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literary food blog, for readers with good taste.

"Falling Man" by Don DeLillo & roasted broccoli grilled cheese

"Falling Man" by Don DeLillo & roasted broccoli grilled cheese

This wasn’t the easiest book to read, to put it lightly. Anyone from the New York City area will feel a few stabs reading through Don DeLillo’s vivid descriptions of the days following September 11, 2001. His words capture the shocked aftermath, the changed world that was so unreal as to be dreamlike.

I was 11 when the planes hit the Twin Towers, and I’ll be honest, it took me a few years to “get it.” As in, for me to understand the meaning and the magnitude of this event. I grew up in five countries — one of them Japan — and thought 9/11 was tragic but…didn’t countries get violently attacked every few years?

As I moved through my teenage years in New Jersey and then later married a man whose family was hit personally by the attacks, I realized how much of a crater this event had left on the landscape of American history.

Falling Man further illustrated that crater, deftly weaving in the perspectives of those who were on the ground and those who were thousands of miles away, the arguments about ideology, the suddenly nationalistic foreign policy decisions, and the secondhand implications the attacks had on children like me. One of the things that struck me most was how DeLillo managed to capture how this national tragedy trickled down to impact the minutiae of a single family’s lives: the decisions and uncertainties that make up our every day that suddenly become frivolous and absurd, and yet we must somehow go on with them because they are our ties to the world before everything changed.

I did know this before reading Falling Man, but I didn’t quite feel this. Lianne’s complicated emotions for her ex-husband – who survives the towers and returns to stay with her and their son – are blurred at times and jagged at others as 9/11 brings them back together and pushes them apart. Although an emotionally difficult and messily human story, Falling Man is worth the time and the tears, especially for anyone who keeps a piece of their heart in New York City. To quote Lianne reappropriating a haiku: “Even in New York — I long for New York.”

I wanted something close to the American heart to pair with this book and savory homemade grilled cheese came to mind. The unexpectedness of the broccoli adds a new element to this classic, reshaping the old familiar into something new. It’s soul food that’s easy to make and easy to share. Plus, broccoli is in season in September.


ROASTED BROCCOLI GRILLED CHEESE

Ingredients

  • Florets from 1 medium head broccoli (about 1/2 pound), chopped small
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • Unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 to 8 slices bread
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded or thinly sliced

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400º F.

On a sheet pan, mix the broccoli, oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the broccoli is evenly roasted but not burnt. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Heat a skillet over medium-low heat.

Spread butter evenly on one side of each slice of bread.

Dividing the ingredients evenly, layer cheese on the unbuttered side of half of the bread slices, then add chopped broccoli in the middle and more cheese on top so that the broccoli lies between two layers of cheese. This keeps the small pieces of broccoli from falling out as the cheese melts. Top each with another slice of bread, butter side out. I find this step easiest to complete after placing one piece of bread in the skillet (that way you don’t get butter everywhere).

Grill in the skillet, turning sandwiches over once, until the cheese melts and the bread is evenly toasted (about 5 minutes on each side).

Recipe via Todd Porter and Diane Cu’s cookbook Bountiful.

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