Bread and butter

Mom was always frugal. When we were kids, all we had to survive on was Dad’s salary as a primary school teacher. Civil servants didn’t earn much in those days (I’m not entirely sure that they earn all that much these days either) and since Mom was a housewife with no income of her own, she was very careful in managing the household budget. She would snip away a little here, trim away some unnecessary fat there; all to ensure we got by.

I remember waking up before dawn. I would make my own bed before leaving my room to go and brush my teeth and shower. I would put on my school uniform. Make a perfect Windsor’s knot of my prefect’s tie in our ignoble school colours of purple and green. Comb pomade through my hair, flatten it. Everything went like clockwork. What I dreaded was coming down to breakfast. Breakfast was one of the casualties of Mom’s domestic austerity drive, you see.

Years later, when we had more money, Mom would buy frozen frankfurters and boil them. Once they were cooked, she would slice them into halves, lengthwise. One frank would fit perfectly on a slice of bread if halved. I would ask for two whole franks, but Mom would say that I was greedy.

Later I could have cereal, Kellogg’s cornflakes and later still Frosties (remember Tony the Tiger and his “They’re Grrrrreat!” catchphrase?). The only thing was that fresh milk would be too expensive so Mom would make some warm milk solution by mixing condensed milk with hot water.

I would protest as the warm milk mixture made the cornflakes soggy. I thought a good compromise was making this diluted condensed milk the night before and keeping it chilled in the fridge but Mom said children shouldn’t drink anything cold in the morning — it would give me a cold and rheumatism when I was old.

I suspected she was too lazy to make this but I didn’t say so. When you are young, you have no idea how much work it takes to run a household, and being a child, one is self-centred by default, and so sees everyone else as selfish when one doesn’t get one’s way.

But all these were luxuries compared to what I had to eat for breakfast when I first started going to school. Just two slices of white bread, buttered on one side and sprinkled with some granulated sugar. That was it. Yellow butter, white sugar, white bread. That was it.

Doesn’t sound so bad but try having it five days a week, every day of the year except during school holidays. (For some reason I have no recollection of what we ate as a family during the non-schooling days. Was my entire childhood and my parents’ years of parenting run by the academic calendar?) And then repeat the next year. I was never so sick of any single food or meal.

Fast forward a decade or two, and my sister’s kids are going to school now. They weren’t going to suffer the same fate. Instead their mother would ply them with all sorts of goodies from bakery-bought sausage buns to hot fish-ball noodle soup from the hawker stall to slices of walnut cake or red-bean paste buns made by their grandmother the day before.

Yes, their grandmother — my Mom. Apparently retirement suits her plenty well. All her freed-up time from taking care of two school-going kids (and one school-teaching husband, now a fellow retiree) was now redirected to baking. She never baked when I was growing up. Never.

To say that I’m feeling rather sour about this is an understatement. And my nephew and nieces — the ungrateful lot — would dare make requests (“We want cheese buns today, not sausage buns”) and actually refuse to consume certain breakfast foods (“No plain cornflakes, please”). The cheek.

They’ve never had only bread-and-butter for breakfast, the lucky fellows. But I’m making this sound like some sort of punishment. It wasn’t. These days, I tire of nasi lemak and char kway teow or a full English breakfast of eggs, sausages, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, the whole lot. They are made upon order and served any way I like it. But it’s not the same as a homemade meal. It’s not made with love.

What I really crave is just a simple slice of bread-and-butter with some sugar sprinkled over it. The way Mom used to make it, crumbs stuck on the thinly spread butter and all. It’s made with love. Nothing could taste better.

Picture by Pascal Thauvin.

26 Responses

  1. Gina January 4, 2013 / 12:23 am

    Is there a button LIKE? coz I LIKE, LIKE, LIKE and LIKE x10 this post!

    Made my heart bleed for being self centred and underappreciating what my mom has been doing for me all these years! She is 69 and still cooks every afternoon lunch for me!

    • Kenny January 4, 2013 / 8:58 am

      Your mom’s a champion. I bet no restaurant meal could taste half as delicious as the afternoon lunch she prepares for you, dear.

  2. B January 4, 2013 / 6:15 am

    Some people love money, nice cars, a beautiful home, or a significant other but the one thing that seems to trump all of these and never gets mentioned much is our true love for mom’s cooking.

    Mom’s cooking is the meaning of everything that is good in life. Mom was my Florence Tan and my Nigella.

    These days I’m the one cooking for her – her favourite dishes to the best of my ability – as best as possible to the way she would have cooked them.

    Some days I succeed. Some days I fail. Mom would still eat them because nothing could taste better than food made with love.

    How I miss her simple slice of bread-and-butter with some sugar sprinkled over it. *teary*

    • Kenny January 4, 2013 / 9:00 am

      It’s very special how you now have a chance to return the favour and cook for your mother. It doesn’t matter how well your dishes turn out — so long as it is made with love, it will always be delicious.

      Let us not long for days of yore; only cherish that they happened and we were fortunate enough to experience them.

      Be well always, my friend. *hugs*

  3. Ravenous Rabbit January 4, 2013 / 9:44 am

    I always had one half boiled egg and a slice of bread torn and soaked in the slime. Hated it then and still hate it now. Who wants to eat snotty eggs?! Eugh… Hahaha. Oh shit, am I still ungrateful and selfish??!! Oops….

    • Kenny January 4, 2013 / 11:15 am

      Hahaha, you’re incorrigible, that’s what you are. It’s not snotty or slimy if it’s done right. Runny, luscious eggs — oh what could be better? (If you’re ungrateful, I’m simply gluttonous, haha.)

  4. Baby Sumo January 4, 2013 / 1:24 pm

    I quite like bread with butter sprinkled with sugar. Used to eat this when I was little too. Or sometimes bread with butter and condensed milk with Milo. Haha!

    • Kenny January 4, 2013 / 8:43 pm

      Devil likes it with Milo powder but without the condensed milk. So many ways for us to have our plain ol’ bread and butter, eh?

  5. Michelle January 4, 2013 / 3:25 pm

    I was reading and thinking to myself, I’ve read this somewhere before. I know I’ve seen this before.

    And I was thinking, “Kenny’s getting lazy and recycling his stuff from before.”

    Then I saw that you put in a link to TMI. Haha.

    But hey, I feel you. I had bread for breakfast for my entire schooling life, and I miss nothing more than that these days.

    • Kenny January 4, 2013 / 8:53 pm

      Haha, Kenny’s totally getting lazy! Hang on, I’m always lazy, aren’t I?

      Kidding aside, I will be writing less this year (no more daily posts). I’m targeting one post a week (ought to be every Monday) and then sharing some of my writing that has been featured elsewhere (not just TMI) on Thursdays. This week’s special since it’s the first week of 2013, hence the Tue/Fri posting schedule.

      Oh for bread and butter for brekkie besok!

    • Michelle January 4, 2013 / 9:11 pm

      Something new on Monday, something old on Thursday, eh? Sounds good.

      I’m aiming to write a little more this year. But I’ve aimed to do that every year since I can remember. Let’s see if it happens this time.

    • Kenny January 4, 2013 / 9:30 pm

      Something old (and hopefully gold) which will be updated in minor ways. This means occasional edits, revisions, “director’s cuts” which could longer or shorter than the original article. Keeps things fun for me, at least.

      I’m sure you can write more this year, dear. Just have to make it a habit, a routine.

  6. missyblurkit January 4, 2013 / 4:24 pm

    Civil servants earn a little more than those days. My parents were teachers too and the money was seriously low those days. Loved my packed recess sandwich of bread and peanut butter. If we I were to have bread and sausages then the sausages must go with some boiled cabbage and my rendition of no runny yellow poached egg – no idea why but it was some strange comfort food till today >.<

    • Kenny January 4, 2013 / 9:06 pm

      Your description of your school day recess lunch just made me smile. I’ve never had bread and sausages with boiled cabbage. Now you got me curious about it at past nine at night!

  7. Vern January 4, 2013 / 4:29 pm

    Bread, butter and sprinkled with sugar – mom made those for me as well, for 3 occasions:

    • breakfast,
    • to be brought to school or,
    • when I’m sick and lost my taste buds

    Today, it remains one of my comfort foods for 3 (almost) similar occasions:

    • when I’m too lazy to whip up something fancy,
    • when I’m sick, and
    • when I’m HOMEsick


    Sorry I’m a little late, Happy New Year, Kenny gor gor. I feel like I’ve read this post (or something like this) before, also by you. Or am I wrong?

    • Kenny January 4, 2013 / 9:25 pm

      Ooh, that makes you and Michelle my two most observant readers! See my reply to Michelle above for the explanation. (If you read both versions carefully, you’d notice small differences though.)

      Happy New Year, and it’s not late at all!

  8. Camemberu January 4, 2013 / 7:25 pm

    Oh what memories! Yes, how we hated our simple breakfasts back then (mine was a half-boiled egg), but look back upon them with longing and love. Eating half-boiled eggs every day for many years will make you averse to runny eggs though! But now I am tempted to do the same to my kids! Aha!

    Hey, yes, I also need to plan a KL trip – so terrible that I missed seeing you guys last June. But things look better now, so must make up for lost makan time! :)

    • Kenny January 4, 2013 / 9:27 pm

      I think your daughters will be thankful for their nutritious breakfasts and the loving memories years and years from now. I’m sure of it.

      And we’re waiting to be your KL makan guides — all you need to do is show up, haha!

  9. Jencooks January 4, 2013 / 11:54 pm

    Suddenly makes me feel nostalgic over the fuss free yesteryears when Mum did not fuss over us unlike the present generations. Eat it or leave it. No choices to make. Life is simple. And yes oh yes bread butter and sugar is akin to rice and black sauce combination Chinese style and yet both are simple meal to remember on…..

    • Kenny January 5, 2013 / 12:13 am

      Hmm… Now you’re making me crave a bowl of steamed rice doused with some black sauce … and it’s 12:13 in the morning!

  10. Choi Yen January 5, 2013 / 11:12 am

    I’m blessed because I still can enjoy my mom’s home cook food until now although I’m married :P
    Lucky, really lucky me….

    • Kenny January 5, 2013 / 1:54 pm

      You are blessed, but then again, so is your mother, to be able to cook for her children still. Some parents don’t even have an opportunity to do this as their kids are living outstation or abroad. Know that you are probably making your mother happy too.

  11. kc January 6, 2013 / 6:28 pm

    Same thing growing up :-)

    We also had roti canai with sugar. Times are different, no? KFC was a big deal then.

    • Kenny January 6, 2013 / 7:38 pm

      Ooh I loved roti canai with granulated sugar sprinkled all over it, before being drenched in dhall. Nothing quite like it.

  12. Wee Sing January 10, 2013 / 5:17 pm

    Hello Bro, Been a long time since we last chatted sometime about few years ago? This topic of yours remind me that I went through the same road as yours. Difference is, I never complained. Or should I say, I don’t even know how to complain. I eat whatever is served knowing that my mum would wake up early in the morning just to prepare them for us.

    And I do still having the same breakfast Mon-Fri now but this time is a cup of Nescafe, Peanut-Butter and just more slices of bread. Speaking of I had not had spread butter with granulated sugar for the past 10 years already. Maybe I should try one tomorrow.

    • Kenny January 10, 2013 / 6:38 pm

      You were a much better kid than I ever was, that’s for sure, haha. Seriously though, do try some simple bread and butter with granulated sugar sprinkled on top for your brekkie tomorrow. I guarantee it will bring back all the memories of them good ol’ days…

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