Thursday, January 04, 2007

Eating. french toast.

When I was old enough to be left home alone while my parents went out to dinner I usually made French toast for dinner. As a child it was a rare thing, like pancakes and bacon, relegated to weekend breakfasts or brunch. To have it for dinner gave me a thrill of something forbidden, or if not exactly forbidden, somewhat frowned upon. I would slice the bread into quarters, soak them in beaten egg and milk, heat butter in a skillet over a medium flame, watch it foam and begin to brown before arranging the squares of soggy bread, jump a little with glee at the hiss of batter against the hot pan. It wasn't always perfect; sometimes the bread would not get completely soaked with the egg mixture, or the crusts would get too brown before the middle was fully cooked through.

On trips with family, eating breakfast in restaurants, either hotels with white tableclothes and gleaming silverware or diners with heavy mugs and little plastic tubs of creamer on the tables, French toast came as puffy golden-brown triangles neatly arranged on white plates, adorned with twisted orange slices or fanned-out strawberries. A dusting of powdered sugar would be sifted over everything, a virgin landscape waiting for rivers of syrup. Ah, syrup. The real good maple syrup, or the fake stuff, made with corn syrup and colored with caramel extract and flavored with chemicals whose names I cannot remember, it didn't matter. Only the taste of buttery, eggy, fried bread, the sweet stickiness of syrup, mattered.

In college (and afterwards, when I was living alone), I often made French toast for dinner. There was always bread and butter and eggs and milk; I kept a bottle of good maple syrup in my room, next to the tea and packets of oatmeal (which I drizzled syrup over) and instant noodles. These days it has become rarer and rarer; I have grown up, grown past the time when I needed French toast for dinner to remind myself that I was on my own and could do things like eat breakfast for dinner if I wanted to, without anyone telling me that I should eat a proper dinner.

In earlier times French toast was made with whole-wheat sandwich bread. Now I make it with leftover rustic loaves, hard as a rock, almost impossible to slice; the bread knife slips as I try to dig in, and I just manage to avoid slicing my finger open. Flakes of crust fly all over, scatter across the floor. The toast is an irregular oval instead of the neat squares of my childhood. I leave the slices of bread to soak while I putter around, putting books away, washing dishes that have lain around neglected, heat some butter in a pan. There is maple syrup, dark molten amber, brought back from Vermont by a friend. It reminds me, as maple syrup always does, of that scene in Farmer Boy when the young Almanzo Wilder helps his father tap maple trees with wooden spouts, how they spend hours boiling down the sap into the syrup which I am now pouring lavishly over my toast.

No comments: