In Staunch Defense: Pairing American Cheese And Ketchup

I developed an intimate relationship with grilled cheese sandwiches in high school. In an act of unprecedented faith, the dining hall provided an electric griddle where you could burn-it-yourself. Few ventured beyond the provided supplies of butter, white/wheat bread and American, Swiss and cheddar slices (who grills a Swiss cheese?). But with the entire dining hall's bounty of bagels, English muffins, raisin bread, cold cuts, cream cheese, salad bar stuff and, yes, fruit, I mastered the complex art of the grilled sandwich before I could do algebra, which I still cannot do.

My friend Tom was one of the safe players at the griddle station: American cheese, extra butter, ketchup on the side. This was utterly strange to me — far more odd than when he'd burp in a juice glass, cover it with his hand, slide it over to me, remove his hand and yell "GROSS!" Tomato soup, okay. Ketchup, though? Really?

Confession: I used to keep cheap bottles of red wine under my bed to "accompany" pre-bedtime reading. Considering the fact that I was 16 and hundreds of miles from home, this now seems pretty classy.

Tom always ate grilled cheese that way, so one day rather than trade "grosses" back and forth, I just tried it. It was awesome, obviously, and the logical but still unlikely pairing stuck with me forever. Yes, those two things are processed into oblivion and contain god knows what. But they're also American, dammit, and while I hoover Sweetgreen salads like a farm animal, shun gluten and sugar, and adhere to Meatless Monday 90 or so percent of the time, those are two things you can pry out of my cold dead hands which are cold and dead from eating too much raw meat (more on that Wednesday).

Thanks to this discovery, I started, perhaps unprogressively, dipping the dining hall's mac and cheese, frozen burritos and eventually pizza into ketchup. Not topping. Just dipping, just a little bit.

Second confession: It was me stealing the bottles of Frank's Red Hot from the dining hall. It was me. Nutella thief, confess! It feels so good!!!

It's the congealed blob of American cheese you peel off a burger wrapper, paper plate or even non-stick pan that deserves that little smear of ketchup most. If the second your tongue identifies the combination you don't throw back to your young self briefly, you are stone-cold. That cheese doesn't even deserve the stigma of being congealed, we can find a better word for that. I'll make it up myself.

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