French Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwiches By Susan Nelson

I’m an animal person. One of my granddaughters recently purchased two small finches. When my grandchildren ask my opinion about getting a pet (and sometimes even when they don’t ask my opinion) I always remind them that owning an animal is a big responsibility. It is more than just playing with them when you feel like it and ignoring them when there’s a new ap on your IPOD. Owning a living creature is a not unlike bringing a baby into the world. Pets need food, grooming, doctor’s visits, and attention much as a small child does.

This brought me to mind of an incident involving my two oldest granddaughters, toddlers at the time. My daughter inherited a large lovebird answering to the name Mimah (don’t ask, I haven’t a clue). At any rate, it seemed her mother-in-law bought Mimah and soon afterwards purchased a large house cat, obviously not the best combination for two pets living under one roof. All she needed was a nice bowl of goldfish and a pit bull to round out the food chain. Anyhow, surprisingly the cat viewed Mimah as a menu selection (who’d have thought) and terrorized the bird every opportunity she got, so Mimah came to live in my daughter’s house.

The girls were allowed to have Mimah out of her cage, as she was quite tame. On the day I was watching them, the bird was free and hopping about when I arrived. For me, birds belong in trees or on telephone wires where they can molt and poop without restriction, but I’m not much on having them hanging out on my living room furniture or leaving a nice trail of recycled bird seed on my drapes, but that’s just me. Being a neatnick, my daughter seemed to manage this end of it well, so if they allowed the bird out that was their call and, in the end, it wasn’t my couch. Our family practices a sort of live and let live policy. My opinion, if asked, is given, but I try not to stick it into the mix unless it’s been requested. Instead I trust that my children know what they’re doing, or, if not, they’re intelligent enough to figure it out eventually. If they wish to have a giraffe living in the guest room and they’re manning the shovel and the dust pan, my work is done here.

It was nearing dinner time on that day, so I left the girls and Mimah in the next room to begin things in the kitchen. When I returned to the living room the three couch pillows were piled one on top of the other and the two girls were bouncing and giggling on top of the pile. Asking them what game they were playing, they replied “Princess and the Pea”. “Oh, fun”, says I. “Where’s Mimah”? Things got quiet. I repeated the question. Breanna, four at the time, announced that Mimah had apparently read the part of the pea and gotten the role. Ach. After removing the pillows I located the flattened bird upside down under the last one looking like a cartoon pigeon that had recently been smacked with an oversized hammer. Fortunately, she survived with just the loss of one tail feather, and went on to tweet for several more years. When I mentioned the incident to my daughter, she told me that the girls were going through a learning phase about the bird and would soon move beyond it. I was sure Mimah would be elated to hear the good news.

The youngest of the two princesses is now in high school. As part of a class project she was given a baby doll that not only looked like a real baby, but was programmed to behave like one as well. I guess the point of the experiment is to teach teens that a baby isn’t just a little doll that smells like baby lotion and looks at you adoringly, but a miniature human that can’t fend for itself and needs you for just that purpose. It didn’t take long, at least from what I understand, for that to become abundantly clear to my granddaughter.

Please, having two children one year apart there were nights when I never thought I’d ever have a full night’s sleep again in my lifetime. Then I’d get up in the following morning and find a cranky baby, a fully charged toddler, and me catatonic with my name on the current list of candidates for shock therapy behind two mothers of twins. Been there, done that. A time or two on a particularly hectic day, when I could be found cowering in the corner with my thumb in my mouth, I would have happily of turned in my Mommy Badge and joined the peace corps. However, at night after their bath, when reading a bedtime story to my sweet-smelling little buggers and getting a well-deserved hug and some of the love sent their way during the day coming back to me, well, it was a pretty good badge to wear.

I digress, it seems my granddaughter survived her time with her wanna-be-baby along with the late night changes, looking for a lost “va-va”, crying for no reason, and regular feedings, and that was on my granddaughter’s side. After the experiment, I’m not clear on this, she either never wants to get married, never wants to associate with married people, never wants to have children or associate with people who have created children, and in the end, will only agree to have a child if there is a surrogate mother to give birth to it, a nanny to raise it, and an entourage involved in the deal as a supporting cast. Whichever she chooses, if it’s marriage, I hope she marries well.

Hey, maybe they should send home a wanna-be-husband for the girls and a wanna-be-wife for the boys in high school. They could be programmed to leave the toilet seat up in the middle of the night, nag you about not taking the garbage out, and wake up in the morning with bad breath and bed hair. We could expand this to in-laws and annoying relatives and within a few years there would be no procreation at all without protection, no marriages, no births, and no humans. Better to leave it to the imaginaton, I’m thinking.

I love this dish. It’s fairly simple, it’s good, it involves cheese, bread and mornay sauce. I’m sure it’s not on the how to live life healthy menu, but sometimes you just have to go for it. Enjoy.

Croque Monsieur

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. flour
2 cups whole milk scalded
3 Tbsp. Gruyere cheese, grated
3 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated
1 large egg yolk
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of white pepper

In med. size heavy saucepan melt butter over med. heat. Whisk in flour and cook until bubbly but not browned. Stir in the scalded milk all and once and simmer on low heat until thick and creamy, about 10 mins. stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Beat in cheeses and egg yolk. Season with nutmeg, salt, and white and black pepper.

For the sandwich:

8 slices rustic French bread about 1/2″ thick
12 slices Black Forest Ham (or good deli ham), sliced thin
8 slices Gruyere cheese, sliced
Rustic mustard
Softened Butter
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, grated

Brush mustard on one side of 8 bread slices. Make each sandwich with 2 slices of cheese and 2 slices of ham. Close sandwiches and butter outside of bread. Grill as you would a grilled cheese sandwich in a skillet over med. heat. until golden brown.

Heat oven to broil. Place sandwiches on baking sheet and top with generous spoonful of mornay sauce. Sprinkle with grated gruyere cheese. Place under broiler until cheese is bubbly and sauce is lightly browned, about 5 mins. Watch carefully to prevent burning. Delicious. Serves 4.