Mozzarella Grilled Cheese with Harissa, Dates, and Scallions

Mozzarella Grilled Cheese with Harissa, Dates, and Scallions // Queen Smithereen.
I saw a Chilean short film recently called Bear Story in which a bear offers passersby the opportunity to peer into a mechanical storyline about a circus bear-himself-who longs to return to the family he once had. The film begins with the bear in his home, which is now empty, save for the remnants of his wife and their child. The diorama he has made depicts how he was taken to join the circus, and how he managed to miraculously escape. We as viewers can only assume that he returned to a life that was altered, one in which his wife and child have moved on, one that is different from what he had once built.

Maybe I just like a good heartbreaker. Maybe I’m misinterpreting the whole thing (and, for those of you whose viewership of the film has been utterly spoiled, I’m sorryyyyyyyy). Maybe his wife and child are really living there, and they aren’t just a distinct memory pictured in his pocket watch. Maybe he goes home, after all that, and they are there waiting for him to sit down to a meal. Maybe there are more than just the remnants of what once existed.
Mozzarella Grilled Cheese with Harissa, Dates, and Scallions // Queen Smithereen.
I walked out of the theater after having seen that short film, along with the other animated Oscar contenders, with a spellbound attachment to that bear and his story. It got me to thinking about timelines, and how we end up here and now, with faint, glittery inklings of what might have been.

It had gotten cold over the course of the 90 minutes of short films, and I let the indelible mark of that particular showing drench my conversation as a dear friend and I approached my car. Reaching into my bag for my keys, leftover theater snacks in hand, I made one final, triumphant observation of Bear Story and its application to my own life circumstances be known. It’s in those moments, when we know the profound impact of what we contribute to the world, that reality takes the lead and, you know, checks you right back where you belong. I confidently stepped off the curb toward my car door…and WIPED. OUT.
Mozzarella Grilled Cheese with Harissa, Dates, and Scallions // Queen Smithereen.
I had a choice in that moment when I sprawled in the street, purse wrapped around my middle, keys in the snow, bottle of water clutched, safely, to my chest. Because it hurt, and I could’ve cried. I write this now with a very sore left side and a pathetically colorful bruise splattered on my hip. The thing is, I had one of my best friends there, lifting me back up, joking that somehow, I had legitimately found the only patch of ice there was by my car, and cackling with me at how I prioritized only my half-full bottle of water on the way to the ground. It wasn’t ideal, but it was kind of funny and a little bit sweet. Though it still hurts, mostly the elements of lightness remain.

This recipe is what I made for dinner that night, because, you know, I fondly remember that part, too. Textured oat bread is decorated with fragrant, warming harissa, melty buffalo mozzarella, sweet dates, and pungent slices of green onion. We grill all of that until it browns to a crust and oozes strands of cheese, and we eat. I can only wish you good luck dealing with the elements, because we both know that I have zero helpful suggestions in that department. But you can rest assured–just as the ground left an obvious imprint of our encounter with one another, so, too, does this sandwich wedge itself into your space, where it simply cannot be forgotten.

One Year: Miche Toast with Opal Apple Ribbons, Hazelnuts, and Lavender Honey
Two Years: Pecan Buttermilk Fudge
Three Years: Brown Butter, Goat Cheese, and Chive Drop Biscuits

Mozzarella Grilled Cheese with Harissa, Dates, and Scallions
Serves 1 (but is easily replicated)

2 tbsp high-quality salted butter
2 slices oat bread (Minneapolitans: Sun Street’s Lunch Box Bread OWNS, but other possibilities: sourdough, potato bread)
buffalo mozzarella, sliced about 1/8-inch thick
1 date, pitted and diced
1 scallion, light green and white parts only, thinly sliced
1-2 tbsp high quality harissa (this brand is my favorite)

Butter one side of each slice of the oat bread. On the unbuttered side of one slice, spread harissa. On the unbuttered side of the other slice, distribute an even layer of mozzarella, then top with dates and scallions. Top with the harissa slice. Heat a non-stick pan on medium-low. Once the pan has heated, place the sandwich on the heat and cover (this is to allow the mozzarella to melt), until the bottom has browned, about 2-4 minutes. Once the bottom is golden brown and toasted, gently flip the sandwich and cover, to brown the other side, about 2 more minutes. Slice in half and serve.

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