I am a notoriously atrocious cook.
Just ask my poor kids—who mastered the art of ordering delivery as soon as they could read.
Thankfully, there is one item that I have learned how to produce in the kitchen. It is the only thing that I can make without looking at a recipe, and that will leave no uneaten bits. I’ve never made anything in the kitchen that has been more successful or scrumptious.
I’ve become a self-proclaimed master French toast maker, and it’s become the stuff of legend.
My youngest kid knows that if I arrive in the kitchen in the morning and find all 18 items needed carefully arranged on the counter when I make my first cup of tea, I will not leave that spot until his stomach has been properly filled with his weekend treat.
Even the dogs have become part of the ritual—waiting patiently for the ends of the challah that I can’t use in the recipe, but that God probably intended to be perfect dog treats. They sit patiently as I cut the thick slices, and then we recite the ritual prayer over bread on their behalf.
After that first morsel of challah is consumed, the dogs take their prescribed places just inches away from where I cook, silently praying that when I flip those oversized pieces on the stove, one will serendipitously fall on the floor between them, where they can “help” me “clean up the mess.”
French toast has been a staple of my family’s diet for as long as I can remember—as if the recipe came down from Mount Sinai with the biblical commandments. In fact, by default, it is the staple. And even I—a hopeless failure in the kitchen—look forward to making it every week.
It gives me an opportunity to connect on every level with my kids. Indeed, there have been some pretty amusing conversations that would never have happened had it not been for that weekly ritual.
Once, my son tried to encourage me to expand my culinary repertoire. In quiet desperation, he asked, “Have you ever thought about trying to learn how to make something else in the kitchen? Just one more thing? I mean, your French toast is so delicious—don’t you think you could learn to cook something else? Anything else?”
Without hesitation, I answered, “Oh sweetie, I would love to learn how to make more things that you love to eat like you love this French toast. But here’s the problem. I only have a certain amount of room available in my brain for cooking yummy things. If I learn how to make other stuff, I might forget how to make French toast. And we just can’t take that chance, right?! Anyway, I probably would want to learn how to make some kind of healthy dish, and you really don’t eat anything colorful or that remotely resembles a vegetable.”
He agreed wholeheartedly, and as he walked away resigned to the fact that he was going to spend the first 18 years of his life surviving on takeout and Nutella sandwiches, he said, “Yes, you should definitely stick to what you know.”
As he continued to grow and mature, his appetite increased exponentially. I started to prepare one entire challah for him, and another one for whoever else was in the house. Last summer, we had guests who visited for two months, who were dumbfounded as they watched him inhale an inordinate amount of French toast. For the record, my son was equally as confused as to how anyone could eat only one or two pieces of his mother’s culinary delight and be totally satisfied with their lot.
Once, while on vacation, I pretended not to notice as I watched him consume over 100 pieces of the resort crafted French toast. On the final day, I couldn’t contain myself any longer.
Ima: Ayal, how is that French toast?
Kid: (wide-eyed silence)
Ima: Wait. Are you telling me that French toast is as good as mine? Wait…better than mine?!?
Kid: I’m not gonna answer that.
Ima: Why not??
Kid: Because it’s totally going to ruin your entire vacation.
Five minutes and seven slices later, he managed to redeem himself, admitting that mine is still the best “…because it’s made with cinnamon and love…and not necessarily in that order!”
A few years ago, I decided it was time to teach him how to make the famous dish on his own. To be honest, he had watched me mix and dunk and cook so many challah slices, that I think he simply humored me as I “taught” him my secret technique. I handed him my spatula as if I was handing him my car keys for the first time and resigned myself to the fact that I was about to become totally irrelevant in his life.
Sure enough, his first batch looked as good as mine. I felt the lump in my throat growing larger and larger as I prepared to lose my little boy forever. However, he quickly lost interest in learning my secrets as he sat down to eat the first (and only) batch that he has ever cooked. I snatched my spatula away from him and vowed never to let him cook anything for the next 30 years in order to preserve my importance in his life.
He loves my French toast, and not just because he loves the way that it melts in his mouth. He loves the fact that if, only for 30 minutes, my whole world revolves around him and his stomach.
Sometimes, he leaves me to cook as I sip my morning tea. Other times, he stays with me and tells me about his day, about his friends, about his successes, and his challenges. I think that he likes that part as much as he likes maple syrup.
One day, he actually made a point to let me know how much he loves our ritual. He said, “I know that there are so many other things that you might rather do instead of making me my French toast. I really appreciate the fact that you never refuse when I ask.” (Cue: heart melting into a big puddle on the kitchen floor).
I know that one day he will ask me to teach him how to make it again (or maybe, he already knows but wisely refuses to admit it).
I hope that he makes it for his kids if he is blessed to become a parent, and that every time he does, he will remember just how much love I baked into every single cinnamon-filled slice.