Saturday, July 26, 2008

French Toast and Sausage

My Mother was recently talking to my oldest brother about his high school years. I don't remember what prompted the conversation, but she asked him for his favorite or best high school memory. His answer, without hesitating first, was "The field trip lunches." Whenever we went on school outings and field trips, Mom would pack us elaborate lunches that included extra-special touches that didn't appear on normal school days. As if getting the day off to take a bus to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or an Amusement Park or Swimming Pool wasn't fun enough, we'd unpack more than just a lunch -- it was a Child's Dream Picnic.

I remember those lunches of course, but that conversation prompted an examination of own food memories. Forget my high school memories. As soon as my brother mentioned lunches, I began to think what my favorite FOOD memories were, growing up.

My answer came just as quickly: Breakfast.

Breakfast at home, breakfast out while running errands. Breakfast next to a river for day camping, breakfast at the beach while on vacation.

Breakfast was a big deal in our family, and we had wonderful home cooked breakfasts every weekend. Weekdays were cereal and fruit, sometimes toast, but seldom the Full Monty. That came on the weekend when everyone joined in our big dining room. Eggs cooked over easy, toast, bacon, sausages, cinnamon rolls, boxed donuts, sometimes pancakes, and usually whipped orange juice. We had one of those vintage ice cream shake mixers on the counter and we'd throw in the orange juice and whip it until it was frothy.

When we went on vacation, we'd usually have a vacation rental house at the beach and my poor mother -- she gets to go on vacation and what is she doing? Making eggs and bacon in some other person's ill-equipped kitchen with funky bent frying pans and no spatula. Some mornings we'd get up early and go down to the beach and start a fire in one of those beach-side grills when it was still chilly and foggy, and make eggs and fried ham.

I remember once taking just a Day Trip up into the woods, when we lived in Colorado. We were surrounded by Aspens on a beautiful Rocky Mountain morning, and my father set up a green, folding, propane Coleman camp stove, and my mother fried eggs and ham and pancakes next to an ice cold rushing river. We placed a whole cantaloupe in a little eddy in the rocks to get it chilled, and the water washed away my Mom's melon. Off we went, trying to chase that melon down the rapids so it didn't get away from our breakfast. I remember kids screaming and laughing, chasing a bobbing melon while smelling food cooking.

Breakfast was always was a happy event for me. If we were at home, it meant the weekend was here. We'd usually run errands to thrift stores or hardware stores for Dad's weekend project supplies (which I strangely loved), go shopping or swimming, or just play. If we were on vacation, it meant the perfect start of a perfect day at a perfect beach in a perfect week.

One of the knacks my mother had, when she cooked our weekend breakfasts at home, was to give us the impression that certain entrees were Special Occasion only. I didn't really understand this until I was an adult, but I had it exactly backwards as a child. The normal breakfast was the special event -- laboriously frying up an entire pound of bacon for a family of six, an entire dozen eggs over easy, and then toasting half a loaf of bread, and bringing it all to the table at the same time, HOT -- or goodness, the sheer number of pancakes she had to make for a family of six -- that was the labor of love.

What I considered special, however, was the French Toast and Italian Sausage meal. My mother didn't take out a loaf of sandwich bread and just dip and fry perfect square slices. No, when we had French Toast, it was because she had a stale loaf of french bread -- usually a baguette -- left over from diner the night before. She'd bake these thick, small slices of eggy bread, butter and dust them with powdered sugar, and then give us a thick, brown piece of Italian Sausage. This couldn't be more simple and short-cut, because the entire pan of baguette slices and sausage baked and came to the table at the same time on a tray. EASY, right? THIS was my favorite, and I realize I overlooked how hard the others mornings had been. We'd oooh and ahhh and exclaim "French Toast! Our favorite!" and she'd must smile. Frankly, I'm glad she figured out a way to use up stale bread and give herself a much-needed break.

We didn't fuss around with silly things like Chocolate Chip Pancakes or Blueberry French Toast or Apple Cinnamon anything. That's not breakfast, that's silliness. We didn't feel neglected in any way by this. In fact, we probably felt we had better taste than anyone who would ruin French Toast by stuffing it with cream cheese or peanut butter.

When we did have French Toast or pancakes, we always had the same toppings. Butter, maple syrup, and a dusting of powdered sugar. You really don't need anything else. Leave the berries, whipped cream, and foolishness to the restaurants. In fact, even now when I see huge portions of French Toast cut into triangles from Texas Toast or large slices of bread, slathered in some gooey fruit sauce, I think it's gauche. It needs to be small, oval pieces of baguette or isn't "right."

The most remarkable thing about my mother's wonderful home cooked meals (with a few exceptions -- there are meals every child is bound to feel offended by), hearty, and cooked and served graciously, was this: My mother doesn't like to cook. She never let that affect the meals she served to her family, but she never minded taking a day off, either, if my Dad suggested we go out. Pity she got so few days off, even on vacation.

Here's to you, Mom. Breakfast with you is still my favorite meal.


  1. What a nice tribute to your mom and breakfast. I love the melon story, what a hoot! I never had whipped OJ, sound so good! Yup our moms did some amazing things! We used to have alot of company and there was mom cooking the entire time without help. Poor gal.

  2. For me, breakfast means Dad. Waking up to the sounds of pans banging through the air ducks.

    I always knew I was in for a treat if he was mixing up sourdough the night before.

    Camping - it was the waffles he made on his Mother's cast-iron waffle maker which flips on a pivot. I've asked for it as part of my inheritance.

    Mom? Yah - her favorite breakfast is one that allows her to get up at 10 o'clock and nibble on the leftovers! :)