when you just cannot give away a sandwich:
pan bagnat au cadeau
On a few occasions, despite my most sincere intentions, the execution of that intention goes completely awry (usually ending in funny story). It is the recall of two such incidents, both involving the gifting of a sandwich, that inspired this week’s simple pleasure: pan bagnat au cadeau (sandwich in a giftbox).
gift attempt one: Paris
When in Paris I often run in the Bois de Boulogne. Bois de Boulogne is an expansive “park” (almost 3,000 acres) running north to south on the westside of Paris. It includes forests, lakes (to sit by, canoe in or feed the ducks and swans), le jardin d’Acclimatation (with a science museum and puppet theater for the kids), pools, tennis courts, a hippodrome (horse races), bike rentals, playgrounds, expansive greens, and even an outdoor theater. This park is both connected and separated by roads. It is popular with runners and hikers and a beautiful place to take in some fresh air under the chestnut and hazelnut trees. It is paradise.
I was running around the lakes in the late afternoon when the efficient thought occurred to me that I would just “run over” and purchase some theater tickets for the Shakespeare play that week and make a dinner reservation at the same time. I diverged from the runners path and took side streets which are surrounded by forests. Both the park and the restaurant were much farther than I thought but I journey on. As I am running I see in the distance on the side of the road a woman who, once she sees me, quickly slips into the woods and hides herself behind a tree. As she does, I see her bottom and realize that she is half-dressed. Immediately, I worry (as a Catholic mother worrying is never a far state of mind) and I think that something terrible has happened to her. My imagination begins to run wild. The young girl looks to be in her late teens/early twenties and what if she is hurt? She is someone’s daughter and I would want someone to help my girls if they needed it so I decide to help her. She is clearly scared, and maybe embarrassed (she is missing her pants after all). I decide food is the answer: she may be hungry and food would be the perfect icebreaker to see if I can help. I run back toward the lake to the little “châtlet” which sells cold drinks and food. I decide some water and a sandwich would be the most universally pleasing and I head back toward the forests.
On my return, I notice a few white, unmarked vans parked along the roadside. ”Strange,” I think to myself, ”they look like vendor vehicles… are they food trucks ? France does not have food trucks (at least at this time it didn’t).” I continue running and my eyes scan the trees for my intended sandwich-recipient. I see her in the distance about 200 yards from me and just as I see her I see another person run into the woods. “This is terrible!” I think to myself, “Is this the person who hurt her?” I am now on guard because this may not be the safest thing. My pace slows to a stop and as my eyes scan the forest, I see a provocatively dressed woman a few yards from my intended sandwich-recipient who has now come out from behind the tree and I see that she still has no pants…and she is actually not a she.” Suddenly, I take note of my surroundings and I realize that I must be the most clueless person alive: the vans; the half dressed people on the roadside; it now all makes sense. I decide that there is no way I can gift this sandwich because I am confident that I do not have the French vocabulary to explain that I am not soliciting their services in exchange for a sandwich (I am thinking now of that I Love Lucy episode where she ends up in a French jail over a painting). I head back toward the lake. I am humiliated by my own thoughts and my naive, yet sincere, notions. I leave the sandwich and the bottle of water on bench. Someone (hungry) will eat it or at least feed it to the ducks.
At dinner that night, I tell my (Parisian) friends about the incident. They laugh hysterically. “Lisa, how did you not know that ?” The laughter ensures and the people at the next table are know curious because my friends can hardly control themselves. “Chef Morgan feeding the working boys a sandwich.” I still have not lived that one down.
gift attempt two: Los Angeles
Not long after the “Paris sandwich incident”, my children and I stopped in a Starbucks in Los Angeles. It was uncharacteristically cold. As I purchased my espresso we see a homeless man outside rummaging through the trash. Collectively we decide to buy an extra coffee and a hot breakfast sandwich for him believing he was looking for something to eat and we thought that something hot, on such a cold day, would be a nice gesture.
When we get outside we offer him the coffee and the sandwich. He puts up his hand in an abrupt “stop” position as if he were a traffic cop: “What kind of sandwich it that?” he barks. I tell him. “I don’t want that…but I’ll take the coffee.” I was speechless. My children were equally taken aback and looked at me as to how I was going to handle the situation. “Okay.. well, enjoy the coffee,” I said and I laid the wrapped sandwich on a table.
We walked in silence toward the car. “He did not even say thank you!” my youngest exclaims. “No, he did not,” I respond, “and you are right he could have expressed himself in a more polite way.” We get in the car but before I start it, I turn toward my children and I dramatically hold up my hands and mimic his gesture: “I don’t want that…just give me the coffee!” We all laugh because what else can you do? Sandwich gift attempt “two” is still a joke between us.
Pan bagnat is speciality of Nice and found in all boulangeries. Pan bagnat means “bathed or wet bread” because the sandwich bread is brushed with an olive oil vinaigrette (mayonnaise is never used). The sandwich is typically composed of regional flavors: tomatoes; sweet peppers; anchovies; onions; basil; and hard-boiled eggs. Sometimes tuna, mesclun, and radishes are included. Nicole Rubi (from La Petite Maison à Nice in old Nice) adds tapenade, fava beans, and shaved artichokes to hers and it is delicious. It is usually served in large circular white bread or in a baguette. To me, it is a modified salad niçoise inside bread (minus the potatoes and haricots verts).
This week’s simple pleasure - a pan bagnat au cadeau - takes the “sandwich gift” idea to a literal sense. The bread is cut into the shape of a gift box and the sandwich goodies are contained inside. This “gift sandwich” is “wrapped” in aluminum foil and can be secured closed with kitchen twine as you would wrap a present. It is the perfect sandwich for packed lunches or even to take on your Fourth of July picnic because it is self-contained and tastes even better after the bread has absorbed the salad and dressing. The recipe keeps the ingredients to a conservative minimum because I want it to be a quick recipe that will appeal to many (but feel free to add more ingredients if you would like).
It is said that it is “better to give than receive,” but this is one gift that you will be happy to keep for yourself should your good intentions happen to run amuck.
bien sûr, un très bon appétit !