stop serving a popular lunch option:  grilled cheese and tomato soup.  Wait . . . what?  If that is the kind of result the guidelines produce, no wonder kids are voting with their wallets and telling the federal government to stick it.  In fact, if the British government had tried to tax that ever-popular bit of lunchtime fare in addition to tea, it’s fair to say that kids would be learning about the Boston Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Party in American History class.

For decades now, every American kid has known that grilled cheese and tomato soup is one of the greatest school lunches ever.  Of course, it is the definitive winter comfort food meal, as I’ve pointed out before.  But it is also a celebrated school lunch option, even if it’s not made in quite the same way Mom makes it at home.  Why?  Because even if the tomato soup is made with water rather rather than milk, and the sandwich is made with spreadable “cheese food” rather than Velveeta slices, the result is still recognizable as grilled cheese and tomato soup. 

That reassuring reality put grilled cheese and tomato soup far ahead of some of the unrecognizable grayish pink slop that the school cafeteria served when I was a kid.  Grilled cheese and tomato soup was always preferable to whatever the hell went into Johnny Marzetti, a kind of bastardized quasi-Italian option made with odds and ends that had an indefinable mushy, glue-like consistency.  Johnny Marzetti taught schoolkids of my generation one immutable rule of lunch lines:  never eat anything that was served with a scoop and plopped onto your plate with a loud and disgusting sucking sound.  It’s a valuable life lesson, but one you only need to learn once.

So I’m not surprised that schoolkids are rebelling and insisting that they get their grilled cheese and tomato soup back.  In fact, it’s kind of nice to know that kids are willing to stand up for their rights.  You’ve got to draw a line somewhere, and grilled cheese and tomato soup is a pretty good place to start.