I know. You’re thinking, “dear God, another dog story?” No, actually. This is a post about breakfast. But it starts with a (short) story about a dog.
One of our dogs has become a banana thief. I write “one of our dogs” as if I don’t know full well that it’s the dainty female chocolate Lab, an otherwise well behaved(ish) dog who stands primly on on her tiptoes and walks at heel on voice command. She is very pretty, but she can be very naughty. She is not the lone naughty dog among our four, all of whom eat things that aren’t intended for canine consumption. But I know it is she stealing the bananas because consuming whole, unpeeled bananas eventually leaves physical evidence.
I might not have cared about her new fruit thieving habit if she hadn’t ruined my breakfast routine. I may have confessed before that I am not a morning person. My sister got the crack-of-dawn gene from our father; I got the night owl gene from our mother. I can will myself awake at 5:30 a.m., as I must do these days; but it will never, ever be natural or pleasant for me. As creative and free-wheeling as I am come dinnertime (when I’m awake), I am a creature of strict convention on the forced march of breakfast assembly: cereal on Mondays, eggs on Tuesdays and Fridays (test days), yogurt with fruit and granola on Wednesdays, peanut butter and banana on Thursdays. Sounds boring, I know, but it’s just the best I can do before my natural waking hour of 8:00.
So I was stumbling around one morning a few weeks ago, trying to get breakfast prepared for the child who has to arrive at school at 6:45 a.m., and I couldn’t find the bananas. They were on the counter Wednesday night; Thursday morning they were gone. I knew Bernard hadn’t eaten them because he likes only green bananas, and these were fully ripened.
It was Thursday morning, and there were no bananas. On Thursdays we have bananas and peanut butter for breakfast. We have a routine.
“It’s fine, Mom. I’ll just have a piece of turkey and some orange juice,” boy child said. Harumph.
A week later, the bananas disappeared again, forcing me again to have to rethink the first meal of the day.
“It’s ok, Mom. I’m kinda sick of bananas and peanut butter anyway.” Harumph.
Breakfast, I realized, is the redheaded stepchild of our house. It seldom receives any creative inspiration. It is lacking in variety. It’s a utility meal with military enforcement, a victim of its own time constraints, prepared by a sleepwalking zombie. How could I make it better?
A few years ago I was at a conference at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge. It’s a lovely hotel that won instant favor because it serves Harney & Sons teas, my favorite brand. The breakfast buffet, served at a reasonable 7:45, was entirely unlike the mainstream hotel standard. It included boiled eggs (free range, local), preservative-free meats, soft cheeses, fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts, and whole grain breads. In many ways it was more like a lunch or afternoon snack buffet than a breakfast one.
As a confirmed night owl, grazing at a breakfast table is about the best I can do. But I don’t like sugary pastries, and fruit alone isn’t enough to jumpstart my brain. I remember coming down from the elevator my first morning at the hotel, seeing that lovely display of un-breakfasty food and wishing I could live at The Charles forever.
Maybe we needed a bit of The Charles in our morning routine.
So I’ve been experimenting with breakfast, thanks to my banana-eating naughty dog. I’ve been stocking items to make mini-buffets on short notice: boiled eggs, dried fruit and nuts, granola, cheese and meat. It’s really not any harder to assemble while sleepwalking than any of the items from the rigid routine, and the bit of variety has actually improved the atmosphere of the early, early morning. Breakfast, one day I might even like you.
And yes, we found a new storage spot for the bananas. I’m sure the poor banana-deprived doggie will find something else naughty to steal.
Happy week, and happy Easter.
When we made carnitas recently, using Alice Waters’s recipe from The Art of Simple Food (highly recommend), Bernard made a green sauce we called chimichurri on steroids: cilantro, parsley, garlic, lime juice, salt, olive oil and green chile. We can’t get enough of it, especially now that parsley and cilantro are making their spring appearance. For dinner this week, we’ll be making things that taste even better with a dollop of green sauce, so why not experiment with a batch of your own?
The recipe for St. Nicholas du Pelem pork was a hit back in December; the preparation is simple and lends itself to easy modification. I will serve with brown rice (I use short grain) that has a bit of fresh, coarsely chopped cilantro tossed in after it has cooked and cooled a bit. Simple spring greens on the side, maybe with strawberries tossed in and with a lemon juice/olive oil dressing. And green sauce.
Black Bean Burritos | Citrus Salad
If you have time to make Deborah Madison’s black bean chili from The Greens cookbook (not available online but widely reproduced on other blogs – search “Deborah Madison black bean chili”), then make it. Hers is still my favorite recipe for preparing black beans. If you’re in a hurry and doing this on a weeknight, however, sauté some garlic, onion, and bell pepper in a bit of olive oil; add a can of black beans, some chicken stock, cumin, oregano and cayenne; cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Serve with rice (use leftover brown from the night before, if you have it), tortillas, limes, cheese, sour cream, cilantro, whatever, especially green sauce. A tangy citrus salad like this one if you still have good citrus available at your market.
If you remember to put the chicken breasts in a vinaigrette marinade (yes, you know it, I use Brianna’s) for at least an hour, then this is the easiest, most foolproof dinner you can make: (for four split breasts) preheat the oven to 360 degrees; mix a cup of Panko (or bread crumbs, seasoned if you like), with a cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Take the chicken breasts one at a time and coat with the Panko/cheese mixture, pressing it in; place on a baking sheet (I cook them on a Silpat mat); bake for about 25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken. Let cool slightly; slice into strips. Serve over any firm-leafed lettuce dressed lightly with Caesar dressing. If you have some day-old bread, cut it into cubes and sauté in a skillet with some olive oil for delicious homemade croutons. Not sure how green sauce will go with this one….
Rice Noodle Chicken Soup (yes, otherwise known as Pho Ga)
So here’s the deal: I do prefer homemade chicken stock, but I never have time to make it. And since I love chicken soup, I’ve just decided to get over myself and use prepared stock, doctored with lemon juice and often de-concentrated with a bit of liquid from poaching chicken breasts if I poach them in water/wine instead of chicken stock. Poaching chicken takes about 30 minutes, total. Here is Martha Stewart’s recipe, which is pretty much like Cook’s Illustrated but doesn’t require logging in to read it.
And now here is Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s recipe for Pho Ga, which entirely realistic for a weeknight dinner IF you have poached chicken and chicken stock on hand. It’s a really simple soup, also appropriate for breakfast (!), that should please even the pickiest eaters. Yep, dollop of green sauce instead of Sriracha.
Save this dinner for a night when you have time to make pizza dough (needs an hour to rise), because homemade dough is just better. I used to use the classic Silver Palate recipe for dough but recently switched to Mark Bittman’s recipe which, for the record, is almost identical anyway. Our children still prefer plain cheese pizza, with mozzarella and Parmesan, sometimes with a bit of ham or bacon. Bernard and I will top ours with the arugula from the market and some prosciutto, like Ina Garten’s recipe, but with green sauce somewhere in the mix.