Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fire Breathing Toaster: How to Slice a Sandwich

by Bill Adler

1. Position knife over bread.

2. Press firmly until the sandwich is sliced all the way through.

I wish that the sandwich maker at Au Bon Pain at Union Station knew that. Especially the "firmly" part. For two weeks in a row my sandwich has been sliced only partially through. It's not that I am a weakling and unable to complete the job on my own with my bare hands. The problem is that I actually can separate the sandwich. Let me explain.

The first time I purchased an incomplete Caprese chicken sandwich I easily parted the two halves, using no more strength than I use to snap a breadstick in two. But because I didn't realize that I had bought an unperfected sandwich I had already put mustard on it. When I applied the pressure I needed to separate the sandwich halves, the newly applied mustard exited at high velocity. Bummer.

Fast forward to the following week. Another Caprese chicken sandwich in a little brown bag. I hesitated before putting the mustard on, thinking "What if this sandwich is also not sliced through?" Then I thought, "Nah, what are the chances of that?" But when I remembered how much fun it was to spend the rest of the train trip with mustard-coated jeans, I decided to take a quick look-see. Indeed yes, once again the chicken Caprese sandwich wasn't sliced through. I completed the process again, bare handed, but this time only a slice of tomato slipped out.

What's the problem here? It's only a sandwich. One big problem could be that this week's partially sliced chicken Caprese and last week's were made by the same person at the same time, and this week I was eating a very ancient sandwich. Let's assume for the sake of my health that this worst-case scenario isn't what happened. In that case, A DYI sandwich means that the most vital part of the sandwich-making process eludes an establishment whose main purpose is to make sandwiches.

It's okay that Au Bon Pain's sandwiches aren't high cuisine. It's okay that these sandwiches aren't something that you'd go out of your way to eat, or even snap a picture of to post on Facebook. Nobody expects these sandwiches to give you fodder for conversation for days to come. Or even minutes. Train station sandwiches are utilitarian sandwiches, basically snack bars disguised as sandwiches. They are something to fill your belly so you don't have to buy the food on Amtrak, which is unarguably even less desirable.

These are the hammers of sandwiches. They perform a simple task and should succeed at that task every time. Maybe hammer is the wrong analogy. Perhaps these are the pens of sandwiches: Pens are supposed to always work, and come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes, just as sandwiches come in a panoply of possibilities. You can choose your pen depending on how your mood is, just as you can choose your sandwich, depending on whether you're in a tuna salad or something-with-brie mood. But regardless of whether it's gold, plastic, red, or transparent, you want that pen to write.

Come to think of it, it's a bummer, too, when you have to ruin a piece of paper just to get a pen's ink started.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," and "Outwitting Squirrels," He tweets at @billadler.

Fire Breathing Toaster is a new column on the Cleveland Park Listserv. It doesn't yet have a home on a particular day. What does Fire Breathing Toaster mean? It's doesn't mean much, but it's a fun image, and once the column name popped into my head, it stuck.

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