Cheese Toasts

February 11, 2015

When she has the kitchen all to herself, Phyllis Grant of Dash and Bella cooks beautiful iterations of what solo meals were always meant to be: Exactly what you want, when and where you want them.

Today: Straight up comfort food, for when there's too much to do. (And even when there's not.)

Shop the Story

The whole heart in your throat thing, it's all because of the plum blossoms. They catch your eye outside the kitchen window. They can’t be here just yet. 

You haven’t had the sex talk with your daughter. You haven’t signed up for summer camp. Your Christmas tree is still waiting in the driveway to get hacked up and dragged away. You need to be a better member of this planet before spring, to embody all of the bumper-stickered backs of Berkeley Volvos. Save the Bay. Save the Trees. Coexist. Snout to Tail. Eat Local. This could be you. You just need a little more time. 

So you gather everything from your fridge that was once alive: the red pepper slices, the cucumber coins, the wilted parsley, the chicken scraps, the garlic confit, the lemon wedges. You are going to be the kind of woman who makes homemade chicken stock. But first things first.

You must deliver a hug, a grand jeté lesson, five kisses to the bleeding knee that slammed into the side of the dresser. You lead a discussion about the size, shape, and depth of your son’s love for you, for his daddy, for the dead dog, for all of Roald Dahl’s books. You deal with those two-day-old dishes, the stinky compost, the dirty kitchen floor.

And then you have to open your brain for some sixth grade math: You’re driving 360 miles to and from the mountains. The tank holds 17 gallons of gas. You get 25 miles to the gallon when you go 55 mph. Don’t forget the variables: temperature, wind, and uncle Bob needing to go to the bathroom. Calculate how much gas will be used on the drive home. Your daughter cries out I can’t do it! I suck at math! I can’t do it! I just can’t!

I know, you want to say, it feels impossible

You try something else: Remember at the gymnastics meet when you did your triple hooha flipdeedoo roundoff back handspring. Even after your injury? You got up there in front of hundreds of people and flew through the air. That’s what you have to do with your math teacher. Walk up to him tomorrow and say I need help. 

Okay, mom, I will.

Okay? You will? Really?


You sit down. You remember you should never sit down. You remember the stock. You mumble I can’t do it all. I just can’t. You take a deep, rallying breath. And then you face it. 

What’s the plan this evening?

I want to play Monopoly and eat cheese.

I want to play Parcheesi and eat toast.

You want to be whisked off to Rome, drink red wine for lunch, and be fed anchovies by a male over the age of seven. 

You compromise with Boggle and cheese toasts, covering the stale scraps of bread with mayonnaise, puzzling together odds and ends from the cheese drawer, showering it all with too much paprika. You dip them in A-1 Steak Sauce, drinking Sancerre until your head drops to the table.

Mom, I see that you're tired. Go to bed.

I just need to make chicken stock.

Mom, I see a tiny piece of you that wants to cook, to write, to watch a movie. But most of your body just wants to sleep.

You listen.

Cheese Toasts

Serves 3 to 4

1 baguette
1/3 cup mayonnaise (or more!)
12 ounces creamy havarti (or your favorite meltable cheese), thinly sliced
Paprika, to taste

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Photos by Phyllis Grant

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • LauriL
  • Rita Valenzuela Bright
    Rita Valenzuela Bright
  • Marian Roberts
    Marian Roberts
  • JessieV
  • ksangster
Phyllis Grant is an IACP finalist for Personal Essays/Memoir Writing and a three-time Saveur Food Blog Awards finalist for her blog, Dash and Bella. Her essays and recipes have been published in a dozen anthologies and cookbooks including Best Food Writing 2015 and 2016. Her work has been featured both in print and online for various outlets, including Oprah, The New York Times, Food52, Saveur, The Huffington Post, Time Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, Tasting Table and Salon. Her memoir with recipes, Everything Is Out of Control, is coming out April 2020 from Farrar Straus & Giroux. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and two children.


LauriL April 18, 2015
I love your writing.....oh yeah, and cheese.
Rita V. March 13, 2015
I love doing this! Sometimes if there is an asparagus hanging out in the fridge, I'll pop it on under the cheese (in small pieces) and get an extra crunchy surprise when I bite into it.
Marian R. February 15, 2015
Love. This.

And the cheese toasts were good, too.
JessieV February 15, 2015
I love this. You have no idea how much. Thank you.
ksangster February 12, 2015
The mom in me and the cook in me just loved this. Ok, all of me loved this. Thank you.
Nancy February 12, 2015
Lovely writing, lovely voice, lovely recipe. May you soon get to Rome with a make over 7. Meanwhile, keep on keeping on, and remember to test in between....
Nancy February 12, 2015
Auto incorrect strikes again. That should be "male over 7"
Phyllis G. February 12, 2015
Thank you, Nancy. I will get to Rome. I will. I will.