Grilled Cheese: A Review
We reached the cottage around the same time our bellies began demanding lunch, pronto. Luggage chucked into appropriate rooms, I set to work on the various coolers, cooler-bags, shopping bags, paper bags, paper boxes, boxes of stuff and cartons of things, and cases of…well…they were cases of wine, if you must know…and once the perishables were safely stowed in the fridge, I fixed some lunch then uncorked the first bottle of wine. We read the little laminated warning posted on the fridge door: this cottage, apparently, plays host to mice, and our dry goods were therefore at risk.
Whether the place was populated by “mice” or just “mouse”, an ambassador made haste with introductions, scooting across C.’s feet while she read in a chair beside the fireplace our first night. I thought it was cute, C. found it disgusting, and M. declared it a project, scrounging materials and assembling the first of several traps. It took three tries, but catch it he did, and immediately felt really bad. It seemed so scared, clattering back and forth inside the box and trying to chew its way to freedom. It was a pretty cute mouse, and had restrained itself from raiding our pantry, preferring the glass dish of foil-wrapped candy, the kind handed out with restaurant cheques, and which congregate in grannies’ purses where they fuse into bigger, better, invincible candies as the years go by. The cottage had an impressive supply sitting open on a shelf, which the mouse seemed to be working its way through by colour. Its favourite was definitely red.
Listening to its efforts to escape the trap, I felt rotten, too. Sure it was a mouse, but that was hardly a reason to jam it in a box and hold it hostage in the night! It was a mouse, and a mouse has got to eat. Since we couldn’t say sorry in words, we chose the next best route to understanding. Our apology commenced with an appetiser of three cheeses, carefully selected to present a balance of salty and sharp, as well as soft-rind, firm, and crumbly. Topped with a honey glaze and candied walnut, it was a nicely plated starter, and took the chill off relations.
At risk of seeming repetitive, the next evening featured grilled cheese with artisanal butter on multi-grain sourdough. The mouse turned up its nose at the carrot sticks and celery spear, which seemed rather snooty. Perhaps it mistook them for the dessicated things served with wings and chicken fingers, or slathered in Cheez Whiz and wielded by kids who shun vegetables that aren’t carved into boats.
M. argued for a dollop of ketchup, which I rank as the filthiest “condiment” ever invented, certainly unfit for human consumption and by no means something to force upon a rodent either. Come morning, I was vindicated to discover the plop of sugary sauce untasted and untouched, aside from a swipe mark that I suspect was a tail-print.
Having set a certain standard, our week-long stay was nearly up, and we felt a whole new apology was in order. (It bears noting that C. was disgusted and disturbed by the entire process, and retreated to her bedroom each night where she wouldn’t have to watch us plate a rodent’s meal.) Back to the apology: Oh, mouse, we are so sorry that tomorrow, it’s back to cheese doodles and goldfish crackers and whatever the next family drops on the rug. Sorry, buddy. Our regrets were compounded by our our personal reluctance to head back to the city after such a sweet week spent lakeside, and I turned to my favourite tool of distraction: baked goods. I trick myself into loving cold weather with promises of pot pies; woo myself into Monday with fresh scones piping steam from their foil wrappers in my purse; coyly wink at my belly with cake and thereby convince my gut that the office is just fine.
Our final cottage supper followed this model of culinary bribery, beginning with the last of the cheese and fresh bread, and ending with tiny tarts filled with the dregs of the blueberries and strawberries, and topped with oregano flowers and a drizzle of honey. And only a bad friend would leave a new buddy out of the dessert course, of course.
In the morning, we loaded the car with soggy bathing suits, stinky towels and sweaters that smelled an awful lot like wood-stove and forest floor. Then, we fixed a breakfast of cake, fruit and coffee, and polished it off by the lake. We did the check-out checklist (fire cleaned, water off, windows locked, axe returned to its spot in the shed), dropped the keys in the lock-box, and with that, there was just one thing to do before pointing the car toward the city and sucking up the fact that everyday things await.
“Hey, mouse,” I called. “I figure you’re probably still sleeping off last night’s pie, but there’s a slice of olive oil cake behind the radiator for when you wake up! Sorry about the forthcoming Fritos, man. We’ll bring you something yummier the next time we’re up!”