[NB: A huge "THANK YOU" to all of you who sent good wishes my way yesterday. I really wasn't intending to sound so "woe-is-me" (I do that quite enough around the diet issues, thank you), but just reflecting on how the day could elicit positive vibes for all concerned. Your comments sure worked toward that end for me, though: big hugs to all of you! ]
In my mind, here’s the perfect way to wake up on a Sunday morning:
Outside, the weather is balmy. A mild breeze whispers through the slightly opened window, curtains undulating softly with each invisible breath. The sun makes its presence known through the diaphanous curtain as it tickles the pillows of our bed with little sparkles of laughing light. Elsie pads quietly over to my side of the bed and, as gently as a rose petal floating to the ground, taps my open palm with her soft, moist nose. I open my eyes slowly. Glancing toward the window, I stretch luxuriously and think, ”Ahh, yes! Another lovely, sunny Sunday! This is a perfect time to have. . . BREAKFAST.”
Unfortunately, the reality yesterday morning was more like this scenario:
It’s dark; the cold, clammy night air refuses to release its death grip on the house, barreling its way into the room through the open window. Thin and defenseless, the curtains ripple and flap, rousing me with their wistful ”flltt, flltt, fllllltttt” tapping an SOS against the pane. Chaser thumps enthusiastically over to my side of the bed and, with a serviceable impersonation of an approaching foghorn, targets my exposed ear with her wet, cold nose. My eyes pop awake and dart toward the window: monochrome grey sky, raindrops still clinging to the glass. Outside, there’s a constant flutter of leaves pelted by rain. I jerk upright, reach for the bedside lamp and lament, “Aaarrghh! Another crappy, rainy, gloomy Sunday.” But wait; pause. My smile returns, and I reconsider: ”Oh, well. Typical Toronto day. But at least it’s time for–BREAKFAST!”
Like bright copper kettles and whiskers on kittens, breakfast does seem to make everything a little better, doesn’t it?
Well, as soon as I read about the second Recipe Remix blog event, hosted by Robin of Made with Love and Danielle of Make No Little Meals, I knew I had to enter. The event focuses on breakfast foods, asking bloggers to “remix” a traditional food in a new way. Admittedly, the breakfast pickings were pretty slim (ah, if only I could say as much for my thighs): six dishes, five of which contained eggs, and all of which contained wheat–both no-no’s for this brekkie lover. Initially, I narrowed the choice down to pancakes, crepes, or French toast.
Now, as much as I love pancakes and crepes, I’d already dealt with both of those on this blog. Time for a new challenge. But why, oh why did it have to be French toast? I hate French toast. Okay, maybe that’s being slightly dishonest. The truth is, I TOTALLY, WHOLLY, ENTIRELY, COMPLETELY, ABSOLUTELY hate French toast. Can’t stand it. Never touch the stuff. Blech! French Toast is my mortal enemy! And I’m really not particularly fond of it, either.
I’m not sure why I developed this bone-chilling aversion to what is, arguably, a well-loved (and certainly popular) breakfast staple. Perhaps it was my mother’s tendency to use approximately half a tub of margarine when frying the stuff, resulting in that previously unknown breakfast delicacy, Deep Fried Brick. Despite the slices fairly floating in grease like aging Floridians at the pool, the toast inevitably still turned out slightly scorched on the outside. At that point, my mom would stack the slabs on a plate (no blotting on a paper towel for her!) and douse them in corn syrup. The heavy, unctuous substance would spread, a slowly oozing blob that was eventually absorbed by the top slice, leaving it wet, weighted, and about as appetizing as a kitchen sponge just lifted from the bucket of grey, murky, muddy water. Ooh, yum. French toast, anyone?
I knew had to get over my childhood toast trauma. I decided to approach it like an episode of Iron Chef: I’d been challenged to transform the lowly pain grillé into something mouth-watering, something delectable. Was I up to the task? Alas, I couldn’t think of anything. I was at a loss; I was afraid I’d blow it. In fact, I was certain I’d be. . . well, toast.
But this blog event was called Recipe REMIX, which meant I had carte blanche to change up the dish any way I wanted. And who ever said that French Toast has to be fried? In fact, it was the preparation method alone that rendered the stuff unpalatable to me; change the method, change the result. Eliminating the frying would also result in a lighter, airier product. I decided to bake the dish instead, after breaking the bread into smaller bits so they could soak up the liquid ingredients while nestled in a single soufflée dish: a French Toast casserole.
Working with a fairly standard (egg- and dairy-free, of course) mixture for soaking French toast, I added a few extra touches, such as a splash of berry liqueur or some mixed berries as a reminder of spring, a means to elicit that sunshine I missed so much in the morning.
As the mixture baked and browned, the bits of bread continued to soak up the batter, expanding and puffing like a male dove preening for a mate. It rose up so much, in fact, with such a fluffy and almost mousse-like texture, that I decided to call it “French Toast Soufflé.”
We ate it warm, bites of spongy, soft bread punctuated with bursts of juicy berries; but it could easily be served cold. And while I didn’t have time to make any soy-free whipped cream yesterday, a dollop of cream would be the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of this fruity, light and delectable dish.
Go on, indulge. Why not have a big bowl for breakfast? It will make the rest of the day seem that much better.
French Toast Soufflé with Summer Berries
I think this is what someone like Nigella would call a “summer pudding,” though I’ve never had one of those. It would be a fabulous dish for a springtime brunch buffet, or even as a dessert following a light summer meal.
8-10 slices stale sourdough spelt or kamut bread
1/4 cup (60 ml.) old-fashioned rolled oats
2-1/2 cups (620 ml.) vanilla rice or soy milk
1 tsp. (5 ml.) pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (125 ml.) agave nectar
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) organic cornstarch or arrowroot powder
2-3 Tbsp. (30-45 ml.) berry liqueur (framboise, cherry, etc.–I used Cloudberry, but it’s pretty rare)
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) fresh lemon juice or 1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1-1/2 – 2 cups (325 to 500 ml.) fresh or frozen mixed berries
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Lightly grease a nonreactive (glass or ceramic) pan or soufflé dish.
Break the bread into bite-sized chunks and place in a large bowl. Set aside.
In a blender, grind the oats until they are the consistency of a coarse meal. Add the remaining ingredients except for the bread and berries, and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture over the bread in the bowl, pushing the bread down with the back of a spoon so that all pieces are submerged. Allow to sit 20-30 minutes, pressing the bread back down occasionally, until the bread is completely soaked through (there may still be liquid left in the bottom of the bowl; this is fine).
When the bread is all soaked, spoon half the bread slices and half the remaining liquid into the prepared pan. Top with about 2/3 of the mixed berries. Cover the berries with the rest of the bread and liquid, then top with the last 1/3 of the berries.
Bake in preheated oven 40-50 minutes, until puffed and golden and a knife inserted in the centre comes out wet but clean. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold. Makes about 8 servings. This is best served the day it’s made, though it can be re-heated the next day.
[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the "Cookbook" button at right, or visit the cookbook page.]