The son said he imaged a surprise party, something that we both agreed was completely uncharacteristic of him. But the occasion was momentous–four years comprised of 19 hour days and working two jobs–a cum laude college degree from a rigorous university. What others may think of as a regular old achievement was, for him, representative of a long time coming.
Except for the steady husband, my two sons and I are back roads sort of people. We haven’t traveled in any kind of straight line in our lives. Achievements come attached to swerves and waylays. It’s either a source of shock or hilarity to relatives and friends how we arrive at accomplishments. We, though, consider it grand, our successes hitched to unusually good stories for the telling. The graduating son is a prodigious storyteller.
I could see how a surprise party to mark this particular triumph would be appropriately marvelous. But how to do this in this plague time seemed daunting.
A Zoom party might be fun but the list of people to invite–all his and the oldest son’s friends (at least ten, no doubt more), my side of the family (not a few who long considered him the black sheep and would now be delightful to correct), the husband’s side, perhaps some of our friends. Say 15 to 20 guests, Zoom mayhem.
What about filling the driveway with socially distancing revelers to not alarm the neighbors? Or couldn’t we orchestrate a series of drive-bys–load him in the back seat and take him around to everyone’s houses where they’d be standing at the curb with balloon and streamers, clanging pots and blowing horns?
The planning exhausted his brother and me. The sane husband kept shaking his head, pointing out logistical and technical difficulties.
“All it has to be is us together,” he said. Of course, as always, he was right.
The graduate agreed–a coronavirus-style brunch out in the yard to mitigate germ-y air, with lawn chairs spaced at least 8 feet apart.
Saturday proved to be a fine, crystalline blue spring day that would have graced his campus ceremony with another layer of exceptional. The college claimed the diminutive service would be streamed but the three savvy techs couldn’t get it to work. Didn’t matter. I brought out plates of the special breakfast he told me to think up and we sat around telling stories, managing to avoid politics and quarantine moaning. Along about noon, the son received an email from the college, his diploma attached.
After only crumbs remained and the dishes washed, the sons prepared to leave. The graduate thanked us for never doubting him and we reminded him there was never any chance we could. The older son pointed out that the way this day came down wasn’t bad at all. Being grateful for every little curve that led us to be here with his brother was much more meaningfully appropriate.
I hugged our graduate.
“Jesus, Mom,” he laughed. “That’s two months down the drain.”
More than two months of heeding stringent guidelines, more than two months of keeping the virus at bay. Out the window on this most happy day.
“Ah, hell,” I said and reached for the other son, too.
I Hate Brunch French Toast
I can’t think of a more annoying time to stuff myself than the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. I love every item on the menu: all kinds of eggs; pancakes; waffles; pastries; bagels with whatever smoked fish on top; hash; grits; dim sum and everything else in between. Not to mention beverages: Bloody Mary; mimosa, Bellini, sangria in all their varieties, along with strong coffee. That’s the problem, I love them too much resulting in major bloated lethargy by 3 p.m., coupled by a headache from forced socialization so early in the day.
But the son asked for brunch and a brunch I made for him, liberally cheating on the work time by buying bagels and a special bread for French toast.
It’s broadly agreed by cooks and/or food writers that regular old supermarket bread does not make acceptable French toast. I guess I agree but, come on!, if someone you love or even just like asks for French toast, you take whatever is on hand since you can always gussy it up by mixing into the eggs whatever flavors you like, including liqueur.
If you’re like my sister you keep the stale remnants of Italian bread or baguettes in the freezer. If you’re like me, you hope the market has loaves of EuroClassic, a brand of thickly sliced excellently fluffy brioche whose offerings beyond plain include cinnamon raisin and chocolate (my favorite).
We all have our own French toast recipe. Straightforward dishes like this lend themselves to being governed by the flavors we personally like. Consider stews, omelets, a simple roast, apple pie. I believe, too, that memory is a bigger factor. You never forget your first encounter. It doesn’t matter how authoritative a recipe is, you can’t help fighting against the urge to alter it to mimic the taste your tongue recalls.
Perhaps that’s not a good enough excuse for offering this ridiculously ordinary recipe. That’s okay with me. View it, instead, as an example of a dish we all cherish as ours alone.
Not Very Special French Toast
(I’m giving the measurements for a family consisting of three large men. Adjust accordingly.
(As for what to cook the toast on, I use a cast iron skillet. I once made the toast on a grill and it came out with a sweet smoky flavor and bits of addictive charred crusts. You’ll need a grate if you try this. I have a metal thing my sister bought for me–see photo below–that’s very useful for all kinds of things. You might find one in a good cooking utensil store. Or look up Shackford in Napa, California. It’s closed now but once the state opens up again browse through it’s website. The only problem with this store is you’re liable to buy more than you planned.)
just enough cream to blend the eggs together
splash of Chambord liqueur (optional)
9 slices of cinnamon raisin brioche or whatever you have on hand
Mix the eggs, cream and liqueur or anything else you want, such as cinnamon or a flavored extract, in a large shallow bowl.
Heat a well-greased skillet or grill over medium high heat.
Soak the bread in the egg mixture until somewhat sopping. Quickly lay the slices in the skillet or on the grill. Pour any leftover egg mixture across the slices.
Watch closely–every now and then, lift the slices up to see how it’s browning. Flip over once it has a nice brown crust–about 5 minutes. Cook that side until equally crusty brown. Remove to warm plates.
Serve with large quantities of sweet butter and maple syrup. Lie around with family and/or friends enjoying your happy stomach.