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Finding a Way: Peachy French Toast in Winter

When I recently got a recipe for Brioche French Toast with Native Peaches from Tim Partridge, a renowned Boston chef, I found myself in a moral quandary.

Here we were, in the midst of one of our epic winters, and I'd just gotten a recipe from a chef who's devoted to sustainable agriculture, featuring a fruit that was so out of season I could barely remember what it tasted like.

Sure, the calendar says it's almost spring, but around here we won't be seeing local peaches until, at the earliest, mid-summer. Plus, I knew that any "fresh" peaches I'd find this time of year would be stone-hard and flown in from faraway lands, and that this would render the whole point of the recipe obsolete. And yet, I wanted that French toast. Badly.

Fortunately, when necessary, I can be a master of rationalization. So while I know that buying peaches in winter is wrong, I also know that if we took "sustainably grown" too seriously here in New England, we'd all have died of rickets long ago.

And so, I bypassed the fresh (but not domestic) peaches and took things a step further by buying frozen. The fact that I wouldn't have to blanch, peel and slice them only added to my guilty pleasure.

I invited some friends over for a "breakfast dinner," one of my family's favorite, most soul-warming wintertime meals. My guests had no idea that there had been an intense philosophical maelstrom swirling around the house before dinner. They were innocents, and in their childlike naivete they raved about the meal. "A feast as usual," one of them enthused.

And even though I knew all too well about my breach of ethics, I had to agree. The French toast was an embarrassment of richness: buttery brioche dipped in cream and eggs then sauteed until crisp and brown. The outer crunch gave way to a soft, smooth interior. The peaches offered a slightly tangy contrast.

I grew worried when one outgoing friend didn't say a word the entire time she was eating -- and was relieved when I saw her go back for seconds. After she finished, she leaned back with a smile and said, "Now I can talk again." Her silence, it turned out, had been the best compliment of the night.

Though I'm sure that fresh native peaches would have elevated this dish to even higher heights, when it came down to it, there was something uplifting about watching the frozen fruit slowly thawing within an aromatic blend of butter, wine and syrup. I was hoping the same thing might happen to me as I stood at the stove, because as a -- you know, Native Southerner (I'm originally from D.C.) -- these Boston winters hurt. Maybe frozen peaches had been the perfect choice after all.

What I learned when faced with an impossibly enticing recipe for Brioche French Toast with Native Peaches is that when it comes to sustainability, I'm not a strict constructionist. Peaches in March? I just consider it outsourcing locally grown. After all, we are one world -- some months more than others.

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Betsy Block