Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Cecil Day-Lewis

National Portrait Gallery, London
Onion Butter and Aged Cheddar

If you're a ruggedly handsome academic or artist laboring over your latest opus, you don't have time for hanging out in the kitchen making three meals a day. And more than likely you've locked yourself into your study while you ruminate on works of great artistic and social import.  If you have a mistress or a mistror (what's the male equivalent of mistress?), hand them this recipe and tell them to leave you alone for the day.  If you're between passionate affairs, this is easy to get going in the morning and you can just check in on it when you're passing through smoking your pipe.  Also it will last you for quite a while in the fridge, so you won't have to worry about meals until after you're done defending your thesis. I'm not even going to mince words here, this is so good I could basically live off of this...

Makes a bunch of sandwiches

4-5 pounds of sweet yellow onions (like walla wallas or mayans, essentially you want the squatty kind)
1/3-1/2 cups of olive oil
2 teaspoons of salt

AGED sharp, super sharp, cheddar (sure you could use regular cheddar, but if you have an extra couple of dollars it's worth splurging on something that's been aged for at least a year for this sandwich, trust me.)

Sliced Como, or if you're economizing cheap ol' sourdough or even shepherder's bread, maybe whole wheat would work, but I wouldn't do one that was on the sweet side, like honey whole wheat.

For the Onion Butter:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Dice up the onions and put them in a glass casserole dish, add the olive oil and salt and mix well until the olive oil is evenly distributed. 

Roast the onions for about 2 hours, stirring every 30 or 40 minutes, until they are a golden yellow color. 

Transfer the onions to a crock pot set on low and cook for 6+ hours, stirring very occasionally, until they become a super dark, sweet paste.  At first I left the lid off so the water could evaporate, but put the lid on for the last couple of hours.  Taste the mixture every so often and adjust salt to taste.  If you want you can puree it in a food processor to get a smoother spread, but that's optional. Put into jars and store in the fridge.

For the Sandwich:

Toast the bread a little, spread on a generous amount of the onion butter. Add some slices of cheddar and you're ready to retire to your study for another 6 hours of composing/writing/painting.

The Grilled Cecil:

You MUST try this at some point in you life. It is the best sandwich I've ever eaten.

Heat up a frying pan or griddle. Butter two slices of bread, assemble like before and grill it up like a grilled cheese.


If buttering this up is too much for you, toast it in the oven.  My best friend Shannon would call this a "Toasted Cecil". Preheat the oven to a high temperature, maybe something like 425 degrees. Toast the bread lightly, assemble the sandwich and put in the oven for a couple of minutes until the cheese melts, flip, and toast in the oven another minute or two.

Vegan Cecil:

Daiya makes an awesome cheddar. I'd use that and make it grilled or toasted.

Cabbage Soup

2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
(1 onion, if no onion butter is to be used)
Assorted fresh or dried herbs such as sage, thyme, parsley or rosemary
4 cups of water
2 bullion cubes
1 tablespoon of onion butter
1/2 cabbage chopped

You may have noticed there is no vegetable associated with this sandwich.  So I decided to tote this to work with a thermos of cabbage soup.  I know, kinda "theme-y".  Anyway, this soup has cabbage, onions, garlic, a turnip, carrots... You could add a couple of potatoes, or substitute it for the turnip, basically throw whatever you think a DND character would have in his knapsack into this soup. Like some venison drippings or a level 1 monster carcass.

Heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil and saute some garlic (and diced onions if you don't have any onion butter), then throw in the 2 carrots and one turnip. I also added some fresh herbs I got from the Urban Farm Collective, a sprig of sage, a sprig of lemon thyme, and a handful of fresh parsley (all chopped finely). Cook this for about 10 minutes then add 4 cups of water, 2 bullion cubes (modify according to package directions) and 1 tablespoon of onion butter.  Bring to a boil, add the cabbage and reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer until cabbage is tender (maybe 15-20 minutes).

The following is my favorite poem by Cecil Day-Lewis. It perfectly captures the struggle between the comforts of domesticity and languishing in boredom.

On Not Saying Everything

This tree outside my window here,
Naked, umbrageous, fresh or sere,
Has neither chance nor will to be
Anything but a linden tree,
Even if its branches grew to span
The continent; for nature’s plan
Insists that infinite extension
Shall create no new dimension.
From the first snuggling of the seed
In earth, a branchy form’s decreed.

Unwritten poems loom as if
They’d cover the whole of earthly life.
But each one, growing, learns to trim its
Impulse and meaning to the limits
Roughed out by me, then modified
In its own truth’s expanding light.
A poem, settling to its form,
Finds there’s no jailer, but a norm
Of conduct, and a fitting sphere
Which stops it wandering everywhere.

As for you, my love, it’s harder,
Though neither prisoner nor warder,
Not to desire you both: for love
Illudes us we can lightly move
Into a new dimension, where
The bounds of being disappear
And we make one impassioned cell.
So wanting to be all in all
Each for each, a man and a woman
Defy the limits of what’s human.

Your glancing eyes, your animal tongue,
Your hands that flew to mine and clung
Like birds on bough, with innocence
Masking those young experiments
Of flesh, persuaded me that nature
Formed us each other’s god and creature.
Play out then, as it should be played,
The sweet illusion that has made
An eldorado of your hair
And our love an everywhere.

But when we cease to play explorers
And become settlers, clear before us
Lies the next need – to re-define
The boundary between yours and mine;
Else, one stays prisoner, one goes free.
Each to his own identity
Grown back, shall prove our love’s expression
Purer for this limitation.
Love’s essence, like a poem’s, shall spring
From the not saying everything.


  1. I would just like to note that I actually made this sandwich and wrote most of this blog back in October, but my dog died suddenly and I was too bummed out to work on any of my projects for a little while. Anyway, this recipe would be the best in September or October with the super sweet Walla Walla onions are in season...

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Yay! You're back! I love this project! Your blog looks great. I can't wait to try this practical, hard working sanwhich! Keep em comin!

  4. Due to an egregious typo, my first comment had to be deleted.