Toast: a square-shaped nostalgia
undeniably morning. there are some things you can recognize with your eyes closed, like who is walking down the stairs because of their pace and pressure of step on the stairs. every morning, the slow and steady sighing of floorboards gave away my mom, who was making her way downstairs. i used to lie half-asleep in bed wondering whether she’d fix us anything to eat. but those were only on special occasions, like holidays, or if she was up first on a Saturday, we might be having french toast or a fried egg on bread. otherwise, we made our own breakfasts, all of us eventually managing assemble at the table, even if my sister could only catch my dad at his end coffee.
we still have the glass jars with green lids with KRAFT printed on top. i can’t remember a time when we did not have peanut butter in the house, alternating between crunchy and smooth, though i think i was the only one who requested the red label. there was a time when my sister would set the toaster-oven so that her bagel was perfectly browned and heated. with the jar of peanut butter ready at the table, she’d grab her toast and hurriedly scrape a thick layer so that by the time each corner was reached, the peanut butter would be melted to perfection. you can expect to be yelled at if you got in her way; each minute counted so as to prevent cooling of the toast, and perfect consistency smothered the toasted surface.
you could also tell who used the peanut butter last in our family: a few subtle strokes was my mom’s knifework, never a person of excess but of inmost modesty. i don’t think that jam, peanut butter, or cream cheese ever stretched from crust to crust on her piece. my dad was the opposite: peering into the jar after he dipped in was like looking into a crater. it used to annoy me, preferring evenness and symmetry even inside a Philly container.
and then we bought into the benefits of whole grains. that same year, we were told that freezing bread loaves sealed the freshness in the bag. Dempster whole grain varieties lined our freezer like ready troops of cavalry, as with complete certainty we’d go through bag after bag.
now and then, toast gets boring. even with apricot preserve, sweet rhubarb, natural almond butter, and the Nutella that no one confesses to using, if we’re toasting before 9am, it might be a generous bagel rolled black in poppy seed, or a fragrant coconut loaf from the Chinese bakery, or a wedge of danish left to be reheated for someone else. the day is not complete without breakfast; the day cannot commence without a crust and some clanging of butter knives fallen over one’s plate.
Text inspired by Nigel Slater in Toast, his own burnt-crust reminiscences.