Having burrowed deep into our self-isolation I am feeling a little bereft. There are so many problems in the world which are huge and looming and frightening. My little hill of beans is pretty inconsequential. After wallowing in Contagion, and skirting Chernobyl, I have opted for a little light humor and armchair travel. We are enjoying the absurdity of Travel Man, (on Hulu and Amazon Prime) where Richard Ayoade travels to glam spots around the globe and eats and drinks delightful comestibles. He does this with a cute British accent, in charming company, and on an expense account. It sounds like the perfect job assignment.
The Spy’s budget is a little more restrictive. As is my itinerary. I can sneak out a couple of times a week to tear quickly through the grocery store, which is 1.2 miles from our house. The supplies there are limited, too. But this week I was able to score a pound of bacon and some lovely vermillion slicing tomatoes. I am going to treat myself to a nice lunch, much like the ones I used to enjoy in 2019. It’s time for homemade BLTs; my fave.
I love BLTs. Bacon, lettuce, tomato, with a judicious schmear of mayonnaise is my dream lunch. Throw in a generous serving crispy wavy potato chips and a Diet Coke and you cannot possibly ask for anything more. Club sandwiches have a certain appeal, I know, but they are awkward to eat; all that bread. There are multiple layers which just yield to disappointment and crumbling. And the turkey goes sliding, and things fall apart, and inevitably you wind up using your fingers. Which is never a good look if you happen to be on a first date. But who is dating in April of 2020, anyway? Let’s stick with the tried and true; the very essentials.
Let’s start with the bacon. Since this is Friday, I say we can go wild and each have four pieces of bacon. I like cooking bacon on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. I preheat the oven to 425° F. I try to use thick-cut applewood smoked bacon. At this point in our sequestering I am very happy with the store brand, however. We must not be snobs. If you can hunt and gather thick-cut bacon, lucky you, cook it for about 15 minutes without supervision. You might want to flip it, so the juicy, crunchy, wavy nature of bacon is completely optimized. So do not go on a Twitter-rant and lose track of time. If you wind up using thinner bacon, keep an eye on the oven and check every few minutes. Bacon can self-immolate without much notice. And burnt bacon is beyond repair.
Bread is important, too. I like either Pepperidge Farm white bread, or a nice deli rye. Some people are fancy and want to use challah, or pumpernickle, or croissants. It is a personal choice, based on your childhoods, and your degree of pretense. Please lightly toast the bread, and spread each slice with a light, even coating of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, or Duke’s, if you grew up with it.
Tomatoes must be red and juicy and absolutely grown outside in good dirt with lots of sunshine. So obviously the best BLTs are constructed in the summer, with your own sun-warmed tomatoes. You might need to use your imagination in April, with whatever produce your grocery store has been able to snag from local suppliers. (I put our tomato plants in the raised-bed garden last weekend, and am hoping for the best, and that I didn’t plant them too early.) Use a couple of tomato slices for each sandwich. It really isn’t all about the bacon – you need tomato juice running down your chin and onto your pajamas to get the full experience of BLTs in the time of quarantine.
Lettuce is simple. Every refrigerator, despite the best efforts of the Bon Appétit-reading aspirational cook, has at least one head of iceberg lettuce. It’s in the back, near the baking soda and the bacon grease can. Tear off a few crunchy leaves and wash, gently, in cool restorative water. Blot carefully. Do not even contemplate substituting rocket or endive or Romaine lettuce. This is sacred.
Layering is important – toast, mayonnaise, bacon, tomato slices, lettuce, mayonnaise, toast. Slice on the diagonal. Serve on a large plate, with a towering pile of potato chips and a slice of dill pickle. Add a glass of Diet Coke, or chocolate milk is you really want to be decadent. Add a cloth napkin, and whatever book you are currently reading. I am reading an autobiography of one of Princess Margaret’s ladies-in-waiting. It is chock-full of snobs, scandal and vicious gossip; priceless commodities these days.*
If the BLT isn’t your favorite sandwich in the whole wide world I feel very sorry for you. But the idea here is to treat yourself to something nice. Maybe you would rather have a hot grilled cheese with some tomato soup. I don’t often cook lunch for myself. I usually wander into the kitchen and rummage through the fridge for last night’s leftovers, or pull out a jar of peanut butter and a sleeve of Ritz crackers. Pathetic.
If you are able to, treat yourself to an unexpected nice meal. We all need a little cheering up. And a BLT will certainly put a smile on your face.
Our lovely friends at Food52 always have great ideas. I would like you to notice that I am not suggesting you make your own mayonnaise. Sheesh! https://food52.com/blog/10855-5-tips-for-a-better-blt
Nor am I telling you to get the grill out! https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/grilled-bacon-blts
“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words, like ‘What about lunch?’”
– A. A. Milne
*Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown
by Anne Glenconner