A Breakfast of One’s Own
When a cookbook inspires that first line
Lately I've been thinking about the blue hour — the space between darkness and light, the patch of time before the sun stretches across the horizon and, shaking themselves out of slumber, our bodies shift in wrinkled sheets. We shout at alarms, feel our way through our rooms with eyes that resemble zippers, and, armed with caffeine, go grudgingly about our day. Breakfast is an afterthought, reduced to the simplest and emptiest of options: the Chobani yogurt, the cruel scooped-out bagel, the tepid oatmeal piled high with out-of-season berries. Or, possibly, we dream of the flaky almond croissant basking in powdered sugar we had in Paris that one time, but the idea of waiting in yet another line gives us vertigo. We fill our blue hours instead of settling in them because we're beings taught to go, do, build, negotiate, argue, talk, smile, and sleep. As a culture, we don't savor; rather we are constantly propelled for flight. We sleep with one foot off the bed, ready to run.
For those who want to stretch out the time before we sleep to the moment we have to conquer the minor wars that plague our days, I invite you to create something new every day. The blue hour is the time between the acts, the moment when our heads are clear, our imagination is untethered, and we think that the world might just be filled with so much possibility. Why not lay down our cloth and plates and take a meal like all those bloggers we admire tell us to do, and then create something new? Creation and consumption are symbiotic in that they feed off one another. Consider all the moments spent with people who awaken something with the stories they tell and how they tell them, and how your passion (the bolting up, the laughter, and the interrupted sentences that resemble a symphony), in turn, ignites something in them. Far from a clinging barnacle, this energy is kinetic and regenerative, and when I set myself down most mornings to a chair and a table worn with dust and the scratches of all the words that have come before, I start my day with a breakfast prepared meticulously. A meal that inspires the shapes of characters and words that might deliver another kind of awakening.
Mark Twain and James Joyce famously locked themselves away for hours at a time with hearty breakfasts of meat and buns, and their pens. If you wanted to pry Twain away from his work, his family knew to sound a horn. With Joyce, you understood not to bother him while he was smothered in his own thoughts. In Jhumpa Lahiri’s stark Roman living room, I imagine her sitting at her desk with a bit of toast and eggs, eyes open, and doing the thing that writers know to do: we write out the noise in our head and coax it into the music we know it could be.
What I choose to create every day are new ways in which I can arrange words on a page. I write stories. I create characters. I speak in the voices I imagine them to have, and I breathe life into imaginary shapes to create a tableaux that is a scene. Only when my characters are real, only when I've written that first line, which is at turns a magnificent torrent and a prison, do I settle into the blue, my definition of home. And I can find my way home once I've set down my plate and begun to eat.
In the past, I believed in the power of a breakfast routine, but found that my work took on this machinist quality, which was a direct reflection of the steel-cut oatmeal, brown sugar and blueberries I consumed every morning. However, this year, I've made the leap to live a life of my own design. After leaving a job that was slowly killing me, I architected a life in which my writing, my affection for food, and passion for marketing, cohabitate harmoniously. Most days I write in the morning then bake and work through the afternoon into the gloaming. Leading an unsettling life demands a heroic opening, and when I discovered Meg Gordon’s Whole Grain Mornings, I have had, as the painter Lily Briscoe says in the end of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, my vision. I can now focus on my canvas without whispers in my ear.
Gordon’s book is about the story of love, and how food was the mainstay — the steady paint brush — that remained unchanged on the U Haul journey from San Francisco to Seattle; that was a calm hand laid down on a quickening heart that was opening to the possibility of a new love, of uprooting one’s life as a teacher and replanting it to grow as a blogger, entrepreneur, and a cookbook author. Food was the constant amid change, and somehow all roads converged into a single, authentic life where food was the fakir that would always lead her to her best self.
“I always wanted to write a breakfast book,” Gordon says, by way of introduction. “It’s the meal we all start with, the meal that ushers us into the day. Even more, I wanted to write a book that reflects the way I do breakfast, acknowledging the fact that what we eat in the mornings looks different on a cold, grey morning in February than it does in a sunny morning in June.” In those words I found a kindred spirit, a fellow artist who created to the rhythms of her day, and I knew my blue hours had to have an element of magic and surprise.
While Gordon’s book focuses on whole grains, virtuous flours, and seasonal cooking, don't believe for a moment that recipes fall short on flavor or creative invention. From homemade oatmeal to her signature Marge granola; grits to oven-baked asparagus frittatas; pancakes draped in DIY lavender honey to peach breakfast cobblers that will make you faint, Gordon’s breakfast manifesto will have you reinventing your standbys and discovering new favorites to add to your repertoire. What I also found extraordinarily useful are the guides — namely, Busy Weekdays, Slow Sundays, and Brunch — which gave me a sense of timing, along with the Morning Notes, which made me feel as if Gordon was the wiser, older sister discretely passing me notes on preparation techniques and “things to know.”
Never one to shy away from blueberry pie for breakfast, I found Gordon’s protein-packed blueberry bars to be worthy contenders. Granted, nothing compares to a butter crust, however, the sweet juxtaposition of the luscious, tart berries and the earthy, nutty seeds and almonds proved satisfying; I didn’t catch myself reaching for the box of cereal an hour later (which I'm sadly wont to do).
While the above dish may not look terribly inviting, I assure you that this sundried tomato couscous with fried haloumi will not only sustain you through the crisp fall mornings, but it will indeed make you sob uncontrollably with glee. Inspired by Gordon’s Lebanese boyfriend, and many trips to the Middle Eastern market, the bombastic symphony of herbs and spices (cinnamon, coriander, zest, za’atr and parsley) married with the salty cheese and a side of za’atr bread, had me blissfully cracking the dusty spine of my Jerusalem cookbook.
What opened up my cold heart was the triple coconut quinoa porridge. A few months ago, I went on a GOOP-inspired bender and purchased buckets of quinoa, determined to replace my pasta affliction with this more nutritious alternative. Perhaps the fact that my quinoa always smells as if it’s just left the hands of a drug cartel, or that rinsing grains feels foreign at six in the morning, my buckets were left abandoned until I fixed this recipe. The coconut oil and milk provide the most elegant depth of flavor, and the sweetened flakes yield a mildly-sugared crunch. In subsequent versions, I've added slices of caramelized bananas and scrambled eggs to the mix.
The recipes in Whole Grain Mornings deliver the kinds of meals you want to hold close, the kinds of meals you want to make for those that you love, the kinds of meals that will propel you to write that first line, ushering you through the blue into the gleaming morning light.