It's interview season at law school.
Interview season makes me unhappy for all the reasons you'd expect: I have to wear a suit, I have to make small talk, and I have to answer all a manner of awkward questions about my grades, my ambitions, and my passion for the legal profession.*
It also peeves me for another reason: It's affecting my lunch.
You see, pre-interview food has to be neat. Nothing drippy. Nothing oily. Nothing that could possibly get unsightly stains on dry-clean only fabric. It has to be inoffensive, odor-wise: no garlic, no fish sauce, no curry. And it can't leave little unsightly bits stuck in your teeth.
Which rules out just about everything I eat for lunch on a regular basis.
So what's a stressed, grumpy, and hungry law student to do?
The French have a good answer: fry up a croque-monsieur, an old café standby. A sandwich of ham and gruyere with béchamel sauce, buttered and toasted golden brown, it satisfies all those pre-interview food criteria. It doesn't drip, won't leave any lingering odors, and won't get stuck in your teeth. (It does shed some crumbs, but a big napkin takes care of those.)
It's also very satisfying. Melted cheese and salty ham with creamy béchamel go a long way towards calming pre-interview jitters. They also help with cheering up post-interview blues.
So that's lunch taken care of. Now what am I going to say about my passion for the legal profession?
If you top this with a fried egg, it becomes a croque-madame.
Get a very large apron, and tie it over your dry-clean only suit.
Melt a small knob of butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add a teaspoon of flour, and stir until you have a paste. Add a dash of nutmeg and a splash of milk. Stir until your bechamel thickens up. (It should be on the thick side - you need it spreadable rather than pourable.) Season with salt, and remove from heat.
Take two slices of pain de mie, or other good white sandwich bread, and lay them on a cutting board. Spread one slice with the bechamel sauce. Lay a slice of good-quality ham on top.
Spread the other slice of bread with a dab of grain mustard. Top with a thin slice of gruyere or emmental. Put the two slices of bread together.
Set a frying pan over low heat. Butter the croque-monsieur on one side, and pop it, butter-side down, in the frying pan. Cook for two or three minutes, or until the bread is a nice shade of golden brown. Repeat the process for the other side.
Serve immediately. A green salad on the side helps to cut the richness - but watch out for those bits in your teeth.
*Answers, in order: Mediocre, elsewhere, and I plead the fifth.