I had a pleasantly normal upbringing. Well, until I was about 12. That story’s for a different day (maybe) but today we’ll talk about one of the parts of my childhood that didn’t require a $175/hour therapist to help me sort through all the wildly frustrating and traumatizing madness.
As a kid I spent a lot of time out at my Oma and Opa‘s house – partly because I had my own room with a queen size bed, but mostly because my parents were separated and my mom wasn’t around all that often. My dad’s wife made it clear that we (my brothers and I) were not her children so my Oma took it upon herself to serve as the mother figure in my life. In the time I spent with her, she taught me plenty of lessons and rules and other guidelines that she promised would lead to her version of a happy existence. Some I held onto (like the whole take your man to bed before you get married-thing) (the crazy lady’s been telling me that since I was a youngin’) and others I ditched once I got out of small town Ohio and into a place where people don’t judge you for having beliefs that differ from the ones they continue to borrow from the 1950s.
French toast was her morning specialty. And since I grew up on breakfasts of cereal and oatmeal and the once-in-a-blue-moon homemade waffle, it was a treat to stay out at her house. Each morning she’d pull me from bed and I’d walk into the kitchen and there would be my spot at the table – adorned with a glass of orange juice, 2% milk, and water. And an empty plate. She’d rush me into the bathroom to wash up and when I emerged a clean child, she’d be standing over the stove drowning stark white bread in a cinnamon-heavy egg mixture. She’d carefully place the soaked bread onto the hot pan and take a weighty pinch of cinnamon and sprinkle it over top, and almost instantly the scent of stale kitchen air would turn musky and sweet. I’d stand beside her, inhaling as much of the cinnamon speckled air as I could, and moments later she’d pull out my chair, sit me down, and plop two pieces of eggy goodness onto my plate. She’d proceed to smother them with butter and a tell-me-when portion of maple syrup, and I remember, in those moments, feeling so loved that it didn’t matter what was happening at home or at school because here is this woman who loves me so much that she’d rather spend her precious, fleeting moments preparing me a hearty breakfast than tend to her own needs and wants and desires.
And despite the fact that she’d be seriously disturbed if she found out I made french toast without eggs or dairy, this one’s for my Oma. For the woman who taught me that the best way to exhibit one’s love is through a good, home cooked meal. Or a layer cake. Or french toast for your granddaughter, just because. For the woman who planted this memory deep into my heart – the one that flows to my fingertips anytime I’m in the kitchen – where it stays and radiates and reminds me why I do this. I think the best way I demonstrate my love to Thom (well, to anyone, really) is through food. I can tell him I love him or surprise him with a ticket to the football match that sat at the top of his bucket list, but I don’t think there’s anything that makes him feel more loved or appreciated than when I make a batch of cookies or a plate of waffles or a half-gallon of ice cream, just for him. For no reason other than the fact that I adore him more than there are stars and asteroids and space debris in the universe.
Well-fed humans are the luckiest humans. I know that for a fact.
Happy holidays to you and yours. I hope you get to spend it around a table full of good food, with people you adore.
Notes: I used gluten free sandwich bread, but if you’re not into that just use regular bread – something fancy from a bakery would be nice, but make sure it’s a day or two old. If you’d prefer to substitute a liquid sweetener in place of the dates, use 2-3 tablespoons of of any sweetener of your choice (I highly recommend maple syrup). If you don’t have saffron just leave it out – the only reason I added it is because a) I thought it’d be kinda fun and b) I brought home a shitload from Istanbul (the real stuff, NOT Turkish saffron). If you don’t have it, leave it out or replace it with a pinch of ground turmeric. I used a heavily spiced liquor in my version but rum, brandy, whiskey, or any other dark liquor would be suitable. If you plan on drinking the nog, add an extra 1/2 cup of liquid during the blending process.
SAFFRONOG FRENCH TOAST
12-15 pieces day old bread
2 cups saffronog, recipe follows
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Pure maple syrup
In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together the nog and cinnamon. Using a large spoon, cover each piece of bread with the nog and set aside. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and coat with oil. Cook each piece of nog soaked bread for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until slightly blackened. Drizzle with maple syrup and your favorite toppings (nuts, banana slices, coconut whipped cream, etc). Leftovers can be kept in an air tight container in the freezer; reheat in toaster or oven.
When making the french toast for a large group, I like to put a cookie sheet, lined with a wire rack, in a 200˚F oven and place the toasts on there as I make them. That way everyone gets to eat at the same time. Or no one gets room temperature french toast.
Yeild: 6-7 servings
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
20 strands Iranian saffron
1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight
4 medjool dates, pitted and soaked 15 minutes
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp dark liquor
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk and saffron to a boil; let rumble for 2-3 minutes then off heat and let cool for 30 minutes. Discard the water from the dates and cashews and add them to the base of a high speed blender, such as a Vitamix. Add the saffron milk mixture to the blender by pouring it through a fine mesh sieve (to catch the strings of saffron), then add the nutmeg, cinnamon, and liquor and blend on high speed for 45-60 seconds, or until the mixture is smooth (this may take longer in a normal blender). Store nog in an air tight container for up to three days. Shake well before using.
Yield: about 3 1/2 cups