Hello My Dear Readers! I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since I wrote a blog post. I guess I feel obligated to toss you a recipe when I write to you, since this whole mess started as a cooking & dining review blog, and there has not been a lot of cooking going on up in the wee tree house apartment of late. I have had other fish to fry (pun intended), hence my long silence. Maybe you’ve enjoyed my relative silence. Well, too bad – it’s over!
Last night I discovered there was a time change afoot for the hour of midnight. I had been waiting for it all through October because I swear that’s when we usually do it. Who gets to make decisions like when we switch from Daylight Savings Time back to Standard Time? I want that job. Think of the fun I could have! Anyhow, I guess that means that 7:00am is the new 6:00am effective immediately. The dog did not get the email and got me up at the old 6:00am. Ugh.
While I was away not doing much cooking, I was indeed writing, just not for my blog. I was developing background, places, characters, and other such input needed to craft my novel. I have joined a crazy little writing phenomenon called the National Novel Writers Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. Having already been fairly well indoctrinated into this long-standing group of nutty writing fanatics, I can tell you that we lovingly call this exercise ‘NaNo’ and those who participate ‘WriMos.’ I know, right?
What NaNoWriMo is all about is networking and providing support and encouragement to fellow writers while you all try to crank out a stunning 50,000 unedited words toward your latest novel project in the month of November. It is totally an honor-based program in which you write and everyone else takes your word for it. There is a feature on their website in which you can scramble a copy of your novel and upload it for official word-count verification at the end of the month, but that’s not required (and some paranoid types don’t want to send their manuscript anywhere for fear some great conspiracy exists to steal their idea – whatever). If you get to 50K, you are considered a ‘winner.’ The point is to provide motivation to just get on with it and write, write, write thereby putting a substantial dent in your project in a short period of time. Writers suffer from procrastination like the rest of us, and this undertaking is designed to get you over the hump and well on your way to completion of your project. It’s like a 30 day crash diet for the overly verbose – shed those words in 30 days. Hah – that’s pretty good. I might have to use that again. In case you are wondering, yes, some of the participants are actually published authors, including Sara Gruen (“Water for Elephants” et al) and many talented others. So it’s not just for wannabes like me.
We have a somewhat active local group of WriMos here in the Wilmington area who get together to support one another in this endeavor at preparatory sessions, ‘write-ins’ and other such caffeine-laden events. I have attended a preparatory event and the kick-off meeting. I will attend at least one of the write-ins, though I really do my best writing in my pajamas in the living room in a noise-controlled, interruption-free environment. But being accountable to a group of people to get this thing done is my motivation for joining them, so I will hold my own feet to the fire by showing up and networking. I have picked up a few tips already, so it’s all good.
As I was sitting in the kick-off session a couple days ago during which questions were being asked by us newbies and answered by the more experienced, a young lady asked a question that brought out the worst of my snobby ego. She proceeded to give some background about her story structure (there did not seem to be a firm plot yet, and this was the day to start writing) and was asking about how to decide whether she should write in first-person or third-person. She said one of her dilemmas about first-person was that she wanted the protagonist, who moves to a new town, to initially keep some secrets from her new friends that she didn’t want to keep from the readers (she didn’t put it quite so eloquently, but that was the core question). She didn’t know how to do that if her story was told in first person. My bitchy ego was saying, “What? Let me replay that to make sure I heard her correctly…say what?” I listened a bit more, and it became clear to me that she was indeed confusing the first-person narrative with dialogue. My snobby ego was having a field day with this question in my head, saying things like, “What is she, like, 12 years old?” After I listened to a couple people struggle to answer her and fail, I couldn’t resist speaking up. Either they were just being nice, or they didn’t understand what she was asking because it was such an elementary writing question. So I said, “I assume you will share your character’s thoughts in the novel and not just her spoken words. If so, then I think you can tell your audience the secrets she is keeping through writing her thoughts.” Lawd, I am such a bitch sometimes. But really, isn’t this story-telling 101? I mean, maybe she is tee-totally wasting her time here and should go play beer pong with the rest of her college buddies. There is another college girl in the group who has been writing like this since she was a teenager and she totally gets it, so it’s not a question of youth. At least I know her book, should she complete one, will not be competing with mine for readership. Hah.
So if you don’t hear from me, that’s what I’m doing. Writing my novel and trying not to be bitchy. And working. ‘Tis the season in retail, so I am a gift-basket-making, present-wrapping, bow-making, product-reordering, merry-(bleeping)-christmas-to-you-too-saying shopkeeper. I really do love the pretty-making part of this time of year (I love wrapping and making gift baskets and bows), it’s all the paperwork and sense of urgency that piss me off.
But, anyhow, today I awoke an hour early (thanks to Buddy), though not really, with a desire for a sweet breakfast treat. I am rarely about the sweet in the morning; that usually hits me in the evening. But I need protein for fuel, so I decided to make some really eggy, custardy French toast with real maple syrup and butter to address both issues. This is really easy and really good if you care to give it a whirl. Nothing super special about it, it’s just a different method of preparing French toast that will remind you a bit of bread pudding. As I am suffering from a touch of lactose intolerance these days, I am using coconut milk but you can use regular old milk of whatever variety you have in the fridge. Oh, and you bake this in the oven, so it’s also a great time saver for a maniac writer like me who doesn’t want to waste precious writing time at the stove.
Pick a good loaf of crusty bread, slice it thick, and let the soak time and the oven work their magic. You experienced cooks will recognize how easily this can be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled to feed any crowd. Just get a bigger pan out of the pantry.
Baked French Toast for Two (or one seriously distracted would-be author who will reheat it tomorrow)
4 thick-cut slices of Crusty Bread (I used toasted sunflower honey bread that I get at Harris Teeter)
3 large Eggs
¼ cup Milk (cow, goat, soy, coconut, whatever)
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract (or any flavor you like, perhaps almond?)
Sprinkle of Sea Salt
Parchment Paper, if you hate messy cleanups like me and want this to look good on the plate (as opposed to prying it out of the pan all helter skelter)
Line a baking dish with the parchment paper. I used a loaf pan for the quantity as written. If you quadruple the batch it should fit nicely in a 13” x 9” baking dish or pan. You could even arrange it in a non-stick oven-proof skillet if desired…but I digress.
Arrange the bread slices laying artfully in the pan, overlapping by half. Trim the bread to fit the pan if desired, shoving the end bits into the nooks and crannies. In a small mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together until well combined and frothy. Whisk in the vanilla. Pour egg mixture over the bread slices and let soak for a good while until all the egg mixture is absorbed into the bread (it will happen, just be patient – unless you’ve tried to substitute soft sandwich bread, then it ain’t never gonna happen). Sprinkle with coarse sea salt (this really makes the sweetness of your topping pop out and say “good morning.”)
(Crazed Cook’s Note: If you are a perfectionist like me, you can dirty just one more dish by placing the bread in a single layer in the shallow dish and soaking in the custard to ensure even distribution. Then carefully transfer the bread to the baking dish and pour any remaining custard over, continuing the soak until it is all absorbed. If you have used plain old white or wheat sandwich bread you have reached the point where you regret it as the bread will fall apart into mush when you try to transfer it. I’m just sayin’ – go for the thick, crusty bread for this recipe. If you are not that worried about it or are in a hurry, just arrange in the baking dish and pour the custard over, letting the tops of the bread slices go without the big soak – it will still be good. Multi-textural. Is that like multi-cultural? I’m not sure.)
Preheat the oven to 375oF and bake the French toast until nicely browned on top, about 30 minutes in my mini tree house apartment gas stove that is old as dirt. In a spiffy new convection oven, I would bet on about 18-20 minutes. In my electric oven in my previous house I would have done 400 degrees. So follow your gut – you want crusty golden top and soft center but no runny egg stuff.
Remove from oven and rest for 5 minutes. Two serving options: Slide your spatula in between the bread shingles and serve them intact in sets of two; or cut as you would a coffee cake and serve in squares.
I like mine with ample butter and real maple syrup, but a nice warm fruit compote or heated raspberry preserves would be excellent as well.