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!