Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coming soon: Ice cubes

I'm working on an entry for you about ice cubes.  Surprisingly, there is a lot to learn about the subject.  So I'm not finished with it yet.

In the meantime, here are some ice cube trays.  What do you think of ice cubes shaped like Pi?

(available for $8.99 from ThinkGeek)

Or how about the Titanic sinking in your drink?

(Gin and Titonic ice cube tray from Gadgets.co.uk for £5.95)

(for more ice cube shapes & trays, click the Read More link)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Apple #479: Skunks in the Fall

I have smelled skunk in the air twice in the past two days. Is it my imagination, or do I smell skunks more often this time of year in general?

Is that eau de skunk I detect on the air this fall evening?
(Photo from Warner Bros., sourced from Misster-Kitty)

  • No, it is not my imagination.  Skunks are out and about much more often in the fall. They do what's called the "fall shuffle."
  • They mate and give birth in the spring, so that's not what it's about.

(for more, click the Read More link)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Apple #478: Flukes

The word "fluke" came up in conversation the other day.  As in, "I don't know what the deal with that was.  I guess it was just a fluke."  It struck me as a funny word, first of all for the way it sounds.  Not too many words in English are very similar.

Then the more I thought about it, I realized its definitions made it an unusual word too.  Because it can mean some oddball thing that happens out of the blue, but it also means a fish or something too I think, and it's also a type of worm.  That's a lot of different kinds of things for one word.  How come there are so many definitions?  And are any of them related?

  • My standard word origin sources, the OED and the Online Etymology Dictionary, disagree about the order in which these definitions occurred.  Other dictionaries offer still other orders and relationships among the meanings.  But they agree on a lot of major elements, and since the OED is so freakin' exhaustive about everything, I'm going to regard that one as the most reliable.  But just know that other people disagree with this exact order and relationship among definitions.
I. The OED says the fish came first.
  • In this meaning, "fluke" comes from a bunch of Old English words like flook and flowk.  All these are related to the Germanic word flaut, meaning flat.
  • So, the OED says, the first definition of fluke is a flat fish, a.k.a. the common flounder.

This woman is holding a fluke that she caught.  Note the shape of the fish as well as the fact that it's pretty flat compared to most other fish.
(Photo from Geared Up Publications)

  • The fluke fish, or flounder, is not at all uncommon. But there is an unusual thing about them:  because they lie flat on the ocean floor, one eye of the flounder will migrate as the fish matures to the side of the fish that faces up.
  • Another definition that the OED puts under that same set of flook/flaut/flat words is the fluke worm. 
  • There are actually a lot of different kinds of fluke worms, but they're all parasites and they're all equally disgusting so I'm not going to dwell on them.

This is one type of fluke worm.  Others are more worm-like in shape, but this one's shape is especially similar to our friend the fluke fish.
(Photo from Shacharit Serefina)

  • The OED also puts a certain kind of potato in with the fish and the worm.  They are fluke potatoes, which are small and kidney-shaped.  

Fluke potatoes: small, kidney-shaped, with papery skins.
(Photo from Bon Appetit, sourced from The Guardian)

  • They are much better-known in the UK because that's where they hail from.  You might know them as Jersey potatoes or Jersey Royal potatoes because they are grown on the island of Jersey.
  • The OED thinks they're called fluke potatoes because of their shape, but I'm wondering if it may be related to our oddball definition. In 1880, a Jersey island farmer bought a potato that had a shape he hadn't seen before.  He cut it up, planted the pieces in his garden, and lo and behold, he got a bunch of potatoes that tasted better than the other kind he'd been growing.  So did he call them "fluke potatoes" because of their shape, or because he thought it was a fluke that they turned out so well?

II. The next set of words, says the OED, are all named flukes because they look like the fluke fish.
  • The first of these meanings is the large triangular plates on each end of the business part of an anchor.
Here's an old-school type of anchor. The flukes are the flared-out ends where the anchor would bite into the sea floor.
(Photo from the Anchor Bag)

This is a newer type of anchor, called the Danforth Standard Fluke. Here, the flukes are the very large triangular plates that stick up from the horizontal crossbar.
(Photo and anchor available from iboats.com)

  • The next fluke-shaped thing on the OED's list is the barb on the end of a lance, spear, or arrow.
  • I would assume that means the point where the lance, spear, etc. pierces somebody.  But on a couple of websites that deal in antique armory, they refer to "flukes" as the decorative flanges that flare out sideways away from the point of the lance, spear, etc.

Ambrose Antiques refers to the downward-curving flare off the front and the crescent-shaped flare off the back as the flukes.  This is a copy of a 16th century Halberd from Germany, by the way.
(Photo from Ambrose Antiques)

  • Also in this group is the whale's fluke, or the two flaring parts of the tail.

This particular fluke belongs to a baby blue whale swimming off the coast of Costa Rica.
(Photo from Nature's Crusaders)

  • According to the OED, "fluke" can refer to both parts of the tail taken together as a whole, or it is also acceptable to refer to them as "flukes."  So if you're going to say "fluke," you'd probably better make it clear whether you mean one half of the tail or the pair of flukes taken together.
  • There are also several other fluke-type words that have to do with catching whales by the tail.  There is the fluke-chain or the fluke-rope, both of which are looped around the flukes.  One may also go fluking, which means to go whaling and to catch whales by use of fluke-chains or fluke-ropes.  Or that's what they did in Moby Dick's time anyway.

III. Now we get to the "oddball" definition.
  • This definition probably comes from English billiards, some time in the 1870s or so.  If somebody made a lucky shot, it was called a fluke.  Not only is it lucky, it's probably not repeatable and so therefore, it's unusual.  (Pool players in the US today would call this slop.)
  • This word could also mean a lucky guess, a chance breeze that blows somebody a good turn.
  • What's kind of cool about this is that everybody is guessing that the lucky pool shot is the origin of this meaning.  None of the dictionaries I consulted knows for sure that this is where it came from, and they're all making the same pool-shooting guess.  Nobody offers any suggestions for root words.  Nobody knows whether this meaning has anything to do with the shape of the fluke fish, or the pointy thing on the end of an anchor, or the flukes of a whale, or any of that. In fact, it may not have anything to do with the other definitions of "fluke" at all.
  • So this meaning is, in effect, a fluke itself.  It's a guess and it's not like any of the others in the group.

This video is labeled a fluke shot, but really, this kid is showing a tremendous amount of skill in managing the spin and placement of the ball.  The shot is challenging enough, though, that maybe he'd have trouble making it happen very often. Also, the cue ball is not involved, so he couldn't really use this shot in an actual game.  But still, nice touch, dude.

Online Etymology Dictionary, fluke
Dictionary.com, fluke
sensagent dictionary, fluke
New Jersey Fishing, Fluke
Great British Bites: Jersey Royal Potatoes, The Times Online, April 15, 2008

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Apple #477: Woodpeckers

My niece said she saw a "very ugly bird" a few weeks ago.  She thought it might be a woodpecker, so she asked me to do a Daily Apple about woodpeckers.

I've seen quite a few woodpeckers recently, and I don't think they're ugly birds at all.  I'm not sure I would say any bird was ugly except maybe a vulture.  But let's put the question of beauty or ugliness aside for now and just talk about woodpeckers.

  • Woodpeckers have very strong, pointed beaks that they can use like a hammer to knock against trees and also like a chisel to dig bugs out of the bark.
  • They also have very long tongues, which further help in ferreting out bugs.

Woodpeckers don't just have long, stiff beaks, they also have very long tongues, as this photo of a red-bellied woodpecker demonstrates.
(Photo from the Hilton Pond Center)

  • Woodpeckers knock their beaks against trees for a variety of reasons:
      • to drum up insects tucked among the crevices of bark
      • to make holes in the trees that become their nests
      • to communicate courtship signals to other woodpeckers in the area
  • Woodpeckers knock wood somewhere between 8,000 to 12,000 times a day.
  • Whenever I hear one, I'm always impressed at how fast the beats fall -- how do they move their heads back and forth fast enough to knock that fast -- and how loud it is.  The sound is so loud, it echoes for tens of yards.
  • There are lots of different species of woodpeckers -- somewhere between 180 and 220 of them.

Here are 9 types of woodpeckers. Reading in order L to R top down: 8) flicker 1) red-cockaded 2) hairy 3) downy 7) sapsucker 6) red-headed 9) ivory-billed 4) pileated 5) red-bellied
(Brochure from the US Fish & Wildlife Service)

    • Woodpeckers have been seen in every part of the world that has forests, except in Australia.
    • One of the largest species is the ivory-billed woodpecker.  It's about 20 inches long, has a 3-foot wingspan, and can weigh over 1 pound.  Only the imperial woodpecker in Mexico is larger.
    • It was thought to be extinct, but someone spotted the bird in Arkansas in 2005, though it has been hard to find again since then.
    This is huge.  It's kind of like finding Elvis.

    --Frank Gill, a past president of the Audubon Society, when he heard the news that someone had seen the ivory-billed woodpecker.
        • The pileated woodpecker is the third largest woodpecker in North America after the ivory-billed, and they are much more common.  These are nearly as large as crows, and the holes they make in trees are often rectangular-shaped.
        • 'Pileated" is pronounced "PY-lee-ate-ed."  The word means having a cap over the whole top of the head.  It comes from the Latin word "pileus," meaning a felt cap with no brim.  That old felt cap, too, covered the entire top of the head.
        • Pileated woodpeckers have the distinctive red peaked head and black and white stripes across the face.

        Pileated woodpecker with the famous red crested head. I don't know if you can tell, but the photo is a little blurry where the bird is tapping super-fast against the trunk.
        (Photo from Avian Web)

        • Their call is a high-pitched, somewhat nasal, and fast-repeating chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chrip. The call, too, is very loud and carries, echoing, through the trees.

        The Pileated is probably the woodpecker on whom Woody was based.  I freakin' hated Woody Woodpecker, by the way. He annoyed the daylights out of me.  The real bird is far less irritating.
        (Photo from iOffer.com)

        • The Nuttall's woodpecker is much smaller, and it has black and white stripes across its back and its wings.  It is also missing the signature peak that we've all come to identify with woodpeckers, though it does have a red cap.

        The Nuttall's Woodpecker is distinguished from its very similar fellow the Ladder-backed woodpecker by the thick black stripe at the base of its neck.  The Nuttall's lives in California almost exclusively.
        (Photo by Harry Fuller at Towhee.net)

        • The Hairy woodpecker is smaller yet.  The male has just a little spot of red at the back of his head, while the female has no red spot at all.

        The hairy woodpecker is distinguishable from is near-lookalike fellow the downy woodpecker primarily by the length of its beak: the hairy woodpecker's beak is longer than half its head. Now, if you could just measure the woodpecker's beak and head before it hops or flies away. . . . 
        (Photo by Gordon Ellmers from About.com)

        • The Acorn woodpecker drills a bunch of holes in oak trees and fills the holes with acorns they've collected. They may pack the acorns so tightly into the holes, even squirrels can't prise out the nuts.

        Acorn woodpeckers can cause a lot of damage, not just to trees but also to fence posts, wood-sided buildings, and as in this case, telephone poles.
        (Photo by Sue Bryan at Norfolk Birders)

        • Sapsuckers and flickers -- which have calls very similar to pileated woodpeckers though not as loud -- are part of the same family as woodpeckers.  They are all classified as Picidae.

        The famous yellow-bellied sapsucker. As you can see, it really does have a yellow belly. It also looks a lot like a woodpecker -- which is why it's part of the same family.
        (Photo from Urbee Car)

        • If woodpeckers are drumming holes into your property and you want them to knock it off, here are some of the best methods to keep them away:
            • Put metal mesh over areas they have tended to drill into.
            • Put up statues of owls or snakes. Be sure to relocate the statues now and then so the birds don't get used to them
            • Go outside and clap your hands loudly every time you hear the bird hammering. Do it enough times and the bird may get the message.
            • Some sticky repellants such as 4-the-Birds and Roost-No-More have been successful.

        Defenders of Wildlife, Woodpeckers
        Thomas H. Maugh, II, "Long thought extinct, a species of woodpecker sails back into view," boston.com, April 29, 2005
        Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds, Pileated Woodpecker
        Onelook.com, pileated
        Shaw Creek Bird Supply, North American Woodpecker Species
        Professional Pest Control Supplies, Woodpeckers

        Monday, August 9, 2010

        Apple #476: Pronouncing Arkansas

        I know I just did a Daily Apple entry last night, but I'm trying to make up for the dearth of entries recently.  And besides, this makes it a true Daily Apple, Alex!

        I was looking through an catalog from Arkansas today, and that reminded me to ask, Why the heck do they pronounce it "ARK-an-saw" and not "ar-KAN-sas"?  Given that Kansas is pronounced "KAN-sas," that seems to be the pronunciation that would make sense.  Why is it different?

        • Like so many place names in the United States, "Arkansas" is derived from a Native American word. How we wound up with this word and this pronunciation is like a long game of Telephone Operator played through four different languages.
        • Once upon a time, when French Jesuits were still making their way westward, they were told about a tribe of Native Americans who lived farther south down the Mississippi from where they were.
        • This tribe called themselves the Quapaws, or sometimes the Oogaqpa, which means "downstream people."
        The Arkansas River runs diagonally across the center of the state, while the Mississippi flows south along the eastern border.  The Quapaws lived somewhere in the area east of what is now Little Rock.
        (Map from GreenwichMeanTime.com)
        • But the people who told the French Jesuit explorers about the Quapaws were Algonquian-speaking Native Americans who lived in the Ohio Valley.  The Algonquians didn't use the Quapaws' word for their tribe but rather their own Algonquin word, which meant "south wind," and was pronounced Ookanasa.
        • Each French explorer heard that word differently, apparently, because when they wrote down their maps of the region, they used various spellings of the name the Algonquians had told them.
            • Marquette wrote "Arkansoa"
            • Joliet wrote "Arkansea"
            • LaSalle wrote "Arkensa" and also "Acansa"
            • DeTonti wrote "Arkancas"
            • LaHarpe wrote "Arkansa" or "Arkansas"
        • LeHarpe's version of the name was actually based on his name for the river which ran near where these people lived.  The river, he felt sure, was called the Arkansas and the people who lived there were the Arkansa tribe.  People who were members of the tribe were called Arkansa plural, or Arkansas.
        • Except in French, you don't pronounce the final s the way we do in English.  The s influences the final vowel sound slightly, but it stays a vowel, yielding something quite close to "ARK-an-saw."
        • Then Zebulon Pike came through the territory in 1811, and he spelled it on his map the way he heard it: Arkansaw.

        Zebulon Pike wasn't French but American.  He was born in Trenton, New Jersey, and served under General George Washington before he went exploring in the southwest.  I think they're still doing their hair in New Jersey like his.
        (Photo from Pike's Peak Cog Railway)

        • When Arkansas became a state in 1836, they used LeHarpe's spelling, Arkansas.  But there were still a lot of variations in the way people pronounced the name.
        • Because in the meantime, things were going differently in nearby Kansas, which had recently become a state.  Instead of retaining the French pronunciation of the word (which would have kept it something like KAN-sah), the folks in Kansas Anglicized the name of their state and pronounced it KAN-sus.

        The red line shows the Arkansas River flowing through Arkansas down there on the lower right as well as through Kansas, which is the pale yellow state in the upper middle. The fact that the same river runs through both states is why their names are similar.
        (Map from Encyclopedia VBXML)

        • So some people in Arkansas were pronouncing their state as the French and Zebulon Pike did while others were pronouncing it like the Kansans.
        • In fact, in the Arkansas state legislature, one senator preferred to be introduced as being from ARK-an-saw, while the other preferred to be introduced as being from ar-KAN-sas.
        • In 1881 the senators finally went head to head about this, after which the state adopted a general resolution declaring that the state name would be pronounced ARK-an-saw.
        • There is an extremely colorful -- which is to say it's full of hyperbole and coarse language -- rendition of the argument one senator made in favor of the ARK-an-saw pronunciation.  It's not certain whether this was the debate that was actually made on the floor of the state legislature, or an embellished version written after the fact.  Some think that maybe Mark Twain penned this speech, given the fact that a similar though far tamer version appears in his Life on the Mississippi.  If you'd care to have a look-see, you can read the text at this site. Scroll down to "Here is Randolph's field-collected text."
        • I had always thought that the way Kansas was pronounced made more sense and Arkansas was the rogue.  But in fact, Kansas is the one that altered its pronunciation and Arkansas is actually closer to the original.

        SHG Resources, Arkansas Symbols, State Name
        The State of Arkansas, Introduction
        Pete Thomas, Cimarron Kansas Network, Arkansas, the state
        The Straight Dope, Why is Arkansas pronounced Ar-kan-SAW?
        alphaDictionary, Origins of US State Names
        Netstate, Kansas State History Information

        Apple #475: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

        I have slacked off in my Daily Appling lately, for no real reason.  I'll try to make it up to you this week with some good entries.  Hopefully, you'll enjoy this one.

        Having already done an entry about bisques, in which I discussed tomato soups and bisques, it seemed only right to follow it up with an entry about grilled cheese sandwiches.  I thought, Since I just did a food entry I'll wait a while on that one, but when three different people mentioned grilled cheese sandwiches to me over the course of two days, it seemed destiny was demanding an entry.  Could destiny be hungry for grilled cheese?

        Grilled cheese with pickle and fries.  Boy, that looks good, doesn't it?
        (Photo from Yum Sugar)

        • People have been eating bread and cheese together for centuries.  Well, duh, that's because the combination is a fantastic one.  But putting them together in a sandwich -- not open-faced -- and grilling it, that's a more modern invention.
        • A lot of people say, by the way, that the Romans invented grilled cheese sandwiches, but this is not true.  Wealthy Romans might sometimes have had cheese with their bread and fruit for breakfast, but they probably wouldn't have made a sandwich of the bread and cheese, and they certainly didn't grill it.
        • Still others say that the grilled cheese is a descendant of the French sandwich called the Croque Monsieur, which was invented some time in the 1900s.  This is basically a ham and cheese sandwich with bechamel sauce on top.  

        The Croque Monsieur, a French ham and cheese sandwich whose name literally means "Mister Crunchy." The bechamel sauce on top, by the way, is made of butter, flour, salt, pepper, Parmesan and Gruyere cheese.  Extra good.
        (Photo and recipe for the sandwich from Simply Recipes)

        • I am going to argue, though, that if you're going to say that the Croque Monsieur is the father of grilled cheese, then you had better be prepared to allow any sandwich that has cheese and gets grilled to be an ancestor of grilled cheese.  Because by my definition, as soon as you throw meat on that sandwich, it ceases to be a grilled cheese and becomes a Whatever Meat You've Got On There and Cheese Sandwich.
        • In fact, the grilled cheese sandwich as we know it came about with the invention of processed cheese, or what we now call Kraft Singles.
        • A guy named James L. Kraft started a cheddar wholesaling business in Chicago in 1903.  He wanted to keep his cheddar from spoiling as fast and to make sure that the cheddar was consistently good from one batch to the next.  
        • He tried some different ideas, but then in 1916 he hit on what would be the winner:  he shredded "refuse cheddar," re-pasteurized it to sterilize it again, and added sodium phosphate as a preservative.  (Sodium phosphate by itself is a pretty potent laxative, by the way.)
        • He advertised the heck out of his cheese, promised that it would last longer and would be consistent from one package to the next, and charged more for it (even though it was made from inferior cheese and a laxative), and it was hugely successful.

        Kraft Singles, the sine qua non of grilled cheese sandwiches.  Perhaps it's too small to see, but the packaging says "Pasteurized prepared cheese product."
        (Photo from Gravity7)

          • Processed cheese might not have been as successful, though, without the influence of two World Wars.  It was much easier to ship overseas than regular cheddar, the Navy loved it because it would last longer on ships, and it was generally easier to carry around in ration packs.
          • So it was at least some time after the 1920s or 1930s that the grilled cheese sandwich was born.  It may have been born on a Navy ship, since World War II Navy cookbooks contain recipes for "American cheese filling sandwiches" which were broiled on board.
          • But, ah, sharp reader that you are, you noticed I said broiled, not grilled.  Some enterprising Navy cook might have grilled his cheese sandwiches, but we have no record of that. So the grilled cheese may not actually have taken its first breath until some time later.
          • After WWII, American school cafeterias served cheese sandwiches using the American cheese.  These may or may not have been grilled; my source is not clear on this point.  But they weren't quite the grilled cheese as we know it, since they were served open-faced.  
          • It was during this time, however -- the 1950s, that is -- that the cheese sandwich was first paired with tomato soup.  Tomato soup was thought to be a good source of Vitamin C, and therefore a nutritional addition to a sandwich that didn't offer much in the way of vitamins.
          • What is certain is that by the 1960s, people had added the top slice of bread and they were grilling the sandwiches.  How we got from broiling to grilling, and how that second slice of bread got added, history does not tell us.  It may remain forever a culinary mystery.

          The original grilled cheese: processed a.k.a. American cheese between two slices of bread, grilled.
          (Photo from Food Vixen in NYC's Blog)

          • Once born, the love for grilled cheese sandwiches has only grown. 
          • April is officially National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month.  All during April, various TV shows and restaurants host grilled cheese-making contests, Kraft has a tell-us-why-you-love-grilled-cheese contest, and restaurants all over the country offer more or better or fancier grilled cheeses throughout the month.
          • One restaurant in Cincinnati called Lavomatic reportedly makes a different grilled cheese sandwich every day, whether it's April or not.  When I checked their menu, the grilled cheese of the day was boursin, mild cheddar, and sharp white cheddar.  (Notice: no meat.)  They were also serving a tomato bisque.
          • Another restaurant called Campanile in Los Angeles serves only grilled cheese sandwiches as their main courses.  But their grilled cheeses are fancy -- with marinated onion and whole grain mustard -- and they often include other ingredients like beer-battered soft shell crab, or braised lamb and artichokes, or -- I must confess this one sounds really good -- bacon, avocado, and tomato.
          • Yet another restaurant, this one a diner called The Pop Shop in Collingswood, NJ, regularly serves over 30 varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches.  They have won awards for their grilled cheese sandwiches, and one day Bobby Flay showed up for a grilled cheese throwdown.  Bobby Flay won with his brie, goat cheese, and bacon sandwich.  But once again, in my book, as soon as you put meat on it, it's not a grilled cheese anymore, so I don't know how authentic I'd call that victory.

          Even this psycho girl loves grilled cheese sandwiches.
          (Image from Adland.TV)

            • There is also the Grilled Cheese Invitational, held each April in Los Angeles.  250 amateurs and 50 professionals can compete.  Contestants can enter one sandwich per category.  The categories are Missionary, Kama Sutra, and Honey Pot. Missionary is the standard grilled cheese with no extra ingredients (oh dear, what does this say about me), Kama Sutra can have extra ingredients but the interior must be 60% cheese, and the Honey Pot is like the Kama Sutra except suitable for dessert.
            • Winning sandwiches include the "I'd Tell You What's In It (but I'd have to kill you)," "A Dessert so delicious is was not meant for Man Ding Dong," "Foe Cheesy!" and "The DaVinCheese."

            They're serious -- mostly -- about grilled cheese sandwiches at the Grilled Cheese Invitational.
            (Photo from the Grilled Cheese Invitational)

            • There's also a guy in New York's East Village who started a facebook page offering to make a grilled cheese sandwich for anyone who asks for $5 to $7. He grills the sandwiches in a pan, wraps them in foil, then puts them in a 500 degree oven to maximize crispness.  He'll then ride his bike to meet customers on a specified nearby street corner and hand off the sandwich in exchange for the cash.  It's all conducted as an underground service because he's not an official restaurant with health code inspections or anything.  His page is called bread.butter.cheese.
            I don't know how much longer I want to do it because I'm living in fear.  It would be such a stupid thing to get in trouble for. . . . I kind of want to quit, it's getting too big, but I want to feed these people.
            • Perhaps the best indication of the popularity of the grilled cheese sandwich is the visions people have had while eating them.
            • The most famous, of course, is the woman who saw the Virgin Mary in her grilled cheese sandwich.  She sold the sandwich on eBay to an internet casino called Golden Palace for $28,000.  Then she got the sandwich with the likeness of the Virgin Mary tattooed on her breast.

            Diana Duyser with her famous grilled cheese sandwich, packaged in the plastic case with cotton balls where she kept it for 10 years before selling it on eBay.
            (Photo from Atheist Point)

            • Other grilled cheese-lovers have found Hello Kitty and Howard Stern on their sandwiches.  Those were also sold on eBay.
            • What makes the grilled cheese so popular, in my opinion, is not all the public hoopla but the fact that it remains a great at-home, comfort food.
            • My favorite way to make grilled cheese is thusly:
                • Whole wheat bread
                • Cheddar cheese (not the processed stuff)
                • Yellow mustard
            • Squirt the mustard on the bread, slice enough pieces of cheese to cover one slice, close the sandwich, butter the outside, place it in a hot pan.  Turn down the heat slightly as the sandwich cooks.  Check it once in a while and when the bread is getting browned, flip.  It'll take less time to cook the other side.  When you hear the melted cheese hit the pan with a sizzle, it's done.  Crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside: excellent.
            • In spite of the excellence of my grilled cheese sandwiches, I have been engaged in a heated debate for several years with a friend of mine, Mercutio, about the best way to make one.  The details of this debate are far too extensive to get into here.
            • I will say this much, though.  In defense of my methodology, here are the instructions from the official National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month page:
            It is most common for the assembled sandwich to be buttered on the outside and placed on a griddle, pan, cast iron skillet, or rarely, in a dedicated sandwich maker to be heated. Once the bread on the bottom half of the sandwich has reached a toast-like texture, the sandwich is flipped and continues cooking until the other side has toasted and the cheese has melted. 
            Another method is to butter one slice of bread on both sides, grill the bottom side until the butter melts, then flip. Wait for the inside to be grilled, flip and add the cheese. Then butter the other slice of bread and grill, then place the slices of bread together.
            • Do you see anything in those instructions about putting a lid over the sandwich?  Noooo.  Mercutio, I rest my case.

              If you really want to get fancy with your grilled cheese, here's one with Monterey Jack cheese, sliced jalapeƱos, and butter.
              (Photo from Asylum.com, which has a list of 5 fancy grilled cheeses)

              The Food Timeline, FAQs: sandwiches, grilled cheese
              Irulan Serena, AllExperts.com,  Ancient/Classical History, grilled cheese sandwich, April 2, 2008
              Sherri Granato, The Grilled Cheese Sandwich, America's Favorite Comfort Food, Associated Content, September 5, 2007
              David Clark, "A Brief History of 'American Cheese,' from Colonial Cheddar to Kraft Singles," Mental Floss, January 7, 2009
              Medline Plus, sodium phosphate
              Erin Zimmer, Serious Eats, April is National Grilled Cheese Month, April 7, 2009
              Yelp, Pop Shop
              Amber Sutherland and Jeremy Olshan, He's making a gouda livin', New York Post, August 2, 2010
              Gone-ta-Pott.com, National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month
              Brendan I. Koerner, The $28K Sandwich That Grew No Mold, Slate.com, November 23, 2004
              Surfer Sam, Famous EBay Auctions