Back when I was a graduate student the first time around (working on my first graduate degree in creative writing), I lived in a very snowy, very cold part of upstate New York. I had arrived in Binghamton, NY at the beginning of January, deep in the heart of winter, and not long after a big snowstorm had blown through. The shuttle from the airport left me off at the bottom of a hill near the main campus building, and I had to make my way from there to graduate housing in the dark, just me and my suitcase, winding my way through what seemed like mountains of snow. I spent weeks and weeks of my first year there trudging through tall snow drifts back and forth between classes, and marveling at how it could possibly be so cold that the tips of my hair would frost, and the inside of my nose would feel as if I'd sniffed in a handful of fresh snow.
There was, more often than not, snow everywhere that winter. The flipside was that the weather drove us indoors--into the library, or each other's apartments for an impromptu gathering, or TV watching session, or if it was near the end of the week, into the campus bar (you have to love a campus that comes with a bar!) . We graduate students would sit and dissect that day's writing workshops, and any gossip we could pass around, feeling all the while oh so set apart from the rest of the world.
During the day we would spend lots of time at the food court, sitting at tables and soaking up the pools of watery sunshine. I know campus food isn't supposed to be memorable in good ways, but I discovered one of my favorite meals there at that food court: a tempeh burger sandwich, piled high with sprouts and avocado and tiny translucent slivers of red onion, served nestled in a green plastic basket lined with paper, along with a side order of hot french fries. It was heavenly. My friend D. and I would often eat lunch together after our last class (a creative writing workshop we were both taking) and one of us would grab the sunniest table, while the other would order the food. The line was often long, but the wait always so worth it.
I wonder what my friend D. is doing these days? The last time I saw her was at my wedding rehearsal dinner, way too many years ago. I wonder if she might remember the ketchupy, hot goodness of those sandwiches, and how welcome the sun felt on our faces?
For some reason I thought about those sandwiches last Friday. On my way home from work I squeezed in a trip to Trader Joe's before I picked up T. from school. Trader Joe's always gets me thinking about what I can whip up with the help of my panini press--partly because I love their ciabatta bread, and partly because I can find good spreads and sauces to add to sandwich creations. I had tempeh at home, and a bag of frozen fries, and Friday seemed a grilled sandwich sort of day--a tempeh burger-and-hot-fries-washed-down-with-cold-beer day. Just like the old days.
Minus the snow, of course.
Honey-Sesame Glazed Tempeh Sandwiches
For the tempeh:
One package tempeh, cut into strips
Tamari sauce (I started with 1/4 cup--go up or down as you see fit)
Honey or agave syrup (maybe two tablespoons? I just drizzled it on. Again, go up or down to suit your taste)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Saute the tempeh in a pan, lightly coated with oil. When the tempeh appears golden brown on both sides, add the tamari sauce and let it cook off a bit. Next, add the honey and mix. The tamari and the honey will combine and coat the tempeh in a nice, deep golden glaze. Right before serving, toss the tempeh with the sesame seeds. Set aside.
For the sandwiches:
Ciabatta bread, or any kind of good, crusty bread
Avocado, mashed, or guacamole
Red onion, sliced into thin strips
Fresh spinach leaves, or romaine lettuce
I spread the avocado generously over the bottom of the sandwich, then added the tempeh, the spinach leaves, tomato, and topped it all with onion. Obviously you put the toppings in whatever order suits you! Put the top bread on, and carefully press it in your panini press. You can also do as my good friend J. did and cook your sandwich in a skillet, weighing it down with another on top to create the grilled effect.