food & drinks, journalism

Bread and Women

It’s the day after we hosted a day-long brunch for our friends to celebrate H’s birthday. Though we often host dinner parties with homemade dishes that take a full day to prepare for, we opted for a menu of the least possible preparation. When feeding more than a dozen people (this time it was 30ish), it’s best to make them do most of the work. In the kitchen, we spread out our DIY Caesar bar with celery sticks, pickles, peppers, olives, two kinds of rim, vodka, gin and Clamato. On the dining table, a bagel bar, cheese plate, bacon, vegetables and every spread from cream cheese to Nutella. It was carb-filled afternoon/evening and a warm way to spend a November Saturday.

Although all our guests were gone by 10 pm, we slept in this morning. It’s a luxury for H who has been working 13 hour days that start with an alarm at 5:50 a.m. I made coffee and then a pot of milk oolong to keep us warm and opened the Food Issue of The New Yorker. With the smell of toasted sesame bagels still in the air, it seemed appropriate to start with Adam Gopnik’s “Bread and Women,” his personal essay on learning to bake bread through the women in his life. I will resist the urge to explain why this piece resonated with me because I’m bound to over-explain it. I’ll simply end with two of my favourite paragraphs from the article. All you need to know is that Gopnik  goes to his childhood home in rural Ontario to spend a week learning to bake from his mother.

As we mixed and kneaded, the comforting sounds of my childhood reasserted themselves: the steady hum of the powerful electric mixer my mother uses, the dough hook humming and coughing as it turned, and, in harmony with it, the sound of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the background, offering its perpetual mixture of grave-sounding news and bright-sounding Baroque music. (A certain kind of Canadian keeps the CBC on from early morning to bedtime, indiscriminately.)

And later…

I realized that I had never once thanked her for all that bread. On the long drive to the airport and the short flight to LaGuardia, with all her bread in my bag, I reflected that the thank-yous we do say to our parents, like the ones I hear from my own kids now—our over-cheery “Great to see you!”s and “We’ll catch you in October!”s; our evasive “Christmas would be great! Let’s see how the kids are set up”—are never remotely sufficient, yet we feel constrained against saying more. (We end our conversations by saying, “Love you!” to our parents; somehow, adding the “I” seems to…schmutzy, too filled with wild yeast from the hidden corners of life, likely to rise and grow unpredictably.) We imagine that our existence is thank-you enough.

food & drinks, Toronto

On brunch

Flickr user warein.holgado

Photo by: Flickr user warein.holgado

I don’t like eggs. I don’t eat pork. Because I don’t like eggs and I don’t eat pork, I don’t like breakfast.

I know, a lot of you love breakfast. You probably love breakfast so much you would (and do) eat it for lunch and dinner. I’m envious of your ability to eat eggs. Lately, I have made an effort to cook and like them, but I still can’t stomach them in great amounts. It takes effort to get through a hard boiled egg. Even a plate of eggs Benedict takes mental preparation.

I wouldn’t put so much effort into enjoying eggs if it was not for Sunday brunch. As The New York Times pointed out in 2005, “brunch is practically a competitive sport in Toronto.” This is still true. Despite hangovers, below freezing temperatures and lineups my friends will still trek (uphill, both ways) for a good plate of hollandaise sauce atop poached eggs.

Why does Toronto go crazy over brunch compared to other cities? I’m not sure, but I understand why the meal is often put on a pedestal. I am in love with the idea of Sunday brunch with friends. For me, it’s not about the food. Brunch is the bridge between the weekend’s indulgences and the work week’s responsibilities. It’s remembering last night while you still have its smell in your hair. It’s one last hurrah before groceries, laundry and Monday morning.

The meal is like a celebration, says Toronto chef Teo Paul. He admits his mixed feelings toward the 2-in-1 meal. As a chef, it’s a pain in the ass because brunch-goers are so fragile and yet demanding at the same time.

I appreciate it, but I have to do it a little differently. I read about a guy in New York who does the same brunch every weekend: a giant terrine of eggs stuffed with smoked salmon and whatever else, on a table piled with croissants. That’s good thinking. My kind of brunch is standing around a big barrel table eating oysters and charcuterie and drinking good, cheap wine with friends and old drunk French guys drinking wine out of silver ladles. That’s a celebration. I know I’m not in Paris, but I’d like to try to bring something new to Toronto, something different.

Most of my friends would say brunch doesn’t need anything different. But as someone who doesn’t like eggs, I’m cheering Teo on. I have no problem with eating oysters or drinking wine.

Question: Forget eggs and bacon. What would you like your Sunday brunch to consist of?