Saturday, 10 January 2015

Breakfasts: anything but cereal

These days, I eat breakfast every morning and have really delicious breakfasts that I actually want to eat, which is a total revelation, because I spent years miserably spooning cold milk into my face, with the occasional floating husk caught up in it, out of a dutiful sense of Doing The Right Thing. For the Most Important Meal of the Day (total myth, btw), it was an utter misery. I hate cereal. All cereal. Pronutro, that South African staple that turns instantly to stodgy baby food the moment milk touches it most of all. But also sweet cereals, bran cereals (oh the years I spent dutifully eating all-bran!), even muesli if it's with milk. Crunchy muesli with yoghurt is acceptable, but that's it. I don't eat toast much, either - I like it, but it's not an especially healthy staple. I think back and for most of my twenties, I started each day far too early, simultaneously brittle and woolly with sleep, sitting up at a table because That's What You Did, with that horrible bowl of cold milk and its horrible floating bran flakes, trying to get it over with 15 mls at a time. And then, because this was my twenties, went off to an ill-fitting job in ill-fitting clothes that I sort of hoped would pass muster but it was very possible that one half of my body would lose bloodflow when I sat down at my desk. (That wasn't my entire twenties, obviously, but it's what stands out when I think of those miserable breakfasts.)

Well, ring the changes! Around 28 or so, with a very nice job and clothes that fitted, I had the revolutionary idea: what if I ate a breakfast that I actually liked? Even if it wasn't on the Official Breakfast List?


3 oatcakes with cream cheese and marmite. A little morning ritual, listening to the radio, lovingly preparing each oatcake with its spread of cream cheese and its smear of marmite. Then I found Extra-Hot Green Chilli sauce and decided I could also have oatcakes with cream cheese and chilli sauce. It became a daily morning decision, whether to have 2 with marmite and 1 with chilli sauce or 2 with chilli sauce and 1 with marmite, just the sort of wild reckless leap-in-the-dark decision I'm capable of first thing in the morning.

For Saturday in-bed-on-a-tray breakfasts, I'd prepare us a Big Breakfast Biscuit Bonanza, with oatcakes, Provita (if I could get hold of it), rice cakes, cheddar cheese, cream cheese, marmite, chilli sauce, and hot English mustard all on the tray, to be combined in all their variations.

Then, being briefly without cream cheese, I discovered oatcakes with cucumber and tobasco and that was so marvellous it became a staple for at least two years, and then I began to explore further oatcake-cucumber based permutations, presented here:


Oatcakes and cucumber with... Tobasco, Hot Green Chilli Sauce, Oxford Sauce, Red Chilli Sauce

Then, unaccountably, I stopped eating oatcakes, and found a new staple: apple and cheese. Crispy sweet apple, nutty hard cheese, the perfect combination.


There's a order to this. The apple is quartered, cored, and then cut into 12 pieces. Three slices of cheese are halved and then quartered. 12 pieces of apple, 12 pieces of cheese, the ratio is really very, very clear. There's a system at work here, people. Which is great if you don't eat it next to someone who wilfully steals bits of apple and / or cheese purely for the fun of throwing out your ratio. Or who, when preparing your breakfast, will deliberately cut the apple into chunks as randomly sized as possible, and present it with fragments of cheese so various that it's impossible to tell what the ratio should be, and whether or not you might run out of apple or cheese while the other is still in abundance.
Some people just don't respect the system.

That said,...


Some cheese is so crumbly that it's impossible to chop into quantifiable pieces, but the daring addition of a naartjie (clementine, Mandarin, satsuma, whatever you call it, if you know the difference - naartjie is the South African catch-all, pronounced nah-chee) solves this, because then the naartjie segments can act as a wildcard.

I grew up in a fruit-growing fruit-eating country, and I love fruit. This is a traditional birthday breakfast, round mine:


All the fruits you can find, all the fruits the market has to offer! A row of lychees at the bottom (pronounched lee-chees, not lie-chees, if you please), heaps of grapes, pomegranates, kiwi, figs, apples, parsimon, and what are fondly known as "challenging little orange fruit", aka kumquats, which are really sweet at first bite, and then try to turn your mouth inside out.


But birthday breakfasts can also look like this: the Canadian Breakfast. Scotch pancakes with cream cheese, bacon, and blueberries, with maple syrup generously poured all over.

Then we went to Turkey and...


BREAKFAST WAS REVOLUTIONISED. Cheese for breakfast, boiled egg for breakfast, cucumber for breakfast, tomato for breakfast, all these I knew and applauded, but no-one told me you're allowed olives for breakfast! Or walnuts! And red peppers! And dried apricots!

Olives! For breakfast!

So that's a new birthday breakfast. And thus liberated from my preconceptions...


Olives started making an appearance on the Saturday-morning breakfast tray. Along with other familiar staples. (Please note the back-up cheese in case my carefully cut cheese is stolen, plus a back-up apple, likewise. I've grown wise in the ways of the apple/cheese thief.)


And occasionally I'd recreate the Turkish breakfast with whatever was available, plus additional fruit (this may have been another birthday breakfast, judging by the quantity of special fruit) then I realised... why stop at olives? Why not capers? They're for so much more than tapenade! I bet you want a caper right now. If you have a jar of them, go and open it, take a sniff, see if your mouth doesn't water. You want a caper...

About a year ago, I'd just prepared a very generous breakfast tray of cheese, apple, olives, walnuts, capers, dried apricots, and grapes, when my cousin and her family arrived an hour earlier than expected, so I popped it on the living room table for everyone to share while I ducked off for a shower. When I came back, I was enchanted to see her two-year-old happily chowing down on capers and olives, and the four-year-old experimenting with combinations. (That's at least half the joy of a Breakfast Bonanza, trying out what goes with what especially well and what follows what pleasingly.) When they were babies, I'd found her let-them-encounter-food approach a challenge to witness (Close Encounters of a Messy Kind) but boy does it pay off. I also realised that a spread like that was a super thing to set in front of guests, not just a breakfast.

But really: anything can be breakfast.


Dates are marvellous. And why stop at capers? Why not sweet pickled onions? Yes, for breakfast, this is your breakfast, dammit! We're playing fast and loose with the rules here! Anything is possible! (Except an unequal apple-to-cheese ratio, obviously.) There's also a salt-and-pepper mix for dipping the boiled egg into.

Note that the whole Sitting Up At A Table thing has also been tossed aside with scorn. I like eating breakfast in bed and I can, so I do. So by now...


Anything can be breakfast, really. This is a post-Christmas breakfast, which is really stuff originally destined for the cheese board. A left-over pear, grapes, a handful of walnuts, a particularly fine hard cheese (Lord of the Hundreds, thank you Cheese Hero of 2a North Parade), and the ubiquitous naartjies. The only thing that really differentiates it from a cheese board is that the fruit outmasses the cheese and there aren't any crackers.

Plus, the more you have on the tray, the more chance you have of scaring people with unlikely but ultimately tasty combinations like this:


(He said "surprise me". He was surprised. Actually, I was also surprised that cream cheese, olives, and capers on an oatcake taste so good and look so alien.)

And if you're serving someone two poached eggs and crumpets, and you've already understood the possibilities of capers...


there's no excuse for passing up an opportunity like this. Happy breakfast, darling. I made you your favourite.

So after all that,


Mexican scrambled egg is a fairly traditional choice, really.

So: breakfasts that aren't cereal and aren't toast: in any combination imaginable: oatcakes with cream cheese or cucumber and / marmite / chilli sauce / tobasco , apple and cheese, naartjies, all the fruits, grapes, Canadian Breakfast (Scotch pancakes with cream cheese, bacon, and blueberries, with maple syrup generously poured all over), boiled egg, tomato, olives, walnuts, red peppers, dried apricots, capers, dates, sweet pickled onions, poached eggs and crumpets, Mexican scrambled egg, and anything else you like at all. Happy breakfast! Bugger bran flakes.

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