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Posts Tagged ‘breakfast’

Every few months, I convince myself that I need an old-fashioned country breakfast, complete with some form of eggs, bacon or sausage; pancakes, biscuits or toast; grits; and coffee. All dishes I could perfectly well make at home, but dishes that, like sandwiches and salads, are somehow better when made by someone else.

Deep down, I realize that I don’t really want these foods for their sake, but for the link they hold to the past. Weekend breakfasts with my grandparents were some of the most special moments I had, first as a child, then as a young woman.

They were long, lazy affairs, with bottomless cups of coffee and free-range conversation. I got to know my grandparents, and they got to know me.

It wasn’t about the food, but man, the food. Endless stacks of pancakes, biscuits for days, homemade possumberry or muscadine jelly, crunchy bacon, creamy grits.

I realize this is the path that takes many people on an emotional — and dangerous — journey with food. Ice cream reminds you of Saturdays at the skating rink, but pint after pint doesn’t take you back there. Potato chips remind you of afternoons in front of the television, shoes kicked off and homework tossed in the corner, but munching your way through an entire bag won’t ever reinstate that feeling of freedom.

Food as comfort is a trap, a tasty one, and one we build for ourselves. Acknowledging emotional eating is vital, but also a little hollowing, making us recognize the void we’re trying to fill with food. Recognizing that void means knowing that the past is done, that the people associated with certain foods are gone, and those memories are all we have.

It’s an acknowledgement that, hopefully, helps us all have a better relationship with food, one that lets us make new memories instead of living in the past.

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I spent last week in Biloxi with my mom and had every intention of blogging about my adventures. I quickly figured out that I’d rather be having said adventures than blogging about them, however, thus the weeklong absence of posts.

Let’s start with the journey. Having discovered the amazing lunches at Birmingham’s Culinard Cafe a few months ago, I decided that I simply had to start my journey early enough to make it there to test-drive the breakfast menu.

The breakfast menu is significantly smaller than the lunch menu, but it still lists enough items to make anybody happy. It boasts three breakfast sandwiches on ciabatta bread, all featuring scrambled eggs: hot ham and Swiss cheese; bacon and cheddar cheese; and Southwestern chorizo, sautéed onions and peppers and jalapeno cheese. All are priced between $3.35 and $3.65.

My instinct pointed me toward the spicy chorizo sausage, but I’m still getting to know chorizo, so I chose the hot ham and cheese sandwich instead. I also ordered a small serving of loaded grits ($2.10).

My meal arrived with a surprise hashbrown pattie (a surprise only because I hadn’t really been paying attention to the menu details).

Just like the irresistible flat-iron steak sandwich that the husband and I have split a couple of times at the Culinard Cafe, the ham, egg and cheese sandwich was big enough for two people. Alas, I was by myself, but I did my best.

The bread, as usual, was spot on: thick and sturdy enough to safely encase the slippery ingredients, but thin and soft enough to bite through without too much effort. The eggs were cooked to perfection and then wrapped around the ham and gooey cheese.

The grits? Oh, the grits.

Loaded grits usually arrive with grease pooled on top, a consequence of adding more cheese and butter than necessary in an attempt, I presume, to fully “Southernize” the dish.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There were no greasy pools in these loaded grits. They weren’t laden with butter or unmelted cheese. The grits were light (not so light that I thought they were baked with eggs in a casserole, however), and filled with small pieces of bacon — real bacon, not fake bacon bits.

The grits alone made the early departure worthwhile. I didn’t even have to stop for lunch (I actually tried to find lunch, but you know that span of I-65 between Montgomery and Mobile? That happened.)

If I have to plan a trip through Birmingham, I’m totally planning it on a weekday during this restaurant’s business hours.

 

 

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Today, we talk about oatmeal.

I know. Oatmeal. It’s either bland and mushy, or oversweetened, artificially flavored and mushy.

This, however, is not the oatmeal I intend to talk about. Reserve your rolled oats for oatmeal and raisin cookies, and make steel-cut oats for breakfast.

Steel-cut oats (also known as Irish oats) undergo much less processing than rolled oats, and thus offer diners a completely different flavor and texture. Properly prepared steel-cut oats are nutty and chewy (no mush here), and I find them much more satisfying than rolled oats.

The bad news: Steel-cut oats can take 30 minutes or longer to cook if you haven’t soaked them.

The good news: Duh. Soak them and they’ll be ready in as little as 10 minutes.

The prepackaged brands of steel-cut oats always seem to carry a hefty price tag. You’ll be much better off purchasing them in bulk. I buy my supply at Earth Fare for $1.19 a pound.

They’re a cinch to make, but you have to plan ahead. Use a ratio of one part oats to two parts water; for two people I usually use 3/4 cup oats and 1.5 cups water. Soak the oats in the water overnight in the pot that you’re going to cook them in.

You can get the same results with only three hours of soaking, but not everyone has my luxurious Saturday schedule, which has me getting up at 5 a.m. to feed a geriatric cat and then heading back to bed until 8 a.m. or so.

If you’re feeling spiffy, substitute orange juice or cranberry juice for about a quarter cup of the water. The orange juice will add a real citrus bite to the finished oatmeal, and the cranberry juice will complement the dried cranberries that I’m going to talk about in a minute.

Put the pot of soaked oats on the stove after you roll out of bed. Turn the burner up to medium-high and let the oats come to a boil, then turn the burner down low enough to keep a slow boil without the oats boiling over. And they WILL boil over if the heat’s too high. Keep the lid on the pot, but lift it every couple of minutes to check your boil and give the oatmeal a quick stir.

After about 10 minutes, the oatmeal should be almost thick enough to serve. Lagniappe time. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar, and add raisins and/or dried cranberries. Let everything meld together for a couple more minutes and then ladle the oatmeal into your serving bowls. Drop a few crumbled walnuts or pecans on top if you like.

Enjoy. And say goodbye to instant mediocrity.

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From Jean Georges in Manhattan: Warm sweet potato cake with a cranberry compote and cranberry foam.

 

When the husband and I go on vacation, we tend to plan our itinerary around food. We’re not the only people who do this, but I get mixed reactions from a few folks, some of whom apparently expect to hear more about the shows we’ve seen in New York City (most recent count: 0) than our sake-tasting and evaluation of the freshly made tofu at EN Japanese Brasserie (evaluation: awesome).

Some people get it: After a recent photo documenting our pilgrimage to the Doughnut Plant, one Facebook friend noted, “You take the best doughnut vacations ever!” Indeed, we do.

So what’s with our vacation food obsession? Honestly, we eat like monks at home. We have old-fashioned oatmeal (or steel-cut oats, if there’s time) with walnuts and raisins for breakfast every day. I almost always have a fresh salad and quinoa or hummus for lunch, while the husband consistently has a ham-and-cheese sandwich. Dinner might be homemade lasagna or something easy, like a cheese sandwich pressed into submission on the Foreman Grill with a bowl of leftover Cowboy Stew. We rarely go out to eat. We’ve found that one of the consequences of cooking your own healthy, delicious food at home is that your average restaurant food doesn’t measure up anymore.

What does measure up, however, is your above-average restaurant food. And this is what turns our vacations into the pursuit of destination dining. So while I can’t be bothered with a 10-minute drive to Krispy Kreme for Hot Doughnuts Now (trust me when I tell you that growing up with a Krispy Kreme within easy driving distance makes their doughnuts way less of an attraction later), I am perfectly willing to make a 15-minute hike to the subway station, stand on a crowded car for five minutes, make a 10-minute hike to the Doughnut Plant and stand in a long line for a Valrhona chocolate doughnut. I deem the calories worthwhile.

And that’s how my photo albums end up filled with pictures of doughnuts, ice cream, cheeseburgers and steamed shrimp, while we forget to take pictures of ourselves. Sorry, Mom.

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I’ve been trying to get my mind around murder since I was 10 years old.

We were at my grandmother’s house, about 2.5 hours from our home in Kiln, Miss. The phone in the hallway — the only phone in the house at the time, the phone that, over the years, continually brought horrific news, news of fatal fires, news of shootings — self-inflicted and not — news of heart attacks and cancer diagnoses — the phone rang while we were having breakfast.

It was the principal of the high school where my dad was band director. One of the members of the band’s flag corps had been brutally murdered, along with her mother and father, the night before.

This was in the early 1980s, a time before parents (at least my parents) felt the need to shield their children from bad news. My brother and I were quiet, inquisitive, analytical kids, and we instinctively knew that if we kept our silence and blended into the background we would eventually learn everything there was to know about any topic.

K’s brother had systematically beaten her and her parents to death with a hammer (a sledgehammer, maybe – this detail escapes me). (I call her K because this case is so old that there is no reference to it on the Internet, and I would hate for this to be the only link that shows up in a search.) Another brother survived; he had spent the night at a friend’s house.

I remember being told that the murdering brother had what we would now call a history of mental problems; the term used back then was likely “crazy.” I remember hearing that he had moments when he claimed to be Jesus.

I have long pondered the effect this had on my young psyche, especially when events occur like last week’s shooting at UAHuntsville. Anytime I see news of a multiple slaying, my mind returns to that breakfast phone call and then starts flipping between two questions: How could anyone do this, and how could no one have seen it coming in time to prevent it?

If the multiple murders at K’s home occurred today, there would have been counselors swarming our tiny school the next week. As it was, we were supposed to simply take it to heart that this was an anomaly, something that could not happen to any of us, so long as we didn’t know any crazy people.

The problem that I recognized then and now is that “crazy” is not as easily defined as everyone would have had us think.

I also learned that the “stranger danger” line fed to us after the Atlanta child murders and the murder of Adam Walsh was not the entirety of things we had to worry about. Not that I suspected my 8-year-old brother of murderous intent, but the realization that someone K knew and loved was capable of such atrocity was a game-changer for a pre-teen.

The idea that you might not ever REALLY know someone, that there might always be some part closed off to you, no matter how close you are, was not that foreign to me, but the idea that the closed-off part might harbor such unpredictable anger and violence was alarming.

The world was a little less safe, and for the past three decades it seems to have become a LOT less safe.

School shootings, workplace shootings, murder-suicides … it seems like our closed-off parts are more dangerous than ever.

I couldn’t make sense of it when I was 10, and I’m no closer to understanding it now. I just have to hope that events like this really are anomalies, and that the hidden parts of strangers, friends, associates, and even family members aren’t as dark and dangerous as others have proven to be.

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