A Real Breakfast

There are few topics about which I am more willing to prattle so vibrantly than breakfast. Scoff if you must, but the subject is a noble one illuminated by the hopes of a new day, new beginnings and fresh starts. It may as well be the fodder of poetry! It enjoys the benefit of maternal condonation, not to mention the nutritionist’s admonitions regarding cognitive functions, energy needs and long term health. Like politics, religion and the weather, it is something about which any one of us can have an opinion. Entire nations have adopted their own partiality – French pâtisserie and coffee; Italian Cappuccino and biscotti; Canadian eggs and pea meal bacon; Québec cretons; American waffles; Jewish lox and bagels; Mexican Huevos Rancheros; Russian blinis; Vietnamese Chao Ga (chicken rice porridge), Chinese Baozi (steamed filled buns) and Dim Sum.

Though I don’t recall the particular details of my youth, breakfast undoubtedly formed part of my daily routine. Whether it was pre-school, boarding school, undergraduate or law school, I am quite certain I always took breakfast. It wasn’t however until I arrived in Almonte in 1976 to begin my law practice that the routine of breakfast acquired its idiosyncrasies. Every morning at precisely 8:30 a.m. I and five other local businessmen marshalled at the Superior Restaurant for breakfast. We sat in the same booth, appropriated the identical seating and told the same jokes (at which we always courteously guffawed). We each repeated our exact menu every morning. Our mundane habits were only rarely interrupted by some visitor; and even then we might count on one of the long-time waitresses to rebuff the anticipated collision. When open-heart surgery in 2007 derailed my protein breakfast of bacon, sausage and eggs, I reluctantly abandoned the once heavily trodden path to the “Soup” and began eating breakfast at home. Since then the custom has been decidedly less memorable; that is, until I began wintering on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The pattern of breakfast has since been much reinvigorated and once again infused with ceremony and patent purpose.

It would be a dissimulation to suggest my breakfast on Hilton Head Island is anything approaching a Confederate breakfast. It doesn’t for example include any of those hallmark Southern ingredients like grits, tea biscuit, corn bread, pimento, black-eyed peas, collard greens or seasoned sausage. It is nonetheless a menu peculiar to a five-month sojourn here and by that virtue alone warrants some elasticity. Admittedly the constituents of my breakfast are prompted by nothing to do with the Republican South. Indeed the inspiration was a northern and comparatively egalitarian institution; namely, the Shouldice Hospital in Thornhill, Ontario (now part of the sprawling Toronto Metropolis). In their enthusiasm to ensure a fair playing field for all their surgical applicants, and before it would consider operating on me to repair an inguinal hernia, the Hospital mandated a weight loss of 45 pounds. That prescription – like any diet – was initially radically embraced by me but I confess as speedily abandoned. There are just some things impossible to sustain without speaking to one’s elemental cravings (which for me include sugar, salt and fat). Of course I have attempted to translate those blunt gastronomic components into something more exalted than those inglorious and largely unpopular building blocks imply. I have also managed to sustain the pronounced vegetable and fruit motif of the original diet.

The “sugar” ingredient of my breakfast is captured in the first course, pitted prunes. These I set upon a small plate with sections of Mandarin oranges, accompanied of course by a cup of strong, black coffee. As preposterous as it may sound to those already enlisted, prunes represent a veritable discovery for me. Their celebrated effect was hitherto somehow unearthed. Over the past year the issue of regularity has hounded me to the point of palpable vexation. I have tried every remedy from pharmaceutical powders, drinking vast quantities of water, naturopathic advice, digestion pills, voluminous quantities of raw vegetables and health-store miracle purgatives. None of them improved my increasingly static condition.

While shopping at Fresh Market on William Hilton Parkway I saw a stubby glass jar of Giant (super plump) French prunes (with pits) made by St. Dalfour and grown in the Agen region of France (“where the climate and terrain act in harmony to create plums of extraordinary quality”). I bought several bottles notwithstanding the cautionary disclaimer on the label that “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease”. I hadn’t initially fashioned my condition as a disease though recent television documentaries I had seen led me to believe that the bacterial content of one’s gut was exceptionally important and (more significantly) capable of fairly rapid improvement. I began to reflect that my purified diet of water and raw vegetables had unwittingly robbed me of the necessary contaminants for healthful functioning (which if nothing else was a diverting philosophical paradox). Besides anything was worth a try.

It turns out that prunes are the answer! The unfashionable sweetness doesn’t deter me. Any fruit is sweet. I am not about to contradict what I perceive to be an effectual natural product in favour of a manufactured compound. In any event it is a candid though perhaps socially revolting comment that the evacuation of one’s bowels ultimately trumps all else! I now buy the plastic tub of Sunsweet “Amazin Prunes pitted” (with no added sweetness) packed in California. The pitted prunes are less work and the local produce is less expensive (though admittedly less grand and plump than the French model the persuasion of which still holds considerable sway).

Sometimes after I have demolished my Mandarin orange wedges and pitted prunes (which I do while luxuriating in my pyjamas, idly reading my overnight email and checking the weather and the Tide Chart – a mandatory concession to our Maritime idiom) I speculate whether I have had sufficient for the morning banquet. Because the view of the Sound is inviting – particularly so on a sunny day – and because my daily concoction of arthritic pain killers requires time to manifest itself, I inevitably lean toward a protraction of the culinary venture before tackling anything more engaging. Accordingly the next round consists of the protein (and salt) course – three slices of ham, one slice of Adams Reserve New York extra sharp cheddar, one egg delicately fried in extra virgin olive oil, six or eight halved cherry tomatoes (liberally ornamented with coarse ground sea salt), diced crunchy green pepper and sometimes half an avocado pear (depending upon the ripeness of our stock). This sequence doesn’t outshine the fruit course but it is never a disappointment and it leaves me feeling very close to being completely satisfied.

I say “close to being completely satisfied” because the salty stage doesn’t fully compete with the fat factor. The latter indulgence is an English muffin lathered in butter, organic smooth peanut butter and Eucalyptus honey. My internal government is now so deteriorated by age and expedient philosophy that I easily succumb to a reprise of this particular performance. A glass of unsweetened creamy cashew milk is an agreeable conclusion to the matutinal foray at the trough!

I mustn’t overlook one further ingredient of this morning repast – music. Thanks to the miracle of Songza on the internet – and with the help of Mr. Bose’s Mini SoundLink – the wallpaper to this daily rite is streamed classical music, always a variety, no longer hindered by the annoyance of having to change CDs. I consider the effect of classical music as relevant to one’s daybreak revival as jazz is to the evening preprandial cocktail.

The succession to this gastronomic activity is invariably a two-hour bicycle ride on the beach. Needless to say there is no intermission for lunch. The next time we put on the nosebag will be later in the evening, small complement I know but nonetheless worth noting by way of defence.