These are my great-grandparents, Carl & Genevieve (Jennie) Olson, who came separately and each alone as teenagers from Sweden to New York City, where they met at a Salvation Army dance. I snapped this photo of their wedding portrait that hangs in our family home. I’d forgotten all about it, and when I happened across it recently, I noticed the outline of my fingers and iPhone, reflected in the glass of the frame. I had inadvertently made a new photo showing Jennie being photographed by her great-granddaughter, Jenny, on her wedding day. It gave me a little shiver — as if time had somehow been compressed as the quantum physicists tell us it can be.
What strikes me about this photo is how happy Jennie looks. One was supposed to look solemn and dignified in photos of this era. Carl is managing to pull it off, but Jennie cannot quite suppress her smile. Clearly, she has found a measure of joy and a place for herself in this new land so far away from home. By all accounts they were very happy — but Jennie was also dead within a decade of tuberculosis, leaving behind three little girls, one of whom was my grandmother, Grace.
But that is a story for another day. I’m now not positive it was Grandma Grace who first made “toad-in-the-hole” egg and toast breakfasts. It could have been Grandma Jessie … or Aunt Elma … or maybe it was Mom. It really doesn’t matter — they were all wonderful mothers. Today’s recipe will always be a “mom” recipe in my mind — nurturing and nutritious — but easy to whip out in a few minutes, when there are a million other things to do.
Various simple combinations of egg and hearty bread start the day in so many parts of the world. As I write this I think of so many mothers preparing thousands of meals every day for years and years … the simple acts that keep humanity going. I think of my mother and her kindness, and ability to find joy in small daily rituals like summer mornings with egg and toast. She’d share her last two bites with my dogs, who would wait for the treat with rapt attention. Then they’d all head down to the lake, where Mom would gamely throw sticks. Many mornings I awoke to the sound of Mom asking the dogs if they were ready for toast, followed by a loud banging of the screen door and excited barking. Those were happy days.
On a recent holiday, when my nephew, Jed, needed some breakfast, I made him a toad-in-the-hole, and he became an instant fan. It’s a great fast morning meal (or any time for that matter) that will sustain you with protein. I like to top it with tomatoes, avocado, a bit of sauteed spinach or pesto …
- 2 eggs
- 2 slices nice hearty bread
- 1 tomato
- 1 avocado
- a bit of butter, olive oil or bacon fat
- pesto, salsa or chopped fresh herbs
- salt and pepper … a bit of garlic powder or veggie seasoning like Spike or Mrs. Dash
- fresh baby spinach if desired
- balsamic or red wine vinegar
Melt a bit of olive oil, bacon fat or butter in a cast iron (or other heavy-bottomed) frying pan. Use a cookie cutter or a glass to cut out a round from the middle of a piece of bread — choose a nice hearty whole grain bread. Put the bread into the pan, let it heat up for a minute, and crack an egg into the hole. Cook over medium heat until the egg is slightly set. Sprinkle with seasonings, and flip over. Cook the other side for a minute or two — the egg yolk should stay slightly soft in the middle. Remove onto a plate, and top with fresh tomato and avocado slices. Add a dollop of salsa or pesto. If you want to use spinach as well, drop it into the already warm pan, sprinkle with vinegar and cover to steam for a few minutes until wilted. Serve on the side for a complete meal.