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Monday, January 02, 2006

Breakfast

My first memory of breakfast is a sock tied around a spigot. That’s what Catholics did Saturday night before going to bed back when breakfast really did break a fast that began at midnight the day before receiving Communion. The sock was to remind us to take nothing by mouth until after Sunday Mass. Gradually, fasting went the way of Latin, Gregorian chant and Extreme Unction. I still miss Gregorian chant.

But breakfast, as one of the two culinary highlights of a relaxing Sunday, still remains. Growing up, breakfasts during the week were catch-as-catch-can affairs since my father, Jack, worked various shifts and was seldom in evidence when we kids were hustling out the door for school. He was either up and had left for the day shift, on his way home from the night shift, or still in bed from the swing shift.

His default breakfast, which he usually had when we weren’t around, was one soft-boiled egg and a slice of toast. That was before eggs and their cholesterol were put on the enemies list and he was forced to give them up, along with his daily pack of Camel cigarettes. Ours was cold cereal and a piece of homemade bread and peanut butter.

But on Sundays when we did have breakfast en masse, soft-boiled eggs were on the menu, but often, there was a platter of bacon and eggs. I always liked bacon and eggs and developed a knack for breaking the eggs in the hot grease with a gentleness that kept the yolk intact for later toast dipping. It’s a practice now deemed dangerous not only because of saturated fat and cholesterol, but also because of more wily species of bacteria that have figured out a way to infect the chicken before it’s an egg. Bacteria weren’t as smart in the middle of the last century.
Breakfast launched my interest in cooking—weekend breakfasts that is. Weekday breakfasts remain as they were growing up and as they are like in most busy homes today: quick and cold. On weekends, though we get to start the day more leisurely: and how better to relax than over a long breakfast, the morning paper and a discussion of what to eat at breakfast’s counterpoint—Sunday dinner.

My takeover of breakfast started with my wife, Maureen, asking me to break the eggs for her. It was a short step from that to taking over the bacon frying. Maureen’s bacon-cooking technique was too disorderly for me. She filled the pan with bacon wily-nily then cooked it, stirring and flipping the strips occasionally until they were all crisp curlicues. I preferred to lay each strip down in the pan barely touching the next one, even if it meant cooking a package of bacon in several batches.

My wife’s bacon arrived at the table more quickly, but mine arrived neater—a fact that illustrates the differences on which our marriage has thrived. So, beginning with cracking the eggs, she allowed me to gradually usurp her morning role, trading cooking for additional sleep time and a more leisurely read of the Sunday morning paper. No fool, that one.

From bacon and eggs, I moved on to pancakes, blintzes, and ultimately that ultimate celebration of an egg—an omelet. All of those recipes will be revealed in due course.

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