I have many food and memory associations, but I'd like to talk specifically about toast.
John and I have been very lucky to have spent every summer since our respective births at the Iaciofano shore house in Beach Haven, New Jersey. Consequently, as the days turns very slowly warmer, I start to think about my food memories that my summers there have given me.
The Shore House (as we Iaciofano's call it) used to be turquoise, have outrageously ugly 1970's furniture, a creak in the wood-panelled staircase, an odd musty-humid smell that was strangely comforting, a white stone yard and a breakfast table nestled up to two, large windows that overlooked the bay.
At this table, my grandmother would have her breakfast while the sailboats drifted lazily (or purposefully, depending on the wind) outside the window like an animated painting.
You may be thinking, "Oh, we are about to learn a Iaciofano family, fancy breakfast recipe!"
But you'd be wrong.
My grandmother always had toast for breakfast. Burnt toast with butter.
I would sit across from her at the table and watch her spackle butter onto her blackened bread, the knife scraaaaape, scrape, scraping across the surface, sending ash-like flakes onto the tabletop.
Even though there was nothing special about this meal, I wanted it. I thought there was something unmistakably grown-up and therefore sophisticated about toast and coffee, even though I couldn't understand why my grandma ate it so charred.
Did she like it that way?
Had she just not mastered the family toaster?
I never asked and it is unfortunately too late to do so.
However, even now, I think there is something somewhat magical about toast. It's the caterpillar to butterfly transformation of a piece of bread taking on a new texture, color, smell and even flavor by spending just a few minutes in its heated cocoon.
These days, I have very specific ideas about what I consider to be a perfectly toasted piece of bread. I don't like mine burned. I like it a nice caramel color – just cripsy enough to allow for some residual chewyness and the absorption of butter or other condiments (should you use them). Too much time in the toaster and you essentially produce bread jerky – a veritable shingle of stiffness in consistency.
Consider the following shade diagram:
Once you have determined your desired level of toasted-ness, you can dress it up. Toast is the perfect blank slate to apply edible accessories and make a....well...a "grown up" dish.
Let's use the above Country White slice as an example. Perfectly bronzed with a light, buttery make-up application, a frilly arugula skirt, topped with a poached egg and a glittering of salt and pepper.
Once cut, the gooey yolk runs into the porous toast, creating a crispy-oozing mess of rich deliciousness. And there's nothing more grown-up than arugula. The bitter smell released by the heat of the cooked egg is like that rare childhood aroma of my mom's perfume when she was getting ready for a night out with dad.
We can make toast more sophisticated still by swapping the bread with a baguette or Italian loaf. Sliced on the bias, lightly toasted and drizzled with olive oil, it becomes the vehicle for any number of cocktail-napkin treasures.
My personal favorites are the Avocado Bruschetta: tangy and smooth with a hint of hot pepper punch.
Also eloquent are Gorgonzola and Roasted Pepper Bruschetta: a dollop of creamy gorgi with slippery peppers and salty capers.
As with much cooking, it's the foundation that's the key. The base, in this case, being a perfectly toasted piece of bread. So crack open a loaf and make some toast...and memories. Sailboats and shore house are optional.