I don’t think I have to sing the virtues of grilled cheese. Perhaps I should, however, admit that I’m addicted to them, and for this I blame Heidi. As a little girl I savored the image of Grandfather making melted Swiss cheese over the fire to spread on good black bread, for Heidi’s dinner. (Don’t get me started on baked potatoes roasted in the fireplace for dinner, from Milly-Molly-Mandy!)  

My mother’s go-to lunchtime meal for 3 little girls was open-faced grilled cheese. She’d turn on the oven, letting it warm up to about a medium temperature, and meanwhile take a cookie sheet and lay out six slices of bread. This was undoubtedly Wonder Bread (what else?) but might have been Sunbeam, the local version.

Then she would slice good sharp Cheddar cheese and place just enough cheese onto each piece of bread to cover it as evenly as possible. Somehow the spaces in between would be nearly as yummy as the cheese. Then she’d pop the tray into the oven and give it about 7-10 minutes or just until the bread was golden brown and the cheese was melted. My sister Laurie, the youngest, preferred hers to be a bit burned for some odd reason that I never understood... 

These days I find many of my choices of bread, cracker, or chip are merely excuses for vessels to contain melted cheese. And thus we come to the quesadilla, which is just so versatile and of course, is a staple of many casual restaurants’ menus. Although clearly of Mexican origin, the quesadilla I first encountered was in Friendly’s – without so much as a chipotle or speck of cilantro to be found. Usually you are offered the choice of “with chicken or without”.  

At home, however, you can go wild with your own versions of quesadillas. I’m using a low-carb flour tortilla by Mission, which comes in at 90 calories apiece. Tortillas, whether flour or corn, are not known for their low-calorie (or low-sodium) characters, so you may have to hunt around if those are your criteria. But the fillings are the important part, anyway! 

Here are some of the different combinations I’ve tried – or have in mind to try soon:
  •  Swiss cheese, thin deli-sliced ham, and grated sharp Cheddar (yes, try two or more types of cheese!)
  • Swiss cheese, roast beef, pesto
  • sliced tomato, Cheddar cheese, a bit of grated Parmesan
  • Baby spinach leaves, sliced mushrooms, mozzarella, a sprinkle of dried rosemary or basil
  • Swiss cheese, cooked chicken, sliced mushrooms
  • Swiss cheese, pesto, canned tuna or canned baby shrimp or crabmeat
You could, alternately, try a sweet version with a bit of softened butter spread inside and cinnamon sugar sprinkled over the butter. Jam, honey, or maple syrup drizzled over ricotta or dry cottage cheese or cream cheese would also be awesome, I imagine. Sprinkle just a little cinnamon and sugar on the hot quesadilla just before serving.   My quick cooking method is this:
  • Using a large non-stick or cast iron skillet, heat about two tablespoons of good olive oil. Before it gets too hot, use a pastry brush dipped in the oil to spread the oil on one side each of two flour tortillas. (If using a soft spread as a filling, spread it on the inside of the tortilla BEFORE placing in the pan.)
  • Take one tortilla and lay it in the skillet a bit off center. Begin layering your ingredients on one half of the tortilla, starting with a slice of Swiss cheese or whichever the best melting cheese in your ingredients might be. Top off with a last layer of cheese, and fold over the tortilla (using a fork or spatula) to form a half-circle.
  • Lay the second tortilla next to the folded one in the pan. It might not fit perfectly but it doesn’t matter. Only the side where the ingredients are being layered needs to be firmly seated in the hot skillet. Layer the ingredients as before, and fold over the tortilla onto them to form the half-circle.
  • With a spatula or fork, flip the folded tortillas over and if you have one, put a panini press on top to flatten. Grill on this side another few minutes, until the cheese has melted and the tortilla surfaces are lightly browned.
  • Serve! I often have some celery sticks or carrot sticks with these for contrast and crunch. And iced tea or cold milk!
Among the other yummy “vessels” for melted cheese I like are naan bread, Nabisco Tuscan-flavor flatbread (crackers), pita chips, Triscuits, ciabatta or other crusty breads, and yes...Wonder Bread. What can I say?

Results of the 2011 Grilled Cheese Invitational - If I'd only known...
Heidi and Grandfather
Most of my home is decorated with antiques and reproductions of antiques, and you could definitely call this my “comfort zone.” These belongings, from the Chippendale secretary in the living room to the pine dresser in the dining room, the reproduction Stickley dining set to all the wonderful and rare art pottery that is displayed around the rooms, were collected by me or inherited from my mother and my late sister. 

Because their history tells me something about my past, owning such antiques is meaningful to me.  

My children, and their children, however, live in an IKEA world with Crate & Barrel, Pier 1, and Pottery Barn accents. It occurred to me today that my granddaughters will likely always associate “antiques” with “Grandma’s old furniture” because they rarely encounter it anywhere else in their lives. They come to visit and are surrounded by vintage (“beat up”) and collectible (“what IS that?”) and the relics of my ancestors’ lives (“who??”). 

In fact, I’m in the process of redecorating my second floor so that it will be a bright and shiny and welcoming guest space for my family when they visit. The two bedrooms and the sitting room will be “their” space, with a little girls’ bedroom in white and pink and lavender and pale blue, and a play room in bright teal and lime green. The walls will be white, and the furniture will be sleek and straight-out-of-a-catalog modern.  They’ll feel right at home, I’m sure. 

I wonder, however, if any of them (including the eldest who is 45) realize that in 30 years their very contemporary furniture from the 2010s will be considered “vintage”? Will they have long since replaced the 2011 Crate and Barrel living room set with the 2041 Crate and Barrel versions, after consigning the “old” stuff to the likes of whatever Craigslist has morphed into in 30 years?  

Admittedly, I am enjoying trying out a different style for the upstairs. Target and Pier 1 have lovely stuff, at reasonable prices. I have had a lot of fun designing with Marrimekko fabrics and finding just the right colors for all the elements of a room. Interior decorating is my first love, and this has been a blank slate with the enjoyment and comfort of my family as the end result.

But when the time comes for my family to dismantle and dispose of my effects (sometime in the far distant future, I’m sure) will any of them choose to keep anything of the “old stuff”? What will my granddaughters remember from Grandma’s house – what memento will each one linger over and decide she must not relinquish? I hope they will want it all – and even fight over much of it! 

In the meantime, if either of them asks me about the side table in the dining room that a Cuban craftsman hand-made out of Cuban mahogany for my grandfather in the 1940s, I’ll be happy to tell her.