French Toast and Change

My mind is all a jumble. Thoughts fly through my consciousness like a meteor shower – it feels impossible to follow the progression of one before another catches my eye, before they all disappear somewhere beyond the horizon of my seeing. I close my eyes for a moment, shut them out, let my mind fill with quietness. The air is stifling and hot today, but there is a promise of change on the breeze. The sense of imminent transformation. I get out of the car and start down the shadowy path of the pine forest, the very one I was walking on many months ago when my Dad told me he had cancer.

The forest is full of greenish, dappled light and flickering shadows. The air is rich and clean, woodsy. It is so quiet in here, so still. I am savoring each turn of the path, each knobbly root sticking out the soil, knowing it might well be the last time I walk this path and experience its familiar tread. I am thinking about change, about life. About the way we fear change and the way we crave it. How life can sometimes feel so stagnant, but even then, change is working its spell before our eyes, subtly, imperceptibly and irretrievably transforming the fabric of our experience.

Even before my Father was sick, I was growing antsy for change. I felt stuck, as though I were being swallowed into a mire, lulled into complacency by repetition and familiarity.  That 5 years, 10 years even 15 years from now, I would find myself in the exact same spot, wondering what might have happened if I had had the courage to pull my unscathed dreams out of their safe, sheltered home in my mind, and had exposed them to the dust and grit of reality.

I have dreamed my entire life of living in England, of writing a book, of having an adventure. Leading a life that was worthy of writing about – or better yet, of living. In the past I had always talked myself out of such notions – too expensive, too frightening, too irresponsible, too selfish – and those dreams seemed better left to my imagination, where they would never by dented or scratched by the disappointments and bumps of life. But the itch, the sense of unfulfilled longings and dissatisfactions, continued to build until I felt very much like a I would suffocate if I continued on like I was.  That I would whither away under the firm hold of fear, until I was reduced to the lifeless pith of bitterness and resentment. I must break free, I must do this. I applied, after much deliberation and conquering of second thoughts, to several programs in the UK. When I was accepted into two of the programs I had applied to, I  chose the program I liked best and resolutely, terrifyingly, sent in my deposit, securing myself a place in a graduate writing program, beginning the coming autumn in Cornwall.

Then my Dad was sick, and again I wasn’t sure. How could I go? How could I leave my family at a time like this? How could I possibly think of doing something that would uproot my entire life with no guarantee of anything?  It seemed ridiculous, childish, naive – to think of humoring such romantic, heedless fancies. I was waiting for him to take my hand and beg me not to do it, to grow up and get a real job. In reality, he told me just the opposite. It was the one thing he told me during his illness, the closest he came to imparting that wisdom granted from the nearness of death.  We were talking about his travels one day – his trips to Africa, to China – and suddenly he looked at me and said, that no matter what happened, he wanted me to go to Cornwall. He even talked about visiting me there, how I could take him out for fish and chips and a drink in the pub when he got better. No matter what, you must go.

Because if there is one thing we can learn from death, it is that life is not long enough. Not long enough, at least, to let your fears prevent you from living the life you truly and madly yearn for.

So in three weeks from today, we will be stepping into London Heathrow Airport to begin an adventure – M., myself and our two cats. I will spend the coming year engrossed in writing, in Cornwall, in food and history and cliffs and moors, and most of all, I hope, in living. I am filled with excitement and terror both, which my friend tells me, are the signs that you are living your life as you should be. And I hope to take you all with my, my dear readers, on this journey. I hope you will come along and listen to my stories and look through my eyes.

The path ends and I head back to my car. My thoughts feel clearer now, or at least quieted. Clouds are moving in and the breeze is picking up. Autumn is in the air. I head home and make French toast for dinner, with apples and the first squash of the season. It might not be the most conventional dinner, but life is too short for conventional. Life is about being extraordinary.

French Toast with Apple and Squash Compote

Serves 4

A few notes: first, I like to leave the skin on my apples and squashes as they become tender and delicious by the end of cooking, and are chock full of good nutrients that I think are shameful to waste. But the preference is all yours. Second, this compote was adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce, and is so delicious that you might want to make extra for stirring into your porridge or eating out of the fridge at midnight.

Ingredients

    For the compote:
  • 2 tablespoons butter, ghee or coconut oil
  • 1/2 of a butternut squash, cut into 1/2 - 1 inch chunks (save the seeds)
  • 2 cooking apples, sliced into thick wedges
  • 1/4 cup muscovado sugar or dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • For the French toast:
  • 3 organic eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon raw cane sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 8 slices of whole grain bread

Instructions

  1. Heat the butter, ghee or coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the squash in a single layer to the pan and cook for around 5 minutes, then flip each piece over and cook 5 minutes on the other side. You want the edges of the squash to caramelize against the heat of the pan and turn a delicious golden brown.
  2. Once the squash has started to brown a bit, add the apples, sugar, cinnamon and salt and stir to combine. Let the sugar begin to dissolve and turn into a gooey caramel consistency, and then add a few splashes of water. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples and squash are practically falling apart. Add the apple cider vinegar and cook for a few minutes more.
  3. (Note: The seeds from the squash can be toasted in the oven to sprinkle over the top if you like. To do this, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, then clean the seeds as best you can (a little bit of flesh sticking to them will not be a problem at all, but an added bonus) and then toss them with a little oil and some salt. Place on a baking tray in a single layer, and bake for about 20-25 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until they are golden and crispy.)
  4. To make the French toast, mix all the ingredients except for the bread in a shallow baking dish. Place the bread into the batter, letting it soak it up for a few minutes, then turn over and let it absorb on the other side.
  5. While the bread is soaking up the batter, heat a good sized skillet or griddle over medium heat and add a little oil to the pan. Wait until the pan is fairly hot, then place the soaked bread slices into the pan, listening contentedly to the sizzle as they hit. Cook for about 4-5 minutes per side.
  6. Serve hot, topped with the compote, a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds and a good drizzle of maple syrup.

One last thing – I have finally finished updating the Food Page - it is now a visual index that I hope will be easier and more inspiring to look through.

Comments

  1. Cathy says:

    What a wonderful adventure that will be! …In Cornwall, where so many writers and poets have walked, lived and loved! I wish you all the very best – for the new life and the course. And look forward to reading posts written from my home country! :D

  2. Danielle says:

    Thank you Cathy – I think it will be an experience that will deeply shape my life for the better no matter what comes of it! I didn’t know England was your home!! It will have yet another positive connotation for me then :)

  3. Jerelyn Sehl says:

    I’m so happy for you! And this is just the message I needed to write the check and mail in our application for a trip called “Best of Britain and Ireland” next May. I’ve been afraid to commit, so close but not quite there. Now, I know that I need to do it!
    Looking forward to reading all about your new adventures!

    • Danielle says:

      Congrats Jerelyn on taking the plunge and going for it! That sounds like a wonderful trip, I’m sure you won’t regret it! This makes me think of a quote I saw on my friend’s fridge by Howard Thurman – “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I think there is something truly contagious about following one’s bliss, it is lovely to see this is the case!
      XOXO

  4. You are on the right path, because this is your path, and you are learning at every step. I wish you all the very best for the adventure that is your life. Enjoy. Thanks for your lovely blogging. I too am sitting on a hinge and it is so exciting to know that life carries you through, and that the people that were once near are always with us.

    • Danielle says:

      Thank you so very much for this comment – it is so chocked full of wisdom and heart. I keep trying to remember something an older friend of mine told me – don’t forget to enjoy being on the brink of things, he said, it is the very best time of your life. Anything is possible. Thank you again!

  5. marthasnail says:

    you are going to have an amazing adventure in cornwall. i can’t wait to see photos and hear more about your day-to-day life there. the food page looks lovely, by the way. so looking forward to seeing you this weekend. xox

  6. Christene says:

    I wish you all success possible and admire you for listening to your heart and following your dream instead of doing nothing…All success to you dear Danielle enjoy your walk through the English woods where many a Bard has walked before…..hugzzzzzzzzzz

  7. Anonymous says:

    Best wishes to you in your endeavor. Such a beautiful post. I always enjoy reading your blog.

  8. sally says:

    Best wishes for your dreams to transpire into reality. Will watch and read anxiously of your adventures and your writings! You will do well!

  9. Rosanna says:

    Your posts are so inspiring. I am glad that even as you leave an old way of being, we can still tug along with you. Looking forward to more great posts from Cornwall.

  10. Lucinda says:

    So exciting! Not long to go now, I can’r wait to read your blog posts from Cornwall and look at your amazing photos. Can I make a request for a recipe for veggie cornish pasties please? :)

  11. Congratulations on taking a big step toward your dreams. I love this quote, “That 5 years, 10 years even 15 years from now, I would find myself in the exact same spot, wondering what might have happened if I had had the courage to pull my unscathed dreams out of their safe, sheltered home in my mind, and had exposed them to the dust and grit of reality.”

    You already have a talent for touching on the truth of what it means to be human with your writing and I look forward to following your journey and seeing what unfolds.

    • Danielle says:

      Thank you for your lovely words. Your comment has truly humbled me and I will cherish it very much in the moments when I am throwing my hands up in the air and thinking myself a terrible writer (which happens more often than not!). I’m so glad you’ll be following along!! :)

      XOXO

  12. brenda says:

    I just stumbled across your blog today and how fitting onto this post. I recently moved from Ireland to M.A. with my husband and three boys but have yet to get to Vermont. I remember those feelings well in the last few weeks. Your blog is beautiful- prose and food, what could be better. I wish you the best but plan to drop back here and find out how it goes.