You pour the batter over the three-day-old bread. You crank some music.
You ask the kids to take the dog to the backyard. They pound down the stairs with the reluctant dog and leave the front door open. You throw a chunk of butter onto the griddle and let it go too long because you love the smell of brown butter.
You close your right eye so that you can't see the pile of dishes from yesterday's oatmeal, last night's chicken, the food photography experiments, the wins, the losses.
You want to run away.
You turn up the song. You move your hips, your rib cage, your arms, twirling your hands like they contain castanets, spatula corkscrewing up to the ceiling.
You lift up the custard-soaked bread one piece at a time, delivering them to the griddle, dripping the egg mixture across the counter. You think, what's a little more mess? The sizzling makes you think you would make a really good short order cook and that it would be much easier than managing this house.
You remember that last night you slammed the bedroom door so fucking hard it cracked like one of those earthquake faults. San Andreas? Hayward? You can't remember which big one lies beneath the house. You sip your coffee and everything goes away. You put your mug down and it all comes back.
The pieces of French toast are lined up in two straight lines like Madeline's friends, steaming on the interior, craggy lines forming on the exterior.
The house is quiet.
You flip each piece. Splat. Splat. Splat. Butter flies onto your apron. You recently started buying aprons, because all your black clothes were stained with grease, but you swear you will never walk out of the house wearing one. No one will see this costume. You empty a bottle of maple syrup into a pot and turn on the heat.
You place the cooked slices onto a warm plate. Powdered sugar, lemon, jam, napkins, plates, and forks all to the table.
You step out of your clogs and bust out a pirouette. You can still do four in a row on the left side but you know better than to try the right side. You slide your shoes back on and you are almost 6 feet tall again. You like feeling tall.
You rise up on your toes, as if you're wearing toe shoes, and lengthen your spine up over the dirty dishes. You peek out of the kitchen window. The kids are not in the garden.
You run down the stairs, out the open door, and call out. Dash! Bella! Dash!
Your hands fly to your face. You feel your chest turn red and your heart start to race. You yell out to no one in particular. Oh my god! Where are they?
You are wearing red plaid pajamas, no bra, silver clogs, and a black and white striped apron. You are the crazy lady.
You continue screaming your kids' names as you run down the block. Around the corner. And then around another. And then there they are.
"Mama, I thought you'd be proud. We decided to walk Wylie around the block."
You grab Bella too hard around her upper arms and repeat over and over again that Dash is four. Four. Bella. Don't you know that he is four.
"Yeah, Bella. I'm four."
You sit down on the ground and pull them both into your lap, the dog manages to tangle you all up in the leash like you're tied to the railroad tracks in one of those old movies with a fast-paced plinking piano soundtrack.
Bella caresses Dash's check. And then your cheek. "I'm sorry, mama. But you know, I really can take care of him."
But you don't want her to have that much responsibility yet.
Dash was almost run over by a car. Twice. And then there were the hospital stays. The mushroom he ate. The Staphylococcus scare. And the spinal tap at seven weeks. And every second of every day for the first few years of his life when you couldn't turn your back on him for more than five seconds. The days when your heart was in your throat and your chest ached from too many shallow breaths.
"It's okay, mama. Dash is fine. Don't worry so much. How's the french toast?"
The maple syrup.
You run as fast as you can all the way home, followed by Dash in his Crocs, Bella in her Uggs, tugging on the dog's leash. All those impractical shoes and no one trips.
Up the stairs, down the hall, into the kitchen. The thick maple foam is hovering right at the pot's edge. You pour the syrup into a pitcher. Dash reaches for it. You grab his wrist. Hardcore scary hot, you say. Don't touch. Please.
You pick him up and squeeze and spin and spin and squeeze.
You sit down and eat French toast with extra thick maple syrup. It turns to candy as it hits the cold plates.
"Mama. It's even better than regular maple syrup. We should do things like this every time from now on."
Okay. Bella. I will try. I will try. I will try.
FRENCH TOAST WITH MAPLE SYRUP GLAZE
This is a template. You can add fewer eggs. Or more eggs. You can add Grand Marnier, nutmeg, cinnamon, heavy cream, or half and half. It's pretty much impossible to mess up French toast. You can even replace the milk with eggnog.
(Alternatively, you can soak the bread overnight in the custard. The next morning, sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake at 350°F until cooked through, 25 minutes or so. Broil the top until golden brown.)
16-20 slices stale white bread (challah or sourdough boules are particularly good)
4 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped out
butter for grilling and serving
1 cup maple syrup
Place bread one layer thick in a sheet pan or in a large baking dish. Set aside.
Whisk eggs. Whisk in milk. Add orange juice/zest, vanilla extract, vanilla bean seeds, and salt. Whisk the heck out of it. Or just put it all in the blender. Pour over the bread. Let the bread soak up the custard. Flip the slices after a few minutes.
While the bread is soaking up the custard, pour maple syrup into a big pot. Bring it to a boil on the back of the stove. Turn down to medium and boil for at least 5 minutes. The longer you go, the closer it will get to candy. Pour into a pitcher to cool a little.
Crank up your griddle or pan to medium heat. Add some butter. Once melted, place custard-soaked bread on the griddle. Don't turn to high heat or they will burn on the outside before cooking on the inside. Flip when nicely browned. Eat right away with butter and piping hot maple syrup. Or with powdered sugar and lemon juice. Or cook lots of it. Cool. Then freeze in Ziploc bags. When you want a piece, thaw it in the toaster.