With her best love-you-no-matter-what face on, my mother told me, “girls love a guy who can cook.” This display of motherly underhandedness was her way of conveying that I could potentially salvage my reputation with women, despite a free-throw percentage something like what Stephen Hawking puts up and a musical talent that extends only as far as Guitar Hero.
I grew up with the warm smell of spiced apples stewing, the hiss that a jar of homemade jam makes when you crack it open, the buttery flakes of a piecrust perfected with experience. My mother was always in the kitchen, and I was always there to enjoy the fruits of her labors. As a result, I learned how to cook from observation, picking it up piecemeal as I licked the batter off cookie -dough-covered spatulas, stole fingerfuls of fresh whipped cream, and snuck away with spoons laden with fresh applesauce about to be canned.
My cooking experience remained solely observational until, as the final days of summer ticked slowly down, I came across a loaf of Portuguese sweet bread. The loaf sat mushroom shaped, golden brown and pillowy soft, unexplained on my kitchen counter (I would find out later that it came from the Silver Stars Bakery on Ives Street). It was practically begging to be made into French toast.
I called a fellow bored-and-broke college student, and we decided to plan a breakfast. He quickly appointed himself my sous chef, and we began to work on the menu. A simple French toast soon ballooned into a three-course meal. Our guest list, comprised of—conveniently all female—old friends planned to arrive at noon. I danced around the kitchen in Billy-Elliot-meets-Muhammad-Ali welter, mixing and sautéing in a cooking frenzy, emulating what I had seen in all-night Iron Chef marathons. As our guests arrived, our first course hit the blender.
We served melon-mint, apple-cinnamon, and strawberry-Nutella smoothie shots. These smoothies date back from high school, when, in order to combat the 7:35 a.m. first bell, I developed a morning routine that got me from the bed and out the door in just under seven minutes. My mother took this as a challenge to make breakfast totally portable and started making these delectable breakfast smoothies.
The melon-mint was made with two parts frozen bits of honeydew, one part fresh mint leaves, a splash of limejuice, and ice. The apple-cinnamon was apple cider, frozen in ice trays and blended with a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg. The best of the three, in my opinion, was the strawberry-Nutella, a combination of frozen strawberries, a few spoonfuls of Nutella, and a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt. In a style reminiscent of my mother’s cooking, these were combined based on taste and texture, in no particular ratio. As we served the drinks to our guests, however, their nods of approval and soft mmm’s indicated our success.
I discovered our second course while hungrily wandering the streets of Tel Aviv at some untold hour of the night. Expecting the late-night snack litany of pizza, French fries, or worse, I was ushered into a tiny café and served a croissant, perfectly crisp and warm, topped with Gouda cheese, salami, and a poached egg. I tried to replicate the dish as faithfully as possible. Once I had slices of aged Gouda and fennel salami neatly stacked onto open-faced croissants, I realized that I had no idea how to poach an egg. Panicked, I stopped everything and ran to the computer, and the wisdom of Youtube. I watched and learned as Gordon Ramsey explained how to place the egg gently in boiling water, and spin the pan just right so the white of the egg wraps delicately around the yolk. I set the water to boil, and when the time came, I stirred it furiously, creating a small vortex into which I dropped egg after egg hoping for a positive result. Then, as instructed, I spooned the eggs from the boiling water and placed them in cool water to stop the cooking and allow them to firm up. If I served my eggs in Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant he would have punched me in the mouth before kicking me off his reality TV show. Nevertheless, I topped the croissants with my poached eggs, broiled them until the cheese melted and the croissant crisped, and served.
The final course was the most important. Summer in New Hampshire is peach season, and for the month of August my mother turns our kitchen into a halfway house for peaches fresh off the tree and on their way into pies, cans, tarts, and jams. Always looking for a way to diminish the peach surplus that perpetuates in our home, my mother suggested peach compote.
It sounds fancy, but it is deceptively simple to make. Six ripe peaches boiled, peeled, sliced, and tossed in a pot with some butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and a dash of lemon juice combine to make something I had believed only the likes of my mother could produce. Once combined, the mixture should be left simmering until the peaches shrink and most of the liquid is absorbed. As the mixture boiled down the whole house started to smell like something out of Little House on the Prairie.
As it began, the meal ended with the Portuguese sweet bread. I soaked the soft, spongy bread in a mixture of egg, heavy cream, and cinnamon before frying it in butter to make a French toast. Two or three minutes on each side made the slices come off the pan gold—like Lil’ Jon’s grillz—and so soft that they almost crumbled on the plate. We topped this with the peach compote and garnished it with real maple syrup and pecans. The smell of the peaches reached the table before the food, and when my sous chef and I arrived brandishing the French toast like it was the Holy Grail, there were more flitting eyelids and twirled hair than at a Jonas Brothers concert. At the first bite, their eyes lit up like I’d just served them Brad Pitt’s abs on a platter.
It was a ‘mission accomplished’ moment, more G.I. Joe than George W. Impressed girls and satisfied friends sat with us while my sous chef and I ate what was left of the meal. My mom came home to a kitchen in which I had used just over two dozen eggs (most sacrificed to the poaching), spilled cinnamon, cream, and smoothie on three separate surfaces and dirtied just about every dish we owned. But while she threatened to strangle me if the mess wasn’t cleaned up within the hour, I couldn’t help but infer a distinct note of pride in her scolding tones.
Josh Moses B’13 sounds fancy, but is deceptively simple to make.
Breakfast of Champions:
Melon Mint Smoothie Shot
Apple Cinnamon Smoothie Shot
Strawberry Nutella Smoothie Shot
Open Face Croissant
Sandwich with poached
egg, Gouda, fennel salami
Portuguese Sweet Bread