I once made a grilled cheese sandwich for Yo Yo Ma. I’d heard from my co-workers that he tended to frequent the quiet little cafe where I worked one college summer, but that didn’t stop my heart from doing double time when he walked in one Sunday during brunch.
He’s a celebrity in my hometown of the Berkshires, has a house in a nearby town and shops at our local grocery stores. People are used to him for the most part, and his constant joyous smile makes it easy to treat him like a neighbor. But when you spent 20 years studying the cello, running into him is kind of like confronting a supernatural force.
A few weeks before he stopped into the cafe, I was driving home in my dad’s bright turquoise 1980 Ford pickup truck. I turned on the radio just as the static strains of a Tanglewood concert drifted onto the air.
It was Yo Yo Ma playing the Dvořák cello concerto live. Maybe it was the lazy fading summer light, or the stifling heat in the cabin of my un-air conditioned truck, but I was suddenly overcome by the sheer gravity of the music’s beauty.
I pulled over, turned up the volume, and wept. Not delicate little tears, but real, from-the-gut sobs of inexplicable emotion at the deep velvet waves emanating from the radio. It was as if the cello was merely a vessel; some small amplification device affixed to Yo Yo’s heart, offering a direct line to his purest emotions.
So when he ambled into the cafe a week later, I made sure that grilled cheese was good. I may not have had the courage or ability to verbalize my adoration, but I presented that sandwich—in all its Comté-oozing-butter-crisped-grilled-bread perfection—with confidence.
Because, after all, what more can a person offer in life than a well-crafted cheese sandwich made with love? Here’s a recipe for a late summer open-faced version that takes advantage of one of the season’s truest gifts: tomatoes.
Cream cheese makes a perfect base for juicy sliced tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, and avocado roses (they’re actually so easy to make)! I promise you this: it tastes just as pretty as it looks.
Slice your favorite hearty bread. Spread with whipped or regular cream cheese and top with spinach, freshly sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and avocado. Season with coarse salt and pepper.