Give Me Crust

There is a time to hold on to what’s dear to you, and there is a time to adapt. We can do both with a little homemade cooking.

Home madeHave you ever missed something so intensely only to realize later on that at some point in time you’d suddenly stopped missing it at all? Or generally found yourself doing something you’d once thought would never appeal to you, having totally missed the point in which it first seemed like a good idea?

My last 5 years in China have brought some moments like that, each of them quietly changing life in their own way. They’re all moments of cultural adaptation, and many of them have had to do with giving up foods I thought I’d never be able to live without only to be pleased with the effects of their absence or their reintegration in my diet later on.

I unexpectedly fell in love with Chinese food when I came here. Though it’s not my favorite cuisine, I have certainly developed a deep appreciation. But, despite the culinary adventures I embarked on every time I went to a new kind of Chinese restaurant or tried new things with local friends and colleagues, I realized after a few months of living here how many foods from home I was missing. Things like plain yogurt, cheese and whole grain bread, and it took a while to say goodbye to them.

At first, I refused to. I searched high and low. I’d visit local supermarkets only to be disappointed time after time with the over-sweetened and over-processed imitations. Desperately wanting to find the one brand of yogurt sold in China that isn’t pre-sweetened, I tried variety after variety. But, they were all sweet, and some much more watery than I was used to. In fact I found it bizarre that many people drink yogurt with a straw. Cheese was equally disappointing; just about the only cheese I don’t like is processed cheese, but that’s pretty much all you can find most places.

But the biggest disappointment has been bread. I like thick, crusty, savory or sour whole grain artisan bread in all kinds of flavors in varieties, but I usually don’t bother with over-processed sweetened bread unless I’m actually eating sweets. I could find packages of “whole wheat” square toast bread in bread and cake shops, but they never tasted much different from the similar-looking white toast bread. And, for some reason that makes absolutely no sense to me, toast bread here is often sold in odd numbers of slices. Clearly, Chinese bread makers do not appreciate the amazingness of the sandwich.

Then I discovered import stores, and it was a whole new world. I’d spend entire Saturday afternoons traveling around the city hitting up a store or two just so I could once again savor some real cheese or tortillas. In fact, once I became a bit burned out with Chinese food, I constantly craved foods from home and planned days off around shopping for and making things like pesto pasta lasagna.

After a while, however, I started to realize I wasn’t saving much money since I was constantly spending much more on luxury food items here than I ever would have back home and for less quality or more generic brands to boot.

Finally, I began to find a balance. I found cheaper sources for my favorite imports and came to terms with the fact that I’d just have to give up some things or go broke. I stopped eating bread, cheese and plain yogurt altogether for a while, unless I dined at a Western restaurant. I started to notice how strange my body felt when I visited home and ate those things again, no longer used to digesting them. And finally, I learned to start making them myself or finding ways to use the products I could find in ways that I like.

My French toast recipe is a product of that, and it’s a personal marker for how far I’ve come. Having always been a big fan of breakfast foods, I treat myself to Sunday morning French toast every now and then. Eating it reminds me of how much I used to love bread and how little I miss it anymore. The best thing about this recipe is that it uses that cheap, slightly sweet, over-processed toast square bread you can find everywhere, with a Western spin that you definitely can’t find unless you make it yourself.

French Toast

Ingredients:

• 4-5 pieces bread*
• 4 eggs
• ½ cup milk
• 15mL/1 large spoonful flour
• 15mL/1 large spoonful granulated sugar
• Pinch of salt
• A few dashes cinnamon
• Butter
• 5-10mL honey (optional)
• Powdered sugar (optional garnish)
• Fruit jam (optional garnish)
• Honey or maple syrup (optional garnish)

Directions:

  1. In a mixing bowl, scramble eggs and then add milk, flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and honey (if using). Whisk until thoroughly combined.
  2. Melt some butter in a frying pan over medium heat.
  3. Add a piece of bread to the egg mixture, letting it soak up liquid on both sides until saturated. With chopsticks or tongs, carefully remove bread from the bowl and add to pan.
  4. Cook, turning once, until browned on both sides. Remove to warm plate (or keep in warm oven).
  5. Cook remaining bread slices.
  6. Before serving, cut bread in triangles and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Garnish with fruit jam and honey or syrup.

Cooking Tips:

You can use most types of breads for French Toast. My favorite type to use is thick-cut slices of oval bread loaves.

Serving size: 2