Devon and Shawn Grady, Spartanburg
Devon Gray has one holiday rule: No one leaves the house on Christmas morning. In order to make that happen, she has had to make a few adjustments to her family’s holiday traditions. Instead of flitting house to house on Christmas Day, Devon and her husband Shawn celebrate with extended family in the week leading up to Christmas. And to avoid last-minute supermarket runs and a harried Christmas morning, Devon has made a tradition of No-Syrup- Needed French Toast, which she can prepare on Christmas Eve. Right before exchanging gifts, she pops it in the oven so it’s warm and ready for a post-present breakfast. Devon doesn’t mind splurging on calories around the holidays, but she won’t splurge on time she could be spending with her family.
It’s easy to see why. Splayed peacefully in a rocker on the living room floor, not even stirred by the smell of nutmeg and cinnamon drifting into the room, is Lincoln. At just three months old, he serves as a powerful motivation to stay bundled and warm inside the Grays’ charming bungalow. And Lincoln is also Devon’s motivation for carefully planning food traditions. For Devon, food is tied to memories… There’s the cornbread stuffing Aunt Karen makes just once a year and the strawberry trifle Aunt Snookie begs Devon to make even in winter. There was Devon’s mom’s Indian chutney experiment. And for Devon’s new family, there is Christmas morning french toast.
But Devon hasn’t always been a cook. Until she was 20, she knew only how to roast a chicken and cook a pot roast, so she alternated between those two meals all week. “And other than that,” she confesses, her diet was “mostly Honey Smacks cereal.” These days, Devon and husband Shawn’s diet is produce-heavy, and they even “went through a vegan phase.” She cooks with the seasons because she knows that’s how she’ll get the most flavor, plus seasonal produce is the most budget-friendly.
Just before the oven buzzes, Devon whips cream to serve with her French toast. She sets a bowl of raspberries on the table. The dining room is intimate and the recipe is quintessential comfort food on this dreary, cold day. Around the table we bite into gooey, sugary, warm bread.
It is appropriate, I think, that my overwhelming feeling is gratitude. On the mantel in the dining room hangs a garland, and written on each piece of paper is something for which the Grays are thankful. For two weeks leading up to Christmas, Devon and Shawn remove one piece of paper each day to remind themselves to live with gratitude. At the end of the season, Devon stores the slips of paper in a shadow box to look back on in future years.
Of course it isn’t the bread for which we are all thankful—not really. It is an intangible quality of contentment and peace in the Grays’ home, personified perhaps by the sleeping baby in the next room. It may seem silly that a slice of bread—no matter how doused in caramel sauce it may be—could evoke the feelings we all associate with our favorite Christmases. But that’s what food does at its best: sits us down, and slows us down, to remind us to enjoy the people for whom we are truly grateful. You just can’t get the same fuzzy feelings over a bowl of Honey Smacks.