Tag Archives: Breakfast

No Day So Grim

One of my favorite collaborators is a guy I met on an elevator. Our first collaboration went into rehearsal 36 hours later.

We were participating in an event where writers are thrown together to create a short theatre piece. Teams were introduced Friday at 8; rehearsal started Sunday at noon. This fellow and I did, in fact, ride an elevator together on the way to the first meeting, making nervous chat about the project without a clue that we were going to be partnered.

Our collaboration went very well, and in the 11 years since, we’ve written several more pieces together. Just as importantly, though, we’ve become good friends.  Perhaps one of the reasons we haven’t written together more often is that we have such a good time together. We end up talking more than we write. Often, the conversation is about food.  I introduced him to Alton Brown’s kitchen tips; he turned me onto Mark Bittman’s Chicken with Ketchup (which is far, far better than it sounds), and convinced me that a kitchen scale was an important tool. We agree that a Fryolator is the first purchase to be made if either of us wins a major writing award.

We were talking about waffles once. “There is no day so grim,” he said, “that it cannot be redeemed by waffles for supper.”  I’d never thought of it that way, but I had to admit he had a point.

Another winter storm. Another snow day. Cold, and very messy. She was going to work from home. I could wait until the roads were cleared to go to my much-closer office. The break in routine was cause for a special breakfast.  It might have been pancakes, but we have those pretty often. Besides, there is a waffle iron on the small-appliance shelves. If its space there is to be justified, it must be used. So I made waffles. They had crisp, golden brown crusts with light, fluffy centers, just the way I’d hoped. Served with sausage, fruit, and coffee or tea, any grimness that day had in store was waffled away.

The recipe makes 8, and although I could have done math to reduce it, I had something else in mind: Bonus Waffles. I made the full recipe; we had a hearty breakfast, and plenty of batter left over.  I reset the temperature to medium and par-baked the rest of the batter.  We left those waffles to cool on a baking rack, then individually wrapped them in waxed paper and stowed them in the freezer for a future breakfast. The waffle iron got a good workout–and a good cleaning after–and proudly reclaimed its shelf space. (I could imagine it saying to the ice cream machine, “Don’t worry, buddy, it’ll be your turn soon.”)

I packed those bonus waffles for our breakfasts today. Heated in a toaster oven, they crisp up nicely and are a reminder that, although we won’t see each other ’til nearly midnight, today will not be grim.

I thought of my collaborator as I made breakfast, and of the strange ways people come into our lives. One of my favorite collaborators is a guy I met in an elevator.  And my sweetheart is a girl I met on the internet.  But that story for another time…

Work-from-Home-on-a-Snow-Day Breakfast. Not pictured: crackling fire, happy kitten.

Work-from-Home-on-a-Snow-Day Breakfast.
(Not pictured: crackling fire, happy kitten.)

A Sure Thing

She ordered Thai food for lunch. Pineapple fried rice, no doubt; probably with chicken. But she didn’t take a bite.

So many calls and meetings had interrupted her morning that the oatmeal she’d prepared had ended up hard and cold and unpalatable.  So she had her lunch–spiced lamb and hummus–for breakfast, and ordered takeout at lunchtime.

I’m sure she rushed to the lobby to meet the delivery person. I’m sure she tipped well.  I’m sure she put the bag on the floor carefully beside her desk, out of her way.  I’m sure she dove back into work. I don’t know why she left–maybe for another meeting, or maybe just to use the rest room.  But during that precise window, a custodian came to her office and did what he was meant to do: the restaurant bag on the floor was clearly intended to be discarded. She found it in the trash, opened and untouchable.

She was grumpy-hungry. Come to think of it, so was I.  I’d worked through breakfast, too. Lunch had been a long time ago, and that was before the stressful rehearsal, and the even more stressful drive through snow and sleet to meet her train.

She didn’t care what we had for dinner–even the kale soup, which she hadn’t liked after all that work. I’d had some of it for lunch, and liked it a lot, though with its bitter greens and wine-rich beef broth, I could see why she didn’t. Kale soup was out.

First rule of the kitchen: Love people, cook them tasty food. It had to be something we’d both like.  A sure thing.

I’d taken a small ball of pizza dough out of the freezer before I left for work. It was thawed and ready for action. I floured a mat, stretched it thin, and topped it with a little tomato sauce. Cheese next: a few dabs of ricotta, some shredded mozzarella, and some shaved parmesan. I’d defrosted a couple of meatballs, too; I crumbled one and added it, then topped with a little more mozzarella.  I was trying to make a calzone, but I hadn’t left quite enough dough for crimping.  I rolled the dough-and-toppings like a small burrito, and baked it for 15 minutes.  Not quite golden at that point, I gave it another 3.  Three more after that, and it was perfect.

During those last 6 minutes, I sautéed some vegetables: asparagus, grape tomatoes, and mushrooms.  That seemed more-than-vaguely Italian, and warmer than a salad. With the wintry mess outside, I wanted no cold food.

We watched the pilot episode of The West Wing during dinner. We’ve both seen it many times.  “I love these people!” she said, as CJ fell off a treadmill. We giggled as Sam revealed that he knew nothing about the history of the White House, and marveled at the strength of President Bartlet’s first entrance. We’ll go back to working our way through Alias sometime, but there are days when suspense and cartoonish violence should not be on the menu.

The calzone might have burned.  We might have had a driving accident in the snow. One of us might hurt the other with a flinching elbow or a careless word. Bad news or a TV story might lead to nightmares. Nothing in life is a sure thing.  But we go slowly and carefully, avoiding unnecessary risk, finding joy where we can, drinking lots of water, eating our vegetables. So far, so good.

Bonus

Most mornings, she has to be out the door first. Well, that’s not quite true, since I drive her to the train station.  But at least she has to be ready for work before I do.  I pull on some running clothes and head for the kitchen, and–usually–exercise after my driving duty is done.

Along with my coffee, I brew two cups of tea. One is her trusty ceramic travel mug. The other is a smaller one for her to drink before we leave. It’s a warming-up thing, especially good on very cold mornings.  We call it her Bonus Cup. Sometimes she finishes it and brings it to the sink; sometimes it’s barely touched. I may find it on her dresser, or the bathroom vanity, where she’s taken the last sip just after applying her make-up.

Most days, it carries an impression of her freshly-applied lip color.

It’s gilding the lily, I have told her repeatedly, but if she wants to wear make-up it’s fine with me.  Especially when I find a mug with a kiss-print.  It’s a bit of a bonus for me.

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In the Not-Completely-Bleak Midwinter

This has been a long, cold, snowy winter, and the end seems frustratingly out of reach, still.  We’re tired from the extra hours of fuss and worry and the poor quality of light, and sore from shoveling snow and digging out cars and throwing salt.

But I’m so grateful that the only effects of it have been inconvenience and some discomfort for us and the people we love. We’re warm and dry, well fed and well attired. And we seem to be making a real effort to stay connected to one another rather than to hibernate. To find beauty in this winter land (that can so easily become un-wondrous). To laugh and smile and lift one’s spirits. 

“We should go to New Orleans,” she said. I had a rough time picturing her amid the revelry of Mardi Gras. “Of course not!  But a couple of days eating beignets and drinking Hurricanes…”

I’m unconvinced that there would be Hurricanes (plural), however much they seem like “Red Kool-aid, perfect,” but I could be wrong.

I didn’t feel up to the challenge of making beignets, but there were a couple of donuts in the kitchen, the last of a dozen we bought earlier in the week. They were a little old, even for dunking in our cuppas, but they weren’t too far gone for a little transformation.

Donuts Dreaming of New Orleans

Melt 2 tbsp butter in a non-stick skillet.

Slice the slightly-stale old-fashioned donuts through the center. Toast in the pan, cut side first, about three minutes per side.

Warm and soften about 1/2 cup fruit–whatever’s at hand. Berries, maybe, or sliced apples in a little butter and brown sugar.  I had some chunky, well-spiced homemade applesauce, and that was perfect.

Plate the donuts, cut side up; spoon on the fruit; add a dollop of whipped cream; sprinkle on a little cinnamon and grated nutmeg.

Serves two, one of whom may say something extravagantly complimentary.

The omelets we were planning for breakfast became a very late brunch.

She asked how I felt about stuffed peppers.  I like the idea more than the execution; the pepper flesh always seems slimy when baked.  She had an idea. I chopped some vegetables for her, and she did the wonderful rest.

Stuffed Pepper Casserole
(All the Flavor, None of the Slime) 

In a saucepan, add 2-1/2 cups boiling water, 1 tbsp olive oil, and 1 cup white rice.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.  (The rice may seem underdone, and will be a little sticky, but that’s okay.)

In a Dutch oven, brown 3/4 lb. ground beef; season to taste with salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce, and all-purpose seasoning.

Dice 1 onion, 2 ribs of celery, and 1 big bell pepper (2 peppers might be even better.) Trim 1/2 lb. green beans and slice into small pieces.

Push the beef to one side of the Dutch oven, and add vegetables to the other. Sauté until just softened.

Add most of the rice to the Dutch oven, reserving a third of it to make fried rice later in the week. Also add 1-1/2 cups marinara sauce (or a 14-oz can of diced or crushed tomatoes). Mix all together. Cover and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.  While baking, fold some laundry or try on some clearance-special clothes or watch an old game show.

Serves 4—or, at least, two hungry people, with plenty that will be looked forward to for lunches.

Thank you, winter, for being hard, and bringing out some of the best in us.

Breakfast During Hockey Season

She asked if I would make biscuits sometime.

Of course, I said; it isn’t difficult.

It is for her, she explained; they come out hard as hockey pucks.

I suspected that the problem might have been one of measurement.  If she took flour from the canister by the scoop-and-level method, it would be easy to get too much, and end up with a weightier biscuit than she wanted.  Or maybe I have very low standards where biscuits are concerned, and mine come out hockey pucks, too.

After ascertaining that the gold standard against which all biscuits would be measured were not her beloved Nana’s, I agreed, and planned to bake them for Saturday breakfast.

The hardest part, it turned out, was finding the kitchen scale. It wasn’t on the small-appliance shelves. It wasn’t with the measuring cups, or alongside the baking tins, or even in the back of the knife drawer.  I knew we’d put it somewhere logical, but the logic eluded me.  About to give up and do the best I could with scoop-and-level, I pulled the flour canister from its cupboard and —voila!—there it was.

Our scale is a simple device–one button to turn it on and tare (a function that re-zeroes the scale to allow for the weight of the container set on its platform), one to switch the display between ounces and grams, and, of course, the weighing platform. Ours may not be quite as accurate as I hoped; I could get 15.99 ounces of flour or 16.03, but nothing in between.  Perhaps I could use tweezers to add the flour one grain at a time, or perhaps I should not worry about such incredibly fine distinctions.

The key to biscuit preparation, says Uncle Alton, is to handle the dough as little as possible so as not to warm the butter and shortening. His grandmother’s hands were colder than his own (probably due to poor circulation), so her biscuits were always lighter than his. Although my hands are frequently cold, I took no chances; I stowed the fats in the fridge while roasting some bacon to have with the biscuits and fruit.

Breakfast was served. “I should do the biscuit baking from now on?” She nodded enthusiastically, far too polite to speak with her mouth full. I don’t know if it was the precise measurement or the chilled fats, but the result was most decidedly not a pan of hockey pucks.

And she’d know.  While she probably has never tried to eat one, she’s certainly seen plenty of them; her father used to take her to games every weekend as a child.

We stopped for burgers on Saturday evening, and I noticed her glancing at the Notre Dame-Indiana game on big-screen TV above the condiment counter.

“We’re not far from Yale,” she said. “We should see a hockey game before the season ends.”

I asked if she was sure she wanted me to see her at a hockey game.

“What, afraid you won’t love me any more?”

It wasn’t that at all; I was just recalling that she’d told me once, “I’m convinced I’d be a pacifist if I weren’t a hockey fan.” Apparently I looked at her gape-mouthed, and she explained: at one of those games she saw when she was four, she yelled, “Daddy, make those skater mans fight again!”

Fortunately, we don’t fight.  But I’ll make sure to remember where the scale is stored in case things get ugly; that way our biscuits will be too light to cause any damage if they’re thrown.

The bacon was pronounced good, too.  And her apple butter, on that biscuit half, is pretty superb.  (Sadly, the steam rising from the biscuit when it was split did not photograph well.)

The bacon was pronounced good, too. And her apple butter, on that biscuit half, is pretty superb. (Sadly, the steam rising from the biscuit when it was split did not photograph well.)

Not Until Today

We ate a lot of pancakes before we started dating. We’ve eaten quite a few since, too, but in the years when we were just friends, frequently meeting for theatre dates (or non-dates, to be more precise), we often grabbed a bite to eat at a diner before the show. Whatever else a diner may be good at, pancakes are usually a safe bet.

I like variety: fruit, nuts, what have you. Offering a flight of syrups? Let’s try them all in turn. Chocolate chips are most decidedly not ruined by their being tucked into batter, nor the other way around. Additional flavors can cover a multitude of sins. Usually, she’s a pancake purist: no add-ins; maybe a little peanut butter on top, but usually only butter.

She got up early this morning and started puttering in the office.  I rose a little later and joined her for a vigorous round of putting-things-in-their-proper-place. I brewed coffee and tea, and remembered that bacon had been a mid-week special at the market.  I set some to roast in the oven while the tidying continued.  Eventually the timer chimed and I announced that it was time for breakfast. We decided on pancakes to accompany the bacon.

She saw me segmenting an orange next to the griddle where banana-filled pancakes cooked beside her unadulterated ones.  She looked at me quizzically. “The orange is for both of us. Vitamin C.” (She’s been fighting a cold, and I’m trying to stay ahead of it.) “Bananas in the pancakes, maybe a little applesauce on top. And, yes, maybe a little syrup.” She raised an eyebrow. “Hey, at least I’m not putting strawberries in, too.”

We sat to eat. The bacon was a little crisper than I’d meant it to be, but she didn’t mind; it wasn’t burned. “Maybe next time you should put the bacon in the pancakes,” she said.

I thought about that for a moment. She did, too, apparently. “Chocolate chip, banana, and bacon pancakes?”

“There’s more batter,” I said.

She put aside a strip of bacon.  I did, too, and returned to the kitchen. I sliced a banana and chopped some bits off a block of good dark chocolate. The griddle was still hot.

She took a bite. Her eyes softened. I took a bite and nodded.  She was right.

Ever willing to experiment, I tried a bite with maple syrup. It didn’t improve anything. “One thing too many?” she said, then she tried a bite with peanut butter.  “Same with peanut butter.”

All those years, all those plates of pancakes, yet we hadn’t encountered this combination until today.

“Apparently chocolate chip, banana, and bacon pancakes are a thing.”

They are now. Maybe not an everyday thing, but very much a thing.

Pancake, not for traditionalists.

Pancake, not for traditionalists.

Precisely My Cup of Tea (and Her Cup of Coffee)

Serious coffee drinkers say that adding milk or sugar (or, worse, both) destroys their carefully brewed beverage.  I am not a serious coffee drinker.  I’m sure I can’t tell the difference between one single-source, estate-grown bean and another.  I have no argument with those who can; I just don’t care quite that much. (Also, I like milk and sugarAnd, on occasion, a little chocolate.)

I admit that my proportion of coffee to condiment has risen over the years, and I have developed a preference for dark roasts over lighter ones.  I appreciate the benefits of freshness, so I buy whole-bean coffee and grind it at home.

She drinks tea, and she’s pretty serious about it.  There are teas that take milk and teas that take lemon; the ones that take milk do not take cream, and so on. I haven’t had a complete education on the subject, since most of the time she prefers it one way.  So I learned to make tea for her. (Plunking a bag of Lipton’s in a mug of water that you microwave for two minutes is, it turns out, not the best way to do it.)

Most days, one of us stumbles to the kitchen to prepare our Elixirs of Wakefulness. I take the weekday shift; usually on weekends, she does the stumbling. She makes excellent coffee, a skill she acquired while working at a dairy store during college. Along the way, she didn’t acquire a taste for the stuff herself.

Her tea strainers are cup-shaped frames with sides of fine mesh. They allow better water circulation than ball-shaped infusers. Each holds enough leaves for a single mugful; I use two, so she can have a bonus cup before leaving for work.  For coffee, I use unbleached paper filters in a 2-cup sized cone-shaped cup-top holder. Both brews require very hot water, which comes from a trusty electric kettle that I have wanted since I first saw one in London. It’s fast, doesn’t take up a burner on the stove, and shuts itself off when the water boils rather than shrieking for attention. Also, in a pinch, you can hard-boil eggs in it. We each have a favorite mug for home, and travel mugs for carrying a cup to work. The mugs are never interchanged. There are other ways of making coffee and tea, but these tools are the ones we use most often; they give us the best results with minimal effort. We own a 12-cup Mr. Coffee and a nice teapot, but neither is used except when company comes calling.

She drinks coffee only under duress.  I drink tea when I’m recovering from a cold.  How much tea, how much coffee; how much milk, how much sugar: by now, we know each other’s cup. Are we picky about our beverages?  Maybe a little. Mostly, we know what we like, and we have sorted out how to do it. We learn how to do things, and we teach each other. We go through our days, one sip at a time.

Electric kettle, cone-shaped coffee brewer, tea strainers: aside from cat food, almost everything we need to start the day.

Electric kettle, cone-shaped coffee brewer, tea strainers: aside from cat food, almost everything we need to start the day.