What’s for Breakfast

I believe I’ve mentioned before—at least once or twice—that I come from a large family. Feeding seven kids three meals a day was a challenge for my folks, but they were up to the task. During in the school year for breakfast we usually ate cereal of some kind, often with chopped up fresh peaches in the mix. When cold weather came along we moved from cold cereal to hot. Our father was in charge of the hot cereal operation. Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, Malto-Meal, and Zoom were regulars. He also did Whet-Meal which was a combination of Cream of Wheat and Malto-Meal. Of those Cream of Wheat was my least favorite while Malto-Meal was tops in my book.

Occasionally, on the weekends, my mother would haul out her WearEver Aluminum griddle and whip up a batch of pancakes. Okay, do the math. You’ve got a bunch of people to feed. The griddle holds maybe six pancakes at a time. What to do? My mother’s solution was to make her pancakes THICK. I put that word in all caps for a reason. They really were thick—half an inch thick at least, and generally speaking no one could manage to eat more than one. No matter how much Log Cabin syrup you poured on one of those hummers, it was never enough to penetrate the dough. Does it sound as though I wasn’t a big fan? You’ve got that right. And I never once remember her making French Toast.

So naturally, once I left the house, I didn’t order pancakes for years. It was only when I discovered delightfully thin Swedish pancakes in adulthood that I turned the pancake corner. In the meantime, when I went out for breakfast, French toast was my go-to order. I soon discovered, however, that it didn’t always work. If you order French toast in say France, you can plan on being chased out of the joint, and if you try ordering French Toast in Nogales, Sonora, you can plan on getting pieces of French bread—toasted. Good luck putting maple syrup on that!!

The real variety of French toast—at least in MY opinion—consists of ordinary white bread, dipped in a mixture made of eggs, milk, sugar, and a pinch of salt and then cooked on a griddle. The final product may or may not be tossed with a light coating of powdered sugar. For decades I happily ordered entirely suitable French Toast in dives and diners all over the US. Then, however, something happened. I started going on book tours and the hotels I stayed in were mostly on the ritzy side, and chefs in those kinds of places don’t really get French toast. They have to add their own stamp to what was already perfection itself by bringing in unnecessary stuff—starting with cinnamon. Cinnamon is fine in cinnamon rolls but not in French Toast. More enterprising chefs added things like lemon zest or vanilla. Or they’d use brioche instead of white bread. When I would ask if I could please have French toast made from white bread with no cinnamon, the waitstaff would look at me as though I had definitely lost my marbles.

Now comes the pandemic lockdown. Since restaurants—ritzy and otherwise—were all shut down for the duration, French toast was definitely off the menu. So one day, several months ago, in desperation, I hauled out an aluminum griddle we had in the cupboard and mixed up a batch of homemade French toast, without a hint of cinnamon in sight. The first serving—Bill’s—was okay—but the second one—mine—was let’s just say crisp. Not crisp enough to set off the smoke alarm, but enough to leave the griddle a nightmarish mess. I had put far too much butter on the griddle and then burned it good! Since I cooked, Bill cleaned up. Gradually I started making a little less of a mess, but still, it wasn’t pretty.

Then I thought about something. What about one of those non-stick griddles? What if we had one of those? Non-stick cookware we had before, back when we had kids at home, hadn’t survived very well. But with the kids gone? Bill has a couple of tiny frying pans that have lasted for years now, so we spent big—forty bucks—and bought a two-burner griddle. And it’s AMAZING! A quick wipe with a paper towel after it cools down, and we’re good to go.

Now we have French toast about once a week. Bill no longer dreads the clean up, and I can satisfy my craving.

In our house, that’s one very real side benefit of the pandemic lockdown. So here’s my new Covid 19 sign off: Stay safe, wash your hands, and eat French Toast!

And if that sounds a little too much like Marie Antoinette saying to the peasants “Let them eat cake,” I have it on good authority that she never really said that. It turns out that was the French Revolution’s version of fake news!

34 thoughts on “What’s for Breakfast

  1. I love your trips down memory lane. French toast sounds so good. Unfortunately my kitchen is in the middle of being repainted right now. I will tell my hunger to wait, lol. My mother offered her three children cereal and milk every morning with oat meal our option in the winter. No extras to make the cereal more palatable. After growing up that way I am still not a breakfast fan. Tell Bill he is a very good man for doing the clean up after you cook. Stay safe.

  2. Funny how we progress from cereal to French toast. My favorite small kitchen appliance is my griddle. Mine flips and the other side is a grill so we can have steak on a rainy day. Love your stories.

  3. As a faithful reader of your blog, I was surprised you left out the most important advice–WEAR THE DAMN MASK. If the cure to all cancers (colon, pancreatic, breast, brain, etc.) wear to wear a mask, would wearing the mask be as important as maple syrup? And when I read French toast, what I mainly thought of was French crepes the batter of which goes further than American pancakes. Today I would be afraid to return to Tucson and Kitt peak on the reservation because of the pandemic. Please give advice that helps everyone like the mask.

  4. I confess, I like any and all versions of french toast. The fancy stuff, yep. The plain stuff, yep. Cinnamon? Sure. Vanilla? Sure. Brioche? Okay. Banana bread? Yes, please! Any form of bread-like food dipped in egg and pan fried? Yep.

    I have no memories of breakfast growing up at all, except for on vacations when we would do IHOP or Original Pancake House. What a treat!!

    However, most Saturday nights our supper was pancakes and either egg foo young or eggs with peppers & onions. Mom’s pancakes were so good I could eat them hot off the griddle, no butter or syrup and barely cool enough not to melt your teeth.

    Okay, making myself hungry now…………

  5. Love your memory stories, Judy! My mother never made french toast. Guess she didn’t have time. Pancakes once in a while. When I stayed with my Aunt Louise one time, she made French toast and I thought , how rich she must be! Funny how kids decide who’s rich and who’s poor. We’re not rich, but I think I might make French toast for Frank this morning. He will thank you!

  6. My mother got sick (stroke) when I was 12, my dad took over making my breakfast on school days, my request every day was French toast. But these days I do like it with a little nutmeg in it.

  7. My mom always made French toast with a little bit of orange juice in the batter, so naturally I think that’s the “real” way to make it. I feel the same way about waffles that you do about French toast. If I order a waffle in a restaurant, I just want that and some syrup. I don’t want whipped cream, fruit, nuts, or anything else on top and I don’t want a lot of hidden ingredients in the batter either.

  8. I fix pancakes – from scratch, of course – twice a week. In fact in about 10 minutes I’ll make some.

    The last timeI had French toast was 39 (!) years ago in Reims, France when I was visiting a friend who was attending medical school there. Not at a restaurant. My friend fixed them.

  9. Stuffed French Toast..best ever. Cream instead of milk. Cream cheese, few nuts, bit if vanilla inside. Make syrup of apricot preserves heated up and thinned with a little orange juice. My griddle covers two burners.
    *At church brunch, commercial griddle, made 48 at a time. Diagonally sliced kielbasa in oven, slightly crispy on ends, on rack so fat drains off, but keeps on low so ready when toast is. Serve with Scandinavian hot fruit soup.
    Annual after I did it once. Christmas women’s fund raiser.
    Cream of Wheat…ick.

  10. I could tell you about thick pancakes made from scratch which my mother, grandmother and great grandmother made – they were Scottish pancakes. Forget syrup which was a good thing because I hated syrup. Nigella Lawson talked about them and that is how I knew they were Scottish. For us, they were just pancakes. As for French Toast, no syrup there either. What we ate on them is my secret but they were delicious. And yes, I want fruit on my waffles. Did I mention I hated syrup? I never remember ordering breakfast out until I married my husband who was into cheese omelets and crispy hash browns. Occasionally, we went to iHop in California where I order waffles. No wimpy fluffy pancakes for me. Oh, and I liked Cream of Rice not Cream of Wheat the way it was made eons ago so that it wasn’t like sand.

  11. I two love French toast. I grew up in a family of ten. We didn’t have it often; but when we did it was such a treat. I don’t remember how many loaves of bread were used for that sumptuous meal! I did however always have cinnamon in my French Toast. I still love it today and it’s an easy breakfast to make for one person. I agree always white bread! I’ll have mine with cinnamon and gladly not give you a hard time for yours without!

  12. I just finished Credible Threat, and I loved it! It fascinates me how you keep such a variety of characters straight. Sometimes they crossover to different books, but they all have their own personalities, regardless of where they are. Thank you for sharing your gift of storytelling with your many, many fans. Also, I enjoy your weekly musings via your blog. Thank you for that as well.

  13. We had French toast growing up but it was a Sunday or holiday special breakfast. Dad cooked. He used Texas toast instead of regular bread. Used cream instead of milk with a dash of cinnamon. With thick warmed maple syrup. He fixed sausage patties, bacon, & homemade shredded hash browns. It was usually 9-10 in the morning. Almost a brunch.

  14. Right. It is so hard to find good French toast with no cinnamon. I ask before I order, or ordered. Also I do not like buttermilk and they all seem to put buttermilk in their pancakes.
    Happy cooking!

    • Cathy, I don’t like buttermilk either, but have found a powdered kind that I use in baking. It is manufactured by Saco. I add 1/4 c of the powder to other dry ingredients and add 1 c water with with the egg and oil. It is much nicer than buyng real buttermilk and having to toss what doesn’t get used.

  15. I love French Toast! We often have “breakfast for dinner” at my house–French Toast with lots of real maple syrup and sausage patties ( preferably Jimmy Dean!)

  16. I used to make french toast several times a year. I just made it with milk and eggs. I never thought of adding sugar or cinnamon although both sound good. I will have to cook some soon and try a little experimentation.

    For some reason, it has been years since I have cooked french toast. It will be nice to add itnto the breakfast mix.

  17. Syrup? Oh, dear! My grandmother was German and that meant she put cinnamon on everything. Well, not everything.
    French toast in my family was made with white bread and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. The first time I saw somebody put syrup on it I was horrified. I couldn’t believe someone would do that to French toast.
    I live outside of Bisbee now, and I get delicious bread at Mimosa Market up the Gulch. It makes the best French toast on the planet. Absolutely killer. Sprinkle a little sugar and cinnamon on top of it and it’s an absolute delight. In fact, I’m gonna get up and make some right now!

  18. I love French toast and make it quite often, It has to be with regular white bread. Use 1/2 and 1/2 and a bit of cinnamon. Sometimes vanilla. Don’t like fancy bread and fruit in it. No syrup either. Just a bit of butter. My daughter sprinkles powdered sugar on it, but I don’t.

  19. I like French toast the same way you do. Here in the retirement home we live in they serve meals in our rooms, since the dining room is closed due to the pandemic. We have two menu choices per meal. Once per week one of the choices is French toast. Fortunate they fix it the same way you (and I) like it. One of my favorites. Love your blogs and your books. When will the next one be out?

  20. I don’t think I have ever had a French toast I didn’t like. Why has it been so long, that is the big question! Thanks for this reminder.


  21. I agree on the cinnamon in my french toast -yuck- and your Mom and mine must have used the same pancake recipe. The only time I remember enjoying pancakes Mom made was if we were out camping. Those were made in the cast iron pan after the bacon was cooked so the edges always got super crispy and tasty, but they were always at least half an inch thick.

    I discovered crepes in Paris and pannekakor (pancakes) in Norway. Paper thin, super flavorful. My favorite, hands down, is always going to be french toast. Just like you, eggs, whole milk, basic white bread or texas toast if I am feeling fancy. I do add a few drops of real vanilla to my batter and a small pinch of salt. Cooked on my griddle right after the bacon is done (nods to my Mom) with a small pat of butter. Butter and a touch of powdered sugar and I am a happy girl!

  22. Coming from NH, I’m reading too much talk about ‘real’ french toast! The best part of french toast, pancakes, waffles, etc. is ‘real’ maple syrup! Not that sugary stuff that comes from the supermarket. And the best ‘real’ maple syrup is what we buy at a sugar house, right off the farm, after we’ve helped to load the wood stove, watch the syrup boil down, and grade it by color ! By the way, Syrup-On-Snow is a great New England tradition, too! the whole process is such fun–just like reading your books. Thanks for all the fun.
    P.S. Maple syrup is available year round all over the country–pricy, but worth it.

  23. Growing up on a farm in the 40’s and 50’s, my Mom made pancakes quite often and they were wonderful. When I left home after high school, I asked her for the recipe. Of course, there really wasn’t one–she just dumped things together, so we figured out amounts of the ingredients she was using and concocted a recipe. It has been cherished by many member of our family over the years.

  24. Oh my goodness we haven’t had French Toast in ages – thanks for putting it on the radar! When my kids were in elementary school, I used to make strawberry filled crepes topped with whipped cream on a school morning. They always went to school well-fed. I still love crepes but will try French Toast again soon!

  25. It seems to me that my piece in praise of French toast has hit everybody’s sweet spot. This was fun.

  26. LOVED THIS~ Now I’m hungry for french toast. And thanks for clearing up “let them eat cake” and where that came from. So glad you have information that I’d probably otherwise not be privy to :-0

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