The Perfect Sandwich

sandwich-cover-550px-300x295I recently gave a studio tour to 40+ photograph students from Long Beach City College. For the past few years I’ve been a proud member of the advisory committee for the photography department, and it tickles me to no end to meet with the students.

This year’s group was particularly bright and full of insight, asking tons of valuable questions that ran the gamut from studio management and self-promotion to the logistics of photographing food. I made sure to have the books we’ve shot on the table for the students to see, and later someone asked me about The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches It was at this point that I admitted, like I always do when people ask, that I actually took one or more bites of every single sandwich from this book.

Yes, you read that right. I tasted every single sandwich. Because this was actually work, I’ve prepared a highly scientific flow chart to show you the studio’s exact process.

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scones.jpg My mother stayed with us during her recent visit from back east.  She emerged early each day from the back bedroom in need of coffee.  In the kitchen she would find me up to my elbows in three-grain biscuit dough or in the midst of mixing a large oven baked pancake, or perhaps dropping oatmeal scones onto a cookie sheet.  I was always in the midst of something made from scratch, time consuming and terrifically messy. 

A ritual that was met with a quizzical look and her quiet reproach, as if I couldn’t hear her say, “Nu? Whats wrong with frozen waffles?” My childhood breakfasts came straight out of a box from the freezer in the cold mid-western kitchen where I grew up.  My mother taught in downtown Detroit, and early morning school days were mostly about getting up and getting out. Yet, somewhere in between the up and out part, I remember a breakfast ritual that my mother and I shared, just her and I, before she left for work. 

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lunch-draw-1.jpgSince I photograph at least 50% of what I cook and bake, just in case I might someday wish to write about it and preserve an ephemeral cupcake or casserole for posterity, my camera is always where I can easily find it. Today, however, my camera was at a Minor League baseball game with Sam, after a prolonged series of “pleaspleasepleasei’llbe caaaaaaaaareful!” attacks wore me out. It didn’t occur to me until after we had eaten what I considered to be an interesting lunch that I could have photographed it using my phone – I just scrapped the whole project when I remembered that my camera was on walkabout among a herd of sugar-addled sixth graders.

I had made really good sandwiches based on things lying around the house: leftover whole grain buns, two different kinds of cheese with hot peppers, pulled pork with barbecue sauce, an abandoned avocado…stuff like that. Mr. Annie got two giant sandwiches piled high with pork, Cabot Habanero Cheddar and avocado, and I made myself a more modest vegetarian model with no pork and a healthy pile of spicy alfalfa sprouts. Alas, these gems of thrifty husbandry were doomed to slip away (literally and figuratively), unmarked.

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chickensandwich.jpgHow did chicken sandwiches become so popular in the U.S.? Supply and demand. The emergence of large scale chicken processing companies such as Perdue and Tyson in the 1920’s and 1930’s respectively, helped propel chicken’s popularity in America. With such easy availability, chicken prices decreased, consumption increased, and chicken became a steady part of the American diet.

With many families cooking whole chickens, leftovers became standard lunch fare. Sliced leftover chicken meat became a favorite filling for sandwiches (and was the original filling for the classic club sandwich).

Fast food chicken sandwiches as we know them originated in 1967, when Truett Cathy, founder of the Atlanta based restaurant chain Chick-fil-A, introduced the chicken sandwich -- a perfectly crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside breaded boneless breast of chicken served on a toasted buttered bun with dill pickle chips. Whether it's fact or fiction, Cathy claimed that pickles were the only condiment he had on hand, and to his delight, were a big hit with consumers. Other fast food chains quickly followed suit. Then in the late 1980's and early '90's the grilled chicken sandwich emerged as a healthier alternative to the fried original.

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NathansHotDog.jpg My dad was a two job guy.  We lived in a representative, working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, which was to me, the paradise of the world.  Representative I learned years later meant not just Jewish people, like us, but an equal mix of almost everything else.  The working class is obvious.

My dad worked at a brokerage house on Wall Street as a runner from 9 to 3.  That was his first job.  His second job was at the Morgan Annex branch of the US Post Office, in mid-town Manhattan.  He had started at the PO as a teen-ager, and was in it for the longest possible haul, a modest pension being the carrot at the end of his rainbow.  His hours on that job were 4 pm to mid-night.  He rode the subway to work.  He never owned a car.  Once in a long while he got driven home. 

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