Adventure in Breakfasting

by Mary Jo

I was doing some research reading and came across a sentence saying that in days long gone, the typical breakfast for most people was was cooked grain mixtures.  I looked at that and thought, "Hello, oatmeal!  And its cousin, corn flakes!"  Which led me into reflecting on how some things travel down through the centuries, maybe with variations but the underlying food is the same.  (Picture below is a German breakfast buffet from Wikipedia by Torsten Seiler from Cologne, Germany)

GermanBreakfas buffetBreakfast means literally to "break our fast"–eating after the hours of sleep.  In places where people do hard physical labor, breakfasts tend to be hearty.  In modern times, some people are breakfast people, some are not, and we tend to figure which sort we are fairly early in life.  Some folks can't face food until the body kicks into gear, others need the food in order to get those gears moving in the first place.

I am solidly in the pro-breakfast camp, which may be related to the fact that I am not a  morning person so I need to a solid breakfast to get moving.  When I was a kid, my mother would cook hot cereal for us, usually oatmeal or Cream of Wheat.  Amply garnished with milk and sugar, often I'd be gulping down the last of the my bowl as the school bus rumbled toward our house.  (As noted above, I'm not a morning person. <G>)

Cereal1When I moved to England years ago, I went into a little shop to buy some oatmeal and was proud of myself for asking with that fine English term, porridge.  The shopkeeper looked puzzled.  Discussion ensued.  The light dawned when she said, "Oh, Quaker Oats!" and she whipped out a box that looked just like the kind I bought at home.  <G>

The best oatmeal I've ever had was at a B&B in Ireland. Sadly, it was the Mayhem Consultant who ordered it–I almost mugged him after I got a taste.  Smooth Irish oats, interesting things added, and a milk so rich that it was halfway to being cream.  Delicious!  

I still have oatmeal for breakfast sometimes, using one of the faster cooking versions of Irish steel cut oats, topped with milk augmented with some half and half, a handful of raisins, maybe chopped walnuts or granola for texture, and honey for sweetness.  

PoachedEgg2But my basic breakfast for decades has been a poached egg on whole grain toast with orange juice (fresh squeezed if I can get it) and a cup of coffee to follow.  This is because I like the protein and can poach an egg more or less in my sleep, see "not a morning person," above. <G>  

I've had fun discovering different breakfasts 'round the world.  My first trip to Europe when I was in college and hitchhiking around with my roommate introduced me to the wonder that was the full English breakfast: There would always be cold cereal on offer (which I ignored.)  Fried eggs, fried bread, several forms of pig meat (English bacon is cured differently from American and doesn't get crisp, is more ham-like, plus sausage was usually on offer), grilled tomato, fried mushrooms, tea, toast, and marmalade.  And, baked beans, which was not something I wanted to eat for breakfast.  At that time tea was universal, but now coffee shares equal breakfast honors.

ToastRackEnglish toast is a class unto itself.  It's served in a toast rack that carefully separates each piece from its fellows, guaranteeing they'll all be cold.  I'm told that's because English homes are often chilly and stacking hot toast would cause condensation and sogginess which makes sense, but I missed hot toast.

As a corollary, years ago the Mayhem Consultant and I were traveling in the English West Country and stopped at a country inn for the night.  The room we were given was damply chilly, but the landlord turned on an oil heater and assured us that soon the room would be "warm as toast."  When we returned after a nice dinner downstairs, the room was still shiveringly cold, at which point I remember that English toast was NEVER warm!

Also on that first visit to Europe, in Paris I discovered the joy of a warm, flaky croissant Breakfast in Veniceand café au lait–strong coffee with hot milk.  My roommate and I were staying in a five story walk up student hotel, but we descended in the mornings to bliss.  The picture here is a more recent Continental breakfast in Venice, complete with a fruit filled pastry and a heart drawn by the barista on the cappuccino.  

In Northern Europe, I learned that the Dutch and Germans like sliced meats and cheeses and Scandinavians favored open faced sandwiches.  These days, a good European hotel breakfast buffet will have JamaicaInnAckee&Saltfishsome of everything, including fresh fruits and lots of breads and pastries.  In Hawaii and Down Under, there will be Asian rice based dishes and noodles and seaweed.  People eat the foods around them–in Jamaica, ackee (a kind of fruit) and saltfish are common.   Looks like scrambled eggs, but it isn't.  Tasty, though.  (Picture on the left.)

Joburg,54onBath.Given the scope of the British Empire, it's not surprising that variations of the full British breakfast are found around the world–the classic American breakfast of eggs and bacon and toast is a direct descendant, though I think we may have led the charge to add hash browns or home fries.  Here's a picture of a recent South African breakfast, with eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, and a choice of lamb, beef, or pork sausage.  Robust!

As you might have gathered, I love breakfast in its many variations, though maybe not the seaweed. And I haven't even touched on waffles and pancakes and other cooked grain cakes, or the Mexican magnificence of huevos rancheros.  (Eggs with tomato chili sauce, tortillas, and maybe refried beans and/or guacamole.)

Are you a breakfast eater, or does the thought of so much food in the morning make you shudder?  What are your favorite breakfast dishes?  And what interesting ones have you met along the way?

Breakfast at La Auberge ProvencaleMary Jo, adding a picture of a fine B&B breakfast in Virginia with egg, ham, and a very fine crepe with orange slices.  

Going Locavore in Jamaica

Jamaica Inn 2 Mary Jo here to talk about my winter vacation! 

Jamaica has a rich and varied history, not to mention an abundance of warmth and sunshine which makes it a pleasing winter destination for pale, shivering Northerners.  The island is also large enough to have a well developed culture–and cuisine.  

Which brings me to the weekly farmers' market in Ocho Rios.  A couple of years ago, we stayed at the Jamaica Inn, a laidback boutique hotel with a lovely little beach, and a history of hosting famous people like Winston  Churchill, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe on their honeymoon, among others.  On the previous visit, I ate up the history.  

On this return visit, I went right to the food.  <G>  Once a week, the executive chef Farmers Market viewof the Jamaica Inn, Chef Maurice, takes a group of inn guests to the nearby Ocho Rios farmers' market to show the quality and variety of local produce.  With tasting, and a cooking demonstration back at the inn.  <G>  

Having grown up on a farm, I love all farmers' markets for the freshness of the offerings and the direct connection between producers and consumers.  Since Jamaica is a lush tropical paradise, there are many kinds of produce, some native as well as many crops that were imported and found the island good.  The market itself looked just as it ought: a number of trucks and simple booths displaying produce and vendors Farmers Market 1chatting in a friendly way.  

Some items were familiar: carrots and onions and tomatoes.  Things I've read about but seldom seen, like breadfruit.  Lots of citrus, including small, intensely flavorful limes that once grew Veggieswild all over Jamaica and are an essential element of their cuisine, from fish to salads to drinks.  They were so common they were taken for granted until suddenly there weren't enough and now they must be cultivated.  

Lots of members of the banana family: regular bananas like we see in the US, the larger plantains that are cooked in a variety of ways (including plantain chips), and delicious little apple bananas, ripe and sweet.  Apple bananasWe all got to eat one of those last.  Yum! <G>  

There were also fruits I'd never seen before, some of which grow wild in Jamaica and may never been cultivated.  The custard apple is related to the pawpaw, we were told, and the soft white interior was tasty and looked like vanilla yogurt,  My favorite was a plum sized oval that looked rather like a small kiwi fruit.  It had a sweet, juicy interior with a flavor that reminded me of cloves.  I'd buy them if they were in Coconutmy store!  We tasted a variety of things, and concluded with a drink of coconut water right from the source.  

Chef Maurice also showed us Scotch Bonnet peppers, which are famously the hottest food in the world.  To quote Wikipedia, "Most Scotch bonnets have a heat rating of 100,000–350,000 Scoville units.  For comparison, most jalapeño peppers have a heat rating of 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale."  !!!! 

However, the chef explained that there are also sweet varieties and some that are only somewhat hot.  He asked if anyone wanted a taste and got no takers. (Though the Mayhem Consultant considered volunteering. <G>)

In researching, I found that some of the local products have multiple names.  A Scotchbonnetpepperspicy and wonderfully scented leaf that looked like a bay leaf was called pimenta, but I found later it was the fresh leaf of the all spice plant.  It's used in local cooking when fresh but doesn't dry well, so only the seeds have entered our spice shelves.

There was also sorrel, a blossom that can be steeped to makes a deep red drink.  Fortified with ginger, spices, and dark rum, it's a popular Christmas drink.  I'd have willingly sampled that! Later on the internet, I Sorrelfound that the blossoms are hibiscus and used in many countries in a range of beverages.  In the US, Celestial Seasonings uses hibiscus for its popular Red Zinger tea.

All in all, it was a delightful experience, but the best was yet to come.  Back at the inn, Chef Maurice gave us a cooking demonstration of ackee and saltfish, the national dish of Jamaica.  We'd seen ackee at the market.  It's the fruit of a tree native to West Africa which is now grown throughout the Caribbean.

Chef MauriceChef Maurice sautéed onions and peppers, including one of the milder Scotch Bonnet peppers to give a bit of bite.  He added the precooked ackee and sautéed some more, then lastly added soaked and chopped salt cod.

Sometimes used as ship ballast, salt cod became an important part of the diet in Jamaica and elsewhere.  The resulting ackee and saltfish looks surprisingly like scrambled eggs and made a delicious lunch with a Ackee and Salt Fishcouple of tasty side items.  

I think the moral is that it's fun to visit other places and taste local specialties.  This can be done without leaving the country, of course! 

Swan close upWhen you travel, do you try new things?  If so, which ones have you liked and which ones did you abandon after a single bite?  <G>

Mary Jo