Thursday, 14 January 2010

The mathematically perfect sandwich

Oh dear. We’ve been naughty. Again.

As if state-sanctioned unhealthiness wasn’t bad enough, it appears even parents can’t be trusted to feed their little ones decent lunches and the great collective mother is going to have to step in again.

Of the four million children who take a packed lunch to school, just 1% of those lunches meet the government’s recommendations for nutritional content. Shock and indeed horror?

Well, no. Not in the slightest (although I doubt that will prevent some arbitrary figure regarding nutritional content being pulled from the air like gristle from a twizzler and a blanket ban on pies, crisps and artificially sweetened drinks).

As someone who was subjected to packed lunches throughout my school career (and I say subjected for reasons that will become obvious shortly), it makes perfect sense that barely a hundredth of the little tykes are bringing with them a lunchbox containing wholemeal bread (or maybe gluten free rolls?), salads, fresh fruit and some granola.

That’s not what children eat. And I should know. I was one.

Although more recent adventures may suggest otherwise, my career as a bold food adventurer has not been a lifetime in the making. I was, in no uncertain terms, a fussy little blighter when I was younger.

Every day I would open my Transformers lunchbox with trepidation, wondering what horrors lurked within, my mind already devising elaborate plans for their disposal, none of which involved ingesting them.

As my fellow diners chewed their way through sliced white bread sandwiches filled with neon pink ham, a bag of Walkers crisps (back when they were actually salty) and maybe some Iced Gems to finish, I was left pondering my homemade bread rolls or adoringly prepared salads.

Cautious nibbling of the sort that would shame a sparrow invariably left me sitting alone with just the dinner ladies for company as the sounds of playground football filtered through the windows. On occasion I would sit there for an entire lunch break, the start of afternoon lessons ending the torture with the sound of a bell.

After a number of false starts (‘accidentally’ dropping my lunch on the floor rendering it inedible or shifting chunks of sandwich to my pockets as my dad did with his own school dinner dumplings) I finally hit upon a foolproof scheme.

Wrapping my butties in paper towels and disposing of them in the toilet bin prior to lunchtime (or even after school) worked for quite some time. I could proudly show my empty box to both teacher and mother then set upon the cereal as soon as I returned home.

I was rumbled only by illness.

The day I was off school, there were no sandwiches in the bin. My teacher (the fabulously named Mrs. Spooner) put two and two together with the skill of Magnum P.I. and phoned my mother to inform her of my untruths. I almost felt as if I’d been caught in an FBI style sting. Except the powers of analogy and metaphor were beyond me at the age of six.

Trouble came my way. After an apocolyptic bollocking I was sent to school the following day with no lunch. Not that it made much difference – I rarely ate it anyway and my fellow packed lunchers took pity on me offering me nibbles of their own offerings. I sat that day quite happily enjoying a diverse picnic comprising of Space Raiders, custard cream biscuits and triangles of Dairylea.

Soon after that I moved school (not as a result of my inability to consume lunch) and left the tiny village primary behind. Huge sports pitches and exotic new friends were a joy (‘Mum, what do Jews do?’ I asked after my first day) but the real deal breaker, the pièce de résistance , was that there we no lunch monitors. No teachers of Orwellian imaging watching every morsel that passed my lips and making sure I’d eaten ‘at least half’ of everything. I could dine, or not, without impunity.

I tested my theory by asking for a school dinner one day, soon after the start of term. Request granted, I helped myself to three slices of cucumber and a scoop of pickled beetroot – a lunch that would leave even Karen Carpenter asking for seconds.

I ate about half, expecting reproach. But there was no stern face, no admonishment, no repercussions. I was no longer in lunchtime limbo.

The perfect sandwich

I don’t know what psychological barrier I put up that rendered me incapable of eating lunch within the confines of a school but it was a significant one. Things are different now. Lunch is an integral part of my day, in the same way that breakfast, mid-afternoon snack, dinner and supper are. I also make the GF a lunch each morning to unshackle her from the confines of the local café thus saving around £100 a month. I can only assume she doesn’t wrap it in paper towels before throwing it away.

Despite last minute surges from the likes of soup, sushi or salads (or as prêt so nauseatingly insist on calling them, ‘breadless sandwiches’), the sandwich remains the undefeated champ. But making a truly killer butty is a skill in itself.

Thankfully there is an equation to ensure perfect results, every time:

S(√CM+C/P) x (B2)+(M1 +M2) = The perfect sandwich.

So, ‘Sandwich’ = ‘Salad’ multiplied by root of ‘cured meat’ plus ‘cheese’ divided by pickle(s) multiplied by ‘bread’ squared plus (mustard + mayonnaise). Easy.

There are also a few basic rules. Firstly the bread should, ideally, be sourdough and of large slices. The filling should at least equal the thickness of the two slices of bread and wet items (tomatoes, pickles) should be carefully placed between moisture repelling layers to avoid the sandwich eaters worst nightmare: soggy bread syndrome.

So, there you go – a mathematical solution to those lunchtime quandaries. If only my mum had known…


Hollow Legs said...

Now, that does look like a lovely sandwich. But I maintain that sandwiches are not a meal. They are a snack. How are you not ravenous by 4pm?

I don't remember an awful lot about my packed lunches, but I do remember once a week one girl had a foil pouch of the crispiest bacon you ever did see. Oh, the envy!

Just Cook It said...

Oh, worry not, I am ravenous by 4pm hence the need for a mid-afternoon snack to tide me over. I certainly remember having lunch envy on a near daily basis. Nothing quite as fab as crispy bacon in a foil packet but pretty darn close

Anikó said...

As a German girl I'm always fascinated by the British ability to have a cold lunch around noon. I almost always need some warm food to survive the afternoon, especially now when it's so cold and snowy :-) But your sandwich looks fabulous! I really like the salad!

Alicia Foodycat said...

That's a great post!

One girl at school used to have 3 or 4 leftover sausages and a tub of ketchup for dunking them in. We all thought that was excellent.

I make very good afternoon tea sandwiches - I do a seafood sandwich of extreme beauty and a really cracking cucumber sandwich. But I CANNOT make a packed lunch sandwich that is fit to eat.

Helen said...

I am a sandwich obsessive. Your rules are exactly right but obviously you know that. The importance of correct assembly should not be under estimated - the wet items being layered in the middle being one of the most important! I used to eat so much at school - a sticky bun, sausage roll and sandwich at morning break time and then chips, beans and cheese at lunch. Every single day. And my nickname was 'bones' because I was so damn skinny. Oh, they were the days alright. What I would give for that metabolism now.