Medical experts preach, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
I’m glad to comply. Unlike those who inexplicably avoid food all morning, I awake, ready to raid the kitchen. However, nutritionists and I cross forks here. Their idea of a good breakfast and mine don’t even try to get along.
During winter, who wants to leave a cozy bed to face a slimy bowl of vitamin-fortified, fiber-rich wood chips?
In the “good old days,” Sugar Blasters or Corn Syrupies were considered positive sources of energy. Question: Who ever gave birth to children who didn’t possess enough energy? We parents and grandparents are the people who should pack in energy-generating foods. Cheese Danish or chocolate-cream-filled doughnuts present a sufficient alternative.
My mother fixed hot breakfasts during winter: eggs; breakfast meat, when we could afford it; and unlimited toast dripping warm butter and jelly. Pancakes, stacked like records above a turntable. French toast, swimming in Mom’s homemade sugar syrup. “Fill ’em up’” comprised the key concept. She did, deliciously.
When we traveled, Dad decreed inexpensive breakfast as our main meal. Breakfast buffets had not yet made an appearance during the ’60s — which explains that period’s prosperity. Had they existed, my younger brother alone would have struck fear into the hearts of restaurant owners.
We did impact one corner of the international market. Upon seeing his citrus groves stripped, our Mexican mission caretaker referred to us tree-climbing missionary kids as “la plaga norteamericana” (North American plague).
I also savored tortillas baked over a community fire, spread with wild honey. Killjoy Mom worried that the cooks washed their hands maybe once a decade. I worried because the Mexican women, concerned about my skinny frame, attempted to make me eat raw egg.
Since then, I’ve encountered other global ideas of a “good breakfast.” Morning menus in England included: fried kidneys; baked beans on toast; and black pudding, consisting of oatmeal, pork, fried onions and pork blood. Russian immigrants my parents harbored preferred beet borscht and dill pickles.
Breakfasts Dad concocted when Mom was sick — watery canned soup and last-of-the-loaf butter sandwiches — almost seem delectable.
Decades later, when Mom suffered from dementia, Dad’s culinary skills improved. When I visited, I wolfed breakfasts of sausage, eggs, biscuits, and coffee strong enough to serve itself. My doctor would have run screaming, dragging me with her, at the sight. After days of these feasts — plus Dad’s dumping extra on my plate with the command, “Finish up! It’ll just go to waste!”— I almost craved my usual wood chips.
Not. Remembering such wonderful food and my parents’ I-love-you bickering — they now keep each other company in heaven — I loved that good breakfast.
One of the best.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite breakfast?
I measure the distance between extended family in states rather than miles. The lone exception, my brother Ned, lives in another part of Indiana.
A year apart, we played together like twins until I started school, where he acknowledged my existence only by a raised eyebrow.
Fortunately, he no longer regards sisters as threats to his manhood. We phone occasionally, but not often enough. I recall several years ago when we met halfway between our homes for breakfast.
We chose a mom-and-pop establishment, where we could indulge in illegal eggs over easy, crispy bacon and infinite cups of curl-your-hair coffee. Or the mortal sin of biscuits with gravy.
Entering, I saw no sign of Ned. As I walked toward a vinyl booth, I expected — and received — the who-are-you-stranger? once-over.
Homeland Security should catch onto this resource, one that could revolutionize national safety procedures. We don’t need metal detectors or X-rays. If the government would pay a tableful of these locals to drink coffee at security points, no terrorist in his right mind would try to get past their scrutiny.
Born and raised in rural Indiana, I knew I’d broken the rules. No woman eats breakfast alone in a strange town. As a sweet-faced waitress brought me blessed coffee, I pulled out my Bible and read while I waited. Eye-lasers clicked off one by one. Their owners swiveled back to their breakfasts. They gave Congress and the weather their morning cussing and analyzed high school basketball with an expertise that would put ESPN out of business.
Until my brother walked in. Immediately, the force field returned. As Ned headed toward my booth, question marks formed in the air, visible as if smokers had blown them.
“Good to see ya, Sis!” Ned trumpeted. He knew the rules, too.
The diners returned to their vivisection of basketball referees, as the waitress took our order. She brought us waffles, eggs and ham. Biscuits and gravy.
With bowed heads, we asked God to bless the cholesterol. Our words filled and warmed us as much as the steaming, delicious food. We solved our kids’ problems (if they would just listen!). We cheered the utter perfection of our grandchildren.
All too soon, our separate worlds called to us. We promised to connect sooner next time.
Before we separated, I demanded a hug, just to give the town conversation material for the next few weeks.
Ned’s eyebrow went up. But the hug happened.
It can’t happen today, in 2020.
But after this blasted COVID crisis ends, I’ll collect every one of those hugs that have piled up in the meantime.
Even if he raises the other eyebrow.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Whom do you want to hug post-COVID?
As the Fahrenheit fades, I crave a hot breakfast. Forget cold cereal. I want oatmeal—steaming, gooky stuff without which autumn cannot make its appearance. I want real oatmeal, foaming and bubbling on the stove, not the nuked instant counterfeit with its alien lumps.
“Just because,” to quote my mother.
Oatmeal occupied a sacred place in my childhood. I liked the smiling Quaker on the box and his grandfatherly TV advice: “Nothing is better for thee than me.” Scientists have supported his claim: a generous daily serving of oatmeal not only lowers cholesterol and cures the common cold, but guarantees a killing in the stock market.
Who would have thunk it, back when Mom was making my doll chairs from the friendly Quaker’s round boxes?
During the 1960s, milk and sugar were added to oatmeal. Period.
We regarded oatmeal the same way we viewed our mothers: they were good for us, whether we liked them or not. They couldn’t be improved, so if we were smart, we didn’t mess with them.
However, a whole new oatmeal mentality has evolved. Shh! Don’t tell anyone, but even I no longer qualify as an oatmeal purist.
My descent into decadence began when I persuaded my reluctant children to eat oatmeal with raisin smiley faces. Of course, some people never appreciate true culinary art.
One morning, my husband said, “Rachael, you really don’t have to make a smiley face on my oatmeal.”
Undaunted, I have continued bold experimentation and regularly mix my oats with almonds, apples and dried cranberries. I sprinkle in bran because Internet health experts promise this combination causes a gravity reversal. My saggy stomach and I can’t wait to be weightless.
Strangely enough, posh restaurants still serve oatmeal with few accoutrements. No mysterious yellow sauce lattices a platter under my bowl. No green clumps sprout from my breakfast like crabgrass.
Privately, however, the oatmeal world is going crazy. According to one website, connoisseurs add honey, cocoa, even ice cream. Others concoct even more interesting combinations, including oatmeal with pesto and mushrooms. Vegetable lovers add pumpkin, squash, spinach and [eww!] pickles. One blog writer sighs for banana curry oatmeal with carmelized onions.
Whatever happened to the staunch, wholesome dish that set me straight every morning? How will our descendants learn to cherish the values that made this country great if they are consuming oatmeal with Quark cheese and fresh herbs?
No wonder present generations waste time and energy doing things like writing about oatmeal preferences (2,364 people—158 pages worth—on one website). Imagine sitting around all morning writing about oatmeal.