Monday, March 30, 2009

I never thought, that I would post, on a subject, such as toast: A meditation on friendship

(Guest posting today is Irish Gumbo, who has been let out of his cage for a little while today, and whom Pamela likes depsite his knucklehededness. A very gracious invite on her part.)
I have been a little out of the loop lately when it comes to readin’, writin’ and bloggin’ stuff. So this guest post, while The Missus and The Mister celebrate the arrival of the new baby, was a perfect opportunity for me for to shake off the doldrums and tone up those flabby creative muscles I have been letting languish. So, sitting down to write, fire up the ol’ idea engine, and the first idea that comes to mind?

Toast, of course. I’ll give you a minute or two to applaud my burst of genius (whistling). Thank you, thank you!

Now don’t go away, clicking on the next blog in the reader out of boredom or irritation. Toast may seem like a strange (read: boring) choice for a topic. But there is a reason for my toast fascination. Or is that toast-ination?

I like toast. I eat toast almost every day, the standard white bread kind and all its variants, including the bagel and English muffin members of the toasted bread products species. I would venture to say I am a…connoisseur of toast, if you will indulge me. A well-made piece of toast can serve as platform and substrate for all sorts of tasty toppings of the sweet or savory kind: cream cheese, jelly and lox spread come to mind. One of the best pieces of toast I ever made was with a layer of peanut butter smeared over the hot bread and dotted with some thin, quarter-sized disks of dark chocolate pressed into the warm surface. Mmm, all melty goodness and a great way to start the morning I must say.

Really good toast needs nothing more than butter, melting and sweet over the golden brown deliciousness of the crispy bread. It really is that simple. However, “simple” does not equate with “easy”. This is true even given the plethora of toasters and toasters ovens available to the average consumer in this country. Toasters that have multi-browning options, settings to toast frozen bread, digital calibrated “bread brains”*, chrome toasters that looks like race cars. My parents have a toaster they acquired before I was a born, and are still using it. It makes a decent piece of toast, too. But good toast requires attention and care; rare is the device that can produce a superlative piece without jiggery-pokery on the part of the human who desires to eat that toast.

Truly transcendent toast (and such a thing exists) can be eaten plain, all by its lonesome, naked but for the sauce of hunger. To make toast such as this, and I have done it on rare occasions, takes time and attention and patience. Three things that are usually in short supply when attempting to pull together breakfast in the morning, or scrounging up a quick afternoon snack. And before you say, “Gumbo, you are a nutcase for wanting to spend so much time and energy on dry, brown bread!” you should know I am not the only one who feels this way. John Thorne, one of the premier food writers on the planet (and a personal favorite of mine), wrote an essay on the topic called Quintessential Toast**, in which he illuminates the process of making truly great toast:

“…So, first, I reluctantly began cutting my thick slice into two thin ones, since this is the only way to toast the bread all through…I learned that I had to make my toast very, very slowly…This meant that to get the toast just right I had to run it through four or five short cycles with a brief rest between each.”

See what I mean? Four or five cycles of the toaster just to make toast. Who the hell does that? John Thorne does. Oh…and I do, every now and then. Why? Because it works. This method makes a great piece of toast. It is fantastic straight out of the toaster, hot and crispy with no need for butter. Making toast like this, I usually eat it standing up at the kitchen counter, next to the toaster. Man, is it good. Good toast is made with good bread, no getting around that fact. Gotta have good bread. Good bread is what brings me to the true inspiration for this post.

Earlier this year, during my period of unemployment, I was given a loaf of bread by a friend. Homemade bread. Homemade. The bread was dense, sturdy and had some heft. No “girlyman” bread, this, it was serious. I was so tickled to have gotten it I immediately sawed off a slice and ate it straight away. It was chewy and delicious. So good I had another slice at the island in my kitchen. While I was munching away, eyes half-closed in baked good bliss, the thought crossed my mind: toast. So it was I found myself cutting the requisite one-quarter inch thick slice of the wondermous bread and toasting it just so. To my delight, the toast was excellent, with and without butter.

Who was my baked loaf benefactor, my patron of the toasting arts, you ask?

Why, it’s the lovely Pamela, The Missus, The Boss of Things. She called me one day while I was out walking and wanted to know if she could send me some bread. Who does things like that? Friends do. Friends help friends make good toast.

I had that brilliant realization that day I stood at the counter, eating my slice of transcendental toast, compliments of a friend I was unrealizing I had. And that, dear readers, is a beautiful thing, to have a friend who gives you homemade bread.

Thank you, Pamela.

*I am not making that up. I saw this phrase on the side of a toaster in the lunch room of a company I used to work for, some years ago. Even with a “bread brain”, that POS toaster made a lousy piece of toast.
**In his book ‘Pot On The Fire’. A very good read, even if one is not a food geek like me.


  1. A lovely post about some lovely toast.

    Makes me want to spend the afternoon sprucing up my kitchen so that we can stop eating that sad excuse for 'bread' that we've been buying at the store.. I miss my fresh out of the oven oatmeal bread.. yum.

    I've never made a bad loaf of bread.. well, accept for that one that I made in the bread machine. I hate bread machines. They are stupid.

    A fresh loaf of bread lasts about 10min in this house - just long enough to slice it and eat it!

  2. My Andy likes this little ditty.

    Wake up in the morning 'bout 6:00am.
    Have a little Jelly
    Have a little Jam.

    Take a piece of bread,
    Put it in the slot,
    Push down the lever and the wires get hot.
    Ya get toast! Yeah Toast

  3. I bought crumpets today at the commissary. I can't wait to toast them!!

  4. Great. Now I'm sitting here in my hotel room craving a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

    I do love your descriptions Gumbo!

  5. Congrats on the new little one.
    To Pamela & The Mister
    Post wasn't bad either.

    irish oldman

  6. YEAH TOAST!!!

    Thanks for droppin' by Gumbo. If it's going to take having a baby to get you to write a blog post then I guess I'm SOL.

    A loaf of bread posted out your way on the other hand...

  7. I never knew toast could be such a beautiful thing. Until I saw who your benefactor was. And then. Of course.

    This is by far one of the best sentences I've read in a long time:

    "Truly transcendent toast (and such a thing exists) can be eaten plain, all by its lonesome, naked but for the sauce of hunger."


  8. Congrats to the happy (and tired) parents!
    One of Irish's regulars stopping by and I have to say, toast is the ultimate comfort food. When people throw out the old "It's torture to live on bread and water alone!" complaint, I just tell them to add butter and some jam and maybe a heating element and their moods change.

  9. Toast. I like toast. With butter. With jam. With butter and jam. It was a delightful post about toast. Simple and elegant.

    Anyway, congratulations on your new baby and for bringing Irish out of hiding. Knew there was a way; toast.

  10. Never knew there was so much to toast. I just have trouble with bagels and having to smash them in order for them to fit in the slots.

  11. Great post! And Pamela, if you're reading, I am giving you an award. For popping out a baby and for making me laugh (although not necessarily simultaneously). Check out my blog to receive it :).

  12. It is very nice to see toast get so much attention. I'd like to say a few things.

    1) Toast must be buttered when hot, so that the butter melts, and the butter must be real salted butter, not dodgy greasy vegetable nonsense

    2) Toast must be eaten hot.

    There. Phew. Got that off my chest...

  13. i have a fascination (shall we call it that?) with toast ... my g-ma used to prepare a piled-high-plate with squares of toast all with different toppings on saturday mornings when the g-kids were around. i miss that.

  14. Congrats to you, Pamela! I saw the pictures on The Mister's site. Elliott is amazing! I'm so happy for your entire family.

    And now, finally an open invitation to talk about my toast obsession I had over Christmas. I commented about this at Gumbo's place yesterday, but that just wasn't enough for me. You see, over the holidays I found the most delightful, and most expensive English toasting bread. I searched through several stores for many weeks for the perfect topping. I went through three loaves myself. My diet? Wrecked. In the end, I was perfectly content with plain old butter. Yummers.

    Again, congrats to you! I'm truly happy for you guys. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll ruin your blog within the next few days.

  15. Thanks to all for your kind comments, looks like I'll have to get crackin' on some more writing. Soon, soon, gotta get some things taken care of. I do look forward to the other guests, I am definitely in good company!

    But truly, the inspiration is all from Pamela and The Mister and the new baby. Congrats to you! :)

  16. Oh, and mo's comments? Spot on, bro. :)

  17. Due to an allergy to wheat and yeast, I went for 10+ years without eating toast. Recently, I discovered yeast-free millet bread at the health food store and am once again able to enjoy the transcendant experience you describe.

    Toast, I lift my glass to thee!


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