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Grandma Virginia and the Cheese & Tomato Sandwich

Virginia became my step-grandmother when I was 15 years old but from the beginning of our relationship, she never treated me like a "step". I was simply hers and she became mine.

On one hand, Grandma was a true Southern lady. She was kind and lovely with a voice soft and welcoming as a lullabye. I loved when she called me girl because she stretched out that small word into three gentle syllables.

Grandma, however, was not a caricature. She had grit. And she could be quietly naughty...which I adored. The first time she swore in front of me, I was already 35 but I laughed like a teenage boy begging her to do it again. I was delighted when a few minutes later, she did.

But what I loved and learned most from my grandmother was to take a pause. She taught me that the simplest things--like long conversations and sharing food--brought some of the greatest joy.

Which is why I'm sharing a cheese and tomato sandwich inspired by her. Sure, she made delicious peach cobbler, fried apples, yellow squash, and hush puppies, but for me, it is the simple deliciousness of her cheese sandwich I hold most dear. Her version had mayonnaise on white sandwich bread with whatever cheese was on hand and large slices of salted tomatoes that were always peeled because my grandfather didn't like the skins.

My version is a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich sprinkled with oregano...which is also a nod to the few times my mom would make me and my sister "pizza grilled cheese". Rather than putting mayo into the sandwich, I spread it on the outside of the bread instead of butter. I also use two layers of thickly cut Muenster cheese and layer Roma tomatoes in between them. This allows the cheese to melt but keeps the tomatoes from showering your mouth with hot lava.

The recipe is very simple.

For each sandwich, you will need:

2 slices of artisan white or sourdough bread

4 slices of Muenster cheese about 1/4" thick

1 Roma tomato sliced in pieces about 1/4" thick

1/2 - 1 tsp good mayonnaise

Salt, pepper, and dried oregano

Heat a skillet on medium heat.

Spread one slice of bread on one side only with half of the mayonnaise. Place that piece of bread mayo-side down into the hot skillet. Place two pieces of cheese on top of the slice.

In one row, place the tomatoes on top of the cheese. Sprinkle the tomatoes with a pinch of salt, pepper, and dried oregano.

Cover the tomatoes with the remaining two pieces of cheese. Spread the rest of the mayonnaise on the remaining piece of bread and place it on top of the sandwich, mayo-side up.

Cook the sandwich for a minute or two until golden brown on the bottom. With a spatula, very carefully flip the sandwich over. If any tomatoes fall out, gently shove them back into the sandwich.

Place another skillet or pan on top of the sandwich and weigh it down with a large can or a brick and press gently. Cook for another minute or two or until the bottom of the sandwich is browned and the cheese is melted.

Remove the weight and the top skillet. Place the sandwich on a cutting board. Wait a minute or two before cutting or the sandwich will slide apart. Slice the sandwich in half and serve.

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