Oh, do I ever enjoy listening to my husband talk about the cozy and happy memories he has of spending time with his beloved great-grandpa, Shay, when he was just a boy! Shay (short for Sherman) was born in 1901 in rural Kansas, in a time before cars were the norm, and when indoor plumbing and phones in every home were a rarity. He was an unpretentious, no-frills kind of man, a sweet and inspiring soul who always had a smile on his face and a warm “howdy” for everyone who crossed his path; and according to my husband, somehow everyone who crossed Shay's path seemed to know him and love him. He left Kansas a “boy” in his late teens, and eventually arrived in California a young man. During the Great Depression, Shay had enough work to keep a roof over his head and enough change left over to buy one good square meal a day — a hamburger and a Coke. What a life Shay had over the (nearly) one hundred years that God gave him on this earth, experiencing all of the ups and downs of his country, and all of the changes that came along with it; and how very many lessons he ended up passing down to my hubby during the years that he spent with him when he was just a seedling. One lesson being that a simple patty melt on toasted sour dough bread with an ice-cold Coke as its companion was something to gleefully relish; and another being that blood isn't necessarily thicker than water, and is not the only tie that binds.
You see, Shay wasn't related by way of “blood” to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; he had met his wife a little later in life, and by then, she had already had two young daughters of her own from a previous marriage. But with Shay, love was love; and caring, sharing and teaching was what he was all about, blood relation having no bearing. And later on in life, he loved teaching all of the youngsters in the family — those who had an interest in the more hands-on things in life — the right way to grow tomatoes, and the best way to get an orange tree to bear lots of fruit; the perfect time to fertilize the lawn, and the right way to can and preserve apricots and other fruits and vegetables, as well as the many other fundamentals of everyday life that he acquired through his own experiences. Shay was a practical man; but he also loved to have fun, and enjoyed good food and sharing it with the people he loved so very much, namely my husband, his great-grandson. It was through great-grandpa Shay that my husband was introduced to those frilly, coconut-encrusted, Hostess sweet-treats called “Snowballs”; to Saturday evening “Pancake Nights” (we carry on that tradition in our own family to this day); and to the perfectly simple yet simply perfect lunch-time meal of a Patty Melt sandwich with gooey melted cheese on golden-toasted bread, with a couple of slices of a fresh, home-grown tomato on the side, as well as some cottage cheese sprinkled with some salt and black pepper — Shay's favorite. And of course, the meal wouldn't be complete without those icy-cold Cokes to wash it all down, just like the good ol' days when Shay was a boy. To this day, the Patty Melt sandwich is one of my hubby's favorite meals because it always reminds him of how comforting it was to be enveloped in Shay's loving and generous presence there at his table, the pair of them sharing in a conversation that only two “boys” could have. And for a young child just learning about what it meant to love and to be loved unconditionally, it was pure heaven for him to be there with his great-grandpa Shay; it felt like the safest place in the world.
Who'd have thought that some important life lessons and the genuine meaning of “love” could be shared over something as simple as a juicy Patty Melt sandwich? Food has a magical way of doing that. A young person can learn that it's not “genetics” that form the bond of un-breakable love and closeness; it's not “shared blood” that necessarily connects us to each other in ways that go beyond anything words can express; but that it's our inner desires and intentions that pull us together and are the invisible threads that form our bonds and relationships, and leave us feeling that we do, indeed, matter to one another. So here's my special little Patty Melt in honor of Shay, a man I never had the pleasure of meeting, but a man who contributed early on to teaching my hubby how to be the loving and caring husband and father that he is today. Because in that love and care that my hubby shares with us, I feel great-grandpa Shay's imprint on our lives everyday; and that's the tie that binds.
Taste what's good and pass it on.
Bistro-Style Patty Melt with Havarti Cheese, Caramelized Onions and Sauteed Shiitake Mushrooms on Toasted Sour Dough Bread
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(Makes 4 sandwiches)
1 lb ground beef (I used 85/15 lean to fat ratio)
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
• Cracked black pepper
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon paprika
• Olive oil or canola oil
2 medium onions, halved and sliced thinly (semi-circles)
7 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
8-16 slices Havarti cheese (depending on size of bread)
8 slices sourdough bread, lightly buttered on one side
-Place the ground beef into a large bowl, and add to the worcestershire sauce, ½ teaspoon of salt, ¼ teaspoon of the freshly ground black pepper, the onion and garlic powders, and the paprika; mix the seasoning thoroughly into the meat; divide the meat into 4 equal portions (4 ounces each), and shape the portions into flat, oval/rectangular patties that roughly match the shape of your sourdough bread (perhaps a little bigger as the patties will shrink during cooking); place the patties on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes to allow the seasoning to penetrate and flavor the meat.
-While the patties rest, place a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, and add in about 2 tablespoons of oil; add in the sliced onions plus a couple of pinches of salt and pepper, and caramelize the onions until a deep, golden-brown, for about 10 minutes; spoon the onions into a bowl and cover to keep warm; set aside for a few moments.
-In the same non-stick skillet set over medium-high heat, add another 2-3 tablespoons of oil, and add in the sliced shiitakes mushrooms; saute those until a deep, golden-brown, for about 6-8 minutes; spoon the mushrooms into a bowl and cover to keep warm; set aside for a few moments.
-To cook the patties, use the same non-stick skillet and place it over medium-high heat; add a drizzle of oil into the pan, and once hot, add two of the patties (or however many fit comfortably into the pan) and cook for a couple of moments on that first side; next, flip the patties over and cook a little longer, until the patties are cooked to your liking; remove the patties onto a plate, and loosely cover with foil to keep warm, and repeat the process with any remaining patties; clean out the skillet.
-To assemble and finish the sandwiches, place 1-2 slices of Havarti cheese on the side of the bread that is not buttered, and over that, add about ¼ of the caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms over the cheese; next, add a patty, another 1-2 slices of cheese over the patty, and cover with another slice of bread with the buttered side up; once all sandwiches are assembled, place the skillet over medium-high heat, and once hot, add a couple of the sandwiches to the pan (buttered-side down), pressing down on them with a spatula to help everything to melt together better, and allow the sandwiches to become toasted and golden on the first side, and then gently flip, pressing down again, and allow them to toast on the other side until the cheese is melty (cover the pan if necessary to help the cheese to melt); repeat the process with the remaining sandwiches; to serve, cut the sandwiches in half, and serve while hot.