Doing a breakfast-palooza was a no-brainer for me, though I do not eat breakfast with any regularity at all; mostly my days begin with at least three cups of espresso (thanks to Arash and his amazing gift of the Francis) and then some kind of lunch around 4pm. It's probably not the best way to set myself up for success nutritionally speaking, or as a practice of self-love, but it is what it is. When I do have breakfast or brunch it's nothing short of a celebration.
We didn't really eat breakfast when I was a kid, either. I remember that there were sugary cereals in the pantry for Saturday mornings when my mom would sleep in and my brother and I would get up early to watch cartoons (why, exactly, can I not get excited enough about anything to get me out of bed at 6am these days?), and there was the occasional pouch of instant grits that I would float a stick of butter on. And Mom would make bigfoot pancakes for us on very special occasions, the treatiest of all possible treats, when she would whip up bisquik in her bathrobe and, using a spoon and guiding the batter with her tiny little finger, add little drops that would form "toes" on the top of the browning-in-butter edges of the flap jacks. I always knew something great had happened when bigfoot pancakes would show up in the morning and I still can't help but get a little rush when I smell butter foaming in a pan.
I've said it before, but I think it bears repeating: food is a nostalgic experience. It's full of the details of our memory and emotions which is why it can sometimes be addictive. It is comfort, reward, celebration, and sometimes punishment. For me it's a connection to my family, to the narrative of my life, my parents' lives, my grandfather's stories...and breakfast is the very beginning and the base for everything during the day, which makes it especially vivid.
In the whole of my life and in all of its varied tasting of delicious food and sensual experiences, I think the single most important influence was my grandfather's breakfast. Papa had a ranch in central Texas, not far away from Austin where he had a couple hundred head of cattle that had bright white faces and round brown bodies. I thought they were the absolute coolest thing on the planet as a small kid, but they smelled like crap. Literally. But smells aside, between the garden that was full of rattlesnakes and the fields that were full of scorpions, plagues of grasshoppers and acted as a minefield of cow patties, there was a lot of time when I absolutely hated being there. But there were also times that made up for all of that other inconvenient stuff and the sorry lack of television, like when I would sit on Papa's lap and rub the top of his buzzed hair (he never quite left the air force/ WWII thing behind him) and he would ask, "what do you have on your hands that you need to wipe off?" knowing that my response would be exactly the same, everytime, "I just have skin on my hands, silly!"; and when he would hug me and say, "I wouldn't trade you for a pussycat!". He was the kind of man that children and animals instinctively gravitated towards, but in those moments he was all mine and just mine.
Very early, every Sunday morning when we were visiting, he would get out of bed, make a pot of coffee for my grandmother which he would deliver by the mug, on a tray to her bedside, before he would start what would be a feast for all of us in the house: beer batter biscuits from scratch, sausage gravy, eggs in a variety of ways and plates and plates of fried bacon. I would first smell the bacon from under the covers in bed in the one and only guest room in the tiny house, probably about ten short feet from the stove. And that smell would get me out of bed even faster than the thought of Richie Rich or the Wonder Twins.
That was love to me and it is still what I think of as love today. I swear I'm going to marry the first man that brings me coffee in bed or who can rival Papa's sausage gravy, though I may be limiting myself to one suitor in a million. I think other family members feel the same way about this display of love: my dad makes my step mother a pot of coffee every single morning and carries it up to her on a beautiful sterling silver tray with a sugar bowl and a small pitcher of cream, and it always makes me feel warm and gooey when I'm up early enough to witness him going about putting it all together. I want that, too. And I want the biscuits and sausage gravy. And I want my imaginary kids to feel the same way I did, to know that there are people in the world that love them enough to put their whole selves into a biscuit on Sunday morning.
This soupapalooza! I wanted my friends to feel some of Papa's legacy of love, too, so I made a less porky (read: I made turkey for my friends who don't dine on swine) version of breakfast patty sausage (think Jimmy Dean tube-style). As slider appetizers they were perfect. The sausage comes together quickly and easily, and the chicken fat adds moisture to the turkey-- so much so that you would think you were eating a pork version. Just pop some Pillsbury Grands Jr (homestyle, southern, whichever is in the refrigerated section of your grocery store because you do not have to make homemade biscuits unless you are a masochist) in the oven, and then add the pan fried sausage patty (recipe below), a little chopped red onion, a couple of leaves of arugula and some tapatio sauce to the cooked biscuit and you have a delicious slider that works as a breakfast sandwich, too.
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons milk
2 lb ground turkey (the dark meat, not lean)
1/4 lb chicken fat (available from the butcher), chopped into small pieces
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage
2 large egg yolks
Cook onion in 2 tablespoons oil in a small heavy skillet over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. While onions are cooling, stir together bread crumbs and milk in a large bowl and let stand until crumbs absorb milk.
Add onions and remaining ingredients to crumb mixture and stir with a fork until blended well.
Form sausage mixture into 3-inch patties (about 1/2 inch thick) with dampened hands and arrange on a parchment paper-lined tray. Heat remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook patties in batches, turning once, until browned and just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes per batch. Drain patties briefly on paper towels as cooked, then transfer to a shallow baking pan and keep warm, covered with foil, in oven while cooking remaining batches.
Cooks' note: Sausage patties can be formed (but not cooked) 1 day ahead and chilled, covered with plastic wrap.
Papa started those Sundays out by showing me I was loved, and even though I was too small to maybe know it intellectually, this act of breakfast told me I was also worth being loved. And I have known this deep down to the core of my being every single time I have smelled biscuits rising in the oven or when I've eaten cream gravy since. I miss those breakfasts probably more than I miss anything on the planet...what I wouldn't do to feel the bristles of Papa's regulation haircut or to see his coveralls hanging in the closet. Or to be awaken in a small bed in a small room right next to an old stove by the smell of that glorious work.
Make someone you love breakfast, even once. Or carry coffee to them in bed on a silver tray. And...