I’m not a baker, nor a breakfast eater.
I know it’s not ideal, but I like my biggest meal at the end of the day. I like dinner food. If I have a huge lunch, I’m a little disappointed for the rest of the day because I can’t look forward to dinner.
Perhaps this is a function of growing up in a large Italian family, where our world revolved around food, and Sunday dinner wasn’t complete with macaroni with homemade tomato sauce, a huge tossed salad and a main dish like roast beef or chicken cutlets. Breakfast and lunch were generally caught on the fly, but dinner? That’s when we sat down and broke bread, discussing current events and skirting topics like report cards.
I’ve never been wild about breakfast food because, well, how exciting are eggs or toast? I can’t eat cereal or pancakes because they screw up my blood sugar, sending me scouring for something to eat 90 minutes later. I’m a little limited: a power bar or two scrambled eggs is about as good as it gets.
But as I learned during my stay at a Vermont bed and breakfast, there’s something soothing and comforting about waking up to a homemade breakfast. The aroma of freshly baked raspberry scones, or the intoxicating scent of bacon sizzling on a grill, are calming and grounding, inviting one to embrace the day instead of grabbing it by the throat.
What I enjoyed most was the sound of our innkeeper Sandra going about her business in the kitchen. Separated from the dining room by a frosted glass partition, we could hear Sandra whisking freshly sourced eggs in her mixing bowl, an incredibly gratifying sound when you’re not the one whisking.
I’ve always enjoyed the sounds of people working – the click of a keyboard, the buttons of an adding machine, the beep of a cash register, the chopping of a chef’s knife, the cutting of a bolt of cloth at JoAnn’s Fabrics. I could stand there all day and listen to fabric being measured and cut, but that’s probably another blog.
I have what might be called sensitive ears. Though they are at times a curse (corn on the cob!), they’re often a blessing: rain on the roof; a robin chirping in a tree; a dog’s deep sigh, or one of my favorites, the sound (and sight) of a present being professionally wrapped at a department store with the paper and ribbon cutting and curling, and everything about the tape.
Don’t ask me to explain something so irrational. But I suspect it’s the sound of someone doing something that I deplore, or maybe a bit like someone running their fingers through your hair. It’s just so much better when someone else does it.
What I found listening to Sandra’s whisking – and her very low classical music – is that waking up to a freshly made anything is lovely, so much better than the grab-and-go that is my household.
I decided to do an experiment, taking out some filo dough and frozen cherries to whip up some cherry tarts. I wondered what effect, if any, a homemade breakfast would have on my family. Would they notice, stop and take a tart, or just walk by? I had to find out.
I followed a simple recipe from the blog The Worktop (https://www.theworktop.com/breakfast-brunch-recipes/cherry-filo-pastry-tart/) and constructed my tarts in a muffin pan. I chose cherry because it’s one of my favorites, throwing in some frozen blueberries to give the mixture a little more texture. Within a half hour, they were cooling on the counter awaiting a powdering with confectioner’s sugar.
I’m happy to report that everyone was a little more chipper after the seeing and eating their tarts. I may be on to one of the secrets of family harmony: a hot breakfast. And while I’m certainly not going to win any nutrition awards for my tarts, I think a homemade breakfast sets the right tone, telling people to sit down and stay awhile rather than rushing out the door.
My usually surly daughter strolled downstairs, said “Hi,” and then exclaimed, “Oh, I see you made your pastries. How much longer do they need to bake?” So she actually does speak in the morning, and can be pleasant.
After she ate one, she thanked me, and said she would be down later for seconds. Score!
My son stumbled into the kitchen en route to the bathroom, and did a double-take at the counter, leaning in to sniff the pastries like a curious dog.
“Can we eat the pastries?” he asked after he was showered and dressed.
When I told him he could, he took one, topped it with some Cool Whip and sat down at the kitchen table to eat it. A minute later, he got up and repeated the process. This was something of a miracle for a kid who slugs down a smoothie or a couple of power bars en route to work.
“Those were good,” he said. “I bet Mrs. Carlson would make those all the time.”
Ah Mrs. Carlson. Years ago, she confided that her three children bought school lunches, but she made them a homemade hot breakfast before school every day. I was very impressed and inspired for a week before returning to cereal, yogurt and frozen breakfast burritos. As moms, we must pick our battles, and know our limitations. I opted to make homemade lunches on request, sparing my kids the agony of ground beef in gravy over mashed potatoes, or worse, corned beef hash.
The Curmudgeon ate one, and then a second. On his way out the door, he paused and apologized for being so cranky lately. He said he’s really bombarded with work. He’s not the type to apologize so I’m going to credit the cherry tarts. They’re the only thing that was different, the only change in our morning routine.
I tried to explain my findings to my friend and former editor John over lunch overlooking New Haven Harbor, but I think I lost him when I began talking about pleasurable sounds, particularly whisking. As he looked blankly at me, I thought I heard a waiter whisking salad dressing at a nearby table.
“Shhhhh,” I said. “Somebody’s whisking.” By the time I got his attention, the whisking had ceased. And on second thought, it was probably cutlery clanking. But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. All he wanted to talk about were sounds that annoy him, like Interstate 95 traffic, and his new sound machine.
Good sounds – shall we call them joyful noise? – transfix me, sending a chill down my spine and making me want it to last forever. Of course, it never does. How long does it take to whisk eggs for an omelet? But you get my point.
What I’m realizing is that if there are sounds that annoy us, there are also sounds that give us enormous pleasure, and we should tune into them as much as possible: a flag flapping in the breeze; gravel crunching under your soles; crickets (as long as they’re outside); crinkling leaves; a croaking frog; tinkling piano keys; waves lapping the shore; Judy Collins; Silence.
I’m also realizing the power of a hot breakfast and its transformative effect on my family. A hot breakfast starts the day off right, giving people the best possible start. I’m thinking of it as my tiny contribution to society. It’s not much, but it’s something.