The Most Important Meal of the Day.

I love breakfast.  I always have, as far back as I can remember.  Breakfasts were happy times in my family, especially on the weekends.  I’d wake up warm and slow to kitchen noises, and I’d go downstairs, in my pajamas, following the smell of bacon frying.  My dad would be in the kitchen, standing in front of the stove in his undershirt.  He would cook up buttered toast, bacon, and runny eggs.  Dad was a country boy, raised on a farm in Arkansas, and he liked a good fry up on the weekends.  In fact, I think breakfast was the only thing I remember him cooking inside; all his other culinary efforts were on the grill.  When I have time for a cooked breakfast, I still love bacon, runny eggs, and toast.

My mother made biscuits from time to time, because my dad asked her to.  She didn’t like biscuits… she thought they were poor people food, and so she made them as seldom as possible and honestly she was never very good at it.  Another lesson learned in negative space; you can’t be a good cook unless you eat everything.  But biscuits and sausage gravy were a staple of my dad’s youth, and so once in a while, she would cook it up for breakfast.

On one of our trips to Mexico, we stayed in a hotel called “Las Olas,” right on the beach of course, and we had fancy chilaquiles for breakfast there.  I was somewhere around eight or ten years old, and I think it was part of a buffet, or maybe a set menu breakfast.  Either way, the moment I bit into that rich, hot casserole of corn tortillas, I was hooked.  The tortillas were just teetering between still crisp, and rendered delicately soft by the spicy chile that they were baked in.  The chilaquiles had big chunks of chicken in, and a fancy drizzle of sour cream.  I make chilaquiles for myself at home now… they’re also one of my go-to dishes for camping.  It’s a great breakfast to warm people up with when the sun rises.

When we lived in Singapore we still often had white american expat breakfasts… cereal and oatmeal and fruit and things.  From time to time, though, we’d get to have some congee at school, or nasi lemak, or we’d stop and get huge pieces of roti from a street vendor on the way to school.  They were slick with ghee and sometimes sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, a touch that seemed oddly western to me.  Like Indian cinnamon toast.  Breakfast in Asia was an almost entirely savory affair.  Sweet breakfasts seem to be an almost entirely western tradition, and I’ve found I prefer the savory over the sweet in most cases.

Breakfast is what soothes the belly after a night of excess.  The proper hangover breakfast has an ample supply of carbohydrate and fat.  The protein is more or less optional in such cases.  The fat salves a battered stomach, and the carbohydrates, along with a cup of strong coffee, boost flagging dopamine levels in the brain, taking the edge off a morning that can so easily become melancholy.  Hangover breakfasts are a contemplative time, and are best enjoyed in a group, but in near silence.  For hangover breakfasts I prefer a heap of hashbrowns, with cheese and ketchup and a side of crisp bacon.  A runny egg on top is welcome, but not necessary.  The syrupy breakfasts are a no-go; that much sugar all at once will only make one feel more ill, and can snap fraying tempers.

Leftover breakfasts were always some of my favorites.  In a family with five children, the early riser got to the fridge first, and could heap a bowl with last night’s supper and be greedy about it.  Late comers often had to settle for rice krispies.  I loved a bowl of frito pie for breakfast, reheated, and with a little extra sour cream.  I also loved potatoes and pot roast, mixed up with some of the jous.  Leftover pizza makes a good breakfast and is best eaten cold, but even it isn’t as good as cold fried chicken for breakfast.  But the best leftover breakfast of all time, the gem of leftover breakfasts, is always breakfast the morning after Thanksgiving… this is still a tradition among my siblings.  A single bowl filled with mashed potatoes, dressing, and the shreds and chunks of turkey not nice enough for sandwiches, all smothered with a layer of congealed gravy and microwaved.

Breakfast is the first meal of a new day, enjoyed among people with whom you have not yet had a chance to quarrel.  It is a thoughtful time, a time to plan the day, to watch the sun rise, or simply to organize one’s thoughts.  It is, in my opinion, the most ritualistic and symbolic of meals… the breaking of a twelve hour fast.  The first nourishing of the body after one has climbed out of the tarry and death-like state that is sleep.  Mother’s milk for the newly reborn.  Breakfast is the province of comfort food.  Breakfast should be hot and substantial… breakfast cereals are the biggest offender in terms of morning time convenience foods, but not the worst.  I think the pop tart might be the very worst… a sugary jam encased in a “pastry” with all the flavor and charm of a roofing tile.  No, breakfast should be love on a plate.  It should be immediately recognizable and familiar.  Even fancy restaurants will serve a hash or a benedict… and you may call eggs benedict fancy, but I say anything with a runny egg and hollandaise is comfort food.

I don’t often have time for a good breakfast these days… it is usually a bowl of oatmeal with dried fruit these days, cooked in the microwave while I am still stupid from slumber, and eaten on the couch in front of my laptop.  Which is a shame, I think.  We should all be able to take time out of our day for a good and thoughtful breakfast… a meal that nourishes the mind and the soul as much as it does the body.  Perhaps if all of us had the time for a proper breakfast in the morning, we wouldn’t spend our days in a state of mental chaos, playing catch up until we get home feeling run down and not really understanding why.

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