The pictures for this sandwich post and its recipe have been sitting on my computer for weeks, waiting for words to accompany them. But every time I tried to write, my heart sank. The ambivalence I felt about food media in the wake of the election has grown into a deep discomfort as, in an unexpectedly short period of time, one by one, we have seen some of the most outrageous campaign promises become realities. At a time when the civil liberties, human rights and lives of so many people are at risk; as we take giant leaps backwards on decades of hard won progress towards equality, it is tempting to think - how can anyone write about sandwiches right now?
But this uneasy coexistence of suffering and frivolity is not really new. Westerners are used to carrying on with the trivialities of daily life in the midst of the distant suffering of others. We have become so desensitized to images and news of global violence, poverty and inequality that we tend to perceive certain areas of the world as inherently or unavoidably tragic. This tragedy is the normal background to our everyday lives. We know it is there, but it isn’t ours. Given the role of Western economic and political policies in producing or exacerbating much of the poverty and violence around the world, this is not okay. However, to an extent, it is a necessity. While those of us who can make efforts to help, should, we cannot take on all of the suffering of the world constantly. The human brain and body cannot withstand the volume of suffering that mass media has given it access to. We need to engage positively with the pleasures of the everyday to maintain balance and sanity – even as we also engage with far more important issues.
This speaks to a struggle that I have encountered as a student and teacher of sociology and one that I suspect affects many otherwise informed people: the more we understand about how the world works, about how power produces inequality and injustice, the greater the potential for despair in our daily lives. How do we continue, under the weight of this knowledge, without dissolving into anger, sadness, fear and negativity? It can be enough to make us disengage, to make those of us with privilege rationalize away our responsibility and complicity, to make us escape into the everyday – including, for many, the pleasures of food and cooking.
What is new is that what was once primarily distant suffering is creeping into our backyards. And it warns of a danger that we have purportedly prepared ourselves for. A man whose campaign was fuelled by racism, sexism, bigotry and xenophobia was elected president of the United States a mere two days before Canadian remembrance day. His executive order on immigration was signed on international Holocaust remembrance day. For decades these days have served as reminders to us - not to forget. Not to forget what can happen when we allow our hearts and governments to be guided by hatred and intolerance. Let us also not forget that this situation was made possible by the unwillingness of so many, including myself, to act sooner, when the distant suffering of others appeared, from our privileged vantage points, like less of a moral emergency. But we cannot allow that awareness to prevent us from acting now. Yes, we should have shown up to the fight earlier, but we must show up now. The mass demonstrations of the last few weeks are evidence that more people are doing just this.
I have also seen an increased willingness to be political in many of the food and lifestyle blogs that I follow. I find this comforting and hope that it is indicative of a shift in food media towards allowing both the positive and the negative aspects of how and what we eat to be a part of the conversation. Food is not just about flavours, creativity, pleasure and beauty; it is also about politics, class, culture, gender and race. It is always both. You cannot “politicize” something that is inherently political; you can only either acknowledge its politics or ignore them. Sadly, there is a tendency in the food media world – particularly in its most aestheticized corners - to do the latter. That is not what I intend to do here on The Maker Makes.
This roast beef sandwich recipe came about as a way to use up leftovers from a slow cooker beef roast M made. We didn’t have much else in the house, so I decided to dress up whatever pantry staples I could find and make sandwiches. I usually have cranberries in the freezer this time of year. They are one of my favourite winter ingredients and I commonly use them to make this salsa as a topping for tacos. Onions are, of course, a basic pantry staple in most homes that are easily elevated through caramelization. The cilantro for the yogurt sauce came out of my garden, and was the last batch to be used before the plants were killed by frost. The sweetness of the caramelized onions, the herby cool freshness of the cilantro yogurt, the tart and spicy kick of the cranberry salsa, and the heartiness of the beef and bread make this a well-balanced substantial meal for lunch or dinner the day after you’ve made a roast. I had none on hand, but some fresh or sautéed greens would make a great addition to these sandwiches.
Leftover roast beef
2-3 onions, sliced into very thin strips
For the Cranberry Salsa (Adapted from Half Baked Harvest):
12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries
1 jalapeno, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice½ - ¾ cup brown sugar*
For the Cilantro Yogurt Sauce:
1 cup Greek yogurt (If very thick, dilute with a bit of milk, 1 teaspoon at a time until it reaches your desired saucy consistency)
2 garlic cloves, minced
Large handful of cilantro, chopped
Salt & pepper, to taste
*start with ½ cup, add more after roasting if salsa is too tart for your tastes
Preheat the oven to 350F
Caramelize the onions: heat oil in a small pan over medium-low heat. Choose a pan large enough to accommodate the onions without crowding them. Add the onions, toss to coat with the oil. Watch the onions carefully, tossing them with a spatula at increasingly close intervals as they brown. This should take anywhere from 20-40 minutes, depending on how deep of a caramelization (and how much flavour) you want.
While onions are caramelizing, make the cranberry sauce. Pile the cranberries, jalapeno, garlic, and brown sugar onto a baking sheet, squeeze the lemon juice over the top, mix everything together and spread the mixture out evenly over the baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cranberries begin to burst and break down.
Make the yogurt sauce: in a small bowl mix together the yogurt, garlic and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Assemble the sandwiches: place beef slices on the bun, top with the caramelized onions, cranberry salsa and cilantro yogurt. Serve.