This month’s Let’s Lunch theme is Kummerspeck, a German word that means “grief bacon,” the extra layer of fat one accrues from emotional overeating. This is a condition I’m familiar with, particularly this time of year.
If I’m completely honest, in times of deep trouble, what I often crave most is a bag of potato chips (or crisps, if you’re reading from the other side of the pond). And possibly a tub of french onion dip. Of my own.
But this wouldn’t be much of a post if I wrote, “Go to the store, grab a bag of chips, there you go.” And, yes, I could have gone to the lengths of making my own hand-cut chips (and dip from fresh herbs and homemade sour cream), but that’s pure silliness. When I’m in desperate need of comfort, the last thing I should be doing is getting anywhere near the mandoline blade or a pot of boiling oil.
So what I’ll write about here instead is toast. Because toast can be as simple or complex as you’d like. Because you can make it without risking much harm to life and limb. And because it has the essential components that make it an ideal comfort food: simplicity, speed, crunch, starch, warmth, flexibility, portability.
Toast is a palette, a platform, an edible Zelig that can take the form you need for the moment.
No matter how miserable you feel, within a span of ten minutes, you can make two slices of toast and be back on the sofa, nibbling at the crunchy corners, licking the sweet butter and jam from your fingers, and watching a favorite black-and-white movie.
Toast requires no ceremony, no special implements or equipment (though a toaster does make the process simpler), and no special skill.
You can make it fancy if you want. You can make it in the Catalan style, grilled, then rubbed with garlic and tomato, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt. Or, similarly, as the Italians do, topped with crushed tomatoes, basil, and olive oil, calling it bruschetta.
Or buy a loaf of sliced white bread on your way home from work, and eat a toasted peanut butter sandwich while you stand at the kitchen counter sorting the stack of bills and junk mail.
Or, early in the morning, spread a slice of bread with butter, sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar, put it under the broiler until it browns and turns sugary spicy, then go out onto the porch and watch the dawn rise.
You can carry single-serving packets of Nutella in your backpack on a mountain trail, then stop by a waterfall to spread the hazelnut-chocolate on packaged “toasts” while you scrutinize the map.
You can go to a June field, harvest organic strawberries, cook them down into a bubbling jam, and can them for the toast of future winters.
Or chop clementines into bits, mix with the juice of more clementines, honey, a vanilla bean and some whole cloves, and simmer it down into quick winter marmalade that will refresh a someday sultry summer day.
You can cook bacon with onions, garlic, coffee, vinegar, brown sugar and maple syrup until you can’t ignore the savory waft coming from your stove, pulse it down into a paste, and call it “bacon jam.” And if you have any left over, you can spread it on crusty bread, top it with goat-milk ricotta cheese, and broil it until it’s irresistibly crunchy and brown.
You can bake your own artisanal loaf of bread, or bring one home from the farmers’ market, or the corner store. You can churn your own butter from the creamy top of the quart you milked from your cow this morning, or you can unwrap an unsalted stick you bought at the grocery store last week.
It doesn’t matter, because all toast, in whatever guise, is your friend, a momentary refuge from everything that is difficult and complicated and prissy.
Can I tell you one more toast thing? About my fantasy of owning a little “toast truck”? I’d drive it around town, like the ice cream truck, only I’d serve freshly toasted slices of bread I’d baked the day before, topped with jams or cheeses or spreads that I’d cooked up in the evenings.
And you’d be there on the curb in the morning with your mug of coffee, steam swirling up to your nose, and I’d hand you the slices you’d chosen, and we’d be laughing over some joke you’d made, and you’d brush the crumbs from your mouth with the back of your hand as we talked, and, right there, together we could see the whole beautiful, buttery day in front of us.
Not comforted yet? You should go see what the rest of the Let’s Lunch group craves in their moment of need…
Caramel, Chocolate and Salted Peanut Ice Cream from Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Pot Stickers from Tammi at Insatiable Munchies
Sabaw ng Monggo: Mung Bean Soup with Bacon from Betty Ann at Asian in America
Dark Chocolate Vanilla Pomegranate Parfait from Linda at Spicebox Travels
Slap Yo’ Mama Brownies from Lucy at In a Southern Kitchen
“Hug-in-a-bowl” noodles from Vivian at Vivian Pei
Evil Grief Brownies from Annabelle at Glass of Fancy
Chicken Noodle Soup from Margaret at Tea and Scones
German pancakes from Cheryl at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Beef Bourguinon with kartoffelkloesse AND maple candied bacon from Karen at GeoFooding
Cold fried chicken and potato salad from Lucy at A Cook and Her Books
I know you don’t need me to tell you how to make toast, so I’ll just share a few links to toast-related recipes I like. If you have a favorite toast recipe, I’d love to know about it!
Julia Child’s white toasting bread
Peter Reinhart’s Multigrain Extraordinaire
My favorite Challah
Jams, jellies and spreads
Cajeta (goat-milk caramel)
Brown sugar clementine marmalade
Chocolate hazelnut spread
Freudenspeck Beef Bourguinon with Kartoffelkloesse plus maple candied bacon from Karen at GeoFooding
Cow milk ricotta
Goat milk ricotta
Butter, cultured and non-cultured
Cinnamon toast with butter and honey
Catalan tomato bread