Quarantine French Toast!

Another day of quarantine and another day of trying to make sure the kids have a variety of skills with which to face the zombie apocalypse. Hopefully, the skill most needed in the event of zombies will be cooking food from scratch. (Hey, if you prefer boat talk, check this out.)

This time I told the kids that we would begin making breakfast at 0900. By 0945 and still unable to get my teenagers out of bed despite several tries (thought in my head when I realized I could not wake them “Oh shit, the zombies are already in the house!”) I decided that if Sam or Ella possessing french toast making skills might someday save the world, the world was screwed. (Similarly, if the world depended on me being able to wake teenagers, we are screwed.)

French toast is ludicrously simple and a great starter for people that don’t generally cook. It requires few ingredients or tools and doesn’t take long. Plus, it gives you that full belly happy-faced feeling that will make you want to tackle other cooking projects in the future.

Tools: a big-ish bowl or flat bottomed deep dish/pan, a whisk (a fork will do), a pan (preferably non-stick), a spatula.

Ingredients: bread, eggs, milk, vanilla, Karo syrup (agave, maple syrup, honey all work), salt, and butter.

Generally speaking, French toast here in America- okay, off I go on a tangent to one of the best scenes from an 80s movie . . .

But anyway, as I was saying, American french toast is bread soaked in a concoction including egg and milk and then sauteed in butter. Once brown, throw it on a plate with some breakfast meat and you have achieved basic greasy-spoon breakfast nirvana.

My basic off-the-top-of-my-head recipe (the Quarantine recipe is below) when I wake up with a hankering for french toast is one egg per two pieces of bread. Add to that milk so that it makes up about 1/4 of the liquid. I then add a bit (if in doubt, a tablespoon is plenty for a two-egg concoction) of Karo syrup, a few drops of vanilla, and a small pinch of salt. Beat the heck out of it with a fork or whisk.

Get a non-stick pan ready with some butter melting to cover the surface (I often use bacon grease if available). It should be hot, but not smoking.

Once the liquid is beaten like me in virtually every fistfight I ever had (that is to say weak in the knees, talking funny, and pretty uniformly loose), dip the bread for about 20-45 seconds on either side (This depends largely on the bread and its thickness. You don’t want it to fall apart, just to fully absorb the egg mixture.), let the excess drip off, and then place onto the hot pan.

Leave the toast on the pan for at least a full minute. When you see the edges solidify and start to brown you may then take a peek to see if the bread is browned. If browned to your liking, flip it. When browned on the second side, you are done.

Here, non-cookers, is where some experience helps. If you are using pre-sliced white bread then you are done. If you are using something thicker then you need to develop some instincts for how much longer additional thickness requires to get the french toast cooked completely. As a practical matter, the solution to it browning too quickly is generally to drop the heat a bit and let it cook longer. Or, if you are making a lot and don’t want the pan temperature going up and down you might hold the browned toast in the over where it can finish cooking.

There is no shame in cutting the first piece as a test. You certainly want it cooked through, but not hard. A cooked custard-like consistency is my goal. Practice makes perfect.

Finally -Quarantine French Toast!!

Okay boys and girls, time for the slightly less basic Quarantine French Toast. This is an easy variation to make with the kids or while those stinkers are in bed. I used the ingredients we have on hand and made the basic, but better.

I had corn flakes and know the kids like them. You can use other cereals too. In fact, one of my favorite french toasts is from Blue Moon Cafe in Baltimore, which is coated with crushed Captain Crunch. (They also have a dish called Sweet Baby Jesus, which is simply fantastic.) (No you weirdo hippy, grape nuts will not work. Gross.)

But Wait- First Make Grease (and bacon)

I love bacon as do my kids. So, before I started the whole rigmarole described below, I put bacon on a sheet pan and put it in the cold oven. I turned the oven onto 350 degrees and checked it after about 15 minutes. The advantage of starting this way is that you render a lot of the fat off the bacon, which means you get to use it for making the French toast.

And, of course, you end up with crispy bacon because no decent American breakfast is complete without breakfast meat. (I was an English major with a concentration in poetry, and the best I could do was rhyme “complete” and “meat.” 😢)

Back to French Toast

I happened to have six pieces of pre-sliced sourdough bread that have been sitting on my counter for a week (no mold- so still good for french toast), leftover strawberries too mushy for the kids to eat voluntarily, and very brown bananas.

Step one- crush the corn flakes. Not to powder, but make them small. Use your hands, it is a good way to release the anger at the fact that your teens are still in bed.

Next step, whisk five eggs and milk.

Next, dip the bread into the egg mixture for about 30 seconds per side. Let the excess egg drip off, and then press the coated bread into the crushed corn flakes. From there, put the french toast onto the hot buttered (I used bacon grease) pan or griddle.

Cook until golden brown. (Tip for non-cookers -pay attention to the heat of the pan. Ideally, keep it hot enough for the butter to sizzle/bubble, but cool enough to avoid smoking.)

Fruit Concotion (aka- Compote)

If you want to make use of fruit, here is what I did. Step one – chop it up. (At this point if you think of the Wiggles singing “Fruit Salad” you should slap yourself. HARD.)

Make the chunks at least 1/2′ square or you run the risk of them disintegrating into mush. Trust me on this.

Next, melt about three tablespoons of butter.

Once melted and bubbling, add the fruit and sugar. I started with a 1/4 cup of sugar and then adjusted as concoction came together.

Heat this slowly so as not to brown anything.

Stir gently so as not to crush the fruit until you get a tasty and not-too-sweet compote.

Mangia!

I don’t have anything wise or particularly clever to end this recipe post. But, I did notice that I tend to overuse exclamation points! Hmm, I will endeavor to avoid exclamation points on the next post. On the other hand, the next post will be about making tater tots from scratch. So, no promises.

Quarantine Bagels

Bagels- one of the world’s ultimate comfort foods!!! Like much of the world, we are practicing “social distancing” and staying indoors. So, we are getting a bit bored. To channel some of the pent up energy, I decided to take the kids on a walk down my memory lane . . . back to when I was a bagel baker. (prefer some boat talk? try this.)

Largely Unnecessary Disclosures

Full disclosure -the bagels were much better than our local bagel places here in Marin County, California, but not up to local-bagel-shop-on-virtually-every-corner-in-NY standards.

Full disclosure #2 -I took the recipe from Epicurious and made slight modifications to add the use of bagel boards. Follow link below for the recipe.

Full and final disclosure – prior to this effort to make bagels, my last time making bagel dough, rolling, or baking bagels was probably about thirty years ago -so cut me some slack please.

Bagel Dough Basics

The bagel recipe is by Peter Reinhart and is found on Epicurious. I don’t know Mr. Reinhart, but the recipe rings true in my memory. We used the same ingredients plus, at certain bagel stores, some chemical crap to keep them from going stale too quickly. We skipped the chemicals. And, if at all possible do find liquid malt. Malt really adds to the flavor both in the dough and in the boiling water.

One mandatory variation from the recipe in my opinion – DO NOT go punching a hole in a piece of dough as the recipe suggests might be acceptable. no. No! That is not okay. Bad bagel baker.

Roll the damned thing the way it has been done for generations!

Bagel Boards

The one thing I thought was lacking from the recipe was the use of bagel boards. Bagel boards are 3″ (ish) wide boards covered in burlap or other material and soaked in water. They are easy to make and worth the time.

As shown below, I just cut the boards from wood I had around. I then cut up a kitchen towel (Teresa has not yet noticed it missing) and stapled it to the boards. Before use, soak both sides in water to prevent burning.

Almost Time To Eat

As mentioned in the recipe, after 24 hours in the fridge pull the bagels out and let them rest at room temperature for about an hour. This is when you want to put your water up to boil. After the hour on the counter, the bagels are ready to go! Time to boil them. (notice malty color of the water)

When the bagels come out of the boiling water/malt mix they go onto the bagel boards. (A glistening shark skin appearance is what you want when they come out of the water.). Back when working in bagel stores this was the stage that revealed seasoned bagel bakers versus newbies. If you can handle the bagels without gloves or constantly putting your hands in cold water then you have the makings of a real bagel baker.

You then put your toppings on and the boards go into the oven on the baking stone. I put them on the right side of the stone because I was flipping to the left. One suggestion, leave a bit more room between the boards so that the right most board’s bagels flip onto as much fresh super hot stone as possible.

After about 4-5 minutes you flip the board so that the bagel flips onto the stone. What was the top of the bagel is now the bottom. The idea here is to give each side its turn in the dry hot air to crisp. It also keeps the “bottom” from burning.

When the tops are just turning golden brown, they are done!

We ate them with cream cheese and smoked salmon (not the great kippered salmon from Russ & Daughters I usually indulge in, but quarantine is causing bigger hardships than lack of kippered salmon).

Enjoy.

More To Come- Suggestions Please

I plan on continuing to document some of the foodie type things we do here in the Bonder household. Hope y’all enjoy. Please subscribe and comments are usually welcome.

Finally, if you are bored -and you know you are- please read the rest of this blog. Start at the beginning -we are totally interesting and worth it.

A Skiing Interlude

Living in northern California means the kids get a “ski-week” off from school in February. As recent transplants from Georgia, we learned that ski-week is a mixed bag of fun, whining, fear, pain, over-priced lodging, and bruises, all compressed into tight-fitting boots and ski clothes.

To understand the excitement/dread levels associated with ski-week, you need to understand each family members’ perspective.

Teresa

Teresa grew up skiing. Although she grew up in Florida, they traveled to Aspen every season. So, she pretty much grew up skiing. Add to that a “gap” year in between first and second year of law school to LIVE in Aspen, and she is pretty awesome. (No, that is not normal. Most people do not take a gap year while IN law school.)

Teresa can ski most trails, her form is really good, her skis are parallel, and she is fast!

Me

I grew up not skiing. Indeed, the only time I recall even seeing somebody ski was in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. Too rich for my blood. In Queens, we made snow forts when young, then shoveled snow to make money as teenagers, and finally started muttering under our breath bitching about the snow as we approached adulthood. (These were back in the days when NY public schools were proud of the fact they did not close for snow– ever.)

In college, some friends took me on a ski trip and “taught” me to ski. One friend –who looked remarkably like a Gorg from the old show Fraggle Rock– Carl Webb, gave me my first lesson. I wore a football helmet and shoulder pads. He stood as straight and tall as his considerable bulk would allow, put his hands on my shoulders, and in a somber voice said (and at the time I did not realize he was plagiarising this from a great movie. Put your non-googled guesses in the comments.):

“Go straight. If something gets in your way, turn.”

And with those serious words of obviousness, Carl Webb (never just “Carl”) sent me down my first ski run at Hunter Mountain in New York (what we city kids called “upstate.”) Luckily, I did not seriously injure myself or anybody else. I did, however, end up screaming my head off and skiing all the way into the parking lot just past a group lesson. As I entered the parking lot (no kidding), I came to a somewhat controlled stop, thanks to the exposed blacktop grinding into the bottoms of my skis. This was the first — though not the last– time I met the ski patrol. They took away my skis until I signed up for a lesson.

Carl Webb did later give better advice that stuck with me. In fact, as far as I can tell, that advice was a Carl Webb original thought. “Never say or think ‘oh shit’ because the minute you do, you will lean back and then the skis will be in charge of where you go and how fast.”

Carl Webb’s advice stuck with me and for all of my years skiing, I could be heard to scream and yell virtually every profanity known to man (in several languages) while skiing, but never “oh shit.” I believe this limitation on my cursing actually kept me focused on leaning forward and made me a better skier.

Despite my awful start, I developed into a competent skier. By competent, I mean that I could tackle most non-mogul runs and keep up with my friends. I would occasionally tackle the mogul runs and survive, though survival was not a foregone conclusion. (One trip down Outer Limits at Killington, Vermont, unconcious on the back of a ski patrol sled convinced me to be a bit more cautious.). Nevertheless, my form remained horrific to behold with my skies flailing, and curses being screamed at the mountain.

Sam and Ella

Until 3 years ago we lived in Georgia and skiing was not on our radar. For their entire lives, we vacationed with the kids at places that were warm, saw family, and generally avoided the incredible expense of skiing.

So, until we moved to Northern California, the kids never skied.

Our First Family Ski Adventure

What does one do when school is out for ski-week. Why, one skis, of course. So, off we went to repurchase virtually everything we cleaned out of our attic fifteen years ago, plus stuff for the kids. Yay, fun.

We drove up to Tahoe with friends visiting from Georgia and booked a family lesson. On the way to the lesson, Teresa and I put our skis on, stumbled around for a minute, realized we remembered the basics of how to ski, and left the kids with the instructor.

Teresa got right back into the groove and was having a blast. She was by the far best skier in our little group. (Sorry Tony, you were not faster and did not have better form.) Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the end of skiing for me –more on that later.

Sam — as teenage boys are apt to do — jumped right into skiing without fear. Confident in his own immortality (or simply oblivious to mortality), he was on his own before the end of the day with the instructor just giving him pointers. By the end of that first day he was solo skiing on all of the greens and ended the day with a successful run on a blue run. Overall, a great day for Sam. And, of course, I imparted Carl Webb’s sage advice upon him, which I am sure helped.

This picture of Ella accurately reflects her thoughts, enthusiasm, and general cheeriness quotient for the next few days AND ski trips.

Most Recent Trip -Squaw Valley

Our most recent excursion was to Squaw Valley, Colorado. The goals this trip were to visit with some of our younger cousins and to transition Ella over to snow boarding. The young ones (all over 30, but still closer to Sam and Ella’s age than Teresa or I are) all wanted to snow board and needed lessons. So, this was a perfect opportunity.

We stayed in Squaw Valley Resort Village which was super nice. The snow was lovely, the weather not too cold, and the village offered a good mix of bars, restaraunts and stores. Idyllic really.

Most importantly, we had a great time hanging out with the cousins AND Ella had a blast learning to snow board with Tricia and Ben. She did a great job and kept up with the cousins and loved doing it!

Sam really came into his own as a beginner skier. I have little doubt that he will continue to progress and ultimately be more of a Teresa-class good-form skier than a Scott-type hot-mess on skis.

My Stinking Feet!

In the old days, I complained about ski boots only at the end of the day and in the same manner and volume as most folks around me. The cramped feeling was worth the fun and spectacle involved in every ski trip.

Since we started skiing with the kids in 2017 though, my feet are a real problem. The first trip I managed one full day with two separate boot changes at the rental shop. The issue was not a lack of comfort. The boots caused me pain across the entirety of my foot to the point that I was sweating, panting, and finally unable to keep them on.

As a dutiful father, I needed to overcome the pain so we could have idyllic ski trips with the kids (plus, my wife made me). So, I found the best review- certified boot fitter to solve my foot problem.

Side note– for the last twelve years or so I have done away with shoes as much as possible. I had some knee and back pain when I tried to run, but after reading Born to Run (highly recommended as a fun read), I decided to give barefoot running a try. Not only did my knee and back pain stop, but I was, for several years, a slow, but dedicated runner averaging 20 miles a week. Half of those miles were completely barefoot and the other half in vibram five finger dopey looking shoes. There has been a lot of controversy about barefoot running, but I am a 100% believer. The key, in my humble opinion, is to start slow. If you wear shoes, then your feet have unexcercised muscles in them. You have essentially been wearing a soft cast for years. If you normally run ten miles in supportive shoes then try the same distance without the shoes, you are bound to hurt yourself.

Anyway, the purpose of this little side note is inform you that I now have differently shaped feet than many folks. When I started barefoot running I was a size 11.5 and flat footed. A couple of years later, I was a size 10.5, normal arches and abnormally high tops of my feet. Hell, my feet are the most muscular part of my body. And, to bring this all back to the point of this side note, my new muscle feet may be a contributing factor to foot pain in ski boots. (Geez, I am long-winded.)

The fitter listened attentively and then proceeded to put pads all over my feet, placed the very expensive inners shells around my feet, heated everything and molded them exactly to my feet. Then, we did it again with the outer shell. Voila! I thought I would be back to skiing without foot pain as if I were 20.

I wore the boots every day for half an hour leading up to our next ski trip. Once at the mountain, I booted up, got my skis, got on the lift and the pain started again. I did not make it one full day in my custom fit boots. When we got home, I had them refit. The fitter scratched his head and then spent a solid three hours re-doing everything and leaving more room for my feet in the boots this time. The next trip was the recent visit to Squaw Valley and I barely made it out of the condo with my boots unlatched, before the pain began.

Next step– I found a ski shop in Squaw Valley with a fitter who sold these new fangled snowboard boots that you can ski in. I thought these might do the trick to just get me on the mountain for easy runs so I could be with the kids. I put the boots on and they were comfortable. I put the frames on and they were bearable. So I bought a NEW set of boots near the mountain just so I could ski with the family.

One half of one run. That is as far as a made it. One half of a green. At the half-way mark I took my skis off, opened them and sat in the snow to let my feet rest. I then walked down the mountain with just the snowboard boots on, the frames in my skis, and me carrying all of it.

For now (and likely forever), I am just done skiing. I don’t need another sport. I am content to watch my family, and sit near a fire drinking hot chocolate until they are done. Geez, I am getting old. At least I like fires and hot chocolate!

Testing Another Catamaran

We flew to Miami to revisit and test sail one of our catamaran top contenders from boat shows – the Xquisite X5. The X5 is either a beautiful catamaran if you like the modern styling, or one ugly beast if you are a traditionalist. To us . . . .

The curved coach roof . . . the four diagonal windows . . . and that curved Targa arch that gives is Porsche like feel . . . . . .

Continue reading “Testing Another Catamaran”

New York Food

Since 1995 I have been passing around a memo to friends about NY Food. It all started as a young lawyer in Atlanta after the fourth request for assistance from my new colleagues. Apparently, I was the only NYer they knew (other than John Gotti- who they were all afraid they might meet on the subway -as if he rode the subway). So, to save time in future interactions with my new found southern friends, I dictated a memo (a lost art by the way) and gave it to the very same word processor who was the fourth person to ask for help. Since then, the memo has been edited a bit every five to ten years. The very nature of the recommendations is that they should not require much updating because the places I recommend withstood the test of time -until a couple of them closed.

Continue reading “New York Food”