September 14, 2011
A restaurant recently opened near me that specializes in breakfast all day, with variations on eggs Benedict, Swiss-style rösti potatoes with eggs and other a.m.-associated foods. The evening menu also includes more typical dinner entrees, but even some of those give a nod to the morning meal, like coffee-marinated chicken. They also have specialty Bloody Mary and mimosa menus. It’s a gimmick, yes, but one I can get behind.
All-day breakfast is nothing new; 24-hour diners and coffee shops have always allowed late-night eaters to get their dose of vitamin G (as in grease) after a night out. But there’s still something mildly subversive about eating meals out of order, kind of like pajama day at school or an indoor picnic in winter—a subtle deviation from the norm that makes you feel like you’re getting away with something.
Of course, there are all kinds of breakfast, and some translate to dinner more easily than others. Eggs are a natural. Chocolate-chip pancakes, not so much, unless you’re under the age of 12. Even a bowl of cereal can make for a light and lazy dinner. A bonus is that breakfast dishes are usually quick to prepare and inexpensive. Here are a few ideas for inspiration:
Omelettes. Throw in some veggies and you’ve got yourself a well-balanced meal in a few minutes. I’m partial to spinach, tomatoes and feta cheese or salsa, cheese, peppers and onions, but just about anything you have on hand will do the trick. A thin omelette aux fines herbes, studded with fresh chives, chervil, parsley and tarragon or other herbs (Chez Pim’s addition of chive blossoms is particularly lovely), possibly accompanied with a simple green salad and a glass of wine, is a classic French meal. Julia Child explained the technique at length in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking. For more eggs-for-dinner ideas, see my post from earlier this year, Around the World in 80 Eggs.
Waffles. There are a few directions you can go here: Standard sweet waffles with syrup are paired with fried chicken in a favorite soul food combination. Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, a Los Angeles institution, had a cameo in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, and singer Gladys Knight has her own chain of chicken and waffle restaurants in the South. It’s not even close to healthy, but it hits the spot if you love to combine sweet and savory (and fat, lots of fat). Interestingly, the Pennsylvania Dutch have their own unrelated version of chicken and waffles; theirs is made with shredded chicken topped with gravy. You can also go with savory waffles, as in A Chow Life’s cornmeal-based version topped with chili, accompanied by the author’s charming story of running away from home at age 9.
Hash. As in corned beef, not cannabis (a distinction Google fails to make when searching for “hash recipes”). Though corned beef and potatoes are the most common combination, ham, roast beef or veggies are equally valid choices. My favorite is red flannel hash—with beets and potatoes—especially this vegetarian version from Chow.com that’s topped with eggs.
And don’t forget dessert. You could always just pour a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, or break out those chocolate-chip pancakes. Even better: make your own version of Momofuku Milk Bar’s cereal milk ice cream.
May 23, 2011
Many readers sent in intriguing stories of lost food in response to this month’s Inviting Writing challenge. We don’t have room to publish all of them in full, but we wanted to share these final food memories before moving on to next month’s theme. Look for the next invitational on Tuesday, May 31st (Monday, our usual Inviting Writing day, is a holiday).
Food of the Astronauts
When I was growing up in the 1960s and early 1970s, we were all excited about NASA’s moon missions. We knew we would all get a chance to go to the moon and beyond someday. While we waited for our turn atop the Saturn 5, we could be just like the astronauts by getting mom to buy food the TV told us these intrepid explores consumed.
Drinking Tang would provide a refreshing cosmic cool-down after exploring our backyard moonscape while wearing our bouncy moon boots and talking to Mission Control on our walkie-talkies (or tin cans and string). Nibbling on compact Space Food Sticks gave us more energy (like we needed it), and its push-up packaging kept it in our mouths and out of our reel-to-reel flight computers.
I was so excited when my mom took us to the real Mission Control at NASA near Houston, Texas. What did we find there? Huge rockets, space capsules, space suits, a rocket sled and a moon buggy, to name a few. What else? More astronaut food, of course!
Freeze-dried veggies and meat, a meal in a bag with a slurping tube, and my favorite—freeze-dried ice cream! We got Neapolitan so everyone could have their favorite flavor. Boy that was good!
Some of the freeze-dried foods from NASA are still available today, but the Space Food Sticks went the way of the Dodo Bird. My favorite was peanut butter flavor. A pocket full of those an a Thermos of Tang and I was all set for my next adventure.
King Vitamin and Quisp cereal
By Kathryn (Katie) George
These were more or less Cap’n Crunch knock-offs, but easily the best cereal anyone ever made anywhere, at anytime.
I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the 1960s, and my brothers and sisters and I took turns visiting Grandma and Nana in Clinton, Iowa, on the banks of the Mississippi River. Grandma would pick us up and we would drive down country roads (no interstate then!), and when we got to Clinton, we stopped at the grocery store. Grandma always was willing to buy one of these two cereals (and maybe both!).
Of course this was way before “sugar” was a four-letter word. We ate Super Sugar Smacks, Sugar Pops, and Sugar Crisp. But the best was Quisp and King Vitamin.
And no one poured it into the bowl like Grandma!
By Karen Hamilton
My father was a working man. A hard-working man. He was a carpenter who built custom homes in rural Texas. That meant he needed DINNER at noon, not lunch, and the evening meal was SUPPER. In the 1960s, when all four of us kids were out of school for summer break, Daddy would drive up in his old green Chevy station wagon just as the noon fire whistle blew and Mama would be putting dinner on the table. It was always a big meal. Maybe fried chicken or steak, perhaps meat loaf or fresh fish, accompanied by two sides and bread. Although we weren’t encouraged to have drinks with our meals (my mother always said, “You kids are not raccoons and don’t need to wash your food down. CHEW!”), we often had the summertime treat of Kool-Aid. The family’s favorite flavor above all others was Tangerine We just loved it and were so unhappy when it was no longer available. Through the years we’ve tried other brands and variations, but they never quite lived up to the memory of those long-ago meals when we were all together at the table.
May 6, 2011
Once a week, an email chain of epic proportions germinates in my inbox: it’s a regular call to brunch, followed by a scramble to figure out where we’re eating, how many people are in so that reservations can be made, what time we’re eating and whether or not bottomless mimosas are available. No mimosas usually means a change in venue, depending on who’s in. And come Sunday morning there’s a round of phone calls and text messages to rally the oversleeping, hung-over and/or otherwise indisposed members of the group. It’s a complicated affair.
In anticipation of this Sunday, families all across the country will be be going head-t0-head, trying to beat each other out in securing brunch reservations at their favorite dining spots in order to celebrate Mother’s Day. When did people start subjecting themselves to this delicious little slice of Sunday madness?
As is the case with many culinary traditions, the origins are a bit hazy. Some food historians think that the meal has its roots in England’s hunt breakfasts—lavish multi-course meals that featured a smorgasbord of goodies such as chicken livers, eggs, meats, bacon, fresh fruit and sweets. Others posit that Sunday brunch derives from the practice of Catholics fasting before mass and then sitting down for a large midday meal. And then there are those who look to New York’s abundance of dining spots when it comes to tracing the origins of classic brunch dishes from eggs Benedict to bagels and lox.
What does seem certain is that the word “brunch”—that playful blend of “breakfast” and “lunch”—first appeared in print in an 1895 Hunter’s Weekly article. In “Brunch: A Plea,” British author Guy Beringer suggested an alternative to the heavy, post-church Sunday meals in favor of lighter fare served late in the morning. ”Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting,” Beringer says. ”It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”
But wherever the initial spark of genius came from, the tradition definitely seems to have caught on in the United States in the 1930s, supposedly because Hollywood stars making transcontinental train trips frequently stopped off in Chicago to enjoy a late morning meal. It was a meal championed by hotels since most restaurants were closed on Sundays and, with church attendance flagging after World War II, people were looking for a new social outlet that also let them sleep in a bit. Restaurants soon hopped on the bandwagon and began offering the decadent spreads of food and signature morning cocktails, such as Bloody Marys, Bellinis and Mimosas.
“Sunday dinner became important because it was the only time people could eat together as a family unit during the week at the onset of urbanization and industrialization, 150 years ago,” according to Stanford University professor Carl Degler in a 1980 Chicago Tribune article on the rise of America’s brunch culture. He also pointed to another social change that might be responsible for why Sunday brunch became so popular here. “After World War II, large numbers of American married women entered the workforce for the first time. [...] Married women needed a relief on Sunday, too, thus the rise in popularity of Sunday brunch eaten out.”
Chefs, however, aren’t a huge fan. After a busy Saturday night, trying to create a menu for a meal that stretches from 11 A.M. until 3 or 4 in the afternoon—finding that right balance between breakfast foods, lunch foods and exotic hybrids of the two—is no small task. And then there’s the issue of dealing with fussy diners.
Will you be celebrating mom by way of a big brunch buffet this Sunday or do you have other Mother’s Day dining traditions you like to keep? Tell us in the comments area below.
April 25, 2011
For last month’s Inviting Writing series, we asked you to recall the most memorable meal of your life. For this go ’round, dig into your memory banks once again for traces of lost foods—products that are no longer on the market, perhaps, or foods that you once loved but can’t seem to enjoy anymore. Or foods that were once-in-a-lifetime taste opportunities.
If you’re feeling creative and want to describe an experience that somehow fits this theme, please send your true, original personal essays to FoodandThink@gmail.com with “Inviting Writing: Lost Foods” in the subject line by Friday, April 29. We’ll read them all and post our favorites on subsequent Mondays. Remember to include your full name and a biographical detail or two (your city and/or profession; a link to your own blog if you’d like that included). I’ll take a first crack with the following memory of a childhood food product that (thankfully) is no longer on the market.
Holy Batman Breakfast Cereal
By Jesse Rhodes
Aside from cartoons, much of the fun of the Saturday morning entertainment of my childhood came from television spots for toys, upcoming movies and, yes, food. I hope that whoever wrote the catchy jingles to sell those goods was handsomely compensated, because twenty years later, the ditties for Ring Pops and Tootsie Rolls are still fresh in my head. And then there were the spots for breakfast cereal—notably one for a cereal spinoff of Tim Burton’s Batman.
The television commercial was, in my humble opinion at the time, pretty spectacular. It was perfectly clear that this wasn’t just any cereal—it was a cereal that promised bowlfuls of corn-puffed adventure. And the corn puffs were bright yellow bats! The mere shape of the stuff transcended the alphabet letters and spheres that held the prefab morning food market in its mundane grip. Of course I was going to beg my mother for this stuff.
But my mother, before she was my mother, was a similarly minded child who knew all the tricks to get Trix and Froot Loops and Lucky Charms out of her mother. My mother was very well aware of the sugary nutritional wasteland that was being attractively packaged and hawked to wide-eyed children watching Saturday morning television. So by and large, she kept only things like Rice Krispies and Cheerios in stock. But eventually—and I wish I could remember if I used a more clever ploy than the whine/beg one-two punch, though that’s doubtful—she picked up a box on the condition that I had to eat it.
And oh, the box. The packaging itself was so adult. Sleek black, gold accents—none of those tired, overdone Technicolor tones on those children’s cereals. Surely playboy/crime-fighter Bruce Wayne would have approved. The excitement was too much as my first bowl of Batman was poured and set before me.
The cereal was too sweet, even for my five-year-old tongue. The concept was—and still is—absolutely inconceivable. It was like sugar-fortified Karo syrup puffs baked into unnaturally yellow hulls that collapsed into a lumpy, mealy mess once it hit your mouth. And the milk took on the flavor of the corn puff bats, so there was no escaping. While stomaching that first bowl, I had to consider the unfortunate truth that I was technically obligated to finish the whole box, and pondering the proportion of a child’s size cereal bowl to the size of a cereal box made this prospect all the more disconcerting.
Of course I was going to beg my mother to not make me eat it. But working my way out of a verbal agreement required tact and subtlety—and making funny, contorted faces is about as subtle as a preschooler gets. To my credit, I put a small dent in the cereal supply—maybe a quarter, certainly no more than half the box was consumed—before it got tossed. I don’t know if the garbage man made a slip or if there was a tear in the plastic trash bag, but a bunch of the bats spilled out into the street, serving as as some tragicomic reminder of my deflated hopes and expectations. It was weeks before they were all crushed by passing cars and washed away. And, like all movie tie-in merchandising, the cereal in turn disappeared from store shelves.
March 25, 2011
In spring a Northerner’s fancy turns lightly to… anything other than the same old starchy winter vegetables I’ve been eating for months. I don’t remember if this used to happen to me when I lived in a snow-free climate, but now that I live up north the only things I’m craving more than balmy breezes and flowers at this time of year are bright, sunny flavors to perk up my palate. Lemon fits the bill nicely. Not only does it add zippy flavor to everything it touches, a bowlful of lemons doubles as both cheerful table decor and subtle home fragrance. I’ve never seen anyone use rutabagas as a centerpiece, and I’m pretty sure parsnip-scented dishwashing liquid would be a commercial flop.
Plus, lemons have been curing scurvy since the 1600s—and providing entertaining videos of pucker-face babies since at least the dawn of YouTube.
If life hands you lemons, say, “thank you,” and don’t limit yourself to lemonade. Here are five ideas:
1. Breakfast. The best time to wake up your taste buds is first thing in the morning, no? You could go sweet, topping your favorite morning bread product with lemon marmalade, a sophisticated alternative to orange. (If you’re going to make it yourself, you might want to hold out for Meyer lemons—they’re a little sweeter and have thinner, tenderer rind). Or try fluffy lemon-ricotta pancakes, which use only the zest (squeeze the juice to use later, or mix up some Bloody Marys, if it’s that kind of morning). If you’re more a savory breakfast type, go for the whole classic New York bagel schmear: cream cheese, lox, capers, red onions and thin lemon slices (tomatoes are also a possibility, if you can find good ones at this time of year).
2. Soup. A recent Inviting Writing essay (with recipe) by a reader who tried to perfect her mother-in-law’s avgolemono soup may have sparked my latest round of lemon obsession. The ultra-lemony soup is one of Greek cuisine’s many delicious uses of the citrus fruit. Lemon also brings lentil soup into new and exciting territory (a squirt of lemon juice can even—almost—rescue bland, over-salted canned lentil soup, I find).
3. Main dishes and sides. The possibilities here are endless—chicken or fish piccata (I like this variation using miso paste); lemon pizza; lemon risotto (Giada de Laurentiis serves it in a lemon cup, if cute presentations are your thing); sole meunière, the French dish that Julia Child said changed her life; and Lee Lum’s Lemon Chicken is one of the recipes I’ve been wanting to try from Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook (originally published in the paper in 1969), but I haven’t been able to find water chestnut flour.
4. Desserts. For people like me who like their sweets cut with some tartness, this is the category where lemon truly shines. Last year I made a lemon tart from Cook’s Illustrated that came out brilliantly, if I do say so myself (the link is blocked to non-subscribers, so you can sign up for a 14-day trial or try this one with a pine-nut crust, from Epicurious.). Nigella Lawson’s lemon polenta cake sounds good. And for the true lemon lover, Smitten Kitchen offers a recipe for Shaker lemon pie that uses macerated thinly sliced Meyer lemons, peel and all. Those Shakers sure had some interesting ideas for baked goods. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention an American classic, lemon meringue pie.
5. Drinks. Now, I’ve got nothing against lemonade, especially on a hot summer day. But why not at least jazz it up with basil, mint or—though I can’t advocate it—cilantro? It certainly wouldn’t be out of the question to add some vodka to any one of those concoctions. Even better, do as Tyler Florence does, and make icy lemon-ginger vodka cocktails or, if you can wait 80 days, make your own limoncello. And did I mention the Bloody Mary? Well, it bears repeating.