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03 April 2007 @ 17:11
A few years ago, I worked in a bookshop. I'd just moved to Edinburgh and within the space of three weeks, I had been dumped by the main reason I'd stayed in Scotland. I needed to fill my time, and to do that I worked as much as I could. From 8-4, I made sandwiches on West Nicolson Street, burning my wrist on the inside of a pizza oven countless times as I made toasted bacon, brie and cranberry paninis for English students with five names. From 4 30 to 8 30, I worked in the children's section of James Thin's. It wasn't a fantastic career option by any means, but it kept me sane. It made me feel like my years of studying were useful, if for nothing else than to help out the occasional grandparent or godfather. I was around books and for a few hours, I wasn't just asking if they wanted lettuce and tomato. And, it got me a fantastic discount.

The months that I worked there, I read more than I'd read in years. For the first time in 19 years I wasn't in school and I had a lot of catching up to do. I read all the Booker prize winners for the previous five years, and then I moved on to the Orange prize list. I read new releases, books still in hardcover, and I started reading books about food. It was Nigel Slater's book, Toast, that made me want to be a food writer, and I can't write about toast without quoting his opening page:

My mother is scraping a piece of burned toast out of the kitchen window, a crease of annoyance across her forehead. This is not an occasional occurrence, a once-in-a-while hiccup in a busy mother's day. My mother burns the toast as surely as the sun rises each morning. In fact, I doubt if she has ever made a round of toast in her life that failed to fill the kitchen with plumes of throat-catching smoke. I am nine now and have never seen butter without black bits in it.

It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you. People's failings, even major ones such as when they make you wear short trousers to school, fall into insignificance as your teeth break through the rough, toasted crust and sink into the doughy cuhsion of white bread underneath. Once the warm, salty butter has hit your tongue, you are smitten. Putty in their hands.

When I was six, we made books for our fathers for Father's day. We filled in the blanks: 'My father is happiest when -. My father likes to eat -.' 'My father hates -.' Most of the children wrote in that blank, 'My father hates burnt toast' and the teacher seemed to think that was satisfactory. I struggled all day with what to write. My mother never burned toast. I'd never seen or smelled it before. I couldn't think what my father hated, but I knew burnt toast wasn't it. Finally, I settled on tent caterpillars: pests that appeared in our trees every year, and whose nests my father would, with what can almost be described as glee, burn every year.

I don't share Mr Slater's memories of burnt toast. My childhood toast was always perfectly golden, spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. But I do know what he means. There is nothing like toast. I go through phases with my toppings: strawberry jam for a while, a lemon curd phase when I was 16, but toast with butter, cut in half down the middle, is something I never grow out of. Often, when I got home from the bookshop after a 12.5 hour day, I would have toast for my dinner before falling into bed.

Now, toast-making duties fall to my other half. He makes me toast before bed, or for breakfast or when I get home from work. He knows without asking that I'm in a ginger marmalade phase, and he knows to cut it down the middle before he hands it to me. I can't say for certain whether I fell in love with him for his talents with toast, but they certainly helped. Nigel was definitely on to something there.

I'm home sick today, off work with a sore throat and no voice. By noon, though, I'm feeling a bit more alive and make a cup of tea and some toast. I spread it thick, with salted butter - not margarine today. Cut in half, the four pieces stack on my plate as I make my way to my blanket on the couch.

The bread was brown, so the flavour is nutty and dense - different from the fluffy lightness of white bread, but equally good. The butter has melted for the most part, but here and there there are pools of still intact whiteness - extra pockets of salt and cream. The middle of the slice is soft and spongy, the outside crunchy and thick. I fold one slice in half and bite down the centre, savouring the saturation of butter and the thinness of the bread.

On any other day, I would have found it difficult to stop with just two slices. Fortunately, my appetite is small enough just now that the first serving is sufficient. I wipe my buttery fingers on the side of my pyjamas and burrow back into the sofa. If there's one thing about being sick that makes it all worthwhile, it's the complete justification you feel in eating toast three times a day.
MercuryAnna: musicianmercuryanna on 3rd April 2007 17:03 (UTC)
Ahh, I have been without a toaster since I moved out to California.

My mom says she wants me to pick out a convection oven for her to buy me as a new-apartment gift.

Research here I come! And eventually... toast! Thanks for this post, it is delicious.
Petit Dejeunerwhati8today on 3rd April 2007 21:49 (UTC)
My first flat in Edinburgh didn't have a toaster and I had to make toast in the oven, on the grill. That was a challenge - it goes from perfect to burnt in about 7 seconds!
Ishkhara: Hallowe'enishkhara on 4th April 2007 15:14 (UTC)
I'm going through a bit of a toast phaze at the moment and had some for dinner last night! White bread, toasted under the grill to golden perfection then smeared with lightly salted butter. I had cottage cheese and cucumber on the side. It was perfect. :)

Sunday's evening meal consisted of toast, grilled cheese and Branston pickle. Mmmmm. I was very happy indeed.