“Shhhh. Be quiet! You’re going to wake her up.”
“I’m trying! How many slices should we make?”
“Let’s make two.”
It was Mother’s Day morning, and I was ten. My then-seven-year-old brother and I were surprising our mom with breakfast. My dad was chaperoning under the guise of the reading the morning paper. We had ordered him to stay away. This was our thing. On the menu? Jam and butter toast with orange juice.
Ding went the toaster. “Eee! It’s so loud! She’s going to wake up,” my brother squealed. He was louder than the toaster itself. I stood on my tiptoes, transferring the toast from the toaster to a plate. I heaped butter onto the toast, watching it melt, before swirling the unmelted chunks together with my mom’s homemade berry jam. My brother watched.
Pouring a glass of orange juice as a final step, we were finally ready to deliver my mom’s breakfast — to her bed.
“We both have to hold it!” my brother insisted as we starting carrying the plate and the glass up the stairs. My dad and dog followed closely, both expecting us to drop everything, one dreading the moment while the other anticipated it.
When we successfully made it to my mom, she was “fast asleep” (I learned over the years that she typically awoke to noise downstairs, and enjoyed listening to it from afar). “Happy Mother’s Day!” we said in unison as my mom opened her eyes.
“For me?” she said in her best “surprised” tone, taking a bite of toast. Never mind that she never really ate nor enjoyed breakfast.
But she wasn’t pretending when she said she enjoyed the toast on Mother’s Day, delivered to her bed, giving her just a little extra rest and a lot of love. The effort and unbridled excitement that went into it was what energized her, not the carbohydrates.
Meanwhile, my brother and I were thankful that our breakfast specialty was one we really couldn’t mess up (it was the only breakfast item we could make).
As I grew older, toast went from being my only culinary expertise to my easiest to my most comfortable. Peanut butter toast became my grab-and-go breakfast, my pre-soccer power, and my study date. There was nothing fancy or fussy about it.
So three years ago, when a friend told me that I had to try the toast at The Mill in San Francisco, I was certain I misheard her. “Like…bread toast?”
“I know it sounds like nothing but you have to experience it,” she said.
I’ll pause here to say that if you think $4 toast is absurd, your opinion is justified (but also know that $4 toast is on the low end).
Still, I welcome it.
Perhaps, as in the case of my mom on Mother’s Day, it is the luxury of having someone prepare you something that you could very well do on your own. Or perhaps it is the unassuming complexity of a well balanced bread. Or maybe it is the presentation, versatility, approachable and comforting nature, or its knack for inspiring culinary creativity.
Last year, with time to spare and an eye for toast, I started an instagram dedicated to it. It was mostly a way to savor my experiences and recreate them in my kitchen. However, once I identified myself with something so mundane, I found myself thinking about it more and more. What really made artisanal toast so special (to me)?
And then, as my follower count rose (very slowly, much like dough), I marveled at the community bred by toast — it’s a food everyone knows and anyone can enjoy, whether it’s because they’re hungry or because they want to geek out about the science behind creating that perfect loaf of einkorn. There’s little not to like or understand about this long-standing staple. It can be enjoyed simple or gourmet, as a main or as dessert, at home or dining out.
The answer finally came to me last Friday night, as I mashed an avocado on a generous slice from Tartine Bakery: Artisanal toast brings novelty to something simple. That’s all. It establishes a dependable beauty in the everyday.
And I can ($4+) toast to that.